Emerson looked exhausted as he walked into the room. He was carrying a collection of bags in one hand while the other held two much smaller sealed prescription bags. Emerson wasn't dressed as nice as usual. He was in a sweatshirt and jeans as opposed to the fancy law student get up he normally wore. His hair wasn't neatly parted, likely from him messing with and twirling his fingers through it. Really he just looked like he needed a long night of rest. Bags were starting to form under his eyes. Valerian assumed that with their parents gone this past week he'd been doing a lot more work than usual along with his tight school schedule, and of course the stress of their dropped court case and outcome.
"Here Eskel I got your medicine." Emerson breathed as he dropped one of the bags beside Eskel. "I got Annabell's stuff too" He gestured a bit to the other clothing bags and dry cleaning. Emerson rounded the table to set everything down at the opposite end from them. He laid the dry cleaning out and folded the costumes the best he could to lay out for his sister to get. He stacked a small collection of shoeboxes, "I can't believe how many pointe shoes she goes through." He spoke, though seemed to be speaking more to himself than Valerian and Eskel. He chewed the inside of his cheek as he looked over the ballet gear and outfits and went through his list of things to do. He closed his eyes as if in pain, "I forgot my dry cleaning."
Eskel finally seemed to grow interested in the medicine left for him. He tore the bag open and inspected the pill bottle with a frown. He shoved the bag across the table, letting it fall and scatter across the floor. "I really don't want them." He stated.
Emerson gazed as his brother with heavy eyes before moving to pick it all up and leave it on the table. He massaged his temples, "Eskel" he began, "it's one pill a day, you can do that."
"I can but I don't want to."
"But if it'll make you feel better, why not? It's not even that big of a pill to swallow." He tried to reason.
"What are they for?" Valerian asked and Eskel shrugged.
"Don't act like you don't know what they're giving you" Emerson frowned before turning to Valerian. "It's for anxiety."
"Which I don't have."
"Everyone, including your body and doctor, says otherwise." Eskel huffed, "he's been having anxiety attacks a lot more often now that the case has ended. They are the worst at night, but he has them a few times a day at this point, right?"
"Stop" Eskel went red, "it's embarrassing" he grumbled, stabbing at his food.
"It's not" Valerian assured before pulling Eskel back in for a conversation. Emerson smiled at the pair before heading out of the room to find his sister.
"Really, I don't know how many times I have to tell you not to worry about what I think about things." Valerian laughed.
"You're the only person that I worry about what you think of me, maybe Lily too," Eskel admitted. "I want my only friend like me." Eskel crossed his arms, "I'm not strange nor am I sick. I don't need medication."
"I have not made how much I like you clear enough?" Valerian asked with an edge of humor in his voice. "Hey, Eskel, how's Emerson doing with everything?"
Eskel shrugged, "I don't know."
"But he's your brother" Valerian frowned.
"Emerson likes to talk to me about me, not about himself," Eskel explained.
"It just seems like he's really tired," Valerian commented. "Especially with your parents gone. When do they come home?"
"They said the twentieth, so like four days I think? But knowing them they'll stay away an extra week, father really enjoys Vegas." Eskel set his fork down and looked to the patio doors, "let's go play with Lady Coco." He changed the topic, getting up and urging Valerian to follow.
Emerson sighed as he dropped his things and crawled into bed. He fell onto it and a wave of relief washed over his tired body. He pressed his face into the pillow before shifting to hug it and bend his legs to try and get comfortable. He took a moment to think about what else he had to do for the evening. He decided that he'd get his dry cleaning tomorrow rather than going out tonight. Most of the house staff lest early on Fridays like these, not that the house had much staff to begin with. Emerson doubted Eskel had thought to ask someone to prepare dinner and put it away for them, so he figured he'd just order out for his siblings and Valerian. He knew he'd have to pick the living room up, but that wasn't a big deal. As long as the house was clean by the time his parents got home everything was fine. He thought about the homework and studying that awaited him and it left him with a headache.
Emerson felt little passion for his schoolwork, which wasn't good. Law school was hard, it required passion, but the passion was just about the last thing Emerson felt for his area of study. Emerson said with a heavy heart as he searched for his phone. Dropping out of law school had been on his mind for months now and while saying that he wanted to was easy, telling his parents wasn't. But now, he supposed there would never be a good time for that conversation, so why not have it while they're out of state? He found his phone, unlocked it, and searched for his father's contact. He waited for an answer restlessly. "He dad" he sighed.
"Hey, how's it going?"
"Has Eskel seized his opportunity to destroy the house yet?"
"No, Valerian's keeping him at bay-" Emerson sighed at the sounds of yelling as people ran downstairs. "Ah- trying to at least." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, "but I was actually calling to tell you something."
"Go ahead bud, I'm all ears."
"I uh...thought I'd tell you this and then you could tell mom for me. "Emerson closed his eyes with a sigh, "I, uh, was thinking about, well actually I know, I'm going to drop out of school."
Sebastian didn't yell at him, but Emerson found himself assaulted with questions and verbal worries of how his mother would take things.
"Is it too hard Emerson?" Sebastian asked, "I know it's a lot of work to get into law, but I think if you-"
"It's not that, It's just- no dad listens to me." Emerson frowned, "I'm not quitting because it's hard, I don't want to be a lawyer."
"You don't?" Sebastion breathed, his voice edged with surprise, "you always wanted to be one though."
"I did, I guess," Emerson recalled the time at age twelve he'd mention his possible interest in the law to his parents. Now he found himself regretting saying anything at all because it seemed that the moment he said anything his parents pushed him along deeper into it. "I can't keep going along with this. I hate it dad- I hate it so much." Emerson breathed, his voice tethering to more of a breathy cry towards the end.
"I'm not saying that you shouldn't quit if you hate it so much, but you do know your mom isn't going to be happy."
"I know she's going to freak out, but I'm an adult now and just because she wants me to do it doesn't mean I'm going to."
Sebastion made a subtle noise of amusement before clearing his throat. "I'll tell your mom for you, but you know she's going to call you right back," Emerson muttered a thank you and goodbye before dropping his phone on the bed beside him. He tossed his head back and ran a hand through his hair. The money spent on his education was a lot, to say the least, and much of his childhood had been spent studying and preparing for such a great school. Maybe back then he'd been more on board with doing what his parents wanted, and even now he was apt to go along with their choices.
When his phone rang again Emerson had been halfway down the hall heading for the stairs. He answered, met with the shrill amazement of his mother's voice. He could hardly hold the phone still with nerves. "Drop out?" Sasha exclaimed, "you want to drop out? After all the money and time wasted you want to quit? Why would you quit when you are such a good student? You are more than capable of finishing school, what is your backup plan? What school will you fall back onto Emerson?"
"I- nothing, I don't know what to do anymore." Emerson was quick to talk, trotting down the stairs and rounding the corner to spot Eskel and Valerian. He pulled the phone away from his ear and gave them an odd look.
Eskel smiled from where he was, standing the small table pressed against the living room wall. He was on his tiptoes, pawing at one of the framed family photos hanging just a little too high. Valerian was just behind him, seeming to try to keep Eskel from falling. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing" Eskel sang, slowly sinking down and hoping from the table.
Valerian was a bit red, "I tried to stop him."
Emerson looked like he was ready to say more, but he quickly jerked the phone back to his ear. "I am listening, mom!" He snapped, spinning around to hide in the dining room. "I'm listening- stop yelling at me!" Annabelle had been lounging at the dining room table with her pointe shoes, trying to break them in. She shrunk a bit at Emerson's tone and pursed her lips. Emerson fell into one of the chairs with a heavy sigh and pressed his face into his hands as the other line went dead and his mother hung up. His fingers curled into his brown locks and tears began to slick down his face slowly.
Annabelle stood up and left the room, only to return a few moments later with a small plate and glass. She slid the piece of cheesecake to him without a word and set the empty glass down. She left again, but returned with a small glass bottle of rum and poured him a drink. He gave her a glare that questioned how she'd even gotten into the locked liquor cabinets, she just shrugged and motioned for him to eat.
Emerson wiped away whatever wetness was on his face, cut the slice of cheesecake in half and gave it to her. He barely poked at the treat but didn't seem to object to the rum. "Can I have some." Eskel had come behind Emerson with curious eyes, peering over the older's shoulder at the alcohol.
"Ask me again when you're twenty-one." Eskel huffed but didn't complain. He helped himself to the cheesecake, hanging over his brother.
"Mhm," Eskel hummed.
"Do you guys want me to order something for dinner?"
"No, I'm going to go to bed when I'm done with my pointe shoes."
"Nope, not hungry."
Emerson nodded, downed the rest of his glass, and got up to head to the living room. Anabelle finished her shoes and left them stacked on the table before heading upstairs to shower and go to bed. Eskel did the same shortly after, while Emerson decided to find the rest of the rum his sister had left out and sit up in the living room for a few hours. He didn't bother to clean it up just yet, he didn't feel like doing anything anymore. He wasn't drunk and didn't plan to be, he just sipped sparing on the drink and stared at the television as a movie he didn't recognize played.
At two in the morning, Eskel woke up. He woke with a dreadful feeling of panic gripping his chest and sobs already stuck in his throat. He rolled around for what felt like hours, thinking that maybe he shouldn't take the medication before bed like he had been supposed to. He gave one big kick to send his covers and plush toys flying onto the floor. He was sweating, with an indifferent look in his eyes, laying still now and just trying to breathe. Springing from his nightmares and into a panic never felt good. It left his heart beating hard and fast and his lungs straining for adequate breath. After pressing his pillow over his face and curling up for another hour or so he got up.
He left his bedroom door open and trudged downstairs. It was dark, beside the soft orange glow coming from the living room. Eskel pressed against the doorway and peered in at his older brother. Emerson was sitting on the floor, just in front of the lit fireplace. there was a small shoebox next to him as well as a few empty photo frames. For once in his life, Eske tiptoed in and sunk quietly to his knees beside Emerson. The photos were, as Eskel had suspected, of Gale. Their family had a lot of them, as there had been friends with Gale and his brothers as children. Some were old and left untouched, old photos of their young father with Gale. Some of their vibrant, but still somehow stoic mother on her wedding day with Gale and another woman they didn't recognize.
They were old and untouched; a window to better time his parents had spent with Gale. While the other photos in Emerson's hold weren't. Photos of young Emerson and Gale together at family functions or just days Emerson had spent with Gale, some of Eskel with them as well, one of Eskel sitting on Gales lap one Christmas. Eskel remembered it now- that Christmas. There were remnants of photo's crumbling in the fire. Emerson had been tossing them in almost mindlessly. "Not that one" Eskel reached to grab the photo of him and Gale on his eleventh Birthday.
"Let it go Eskel '' Emerson muttered, easily tearing it away and leaving it to burn. Eskel watched it, blue eyes illuminated with orange specs and shining with tears. "Go back to bed." Eskel shook his head and looked at the shoebox beside Emerson, it wasn't full of old family photos like to others. It was filled with small trinkets and pictures of men Eskel didn't recognize. They were Emerson's own things. They were Emerson's own problems. "Eskel I'm gay," Emerson spoke unprompted with little emotion in his tone.
"I know," Eskel replied quietly. Emerson had told him once before a few months ago after coming home from a long day of school and deeming it relaxing to drink alone in his room. But Emerson cried when he told Eskel. Cried over his realization, Eskel had supposed or even cried over their parents.
"And my boyfriend right now doesn't want to be seen with me in public," Emerson whispered.
"I know that too, Emerson." Emerson looked at him with confused eyes, not able to remember what the hell he'd rambled about to his brother in the past. "I know everything, you know. I do listen quite well when I want to. And I think you know that I hate just about everything you do." Eskel hissed, "not because you like men, I don't care about that, but I do care about how you allow yourself to be treated- walked all over on as if your feelings don't matter."
"You just hate me because I correct you when you're being a brat." Emerson scoffed, "because I tell you to be responsible and quit being so childish."
"You're mommy's golden child" Eskel snapped, "they act like you're so special and so good- but if they knew who you were they'd hate you." Eskel threatened, "because when they look away from you you prance around like some whore, letting people take advantage of you and walk all over you."
Emerson stared at the younger for a few seconds, "please Eskel, don't be brash with your conclusions. I date older men, men who have a reputation to hold. They keep me a secret because of that, nothing more- nothing less."
"If they can't be with you when others around then they don't truly love or care about you. The fact that you won't accept that makes me hate you." Emerson gave a halfhearted laugh and grabbed the nearing empty bottle beside him. "Whatever, I broke up with the bastards anyway."
"The golden child who drinks to cope, but can never really cope, right? You're going to wake up tomorrow and not remember a word I've said to you and you're going to wonder why I don't like talking or listening to you, or why I hate when you try to comfort me. You can't even handle your own problems, stop trying to handle mine."
The insistence ignorance Eskel felt his brother displayed drove him up a wall. Eskel hated the, "oh, don't worry about me and put all your focus on Eskel" dramatics. He always thought Emerson was worse off, at least he had Valerian. Emerson was a baby who never went out to make friends, yet he had no problem going out to meet his older companions and be treated like a horrible secret. The thought that his parents would never fully know who Emerson was drove Eskel insane. Why did Eskel have to be okay when Emerson wasn't? Emerson was the favored child and here he was acting so daft.
Eskel resented everything Emerson was and he knew deep down it was because he knew he'd never be the child his parents wanted. But even so, Eskel could never tell them about Emerson, but still, it wasn't fair.
"What do you think about Eskel?" Emerson interjected into his thoughts, "you're pretty good with words and your rather intelligent, so why do you act so bratty and childish?"
"It's easier, no one expects much of me, not that I have much to contribute anyway."
"You have so much to contribute to Eskel." Eskel got up and Emerson followed, "why do you hate me so much Eskel? I've never done anything but try and help and love you."
"You're so dumb I hate it" Eskel turned and covered his ears, trying to storm off with closed eyes. Emerson grabbed his upper arm and tried to pull the younger back over to him, but Eskel snapped and tired tore his arm away. "This is all your fault!" He finally hissed, "what Gale did was your fault! Why couldn't you off tell someone sooner- then I would've been okay!" The harsh sting of tears burned the corners of Eskel's eyes as his pulling away grew weaker. He was looking down with shaking shoulders and restrained sobs. "It's your fault...it's...it's my fault." he breathed, falling into Emerson's chest, his hands gripping Emersons shirt while he pressed his forehead at the base of Emerson's neck. Eskel's knees buckled and he dropped down, prompting Emerson to sink down with him.
"Sometimes I blame myself too" Emerson whispered, "but it's not anyone's fault. There was nothing I could do, there was nothing you could do. It's okay to feel this way, but you have to promise me that you will never, ever feel guilty- that you'll never blame yourself. It was never your fault." Emerson pressed his cheek into Eskel's hair while the tears building along his waterline began to fall.
"Sometimes" Eskel hiccupped, "sometimes I get so scared because I feel like no one wants me and no one's going to want me. Sometimes I see pretty girls and boys and I want to talk to them, but then I think about it...why would they want me? I dumb and gross and dirty- why would anyone…"
"I know sometimes I call you a brat or childish- and sometimes you really are" Emerson laughed, "but you're also so smart and special. Your fun and kind, and have so much to offer and do. I know it's really hard, because I'm going through the same feelings, but I'm trying so hard and you have to promise that you're going to try Eskel." Emerson picked his head up and lifted Eskel's head up. "You're my baby brother and I love you, I want you to be happy."
"I want you to be happy too. I don't want you to pretend everything's okay...you need support just as much as I do."
"I know" he sighed, "we're going to figure it out together, okay?"
Eskel and Emerson both stood up slowly, brushing themselves off and rubbing away their tears. "Can I...burn some pictures too?"
Emerson chuckled, "if you feel like you need too."
"I know what one I want to burn." Eskel turned to look over at the living room wall. The wall was heavily decorated with framed photos of family and friends. There were pictures of the siblings as infants and children, pictures of their parent's wedding, their grandparents, and of Eden and Willow and their families. There were two towards the middle that seemed to have been forgotten. Eskel climbed up onto the table and reached for the one of him and Gale and then the one of Emerson and Gale. He left Emerson's alone but took his out of the silver frame as he walked for the fireplace. He stopped to look down at it for a few seconds before letting the photo fall into the flames, watching the edges curl and crumble. Emerson left his alone but grabbed the now-empty frame.
"Do you have a picture of Valerian?"
Eskel nodded and went to his room. He had a bunch on his desk, he and Valerian had been making a collage earlier before Eskel got bored and pulled him away to do something else. Emerson stayed downstairs and had already gotten rid of the photo of him and Gale. He looked over at his small box filled with little memories. There were hidden photos at the bottom. He smiled at one of his ex-girlfriend Summer and of the ones he'd kept of he and his siblings from early childhood. He left the few he had of his boyfriends alone, sealed away in an envelope. He couldn't get rid of them yet. He was sure he'd just found his coping in the men since nineteen. Sometimes he was afraid they were just products of his inability to cope with anything, and sometimes he grew afraid they just mirrored parts of Gale to him. He left them at the bottom of the box, maybe one day, he thought.
Eskel walked in quietly and handed a larger photo to fit the empty frame. Emerson smiled and carefully sealed it in. He made sure to wipe any dust or smudges from the glass and frame before walking over and hanging it back up. The photo was of the pair of friends at the Christmas party just a few weeks ago. Eskel stood with an arm looped around Valerian's shoulder. Valerian's eyes were closed as he smiled, while Eskel was red-faced and bright-eyed. The photo hung between a photo of him and Eskel with Anabelle and a photo of their grandparents.
"I guess I should tell Valerian he's on the family wall now," Eskel muttered, looking up at it.
Emerson smiled, "tell him to come over and see it."
Emerson settled the sofa to watch as the fire began to burn out slowly. Eskel's back pressed against his side as he continued to look up at the photo of he and Valerian, likely happy to have Gale's face gone. Emerson spread a fluffy throw blanket over them and sat back with a smile, watching the last of his memories burn away.