Chapter XL

“Who is it?” I asked as I descended the last few stairs and approached Aunt Rachel who obstructed my view of the opened front door.

Chloe followed me, but kept some distance between us. Whoever it was obviously wasn’t the pizza delivery guy since the box sat abandoned on the side table. So who was it that stood outside on our front porch? My mind flashed briefly to the night that Ryan Fuller stopped by to pay me an unexpected visit, and though I knew there was no possible way that it was him standing there speaking to my aunt, the scenario I was currently experiencing felt all too familiar and caused a slow wave of fear to wash over me, threatening to pull me out of my current state of stability.

My aunt stepped aside, not with the intention of permitting me to see our visitor, but to allow whoever it was entry into our house. I stopped myself from screaming out my impulsive objection as I knew I was in a state of heightened alertness, considering everything that had occurred over the last forty-eight hours. It was possible, even probable that our visitor meant us no harm, but I remained suspicious.

I forced myself to blink a few times unsure of the accuracy and validity of my eyesight since the world of reality and unverifiable phenomenon had crossed boundaries. Was our visitor a mirage or was he real? Was it a vision of what I secretly desired or was it an actuality? I was confused, annoyed, and angry; if what I was seeing was in fact reality, then what I predominately felt was rage.

“I thought you were too busy to come home,” I crossed my arms in front of my chest as I hurled the accusation at the dark haired male who shared more than one of my own physical characteristics. “According to Mother you had a ‘demanding schedule’, which didn’t allow you any trips home.”

My brother shrugged as he entered the foyer, shutting the door behind him.

“Yeah, well, I guess things changed,” he glanced at me then smiled feebly at Aunt Rachel. “And my schedule freed up.”

“Lucky for us,” she said as she wrapped her arm around his shoulders and kissed him on the cheek. “It’s so good to have you home.”

“Yeah, lucky for us,” I repeated, ensuring that my tone carried the biter note of sarcasm. “We get you all to ourselves.”

“Looks like it,” he nodded, placing a cardboard box on the foyer floor and dropping his canvas duffle bag next to it. “Do I smell pizza?”

I knew he didn’t really want to be home. He would much rather be spending his time with the entourage of pretty girls, who in his photos on social media, were always hanging on him or with his friends drinking and having fun, than being at home with Aunt Rachel and I for company. I wouldn’t be fawning over him or getting drunk with him. I knew he’d be counting the days until he could return to campus. Something other than our parents must have forced him to come home otherwise he wouldn’t be standing there awkwardly in the foyer with us asking for food.

Aunt Rachel walked over to the side table and grabbed the abandoned pizza box. She handed it to my brother with a smile, “I hope you like pepperoni.”

Ugh, why was she so happy to see him? The kindness pouring from her was nauseating. I couldn’t tolerate the way she was overly accommodating and I looked to Chloe hoping to see that she too was uncomfortable with Aunt Rachel’s behavior. She knew how I felt about my brother so I expected to find some show of support, but instead I witnessed her staring at him pensively.

What the fuck?!

She glanced at me and blushed. I caught her ogling betrayal.

She shrugged as she pantomimed with her mouth, “He’s hot.”

Daniel enthusiastically grabbed the pizza box from Aunt Rachel and walked towards the kitchen.

“Off to the kitchen with you,” my aunt chuckled, gesturing for us to join him.

I glared over my shoulder. How could she not know how unwelcomed he was by me? I spoke to her about my feelings numerous times, but it seemed as if none of that mattered. It was clear to me that she didn’t understand that once a composition was written and had been played successfully by the orchestra there was an expectation that every time it was played by that orchestra again, it would sound the same. Yes, there would be varying inflections and an emotional quality dependent on the musicians’ disposition and the composer’s direction, but once that symphony was played badly and the dissonance was experienced by the audience, it took relentless effort and work by the musicians to convince that audience of the beauty and harmony the composition honestly possessed. Audiences are known to be stubborn and unforgiving. I wasn’t convinced that the symphony Dan and I had penned together years ago, that was once a harmonious sounding composition was worth reworking.

“Angie, give him a chance,” she urged. “He’s your brother.”

“So?” I scowled at her before stomping after him.

“Sometimes you act like such a baby,” Chloe whispered to me as she walked beside me towards the kitchen.

“Do not!” I pouted.

She raised an eyebrow.

I opened my arms with an exaggerated. “What?”

Shaking her head, she entered the kitchen.

She had a point even if I wasn’t going to admit it to anyone, but why didn’t either of them understand my feelings about this entire situation? My brother had been my best-friend when we were younger and I missed that relationship. I wish I could change things and rewrite the past. But I can’t. He broke a promise, a promise to protect me from whatever it was that threatened me in the night shadows. He abandoned me years ago and now we’re nothing but strangers; two solitary individuals with nothing in common. Blood relations held no meaning between us; it was just a coincidence that we were born from the same set of parents, because we were nothing alike. In fact, if you looked on his social media profiles he has no mention of siblings. He doesn’t even acknowledge that I exist in his world! So, I’ve abandoned any and all hope of mending our relationship. It’s clear that it isn’t what he wants from me. He desires the distance. He likes his privacy – as do I. He is clearly enjoying his freedom from the living nightmare that he was forced to share with me for so many years as a child. And I don’t blame him, well, not for that; I blame him for leaving me to fend for myself when he said that he would be there beside me forever. But he did and without the simplest “good-bye”.

Daniel stood at the far end of the island counter with the pizza box opened; a half-eaten slice in his right hand and a can of soda in his left. He loudly chewed a mouthful of food as he watched Chloe and I enter the room and approached the counter. Chloe casually slid onto the stool closest to him and grabbed a slice of the semi-warm pie for herself as I walked to the refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of water and a Coke. I slid the can over to my friend and twisted open the cap on the water bottle. I took a sip while studying my brother.

He looked different from the last time I had seen him in person. When was the last time? I couldn’t remember. Days, weeks, months; they all seemed to blend together in my mind. It was a side effect from the Klonopin that I had been prescribed by Dr. Worth, but that I had stopped taking within the last forty-eight hours. Whether or not that was a “good” idea was still left to be determined, but regardless I was done taking it. I was tired of being medicated, of going through life in a chemical fog, unable to really experience what was happening to me, to accurately feel the changes occurring and my honest emotional responses to these changes. I decided that I would allow my parents and Dr. Worth to assume I was still taking the prescribed dose and I wouldn’t feel badly about the deception. It was important for me to be able to remember my experiences. I needed to remember. My thoughts needed to be cohesive. I needed to be conscious and aware of my surroundings. Often times I found it difficult to discriminate between reality and pure hallucination. I was never entirely sure, but with the unfolding of the last few days’ events it was imperative that I be as mentally clear as possible. I assumed that my parents and Dr. Worth wouldn’t understand, perhaps the only people that would were those who experienced the same events as I.

Chloe snapped open her Coke and took a gulp. She carefully placed the can on the counter with a loud burp before she addressed my brother.

“So Dan,” she winked at me before continuing. “What abilities do you have?”

“Abilities?” He swallowed a large bite of pizza and washed it down with a gulp of soda. “What do you mean?”

What was she thinking? This wasn’t a conversation we should be having with him. He wouldn’t understand, or worse, he would inform my parents about what we said when they returned from their Bahama trip. She frowned then took a bite from the slice of pizza she was holding.

“Nothing,” I said, reaching into the opened pizza box that sat between the three of us on the counter. The pizza was already cold. And I really hated cold pizza. I carefully peeled a pepperoni off my chosen slice and popped it in my mouth.

“By abilities do you mean talents? Cause I have a lot of those,” Daniel grinned at Chloe.

She giggled.

What the fuck was that? I had never heard her produce such an irritating sound. It was disturbing. What was wrong with her? Was she suddenly possessed by a spirit? Did she need an exorcism?

“Really,” I glared. I felt certain that I was about to vomit all over the remaining pizza.

“What?” she asked, attempting to portray an innocence that I knew didn’t exist within her. “I’m just playing.”

As if that was the justification that would make her nauseating behavior acceptable. It didn’t. It just made me more annoyed with the situation. The three of us sat in silence. Daniel stole glances at Chloe while pointedly ignoring me. I could tell that she was enjoying the attention, and while I was happy she felt appreciated, I was irritated that my brother was there as a distraction. The last thing I needed was my newly established bond with Chloe to be destroyed by my estranged brother’s fascination with her. I had to stop this, whatever this was, before it evolved into something more threatening and potentially damaging.

“Why are you here?” I threw the pepperoni stripped slice back into the box. “I know you don’t want to be. So, why are you?”

For the first time since he had stepped foot into the house Daniel looked at me directly.

“Because I have no choice,” he answered. “I have nowhere else to go.”

“Why do you have to go anywhere? Why didn’t you just stay at school?” I countered, staring at him directly, demanding an honest answer from him.

“I wasn’t allowed,” he said without dropping my gaze. Where those tears forming in his eyes?

“Wasn’t allowed?”

He nodded, “I was expelled.”

He glanced at Chloe then back to me. He shook his head while bringing his hand up to his forehead; the realization of the serious consequences must be overwhelming. “Mom and Dad are going to kill me.”

He was right. While killing was a hyperbole, they weren’t going to be pleased; Mother especially. He fucked it up good. I couldn’t have done it better myself.