Ethan couldn't breathe.
'She's our mum'.
Ethan's first instinct was to laugh. A sound bubbled hysterically in his chest and he swallowed instinctively to stop it. What kind of joke was this? What kind of weird, ridiculous situation was his big brother conjuring up this time?
He stared into Cal's eyes just waiting for the punch line. Seconds ticked by and the laughter in the pit of his stomach dissolved into utter, utter dread. Cal was crying. This was a joke, this had to be a joke. But in that moment as he stared at his brother Ethan knew, he knew deep in his bones that this ridiculous, utterly impossible joke was the truth.
His eyes landed on the woman, on Emilie, on the Huntington's patient, on his mother. She shuffled on the bed, eyes meeting his, her own face tearstained, desperate. And Ethan was staring into Cal's eyes on this woman's face. He turned on his heel and walked away from them both.
'Ethan!' his brother shouted and Ethan picked up his pace to a flat out run. He ran up the stairs, up another set and flung himself down the corridor of paediatrics. Staggering and panting like a mad man. The bathroom was there suddenly and he threw himself into the nearest stall and went down on his hands and knees.
Vomit surged up and out of his throat and he struggled to breathe as it fell into the bowl below. Oh god. Oh god. Oh god.
Matilda Hardy was Ethan's mother. The only mother he'd ever known. The woman he'd chosen to study locally for so he could care for her while she slowly died in front of him. The only parent that had stuck around and loved him his whole life. The only person he'd thought had never ever lied to him.
And if this was true then she was the biggest liar of them all.
With shaking hands Ethan rocked back and slumped down to sit against the toilet door. This didn't make sense. It didn't. How could this make sense? If that Emilie was his mother then how did he not know this? How did Cal not tell him?
Ethan felt white hot rage flash through him of the kind he'd rarely felt before. Liar. He thought. 'You god damned liar'. His hands were jolting and he clenched them into fists to get the shaking under control. 'Huntington's' oh god. Huntington's.
Ethan's head filled with mental autocues, suddenly becoming filled with every textbook he'd ever read on the subject, he'd even written a case study on it once. 'Huntingtingene' '50% chance of a child inheriting the gene…' symptoms usually begin between 35 and 44'
He was throwing up again before he'd even taken a breath.
Did he have it? Then the dread in his stomach took on a fist form, did Cal have it? For all he wanted to hate his brother. He couldn't lose him. Not to that. The fear crippled him momentarily.
A million questions swam around in his head. Who was he? How long had Cal known about this? Was Emilie definitely their mother?
He spat saliva into the bowl and pushed himself up to his feet, wiping his mouth with toilet paper. Leaving the stall he made his way over to the basin and swilled water into his mouth. Straightening up he caught sight of himself in the mirror and froze. The same face stared back at him, albeit pale as a ghost and wild, but everything had changed. He didn't recognise himself anymore. If he wasn't Matilda Hardy's youngest son, if he wasn't part of his mother, then who was he?
Who was he?
He stared at his features. Trying to align them with the snapshot he had of Emilie in his head. Did he have her nose? What about his eyes that everyone always said were all Matilda? Were they Emilie's? What was he?
Cal burst into the bathrooms, eyes immediately landing on his younger brother. The mirror distorted his face and for a moment Ethan felt like he was seeing what they'd believed their whole lives, they were replicates. They were masqueraders. Everything they knew was a lie. Everything one of them knew anyway.
His hands closed harder on the sink. Cal raised his hands like he was approaching some kind of wild animal that had just escaped from its enclosure. Ethan guessed in some ways he was.
'Ethan' his big brother whispered. 'Listen, just give me a moment to explain…'
Ethan couldn't even speak. He turned dead eyes on the brother that this morning he'd loved more than anyone on this god forsaken planet, now he hated him. He hated Cal more than he'd hated anyone in his life.
'I'm sorry ok'. Cal offered 'I'm so sorry, I was going to tell you. I was going to tell you all of it but there just never seemed to be a good moment.'
Ethan met his eyes in the mirror and shook his head numbly.
'Ok' Cal conceded 'ok so I should have just said it but you were so stressed lately with work and the resignation and I just didn't want to add to it ok? Believe it or not I was trying to shield you from this.'
Ethan turned from the sink and walked over to the bathroom wall, leaning his back against it. Fixing his brother with a stare.
Cal's eyes were desperate, pleading, Emilies' 'Will you say something please?'
Ethan didn't know where to begin. 'I want the truth and I want all of it Caleb.'
Cal sighed and nodded, he leaned against the opposite wall, unconsciously mirroring his younger brother.
And he told Ethan everything.
Ethan felt tired. Bone weary exhaustion swept through his body.
'And then she was there.' Cal concluded 'in the wards and I just wanted to keep her as far away as possible from you. I just didn't want you hurt the way I'd been hurting with all this Ethan.'
The younger man swept a hand over his face. 'Well wasn't that thoughtful of you.'
Cal ignored the sarcastic tone and tried again. 'I'm sorry Ethan, I'm so sorry.'
'You didn't think I had a right to know?'
'Of course I did, I told Charlie that…'
Ethan froze. 'You told Charlie?'
Cal sucked in a breath, obviously realizing his mistake. 'He was there when I got the paternity results about Matilda'.
Ethan laughed, an ugly, betrayed bark. 'And where was I Caleb? Where was I huh? Supporting you, trying to talk to you, giving you space about that little girl? Where was I?'
Cal paused and sighed. 'I know ok. I know you're angry and you have a right to be.'
'Oh thank you so much Caleb for the permission'.
'Come on, you know what I mean.'
'I don't.' Ethan whispered.
'I don't know what you mean. I don't know who you are anymore.' At Cal's wounded look, Ethan went for the kill, 'of all the things you've done Caleb, of all the lows you've sunk, the lengths you've gone to, the selfish actions you have taken our entire lives, this one, this one…you've even surprised me this time.'
Cal stood up from the wall 'Ethan come on…'
'No.' Ethan managed. 'No. I don't want to look at you, I don't want to talk to you. I want to be as far away as possible from you right now.'
'Look can you just…'
Ethan walks forward, he's shorter than his brother, so much shorter and he hates it, hates it more than ever.
'No you look…' he says, deadly serious, looking up at his brother. 'I mean it Cal. Don't talk to me. Stay out of my way because I don't believe a single word that comes out of your mouth.'
'You have lied to me, deceived me, actively taken any choice I had away from me in all of this and you have the nerve to pretend it's out of love.' Ethan shakes his head, raises a finger and pokes Cal right in the chest. 'It's what it's always been Cal, it's out of selfish, narcissistic, cruelty.'
'Ethan that's not fair…'
'FAIR?' Ethan screams now. 'FAIR? You found out our mother isn't our mother, that we are adopted, that we might have a life-shortening god damned disease Caleb and you lied to me about it for months. But god yes Ethan's being unfair for having a reaction about it!' He's furious. White hot rage consumes him now. He takes a step back.
Cal wisely shuts his mouth and hangs his head.
'Don't talk to me.' Ethan manages, chest heaving. 'Just don't.'
'What about Emilie?' Cal finally manages as Ethan turns away from him towards the door.
'What about her?' Ethan asks, heart breaking, 'I already watched one mother die in front of me Caleb, I'm not doing that again. I won't.'
He turns on his heel and leaves his brother behind him.