Even when your older brother is your best mate, sooner or later you have to step out of his shadow and find your own path, your own life.

I’ve always been kind of a loner. Never had too many friends, never minded too much. Not till now. It wasn’t that way a year ago, when Ruben and I were mates as well as brothers. He might be just a year older than me, but in that year he’d grown up. He’d discovered girls, or they had discovered him. They never lasted long, and he was always looking for the next one. It never really mattered to me, until Octavia. Y’see, much as I wanted a girlfriend of my own, a girl to hug and touch and kiss and talk to, I knew it was never going to happen. Things come easy to Ruben. I have to fight for success, no matter what kind it is. And I don’t always win. I didn’t win with Stephanie, a girl Ruben and I met at the dog track last year. She liked Ruben, I liked her, Ruben dumped her. I still walked over across town to her house to just stand there and watch it, wishing, hoping, and knowing. Then I’d walk back home. As Ruben put it, I was a bit of a lonely one. I didn’t even share my writing with anyone. The words on the crumpled pages seemed too intense, too vulnerable to share. They were one of the ways I tried to make my life make sense.

And then there was Octavia. She was different. She saw me, she talked to me. With her I wasn’t invisible. But I also wasn’t Ruben. I wanted things to be different with her and Ruben, so she’d be around longer than the others. Even if she was with Ruben, she was also around me, and if that was all I could have, that and watching Stephanie’s house, it would have to be enough. Then one night after one of my brother Steve’s football games, it was over. I got home to find Octavia sitting alone. She and Ruben had a date, and he’d stood her up. I told her it had probably just slipped his mind, that it didn’t mean anything. But I knew it was a lie. I’d seen it over and over. A forgotten date, an argument, his saying he didn’t need this garbage, and it was over. But Octavia didn’t stay for the argument. She just left before Ruben got home. There was a new girl, Julia, as different from Octavia as anyone could be. Octavia was beautiful, but she was classy too. Julia had a body like a cover model, but she was annoying.

I didn’t think I’d see Octavia again after that, but I was wrong. I was sitting against a small brick fence across from Stephanie’s house, just watching, hoping, even begging for something to happen. It was just at dusk, the last rays of the sun fading away, when I felt a presence behind me, and turned to see a shadow almost hidden behind a tree. “Rube?” I said. “Ruben?” The shadow stepped out into the open. It wasn’t Rube. It was Octavia. She walked over to me and slowly sat down next to me.

“Nothing?” she said. I shook my head. “Ever?” I shook my head again. “Are you okay?” There was nothing I could do but tell her the truth.

“She’s not coming out tonight or any night, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Y’ feel what y’ feel, and she doesn’t feel a thing for me. And that’s the end of it.” I looked back at the sky, wondering just why I’d chosen Stephanie as the girl I wanted and wanted to please.

“Cameron,” Octavia said. I stood up, not looking at her, and she stood up with me. “Cameron,” she said more urgently, and then when I turned to look at her, her face was all I could see as I heard her words, “Would you come stand outside my house instead?”