Fraternal Love Ch. 01byPS_Lopez©
Okay, so I'd spent the night crying. Actually, it had been something of a relief. I'd been grieving for the past six months as Mom's health deteriorated. I just hadn't cried. But now, it meant that I felt exhausted and emotionally shot.
When I entered my mother's lawyer's office, I found my brother already present. I felt the slow burn of jealousy twist in my chest and ignored it. Kieran looked like shit, pure and simple. I turned my gaze away from him, feeling a little resentful. I'd dropped everything to care for Mom, who wouldn't endure the presence of a home nurse, and Kieran had--well, he'd done what our parents had long ago told him to do. He'd managed the business and lived his own life.
I dropped into the chair next to the one my brother sat in, facing the lawyer. I wiggled until I slouched in the damn thing, propped my arm on the armrest, and put my head in my hand. For some odd reason, Harlan had said I had to be present, and he hadn't explained why. I hadn't bothered to ask.
I did my best to ignore Kieran. It took a lot of concentration not to think of him. It took even more focus to ignore the memories that wanted to surface. I hadn't seen him since he'd been twenty-two and I'd been twenty-nine.
He'd had the management of the family business for the past six years; co-management of it for four years previous. Textiles. Worldwide. Dad had jerked it out of my hands because my brother had proven a better academic success, among other things. I'd actually been rather relieved to lose the responsibility, but at the same time I'd been pissed. It wasn't like we'd been failing. And it wasn't as if, over the years, Kieran had proven to be any better at it all than I had. It was that Kieran was the perfect one. The Golden Boy.
But, really, Dad had simply used that as part of a way to manipulate me out of Kieran's life.
I remembered being jealous when Kieran had been born. I was seven, had been an only child, and now, suddenly, there was a baby. He'd tagged after me until I left for college. Actually, I'd gotten kind of used to it, and, in my more honest moments, I had admitted that I missed him. It wasn't his fault he'd proven to be the better behaved of the two of us, the one who caused the least stress and worry. Not that I'd caused it deliberately. I just couldn't seem not to cause it.
And he was really a nice guy. Thoughtful, kind, generous, intelligent. When I'd been around him, I'd loved him. It had been impossible not to do so. He was just lovable. Everyone loved him, and I hadn't been able to make myself the exception.
Even if Mom and Dad kind of forgot about me when they realized how perfect he was. Well, that's what it had felt like. Kieran had been precocious, and spoke early. He crawled, walked, learned to read--hell, learned to do pretty much everything early. And then his perfect temperament. I swear, if he'd been born completely blind, he probably would have learned to see.
So, I sat in Harlan's office, basically ignoring everything around me so I could ignore my brother, my jealousy, my love-hate thing going on. I just wanted this all to be over with. Hadn't I done enough already?
Oh, I'd wanted to do it. I won't lie about that. It wasn't like my life, much less my "career," had been progressing in a spectacularly positive fashion. Mom's pleading call of, "Come help me, Braxton, I hate to take Kieran from the business," had come at pretty much the right time. I'd taken care to arrange with Mom the aspects of what my life was to be with her. I'd said I'd accept room and board and I didn't need anything else. She'd ignored that after I'd moved in and shuffled a stipend into a bank account under both our names and that had been it. And she'd been generous.
After Dad ripped the pending responsibility of the business out of my hands, I'd finally given up trying to please my parents in the way I had before Kieran's intelligence became obvious. Especially Dad. Like I said, I hadn't really enjoyed the responsibility, but it would have been nice if Dad hadn't invited me into his office and unfavorably compared me to Kieran before sending me packing. That part had actually hurt worse than the legal threats. Well, the legal threats had compensated by frightening me.
I'd deliberately distanced myself from my family, according to Dad's directives. I kept up with Mom, though, if secretly. So she'd gone a little gaga over Kieran. I could deal with that. I had, too, after all. Mom had still loved me, even if I wasn't as perfect as him and had disappointed even her.
And, really, after Dad's last heart attack, she'd come to rely on me a lot. We'd spoken almost daily. We'd reconciled. I'd loved her.
"What?" Kieran shouted.
That startled me out of my reverie of deliberate thoughtlessness. I raised my head and looked at Kieran. Hell, he'd sounded like someone had taken his favorite toy from him. I thought it might be his general air of grief that contributed to that particular tone of voice, but he now sat in his chair, upright, leaning forward, hands gripping the ends of the armrests.
"What?" I sounded just as bad. I looked at Harlan.
"Weren't you listening, Braxton?" the lawyer asked.
I blinked and knuckled my eyes with my thumbs. "Harlan, we buried our mother yesterday and I've spent the past two nights awake. I'm too exhausted to hear a fire klaxon if you held the alarm right up to my ear."
Beside me, Kieran threw himself backwards into his chair. "Well, you'll certainly be pleased, then."
I turned my head, eyes wide. Kieran had sounded snide. He glanced at me, then turned his head to glare.
"Right now, Kieran, nothing could please me," I snapped in return. My usual temperament with regards to things in general now, no matter to whom I was speaking. Even Kieran. The resentment felt sour, but in an odd way pleasant.
"Oh, right, because you took care of Mom out of the kindness of your heart." Kieran waved a hand. "Because you're such an angel."
I looked at Harlan. He was actually younger than me, but that didn't matter. He was the authority here, had actually become something of a friend because he'd helped me navigate Mom's legal issues over the past few months. He set his copy of Mom's will down and frowned at Kieran.
Kieran snorted and shifted, propping his head on his right hand, probably so he couldn't see me out of the corner of his eye.
"What did I miss, Harlan?" I asked.
"Your mother left you everything except the business and the profit which your brother has earned since he took over." Thankfully, he didn't employ legal talk.
I sighed a little. "Oh." Something cold slithered through me. I stood up. "Well, then, continue disposing of it as Mom had previously arranged. I need time to think of what to do with the rest of it all. I'll call you in a couple days, Harlan."
I left his office. Time to get some sleep.
The problem of what to do with the mansion was easy to solve. I emptied it of its furniture, which I donated to a local secondhand store which supported one of Mom's charities, and left it at that after hiring a realtor. I sent Mom's car off to the organization she'd told me to send it to--yet another supporter of one of Mom's charity interests. I donated her clothes, the knickknacks, the decorations. Everything. All to places where the money from the items' sales would go to charities Mom had supported.
Within two weeks of Mom's death, I'd already moved into a small apartment. Now I holed up at my new home, writing up a new resume, circling job ads in the paper, doing job hunts online. I did realize I didn't have to work any more. I was rich to the tune of someteen million now. Maybe not extravagantly independent, but I certainly wasn't going to run out of funds within my lifetime, even though I'd decided to continue donating as Mom had begun. Two thousand a month, steadily to six different charities, twelve months a year. I figured that I should start running out of money about the time I turned one hundred fifty.
When I heard knocking on my front door, which was not hard to do as I was seated under a window in the living room, I set my laptop aside and rose. I'd moved into what I liked to call a strip-mall apartment. Basically, a single apartment building whose units were directly accessible from outside. No gates or fences, no security of any kind.
Hell, since I could afford what I wanted, that was what I'd gone for. Thus far, I'd found the community a very friendly one, but I knew I hadn't met everyone. They just came up and knocked on my door and shared gossip after self introductions, made comments on my lack of furniture, and generally did their best to make friends with me. I expected to find a neighbor I hadn't yet met on the other side of the door.
So I was rather surprised to find Kieran there instead.
I stared at him, trying to decide how I felt. Well, nothing, really, at first. A little resentment, maybe. Old jealousy. But they were old and didn't really stir up. Other emotions rose to a greater degree, and I did my best to ignore them.
He pushed me aside and entered. I stared at him, holding the door open. When had he become arrogant? Like the snide comment about me being happy, this arrogance was far out of character for him.
"Come on in." I didn't bother to restrain the sarcasm in my voice, then pulled myself together and shut the door. "Want anything, Kieran? Come on this way. I've got a couple chairs in the kitchen."
I turned and led the way and got to the fridge before I realized he hadn't followed. I shut the fridge and went to the kitchen doorway, placing my hand on the corner.
Kieran stood where he'd stopped after entering. His head turned back and forth. He shifted continually, hands propping on hips, dropping to his sides, feet shifting, weight moving back and forth.
"I don't believe it."
He spoke softly, still looking around, still fidgeting. He smoothed his hand over his brown hair, huffed a breath. I stepped forward a little and leaned against the end of the wall, folding my arms over my chest. My brother stilled, head turned as though he were staring at my laptop, sitting quietly on the lap desk I'd bought a couple days ago after getting tired of backaches from hunching over it when it had been on the floor.
"I don't fucking believe it."
"What don't you believe, Kieran?"
He jumped and turned around, right hand clapped to his chest over his heart. I swallowed. He'd always been a nice-looking guy, and he'd recovered from the first phase of grief enough that his looks looked good again. Maybe not perfect, but that was to be expected.
He looked around, then raised his arms and dropped them to his sides. "That you live here." He turned his head to look around again as he waved the same hand he'd raised to his heart at the room.
I looked around. Sure, it wasn't the best place I could have chosen, but I liked it. It had lots of windows, a little balcony with sliding glass doors off the back, between the windows on the wall across from the entrance. It had decent-sized bedrooms. It had real carpet, if in a subdued beige, and I'd been allowed to have one of the living room walls painted a different color than white; I'd chosen a nice, peaceful sea-green hue.
"Oh." Now I understood. "Well come on in here. I'll get you something to drink."
Turning away from him was something of a relief. He'd looked good at eighteen, nineteen, twenty through twenty-two. He looked better at thirty-two, idiotic resentment and jealousy and all. Turning away so I couldn't see him felt like a very good idea at the moment.
"What have you got?"
I heard him scrape a chair around as I gave him the list of beverages I had in my fridge. I then listed what I had ready to eat. I kept my gaze focused on the plastic container holding the remainder of last night's supper. My brother made his selections.
I kept my back to him as much as possible as I poured his juice and cut the apple. He'd always been redundant like this. Apples with apple juice, oranges with orange juice, grapes with grape juice. Never the juice with anything else. The fruit only with the juice. I realized what I was doing after I'd cut the apple in half and cut one half in half again. Oh, well. I finished what I'd started, scooping the bits of core out with the knife.
As I put the juice away, I realized that I'd been half-expecting Kieran to find me. I'd bought what he liked. Apple juice and Granny Smith apples. Orange juice and Florida oranges. Grape juice and seedless purple grapes. Well, I'd more than half expected his appearance. I'd fully expected it.
Resentment tried to rise. It gave up as I threw the apple core bits away and picked up the glass and saucer, leaving the knife on the counter. I crossed the kitchen, set the things down, and pulled out a chair facing perpendicular to my brother's direction and sat. I leaned forward on the table, hands clasped.
"So, you decided to care for Mom when she wouldn't let you hire in-home nurses?" Kieran was still doing his best to sound snide.
"No." I blinked back fresh tears. "I did it because she asked."
"Oh, really?" Kieran sneered. He took a bite out of an apple quarter.
I leaned back in my chair, leaving my clasped hands on the table. "Believe what you will." I wasn't going to argue over this with him.
"You can afford to be complacent. You, after all, haven't had to work for what you now have."
I somehow resisted flinching. That had hurt. I considered offering to assist him, then decided against it. He clearly resented me right now. He'd probably assume I'd made the suggestion out of greed.
"What's your problem, Kieran?" I asked without rancor. I really didn't care at this point if he answered or not.
He took another bite of apple and spoke around his mouthful. "You left."
"Yeah." I couldn't feel anything but resigned.
Dad had understood Kieran very well. He'd made sure that Kieran wasn't anywhere around when he'd told me to disappear from Kieran's life and never reappear. If Kieran had been present, there would have been an argument, and Kieran would have refused the responsibility of the business. He'd have offered to work with me, but not if I wasn't present also. Dad had known that, so he'd sent me away and, I saw now, told Kieran some pack of lies to win Kieran's cooperation.
Now I understood why Mom had asked me to absent myself during Kieran's visits with her. She'd known. Well, I didn't blame her for keeping the secret. She'd been right to do so. It did hurt, this resentment from Kieran. And anger. I knew they were there now.
I could understand how Kieran felt. In his point of view, I'd just run away, dropped out of their lives. I'd broken promises I'd made to him, some during his childhood, and a big one I'd made when . . .
I shoved the memories aside. We were older now. We'd long ago outgrown that, even if I shouldn't have participated in the first place. We'd been forced apart, and I'd told myself long ago that what Dad had done had actually been as much a good thing as it had been a bad thing. I stared at my clasped hands; my grips had tightened so my knuckles showed white and pale spots surrounded my fingertips on the backs of my hands.
"I didn't mean to hurt you."
"Right." He began chewing, apparently the last bite of the first quarter of his apple. I heard him swallow, and he swallowed some more. The glass tapped against the table. "You know, I never understood why you abandoned it all."
I heard the distinct note of "why you abandoned me" in his voice. It made me wince a little and I pulled my hands back. I opened them over my abdomen but kept my fingers woven. What to say? I didn't see the point in trying to speak against Dad, even if I knew I'd be telling the truth.
I wouldn't have called my brother naïve, but he tended to see the best in people until he believed he'd been proven otherwise. No doubt Dad had used that to his advantage, had let Kieran realize my departure before saying anything about it, and had surely done so in a reluctant manner so as to appear to be unhappy with relaying the news.
So, thanks to my abrupt departure under threat of legal measures being raised against me, and Dad's knowledge of Kieran's character, and with the aid of a few lies, Dad had won himself a loyal angel while getting rid of someone who hadn't pleased him since that angel had displayed his perfection.
What legal measures? Well, Dad had found out somehow about the precise nature of the relationship Kieran and I had shared. He'd also somehow known it had begun kind of mutually when Kieran was eighteen and I was twenty-five. Dad had even admitted that he knew Kieran had been a willing participant in it. Then Dad had calmly announced that he'd be more than willing to pin all the guilt on me, claim I'd seduced Kieran, manipulated Kieran into it.
Four years. Summer vacations from college. Holiday visits. Spring breaks. Hours-long phone calls every weekend.
Oh, it hadn't started all at once. We'd always been rather close, but our sibling relationship had fluctuated as all do. Things didn't really intensify until Kieran's first semester at the University of Pennsylvania. Same Ivy League college Dad had gone to, the same one Dad had sent me to. Kieran had hated it.
Now, I had no idea who had first really started the intimacy, but I did recall that it had begun on the phone during Kieran's first semester. I still remembered one conversation, sometime during Thanksgiving weekend that year, when I'd brought up what we'd embarked upon.
I'd been in my bedroom at home, sometime around eight my time, ten Kieran's time. He'd already had nice long chats with Mom and Dad, saving our talk for last.
"Kieran, you know that this is wrong."
"Yeah." He drew it out in his usual "I'm guilty" manner.
I shifted, not liking that guilt. Still, I felt the same. "Maybe we should stop."
"You don't really want to, do you?" He sounded uncertain now.
I pulled up my right knee and propped my arm on it, staring at the door to my bedroom. I took my time thinking about it. I was the elder, after all. I knew I should put a stop to this. But.
"Not really." I sounded guilty, too.
"Okay, then," Kieran had said, and I'd heard the smile in his voice. It had made me smile, too.
After that, our conversation that night had moved on to other things. But our first topic had hovered under everything we later said. Not only for the remainder of that night, but even during the rest of our phone conversations until Christmas break.
I sighed, pulling my mind out of the memories. That first Christmas break, we hadn't done anything. Just danced around each other, endlessly reiterating our discussions about what we wanted to do.
And now, here I was, verbally dancing around Kieran again. I was trapped. I could tell him the truth, but he'd never believe it.
"Where'd you put the stuff?" Kieran asked.
I knew what he meant. Stuff that couldn't be sold. Personal files, mostly. Most of them Dad's.
"With Harlan. Have at 'em."
I would have offered to help him with it all, seeing as I'd been helping Mom with the most recent stuff, after all. But, again, Kieran would assume some ulterior motive. What, I didn't know, and I certainly didn't want to find out. Things were bad enough already.
"Why did you leave, Braxton?"
I looked up at my brother. He averted his gaze and bit into another quarter of apple.
"Because I had to."
He probably wouldn't believe anything I said throughout this conversation, but I didn't see any choice. I refused to lie about anything.
"What's that mean? Dad only kicked you out of the business. You're the one who walked out of our lives."