Sibling dynamics fascinate me as a sibling can be one’s biggest rival and cheerleader all in one. So when it came time to introduce a new character that had only been referenced as the far younger sister of a main character in the urban fantasy series I am creating, I knew I really had to explore how their interactions would reflect twenty years of history.
Walsh [Benjamin Walsh], who narrates this scene, is well-established as a reserved music teacher that does not easily open up about his private life or feelings. However, as he becomes convinced that his sister, who’s thirteen years younger, is in danger, he goes to Madison, WI to get her and her newborn daughter to bring them back to his home in Chicago. The idea of living together again has him feeling both wistful and nervous.
I feel a bit guilty showing up unannounced to my sister’s door at 7:30 in the morning. So, I try to peer in through a window and I knock gingerly. To my relief, Britt appears like a wraith concealed by the sheer white curtain.
She opens the door wide. “You’re here,” she states the obvious. “And, you look like crap,” she says to continue a life-long habit of greeting with an observation that usually verges on both truth and insult.
“You chopped your hair off,” I notice.
“It’s called a pixie.”
“You pixied your hair,” I correct.
“Thank you.” Her arm beckons me in. “Your niece is in the kitchen. We need to be quiet—Chuck and Tess both were tending last night.” Having bartender roommates is yet another reason to move my sister out.
Bea, my niece, is not even two months old. My last visit to Madison was during the week she was born. Today, she is flopped back in a portable, rocking seat. Quiet and bright-eyed, she is happily strangling in her tight little fist a cloth raccoon that has the consistency of a sock.
“I wasn’t expecting you, Benji. Did Michael not come with you?” Britt picks up Bea and goes back to bottle-feeding her.
Britt has always and will always get away with calling me “Benji” in that peculiar way in which younger sisters always get away with their precocious obnoxiousness. I’m admittedly particularly soft on her. If for no other reason, than that she was my thirteenth birthday gift. I was an only child on my twelfth birthday when I made the fateful wish for a sibling. I was a lonely kid, a young, gay wisp of a boy whose body refused to mature in synch with the rest of the boys. So, I wanted someone who’d love me and look up to me. In particular, a sister. I was leery that a younger brother might quickly become the sporty son that I was not.
Usually, I’d get to choose what I wanted for dinner on my birthday. But not in 1988. No, for my thirteenth birthday, my dad and I had hospital hamburgers with none of the fixings. He did let me have a soda with my dinner. So there was that. Mom still wasn’t in labor and doctors were worried. She was big enough to burst—stretched to the point where I expected her skin to become transparent revealing my stubborn sister within. Four days later, tired of waiting, doctors took Mom into surgery and delivered Brittany Rose Walsh. Britt. The sporty, rebellious kid that I was not.
My sister was seventeen when I first brought Michael home with me. She loved him. He was the perfect accessory—the lover of her gay older brother. To a teenaged liberal rebel who had already donned veganism, smoking menthols, and sipping Jägermeister, we were perfect. Her love affair with the idea of us was short-lived however. All too soon it had become clear to her that we were boringly domestic. We were sell-outs to the American dream.
“Michael and I are no longer together,” I confess.