The Siblings

Post time6-02-2021, 10:21

This is not my work. It is the work of a very talented author: Michael K. Smith. This particular piece under this introduction is important in setting the scene for the really juicy stuff, but this one contains no sex. It is filler, and then I will upload the other chapters, which like I said were not my work, and none of the rights belong to me. PLEASE READ THIS PART FIRST, if you're going to read the story. Also, be warned, this is essentially a love story between a brother and sister (If you don't like it, leave now!), which happens to have a lot of sex in it. It is not fast paced, but the characters and background is so well developed, you should feel as if it's all real. I love this story, and for me, it makes other erotic stories pointless. I wonder if it will have a similar affect on you guys? THIS PARTICULAR SECTION CONTAINS NO SEX, BUT THERE ARE NAUGHTY UNDERTONES.
The Siblings
By Michael K. Smith

The Early Years
by Michael K. Smith

[Note to the original posting in 1993: I've posted seven more or less complete sections (seldom complete chapters) from this novel so far, under individual titles. Some readers have gotten interested in the background of the main characters -- how they came to be who they are and so on -- and have asked enough questions to prompt me to post the following, which are key excerpts from the first five chapters.

There are no sex scenes as such, but you'll find plenty of romance, a dollop of amateur psychology, . . . and plenty of more subtle eroticism. SIBLINGS is a full-dress novel and I've gone to some effort to make the people and the situations four-dimensional, to provide motivation and logical results, and to avoid 'deus ex machina' contrivances of the sort that are rife in many of the stories posted in a.s.s. Comments, criticism, and discussion are welcome, . . . but PLEASE post them in a.s.s.D!

If you haven't read the previously posted sections, please be aware that the overriding theme throughout the novel is consensual sibling incest, about which my basic feelings should be obvious by now. If the very idea turns your stomach, you're more bent than most of the readers hereabouts, and you should change the channel NOW. . . .]

[. . . from Chapter 1 . . .]

My sister, Alexandra, and I had (and have) an unusual relationship, and it was the direct result of birth order and our closeness in age. At least, that's what I prefer to think -- that it was circumstances beyond our control.

I was born in Mendocino County, California, at 3:45 a.m. on January 6, 1955. Alex was born at 3:52 a.m. on the same day in 1956. One year and seven minutes difference. We looked very much alike: dark auburn hair, gray-green eyes, lots of freckles, a certain sharp narrowness in the nose. We were about the same size, too, especially as teenagers.

People frequently assumed we were twins, we were so similar. And especially because there was only a single digit's difference when we had to fill out bureaucratic forms that required a birth date. More than once, some clerk increased Alex's age by a year or shaved a year off mine. Before we were even in school, we had begun to think of ourselves as twins, too, in all the important ways, identical twins who happened to be of the opposite sex.

We weren't the only kids in our family. Jack was five years older than me and Philip was eight years older -- post-World War II babies, both of them. They had half a decade in which to become mutually supportive before Alex and I showed up, and the difference in age between them and us was large enough that we were almost like two separate families.

I don't mean they picked on either of us. I realized later that they could have made our lives hell, but both of them behaved well enough toward us. They were just too far ahead in age to have anything in common with us. So they practiced benign neglect toward "the kids" and Alex and I stuck more and more to each other's company.

More important, our parents naturally were more concerned with the school activities and career plans of their two oldest boys. When I was starting junior high, Philip was a year away from finishing his college degree and was beginning to interview with company recruiters. Jack was about to go off to a good college on a scholarship and had his own ambitious plans. Nobody was much interested in what I was learning in seventh grade. For whatever reason, I never developed any bitterness about this casual disinterest. I didn't throw tantrums or break windows to get my parents' attention. I was proud of my brothers and they did give me their attention when I sought it out (which wasn't often). But they could have been uncles instead of brothers.

Alex had it a little worse. She wasn't "planned," of course, being so close to me in age, and she became aware early on that her conception had been unexpected. When we were little, we both heard Dad making what had obviously become a standard joke to friends and relatives -- that their only daughter had arrived postage-due, "but we kept her anyway." And he didn't mean it maliciously, which was almost worse. It was an unconsciously hurtful thing to say, and Alex WAS hurt by it. That stupid joke made me angry as well, and it bonded me even closer to my sister. I was only eight or nine years old, so I could hardly say anything to my father about his unfeeling jokes, but I comforted Alex when she cried in her room. We began about that time to think of ourselves not even as twins, but in some way as one person.

By the time I was twelve, Dad had reached a moderately successful level as a regional sales manager in his company and he began to travel much more extensively and frequently around his enlarged territory. He was often gone two or three weeks at a time.

At about the same time, Mother's arthritis, from which she had first begun to suffer at the age of 35, became increasingly severe in her legs. Now, she was confined to walking only very short distances and was often in a wheelchair. She chafed at the inactivity forced on her and discovered new ways to do her shopping and cooking and laundry. She hated it when people tried to do things for her that she could still manage to do for herself, so she didn't demand our sympathy and constant attention.

Looking back, I admire her for that determination not to be a burden. At the time, however, it had the principal benefit for us that she almost never came Upstairs. It exhausted her and she showed up above the ground floor less and less often. After Jack abandoned his room and went off to college, Upstairs became *our* territory, Alex's and mine.

Dad usually came up for a few minutes when he returned from a trip, so we kept our rooms as clean as anyone has a right to expect from active adolescents. We hauled our laundry down to the washer and took turns mopping out our bathroom once a week. We folded and put away our own clothes and changed our own burned-out light bulbs. We made sure Dad was satisfied with our attention to our living quarters and he pretty much left us to manage the upper part of the house to suit ourselves, which confirmed our territoriality. And it gave us an almost adult sense of privacy.

Again, looking back, I realize Dad just wasn't much interested in the two of us. Philip and Jack together formed the focus of his paternal instinct. They were born in the lean years following Dad's discharge from the Army, when he drove a cab and sold furniture while going to college on the G.I. Bill. He and Mother lived in a tiny apartment and scraped along through the tail end of the 1940s, first by themselves and then with a son. In 1950, almost 30 years old, Dad finished college and landed a good sales job with a company that wholesaled office machines. Jack was born a few months later.

By the mid-'50s, when I showed up almost as an afterthought, my older brothers were in school, riding the forward curl of the Baby Boom wave. Apparently, Mother and Dad had intended to stop at two children but took a chance on a third, and never expected a fourth at all. So our parents weren't cruel or even deliberately unkind. Just not terribly involved with their two youngest. As Alex and I outgrew clothes or toys, they disappeared from the house, passed on or donated somewhere, with an air of relief hanging over them.

When I went over to some friend's house to play, we usually did things in his room -- especially if he also had brothers and sisters. Any younger sibling who entered the room uninvited was pushed out and the door shut behind him or her. I accepted this as natural and normal at the time. It wasn't until I was entering adolescence that I realized that very few of my friends or Alex's had ever seen the upper half of our house. We had a large den and TV room downstairs where the family's supply of games was stored (now used only by the two of us), and that was where we usually played with our friends, whether separately or all in a group. Since Alex and I were so close in age, we had several good friends in common. Those few were the only ones ever invited Upstairs, and then only rarely.

When children begin to enter puberty they become physically very self-conscious. Bathroom doors are shut and even locked. Boys discovered sorting their sisters' underwear out of the dryer are tongue-lashed by its owner. One of my friends once playfully hid his younger sister's first training bra, and she nearly had hysterics when she realized her brother had actually touched it. Anyone who's not an "only" has had similar experiences, I'm sure, especially in a brother/sister mix.

I mention these things only to say that Alex and I were different. When Alex was standing in front of the hall linen closet in her first bra and panties, digging out the fluffiest towel she could find, I didn't make snide cracks. The first and only time I hooked a finger under the back strap of her bra and snapped it (doesn't every brother do that?), she ignored me . . . until I turned and began to walk away. Then she snapped me with a towel with such accuracy and finesse it felt like a needle had been jabbed in my ass. I jumped, she giggled "Gotcha!," and that was all. We were even-up and there was no escalation.

We usually helped each other make up both our beds simply because it went much faster. The first time she noticed the stiff places on my bottom sheet where I had had nocturnal emissions or had jerked off, and asked me what *that* was, I flushed in embarrassment. She could have made capital on that for weeks, but she chose discretion and shrugged.

So, we were normal kids in most respects. We simply never did anything to hurt or upset each other. "I'm telling!" was not something either of us ever said to the other. An enlightened and mature attitude, I suppose, but I know neither of us ever reasoned it out. I can't remember a time we weren't best friends. That was just the way it was between us.

We played pranks on each other, and we exchanged the usual teasing insults, and we argued frequently. We even had occasional fights and got angry at each other, but it was always over a serious and substantive issue, not just because "siblings always fight." And we always made up in a day or so and never carried grudges. It took us both awhile to realize, from visiting friends' homes, that our relationship was not the norm.

We were protective of each other in the outside world, too. When Alex was in fifth grade and I was in sixth, she chanced one spring week to get on the wrong side on three boys in my class. For several days, they pushed her around at recess and sabotaged her assignments in class. She didn't know why they had singled her out but for awhile she was half in a rage and half in tears most of the day. Typically, she kept her problem to herself and when I finally asked her what was the matter she wouldn't tell me.

I lagged behind her the next afternoon, however, and deliberately spied on her. Our house was only four blocks from school, so we usually walked home. The villainous sixth grade boys were on bikes, though, and they charged out of an alley while she was crossing a street in the middle of a residential block. They circled her like Mongol raiders, knocking the books out of her hands and jeering at her tears. Several other homebound students witnessed the raid but most kids learn early not to draw attention to themselves when one of their number becomes the focus of unwanted malevolent attention.

I was in a different situation regarding the victim, of course. I was not a fighter, not in any way. I never picked fights, preferring to use my already sharp tongue. And if my tongue caused someone to chase me, I ran. I may not have been physically courageous but I wasn't stupid either.

But this was something else altogether. I didn't stop to think about it. I just dropped my book bag and my gym shoes on the sidewalk and ran the fifty yards to the marauders, becoming more angry with every stride. My profanity wasn't very developed anyway, so I kept my mouth shut. I also knew instinctively that taking on three boys my own size required surprise tactics. I was heading directly toward Alex, though I had no idea what I was going to do when I reached her.

As it happened, one of the bastards nearly intercepted my course without yet noticing me, and I jumped in the air knee-high and kicked his bike with my feet as my body hurtled into his. He never knew what hit him. His bike and his head bounced off the asphalt simultaneously, with a satisfying double-crash.

I scrambled up and saw a hand reaching for me with an unbelieving face behind it as the next rider missed hitting me by inches. I grabbed the hand and the wrist and hung on, and the boy yanked himself off his bike by his own momentum. He landed on his knees and tried to grab my leg with his other hand, so I kicked him hard in the face and let go of him. Instinct again. Had I stopped to think about what I was doing, he would have beaten the crap out of me. But he shrieked, went over on his back, and clapped both hands over his nose and mouth.

The third boy had slewed his bike sideways in a frantic attempt not to run into his buddy, and now had gotten the cuff of his jeans caught in the chain. He had his back turned as he tried to extricate himself from his machine. I yelled wordlessly and jumped on his back, grabbed his hair, and began knocking his face against the horizontal bar of the bike. Kids don't fight "fair" when it's a serious contest; they take any advantage they can get.

He reached behind him, managed to grab my ear, and tried hard to pull it off. I yelped at the sudden pain and tried to disengage, but he hung on and twisted himself around where he could get both hands on me. I wasn't going to get out of this unbruised; some of my anger began to be replaced by fear.

But all this time, all two or three minutes of it, I'd forgotten about Alex. She was angry, too. As the third boy cocked his free arm, preparing to bury his fist in my eye, my sweet sister let him have it from behind with her history textbook -- the thick, heavy one. I was focused on that fist and heard three separate thudding sounds before I realized what was happening. The repeated concussions made the third Mongol forget all about me. He was crying and yelling and trying to get away. He finally escaped by tearing his jeans, leaving part of the cuff wedged in the chain, and falling over his bike. The pointed front of the bicycle seat caught him square in the nuts and then he was rolling around in the street, clutching his crotch and moaning.

The first boy was trying not very successfully to sit up. Blood was running down his neck and across his head and he had managed to smear it across his face. At first glance, he appeared to have been scalped.

The second one was still covering his lower face with his hands and there was blood all down his shirt front and one tooth lying in the street. He saw it too, and picked it up and stared at it. The only blood on me belonged to the other three, though I had managed to rip two buttons off my shirt.

As I said, I'm not a fighter, and I suddenly began to shake, sitting there in the street. The thrill of victory was whooping somewhere in the back of my mind, but it was mostly obscured by growing fear. Mother and Dad were going to kill me. I'd probably be expelled. Maybe the police would come to the house. Alex was alternately sobbing and laughing as she hung onto my arm. When she felt me shaking, though, she came to her senses more quickly than I did.

"C'mon," she said urgently. "Let's get outta here."

She pulled and pushed me to my feet and quickly gathered up her scattered school books. We both looked around. Perhaps a dozen other students of varying ages were standing, frozen, up and down the block, some in the street and some on the sidewalk. I saw only one adult -- a man who had been parking in front of his house ten yards away and was now standing and leaning over his open car door with his mouth open. I paid attention to him especially. The other kids were just kids, but adults were a different species.

The man finally found his voice. "I saw it all, kid, it wasn't your fault. You two get on home and I'll take care of these bullies." He looked disgustedly at the three losers and I felt some relief.

Alex and I hurried back to where I had dropped my own stuff, noting the nervousness or fright of the smaller children we passed. Those our own age mostly grinned, though. The boys in the street were not popular. Probably nobody here was going to volunteer evidence against me. We walked quickly down the block and around the corner, making a two-block detour to get home; I didn't want to have to walk again past the boys I had beaten up.

That's when I realized, for the first time, that I *had* beaten them. Three-to-one odds, and I had won. A satisfying thing for an adolescent boy to discover about himself. But there was also the sobering knowledge that I couldn't get away with that kind of surprise attack more than once. The story would be all over school by the end of tomorrow's classes. And I'd have to be careful or I was going to get my own self beaten up by kids who had decided I had stepped out of the pecking order. Not to mention the revenge these three losers would undoubtedly plan against me.

As usual, Alex was reading my mind. "Michael, don't worry." We were both out of breath from our attempt to escape the scene. "That man was Charlene Huff's father. He's a cop, a lieutenant or something. I don't think he's going to bother us or he'd already have done it. Besides, he said he saw the whole thing. Maybe those creeps will be in more trouble than us." It was typical that she said "us" and not "you." She'd only gotten in three blows and her school dress wasn't even mussed -- never mind that she was the victim -- but it was still "us."

Then she squeezed my arm and smiled and said "My hero," without a trace of irony. She made it sound lighthearted but she meant it. I was no knight in shining armor and we both knew it. She also knew, now, that I was willing to risk serious trouble on her behalf. I don't think it came as a surprise to either of us.

We found out later that her estimation of the situation was pretty much correct. Detective Lieutenant Huff apparently displayed his badge of office to the three Mongols, which frightened them into giving their true names and addresses. Then he made a point of going around to each set of parents to explain how their sons had ended up in such a sorry condition and why they hadn't better "assault a little girl" again. Charlene knew the three, of course, and presumably filled in her father on their previous terrorist activities. Nobody I knew had ever *seen* the inside of Juvenile Detention and nobody wanted to. So I was a minor hero for a few days, mostly to earlier victims of the gang. And Alex, without telling me, made sure through her girlfriend network that the word went out: Don't start on me or my brother, or Charlene Huff's father will hear about it.

* * * * *

[. . . from Chapter 2 . . .]

I remember very clearly when I realized Alex was growing up, because it momentarily frightened me. I went into the bathroom one morning when I was thirteen and found several fresh drops of dark blood on the tile floor in front of the toilet, by the simple method of stepping in it. There was more blood in the bowl itself.

I looked wildly at the backs of my arms and legs and checked quickly in the mirror to see if I had a nosebleed. There wasn't a mark on me. It had to be my sister, the only other person who ever used the Upstairs bathroom. So I hurried into her room.

"Alex!" I said too loudly. "Are you all right? Where'd the blood come from?" She was sleeping on her stomach, but she awoke with a start, raised her head, and stared at me in alarm.

"What blood?! Where?"

"In the bathroom, on the floor! Did you hurt yourself?" She stared blankly at me for a moment before her eyes registered comprehension. She let her head fall back on the pillow.

"No, Dummy. I just started my period during the night. Sorry I made a mess. I'll clean it up when I get up. . . ." She began to drowse off again.

Her period. Oh. Yes, that WAS pretty stupid of me. The boys' Health classes in school covered the physical development of both sexes, so I knew, in theory, what menstruation was. I just hadn't put my foot in it before now. I slipped out of my sister's room, embarrassed and sheepish. Then I returned to the bathroom and mopped up the blood, now smeared by my foot, and then went back to lie, wide awake, in my own bed for the two hours before we had to get up for school.

When the alarm went off, I climbed out of bed again and wandered back to the bathroom. Alex was already there, in her ubiquitous sleeping tee-shirt, brushing her teeth. She turned when I came in, her mouth full of toothpaste.

"I said I'd clean it up, Michael."

"What? Oh. Well, I stepped in it and smeared it, and I didn't want it to dry there. Besides, I woke you up at five o'clock." I was still embarrassed, not because she had begun having periods but because she hadn't mentioned it to me.

My sister could read my expressions as fluently as I could read hers. "Michael? I didn't mean to embarrass you; I was still asleep. I started having periods a couple months ago, and I'm just not used to it yet. It makes me feel pretty weird." She continued to look at me.

I patted her on the back. "That's okay, Alex. You just caught me by surprise. I thought you had hurt yourself somehow. This is a new experience for me, too."

Now I was succumbing to curiosity. "Uh, are you using a-- a Kotex, or what? I mean, I don't want to pry. . . ."

She replied with her tinkly, high amusement laugh. "No, they're too bulky, you can see the outline right through your slacks. I'm using a tampon."

I must have looked blank this time. "Isn't that the same thing?"

She laughed again and raised the front of her tee shirt above her panties. "No, it's not! I'm using one now and it doesn't show at all." She saw my puzzled expression. "In fact, I need to change it before we go to school. You can watch if you want to. . . ."

"Really? We didn't get this kind of detail in Health class. Obviously." I had no idea what this was going to involve but I suspected it might make me a little sick. Maybe I had better skip breakfast this morning.

Alex motioned for me to sit on the closed toilet seat while she got down a cardboard box from the bathroom closet and dug from it a paper-wrapped cylinder. Then she pushed her panties down and put one foot up on the seat of the old wooden chair we kept in the bathroom.

This was also something new. I noted with interest that she was developing a sizable patch of auburn pubic hair, almost exactly the same shade as the hair on her head, . . . and on my head, for that matter. Then I saw a white string dangling from her crotch.

Holding a folded-over pad of toilet paper between her legs, she tugged on the string and extracted a bright red something the size and shape of a hot dog, which glistened wetly. She wrapped it up carefully in the toilet paper and dropped it in the wastebasket. There was a strange new aroma about her, very different but not exactly unpleasant. Just strange.

She dabbed between her legs with another wad of toilet paper, moistened this time to clean off any blood that had trickled around the Tampax. Then she quickly unwrapped the fresh pack, revealing two telescoped cardboard tubes, like a large toy hypodermic. Spreading her labia with the fingers of one hand, she pushed the tube up into herself with the other, depressed the "plunger," and withdrew the tube, which was now tinged with red. A new string dangled from her crotch.

"See?" she said calmly. "Nothing to worry about. And I just gave you a free shot at my pussy, too," she added with a grin. She pulled her panties up and turned back to the sink to wash her hands.

I sat there another few seconds, thinking about what I had just seen. Neither of us was particularly body-conscious, so nudity was not a big thing. I had seen my sister naked a number of times and vice versa. But this was the first time I had actually been shown what lay hidden between her legs . . . and she had volunteered it. Was she just teasing me? Or was there a message here I didn't yet understand? I was pretty sure none of my friends at school who had sisters had had such an experience, or we all would have heard about it. I, on the other hand, wouldn't tell them, or anyone else, a thing. And Alex knew it.

Maybe that's why she did it, I thought. Starting her period means she's growing up and who else can she show that off to? And she knows she can trust me not to gossip about it at school.

I reached over to my sister, now standing only a foot away at the sink, and moved my hand lightly down the back of her thigh and the inside of her knee. I knew she liked that caress, and she did indeed look over at me with a wide smile.

"You have a very nice . . . ," I began and then couldn't think of an appropriate word.

"Pussy? I know. Thank you, Michael." Her smile was warm and candid. We were an odd couple, even at that age.

[. . . from Chapter 3 . . .]

I was working on my third model Zero, being careful to use only the minimum amount of plastic cement. The two halves of each wing were drying in their network of rubber bands, and I was just about ready to insert the wings into the slots in the fuselage. The first two models had come out okay and were lined up on the shelf before me where I could visually check the wing angles. I painted a thin bead of cement along the wing slots, inserted the wings, checked the angles, and prepared to hold my hands steady for five minutes. I intended to have a flight of three Japanese fighters arranged in a diving formation over my study desk, properly detailed and painted and each with its own individual markings.

Alex's head poked in the door, dark red ponytail askew. She watched in silence for a few seconds as I sat unmoving. "What are you doing?"

I looked at my sister, then back at the model, then patiently back at my sister. She saw my expression and held up a hand. "Okay, I know: You're working on a model. But what are you DOING?"

"I'm holding the wings steady until the cement dries, so they won't sag."

She nodded as if her worst fears for my sanity had been realized. I raised an eyebrow. "Hey, do I make fun of the stuffed animals on your pillow?"

She smiled and continued into my room in cutoffs and a T-shirt, collapsing on my bed, arms out, with a loud, dramatic sigh. "I'm bored."

I didn't even look up. "It's 10:30 Saturday morning, Alex. How can you be bored?" I kind of knew what she meant, though. I mean, here I was with nothing better to do than build model planes.

"I bet you could think of something to do if you worked at it. What about the Coven?" My name for the four or five girls she ran around with, doing "girl things" together.

"Oh, they're all out of town for the weekend, or they have afternoon dates, or something." She sounded faintly disgusted. "Michael, could WE do something together?"

"Like what?" The wings were setting up perfectly.

"I dunno -- go to a show maybe? Just go downtown and walk around and window-shop?"

I looked over at the bed and grinned. "Well, I could take you to the playground and hold your hand while you go down the *big* slide. . . ."

She stuck out her tongue and then grinned back. I liked the way her nose wrinkled when she did that.

"I'm serious! It's a nice day -- we could just go out and do something and have fun together, couldn't we? Unless you're embarrassed to be seen with your little sister, of course."

"No, I'm not embarrassed to be seen with you, and you're not so little anymore, anyway." I thought about discovering her menstruation a few months before; I tried to think of her as a "woman" now, but it often wasn't easy.

The Zero's wings had set enough that I could let go of them, but I slipped a paperback book under each wing, just in case. I turned sideways in my chair. Alex had her hands behind her head and was idly kicking one bare foot over her cocked knee. I thought about things I needed to do, projects I ought to work on. Nothing. I was caught up on my schoolwork and so, probably, was Alex. No pressing errands. No place I really had to be today. God, it WAS going to be a boring day! On the other hand, though Alex and I teased each other without mercy, I really did like her company and I knew the feeling was reciprocated. We had become very comfortable just hanging out together.

"You know what we both need?" I said. "Exercise. EASY exercise. You feel like hiking around Fremont Park for a couple of hours?"

Fremont was a large, semi-wild area on the eastern edge of town that combined lawns and softball fields and cycling paths with rocky trails and not-too-difficult ravines. High school students went there with their steadies, to lie in the sun or to sit up amongst the boulder-strewn hillsides and make out. Young mothers strolled their infants, older kids climbed trees and tossed frisbees. In the summer, the park was pretty busy on weekends, but this was a surprisingly mild day in March and most families would be stoking up their charcoal for the first cook-out of the year, or attacking the winter's accumulation of yard work.

Alex considered the suggestion for perhaps half a second before bouncing up with a broad, sparkling smile. "That's a great idea! Wait'll I get my Keds!" She hurried out, toes curled for traction as she angled across the hall.

We frequently rode our bikes over to Fremont, but the idea today was to hike, and if we parked the bikes someplace -- even locked -- the odds were slim that they would be there when we came back. But it was only a fifteen-minute bus ride from the end of our block to the park, so it was still well before noon when we arrived. There were a few athletic types around, but the families wouldn't begin to appear before late lunch.

"Wanna head for anyplace special?" Alex asked as we got off the bus.

"No place special," I replied. "In fact, let's just go wherever we happen to go. There's no hurry; we can just stroll, okay?"

Alex nodded agreement and we set off at an easy pace along the tree-edged path that separated the open, nearly empty lawns on our left from the rolling, rocky hillsides on the right. We ambled along and I hooked my thumbs in my front pockets. Alex looped her arm through mine. She was only a inch or so shorter than me and we fit together quite well.

"This is nice," she said lazily and squeezed my arm.

A few minutes later, we witnessed one of those otherwise minor incidents, those little public dramas, that can unexpectedly make a real change in your life. Three boys about ten years old came tearing down the path on their bikes and swerved around us. Several lengths behind them was a girl a year or two younger, wearing jeans and a plaid blouse, peddling as hard as she could.

"Keith!" she yelled angrily. "Mom said not to go off and leave me! Wait up!"

One of the boys threw up his hands in dramatic frustration and coasted to a stop while the girl hurried to catch up. The other two boys began cruising in a circle on the grass off to one side, laughing at their buddy's encumbrance. The girl skidded to a halt just behind her brother. She was nearly in tears.

"Why don't you just go home, kid?" Keith looked very disgusted. "Sisters aren't good for anything!" He glared a challenge at her.

"I just want to play . . . ," the girl replied, looking down at her shoes.

"Well, we don't want you playing with us! Get away from me! Just leave me alone!" And he did a wheelie on his bike as he raced off to join his friends. They all headed for the beginning of one of the park's network of hill trails.

The girl watched them go, then slowly turned her bike around and headed back the other way. She wasn't crying aloud, but the misery of rejection was plain in her eyes. There were tears on her cheeks and she was biting her lower lip. As she passed us, I realized that Alex was about to say something to her.

Bad idea, I knew it instinctively. I trapped the hand that had begun to slip off my arm and said, softly but firmly, "No."

Alex looked at me, startled, and then the girl had passed and so had the opportunity to intervene.

"Why did you stop me?" She looked surprised. "I was just going to tell her to keep her chin up -- that not all brothers are like that. Didn't you see the way he treated that poor kid?"

I raised my eyebrows; she really didn't understand. "In other words, you were going to point out to her how much luckier YOU were. And how would that have made her feel?"

Alex opened her mouth, hesitated, and closed it again. She looked for a moment at the snubbed girl, who was peddling slowly into the distance with her head down, then looked back at me and nodded unhappily.

"You're right; I didn't think. Sorry." She took my arm again and we went on. She was thinking, and I thought I knew what about, but I kept my mouth shut.

My sister looked over and stared at my profile for several seconds before asking, "Michael, . . . why aren't we like that?"

My thoughts had been running along the same lines. "You mean, why don't we detest each other, the way everyone else we know does?" She smiled slightly and nodded. "Alex, I don't know. But I'm glad it's different with us."

"Me, too." She squeezed my arm, just a little.

"Maybe," I continued, "maybe we're just different from everyone else, period. I mean, how many people do we know who would even be talking about this? We've always gotten along pretty well -- haven't we? Is that abnormal for brothers and sisters? Or maybe we just left that stuff behind quicker than most people."

Alex was nodding her head. She looked at me again and smiled. "Maybe we're emotional geniuses. . . ."

I snorted and we went on. After awhile we found ourselves stepping from ledge to ledge up a hillside trail. There was a series of broad slate shelves to one side near the top of the hill, screened from above by scrub and juniper, which had obviously been left as a bench for climbers. You could see most of the park from there, as well as the trail we had climbed. It seemed like a good place to sit and talk, which I think we both unconsciously wanted to do.

I sat and stuck my legs out, flexing my knees. I needed to get this kind of exercise more often; except for swimming, maybe I was becoming too "bookish." My sister stepped up on the ledge just behind mine, sat down, and leaned her chin on my shoulder. It was an affectionate gesture and I liked it. But her question wasn't what I had expected.

"Michael, how do you feel about me?"

I considered for a moment, but I wasn't sure what she was really asking. "You mean, do I like you more than that kid likes *his* sister. Sure."

"Well, . . . no -- not exactly."

Her voice had an odd tone. I started to turn to look at her but she quickly laid her hand atop my head and prevented it.

"Don't look at me!" she added, so I didn't. "I mean, uh, . . . um, . . . Michael, do you love me?" It came out in a rush.

I hadn't had a chance to thing of a good answer so I said the first thing that came into my head. "Of course, I love you, Alex. You're my sister and I care about you a lot."

Her cheek was next to my ear and I could feel her smile. Then she surprised me again: She kissed me on the cheek and quickly sat back. She had kissed me before, when I gave her a birthday present or did her some kind of favor, but somehow this was different. I motioned for her to move down beside me, which she did. Then I put my arm around her neck, my hand dangling loose over her shoulder, and I studied her.

"So? Are you going to tell me what that was all about?"

She shrugged, a bit embarrassed, and reached up to lace her fingers through mine. "I don't know, . . . I just wondered. . . ." I continued to look at her expectantly so she went on.

"Well, that girl looked so unhappy awhile ago, and I was thinking that I'm usually *happy* around you, and, . . . well, I just wondered."

Then I surprised myself. I leaned over and kissed her at the corner of her eye. She was startled and put her other hand up to touch the spot. I knew that most guys my age would rather eat dirt than kiss their sisters, but it felt like something I wanted to do, and I realized immediately that I had enjoyed it.

Alex was my sister, yes -- but she was also a very pretty girl, and I definitely liked girls. Also, she was my very best friend, barring no one. I had warm feelings toward her on all accounts, and I had reason to think she felt much the same way about me. How long had I felt this way? For as long as I could remember. Looking back, I can see that we were unusually mature emotionally, and I can offer no explanation for that.

Because Alex was right: We had never fought, the way most siblings did. We argued, often heatedly, but we never sank to name-calling. If we stomped off in opposite directions after a spat, we always felt guilty soon afterward and sought each other out to be the first to apologize.

I'm not sure our parents were aware of any of this, either. As I've said, we were the objects of benign neglect in most matters, and we made up our own social and psychological norms. We played together when we were little, we shared our toys with almost no arguments, we took each other's part automatically in dealings with other kids (like the famous incident with the Three Bullies) -- we cooperated to what was undoubtedly an unnatural degree. It wasn't an attitude or a relationship we arrived at by forethought; it just seemed to be a part of our emotional makeup.

All our lives we had been close, but now we were both growing up. I was becoming acutely aware that there was a female body under the jeans and sweatshirts and -- also unusual -- I didn't feel guilty or even strange about the realization.

In retrospect, I believe my sister also had a crush on me. I was beginning to catch her watching me unobtrusively with an expression of vague longing. At the time, I just thought she was acting a little oddly. Certainly, I had a matching crush on her; I simply didn't recognize it.

I know I wondered at the time if our relaxed companionability was a "phase" that would end, if we would soon be at each other's throats like everyone else. I hoped that wouldn't happen. I was really beginning to consciously enjoy and appreciate my sister's friendly presence, taken so long for granted. I liked living with someone so similar in appearance, style, and tastes to myself, someone I could talk to about absolutely anything without being jeered. Someone so cute, too. And I didn't think of any of this as "wrong." It was just the way we were, and the fact that we recognized so early that we were different seemed to isolate us even more from our friends and classmates. It drew us more closely together.

I had my friends, Alex had her friends, and we shared a few friends. But then there was "Alex-and-me," and that was like a third person in which each of us shared half the responsibility.

We sat there on the rock ledge by the trail, thinking much the same thoughts and reaching the same conclusions. Alex snuggled a little closer and leaned against me, and I replied by putting my arm around her and squeezing her in a soft hug.

"Michael," she said softly without looking up, "I'm lucky to have you for a brother, aren't I?" She paused and the tenor of her voice saddened. "This probably can't go on, you know that, don't you? What's going to happen to us?"

"It'll go on as long as both of us want it to, Alex." It was what I hoped, not what I knew. We were still very young and hope comes easy at that age.

Alex turned sideways to face me. "Would it be too strange if I kissed you? I mean, on the lips?"

"Not to me it wouldn't be."

She reached up to my cheek as I spoke and I put my hand on the back of her neck. I felt warm and tender toward her at that moment, but it wasn't exactly "romantic." Neither was it consciously sexual. More like a deliberate emotional bonding.

Our lips met hesitantly. Neither of us had really done this before with anyone -- in cold blood, so to speak. But we gained confidence quickly. That first real kiss between us lasted maybe thirty seconds and it was careful and gentle and exploratory, and it felt so very, very nice. And so entirely natural, as if it were destined. Neither of us had second thoughts.

When our lips parted we simply sat and gazed at each other, our hands still in place. It certainly felt like a "magic moment" but neither of us was quite sure why.

I date my love for Alex, for my beautiful and perfect sister, from that moment. I wasn't aware of any kind of emotional watershed at the time, of course. But, looking back, that kiss was when our attitudes and feelings toward each other began slowly to crystalize. When I told that to Alex, years later, she simply nodded in agreement. Our first deliberate kiss, she said, was like being thirsty and "taking a long drink from a cool well." She felt the unexplainable difference, too. And things were never the same for us again.

Without having to think about it, I knew I had more access to Alex's body than was ordinarily the case. A guy in gym was bragging one day about having caught a glimpse of his older sister's "snatch" (a word I never cared for) and I remember disapproving of his leering description and of the snickering reaction of his listeners.

I was as perpetually horny as any other adolescent male, and I was both appreciative of and aroused by the large areas of skin Alex casually revealed to me more and more frequently. But I certainly wasn't going to describe my sister's many luscious attributes with these lowlifes. The braggart had actually gone on recon, hanging out around his house at locations where he would have the best opportunity to steal a peek at his sister's naked body.

Alex showed me what she was willing for me to see -- which was virtually all of her -- and there was no sneaking involved. She was proud of her body and she enjoyed showing it off to an audience she could trust. She never said "Don't tell anyone," nor did she even imply it, because she knew it wasn't necessary. I had the usual doubts about my own developing sexual equipment, but Alex watched with interest when I changed clothes or took a leak -- and that never embarrassed me, either. How many penises could she compare with mine at the age of thirteen?

After our walk in the park and our first real kiss, there was a subtle change in our behavior toward each other, especially at home. Previously, if my door was shut, Alex would knock and wait for me to invite her in. I gave her the same courtesy. But now our personal privacy began to disappear, entirely by mutual consent. I'd knock at her door and then go in, without waiting for permission; Alex did the same. If she was in her underwear, she didn't make a big deal of it, so neither did I. Then our doors were only half-closed, not shut. Then only occasionally closed at all.

The same was true of the bathroom: If one of us was on the toilet, the other ignored the fact. We still were pretty private, but now it was a *shared* privacy directed toward the outside world. It was as if that kiss had sealed a pact of trust between us.

We also spent more and more time together, just occupying adjacent space. Instead of each of us studying in our own rooms, Alex took to occupying my bed, sprawled out with books and papers scattered around her, while I studied at my desk (which was actually a large, old oak library table).

We might not say a word for an hour or more, the silence broken only by the rustle of paper and the scratching of pencils, but just being near each other as we worked made the homework easier. And I discovered the pleasures of reading a novel while lying on my back with my head cushioned in a girl's lap. Sometimes I would look up from whatever I was doing to find Alex simply watching me and smiling. Then I discovered I was doing the same thing.

We began going for walks regularly, but almost always outside our own part of town. We knew instinctively that our friends and acquaintances would hassle us, and we didn't want to start any rumors, either. Because when we went window-shopping downtown or climbing in the hills, we frequently held hands. I'm sure strangers, if they noticed us at all, assumed I was Alex's boyfriend, not her brother, even though we looked so much alike.

We also went to the shows at the old-style theaters downtown, the ones with balconies. We would find ourselves surrounded in an upper loge by a dozen scattered couples passionately making out, and we would look around, grin, and squeeze our clasped hands. I could put my arm around my sister in a dark theater, too, and she could snuggle up against me unobserved. I began to long for a driver's license, but that was still two years away.

Oddly enough, after that first experience on the hillside, we seldom kissed, except for a perfunctory "thank you" on the cheek. Perhaps we regarded it as too valuable and special an experience and we wanted to preserve its rarity. Or maybe we were just fearful of the implications. We recognized that out affection for each other was growing with every passing month, but that didn't mean we understood it. There were occasions, however. . . .

Alex played flute in the junior high band for two years; it later became one activity too many, and she dropped band so she could stay on the swim team. And the flute section, as every band-survivor knows, is on the very front row. When the Spring Concert -- the biggest musical event of the year -- came around, my little sister discovered she had outgrown last year's "special" dress; as slender as she was, she had still added an inch or more around the bust. Had she been a couple of rows back, mostly hidden from view, she might have tried to fake it by letting out a few seams, but for the front row she knew she'd have to have a new dress.

The rule in our family had always been that Mother and Dad kept us respectably clothed -- which they certainly did -- but that fancy non-necessaries, like jewelry, and party dresses, and leather jackets, either came at the usual gift times or were paid for with money we earned ourselves.

Alex had a conference downstairs with Mother and came away from it with a $20 contribution. She had another $15 stashed away from babysitting and typing term papers, I knew, but from what I heard her say, the perfect dress, the one she really, really wanted, cost $49.95.

Cokes were still a dime then and I could buy a new pair of Hush Puppies for under $10, so what she had in mind was a significant target. And she was $15 short. I asked her if she had actually counted up her savings and she replied morosely that she *knew* how much was in the old stationary box in her bottom drawer.

I thought about it for at least thirty minutes. I had my own savings, of course, in a battered tobacco tin wedged up in my bed springs, and I had vague plans for it. But it really made me unhappy to see my sister so unhappy. I dug out the tin and counted nearly $40; I took out fifteen singles and stuck them in my pocket. I could always mow more lawns.

While Alex was out on an errand later that afternoon, I opened her bottom drawer and dug out her money box. She had twelve singles, the four fives Mother had given her, and a double fistful of quarters. The bills were neatly paperclipped together, and I smoothed out my contribution and added it to the clip.

Alex wandered in and plopped down on my bed an hour later. When I asked her if she had come up with any ideas for the dress she wanted, she shook her head slowly and continued to stare at the ceiling.

"Look," I said, "why don't you go and actually count your savings? When was the last time you did that? You probably don't have any idea how much you have!"

"I counted it a month ago and it was less than $20, I know."

"Would you PLEASE just go and count it again?"

She was becoming a bit annoyed. "Okay, okay, I'll count it again! But it's not enough!" And off she went. I heard her dresser drawer open and shut. Her bed squeaked as she dumped the box out on her comforter. I could barely make out her voice.

". . . four, five, six, . . ."

When she finished, there was a pause of several seconds and then she re-counted, a little louder. Another pause, and she went through the bills a third time. Then there was a much longer pause and I grinned to myself as I pictured her bewilderment. Then I heard her bed squeak again and her bare feet slowly crossed the hall. I had to struggle to keep a straight face as she came through the door, bills clutched in both hands, and a look of mixed puzzlement and suspicion on her face.

"I *couldn't* have had this much!"

"I always knew you couldn't count above three," I replied, raising my eyebrows.

"Michael -- did *you* put more money in there? From your savings?"

"Who, me?" I tried to look innocent. "Why would I do that?"

But I was like a pane of window glass to Alex. She walked over to my desk chair. "I KNOW why you did it. Now, stand up."

I must have looked a bit puzzled myself as I pushed the chair back and got up.

She put her arms around my neck and stared me square in the eye, her nose an inch from mine. "You did it because you're absolutely wonderful, and I don't deserve you for a brother," she said softly with tears in her lashes. Then she kissed me, slowly, lingeringly, in a way that sent muscle spasms through my toes. I held her by the shoulders because I was, frankly, afraid to put my arms around her waist. I wasn't sure I would be able to let go. That kiss seemed to go on and on, though it probably lasted only a minute or two.

She hugged me, her cheek damp against mine. "Why do you do things like this for me? I'll pay you back before school's out, I promise."

"You'll do no such thing," I replied firmly. I had already thought about this, too, and I knew how I wanted it to be. "That's not a loan; it's a gift. More than that: It's yours because you need it more right now than I do. Alex, you're my sister and I want you to be happy. Anything I have -- anything I *ever* have -- is yours. Always."

She pulled her head back and stared at me, and then her expression shifted and the look on her face held such wonder and happiness that I got tingly feelings in all my nerve endings. And there was something else in her face that I couldn't identify at the time, and which she may not even have realized was there.

But I've seen it many times since when she looks at me. It was the first dawn of real love. It was more than just affection -- and it struck me like the sun rising on a summer day. Then she hugged me again and her arms trembled as she tried not to burst into tears. And this time I put my arms around her and hugged back. Like Alex, I wasn't sure what had just happened -- was still happening -- but I felt, again, as I had after our very first kiss, an almost physical change in my feeling for my sister, a change I was certain she had experienced, too.

[. . . from Chapter 4 . . .]

I began going out on real dates when I was fifteen. These days, I suppose, kids of both sexes are old hands at dating by the time they're twelve, but parents weren't so progressive in the middle America of my adolescence. I was always perfectly at ease with Alex but I often seemed to be afflicted with stupidity around other girls. Before and after school and during gym, the boys would gather and pool their intelligence on the girls, liberally salting their accounts with exaggeration, complete lies, and inept psychological analysis.

It was a relief to discover, through Alex, that the girls were following much the same procedure. For my sister was my secret weapon in that first, tentative confrontation between the sexes, and I was hers.

"One of the guys claims Liz Nowotny almost never wears panties to school," I might remark hopefully.

Alex would giggle in delight. "Well, she must change in her hall locker then! She wears fake satin underwear in gym class!" Sometimes there would be a bonus: "She also pads her bra with tissues!" Which I would then report back to the trenches on the boys' side of the field, adopting a knowing smirk if someone demanded documentation.

Within a few months, Alex was also enrolled in the dating game. If a boy asked her out whom she was uncertain of, she often came to me for a background check. I don't believe I was ever really jealous of the fact that my little sister was out at night, holding hands in a movie or making out in the back seat of a car. She was all mine at home, after all.

She seemed to have much the same attitude. We were unnatural allies in the genetic competition. We teased each other remorselessly about our dates, but we also were willing to betray our same-sex friends to spare each other social disaster and personal humiliation.

"Tommy Thatcher?! Alex, don't you know that every girl he even manages to hold hands with, three hours later he's bragging he screwed her or at least felt her up? And he tells every guy in school!"

Or, "Why would you even *think* of asking Eileen Zimmer to a pool party?! Nobody's ever even seen her knees in the locker room, she's such a prude. If she even *owns* a swim suit, I'll bet it has long legs and sleeves and a full skirt!"

And so we managed to save ourselves from most situations of potential public embarrassment. There was a positive side to our information exchange, too. If my sister told me that a girl I was planning to ask out loved to collect hickeys in unusual places to show off to her friends, then I would make an effort to be creative.

And when Alex went out on a tennis date with Brian, a reasonably intelligent jock I knew from math class, I informed her in advance of his admiration for girls who weren't afraid to compete with him; he abhorred simpering "lil' ol' me" types. So she played the game hard and worked up a real sweat, and although Brian won the match, it wasn't by much. He stopped me in the hall the next day, grinning and shaking his head.

"That's some sister you got, man! Really a neat girl!" I could only agree with him.

Since Alex and I had tacitly agreed long before that we could tell or ask each other anything, our dating experiences led to more intimate dialogue. We began to relate our discoveries and blunders to each other in detail and to compare interpretations and perspectives.

One Sunday night when it was uncomfortably warm and humid, we spread a comforter on the floor in my room and lay on our backs in front of the laboring window air conditioning unit, I in my briefs, she in her red rayon bikini panties -- a recent acquisition which demonstrated her growing confidence about herself. We lay like starfish, limbs outstretched and overlapping, trying to stay cool.

Alex was absently trailing her fingernails lightly over my chest and shoulders, creating a delightfully shivery sensation. When we were alone together these days, the need for physical contact was almost overwhelming.

I needed to tell her about my date the night before, which had not been a notable success; I wanted to understand why. And, as usual, Alex made it easy for me.

"So, how was your date with Susie Ellis?"

"Awful! She'll never go out with me again."

I regretted it, too. Susie was not only a very cute little blonde, she was also bright and articulate. I valued intelligent conversation on a date, along with the kissing and groping.

"When I put my arm around her in the theater, she liked it; she even leaned over toward me on the arm rest. But when I took her home and tried to put my arm around her so I could kiss her goodnight, she went stiff as a board and practically shoved me away! I see her in class every day, and she's friendly enough then. What did I do?!"

Alex chuckled sympathetically. "I think in the movie she felt safe because there were a lot of other people around; in the car, she was all alone with you." Alex glanced over and saw that I wasn't getting her point.

"You probably don't know this," she continued, "but last year Susie was attacked by some creep, an older man, in the parking lot at Sears. He pushed her into a car and started grabbing her tits and stuff before she could scream. Artie and a couple other guys heard her and ran over to help, but the creep took off and they couldn't catch him. Anyway, Susie's still afraid of being alone with a guy, I think. So it wasn't anything you did -- really, it wasn't."

The next Friday night, I ran into Susie at the football game and we sat together in the stands and rah-rah'ed together and laughed together . . . and I was careful not to touch her.

Making our way slowly out of the packed stadium afterward, I invited her for a coke and offered to include a ride home. She glanced over her shoulder at me and hesitated a moment, but then she smiled and accepted. We gossiped and chattered about inconsequential things over our fountain drinks for half an hour, and Susie relaxed in my company. And I still kept my hands to myself.

When we arrived in front of her house, though, her smile suddenly seemed frozen with tension. I set the hand brake and immediately hopped out and went around to open her door for her. She looked surprised and relieved, and as I walked her slowly up the winding flagstones to her door I kept my fingers hooked in my back belt loops.

"'Night, Susie; I really enjoyed it. See you in Math tomorrow, okay?" I turned to go but she reached out and touched my arm.

"Michael, wait . . ." I turned to face her again. Now her eyes and her lips said she thought she was willing to be kissed, but I still waited. It had to be her own decision.

"You're really a nice guy . . ." She twisted her hands together and bit her lip for a moment, undecided about how to proceed. Then she looked up at me from under her lashes and said in a soft almost-whisper, "Would you kiss me. . . ?"

I smiled my most trustworthy smile and held her chin still with one finger laid carefully along her jaw line. Do it slowly, don't grab, I told myself. I leaned forward and pressed my lips firmly against hers. No tongue, no nibbling. Her eyes fluttered shut and she sighed a little as she leaned into the kiss.

She was basically a friendly person; she wanted to like people. I knew she was relieved to discover she could overcome her lingering fright, to find that she could again enjoy this wonderful human contact. And that was what I intended her to feel. Susie was a very nice girl and it really bothered me that the assault she had undergone also had separated her from boys who liked her and who meant her no harm at all. We broke contact slowly and before I straightened, I brushed away the tears shining on her lower lashes.

"It's okay, Susie," I said softly. "I know you always have to be careful, but not every guy is a son of a bitch."

She swallowed and nodded, quickly kissed me once more on the cheek, squeezed my hand, and slipped through the door. I walked back to the car, hands in my pockets, feeling pleased with myself and pleased for Susie. It hadn't been a completely unselfish act, I knew that well enough, but it was still the right thing to have done.

[. . . from Chapter 5 . . .]

My sister and I always followed our own rules in our increasing physical involvement -- which mostly meant my being patient and sticking to an unwritten, probably unknown schedule that she could deal with. Unfortunately, because she had become used to my gentle patience and my willingness to work around her occasional nervousness, Alex seemed to expect the same from all the boys she went out with.

It was her fifth or sixth date, I think, when her optimistic assumptions got her into trouble. It was one of those rare Friday nights when Alex had a date but I didn't. I'd had a bad head cold for several days, missing school and staying home in bed to enjoy my misery. The cold was about gone by Friday, but I was still recovering and not feeling great, and my makeup homework was stacked up on my desk, so I stayed home.

Alex was out at a movie with Allen Somebody from one of her classes, a guy I didn't know except that he played basketball on the junior varsity squad. About 10:30 that night the phone rang and since I knew Mother was already asleep I put down "Oliver Twist" and answered it. On the other end was Alex, sounding very tense and upset.

"Michael? I'm so glad it's you! I'm in trouble. I mean, I'm not hurt or anything -- but I'm stranded and could you *please* come and get me? I'm by myself and it's pretty dark here and it's making me nervous."

She told me the intersection where her pay phone was located; I recognized it and remembered that there was a convenience store nearby. I told her to go into the store and stay there, and I'd come as soon as possible.

I was still in my jeans, so I hauled on a T-shirt, grabbed my loafers and my wallet, and trotted quietly downstairs. I hopped on my moped, coasted down the driveway, popped the starter, and took off.

What in the world could have happened? Alex sounded like she was on the verge of tears, not so much from fright as from anger, and she had her control clamped down tightly. She had said she wasn't hurt. Had she been in a wreck? If so, where was her date? I would have been embarrassed for myself had I slipped into a state of panic -- but I admitted that my anxiety level was increasing.

Alex saw me pull up to the curb in front of the store and came out to meet me. She looked all right, composed and smiling. But as she got closer and saw the concern on my face, the smile crumpled and she threw her arms around my neck and pressed her face against my shoulder, nearly knocking me off the motorbike. She wasn't very coherent; all I could make out was "That son of a bitch!"

I stroked her hair and held her for a few moments. "Alex, are you sure you're okay? You're not hurt?"

"No, I'm NOT okay," she sniffed, "but I'm not hurt. Please, let's just go home!" She climbed on the back of the bike, gathering her full skirt between her knees so it wouldn't get caught in the chain and kill us both. We buzzed off and she held me tightly around the waist and pressed her cheek to my shoulder blade, which felt nice. She had calmed down on the surface but she was still upset, and I wanted badly to know why.

I waited until we were back upstairs and Alex had kicked her shoes off -- clear across the room -- and had sat down on her bed. Her head was down and her hands were in her lap, fidgeting. I leaned against her dresser, tried to assume a sympathetic expression, and said, "So. . . ?"

My sister looked younger than usual; I thought it might be because she was still a little scared. But why wasn't Allen Whoever in the picture somewhere? She took a deep breath and looked up at me unhappily.

"I'm sorry I had to holler for help, Michael, but I'm glad you came and got me. I thought about it on the way home, and I guess it was partly my fault--"

I interrupted. "Alex, what are we talking about? Why don't you just start at the beginning?"

"Yeah, okay. Allen Stone asked me out -- he's in my history class -- and he's nice-looking, and the girls I asked said he was okay, so I said yes. We went to a show, and then for ice cream, and he *did* seem nice. A little too full of himself, maybe, but a lot of the guys I know are like that." She gave me a quick 'exception' smile.

"Then he asked if I'd like to go up and see the view from Pilot's Point -- you know, where the kids with the expensive cars go to park. He was driving his father's T-Bird. I thought 'why not?' I can take care of myself. So we went up there and parked -- and then he kind of changed. I just wanted to make out a little, you know? But he wanted a lot more than that! Oh, God. He's too strong and I had to fight him off, and he scared the hell out of me. I mean, we kissed, and I let him play with my tits a little -- but I kept my clothes on. But then he pushed me down on the seat and pulled my skirt up, and he got my panties part-way off, and I couldn't struggle because he was on top of me, and I couldn't even yell or anything because he kept kissing me so hard, and. . . ." She ran out of breath and the tears were coming and her voice was shaking.

I moved quickly to the bed and sat and held her, and stroked her back, and she clung to me. Her tears were on my neck and her fingers were squeezing my shoulder. I was angry, and getting angrier by the second. When she calmed down again she continued her story, but she didn't let go of me.

"I finally got one hand loose and held the horn button down, and he quit because people were looking at us from the other cars. Then he called me some terrible names and drove me back, and I was scared all the way! He took me as far as that corner, which was the first pay phone he saw, and told me to get out of the car."

I hugged her, meaning to comfort her, but she flinched and gasped slightly. I sat back abruptly and looked more closely at her. "Alex, are you *sure* you're all right? Did he hurt you?"

She snuffled a few times and stood up, silently unbuttoning her dress and dropping it (and her half-slip) to the floor around her ankles. There was a purple and green bruise across the upper part of one breast, half-covered by her bra. Another bruise spread across the inside of her thigh. And her panties were torn completely open across the front, held up only by the elastic.

My fists clenched and I felt myself begin to shake. My sister was a very sexy girl and she was correct in that she had had plenty of practice looking out for herself. But no frustrated date had ever assaulted her before. She was very adept at sending out the right signals, and most teenage boys will accept that whether they like it or not. But this Allen Stone character wouldn't accept "No." And he was going to pay for it.

I took Alex in my arms again, carefully this time, and we stood and held each other for a few minutes. It was almost midnight, but what I had to do wouldn't wait until tomorrow. I led Alex into the bathroom and urged her to run a hot tub and soak for awhile. I'd be back. She looked at me with some apprehension as she undressed.

"Michael, don't do anything stupid -- please? He's a lot bigger than you are."

I smiled reassuringly and went back to my room and looked up Allen Stone in the school directory. Then I dug out my leather jacket. It was meant to keep out the cold when I was out on my moped at night, but it was also enough like the classic black motorcycle jacket to afford some physical protection as well. I added the heavy, hard-toed shoes I used for hiking and climbing.

Then I dug through my odds-and-ends drawer and located the thirty-inch length of coaxial cable I had found on the side of the road a year or two before, probably scrap dropped by some line crew. It was an inch of spiral copper strands wrapped around a solid core, with a thick, hard, black rubber covering, and it had a satisfying heft.

I slipped quietly out the back door and coasted my bike a short way down the block before revving the motor. I hoped Alex hadn't heard me leave.

The Villain lived about a mile and a half away and all the way over there my mind kept replaying images of Alex's bruises and torn underwear. I wasn't shaking anymore; my anger had escalated to a cold, hard rage that planted a dull throb behind my eyes. I was not yet sixteen and I was prepared to commit murder, if necessary.

As I buzzed up the short street Stone lived on, I saw immediately which house I wanted: There was a jazzed up Mustang parked in the drive next to a white T-Bird. A bulky-looking character was leaning against the fender of the Mustang, drinking out of a can. I stuck the cable/club into the back of my jeans and coasted to a stop ten yards away from the guy, who was watching me curiously. I could smell the beer and I noticed three empties lined up on the trunk lid behind him. My sister seemed to be losing her taste in dates.

I walked a few feet closer and stopped with my hands in my jacket pockets. "You Allen Stone?" That coldness in the front of my brain was making me foolhardy.

His eyes flicked up and down, measuring my height, which was a bit less than his, and my weight, which was considerably less. He was about seventeen -- two years older than me.

"Alex is my sister. You beat up on her, you son of a bitch!" I wished, at that moment, that I owned a revolver.

The guy stared at me uncomprehendingly for a moment before my identity clicked. Then he sneered.

"She's a fuckin' tease. I should have slugged her. And what are *you* gonna do about it, kid?" He didn't know it, but he was at a psychological disadvantage. This was just a game to him, but not to me.

"What's the matter, asshole? You can't beat up on anyone but little girls?" I put one hand in my back pocket and took a grip on the club with the other. Stone's eyebrows lowered and his face got red, and he took several quick steps toward me, still holding the beer can.

"You little punk!"

Make him come to me, I thought -- especially when he isn't expecting a fight. He reached for the front of my jacket but his hand was still a foot away when I yanked out the length of cable and swung it overhand. I brought it down as hard as I could on his wrist. He yelped in shock and startlement and dropped his beer.

While he was still standing there clutching his numbed wrist, I brought the cable around in a backhand and, by sheer luck, caught him high on the cheekbone. He stumbled back and held up both arms to protect himself. From the way he favored his injured wrist, I thought I might have broken it -- with any luck. That would keep him out of basketball for awhile.

As he moved back, I stepped in. He hadn't expected this attack at all and he certainly wasn't prepared for it. If he had been, he'd be pounding me to a pulp right now. The beer was on my side, fortunately, because he wasn't reacting intelligently.

I pretended I was kicking off in a football game and caught him solid and hard in the crotch with my steel-capped toe. His mouth opened but no sound came out, and the blood disappeared from his face. He fell heavily to his knees, clutching his balls -- crushed, I hoped -- then hunched over and vomited stale-smelling beer all over his driveway.

Since his head was already down, I switched from football to golf. Getting a firm two-handed grip on my club, I swung it up into the creep's face, hitting him squarely under the jaw just as he started to raise his head. His teeth clacked together loudly and his head snapped back. All those hundreds of hours of swimming practice had made me stronger in the shoulders than I looked. I stepped back as his eyes rolled up and he slumped sideways into his own puddle of vomit. Very appropriate, I thought.

I prodded him a couple times in the Adam's apple with the rough end of the cable and he gagged as he returned to partial consciousness. I poked him again to get his attention.

"That was for Alex, creep. If you ever come within five feet of my sister again, I'll kill you." I didn't scream or threaten; I spoke almost conversationally. Perhaps it was the cold, calm tone of voice that made him look at me as though he believed me.

"And if you decide to come after me to get even, or if you send your friends to beat me up, you'd better make sure you kill ME. Because if you don't, you're dead.

"Listen carefully: My sister is the most important thing in the world to me. Where she's concerned, I really don't *care* what happens to me. You might say I'm a little insane on the subject. To protect her, I'm prepared to commit murder, if necessary. Are you?" From his expression, I was sure he believed me now, which was the first smart thing he'd done this evening.

"Just so you won't forget," I added, and suddenly raised the club and smashed it down across the center of his face, flattening the cartilage in his nose.

He'd have a splint on it for weeks; let him try to explain that to his buddies. Beaten up by a kid two years younger and probably thirty pounds lighter. But he was clutching his nose with both hands, retching from the pain, and staring at me like I really was crazy. And I probably was, for a while there.

The entire encounter had taken less than three minutes and made very little noise, and the street was still quiet. And I had learned some valuable lessons. Let them underestimate you and then take them by surprise. Then, hit 'em first, hit 'em hard, and kick 'em while they're down. When you're outnumbered or outsized, that's the only way you have a chance of winning.

I quickly wiped the bloody end of the club on the grass and stuck it behind my back again. Then I climbed on my moped, started it up, and headed for home without looking back. Halfway there, though, I had to pull over to the curb for a few minutes, to stop shaking. I had gone through the entire incident on automatic, and now the adrenaline rush was catching up with me.

I coasted silently into our driveway, parked by the back door, and slipped inside as quietly as possible. Alex was dozing on her bed, sprawled on top of the comforter. She was wearing one of my old sport shirts, unbuttoned, and I gently opened one side. Her bruises had deepened in color but they didn't seem to have swollen much; probably no cracked ribs or anything. The blue on her breast had gone purple and it made me angry all over again, that her body had been abused so. Alex stirred and her eyes flickered open.

"I tried to stay awake," she yawned. "You went over to see Allen, didn't you? What happened?" She struggled to sit up, grimaced, and pulled me down beside her instead.

"Are you okay?" She searched my face anxiously for evidence of a fight. But I didn't intend to tell her, in any detail, what had happened.

"We had a little talk. I think you and that creep are even, now. He's not going to bother you anymore." Her expression was full of questions, but she sensed that I wasn't going to talk about it, not yet.

"Why don't you pass the word around among your girlfriends about that guy? Show them your bruises. His potential future dates ought to be warned."

She looked solemnly into my eyes a little longer and when it became obvious I wasn't going to say anything more, she took my head between her hands and kissed me long and seriously.

Then she flashed that loving smile and murmured, "I usually *can* look after myself, Michael. But when I can't, I'm glad you're there to take care of me. I love you. . . ." Then I settled her in bed and pulled the covers over her, and by the time I switched off the light she was asleep again.

And as I climbed into my own bed a little while later, I thought over the incident and wondered if I really *would* have killed Allen Stone, given a weapon and the opportunity. And I finally decided 'Yes' -- I would have. It was a useful thing to know about myself, both good and bad.

We almost always walked home from school together, so on Monday afternoon I met Alex out in front of the main building, as usual. She was wide-eyed and gave me a strange look.

"I saw Allen in the hall after Third Period -- and he saw me and turned around and went the other way. He had a cast on his wrist, and a plastic splint on his nose, and a very black eye! What *happened* the other night?"

I didn't think she sounded displeased, but I felt uncomfortable under her questioning stare. "Was he walking kind of funny?" I asked. "I kicked him in the nuts, too."

She blinked at me and said slowly, "Are you telling me you beat up on Allen Stone? Michael, he's a LOT bigger than you are -- you could've gotten hurt bad!" This was becoming embarrassing.

"Well, he wasn't expecting it. Neither was I. And I don't have to fight fair. Alex, it was partly luck, and I know I could have gotten hurt -- but I didn't."

I slung my book back over my shoulder and started across the street. Alex found herself hurrying to catch up. I was trying to avoid further discussion, but she wouldn't let go of it.

"Michael, wait a minute! Why would you DO something like that?" I stopped and looked her in the eye.

"Did you look at yourself in the mirror the other night?" She nodded slowly.

"Alex, when I saw the bruises he put on you, and the way he ripped your clothes, . . . well, I got angry. I mean *really* angry. I couldn't stand the thought that someone would do that to you." I lowered my voice. "I went over there with a weapon. I was going to kill that geek if I had to."

She couldn't decide if I was serious. "You would've *killed* somebody because of ME?" Her voice had risen almost to a squeak. "Michael, I can't believe that!"

I set down my book bag, took hold of her biceps, and gave her the most serious expression I could muster. "Believe it! Alex, you have to understand how I feel about you. Yes: I WOULD kill to protect you. Don't ever doubt it. And if it were a choice between you and me, I'd die for you, too. That's just the way it is, okay? I know it sounds melodramatic, but it's the simple truth."

I picked up my books again and set off at a slower pace. Alex matched my stride and glanced over at my face several times. Finally, she took my arm and squeezed it possessively.

"I'm sorry, Michael. I didn't know. It scares me a little, that you feel so intensely, but it feels good, too. It makes me feel secure."

I smiled back at her. Now she understood.

--- END ---

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