Chapter 43

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"I feel Max's eyes on me when I light the cigarette, watching the embers take what's rightfully theirs, the fiery red glow ironically symbolizing the raging fire in my veins."


"Max?" I step through the doorway, Lincoln's hand firmly tucked in mine when my brother finally notices me.

Both Mom and Dad stand there, looking furious as hell, while Max honestly looks defeated, like he's lost hope. "Hey, lil sis..."

"What are you doing here?" I ask, but I see it in his eyes in a matter of seconds. He looks broken, somehow, and for the first time he doesn't shield it, he doesn't hide his pain. "Should we go outside to talk?" I ask, offering him a straw I know I'd need for a talk like that.

He nods his head, but Dad instantly speaks up, "No way. No more secrets. You'll talk here, now."

"Dad..." Both Finn and I shoot a pleading look at our father, hoping he'll understand. Because as much I get it, as frustrated as he probably is, this is a sensitive topic. Much more sensitive than I anticipated, and I for once just want a minute alone with my brother. I don't even remember the last time we did that.

"Fine. But we'll have one hell of a family meeting after this. Remember that," Dad throws all of us pointed looks, and I instantly know he's serious about it. Rightfully so.

I give Link's hand another squeeze before I look up at him, but he just kisses my temple and shoots me a smile, letting me know he's here if I need him.

Max's eyes find mine again, and I nod to the backyard, not knowing if Riley is still sitting by the porch and I definitely want to avoid that collision now.

He steps toward the terrace door and I close it behind us, following him to the wooden swing set that's been here since we were kids.

We both take our seats, and for just a minute the heavy silence between us feels thick enough to choke on, Max is drawing circles in the sand while I study the rope of the swing, letting the fabric scratch my skin until my brother finally asks, "Has she talked to you?"

I nod my head and the question makes me look up at him, my mother's eyes meeting mine in an instant. Suddenly, for the first time in years, I see my brother again, the boy that played hide and seek with me, that hid in the stairwell to watch Santa bring us our presents, only to realize that it was our mom all along.

He's not the bull of a man right now. He's just my brother.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

He sighs, directing his gaze back to the ground when he runs his hands over his face. "I don't know... I don't know anything anymore, somehow..."

"What do you mean by that?" He looks so utterly confused by himself that I know he probably can't give me a straight answer, but I can try to find one.

"It's just... She drives me crazy. I think I've actually gone mad."

I smile at his admission, knowing how hard it must be for him to say those things, and seeing that it's true as well. "Love tends to do that," I whisper, a sad smile on my lips.

He looks at me again, and I immediately see that guilt in his eyes again, they look almost glassy when he spins the swing so he can look at me properly. "I'm sorry. Really. I apologize."

I nod my head, unable to keep his gaze. This hole in my chest is still too prominent to be glued together by a simple apology. "I know you are. But you know, it's so much, I don't even know what you're sorry for, right now."

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