Sometimes when dealing with Thomas and Pie, I feel as if I am half-parent and half-sibling. The age range between us is so huge, particularly where my sister is concerned, that in one instant I'm reprimanding them and in the next we're playing dodge ball in the basement.
Last night was typical of this dual relationship.
We hurled foam footballs at one another in the basement until my mother screamed for us to stop, and then Thomas and I went out to the hot tub, where he confided in me his worries about starting high school and I did my grown-up's best to use my own experiences as a way of helping him.
"You're not going to lose your friends from middle school," I said. "You're just going to make lots of news ones."
We went in, and around ten o'clock my parents summoned the two of them for bed. Because Pie is scared to sleep by herself and Thomas's bed is so small, the two often bunk in the room that Powell vacated when he moved to Decaying State.
I'd gone upstairs to get a load of clean laundry from the dryer when I saw my father sitting in Powell's bed, scrutinizing a hidden-image book with my brother and sister.
I walked in and sat on the bed until they finished, and my father bade them goodnight. I stood to leave, but Pie beseeched me, "BB, stay here! Sleep with us!"
After insisting that I would do no such thing, I laid down and surrendered to my tiredness.
Thomas and I talked for a few minutes, singing made-up country songs under our breath and giggling before his laughter subsided into one long sigh after another.
I was going to get up and leave then, but the parent in me wanted to stay, to see that they were off to sleep, to protect them.
I took my sister's tiny hand in my own and kissed it as I lay with my eyes closed, hearing the small sounds of night.
I knew I had to get up soon, that I had other things to do before I could actually go to bed myself.
In that moment, though, I just stayed there, looking at the boy and girl sleeping side by side and listening to the steady breath of the two people I loved most in the world.