A/N: It's been quite a long time since I've put anything up. This story has been rolling around in my head for five years, this is rewrite number ten I think. I think this time I'm going to be able to see it to its end, and I'd appreciate all feedback!
Some days it is impossible to come out unscathed.
Unfortunately for me, I knew today would be one of those days. As I sat in the dining room of my house, carefully splitting red and yellow skittles apart with a sharp knife I knew would soon betray me, I purposefully ignored my mother's watchful stare from across the room.
"How long have you been up?" she held a cup of coffee in two shaky hands, concern not being able to hide the obvious fatigue in her voice. I assumed she got about as much sleep as I had.
"A few hours," I murmured, trying to focus on my task.
"It's a Saturday, you know," I winced at her reference to the day, "You should have slept in, gotten some sleep."
"But I like getting up at five," I said sarcastically, slicing another skittle in half. I bowed my head in an attempt to escape her frowning brown eyes, my auburn hair tumbling in front of my concentrated green ones.
There were a few minutes of silence as I began to stick the colored candies back together with chocolate icing. She continued to study me as I placed the new red and yellow skittles back into a plastic bag. The clock in the living room chimed nine and I spoke to her without looking up from my project, "You're going to be late, aren't you?"
I immediately regretted my question, "Frankie I wish you would come with me. I think it would make you feel so much better to go back there! It's been four years today and—"
"I know how long it has been," I said tersely.
"I just think you need to be with someone today and not sit alone and mope."
"Jake and Jeremy will be here soon," I allowed my voice to become calm again.
She sighed and walked over to the sink, dumping out her full glass, "If you change your mind, I'll come pick you up." She swooped down and kissed the top of my head and grabbed her bag, and then was gone.
I scoffed to myself as I heard the front door close and I realized my body was trembling. I tried to refocus on my task, desperate to fight off the panic that had been looming in my chest since I had woken up earlier this morning—more like jerked awake, actually. The dream I always had around this time of year had finally come, I could still hear the voices as if I was watching it play out in front of me.
"Haha! You can't catch me!"
I watched as my brother shot off down the dirt path with Jeremy close at his heels. "Be careful you two!" Jake called after them and then sat on a rock beside me.
"Mom's going to kill me if he gets his new clothes dirty," He sighed and ran a hand through his deep brown hair.
I laughed, "Yeah, mine too,"
There was suddenly a loud scream and a distant splash of water. Jake and I both looked at each other and jumped up.
"Jeremy!" He yelled as we started following the path they had just went down.
"Jake?" Came his brother's frantic reply and I followed the voice with a sinking heart. Please, I inwardly prayed, Not Casey.
We quickly reached Jeremy and to my ever increasing horror, Casey was no where to be found. As Jeremy began to bubble out confused and scared explanations, I quickly searched the river for my brother's blonde locks. I soon spotted him only a few meters away and instantly began to rip my heavy jacket off and slip my shoes off.
Jake's voice was distant as I searched the water again for my brother. Keep kicking Casey, I pleaded inwardly, Get above the surface again.
I finally saw him come out of the water in one quick burst, but quickly get sucked back down. My stomach sank as I began to run along the length of the bank to catch up, the river was moving swiftly and I knew he wouldn't be able to fight the current long.
He was only ten for Heaven's sake!
I saw him come up again, and this time he was significantly closer to my relief. Right as I stopped to jump into the water, two arms locked around my waist and both I and my captor fell backwards onto the hard ground.
"You can't swim in that any better than he can!"
It was Jake.
I struggled, "Let me go Jake! He's going to drown!"
His grip tightened painfully, "Better just him than both of you."
I looked to him quickly with a look of surprise and then turned back to the water where my brother had now disappeared.
A shudder went through my body, always the same dream, never a fraction different. It was the reason I refused to go back to the creek, even after so long. Why revisit it in the flesh when it so vividly haunted my dreams?
I finished repairing the candies, listening intently for the sound of a door opening. I had lied when I told my mother my two best friends were coming over, but that didn't stop me from hoping they would.
With nothing to occupy my hands, my eyes wandered around the room. Passing over the forest-green walls my mother insisted we needed two years ago, they landed on a calendar which had been hanging precariously on an old nail for months and froze. Today's date stuck out as though it were written in neon lights—November 17. I sat, transfixed by the empty black boxes, it had been four years since my little brother had drowned.
As soon as I allowed myself to think the thought I had been fighting off for the past four hours my stomach felt as though someone had just punched me. The breath was gone from my lungs and I doubled over, clutching the table for support. Whoever once said time heals all wounds was a liar, each year the pain I felt that day came back stronger and more debilitating than ever.
I heard a door slam as I tried to suck in air to soothe the ache in my chest and immediately two strong arms wrapped around me. "I overslept," he said simply, his voice dripping in apology. By the way his chest was heaving I assumed he had run to my house the moment he awoke.
"It's barely nine, Jake," I breathed, laughing slightly, trying to lighten the mood.
He stepped back and surveyed me much as my mother had been minutes earlier, his normally jovial expression replaced with worry. "Are you alright?"
I sucked in a deep breath, having him with me provided distraction from my thoughts. I studied his face, his blue eyes partially blocked by deep brown locks. "Definitely better now," I admitted, standing up and throwing my arms around his neck and hoping he couldn't feel how much I was shaking. Even on my tiptoes I could barely reach up high enough to embrace the six foot one boy.
Jake was a senior in high school like myself and was six months older than me. He'd been my next door neighbor since either of us could remember and had been through everything. He was my older brother by all accounts, and was one of two people that could help me survive this day, again.
"Where's Jeremy?" I asked, pulling away from him and looking around his large frame, searching for his younger brother.
"He'll get here when he's ready," he said, trying to catch his breath, "Is your mom gone already?"
I nodded and rubbed my eyes, surprised to find them moist.
"You decided not go to with her again?" He watched me wearily, expecting my negative response.
I glared, "Of course I did, what good would it do for me to go back there?"
"I think she has a point, Frankie." I ignored him and moved into the kitchen, rummaging around in the fridge for something to cook for breakfast. "Jer and I have both been back there since it happened, it would make this day so much easier for you if you would—"
"What do you want, eggs or bacon?" I tried to ignore the pressure rebuilding in my chest.
"There is nothing to be scared of, we would both be there with you." He continued like I hadn't interrupted, "You can't keep holding everything in and not letting it out except for one day a year, it's not healthy. You need to face this, it's been four years. You can't just keep pushing him out of your memory like this."
I tossed an egg in my hand while looking for a frying pan, agitated. He was supposed to comfort me today, not join my mother's team. I retrieved the pan I needed and set it on top of the oven, lighting the appropriate burner.
"Frankie," his voice was uncharacteristically stern as he forced me to face him, egg still in hand. "I know you're scared, but you need to do this."
My terrified eyes softened his and he sighed, enveloping me in another hug, "Make scrambled eggs, Jer will like them too."
I flashed him a weak smile when he let me go and turned back to the oven top, "I know you're both right," I murmured softly, cracking three eggs into the pan one at a time. "It doesn't feel right, I don't want to go there because I feel obligated."
"You are obligated."
I bit my lip and was thankful he couldn't see my pained expression. We sat in silence, both listening to the sizzling of the eggs. I added salt and pepper mechanically and flipped them over, lost in my own thoughts.
He put his hands on my shoulders, bracing me, "You do what you need to do, we'll be here for you, ok?"
I nodded numbly and continued to stare down at the breakfast I was preparing. I let out a huge yawn that shook through my entire body.
The back door closed softly and both of us whipped around to see Jeremy walking into the kitchen. He sat down at the bar stools and sniffed the air expectantly, his eyes, blue like his brothers, watched me warmly and I couldn't help but smile at him. His slender body seemed so at ease in his seat that I quickly found myself feeling calmer. Although Jeremy was two years younger than me, he was wise beyond his years. The accident had changed him more than anyone else, he had gone from a bubbling boy into a silent recluse. But even without words, the three of us were able to communicate and I could feel the love and support from both of them fill the room.
"Do you want cheese in yours, Jeremy?" I asked and turned my face towards his with a half smirk, "You really need to work on that whole talking thing, because only Jake and I will know you're shrugging without looking."
His eyes crinkled up in amusement but he said nothing.
"What time did you get up?" Jake asked while grabbing plates from a cupboard.
"Around five," I tried to sound nonchalant as I portioned out the eggs for the two boys. Both of them watched me carefully and I went over to the sink to wash out the pan, "Bad dream." I offered as a truthful explanation.
"So what you're telling me is that you need to go back to sleep as soon as possible."
"No," I said firmly, leaning on the counter across from them while they ate. "I just want to get through today, I don't want to go sleep again."
"I think you should get some rest or you'll be too tired for the rest of the day." Jake mumbled through a full mouth, his eyes insistent.
"Why? What are we doing?"
"Well seeing how you always spend today locked up in your house, I thought we could go for a hike—no not to there, calm down." He placated my shocked expression, "Just up the road, you know that trail we used to take when we were kids? C'mon, it's a nice day outside, it'll make you feel better, release endorphins and all."
I twisted up my nose, resilient to the idea of leaving my warm house but knowing it would do me some good. "Would Amy come?" I inquired, referring to his girlfriend and my other best friend.
He nodded, "Duh—she's already on her way here."
I grinned, "Fine, but I'm not going back to bed we can just leave when she gets here."
"You'll probably need to change," he snickered, referring to my bare feet and short pajama bottoms.
I stuck my tongue out at him and rushed upstairs to change. As soon as I left the safety of the kitchen, I felt panic surge back into my chest. It was so much easier to be happy and forget what day it was with the two Steward brothers, being alone was not an option for the next twenty four hours. I threw on two long-sleeved shirts, my oldest pair of jeans and more appropriate foot attire and clamored back down the stairs, my heart beating hard.
There was a knock on my front door as I passed it and I thankfully threw it open, grabbing Amy in a tight hug. Her long brown hair tickled my face as she pulled away, studying me from head to toe. "You doing ok?" her soft voice soothed the beast within my chest and I smiled into her big brown eyes, not answering but leading her into the kitchen.
"Oh, you made them skittles?" she asked bemused, and the two brothers who had been whispering to themselves both snapped their heads in our direction.
"Yeah, figured it gave me something to do." I responded, tossing a bag full of the green candies at Jake, and the mismatched red and yellow ones to Jeremy.
"And you separated them already?" Jake cried, eyeing his bag in amazement. Jeremy even looked like he was going to cry out in excitement. The two of them had an almost obsessive love of skittles, something Amy and I could never understand but often indulged.
Jake crossed the room to give me another strong hug, "Thank you!"
I laughed, "No problem, really," I knew despite the strong front they offered me, this day was just as hard for them. A little sugar-induced courage was always welcome in their book.
He let me go and went to his girlfriend, giving her a light kiss. I moved away from the happy couple when they both turned suspicious eyes on me, mumbling undoubtedly about what I had fought with Jake about earlier.
Planting myself in the seat beside Jeremy I began to wrap my long reddish hair around my fingers, staring at my refrigerator without really seeing anything. Jake and Amy had been dating for over two years now, but the four of us were inseparable years before they got together. Amy moved into town in the middle of seventh grade and she quickly joined our family. Back then though she had been the fifth member.
I sucked in a breath and felt a warm hand rest on my arm. I jumped slightly and met Jeremy's searching gaze. Forcing a smile, I turned back towards Jake and Amy, "When are we leaving?"
Jake zipped up his jacket and pulled Amy's hood over her face, "Right now."
She giggled and shoved him, coming over to me and grabbing my hand, "This is going to be fun. I haven't been to the top of the mountain in years."
Her smile was infectious and I willingly followed her out of my backdoor and into the backyard I shared with Jake and Jeremy. The last of the autumn leaves continued to cling to otherwise barren branches and a brisk wind blew my hair into my face.
"It's cold!" I cried in surprise, realizing my double layers were not going to be enough.
Jake laughed and threw a jacket I hadn't realized he'd been holding around my shoulders. The strong scent of his cologne comforted me and I hastily zipped it up, stuffing my cold hands into over sized pockets.
The frigid air sharpened my senses and I found myself anticipating climbing the familiar path up through the woods. I watched Jake and Amy walk in front of me, hand and hand, trying to eavesdrop on their quiet conversation they had continued. I couldn't make out anything they were saying and I was concentrating so hard that a large log they had easily stepped over escaped my attention and I stumbled, quickly catching myself before I fell onto the ground.
Behind me Jeremy snickered and I turned to glare at him. His face immediately turned innocent and he stepped over the log, continuing past where I now stood.
"Frank, are you keeping up?" Jake called, several yards ahead of me now.