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Belonging

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   "Tess, wait!"

   She was already in the window, still sparking white hot and skin absolutely glowing as the moon broke through the clouds as if waiting to take her.

   "For what? I've basically been waiting on this my whole life!" She smiled back at him even as all Erin wanted to do was cry. Which was stupid, he was 16, he was above that.

   "I... I just... want you to do my hair. One last time. If you wanted that." Giving her directions again. Of course. Of course the last thing he'd ever say to her was telling her to do something for him, of course it was. She scrunched her face in this way that she never did before. Everything about her was so... different. It was her, but it was different. And she was going to leave him before he could know what all the little differences were.

   "But I did your hair this morning. The braid hasn't budged."

   The braid. He always kept his hair in a braid. He grew it out ever since he could remember because Mom had long pretty hair and Dad had long pretty hair and so of course he was supposed to have long pretty hair. And then Tess came in and he kept wanting time with her and kept wanting a nice big sister who did big sister things like tell him gossip she heard from her friends or drop in at inopportune moments to ask about how he was doing. But... that wasn't really how Tess was. Not before, at least. So he'd ask her to braid his hair. And she would, without question. Even if it bored her; when he asked, she said she liked doing it for him in spite of how uninteresting it was.

   Tess kept her hair short, though. It fluffed and fanned out like a silver dandelion. At the moment it resembled one more strongly than it ever had, considering the lightning strike.

   "I want you to cut it." He said. Tess blinked, and the urge to cry welled up again when she set her feet down on his side of the window.

   "Huh. I've never cut hair before. Sure, I'll do that."

   Tess disappeared to wherever it was they kept the scissors, and Erin nearly collapsed on the spot.

   She was leaving him.

   His big sister was leaving him.

   Of course she was, who in their right mind would stay after something like this? After her entire life? He couldn't expect her to stay just because he'd be sad. Just because he'd be lonely. He was part of the problem, of course she'd want to leave him the instant she found herself. That's who she belonged to, not him, Tess finally fully belonged to herself. Of course she'd want to keep something so precious from him, he hardly deserved a proper goodbye and now she was going to cut his hair as if it were a fun detour before she left for the rest of their lives and he would never ever see her again.

   "Snip-snip time!" Tess's new voice shocked him out of his spiral. Her words all crackled with a ferocious energy he couldn't help being jealous of. Huh. He always heard how younger siblings get jealous a lot when their big siblings can do or be things they can't. He'd never had occasion to be jealous of Tess before now.

   Tess pulled out the chair he always sat in whenever she braided his hair and he sat down almost woodenly.

   "Hm. Should I chop it all off at once or do you wanna go section by section?"

   He wanted so badly for it to be slow and soft and methodical, just like she'd always done his hair.

   But he didn't have a right to keep her here any longer. She didn't belong to him anymore. 

   "All of it."

   "I was hoping you'd say that." He could hear the eager smile in her voice. And he barely had time to take a breath before a powerful snip cracked up the walls and off the ceiling as his head instantly felt lighter. "Ta-da~"

   Erin heard the soft sound of his braid hitting the floor like a drop in a cave pool. Tess's footsteps as she made her way to face him from the front rumbled along its depths.

   "Hmm... I feel like I should be holding up a mirror for you." He could see his silhouette vaguely in her eyes. If he fooled himself, he could say he almost looked like her.

   "Well if you've truly butchered my hair, I can always go to a professional, seeing as my usual stylist will be out of town for.. ever."

   "Aw, don't look like that. I'll be seeing you around. Probably not for a while, there's such a long list of cool things out there, like remember those mountain peaks you read about that are 80% unmelting ice?"

   Erin nodded. He didn't actually remember, but Tess was always better at keeping his thoughts organized than he was. He should really start writing things down more, he wouldn't have her to ask questions after this.

   "And that city that's built in a meteor crater? The list just keeps growing! I've barely left this house, there's gotta be so much more out there than what you and your parents have heard!"

   'Your parents'... right... they weren't her parents. Just his. He'd always been an only child. They treated her like she belonged to them, too. But it was only him.

   "I really have to go," She said 'have to' like a scholar says they have to drop what they're doing and begin working on a research project. Like an artist says they have to stop everything and disappear into their studio for hours at a time. Like a slave whose chains have just shattered into a million pieces says they have to be free. "I mean unless you want me to chop off more of your hair."

   "No. No, you ca-... you should go."

   And she smiled at him. She hadn't stopped smiling for a moment, and she grinned so wide at him right now he felt he might bubble and evaporate into nothing but tears and vapor.

   She left him. Over and over again with every step further away, she reached for herself. Again and again and again until Erin was barely holding onto himself. Who was he without her? He wasn't anyone's little brother anymore now that she could just choose not to be his sister. He wasn't the youngest child in the house anymore now that she was grown and leaving forever. He wasn't pretty like Mom anymore with such short hair and no strength left in him. He wasn't quiet like Dad anymore with this need to scream and cry and cause problems welling up in his core.

   She waved and sparks arched across her fingers.

   "See ya! And you better take care of yourself, I won't be around to do it for you~"

   But I need you. I can't just do it all on my own. You're supposed to teach me more, you're my big sister. You can't just leave like this.

   She braced herself to leap out into the shimmering night that dripped drops of starlight and leftover rain, the moonbeams more eager than ever to keep her from him.

   "You promise I'll see you again?"

   Don't say that. Don't make her make promises.

   "Of course. I'm not about to completely disappear on my little brother."

   And in a blinding flash she was gone. Erin flinched back against the sound of it and his eyes watered in the electric light. If they kept watering, he wasn't about to call it crying.

   He turned to the ground where the braid she fashioned for him just this morning and cut off just a few seconds ago laid. No matter how hard he blinked, he couldn't really see it clearly.

   She always wanted to leave. He knew that. He knew that from the way she used to tell him what she thought being in the places he learned about in his geography lessons would be like. How she'd stare out windows and circle through the grass. All she ever needed was a way out. 

   His legs carried him away from the scorched windowsill. They'd never even given her things of her own besides a bedroom. He didn't... he didn't have anything of her. Erin flopped down on top of her bed. Mom asked what Tess's favorite color was ages ago, and Tess said 'dark blue'. So Mom got her dark blue blankets. Erin cocooned himself inside the covers, drawing them over his head. He felt himself shiver, which was odd for being bundled up in a blanket in the middle of summer. His breathing wouldn't stay steady no matter how hard he tried and all he could do was sob and wrap the blankets around him tighter. They belonged to her, right? Did her leaving them behind along with him mean she didn't want them anymore either?

   I'm not about to completely disappear on my little brother.

   ... They still belonged to her. Even if she didn't take them with her, the belonging still stuck. They belonged to her.

   He belonged to her.