{twenty-one}

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Dylan closed his eyes. Alessa's scent still hung in the air. Any other day he'd be annoyed. Always made him wish she was next to him. He could wrap his arms around her and go back to sleep.

Today was different. He welcomed the distraction. The heat from the nearby vent blew in his face as he stared at the crack in the ceiling. It had been one year ago today.

The day his big brother committed suicide.

Dylan had been in Newport News helping to execute a search warrant when his mother called frantic saying Ross had been in an accident. His car had wrapped around a tree, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Two days later he'd received the letter.

Dylan touched the paper next to him on the bed, still neatly folded. The patchouli incense Ross liked had long disappeared from it. With his eyes burning, he covered his face with the pillow, hoping he wouldn't cry. After a few deep breaths, the feeling passed. He picked up the letter.

D,

If you received this then I don't need to explain why. I did want you to know I wish there could've been another way.

You know we were overextended with the business and dealing with all of the failed IVF treatments. I let Kelly down in every way possible. She had every right to go. I spent so many sleepless nights trying to figure out what to do. That's when I knew I was worth more to her dead than alive.

The night I reached that conclusion I looked outside and saw the rain. Rain is cleansing so it was a sign. Made me realize I needed to fix the mess I made. This was the only way to do it.

I know you're gonna kick yourself and wonder what you could've done. Nothing.

My mind's made up has been for weeks. Kelly needs that life insurance money. You can choose to tell someone if you want. All I ask is that you think about the consequences. Mom won't take it well at all and Kel will feel obligated to tell someone. I know I have no right to demand it but I personally think it's better if no one knows the truth.

It's a huge burden but I know you've always done what was in the best interest of everyone. I had a good run. There was a time I made her happy. This is my way of doing it again.

Love you bro.

Thanks for everything.

I'm sorry it had to be this way in the end.

R

Dylan shoved the letter inside his case. Back then, he'd been swallowed in grief; had almost reached for the pills just to get out of bed. He didn't know shit about what was in anyone's best interest. Over the next few months, once he saw how Mom had been affected, Ross had a point. He was already gone. If he told them, they would only blame themselves that much more.

Then there was Kelly. Even though they'd been separated, she'd taken it hard. She'd told Dylan she shouldn't have pressured him into having a child. They could've figured out something. Now she lived debt free in some tiny house by Torch Lake still trying to move on.

At the start, Dylan had been saying this to make himself feel better. But as time passed keeping his mouth shut had been the best option. Ross was gone and he'd almost taken Mom with him. How he'd died didn't matter. And so started another year without his brother.

Dylan tested his leg. Much better. He probably had Alessa to thank for that. He'd been annoyed last night by her presence, but she'd jumped to his aid without a word. He knew he owed her an apology, but he had no clue what to say.

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