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My sister, habitually and intrinsically caustic, lounges in the leather armchair no one else dares to sit in, with her arms tightly crossed and her brow furrowed. She maintains her interminable monopoly of the much-coveted remote, ferociously racing through the channels at an impossibly quick rate, while at the same time perusing a glossy-covered magazine.
The sharp juxtaposition of our appearances leads most to the conclusion that I have been adopted; my sister does nothing to dissuade this false rumor. Like a cartoon caricature, her dark hair and diminutive height aptly reflect her darker disposition and short fuse, a stark contrast with my own much sunnier personality. This advantage of a few inches I have over her is one of the few I can claim against her.
Having only been home from college for a brief two days, Delancey already domineers the household. My brother, like a subservient minion, scurries to fetch sundry objects at her command, like a snack or DVD. My parents tiptoe around their own home attempting to escape her wrath, as though she is a volatile substance catalyzed to combustion by any slightest provocation. I as well avoid confrontation, locking myself in my room, struggling to keep from drowning in the rapidly rising floodwaters of my schoolwork. While she blithely lounges around the household, searching for something to do, I slave until the wee hours of the morning whittling away at my interminable piles of homework. I simply am too busy to engage in the battles with my sister characteristic of the pre-college days; academia has proven to be our temporary peace treaty.
This peace does not last long, however.
“TESS!” Delancey shrieks my names in tones hitherto heard only by wild animals. The walls of our living room reverberate with the harmonic waves of that piercing note, and the dog’s left ear twitches as though she is trying to rid herself of an irksome flea.
“What?” I reply from the couch, in the peculiar balance of tone I have perfected over the years, achieving the ideal blend of simultaneous indifference and belligerence. Monosyllabic answers such as this one always prove successful in irking my sister. Some may argue that therefore I indeed am not the victim in the case; I maintain, as I rightfully should, that all provocation indicted on my part is only a necessary measure of defense.
She glares pointedly at my outfit. “You’re wearing my shirt!” When this elicits no reply from me, she continues menacingly, “Take it off right now.”
I sheepishly glance down and sigh. It turns out that indeed I am wearing a shirt of hers. There is no way in hell, however, that I am going to take if off. In her absence I have been emboldened with newfound authority and I am not willing to concede any of it. Therefore, I must hold my ground.
“No.” Again I answer with a monosyllabic response. This time however I inject much more truculence into my retort.
A curious hint of a smile flits across her face as she draws a deep breath to counter my defiance. It is just like the old days; just after a mere forty-eight hours together we have already reverted back to our childish counterparts. Nostalgia fills the room as we begin to vehemently point our fingers at each other. We both recognize that the subject matter of our fight is in of itself quite inconsequential; we have always been more interested in the act of fighting itself rather than its cause. We prepare for a battle of epic proportions, sharpening our barbed insults and flexing our wit.
“Tess,” she snarls; I swear she begins to growl. She lunges for me, although the futility of that action is quite apparent. Is she really going to tear the shirt off of me?
The adrenaline rushing through my veins innervates me, my blood now boiling with the rising heat of the argument. In a few moments, we will be circling like a pair of carnivorous lions dueling over a sole piece of meat. In this case, however, I am wearing the meat.
“The shirt looks better on me anyways,” I chide in the antagonistic manner of a younger sister.
Delancey takes this in stride, however. She decides to adopt a less physical approach, instead trying to inflict pain with her words as she had initially intended before she had been distracted by her rage.
“You look a little heavier than you did when I left for college. Have you gained some weight?” She grins triumphantly, knowing this will strike home. Therefore, I know I must employ full force in my next attack.
I rack my brains for the most hurtful thing I can possibly say.
I finally come up with, “Now that you’ve moved out things are so much better. It’s been so great here at home without you. You’re just a house guest now, Delancey.” The room becomes quite still. I regret this last remark immediately.
Of course I don’t mean this. In truth, I’ve actually missed her tremendously, much more so than I had ever suspected. The house seems empty without her, the silence stifling. At dinner I sometimes still mistakenly set her place; instead her empty seat taunts me, reminding me of her absence. For although indeed we consider fighting to be recreational, during our last two years together we grew much closer.
Our relationship had started out rough, always strife with our sisterly competition for our parents’ affection. Even now, home from college, she still competes for their attention; at the dinner table she dominates the conversation and interrupts me mid- sentence whenever I try to participate. Nevertheless, as we grow older our bond grows stronger. We now go on car rides just for the sole purpose of talking, and I find that I can confide in her what I can tell no one else.
The look of such great anguish on her face makes me catch my breath. Her eyes well up so quickly she doesn’t have a chance to mask it, her vulnerability apparent to me at last. Remorse envelops me; I feel sick for saying such a dreadful thing. It has been her first semester away from home, and I am fully aware of how homesick she has been these past couple of weeks. For her to think that life at home is the same, even better, without her, is just twisting the knife in even further. This was a truly low move.
“I’m sorry, Delancey. I didn’t mean it.” These few words are all that are necessary, for she understands what it is that could drive me to be so hurtful. I wrap my arms around her, and hug her in the first sincere embrace I can remember having ever given her.