"Cass?" I called her name.
She whirled around, a surprised expression on her face. "Aidan?"
I nodded, giving her a moment to take in my appearance. I could see her judging me. She had that 'deer-caught-in-the-headlights' expression, and I realised that I was not like she expected. I stifled a sigh, and forced a smile. When she seemed to relax slightly, I knew that she was just like the other girls. Girls whom I disliked. Girls who had perfect lives. Girls who never even thought that the monsters that lived in the stories their parents read to them hid in the people around them, waiting to pounce.
But I was determined to not ruin this.
So I kept the smile plastered on my face, and tried to talk to her like a normal brother would to his newly-found sister, and not the broken, empty shell of a human being I really was.
"I thought you'd be inside the cafe" I said, trying to diffuse the tension.
Lie, a little voice in the back of my mind whispered. You thought she wouldn't show up at all.
"I was right at the back. Then I came out looking for you."
Lie. the voice insisted. You were going to leave. You thought she wouldn't come.
She started apologizing, rambling, too loud and too high-pitched for the headache I was slowly developing. I tuned her out, until I realised that she was waiting for me to say something. Come on, think of something - anything! What do normal brothers do? So I stuck my arms out, forcing my facial muscles to make my smile lightly teasing as I mumbled something about a hug and how it's been a long time. And I knew what I was supposed to feel when she came towards me, but I also knew what I was really feeling. I was supposed to feel relieved, happy, even, because it was my sister; my long-lost little sister. But the voice in the back of my mind was screaming, clawing and screeching at me to push her away, get away, she will only hurt you! I was relieved when she drew away, but it was short-lived. My headache was getting worse, and I was starting to feel the build-up to a panic attack; too many faces, too loud, too much-!
"Maybe the park?" I heard myself suggest, almost without my consent. I knew I needed to get away from the crowd, but I couldn't tell her why. So I rattled off some excuse about tourists, and turned in the direction of the park, glancing behind only once to make sure she was following.
We didn't talk on the way, and I was glad; it gave me time to calm down my frayed nerves and make sure I kept the smile plastered on. She walked behind me, and though I couldn't see her rubbing her arms, I could hear her teeth chattering. I stifled a snort. "There's a cafe at the top of the hill." I broke the silence, smirking slightly as I heard her relieved sigh. We kept on walking, till we got to the cafe.
She offered to pay for the cappuccinos, and I was mildly offended that she thought I couldn't pay for it. I may not shit money like some people, but I can get my damn sister a cappuccino. Seriously.
We started talking, but it was painfully awkward, at least for me. I was never good at small talk.
"Thank God you're on Facebook." I said, the fake smile forever present.
Yeah, I thought to myself bitterly. Thank God I had worked my ass off to get that shitty laptop, so I could have at least some contact with the outside world, somewhere to escape to, and something to come back to after I patched up all the bruises and cuts on my body when The Stepfather was finally done with me...
Cass started rambling again, and I resisted the urge to reach for the switchblade hidden within my pocket and carve 'IDIOT' on her forehead. She is my sister, I kept reminding myself, she will keep you sane; scaring her away after the first meeting would be a bad move.
She asked about my job, and I couldn't resist a little teasing as I told her about my job, keeping it just-so ambiguous so she wouldn't know who I actually meant - the job or my boss. I chuckled inwardly at the little crease between her eyebrows as she tried to work out who I was talking about, before she gave up and just muttered an "Oh, that's good." and went back to sipping her cappuccino.
Then, I asked about her parents. I had to know. Had to. How much had they told her? How much had they hidden? How come she didn't know about me? Did they love her? Did they spoil her?
I could guess the answer to the last two, but the desire to hear it from her own lips won over. I listened intently as she spoke, growing angrier and angrier with each word, though I tried hard to keep it hidden.
She asked about Betty and Jim, and I gave the first excuse I could think of. I could see that she doubted it, but she didn't question, for which I was grateful - she didn't need to know that Betty and Jim died in a horrific car accident just a few days after I left. Hit by a drunk driver, they had no chance of survival, whereas the monster that hit them came out with minimal damage, and later became the same monster that adopted me, the same monster that made my waking hours a misery and my dreams become nightmares.
I was getting too consumed by my hatred for The Stepfather, and I knew I needed a distraction. I asked her about her life instead, fighting to keep smiling.
She said she wants to get into Oxford. I tried hard not to laugh at her. Don't they teach tact in schools anymore? Or does she simply not realise that it is a faux-pas of the highest caliber to tell your practically illiterate brother that you're planning to get into the best uni in the country?
I dismissed the thought, but startled when she asked if I remembered the last time we saw each other. I swallowed, thinking of how to answer.
"Do you?" I croaked out.
"No. I can't remember anything much."
I sighed, shaking my head. "I don't think so." I lied. "It's all muddled up in my memory."
Because she didn't need to know.
She didn't need to know that I remembered every detail of the day when she was adopted, every second so vivid and clear like it happened yesterday.
She didn't need to know that I remembered the screams and the tears as the only person I had left in the world was ripped away from me, with little hope of ever seeing her again.
She didn't need to know what came after: the dozens of foster homes, even more foster families, even more schools, even more bullies.
She didn't need to know the cuts hiding on my wrists, disguised by the long sleeves of my shirt.
She didn't need to know that every tattoo on my body was a silent promise, a vow that I wouldn't shed another tear ever again.
And she didn't need to know that the older brother that she hopes will save her cannot even save himself. For he is nothing more but a broken boy, too beaten and bruised to ever feel worthy, too defeated to even try anymore.
But there was hope for her. As long as she remained oblivious, there would be hope.
Oh, how he wished he could be in her place.