A young lady came to live at our house when I was six.  Even now I can remember it clearly, only now I understand things better than I did back then.  My memory is so clear because that year was a pivotal one in my life, during it everything changed. 

            She came to live with us in the spring, not long after the news about my big brother and sister came.  She showed up on the front porch of our farmhouse during a rain storm and asked if she could come in.  Thunder and lightning were tearing through the sky, and the pouring rain made funny sounds all along the porch’s roof.  It reminded me of drums, a really quick staccato beat that drilled its way along the rooftop to some unseen musician’s rhythm.  For a moment it seemed almost as if the raindrops were talking:  Pitter, pitter, pat-pat, pitter, pitter, pat, you’re brother’s gone and that is that…  

            Everyone else knew who she was, but to me she was a stranger. My mother hurried her inside and got her a warm blanket and a cup of tea, never one to abandon someone in need.  We sat in the living room, all of us on the big couch and her in the big cushioned seat generally reserved for my father after a long day in the fields.  I remember thinking that she looked kind of lost with her long blond hair all wet against the side of her head and the rest of her bundled up in the big comforter.  Without realizing it, my mother had brought her one of my brother’s bedspreads.  Considering who she was, that seemed somehow fitting.

            “I knew your brother.  And your sister.  We were friends, not very long ago.”  She said when I asked who she was.  “I miss him.” 

            We all just nodded, each of us still a little numb and not willing to face the reality of our situation.  The pain was too much to even think about yet, let alone talk about.  No one could even say their names out loud.  Everyone would refer to them in the third person, saying “your brother”, “she would always…”, “her room”,  or “our son”.  Sometimes I would go outside, run far from the house and scream their names at the top of my lungs, just to hear them after the unbearable silences in the house. 

            Even though I didn’t really know her at all, somehow my heart went out to this young woman who was dealing with that same aching void in her life. We all felt that way, and that was how she became part of our family.  I was still too young to understand most of it then, but I remember that much.

            Mother gave her my brother’s room, still exactly as he had left it.  My mother cleaned out the dust whenever it appeared, so it looked like he’d only just got up and left a few moments ago.  No one would ever guess he’d been gone for months.  This caused the girl to cry, and she buried her head against my mother’s shoulder.

            My mother just stood there, stroking the girl’s hair and trying to keep her own tears back.  I stood a little back of them in the hallway, trying to hide myself shyly against the wall. 

            My mother told her that she should have a shower in the bathroom and then get into some warm, dry clothes.  My sister’s were all still there, and they would fit well enough for now.  The girl smiled slightly, just with her lips.  She nodded and went into my big brother’s room.

            I stood timidly in the doorway, watching her.  She just stood in the middle of the room, slowly turning in a circle and staring at all of my brother’s things, holding his blanket around herself.  It was almost as if she were trying to see everything undisturbed, so that some  remembrance of who he was would be sparked, some magic piece of him that would call out to her.  I stared at his things, too, having avoided his room since it happened.  I was too young to really understand an older brother who was almost a man, but I had loved him.

            Some of Mother’s books were all along the one wall in shelves, as she had never found time to choose a better place to store them since we had moved in years ago.  Most of her novels she had put in the library in the basement, but there hadn’t been enough room for these.  My brother  had grown up with them.  C. S. Lewis’s Narnia stories, tales of King Arthur, some Stephen King books called the Dark Tower series, a few books on myths and fairy tales, The Lord of the Rings and an illustrated Hobbit.

            Next to them was his big brown dresser, still cluttered on top with books, papers and other assorted junk.  His desk was just past this, littered with art tools and paper.  I remembered how he loved to draw, the magic that seemed to flow from his hand, creating little versions of reality.  Above it, on the wall, were more bookshelves.  Among these books were also his comics, starring Superman, and his movies, things like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Legend and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, of all things.  His bed was in the other corner, and above it were his favourite drawings.

            She walked over to the bed and perched on it with her knees to stare at these.  She peered at them reverently, raising her hand and almost touching them.  It reminded me of pictures from one of my children’s books, the one of the Three Wise Men and the Christ Child.  She had that same look, as if she were witnessing something wonderful.  The blanket made her look like she was draped in the same kind of cloths they had been, perfect for a trek by camel-back.  It seemed as if this was what she had been searching for, and the memories the pictures recalled to her mind’s eye seemed to resonate a chord, changing the very tone of the room.  Reverence became mourning as she started to cry again, tucking her chin against her chest and hiding in the blanket.

            I overcame my bashfulness then and walked slowly to her. I hopped up onto the big bed and put my tiny hands on her shoulder so I could stare into the small cave around her head created by the blanket folds.  

          “Don’t cry,” I implored in my soft voice, “I don’t want anyone else to cry any more.  Please stop.”

            She pulled her head out of the blankets, and I pulled my hands back nervously.  She sniffled and then smiled, this time with her teeth.  It was one of the most beautiful smiles I had ever seen, and only my brother’s had been as bright.

            “I’m sorry,” she said reassuringly, “I’ll stop.  What’s your name?”

            “I’m Gwen,” I told her quietly.  “I’m the littlest.”

            “You certainly are,”  she smiled again.  “I was too, once.”

             “You were my brother’s friend?”  I asked.  She nodded, and then tilted her head to the side in thought.

            “Yes.”  She said finally.  “Until I went away.”

            “Where’d you go?”  I tilted my head to the side, to look into her eyes.  They were a light brown, and seemed to me to be very pretty.

            “Away to school.  You have to do that when you get big.” She explained, staring back at me.

            “I’m big.  I go away to school.”  I insisted.  “I’m in kindergarten now.”

            “No, I mean something different.  It’s called university.”

            “My brother and sister went there!  I remember.”  I said, thrilled to have remembered what that word meant.      

            She smiled, though it seemed like a sad smile.  I thought that she was beautiful, and wished to grow up to be like her.  She had been my brother’s friend, and that made her somebody special.  I had always looked up to him, but he lived a different life than mine.  Being six meant that I never really got to know him, but this girl did:  what he was like, how he thought, felt and lived.  I was sure of that, and that she could tell me about him.

            She stared again at the drawings on the wall, and my eyes followed her gaze.  There were several drawings.  One section was filled with fantastical drawings of heroes and damsels and monsters, but she looked at the drawings of real people.  A lot of them were of the family, but there were some I could not name.

            “Do you know who all those people are?”  I asked her, never having bothered to ask my brother before.

            “They’re his friends.  Some of them are mine, too.”  She told me.

            “I only know him, and my sister.”  I pointed at pictures of both of them.  “She was so pretty.  I hope I grow up to be as pretty as her.”

            She grinned again as I continued to look at the drawings, carefully sketched and rendered figures my brother had created to capture some semblance of each person he cared about inside and outside our house.  His growth as an artist seemed apparent, as the development from year to year could be seen.  I glanced past the sketches of me as a baby, only to suddenly notice something about many of the drawings.

            “You’re in most of these!”  I said excitedly.  “More than anyone else!”

            She nodded, smiling slightly.  Tears welled up in her eyes again, but she shook them away.

            “I think I’d better have that shower now.  I’ll see you downstairs.”  She said, hanging her head so I couldn’t see the tears anymore.

            “What’s your name?”  I asked in return, not wanting to go yet.

            She looked at the drawings again, as if lost in thought, debating something with herself.  Finally, she shook her head and turned towards me again, her smile coming back.  There were bright tears pooling at the bottom of her eyes, making them shine brightly.

            “My name is Hope, but your brother used to call me his shining star.” I nodded and got up to go.  I paused in the doorway to smile at her again.  She was family now.

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