PART ONE ~ INTRO
"I'm gonna tell her how I feel."
Mac takes a drag of his cigarette and glances at me. I smirk, and the fucker gives me the finger.
"Do you think she likes me too?" Mackenzie's tone is layered with anguish. This time, I decide to put him out of his misery.
"It's Annie. You've known each other for ages."
"That doesn't mean shit."
"Wrong. She knows you've never gotten your dick wet. She knows you smoke. She knows you like Fight Club, and she knows you would fight for her. She knows you, Mac. She's been there for you through all the shit. Of course, Annie will agree to be your girl."
Mac blushes. He doesn't do it often, and the sight makes me snigger.
"I'm asking her out tonight, then. Wish me luck."
I bite back a grin. "You don't need it."
We are silent for a while, smoking as we stare at the lake in front of us. School is over till September. The evening is warm. Life feels good.
Mackenzie's eyes cling to mine. "If she says yes and we start dating, I will give her a promise ring in four years."
Mac inhales another lungful of smoke and shrugs. "She will be eighteen. Remember this — on her graduation night at the Temple. You will be there with me, making sure I don't lose my shit. Promise?"
Mackenzie's eyes swirl with emotion, and blush bursts on his cheeks again.
"Promise," I say, putting my hand on Mac's shoulder.
I might not understand how he feels. I've never been in love, after all. I'm pretty sure that shit isn't for me. But Mackenzie is my best friend, and I will support him and his decisions no matter what.
I toss over and beat at my pillow. It's wet, and I hate it. My eyes rove over my bedroom at Jim's, and tears spring from them again.
I need a smoke or a drink. Probably both; whatever to calm down my wayward thoughts. Whatever to stop thinking about Leah and the night we spent together in this very room, loving each other.
My brother had to leave, but I know he will be home soon. He's treating me as if I were a fragile recipient about to break. Or a damn baby. Or someone suicidal.
The third option is more likely. Jim hid every sharp object he had at his condo. I saw him pack knives and razors into a bag and take it somewhere. He also got rid of the meds he had.
He doesn't realize that if I wanted to end my life, I would have found a way. The thought crossed my mind, but the promise I gave Mac keeps me anchored to this miserable existence in which I replay the accident over and over again until I cannot take it anymore.
I think about that night all the time. I drive myself crazy with hundreds of what-ifs and whys. I hate Ferdinand and Bella.
But more than hating them, I hate myself.
The key turns in the lock. I hear Jim kick off his shoes and pad to my room. He opens the door and loiters in the doorway.
"Hey," I greet him.
"Hey, little fucker. Come to the living room. We need to talk."
I roll out of bed and drag my feet to the huge sectional where Jim is already sitting with his hands clasped on his knees in front of him.
I know he's been lying to me. Jim isn't okay. Something is going on with his girl, and he is traveling to see Kennedy in Paris in a couple of days. I suspect he wants to escape this city and country as much as I do. Jim looks heartbroken, and the sadness in his green eyes makes me apprehensive.
"I'm against what you're gonna do," Jim says.
I open my mouth, but he raises his hand and doesn't let me speak.
"Listen. I'm against it. I feel like shit for lying to our parents. I hate hiding the truth from your girl. I hate everything about your decision, but I love you. I love you, and I will support you. That's why I went to talk to Doctor Morris."
"The one who treats Mac?"
"One of the doctors who treat him. I asked about that person, and it turns out the doctor knows the guy. Everything is legit. What he offered you isn't a scam."
I swallow the lump in my throat and nod. "Thank you, Jim."
"I only have a couple of requests," Jim says, turning his eyes on me. "You will pick up your phone each time I call. You will make sure to call our parents once a week. And you won't lie to me. If you're in danger, if shit gets rough, if you wanna come back, you're gonna tell me. Promise, or else—"
Jim rises to his feet and walks up to me. I stand up, too.
Jim whispers that he loves me, and I do the same.
I do it once again the following morning, at dawn, next to the airplane. The giant engine is too damn noisy. I can barely hear my voice when I say goodbye to my brother.
"Visit Mac for me, okay? And Leah."
Jim wraps me in his arms and says, "Will do. Take care of yourself, 'kay?"
"Promise. I'll call you as soon as we land."
Jim lets go of me. I take a deep breath and climb the airstairs. When I'm about to enter the plane, I look at my brother once more.
Jim waves at me but doesn't move. He stays rooted to the spot with his hands buried in his pockets, watching my every step.
He always watches and always worries. Jim pulled me out of the lake where I was about to drown as a kid, and he pulled me out of the hole I fell into after what happened to Mac. Jim isn't just my big brother. He is my guardian angel.
I blink away the unwelcome moisture and inhale.
Then, I exhale.
And I take a step forward.