i. goodbye, brother

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"Can I be close to you?" -- Bloom, Paper Kites

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Samantha raked her fingers through her brown hair, staring into the bathroom mirror. The green eyes that reflected back at her were tinted red, still watery and hanging with grief. 

She tried to take a deep breath but failed miserably, another sob wracking her body instead.

It had been three days since she'd learned about the death of her brother. Three days since she received the letter in the mail, addressed to her mother who had passed away ten years before, and finalized with the signature of the colonel of her brother's unit.

We offer our deepest condolences...

It had been three days, but she still couldn't believe it was true. There would be no body delivered home; the bomb had killed her brother and half of his unit and only left building rubble in its wake. 

There would be no funeral and no remembrance of the boy she'd grown up with. Nothing but the pain in her chest.

Sam took another breath, biting down on her lip to cut herself off from another sob. Instead, she looked back into the mirror, gazing at her pale face. Around her neck, she clutched at a pair of battered dog tags.

They had been her brother's.

There was a knock on the door.

"Sammy? Samantha, you've got to come out, hon. It's been over two hours."

Listening to the sound of her best friend's voice, Sam let her eyes flutter closed. 

She hadn't wanted to attend the memorial, but also hadn't been willing to turn her back on the last chance she'd have to say goodbye. Though, at the moment, the last thing she wanted to do was mingle with cigar-smoking old men and lipsticked female sympathies. 

Most of them, she barely even knew, having been living on her own since she was old enough to legally pay the bills. The rest just showed up to see what the will said.

Like her family had anything to spare.

"Please, Sammy, come out," her best friend, Meg, begged through the door. The knob jiggled as she tried it again. "I'll get you a slice of cake and we can talk. Come out, please?"

Damn. 

Giving in, Sam unbolted the door. It opened to reveal blue eyes and blonde locks, Meg's tired face instantly turned tender. The shorter girl surged forward and engulfed her in a hug.

"Oh, Sammy. I'm here."

"I'm sorry," Sam mumbled into her hair. "I just needed to be alone for a moment."

"I know, love, I know." Meg drew back and searched her face. Then she smiled softly, rubbing a thumb over the back of her hand. "Come on, let's get out of here."

Sam hesitated, tilting a brow. As much as she wanted to leap at the chance, part of her felt like she was betraying her older brother by leaving his memorial. Like she was turning her back on him when he'd never turned his back on her. "Maybe I should..."

"William would think this is all stupid anyway," Meg interrupted. She turned and pulled Sam with her toward the door. The room was still crowded and filled with distant relatives and the likes, though most of them were more focused on the dinner being served. 

Sam managed to dodge all those coming toward her, pangs of guilt striking her thoughts.

Meg was right, though. Her older brother, William, had always hated formalities. He was an all-action sort of man, never staying in one spot for long and never being able to sit still. Or at least, he had been.

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