My Pitiful, Love-sick, Still-Healing-from-a-Gunshot-Wound Brother

Bonus Scene from The Expanded Ripple Universe, from Mickie’s perspective.

 

We’re staying for free in a completely gorgeous apartment in flipping Paris, and my little brother is acting depressingly … depressed.

“Will.”

I wait for him to respond. Which he doesn’t.

“Will. Seriously. As your big sister, I invoke the … big sister … protocol.”

This gets a half-smile out of him, at least.

“You’re doing it again,” I tell him.

“Mick, I’m not doing anything.

“Exactly. And it needs to stop. Get off your duff and … exercise or something.”

“My duff?”

“I am old. I talk old. We’ve established this.” I can feel my cheeks getting hot, so I turn to the window.

“Well, I would exercise,” Will says gruffly, “except, oh yeah, that’s right. Someone made running a felony.”

“Running is dangerous,” I snap at him. “Running could get you recognized, according to Sir Walter.”

Dammit. I told Sir Walter to let me take the fall for this, and instead I spill the beans that it was his idea?

“And according to me,” I add. “We have no idea if Helga has a bunch of Deuxièmes out there, still on Will-Watch or whatever. Come on. Do some jumping jacks or burpees or whatever.”

Uh, Madame LaFarge downstairs?”

I roll my eyes. “LaFarge” is not the actual name of our downstairs, quiet-loving neighbor, but I guess it’s the name of some villainous lady in this book that Will and Sir Walter bonded over.

“Fine. So don’t exercise. How about you read a book or a newspaper or something? You can practice your French.” I nudge the copy of Le Monde that Sir Walter brought in early this morning.

Thankfully, this gets Will up from where he was pathetically slouching all morning.

He walks over to the table with the paper and looks at a couple of headlines. Circles the table to a stack of books Sir Walter brought in from one of those bookstalls down by the Seine. After poking through a few titles, Will grabs one and walks over to the window with it.

I want to tell him to step away from the window (where he could be seen), but I don’t. If I’ve learned one thing about my little brother, it’s that I have to pick my battles.

He tips his head forward until his brow rested on the freezing cold glass. Not something you could have paid me to do, but he doesn’t seem to notice the cold at all. Probably doesn’t. Will seems to be having a hard time noticing much of anything, anymore.

What am I supposed to do? How do I help the most important person in my life? How do I help when I’m not the one he needs?

I sit with the thought for a minute, and then for another minute. I can’t say it doesn’t hurt a little that he doesn’t need me like he used to. For almost ten years, it’s been me and Will, Will and me. Inseparable. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s annoying as heck. There’s no one who can rile me up like my little brother.

At the window, he sighs.

No one who can rile me up like my pitiable, love-sick, still-healing-from-a-gunshot-wound brother.

I sigh too.

I heard him on the phone this morning with Sam. He did better than I’d hoped, keeping our secrets safe in case anyone was listening in, while still letting Sam know a few things about our search for information, for help, for hope.

I take in a shuddering breath. How are we supposed to fight an enemy we can’t see? Will we even know when Helmann makes his next move? How will two caméleons and one girl who can’t ripple possibly fight against such a foe?

I don’t know.

Will is still staring at the street below.

I tried not to listen in on his conversation with Sam, but the apartment’s small and hardly sound-proof (as Madame LaFarge lets us know on a regular basis.) He misses Sam so much, and there’s not a thing I can do to fix that. He described Paris to her this morning, sounding like a poet. I couldn’t have come up with “chocolate-brown shadows” or a “the sky’s flushing drowsy pink” if you paid me. But since hearing his words, even I can admit the view out our window has taken on an enchanted quality.

What is Will looking at out there?

“Will,” I say softly.

“I’m fine.”

He’s lying. I know he’s lying. He knows I know. I know he knows I know. I sigh again.

“I’m totally fine, Mick.”

“I think I know ‘fine’ when I see it,” I reply, folding my arms over my chest. “Fine involves a healthy appetite. And an interest in basketball stats. And telling your sister you’re going to do dangerous things and there’s nothing she can do to stop you.”

Will pulls away from the window. He stands there just dragging his sneaker across the floor, making it go sque-eeeeeak, sque-eeeeeak. I hold my breath in case Madame LaFarge starts thumping her cane on her ceiling. She doesn’t. She must be off buying escargot or something.

“Hey,” I say to my brother, my voice all casual, “how about you open the book in your hands?”

He holds it out as if to give it to me.

“You read it,” he says. “That way you can’t watch me.”

“It’s in French, dweeb.”

“Oh. Yeah.” He reaches for a stack of books with titles in English and hands me the top one. “Here. Knock yourself out.”

I ignore the book. “I’m not the one who needs to snap out of it. Not to mention, I live with the History Channel incarnate.” I’m not even sure if I mean him or Sir Walter but between the two of them, it is literally like I’m stuck in a history class that runs twenty-four-seven.

“Come on,” I say to him. “Get off your lazy derrière. We’re going shopping, and I can’t speak the language here. I need you.”

He doesn’t move. “Derrière’s French,” Will says, not moving.

I don’t lose my temper. I won’t lose my temper.

“Get up and put on your jacket or I start kicking your derrière out the door.” Okay, I maybe lose it a teeny bit. Then I just give up. “Please?” I ask softly.

Will pulls on a jacket just as Sir Walter materializes on our side of the front door.

Will speaks to him. “Hey, Sir Walter, Mick wants to pick something up at the store. Would you mind going and translating for her? I was hoping to catch up on my reading here.” He waves his copy of something called Chanson de Roland.

Our grey–haired friend smiles at both of us.

“But of course,” he says. “I should be glad of the fresh air, having spent the entire morning apart from my flesh. Mademoiselle?” He opens the door, gallantly indicating with a raised arm that I should go first.

I shoot Will one last glance and warn him he’d better not be staring out the window when I get back. Then I take off with Sir Walter.

“I swear I don’t know what to do with him,” I grumble to Sir Walter as we take the stairs down to the street level.

“He suffers the pangs of true love,” says the old man.

I want to say, “Duh,” but I don’t.

“Have you never known the like suffering?” he asks me.

Automatically, I shake my head no. I’m not getting into all that with him. But … it gets me thinking.

We do some shopping, and an hour and a half later, I’m in a much better mood when Sir Walter unlocks the door of our elegant Parisian apartment. I swear the old man can cheer anyone up. Even me.

But what I see inside the apartment quickly deflates my mood.

Will has just grabbed his book off the table and is pretending to read.

“I knew it!” I shout at him. “Don’t bother with the pretending. You’ve been staring out the window the past two hours, haven’t you?” I don’t wait for him to answer. “Well, those days are over, Mister.”

I pull a beautiful blue journal out of one of my shopping bags and thump it in front of Will, grinning.

“Another book?” he asks.

“No, dweeb. This one is blank!

“You bought a blank book?”

I shake my head and ruffle his hair. “Brain–damaged. That’s the only explanation.” Then, smiling at him, I explain. “I bought you a journal so you can write down all your depressing thoughts instead of thinking the same thing over and over.” I reach into my bag, for my pièce de resistance. “Look! I found you an authentic feather pen!”

Will barely looks at it before handing it back. “It’s just a ball–point pen glued to a feather, Mick.”

“I thought you’d like it,” I say quietly. “It’s … historical.”

I see the guilt in his expression. He blurts out, “It’s amazing. The whole idea is … brilliant, Mick. Really.”

“You’ll use it?” I ask.

“Of course I will,” he replies. “There’s a fine tradition of chameleons keeping journals. I should have thought of it myself.”

I frown. “Oh. Yuck. I didn’t think of Helmann and his journals.”

“Hey, I was joking. You’re the best sister ever. This is exactly what I need to stop staring at the sky all day. I’ll use it daily. Promise.”

Sir Walter tells us he’s going to step downstairs for a moment to speak with the landlady. This is my moment. My chance to act on the idea I had when I was out with Sir Walter.

“Hey Will,” I say, “just so you know, I understand what you’re going through. At least, a little.”

“You’ve never been in love, Mick, so spare me—”

“I have too been in love.”

This makes him sit up straighter.

“What happened?”

“What do you mean, what happened?”

“To you and your … you know. Whoever you were in love with.”

I bite my lower lip, preparing to revisit the old memories.

Will speaks. “I’m sorry I said ‘spare me,’ Mick. It’s just, you’ve never said anything before, but I’m all ears. You can tell me now.”

“You were a kid when it happened,” I say to him. “It wasn’t like you could have fixed things or whatever. It was easier to say nothing.”

“Things needed fixing, huh?” My brother’s voice has softened.

“Do you remember when you told me about kissing Sam that first time, and you thought she didn’t want you to?”

“Yeah,” says Will. “Oh. Right. You said something then about how you’d done the same thing?”

I can feel my face turning bright red.

“I did. I kissed a man when I thought he had feelings for me, and … it turned out he didn’t after all. I thought …” I take in a shaky breath. “I seriously thought I would die of heartache.”

My brother gets up from his chair and walks over to me. Puts his arm around my shoulders.

“Aw, Mick, you should’ve said something.”

“Like what? That I’m a loser and I’m going to die old and lonely like Madame La Downstairs?”

Will laughs at this, but then he catches himself and clears his throat.

“Listen, Mick, any guy would be lucky to have you in his life. Maybe … maybe once all this craziness is over, you’ll fall in love again.”

“I’ll be sure to pencil that on my calendar,” I say.

His smile falters, and I feel terrible.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “It’s kind of you to say there’s still hope for me.”

“There’s totally hope for you.”

I shrug.

“What?” asks Will.

“I don’t think I’ll ever feel the same way for someone else.”

The backs of my eyes burn with the memory of the kiss I gave my one true love. Or the guy I thought was my one true love. Was I just fooling myself?

No. I wasn’t. For me, he was it. Nerdy lab-coat, horn-rim glasses, and all.

“I’m so sorry, Mick,” Will says softly. He gives me a squeeze around the shoulders.

“Yeah. Just … the next time you’re feeling all mope-y about Sam, maybe remember how lucky you are, okay? To have feelings for someone who one hundred percent reciprocates? It’s kind of a huge deal, okay?”

Will’s eyes drop to the floor. He scoots his foot back and forth.

“I remember that. Promise.”

I murmur a soft thank you and then muss his hair once more before moving to the kitchen to put things away.

“Hey, Mick?”

I turn.

“It’s just … thanks.” My little brother gives me a lopsided smile. “You’re right. I’ve got Sam. Here.” He taps his heart. “And I’ve got you, too, and you’ll always have me. Deal?”

I smile at him. “Deal.”