HIATUS OVER! For anyone still tuning in...y'all enjoy. Thanks for the patience. Love you guys.


Chapter 9

"Who is it tha' lives here, anyway?" asks Connor.

The three of us are crammed into the elevator of an old friend's apartment building. After seeing my parents off this morning, I got a call from Jack with word of a get-together. Considering the attire he told me to wear and the time he told me to show up, I'm guessing it's more of a party than a friendly gathering.

"Who cares?" retorts his brother with a sly smile. "Free booze!"

I shake my head at Murphy. "You are too excited by that."

Connor sticks his head in the space between me and Murphy with a cocked eyebrow. "Like ye ever said no t'free booze. Ye didn't deny ours tha' we brought tha' first night when Murphy saw ye naked."

My heart drops. I glare up at Murphy. "You told him?"

Connor leans back, pleased with himself.

"Oh, Avery…" With the shape of his eyebrows and the tone of his voice, I can tell he's a little flustered by the revealed information. "It's not like we haven't both seen ye naked by now anyway…right?"

His brother snickers behind us.

I want to jump down his throat, not understanding that he has a point, but the elevator dings, pulling all of my attention. "That's not exactly how it works," I make sure to add before we step into the penthouse, "but whatever…"

Connor inherits my glare from Murphy as I lead them into the crowded apartment. It's after nine o'clock in the evening, and for it to be so early, there's been quite a turnout. Walter, my friend hosting the party, has wasted no expense. A beautiful, barely dressed bartender is stationed at his private, fully stocked bar near the entrance. The most impressive assortment I've ever seen of beautiful women flood the place. The lighting is low, the music is loud, and finally, the entire back wall is comprised of several large windows providing a gorgeous view over this wonderful city.

"Well, this is certainly a change of scenery." Connor is at my side, distracted from the previous words exchanged.

Murphy kisses me on the cheek before heading off into the crowd of people. "I'm going t'go find me a bathroom before th'drinkin starts."

"There's nothing stoppin' me." Connor's hand rests on the small of my back as he peers down at me through shitty party lighting. "I'm gonna go t'the bar. Ye want anythin'?"

"Just a Sprite for right now." I take a moment to admire him as he beelines for the bartender. Not a lot of women are able to show up with two aggravatingly sexy men like I just did, and I can't even begin to properly express how okay I am with that. Things have been good with the boys, especially considering – for the most part – my parents have granted their seal of approval. I'm doing well with focusing on just them for the moment, not dating anyone else. I really don't even feel the need to. They keep me very preoccupied. Mentally and physically: and yes, I mean exactly what that sounds like.

"Avery?" The voice is familiar, but it's one I hear primarily from work.

"Ben?"

Coming up behind me is the fellow journalist who was supposed to meet me the night I became stupidly involved in that bar fight with the boys. "Dude, what the hell?"

Ben holds his hands up in defense. "I know we haven't talked and I totally bailed on you that night, but things have been nuts, lately."

I sigh. "Oh, tell me about it."

"You, too? Could it have anything to do with those two gorgeous specimens who just walked in with you?"

"Oh…" Ben's a good guy to have girl talk with, but I doubt now is the time. No one knows about my relationship with them yet besides the housekeeper, Jack, and my parents. I'm not sure how Work would respond to me fucking two brothers without them immediately jumping to incestual conclusions. "Sort of, but mostly no. It's a long story." And I don't want to get into it. "Why haven't I seen you at the office?"

Ben's expression changes immediately, into something kind of awkward. "Uh…" His eyes fall from mine and he starts inspecting his shoe laces with a little too much interest, taking a sip of his thick, red drink. When he looks back up to me, he says simply, with a shrug. "I…left."

"Wait what?" Ben was one of the only employees in my department I'd actually call a friend beside sweet Margery. I'm surprised I'm only hearing about this now. He's also one of the only other writers for my magazine who has his own column, but his is based around physical and personal health. "But you love the Magazine? We pull in so many readers just from your stuff."

He shrugs a second time. "What can I say? I found something better."

Better? I don't know about that. Writers like Ben and me who pull in the readers we do get paid pretty well and are considered relatively valuable to the company. At the Magazine, we aren't under any contract. We could really leave whenever we wanted. Apparently Ben took advantage of that.

"For who?"

Ben, fingers frosty from holding his drink, comfortingly touches my wrist. "Oh, let's not talk about this here. This is a party! We can talk about work junk later! I saw your friend Jack around somewhere. He mentioned you. You should go look for him. I'm gonna go get a drink." He wrinkles his nose. "This one is nasty, too sweet for me, like liquid candy. I like the harder stuff. Do you want it?" He offers the drink up to me.

Sniffing the rim of it, it smells like strawberries and vodka. I like those two things. Hey, free drink. Why not? Ben heads in the same direction Connor had veered off to, who I don't see anywhere near the bar, or even Murphy for that matter. I'm left alone in this swarm. People are rubbing their bodies against each other. Laughter breaks through the clouds of inebriation. Through my feet, I can feel the music's bass vibrate the floor. My eyes fall closed as I just absorb the surroundings.

Every person gives off energy. If you can train yourself, you can become attune to those energies. The reason why I'm such a people person is because each person has a different signature, and it's truly intriguing to experience each individual so differently. I suppose that's why I'm so attracted to Connor and Murphy. It's like they're a single energy, yet two different energies at the same time. It's not unusual for twins to mesh so well like that. Anyone willing to pass up an opportunity to know those two is just missing out.

A calloused hand grazes my shoulder and I feel Murphy's chest press against my back. His stubble scratches the flesh of my other shoulder as he places a kiss. I melt right into him, and we fit well into each other. He wraps his other arm around my waist, and what feels like hours, we just stand there, swaying back and forth. We might as well be on another planet because I'm not paying attention to anyone. I'm pleased with just being right here. This is a moment of total peace. All my problems don't exist, and the troubles that have recently surfaced in my life trickle away into nothingness.

"Fair warnin'." Murphy's voice is warm against my ear. "Yer friend's comin'."

Friend? Huh? I open my eyes to see Jack heading towards us, a drink in his hand with a wide smile on his face. Oh yeah, that's right. I guess I should socialize.

"Avery! You made it!" He gives me a one-armed hug and then awkwardly nods at Murphy. I know he's only being civil, already having gathered that he's not that fond of the twins yet. "Have you seen Walter yet?"

"Oh, not yet. We just got here a few minutes ago."

"Where's, uh…" I practically see the gears turning behind his eyes, trying to remember Murphy's brother's name.

"Connor."

"Yeah…Right…. Remember, you're supposed to drink me under the table tonight?"

Behind me, I hear Murphy mutter incredulously, "I'd sure like t'see that."

I'm about to give him a smartass reply over my shoulder when Connor appears with my Sprite, his face flooding with disappointment. "But ye already have a drink?"

"Oh, I ran into a friend who hated this, so he just gave it to me…" Uncertainly, I try to decide back and forth between the soda and the beverage. I decide that, hey, why not just have both? The ice is almost all the way melted in my red, candy tasting drink, and it's really not that stiff, so I just finish it on the spot, handing Murph my empty glass when I'm done. "See? Problem solved."

Jack shakes his head. "You're gonna have to slow that down if you expect to even remotely be a challenge."

"Oh, hush, I could drink two more of those and still hold my own."

"Am I s'pose I'm missin' somethin?" Connor leans in to ask his brother.

"Oh, well, Jack here apparently thinks he can out-drink our little Drunky."

"No… Not Avery. She might like t'cut her booze with carbonated shit, but she can certainly get it down."

I roll my eyes. "I'm perfectly capable of drinking my liquor straight, thank you. Jack, why don't you go get something from the bar? I'll find us a place to sit." My competitiveness begins to brew inside, and in almost a warning tone I add. "Pick whatever you want."

Jack is pleased to be given this task and leaves us. I lead the boys through the apartment, doing my best to navigate through the various rooms and hoards of drunken people. I can't help but notice the eyes that fall on me and immediately transfer to the immaculate male beings right behind me. Most of the girls, at least, try not to look to obvious, but a few of them just don't care and are as blatant about it as they want to be. It doesn't evoke a jealous response out of me, but it's probably not that good either that I might as well be showing them off. Isn't that technically objectifying? Don't be a dick, Avery.

There's a study off of the main hallway. It's not empty, but it's spacious enough for me and Jack to have our little contest without too much of an audience and relatively little interruption.

"Ah," Connor begins, with obvious experience to pull his opinion from, "this here is a good spot. I'll go retrieve Mr. Wall Street."

Oh, that's what we're calling him?

Murphy takes the two end tables that were paired to a couple of wingback chairs in the corner and puts them together in the center of the room. I drag the chairs over, placing one on each side. I'm proud of our little setup, but standing back to appreciate it, it crosses my mind that this fancy ass furniture in this fancy ass study (rich people, am I right?) might cost more than three months of my rent. I guess the least I could do is grab a bath towel.

In the search for a towel, I put my drink down on the desk near balcony doors and leave Murphy to wait for Connor and the newly nicknamed Mr. Wall Street. There's a bathroom only a few feet down the hall, and I'm lucky there's no line, which is normally imminent with a party this size. The door, however, is closed. I've walked in on plenty of crazy things in party bathrooms, so I, at least, have the common sense to knock first.

But before my knuckles can touch the wood of the ivory white door, it opens, and the person standing on the other side of it the last person I ever thought I'd see again.

"Oh, hi Avery."

I hate it when she says my name. It's like velvet. I don't want my name to sound like velvet off her tongue. I don't want to hear my name come from her mouth ever. I haven't wanted that for a long time. She's taller than me. Her hair is almost the color of milk chocolate, long and curly, and her skin looks like caramel. Her irises are so brown they almost look black, blending in with her pupils. Towering over me, she stares at me through those thick, long eyelashes.

Oh, the woman who broke my heart. The first woman to break my heart. The only person to ever break my heart, or I even ever became that close with, really. "Natalia." My voice almost cracks. Why is my voice cracking? My voice never cracks. My heart is pounding and I feel warm all over my body.

"Do you need to use the bathroom?" There's a trace of mischief behind her smile. She knows exactly what she did to me, and I sometimes think she's proud of it.

"I just need a towel." The words don't come out right. It's like I mean for them to sound one way and then they sound completely different. If I want the words to come out like, say, a completely normal fucking tone of voice, instead they come out sounding like a dying baby animal. Shit, I can't even breathe.

In a graceful, swift motion, she pulls the hand towel off the little silver rack on the wall and holds it out for me. I don't say another word, and I actually take the fucking towel, snatching it out of her hands and retreating back to the study.

Jack is already sitting down in one of the emerald green, wingback chairs, a handle sized bottle of whiskey on the table. Connor and Murphy are patiently waiting for me, I'm sure ready to see who's going to be winning this.

What I should have done, for the sake of getting an idea of how far I'd even be going with this challenge, is inspect the label for brand quality and to find out what proof his pick was. But I don't do that. Instead, I stomp over, tossing the towel onto the floor, clearly not even caring what happens to this table anymore. I snatch that bottle up and sloppily pour two, to-the-rim portions into the shot glasses provided for us.

My sudden mood change is transparent because Jack lifts a brow. "Are you okay, Ave?"

Not even sitting down, I pick up the glass, and as I'm bringing it to my lips, right before I take the shot I go, "Natalia's here." Then I knock the burning liquid into my mouth and try not to think about it as I force it down my throat.

"Oh, damn." Jack sits there for a minute staring at his shot glass, almost nervously now. He knows the whole story. He was there for most of it. He knows exactly how much that woman fucked me up.

"Why's that name sound familiar?" Connor asks, feeling the vibe change.

I plop down into the chair, waiting for Jack to take the shot. "She's my ex. We don't need to talk about this. Jack – drink."

"You heard her man," Murphy shrugs.

I know Jack is taken aback by the news, but I don't feel like talking about my feelings right now. I'd prefer to be incredibly emotionally constipated, get drunk, and just not mentally deal with this right now. Finally, Jack does take the shot, and I take no time in pouring the second one. My throat is raw and my eyes are heavy. I wonder where my Sprite is? I take the second shot and grab my soda from the other side of the Study. When I return to our set up, Connor and Murphy are already taking swigs directly from the bottle, completely unphased by the taste and burn. I'm sure they've done this plenty of times.

I'm feeling very confident in myself, choosing to channel everything into the little competition of ours. I begin to level out. My heart beat slowing down and my body temperature lowering. My emotions fade away into the slowly rising buzz, amplified by my empty stomach.

I don't have much to say. I just wait for Jack to pour, since he's made sure to not let me grab the bottle from the boys. He's taking his time in between shots, too. I'm not sure if he's negating the entire point of this drink-off by trying to keep me from getting too drunk, or if he's the one wussing out. We're only four shots in, so neither one of us should be anywhere near finished. I just try to focus on my Sprite. The taste combination is kind of nasty, but the ice cold carbonation helps the tender flesh of my throat.

Also, it's delightful to see the boys getting along. Connor, Murphy, and Jack are all bantering on with very little inhibition. Whatever it was causing Jack to be over protective and Connor and Murphy to act defensive has apparently dissipated, at least for the moment. Alcohol – bringing people together. I was honestly beginning to worry about them. I suppose I should just keep the three of them inebriated. It's an expensive way to keep the peace, but it'll prevent any fist fights from happening.

I'm staring at the bottom of my empty Sprite glass when Jack pipes up. "Are you okay, Avery? You're not talking very much?"

"Oh, I'm okay. Just…" My eyelids feel so heavy. My shoulders don't want to support my head, and when Connor says something, his words don't come through. "I'm sorry, what did you say? I didn't get that." I look up at him, but between looking up from my glass to Connor's face, my vision begins to blur. I have to make it a point to strain in order see him, but even then, I can't keep the focus for long.

There's doubt in Murphy's voice. "Yer not already drunk, are ye?"

I have this ominous sensation at the bottom of my stomach, but I just can't place it. I look around the room, afraid that something else is happening, but everything looks fairly normal, aside from my blurred vision and weird hearing. I can see distorted images of people calmly sipping at their drinks on the other side of the room. I can even hear loud bouts of laughter from the hallway. Everything seems normal. The hair on my neck stands. But something is wrong.

"I need caffeine. I'm just a little tired. Long day and all that." I try to force a laugh. I don't know why I don't tell them that my vision and hearing is altered. My motor skills seem to be doing okay. I can't feel myself walking, but I am closing the distance between me and the doorway to the Study with little issue. My motor skills seem to be alright, but I don't like this floating feeling.

Somehow I make it to the bar, which is swamped with people. I wait my turn at the end of the bar patiently, taking the moment to hopefully collect myself. I don't know how much time passes. Seconds, minutes, hours? I want to say hours, but I know that's not realistic. Regardless, I give up. I feel too much like shit, and that caffeine isn't worth it. So, I double back, bumping into one person after another. I think I'm apologizing at first, but then I realize I'm just thinking it more than anything. Words aren't coming out of my mouth.

I hear my name from behind me. It sounds like Ben's voice, but it doesn't occur to me to say hi back. I just keep walking – or floating. Floating along, on a cloud, in the general vicinity to the Study.

But that cloud disappears as if the sun were coming out to warm the happy green earth. When my cloud disappears, though, I haven't fallen to the happy green earth. I just fall, and fall, until the sapphire blue skies turn to black. I'm just in this dark, colorless abyss, falling, for so long. And I don't even question it. I'm not worried about the party. I'm not thinking of getting back to the boys. I just wonder when this falling is going to end.

And then I feel feathers. Softness forms to the curve of my back. At first, it's nice, but I'm really warm. I can't see at the bottom of this soft-floored cave. The music is faint, whispering to me from another galaxy. Looking up, there's a light far, far away. From where I am, it looks like a lightning bug flying around, without a single care in the world. I wish I was that lightening bug. I'd kill to have no cares in the world.

The floor shifts beneath me. I try to brace myself, wanting to cry out, but nothing comes out of my mouth. I can't move either. But that lightning bug is getting so close. It doesn't even look like a bug anymore. It looks like a tiny star. What's a star doing in the bottom of a cave? It's coming closer and closer to me. I can feel it's warmth against my already flushed face as it idles around me.

The floor moves again.

I've never seen a star up close before. I've never even seen a star in space through a telescope. It's a vibrant, luminescent sunset yellow. It's a tiny little sun. How cute. If only I could touch it. If only I could show Connor and Murphy –

Connor. And Murphy. Oh, I just ditched them, didn't I? How am I going to explain that I was in the bottom of a cave?

The star, as if it's hesitating, inches closer and closer to my face, until it's hovering over the area in between my eyes. It doesn't hurt my eyes, but the warmness is a little uncomfortable. A droplet of sweat forms on my eyebrow and tiny droplets collect around my hairline.

Finally, it takes half an inch closer, and it touches the flesh of my face. In the very second it does so, my heart pounds, my mind explodes, and my breath hitches.

(xxx)

Hands. All I feel is hands.

I know they aren't Connor or Murphy's. They're smooth, clammy, small, feminine hands. Definitely not belonging to one of the twins. My head is killing me. Pain pierces through my brain and stabs the back of my eyes. I try to open them anyway, desperate to investigate the situation and find out what the hell is going on. But the room is dim. I can't see much. The only light comes from what looks like a small, orange lava lamp in the corner.

Hands. Everywhere. On my legs, on my arms, on my stomach.

My dress is bunched up around my upper thighs, and my toes don't feel constricted in the heels I came to the party in. Move your body, Avery. Just move.

Hands.

The music sounds so far away. If I can't move, can I find my voice? My throat, so sore. Why can't I speak or move? I didn't drink enough for that. I want to roll over and go back to sleep, but my heart keeps pounding, and the panic in the lower pit of my stomach is wrecking me.

Then I see it, a meshed up blur of tanned skin and raven black hair. Now I know this isn't one of the boys. What in the hell is going on?

"Avery?" That's Murphy's voice. "Where are ye?"

The hands stop.

Murphy! I want to call for him. I want to tell him I'm here. I know that's not happening.

I hear my name again. Now it's Connor. The bed shifts. Light floods the room as the door opens. It takes no time for me to recognize the shadowed figure as one of the boys. I can't make out what he says, but he's yelling. It's Connor. He doesn't come to me. Instead, he runs to the other side of the room. It's Murphy who kneels at my side.

"Avery? Are ye there? Are ye alright?" His voice feels like refreshing cool water washing all over my body, releasing me from this fever I've been suffering through. "Can ye say anything?" He bends over me. I want to focus in on his face, his beautiful, loving face, but I can't. My eyes just drift closed, and I'm unable to tell Murphy it's okay, through the ruckus he starts when he sees me fall out of consciousness. I'm okay. I just want to go back to sleep. I just – I just need to sleep.

(xxx)

"She's going to be alright," Natalia says, outside my closed bedroom door. "Keep her hydrated, but mostly keep her comfortable. It's tough for someone to have to go through that. Date rape drugs are more common than you'd think."

Connor speaks. "Ye – yer not goin' anywhere, are ye? What if she needs a doctor?"

"Then you can call her regular doctor. Avery has no intention on having any kind of relationship with me. But, I will leave a prescription for something to help her relax while she copes through this. You guys should suggest she go to a therapist to deal with this. And you need to figure out what to do about this stalker. It's obviously getting out of hand."

"Come on, Natalia." Jack's footsteps travel from the other side of the apartment, past my door, to the foyer. "I'll drive you home. Connor, tell her to call me if she needs me, okay? I want to give her some peace for now."

After a confusion of footsteps, the front door opens and closes. The thick curtains in my bedroom are closed, preventing the morning sunlight from entering. It's just dark in my room. I don't remember anything at all, except seeing Natalia outside of the bathroom. Everything is blank. Even me, I'm totally blank. Aside from exhaustion, I don't feel a thing. My body is molded into the mattress, underneath my fluffy duvet, face glued to the pillow. I stare at the wall. There's nothing. I should be panicking, but I know if I let any emotions in right now, the entire dam will break and I'll drown. So, if it's okay, I'm just going to sit here and pretend like I don't exist for a little bit.

I don't fall back asleep. Sleep is the last thing I want to do. Instead, I just sit here. Thinking about anything but last night. I need to call Ben. I don't think I ever saw him again. I need to feed the cats. I should call my parents, too, to make sure that they made it home alright. Should I go into work tomorrow? Or should I just stay home? I could just work from home. That's something I'll have to think about. What will this week's episode of Star Trek be about?

Around noon, my door opens. It's Connor. "Yer awake?"

"Been awake."

"Fer how long?"

"Since Jack and Natalia left."

His eyes glaze over, and his Adam's apple bobs as he swallows hard. "Oh, well…" He takes very slow steps towards the bed, as if afraid to startle me, sitting on its edge. "So ye heard everythin' then?"

"Connor…" I regret saying it at normal volume as soon as the words leave my voice. My throat feels like I've been swallowing barb wire.

"Ye got yerself real sick in the bathroom at th' party," he says when he sees me massage my throat at the newly discovered pain. "Tha' Natalia friend o' yers had ye over the bath tub pukin' yer guts out. She said ye must not have eaten, tha' ye always get sick when ye drink on an empty stomach."

I have puked many, many times in front of Natalia. She was the first person I ever really drank with. I make sure to speak in a whisper. "I guess I should be happy she was there."

"When ye mentioned her before, I didn't think she'd be so old. How old is tha' woman?"

"She's seven older than me. A doctor, as you now know. I was merely a college student when we had our thing."

"She was real worried about ye. Jack was freaking out when ye weren't wakin' up. As was Murph. Oh – poor Murph. He's takin' this the hardest out of all of us. But Natalia took control of the situation while ye were in the bathroom while I kept Murph and Jack from panickin' to death. Ye coulda thought they were children."

"Natalia is an experienced control freak. You put her in charge of anything, and it will be run to maximum efficiency. She didn't help me out of love, Con. She helped me out of obligation. I'm no more than a patient to her now. Just like how I was just a plaything to her then." I sound harsh, and I probably even sound shitty from Connor's perspective. But these are all traits of Natalia's I'd come to the conclusion of a long time ago. Plus, the conversation is pleasantly distracting.

He forces a smile. There's no telling what's going on through his head right now. I couldn't imagine being in his position. "Considerin' ye puked what little bit was in ye last night, do ye want somethin' to eat?"

Oh, my dear sweet Jesus, food. My stomach violently rumbles at the very mentioning of it. "That would be amazing."

"What ye pinin' for? Ye shouldn't be cookin', on account of ye needin' to stay in bed. And the only thing Vegan I can think of is water."

The image of Connor attempting to cook anything makes me laugh, which then makes me curse myself when my throat screams at me. "On the fridge is a vegan take out menu. The stir-fry special." Connor is relieved from the potential responsibility of making food, and instead just settles for buying dinner. I don't bother asking if he's going to be eating from the same place, but I'll be surprised if he does.

Instead, I try getting out of bed. It feels weird, like this body doesn't belong to me, as if last minute, my soul was shoved into some carcass out of the lost and found box. My joints scrape against each other and my lower back hurts. I'm sure it's side effects from… Oh, just never mind.

My legs feeling as weak as they are, I don't feel comfortable even trying to shower yet, so I settle for brushing my teeth and hair, and washing my face. As minimal effort as it took, I feel almost human now. My brain still is running at really low speed, though, and I have to be very careful not to think too much, or that dam will break. I just can't deal with that right now. So, naturally, I keep myself busy. I make the bed, I feed the cats, put the kettle on for tea to have with dinner, and decide that I should probably answer some emails, as well.

My desk is located near the balcony door. On the way to my computer, I notice a figure. At first, I'm a little frightened until I register that it's Murphy. How long has been out there? Glancing up at the clock, it's already two-thirty and I've been up and about ever since Connor left. In fact, I haven't seen Murphy at all.

"Oh – poor Murph. He's takin' this the hardest out of all of us."

Is Murphy avoiding me?

Smoke from Murphy's cigarette dances away in the wind. It's pretty cool outside. The sun isn't out, after all, hiding behind thick, gray clouds. Boston is about to meet a terribly rainy night, by the looks of it.

"Do you want to come inside?" He doesn't answer me or even turn around to say anything to me at all. "Murph?" I come and stand beside him, leaning over the guard rail. "Are you okay? I haven't seen you all day. I didn't even know you were here."

His eyes are locked on the city, avoiding to even give me a simple side glance. "I'm sorry, Avery."

"For what? What's wrong?" I've never been in Connor or Murphy's position before. I've never had to watch someone that I care about hurt, or go through something traumatic. I've been blessed with a pretty peaceful life, but the downside to that is that it's left me in a blissful ignorance. Blissful, yeah, but ignorance is ignorance. I have nothing to comfort them with, and it bothers me.

Murphy blames himself for last night. I don't know why, and I'm not ready to ask. I'm not ready to talk about what happened, or even think about it, for that matter. So there's no need in even opening that bag of worms because none of us are ready for it yet. What happened to me last night didn't just happen to me, but the people around me who care about me. I almost feel guilty, like I should have just gone home or just not gone to the party in the first place.

Even though he won't look at me, I'm not shy in looking at him, staring at his face carefully. His jaw is clenched, dark circles under his eyes from no sleep, his face scruffy from missing a good shave. Murphy is the lightest-hearted person I know. He's so sweet and comforting. He was way more open to showing me physical affection than his brother, at first, who sort of just stuck with the raw sexual tension. Right now, Murphy isn't light hearted, and he's definitely not comfortable. Right now, he's in a pit of turmoil, drowning under the remnants of his own broken dam. What do you do for someone like that?

I take a step back and wrap my arms around Murphy's waist. His abdomen is firm against my hands, his skin warm, and his breathing is slow. Resting my forehead on his back, I breathe him in. These Boys, they're just too perfect for me. I almost feel my eyes well and butterflies flutter in the bottom of my stomach. I'm elated to have them because I don't know what I'd be doing right now. Right now, my heart hurts for Murph, and I'm amazed by the mere inner strength of Connor, who is carrying the both of us.

"I wish I could give you some amazing speech about how everything happens for a reason." My voice muffles against his shirt, but I think he can still hear me. "Or how we're stronger than this, and all that typical bullshit. What I can tell you is…that we'll be okay. We'll figure it out. And it's not your fault. Connor said you thought it was, but it's not."

His breathing stops.

"We don't have to talk about it right now. I don't want to talk about it yet, either. But everything is okay, and I just need you to feel better, okay? Because I can't make you feel better and make me feel better at the same time."

Murphy pulls away from me, making my heart skip a beat, but I'm filled with relief when he meets me again, this time pulling me into his chest. His big hands squeeze my back, leaving no space in between us. His chest rises high and low, and his heart beat is right at my ear.

And that was it. No one said anything else. We just stood there on my balcony, abused by the wind, waiting for Connor to arrive with dinner. When he did, we moved inside. I fixed our plates, impressed with Connor's choices for his and his brother's (vegan) meals. Murphy moved the television into the living room. Then, we piled up on the couch, watched Star Trek reruns, and just enjoyed the moment.

While I completely and utterly avoided my real problems.