The heavy scent of strong, black coffee filled my nose as I made my way down the staircase, cautiously following Riley to the kitchen where my younger brother was waiting. I watched him closely, noting how he moved through my house with such ease. It was almost as if he'd been here his entire life. I shook that thought from my mind. A lot of other houses were set up quite like this one, and since he'd been here all morning, Jake had more than likely given him a tour. It wouldn't take long for anyone to pick up on where to go in this maze of a house.
I took in a deep breath of the intoxicating aroma of coffee as I entered the modernized kitchen. My eyes swept over the black granite counter tops and the chrome appliances, looking for the only thing that could help me to function properly right now.
As if on cue, Jake rounded the corner with a steaming black mug of what I could only imagine was my sensational addiction. I felt a smile tug at my mouth, and couldn't keep it back.
"What do we have here?" Jake asked, grinning as he held the mug out of my reach.
I pouted as I reached my hands out pathetically towards it. "Please, Jake?" I pleaded softly, turning my dark blue eyes to his.
The main Amherst feature that Jake and I had gotten from our father was our startlingly blue eyes. They never seemed to be a soft shade, ever.
He shook his head, chuckling. "Living room, now, Cat," he demanded, the happiness in his voice never leaving.
I caught Riley eying me curiously, but averted my eyes quickly, feeling my cheeks heat up. I glided into the living room, and slid into the large leather sofa across from the flat screen TV. If Riley was impressed by the expensiveness of everything in the house, he didn't show it. My parents couldn't resist the urge to buy flashy things, like the pure glass coffee table sitting in front of me for example.
Letting out a sigh, I turned towards the guys. "Seriously. What's with the tag-teaming?" I demanded suddenly, unable to ignore Jake flinching at my choice of words.
Their quietness was getting on my nerves, so I let the last of my desperation from last night out as anger.
"Didn't I get enough of that last night?" I asked Jake, turning my full attention on him now, and momentarily forgetting that Riley was sitting on the opposite side of the couch from me, his legs crossed as he lounged back, watching us.
Jake's jaw clenched, but he remained quiet.
"Cat got your tongue?" Bad pun, bad, bad pun, Catalyst.
Riley chuckled, and I caught him shaking his head with an amused look on his face.
"Good one. Now, on to why-"
I leveled my slight glare on Riley and he stopped talking. "Yes, why are you here?" I asked him, my words coming out a lot softer than what I'd intended. I know, usually people intend on being nice - but I was beyond confused and not even in the least bit happy that Jake had so... kindly, invited Riley over.
He hesitated a moment, and that's all that it took for the trembling to begin. Suddenly, a hot, cream and sugar filled mug of coffee was being thrust in front of me before I could even blink. Jake looked down at me sheepishly.
I took it from him carefully, trying not to spill it as I shook. I took a few long sips of it, letting the french vanilla taste flood my senses.
"I came to apologize," Riley murmured softly, causing me to take a quick glance up from the coffee mug I still had pressed to my lips. He was looking at his hands that were in his lap - he was now sitting up and looking very dejected. His dark hair covered his eyes, and I couldn't read the expression on his face. "I didn't mean to be such a..." he let out a disgruntled sigh and peaked up at me through his shaggy hair. "I didn't mean to be a rotten ass to you, and I most definitely didn't mean to make you late for your mother's important dinner last night. And if I'm to blame for why you holed yourself up in your room all night, ignoring everyone, I'm sorry about that, too," he said softly, looking... hurt.
I forced a small smile through the lump in my throat. "I just needed time to myself, is all. No biggy on being late," I lied through my teeth, trying to lessen the sudden tension in the room.
He looked at me skeptically, but smiled after another minute had passed. "Good, I was worried-"
"I figured that it was a guy who had her held up, but I didn't think it was you," Jake said through clenched teeth, cutting him off and finally butting in.
I ran my hands through my hair anxiously, looking between the two of them. Riley looked shocked, then suddenly a guilty expression overtook his features, and Jake was looking... pissed.
Oh, Riley, shut your mouth already! My mind screamed all sorts of things for me to tell Riley, but my lips were temporarily glued shut. Mainly in fear. I didn't know what Jake was going to say, or what he'd do, but I knew it wouldn't be good.
Riley had no idea why me being so late was such a big deal, and I definitely didn't want him finding out anytime soon. I shot Jake a warning glare, but he obviously ignored it.
"So, are you one of those goody two shoes or are you a jerk - I mean, a jock?" Jake asked, his voice filled with venomous sarcasm. He didn't even wait for Riley to reply. "I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that you were going to see about taking my big sis here, to one of the parties going on tonight. Am I right?"
I trembled. "Jake," I warned quietly, but he just glared at me.
Riley scoffed at my brother. "And if I was?"
Oh god, no.
"Oh, fuck no. She's not going to any party. Ever." Jake's voice was a low growl, and it startled me.
Things were getting so out of hand, so quickly. What the hell?
"Suddenly you go from being little bro to being almighty protector?" Riley asked, no, seethed, as he stood up. "She's a big girl, Jake. Let her take care of herself," he finished, sounding slightly calmer than before.
I bit the inside of my cheeks, trying to keep it together. "Guys, shut up. You're being ridiculous," I told them, trying to keep my voice from cracking. Trying, and failing oh so badly.
Jake turned to me suddenly, the stoic expression on his face that had always scared me. I didn't know what to expect from him. "Wasn't such a big girl a year and a half ago in the ditch," he said softly, the hurt finally showing in his eyes.
And for the second day in a row, the accident was thrown up in my face in a less than ideal situation.
Flashing red and blue lights. Sirens screaming endlessly through the empty streets. A high pitched, blood curdling scream coming from the vehicle. Blood. Blood everywhere. Invading every sensory organ. Touch. Taste. Smell. Could even hear it trickling onto the into the water of the ditch. Another blood curdling scream from the vehicle. "Lyss!"
"CATALYST? ARE YOU OKAY?" Riley asked, his voice soft, yet sounding very worn. As if he'd been repeatedly saying something for a while or talking nonstop for a while. Which, for all I knew, he could have been.
I didn't know how long I'd been sitting there, frozen to that exact spot, staring unthinkingly at the spot where Jake had stood when he delivered that low blow.
"Cat, c'mon, talk to me," Riley whispered, sounding closer now than he was before.
I closed my eyes, trying to hold back the tears. I knew why Jake was so protective over me. I knew why he refused to even think about me going to a party. Why he'd taken up the role of being a big brother, of being my only best friend. He knew me better than anyone else. I was a foot and a half shorter than him, and he said it had always made him feel even more protective over me. He'd said that someone had to watch out for me, cause I looked too pathetic to do so myself. Riley wouldn't understand any of this, even if I explained it to him.
I didn't think he'd quite grasp the concept of the last thing that Jake had said to us.
Oh no. No, no, no, no, no, noooooooooo.
"I know you can hear me Cat, quit ignoring me," Riley pleaded, placing a hand on my shoulder and shaking me gently.
I felt a tear run down my cheek and knew that it was too late to turn back now.
"Earth to Catalyst, you've been spaced out ignoring me for a good... bad... fifteen minutes. I'm about to pummel your brother for god only knows what, because I don't even know what he meant by that!" he exclaimed quietly, frustration evident in his voice.
I shook my head quickly, deciding to face Riley, and wiped the tear from my face. "It was nothing, Riley, don't worry about it. Can we just... Ugh," I let out a sigh, covering my face. I didn't want to face him right now. I was too embarrassed from how my brother acted, and I didn't want to face any questions.
Questions weren't good, especially questions from Riley. He may have been in my house, and I may have been getting this odd little fluttery feeling in my stomach right now because he's breathing down my neck, but there was no way I could bring myself to answer any of his questions. Not about this topic.
"Ice cream?" he asked me suddenly, voice very serious.
I looked up at him through my hands. "As long as I don't have to talk about anything," I whispered, looking into his darkened green eyes. They looked troubled, and talking would only worsen that.
"Cat..." he trailed off, but when he looked back down at me again, he must have seen something in my face that made him change his mind. "Fine. No deep talking necessary. Ice cream, my treat," he told me, looking like he was holding back from saying something.
I didn't bother asking him what it was that he wanted to say. I plastered on the most fake smile I'd ever worn, and rubbed my eyes, hoping they weren't too awfully blood shot.
RILEY DROVE SILENTLY back to my house after we went for ice cream. We stayed out for hours. I wasn't sure how long. The silence was gnawing at me, making me wonder if I should speak up, or even apologize for my brother's behavior.
"Are you sure you're not a party girl?" he asked me suddenly.
I looked at him in shock and confusion. Was he serious? The look on his face said that he was, and that he was also confused... or thinking. Maybe both?
"I don't..." I trailed off, unsure of how to continue that sentence, or how to answer him in general.
He smiled slightly at me, glancing over at me quickly. "Ever been?"
I raised an eyebrow, but realizing he couldn't see it, I thought of a quick answer. "It's been a while," I murmured finally. I didn't want to sound stupid and ask what he was talking about - because we both knew it.
It was his turn to raise an eyebrow now. "I thought you were the studiously studenty type?" he asked, fumbling with his words. I couldn't hold back the small laugh that escaped at his expense. He grimaced.
"I am. I was. Errr... I've only been to one party," I stammered, trying to find the right words as I looked out of the passenger side window at the busy landscape passing slowly. "I don't really think I want to go to another, either. Being drunk isn't that awesome, and drunk people aren't that fun," I added quietly.
The inside of the SUV was quiet for a few minutes, and I wondered if he hadn't heard me over the low volume of the radio. Without thinking, I reached up and rubbed my temple, gently tracing the outline of the soft pink/purple scar that was still there.
"Are you okay?" Riley asked suddenly, sounding concerned.
I let out a small laugh. "All things considered, Dierde," I paused, making sure my voice didn't waver, "not quite."
I heard him let out a sigh as I watched the bright fall leaves blur past, knowing that my house was getting closer and closer. The trip to the ice cream shop was sweet, and he kept up light conversation with me, helping me to keep my mind off of what awaited me back at home. He never once brought up what had happened this morning, or had asked about what was wrong. I risked a glance over to him.
He was watching me carefully, shaking his head slightly. "If I asked you what happened, you wouldn't shut me out and ignore me the rest of the ride to your parents', would you?" he asked quietly, his piercing green eyes locked on my blue eyes.
Would I shut him out? Should I? I mean, the only people who knew how much it'd changed me... well, the only person, I should say, is Jake. My parents were always too busy to talk to about it, and even then, I didn't consider myself lucky enough to have an extremely close relationship with either one of them. If I did have one like that, it would've gone downhill anyways after the accident.
I shook my head, still considering it. I brushed my hair back, and pulled it up into a bun, securing it with the ever present hair tie that was always secured to my wrist. "I don't think I'm up to answering that one just yet..." I trailed off softly, looking back out the window. We were just a block away from where I lived now.
"I understand." he replied gently. "Where'd you get this nifty scar, Cat?" he asked me suddenly, touching a finger to my temple.
I jumped, and bit back whatever noise that was about to come out of my mouth. Be it a squeak or a shriek, I had no idea. I flinched away from his hand, looking at his curious expression with wide eyes.
He stopped at a vacant stop sign, and turned his attention towards me for the moment. "Okay, Ms. Mysterious. I get that you want to keep so many things to yourself, but c'mon. Give a little. You practically know my life story over here, and I know what? Your favorite color and food? Obviously nothing from before you moved, except that you've always been on honor student and you're a city chick," he told me calmly, when I'd expected him to be frustrated.
I took a deep breath. "You're holding up traffic, Ri," I whispered, looking back out the window.
Riley let out a breath he'd apparently been holding. "Fine," he mumbled, and took off towards my place.
JAKE WASN'T AT THE HOUSE, so I invited Riley inside. Grabbing up a couple sodas and some snacks, I led him up the staircase to the second family room.
"C'mon, Dierde. Wanna watch a movie?" I asked, trying to break the tension as I patted a spot on the leather couch to sit next to me.
He smiled crookedly, and quickly made his way over to where I sat. I grabbed the remote for the TV, and turned it on, looking through the movies on the DVR. I myself was in the mood for a good horror film.
"What do you wanna watch?" I asked him, chewing on my lip in concentration. I pulled my knees up to my chest and kept browsing through the movies.
He slid over on the couch next to me. "Entirely your pick," he murmured, nudging me with his elbow.
I grinned, and pressed a few buttons until Mama came onto the screen. I looked over to Riley for approval, and he was grinning.
"Very good pick, little Cat, very good pick," he said, chuckling softly. "And if you happen to get scared, feel free to hold my hand, or snuggle in a little closer," he whispered in my ear, sending a shiver up my spine.
I elbowed him, laughing softly. "This is my favorite movie, so not a chance," I told him, smiling up at him.
He brushed his hair out of his face, keeping his eyes on me. "Shall I get the lights, then?" he asked.
I nodded, and turned the volume of the TV up. The movie previews began rolling, and the lights clicked off. I felt Riley sit back down next to me, his arm pressing against mine.
Words started forming in my mind and slipping out of my mouth before I could even think better of it.
"It's from an accident, the scar," I said softly, focusing on the previews flickering on the TV screen.
Riley's arm wrapped around me gently, and he gave me a half hug. "It's okay, Cat, you don't have to talk about it if you don't want to," he said softly, giving me a slight squeeze but leaving his arm where is was.
My cheeks flooded with heat. I wasn't quite used to... well, this. At all, really. "I haven't talked about it before," I told him, my voice almost a whisper, and I looked over to him. "It's been almost two years, and I could never bring myself to talk about it."
He turned slightly to face me, watching me curiously. "You can tell me, Cat. My lips," he moved his hand across them as if to zip them closed, "are sealed." he said with a serious expression on his face.
I let a small smile slip across my face at him and nodded my head. "V and I were seventeen, when it happened," I told him, pausing to gather my thoughts and to decide on whether or not I was going to back out of this now or later.
"Who's V?" Riley asked, before I could continue.
Letting out the breath I'd been holding, I answered. "She is... was... my best friend."
He nodded, still looking a little confused. I braced myself for the next question that I could see forming in his eyes. "What happened? I mean, was it like, she stole your boyfriend and you guys stopped talking or something?" he asked, sounding like he was trying to make a joke.
I shook my head, feeling my chest begin tighten. "She died in the accident," I told him, turning back to the TV. I stared at it unseeingly, willing the tears to go back in my eyes. They burned, and they trailed ever so slowly down my cheeks.
"I'm sorry, Cat," Riley said, pulling me closer to him. "I didn't mean to upset you."
I knew he didn't. I could hear the sincerity in his voice when he told me that. And truthfully, he wasn't the one who'd hurt me. I'd hurt myself. He didn't know what was going on, didn't know anything about V, so why should I have gotten so upset over it?
Because your best friend is dead, and this is the first time you've told anyone about it willingly, dumby.
I nodded my head and wiped at my cheeks. "Can we watch the movie now? I-I think I'm done talking," I pleaded in a whisper, hearing my voice crack as I spoke.
He took the remote from me and hit play on the movie and the title screen came on.
"It's not your fault, Riley."