I stare out the back of the house, the vast fields and hills in front of me, the dark sky, empty of the lights that the city brings. I wrap the blanket closer around me as I step out onto the porch. From the corner of my eyes I see Steve lying in a hammock, his face away from me, to the rolling hills. I step towards him as he moves and faces me.
“Hey.” I keep my voice low, my grandparents are only a few metres away, asleep in bed inside the small house.
“Hey, I thought you were already asleep. I knocked on your door but you didn’t answer.” Steve sits up and motions for me to sit next to him.
“I did fall asleep but then woke up again.” I sit down, pulling the blanket over both of us. “I woke up because it’s so quiet and I remembered something.”
“Like what?” Steve moves, lying back into the hammock.
“Sarah told me that you haven’t actually been sleeping since Jack died. Is that true?”
Steve stills behind me, holding his breath.
I sit still, waiting for what will happen.
“Yes, it’s true.” Steve takes a slow breath. “I don’t want to talk about it. I need to deal with this myself.”
I close my eyes, hiding the pain those words cause me. I want to help him but I’m not sure how.
Steve touches my back. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate your concern. I’m just not ready to talk about it.”
I slide back, lying opposite him, pulling the blanket so it covers us both. We lie in silence for a while, both looking at the sky. I almost dose off when Steve starts talking.
“Every time I close my eyes I remember him. It’s just as if he was right next to me, so close. It hurts too much to sleep.” Steve looks at me for a moment. “I heard Marie has gone to the police?”
“Yes. She knew some of Jack’s attackers.”
“Then she did the right thing. More than I could.”
“What do you mean?”
“I feel like I should have been able to do something. Should have told him something. I don’t know.”
I grab Steve’s hand but he pulls back.
“Don’t pity me. He was my younger brother, I knew the situation he was in. I should have done something.”
I look at him, the lines on his face now deeper.
“Please don’t hate me when I tell you this.” I scrunch up, my knees under my chin and my arms around them. I’m not sure he’ll ever want to talk to me when he finds out what I know.
“Tell me what?” His eyes are wary.
“I’m not sure anyone told you that the attack was actually meant for Vic. It was just that they were so fired up and saw Jack first. Jack was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Steve stares into noting for a while. “Who told you?”
“Marie. She told me about it before we went to the police.”
“You could have lost Vic. You could have been the one without a brother.”
“Yes. I’m aware of that, though that has happened before. There have been many more moments that I could have lost Vic in the past. The difference is that I didn’t.”
“Damn.” Steve sighs. “That explains so much.” He raises his hand and wraps it around my foot, softly pulling.
I stretch out again, making myself comfortable. It’s hard to see what is going on in Steve’s mind as he softly rubs my leg, his face blank, his eyes on the horizon.
“Will you stay here with me tonight?”
The whisper barely reaches my ears. I pull the blanket higher over myself, covering his feet that are next to me in the process. “Of course I will. I’ll always be here if you need me.”
Steve relaxes visibly as he closes his eyes and starts breathing calmly.
The next few days pass quickly, the week even faster. My grandmother had found us in the hammock in the morning and old fashioned as she was had gotten quite upset with me for spending the night together outside. The first day she had gotten angry, the second only annoyed, but after a few days she got used to it. She could see we really weren’t doing anything wrong, we were not doing anything she deemed inappropriate under her roof. After about two weeks she even brought us breakfast.
The days were calm, quiet. We spend most of the time outside, between the hills, on the fields. Keeping busy with the work or just lying around and talking, lots of talking. Sometimes it was about silly things, things we had done when we were young, sometimes it was serious, about Jack or Vic. Sometimes other stories, how Steve hid all his old relationships with guys, how he had even gone on chat boxes to hook up with guys at the other side of the country, how after Kevin was born I’ve not dated again.
More and more we talked about things that I would have not known and not shared were we not here. Safe together. Safe. Away from all the pain and trouble. In between these hills.
Of course I knew what was going on back home, I talked with everybody every few days. But here it felt like everything was at a safer distance. I could see how Adam was getting worse, slipping away from us all, but from here the feeling of not being able to help him was less painful, less immediate. Vic was stable, doing okay, seemingly getting back on top of everything. Maybe he could help out Adam when he was released.
Steve was smiling again. Day after day the harsh lines in his face disappeared again and his eyes started to get their glow back. It was good to see him smile. To see that maybe when everything was over I could also get my own life back. Steve was turning back into the happy person I had gotten to know before everything took off in January.
Maybe he could even make me happy, an interesting thought, but an unfruitful one, I was just a friend to him.