You never know what day will be your last. Worrying about that kind of thing ruins your day, your year, your life. To live in the moment is to live without care. Not reckless, but not concerned with the future outcome. Every choice has a consequence, but who takes a moment to consider the worst of them when your life is at its best—at its peak?
We should’ve considered.
We shouldn’t have done it.
We knew that even as we climbed the chain link fence and jumped down on solid concrete on the other side. But we just wanted a little bit more fun. Curfew had already crept up on us—really, what else did we have to lose? A couple more hours of hanging out and then we’d go back. Then we’d face whatever sentence Ma and Dad had already cooked up for us. Two more hours wouldn’t make too much of a difference.
It was a Tuesday, so Ma and Dad automatically knew today was “Hangout Day.” The one day my brother and I made plans around to hang out with one another. Technically speaking, every day was a hangout day, but Tuesdays were special. Tuesdays were set. Tuesdays, plans with each other came before everything else. It was a long standing tradition that wasn’t about to change because Aaron was on his way to college and I was about to start my senior year of high school.
We began every Tuesday the same way: two or three hours hitting up the skate park, food and music at Tillie’s Bar and Grill, a club scene owned by our best friend’s brother, with a follow up either in our garage working on our respective artistic projects or a late night ice-cream run at the nearest fast food joint. Nine times out of ten, we hit up the fast food joint anyway and still ended up in the garage. Aaron’s music and my paintings always seemed slightly more inspirational after a healthy dosage of mint chocolate chip.
Most of our friends still didn’t understand my brother’s and my relationship. We never bickered or fought; never chose friends over one another. The other was always the first person texted when something weird or funny happened, and we always had each other’s back when Ma and Dad wanted to bust one of us for something we’d probably done.
We studied together, partied together, suffered in silence together even if only one of us was being disciplined. Aaron and I attributed our relationship to good genes and close ages; everyone else attributed it to some form of magic.
In reality, the simple fact of the matter was that the Lucas siblings were nothing but the best of friends. It was a happy coincidence that we happened to be related on top of that.
The Tuesday in question had been like any other Tuesday. Good air, good food, and better music since the DJ chosen for Tillie’s had clearly been inspired by both Hollywood Undead and Eminem. We stayed at Tillie’s later than usual because we ran into some school friends, and that was what had thrown off our time constraints. We were too wired to head home by the time we left the bar. So Aaron, being the big brother that he was, took it upon himself to find a way to take us down a notch.
He did so by bringing us back by the skate park.
Closed for the past two and a half hours.
“What are you doing, dude?” I asked, watching as he headed toward the locked gates. I swept back the purple streaks of hair that had fallen over my eyes and lifted a brow as he threw his skateboard over the fence. It hit the ground with a loud, echoing clank.
“There’s no way I’m going back yet,” Aaron said with a shake of his head. He gripped the chain. “C’mon, Les. Let’s take another hour.”
“Officer Murphy swings by around this time. We’ll be so busted.”
“He switched shifts. Its Connors now, and he always forgets to come by here.”
I folded my arms. “And how do you know this new schedule?” I demanded. Murphy was one thing. We ran into him all the time at the park during the day; it’d been easy to get the details of his night shift out of him. “Have you been casing the joint?”
Aaron shrugged. “Maybe.” His brown eyes twinkled under the street lamp. He’d already started making his way up the side of the fence, his neon green Nikes glowing in the darkness.
I pursed my lips and crossed my arms. “You are such a bad influence.”
Aaron paused and shot a grin over his shoulder. “That’s why I’m the older brother. It’s my job to teach you how to bend a couple rules.”
I scoffed even as I gave in and tossed my board over his head. “Teach me how to bend the rules?” I shook my head and hooked my fingers into the chain. “Boy, I taught you how to break them.”
Aaron snorted a laugh. “You wish.” He looped his leg over the top and hopped down easily. I followed suit, dropping just beside him. Kicking my board back into my hands, I turned to him and gave a little bow.
“And that’s how it’s done,” I quipped.
Aaron lifted a brow at me, his eyebrow arching in almost the exact same way mine did, and gave me a look. “Are you challenging me, little missy?”
“Are you afraid?”
He hooted once and snatched his board up off the ground. Stepping aside, he gestured to me forward. “After you.”
“Aaron, one day, all your schemes are gonna backfire,” I said, walking over to him and dropping my board down at the edge of the closest ramp.
“Schemes? Well now, darlin’, I dunno what ye’re talking about,” he said putting on a fake western accent.
I laughed and shoved him. “Like hell you don’t.”
Aaron smirked. “I’ve only got a bit of time left with you, Les. Stop being a bummer and make the most of it.”
“You’re going to UConn, man,” I said with a shake of my head. “We live ten minutes outside Hartford. I’ll be at your dorm every day.” With one last shove, I skated down the ramp. Aaron gave one long howl and followed.
I’d no idea how much time had passed by the time we stopped to take a breath. An hour? Two? Aaron and I could skate forever and it would only feel like five minutes. The streetlamp over the center of the park was flickering like a strobe light and I was just about ready to throw something at it when it finally burnt out.
Aaron and I fell down on the closest bench and stared up at it, the same thought running through his mind too. That was another thing that made people think we were weird: we always knew what the other was thinking, or about to say, without even having to open our mouths.
I looked away, but Aaron continued to stare at the streetlamp in silence. After a few moments, I cocked my head.
“You good?” I wanted to know, already buzzing to start going again. I reached back and pulled my blonde hair up into a ponytail.
But Aaron stayed silent. Confused, I waited.
“Do you ever worry?”
I’d been staring at him so long, I realized then that I hadn’t actually expected him to speak. “Huh?”
He shrugged. “Do you ever wonder?”
He was still staring at the light, which in itself was really weird, but I could tell from his voice that he was being serious. I shrugged, knowing he wasn’t referring to my worrying over him.
I shook my head. “What’s there to wonder about? We’re young; we’re awesome. You kill it on the guitar and I know I’m a beast painter.” I nudged him with my elbow and laughed. He chuckled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “What’s there to wonder about?” I said again, this time a little less certain.
Aaron took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “A lot of stuff,” he said mildly. “I’m just not sure I want you wondering any time soon. I’m not ready for that.”
I blinked, feeling totally lost. Like I just walked into a movie an hour late and only can catch the tail end. “Dude, what are you going on about?”
“You remember Ma’s stories?” he said abruptly, finally tearing his eyes away from the dead streetlamp and facing me. “From her home?”
“The Irish ones?”
He smirked. “Those would be the ones from her home, Les.”
His teasing tone set me at ease. “Yeah,” I said with a nod. “She used to tell them to us all the time growing up.”
“And then she stopped.”
“So…don’t you miss them? Don’t you miss being told a story—something totally random and childish and stupid, and just believing it because you could? Don’t you miss that wonder?”
He wasn’t making all that much sense, but I nodded, because I knew there was a point and I knew that was the answer he wanted. “Yeah. Some. But everyone grows up eventually, Aaron. We couldn’t believe forever.”
He chuckled wryly. “Sometimes I wish we could.”
“What, and turn into Peter Pan?”
I looked at him. “What? Aaron, what are you talking about?”
Aaron let out a sigh and shook his head, as though to clear it of fog. When he finally looked back at me, his eyes were a lot clearer, a lot less wistful than they’d just been. “Never mind. I’ve just been thinking lately.”
“Well, come on. About what? You can’t get all…like doom and gloom on me and then just pull another three sixty. What’s up?”
But he shook his head. “Nothing. I just…sometimes I wish we never grew out of that phase. The…believing one.”
I smiled as I finally understood. “College finally hitting you?” I thumped him on the arm. “Come on; man up. You’ll love it and you know it!”
Aaron laughed. “Yeah.” He nodded. “Yeah, I know I will. I just…” He stopped again and shook his head. “Never mind. Come on.” He got to his feet and turned to hold out a hand to me. “One more run and then we’ll head out. Ma bought mint chocolate chip ice cream and I’m craving some.”
I gaped at him. “Ma bought Mint ice cream and you’re just now telling me this?!”
Aaron winced. “Yes?”
“Jerk!” I punched at him again, but he grabbed my fist and we ended up tumbling to the ground. “Jerk, jerk, jerk!” I cried, punching him on the shoulder repeatedly.
“Les! Hey!” He laughed, taking every blow without a single groan.
“We—are—going—home—now!” I shouted, whacking him on the side of the head with every word.
Aaron just continued to laugh. “All right, all right, all right. We’ll go home!” He smirked.
“I don’t think so.”
Together, the both of us looked up. Standing only a few feet away was a man—or rather, a shadow of a man. I silently swore. Damn it—busted.
“Up,” the guy said, taking a step back as if to give us some room.
I glanced down at Aaron, expecting to see him roll his eyes. When he didn’t, I swallowed hard. Aaron got up, taking me by the arm and pulling me to my feet with him, as though afraid to let me go.
“And what do we have here?” the man wondered, crossing his arms in front of his chest. I still couldn’t make out any of his features, but from his voice, he sounded a lot younger than I’d initially thought. Definitely too young to be a cop. I started to relax.
“Just a little harmless fun,” Aaron said with a shrug. “We’ll get out of here.”
I opened my mouth to argue, point out that we had just as much right to be here as this guy did, but the stranger cut me off.
“I don’t think so,” he said again. “I think your days of fun are over.”
I lifted a brow. Who the hell did this guy think he was? And was that…was he British?
“Okay, wait just a minute—” I began, and Aaron’s grip on my arm immediately tightened. Looking up at him, I saw him give me the universal look that said, “shut up.”
The stranger chuckled. “I’d take his advice, darling, and button it.”
Somehow, when he said “darling” it wasn’t nearly as funny.
“Look, we’re leaving, all right?” Aaron reasoned, pulling me a couple steps away. “No harm done, yeah? We’ll get out of here.” We turned to walk away.
“Don’t you dare.”
We froze as a click echoed through the night. My heart sped up as I slowly turned back, praying I wouldn’t see what I already knew I would. The image of a gun, already cocked, aimed at my back.
Immediately, Aaron put himself between me and the barrel.
“Aaron!” I cried, without thinking.
“Shhh!” he ordered, but he reached behind him and took my hand in his. Then he faced the stranger again. “Leave her alone.”
The stranger chuckled. “And why the hell should I?”
“She’s got nothing to do with this.”
I gaped at Aaron’s back. Nothing to do with this? Nothing to do with what? I wanted to ask. What was my brother talking about?
The stranger snickered. “You really expect me to believe that?”
Aaron lifted his chin. “Yes.”
All I could do was stare. This wasn’t right. Aaron… Somehow I just knew this wasn’t a random conversation. Aaron knew this guy. I could tell. The way he talked to him; the way he was looking at him. Aaron had met this guy before. Whatever they were talking about had a hell of a lot more to do with than trespassing. Possibly nothing to do with it. But…
I swallowed hard, trying to gather my wits. How had such a simple, fun night taken such a horrible turn for the worst? How had it gone from awesome to death gripping in all of five seconds?
“You expect me to believe,” the guy went on, moving slowly back and forth in front of us, the gun never wavering from Aaron’s chest, “that she knows nothing? At all? About anything?”
Aaron nodded. “That’s exactly what I expect you to believe.”
I wanted to hit him. Now was not the time to be getting smart!
The guy stopped and cocked his head to the side. For a long moment, he just seemed to watch my brother, as though he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Then suddenly, he started to laugh.
“That was your master plan?!” he spat. “Keep it a secret? Hide it?” He laughed again, but it sounded more like a cackle to me. “You’re the stupidest bloke I’ve ever met!” He shook his head. “And what exactly was the next part of your plan?” he pressed. “Or were you just gonna wing it?”
Aaron didn’t respond but I felt his hand tighten around mine.
“What? Nothing to say now?” I could’ve sworn the stranger was smirking. “For someone like you, I expected quite a bit more.”
“Hey!” I didn’t even realize I’d spoken until it was too late to take it back. Slowly, the stranger turned his gaze on me. Swallowing, I tried very hard to keep a level face.
He took a careful step forward. “Oh? Something to say?”
“Les.” Aaron’s voice was quiet. “Don’t.”
“Aaron—” I began.
But I didn’t get any further he turned to me, leaning down close enough so only I could hear. “I love you, Les. And I’m so, so sorry.”
Before I could say another word, Aaron thrust me away from him, sending me crashing down on the pavement. I cried out as tiny stones cut my palms, trying to shove back to my feet mid-momentum as the sounds of scuffling broke out behind me. And just as I turned my head to look back, I heard the gun shot.
I knew it had hit Aaron before I saw it. Before I watched him suddenly go very still; before I heard him gasp in pain. Before I watched him fall to his knees and pitch forward, trying to catch a breath he could never again grasp.
I think I screamed; I’m not really sure. I rushed forward, catching him just as his hands gave way beneath him, and cradling him in my arms, against my chest, willing him to be all right. Behind me, I heard the stranger approach, his footsteps as loud as pin drops in a quiet arena. I turned back as his shadow fell over us, and saw him glaring down at my brother, his eyes hidden behind a pair of silver sunglasses, masking his identity in the darkness.
“What have you done?” I choked out, glaring back at him, waiting for the guilt to finally hit him.
But it never did. Instead, he smiled. “I finally got rid of a very old problem. Ready for part two?” And he lifted the gun to my face.
I don’t know what happened after that. All I remember is the feel of something cold shooting by me and then Aaron pushing me back down to the ground. I think I was knocked out—it’s the best I can figure since my next memory was waking up in the hospital waiting room…waiting for the news of my brother.
My parents were there, sitting beside me, Ma crying, Dad pacing back and forth. When I woke, they pulled me into their arms and filled in a few blanks. Murphy had found us—Aaron bleeding, me knocked unconscious—and had driven us to the hospital straight away. Took care of Aaron, called my folks, then looked after me until they got there. He was already headed back to the crime scene by the time I was coherent again. And we were waiting for news on Aaron.
But I didn’t have to be with him in the lab room to know what the news would be. The bullet had gone straight through him; the blood on my shirt had poured from his chest—too close to his heart. My brother, my best friend, my protector was dead. And somehow, it was all because of me.