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Tower Over Me
Aden is five foot nine and thin, but muscular. Not like a football player – all of those at our school are on drugs that make them that way. Aden doesn’t play any sports. He runs, but on his own. Most of his muscles are in his legs. He runs a lot. Usually he’s running away.
Aden has curly brown hair and gray eyes that are kind of flecked with green. The skin around them always crinkles a little bit at the corners when he smiles, even though he’s only eighteen. I don’t see his smile often, though. Aden looks just like me, but I’m a little bit shorter.
Aden graduates at the end of the school year. He’ll be nineteen years old, because he was put into school late. My parents didn’t think he was ready for school when he was five. They were wrong, but they didn’t know. They didn’t care either. I do, but I’m kind of glad they did it. If they hadn’t, Aden would have graduated already and maybe not be living with us anymore.
Aden says he doesn’t know exactly what he’ll do after he graduates. He says he wouldn’t do well in college. I say he’s smart and that he’d be better than any of those other people. Aden just smiles. I wonder what’s so funny about it.
I tell Aden that I’ll go with him wherever he goes. I say that I don’t want him to have to leave home all alone. He looks at me quietly and I think I can see his head turn to one side a little bit, then the other. His eyes shine, and I can see my own identical ones reflected in them. He doesn’t answer.
Aden still misses Dad. Ever since he left, Aden only runs alone. He used to go with Dad all the time, and sometimes with me, even though I could never keep up with his normal pace and he slowed down a lot so we could be side by side. And then Dad left, and now Aden runs alone, to clear his head, he says. He must have a lot to clear out, but whenever he isn’t running, he’s with me. Aden never talks to Mom anymore. I don’t either. But I never talk to anyone, except Aden. I never have.
Sometimes Aden is gone all day, and I wonder if he’s still actually running after all that time. I’ll go into his room uninvited because we both let each other do that, and I’ll find him there, in the space between his bed and the wall. He’ll be curled up with his arms around his knees and his face hidden, and he looks so small. I stand in the doorway and look at him, and I want to go put my arms around him because he’s so tiny and helpless, even though I’m six years younger than he is. But I can’t make myself move, and so I stay there in the doorway, and tears stain my cheeks and the carpet when they fall.
I wonder about Aden. He won’t meet my eyes when I ask another time where he will go after high school is over. He just sighs and changes the subject. I frown but I let him do it, and he turns his gray-flecked-with-green eyes back to mine. They glimmer faintly, and I wonder why.
Aden says I sparkle. With what, I don’t know. He smiles at me and says not to ever lose that sparkle, even after he’s gone. I ask again where he’s going. I step closer. Aden places a hand on my shoulder and keeps smiling, but something in it is different. I say I’m going with him too, wherever he goes. His eyes are shining again. He says he loves me and I will always be his favorite sister. I don’t remind him that I’m his only one, at least ever since Ellie died seven years ago, when she was born. Tears fall, but I don’t understand. I ask where he is going. I say I want to go too. I ask if he’ll tell me by graduation, and my voice sounds like how an opera singer’s gets when she holds the last note for a long time and it wavers a lot. Aden doesn’t respond to this either, and for some reason the tears are coming faster, and a sob jerks my whole body.
Aden looks at me again. I watch his eyes and his face Aden wipes away a tear with his thumb and pulls me closer, hugging me. He says that he loves me. “I’ll always be here for you,” he says. He doesn’t emphasize the word ‘you,’ but I know that that’s what he means.
I know he will be. I guess I don’t understand much, but I suddenly understand this. I understand all of it now. It feels like I get hit by something big and heavy, and I stumble slightly like I really am going to fall. I can see it in his eyes, and I know. I know that Aden may not be at graduation this year. He may not be here to graduate.
His eyes are shining, and I know why. I look into them and see my own, and they are shining as well. Why do I feel like this? Why am I hurting so much? I stare into his eyes, trying to find the answers. After a while I do. They’re not exactly clear, but I think I understand a little more.
When Aden leaves, he’ll still be here. I don’t know exactly how. But somehow he’ll be here for me. He’ll be brave when I can’t. He’ll be here when I’m losing my hold on things.
And I’ll never let go of Aden. Even when he’s gone.