"You can't scare me."
"Oh yes, I can!"
"No you can't," Raul replied matter-of-factly. He sniffed hard and rubbed at his runny nose. The tip was bright red and inflamed, and Dita fought the urge to call him Rudolph.
"You're a fraidy cat. Don't deny it. You almost peed the bed during that big thunderstorm."
"That doesn't count. And you can't make it lightning, Dita." He said her name like it was a taunt. A challenge. And she gladly accepted.
"Fine. But I know what scares you."
He tilted his chin upwards, towards the cracked and discolored ceiling. Raul's eyes remained trained on his sister, calling her bluff. A thin smile crawled across the boy's lips, and he fought it with all his might.
"I do," Dita confirmed in a maniacal whisper. "I know what you're afraid of."
"Uck. Stop it, Dita! Mom and Dad told you to watch me, not pick on me." Raul's little mouth turned down at the corners. "And my belly still hurts."
"Baby," Dita shot out.
Raul's expression betrayed his body language. His arms, flushed with heat, were folded across his chest, but his steely resolve threatened to crumble. Dita could see the liquid building up behind his glassy eyes.
A thin strand of compassion tugged in her chest. Her fingers twitched and she shifted forward, contemplating wrapping her brother in a hug. He leaned away dramatically, twisting as his body got caught up in the already tangled bed sheets.
Dita's nostrils flared, heat rising in her own cheeks. Any goodwill she had drained out of her body and pooled on the carpet beneath her dangling feet.
"I'll tell you a story to help you get to sleep." She glanced over her shoulder at the small digital clock. A Batman action figure perched atop it, hunched down, surveying the bedroom. "Want a story?"
Raul nodded, his chin touching his chest with every dip of his head.
"Get under the covers then," Dita instructed.
"I want that one." Raul pointed in a vague direction, but Dita assumed it was towards a pile of books on the floor. "The one on top. The one Mama was reading to me. About the wizards and the snake that talked." He pulled the blanket up leaving just his eyes peeking out. "I like that one."
Dita didn't move from the corner of the bed.
"Dita. That one." Raul's little hand poked out and waved wildly. "The one on the floor by Mr. Beans."
"Raul, just lay still," she demanded, summoning what little maternal delicacy she had.
"But the book, Dita."
"Shut up!" she barked. Then, with more composure added, "I'm going to tell you a story."
"But I like the magic story," he protested.
"Mama can read it to you! I'm going to tell you a scary story."
"Dita!" he whined. "I don't wanna hear a scary story. I want the magic book."
"Forget the magic book. And stop being a baby. I thought you didn't get scared."
"I don't," he agreed. "I just don't want to hear your dumb story."
Dita's eyes narrowed at her brother's open defiance, and Raul immediately disengaged. His hand broke free of his blankets once more and strained towards the pile of books. "Can I have Mr. Beans please?" he asked sheepishly.