You know what I always liked about my little brother? I don't either. Oh, he has one or two good qualities but somehow he manages to taint them one way or another. For instance, he's really smart but he can't seem to appreciate the line between being smart and being a smartass.
Here's an example: One day I got stuck on a trig problem and asked him if he could help me. He's one of those math whizzes so he saw the solution right away and showed me how to do it. I was just about to say 'thanks' when he added, "Of course, if you had a logical bone in your body you could have figured it out." I was immediately reminded of why I should never ask for his help. He gets way to much satisfaction out of slamming me. He's even a jerk to Mom and Dad sometimes, which is why he's grounded about six months out of the year.
He wasn't always that way. Up until about three years ago when he began going through puberty and his voice changed, he was really a sweet kid. He was helpful, worked hard, totally dependable. I've always heard that testosterone does strange things to otherwise civilized males but it must have awakened a 'nasty gene' in his brain.
Benny – formally Benjamin – is fifteen now. He prefers to say he's almost sixteen but if he doesn't get his act together, sixteen may be an unattainable goal. In spite of the fact that he's been growing like a weed, he manages to keep himself from looking like a six-foot long stick by working out every afternoon. He's still slim but his chest and arms are well developed making his female classmates giggle and drool whenever he's within pheromone range. Makes me want to gag.
There's a little over a year's difference in our ages. I guess our folks decided to get the family thing done in one quick flurry because right after Benny was born my dad got a vasectomy done. Or maybe he had some sort of prescient inkling of what he had just fathered and said, "Well, that's enough of that!"
I, of course have always been the perfect child. If you believe that, I wonder if I could interest you in a good deal on the Golden Gate Bridge. I went through all the foot stomping, crying, petulance and demands to be left alone all girls go through between the ages of twelve and sixteen. I once heard my dad tell my mom that life would be so much simpler if kids could be buried at twelve and dug up at twenty. I'm almost seventeen now and I'm over all that stuff. Mostly.
But recently, things changed between Benny and me. That's why I'm writing this narrative; to try to get my thoughts organized. So here's what happened:
Dad's younger brother died suddenly. I mean really suddenly at the age of thirty-eight. It couldn't have been too much of a surprise because I'd heard my dad say more than once that Greg – that was his brother's name – wouldn't live to be forty if he didn't find some way to get off the booze. Benny and I had never met him. He'd been invited to family events and holidays but it was his choice to live a solitary life on the streets. I always thought he must be mentally ill but Dad said he just didn't give a damn about anything.
Anyhow, Mom and Dad were going to fly back to St. Louis for his funeral and spend a few days with Grandma. They could see that Benny and I weren't terribly excited about going with them so they gave us the option of staying home with some very strict conditions attached. I know what you're thinking; no sane parents are going to turn their mortgaged house over to unsupervised fifteen and sixteen year old kids. Well, get a load of the conditions: 1) There would be absolutely no - count 'em, zero - guests in the house during their absence. 2) Any of three neighbors were to call them if they had even a hint that anything wasn't normal, like strange cars in the driveway. 3) Any infractions would result in loss of driving privileges for me and thirty days grounding for Benny. I didn't say anything but they should have threatened to burn the collection of dirty magazines hidden in his closet. That would have assured his compliance.
Two days later, they left for St. Louis and Benny and I left for school. That evening I thought I'd play the good little homemaker and cook a nice dinner for us. I grilled some salmon steaks and made rice pilaf and a nice salad. Benny's response? "I think I'll just have some cereal."
Well, I lost it. "Look here, you little shit! If you think I'm going to put up with your asinine, infantile behavior for the next five days, you are sadly mistaken! From now on I'd appreciate it if you would do your damnedest to stay completely out of my sight." I left everything on the table and stomped up to my room and slammed my door shut. I was so pissed I cried and that made me even angrier.
I didn't leave my room for the rest of the evening. After I finished my homework, I just curled up on my bed with a good book and some peaceful music playing in the background. I guess I drifted off to sleep because I was awakened about ten by a knock on my door. When I opened it, Benny was standing there looking kind of sheepish.
"What part of 'Stay out of my sight' don't you understand?"
"Uh, Gretchen, I'm sorry about what I said earlier. I don't know why I say things like that. Just habit, I guess."
"When I see you make some effort to change your habits, maybe I'll take your apology seriously." I shut the door in his face and went to bed.
The next morning I was a little bit surprised to see that he had cleaned up the kitchen. The food had been put into storage containers and the dishes had been washed and put away. I was appreciative but I wasn't being bought off that easily. One little glimmer of remorse didn't mean the leopard had changed his spots.
I had a quick breakfast and headed for the mall to meet a couple of girlfriends. It was Saturday so I didn't expect Lord Benjamin to stir his imperial body from his bed before noon. I almost left a note to remind him that Dad wanted the lawn mowed and trimmed but I changed my mind. Since encounters with my sibling usually got my blood to the boiling point, I decided that, for the next five days I would make it a point to have no encounters with him, verbal or written. He could sink or swim on his own.
Imagine my surprise when I pulled into the driveway three hours later and saw him mowing the lawn. It was a hot day so his nut-brown body was dressed in shorts and sneakers. He looked so good that I had to grudgingly admit that, if he weren't my butt of a brother, I'd have the hots for him.
He waved at me as I got out of my car but I ignored him and went into the house. I sat at the kitchen table and scanned the newspaper want ads for a part time job. Summer break would begin in two weeks and I needed to increase my cash flow. I was hoping to find something a little more interesting than flipping burgers at McDonalds.
Benny came in the back door and sat down across the table from me. I knew he was staring at me but I refused to meet his eyes.
I finally looked up at him and asked, "Meaning?"
"Meaning I'm sorry for the way I've been acting and I'll try to do better. Just don't freeze me out, OK?"
"Why would you even care? Did you have some epiphany illuminating the fact that you've been a total shit the last few years, or what?" I could be a major league bitch myself when I wanted to.
He looked hopelessly frustrated as he shook his head. "Look, Gretchen, I don't know why I do those things. It's like I can't stop myself. I've been reading this article on early adolescent behavior and I've run across a lot that strikes home. One thing I read is that when guys are trying to impress a girl, they sometimes do stuff that has the exact opposite effect. I can't believe some of the crap that comes out of my mouth when I'm trying to get a girl to notice me."
"OK, let me get this straight. You're saying you go out of your way to piss me off because you like me?"
"Well, yeah. Something like that, I guess."
"Sorry, Bro. That doesn't compute."
I started to get up from the table but he grabbed my arm. "Gretchen, please just sit down and talk to me. I know I'm not saying it right but try to help me out here. Please!"
I was about to slap his hand but I pulled up short when I saw that the kid actually had a tear running down his cheek. Slowly, I sat back down and he took his hand away.
"OK, Benny. Truce for the time being. Try again to tell me why you make such an effort to give me grief."
He took a deep breath and sighed. "It's hard to explain. Take last night for instance. When I saw that you had knocked yourself out to cook a nice dinner, what I really wanted to do was thank you and give you a big hug. But I'm afraid to do that so what came out instead was this rude, stupid comment about the cereal. As soon as it was out of my mouth, I was kicking myself for being such an asshole."
Now, I was confused. "Why would you be afraid to hug me? We're brother and sister for pete's sake."
He looked at his hands clasped in his lap and shook his head. His answer was barely audible. "Because I'm not supposed to feel the way I feel about you."
"I don't understand, Benny. How do you feel about me?"
It took a while before he answered and when he did, he couldn't look at me. The tears were back and he could barely keep from crying. "I love you."
"Well, I love you too, Benny, even thought you creep me out sometimes. Brothers and sisters are supposed to love each other. I figure sooner or later you're going to turn in to real person and it'll be a lot easier."
He scared the crap out of me when he suddenly stood up, knocking his chair over and slammed his hands down on the table. "You don't get it, Gretchen! I'm IN love with you!" He tore through the back door and took off running across the yard.
I just sat there with my mouth open and my brain in numbsville. IN love with me? He can't mean that the way it came out, can he? Oh, lord, I think he does! There's nothing for it – I'm going to need Mom's advice on this one.
I called Grandma's number in St. Louis but I just got the recording. They must have been at the funeral. I hung up instead of leaving a message thinking I'd better give this some more thought before I brought in the big parental guns.
I know from my own personal experience that the emotions kids our age carry around are often way beyond our abilities to articulate them. Judging from what I just saw, Benny's emotions must be in a state of chaos.
He'd been gone for about an hour. When he got back he looked like he'd been running the entire time; sweaty and flushed. He walked through the house without looking at me and ran up the stairs to his room. I wasn't at all sure what I wanted to say but I felt like I needed to say something. I was halfway up the stairs when he walked out of his room and went into the bathroom. I decided to wait in his room while he showered.
I was sitting on his bed when he came in with a towel wrapped around his waist. He looked at me for a few moments and said, "I need to get dressed."
"OK. Come and talk to me when you're ready. I'll be in my room."
A few minutes later he knocked on my door and came in. Barely. He sat on the floor leaning against the doorframe and waited for me to say something.
"Benny, I'm not going to insult you by passing this off as simply something that's normal for your age. It's obviously not normal for you or you wouldn't feel as strongly as you do. I will say this though, and please bear with me while I wade through it, OK? We know that most male brains are hard-wired to be stimulated by female shapes. If there is any truth at all in what Freud believed, there's no possible way at our age that we can look at each other and not have some sexual thoughts. Are you with me so far?"
"Yeah, I've read the same books you have. And I'm not being a smartass; it's the truth."
"I believe you. I guess what I'm getting at is that what you feel toward me is bound to pass. I don't see how it can be any more permanent than having a crush on your teacher or even fantasizing about Mom. I think your body is so charged up on hormones that you should probably be on tranquilizers for the next five years or so. Look, I'm not angry about what you said; I'm flattered. You're a really good-looking guy and I even find myself feeling a little jealous when I see you with other girls."
"I don't fantasize about Mom. I fantasize about you. And I don't see how it's temporary if I've felt like this for as long as I can remember."
That stopped me. "You have?"
"OK. Well, it would be absurd to ask you to try not to feel what you feel. If it makes it easier for you, I've had sexual fantasies about you too but I know they are never going to be realized so I don't obsess over them. I'll tell you what, though. I think we understand each other better now. Can't we try to be more respectful and pleasant to each other since we don't have to cover up our feeling any more?"
"Like I said before, I'll try to do better. But it doesn't change how I feel about you."
He got up to leave and then stopped in the doorway. "Thanks, Gretchen. Could I hug you now?"
I smiled as I stood and held out my arms. He was across the room in a moment, squeezing me tightly and kissing my forehead. I had my arms around him and my face was pressed against his chest when I felt him begin to cry. My heart broke and I began to cry too. We stood like that for several minutes until we got control of ourselves, then he stepped back looking at me, kissed my forehead again and left the room.
The rest of that Saturday is a blur. I muddled through the day's activities on autopilot trying to get a handle on what was going on. What do you say when you find out your little bro is in love with you and has been for most of his life. I didn't count that as an excuse for his bratty behavior but it was certainly a reason. The more I thought about it the more I began to see a pattern. When he was younger, it took the form of a crush; you know, like adoration from afar. Now that the big T hormone was running at peak levels, the crush was becoming something a lot more urgent. I was the object of his sexual fantasies.
That night as I was getting ready to put on my nightie and go to bed, I stopped and looked at myself in the mirror. What was he seeing? I stood there naked, analyzing my form and looks. I guess I'm a reasonably attractive girl. I have fairly short black hair, cut in kind of a shag. I don't think my face is beautiful but I'd say I fell into the general category of pretty. I've been told I have beautiful blue eyes. I know I have a good body because I work hard to keep it that way. I'm not huge up above but 34C breasts are certainly respectable and I'm much too young to have saggy boobs. Slim waist and not to broad across my butt. My black bush is full but I wouldn't consider myself excessively hairy. I have long legs and my musculature is much better than average because of my gymnastics and ballet.
There's never been a shortage of guys asking me out. Me rep is good; if a guy's hands get too busy, we don't have a next date. I don't count myself a prude but I know how guys – and girls - like to brag about their conquests and I'm not ready to go down that road yet. I'm sure it's a poor substitute for the real thing but I've long since mastered masturbation techniques that will serve until the right time, place and guy all converge.
So, looking in the mirror, I wonder, 'Is this what Benny fantasizes about or does he have some kind of idealized picture in his brain when he thinks about me?' The nice thing about fantasies is that you can pretty them up all you want.
What do I imagine when I fantasize about Benny? I see a tall, slim good-looking boy. I don't think of him as a man but I imagine his penis as a man's penis. I don't think I've seen him naked since he was maybe ten and I accidentally walked in on him when he was taking a bath. He threw a wet washcloth at me and called me a perv. All I can recall about his penis is that it seemed pretty normal. I remember hearing somewhere that he wasn't circumcised because Dad wouldn't allow it.
I crawled into bed and turned off the light but I couldn't go to sleep. This thing with Benny had to be dealt with somehow. The more I thought about it the more I didn't want to tell Mom or Dad about it. I think if I did that, Benny would never forgive me because the embarrassment would be devastating. No, this had to be worked out between the two of us but I'll be damned if I knew where to start?
Then I had this thought that if we could spend more time together, it might at least get him to thinking about me in real terms instead of being an object of his imagination. I looked at my clock and saw it was only ten thirty; he'd still be up reading or surfing the net.
I crawled out of bed and walked down the hall to his room. I could see through the crack in the doorway that he was sitting at his computer. I knocked lightly. "Benny?"
"Yeah?" He clicked an icon and killed the screen. He must have been looking at something naughty.
"Um, would you like to go bike riding out to the lake tomorrow? We could take some sandwiches and have a kind of picnic."
He turned and looked at me. "Do you mean it?"
"Yeah. I've been thinking we should spend more time together since it seems we really don't know each other as well as we thought we did."
He smiled broadly and nodded his head, "I'd like that. What time do you want to leave?"
"Well, it's at least a two hour ride out there so why don't we leave about ten in the morning? Bring your swim trunks. The water should be warm enough by now."
"I'll be ready."
I turned and started back to my room. As I got to my door, Benny stuck his head out his door and said, "Gretchen, thanks."
Luck was with us and it was a beautiful, warm day. Both of us were dressed in shorts, T-shirts and sneakers. I made sure to wear my least revealing bra; no sense feeding his fantasies any more than necessary. The terrain around our part of the country is pretty flat so the ride wasn't too strenuous. Even so, we were more than happy to finally get there. We opted for the far side of the lake where it was quieter and there wouldn't be many people around. I had the sandwiches and fruit in my saddlebag and he carried the sodas and bottled water.
Years before, the county had created a little beach for swimming. They trucked in sand and built a little platform about fifty yards out into the water. It was never as popular as they hoped it would be so they stopped maintaining it. Grass had grown up through the sand and the platform looked like it wouldn't be around much longer but it was still kind of a nice area. We parked out bikes against the trees and laid a blanket down close to the water.
"You want to swim or eat first?" I asked.
"Swim. You know you shouldn't swim on a full stomach."
"Benny, that old theory has long since been debunked, but I'd like a swim before lunch anyhow."
I grabbed my swimsuit and ran into the trees to change. Like the unrevealing bra, my swimsuit was an old relic that was about as sexy as a fireplug. Benny looked decidedly disappointed when he saw me emerge from the cover of the trees. He'd gotten into some baggy trunks that were barely being held up by his skinny little butt.
"Race you to the platform and back," he yelled as he started running toward the water. I was right behind him and we dove into the water at about the same time. We're both really good swimmers but his longer legs gave him a little more kick. He edged me out getting to the platform but being a gymnast and a dancer boosted my endurance and I caught up with him by the time we reached the shore. The water was still a little cool but we splashed around and swam little sprints for a good half hour before we decided to take a break for lunch. I grabbed my towel and went back into the trees to change.
Benny was sitting on the blanket in just his khaki shorts wolfing down a sandwich. I plopped down across from him and uncapped a bottle of water, sucking down half of it. I'd made two sandwiches each for us, two egg salad and two ham and cheese. He made short work of one of each and looked at mine like a starving waif.
I laughed and said, "When you leave home to go out into the world on your own, the food budget is going to be slashed by at least half." I handed him the other ham and cheese and he accepted it with a grin.
We chatted about school and friends and other things but neither of us mentioned what had happened the day before. I was hoping we had sort of tacitly agreed to a temporary moratorium on that subject.
Benny stuffed our trash into a bag to drop into the dumpster on the way out of the park. As he shifted his position, leaning back on his elbows to warm in the sun, his shorts gapped open and rode up at the leg. I hoped the look on my face wasn't too obvious when I saw the end of his penis about an inch inside his shorts. I quickly looked away, feeling the blush on my cheeks. Fortunately, with the sun in his eyes, he didn't see any of this.
"OK, Bro. Are you ready to head back?"
"Not yet. Do you mind if we just lie in the sun for an hour? It's nice just being out here with you, Gretchen."
"Same for me. OK, one hour then we need to head back. We've got a long ride."
We lay back on the blanket and closed our eyes against the sun. The warm air scented with the smell of some blooming Russian olive trees growing down the lakeshore was pleasantly soporific and I dozed off. My eyes opened when I felt Benny take hold of my hand.
He looked over at me and asked, "Do you mind?"
I thought about it for a few seconds and, squeezing his hand, said, "Not at all. It's nice."
The ride back home was leisurely and pleasant. We got the bikes hung up in the garaged and took turns in the shower. For the rest of the afternoon, we retired to our separate computers; I to work on a school project and Benny to do whatever he does. It's probably best not to ask.
Later, when I went down to the kitchen to see what I might rustle up for dinner I found it had already been done. My little bro had heated up the pilaf and salmon and made a fresh salad. "It probably won't be as good as when you made it last night but I hate to see your hard work go to waste." His need for my approval was written all over his face.
I kissed him on the cheek and hugged him tight. "Thanks, Benny. I see you really are trying. Maybe we should have a little wine with dinner to celebrate. What do you think?"
He grinned and said, "Mom's gonna shit if she finds out. You sure you want to chance it?"
"If she does, I'll say it was for a very special occasion. I think we should have white wine with the salmon, don't you?"
"By all means. You get the booze and I'll get the glasses."
We used the dining room table. Benny poured for both of us and raised his glass for a toast. "Here's to our truce and a new-found relationship and to my beautiful sister, Gretchen."
"And to my handsome brother, Benjamin," I added. We sipped our wine and laughed.
It was a very pleasant dinner with lots of idle chatter about nothing in particular. I was thinking how nice it was to carry on a civilized conversation with my brother and not expect some sort of sleazy insult to be dropped on me at some point. We cleaned up after the meal and took the rest of bottle of wine with us downstairs to the rec room to watch a movie on the tube.
We tossed a coin to decide whether it would be some action movie featuring murder and mayhem throughout or 'The Hours' with Meryl Streep. I won the toss so Meryl Streep it was. Neither of us were used to alcohol so we were already a little tipsy after the first glass. By the time we finished the bottle I think we could have been legitimately classified as inebriated.
The day caught up with me; four hours on the bikes, the swimming and half a bottle of wine finally took their toll and I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open. My head was lolling on Benny's shoulder and my eyes were half shut when he grabbed one of the throw pillows and put it in his lap and said, "Here, this will be more comfortable."
"Thanks," I said. "I'll try to last through the movie, then it's beddy-bye for me." I curled up on my side with my head in his lap and was sound asleep within two minutes.
Some time later, I woke up to a nice sensation in my breast. As I gradually ascended into consciousness, several things became apparent. The room was dark and the television was off, Benny had his hand on my breast rubbing his thumb over my nipple and his other hand was caressing my face. I lay there wondering how to get out of this without sabotaging all the progress we'd made over the last twenty-four hours. I guessed that if he knew I was waking up, he'd stop. I was right.
I stretched and yawned, sitting up. "Sorry I fell asleep, Benny. I bet your leg must be asleep by now. I'm going to bed. See you in the morning."
"Yeah, goodnight, Gretchen."
When I got to my room, I closed the door and took a deep breath. 'Damn, that was close.' Either he's hell-bent on having some sort of sexual encounter with me or he just flat can't help himself. What was I going to do? I had to admit to myself that the feeling of his hand on my breast was nice, even exciting I guess noting that the crotch of my panties was a little damp. It seemed like the closer we got emotionally, the closer he wanted to be physically. I was in a catch-22.
The solution, or at least 'A' solution didn't strike me like a bolt out of the blue. I'd been mentally dancing around it all along and it finally forced it's way to the front of my brain. I went to my dresser and reached to the very back of the bottom drawer. I found a plastic baggy containing three small packets and removed one of them.
Two years ago, Mom came into my room and sat on my bed looking at me with one of those 'It's time for one of our little talks' expressions on her face. "There's something we need to talk about, Gretchen." She handed me the little plastic baggy. I guess my eyes popped open like saucers when it finally occurred to me what I was holding.
"Mom, these are condoms!"
"Yes, sweetheart. Those are condoms."
"Well, what am I supposed to do with them?"
"I want you to carry one with you whenever you're out on a date."
"Are you saying you want me to have sex?" I couldn't believe what was coming out of my own mother's mouth.
"No, Gretchen, I don't want you to have sex, at least not this soon in your life. But listen to me; you can never fully anticipate what may happen when you're out having a good time. I think your dad and I have raised you well and we trust you to make good decisions, but all of us are subject to moments of weakness from time to time. At your age, your body is driving you with an immutable force to mate and have children. The reason I'm asking you to carry one of these with you is so that, if you find yourself in one of those moments, at least you won't find yourself in an unwanted pregnancy for lack of protection. Will you do this for me, and for yourself?"