He drifted in and out of consciousness for what seemed like an eternity. His head throbbed in pain as images swam around him. He saw Brit's face, as white as a ghost, then Allison's and Rachael's, then a few faces he didn't recognize, and finally his father's.
When he awoke, he immediately recognized his surroundings as a hospital room. His family stood around his bed, staring at him with worry. Brit's eyes were swollen and red; obviously she had been crying. Allison held his hand in her own.
A man whom Jeff assumed was the doctor approached him.
"Hello, Jeff," he greeted. "How are you feeling?"
"Just fine," Jeff replied. "Although I'm a little concerned that I'm lying here in a hospital bed. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that means I'm not exactly in perfect health at the moment," he laughed.
His family noticeably relaxed, the worry in their faces turned to relief. Brit rubbed the tears from her eyes as the color returned to her face.
"And how much do you remember about what happened?" asked the doctor.
"I remember the railing breaking and Brit falling. I caught her, and then that's the last thing I remember."
"When you caught your sister, it knocked you over," his father explained. "You hit your head on the side of the stairs. You were out cold for a couple of hours. We were all worried about you. Britney was just about in hysterics for a while. I knew it was only a matter of time before that railing gave out. I should have fixed it a long time ago. I'm just glad you were there to catch your sister."
"So how long do I have to live, doc?" Jeff grinned.
"Oh, you're going to be just fine. You've suffered a rather severe concussion, that's all."
"Severe?" asked Allison.
"Yes. You were unconscious for an unusually long time, Jeff, but the fact that you're awake now and in good spirits is a very good sign. I don't think there's going to be any permanent harm, but just in case, I'd like to keep you here overnight for observations. Tomorrow morning we'll run a CT scan, and then if there are no indications that you're going to get worse, you can go home."
"Thank you so much," said Greg.
"Now, there are going to be some symptoms that may show themselves over the next few weeks. For the next day or so, you should stay in bed as much as possible. Also, because of the severity of this concussion and the length of time you were unconscious, there's a good chance that you'll experience what's called Postconcussion Syndrome. That's just a big, scary term that means headaches and/or dizziness after a head injury. They should go away on their own eventually, but in the mean time, you need to know what to expect. You may have episodes of fatigue or acute sensitivity to light or sound. If any of those happen, just lie down until they pass. It's all right to take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to take the edge off of the pain, but you'll just have to let the headaches pass on their own, say in about fifteen or twenty minutes."
He then turned his attention to Greg and Allison. "If he falls asleep during these episodes, he's liable to sleep very soundly. You'll find it a little difficult to wake him during these times, so I suggest not even trying. Just let him sleep; that's just his body going into an intensive repair mode. Give him about two hours, then if he doesn't wake on his own and you can't wake him yourself, call the hospital right away. Normally we suggest not leaving him alone for twenty-four hours, even when he sleeps, just in case there are any more severe symptoms. Because of the severity of this concussion and the high probability of headaches and dizziness, I'm going to suggest we extend that to a month." Then to Jeff, he added, "During that time, try to avoid any activities where you could suffer another head injury, such as contact sports. Back-to-back concussions like that have a high risk of developing long-term problems. And don't go swimming because of the chance you could faint and drown."
"You said a month?" asked Greg.
"Yes. I'd like to see him again in a month. By that time, he should be all better. If not, we'll have to make plans for some more extensive tests. So are there any questions?"
"Jeff?" asked Greg.
"What should I do at school if I start feeling dizzy?"
"I'll write you a note that explains everything," said the doctor. "You can give it to your teachers and the school nurse. If you start getting headaches or feeling dizzy, have someone take you to the nurse right away. Really all you need is a place to lie down for a while."
"I'll call Kari as soon as we get home," suggested Allison. "She can look after you while you're at school, and the rest of us can look after you when you're at home."
"All right," said the doctor. "If there are no more questions, I'll leave you with your family. I'll see you tomorrow morning, Jeff." He turned and left the room.
"Well, Jeff," said Greg. "I'm very proud of you. You've grown up so much in the last few days, it's amazing. A week ago you were still fighting with your sister, and now you've saved her life."
"To tell you the truth, I haven't really grown up all that much. If this had happened a week ago, I would have done exactly the same thing."
"Really?" asked Brit.
"I've always loved you, Brit. Just because I haven't shown it doesn't mean it's not true."
"I love you too Jeff," she said with a grin of delight.
"I think it's wonderful that you love each other so much," said Rachael. "I never had a brother, but if I did I would want him to be just like you, Jeff."
"If I had a brother I'd want him to be just like Jeff too," Brit giggled.
"Last I checked, he is your brother," Greg told her with an amused smile.
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Then my wish came true!"
"Brit, did anyone ever tell you you're adorable?" Rachael asked her.
"Dang. I was going for 'horrifying.'"
"No, that was last week," Jeff said, and she stuck her tongue out at him. It was good to see her in better spirits. He hated to see her cry, and not just because that would end some of his privileges. Actually, now that he thought about it, this probably didn't count, because it wasn't because he was being mean to her.
"Jeff, if you don't mind, we didn't get to eat dinner yet," his dad said. "So we're going to run over and pick up some hamburgers or something. We'll get you one too. But we'll be right back."
"That's fine," he replied.
"Can I stay with Jeff?" asked Brit. "Just pick me up something and bring it back."
"I think that's all right," Greg told her. "As long as you two both promise not to fight."
"We promise," they both said together.
Allison released his hand, and Brit immediately snatched it up. As the adults left the room, Brit sat down in the chair that Allison had occupied.
Jeff lay back on the pillow and just stared at her for a few minutes. She stared back, a smile of adoration on her face. She was so lovely, and once again she reminded him of an angel, just like their dad called her. It made him feel good to know that she loved him.
It also felt nice to be holding her hand like that. It was just a simple gesture, but he enjoyed those little affectionate things she did that told him how much she cared for him. He was glad she was his sister.
"Thank you, Jeff," she said after a few minutes.
"For saving my life, silly," she said. "I know a simple thank you can't possibly cover what you did for me--"
"No it doesn't," he replied. "But seeing that smile on your face does."
"You're so sweet, Jeff," she said, leaning in and hugging him. "I don't know what I'd ever do without a brother like you."
"I'm just trying to make up for all those times I made you mad."
"You've already made up for them."
"Don't say that, because then I don't have any reason to keep trying."
Brit giggled. "So now you can start working on getting ahead."
"That's a good idea, as long as you do the same for me."
"You saved my life. I owe you so much already that I'll never catch up."
"Well, let's not worry about who owes whom. Let's just agree to be nice to each other."
"Just be nice?"
"I don't mean just to not fight. I mean, be really nice to each other. You know, look for opportunities to make each other happy."
"I like that. You're already the best brother in the whole world, so I'll just have to try to be the best sister in the whole world."
"You already are," he told her.
"You're just saying that."
"No I'm not. These past few days have been absolutely wonderful, all because of you. I love having you as a sister."
"Thanks," she said, blushing.
Jeff began to feel a little dizzy, so he closed his eyes and lay his head back on the pillow.
"Are you all right, Jeff?" asked Brit with a tinge of worry in her voice.
"I'm fine. Just the first of my dizzy spells."
"Do you want me to call the nurse?"
"No. Stay here with me. Just keep holding my hand. It will pass in a minute."
As it turned out, it was about twenty minutes before he could open his eyes without the room spinning. Tears had returned to Brit's eyes as she watched him.
"It's all right," he told her. "You really don't have to worry about me."
"But I do worry."
"I know, and I appreciate it."
"I wish you didn't have to stay here all night."
"Me too. But I'll see you tomorrow."
"Not until after school. That's a long ways away."
"A week ago you would have said it was too short a time to be away from me."
"That was before you saved my life."
He smiled. It really did feel good to have this beautiful little girl looking up to him as her hero.
A few minutes later the rest of the family returned with dinner. It was just hamburgers and fries, but it really didn't matter; the company was the important thing. They all sat around eating and talking.
All too soon they had to leave. Brit didn't want to go, and protested strongly. However, visiting hours were over and they had to get home to bed. They said their goodbyes and left him there, Allison and Rachael promising they would come to get him the next day.
In the morning, the doctor came in to see him again. Jeff reported his dizzy spell the night before, but the doctor didn't think that was any reason to keep him another day. He checked his pulse and heart rate, shined a light in his eyes to check for pupil dilation, then ran half a dozen other tests on him. Then an orderly came in to take him to the radiology department for his CT scan.
The procedure was surprisingly painless. He just had to lie very still on a table with a glowing machine over his head for a couple of minutes, then it was all over. They brought him back to his room, where he found his whole family waiting for him.
Greg explained that he had taken off half a day from work in case Jeff needed him, and Brit had stubbornly refused to go to school until Jeff came home. As a compromise, they had promised to pick her up at the junior high when they came to get him.
They made another appointment for the next month, then headed out of the hospital to the van. Jeff sat in the back between Brit and Rachael.
"So I was thinking," Greg commented as they drove home from the hospital. "The doctor said you shouldn't be left alone when you sleep, so maybe we should have you sleep on the couch. Allison and I could take turns sleeping in a chair."
"For a whole month?" asked Allison. "I don't mind doing it for Jeff's sake, but I would hate for him to have to sleep on the couch that whole time."
"Can you think of a better option?"
"I can," said Brit. "Why don't I sleep in Jeff's room?"
Greg glanced at Allison, then back at Brit. "No, dear," he said. "You're too young. He needs someone older to be with him."
"For what? It's just in case something bad happens, just like the doctor said. If it did, all I would have to do is come and get you."
"She has a point," Allison mentioned. "She really wouldn't have to do much at all."
"But Jeff's room is too messy to put a sleeping bag down."
"Oh, daddy," Brit laughed. "I could just sleep in his bed. I've done it before, remember."
Once more Greg glanced at Allison, as if seeking for some confirmation, but Allison merely shrugged.
"Jeff, you wouldn't mind?" asked Greg.
Jeff didn't want to sound too eager, though he was certainly pleased with the idea. "As long as she behaves herself," he said. "The last thing I need is to get into a fight with her."
"Brit, do you promise you'll be nice to your brother?" asked Allison.
"I promise," she smiled. "I'll be very very very nice to him."
"What about when he takes his shower in the morning?" asked Allison. "I know it's only ten minutes or so, but the doc said he's not supposed to be alone."
"I'll stay with him," Brit enthusiastically offered.
"Shut up!" Jeff exclaimed, hoping to sound disgusted. In fact, he felt just the opposite; if it weren't for the fact that his dad would never go for the idea, Jeff would love nothing more than to have Brit there with him. Especially if she were willing to get into the shower with him...
"That's something I hadn't thought of," Greg said. "I suppose I'm really the only appropriate person in this family to be with him."
That certainly didn't sound amusing. Jeff hoped another arrangement could be made.
Allison came to his rescue. "But you need to get ready to go to work in the mornings," she told Greg. "You don't have time to watch him."
"But it wouldn't be right for you or Brit to be with him."
"I don't think he has to have someone right in the room," said Allison. "I could wait in his bedroom, and as long as he keeps the door unlocked, he could give me a yell if he needs me. Besides, it's only for a few minutes a day. What are the chances of him having an episode during that time?"
"I suppose... I suppose that would be all right," Greg said. "What do you think, Jeff?"
"That's fine," he shrugged, trying not to show his enthusiasm for the idea and at the same time wondering if he could fake a headache one of these days and get Allison to come in and help him. But it was just a fantasy; he would never do something like that.
"All right," Greg agreed. "Now, there are a couple of other matters that need to be resolved. Obviously, I don't want you driving until you clear it with the doctor."
"That makes sense," Jeff replied.
"If you want, I'll drive you to school in the morning," Allison offered. "You too, Brit. That way you won't have to take the bus."
"Okay," both kids agreed enthusiastically.
"The other thing I was thinking," said Greg, "is that I'm not sure if we should be going camping with Jeff like he is."
"Don't you dare cancel the camping trip on my account," Jeff protested. "I'll be fine, I promise."
"But we'll be--"
"No more than half an hour from the nearest town," he interrupted. "I'll bet an ambulance could make it in twenty minutes if we need one, not that there's even a chance that we will."
"Oh, I'm not worried about that. I just don't think it's going to do you any good to be sleeping on the hard ground, even with a foam mattress under your sleeping bag."
"We're not going to be hiking in anywhere this time. We'll have the van right there. If it looks like it's going to be an issue, we can put the seat down in the back and I can sleep there. Remember that road trip we took a few years ago? That seat makes a really comfortable bed."
"I agree with Jeff," said Allison. "I'm really looking forward to this camping trip. I think he can survive two nights outdoors, even with his headache."
Greg nodded. "All right Jeff, if you think you're up for it, we'll stick to the plan. So that just leaves one more thing to discuss. Next weekend when we take Rachael back home, we need to make sure not to leave you alone."
"What did you have in mind, dear?" asked Allison.
"I was just wondering if we could take them over to Allen Williams' house while we're gone."
"But I already promised the volleyball team they could come over and practice," Jeff insisted. "They're counting on it."
"I know, but under the circumstances..."
"What circumstances? Almost all of them can drive, so they can take me to the hospital if they need to. And one of them, Shelly, worked as a lifeguard during the summer. She's taken about a dozen first aid classes. I really don't think there will be any problem."
"But maybe you should have an adult with you."
"Why? Shelly could do more than any adult could, even Allen Williams."
Greg considered. "That's a good point. But that's just Saturday. What about the rest of the time?"
"I'll take care of him," Brit offered.
"That's sweet of you, but I think we need someone older--"
"Everyone keeps saying I'm not old enough!" Brit exclaimed. "How can I prove myself if you won't give me a chance?"
"Do you know what to do if Jeff has a headache or a dizzy spell?"
"Sure. I help him lie down somewhere, get him some headache medicine, and wait it out. I heard what the doctor said, just like you."
"And what happens if he has worse symptoms? What if you need to drive him to the hospital?"
"You were planning to have us stay at Kari's and Crystal's house anyway, so I'll talk to Crystal today at school and have her ask her dad if he'll make himself available to call in case we need an adult. And if worse comes to worst, I can always call for an ambulance. I'll write down the phone numbers I need and stick them to the refrigerator."
Greg laughed. "You know, I think you're a lot smarter than I've been giving you credit for. All right, we'll stick to the original plan. As long as you both promise you won't leave the house."
"What about outside by the volleyball court?" asked Jeff.
"That's fine, as long as you're on the grounds."
"Okay then, I promise."
"Me too," said Brit.
He spent the rest of the morning lying on the couch as Allison and Rachael fawned over him. Greg dropped Brit off at school and returned to work, leaving him alone with his stepmother and aunt, which didn't bother him in the least. The concussion had sapped his energy, so he didn't have the strength to take advantage of Rachael's presence, not that he would have much opportunity to do anything with Allison there anyway.
At one point Rachael suggested that he turn over onto his stomach so she could rub his back, and he readily agreed. That was at least innocent enough that Allison wouldn't argue. He lay there for a long time as she ran her hands all over him. Even when his stepmother came into the room, she said nothing about it, so Rachael continued the massage. In fact, Allison even took over for a bit, to his delight. It was so relaxing that he fell asleep five minutes later.
When he awoke, he was lying on Greg's and Allison's bed, with Rachael there beside him, one of her arms flung over him. She flashed him a charming smile, and he smiled back weakly.
"We couldn't wake you," she explained. "We figured it would be better for you to be in bed, and we didn't dare try to take you upstairs. Allison's fixing lunch so she left me to watch you."
"While I appreciate the company, I fail to see how being in the bed with me offers any benefit over sitting in a chair or something," he said.
"Maybe it doesn't benefit you," she grinned.
Allison then appeared in the doorway carrying a tray of food. "Okay Rachael, stop trying to seduce my stepson," she said, though in an amused rather than angry tone. "I'm sure he's not feeling good today." She set the tray down on the desk in the corner.
"That's the whole point of seducing him," Rachael replied. "To make him feel good."
Allison rolled her eyes. "Not today, Rachael," she said.
"Okay. Jeff, you don't mind if I seduce you tomorrow, do you?"
"Not a bit," he grinned.
"Don't encourage her," Allison laughed.
"It's not his fault," Rachael insisted. "His very presence encourages me."
"Rachael, I really don't think he's up for this."
"Let's find out if he's up," she said, sliding her hand down to his crotch.
Allison grabbed her hand and pulled it away. "That's not funny," she said.
"Come on, Allison. Don't be jealous. I'm willing to share."
"It's not about sharing," Allison said. "It's about not doing anything to exacerbate his condition."
"What do you have against exacerbation? I exacerbated last night. Several times, in fact."
"You really are too much, you know that, Rachael?" Allison laughed. "I think it's dangerous to leave you alone with Jeff."
"Then don't. You can join right in if you want."
Allison sighed. "You win," she said, then climbed up onto the bed and lay down on Jeff's other side.
"Allison, what are you doing?" Jeff asked, astonished.
"Not what you're thinking," she replied with a laugh. "I'm just staying with you to keep Rachael from getting too friendly."
"But... why are you getting in bed?"
"It's my bed."
"Actually, the truth is that I couldn't sleep at all last night."
"Why couldn't you sleep?"
"Because I was worried about you, of course."
"You were worried about me?" he asked.
"Of course, Jeff. You're my stepson, and I care about you." She reached up and began to stroke his cheek. "Every member of this family is dear to me, and I hate to see them hurt. Although admittedly, if it was a choice between you getting hurt like this or you not catching Brit..."
"Oh, so you like Brit more than me, do you?" he teased.
"No, of course not! It's just that that fall could have killed her."
"I know what you meant," he grinned.
"So my point is, after being up all night with worry, I think I deserve a nap. You don't mind, do you?"
"Of course I don't mind," he smiled.
"What kind of a man would he be if he minded two gorgeous women lying next to him?" Rachael said.
"Pay no attention to her," Allison told him. "Just relax. If you want to go to sleep again, that's fine. That's what I plan to do."
"Stay awake, Jeff!" Rachael whispered, deliberately loud enough that her sister could hear. "When she falls asleep, we'll have our chance."
"Maybe I'm not so sleepy after all," Allison said, and Jeff laughed.
"Thanks, you two," he said.
"For what?" asked Allison.
"For making it fun."
"It's not really my definition of fun," Rachael said, "but I guess it will do." She leaned in and lay her head down on Jeff's chest. "That feels nice," she sighed. "No wonder Brit..."
"No wonder Brit what?" he asked.
"No wonder she wants to sleep in your bed this month. I'm jealous."
"Knock it off, Rachael," said Allison.
"Hey, you would be saying the same thing if you knew how good this feels. Come here, Allison." She reached out with her hand and grabbed her sister by the arm.
"I don't think that's such a good idea," Allison replied.
"Oh, don't be so shy."
"Shy? Now that's a first. I've never been called shy before."
"Compared to me?"
"Anyway, just try it. I'm sure you'll like it."
"I'm sure I will too. That's the problem."
"Come on. Just this once."
Allison glanced at Jeff, who gave her an encouraging smile. "Oh, all right," she said, then scooted in and lay her head on the opposite side of his chest. Allison and Rachael were almost nose-to-nose, and Jeff felt thrilled to have both of them lying there beside him. He slid his arms around them both. Surprisingly, Allison didn't try to stop him.
"See? Now isn't that nice?" asked Rachael.
"Very nice," her sister replied.
"What about you, Jeff?"
"Wonderful," he said.
"So now you can't say I've never done anything nice for you," Rachael grinned.
"I haven't been able to say that since that night you first babysat me," he replied, and the three of them broke out into laughs.
Allison closed her eyes. "You don't mind if I go to sleep like this, do you?"
"Not at all."
"Me too?" asked Rachael.
"Don't tell me you were up all night with worry for me too."
"No, I told you, I was exacerbating all night," she grinned.
Jeff laughed, then relaxed and closed his eyes. Unfortunately, he couldn't get back to sleep, but that didn't bother him a bit. With the two girls there in his arms, he was more than content just to lie there and bask in the warmth and softness of their bodies. He especially enjoyed Allison lying there. In a way, by taking a physically inferior position she was symbolically elevating him to her level, or perhaps lowering herself to his. He had always worshipped her as someone far beyond his reach in beauty, intelligence, and charm. Yet here she was, lying here in his arms, treating him at the very least as an equal.
He lay there awake a full two hours, though it seemed like only a few minutes. Then Allison awoke, and upon seeing where she was and who she was with, kissed him on the cheek, causing him to blush. She didn't make a big deal out of his embarrassment, but simply thanked him. Then she gently nudged Rachael awake. Rachael yawned and stretched seductively (everything she did was seductive), then grudgingly climbed out of the bed.
"Oops," said Allison, spying the tray of food she had left on the desk. "I came in here to bring you lunch, but I guess I got a little sidetracked."
"I have the same problem whenever I'm around Jeff," said Rachael.
The three of them ate a late lunch, then they headed back out to the front room where Jeff could lie on the couch and watch television. He was still lying there in that position when Brit came home from school. The first thing she did was run over to him and hug him.
"How are you feeling?" she asked.
"Fine," he replied. "I took a long nap this morning, but so far I haven't had any headaches or dizziness."
"I hope it stays that way," she said.
The phone rang, and Allison answered it. It was Kari, wondering why Jeff hadn't been at school that day. Allison explained the situation to her, and asked if she wouldn't mind watching out for Jeff at school the next few weeks, to which she readily agreed.
Allison brought the phone over to Jeff so that he could talk to her for a minute, and he assured her that he was feeling fine. They talked for about twenty minutes, then Kari said she had to go. Jeff said he would probably be back at school tomorrow, so he would talk to her again then. He handed the phone back to Allison, who put it back.
For the rest of the afternoon, Brit refused to leave his side, but sat there on the floor next to him until their father came home from work and Allison called them all in to dinner. She asked if Jeff was up for eating at the dining room table, and he said that would be fine.
With Jeff mostly back to normal, the atmosphere in the house was much lighter than it had been in the hospital. The worry was gone from everyone's faces, and they laughed and joked like usual. The only difference was that Jeff didn't have much energy, so he simply smiled or chuckled weakly where before he would have been laughing as loudly as everyone else.
He returned to the living room to continue to watch television for a couple of hours, lacking the strength to do anything else. At about eight, he said he was tired enough that he wanted to go to bed early.
"Come on, Greg," said Allison. "Let's escort him upstairs to make sure he makes it up there all right."
"Me too," said Brit, hopping up off of the floor.
"Just a minute," said Greg. He headed down the hall to his room for a second, then into the kitchen. When he returned, he carried a glass of water and a bottle of pills.
"Let's keep these in Jeff's room for the next month," he suggested.
The four of them made their way up the stairs. Jeff was able to climb them on his own, though in his weakened condition it was a little harder than usual. At the top of the stairs, Brit glanced over at the broken railing, then shuddered and took his hand.
Once they reached his room, she said she might as well change into her pajamas too so she wouldn't have to later, so she headed down the hall to her own room while Greg and Allison accompanied Jeff into his.
He changed into a tee-shirt and sweat pants in the bathroom, then headed back into his bedroom. He was just about to climb into bed when the worst headache he had ever felt pounded through his head. He sucked in his breath and closed his eyes tightly. He stumbled, but fortunately he was already at his destination so when he fell to his knees the upper half of his body ended up on the bed.
"Jeff!" Allison exclaimed in fright.
He kept his eyes closed tightly as he moaned in pain and writhed around. Allison hurried over and helped him the rest of the way onto his bed, while Greg opened the bottle of pills and poured four of them out into his hand. Allison helped Jeff into a sitting position as Greg brought the medicine and glass of water over to him. Jeff took them and swallowed all four of them with a single gulp from the glass.
"Are you going to be all right?" his dad asked, worried.
"It sure doesn't feel like it," he mumbled, although the pain was beginning to lessen. He lay back once again on the bed.
"The doctor said it should last only fifteen or twenty minutes," Greg told him.
"I know. I just hope I survive that long." He put his hands to his head and gritted his teeth.
As Jeff moaned in pain, Greg and Allison sat nearby, feeling helpless. Allison even had tears in her eyes. Neither of them liked to see Jeff in pain.
Brit entered the room, wearing a cute little set of light blue pajamas. As soon as she saw Jeff there moaning, her eyes filled with worry. "What's wrong with him?" she asked.
"He's just got a headache," Allison told her. "He'll be all right once it passes. I just wish there was something we could do."
"Do you mind if I try?" asked Brit.
"What could you do that we haven't already tried?" Greg asked her.
"I can't do anything about the pain, but I think I can at least get him in a better mood."
"All right, dear. Do what you can."
Brit moved over to the bed. "Jeff, I have a secret to tell you," she said. He opened his eyes and forced a weak smile. Brit leaned over and put her mouth up next to his ear, but instead of whispering anything, she suddenly nibbled on his earlobe.
Jeff burst out laughing. He grabbed her and pulled her over on top of him, and she gave a startled squeak. He hugged her tightly to him, grinning.
"I don't believe it," Greg breathed, astonished.
"But what about your headache?" asked Allison.
"It still hurts," he replied, "but Brit's made it feel a lot better. Brit, you should be a doctor when you grow up," he joked.
"Except that I wouldn't like to use my special treatment on too many people," she replied. "Only on ones who have earlobes that taste as good as yours."
They all laughed at that, and Greg's and Allison's expressions of worry turned to relief.
"I'll be all right now," said Jeff, "if Brit doesn't mind staying here with me for a while."
"I don't mind at all," said Brit. "I want to make you feel better."
Allison put a hand on Greg's arm. "I think he's going to be all right now," she said. "Since it's getting close to bedtime, we might as well leave them alone now and let them sleep."
"Are you sure?" Greg asked.
"Yes dear. Brit will come get us if he needs anything, won't you Brit?"
"Of course. But don't worry. I'll take care of my big brother."
With that, Greg and Allison left the room and headed downstairs.
"So Jeff," said Brit, "how bad does it hurt?"
"Nowhere near as bad as it did before you came in," he replied, and she beamed at the compliment.
"Thank you, Jeff," she grinned, hugging him.
"For what?" he asked.
"For letting me know that you like me to take care of you when you're in pain."
"I like you to take care of me any time."
"Really. Maybe I didn't before, but now I do."
She cuddled up next to him, and he wrapped one of his arms around her. It felt so nice that despite the headache, he had a smile on his face.
Brit was asleep by the time his headache passed, but he remembered that there was something he had to say to her anyway.
"I love you. Good night," he whispered, then closed his eyes and fell asleep himself.
The first thing he noticed when he woke up in the morning was Allison leaning over him. Somehow during the night he had rolled over and now lay with his head on Brit's chest. Her warm body against his cheek felt amazingly good, even through the cloth of her pajamas. She was stroking his hair the same way he had stroked hers before.
"How are you feeling, Jeff?" asked Allison.
"Much better," he mumbled. In truth, he felt so relaxed that he didn't want to get up.
She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. "Are you going to be well enough to go to school today?" she asked.
"I think so," he replied.
"All right. Brit, go ahead and take your shower first. Let Jeff rest a little longer."
"But I want to stay with him!" she whined.
"I know you do, dear. I know how much you love your big brother. But you have to go to school too. Besides, I need to talk to him alone for a minute."
Jeff rolled over onto his back, and Brit climbed out of bed and headed for the bathroom. Once she disappeared through the door and closed it behind her, Allison took Jeff's hand. He had to admit, even something that simple felt good with Allison.
"You're amazing, Jeff," she said.
"What? Why?" he asked.
"This is the second time you've saved Brit's life. I'm beginning to think you're her guardian angel."
Jeff felt a little guilty; the first instance had been a fabrication. But she was still half right, so he smiled at the compliment.
"I mean it, Jeff," she continued. "You're very brave, and you're so good to your sister. I know you love her deeply, even if you didn't show it much before. Now I think that your love is starting to mature."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Just that you two seem to be getting along a lot better now. Brit really adores you, you know that? She's a really special girl, and now she has a wonderful older brother to look after her. Things have changed between you, but I want you to know that it's for the better. Don't ever second-guess it, okay?"
He still wasn't sure what she meant, but he agreed. She smiled and kissed him on the forehead again.