I hear his shuffling feet approach before I see him step through my doorway. Sean can be silent when he wants to, popping up behind me with a “What’s that?” as I lock my phone, obscuring whatever article I’m reading or social media site I’m using (It’s useless though — he knows my password and has made one of the stored fingerprints on my phone his). But something about those shuffling feet — bare skin sweeping across cool, tiled floors and onto the threshold of my carpet — is reserved for this: entry into my room.
“Can I come in?”
I don’t look up as I hear his heels and toes ask me that silent question. I simply pat the left side of my bed — the fluffy white comforter letting out air with a swoosh and a few long, yellow dog hairs from Spark jumping into the air only to float back down — and the unsure expression on his face clears like the Florida sky after a summer rainstorm and into a small smile, all lips and no teeth. All soft blue sky and hesitant sun and damp crabgrass. His eyes dance like palm fronds in the breeze as he takes one large stride into my room and launches himself onto the bed. An 18-year-old human javelin.
The dog hairs explode in a cloud this time, and I hear their tired sigh as they meander back down. He turns his head toward me, and this time even the sightless, mint walls can’t miss his mischievous smile. It threatens to pop his cheeks, his nose crinkled with childish glee.
He spits it out in one quick burst of air from the back of his throat. Sean talks like no one else I’ve ever met. But then again, I’ve never met Sean. I know him.
“Hey.” I try to shoot it out, just like him — conversing with Sean is a performance art in code-switching — but he is inimitable. We haven’t made eye contact yet, and it makes him antsy (Who would have thought his pure, spring greens and my filtered black cups of coffee could have come from the same gene pool?). Stomach-down on my bed, his body twitches. “Pay attention to me,” it whines. I string him out for a few more seconds.
“You’re such a cat,” I quip. It’s our new favorite joke.
He swipes at my arm as if he has paws, and I finally indulge him. Green meets brown, and we’re a forest. His right eyebrow quirks as he purrs “Le chat noir” (sha no-ar), completing the exchange. It took him three times to come up with that response. It’s clever of him, and that doesn’t surprise me. I’ve spent more time analyzing his speech patterns and seemingly carelessly selected words than I have studying the works of famous authors. I don’t know if his unprecedentedness was the childhood spark to my artist imagination all those years ago, or my lifelong fascination with words and language has been accidentally woven into his identity. Either way, we have doubtlessly sculpted each other.
“Sha nwah,” I correct him. He knows that I have barely any more authority on the French language than he does. He gives a Cheshire grin as he wrangles up his best Texan accent. “Nohh-arrrrrr.” Brad Pitt’s character in “Inglourious Basterds” would be proud.
He fakes a feminine giggle as I playfully slap his arm. He makes an exaggerated face: bulging eyes, chin pressed down into his neck, teeth bared in a clownish smile and his tongue left exposed in gesture. His shoulders climb to his ears and he flips a hand at me, bent in a 90-degree angle at the wrist. The visual representation of “tee hee.”
Chat noir. Black cat. Sean has known me for 6,604 days, and he is a master of flipping my words around at me. If I want to tease him, he’s going to press back. He may be a cat, but I am the black cat. Bad luck in earthly form. He knows this about me, and it’s a reminder: You’re walking misfortune and a right mess, but you’re alright, I guess.
“Vineyard vineyards.” It’s the same word twice, but he pronounces the first with a long “i,” the second with a short. “Viiin-yard vihn-yerds.” Sean doesn’t have to resort to poking me when he can play this linguistic game instead. He’s mocking me. Correcting his French — a language that neither of us speaks — was very Georgetown of me.
“Vineyard vines,” I sigh, stressing the right sounds.
He shakes his head in disapproval at me and resolutely intones: “Vineyard vineyards.”
“You’re incorrigible,” I mutter as I turn my face away. He does the same, so that while I’m watching the ceiling fan turn circles overhead, he’s breathing into my pillow. We stay like this in silence for a length of time; seconds, minutes and hours are all so fungible. “Time is an illusion,” as Sean likes to remind me. Ever the burgeoning astrophysicist.
“Do you have to go?”
The question muddies whatever clear moment of household boredom we are entertaining.
Nails clicking against the tile start as a soft sound in the distance, then slowly get louder until there’s a curious pair of brown eyes staring up at me. I pat the space next to me that is left unoccupied by Sean, and the deja vu is acute as the source of all the dog hair flings itself upward and in between us.
I don’t look at him. I take my time to run my hand down Spark’s back in long and slow strokes. I don’t want to see the sadness painting Sean’s features, drawing his lips downward, creasing the skin between his eyebrows.
We are brother and sister by design, but we are friends by choice. “Best friends,” a voice in my head whispers.
This mercifully extended winter break is the longest time I’ve been home since leaving for college a year and a half ago. I don’t love Georgetown; Sean knows this. “Do you have to go?” isn’t the question he’s asking me. It’s “Why can’t you stay?”
It’s “Why go back and be unhappy when you could stay here with me?”
It’s complicated. Anything worth fighting for is, but that doesn’t make it easier. Sean will be graduating soon and moving on. And as much as I abhor the idea, in the next few years my dog will die. And my parents will still be home, but they understand. Sean doesn’t right now, and that’s okay. I hope one day soon that he will, so I tell him.
“Yeah. There may be nothing good waiting for me around the corner, but you know me.” I shrug. “Aut viam inveniam aut faciam”: Either I will find a way or I will make one.
(He lets me get away with this one. Even though I’ve changed my major five times, I did start out as classics.)
And so, I forge ahead. Soon, Sean will, too.