I’d wound up staying an extra night in the hospital when the hole in my back started leaking blood unexpectedly and I had to pay another visit to the OR. That had sucked. Until today. Here I was, bundled into a wheelchair on may way to stay with George where I’d be out of the way but with someone who wouldn’t provide more stress. Or at least that’s what I’d thought.
“I thought I was staying with George,” I said petulantly. Hey, I was allowed to be. I was injured.
“He’s got his own job. He doesn’t need more responsibility.”
Ouch. To be fair, he was right, but still. That stung.
“I’m not too much of a burden for you?” I sniped. “What about the construction company.”
He grimaced then sighed. “You’re not a burden.” Waving his hand in the general direction of the Moran’s house to indiate the crew who weren’t present, he continued, “and they’re just down by one. Most of what I did was planning and meeting with the clients, anyway. I can do that from home and notify Alan if there’s anything I need the crew to do.”
Right. Just down by one. I didn’t count. I don’t think he was looking to hire more when he’d brought me in, so I guess it made sense. I shrugged, trying push the feeling of hurt away, but only succeeded in pulling on the stitches in my back. I sucked in a breath and held it until the pain subsided.
“Besides,” Basil said, “it’ll give me an excuse to spend time with Sean.”
I just grunted as he pushed my wheelchair out to the car and helped me in. Great. I was basically going to be shoved into a corner and used as an excuse for my brother to fool around with his boyfriend. Or maybe his husband? It was possible.
It was all well and good that Basil didn’t feel like talking on the way back. My energy was quickly waning and with the mood I was in… Well, it was best not to talk.
That’s how we passed the next week. Not talking except when he checked on my injuries. Not talking when I found him asleep in a recliner with his toddler (not his lover, after all), Sean, curled at his side. Not talking when he walked in on me and Sean playing with alphabet blocks.
The only reason recovery took as long as it had was because I had to make sure the bones in my right arm set correctly. If I didn’t they’d have to be rebroken and reset, or I’d have to live with it. Neither was really an option I wanted to contemplate. All of this was just stalling me here. Could it be a sign?
If it was, then what did that say about the fact that I haven’t talked to Haven since the day I left the hospital. Basil had shown up right after Haven had left and seemed more dower, which I hadn’t considered possible, than when I’d shown up for a job. He’d seemed to be mellowing a little before the hospital, though, and for the life of me I couldn’t think what changed.
But I decided I’d had enough. I wasn’t going to stay in a place where I was clearly not wanted. The decision came when I was playing with Sean in his playroom. Yes, he had his own large and incredibly furnished playroom separate from his bedroom. That was thanks to my brother’s company and craftmanship; he’d built the house himself. I’d gotten used to playing with Sean as I had nothing else to do since being locked away like a princess in a tower. Except I wasn’t awaiting rescue from my prince; it was more like I was being cloistered away from Bowser’s fury.
Sean’s favorite toys were the little egg shaped people with weighted bottoms so no matter how you pushed them over they’d pop right back up. Made him squeel and giggle every time. So, of course, I made the middle two fingers of my left hand legs with the index and pinky as hands that I used to punch the little egg-people just so I could hear him laugh again. The playroom actually had a small three foot slide that I pulled away from the wall and helped him climb the stairs, watching as he raised his arms and slid down with more excited squeals. Basil just happened to walk in the one time Sean lost his balance at the top of the slide and I swung him up into my arms. He stormed across the room and snatched his son away.
“Don’t do that again!” he shouted.
“Do what? Keep your son from hitting his head?” I snapped back. He just pressed his lips together for an instant and that was it. “You know what? That’s fine.” I threw up my hands and pushed past him. “Thank you for your hospitality.” I spat as I stormed down the hall.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he growled, following me into the guest bedroom. I ignored him as I grabbed my duffle and started throwing my things in. “What do you think you’re doing?”
I shot him a quick glare as I passed. “You have eyes and I assume there’s a brain somewhere in that huge head, you figure it out.” I’d zipped up my bag before I realized that I hadn’t left a pair of socks out. Angrily I yanked out a pair of socks and sat on the bed, holding back a wince as I bent to put them on, a dull ache throbbing through my ribs.
“You can’t go. The doctor said-”
“I can walk.” I stomped my feet into the shoes I’d pulled from under the bed rather than bend over and tie them properly. I went to grab my bag and dropped it instantly having forgotten about my arm. Maybe catching my nephew had put a strain on my right arm but there’s no way I was going to admit it and I’d do it again if I had to. I snarled and snatched at it with my left hand.
Basil got to it first. He lifted it and set it on the bed by him. And away from me.
“What do you want, huh?” I flashed. “You want me to admit it was my fault? Fine. Ma and Pa burned, screaming, because of me. Happy? They would have been better off staying here. Of course I know that. You think I don’t know that?” He just blinked at me. “I was the one that got involved with the wrong people. I was the one that crossed the wrong people. You never got to say goodbye and it’s all my fault.” My chest heaved as if I’d been running for an hour. Every inhale hurt. “I’m here and they’re not. Because of me.” I swiped at my eyes as I looked down and away. I was not going to cry. I wasn’t. My throat closed. It took a moment to get the next words out and it sounded like the worn strings on an out of tune guitar. “Can I go now?”
“I’m so sorry, Ash. I-” I jumped when an arm slipped around my shoulder and Basil crushed me to his chest while another much smaller hand awkwardly patted what it could reach of my back from the other side. “I was never mad at you. Never.”
“What?” I stared at him, shocked. I pushed back and he let me go but kept his hand on my shoulder. “But you always made your constpated face when you looked at me.”
“Constipated?” His brows rose exaggeratedly.
“Yeah, you always wore it when you were really angry. I thought- Well, I thought you blamed me. Which I didn’t blame you for because I blamed me.”
“And that is why you burst out at me. Because you were okay with me putting the blame on you. I see.” His said it in a contemplative tone, setting the wiggling Sean down on the bed.
I punched him in the shoulder. “Fine. I do blame myself, but I wanted you to tell me it wasn’t. I wanted you to say I did the right thing. I wanted-” I sat on the bed and Sean crawled into my lap, laying his head on my shoulder. “I don’t know, I guess I wanted someone to forgive me.”
“I don’t blame you.” He paused, “Well, not for everything. I blame you for not telling me, for not letting me help you. But, I know why you made the deal.”
I opened my mouth to deny, to lie, to deflect, but just ended up emulating a fish out of water.
“It was because of me.” I shook my head head; this was a nightmare.
He shouldn’t have known, he couldn’t know. “No, Basil, that’s not-” But he continued right over my protestations.
“I was going to die. I wasn’t even aware at the time how close I’d been to it. In the right hands, my wolverine’s fighting instinct could be turned into a berserker serum. Gangsters, warlords, kings, countries – they all used them before. It nearly wiped us out. We became an ‘endangered species’,” he used finger quotations, “even though there weren’t enough of us to continue the species without interbreeding. Now, we’re just the random appearance of a recessive gene.”
“That’s not what happened.” It wasn’t true. I had to make him believe it wasn’t true. “She didn’t know about you. I was just young. All I saw were dollar signs.” It was a lame attempt, I could hear it in my voice, but what else could I do? He always took everything so hard. He wasn’t perfect. He’d made mistakes. But I never knew him to make them twice. And he always took his big brother duties seriously. I just couldn’t let him do that this time.
“Do you remember our ninteenth birthday?” He sat next to me and laid back staring at the ceiling. “We’d just graduated high school and we went to Tammy Peters’ party the week before. There was alcohol. The funny thing is I don’t remember drinking any. Yet, I blacked out and woke up at home two days later. Nobody remembers where I was. The party had devolved into a run during which Tammy thought I was with Elliot, Elliot thought I’d gone with Samantha and Emma, who thought I was with Ramsey or Effy or Maple. There was some speculation as to who’d been able to keep my attention for two days without coming up for air.” I opened my mouth but he held up a hand. “In the end, you were the one that found me and brought me home. The next day you had a flashy job with fancy suits and people called you ‘Sir’.” He paused, searching my face as if he were reading a transcript, brows pulled toegether. “You know, I never asked you this, but where did you find me?”
There was a reason I avoided being alone with my brother after bringing him home that day. He’d see through even the most plausible lie. I opened my mouth, but years of keeping the secret petrified my vocal chords. Maybe I’d contracted laryngitis? I just pressed my lips together and shook my head. Feeling drained, I lay back next to him, our arms pressed together. Sean crawled around to sit with a leg on either side of my head. He grasped my cheeks with both of his tiny hands and leaned over to look me upsidedown in the eyes, babbl a mysterious, though no doubt profound, string of words.
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. I gripped my ribs as I laughed through the pain, the years and years of pain and guilt. Then wheezed with very physical pain when little Sean stood up unbalanced and made a big flog right on my torso, his knees digging into my chest and his hands pressed into my stomach. Basil plucked him off me and patted my knee as I curled protectively on my side, laughing through my groans.
“Good. That’s settled.”
“What?” I gasped, pain slowly subsiding. “What’s settled?” I wasn’t going to answer his last question, but he already knew. “You’ll stay here.” I could only watch as he set Sean back on the bed, where he crawled over and curled up with me, and my twin unpacked my bag.