I sat quietly, cradling my bruised and battered hand against my chest. Despite the painkillers good Doctor Loran gave me, I still felt shooting pains traveling through my knuckles and up my wrist -- no thanks to a few broken and dislocated fingers. The oppressing pain in my heart, as cliché as it sounds, was even more unbearable.
Without realizing, I had brought up the surveillance video that had captured Adam and sat staring at it. It had to be him; there was no other way around it. The scar, the mannerisms...the face that was so like mine.
I winched inwardly as I paused the video. I felt so responsible for his death and yet, here I was, gazing at a mirror image of myself no more than 4 days old. I had discovered sometime since those 3 years when it happened that the night of his death was easily remembered. The phone call, the water cascading down the steps, the plethora of candles crowding his bathroom...
It was hard to accept that he could, in some far realm of plausibility, be alive. Of course, I`d learned in my line of interest that nothing and everything were plausible -- anything could happen. Still as clear as day, I can smell the burning candles and red tinted water that invaded my senses as I held his still warm body next to my own. It was so surreal to collapse onto the floor, grasping him between my arms and chanting "I`m so sorry, Adam. I`m so sorry..." over and over like it would bring him back somehow.
"Derek?" A small voice asked from beside me. I jumped, startled. I hadn`t realized someone had slid into my privacy. "Derek, are you okay?"
"Lan..." I whispered and tore my gaze away from my brother`s face. "I-I`m okay, I think." With only a small hesitation, my friend crouched low and wrapped a comforting arm over my shoulders. For a minute, she didn`t say a word, just let a warm silence envelop us both. My eyes seemed to slide shut on their own accord and I rested my head on her shoulder. The burdens I carried inside of me were beginning to crush my happy facade. I was tired, so very tired, and leaning felt so good.
My eyes remained closed but I could hear the rustle of her shirt as she leaned forward and clicked off that accusing monitor.
"Derek," She prodded, wrapping her other arm around me, not quite sure what to say. "I don`t know what you`ve been through. I don`t think I even want to try to understand...but please don`t torture yourself." The pleading note in her voice made me look up. Her eyes were hazel and sincere and I wrenched myself out of her grip, not sure why.
"How can I not torture myself?" My voice was harsher than I intended, full of self-contempt and loathing. Everything I had been trying to hide inside myself was being drug up by that damned tape. "I practically killed my own brother." Lan exhaled slowly and I could practically see her mind working, trying to figure out what to say. She rarely saw my down moods and those times she did, I hastily tried to cover them up. Now, it was too late to throw a tarp over them and call it a day.
"I know you`ve heard this before, honey, but," She paused a moment, "It`s not your fault." Pursing my lips, I turned away from her compassionate gaze.
"But it IS, don`t you see? If I had went when he called...Adam," I choked on his name and blinked back the tears that threatened to fall. "Adam would still be alive."
"You can`t predict these kinds of things. It`s not your fault you`re not psychic, Derek. There`s no way you could have known." The words that intended to soothe felt like salt in my reopened wounds.
"I knew something was wrong. I just KNEW it, Lan," I said, shaking my head. "That thing I saw in the mirror that I told you about.it should have made me realize something was up. And then, God, there was just a feeling in the pit of my stomach. Twisting, grinding..." My voice broke and I leaned my head forward in shame, feeling completely vulnerable to her.
"Derek, Derek, Derek," She murmured, encasing me warmly in her arms. "I don`t know if there`s anything I can say that would make you forget all of your pain. In fact, I`m pretty sure there`s not. But...I don`t want to say this. You have to...move on." A strange sound that was a cross between sobbing and laughing emanated from my throat. Instead of pulling away though, I allowed her hands to continue rubbing my back comfortingly.
"Don`t you think I tried to get over it? To put it all behind me?" My own voice sounded foreign to my ears as I spoke. "Ever since I found him, I tried to stop these feelings. I could try to pack them away...run and hide from them." I shook my head, disagreeing with my own logic. "For a while, I even found relief in acting happy, witty, everything I was before it happened. Sure, every once in a while I might get down but...I tricked myself into thinking nothing was wrong. And then something like this," I gestured weakly at the computer monitor and felt her embrace tighten around me, "comes around and all of those wounds just open back up. I feel so guilty, like I wronged Adam somehow. He was the golden Barnes child and I.I let him slip through my fingers." A sob finally escaped my throat and I fell completely into her solace. It was the most I had exposed about my feelings since Adam`s death but instead of feeling relief, it was like dragging a dull blade against my skin. Uncontrollable pain and guilt intermingled and overflowed. I felt small, helpless...trapped.
I think we both realized then that, by my admissions, whatever Lan said next could break or rebuild my spirit. By some twist of fate, my heart had fallen into the hands of one of my best friends. No romantic feelings involved, with one quick word she could banish Derek Barnes from the world that knew him. I was vulnerable.
I never knew how grateful I was for silence until she said nothing.