The engine of his old truck responded with a roar to the pressing from his lead foot. He glanced at the clock, confirming his belief that he was, indeed, terribly late. The yellow light turned and he was much too far away, knowing fully well that it was unforgiving with its wait. He sped up and turned the corner, but not before the scarlet signal reflected off of the slick, rainy pavement.
Normally, he wouldn't care—but the flashing of red and blue into a blinding white suddenly crept up from his peripherals, and he flinched at the brightness, careful to maintain control of the steering wheel though his hands began shaking.
He opened his eyes to blurred vision, and the emptier street of the rundown part of town had suddenly reverted into a desert dirt road, and he swore he could feel the hot summer heat creep underneath his shirt. He heard the sound of the sirens. Don't stop, it's a trap again, he told himself as he continued to accelerate, the police car following suit.
"Sir, you are being asked to pull over," the loud sound of the officer's voice traveled into the street, but he couldn't hear it.
Instead, all he heard were explosions and the reports of automatic rifles, and the voice of a woman wailing, "Please, my child!" The final stimuli caused him to swerve quickly onto the curb and slam on the breaks as he inhaled sharply, his eyes clearing up the sight of city streets.
He wasn't there anymore. He was in the city. He was safe.
"I'm gonna need you to step out of the vehicle, son," the police officer ordered him, and the beat of his heart did not even elevate in the slightest. He was much too used to commands. "Have you been drinking?"
He shook his head. "No sir," he replied politely.
"Then do you want to explain why your car's on the sidewalk, Mr. Depoitiers?" the cop asked skeptically, eyeing his worn down license.
"I…" Sebastian began, then trailed off and sighed, his shoulders slumping dejectedly as he shut his eyes in frustration.
"You're not doing well, Sebastian," the therapist cuts through the thick silence. He hated the supposedly soothing mint green velvet seats, and he hated the synthetic smell of some novelty candle. And god, how he hated using up money for it, but if that meant stopping the flashbacks, then he would do anything. "You're living alone, and perhaps, that's not the most beneficial condition for you to get acclimated with the world again."
He clenched his jaw, averting his gaze from the middle-aged woman and instead staring at the crosses of the tiles on the floor. "I'm fine. I'm getting better."
"You have a $200 ticket," she reminded him gently, folding her hands together on her leg. He supposed her point was valid—he didn't quite have the money to pay for costly mistakes. "All I'm suggesting is that perhaps a visit to your family might clear your insights."
"I don't have any family," he replied quickly, eyes still fixed on the floor.
"You mentioned your father in Angouleme?" she suggested. "And you were quite close with your brother, were you not?"
Sebastian sighed, and finally looked up at her. "I was."
As the countryside fell into a blur on his passenger windows, he mulled over his destination. Home, perhaps he should call it. He did undoubtedly miss the familiar cool breeze of the fields outside of city limits, and the soothing sensation of the car coasting along the gravel roads. He was an outdoor man and he preferred it much more than the confined spaces of city apartments, in truth.
As he pulled into the sudden transition of smooth pavement on the long driveway, he saw the familiar grand, white house encompassed by a perfectly landscaped piece of artwork. Even after growing up in the establishment, he still felt the overwhelming grandiosity of the property.
He did not need to turn his engine off to know that there would be no welcome banner, no awaiting party or champagne toast to his return. It was as empty as the day that he'd left, and he'd preferred it so.
The large wooden door swung open, and he only needed to recognize the flopping of a head of blonde curls going down the porch steps to recognize the young man. He turned off his engine and stepped out of the car with a crooked grin. "Francis," he greeted him. "How goes it, brother?"
"Look who the cat dragged in," Francis sneered jokingly, a welcoming smile on his youthful face erasing any form of hostility. "It's been too long, Bash." He approaches his half-brother, embracing him briefly and tightly with an affectionate, firm pat on the back.
"Still the scrawny teenager you were when I left," Sebastian jested, playfully punching his shoulder.
"Scrawny teenager with a Harvard degree," his younger half-brother corrected him. "Besides, not everyone has time to do four tours of duty." He hounded his brother with an undeniable pride as Sebastian lowered his gaze to the ground, smiling sheepishly. After four years, his half-brother still displayed a glint of admiration in his gaze towards him—but Sebastian felt as though this time, it was no longer for the right reasons. "Wonder where everyone else is," Francis thought out loud, before turning to face that grand ivory house.
The door swung open once more, and both men were greeted by an older man, an air of superiority in his rigid posture—his father, Henry. However, his lips cracked a smile upon the sight of his eldest son. "Sebastian," he greeted him with the gruff voice. "Look at the man that war's made you," he marveled at his child, and despite the pang it evoked in his chest, Sebastian managed a stoic nod.
"I can think of better ways to become a man," the cold voice of a woman remarked from behind him. All eyes turned towards the prim matriarch. The curve of her lips did not travel to the light in her eyes, as she looked at Sebastian. "I suppose I'm glad you're still intact and respiring."
"It's great to see you too, Mrs. Valois," Sebastian replied, the insincerity heavy in his tone. "Thanks for letting me stay here for the time being."
"Oh, you must have misunderstood, I-," she began.
"Well, Catherine, the more the merrier, right?" a more youthful female voice joined in, overpowering the other woman's in a tone of appeasement and grace.
Francis grinned. "Bash, you remember Mary, right?"
Sebastian chuckled. "Was there ever a time when there was a Francis without a Mary?" he asked rhetorically, though he masked the surprise in his voice. He didn't think that after leaving Angouleme for school, that Francis would come back to wed Mary—smart, sensible and genuine Mary Stuart, unlike the women that he knew Francis pursued in college.
"Well, there won't be ever," Francis replied. "We're engaged."
The news caused Sebastian's eyes to widen. "Really?" he stole a glance at the expensive looking jewelry wrapped around her fourth finger. "Congratulations," he bowed his head in sincerity. "I'm assuming I wasn't on the invite list for the save-the-dates?" In truth, it would not have angered him that he wasn't invited to the affair. Catherine had made it clear that certain things were family affairs, and he clearly was not a part of the family.
"We haven't set a date yet," Francis replies, and Sebastian doesn't need to turn to Mary to watch her shift in discomfort.
"The engagement's pretty recent then?" he thought out loud, and then looked at Francis.
"Well, I think we should head back inside," Mary interrupted once more, this time the enthusiasm in her voice much less genuine. She and Sebastian shared a quick glance before she forced a smile, as she gestured up to the house.
They gathered at the pristinely arranged table, Henry at the head of the table and Sebastian on the other side. He was about to question the vacant spot to his left, when the door swung open to reveal another familiar girl. "Sorry I'm late," she professed loudly, slightly out of breath as the rest of the dining party turned to look at her.
"Not that we would have missed you," Catherine muttered.
"Hope nobody minds that I invited Kenna over for dinner," Mary spoke up once more. Sebastian watched as Henry and Kenna made short eye contact, but the way she averted her gaze gave it away. Sebastian almost choked on his water. He knew that look far too well—it reminded him of his own mother, and he couldn't find it in him to be surprised at Henry's actions.
The dinner continued mostly in peace as they engaged in small banter, Francis talking about the deals that the family business made under his name that past week. Mary displayed her humble support, hints of pride mixed in her voice at how successful Francis had become. Sebastian supposed that, even in the current uncomfortable state that the couple seemed to be in, the sentiments underneath still existed. Though he'd not known Mary all too well, he knew she and Francis had grown up together, grown to be best friends who had a genuine liking to each other's company.
He had a feeling that Francis, however, was hardly the earnest teenage boy that he remembered anymore. His half-brother possessed a new vigor from his air of confidence, his ambition. He looked much more like Henry than Sebastian did, truthfully.
"How long have you and my brother been engaged?" he asked her bluntly, after volunteering to help clear the dishes from the table.
Mary eyed Sebastian suspiciously, unsure of where he was intending for the conversation to go. "A year," she replied curtly, devoid of any emotion—though he swore a flicker of sadness might have given her away much more than she wanted it to.
"And you haven't set a date yet?" he asked with a hint of disbelief. "If I may ask, what seems to be the delay?" He took a bottle of beer from the fridge, gesturing the offer to her, to which she shook her head politely. He swiftly popped the bottlecap off from the kitchen counter, raising the mouth of the bottle to his lips.
She shifted in discomfort. "It's just not a good time for us," Mary explained vaguely, to which she met a raise in Sebastian's eyebrow.
"The entire year hasn't been a good time for you?" he leans against the counter, arms crossed in skepticism as Mary returned with somewhat of a look of irritation. He uncrossed his arms in interest. "It's not Catherine, is it?"
She sighed. Perhaps Sebastian understood more than he let on. "There's a lot more on the line than you think," she told him, eyebrows knitted in seriousness. "You obviously have your suspicions, so there's no point in convincing you of anything." She threw the towel onto the kitchen counter. "Excuse me," she muttered, walking past him and leaving him to himself in the spacious kitchen for only a few seconds.
"You catch on quickly," a voice chimes in from the doorway. He turns to see Kenna, the unmistakable coyness in the way that she leaned against the frame. "Must've been the army."
"Marines, actually," Sebastian corrected her lightheartedly, and then took another swig of his beer. "And how much else do I have to know, exactly?"
She shrugged. "Not much," looking to the next room to see Francis with his arm around Mary, the two sharing space on the couch as Catherine flipped through a magazine with a painful disinterest. The room did not resemble one of a newly engaged couple, much less a family—but it had always been that way for as long as Sebastian could remember. "It's a tale as old as time, high school sweethearts falling out of love." Kenna rolls her eyes. Even the girl sleeping with his father had room to disapprove. "It's a shame, though."
"What is, exactly?" he asked, as he followed her gaze to the next room.
"Mary," Kenna stated simply, and Sebastian looked at the gentle-faced young woman, tucking her hair behind her ear as she held a glass of wine, laughing softly in agreement at one of Francis' lighthearted comments. She kept a few inches away from Francis, beside him but not quite connected as he looked out of the window and onto their property, his mind somewhere else. "She deserves better."
He nods in silent agreement.
So here it is-the first chapter of my newest project. I'm still not quite sure whether to continue this or not, so it would be a tremendous help if you let me know what you honestly think of it. Find me on tumblr if you'd like to discuss the plot with me, or anything else! For the holidays, my username is sleighmiserables.