note: takes place in a world where Justin really does go away to college, i.e. no wizard comp.
He walks by your room the night before he's supposed to leave and sees you staring at the ceiling in that way you do when don't care about anyone or anything and he has to stop, because he's Justin.
You hear him take a step in and lean against the doorframe and out of the corner of your eye you can see that he's watching you but you don't say anything because there isn't anything to say.
He licks his lips and you wish you'd remembered to close the door. "Everything alright?" he asks, and he crosses his arms and you don't look at him.
"More than," you reply simply because that's what'll get him to go; that's what'll get him to do exactly what you don't want to not want him to do.
Except that he doesn't go - because he's Justin - and instead you feel one side of your bed dip down right by your left foot and if you concentrate, which you don't, you can hear him breathing.
"'Cause if not, you know, you got me," he tells you quietly, and it's sweet and it's reassuring and it's not true at all. His hand moves like he's going to touch you, maybe, but he doesn't and you're glad except that it kind of pisses you off.
Yeah, you've got him; you've got him like the wind, swirling in the palm of your hand, twisting around your little finger. You've got him like nothing at all.
You don't hear from him for four days and you're angry and you're never talking to him again but when he calls you answer. Something about rigorous classes and heavy books and small cots that they try to pass off as beds around that place and you can tell he's loving every second there.
"So anything new with you?" he finally asks because he's already covered every inch of his campus, every stitch in his new professors' sweater, every detail you never cared about and still don't care about and resolve to never, ever care about.
A couple things go through your head, like how you've decided to fail trigonometry again this year, and that guy who said you have really cool hair, and how sometimes when you're walking you forget where you're going because you get so caught up in these really weird thoughts that everything else just sort of fades away, disappears.
"Nothing at all," you tell him, because it's true, mostly.
He calls again the next night but you don't answer because, seriously, doesn't he know you have homework?
You don't answer the next night or the one after that either, but only because you're exhausted - school is hard, you hate waking up early, blah blah blah.
You don't answer the night after that because you just don't want to so there.
He stops calling you after that.
"Justin says you haven't been answering his calls," your mom tells you not long after, like you don't know. She sounds concerned but you just brush it off.
"What can I say? I'm busy these days," you respond flatly, flipping a page of the magazine in your lap.
Now your mom thinks it's weird that you go straight to your room almost every day after school and you know because she told you so one afternoon, trying to seem casual and failing.
You think about it for a second and then realize you're being stupid so you stop being stupid and just call your brother instead.
He answers in between the first and second ring and he seems really glad you called, so you make fun of his outfit through the phone and tell him you rearranged everything he left in his room so he won't be able to find anything when he gets back and he seems really glad about that, too.
When he comes home for Thanksgiving you don't hesitate before wrapping your arms around him, and he rubs circles in your back that you imagine spell A-L-E-X instead of O-O-O-O.
The night before he leaves again he sits on the edge of your bed right next to your left foot and this time he puts his hand on your arm and tells you not to worry, he'll be back soon.
You snort and mutter something like 'unfortunately' but he just grins and you think he gets it.
"What's new?" you ask him because it's what you always ask him, and once he answers, he'll ask you, because that's just how this goes.
But he hesitates for a moment and your heart drops - like you're literally looking around for it on the ground because it's definitely down there somewhere - and then he says he met someone and her name is Andrea and they call her Andy for short.
You want to hang up on him because you're upset, and you do things like hang up on people when they upset you, but you don't, even though you don't know why (you know why) and instead you just breathe into the phone for a second or five or six and then finally, "Okay. Tell me about this Andrea-Andy-for-short, then."
And it's not like you said it nicely or with a smile on your face but you hear him exhale into the phone like he's relieved, and whatever, it's not like you did it because you care about him or anything, and it's not like every word he says in response makes your fists clench and your toes curl and your chest hurt.
Andrea-Andy-for-short has long blonde hair that curls naturally on the ends but she usually wears it in a ponytail to keep it out of her face while studying and sometimes she wears these black glasses, but they look really cute on her because she's one of those girls that looks really cute in everything.
And he wasn't even afraid to ask her out because she gave him a lot of pretty smiles and locked eyes with him from all the way across the lecture hall and he knew from the start that they'd have something special.
You have to bite your lip to keep yourself from saying she's probably a slut because she's probably not a slut, she's probably a really nice girl who noticed the way one corner of his lips turns upwards when he's amused but is trying not to be, and how sometimes he uses his big words to hide that he's nervous and how he can always, always tell when something's wrong even when you don't realize it yourself.
When he gets home before Christmas you aren't so quick to embrace him because you're terrified that the letters A-N-D-Y will be scorched into your skin and you really don't want to have to explain that nonsense when bikini season comes around.
Instead you just give him a strong smile from behind the kitchen counter and you know it doesn't waver because you practiced it in the mirror all morning, but just before he leans down to kiss your mother on the cheek you see the confused expression on his face and know that no matter how good of an actress you are, it's really no use, no use at all.
You decide to help your mom make dinner on whim (he's upstairs unpacking and you need to be not upstairs where he's unpacking) and as you complete the difficult task of pouring the bag of frozen vegetables into the boiling pan of water, you wonder not for the first time where these new feelings came from, why these new feelings won't go away, and why these new feelings don't feel quite so new.
Steam rises from the pan and makes your face feel warm and when you look down you see nothing but an almost entirely opaque fog, so you put the cover on and walk away.
During dinner Justin shows everyone the pictures of Andrea-Andy-for-short on his phone and you don't mean to but you happen to glance at one and Andrea-Andy is standing by a rock and it's like an important one or something and you wonder what he can possibly see in this (beautiful) girl who just stands by rocks and lets him take pictures of her all day.
While your parents coo you move the vegetables around on your plate and even though you don't usually like vegetables these ones are pretty good because you made them and you think that everyone should stop looking at rocks and eat their damn vegetables instead.
Max and the 'rents decide they want to watch some new penguin movie that one of them rented the other day, and Justin says something like 'I heard that was really good' so you say something like 'Later, losers' and you don't even feel guilty when you disappear up the stairs, because they all knew there was no way you were ever going to watch that.
Out of respect for the penguins you don't blast your music from the stereo - no, you go the extra mile and dig your headphones out of your bag and untangle those sons-a-bitches and close your eyes and turn your music up so loud your ears start hurting, and you can't even hear yourself think, you can't even hear yourself exist, and you can't even hear the knock on your door or the voice that calls your name and asks if they can come in.
You can't hear anything at all until someone pulls the headphones right out of your ears and it's so sudden that you sit straight up and gasp, and your hand flies to your chest like it can slow down your heart and real life hits all your senses which had been drifting successfully towards a somewhat catatonic state and it's an all around unpleasant experience.
You look up and see Justin standing next to your bed with your headphones dangling from his fingers and you think that's all around unpleasant too, but that's just a lie and lying is getting old.
"Can we talk?" he asks you, and 'no' is on the tip of your tongue because that is what you want to say and if you thought he'd been content with that answer you would say it, but you know him and you know 'can we talk' probably means 'we're going to talk' in this particular situation.
There was a time when you had all the control, you remember. What you said kinda went and what you didn't say stayed exactly where it was and you liked it that way, things worked that way, everything inside you and around you worked, and you wish you could go back to that except you can't because you're in love with him, and that's what that kind of love does to you, you guess.
So you just raise one eyebrow and wait for him to say something. If nothing else, what he can't do is force you to respond, so there.
You watch him take in your stubborn countenance, the rigid way your limbs spread out over the mattress, the hard set of your jaw. And he just sighs. And sits down next to you. And when you search his face you see that he's very tired, not just I woke up early and drove all the way here but real tired, like he hasn't rested in a thousand years and every time he closes his eyes someone pinches him or tells him he has class or pokes him with their foot against their better judgment and asks if he's okay, for once.
He nods in that way that doesn't really mean yes but means he heard you, or 'I'm trying', so you nod back and then just scoot over a little, and he lies down next to you and stares at the same ceiling you stare at when You Don't Care About Anyone or Anything and you wonder if he's thinking about Andrea or whatever, and hope that he's not.
In the morning you wake up thinking, relationships come and go - especially in college - but you, you'll always be his sister.
(Or maybe after staring at your empty ceiling for too long he leaned over and you squeezed your eyes shut and pretended you were asleep even though you knew he knew you weren't, and he whispered those words into your ear and it made you shiver, and maybe he kissed your forehead, right above your eyebrow, or maybe you just came up with it on your own, had an insightful dream or something, and that one spot right above your eyebrow doesn't burn at all.)
You find him sitting at the counter drinking a big cup of coffee and you silently situate yourself on the stool beside him and your mom pretends she isn't surprised by the lack of hostility in you this morning, and your knee knocks against his and you catch him glancing down, his eyes lingering where your skin touched.
When Christmas morning comes and everyone is opening presents you feel kind of bad because you didn't put as much thought into them as you could've, but everyone seems fairly pleased with their generic tops and t-shirts and video games and Justin in particular likes the belt and thin leather wrist band you give him because he thinks it makes him look badass and he has no idea that you wrote property of alex in black sharpie on the inside of both but he'll probably notice eventually.
Everyone laughs when you open the dictionary he gives you and your eyes meet his playfully, and he has a small smile on his face so you're happy, but you can't help noticing that it's less a teasing smile and more a secretive smile, and you're very familiar with both, so seriously, you know.
On New Year's Eve you kiss him on the cheek because that's what you're supposed to do at midnight and he was practically asking for it, sitting next to you and breathing and existing and all that.
He gives you a lopsided smile and a sideways hug and you ring in the New Year together just like you have every year since you were born and hopefully will continue to every year until forever.
When he leaves a few days later you let him hug you goodbye and let him rub O's into your back and let him linger a few extra moments (or maybe he lets you linger, whatever, same difference, shut up) before going back to his rock girl, and you surprise him by shoving a box of tissues into his hands.
"For that Andy chick or whatever. For when you break her heart," you explain to his raised eyebrows, to his questioning grey eyes.
You act smooth but you worry he'll be offended or angry or upset but he's not, he's laughing, and then he's gone and your mom is tearing up and you put an arm around her and rest your head on her shoulder and she misses him already.
"I know," you tell her, "me too."
You get a text because he knows you're in class - or should be in class - and all it says is, your tissues got put to good use and you're a little bit worried so you abandon trig (like you really needed a reason) and slip into the bathroom, your ear already pressed against your phone, listening to it ring, ring, ring,
"I feel like by answering I am condoning your disregard for rules, and school, and disrespect for the specifically allotted time given for classes-"
"What did it?" you interrupt, because you're manner-less and you've got to know. "What made you decide to…"
"She wasn't what I wanted," he says easily, and you're half-relieved and half-disappointed that you didn't have to coax it out of him, because you're really good at it, been doing it all your life. "She isn't what I want."
Isn't who you want, you're dying to correct him. She wasn't who you wanted, isn't who you want, because I'm who you want, and she isn't me.
At the end of your call the next night he asks you if you've read the dictionary yet, and you just snort and hang up.
You talk to him almost every day and you're glad; in some ways you're closer now than you were when he slept in the bedroom across the hall, but you're not close to him in the way you want to be close to him and wish he would just come home already.
You tell him as much (the last part, anyway - you're not quite to the point where you can carelessly spew out your potentially relationship scarring feelings for him over the phone yet, maybe tomorrow though) and he tells you that he wishes he were there and you don't say anything but that may or may not have meant a lot to you, in a new way, in a way makes you feel like maybe you're not in this all alone, all the time.
You say you want to just magic your way over there, even if it'd be literally hundreds of times further than any distance you've ever covered with a spell, and even if your dad will get mad at you for using your powers like that, and even if your mom will freak out when she realizes you left the state for the night, because you miss him so, oh well.
He talks you out of it because apparently he can do that now and you ask him when are you coming home again? for the millionth time that week and he responds with the same sigh and apology and not for a while, Alex and when you ask him why not? for the millionth time that week he responds with the same vague it's not as easy as just packing a bag and going and you don't really care how easy it is or isn't for him - you just want him back.
It's your birthday so Harper is spending the night and you guys sit on your bed and read magazines and talk about clothes and she asks about Justin and you tell her he's fine and she admits she misses him and you say That dork? and hit ignore when he calls because you don't want to talk to him in front of Harper.
Just before midnight she leaves your room to grab two water bottles and a snack for the two of you (a product of your subtle prompting) and as soon as she closes the door behind her you pull your phone out and he answers on the first ring because he's Justin and it's your birthday.
"Happy birthday," he greets quietly, and it's kind of cheery but mostly it just sounds serious and the tears start, right away.
You wipe at them disgustedly with the back of your hand because seriously? You are not the girl who calls a guy because you miss him so much it hurts, and you are not the girl who cries at the sound of his voice, and you're not the girl who wants her brother to hug her and kiss her and ask her how does eighteen feel? even if he does it just as her brother. You're not. You're Alex.
He can tell, though. Always, always.
"I'm sorry," he says, and he sounds it, and you can feel it, and you wish he was saying it to you in person even though it wouldn't make sense because he would have nothing to apologize for if he were there in person and you just sniffle and you can hear him suck air in through clenched teeth because it sounds like a hiss and another tear rolls down your cheek that you have to wipe away.
"I really am, Alex."
And then the words oh, what the hell, literally go through your mind and you just let go, let a quiet sob escape you and maybe it'll get lost along the way, on the way to him, and he won't even hear it, because it's not like you're a drowning elephant or something, it's just a sob or two.
Okay, so he definitely hears them and you feel guilty for making him feel guilty but oh well because he deserves it for going so far away and you look around for your box of tissues and then realize you gave them to stupid rock girl and it makes you more angry than it should and you choke out, "Please come home," half-desperate, half-pissed and he sighs his trademark little sigh.
"Happy birthday, Alex," he says again, sadly, "I really wish I could be there." And then he hangs up because he is definitely trying to break you and you can't even press END because you are so upset, but then when you do press it, you press it hard because you are so upset and your phone beeps loudly so you throw it.
"Alex?" Harper says innocently when she gets back to the room, and you don't try to hide your wet cheeks or smudged makeup because there's really no use and you don't tell her what's wrong but you do take comfort in the big hug she forces on you, and the popcorn with chocolate syrup that she brought from the kitchen.
The next afternoon after Harper leaves you cry again, this time privately in the bathroom over the sink and you put your hands over your face and tell Max to go away, can't he see you're having a breakdown here? when he opens the door without knocking but he doesn't go away and you realize it wasn't him at all when arms go around your waist and you feel someone's face in your hair.
"I'm sorry," they say and you've heard those words and you've heard that voice and you've heard that voice say those words, just last night, and even though it was through the phone and a little bit crackly it was still definitely the same and when you open your eyes to look, to make sure, you see Justin.
"I should've been here," he tells you, ashamed, and you nod because hell yes he should've been here that jerk, but you don't say anything because he pulls you against him and kisses your hair and apologizes again so whatever, you guess he can be forgiven.
"How does eighteen feel?" he asks you and you snort and pretend it isn't a big deal but honestly, it feels like it is, it feels like it definitely is.
"It's okay to just say what you feel sometimes, Alex," he points out and you tell him this isn't a Nicholas Sparks novel so shut up because you have The Notebook thrown under your bed somewhere and you even read a few pages of it so you know.
"I know it's hard for you to be sincere," he says, and jeez, isn't he just full of wisdom tonight? "But you do know that you can be, right? With me?" And you're sincerely shocked that he thinks you would respond to that so you punch him in the arm and tell him you can't hear Whose Line over all his nonsensical blather.
In the morning you complain to your parents that he fell asleep in your room watching a movie and that he took up the whole bed and wouldn't go even after you threatened to bury his action figures in a mass grave and they laugh and say, oh, you two just won't admit that you miss each other, will you?
His eyes meet yours over the special pancake breakfast your mom made in honor of his surprise visit and you wonder if he's going to say anything, like maybe the truth, because you both know that the reason he stayed in your room was because when he tried to slip out, you grabbed his arm and gently pulled him back down and asked him to not to go.
He settled back down beside you but you hadn't just meant for the night.
You tell him to stay. It isn't a question.
"What's one more night? You're 4.0 will still be there when you get back," you point out, putting your feet in his lap and aiming the remote at the TV. He doesn't say anything for a moment. "So it's settled."
He sighs and rests his hand on your shin and you keep your eyes trained on the screen and you know that the longer he stays the harder it's going to be when he goes.
So you can't let him go.
But you do.
In the morning he comes into your room without knocking and luckily you're just doing your makeup, but what if you were indecent? You open your mouth to complain, possibly even rant because you haven't done that in a while, but he tells you he's about to head out and you're speechless.
You expected you'd be able to guilt or con him into putting off going back until at least the end of the week, the month, the semester, but really? This is the result of the scheme you haven't even begun plot yet?
"No you're not," you say logically, setting down the lip gloss that was still halfway to your face. "Don't be stupid."
His eyes land on you, looking disappointed in a way, or maybe just tired or unsure or, you don't know what, just not good. He pushes the door closed and you inwardly groan, knowing this means it's going be one of those conversations, the kind where he does all the talking and does his best to squeeze something out of you that supports the speculation that you're an actual person. The kind that you always have to pretend you can't hear because you can't hear that stuff, it's just not in you.
"Alex, can we just talk about this?" he asks, and you at least give the kid some points for being so persistent - most people would've given up by now, kissed the idea of any kind of resolution goodbye a long time ago.
Your eyes find themselves in the mirror of your vanity, "Hmm?" you mumble, sounding and looking faraway and it's not you're best but it'll do, if it gets you out of this situation.
He exhales loudly like you just sucked all the energy right out of him, just like that, and isn't that the idea? He runs a hand through his hair, frustrated. "Don't do that," he says simply.
Your raise your eyebrows and pretend to touch up the gloss on your lips.
"We're not kids anymore, Alex. We can't just keep dancing around this. Are you ever going to be able to able to talk about it?"
You stare at yourself staring at yourself staring at yourself. Your hands feel shaky like they already know that this is where the avoiding and the diverting and the procrastination ends. You wonder if you should accept that too, or if since your stubbornness has gotten you this far then you should just stick with it.
"I came back because you needed me to. Or I thought you did. But you're not okay whether I'm here or hundreds of miles away." Your face burns. You look at your hands. He waits for a long time for you to respond but your mouth is dry and you can't think of whatever words he wants you to say.
So he goes and you let him.
You go back to playing the game where he calls and you don't answer and then he stops calling and for once you're thankful that he won't be back for a while - your mind is still drawing a blank and you don't really want to see that look on his face again.
You don't want to see that look on his face knowing you put it there.
To get your mind off things you skeptically open your history textbook after blowing the dust off the cover, and carefully absorb the words printed in there. Apparently a lot of stuff happened before you were born.
You pass the next test in that class with a solid B and once your parents get over the suspicion that you used magic, they give you the week off from work because they want to promote this 'studying' you've been doing - or, you know, they don't want you to waste your luck on getting things like orders right when you could be using it on homework questions.
Because you liked the turn out of your first passing grade in ages, you figure you could try it again, maybe just one more time. It wouldn't hurt. Plus, it sure was nice not smelling too much like lettuce for the first time in years.
You go into Justin's room to find a calculator and even though you feel a twist here and there, it doesn't bother you too much, not really at all, and you don't linger, not even for a second, not even long enough to notice how it smells like him in there, or remember how he'd always open his curtains and read using the sunlight instead of a lamp 'even though it can strain your eyes' (he's always been such a rebel).
You just might pass trig after all.
You get home from school and overhear your parents talking about how Justin might not be able to come home for spring break - apparently there's a really super great internship opportunity for him.
They're sad but proud and you realize you have an essay to write for English so you can't really stay and chitchat.
You read over the assignment and quickly realize that you don't even understand what half the words mean, let alone how you're supposed to respond to them in three pages, size 12 Times New Roman, double spaced. It's a little disconcerting but now you're just kind of pissed, so you rustle around in all your crap until you find that dictionary, determined to make this essay your bitch.
Let's see, first word, retrospect. You open the dictionary refusing to consciously acknowledge who it's from and flip through it, your thumb skimming the edges of the pages as you search for the Rs. Except, you don't quite make it there, because you notice in between the blurs of pages going by that there are some markings, made by pen and pencil and highlighter….
You stop and investigate somewhere in the Ms. The word Mordant is highlighted. You read curiously. Mordant: adj., biting or severe. Your eyes narrow suspiciously and then take in what it scrawled in the margin with blue ink: but in a lovable way.
You pause, for one moment, just staring blankly at the words. And then, you're turning page after page furiously, eager to find the other words.
Sagacious: adj., quick of perception, shrewd. Even if you won't admit it.
Reckless: adj., heedless, careless. To the point where it's become endearing.
Loyal: adj., faithful, constant to friends and associates. Don't even try to deny it.
Page after page, yellow highlighter directs you to words you've never heard of before, never associated with yourself before, and you feel hot tears burn behind your eyes. How long did this take him? you wonder, noticing the different colored ink or how sometimes he used a pencil, and you know he didn't do it all in one sitting.
Beautiful, vibrant, unique, ultra-violet.
"Have you read the dictionary?" you remember him asking you more than once.
You begin to settle down, your heart starts to find a steady pace again, and your eyes contentedly linger on the text instead of bouncing over it in a crazy attempt to take every piece of it in at once. You appreciate every word he chose, the ones that glorify you, that make you feel perfect - clever, vivacious, passionate - the ones that are blatantly honest, that make you smile - secretive, stubborn, puzzling - and even the ones that make you pause, make you run your fingers over his comments, make tears slip down your cheeks - scared (you know, I've got you), uncommunicative (I know when something's wrong even when you don't), lost (don't worry, I'll be back soon).
And in the very back, written carefully inside the cover in his neat, boyish hand: someday we'll be ready.
You cry for a long time. And stare at the ceiling until your vision blurs. And clench the stupid dictionary in your fist tighter and tighter and the pages start to crinkle and you don't want them to but at the same time you kind of want to throw the whole thing into a fire and watch it turn black and crumble so what's a few wrinkles in the long run?
It's ironic (the dictionary does have a practical use as well) that it isn't until you're falling asleep that you finally wake up.
You find his number easily, his name number one on your list even when you hate him, and press the phone to your ear.
Your hands don't shake, and neither does your voice.
I'm sorry, you say.
He doesn't seem to hear you. It's three in the morning, what's wrong?
Nothing. Nothing's wrong. Silence hangs between you for a moment, and you hear a rustling sound on the other end, like he's sitting up, or switching the phone to his other ear. I'm ready now, you tell him. Are you?
He comes home for spring break after all.
You've been waiting for him all morning, pacing in front of the TV, staring at the door while eating your Cheerios, pretending to be interested in football when your dad steals the remote.
When he finally walks in, you're the first to greet him, but you don't attack the guy or anything. You wait the respectful second or so before wrapping your arms around him, ignoring the bags he still has in his hands. You hear him drop them to the floor before his arms go around your waist, and when he laughs your name into your hair and rubs your back it's not circles that you feel.
He grins proudly when you show him your record-breaking (for you, anyway) report card, and grimaces when you reluctantly explain what prompted you to study so much, and pulls you tightly against him when you tell him, don't worry, my grades are nice and low again.
You think he's being dramatic, but you realize you don't really mind, and just laugh against his shoulder when he swears he hopes you never pass again.
He comes up behind you on the terrace one night, when you're leaning over the railing looking at the people still bustling below, and puts his arms around you, shielding you from the chill you didn't even realize was in the air.
"You're looking thoughtful," he observes quietly, resting his chin on your shoulder.
You tilt your head to look up at the dark, empty sky and mhmm noncommittally in response.
"Anything in particular on your mind?"
A lot of things, you want to say. Everything. But really just one thing stands out so you go with it, go with it like you're sure it's the right thing to do when really you don't have a clue.
When you turn around to face him his hands slide until they rest loosely on your hips and he begins to take a step away, but you put your hand on his shoulder and stand on your toes to kiss him - gently, because you don't want to kill the poor kid (his heart's beating hard against your chest already) - and hope that this isn't going too far.
(you can feel the pressure of a certain leather wristband against your side and imagine the words being written on his wrist and think you left 'too far' behind a long time ago)
It feels about right when the corner of his lips lift, just barely.
The night before he leaves he finds you lying on your bed staring at the ceiling.
You feel the mattress dip when he sits down next to you, and a moment later goosebumps rise all over your body because his fingers are trailing down your arm. "You alright?" he asks, barely a whisper.
You lick your lips. "More than," you tell him, sitting up. His eyes meet yours, looking more suspicious than concerned (because he's Justin, of course he knows). "'Cause, you know," you continue, not being able to help the smirk that tugs at your lips, "I got you."
And you do.