"Breakfast: cereal, fruit, juice. Lunch: sandwich, veggies, apple, non-diet soda. Snack: peanutbutter sandwich and milk. Dinner: chicken, salad with dressing, greenbeans, watermelon. Now: drinking another non-diet soda. How's your day been, bro?"
Frank laughed into the receiver. "One day it's not going to be me, you know."
"I always know when it's you. I've got Frank ESP."
"Really now? What am I thinking?"
"You're thinking about how much you miss pestering Joe on a minute to minute basis. Hence the phone call."
"You've got me all figured, huh?"
"Looks like it."
Frank looked out the window of his dorm room, where he'd moved in just two weeks earlier. He'd finally decided on Columbia, in New York City, after several acceptances and much encouraging from Joe. He was still in the same state, still only an hour or so away from home, in case an emergency arose and the younger Hardy needed him.
But for all the worrying Frank still did over his younger brother's health, Joe had remained remarkably on course. That wasn't to say he didn't struggle, or that there weren't days were Frank saw the desire to lie in his younger brother's face, but the therapy seemed to be working. Joe was far more open with his family, especially his brother, about his feelings of inadequacy and depression, and often, after having talked through whatever he was feeling, eating was a bit easier. Not simple, not without struggle, but Joe confessed that, months after his admittance, that there were meals when he felt almost normal again. He was still much more slender than before, and was under strict restrictions as to what physical activities he could participate in—no more sports, that was for sure—but the brothers had begun taking walks during the summer in the evenings, more often than not talking about friends and family and joking as they had before the illness had started.
And here Joe was, months later and one summer down, making the return to school the week after his brother completed orientation.
"How're your classes?" the elder Hardy asked, leaning back in his desk chair.
"Boring. How's your roommate?"
"Nice. He talks in his sleep though. And laughs. It's the weirdest thing."
"Does he know what a neat freak you are?"
"He doesn't care," Frank looked to the growing pile of dirty laundry in the corner of his roommate's side and rolled his eyes. "Trust me."
"I like him already."
"You would. You going to come visit?"
Joe sighed. "Yeah, but not for awhile. I have to do the separation thing without losing weight."
Frank nodded, although Joe couldn't see him. "You're eating?"
"Didn't I tell you I was?"
"Just making sure."
"Vanessa and I are going out this Friday. Probably just to Mr. Pizza, but it's still going to be nerve racking."
Frank felt a stab of sympathy, briefly wished he was home so he could take the next step with his brother. As much as everyone had lectured Joe on his separation issues, Frank realized that he had more than a few himself. Joe had been his closest friend since infancy, and his sudden absence made the elder Hardy feel surprisingly lonely.
"I'm sorry I'm not there."
"Aw, Frank, don't start that. You're kicking ass, right?"
Frank laughed. "I think chem is going to kick mine right onto academic probation."
"So you'll get an A minus. Freud says those who attach their self worth to a grade should seek serious psychiatric counseling."
"When have you read Freud?"
"I didn't. I just don't think I should be the only one in therapy."
"Pack off Aunt Gertrude, some poor doctor could make a fortune."
Joe's turn to laugh. "Any mysteries up there?"
Mysteries. Frank had almost forgotten them in the confusion of the past few months. Before that he couldn't have envisioned his life without them; now, he realized that it wasn't so much the mysteries that were so essential, but that his brother was beside them throughout.
"No. Any in Bayport? Not that you'd be getting into them without me—"
"There's about six a day now that my day planner's gone missing. Like, what class do I have next? What time was I supposed to meet Vanessa? Who the hell packed sardines in my lunch? Why do none of my socks match and who keeps borrowing my CDs when you're not here?"
"When have you ever kept a day planner?"
"I didn't. You always knew my schedule."
"Ah." Frank smiled, then suddenly felt his eyes stinging lightly. Joe sounded…like Joe. "You sound really good kiddo."
"I had a good day," Joe agreed. "It's been awhile since I felt I could say that, but I really did." A beat. "Miss you though."
"I miss you too. It's weird waking up and knowing you're not next door."
"Well, two weeks down. You'll be home for Thanksgiving before you know it. And there's parents weekend."
"You're not a parent."
"But I'm still coming."
Frank wiped at his eyes, continuing to smile. "You keep going, hear?"
"Yeah," Joe's voice softened, "Frank? Are you crying?"
"You sound so…good. You have a personality again. For awhile…it seemed like you were a list of symptoms. And that was scarier than anything else." He paused, took a deep breath. "I've missed you, brother."
"Yeah," Joe murmured, his own voice slightly strained, "I don't want to be that way anymore. I might as well have introduced myself as depressed and anorexic. Now…I'm Joe, and I have depression."
Frank smiled. The description was perfect.