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The dragging shuffle of feet making their way into the living area alerted Sebastian of another’s presence. Though he knew logically with the front door locked and dead bolted that it could be none other than Lenore, he still shifted in his seat at the table to turn and catch a quick glimpse before returning his attention to the cereal bowl before him. These days, it felt as if he could never be too careful. He had loved surprises in another lifetime, but in this here and now, knowing was one of the most powerful tools he had left at his disposal.

The legs of the chair next to him dragged along the hardwood floors as she pulled it back and dropped herself unceremoniously into it. He did not notice that she wore the same leggings and shorts as the day before (and the day before that). Her baggy shirt hid the reminder of her slowly wasting body, but as she sat he slid the box of cereal in her direction as an offering. Per usual, she declined. “I’m fine,” she told him flatly without fanfare. He swore he could hear her stomach rumble from hunger in protest of her denial.

Guilt washed through him as he returned his gaze to the bowl of dry Cheerios before him. His own stomach ached from hunger as well, and he had been nursing the same half eaten bowl for over an hour with the hope that ingesting the food slowly would somehow make it expand in his stomach. The method did not work, nor had it the past fourteen mornings that he had tried, but now his own aching stomach hardly seemed as important.

As she refused to touch the box of cereal, he nudged his bowl until it sat on the white faux wooden tabletop between them. “At least pick at mine some,” he insisted. As she turned to study his face, their eyes met. He noticed for the first time the dark purple circles surrounding her eyes. Guilt flooded through his body once more.

“How did you sleep last night?” he asked as he scooped a handful of cereal into his palm. He continued to hold the donut shaped pieces in his hand to test his moral strength as she began to pick at the cereal herself.

A shrug of her shoulders and a simple, “Same as always,” was her only reply. Though she would not admit it, he understood she meant she hardly slept at all. With the heat of summer behind them, Sebastian insisted on leaving the windows open at all times, save for during storms, while they could afford the luxury of the wind’s free cooling system. He could not recollect the last time the air conditioner had worked in the building, and they had barely made it through the summer without working air conditioning or ceiling fans.

Unfortunately, the open windows brought disadvantages as well. The stench from the streets was inescapable as the breeze rolled through the apartment, and the sounds of movement in the city below continued through all hours of the night. While one would think she was used to the noises of the city by now, Sebastian had a feeling that she could not adjust to the differences in the noises and the smells, and they plagued her ability to close her eyes at night.

For the first few nights, he had tried lulling her to sleep when he realized the constant state of exhaustion she walked around in. The sole bottle of Nyquil was emptied in a span of a week as he added it to her drinks, but she soon caught on. Even the medicine was not enough to help anyway. Her consistent state of sheer exhaustion was a point of constant bickering between the siblings, but Lenore looked extra horrible this morning, so Sebastian decided to not poke the exhausted bear and instead focused his attentions on getting her to eat something.

“What’s on the agenda for today?” he asked, shifting the focus away from her health since he knew he would not get a proper answer out of her anyway.

Lenore continued to pick at the cereal. “I was going to go get some water,” she replied. Her response sounded as if it came through a foggy haze.

Sebastian volunteered for the task instead, “I can do that for you. We’re taking a day off today from our normal schedule, so I have the whole day open.” What he said was not entirely true. Granted, the sweeps had been canceled for the day, but he had picked up an extra grocery shopping detail to save her from having to do her next scheduled one.

“It’s fine,” she waved off his offer without a thought to it. “I have nothing better to do today either. Anna did not have me down for shopping today for some reason, so I will just be sitting around the apartment otherwise.”

“You could always take a nap,” he mentioned without a drop of pretense or an act to conceal the meaning of the words.

The effect of the look she shot him was somewhat lost on him, since her haggard face could not portray it correctly. He was, however, able to catch the general gist of it; she was not amused by his suggestion. “I am not a preschooler. In fact, last time I checked, I was actually older than you by three years.”

“If you say so,” he muttered under his breath, stuffing a lone Cheerio into his mouth to avoid a further bout of snide remarks.

“If you are looking for something to do to make yourself useful, why don’t you go reorganize the cabinets and pantry for when our groceries arrive later today?” She pushed the bowl of Cheerios back in front of him, and dismay filled him when he realized she had only consumed a handful of the food at the absolute most.

As she pushed her chair away, the legs shrieking against the floor once again, he could not help but see the small figure that his sister had whittled away to, even through the baggy top she wore. A trip and a fall in her over sized boots would probably be enough to snap every brittle bone in her body by this point, and the thought chilled him. He would take better care on the grocery run that afternoon, and he would bend the rules if he had to in order to give Lenore something she needed.

The apartment door slammed shut behind her as she headed out for water, and the absence of conversation filled the apartment once more. Yet silence was a highly sought after commodity, and the sounds that drifted up from the streets below hindered his ability to sit and stew in his own thoughts.

My kingdom for a day of silence, he thought as he tossed three more Cheerios into his mouth and then began the process of returning the remainder of his handful and the bowl into the cereal box.

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