chapter eight

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I hated when anyone compared me to my sister when I was growing up.

Because she was far older, it was never a comparison at the same level. My parents' critiques usually were something like, "Leila was never like this at your age," which made me wish I was old enough at the time to really see what Leila was like.

Probably horrible.

Yet as we walked through the airport, I kept comparing Ben to his brother. Specifically, their reactions, in their expressions and mannerisms. I'd grown up beside them both, so I knew them very well; my parents had even predicted that Eric and Leila would become a married couple far before the idea was even palatable to them.

I didn't know if it was just because Eric was ten years older or that he really was naturally mature and stoic, but he tended to always baby Ben. It came to Ben's advantage, as Eric would have mercy on his stupid brother when he'd come home drunk in high school or get a D on a test, because, in his view, Ben would always be the younger, child-like one.

So that was why in the aftermath of the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Butler, Eric remained the same—just with an expressionless face most of the time to show his grief—while Ben locked himself in his room every day and nearly skipped a whole month of school.

I sometimes wondered who had the right response of grief, or if there even was a right one at all.

"Could you, like, not stab me with your pointy-ass elbow?"

I didn't get any decent sleep on the plane, and the rental car we were in, en route to the hotel, provided the perfect place for a nap. I wasn't expecting that we'd get a luxury SUV with leather seats that smelled like they were straight from the manufacturer. Granted, my dad had bargained with the renter to upgrade us, but I didn't mind the slight embarrassment.

"Oh, sorry," I told Ben, who was sitting next to me in the far back. I was slouching entirely in my seat, my right arm splayed to the side and digging into his side. I retracted my arm before stretching them out into an uncontrollably obnoxious yawn, sending my fingers accidentally poking into his face.

This time he swiftly picked up my hand and placed it into my lap before going back to staring at each palm tree we passed by.

"You guys comfortable back there?" Leila asked, poking her head to our row. Even hours after we'd woken up, her black liner on her eyes and nude lipstick remained perfectly intact.

My mascara was already getting a little crusty.

"Yeah, perfectly," I replied.

"I beg to differ," Ben added, darting his sleepy gaze to us.

"Oh come on, Ben, this isn't even close to how uncomfortable those tiny plane seats are," Eric added. "You gotta be grateful."

"I don't know why they keep making them smaller too!" Dad exclaimed from the driver's seat. Stopping at a red street light, he turned around and added, "Any more, and I'll barely fit."

"That's because you're getting a little fat," Mom hummed, not meeting his eyes. He glared at her and zoomed ahead at the change of the lights.

Ben obviously didn't want to talk—which I understood—so I entertained myself by staring out the window. The main scenery were the palm trees, which I'd never find back in New York. I loved those trees. They were beautiful to look at and beautiful in their concept; they were some of the most resilient of plants. When a storm occured, they could bend halfway to touch the ground but never break.

I suppose Ben was like the trees in a way; the death of his beloved parents did hurt him, yet he never let it break his soul inside.

We arrived at our hotel fifteen minutes later. Its décor was comprised of earthy tones, and multiple intricately-ornamented Christmas trees highlighted the entrance. From the large window at the far end of the lobby, I could make out one of the crystal blue pools.

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