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The consequences of Vera's letter.

"I know that will never go away, now. I've tried, but the first person I want to talk to when something important happens in my life is you. I'm OK with everyone woman I date never measuring up to you at this point. I can love someone and have a decent relationship, now. I won't be empty, I just won't be completely full."

She looked at me like I was insane, like I'd just suggested we fly to Mars or something.

"And that's good enough for you?"

"It honestly is."

She laughed, "I think you are so full of shit."

I rolled over, the conversation too uncomfortable to face. "I don't want to fight about it. I really don't."

With my back turned, I couldn't see her, but I could hear her breathing and then felt her roll over to face me, her body heat glowing against my back, uncomfortably close.

"Me, neither."

And then she touched my back, the first bit of common human kindness I had seen from her in ten years. She stroked me like she would a cat, almost unconsciously, but it was something, even if she wasn't putting a lot of mental effort into the gesture.

"Fuck, we were such perverts." She chuckled, bitterly.

"Aw, Mitch, we were just kids. We've both had a lot of life since then. It wasn't good or bad, really, it just was."

"How can you say that?"

"I told you ... I've made peace with it. You can't help who you love, you really can't."

"Yeah, you really can."

I could hear the anger creeping back into her voice, so I rolled back over, hoping to diffuse this before it got worse.

"Mitch ... you know that's not true. We both do. We've hopped from person to person ever since that summer, never landing, never being satisfied, never being fully alive. We either consign ourselves to a half life we are content with or we go insane. I'm OK with just being your brother and I think you should just give up the guilt and just be OK with being my sister. We've got a lot of years to go before we die ourselves, so ..."

My lip quivered and my throat caught because I was thinking about Mom, about life, about death and mortality, and about how what I was saying was hurting me and likely hurting Mitch. We were going to need each other something fierce and I knew it, especially in the next year.

And she shocked me to my core by touching my face, her thumb on my lip. The pain in her face was so palpable, so real, that I knew she was mirroring my own and what I saw frightened me.

"It's OK. Shhhhhhh." Her voice was tender.

And gently, she pushed me over on my back and straddled me, clutching me like she had done in the tent, ten years before. We both knew the significance and so we stayed there, holding each other, for as long as we could stand the heat, but eventually we got so physically uncomfortable that she slipped back off.

"Goddamn Doug. This place is like a sauna." She strode out of the room, not even trying to cover up, and I could hear her fiddling down the hall with the thermostat. When she came back in, she stopped at the doorway, all 5'1" of her, and cocked her hip out.

"So ... you still think I'm beautiful?"

"In my business, that is called a rhetorical question."

She laughed: "Yeah? Well, it's all started to head south, now. Damn gravity." She cupped her breasts and lifted them up to where she thought they had been in her youth. "See?"

"At least you're still hot. I've been riding a desk for half a decade and have hair in my ears. Get in." I held the sheet up for her and she slid back in beside me.

"That damn bastard had it at nearly 85 in here."

"Oh, was it hot? I couldn't tell."

With a laugh, she turned and belted me in the arm like we were kids again. In a second, we were wrestling, half-heartedly, and giggling like children.


And that was when it began again.

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