It was maybe three in the morning, a good few days after Annie had yelled at me, when Lucas got home. She hadn’t spoken to me since, and had spent every waking moment between our conversation and Lucas coming home ignoring me, with the occasional rude hand gesture when mum and dad weren’t looking.
“Shhhhh,” I heard as the front door slammed shut. I hadn’t been sleeping – I’d been reading It, unable to drift off for some reason. Folding over my page, I crept out of bed. Mum and dad’s door was shut, and I couldn’t hear them moving around, but Annie had heard him too. We glanced at each other down the landing, silently forming a truce as we both tip toed down to see what sort of mess Lucas was in this time.
He looked up at us, wincing as Annie flicked on a light. His hair was greasy and hanging over his face, his eyes bloodshot and dull. His shirt was ripped and there was blood on his neck, though whether it was his or not was impossible to tell – it had long since dried.
“You’re a mess,” Annie tutted.
“Shhh,” Lucas covered his ears, shutting his eyes. “Too loud. Turn the light off.”
“Whose blood is that?” her eyes widened as she noticed it too. One of his hands strayed to his neck, scratching a little of the blood off. He squinted at it under his nails, shrugging.
“No idea. Just turn the fucking light off already.” It surprised me that he was making sense. Usually when he came back he was still off his face. Annie was too concerned about whether he was okay or not to listen. She ripped his shirt off, inspecting him for damage, ignoring his swearing and protests. All we could see was his collection of tattoos and a few scars that had been there forever. Annie frowned as Lucas pushed past her and turned the light off himself. I blinked into the darkness, having to take a moment to readjust. “Christ, what’s wrong with you? It’s just blood.”
“I thought you’d gotten hurt,” Annie mumbled, her eyes on the floor. See, this is why I didn’t understand why Annie was so fucking insistent on looking after him when he just didn’t want her help. He didn’t really want mine either, but it’s not like I was tearing his shirt off to make sure he wasn’t injured.
“Yeah? Well I’m fucking not. Give me my shirt,” he hissed, snatching it from her hands.
“Back up,” I growled, “don’t treat my sister like that.”
“Or what?” he sneered. I gritted my teeth. I was good at fighting, and we were about the same height give or take an inch, but I didn’t have the muscles he did. He might be a junkie, but the guy works out. Still, I was’t about to back down.
“You’re only here because dad feels guilty that you’re his bastard,” I threatened.
“Go ahead,” he laughed coldly. I resisted the urge to hit him.
“Alex, just leave it,” Annie grabbed my wrist, pulling me back towards her. I hadn’t noticed my fists were clenched. “You don’t need to fight my battles for me,” she reminded me, “or make battles.” She looked over at Lucas, who was looking decidedly ill in the dim light from the street lamps outside, though he was still scowling at me.
“Fuck the both of you. I’m going to bed,” he grumbled, shoving me out of the way to get upstairs.
Lucas didn’t emerge from his room until late evening the next day. He only emerged to complain of his headache and get something to drink. I don’t think he even ate. He got a quiet scolding from dad, but beyond that, the household was quiet.
One thing bugged me, though. He seemed a little different. I mean, he was usually always around the house or blasting music at full volume, but his room was deathly silent all day, and if you talked too loudly, or if something smelt a bit, he’d poke his head out of the door and complain about it.
I’d actually been about to go and ask him if he was okay when something made me stop. I thought I could hear him talking to someone. Pausing to listen at his door, I did indeed hear another voice in there. I hadn’t heard anyone come in. In fact, I would’ve noticed if they had walked past my door, so god only knows how they got in.
“It’s just so... Fuck, I don’t know,” Lucas said.
“I know,” the other voice said sympathetically, “it’s hard now, but it gets easier, trust me.”
“Why did this have to happen to me?”
“I can’t say for sure. I’m pretty ashamed that it happened the way it did, though,” the voice stopped and I could hear movement on the other side of the door. “Your brother is outside, listening.” I stepped away from the door, feeling my eyes widen. How did this other person know? I hadn’t made a sound. Footsteps thudded quietly over to the door and Lucas squinted out from the darkness that shrouded his room.
“What d’you want?”
“I was just gonna ask if you were okay,” I said a little defensively, “and then I heard... whoever it is you have in there. How did they even get in?”
“He climbed in through the window,” Lucas shrugged, dismissing my concern totally.
“You may as well invite him in,” the stranger said, appearing silently behind him. He was a little shorter than me and Lucas, with sort of golden brown hair and hazel eyes. Despite their colour, they were oddly... cold. Or distant. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go in there at all. “He’s heard enough that he’ll have awkward questions. It’d be good to have someone you can rely on should anything go awry, too.” Reluctantly, Lucas stood back and the stranger gestured for me to join them inside.