“Do you want me to get your weight blanket?” I ask him.
He shakes his head and swallows loudly.
“So the surgery thing didn’t go well?”
He shakes his head again. “It went very well. The surgeon said that I had a lot of promise. Liam told me he never says that about anyone.”
“That’s fantastic!” I smile. “Then why the yoga?”
He sighs and slowly gets to his feet. “I feel better now,” he says, ignoring my question. “I’m going to my room to study.”
“Okay. Are you sure you don’t need anything—”
“I’m fine,” he retorts. “Good night, Rain.”
I drag my book bag to the coffee table and pull out my text books. Normally I study in my bedroom, but today I’m waiting for Ethan to change his mind. He seemed so fragile just now, and I’m sure that he’ll come stumbling out into the hallway at any moment.
It was such a big week for him. He’d gone to his first party, seen his mother through a hospitalization, and started on his path to becoming a doctor. Until recently, any one of those things would have caused a violent short circuit. How was he handling all three together? He should need me right now; I should be holding him, wrapped tightly in the safe embrace of his weight blanket.
But his bedroom door stays closed, and the landing is quiet.
An hour passes, and there’s no sound to break my loneliness. Finally, I shuffle off to my room and swing my door shut with a bang. I want him to know that I’m awake if he needs to talk. But he doesn’t. There’s no tap at the door, no restless movement on the other side of my wall. He’s okay.
He’s okay without me. And I know that the thought should make me happy. It’s what I’ve worked for, isn’t it? Then why am I wishing that I hadn’t taught him the yoga pose, all those breathing exercises to calm himself? It’s a horrible, selfish thought, and I know I would never admit it to anyone. I’m supposed to be the perfect sister. My mother is always bragging about my competence and caring; Hope even thinks my relationship with Ethan is impressive. But what would they think if they knew the real me? I used to believe everything I did for Ethan was out of love. But what if that isn’t true? What if my love is a messy, twisted thing? Maybe I’m just a charming imposter who’s managed to fool everyone, including myself. I can’t keep pretending to be a good and loving sister, if deep down I’m dreading the day he breaks from me. It isn’t real love if I need Ethan to need me.
This quiet feels so unnatural; I can almost hear my brother breathing on the other side of the wall. My phone is lying next to me on the pillow. I scroll through my friends’ names and tap out a greeting to our WhatsApp group, then quickly delete it. What’s the point in chatting? Might as well just go to sleep. I slide over to the edge of my bed and tap the wall between us, count out five, sharp knocks.
Like I do every night.
There’s a short pause, and for the first time in my life, I’m terrified that he’s not going to respond. That he’s fallen asleep without waiting for my good night.
I shut my eyes and take a deep breath. Let it out, in a slow, cleansing exhale, just as I’ve taught Ethan to do. I focus on each breath, concentrate on the rise and fall of my chest. Ten beats pass.
And then his voice comes through the wall.
“Good night, Rain.”
He says it like he always does, in his clipped, low monotone, but to me the words sound almost musical, like a child’s bedtime story. I feel my heart rate slow, my muscles relax. It’s going to be okay, I tell myself. I can go to sleep now. My brother’s still there.
2 copies of Rules of Rain provided by the publisher