A/N: This is in honor of my big brother coming home from Afghanistan. This story is just honoring the bond that forms between close siblings, and is really just a tribute to how much I love my brother and all the times we had growing up. And how much I look forward to the times we'll have in the future. My brother isn't just my brother, he's my best friend. And I like to think Leah and Seth are the same way.
I'm not going to mark this as complete because I would like to add more to it, to make it a series of little moments between Seth and Leah that happened over the years. Let me know what you think.
Everyone says that your pack members are your brothers, but they aren't. They're family, but they aren't brothers. I don't have any brothers. But I have a sister.
One time when I was seven years old, I was playing outside in the summertime, and we were having an unusually hot spell for Washington. It was over ninety degrees outside, which I was completely fine with, since I was a little boy. It just meant I could play outside more.
I was drawing on the driveway with sidewalk chalk when I had the great idea to bring my pet lizard Fred outside to play with me. Fred was a green anole, and he was originally Leah's but she let me have him when she realized I liked him more than she did. She wanted a guinea pig instead anyway.
I trundled into the house, scooped Fred out of his terrarium, and went right back outside. At first, everything was fine. I was having a wonderful summer day with Fred, and I was drawing a portrait of him on the concrete when Embry Call from down the street came by on his bike. "Hey, Seth, let's go down to the beach! My mom's already down there!" he said, pulling to a stop.
Of course I wanted to go. Embry was a couple years older than me and I knew he only hung out with me when there was nobody else around, but he was still cool. So I hopped up and ran inside to ask my mom and grab my swim trunks. Mom said it was fine since Embry's mom was there. I asked Leah if she wanted to go, but she'd been spending more time being grumpy in her room since she turned twelve and said no. I ran back outside to rejoin Embry and we were off.
We had a great time at the beach, building a sand castle and burying Embry up to his neck, and it was only several hours later when the sun was just beginning to set that I meandered back up the driveway of my house after being walked home by Embry and his mom. I was going in through the open garage and had just waved goodbye to them when I suddenly remembered Fred and it was like all the air went out of my lungs all at once. I'd left him on the driveway all day. I'd forgotten him.
I ran back to where I'd last seen him, and he was only a couple feet away. I gasped and knelt down next to him, but he wasn't moving. My heart was pounding and I couldn't breath, and I had a horrible feeling that Fred wasn't okay. "Fred," I said in the calmest voice I could manage. When he still didn't move, and I started to feel my throat close up like I was going to cry from the panic, I repeated more frantically, "Fred!" I was afraid to touch him in case he really wasn't okay, so I grabbed a leaf and used it to gently poke him. He was shifted stiffly by the leaf and that was it. I burst into tears.
The front door opened, and I heard Leah call out my name. She sounded exasperated. "Seth? What are you doing out here?" she demanded, moving towards me. "Mom heard you come home but you never came in so she sent me – hey, what's wrong?" she asked, stopping in her tracks when she realized I was crying.
"I killed Fred!" I wailed.
"What? Fred the lizard? How?" she wondered, still hovering a few feet away from her sobbing, snot-nosed brother.
"I l-left him out on the driveway all afternoon when I w-went swimming with Embry!" I told her, my breath hitching as I mourned over my dead lizard and felt the most painful, horrible guilt I'd ever known.
"You left him on the concrete? You doofus, the concrete had to be over a hundred degrees in this sun! He baked!" she told me, as if I don't know. "Why did you even bring him outside?"
It made me cry harder. "I don't know! I'm so sorry, I feel so bad, I'm so sorry!" I was bordering on hysterical.
Leah glanced back at the front door, as if she was thinking of going to get Mom. Instead, she went into the garage and got an old book out of a box, one of the really big ones that Mom was going to give away. She brought it over and knelt next to me. "Here, we'll put him in here," she said gently, catching me off guard.
"W-why?" I asked, wiping my nose on my sleeve.
"I've seen Mom do this with flowers. She puts them in the middle of a heavy book and it presses them and saves them. This way you'll always have Fred," Leah explained.
In a childish, innocent way, this made me feel a little bit better, so I nodded. Leah never liked to touch Fred much when he was alive, so I was surprised by how bravely she picked up the dead lizard. She opened the book to the middle and reverently set Fred in the middle of the page before closing the book again.
She handed the book to me carefully. "We'll go inside and we'll put him in the under the floor in your closet."
"You mean the trapdoor to the crawl-space? But the Devil lives in there!" I said, clutching Fred's book to my chest, terrified.
"No, he doesn't. I just told you that to scare you," Leah admitted. "It's okay. He'll be safe down there."
I hesitated for a moment, but then believed her, because she's my big sister. If she says it's okay, then it's okay. We went inside through the garage, and Mom hollered that dinner was ready. Leah hollered back that we'd be just a minute, and we went into my bedroom. Leah struggled to open the trapdoor for a moment but finally got it open. I peered down, expecting to see a bottomless pit of black, but it was only about three feet deep.
"I'll hop down, then hand him to me and I'll put him in here to stay safe," she said, and immediately dropped down into the crawl-space.
"Leah, aren't there spiders down there?" I asked, looking at the dustiness that surrounded her.
She shuddered briefly, then squared her shoulders. "Who cares? Gimme Fred."
"But you hate spiders!"
"So gimme Fred so I can put him down here and get out!" she snapped.
I looked down at Fred's book and my eyes welled up with tears again. I hugged the book tightly to my chest one last time and sniffled before I handed it over to Leah. She ducked down and deposited Fred gently on the floor, then crawled back out of the trapdoor. We stood over the hole in the floor for a moment, both of us thinking our own thoughts, until Mom yelled down the hall at us again.
"Coming, Mom!" Leah called, and closed the trapdoor quickly. We walked down the hall towards dinner side by side. She nudged me with her elbow. "I won't tell if you don't want me to. We can say that he escaped. I don't want you to get in trouble when I know you already feel bad about it."
I looked up at my big sister with shining eyes. "Thanks, Leah."
"No problem, Squirt," she said and gave me a small smile.
"And I won't tell Mom and Dad that you told me the Devil lived in the crawl-space," I said earnestly, not wanting her to worry about that.
"Okay, deal," she replied.
We entered the kitchen, and Mom asked, "What have you two been up to?"
Leah and I exchanged a glance, having a conversation without words, a skill we would only get better at over the years.
"Nothing," she finally said.
"Yeah," I added. "Just brother-sister stuff."