I woke up later that day to the bright rays of the afternoon sun shining directly upon my closed eyelids between my bedroom curtains. I brought my hand up to block the sun from beating down on my face as my eyes slowly fluttered open. A large, languid smile spread across my face as I stretched out my limbs under the covers. I let one arm fall beside me in search of Zak, but found only a large empty space. I sat up in bed and looked around the room. The clothes I had taken off him yesterday were gone. That could only mean two things: he was gone or he was merely in the other room. I prayed that it was the latter.
That's when the most wonderful aroma slipped into my room and assaulted my senses. Bacon. I could smell bacon being cooked in the kitchen. A strange sense of relief washed over me knowing that he hadn't left. He had merely gotten up to go fix breakfast. My eyes glanced at my bedside clock. It was nearing 1:30, so I guess I should say Zak was fixing lunch.
Eager to see Zak after our passionate night together (I was trying to forget the part where he tried to kill me), I jumped out of bed and slipped on a pair of shorts and a tank top. I dashed to the bathroom and quickly raked my fingers through my hair the best I could without making it look too obvious that I had fixed it before coming out. Satisfied with the way it looked, I made my way out of the bedroom. As soon as I opened the door, a wave of the smell of bacon overwhelmed my nostrils. A smile broke out across my face. I wonder if I had stayed asleep a little longer if he would have brought me breakfast/ lunch in bed. I closed the door behind me and made my way down the hallway to the kitchen. Before I stepped around the corner I braced myself. Even though our night together had been almost perfect, there was still that incident where he lost control and choked me. I hadn't seen any marks around my neck when I had been fixing my hair, but that didn't mean that the moment still hadn't internally scarred us both. The darkness was growing steadily stronger inside of him. I needed to start acting quicker and find a way to help him. I just needed to figure out how.
I wasn't going to worry about that too much right now though. Not with Zak standing in the kitchen cooking food for us. I rounded the corner ready to slip my arms around the waist of the man I loved when I came face to face with another man entirely: my brother. He was half turned toward the counter with a sizzling hot pan in one hand and a pair of tongs in the other. His dark brown eyes met mine for a brief moment before falling to the bacon in the skillet. He slid the bacon out of the pan and onto a piece of bread that had mayonnaise slathered on it. On the other slice of bread was lettuce and tomato. An awkward silence enveloped my brother and I. I prepared myself for the slew of questions I was bound to get, but none ever came. Mason merely put the sandwich together, cut it in half, and turned back to the stove to shut it off. I raked a hand back through my hair and tapped my toes softly on the kitchen floor.
"Good morning, brother," I quietly greeted unsure of what else to say. Where was Zak? Was he in the bathroom maybe? Or was he out getting something? Maybe Nick had called him out to the motel for something? Assuming Nick was still here of course. He had been last I knew.
"Afternoon, you mean," he corrected.
"I think you mean to say 'good afternoon, brother' since it is past noon now," he restated placing the skillet in the sink.
" I chuckled nervously. Why was he not interrogating me? Did he finally come to terms that I was old enough to be with whomever I pleased?
"I made you a BLT. I figured you might be hungry when you got up," he informed me as he turned his back to me once more.
ok, thanks." I walked over to the counter and picked up one half of the sandwich. I took a small bite of it confused as to why my brother was acting so strange this morning. Had he maybe talked to Zak this morning when he came home? This still begged the question as to where Zak was. The only sound that could be heard in the entire apartment was the soft crunching sound of the bacon being chewed and my own pounding heart. That was when I noticed my clothes folded neatly on the kitchen bar. Mason must have found them lying on the floor when he came home and put them on the bar.
And with the way my brother was acting
something wasn't right. I slowly put the sandwich back on the plate as my heart kicked up speed. It was pounding so hard against my chest I felt like it was going to hammer its way out of my chest.
where is Zak?" I asked gently hoping he was just going to tell me Zak had left to go visit Nick or go grab a quick change of clothes. My thoughts were screaming out at him to tell me that. Mason refused to turn and look at me.
"Mason. Please," I begged of him. "Where is Zak? It's ok. I can take whatever answer you may give me. I'm a big girl. I even took a bullet in the chest and survived. Surely I can handle a little thing like this," I nervously chuckled knowing that I was, once again, making a joke out of the being shot situation. I couldn't help it though. I was scared and I didn't know what else to do. Mason wouldn't even look at me.
Finally, Mason gradually faced me, but his dark eyes stayed glued to the floor. I slapped a fake smile onto my face so that I could maybe convince him I was ok with him telling me. I reached out a hand to place on my brother's bicep. That one gentle touch gave me everything I needed to get him to finally lift his gaze to mine. A mixture of sadness, pity, and raw anger was burning within the depths of his near black eyes.
"He's gone, Aero. Left early this morning while you were still sleeping," Mason darkly answered. My smile froze in place at my brother's words.
"What?" I lamely asked wondering if I had heard him correctly.
Mason leaned in close to my face. He licked his lips before speaking.
"Zak. Is. Gone," he repeated slowly and with more enunciation on each word.
but that's not possible," I chuckled uneasily. "He said he loves me
he wouldn't leave me again. Not so soon after we just got back together. I mean
it has only been two weeks for crying out loud." My voice rose higher with fear and doubt with each sentence. Thoughts of betrayal and doubt clouded my mind. He wouldn't leave me again
would he? Not like that. Not in the middle of the night. Not after having confessed our love to one another. Not on my BIRTHDAY of all days. Right??
Mason wrapped his arms around me and pulled me tightly against his chest. I was too stunned to move. I couldn't even dredge up a single tear.
"I'm sorry, Aerolynn. I caught him sneaking out when I had come home. He said he's not the type of guy to settle down with one woman. He comes to places looking for new things and people to explore. You just happened to be one of the many women he 'explored'," Mason growled gritting his teeth together in anger. "He said he figured you were going to be a hard catch when he first met you with you being so stubborn and all. So he had to find a way to make a convincing show out of pretending to love you so he could get into your pants."
"He was just
using me?" I softly inquired. It was hard trying to comprehend everything my brother was telling me. It didn't feel real. Last night had been all but a dream. I had been Cinderella dancing at the ball in a beautiful gown with her prince. Only to wake up to reality this morning knowing there had been no ball or beautiful gown. And there certainly had been no prince. Just dreams and wishful thinking.
"Yeah. It was all just a ruse to get you to sleep with him. He never cared about you. He never loved you. He told me that he wanted to leave while you were still sleeping to make sure there would be no trace of him when he left. He didn't want you to see him leaving otherwise he'd never make a clean getaway to the next location with you biting at his heels," Mason spat still holding me tightly to him. That's when it hit me. A memory of last night slammed to the forefront of my mind.
"These aren't even in season," I breathed taking the trailing flower stem from him. As I took it from his hands, something dangled from it glistening in the light that illuminated from the electric candle.
I laid the object across the palm of my hand to see what it was. My mouth dropped open again when I saw it was a necklace. The pendant was in the shape of a diamond encrusted shell. My brows furrowed in confusion over why he had chosen a shell.
He took the necklace from my hands and unclasped it.
"Because of its hard casing, the Shell is a protective image - protecting life and also symbolizes the protective quality love sometimes takes. In Roman mythology, Venus, the goddess of love, was said to be created from the foam carried ashore atop a scallop shell. The Hindu goddess Lakshmi was said to also be created from the grit and pearls within the shell. Also in Hinduism the conch shell is symbolic because it awakens the heart of the faithful and calls to those who live with heart-filled love," Zak intelligently explained as he hooked the pendant around my neck. He brushed the hair out of my face and gently cupped my jawline in his hands.
.can you tell me what the arbutus I just gave you means?" he asked.
I shook my head waiting for him to tell me.
"It means," he began. He leaned in closer to me; our lips merely a centimeter apart from each other. "That you're the only one I love."
Tears formed in my eyes at the memory of those words. There was no way he could have not meant it. I reached up and fingered the pendant that still hung around my neck. He hadn't taken everything with him. He had taken everything except the necklace and the memories he had given to me. Everything my brother had been whispering in my ear slammed into me making me nearly go breathless from it all. I finally understood. Everything Mason was telling me
it didn't make sense. Why would Mason be telling me all of this unless it was just lies made up by him, Zak, or them both in order for me to hate Zak? If Zak had really left for those reasons then Mason wouldn't need to sit there and explain it to me. All he would have had to say was 'Zak left in the middle of the night. I'm so sorry, sis' and hold me in sadness and pity. He wouldn't be gripping me tightly to him like this with anger.
I shoved my brother away and took his face in my hands when I saw his eyes immediately shoot down at the floor.
"Look at me," I demanded of him. His eyes met mine. That's where I saw the truth shining brightly in my brother's eyes. He wasn't mad because Zak had left in the middle of the night. He wasn't even mad at the fact that we had slept together before he'd left. My brother was angry with himself for being forced to lie to me. He was terrified at the thought that I would instead hate him because he was lying to me in order for me to hate Zak. I was the only thing Mason had left in this world and if I were to hate him? He would be crushed. He was frightened at the thought of losing me when all he was really doing was trying to protect me.
"Mason," I whispered as I saw a single tear fall down his cheek. I hadn't even seen him cry as I had lay dying on the cold floor of Luke's pizza shop.
"He left because of the darkness inside of him, didn't he?" I gently inquired of my brother. He nodded.
My brother, sergeant in the army and six feet tall, fell to his knees as tears fell in translucent streaks down his tan face. He wrapped his arms around my waist and buried his face into my stomach as his large body began to tremble from his contained sobs.
"I'm so sorry, Aero. I never wanted to lie to you, but after having talked to Zak early this morning we both agreed it would be best for you to hate him. I was even dead set in agreement with him. But then
when I saw you this morning
when I saw the happiness fade from your eyes
" My brother held me tighter. "I-I couldn't do it. I couldn't look you in the eyes and lie to you. I know how much you love him a-and I didn't want you to hate me," he sobbed into my belly.
"I love you so much, Aerolynn. Y-you're all I have left. If you were to hate me?" His body racked from his tremendous sobs. I could feel his hot tears soaking the bottom of my tank top through to my skin. I closed my eyes to hold back my own tears at seeing my brother on his knees crying so helplessly like a child before me.
I dropped down to my knees as well and gripped his large face between my small, delicate hands. I wiped away a few tears with my thumbs before speaking.
"It's alright, Mason. It's ok," I soothed him.
Mason just shook his head in denial. "I'm sorry, Aerolynn. I had to lie to you. I had to lie to protect you. I just can't see you get hurt again. I'd never forgive myself if you got hurt over something I had the power to stop. I died on the inside when I thought we had lost you. A-and I thought that maybe if you hated him
th-then everything would be ok. That you w-wouldn't have to worry about hurting anymore."
"Sssshhh, Mason, it's ok," I repeated trying to quiet his continuous sobs.
"But I didn't want you to end up h-hating me once you discovered I had l-lied to you ab-about Zak and wh-why he'd left," he explained further. His bottom lip trembled more than normal now as he did all he could to fight back the endless tears.
"But I don't want you to hate me, Aero. I just w-want to see you ha-happy. Whether it's w-with Luke, by yourself, or with Z-Zak
." Mason gently took my hands in his and placed a kiss on my fingers. "I j-just want you to be happy. That's all I wish for."
Silent tears fell down my face at my brother's words. There had been no need for him to explain his actions to me. I knew why he had done what he'd done. Yet hearing those same words I had thought coming from my brother
it made things better since I wasn't just assuming his actions. I knew for sure now why he had done what he'd done. Not only that, but he was apologizing. Even though it wasn't needed, I knew my brother would never forgive himself if he didn't apologize for the wrong he felt like he had done.
"I love you, Aerolynn. I'm so sorry," Mason whispered against our hands. "Please
please forgive me," he begged.
I released a pitiful laugh that was a partial sob and threw my arms around my brother to hug him closely to me. "There is nothing to apologize for, Mason. I know you only did what you thought was right. How could I ever hate a brother who is only doing his best to protect his little sister?"
I pulled away from him, but still kept my hands on his shoulders.
"For my entire life you have been there whenever I needed help. You were always there when I felt like no one saw me; when I felt invisible. Even during the times I came home from school and felt like running off somewhere to die, somehow
you always knew. And you would be by my side, holding me, as I cried out all of my fears and frustrations to you. And whenever I had my heart broken by a boy for the first time, but had told no one about it
somehow you knew. And you were there to piece back and mend my aching heart. And when our parents died and I felt like the entire world had come crashing down around us? You stayed strong throughout it all so that you might lend me that same strength to help me get through each day on my own.
"Through every hardship and through every breakdown, you have been there always protecting me. Even when you were overseas and couldn't be by my side, you always sent me a letter letting me know you were ok and would return home soon to see my smiling face. And it was those letters that got me through each day. Even in those letters
I could feel your constant strength protecting me. You are always protecting me and catching me whenever I fall so that I don't hurt myself, but it's time to let me fall, brother. It's time to let me scratch my knee or feel a dull aching in my heart. It's time to let me stand on my own two feet and protect myself. So stop being angry with yourself for doing your best as my brother and trying to protect me from harm," I quietly explained to him, tears running down both our faces.
"Let me take this road alone. Let me stumble and fall. And let me stand back up on my own because we both know you won't always be there to catch me anymore. It's time to let your baby sister grow up and know that no matter what you do
I will always forgive you, my brother. You're all I have left and I couldn't stand the thought of losing my only brother just like you couldn't stand to lose me."
My brother pulled me to him in a strong embrace and cried into my shoulder just as I cried into his. If anyone were to walk in right now, they would see us both crying like babies in each other's arms on the kitchen floor. This was the first time I had ever cried with my brother since he hardly shed many tears throughout his life. He didn't even cry this much at our parents' funerals.
"You have to go after him, Aerolynn. He needs you now more than ever," Mason whispered into my ear with a small sniffle.
I nodded my head and pulled away to stand up on my feet. I wiped the tears from my eyes and turned to head back to my bedroom to change. My brother caught my hand before I could turn.
We stared at each other for what felt like hours when he gently squeezed my hand. "Be careful out there
on your own."
I nodded with a small smile. "Always, brother."
He hesitantly released my hand allowing me to go change. I gave him one last smile before heading back to my room to change.
There was someone I needed to have a nice long chat with.