Reaper Page 13

Finally, she dried her face on the dish towel, then started picking up the glass. When the kitchen was clean again, familiar dishes stacked in unfamiliar cabinets, she pulled a paper plate from the stack on the table and piled it with cookies from a platter near the stove. Chocolate chip with walnuts—her go-to comfort food.

I followed her out of the kitchen and watched when she paused outside the closed door at the end of the hall. Nash’s room was silent—no music and no video game carnage. Mom took a deep breath, then knocked on the door.

When he didn’t answer, she pushed the door open anyway and stepped inside.

My brother sat by the window in his desk chair, staring outside. He didn’t even look up when she came in.

“I brought you some cookies,” my mom said, and I almost laughed out loud—not that they’d have heard me. Cookies were her solution to everything.

Baking them distracted her, and serving them fulfilled her. But sugar never solved anything in the end. “And there’s the cake, of course.” Cake? A housewarming cake? Or to welcome him home from the hospital—to celebrate the life he hadn’t lost.

“I’m not hungry.” Nash crossed his arms over his bruised, bare chest, even thinner than I remembered.

He’d lost weight in the hospital. But not as much as he’d have lost in a coffin.

“The doctor said you need to eat,” Mom insisted.

“She also said to give me some space.”

Mom frowned and set the cookies on his desk. “Doctors make mistakes sometimes.”

Nash huffed, still staring out the window. “Then why’d you open this little heart-to-heart with a quote from one?” I wanted to smack him. If my hand wouldn’t have gone right through his head, maybe I would have. But Mom took it in stride. She sank onto the edge of his desk and pushed hair back from her face. “Nash, you can’t sit in your room forever.”

He shrugged. “Worked for Howard Hughes.”

“That comparison doesn’t real y work for me.”

“I’ll try harder next time.” Nash sighed. “I don’t really want to talk right now, Mom.”

She crossed her own arms over her chest, mirroring his stubborn posture. “Wel , I want to talk.”

Finally Nash turned to look at her, wincing with one hand over his ribs.

“About what? Cookies? I don’t want any. The move? I don’t want to be here.

Tod? I don’t want him dead. But since this isn’t the Republic of Nash, that doesn’t seem to matter.”

My mom sighed and picked up a cookie she probably wouldn’t eat.

“Nash, Tod’s time was up, and there’s nothing anyone could have done to prevent it. You have to stop blaming yourself.” The irony stung like fire in my chest, and I stumbledback a step.

Nash’s expression went hard, but I could see the pain beneath. “Why, Mom? You blame me.” She opened her mouth to argue, but he cut her off.

“You don’t blame me for his death—we both know how that works—but you blame me for how he died. If I hadn’t gone out, that damn drunk would never have hit us. Tod might have died peaceful y at home, instead of on the side of the road, crushed by his own steering wheel.” I blinked, stunned. I’d made sure Nash would never know what happened, but instead of absolving him of guilt, I’d saddled him with it. Nash thought it was his fault. And one glance at my mother told me he was right—she did too.

But she didn’t know the truth. He obviously hadn’t told her that I’d had Genna over instead of watching him—which had set the whole thing in motion. And neither of them knew about the rest of it.

Nash stared at our mother, silently begging her to argue. To insist that she didn’t blame him. But we could both see the truth, even if the colors in her eyes held steady.

“No.” I said it out loud, glancing back and forth between them, but no one heard me. “This isn’t what I wanted.” But my brother stared right past me.

Mom answered, finally, too late to be believable. “It’s not your fault,” she said, staring at the hands clasped in her lap.

Nash actually rolled his eyes. “I went to the party. I got drunk. I made him come get me. It’s my fault we were on the road. If I’d done any of that differently, he wouldn’t have gone out like that.” I couldn’t take anymore. “It was my choice! ” I stood, but they still couldn’t see me, and they damn well couldn’t hear me.

My mother shook her head slowly, wordlessly denying his guilt, even as her eyes argued to the contrary.

“I wish you’d just say it!” Nash shouted, and I stood in front of him, trying to interrupt, trying to keep him from saying whatever would come next, because there’d be no taking it back. But he looked right through me. “I wish you’d just yell at me and get it over with. I know I screwed up. I know I can never fix it, and I wish you’d just say it, so we can…so we can at least start to move on. Because he’s not coming back, Mom. I’m the only one left.”

“Nash, no,” I said, but my words—like my presence—were worthless.

Mom sniffled. “Nash, I’m not going to…”

“Just say it!” he shouted, standing, and I tried to shove him back into his chair, but my hands went right through his chest.

“You knew better!” she yelled, and I spun toward my mom. She stood, and she was crying, and I couldn’t stand it, but there was nothing I could do.

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