Caleb Milton rose as the truck pulled to a stop. His hand unconsciously reached to straighten the black eye patch that did little to conceal the twisted remnants of his eye.
"Caleb." Gideon Milton's low voice was chastising. "Don't. She knows what you look like."
"Doesn't mean she has to like it." There was a defensive note to his voice.
David emerged first, his glance towards his older brothers was pained and they both winced at his expression before forcing smiles to their lips as Beatrix rounded the truck and stood, awkward, frightened under their combined gazes, at the base of the ramp that had replaced stairs a decade before.
"Beatrix, come up and sit down. You must be exhausted." Gideon pushed his chair forward so he could meet her eyes and his smile softened his face. "How was your trip?"
"I can't think of anything worse than being on a train for twelve hours. I am sorry that we could have arranged for you to fly instead."
"Moira won't fly." The words were muttered to the wooden ramp.
"Moira?" Caleb echoed.
"Her watchdog. Literally. Watch bitch maybe."
"Gideon!" David grinned. He nudged Beatrix's shoulder. "I promise they don't bite. They are actually nicer than me. Less likely to talk your ear off. After you." He left her with no escape, no choice but to walk up the ramp and step onto the porch. The wood underfoot securing her prison a little more tightly.
Gideon reached his calloused hand out and closed it over her own considerably smaller one. She flinched quite visibly, barely resisting the urge to pull away. "I am afraid I am going to have to ask you to bend to give me a hug. I refuse to be the only one who doesn't finally get to hold our little sister."
Beatrix stiffened slightly, searching his face for a brief second for any sign of mocking, finding only kindness. She bent, hugged him briefly and pulled away, stepping out of reach of his grasp.
"You have grown." Caleb unconsciously repeated the words David had used only hours before.
Her head lifted sharply, ready to use the same, stinging retort she had given, only for words to die on her tongue. He looked more frightened, more trapped than she felt. He made an awkward movement and she hugged him, only a second longer than Gideon but enough the ensure some of the tension eased from his shoulders. She had not seen his face for a long time.
"Why don't I show you where your room is? And the bathroom. You and I are sharing one, I am afraid. We are the only ones on the top floor, usually that is where guests stay and their rooms have their own bathrooms but we keep them locked when they aren't being used." David's loud, cheerful voice broke the sudden, uncomfortable silence.
"Or suicidal sisters come to stay?" Beatrix sounded frosty. Angry.
David shrugged. "That too. I'll be back soon to give you a hand with the groceries. Come on, I'll bring your suitcase. It's easy to find your way around here. We'll give you the grand tour once you are settled in. Cale and Gid both have rooms on this floor; most of the fun stuff is down here too." He hefted her suitcase up the stairs and she followed dutifully. The setting sun was casting long shadows over the wooden floorboards through the wide windows that revealed views of the woods surrounding the house. "We do have a reading nook up here but only guests tend to use that. I spend most of my time downstairs." He paused outside a closed door and bowed dramatically. "Your bedchamber, Madam." Pushing the door open he beckoned her to enter. "We didn't know what you were like." He was apologetic. "So we haven't really decorated much. There are paint samples on the desk though. Pick whatever colours you like and we can paint the walls this week. And Dana, she cooks and cleans for us a few days a week and is a general saint, can go shopping with you or order stuff online for any furnishings or girlie stuff you want. I remember you used to be into dresses and stuff…" He glanced at her oversized clothing.
"Mom didn't like me wearing dresses. Showed off too many scars."
"Too many?" David's brow furrowed.
"Yeah. Cutting leaves scars, you know." Beatrix sounded scornful. Her arms were wrapped tightly around her torso.
He swallowed. "Not just this time, then?"
and suicide are different." Her voice was contemptuous.
"I know that." David chose his words cautiously. "Here, we want you to be comfortable. Dress how you like. Dresses, jeans, you wear what you want here. We don't care so much about what scars look like here."
"That door there is to the bathroom. Just keep it closed. You can't lock any of the doors." David's eyes met hers, he was all business now. "Well, you can, but we took the keys away. Our bedrooms adjoin the bathroom. I will always knock before opening the door, I would advise you to both answer, and do the same. There is a bath there, feel free to use it, but we do have a sound system in there, like a baby monitor, we will hear you if you think trying to drown yourself is a good idea."
"No. That's the way we are going to keep you alive. I am going to sit here while you unpack, so I can make sure that you don't have anything you shouldn't have."
"Bastard!" Anger flooded her green eyes and her head snapped up. "You think you can just waltz into my life and take over!" Her words were an angry shout that could be heard through the open window. "I wish I was dead! I want to be dead! Don't expect some summer to change that! I don't want to be here! You never wanted me before! None of you did! I hate you! I hate you!"
David nodded slowly. "We will always want you and love you. Which is why I am going to sit here while you unpack. I don't want you to hurt yourself. Gideon and Caleb would be shattered if something happened to you. Especially on our watch."
"We do love you. I understand why you think I am lying. But we do love you." Leaning against the wall, David beckoned to the suitcase. "Now. I am not going anywhere until the suitcase and bags are unpacked."
"Arsehole." She spat the word out before wrenching open the backpack and spilling the contents onto the floor. Chocolate, her purse, two books, scissors, a laptop tumbled onto the thick crimson rug covering the polished floor boards.
David stepped forward and retrieved the scissors. "These can stay downstairs." His voice was soft.
Disgust, anger, rebellion, hatred all showed clearly on her too-pale face. "Are you done now?"
"Your suitcase too, Beatrix."
"Wow. So much privacy! Do you want to look at my underwear! Perv!" She flung a bra at his face and he caught it, simply tossing it onto the bed, before stepping forward and carefully searching through the contents that her parents had deemed enough for her life. A box of tablets was lifted and inspected. "Anti-depressants."
"These will be downstairs and we will supervise you taking them."
"I don't want them."
"This summer, you will take them. I will put them downstairs." His brow furrowed. "And we will talk with Dana about getting you some new clothes. There really aren't all that many here."
"I am going downstairs. Please make sure you are down in half an hour so you can meet Dana and we can show you the rest of the house before dinner." David turned to leave. "If you aren't down Caleb or I will come up for you."
A disgusted noise broke from her and she lifted her middle finger rudely at him as the door closed behind him, leaving her finally, finally alone.
They were in the kitchen, slowly putting away the groceries when he entered. Slumping into a seat, David buried his face in his hands. "Did you hear her?" His voice was muffled.
There was slight movement and his brothers flanked him, one on each side.
"We heard." Gideon's voice was grim. "She is hurting."
"And angry." Caleb sighed. "I should have come to town with you. I had no idea it would be so bad."
"God no, she only needs to hate on one of us, not all of us. Maybe if she hates me she will open up to you two."
Gideon's hand curled over David's shoulder. "We don't want her hating any of us." He corrected gently. "We have summer. We can only hope that it's enough to show her that she is loved and wanted."
"I could smash her bloody parents' heads together."
"Why don't I go up and ask her to come down?" Caleb spoke softly. "Gid's right, we don't want her hatred directed at one of us." He rubbed his hand over his scarred face. "She didn't blink when she saw me again so at least if she hates me I know it won't be because of the scars." A self-deprecating smile. "A pleasant change."
David shoved his brother with his shoulder. "Bloody martyr is what you are." But his tone had softened and there was relief. There were three of them, and they were united in showing the angry, heartbroken, disillusioned girl that she could be loved. Was loved.
Beatrix stared at the clothes that covered the carpeted floor before roughly shoving them into her suitcase. There was no point in unpacking. It would make less work for them when she successfully ended her life. They were already inconvenienced, she reasoned bitterly, why put them out more? Snatching a dress, one that would show the extensive pattern of old scars quite well, she smirked, a smirk devoid of anything but loneliness and grief. David said scars didn't matter, well, maybe after today they would change their mind about that.
She made her way to the desk and the stack of paint sample cards that covered its surface along with three home living magazines. They hadn't wanted her, hadn't made an effort to see her, they were the same as her parents, no amount of show would change that. She hated them. She hated herself. She was unloved and unlovable. She wanted to die.
Caleb knocked softly on the door. It was flung open and sharp words were on the tip of Beatrix's tongue before she realised her latest captor was not David.
"We thought you might not feel comfortable coming downstairs yet, seeing you hardly remember us. So, I came to see if you…" he had caught sight of the thin slash marks that covered her upper arms. Caleb cleared his throat. "To see if you were ready to come downstairs."
Beatrix winced. She wished she had worn something else. "I was just changing…"
"Don't. It's a pretty dress. Suits you."
She covered her shoulders defensively, bringing the white bandages sharply into focus. She had re-wrapped them, un-skilfully. She had wanted to spite David, the unexplained object of her anger, not present the scars to the man who had had his face blown to pieces and clumsily reassembled.
"David said you ate on the way up," Caleb stepped back and waited, patiently, for her to step out of the doorway before he led her down the hallway and to the stairs. "But, are you still hungry?"
"I hear you are a fan of chocolate milkshakes. You go down first."
"Why are milkshakes such a big deal?" Sarcasm was evident.
"We take sweets very seriously in this house."
"Mom hates sugar."
"Ah, I do remember that." He grimaced at the memory of his step-mother's attitude towards anything that was 'processed'. "I hope you won't judge us too harshly then."
"David and I are quite disappointed that chocolate is your favourite. Gid feels like he has an ally. Ah, here we are." Beatrix missed the relief in the quiet voice.
David glanced up and grinned at her. "Much better. I like the dress." His eyes locked on her upper arms for a second before sliding down to the bandages and he swallowed.
Confusion flashed momentarily across her face. He was meant to hate her. Not act like there was nothing wrong.
Gideon was the only one who did not react to the sight of the bandages, or the scars. As if there was nothing unusual about her. "Beatrix, this is Dana Jones, the most wonderful woman to walk this earth. Dana, our baby sister, Beatrix."
Dana rounded the bench and offered her hand to the girl. "So nice to finally meet you. These folks have all been bragging about you since I met them. Always said they had the prettiest sister in the states."
Beatrix rolled her eyes.
"Cute dress. I like it. The red suits your dark hair. Is it naturally that dark? Or dyed?"
"Dyed." The word seemed to be startled from her.
"What's your natural colour? Come into the kitchen and I'll show you where everything is. These three forget about food if I am not around to remind them to eat at appropriate times. So hair?"
Dana laughed. "Ok, so is it, Gid's brown? Cale's brown? Or Dave's brown? Or a completely different shade of brown?"
The questions forced Beatrix's eyes off the floor and the cast a quick, apprehensive glance over her three brothers, seated at one end of the table. "They are the same."
"Oh, come on, you are a girl, you know they aren't." Dana's voice was light, easy, and friendly. "Gid's got the darkest, well he used to before he got old and when mostly grey."
"I resent that." The retort was mild.
"Not my fault you are more salt than pepper." Dana laughed. Her eyes flickered to the girl beside her. So much hurt trapped in one soul. "Caleb's hair is a few shades lighter." Her voice changed a subtle difference that went, seemingly un-noticed. "So more milk chocolate than dark."
Beatrix rolled her eyes. These people seemed to manage to bring chocolate into every conversation.
"And David fits nicely in between those two. So, your hair?"
"Like…" Beatrix hesitated and scowled. "David's."
"Ha! Score one for me! Beatrix looks like me." David grinned at her and her confusion grew. Why wasn't he angry? Her father would have been furious….
"You all have the same eyes, I see." Dana noted. "I was always jealous of Gid's eyes. I met him first, and then I met Cale and Dave and I hated them. Your family has gorgeous green eyes."
"Hazel." The automatic correction came from four people at once and Beatrix blinked, startled, before her brother's laughed.
"See, Dana," David sounded smug. "There is more than one colour in our lovely eyes. You just haven't studied mine enough."
"And am never planning to so get your mind out of the gutter, Davie boy. What colour are your mom's eyes, Beatrice?"
"Ah, extra lucky you got your dad's hazel eyes then. Brown eyes are such a curse. Bowls and plates are in here, cups in here, this is the pantry, you can walk in; most things are on the lower shelves that you will want. Baking stuff is all up higher seeing it's only me that uses that. Same as pots and the like."
"Meaning she likes me out of her kitchen." Gid teased.
"You are a horrible cook so yes, stay far away from my kitchen. Help yourself to anything you like, Beatrix, ok?"
Beatrix nodded once, her eyes swept the bench. No knives. The absence was obvious.
"We have the sharp utensils locked away." It was Gideon who spoke, apology soft in his voice. "It's not that we don't trust you, Beatrix, we just don't want you hurt."
"Same thing." She wanted to retreat to her bedroom. To be alone. Away from the scrutiny of these people.
"Mama!" A chirpy voice broke through the suddenly strained silence and Dana's face transformed as a child skipped into the room. "Uncle Cale!" A pair of arms launched around the man's neck and Beatrix watched, surprised, as her quiet older brother smiled, the action distorting the scars on the left side of his face while softening the almost unmarred right side.
"Hello, Miss Gracie. Did your movie finish?"
"Uh hu!" She kissed the scarred cheek before her attention was drawn to Beatrix. "Who that?"
"Who is that?" It was Gideon who corrected the words very gently and the child giggled.
"Yeah! Who is that?"
"This is Beatrix, Aunty Beatrix. She is Uncle Gid, Uncle Cale and Uncle Davie's little sister."
"Like Mia is Freddie's sister?"
"Exactly like that," Dana smiled. "This is my little girl. Gracie."
Gracie skipped over to Beatrix and studied her with guileless brown eyes. "Is you hurt?" A frown marred her smooth wide forehead and she was oblivious to the sharp, inhaled breathes of the adults around her.
"Only a tiny bit."
"Good!" Short arms flung around her waist. "Can we be friends?"
"Yay! Aunty Bea—tri—x is my friend. That's a long name." The child looked serious.
"I don't like it very much." The confession seemed to surprise even Beatrix and the child laughed.
"Change it! We all have short names. 'Cept Mama 'cause you can't shorten Mama!"
"Do you have a nickname you like?" David leaned his elbows on the table.
Dammit. He was meant to hate her. "My parents call me Bee."
"Like a bumble bee!" Gracie crowed.
"Yeah. Like that."
"You don't like it, do you?" Dana prompted gently.
"No." Not from them. The parents who hated her.
"Is there a nickname you do like?" Gideon was watching her closely.
"Gracie, let's think up a new nickname for Aunty Beatrix, if she doesn't mind?" David motioned for the child while watching his sister closely. Beatrix shrugged again as Gracie launched herself into his arms. There was a serious expression on Gracie's face.
"Uncle Davie first!"
Dana smothered a laugh. "Seriously, David. Don't be a jerk. Betty. Sounds like a grandmother." She winked at Beatrix.
"Uncle Cale?" Clearly the tiny child ruled her 'uncles' with the plastic fairy wand clutched in her chubby fist.
Caleb studied his sister closely. She hated being the centre of attention. He could hardly blame her. "Trixie?"
"Trixie is sweet, and a far better suggestion than David's." Gid spoke easily. "But, does Aunty Beatrix want a nickname?"
"Trixie is fine."
"Yay! Aunty Trixie!"
"All right, scamp, let's say goodbye and drive home. Thank you so much for watching her today. You three are life savers. Gracie isn't always with me, she usually stays with our neighbour, we trade of babysitting, but she had an appointment so my daughter got to come and be spoiled by three of her favourite people." Dana smiled. "Soon to be four if I am any judge. Gracie doesn't do so well with strangers, the face that you are their," she motioned to the table where Gracie was saying reluctant goodbyes. "baby sister means you were instantly loved. I am sorry for all future encounters. She is a friendly little thing."
"She's really cute."
"I am very blessed."
Surprise flickered and was hastily hidden but Dana saw, and laughed. "Yes. Despite the Down Syndrome, I am blessed. Have a good night. Dinner is in the oven, the salad is in the fridge." The door closed behind the woman and her whirlwind daughter who had flung her arms around Beatrix a second time and the silence that arrived with their departure seemed so much the worse for their absence.
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