Crossroads

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Chapter 23

Mia

“And as I sit there on this swing, as I trace the metal loops with my fingertips, I don’t feel anything, suddenly. I just focus on the cold metal on my skin, like it could somehow freeze the sorrow running through my veins.”

PAST

My grandfather said goodbye the same way he lived: Surrounded by a ton of people who cherish him dearly, making them laugh, cry, and believe in the one thing he deemed irreplaceable: Love.

We decide to leave the room, giving Grandma another chance to properly say goodbye to her husband. When Mom runs into Dad’s arms I use the moment to slip out of the group, through the back door and into the garden, aiming for the swing set my grandfather built for all of us.

And as I sit there, as I trace the metal loops with my fingertips, I don’t feel anything, suddenly. I just stare out into the woods behind the house, trying to figure out what to feel. Because honestly, it’s too much. I don’t know which emotion to prioritize, and so I end up feeling numb, taking deep, shaky breaths while pushing myself off the ground, the swingset carrying me back and forth.

I don’t know how long I sit there, but it must have been long enough for me to completely disregard my surroundings, because I suddenly jerk up when I hear my brother’s voice next to me. “So that’s where you are hiding.”

Max sits on the swing next to me, and I turn to look at him, studying his face. He looks pissed, somehow, like I’ve done something wrong. “What is it?” I ask, really not feeling in the mood to have any sort of discussion now.

“You’d know if you hadn’t run off.”

My eyes widen at his words, and I blink a few times before I answer, “Are you really going to berate me on being there after you kept all of this from me for days?!”

I know which emotion to focus on, now.

Rage.

It runs through my veins when Max gets up from the swing, looking even more pissed now. “You have no fucking idea, Mia. There are reasons we didn’t tell you about this shit!”

“Yeah? Well, tell me a good one, then. Come on, I’m waiting.” I wave my hands, gesturing for him to continue.

“Fucking hell, Mia. You have enough shit going on with uni, you didn’t need this burden, as well. We were just looking out for you.”

“What?!” I jump from the swing, about ready to punch him right in the face, “Is that why you did it?! Are you serious?! I don’t even go to uni at the moment, you dumbass!”

Now he’s the one who widens his eyes, leaning back as he looks at me, “What?! Why?”

“God, Max. Because I needed the break. Because I needed to breathe.”

“You needed the break?” he scoffs, “Are you kidding me?! A break from what?! From hiding shit behind our back, from doing whatever the fuck you want, from focusing on anything and anyone but us?!”

His words feel like a shot to the heart, and I physically stagger backward, bumping into the steel frame of the swing set. Saying that I wouldn’t focus on my family hits me on a deep level. I’ve always been there, for everyone. The fact that he acts like I haven’t done anything for my siblings shoots straight fire through my veins, and I find myself approaching him, hands balled into fists by my side.

“You mind fucking saying that again?!” I spit the words at him, and he just stands there, looking unimpressed as hell.

“With pleasure. You’ve heard me. You’re selfish, you…”

“That’s enough!” my father’s voice booms from right behind me, although I don’t turn around, I just watch how my brother suddenly turns pale, obviously regretting his words now that someone else heard them.

Dad approaches Max, squaring up to full height in front of him. My brother might be tall, but my father will always tower over him. “Is this what you think about, now, son? Attacking your sister after all that happened today?”

“Dad, I…”

“I don’t want to hear it. I don’t care what happened between the two of you, but you never speak to your siblings that way, do you hear me? Especially not after this fucking day, you idiot!” He slaps Max upside the head, who now only looks even more pissed. “You should be ashamed, making a scene like that where everyone can see, when your family is in there, grieving!”

“She was hiding here, too! Why do you defend her?!”

“Because she’s not the one insulting her siblings after they just lost their grandfather! She’s taking a breather because she was here the second she heard about what’s going on, unlike you, who came in with bloody knuckles half an hour later. Get your shit together, Max. I won’t let you inside, otherwise. Your mother is upset enough as is.”

Max is seething with rage by now, looking between me and dad with blazing eyes. “Don’t have anything to say now, lil sis?”

And I see it on his face, right this second. I see the pain running across his features, see the grief in his eyes. He’s hurting, and he’s lashing out to numb the feeling. I just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. “No, I don’t… I’ll go back inside and see how Mom is doing.”

He just scoffs at my words, and I feel Dad tense immediately as he wraps one arm around my shoulder, “I think it’s best if you take a walk, Max. Come back when you feel like you’re the son I raised again.”

We walk back into the house, Dad giving me another reassuring squeeze before we enter the living room. And even though I know that Max was just lashing out because he was hurt, I can’t help but feel attacked, and hurt, too. Because I pride myself on being a shoulder to cry on in this family. The thought that I just imagined that pains me, honestly.

After spending half the day with my family, consoling each other and eating Pops’ favorite meal for dinner, I can’t wait to get home. I haven’t heard from Lincoln all day, and I honestly just want him to hold me, to take away my pain.

I say goodbye to the few family members who are still around, hugging them tightly until I notice Max in the corner of the room, arms crossed, and just watching the interaction like a hawk. Pops’ words come to my mind, the reminder that we should be kind to one another, that life’s too short to hold grudges. And so I make my way over to my big brother, whose eyes now widen as I wrap my arms around him, squeezing him tightly. “I’m sorry for your loss…” I whisper, and it takes a minute or two, but he eventually wraps his arms around me as well, his large frame now holding me tightly. “I’m so sorry, sis. I’m sorry. I don’t… I don’t know… I just…”

“I know, I know. It’s okay,” I reassure him before pulling back, this insane amount of guilt in his eyes knocking the air out of my lungs. I can’t say that I’ll forget what he said, that I’ll forgive him for everything, but he’s my brother, and he just lost his grandfather, as well.

“I’m sorry…” he says again, and I just shake my head, wondering why he keeps apologizing. “It’s okay, Max.”

Shooting one last sad smile at my family behind me I finally leave the house, a breath I didn’t know I was holding escaping my throat when I get into my car. My hands start to tremble as I place them on the steering wheel, the sudden heaviness of this situation coming down on me like an avalanche of emotion.

I need to get away from here. I need to get my distance. I need to get home.

And I do just that, pulling into the garage only ten minutes later, running up the stairs like my life depended on it. My hands are shaking by the time I turn my key in the lock, the familiar scent of home invading my senses as soon as I open the door, taking a deep breath as I close it behind me.

I close my eyes for a second, my back resting against the door, trying to calm myself, not let emotions overwhelm me. But as soon as I open them I’m hit with a completely different wave of emotion, my sight focusing on the stack of papers on the sideboard in the hallway. They look like pamphlets for apartments, and I can’t help but swallow as I pick them up, ready to read through them, trying to make sense of this, when suddenly I hear Lincoln’s voice.

“We should talk.”

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