Charcoal

I stood back and watched his movements. Luke had that way about him that could shut me down in an instant... I kicked the gravel a couple of times and worked up my courage again. “Tell me... I mean... why did you come back? Why now, after all this time?”

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2. Chapter II

Charcoal - Chapter II

I listened to knives and forks clinking on plates and dreaded my turn in the infamous Styles family daily routine - the "so, what did you get up to today?" part of dinner. Dad went first, he was quite excited about the school charity drive. It was a nice change for him after being holed up studying in his office so much lately. Harry and I had even joked about him planning some grand and overly accurate reenactment of some sort.

Mom told us about her new intern at the clinic, and that baby Oliver had learned the words giraffe, orange and peas at day care. Chase reported that he got an A on his science test.

"I got most of my friends to donate their old coats for the clothing drive." Harry announced once he'd finished cutting Oliver's fish fingers into bite-sized pieces.

I wasn't surprised. Some people in North Abbey Crest tried to claim that Harry's kindness was all just an act, but he really was that sort of person. I mean, who else would give up the freedom of senior year to do independent study at the school three afternoons a week? Or fail to make the varsity hockey team with all his friends because he wasn't willing to be aggressive enough. Sometimes it was hard being his younger sister, but it was nearly impossible not to love Harry. I hated the thought of what my news might do to him.

"That's great," Dad said to Harry.

"Yeah." He grinned. "Yesterday, I told everyone I was donating a coat and encouraged them to help out."

"Which coat are you giving away?" Mom asked. "The black one."

"Your North Face? But that one's practically like new."

"Because I've barely worn it in the last three years. It seems selfish to keep it in my closet when someone else could use it."

"Harry's right," Dad said. "We need good-quality clothing. It's not even Thanksgiving yet, and they're already predicting another record-breaking winter."

"Yes!" Chase cheered. Mom grumbled. She never understood why Minnesotans rooted for record-breaking cold, and neither did I.

I was moving my mashed potatoes around my plate with my fork when Dad turned to me and asked the question I was so not looking forward to. "You've been particularly quiet this evening, Tristan. How was your day?"

I put down my fork. The hunk of pasta in my mouth felt like Styrofoam when I swallowed.

"I saw Luke today."

Mom glanced up from trying to stop Oliver throwing his food across the table. The look that said, we-don't-talk-about-him-in-this-house, passed over her eyes. We discussed just about everything around our kitchen table: death, teen pregnancy, politics, even the war in Ukraine - but there was one topic no one ever mentioned anymore: Luke.

Dad wiped his mouth with his napkin. "Tristan and Harry, I could use you both at the school tomorrow afternoon. We've had a great response to the charity drive. I can't even get in my office, it's packed so full with donations." He gave a slight chuckle under his breath.

I cleared my throat. "I spoke to him."

Dad's laugh was cut off, almost like he was chocking all a sudden.

"Whoa," Chase said, his fork paused halfway to his mouth. "Nice one, Tristan."

Harry slid back in his chair. "May I be excused?" He asked, and put his napkin down on the table. He didn't wait for a response and walked out of the kitchen.

I glanced at Mom. She was looking at me as if to say, now-look-what-you-did.

"Peas!" Oliver shouted. He threw a handful of them at my face.

"I'm sorry," I whispered, and followed after Harry.

• • •

I found Harry sitting on the front porch, the yellow throw from the couch wrapped around his shoulders. His breath made little white clouds in front of his face.

"It's freezing out, Harry. Come inside."

"I'm fine."

I knew that he wasn't. Few things ever upset him. He didn't like the way some girls would say cruel things and try to pass it off as only 'a joke.' He hated it when people swore when it was unnecessary, and he absolutely couldn't tolerate anyone who claimed Wild would never win the Stanley Cup. But Harry would never scream or tell over anything. He always got really quite and folded into himself. I rubbed my arms for warmth and sat next to him on the wooden step. "I'm sorry I spoke to Luke and I'm sorry about bringing him up. I didn't mean to make you mad."

Harry massaged the back of his left hand. It was something he did a lot. I wondered if it was something he did consciously, or if it just happened. "I'm not mad," he finally replied. "I'm worried."

"About Luke?"

"About you." Harry looked into my eyes. We had the same defined nose and dark brown hair, but the resemblance in dark eyes always felt sort of eerie to me - especially now, when I saw how much pain his showed. "I know the way you feel about him..."

"Felt. That was over three years ago, I was just a kid then."

"You're still a child."

I wanted to say something snide, like 'so are you', because he was barely a year older than me. But I knew he wasn't trying to be mean when he said it. I just wished Harry would realize I was nearly seventeen; I'd been dating and driving for nearly a year now.

Cold air seeped through my thin cotton sweater. I was about to go inside when Harry took my hand in his.

"Rin, will you promise me something?"

"What?"

"If you see Luke again, promise me you won't talk to him?"

"But-"

"Listen to me," he said. "He's not good for you. He's changed, Rin. You have to promise to stay away from him."

I twisted my finger in the yarn of the blanket.

"I'm serious, Tristan. You have to promise."

"Okay, fine. I promise."

Harry squeezed my hand and looked off into the distance. It seemed like he was staring a million miles away, but I knew his gaze rested on the weathered walnut tree - the one I'd been trying to draw in art class - that separated our yard from the neighbor's. I wondered if he was thinking about that night, three years ago, when he last saw Luke - the last time any of us saw him.

"What happened?" I whispered. It had been a long time since I had the nerve to ask that question. My family acted like it was nothing. But nothing wasn't bad enough to explain why Chase and I were sent away to our grandparents for 2 weeks. Families don't just stop talking about something that was nothing. Nothing didn't explain Harry not talking at all for months.

"You're not supposed to speak ill about the dead," Harry mumbled.

I shook my head. "Luke isn't dead."

"He is to me." Aidan's face was blank. If never heard him say anything like that before. I sucked in a breath of frigid air and stared at him, wishing I could read his mind.

"You know you can tell me anything?"

"No, Rin. I really can't."

His words stung. I pulled my hand out of his grasp. I didn't know what else to say. Harry stood up. "Leave it alone," he said softly as he draped the throw over me. He went up the steps, and I heard the screen door click shut. The television's blue light flickered through the front window.

 

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