The Knell

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Chapter Nine: "Coming To a Head"

She has become rather irritable as of late. Kaethe knows she has; knows why she has, too. She knows the others have noticed. She knows her brother is trying to fix things in the only way he knows how and that is just making her feel worse; act worse; be worse. He is naïve about it, about the reasoning behind it. He doesn’t have the blood on his hands that she does. He doesn’t understand and he never will, so, therefore, he should stop trying to make her laugh with his asinine jokes and just get the hatred he must feel out in the open. It is the only way that she can have penance for her multitude of wrong-doings, failings, lies, and deceptions.

You’re being quite frigid today,” her brother has mentioned.

You should warm up by the fire,” he cautions her once. She slapped him across the face for that one.

Is it just me or did the temperature in the room just drop significantly?” he wondered one night as the two of them and the Wests sat quietly in the sitting room – this was his response when she’d glared at him for no other reason than he’d waved a rude hand gesture in her face to get her waning attention.

Kaethe, after much deliberation, I have decided that you need to work on your people skills,” Rett declared an afternoon that it was just the four of them. His remark drew wide eyes from Hale and a curious look from Louk.

The remarks kept coming, changing in wording but all with the same premise. He didn’t understand her irritation, her annoyance, her anger.

Or, and this thought comes to her on the tail-ends of the first, he does understand, more than she could possibly imagine, and if he can move on then so can she if only she’d allow herself.

But she can’t.

And he doesn’t, she thinks firmly. He could never because he didn’t love Liam like I do . . . did.

She snaps back at him, becomes almost abusive in her attempts at avoiding while the same time trying to accept. Rett takes it while the others learn to give her a wide berth. Even Mister West – who her brother has taken to calling ‘Uncle West’ – has noticed there is something wrong. Twice in the past week he has taken her aside to question her on how she is coping, to which she forces herself to be tight-lipped even though she wants to spill everything to the older man if it will get it all off her suffocating chest. But she won’t. She can’t. Her pride won’t let her. Her hatred of herself won’t allow her that chance at reprieve; forgiveness because she doesn’t deserve it.

“Hey, Kae, look outside,” Rett calls to her one morning as she is descending the stairs. He, Louk and Hale are bunched at one of the windows, pressed to the frosted glass, staring out into the yard. “Isn’t it awesome?”

When she looks she does not have the same enthusiasm for the covering of snow that has fallen during the night. In fact, her chest tightens and she feels an uncontrollable rage in her stomach. Her palms shake – she does not know the reason for the emotion – and she has to clench her fists to try and hide it.

“No, it’s not awesome,” she growls.

Rett sighs wearily, pushing from the window to lean casually against the wall. “You love the snow, Kae.”

“I don’t care,” she hisses back, intentionally hitting him with her shoulder as she storms past.

On her way into the kitchen she hears Louk wonder what her problem is, to which her brother says ‘it’s that time of month’ and that starts a whole other conversation because, while Hale and Louk are by no means sheltered, they did not grow up with a woman in their family. Rett tries to explain but he is laughing too hard to get the point across so it takes longer for understanding to dawn. When it does both West brothers are red in the face and they will not make eye contact with anyone, not even each other.

“Good morning, Kaethe,” Mister West greets as she stomps into the kitchen.

She grumbles a response, dropping into her usual seat at the table.

The boys enter behind her and she can just see Mister West casting a confused look to her brother who shrugs.

“So, Kae, do you wanna build a snowman?”

And that is the last straw. She can’t take it anymore. It has been building up for a while and now she can’t deal with it anymore. Today she cannot deal with. If she could have her way then she wouldn’t deal with it. She would crawl into a hole, somewhere, anywhere to be alone with her thoughts that are so dark and full of hatred for herself that she probably would never crawl back out.

“STOP IT RETT!” she screams, slamming her hand down onto the table.

The others flinch and stagger to a stop. She thinks Louk has even stopped breathing. The only one who isn’t affected is her brother who gives her this look that is full of such understanding and sorrow that she can’t look at him anymore.

“Just stop,” she says quieter this time.

“Kaethe,” he begins gently, keeping his distance even as he reaches out an arm towards her, like he’s going to hug her, hold her, comfort her. But he won’t. Because no matter how much she wants to act like the contrary, he is her older brother and he knows her. Even after a three year absence, he knows her. He knows what an act like that would mean to her; that it would be her undoing which is not something anyone ever needs to see. It will be as though the caverns of Fhan’griyl have collapsed and all manner of terrors are loose. “It’s okay.”

That sets her off again. “NO IT’S NOT!”

Mister West, Hale and Louk inch to the far corner of the kitchen. They give her and her brother space without leaving the room to give privacy as well.

“It’s not!”

“No, it’s not,” he agrees.

“How can it be?” she demands to know, fingering the knife that had been placed upon the table top in preparation of the meal Mister West had been preparing. “Answer me that, Garrett? How can it ever be okay?”

“Not any time soon, that’s for sure,” he says. “But one day it could be. Kaethe—”

“For once in your life, Rett, SHUT UP! You don’t know anything. You always thought you did, but you don’t. You really don’t, so stop acting like you do.”

Her words finally spark some emotion other than the quiet acceptance and patience that has irritated her to no end for some time. Inside she is seething in pleasure, finally seeing some of the turmoil that has been plaguing her for weeks reflected in her older brother’s eyes, the honey suddenly so dark and stiff and unlike the older man that Kaethe’s satisfaction is marred by the wrongness of it all.

“I miss him too!” Rett cries.

“No you don’t!” she roars. “You don’t know anything! You never cared. About him. About me. About Momma and Dad. The only one you’ve ever cared about in your life is yourself.” She marches across the kitchen to get into his face, shoving him hard and relishing in the startled gasp and the flinch that escapes him when she gets too close to his tender side. “You left us, Rett. You left us, not the other way around. You left and you think now, after everything, that you can just come back in like nothing happened. Like you. Never. Left.”

He takes measured breaths before saying her name.

But she isn’t finished.

Weeks she has buried this and now that she’s started to let it leak the dam has burst and there is no stopping the destruction that she will leave in her wake.

It’s what she’s inadvertently good at.

“Well, I’ve got news for you, big brother,” she spits. “I don’t need you. I never have. The only brother I ever needed is dead. Do you know how that feels? You would if you cared.”

“I do care, Kae!” he exclaims.

She shakes her head. “. . . You’re a liar, Rett.”

This time the look he gives her is a sad smirk, and it is soon accompanied by a stilted laugh. “So’re you.”

He speaks truth and that takes some of the wind from her sails.

“We’re both liars. We’re both thieves. We take what we shouldn’t, whether it be money or trinkets or hearts or lives. We take, Kaethe. We steal. And we’re good at it. We’re good at taking and we’re good at lying, but one thing we’re not good at is lying to each other.” He pauses, looking her over. “I care, Kaethe. And so do you, no matter how much you try to hide it or deny it. You care and it’s tearing you apart inside.”

She snorts to cover up the stinging in her eyes and the desperate hitching in her chest.

“It’s going to hurt, Kae. Eiylahm, it hurts so bad right now,” he breathes, blinking up at the ceiling. “I don’t know . . . he should be here.”

We shouldn’t be here,” she corrects forcefully.

“But it’s the way things are.”

“It’s wrong. It should be me.”

“He did what he wanted, Kaethe. He did what he’s always done, and that’s whatever he damn well he wants. He loved you, Kaethe.”

“He shouldn’t have!” she screams, their moment of connection gone as she shoves him hard. “I HATE THIS!” Kaethe pulls on her hair and spins to punch the wall, uncaring when the knuckles of her hand twinge with ache. “I hate this! It’s not right! It’s not FAIR! What did we ever do to deserve this?”

Her brother shrugs. “Probably a lot,” he murmurs.

“Liam didn’t deserve this,” she says darkly.

“Kae,” Rett sighs, “he made his choice. He probably didn’t like it. He was probably terrified, but it was the choice he made. No one else. He wanted you to live, so you are going to live, Kaethe. Don’t throw everything away because you’re hurting. You’re not the only one.”

“Like you could possibly understand what I’m feeling,” she dismisses.

“He was my brother, too!” Rett yells at her. “He was my little brother!”

Behind them there is a shared gasp and she is reminded of the audience that they have. The need for a fight leaves her quicker than it came as she spins away from her brother, spins away from the Wests, and marches straight for the door. She pauses long enough to pull on boots and a thick, woolen coat before storming outside into the lightly falling snow. The sight makes her sick and she picks up her pace, no idea where she intends to go but knowing with certainty that it has to be anywhere but here.
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