The bathroom is nice at least. That’s sort of Finn’s one saving grace in this moment, sitting on the lid of a toilet in an apartment they’d never been to in a part of town they specifically avoided so that they might have never had to live through this exact encounter. Their eyes skirt over the walls, ceiling, shower. The bathtub here has less mildew than the one in the apartment they share with Archie. It fills them with a dizzying bout of jealousy, the kind of emotion that they try to keep at bay nowadays. They wonder what it might be like to have a bathroom without mildew, with paint less than fifteen years old coating the walls, and a faucet that doesn’t idly leak when it’s turned off and back on again. Finn can see hands dancing around a first aid kit in their periphery and suck one busted bottom lip between their teeth. The sting brings them back to the moment viscerally, the sting a sharp grounding sensation.
Leyland looks different than they saw her last, and it makes them feel weirder than they’d like to. Not sad, just. Weird. Her roots are growing in, green hair abruptly turning brown at the scalp. A few years ago, she wouldn’t have let it grow out so much, but a few years ago Finn also had dyed green hair and started a lot less fights. The first aid kit gets shut with a polite click, and Leyland clears her throat, glancing at Finn with hesitant and confused dark eyes. It takes them a beat to realize the look in her eyes is also concern, and they remember the blood from their split lip and busted nose must look impossibly vampiric against their impossibly pale skin.
“Just like old times, huh?” Leyland says, unsure, kneeling on the floor at Finn’s feet with a cloth in one tan hand and hydrogen peroxide in the other. She also looks like she’d rather be anywhere else, the skin around her mouth pulling tightly and uncomfortably, twisting in a way that Finn knows she picked up from their mother.
They can’t help a slight sneer. “Just can’t help it,” they snark, “You know me.”
Leyland sighs but reaches out anyways. “You know I didn’t mean it like that.”
Finn does know, but it makes them feel better to be at least a little mean about it anyways. It’s gives them a sick sort of satisfaction to be putting that tired look back on Leyland’s face again, and then comes the shame as she leans forward to dab at their split lip. It’s a testament to the amount of fights Finn has been in in the last several years that they don’t even flinch at the sting as their cuts bubble with disinfectant.
The tension in the room as Leyland tends to Finn’s wounds could be cut with a knife, palpable and uncomfortable. At some point, Leyland leaves and returns with a bag of frozen
peas and a pointed look that has Finn putting the bag to their black eye with a huff of irritation. It’s only a few more minutes after the peas are retrieved that Leyland sits back and gazes at Finn with an analytical eye. She nods slowly. “Yeah, you’re good.”
“Thank god,” Finn says, hopping to their feet and quickly shuffling out the bathroom door before Leyland can get a word in edgewise. The apartment isn’t big, a one-bedroom affair with a small living room and kitchen. Finn’s shoes are in sight politely tucked against the front door—it’s just a matter of getting to them before Leyland can stop them. “Well, thanks for the five-star treatment, I can Venmo you for the peas. Or, you know what, now that I know where you live, I can come tape five dollars to your door or something. That’d work, right?”
“Perfect.” Finn jams their feet into their shoes, laces be damned. Their hand is on the doorknob, and they haven’t had to look Leyland in the eyes hardly more than once. Just five more seconds and this nightmare is over. “I’ll be seeing you then.”
A hand comes down to rest on their shoulder, gentle but firm enough that Finn can’t pull away. Damn. “Wait.”
They sigh. The last remaining dregs of hope that they can wiggle their way out of this situation without an extended conversation bleeds out of Finn faster than blood ran out of their nose. They turn around begrudgingly, and Leyland is looking at them with a gaze far too vulnerable for their liking, open and confused, and maybe even a bit hurt. Typically, Leyland towers over people, four inches taller than Finn with shoulders that naturally sit back and proud. In this moment, she looks deceptively small. “What?”
“Why don’t you, um, come sit down? And we can chat for a while?”
Finn snorts. “You want to sit down and chat? With me? At two in the morning on a Saturday?”
“Yes,” Leyland answers, and the bluntness of it somehow still catches Finn off guard. It shouldn’t. She’d been the same since she was small. “It may not be the ideal time, but I haven’t seen you in years, and—”
“Christ alive,” Finn says, already feeling the headache coming on, though that could have also been the hangover since they were sobering up. “Give me the third degree why don’t you? I’ll sit if only it’ll stop you from monologuing to death.”
Finn pretends not to hear the sigh of relief that Leyland exhales as they jerkily yank out a kitchen chair and plonk down with less decorum than a drunkard. They press the peas back up to their face, though they’re starting to thaw. For a moment, there’s only silence. Two siblings, two in the morning, too many words left unspoken between them. Finn wonders idly how much longer they have to entertain this before they can throw politeness to the wind and just leave, when Leyland says, “Why are you here?”
Finn blinks. “Is… is that a trick question?”
“No,” Leyland huffs, just the smallest bit exasperated.
“Well, if you hadn’t been able to tell, I accidentally pissed off some fellas in the bar tonight and got my ass handed to me without so much as a—”
“No, Finn,” Leyland interrupts, exasperation and irritation rising. “I mean why me? Why come here? I haven’t barely seen you since…”
She trails off, but they both know what she’s thinking. I haven’t seen you since you ran away from home. I haven’t seen you since we pissed each other off so bad that we decided not to talk for seven years. The most they keep in touch with each other nowadays is the lurking Finn knows they both do on each other’s social media accounts. They know their sibling volunteers a lot, got the dream job they always wanted, and moved to this apartment not too long ago, but that’s because they saw so on Facebook, not because they’d been personally told. Finn shifts uncomfortably, anxiety roiling lowly in their gut as they reach up to tug at the short, pale hair at the back of their neck. “Well, I couldn’t go to Archie.”
“You live with Archie.”
Finn winces. “Archie was at the bar with me during the fight and, erm. He’s in the drunk tank right now.”
“Oh my god.” Leyland looks just a touch scandalized. “That man is a mess.”
“Hey,” Finn says reproachfully. “Archie and I aren’t too dissimilar, you know.”
“I know, it’s just- the drunk tank? At least you’re not careless enough to get caught, though if that’s the company you keep–”
Finn’s anxiety starts melting into something more like anger, an intimately familiar feeling. “Did you actually want to talk, or did you just want to pick up where we left off last time we spoke?”
“What? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, you know,” Finn says meanly, “I do something you don’t like, you tell me how much of an idiot and a disappointment I am, we fight, and then we stop talking to each other. Or maybe the original flavor; I do something that mom and dad don’t like, and you tell me how much better I could be if only I were more like you. That old song and dance ring a bell?”
“No,” Leyland says, “That’s not—I never said that you had to be like me to be better.”
“Really? Because that’s not how I remember it.”
“How you remember it?” Finn watches the way Leyland’s brows furrow, how she sits up straighter in her chair, and knows they’ve struck a nerve. “The way I remember it, I only ever tried to help you, and you kept making bad decisions at every turn!”
They scoff. “So you never told me that I’d never amount to anything if I kept ‘behaving like a delinquent?’”
Leyland bristles, because it’s true. Never one to be outdone, she says, “So when you were sixteen, you never had to go to the ER because you decided to punch the only guy at school who routinely kept a knife on him?”
Turnabout’s fair play. Doesn’t mean Finn has to like it. “He kept breaking into my locker! What was I supposed to do?”
“Uh, not fly off the handle? Behave like a sane person? Ask literally anyone for help?”
“I asked you for help.”
Leyland sits back, fight drained out of her. Her shoulders fall from where they’d hunched around her chin. “You… did?”
Finn nods, eyes suddenly suspiciously wet. “You did. You always did. When I got picked on at school. When mom started treating me differently. When she told me I’d be better off if I was like you instead. You never listened to me; you never took my side.”
“No,” Leyland says, brows furrowed. “That can’t be true.”
“Well, it is,” Finn spits hotly, face warm against the cool bag of peas still pressed to their eyes. “And then we got older, and you were always mad at me.”
Saying it out loud makes Finn feel childish. They’re an adult now—too old to be complaining about middle and high school bullies long forgotten. Too old to be lamenting about the way their mother treated them versus Leyland. Too old to be crying because their older sister was fighting with them. And yet they were there anyways. Leyland’s gaze is searching.
“Why are you here?” She asks again, though they both know the answer. Finn turned twenty-three tonight—well, the night before, considering it was now the AMs. On paper, it was simple. Beaten, bruised, and bloody, their best friend in the drunk tank and no one else left to patch them up, they went the first place that came to mind. The closest place to the bar they’d gotten in trouble at. Under the surface, it’d been seven years. It was their birthday. They were tired, and lonely, and Archie’d been towed off somewhere else till morning when Finn was sober enough to retrieve him. As strong as the memories of hissed arguments and spitted vitriol are, they’re not strong enough to override the ghost sensation of a tender hand carding through unruly hair and the whisper of comfort an older sibling can only provide.
“I don’t know,” Finn whispers.
There’s a moment of silence. A poignant, indescribable silence. Leyland snorts humorlessly. “When did we get so different? I used to let you braid my hair. You used to beg me for piggyback rides. What happened?”
Finn can see it so clearly. Two siblings. One older, one younger. They are sitting at the same table, but they are miles apart. They look at each other with so much unspoken between them. They look at each other with so much unspent love. Maybe they were always destined to love each other at the cost of hating each other’s guts. Maybe this is who they were always meant to be. Maybe it doesn’t have to be. Finn shrugs helplessly but does not move. Does not leave. They reach out beneath the table and gently kicks Leyland’s shin with their own, and suddenly they are six and ten years old again at the dinner table, and Leyland is quietly pushing her string beans onto Finn’s plate.
“I don’t know.”
Madelyn Augustine is a history major, with minors in social studies and education. Mostly she writes TTRPG campaigns for her friends, though often writes short stories for her loyal fanbase (the friends she writes TTRPG campaigns for). She loves writing anything with a bit of humor and interpersonal drama.