Page 98 of The Dancer

“Are you being straight with me? Because you leaving to give us our space is not acceptable. I know no matter how close you are she’s still going to worry about you.”

“That’s a given, she’s always going to worry because that’s what big sisters do, but this way I’m closer. Just promise me that you won’t hurt her.”

“Hey, you have my word as a man, I will never hurt her.”

I was holding my breath so hard it hurt my chest. I fought back the tears as the conversation in the other room continued, wishing it was as easy for me to accept as it seemed to be for my little brother.

“How can you be so sure?”

“You sound like her. Let me see if I can explain this so you understand. For as long as I can remember there were two people who lived in a special place in my heart. Tony and mom.”

“No one else has ever been able to enter that place in all these years, except your sister. The people who enter this place can never be removed by anyone or anything.”

“How do you know that it’s real though? That it won’t pass in a few months or a year?” The

question and the hint of insecurity reminded me that my brother may have the body of a man but he was still a child. A child who was trying to protect his sister.

I’d been so focused on taking care of him that it never entered my mind that he would be just as worried about me as well. The boy might not know all of what had happened with mom, but he’d suffered the same things I had. I too was his only family. The reminder was humbling as I listened for Max’s answer.

“I knew the first moment I saw her. More than knowing there was a feeling that I can’t explain. It felt better than the first time I threw a touchdown in a professional game.”

“Wow really, is that how it happens? Is that how love works?”

I could imagine his eyes wide with wonder. Those football references might go right over my head but for Travis they’re like the Holy Grail or something.

“I don’t know how it works for anyone else, but that’s how it worked out for me. So you don’t have to worry kid. Just do me one favor. If you ever see me hurting your sister in anyway I want you to call me on it.”

“I don’t mean cheating or any of that assholish bullshit, that’s not gonna happen. But if she ever seems down or like something’s bothering her that she doesn’t want to tell me, I’ma need you to keep me posted.”

“I’m gonna hold you to that, Max. She’s been hurt enough. Now I can go off to college next fall without worrying about her.”

“I’ll take care of her and we’ll both take care of you.”

“You have my permission to kick my ass if I ever hurt her. Of course you’d have to stand in line behind Tony and mom because they’re on her side too.”

“I like momma Sophie, she gives the best talks.” Momma Sophie? When did he start calling her that? I wasn’t sure how to feel about that, but he was right, she did give the best talks.

“I know she does, I wanted you to have that, you and your sister. She’d never steer you wrong and she’d never let me hurt Annabelle, not in a million

years so you can stop worrying.”

‘Thanks Max.”

“Don’t mention it. I’m gonna go check on your sister. Be right back.”

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. I tiptoed back down the hallway as quietly as I could and jumped into bed. I pulled the covers over me and closed my eyes just as I heard him in the doorway.

I felt and sensed him come to stand over me and it was all I could do not to open my eyes. There was so much going on inside me and I knew any minute now I was going to start bawling.

He didn’t stay long, which was a good thing because the hand he brushed over my hair and the sweet kiss he planted on my forehead were my undoing.

I opened my eyes as soon as I felt him leave and the tears just started flowing. My chest had been tight in one way or another since my parents’ divorce. Today for the first time in almost two years that tightness began to ease.

There was still a sense of standing at the edge of a cliff in a high wind, but now there was also that sense of impending joy. For once I chose to push the worry and fear to the side and grab ahold of that little glimmer of joy and hope.

His words still rang in my ears, words that pierced my heart in the sweetest way. Could I really trust in him? I want to, am almost compelled to.