It’s almost midnight and all I’ve done till now is pace around in my room. Should I...?
Making my final decision, I march over to the door separating him from me and send a prayer to whoever is listening for the door to be unlocked.
Gently turning the knob, the door swings open much to my relief.
“Xavier, I can ex—” The room that greets me is shrouded in dark with only the soft glow of the moonlight seeping through the floor to ceiling window.
I forgot not everyone sleeps at near dawn. Thinking it best to retrieve, my feet softly and without a noise takes a few steps back.
A pained groan stops me in my track. It’s barely there but I’m sure I heard it. I see the silhouette on the bed shift and my brows crease in worry. Is he okay?
Unable to help myself, I step forward this time and don’t stop until I’ve reached the side of his bed.
Xavier’s forehead is glistening with sweat under the moonlight, his brows pulled together and his lips parted in a pained expression that takes me back to the day we got locked in the storage room at the party.
Before I can comprehend anything, my hand makes its way to his hair and gently brushes away a few rogue strands falling over his closed eyelids.
Instead of snatching my arm away, my fingers find their way through his hair and I lightly stroke them. A sigh escapes his lips and the frown on his face becomes less prominent making me smile to myself.
The next few seconds happen in a blink of an eye. A hand larger than mine shoots forward and grabs my wrist and pulls harshly. My body follows and the next thing I know, I’m lying on my back on the bed with Xavier hovering over me.
His hands pin my wrists above my head and his face is mere inches from mine. I also realize that he doesn’t have a shirt on which makes me gulp audibly.
My silk nightdress has ridden up my thigh, exposing my skin as his leg rests between mine. If I even breathe deeply, my breasts are going to brush against his bare chest.
Xavier’s head dips low and he whispers in my ear, warm breath tickling my skin sending goosebumps throughout my body. “Don’t you know it’s bad to barge in someone’s room without permission?”
His husky voice warms to my core and I almost close my eyes from the way his body is covering mine. Instead, I bite my lip hard to make myself focus on his words and not the way his legs are pressing against my thighs.
“Shh.” I feel his lips behind my ear, in a feather-light touch. My eyes close on their own and I melt under him.
And then he’s gone.
It’s like someone threw a bucket of ice water on me. Taking deep breaths to calm my rapid heartbeat, I get up in a sitting position.
“You shouldn’t be here, Thea.”
“I know. I was going to leave but I saw you...you had a nightmare?”
He doesn’t meet my eye but I see him nod once.
“Will you be able to go back to sleep again?”
He shakes his head.
“Is there anything that helps you sleep?”
I have an idea which I’m sure he’ll be reluctant to try. Grazing my bottom lip with my teeth, I decide to just go with it.
“Come here,” I say as I make myself comfortable with my back to the headboard.
I gesture for him to put his head on my lap and he gives me a look that suggests I should be put in an asylum. Rolling my eyes, I grab a fistful of his hair and tug gently.
He follows and as soon as his head rests on my lap, I feel his body tense.
“What are you doing?” He asks when I start combing my fingers through his silky, soft strands.
I continue to stroke his hair, my fingers grazing his scalp softly. On instinct, a lullaby comes to mind—one my mother used to hum while she played with my hair whenever I couldn’t sleep.
I do so as well, hoping it will bring him the same relief it used to bring me.
Xavier’s eyes close but the tension in his muscles remains. Slowly but surely, he relaxes and within five minutes, he’s out like a light.
A smile plays on my lips knowing I helped him sleep.
And before I know it, my eyes are drifting in and out of focus as I give in to the dark abyss.
It was the second death anniversary of our parents. I couldn’t believe that we had just spent two years without them. And among everything else, all I could think about was how Alex must be coping.
He was two years older than me but that didn’t mean he always had to wear that stupid brave face for my sake. He didn’t even cry in front of anyone anymore but I knew he did it alone because I noticed his red-rimmed eyes every time he exited the bathroom.
I noticed everything...or so I thought.
That morning I woke up with a renewed urge to talk to my brother and really connect because in those two years we had, unknowingly, drifted apart and I intended to repair the damage.
I just wish I had done that sooner. Maybe then I wouldn’t have had to face that incident.
Maybe then, I wouldn’t have lost another loved one.
Maybe then, I wouldn’t have to carry this guilt around with me every day, every second of my existence.
I had entered his room in a determined state only to find him lying motionless on his bed. His legs were hanging by the side and I thought it was odd that he would sleep like that.
Alex’s face was turned to the other side so I wasn’t sure if he was sleeping, His chest wasn’t moving. Maybe it was the angle I was watching from?
So, I made my way around his bed so I could poke him awake.
If he was really asleep, why was froth coming out of his mouth? I didn’t want to acknowledge it, didn’t want to admit what I already knew.
I was thirteen but I wasn’t stupid.
“Alex?” I shook his arm. His skin was ice cold as I held on tightly, hoping to warm him up. “Alex. Wake up.”
This time, I shook his shoulder. “Wake up.” My voice was deadly calm for a child holding onto a dead body.
Something came under my feet and I looked down to see a medicine bottle. Empty.
“Alex, please?” My lips were trembling, hands shaking but I refused to cry. “Don’t you leave me as well.”
I knew it was futile but I still kept on talking. To a dead body. I must have been seriously fucked up.
“If it’s so hard for you, talk to me. I promise I’ll listen. I won’t judge. I’ll even keep quiet when you tell me too. I swear I won’t irritate you anymore so...please...” my voice broke but I still refused to let the tears fall. “Don’t leave. Not you too.”
My brother remained lifeless. He didn’t open his eyes. He didn’t move. He didn’t breathe anymore.
I started humming the lullaby our mother used to sing hoping it would help Alex sleep as peacefully as it did for me. Would he be at peace now?
I stayed beside Alex for another forty minutes, silently soaking everything in.
There was no way for me to talk to Alex anymore. He was gone. He had been gone for a long time then. I just didn’t realize till he was physically gone as well. Dead.
He was dead.
On the same day, our parents had died two years ago.
That meant I wouldn’t need to visit the cemetery twice a year. I could visit once only on their anniversary. Convenient.
That was the conclusion I had reached in those forty minutes. I really was fucked up. Still am, I think.
After that, I had gone downstairs to inform Beth that Alex was no more with us. I had placed a sheet over his body to spare Beth the image of her nephew’s corpse and she didn’t dare remove it. Nobody did.
They never saw what I saw.
Alex didn’t leave any note. He just left. Quietly. Without a word.
I didn’t cry that day. Or the day after. Or the year after when I visited their grave for my parent’s third death anniversary and my brother’s first.
I haven’t cried since.
What I didn’t know is I’d be shedding them all at once five years later, in the most magnificent hotel the country has ever seen.
What do you think of little Thea?
I loved writing this chapter. It’s going to get interesting from here on out.
Don’t forget to comment your thoughts!