Little Things Ch. 04 of 04bynomennescio©
I highly recommend beginning with section 1.
Next morning, the sky looms again grey and dismal, heavy with the threat of renewed snowfall. My body's cold and stiff as I awaken, the chill of desolation in my bones. It's an effort just to rouse my limbs to motion. Eating breakfast a mechanical exercise, the rich food tasteless in my mouth as I avoid eye contact with David across the table. And afterward, diving eagerly for the chores of the farm, a familiar distraction in checking the coop for fresh eggs, tending to the young calves. Still keeping away from my brother, taking tasks that put me elsewhere. Not wanting to have to look at him right now, when even silence says more than it should.
A heavy load today, almost noon by the time we're finished. Late enough. A few minutes to freshen up, to throw on a new and more attractive set of clothes. Not exactly easy to show some skin in the middle of winter. I pick out a thin white blouse and a pair of tight jeans, but the thick sweater I have to throw on top probably ruins what little appeal it has. Whatever. Eyeliner. Lipstick. Nothing fancy, just a light carmine. Just a little help for the plain-faced girl I see in the mirror.
We keep the keys to the truck on a nail downstairs; I pick them up, and almost make it to the driver's side door before I hear his voice behind me. "Wait!" Loudly, across the snowy field. He's jogging towards me when I glance backwards, swiftly closing the distance between us. A clean shirt hastily tossed on, rumpled beneath his open jacket. "I want to come with you."
"You don't even know where I'm going." Flatly. Not that I'm much more certain myself. But most of my high school boyfriends still live in town; maybe one of them would be up for a visit. For old times' sake. "Anyway, no, you don't."
"I do." He affirms with some force, his breath coming slightly short as he steps alongside the passenger side door. Last night's misery in partial retreat, his aspect reinforced with a firmer determination. "Sam, I'm still your brother, even if...even if all that other stuff is over. You're only here for a week - I want to spend time with you."
A snort, a shake of the head. Dismissive - moreso than I really feel. "Jesus." Whatever he thinks right now, I know he wouldn't really want to come along if he knew what I had in mind. It would be cruel to bring him, to force him to watch as I proposition an ex. Or 'reconnect with.' However you want to say it. Amounts to the same thing, a cheap fuck to free my brother from my mind's lower quarters, to remind my body that there are other guys out there.
Maybe I need to be cruel, though. Need to make him realize that I'm not whatever kind of shining angel he thinks I am. If he loves me too much...maybe I need to make him hate me. How much simpler it would be if he did, if I didn't have the chance and choice to fall into his arms...so I push up the corners of my mouth into a tight, false smile. "Fine." The truck doors unlocking with a click. "Get in." A look near relief on his face as he pops open the door. If only he knew.
We don't speak again until nearly into town, until I need to figure out exactly where I'm going. "Is Eric still working at the repair shop?" Trying for a casual tone. Foolish - David knows me better than that. And besides, any words feel weighty after long minutes of silence.
"Eric?" David speaks it slowly, working through the implications. "Yeah, far as I know. Why?"
I ignore the question. "Is he seeing anyone?"
"I don't think so." A beat. He looks at me; I keep my gaze fixed straight ahead. "I thought you didn't like him much."
I didn't. I mean, he was okay. My last boyfriend before graduation, before leaving for college. We'd gotten pretty hot and heavy after prom, but that was it. There was nothing wrong with the guy, really, but not much right, either; I mostly went out with him because...well, you had to have somebody. Or so it seemed, at the time. He didn't have the grades for State, nor the interest, honestly, and when he made noises about commitment, about a long-distance relationship, I was equivocal enough for him to get the hint. We never even broke up, technically. Just...stopped.
Now, though, I figure all that makes him more or less ideal. No bad memories, no broken hearts. Maybe a pinch of nostalgia. "He was fine." Muttering vaguely. I recognize how weak this sounds, and stab out blindly. "Sane, you know. Didn't want to bang his sister."
David stiffens in the seat beside me. "Sam, don't." Injured, but trying for some pitiful dignity. "You don't have to say it, I-"
"What, you just want me to shut up?" Snapping at him venomously, my throat tight. I need to be awful, need to drive him away. To take hold of the helpless anger, the frustration that smoulders in my heart and turn it against him. "You beg to come along, but you don't want to listen to me?"
His head shakes, low and helpless. Staring out the window at the buildings passing here on the outskirts of town, small homes with large yards buried in a blanket of white. His breath fogging faint on the window. "I'll listen."
"It's pathetic." Brutally, the words oozing revulsion. "Like you're a goddamn twelve-year-old who just figured out what girls are. You know? Like you're such a fucking...freak, you can't even manage a real relationship with anyone outside your family." My jaw clenching tight for a moment, breath hissing through my nose. "'Course, when you try to fuck them, those tend to get screwed up too."
"I didn't want that to happen." His voice comes quiet and sorrowful, a sound of almost stillness against the steady rumble of the engine. "It's why I was afraid of telling you, that if I did I might lose...what we have. Lose you."
"Yeah, well, great work on that." Sarcasm, cutting and vicious. "You were real fucking careful. Everything's just peachy."
"Sam..." My name sounding like a sorrowful sigh. His body shifts, and he's staring into my eyes. Soft and imploring, in the moment before I turn away. "We can go back, can't we? Back to normal, to being just brother and sister." Swallowing uncomfortably, a quiet, delicate sound. "Just let it all be a mistake."
Bitter laughter, brief and low. "You can never go back. You can't...unshatter a glass, can't unscramble an egg. Can't forget. You just have to live with the shit you've done. That's how the world fucking works. You break it, and it stays broken." My fingers tighten on the fake leather of the steering wheel, my gut churning with blind, aimless fury. God damn it. God damn it, it's not fair. "For fuck's sake, David, why?" A sliver of pain sneaks in beneath the storm. "Why'd you have to be like this? Why couldn't you just be happy with Sarah, or whoever?"
Silence. His hand settles wearily on the window, staring hopelessly out. Half a dozen seconds before a response finally comes, weak and resigned. "I don't know." His hands clasped loosely in his lap. "I mean, I thought about that. About how weird it was, how...crazy, I guess. And how unlikely that we would ever have what I dreamed about. I tried, you know?" Glancing over forlornly. "Tried to be normal. But...well, I told you what happened. It just felt wrong. I couldn't do it. Couldn't be happy with her, or make her happy, if I really loved someone else."
"Love." The words spill out quick and hot. "God, you're an idiot. There's no such thing. There's attraction, there's infatuation, but there's no goddamn love, no soulmates, no perfect, eternal emotion, or whatever the hell you think you feel. It's a fucking fiction." Pouring the scorn into my voice. Hate me, please just hate me. "There's nothing deeper out there than getting your dick wet, okay? And if you have half a brain, that's what you'll focus on. Forget about me, find some girl who'll let you stick it to her, because I won't. Understand?" My lips curling up to an almost snarl. "You're never going to touch me again."
David doesn't try to answer. Doesn't have much time to, either, as I pull to a stop beneath the crude, handpainted sign of "Tom's Garage." A small and dingy place, with crumbling stucco walls and a permanent oil stain on the street outside. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence, but I guess a repair shop doesn't have to if it's the only one in town. Eric was working here as a part-time job when we were together. Guess he made it full-time, though I wouldn't have thought the shop even did enough business to justify it.
I'm in no fit state to enter, though. Not yet. Have to sit there with the engine running as I try to regain my cool, to work myself back to a state of mind where I might hope to be flirtatious. Stamping down the gnawing of frustration in my gut, checking my lipstick in the rear-view mirror while David looks on in pensive, mournful silence. When I finally pop open the door, the breeze outside is an icy caress on my cheek, a sudden chill that arrests me briefly in the seat. A moment of pause for me to glance over, tiredly remark "Come in. Or don't. Whatever."
He does, of course. The door to the customer area jingles cheerfully as we step inside, a vague industrial smell of oil and rust filling the air. Half a dozen ratty plastic chairs lining the walls of the small room, and a shoddy cash register atop a counter at the far end. Nobody in sight, at least immediately - but as I wander up towards the counter, a figure strides in through the back doorway, wiping off his hands with an old rag. He almost drops it as he catches sight of me.
"Well, I'll be damned." It's Eric. Not too much changed by the last three years, at least as far as appearances go. Dark auburn hair, a few inches long and loosely rumpled on his scalp. Eyes of hazel, with a perpetually sleepy look. A blue work shirt, stained with grease and open at the chest to reveal the wife beater beneath. Still barely an inch taller than me, but broader now than I remember him. A trifle thicker, too. The voice is familiar, words slightly slurred with the trace of a twang inherited from his parents. "Samantha Potts. I woulda bet money I was never gonna set eyes on you again."
"Eric." A faint smile curving my lips as I urge myself into the moment. "I wasn't sure whether you were going to remember me."
"Aw, come on now." He sets the rag down beside the register, reclines easily against the counter. "Like I'd forget the girl that ran off and broke my heart." The words belied by his confident grin.
"Yeah, right." I manage a bit of a laugh. "I'm sure you were sneaking kisses off somebody else within the week."
"Well, I'm right flattered you think so." A smirk lightly traced on his expression. "Even if I was really draining out my stash of booze at the time." His eyes fix on me curiously, with a little shake of the head. "What brings you out here, anyway? Something gone wrong with that truck of yours?"
"Nah, it's fine." A casual shrug. "Actually, I was hoping to run into you."
"Really?" Surprise blooms visibly on his face, before being ushered back behind a mask of cool.
"Sure, why not?" Forcing a flirtatious purse onto my lips. "Home for the holidays, you know. Found myself thinking about you." True enough, as far as it goes. I nod my head over towards David, lurking in grim silence near the door. "My brother told me you were still working here."
Eric glances over then, his posture stiffening a trace as he seems to take notice of David for the first time. "Hey there, man." An uncertain smile of greeting, met with a curt, unfriendly nod; he looks a little less at ease as he turns his gaze back to me. "Guess I shouldn't be too surprised to see him following you around, huh?"
"Wish you could be." I have to look away, let my gaze flit around the room's dusty walls as my smile tightens, my voice perhaps rising a trifle, seeking David's ears. "Kinda trying to get him off my tail, honestly. The 'little lost puppy' act gets a bit tiresome, you know?"
"Ah...yeah..." Eric answers cautiously, scratching at the day or so of stubble on his angular cheek. "I reckon I could see that. No offense there, Dave. I hear you're doin' great things for the team." An apologetic aside, before his eyes jump back to me. There's quiet for a moment as a calculating look passes through his expression, a gamble swiftly taken. "Gotta say, Samantha, I'm real glad you decided to stop in. After spending all day working on a van with a busted cylinder casing, seeing your pretty face is like waking up to a California vacation."
An awkward line. Overwrought, rehearsed - god knows how long he's been waiting to use it, or whom he planned to use it on. Still, hearing it almost a comfort. It's just the game, the exercise of flirtation; I know my role, know the rules. Tossing my head to the side, so my hear swirls a moment before my eyes. Letting my body kink sideways at the hip, so it flares outward for his gaze. An affected lilt to my voice, reaction tailored to the tone of his overture. "Aww, you're sweet." Letting my hand swing out to brush lightly at his, a gesture pointless but for the signal it carries. A dance formalized and patterned as a Vienna waltz. "I'm glad, too. Hardly feel like I know anyone here anymore. It's nice to spend some time with a familiar face..."
"Well, hell." Flush with success, he moves bolder, stepping up close before me, and I have to fight back the impulse to back away. "You eaten yet? We could grab a bite, catch up on old times. Whaddaya say?"
"Sounds wonderful," my voice humming high, throat tight with the vague discomfort of dishonesty. But this is what I wanted. What I planned for. "You're sure Tom won't mind you taking off, though?"
"Tom?" Eric chuckles heartily, a smirk caressing his expression. "Nah, he may still own the place, but these days it's pretty much just me running it. Confidentially," he leans in, close enough that I can smell something like pickle on his breath, see the pores on his face. His features crammed in tight, like a rat's. "He's thinkin' about retiring altogether one of these days. Gonna sell me the shop. What do you think about that - me, a business owner." Laughter, again. I can see the glint of silver fillings in the back of his mouth. "Not quite the loser you thought you were leaving behind, huh?"
Surprised denial lifts my eyebrow. "I didn't think you were..." Trailing off to uncomfortable silence, as I try to squeeze past the stumbling block. "Anyway, yeah, that's really something. Guess you'll be a big man in town."
"Damn right." He looks gratified, at least, at this answer. Such contrast between the pride in his expression and the shabbiness of the environs. To dream of owning a two-car repair shop in a nowhere town...well. I guess everyone has his own idea of success. "I figure a visit from the hottest girl I ever lost is reason to close up early, huh? We should, uh..." Hesitation strikes suddenly as he glances back over at David, his train of thought derailed. A bit of a sour look tugging at his expression. "Or all three of us could get lunch, of course."
"Oh, no," I jump in quick and dismissive. "Three's a crowd, right? You just close up or whatever, and I'll get rid of my shadow here."
"Great!" His grin bares just the edges of his teeth, putting his slight overbite on display. Avoiding looking in David's direction as he turns back into the garage area of the shop. I wish I could do the same. That I didn't have to turn around, look at my brother again. That I didn't have to see him as I send him away.
No help for it. No choice. My lips tighten to a bitter smile, aching with false cheer as I spin on my heel to regard him, standing like a silent guardian by the door, half a dozen feet away. His face turned downwards towards the peeling linoleum, though I can see how his eyes seek mine - and how his fists sit half-clenched at his side. A conflicted kind of hope in that. If he's angry, if he's angry at me...that's just what I need. To drive him away. To lose him, for the good of us both. So I stamp down the fluttering of concern in my heart, gather up all the spite I can find to poison my voice.
"Well? You heard what's going on." I throw the keys of the truck across the space between us, a sudden, underhanded toss; there's a jingle as they impact upon his chest, his hands jerking up, startled and fumbling to catch. "Don't need you hanging around and embarrassing me when I'm out on a date." My lips curve in emphasis around the final word as I step up closer, just before him. Feeling his presence, like an aura around his body, warm and almost tangible. I have to force myself to glare up into his eyes, to cast aside the shiver I feel from their sapphire depths. "Go home. And don't wait up for me, either."
I turn away then, without a goodbye. A final, insulting dismissal. Or at least, I try to. As I start to move, David's hand shoots out and locks around my wrist in a grip of steel, a hint of the strength he carries behind that compassionate demeanor. "Sam, wait." His voice still quiet, but struggling with an inner passion, a half-strangled quaver of wildness.
Not much choice. I tug fruitlessly at my arm; it might as well be handcuffed to a pole, his hand moving scarcely an inch as I try to jerk it away. An atom of fear at this new ferocity, wondering what he plans, what he hopes...but deep down, I know I'm safe. I know who we are. And so I just speak three words, a tone of rebuke as I stare coldly into his eyes. "You're touching me."
It takes a moment. David's eyes drop down to the his hand clutched around my wrist, as though unaware of it before I spoke. Then he lets go, his palm wide and open in a gesture of surrender. A creeping of apology in his voice as I step back, away. "Samantha, just...listen to me." Desperation, a hushed urgency. "You don't want to do this. You don't even like this guy, and I...I don't trust him." A look of quick frustration, his jaw tightening momentarily. "And I know how that sounds, like I'm just making it up, but - look, if this is because of me, because of us...if you're trying to punish me or something, then just - just stop. You don't need to. And I'm afraid you might regret it, if you do." Earnest sincerity staring down from his expression. Concern. God damn it. I feel like screaming, like clawing out those god-damned soft blue eyes. I'm doing everything I can to make him hate me, and he's fucking worried about me?
"You think you know what I want?" A frenzied whisper builds almost to a scream. "You think you know what I need? You don't know anything, David. Just fucking go away!" I shove ineffectually at his chest, succeeding only in pushing myself backward. "Go home! Get lost already!"
Silence as he looks back at me, anxious and woebegone, breathing slow and deep. A tension almost thick enough to choke on. But finally he nods faintly, turns and walks swiftly out the door. A chill breeze blowing in from the outside as I'm left standing there with trembling fists and burning eyes. Blinking clear my vision from the blur that swims before me. God damn him, how can he be so...be such a fucking...
A door slams closed on the other side of the room, and I have to feebly try to jump back to a semblance of calm, to swallow the lump that aches in my throat. Eric standing there, sporting now a nicer brown jacket, his hands cleaned of grease. "Something wrong?" A cheery grin on his face that I can only try feebly to return. My mouth moving wordlessly for some moments before I can make myself speak.
"Yeah. No, I mean, um. No. Not really." My hand rising to rub frustrated at my forehead, my eyes dodging away with the lie. "Just had a hard time getting rid of my brother."
"Huh." Eric huffs with an abstracted humor as he closes down the cash register. "Sounds like it. It's weird, I thought I remembered you two getting along a lot better."