“What’s wrong with you?” Brittany punched her brother in the shoulder as she stepped past his knees and plopped down on the couch beside him.
“Nothing,” Brady murmured, not looking up from his phone.
Brady could almost hear his sister’s eyes rolling. He was not in the mood to deal with her sarcasm. She was trying to be playful, but he only found her irritating.
“Seriously,” Brittany tried again, “what’s your problem? You barely talked to anyone during dinner, and you look like your best friend just died.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Brady said, trying not to sound angry.
“Talk about what?” she prodded.
“Can you just drop it?” Brady snapped. “I said I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Geez,” Brittany pulled out her phone and mumbled under her breath, “you don’t have to be such a dick.”
“I’m a dick?” Brady barked out a bitter laugh. He stood up quickly, causing the sofa to scoot backward, screeching against the hardwood. “Alright, Brittany. I’ll be a dick.”
Brittany watched him leave the room, her mouth agape.
“Mom?” Brady joined his mother in the kitchen. “I’ve gotta run. Got some stuff to do before it gets dark.”
“Alright, Sweetie,” his mother kissed his cheek. “Be careful.”
“I will,” Brady called over his shoulder, already halfway to the door. “Thanks for dinner.”
As he was pulling his truck door open, he heard his sister running up behind him, her flip flops slapping against the pavement. “Brady! Wait.”
Brady stopped and waited for her to reach him, but didn’t speak.
“What’s wrong, Bray?” Brittany wasn’t teasing anymore. She looked genuinely concerned about her brother.
“I really don’t want to talk about it.” This time his tone had lost its edge.
“I’m worried about you,” Brittany stepped closer and leaned against the truck. “Talk to me.”
Brady looked up at the sky for a moment and studied the clouds. He didn’t want to get into this with his sister. He slowly exhaled a deep sigh and said, “Lexi called it off with me.”
“What?” Brittany looked surprised. “Why? I thought things were going well between you two.”
“So did I,” Brady mumbled.
“So what’s the problem?”
“She said she can’t deal with you keeping Dalton a secret from her and her family.”
“What?” Brittany looked shocked and then angry. “Why? What do me and Dalton have to do with you and Lexi?”
“You’re my sister.” He shrugged and kicked at the gravel. “And Dalton’s my nephew. And she’s his aunt. But I got to be a part of his life for the last six years and she didn’t know he existed.”
“That’s not your fault, though!”
“No,” he agreed, “it’s not. But she said she can’t get past it. She said it’s too complicated.”
Brittany closed her eyes and leaned her head against the truck bed. “I’m sorry, Bray. I didn’t mean to cause so much trouble.”
“You did what you thought was right at the time,” Brady dismissed her apology. “It’s fine. I’m just kind of bummed right now, but I’ll get over it.”
“You really like her don’t you?”
Brady nodded. “Ever since seventh grade.”
“Dang,” she smiled at him. “That’s persistence.”
Brady shrugged and looked sheepish. “Have you seen her? She’s gorgeous. And she’s one of the most loving people I’ve ever met. I mean, I’m still getting to know her, but you should see her with her nieces. She’s really good with them. When I stopped by to see her the other day, she was trimming Miss Mary’s hedges.”
Brittany smiled at her brother. “You’ve got it bad, Bro.”
“She’s really smart, too,” he added, his cheeks turning red.
“Good lord, Brady,” Brittany laughed. “I’ve never seen you so smitten with a girl before.”
Brady laughed, too, and then remembered it was over. He heaved another sigh.
“I can fix this.” His sister sounded determined. “I’ll talk to her and fix this for you.”
“No,” he shook his head. “Don’t do that.”
“It would be weird.”
“So don’t be weird.”
“I’ve always been weird.”
Brady chuckled. “That’s true.”
“It won’t be weird,” she insisted. “I’ll just explain how things were back then. I’ll tell her how things happened with Kyle, and that you didn’t know anything about it. I’ll tell her she can get to know Dalton . . . as his aunt.” She bit down on her bottom lip before adding, “And I’ll tell Dalton she’s his aunt.”
“You would do that?”
“Why?” Brady squinted one eye against the sinking sun, trying to figure out his sister’s thought process. “You just told me the other day you didn’t want Dalton to know yet. You told me you were going to make him switch classes.”
She shrugged and offered him a half grin. “I want you to be happy. Dalton doesn’t have to know everything. He’s little enough I can just tell him Lexi is his aunt and he will just be excited. He’s not old enough to care about how she’s his aunt.”
“Are you sure?”
Brady rolled his eyes. “Good lord, women are confusing.”
She smiled and asked, “So you’re good with me talking to her?”
“It might not change anything.”
“But it might.”
“Yeah.” Brady looked hopeful. “It might.”
“Then it’s worth a try.” Brittany slipped her hands in her jacket pockets and shrugged, looking for all the world like an eight-year-old version of herself.
“Thank you.” Brady fought to keep the tremble out of his voice. He wasn’t normally an emotional guy, and he wasn’t interested in becoming one now.
“Anything for my big bro,” Brittany grinned and threw her arms around her brother.
“Thanks,” Brady said again.
He always tried not to be too expectant about things he wanted, but he was struggling right now. The crushing disappointment after his and Lexi’s date the night before was morphing into something that felt an awful lot like hope.
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, The Society of Classical Poets, and various other literary journals. She recently won an Honorable Mention for her short story “A Slow Burn” at the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society’s annual convention. She also received the Springs of Helicon Award for Poetry, awarded by Tennessee Wesleyan University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.