The clock read 1:27 when he awoke to an annoying whimper coming from the front room. For a while he lay motionless, too sleepy to even move, and hoping that the noise would go away. It was a quiet sound, just at the edge of his hearing, and for the longest time he wondered whether he heard it at all. But after lying there trying to ignore it for a while, he just couldn't put it out of his mind.
It was probably just Melinda, he figured, doing her best to be obnoxious even in the middle of the night. Couldn't she even spare him long enough for him to get some sleep? He sat up, rested for a moment to work up the willpower to get out of bed, then rose to his feet and opened the bedroom door.
A blast of cold air immediately struck him. The rain earlier in the evening had stopped, but it had done its job; the temperature had lowered dramatically, and that crack in the window made sure that the chill crept into the cabin as well. In fact, the only room in the house that had been sealed off from it was his bedroom.
In the darkness he could barely make out the shape of his sister, lying on the couch wrapped in a blanket and shivering almost violently from the cold. He could hear her sobbing quite clearly, and he didn't blame her. No wonder she wanted to sleep in his bedroom. She was likely to get really sick if she had to endure this temperature all night.
A chill came over him that had nothing to do with the cold. The vacation had just started, and there was no way to contact the outside world. If she got sick, it would be a full week before she would get any help. A lot could happen in a week.
He slipped to the side of the couch and knelt down in front of her. "Melinda," he said, in probably the gentlest tone he had addressed her with in years.
Her eyes opened. "I'm so c- c- cold," she stammered through rattling teeth.
"I know. I'm sorry for kicking you out of my room earlier." He couldn't remember the last time he had apologized to her, at least when not being forced to, which didn't count. But he found that once he said the words, they didn't feel as painful as he expected.
"Can... can I...?" she started to ask.
"Come on," he told her. Then he did something that surprised even himself. He slipped his hands under her and lifted her into his arms. Feeling her shivering against him, he realized just how dangerous it had been to make her sleep out here in the cold. If anything had happened to her...
He was shocked to realize that he really did care.
Trevor carried his little sister into the bedroom, kicking the door closed behind him to fight off the chill. Even in the brief time that it had been open, the temperature had dropped noticeably. It was still quite a bit warmer in here than out in the front room though, and with the heat from both of their bodies no doubt it would warm right back up in no time.
He deposited Melinda gently on the bed, then climbed in next to her and drew up the blankets. She surprised him by throwing her arms around his neck.
"Thank you," she whispered.
Trevor nodded, holding her to him and marveling in the fact that he didn't find it disgusting at all to sleep in the same bed as his sister. He wasn't even worried about cooties.
Melinda was still curled up in his arms when he woke in the morning. She lay there slumbering peacefully, huddled against him, her face against his chest. He glanced down and watched her for a few minutes, enjoying what he saw. Trevor had always thought his little sister was pretty, though he would never say it to her face. And despite not getting along with her, he had always felt just a little protective of her. Right now she looked so beautiful and vulnerable sleeping there, he felt like he could just watch her for hours.
My little sister
, he thought. How can such a beautiful girl be such a brat?
But he already knew the answer. She was a brat because he never gave her a chance to be anything else. It was not often that Trevor would admit feeling guilty about how he treated her; normally he just got defensive and said it was her fault. Right now, though, he was filled with regret for not having been a better brother to her.
Before he realized what he was doing, he reached up and started stroking her cheek tenderly. Melinda gave a little moan, then opened her eyes. She blinked a couple of times as her eyes focused, then glanced up at him.
"What are you doing?" she demanded, though in her tired state her tone lacked the venomous quality that normally accompanied it when talking to him.
"Just feeling your cheeks to see how cold you are. You gave me a good scare last night. I thought you were going to freeze to death."
"What do you care?"
"I just do," he replied.
Melinda remained quiet for several seconds, then said, half mumbling, "Sorry for snapping at you."
"Hard to break old habits, isn't it?" he smiled, trying to sound amused. On the inside, though, for some reason it bothered him that her first inclination was to get mad at him, no matter the circumstances.
How did it come to this?
"So are you feeling better?" he asked.
"I'm feeling warmer," she replied. "I didn't get much sleep last night though, until you brought me in here."
"Sorry for waking you. You just go ahead and go back to sleep. I'll look after you."
"I don't need you to look after me."
"I know, but I want to."
She glanced up at him, a slightly confused look on her face. He didn't blame her. He couldn't remember the last time he had been nice to her out of choice. Usually he was only nice to her after a stern lecture by one of their parents, accompanied by the threat of grounding. Of course, she was usually just as bad.
"Humor me," he said. "Let me look after you."
"You're acting weird," she mumbled, but she closed her eyes and lay her head back down on his chest. Almost immediately her breathing grew deeper and he could tell from the sound of it that she had fallen asleep again.
He lay there for the longest time, staring up at the ceiling and thinking about his relationship with his little sister. He really did love her, despite almost never showing it. It made him wonder whether things could change between them. Had they gotten so used to constantly fighting that they wouldn't even think about being nice to each other? Right now it felt so nice to lie here with her in his arms that it was easy to forget that they were always constantly at each other's throats. For a moment, at least, they were not enemies, and that felt surprisingly good.
Melinda slept another hour as he patiently watched over her. He dozed a couple of times himself, but never for more than a few minutes. He had, after all, had several hours more sleep than she had, so he wasn't particularly tired.
It was nearing 8:00 when she woke again. She yawned and stretched, then lifted her head and stared at him.
"So you're still here, are you?" she asked.
"Still here," he smiled.
"So it's not just some crazy, mixed-up dream where you're actually a decent human being for once?"
"Not unless I'm having the same dream."
"Huh." It was obvious she couldn't wrap her head around the idea that he wasn't being a big jerk to her. He found it a little unbelievable himself.
"Well, I guess I'd better get up then," she said. "I'm in the mood for a cup of cocoa."
"You just lie right there, young lady," he said in a teasing but authoritative tone reminiscent of their father's. "I'll go get it for you."
"Okay, what's up, Trevor?" she asked. "I feel like this is all some kind of setup to a practical joke or something."
"No joke. Strange as it may sound, I actually feel like being nice to you this morning."
"Why?" demanded Melinda.
"Do you promise not to tell anyone else?" He could trust her with that promise because no matter how much they fought and bickered, there were certain lines they just did not cross, including telling each other's secrets.
"Fine," she nodded.
"I love you," said Trevor.
"What?" she asked. "That's your big secret?"
"More or less," he shrugged. "Look, Melinda, last night got me thinking. We're completely cut off from the outside world. Mom and Dad wanted it that way so that we would be stuck with each other. But it also means that if you were to get sick, we'd have only the supplies in the first-aid kit to keep you alive until they got back on Saturday. With you half frozen for most of the night, I was worried that you might catch pneumonia."
"And if I died, you wouldn't get that car for graduation next year," she grinned.
"The hell with the car," he said. "To tell you the truth, it really scared me to think that you might get sick and die, just like that."
"It really bothered you that much?"
"It really bothered me that much."
"Really. So think of this as my way of making it up to you for putting you in danger last night by refusing to let you sleep with me. Because I really do love you, Melinda."
"You know, for a big jerk, you really can be sweet once in a while. Once in a long, long, long, long while."
"Don't worry. If it makes you uncomfortable, I can always turn back into a big jerk this afternoon," he teased.
In response, she grabbed her pillow and hit him in the face with it, laughing.
"Oh, you want to get rough?" he taunted. He grabbed his own pillow by the ends and held it above her head, slowly lowering it as if to place it over her face.
"No suffocating me!" she said. "Remember the car."
"Dang! Oh well. I guess I'll have to wait until after the vacation." He set the pillow back on the bed. "Well, since I can't suffocate you, would you settle for a nice hot cup of cocoa instead?"
"Sure. And Trevor, I really do appreciate it. If you promise not to tell anyone either, I'll admit that I love you too."
He smiled, lifted the covers out of the way, slid his legs over the side of the bed, then gave a surprised yelp.
"What?" asked Melinda.
"Cold floor," he explained. Fortunately, his shoes sat right by the bed, so he slipped his feet into them and stood up. The chill of the morning air was an unpleasant change from the warmth of the bed and his sister's body, so he grabbed his coat and threw it over his tee shirt. Then he opened the bedroom door, stepping out into the even colder atmosphere of the cabin.
He headed straight into the kitchen to put a pan of water on the stove and start it heating. Their parents had thoughtfully left them a 54 ounce jar of instant cocoa mix, more than enough to last the whole week even if they drank it with every meal.
Since he could do nothing until the water boiled, he went into the other bedroom to take a look at the crack in the window. It turned out to be more than a crack; a roughly triangular piece about five inches long was missing. The inside of the wall was even water-stained below it where the rain had come in. Trevor spent some time searching through the gear their parents had left them for some duck tape or anything else he could use to cover it, but it turned out that the only adhesives were bandages in the first-aid kit, and even if they weren't too small to do the job, they likely wouldn't stick to the glass for more than a couple of hours.
He wasn't sure how he felt about the prospect of sleeping in the same bed as Melinda the entire vacation. It had felt surprisingly comfortable last night and this morning, but if they started up their usual bickering and fighting, it probably wouldn't be so fun.
By now the water had reached a steady boil, so he poured it into a couple of mugs, added the cocoa powder, and stirred it in. Then he carried both mugs back to the bedroom, where he found Melinda already sitting up in bed waiting for him. He handed her one of the cups, then lifted the covers and climbed back into bed, half expecting her to bitch and moan about not wanting him in the same bed. But she didn't, so the two of them sat there together, sipping their hot chocolate in silence.
Their truce lasted another fifteen minutes. At 8:35, Trevor took his shower. At 8:45 he left the shower and got dressed. At 8:48 Melinda took his place in the bathroom. At 8:50 she discovered that there was only enough hot water for a single 10 minute shower.
Her screech of annoyance accompanied by a loud accusation that he did it on purpose penetrated the bathroom door and made its way to Trevor's ears at the other end of the cabin. He sighed, knowing that whatever strange mood had overtaken them this morning and caused them to actually be nice to each other had passed. Glancing regretfully at the bathroom door, he reached into his pocket and fished out his deck of cards, knowing that he had a long day full of solitaire to look forward to.
But the memory of cuddling in bed with his little sister lingered. The mood might have passed, but it had changed something, at least in Trevor. He found himself glancing at her all day, seeing her in a new way. She was bratty. She was annoying. She was obnoxious to the point of sometimes driving him crazy. But now he knew that she was also cuddly. Although he would never say it out loud, when he was honest with himself he couldn't deny that she was pretty. With her long, straight brown hair and big brown eyes, she showed the first glimmerings of what she would become one day: a beautiful woman. For now, youth dominated her features; in some ways she was still a child. But even that had its appeal; she wasn't just pretty, she was also cute.
Whenever Melinda caught him staring at her, she scowled until he turned away. Normally that wouldn't bother him, but today for some reason it did.
He decided he didn't like her scowl. It detracted from the cuteness and beauty of her face, but more importantly, it sent the clear message that he was out of her favor. On any other day he would be relieved by that; it meant that she would leave him alone. But perhaps because he was trapped here with her, with little to occupy him, he didn't want
her to leave him alone. Maybe their parents were right, though he hated to admit it. Maybe it was best if they tried to get along. But he couldn't quite bring himself to make the first move.
For the rest of the day, they hardly spoke to one another. It was an awkward silence, but any time either said anything, it was like they had broken an unwritten rule, and the sound of their voice was even more awkward than the silence. They quickly returned to the natural state of not speaking with each other.
Lunch and dinner passed with hardly a word; Trevor took it upon himself to fix the meals, and despite a brief complaint from Melinda claiming that he had volunteered to do that so that he could poison her, the same silence dominated the meals.
Even that night after they got themselves ready for bed, Melinda simply walked in and climbed into bed with him, not saying a word. He noticed, however, that she cuddled up to him again, and he fancied that maybe, just maybe, she didn't hate him so much after all.