Josephine bit back the regretful sigh and best of intentions when she saw Mokuba's flinch. His
eyes shot skyward in an odd study of the overhang for a long, long moment. He crossed his arms as if to shield himself
as he peered at her, warily."Then you know how it is." He muttered, raising his searing eyes to hers, his thoughts
There was another long moment, as she faltered in embarrassment for the impulsive spew, and he faltered in trying to
decipher what she wanted from him. The plastic felt cold beneath his suddenly numb hands, as he looked her over again,
and saw no threat, but only that worn look of tired grief. Mokuba knew that all too well. He saw the compassion glittering in
her hazel eyes, and that hesitant way she stood there, before she ducked her head,cheeks aflame.
"I'm sorry...I didn't mean to be intrusive." Her shoulders hitched in negating distance as she stepped away.
Mokuba shook his head, as he watched her retreat, and suddenly blurted out, "Wait."
Mokuba gestured towards the cookies, sighed, and jerked his head back towards his apartment. "Let me go put these up, alright?
I'll be back in a minute."
She gave him an uncertain smile and a nod, and he pivoted on his boot-heel back into the darkness of his apartment.
Without waiting for an answer he ducked inside,grateful for the few moments to assess the situation as he opened the small fridge and lay
the large dish in the bottom. Uneasily, he watched her shadow on the floor, as she politely lingered in the door frame. His delaying tactic
finished, he wished again that he had Seto's uncanny knack on looking imposing and non-chalant about skipping social graces-and getting
away with it. The sudden flare of pain at the abstract thought hurt even more at the reminder of Seto's loss. Mokuba sighed through
gritted teeth as he forced himself to present a serene, detached calm he did not feel as he slowly came back to the door.
During that interval, Josephine was warring with herself on if it would have been less distressing for the both of them if she just
discretely left, and forgot the whole incident. She wondered if he had completely misinterpreted her motives, and flushed anew
at the humilating thought that he might now have the notion that she was somehow available. She swallowed hard at that idea,
shaking her head in dismissal. She had only meant to thank him for not costing her thousands in that mercy he had granted her
after hitting his car. She winced inwardly, and bitterly regretted ever bringing up an issue that was still so raw and deep as his
brother's death. It seemed cruel. She was already preparing a contrite apology when she heard his bootheels against the wood.
His dark eyes were unreadable as he carefully braced himself against the railing of his small porch, and faced her.
"I'm sorry to hear about your brother. I bet you know how hard it is, then."
She gave him a sad, understanding smile. "I do."
Three hours later, Mokuba and Josephine were chatting like old friends, munching on the cookies and sipping diet Coke during the scant
warm hours of the high hadn't moved from Mokuba's small porch, but had casually sat on the concrete steps. Mokuba told her
of Domino, of what life was like in Japan, the smattering of things he knew about card games, and she patiently listened as he spoke
glowingly of Seto's heroics, though he was careful not to dredge up any of the raw memories of his tortured last days. She remarked kindly
that Seto seemed like an amazing character, and Mokuba responded with a nod and another forced smile that seemed like it was
on the verge of breaking.
The conversation gradually drifted into Josephine's story. Mokuba listened patiently as she tiredly recited her brother's story with the
same note of casual agony that Mokuba had become well aquainted with over the last year and a half. Josephine spoke with both
deep love and sorrow when she clenched her fists in her lap and quietly unfolded the tale of her only sibling, Richard.
She had spent most of her childhood under the firm disapproval of both her parents, felt the scathing dismissal that had flowered into
full alienation from the rest of the world, and she felt mostly scorned and completely unacceptable. She found a bit of understanding,
and solace in the company of her only sibling, though.
"Rich was two years younger than me, but we hardly ever went through any of the typical sibling rivalry. Sometimes we had our
squabbles, but we got along for the most part. He was two years younger than me, age-wise, but he got me in a way that nobody
else ever could."
Her mouth twisted in anguish as she slowly crossed her arms, her knuckles growing whiter from the strain as she told of the horrible
day her brother died.
"I had just graduated from high school, and had gotten accepted into college out of state. I was nervous about leaving my family, my
friends, but I was excited to finally leave behind the tension at home, and that boring little town. It felt like life was finally working for
once, and the future seemed to have some good possibilities. Richard was a junior in high school, then. We spent a lot of time that
summer talking about what it would be like for me to leave, and how hard it was going to be. Rich always reassured me that he
was going to be alright, and I was going to be fine, we'd all visit and email. He always knew how to make me feel better."
"I remember the day he died, every detail. It was late fall. I was packing my stuff to go home for Thanksgiving break, and talking to
my roomate, when I got the phone call. It was early in the afternoon, on the last day of classes. I was on my way to my car, when
my mom called my cell phone. She was in tears, nearly hysterical. She told me that Rich had been in a wreck, and he had been
badly injured, and was in the hospital. She told me to please get home, that she would call me when she knew more. I'm honestly
not suprised that I didn't get a speeding ticket...that drive home home seemed to take forever, even though I was going faster than
I ever had in my life. I didn't bother going to my house, I just went straight to the hospital. Mom had phoned to let me know that
Rich had been taken to the ICU, with severe head trauma."
She choked, as Mokuba instinctively cringed at what he knew was coming, and gently cupped her shoulder in comfort. She shuddered,
her recounting of what followed dry and brittle, and completely tearless.
"I was buzzed into the ICU unit. Mom met me in the hallway, she was crying, but trying to hold it together for all of us. She was always
a tough lady that way. She told me that Richard had been put on life support, that he wasn't breathing on his own, and they weren't
sure if he was going to make it. I knew that it was bad, Mokuba, but I had no idea it was really hell until I went into that ICU room
to see my baby brother. My dad came up, and hugged me, and we both just stood there, holding onto each other. And then, I saw
Rich." She made a choking sound, but continued, softly.
"Rich...didn't look like my brother. He was hooked up to a respirator, he had a shunt in his head to reduce the swelling on his brain...
his entire face looked like one big bruise, and he was hooked up to all these machines. Later on, I learned from the police report on the
wreck that Rich was driving down a curve, swerved to avoid hitting something, and rolled his car at least twice. He wasn't wearing his
seatbelt, and he had been ejected from the car. I remember being mad at Richard for that, but I was enraged at God for letting that
happen. Why should my brother pay such a high price for one stupid mistake, when there are so many more who do so much worse
and never suffer for it?"
She drew another breath. "Rich held on for three days. For three days, I don't remember doing anything but shuffling back and forth
from that waiting room, to his bed side, drinking a lot of coffee, saying a lot of prayers. I held his hand, and I begged him to pull through.
He never woke up, he never regained any sort of awareness, and on the third day, the doctors told us that he had no brain activity. He wasn't
breathing on his own, he wasn't going to come back. My parents asked the doctors to unhook him, and let their son go home.
I held his hand, when he stopped breathing. He died in Mom's arms."
And then, she quietly wiped away a tear, as Mokuba quietly passed her a tissue. She thanked him, apologizing for dredging up so much
of her own issues in the face of his loss, and Mokuba just shook his head, sadly. "Actually, I appreciate this, Josephine. One of the
hardest things about Seto's death is feeling so...alienated from the rest of the people around me. I'm just so tired of having to tell
everybody that it's alright when I don't see how it's ever going to be again. I get tired of being told that I need to move on, and get
over it. I don't think they get that I buried my brother, but I lost part of myself, and I know that I'm not getting either one back. That's
what makes it so hard. I know that you lost your brother rather quickly, compared to Seto. He lived 9 months after his diagnosis, and
he suffered so much...but, at least it gave us time to say good-bye."
Josephine nodded. "I don't think it matters how, Mokuba. It still hurts either way."