As soon as the door to their apartment slid closed with a click, Kimberly was comforted to hear her mother’s deep, happy voice ring through the main area.
“Hey, Kimmy! Took ya long enough. How’d it go?”
Kimberly smiled widely, slightly out of breath from the three flights of stairs she just ran up. She quickly half-skipped across the room to place her bounty on the dining table next to her mother’s tailoring. “Big ol’ basket of purples and yellows! Five silver.”
“Ha! Good job, sweetie. We’ll get to dryin’ them after dinner.” Natalie Brook rested her current sewing job in her lap and smiled as Kimberly walked into the kitchen.
Glass, glass, glass… Several cabinet doors squeaked while Kimberly searched for a glass. Just as she finally found one and finished pouring herself a reward of orange juice, her mother shifted in her chair and asked a question.
“It don’t matter none for dryin’ them, but why’re they kinda crushed? I told ya to take yer long walks before buyin’ the materials.”
As the reason some of those flowers were flattened immediately flashed through her mind, Kimberly couldn’t help but feel some blood rush to her face.
“Oy, there, look — ah, Kim! …Miss Brook! Sorry about that! I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
Shaking her head, Kimberly walked back out into the main room and took a sip of orange juice before waving the glass in her mother’s direction. “I didn’t! I… ran into Frank. Like actually ran into him. Smushed a couple of flowers. Nothin’ more.”
“Ah, cor. Please tell me you two didn’t make a scene in th’ middle of th’ market.” Her mother’s hand lifted to rub a temple.
The hairs on the back of her neck rose as Kimberly indignantly exclaimed, “Mum!” She was better than that.
Her mother groaned, her other hand rising to slowly circle around the other temple. “…Listen, I know yer an adult but sometimes I just get worried. You two’ve never gotten on.”
That…was true. Was. Rather than even attempt to explain it, Kimberly just quietly sighed and acquiesced. “Yeah… I know. It was…fine.”
It was fine. It was…more than fine. Why? Her attention started to drift as both the heat of the sun on the roof and the whirlwind of the past few days spirited her off to a tawdry daydream.
“–That poor boy. He’s been a good friend to yer brother, through thick ‘n thin.”
The swirling clusterfuck of hormones in her stomach that had yet to settle suddenly screeched to a halt when her mother’s well-meant scolding cut through fantasy.
He’s been a good friend to yer brother.
“…Os.” It was all she could do to hide the horror in her voice as her brother’s name escaped her lips in a whisper.
“Yeah, that’s yer brother. Whaddabout ‘em?” Her mother – their mother – looked in her direction with a confused twist of the brow.
Kimberly quickly averted her gaze and swallowed hard. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Her feet began to immediately carry her toward her room’s door. “I’m…gonna go take a nap.”
Her mother’s voice immediately changed from confused to concerned. “Kimmy, it’s broad daylight out!”
“Yeah, yeah.” She waved her hand and just kept going on through the doorway, mumbling.
“If yer comin’ down with somethin’, you best tell me so I can get some extra water!”
The door latched closed.
The silence was somehow…deafening.
“You run into that so well, I’d say you’re an expert at bumpin’ into things.”
“Wouldn’tcha like to know?”
Kimberly’s tick mattress lightly crinkled as she quickly sat down on it, skirt billowing around her. Thankfully the effort of running up three flights of stairs to their apartment had masked any lingering blush, so her mother didn’t think of asking her any pointed questions.
Pale blue eyes wandered around the room, eventually resting on her old childhood journal. Just last night, she was reading through it, surprised at the memories it conjured.
They used to literally throw dirt at each other. Actual fucking dirt. Both eventually upgraded to pebbles, but never graduated to rocks. Too much pain, too much damage. Too easy to get busted. Pulled each other’s hair a fair bit, too. Lots of petty, rude comments. Childish jabs.
So many fights. Her worst was the time she made him eat dirt after Os canceled their camping plans to instead go fishing with Frank. The worst he ever pulled off, at least in her opinion, was probably when he snuck jellied animal fat in her boots right before lunch break during schooling; she couldn’t take them off the rest of the day and they smelled so damned bad.
“Is that your face, or did your neck throw up?”
“Take a long walk off a short cliff!”
…She actually, legitimately hated him when they were kids. Every time one of them was particularly mean or pulled a really bad trick, the adults would brush it off with “they just like each other, they’ll grow up,” but that really wasn’t the case with them. It felt like he…stole her brother. At least, it certainly felt like that to her at the time. Stupid boy, taking her big brother away from her to do boy things.
“You’re so dumb, you ain’t even a moron – you’re a moroff!”
“Yeah? Well, Os likes hangin’ out with me better, anyway, because you’re a jerk!”
They used to be so mean to each other. How could either of them actually ever move past a literal decade of…pranks and insults and just general disdain?
“You’re just jealous because I’m so strong!”
“That’s because you don’t exercise your brain, Dumb-Dumb!”
“Says the moron who sat on a plate of dyes, Fat Feet!”
Echoes from the past bounced around in her head, but suddenly their conversation from today bled into her thoughts; Frank’s voice was full of laughter and…warmth.
“But somehow, I get the feeling that if you’re offering I’d wind up in the creek right along with you.”
…When did Frank Burns become…charming? Who taught him how to wink? When did he start growing scruff? How did he learn how to blush like th–
No, no, no. She couldn’t.
She had to be super stressed out about Nellie and everything going on with the move. This made no sense and was nothing. She rubbed her eyes with both palms. This was…nothing. She was reading into nothing and then blowing nothing way out of fucking proportion. As usual.
Even if – was she seriously considering this? – even if this was something, and it was nothing, she couldn’t do that to Os. His best friend and his little sister? No, no, no…he’d probably just have an aneurism. He’d do anything for her, and she couldn’t possibly…
“You really have changed.”
“I’d prefer t’ think of it as bein’ refined instead o’ changed, though.”
…Why was it so hot in here?
Her hands braced against the bed and pushed her to a standing position. Kimberly half-stalked over to the washing basin, dunking her hands in the cool water. Cupping them and lowering her face, she gladly let it wash some of her blush away.
If only willing everything else away would work, too.
…Willing nothing away.
It was nothing.