A/N: If you haven't read part 1, go read it before reading this :)
I remember when I was little and had trouble falling asleep, Mom would sit on my bed, caress my hair, and sing me a song until I fell asleep. It was always that one song, a song she’d written as a “broody teenager” and which had been stuck in her head for her entire life. After singing and humming it to me throughout my entire childhood, it was stuck in my head, too.
After she died, I never allowed myself to even hum it. Every time it popped in my head, I let it play, and then ignored it until it finally went away. But now, as I stood before my father’s grave, placed right next to my mother’s, a ground he didn’t deserve to be buried in, the song came blasting through my head.
“I’m not going to come here again,” I said quietly, staring at the engraving on the tombstone, which read, ‘In loving memory of a dear father, Preston Harper.’ It was a sick joke. Dear father my ass.
“Me, too,” Peter’s deep voice said from next to me, and when I glanced at him, I saw his green eyes peering darkly at the tombstone, reading the words with a different kind of hate from mine. It was, after all, Dad’s fault for putting Peter in the loving care of Alastair, his former foster father. It might’ve been almost six years since Patrick won the custody over him, but the pain and betrayal would never fade away.
Patrick sighed. “It’s just for the one-year anniversary,” he said softly, “we don’t have to come here after today, except for Mom.”
As if on cue, the three of us turned simultaneously to look at Mom’s tombstone, which read the same words, only instead of a dear father it was a dear mother, which was much more well deserved, and her name was Paolina Angioli-Harper.
“Come on,” I said, the song in my head making me feel haunted in this eerily quiet graveyard. “I want to leave.”
“Yeah,” Peter said, grimacing, “me too.”
Patrick nodded, and the three of us left the cemetery, orphaned adults, with no one to turn to, no one to count on, but each other.
“God, I’m tired,” I said as we settled at a booth in our regular hangout pub, Cosmos, in Boston. After the long, four-hours drive from the cemetery in NYC, in which I was chosen to drive by bossy Patrick, who claimed I needed more practice after getting my license earlier this year, I was ready to hit the sack. But my brothers and I had already planned to go to Cosmos, so that would have to wait.
“You’ll get used to it,” Patrick said as he motioned for the waitress to come. She gave him a flirty smile, which he returned; ever since he got the job of senior partner in the law firm he’s been working at for the past three years here in Boston, my older brother had become a serious player. He’d never been this way before; he was usually the relationship type, but it seemed that the weight he carried on his shoulder from becoming a senior partner at the young age of thirty-two, combined with the fact his girlfriend of six-months, Ember, had dumped him during family dinner with Peter and me, telling him he was emotionally available and that she was through with him, Patrick had decided to say enough to monogamy, and hello to man-whore life.
The waitress came by, flushing under Patrick’s obvious interest in the form of a smirk that made me want to gag. “What can I get for you?” she asked, her eyes on Patrick.
“Scotch on the rocks,” Patrick said with a grin. “I had a long day.”
She batted her eyelashes. “Sounds tough,” she said, her voice husky.
I cleared my throat. I had no desire to see my older brother in the act. Ew. “I would like to have gin and tonic,” I said pointedly.
The waitress turned to look at me, and her eyes widened. She then looked at Peter, and chuckled. “Wow, y’all are identical!”
I wouldn’t go as far as to call us identical, but when we sat next to each other like this, no one could miss the fact that we were siblings: all three of us had jet-black hair, only mine was waist-long while Peter and Patrick kept theirs short; we had the same green eyes, courtesy of our mother; and we were all pale and tall, only I stopped growing at five-nine, while my brothers were somewhere in the six-one area. The ones who could’ve truly passed for twins were Patrick and Peter, if there wasn’t more than a ten years gap between them, and if Peter had chosen to keep his bristles in the same way Patrick did, but my brother liked to be clean-shaven. Then there was their built; Patrick was stockier than Peter, since he visited the gym at least three times a week to keep in good shape, while Peter was lanky and slender, not bothering himself with the life of the fit. Not that he needed it to look good; out of the three of us, Peter turned out to be the prettiest.
“Gin and tonic for me, too, please,” Peter murmured, scowling at the waitress. He didn’t like witnessing Patrick flirting any more than I did, but I guess for him it was even more disgusting, since because of the large age gap between them and other circumstances, Patrick was more of a combination between father and brother.
The waitress scribbled off in her notepad, sent a wink to Patrick, and took off. Patrick turned to us. “What’s with the attitude?” he asked, frowning.
“You’re being icky,” I informed him conversationally. “We don’t like seeing you being icky.”
He rolled his eyes. “You are twenty-five, Paige. Don’t say words like ‘icky.’”
“Icky is a great word,” Peter argued, “and it describes you perfectly.”
Patrick gave us a half-amused-half-annoyed look. “Am I not allowed to put the moves in your presence?”
“No,” Peter and I said at once.
Rolling his eyes again, he chuckled. “Fine, but it goes both ways.” He narrowed his eyes and stared at Peter. “Last time we were here, I had to watch you go away with some random dude. That won’t fly anymore.”
Peter grinned mischievously. “You don’t get a say in this.”
“And why the fuck not?” Patrick arched an eyebrow.
“Because,” my baby brother drawled, “if you say it’s disgusting to see me going off with a man, you’ll sound like a homophobe, whereas if I tell you it’s disgusting to see you flirting with women, it sounds plausible.”
Ever since my brother started school at MIT, doing his Bachelors in Humanities and Engineering, he’d become an insufferable twat when it came to arguments, especially since he won all the fucking time. But I liked him this way better than how he’d been after what had happened five years ago, so, despite how irritating he could get, I embraced it, even initiated arguments from time to time just to get him worked up to feel some sort of relief that he was okay, that he was here, and that he wasn’t drowning in a pit of despair anymore -
“Dammit,” Patrick murmured, thankfully cutting my thoughts off. “You should’ve been a lawyer.”
“Nah, bro,” Peter grinned when the waitress returned with our drinks, and took a sip of his gin and tonic. “That’s your job. Wouldn’t want to poach on your territory.”
I snickered as Patrick murmured something before taking a large sip from his scotch. Then he turned to me. “Speaking of jobs, how did that gala event go?”
“Very smoothly,” I said with a wide, smug smile. “Nola was on cloud nine with how good it went, and she already got a few bookings from some of the VIPs who attended the event. Next is the birthday party of one of them.”
“That’s great,” Patrick said, relief evident in his voice. He’d been worried about me, I knew, when I finished college and for a whole year after that, hadn’t been able to hold a job for more than a couple of months. But when I started working for Nola Way, the founder and CEO of her own event organization company, Wayla, as her PA, it seemed like I found my fit. Nola and I had hit it off right from the job interview, and since she was only five years older than me - which made her own accomplishment, starting a company all on her own and making it successful before she even hit thirty - it felt like we were more friends than boss and employee.
“It is,” I agreed, smiling wider. “Never thought I would say this, but I actually look forward to work every day.” And it had been this way in the past two years since I started working at Wayla.
“A blonde man, two o’clock,” Peter suddenly murmured, “he’s staring at our sister as if she’s on the menu.”
My brothers turned to look, probably to scare him away, but I didn’t care much. “I don’t even know why you bother,” I said, taking a sip from my drink. It wasn’t like I was interested. And yet, every time we went to Cosmos and some guy was trying to give me the look, they acted as if he was a prospective boyfriend they needed to intimidate.
“It’s the principle,” Patrick murmured, turning back to look at me. “They see you’re with two men who look like you and are most likely your brothers, and they dare - “
“Oh, fuck you,” I said without heat. “If this is how the logic works, then I should be entitled to scare away any woman or man that comes to this table to hit on you two.”
“It’s not the same,” Peter said, giving me a serious look. “You know why.”
My insides grew cold, but I didn’t reply, not even to tell Peter he was a hypocrite. Because this, what we had now, was light, was worries-free, was just us bonding together, reassuring ourselves we were together, that we were alive, that we had each other. It wasn’t about the ghosts of the past, about the difficult issues we had to tackle on a regular basis, and it wasn’t about what each of us saw every time we closed our eyes.
There was no place for any of it here, and so I forced out a laugh, turned to Patrick, and said, “You know, I think it’s time you should meet Nola. She’s really cute…”