Highway

She had a painful past, one that made her put up barriers against everyone. When she is alone, she feels an odd connection to nature, as if there was something she is missing out in the wild. She brushes it off, but it never leaves. But when a mysterious man who knows more about her than he should wanders into her town and offers her a better life, she decides she has nothing to lose. As her life starts to look up however, she begins to have strange dreams. Suddenly, she is faced with questions about her life. What do the dreams mean? Who is this man? Could she really open up to someone, or would she get hurt again? As her past begins to haunt her, she must decide who she’s willing to trust. Will she shut out another person to protect herself? Or will she finally let her guard down and learn to love again? Only time will tell.

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16. The Past Will Always Come Back To Haunt You

Highway Chapter 16

            I was so tired I wanted to die. My eyes burned, and I couldn’t rub away the sleep. A headache was slowly building behind my temples.

I trailed behind Matt, feeling the exhaustion spread to my entire body. It permeated the rest of my limbs, and I began to walk just like a zombie. I was so tired I almost didn’t even see where we were walking.

Matt called my name, and I realized I had almost run into a wall. Matt cleared his throat and we stopped. He told me that he was going to carry me to town. I thought I had misheard him because I was tired, but he seemed like I heard him right. Was he serious? I wasn’t going to let him carry me. I voiced the thought to him, and told him I was fine. He insisted I wasn’t, and to just let him carry me. I told him I was fine again, snapping at him. He reminded me I had almost run into a wall. As I was about to yell at him, he bent down to my eye level, just as he had in the bar the day I met him.

“Please,” he said gently.

He told me to humor him. I thought a moment, my teeth clenched, but finally agreed to let him carry me. I was tired, and he was stubborn. I told him he was impossible, and then made fun of him being old. He pretended to be offended, but I knew he was joking.

I felt awkward at first, because I had never had a piggy back ride before. But the tugging on my eyelids became more persistent, and my head came down to land on Matt’s shoulder. He was warm and comfortable, and I fell asleep.

I dreamed not of nightmares, but of fields of bunnies. In that field was that boy I had seen last night, my brother. I wondered why I knew he was my brother, but I didn’t know who my other family members were. I was in the smaller version of myself again.

He smiled down at me, a brilliant row of white teeth showing. He had freckles on his face, skin almost as pale as mine. His hair was slightly overgrown, hanging in front of his face. He was tall and gangly, but with strong muscles. Many could say he looked solemn, but his smile was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. He grabbed my hands, swinging me around in a playful dance. We laughed together, and I felt a happiness so complete it filled my heart overcome me. The boy was about my age now, on the verge of eighteen.

We lay down in the meadow grass, laughing about some joke.

“What are we going to eat today, big brother?” I had asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied,

“Mom had to work late tonight. How about I make you some macaroni and cheese?”

I exclaimed with joy at this and tackled him in a hug. He laughed, swinging me high in the air.

The dream transitioned to a bedroom filled with stuffed animals. The boy played with one of them for me, making it dance. He sat on the edge of my bed, and told me a bedtime story. I watched my smaller self tell the boy she loved him lots.

“More than I love candy!” I exclaimed.

The boy laughed, and gave me a kiss on the forehead. He tucked me in, and rubbed his nose against mine in a farewell gesture. I watched as I begged him to sing for me, just one song. There was a crash from downstairs and some yelling, and I jumped. What was that? He hesitated, then began to sing quietly. I realized with a start that it was the very same lullaby I had sung the other night to sleep.

I was interrupted by Matt’s voice telling me we were here. I stretched feeling refreshed, and telling Matt I hoped I drooled on him.

We entered the gigantic city, and I marveled at all of the building, tall as the sky. I kept up with Matt as he moved through the crowd. We approached a tavern, and he told me his friend was in there. I could find him, for he felt different like Matt.

He was a big man, thicker in build than Matt, and was just as tall.  He had medium dark skin, and a graying mustache. His hair was short, a buzz cut. Matt insulted him, and he insulted him back. Then they embraced like two old friends, patting each other on the back. His laughter boomed out of him, echoing around the busy room.

Matt gestured for me to join them.I cautiously approached, and waited as he introduced me to the man, Julian. He studied me for an awkward moment, and then started laughing. I looked at Matt, confused, but he shrugged. He exclaimed something about Matt being like him now. Matt said nobody could be like him. He suddenly grabbed me for a bear hug, and I squeaked in surprise.

I pushed away from him semi violently. He apologized, telling me he didn’t mean to scare me, and calling me Victoria. Matt corrected him, sounding out each syllable in my name. Julian called him a smartass, and I stifled a giggle.

We went to check into a hotel, his friend following us. I wasn’t sure where I fit in here, where I was in the equation. I stayed by Matt, but kept out of range of Julian’s strange behavior. That was why when Matt told me I should do some sightseeing, I was more than ready to go.

He tried to give me a send-off, but I interrupted him, listing the usual things. He raised an eyebrow at me, and I wondered if I should have interrupted. I stuttered out a reply, “Thanks for teaching me the rules?” it was to butter him up, and he knew it. The corners of his lips turned up ever so slightly. He reminded me of the time and the place as I tried to leave and then released me.

Feeling excitement from such a vibrant city, I wondered around. I saw the famous landmarks, including but not limited to a giant rubber band ball and the county’s tallest building. I browsed the shops, looking at the trinkets and knick-knacks. 

Little things kept reminding me of my brother. Memories flooded back at every opportunity, tearing down the wall of things I couldn’t remember. The painted turtle reminded me of my stuffed one. The Hawaiian flower reminded me of the days we would pretend we were on vacation there. We would have fake parties and do the limbo, wearing flip flops and silly leis. The smell of gingerbread made me think of our gingerbread house. The frosting wasn’t sticking, so we just glued it together. Why was I just remembering him now? I hadn’t known about him for years, and suddenly he decides to pop up in my memories. I felt an odd sensation build in my stomach.

Shrugging it off, I continued my pursuit for landmarks. When it came close to time to meet Matt, I walked to the tavern. We ate dinner there while I told him about all of the cool things I saw today.

We headed back to our hotel, and got ready to go to bed. After I took a shower, I went out to the balcony conjoining our rooms.

Matt called to me from inside, saying Julian was going to come with us for two days. I made a face at him. He was too… everything to me. Too much was going on with that man. He told me to be nice, that he was a really good guy.

When I gave him a doubtful look, he said, “You have to learn to be open-minded with people. If you start disliking him just because he’s different, you become the same as everyone who shunned you because you were different.”

I was startled by the comment. I thought back to all the painful nights those people caused me. No, I was nothing like them. I told that to Matt, whispering. I was furious he would suggest the idea, but finding truth in the general statement. My face grew hot with embarrassment.

I looked to my fuzzy slippers, examining them as best I could, just so I wouldn’t have to look at him. He sighed, and closed his book.

“I know you’re not, Veronica,” he commented softly, “And that’s why I’m telling you this. I don’t want anyone to think you are like that, because you aren’t.”

Feeling awkward and uncomfortable, I went back out to the balcony. The night air was cool, and the white noise of the city served as a constant backdrop. It was loud when compared to the forest, and not nearly as beautiful. Still, it was calm out here. I thought to myself that I should give this Julian a chance. Matt held him in high regard, something that is no easy feat.

I trotted back in, and asked Matt if Julian was going to hug me again. It was a legitimate question, but it was mostly just to lighten the mood. He told me he didn’t know, but to bear with him. He said Julian grows on you. I rolled my eyes, but decided I would give him the chance he deserved.

As I began to grow tired, I worried about my sleep. But I had slept this morning to only have dreams full of my brother. Maybe they were over and I was just rediscovering my family through dreams. Reassured, I dismissed the worries from my mind. The only thing that remained was the odd sensation, one that had increased since this morning. It wasn’t fear or worry, but this mix of feelings I couldn’t understand.

Brushing it off as something I ate, I bid Matt goodnight. He joked with me about bed bugs, and I called him a snot.

I hopped into the plushy bed, tucking Ozzie inside the blanket. I rested my weary head on the pillow, and drifted off into dreamland. If only I had known the true nightmares waiting for me.

I’m with my brother again, this time lying on a hill as the sun set. I am both the younger version of myself and another being entirely. I can feel and hear what she sees, but I can pull back and see from above as well.

It had been the most wonderful day, as he had taken me out to explore and have a picnic. As he read to me from my favorite book, I snuggled into his shoulder, wrapping my little arms around his neck.

He sighed, saying, “I think it’s time to go back vee-bee.”

I pouted, and he raised an eyebrow at me. Reaching out in a flash, he lifted me up high.

“What’s that? Oh, no! I thought I heard the tickle monster! He’s coming!”

He rolled to the ground, pinning me under him. He tickled me, and I flailed, trying to get him to get off. I was laughing so hard I almost cried. Suddenly he stopped.

“Shhh. I think he left.” He cupped a hand around his ear. “No, he’s back!”

He tickled me again. He lifted me into a piggy back ride. He listened to me chatter happily, a smile on his face. He carried me to our house, a small little bungalow on the edge of town. We entered, and he dropped me off on the couch with a slight Thump! Giggling, I pulled him onto the couch as well.

“I got some hot dogs at the store today,” he said, smirking when I gasped, “Tonight, we shall have a feast fit for kings!”

He entered the kitchen, and I played with the stuffed bear he had given me as a birthday present for turning 6. I was seven now, and proud of it. The bear was a pretty ballerina, pink tutu and bows on her ears. I had named her Stephanie. My brother came back from the kitchen, a peculiar look on his face.

“Veronica,” he said, spacey and bizarre.

“W-what?” I asked, stuttering.

His behavior was unlike him indeed, and I felt confused. He crouched in front of me, his eyes serious.

“You know how sometimes bad things happen and we have to leave the house for a while?”

I nodded. We left sometimes, went out and slept in the park. He told me we were going on an adventure.

“Is daddy being mean again?” I asked quietly.

Sometimes daddy came home and was mean to mommy.

He paused, and said, “Yeah. He isn’t in a very good mood. Look, I need to talk to him really quick. Will you go get ready? Get your blanket and pillow. Don’t forget anything. I’ll be out soon, okay?”

I was worried about him because sometimes he would talk to daddy and come back hurt. With a gentle push, I scurried to my room. I gathered all of the things I needed, making sure Stephanie was with me.

As I came back downstairs, I heard my brother arguing with daddy. Peeking in carefully, I spotted him standing there. His fists were balled up, his face alight with anger. He was scaring me now.

Frightened, I called, “Big brother? What’s wrong? Why do you look so mad? Is something wrong?”

He looked to me, interrupted. His eyes grew worried and sad, and he flickered between daddy and me. Shooting daddy a glare, he came over to me.

“No, Vee-bee, everything is fine. We just had a little fight, that’s all. You ready?”

I nodded. Daddy was sitting at the table, but I only saw his legs. We hurried out of the house, my brother almost carrying me. He held my hand to comfort me, but his face was set in a determined look. It was quiet, and then the silence was shattered.

There, was a scream behind us, bloodcurdling and loud. My brother looked back, and quickly bent down to my level.

“Listen very carefully, Veronica,” he said, gently shaking me, “You need to stay right here okay? No matter what you hear, or see, stay in this very spot. I mean it. I need to go get some people to help me with something. I’ll be back soon. All right?”

I told him okay, and he pulled me into a bone crushing hug, giving me a kiss on the forehead. He stood up, and started running towards town. I waited, scared and alone. After a few minutes, he appeared again, alone. Where were the people? He ran inside the house.

I was terrified, and I decided to go to him. He had said to stay in this spot, but he had come back. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to him, and so I followed him into the house, running as fast as I could. I went upstairs, figuring that was where he would go. I heard a noise in mommy and daddy’s bedroom. Thinking it was my brother, I opened the door.

Daddy was standing above mommy, a knife in hand. She was lying on the floor, not moving. She was bleeding, the liquid seeping into her pretty white dress. I fell to the ground, my knees giving out on me.

“Daddy? What happened to mommy? Why do you have a knife?”

He looked up at me with a wicked smile.

”Your mommy was bad,” he said, his voice dark. “She didn’t listen to daddy when he told her to shut up.”

He stepped towards me, over mommy’s body. I was paralyzed, fear filling my body. Something was telling me I should be scared. I remembered my brother telling me to leave the house if daddy was being mean. Mommy wasn’t looking at me, and I was scared daddy had hurt her. Suddenly unfreezing, I ran out of the room.

Where was my brother? He knew how to make daddy stop being mean. He always saved me from him. Now he was behind me, almost stepping my on heels.

“Veronica, why are you running? Come play with me.” Closer now.

“Don’t you want to play with your precious daddy? That’s not very nice. You’re hurting my feelings.”

His voice was not normal, slurred and demonic. My lungs were burning now, and I had slick shoes. I must have stepped in the blood upstairs. Why was she bleeding so much? I tried to run around the corner, slamming into the wall. Pain exploded in my shoulder, and I heard a resounding snap. I whimpered. It hurts so much I start to cry.

Daddy comes up to me and grabs my hair, yanking on it. I cry out, feeling some strands come out.

“Daddy, stop!” I choke out, “Please, daddy! Did I do something wrong? I’m sorry!”

He is suddenly angry, a vicious snarl on his face.

“How many goddamn times have your mom and I told you not to run in the house? Now daddy’s going to have to punish you for not listening, just like your mother.”

He smells like that funny stuff he drinks, beer. He raises the bloody knife, and brings it down. I close my eyes, waiting for the pain, but it doesn’t come.

I look up to see my brother there in front of me. He is holding daddy’s arm, his knuckles turning white.

“You bastard,” he gritted out, “Would you really stoop so low?”

He spoke to me. “Why are you here, Veronica? I told you to stay outside!”

He sounds angry too, but not like daddy.

“I…” I stumbled. “I’m sorry. I just saw you come in, and it was dark, and I was alone. I was scared!” I cried to him, the tears increasing in my eyes.

“Whatever. Just get away from here! This time I really mean it! Run as fast as you can to the town. Tell the sheriff that daddy hurt mommy really bad. Don’t stop for anything.”

He was locked on to daddy’s arm, who was surveying the situation with amusement.

“She isn’t going anywhere. Veronica, don’t listen to your brother. Stay here.”

I looked back and forth between them, trusting my brother but not wanting to leave.

“But…” I said to my brother, hesitating.

He snapped at me, “Just go! Get the hell out of here before I make you!”

He was shouting at me, and it made me jump. He had never yelled at me before, and especially not with those words. I backed away with salty fluid streaming down my face, running to the exit of my house.

I bolted down to the town, the darkness disorienting me. I found the Sherriff’s house, knocking on the door frantically. My shoulder ached, as I pounded on the door. He answered, rubbing his eyes sleepily.

“Help!” I cried, “Daddy hurt mommy really bad, and now he is fighting with my brother. Please!”

He recognized me after a moment, and talked on his radio. Scared for my brother, I left the sheriff despite his calls to me. I galloped across the town, my legs shaking from the exertion. I almost ran into our door.

Prying it open, I could see my brother in the kitchen still, panting. He was covered in cuts, a long gash down his side. His green shirt was torn and stained with blood. Why was daddy hurting him? He didn’t do anything wrong. Thinking desperately of a way to help him out, I looked for something like what daddy was using. Maybe if my brother had a weapon he could make daddy not be so mean.

I spotted a pocket knife sitting on the table, and picked it up. Running back to the kitchen, I saw them engaged in a battle, my brother getting a cut on his cheek. My brother kicked daddy in the shin, shoving him away.

“Hey big brother!” I shouted. “Use this!”

I threw it to him, and he barely managed to catch it, giving me an incredulous look. Suddenly his face became furious.

“Why are you back?” he raised his voice in frustration. “

The sheriff people said they were on the way!”

He looked relieved for a moment, until daddy stirred from the ground.  Suddenly he looked very scared, and shoved me away from the kitchen. As he got up, my brother opened the pocket knife, the blade gleaming. Darting around daddy, he kicked his leg out from under him, despite daddy being taller. He stabbed him in the face with the knife, injuring his eye and leaving a long wound.

He fell to the floor, screaming in agony. I was frozen, shocked by the blood and violence. There was so much blood everywhere, my vision began to tint the color. My brother looked at daddy, now motionless. He went to check on him, and I wondered what he was going to do.

“Why did he hurt you? And mommy? Is she okay? Are you okay?” I blurted out, a stream of questions coming to mind. “Did you hurt daddy like he hurt mommy?”

He staggered over to me, his legs unsteady. He dropped next to me, telling me to look at him.

“I know this is scary Veronica, but-“

He was cut off, and I looked behind him only to see the knife stuck into his back. My dad stood behind him, smirking and bloody. The gash across his eye was gruesome, and it caused me to feel nauseous. Watching my brother fall, he saw our dad there.

Frantically turning to me, he said, “Run! Run away from him, Veronica! Go find the police again!"

As my dad began to step towards me, I sprang away from him. I tried to make it to the front door, but he was too close to it. It would have meant running right by him. I hopped the stairs two at a time, seeking refuge anywhere. I found my brothers room at the end of the hall, busting in through the door.

My father was coming up the stairs, limping along them loudly. Frantically searching for a place to hide, I started to panic. Surely he would find me in a closet. Looking down, I remembered that my brother’s room had loose floorboards. He would hide stuff under there he didn’t want daddy to see. Scratching at the boards with my hands, I tugged on them. I managed to get a few fingers under the board, and I jerked on it. The board rose, catching my finger with it, and snapping off the nail. As I heard him reach the top of the stairs, I shambled in, landing hard.

I replaced the board with as much precision as I could with my now bloody and shaky hand.

“Come on, Veronica.” He called in a sinister voice, “Come on out.”

He walked into their bedroom, pacing around.

“What happened with your brother was just an act.”His voice was fainter now. “He’s fine. Now stop being silly.”

His footsteps were heavy, his voice pained. I knew enough to know this hadn’t been an act.

I heard from my room, “It’s okay. Mommy is here too. She will be sad if you don’t come out. Would you want to her to be sad?”

He walked through the hallway, dragging against the wall. I saw his feet when he walked into my brother’s room. I didn’t dare to breathe.

“We are throwing you a party! We all spent a lot of time on it. Is all that effort going to go to waste?”

He came to the closet door, smiling maniacally.

“Surprise!” he screamed, flinging open the closet door so hard it smashed into the wall.

Frowning, he thought for a moment. He stopped right above me. My heart was beating so hard I could only hear the rush of blood in my ears. He’s going to find me, I thought. My heart was beating too loud, leaping out of my chest. I was crouching on my legs, and they were going numb, thousands of pins and needles stabbing me.

The knife leaked  blood onto the boards, and I barely suppressed a shriek when one of the drops landed on my upturned face. He froze as if he had heard a noise, and I was sure he knew I was below him. Then I heard it too.

Sirens were blaring down the road. Help was here, I thought with relief. We were saved. He cursed, speeding across the room. I heard a window open, and then he was gone.

I pulled the board away and hauled myself out, breathing again. My brother! I rushed down the stairs, almost tripping. He was there, lying on the floor. Gasping in pain, he looked over to me.

“The police are coming, big brother! Daddy left! We’re going to be okay!”

I rushed to his side. He smiled, placing his hand on my cheek.

“That’s great vee-bee.”

He spasmed in pain, his back arching.

After a few pants, he gritted out, “Vee-bee, I’m not going to make it. And I am so, so sorry.”

I looked to his stomach, where a stain had formed. Blood was coming out of everywhere. I never knew someone had so much blood.

Panicked, I asked, “What are you talking about? The medicine people are going to come save you. You’re going to be fine.”

My voice broke, and warmth coursed down my face. He gave me a smile, the beautiful smile I loved.

“No, vee, I’m not. But you are, and that’s all that really matters.”

He was so cold, and I held his hand in mine to warm him up.

“What are you saying?” I asked, my agony growing.

My brother couldn’t die. He was the only person I had.

“Who’s supposed to take me to picnics? Tell me stories? Sing lullabies to me? Who’s going to stop the tickle monster?”

My heart was breaking, the sensation of being ripped apart visiting me. My chest hurt, and I whimpered in torment. The suffering was unbearable, to see him laying here with a knife in his stomach.

“I’m going to pull it out. Then you’ll be fine.”

He caught my hand weakly, shaking his head.

“Listen,” he choked, “I don’t have much time.”

He gestured for me to get closer. He pressed his forehead against mine, looking me in the eyes.

“I love you vee-bee, and I always have. Don’t ever forget how much I love you. You are the most important person to me in the universe. Do great things with your life, don’t ever settle for anything.”

My tears were dripping to the floor now, right beside his face. I told him I loved him too.

“Don’t cry,” he said softly, “This isn’t the end.”

He was fading, I could tell, but I wouldn’t accept it. He gave me a kiss on the forehead, smudging it with blood.

“Will you sing for me, vee-bee?”

Forcing back the tears, I began to sing our lullaby. I wasn’t very good at it, but my brother sat back in my arms like it was the best thing ever. He closed his eyes, listening. His head lolled back, and I stopped singing.

“Big brother?” I asked, “Big brother!”

I shook him. When he didn’t respond, I shook him again.

“Wake up!” I screamed, “Wake up, big brother! Don’t think this is funny! This isn’t a game!”

He wasn’t responding. My sorrowful keening filled the room, and I wept for him. My heart had been cut up, a chunk leaving with him.

I cried for my mother. I remembered the nights I would sit with her before bed, watching soap operas. She had a fondness for white sundresses, and she smelled like fresh linen.

Looking back at my brother, he was too peaceful to be alive. I longed for him to wake up and tell me it was a sham. I needed to hear his voice, listen to his joyous laughter. I wanted to see his eyes, ride on his shoulders.

Cradling his head in my lap, I stroked his hair. I sang to him again, the same one he sang to me when I couldn’t sleep. Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry, go to sleep my little baby. When you wake, you shall have, all the pretty little horsies. My song was broken, and like shattered glass cut me. Every word was an acceptance of his death, and yet I didn’t know what else to do.

When the police men busted down the door a while later, I was still singing to him. They looked at each other, and searched the house. They exclaimed when they found my mother, and paramedics came in. a man called to me, asking my name. I didn’t respond, only singing a little louder. Paramedics tried to take him away, and I wasn’t going to let them. He was fine here, by me.

“Don’t you touch him!” I screamed at them, a wild animal.

They backed away, and waited for the officers. The sleepy-eyed sheriff came through the door, shocked at the scene.

“Veronica,” he called, “What happened?”

I ignored him, returning to stroking my brother’s hair. They told him they couldn’t get close. When he tried to approach me, I lashed out at him, kicking his leg.  He stood back stunned, and gave some orders to a group of men. They came around me, circling cautiously like I was crazed.

Before I could react, they had my arms secured. The medics put my brother’s body on a stretcher, and I shrieked at them.

“Let him go! He doesn’t want to go with you! Let go of me!”

I broke free, running a few feet before being restrained.

“Don’t touch me! Stop! Stop!” I screamed after them.

“Veronica!” I heard a voice shout right inside my ear.

A vigorous shaking accompanied it. Still thinking of the dream, I flinched away. It was dark, and all I could see was my father, gripping a knife.

"Get your filthy hands off of me, you scum!” I screamed.

The wonder of the voice pulled me back, grabbing my face in his hands.

“Look! It’s me!, it’s Matt. Shh, it’s me, it’s me.”

My vision cleared, and I saw his face. It was Matt. It had all been a dream, and I was here in the hotel room. But it had been no ordinary dream, because it had happened in the past. I suddenly felt a longing well up inside me, erupting. I was so scared, and my heart hurt so much.

Without thinking, I flung myself at Matt, wrapping my arms around his torso with force.

“Oh, Matt,” I cried in distress, “Matt. Why?”                                 

I said his name over and over again, burying my face in the crook of his neck. He seemed unsure what to do, but eventually wrapped his arms around my body.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, “Did you have another nightmare?”

I withdrew my hands from his sides, now resting them against his chest. I clenched his shirt in my fingers, nodding helplessly.

“Oh, baby girl,” He sighed sadly, adding in a sudden endearment that only made me cry harder.

He tried to pull me back to look at him, but I held fast. I could feel my heart tearing in two, the gaping hole that had been torn reopening. I was bleeding on the inside, and it was critical. My father had killed my mother and my brother. My brother would have been fine if it wasn’t for me. I interrupted his check to see if our dad was dead. He would still be alive today if I hadn’t opened my mouth.

“It’s just a dream,” Matt said, “You’re okay now. I’m here, you’re here, and we are safe and sound.”

I clenched my knuckles so hard they turned white, shaking my head.

“No its not, Matt. It wasn’t a dream. I’m here now, but it was all very real."

He didn’t say anything else, and waited for me to release my death grip. I mourned my brother a second time, bawling into Matt’s shirt, soaking it so that it stuck to his skin. When I slightly released my hold, he pulled back to look at me.

"What happened?” he asked, looking at me with strength and determination.

I crumpled, telling him of the past. I told him everything, wailing when I spoke about my brother. I told him every excruciatingly painful detail, and he seemed stunned. But throughout all of this, he held me steadfast, never letting go. I looked up at the end, to something truly astonishing.It was dark and hard to see, but we were in the light of the moon.

Streaming down Matt’s face were tears. I had never seen him cry before, and yet here he was weeping with me. He pulled me close, tucking my head under his chin.

“I’m so sorry.” He said, over and over again. “I’m so sorry Veronica, I am so very sorry.”

I pulled away slightly, confused.

“Why?” I asked, uncomprehending.

“I would never want to wish that on anyone, much less you. I am sorry such a horrible thing happened to you. My poor, poor girl.”

I leaned into him again, a new batch of tears flowing. I was shaking, writhing in pain as I cried. It was heart wrenching to feel the emotions a second time, and I wished I would die. At least then I would be freed from this terrible agony.

I cried for hours, sinking into Matt’s arms. He soothed me as best he could, stroking my hair and rubbing my back. Feeling guilty, I told Matt how I had caused my brother’s death.

“It’s all my fault,” I said brokenly, “If I hadn’t stopped him from checking he was dead, my brother would still be alive. I caused my brother to die.”

I pulled away from him, feeling I didn’t deserve someone like him .if I couldn’t even keep my brother alive, then I shouldn’t get close to Matt.

“That isn’t true and you know it.” Matt said, his stern voice behind me.

“It is! You better not try to protect me from someone, Matt, because you’ll die too.”

He set his jaw, looking strict.

“That’s ridiculous. You weren’t the cause of his death, and you won’t be the cause of mine! Your father killed him. Nobody could have known that it was harmful to not look.”

He had crossed his arms. I backed away, frustrated and feeling unworthy.

“I killed him,” I said quietly.

Matt hesitated for a moment, and then strode towards me, getting close. I backed up until I hit the wall, where he leaned over me.

“Now you listen here Veronica,” he said crossly, “You did not kill him. Your father killed him with a knife. It was not your fault in any way. If anything, you helped your brother by giving him a pocket knife to hurt him with at all. You are in no way guilty of anything except being a caring sister. Don’t you ever say something like that again.”

I looked away, entirely uncertain.

“Look at me,” he said, much more gentle.

When I didn’t, he softly placed his fingers under my chin.

“I know it’s hard not to blame yourself. Trust me, I do. But I can tell you that you did nothing wrong. Look me in the eye and tell me you really believe it’s all your fault.”

I looked to him, ready to say it again, but my voice faltered. I did believe I had distracted him, but it wasn’t necessarily true that it was the reason for his death. I looked away again, giving him the answer he needed.

He held my face in his hands, brushing back the sticky strands of hair away from my face. Softly, I wrapped my arms around his neck, gently snuggling back into his neck. There were no more tears, no more cries, no more voice breaks. I was all dried up, and I had only the empty shell left by the events.There was only a small part of me left, one that I shared with Matt.

It was tiny, an insignificant speck, but it was there. It glowed warmly like an ember in my soul, struggling to get noticed. It was vibrant for such a small speck, and full of life. It was the only happiness I had left in my heart, but it was stubborn. It hung on with amazing strength, even when the flood flushed out every other part of me. My sorrow was an immense sea, the despair overwhelming. Still, it kept glowing in that sea, holding on like Matt was holding on to me.

He led me over to my bed, still damp with my sweat, the blankets thrown off. He sat me down, but I caught his hand.

“Could…” I said, stuttering, “Could you please stay with me tonight?”

He smiled, but it was sad.

“Of course. I wouldn't dream of leaving.”

I tried to give him a smile too, but it was more like a grimace.

He stretched out on the bed, leaning against the headboard. I was lying with my head pressed to his shoulder, my legs bent the other way. He had tucked me under his arm, so that I was comfortable.

"What’s the date?” I asked suddenly curious.

He thought back, scrunching his nose.

“August 22nd, I believe.”

That made sense, for that was the day it had happened, something told me. 10 years ago to this day, I had lost everything, and life was just letting me know. We lay silent.

“How come I can’t remember my brother’s name?” I asked, quietly.

Matt said, “Maybe you haven’t remembered everything yet.”

When I stirred nervously, he added, “I think you’ve remembered the actual event, but names are tricky. I’m sure in time you’ll remember his name. It sounds like you both loved each other a lot.”

I nodded, thinking of his smile. I could remember everything about him now.

Days of fun in the sun, laughter, singing in the rain. I remembered how he would always forget to wear a hat, and so he would get sun burnt or rained on. I remembered other times, times we had to leave for a while. We would play in the park at night. He would push me on the swings, play tag in the fields, and gaze up at the stars. I didn’t like the dark, but he always had a way of keeping my mind off of it. He would tickle me when I pouted, sing me to sleep when I had nightmares, and read books to me. We used to lay in meadows and read entire chapters. He would let me interrupt to ask what a word meant, and he would tell me, helping come up with a way to remember what it meant. He made me dinner when mom wasn’t home, always made sure I wore a jacket, and checked if I brushed my teeth every night. He was with me all the time.

He had friends, and they would come by and ask him if wanted to go out. He just shrugged, saying he had plans but thanks.

I told him he didn’t have to be with me all the time, but he just smiled and said, “I know. But why would I go out with them when I could hang out with my favorite sister?”

I smiled, telling him I was his only sister.

“So you think,” he commented mysteriously.

He laughed and gave me a hug.

Yes, I loved him very much. Hopefully I would remember his name, for I felt like something was missing without it. I vowed to myself that I would never again forget him, keeping every memory safe and secure.

I grew sleepy, finally relaxed. I was scared to fall back asleep, but Matt was warm and strong.

“I’m so tired, Matt, “I said.

His head was rested upon mine, and it was soothing when he started to sing. He hummed a song in a low tone, and I snuggled a little bit deeper into his shoulder. It wasn’t until I was too far gone that I realized he was singing my brother and I’s lullaby.

Unsure of what to think about that, I felt myself fall into my dreams again. This time, they were sweet dreams about my brother, and one dream about Matt.

For the first time in days, I slept like a baby.

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