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25. Family

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After we’d read the story of tragic downfall, it was wrapped up again and tucked away. There was nothing to explain, this was a warning. Cicero knew that his son’s sanity would be determined by his upbringing. To think that such simple things would have such a lasting effect. Darius and I stayed there, absorbing the memory of it. He was put to rest, beyond all pain and misery; we were happy for him. There are exceptions to the rules of sympathy, he was one of them. I held her close, knowing that we’d never make those foolish mistakes. Our kids would beat the statistics, break the rules, they’d be something in the world. We sat there and locked away Cicero’s story, ending that chapter of our lives. I included Cicero’s story in my own because it’s very significant in my life.

The sun crept in through the window as we dozed off together. We slept for a few hours or so before Darius got up and checked on the children. I watched her go, watching the quiet way that she crept about. I worried about her at all times, severely worried. Ever since Draven’s “disappearance” and her near-arrest, she seemed more distant. She’d wander aimlessly at times, seeming empty of the world. It was a hard truth to accept; her beloved big brother was about to let her hang in his place, leaving behind her life to die for his. But he didn’t do it. He’d come and stopped it and turned the dogs upon himself. He’d come back. But that doesn’t make up for the cold grasp of handcuffs and being dragged out in front of your family. I could sympathize with her.

She was my whole world, I worried dearly for her. She worked at times for so long that I’d not see her for hours. Since her freedom, we insisted on not being apart for any longer than we had to. Yet we still led our own lives. My life was hers and I gave it willingly to her to keep in check. And she kept it well for me.

Only freaks could find a love so strong and maintain it for eternity. Normal people can’t understand it because they’re too obsessed with tiny details and minor facts. They want proof, physical evidence that love’s real. Then look at Darius and myself. We would always have each other, always. Love’s not something that you grow out of or changes with the seasons. It is forever. I was told that love is merely for children, sinners, and fools. I was two out of three, so I guess I qualify. I’d rather be a fool or a sinner than an ignorant. We had something that most people are just too blind to accept, something stronger than anything else in the world. As long as we had each other, life would have purpose and meaning. As long as we had each other.

My mind wandered as I wrote. We needed to rewrite our will. The will currently leaves the children with Syrius, Madison and Draven, should some fatal catastrophe befall my love and myself. What would happen to them now? They’d become wards of the State; that had to be avoided. I decided to sit with Darius and discuss the best option to have – just in case. Always have a Plan B, sometimes a Plan C and D as well.

I waited until the day was done to speak with her. Seemed that she’d been considering it as well. But who was left? Who could we burden with this responsibility in our absence? She asked about my parents. My folks were still alive, I’d imagine; I went to see them once in a very, very blue moon. They didn’t approve of my lifestyle, they never had. They’d tried to break up Darius and myself because they hated her. She wasn’t the perfect little princess they could boast about, but I was far from being a prince myself. But they had no appreciation of love or devotion. I felt that our kids shouldn’t be prone to their close-mindedness, it’s like an infectious disease.

The conversation went on for hours as we debated our limited options. It was decided that we’d talk to the kids at the tattoo parlor and see if they wanted to help. The funny thing about our discussion was this – in the long discussion of death and afterthought, we were both calm. Not one tear, not one morbid word, just an honest, rational talk about the circumstances of our deaths and its’ repercussions. Most people get upset by the notion of leaving this mortal realm, I think we were far too accustomed to the idea. Much too comfortable with it. Regardless, we went to work the next day and restated our conflict. They all agreed eagerly to help, Pike and his girl would have legal custody, but they’d all have part in helping, God forbid. So it was settled; one less concern to occupy our minds. I was sincerely concerned about it at first, I don’t know why.

Life started settling into a routine, it became somewhat typical. Work was always interesting being as how there was a humorous event just about every day. Time started rolling by and we were in a set lifestyle. Darius kept up her work on her pictures; I urged her to submit them to galleries but she refused. She said that she didn’t want her work adulterated, which I could respect. She agreed to let me use her pictures as illustrations for my story, even if it was published.

There was that slight chance that I’d let the world in on it, let them see what we’d gone through, but I wasn’t sure. It didn’t seem right to publish our lives like that, to let them all see it, bare, obvious. If they’d learn from our pain, then it might be worth it, but what if they didn’t? I wrote because I wanted to keep it for us, for her and I, for each other, forever. So we’d have it to remind us of all we’d overcome, all we’d gone through. We’d have these simple, empty words as proof that love can overcome all and together we had stolen time and put it back without anyone having a clue. This was evidence, solid, factual evidence. Forever. But you know why I wrote it? Because I didn’t need to. We didn’t need proof, we had enough faith to know better. We didn’t need the names and places and dates, the people and ideas, we just needed each other. That was enough. This was just a bonus, a failsafe, a “just in case”. It’s here in case one of us gets a little too close to the edge and starts teetering. I wrote because it wasn’t necessary that I keep it, but it was necessary at the same time. I wrote because my soul cried out for it. I wrote because there were things that I couldn’t say to her but I could write them and she’d understand somehow. These things, these considerations were why I wrote what I wrote. They’re just words when you get down to it, nothing more than simple black and white words. They begin and end at random and the middle is a series of rants and complaints that kept us alive. These things, these petty differences and ideas and reasons were what made this all come to be. And it still exists because it’s not finished yet. I don’t know if it ever will be finished, but when and if it is, I’ll know. Some things don’t need words. This is one of them.

So how’s the weather in outer Mongolia?

I went to check on the kids out of boredom. It was afternoon, they were playing peacefully. The years went by so simply it seemed. Pandora was two, our kids were eight or so. They were competent, knowledgeable and smart. It was insane how quickly things seemed to go by when you’re not paying attention. I was afraid that I’d look away for a moment and they’d be gone. I knew that they’d reach their teenage years and we’d butt heads being as how we were a family of stubborn people, but things would continue on and everything would work out in the end, as it should. If it worked out in the beginning, why the hell would you wait it out to the end? It gets better in the end because of all the time and effort you’ve already put into it. Everything has its’ own reward in the end. There is nothing that once complete, if executed with precision, gives you nothing worth having in return. Some things must be looked at out of perspective though to get the full effect.

We had a scream at the “Meet the Teacher” night in school with the kids. They’d ask a bunch of foolish questions, Darius and I had a riot with it. We dressed and acted as freakish as possible just to send a wave through them and when they asked what we did for a living, we told them that we were both tattoo artists. The looks of disgust were hilarious. The teachers just looked on in wonder as their minds fought to understand how freaks like us could have such . . . well-adjusted kids. Darius and I walked through the crowd side by side, the amount of people that rushed to avoid our step was hilarious. The close-mindedness was intoxicating, but we fought it off. We stayed until the last few parents were lurking around, peering at us suspiciously. Darius crept up on one mother in particular who had been glaring at us all night. I walked casually behind her to watch. She crept up on the woman and snuck around to see her face. I think she poor woman’s heart stopped to be caught off guard. Darius looked at her with a childish curiousity and bent close to her. Wish a whisper, the woman jumped and took off. I wandered back to my love and put my arm around her, watching the woman’s quick escape. I asked what she’d said. She smiled up at me with childish glee.

“Boo.”

We both had a good laugh as we made our way out. Our departure was a release for most of them to stop worrying and come down from their high pedestal. We ran into the girl on the way out, Doyle’s mother. She seemed a little lost, we asked what she was doing there. She looked up in surprise.

“Didn’t you know that Doyle goes to school with your kids? He’s a bit ahead of them, but they see each other all the time. Didn’t they tell you?”

I looked at Darius and she looked at me, both equally sharing a moment of disbelief. It didn’t make absolute sense. Then again, it did. They didn’t live far from us, it’d be the same school district. So they were in school together, that’s alright. I don’t know why I was so concerned, more so for Doyle. He was older, it was his soul that was at risk here. I was just paranoid that he’d drag our kids down with him. We said the usual casual remarks to her and parted ways in peace. Darius and I walked home side by side, my arm wrapped around her back, keeping her close to me. We walked home together, letting the night carry away worry and concern. Everything was as it should be. Every so often I could feel a pair of eyes watching us, bearing through my back, peering at us from the shadows. I knew who it was and I always wondered if she could feel it too, but we never spoke about it. Let sleeping dogs lie.

We had left Pike and his girl to watch the kids, they were still awake when we got back. They stretched and yawned tiredly as we came in and settled back. The got up to leave, walking out together when Pike stopped. He stepped away from a protesting Syn and took me aside to talk. Darius looked surprised, I shared the same feelings, as the two of us went into the kitchen to speak. Pike looked cautiously over his shoulder before he started talking.

“There was a guy around here tonight. He knocked on the door and asked to be let in. When we asked who he was, he said that he was the missing father back from the dead. When I told him I knew nothing of the sort, he got frustrated and repeated his name to me several times,” Pike’s voice was rushed, he seemed startled. I asked him what the name was, though I already knew. What I didn’t know was why.

Pike had met Draven, he knew him from sight and sound. What I couldn’t understand was what it was about him that had him so shaken up. So of course, I asked.

“His voice was different, he seemed easily annoyed and his appearance was dark, I couldn’t see his face. I opened the door a bit just to get a full look at him and he was shrouded in black, beyond hint of detail. He’d changed since I’d last seen him. His character, everything about him was cold. I refused him entry and he turned and left, asking that I not repeat what happened. Syn was witness to half of our discussion, I asked for her consul on the topic, she said to let it be. But I couldn’t let this pass and not tell you. I couldn’t lie, I just couldn’t,” his voice trailed off with a nervous twinge and I wished that I had words to console him. But I had none. Guilt hit me immediately as I knew that we were endangering these young kids by opening our lives to them. I told him to be at ease and all would heal itself and he could go home without giving it another thought. And that he’d done the right thing and I was eternally grateful. It was then that Syn opened the door.

Syn was . . . mysterious. There was something about her that always bothered me, like that she didn’t belong there, she just seemed wrong in the picture, she didn’t fit in, she was a glitch. But Pike loved her dearly and protected her and she loved him equally. But there was something dangerous about their love, something infectious. Like they were lethal together, apart each one was fine, but together they were lethal. A twinge of fear stayed in my heart when I saw them together, the cold eyes, the empty gaze. It was something frightful. She stood there, her eyes moving between the two of us. She was afraid of me though, I could feel it on her. I don’t know what inspired it though. I tried desperately to find out what it was, but I never could. And I dared not ask her to tell me, I didn’t want her to know that I knew. It might freak her out more. She seemed dangerous on her own, slightly unstable, but the two of them together were even more amplified. It was terrifying. She stood there, staring – her eyes empty. She knew what had happened, you could feel the tension in the air.

Pike said good night quickly, avoiding her piercing eyes. How they got along, I don’t understand, they seemed afraid of one another at times. After he’d gone, she turned to leave, I took her shoulder and kept her in place. She turned to face me, her eyes quickly moving to the floor. I put my hand under her chin to bring her face up.

“It’s alright. It’ll be handled. Put it from your mind, worry about it no longer. Trust me.”

She looked at me for a moment and then nodded her approval. She stepped back as if I’d turned her loose. She shook her head a moment and turned and left, leaving me alone in the kitchen. I followed them back to where Pike and Syn were saying hurried goodbyes to Darius, who returned their gesture with kindness. She glanced at me for a moment with a look of intense hate in her glance and then back at the kids, urging them to have a safe trip and sleep well. They left abruptly, seeming to be at peace, or as peaceful as they could be. I was left alone with Darius. For once in my life, I feared to tell her the truth, but she could pull it out of me. She could look deep into my soul and find it there and drag it out. She knew me all too well, as I knew her. She took a step until she was directly in front of me, looking into my eyes. I looked down at her for a moment and from then on I was locked there. I searched silently for words.

So Draven wanted back in on our lives. It’d been a year or so since he had left in the first place, since then Darius had become very bitter about it. The fact that he was going to let her hang was something that she just couldn’t forgive. I could respect that, but we make exceptions for family. But she didn’t want to forgive, she couldn’t. There were deep roots of her bitterness toward him that he’d never make up for, roots that went back to her childhood, long before I knew her. She never spoke about her childhood, I knew nothing really about how she ended up with Cid. I knew that her parents were both dead, I think that it’d been a freak accident of some sort, maybe a car crash. I don’t know for certain. Her feelings were numbed when he had returned to her and had taken her in and taken her back. She owed him, so she had to put up with it. I realized that I didn’t know as much about my “family” as I should. She looked deep into me then and asked what had happened. I looked at her blankly, it was useless to lie.

“Draven.”

One word was enough, just that one word was enough to make her stagger back. Her eyes glowed and she looked at me in disbelief, muttering random questions in the most illogical order imaginable. I tried to keep up and explain to her what I’d been told, but it was useless. She just stared down at the floor, thinking to herself. She didn’t want him back, she didn’t mind him coming to see his kid, but not after disappearing without a trace for so long. She blocked me out for a while, I stood there and watched her, frozen in place. I refused to move, it was pointless to; it was pointless to stay as well. I just stood, unsure of what to do. For once in my life I didn’t have the answers I needed. She wasn’t going to help me either. She just stood, her back pressed to the wall for support to lean on, her eyes still seeing only the ground. I wasn’t sure how to react. I moved closer to try to comfort her but her eyes shot up to me with a flare I’d never seen before. I stepped back immediately and decided to check on the children.

You can see everything in a person’s eyes if you look carefully enough. I knew most of the important things there were to know about Darius from the expressions in her eyes. Her eyes told the stories that words couldn’t explain. She shot me such a look then that my heart felt like it’d been shot and I had to get away before I shot myself. The pain was intense, I felt like my chest was going to implode from it; the absolute pain. At the time I could only concentrate on the pain, after I’d escaped her sight I knew that she hadn’t meant to hurt me, she just needed her space. I respected and understood that. So I went and stayed in the children’s room for a while, dozing off here and there. I heard the front door open and close and I assumed that she was gone. I don’t know when she got back, I dozed off.

I had horrific nightmares while I slept, I don’t know why. For some reason I thought back to the very beginning of this story, when I first started writing, to that day when I’d seen Darius jump off of the building. I’d wanted to throw myself off after her, but Draven had held me back. I wanted to kill him. But he was right in his own way. He couldn’t understand our devotion then, only lovers can understand love. But for some reason that vision came to me and it played itself over and over in my mind until I woke up crying and shaking. I couldn’t take it, reliving the horror repeatedly. I couldn’t do it. I got up and caught a smoke. I hadn’t drank uncontrollably in ages, Darius had convinced me to contain myself for the kids. Seeing the damage that was possible, I agreed. So I didn’t drink much at all because I was a horrible alcoholic, but I was allowed to smoke. I couldn’t break the habit and didn’t try all that hard to. Darius didn’t quit either. We were careful to do it away from the kids though.

I woke up sweating and nervous. I got up and found the kids where we’d left them. Darius was nowhere to be found. I got up and sat myself down to wake up a bit and make sense of what was going on. I decided to write to pass the time. Darius came home in the later hours of the morning. I didn’t ask any questions, didn’t talk to her, nothing. She just sulked in quietly, I don’t know if she so much as looked at me, I kept my eyes down on the paper, carefully avoiding hers. She went past me and checked on the kids, then perched herself by the window and lit a cigarette. I kept writing, rambling on and on for no reason as she stared at me. I could feel her eyes burning through my back. I heard her get up and come over to me. She got down next to me and waited till I had to look at her. And when I did, she grabbed me and brought me to the window with her. We sat and watched the sunrise. She seemed distant though, sad. As if this were the first one she’d ever seen. Or the last. She sat and watched the smoke fade out into the distance and she held onto me. I sat with her and we were as we were before. Unaffected.

She sat over my shoulder and watched me write, I had most everything on paper, my ideas, the illustrations, everything that was necessary was organized as best as I could. I wrote some more and put the pencil down and looked up at her. Her eyebrows turned up in a confused gesture and she pointed at the sheet of paper to keep my attention focused on what she felt was more important. I got up and grabbed her and spun her around and held her there, kissing her softly. She just looked at me with a blank expression, like that of a child. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with her. She didn’t seem right at all. She didn’t talk to me or respond to anything I did. I let her go and she just stood where I left her. I sat and went back to my writing.

As I was writing the door clicked open. I looked up immediately. It was Draven. He was dressed entirely in black from head to toe, he looked older and beat up. Darius looked up and saw him, but she didn’t move. He came in, shutting the door quietly behind him. I just looked back and forth at the two of them. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, the tension. I assumed that she was still mad about him taking off and not checking back. He moved toward her but staggered. I could tell that he was slightly tipsy, but I couldn’t figure out what he was on. Either he had been drinking, or making drugging, or maybe he just hadn’t been sleeping. He looked like he’d been hit by a train and then it’d backed up to do it again. I couldn’t bear to see him that way, it was too much to bear. I got up and got to his level. I tried to get his eyes to come in my direction. He blinked and they shifted. I spoke to him and he replied to me in a dull monotone, the emotion gone from his soul. He was dead, you could feel it from his character, it was present in everything he did. The lack of feeling.

The siblings stood and stared at one another for a while. I went and got the kids ready and made a phone call. Pike showed up shortly and took the kids out. I thanked him quietly so as not to disturb the two who were still standing frozen, apart from one another. And then someone spoke.

I locked myself away to write in another room, I couldn’t bear with the tension and I couldn’t be forced to take sides. I heard the voices in the other room though, the screams and cries and broken objects. The tension hung in the air and refused to leave, I was drowning in it. I got up and looked through the crack in the doorway to see how they were faring. They were pacing back and forth, leveling each other out. He was bigger and more foreboding, but he knew better than to touch her. I wanted to know what was going on but I knew better than to interfere in family business. It was immediate death to interfere, common sense told us that one. I sat and wrote and organized everything in order and made it make sense, or as much sense as it could. I don’t know.

The screams stopped and it calmed down after a few hours. I told Pike to keep the kids until he heard from me. I didn’t know what was going on, but it had me worried and I didn’t want them to be exposed to it, they were too young. I didn’t want them to feel the pain of their family at war with itself. It was better that they stayed away, I knew that Darius would agree with me. I heard a few last remarks and then a door slammed and it was done. I crept out to Darius.

She had her back to me, her head down, held in one hand, the other folded to support her elbow. I came up behind her and held her; the moment I touched her she snapped. She started crying hysterically and dropped to her knees because she couldn’t stand anymore. I held her as tightly as I could manage, fighting emotion that I didn’t understand. It didn’t seem right or fair. But I held her and rocked her back and forth like a child and I loved her dearly. I told her to explain io me and to rant to me and it’d be better tomorrow. She smiled at me and said that there was nothing to explain and yes, it would be better tomorrow. I held her tight and kissed her over and over until she calmed down a bit. I couldn’t understand what was going on, but I didn’t want her to suffer. I would tear myself to pieces to stop her pain and she knew it. We sat on the floor curled up like that for a long time. Only after a decent amount of time passed did she realize and question the children’s location. She seemed even more relieved to know that they were out of the house.

I held her there until she stopped shaking, then I carried her into our room and put her to bed. She seemed to be getting better and it pained me to know that she suffered and I was powerless to do anything but watch. I couldn’t do it, I had to do something. I just held her, I laid down next to her and held her as tightly as I could, terrified to let go. I felt her slipping away from me and I had to save her sanity before it was too late. I held her and told her how much I loved her and cared about her and it’d destroy me if I ever lost her. She got quiet all of a sudden and whispered in my ear.

“I would never put you through that, I couldn’t watch you suffer like that.”

Her voice didn’t seem to be hers anymore. I just held her tightly to try and remind her that I was there, but the tighter I held on, the more distant she seemed to become. We dozed off there after a while. I got up out of bed in the middle of the night to finish writing. I finally found out where the story ends. It ends here. This is as far as the points of interest go. I think I’ve laid open enough deep wounds of our souls. I’ve explained our suffering and let it all exist in black and white. This is where it ends because I’m losing her. I have to devote myself to her now before it’s too late. I can save her, only me, nobody else. This is where the story ends, and with good reason. Everything begins and ends with madness, and only with the extremes of each. So this is where it ends. I wrap it up here and then I go back to sleep and enjoy eternity with my love. From my wisdom, I wish that you could take something. Just one thing of purpose that’s worth having. At least one.

So this is where my story ends, this is where I leave you. This is for my love and I, it’s ours, now and forever. I leave it to her to do with it as she pleases because it’s ours, not just ours, but the gang’s as well. But we’re the only ones in the decision phase. So this is hers to have and hold, now and forever. I love her dearly you know. I always have and always will. I’ve got to sleep now and let the worries go to rest. This is our legacy, this is ours now and forever because once the echoes of the screams die away, these words will still live on. Live on until they’re only a mute scream in the minds of others who will come after. This story is ours, now and forever.

If love proves real; to be together for all eternity.

This is our story.

This is our choice.

This is our love.

This is forever.

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