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This post was last modified: 09-02-2017, 11:18 PM by Raleigh Pace Posted | 06-29-2017, 12:57 PM

TW: Discussion of physical abuse.



December 1999

Raleigh almost never slept in on a school day, waking up bright and early like his older brother, even if he never had to be up as early as him a lot of the time. Today, though, was one of those rare times sleep caught him tighter than usual, keeping him under its spell nearly into the afternoon. As he woke, he saw a figure blocking the light that shone through the door, standing in front of his bed and casting a dark shadow over him. Opening his eyes further he noted ears on top of its head and he quickly donned a face of surprise before hearing it speak, the cleared visual of the figure coming after the voice hits his ears.

Hi, Junior.

Sitting up, he looked down at four-year-old Alastair, who had yet to take off the tiger onesie he wore from the previous night. The little guy really liked wearing the thing and getting him to change out of it was like pulling teeth. Hi, Ally, he responded back sleepily to his younger brother — who seemed surprisingly bright and awake compared to him — while rubbing at his eyes. Why’d you wake me up? Normally, he bothered their mother or Jack if he wanted something, but on some occasions when neither of them were home, he was relegated to taking care of his brother’s whims.

I’m hungry. I dunno where anyone is. I think Jack went to school, but I dunno.

Slowly, he got out of bed and headed for the hallway before he heard a squeaking cry from his brother. He turned around to see his brother reaching up and out to him with clasping hands, staying firm at his spot by the bed. Okay, Raleigh sighed, relenting as he walked back over to Alastair to pick him up, looping his arms so his brother could sit on them as he carried him down the hall to the kitchen. The snow that built up outside made the whole house seem brighter as he walked over to the table in front of the sliding glass doors, which had too much snow built up to even think about opening them, to set his brother down in his high chair. What do you want, Ally? he asked as he opened the fridge to look at what they had.

I want a biiiig antelope! ‘Cause that’s what tigers eat! Alastair growled in a high pitched tone, letting out a dramatic roar with his hands in the air.

Still facing the fridge, Raleigh felt his face curl into a natural smile, having always admired his brother’s ability to be silly enough at just the right moments. The boy had an astounding imagination, even if it was centered a little too much around tigers for his liking. Nature shows were something that were frequently tuned onto the tv. Unfortunately, he couldn’t always sate his brother’s whims with what they had. Sorry buddy, he confessed, turning to his brother with a smile still on his face. I think Mom and Dad forgot to pick up antelopes when they went to the store last week. Is a turkey sandwich okay?

Oh. Yeah, I guess that’s okay. His hands fell almost dejectedly back down to the table.

Raleigh shrugged, taking out some of the ingredients into his arms, which almost overflowed, and closing the door behind him with his foot. Close enough, I guess. Maybe I can write it down on the list later, okay? Alastair cheered at the idea, offering more noise than words in response while he waited for his lunch to be made.

Just as Raleigh finished, he heard sounds by the front door, the rustling of keys and the low tones of conversation behind it before hearing it open and catching the tail end of what was being said.

...for coming and helping. I really appreciate it. It was Jack’s voice for sure, slightly cracking but deeper than his own. Not a problem! I’ve had to babysit my brother before, it’s not a big deal to me. The second voice was much different, noting that it belonged to a young girl rather than anyone else in his family. Putting down the plate in front of Alastair, Raleigh walked over to the front entryway, seeing Jack and the girl walking inside dusted with snow while trying to prevent more of it from blowing into the house, closing the door shut quickly behind them.

Oh, hey Junior, Jack passively offered, taking off his jacket and seeming more focused on the friend he brought rather than his brother. Didn’t know if you’d be up already.

Where’s Mom and Dad? he asked with a furrow to his brows. Ally said they weren’t here and that you went to school. His gaze shifted over to the girl Jack brought, whom he hadn’t really seen before as far as he could remember. Who’d you bring? As soon as he’d regarded her, the girl leaned over with her hands on her knees, her face now level with his own as she spoke. Nice to meet you, Junior, she offered in a friendly tone, giving him a genuine smile in addition. I’m Tesni.

Despite the friendliness she exuded, Raleigh looked back over to his brother with a worried look on his face, to which Jack offered a neutral assurance. Tes is in one of my classes at school, she actually lives just down the street. Jack shed his jacket with a flourish, spreading bits of snow around the room while Tesni had gingerly removed hers without much disturbance. Don’t worry, Jack continued. She’ll be gone before Dad comes home. He’s still at work. Did Ally get lunch? Raleigh nodded his head, pointing to the kitchen table where Alastair was still seated and periodically chewing on his sandwich as he watched the conversation unfold.

What about Mom? he asked again, still looking concerned despite the friendliness of Tesni’s greeting. Jack held a similar look, but it looked more practiced and hidden as he glanced towards his friend and let out a small sigh before answering quietly. She’s at the hospital, bud. I think she’ll be back tonight, though. Raleigh’s face screwed with even more concern. Again? he replied, his voice sounding almost pained. He paused before asking another question. Did she fall again?

Tesni now was the one shooting looks, glancing over to Jack with a growing worry at the topic of the conversation. Jack looked back with an uneasy expression, almost like he regretted that Raleigh was having this conversation with him in front of her. I think so. Don’t worry about that right now, though. He ushered the two of them towards the kitchen, where Alastair had already finished his sandwich and shouted towards the group with a mouth full of food, the words assumed by his brothers to be a question as to who Tesni was.

Tes’ll babysit you guys while I go get some stuff done, Jack told him, with Raleigh pouting in response. I don’t need a babysitter! he protested indignantly. And I can take care of Ally by myself. Alastair shouted once more in muffled agreement, still having not swallowed the rest of his sandwich. It’s not up to me, Junior, Jack sighed, patting him on the head. I’ll get in trouble if no one’s here to watch you. Mom’s not here to do stuff so I need to go do it and Dad’ll get mad at me if you or Ally do something dumb like hurt yourselves. Tes offered to help, so she’s gonna be here.

Still pouting, Raleigh turned away and sat at a small kid’s table set up in the living room. Fine, he huffed, scribbling roughly with a crayon at a piece of paper with a drawing already in progress. Alastair reached out towards Jack from the seat, who promptly put him down with a swift movement and pulled Tesni aside. Let me know if they give you any trouble, okay? Tesni gave him an assuring nod, motioning for him to go run his errands before he finally relented and left. Alastair already started running towards her, asking a slew of questions with growing interest while Raleigh still sat by himself at the small table.


Almost an hour later, Raleigh looked up to find that Tesni had joined him in drawing at the small table, with neither of his brothers in sight. He completely looked away from his drawing, which he had been focused on intently for a while, to give her an inquisitive look. Your brother begged me to draw him a tiger, she told him, taking her hands away from the paper so he could see. While she was only a few years older than him — closer to Jack’s age than his — her drawing seemed really good compared to his, eliciting a small gasp of wonder from the young boy. He really likes tigers, doesn’t he? Raleigh nodded in agreement, shrugging his shoulders. Yeah, he does. Always tigers. His eyes didn’t move away from her drawing, however, especially not after she continued to add to it with the crayons. You’re a really good drawer, he noted, moving closer to her side of the table so he could get a better look. I wish I was that good at drawing. She shrugged her shoulders now, giving him a soft smile. You could be if you practiced, Junior. Just keep drawing.

He tried his best to conceal the look of disdain on his face, but it was too obvious for her not to notice, returning it with concern in her voice. What’s the matter? Raleigh retreated a bit to his own drawing, absentmindedly making marks near the corner rather than on the main drawing. Can you not call me that? Only my family calls me Junior. The name felt bitter on his tongue as he said it, twisting his nose as if it emitted an awful smell with it. Sort of how he felt about his name altogether. What do you prefer then? she asked eagerly with a smile, attempting to encourage one out of him. A meager one was all she got for now, his lips turning just slightly into a small grin. My friends at school call me Leigh, he answered meekly, only looking up from his drawing once more for a second before switching right back.

Do you like being named after your dad?

The smile faded away again and he retreated back into his more timid posture. Not really. His voice came out as a murmur, almost unheard under the voice of his brother shouting in the background. I think Jack and I should have switched names. He’s more like Dad than me. He has the same face, almost. Raleigh faked the serious face he’d seen his father have all too often, brows furrowed down with a pouting lower lip, the expression more comical on his face than intended and eliciting giggles from Tesni. Yeah that looks exactly like Jack, she joked. He always looks so serious most of the time. Like he’s always thinking super hard. The serious mask gave way to a more benevolent and genuine expression, the smile returning slightly as the mood lightened. Yeah that’s Jack. He can be funny sometimes, but he’s the oldest so he can’t be like that all the time.

He said I couldn’t be here when your dad gets home. Does he get mad when you have friends over? His lips pursed, going back to incessant scribbles on the paper. Something like that, he shrugged. He gets mad an awful lot. Her drawing had been untouched for a while, her hands folded on the table while she talked to him, despite fidgeting slightly every once in awhile.

The fact she asked a lot of questions made him nervous, but he felt obligated to answer them anyway. He was always honest after all, even when he was warned not to be. His mother loved that about him, even if it seemed to worry her sometimes. Raleigh liked telling the truth to people, in a strange way. It was easier for him than lying through his teeth, at least. That was another thing Jack had more in common with their father compared to him.

Does your dad fall like your mom and Jack do? What do you mean? he asked, genuinely confused by the question. Her posture shifted, like she was the one starting to look nervous now. Jack came to school the other day with a bruise on his arm. I asked him what happened and he said he fell. Then he just now said your mom fell, too. A short, tentative pause from her felt so odd considering her demeanor earlier. It just feels fishy is all.

Raleigh pursed his lips again, tapping on the table with a crayon. Dad got mad at Jack for something a few days ago. And I heard him yelling at Mom last night. He didn’t look at her, but he could feel the solemn look that came across her face. It was to be expected, after all, considering the subject matter. Nobody at school says anything to me cause all my bruises heal too fast. My mom always says to me: ‘We only hurt the ones we love’ when I ask why Dad gets so mad all the time. He stopped tapping and looked back over to Tesni, regretting seeing her expression.

That doesn’t sound much like love to me. Her voice was as soft as he’d ever heard it, despite just meeting her only an hour ago. She didn’t know his family very well, but it was likely that young Raleigh had already painted a pretty vivid picture for her already. Me either, he murmured in response.

A pause continued between the two of them, Alastair somehow quiet in the background as if he knew what they were discussing, too. Despite the tender age between Raleigh and Tesni, both of them had the sense to know and understand what exactly went on within the house. He had no idea if Tesni was speaking from experience or pity, but he appreciated the worry for his wellbeing from someone who was just a stranger to him.

Can I give you a hug?

Why? He couldn’t help feeling suspicious for some reason.

Cause that’s what friends do for each other. You show you love someone that way. At least, that’s what I do. Raleigh turned his nose up, even more confused now than he was originally. But we just met! he protested earnestly. Nobody he’d met ever really wanted to be his friend from the start, he found. He was much too quiet for a lot of the other kids at school, though ostracizing himself certainly didn’t help. Yeah, but Jack’s my friend, and anyone who’s family to him should be friends to me. Besides, everyone could always use at least one more friend around them, right?

The logic seemed sound, but it didn’t make Raleigh any less reluctant about it. I guess… If it makes you feel better. His arms raised up to curl around her neck, standing while she sat so he didn’t have to reach too far up. In all honesty, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d hugged his own father and found minimal contact with his mother, who still doted on her children as much as she could despite this. Jack, however, had a protective grip to him, as if he shielded Raleigh with his own body. Tesni, however, felt more like a safety blanket, almost draping with a warmth that was in its own category to the steely guard that Jack provided.

The sound of sniffing brought him away, pulling back to see Tesni wiping away tears from her eyes as quickly as she could. What’s the matter? he asked, trying to peer past where her hair curled in front of her face. It’s okay, she assured him. It happens sometimes when I’m around other people. My parents call it being an ‘empath’. It means you can feel other people’s emotions. But I don’t feel sad. You’re not sad, don’t worry. I’ll be okay, it’ll pass.

Are you sure, you’re not the one that needed the hug? he asked, worried a little bit about the sudden change in emotion. A small bubble of laughter erupted from her, but it was cut a little short. Maybe, I dunno. Raleigh gave her a defiant pout, trying to look brave like he remembered Jack doing. Well, I think you need one now. Before she had a chance to protest, he already had his arms thrown back around her, trying to emulate the protectiveness of Jack but found that the warmth she showed suited just as well, mixing the two as he saw fit. Thank you, Leigh, she murmured to him, reciprocating in kind.

He didn’t say anything in response, but he also didn’t want to admit that maybe he felt like he needed it too, a little bit


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This post was last modified: 09-02-2017, 11:19 PM by Raleigh Pace Posted | 08-17-2017, 10:58 PM

June 2010

Graduation had been a fleeting moment for him. He looked forward to nothing more than detaching himself from his roots, to spread beyond what people — and more importantly, his family — expected from him. His father, despite seeing what a good school he'd gotten into, was disappointed that it wasn't what he wanted out of his namesake son. That was now Jack, who had ended up exactly as Raleigh was supposed to despite all the effort their father put into the second son. Poor Alastair was left in the dust, always begging for that recognition despite being treated like another unwanted progeny.

He always regretted that he couldn't do more for his brothers. The choices all of them had made throughout their childhood shaped themselves and each other in ways entirely unexpected. Though he was still loved, Raleigh became the black sheep of the family, outcasted in an emotional sense from everyone else besides his mother, who couldn't ever bear to hate any of her sons. She tolerated his ostracization simply because he asked, knowing it was safer for her to play along rather than recieve any backlash for not casting down disappointment on him for the decisions he made.

Or as his father had put it: lifestyle choices. The phrase put a bitter taste in his mouth.

His family had attended the graduation ceremony for appearances only, with the clan disbanding as soon as the pleasantries were over. Some of his friends noticed, but most of those that did knew that it was how his family was. It was a small town, after all — everyone knew what was going on but nobody did a damn thing about it. So instead of dwelling on it surrounded by the small crowd, he took off relatively fast for one of his favorite quiet places in town, away from the bustle of celebrations and moving on.

Not that he regretted that he had to move away from home. Only that it meant that he couldn't protect Alastair from any other influence. Nowadays, his younger brother hardly wanted anything to do with him. There was a spiteful jealousy in his eyes every time he met them, a restrained civility in his voice with undertones of anger beneath it. In a way, Leigh felt like he failed his brother. He turned out to be everything he was supposed to be, earning more of the respect of their father than either of the older brothers. Approval came from tattling on them and being the Senior's eyes and ears from below.

His perch on the hilltop was his own for now, laying in the bed of his beat-up and muddied truck with a hidden bottle of whiskey that he had stored in the cab. He just sipped on it for now — it wasn't a large bottle by any means — just mindlessly watching the town below. The faint sound of crickets and bugs filled the air, the day calm with little wind for the most part — a little unusual for Aspen this time of year, but this place was perfect for watching the way the leaves turned gold as the year passed its halfway mark, filling the mountainsides with an unmatchable aura that he just couldn't get anywhere else.

He really would miss this place, despite the pain it had caused him through the years. Even now, he was afforded a quiet moment where he could just think about anything — including the weather — without much interruption.

That was, until he heard sounds of another engine chugging up the beaten road. His head swiveled as he hid the bottle under his back, peering over to see a familiar license plate. A scoff coughed its way up his throat, tasting the whiskey as he pulled the bottle out from its hiding place. I would have figured that drinking wasn't for you, he heard Tesni comment over the engine before she shut it off and got out of her car. Yeah well, he muttered, looking at the bottle before taking another swig. Something, something, father and son. She crossed her arms on the side of the bed that he leaned on, perching her head right on top of them. His gaze drifted from the scenic town below over to her, lifting up the bottle slightly in her direction. Want some? he offered, nodding to her slightly. Her eyes studied it for a second, almost suspiciously, before deftly taking it from his hands and jumping into the bed of the truck so she could sit beside him. Since you're being so polite, she grinned, taking her swig before passing the bottle back to him.

Should've known I'd find you up here. You always were kinda predictable. He scoffed again, letting a chuckle bubble through his chest. Yeah, I'm a creature of habit, I guess. Speaking of habits, wouldn't your uncle frown upon underage drinking? Specifically you drinking? His hand offered the bottle back over and she took it without drinking from it right away. Probably. Where'd you even get this bottle anyway? Seems a little small to be from Senior's liquor cabinet. Her swig was a little lighter than normal, maybe due to the topic she toed between them. He'd gotten comfortable enough with her that he could discuss the obvious so freely, despite the fact that the rest of the town seemed to make it a taboo subject.

I got it out of Jack's car, he answered, waiting a little too impatiently for the bottle to be passed back. ...And he got it from Senior's secret stash. She hummed into the bottle as she a second swig, passing it back finally. Sounds fancy. And not entirely recommended if you wanted to stay on his good side. It sounds like you guys have gotten pretty daring since you were kids. A shrug rolled in his shoulders, not really thinking about it much. We got older, I guess, he admitted solemnly. We realized that he couldn't do the same stuff to us anymore. At least, that was how he felt about it. Whether Jack felt the same wasn't anything he knew about — they were just as distant as he and Alastair were, but for different reasons. I dunno. His thoughts kind of stuck where they were and he took a deep swig to free them from the jumble that collected.

Are you excited to go to college then? she offered, nudging his shoulder with a smile. You got into Baylor of all places! You've gotta be stoked. He felt the grin spread on his own face as he tried to prevent the whiskey from spilling onto his lap. I mean, yeah, he shrugged, though he still felt a residual bitterness in his voice. It's just... gonna be really different. The hesitation was obvious in his voice and Tes knew him all too well to not notice it dripping with every word.

Just think of it as a way to start over. You get a clean slate with every friend you make over there, he offered. You just have to be willing to take that leap. Don't be afraid to take risks — or make mistakes. His grin made a reappearance, spread wider than before as he let the bottle sit for a moment. You sound like your uncle now, he chuckled. Not a bad thing, though. He's a good man. She laughed with him, giving the moment a pause before continuing. Speaking of which... have you talked to him? Uncle Josh?

That was all it took for the grin to start fading away again. I know he's a priest and all, she continued again, trying to reassure him. But you said yourself, he's a good guy. He's good to talk to about more than just religion. Just as people. Raleigh didn't respond to her, looking down at the bottle before taking another sip — one that was more along the lines of a gulp. Leigh. Her hand raised to grab at the bottle with a calm hand, guiding it away from him as his eyes avoided hers. Instead, they looked out at the town below, a halfhearted effort to avoid the shame he felt. You know how I feel about religion, he murmured, letting the bottle be guided down to sit on the hard truck bed.

Her whole family was the religious sort, her uncle being one of the few priests in town. They had even gone to church when he was younger, at the behest of his mother and with some Catholic guilt from his father. He was familiar with Joshua, Tesni's rather benevolent uncle who really was an outstanding person in his own right. I don't need a religious sermon from someone who's got a demon sitting on his own shoulder. A heavy sigh exhaled through his nose, feeling tempted to pick the bottle back up again. It all feels hypocritcal. No offense to Josh. Just feels weird that no one's got any angels sitting in their heads. It's all just... demons. And sin. Hard to make a positive sermon that isn't just don't sin ever and be happy with your suffering out of that.

His eyes wandered over to her face, feeling a strain of guilt tug at him again as the look on her face turned to one of slight disappointment. Sorry, he breathed, rubbing at his eyes with a free hand. I didn't mean to get all... jaded and ranty. I know how you feel about that. He could feel the weight of her gaze on him like gravity, suddenly feeling regretful that he said anything at all. His body curled almost instinctually, trying to protect that soft inner core that he had developed.

Can you promise me that you'll talk to him? At least once? was all she asked of him. Reluctantly, he looked up and over to her, if only catching her eyes for a small moment. I just think it'll be really good for you. Offering a meek nod, Leigh finally turned back to her fully, letting his body release from the scrunching. Yeah. I promise. His eyes met hers again, staying for a moment as a smile crept its way back onto her lips. Good, she replied simply, putting an arm around him and slipping the bottle out of his hand so that she could take a sip. Awfully nice and quiet up here, she commented jokingly behind her sip, eliciting a small smile from Raleigh in response. Yup, he agreed, taking the bottle as she handed it back over. Wouldn't have it any other way.


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This post was last modified: 09-02-2017, 11:19 PM by Raleigh Pace Posted | 08-23-2017, 02:30 AM

March 2012

The dim light of his dorm was only marred by the passing of cars as he sat on his bed with his laptop, staring impatiently at the bright screen. Tesni was supposed to call him today, having scheduled a time to talk between his busy classes before spring break, during which he was to fly home to Aspen for the week to visit. Somehow, Tesni convinced him to do it, even though he offered to buy her a ticket out to Texas instead. You should be home at least once, she insisted. You've got to be homesick at least a little bit, right? It confused him how dead set she was on getting him to come home, but maybe it was because she had some surprise waiting for him.

He wasn't thrilled about the idea of seeing his family again. He'd hardly spoken to his mother or Jack, and not at all to his father or Alastair. Jack at the very least checked in, if not in a vague and detached sense, as if it was his duty or that their mother insisted he did. Everything good thing about Aspen had been poisoned by his childhood and he didn't feel that it could ever be redeemed in any way — not even Tes and all the good she did by him would even cleanse it.

The screen blinked and he heard the sound of ringing through the speakers as he jumped to click and answer the call. There he is! Her voice sounded so sweet even through the computer and it never ceased to put a smile on his face, even now. Glad this thing actually works. It's been a while since I've actually seen you — two years ages well I see. Just as friendly as ever. His smile tilted down shyly away from the camera, though his gaze still looked towards the screen. Hi Tes, he responded back, still grinning though he did try to hide it.

She was sitting at her own computer, leaning into the camera excitedly as she spied the timid mannerisms visible to the device. Well don't get too excited, she joked. C'mon! I wanna hear all about the latest in the big college life! Anything new happen? Are you still passing your classes — you better be passing your classes, Leigh. I know there's all kinds of distractions in the classroom. He scoffed. Yeah, I'm passing my classes. You don't have to worry about any distractions. They both knew what she was implying, though neither of them mentioned it explicitly. Gettin' to the end of the wire, y'know? Everybody's hunkering down. Well they oughta. Med school's not for the faint of heart. He chuckled, thinking about how he and Lily had studied so intently for their organic chemistry class... though that ended up in different places on multiple occassions. The memory was quickly shaken from his head. Don't I know it.

How are they by the way? Lily and Peter? He shared most things about how he felt with Tesni, only because he felt conflicted at times and asked her for guidance — though he could tell that she didn't quite entirely approve of the way they were currently handling it. Loving more than one person was one story...but seeing both of them at the same time? They weren't even a thing either, at least, not the three of them. Lily hadn't even known about him and Pete at first and it took a long while before he actually worked up the courage to tell her. Tesni was still driven by her faith and it made the situation problematic in her eyes, even though she tried to be supportive of Raleigh pursuing what made him happy.

Being with two people at once isn't happiness, it's escapism. You can't commit to either so you dip yourself halfway into both. That was probably the most hurtful part of their conversation about it the last time they spoke. She meant well, but she had no idea how deep her criticism cut him in the end. Enough to leave a scar he never let her see. They're both doing good, he nodded, pushing past the memory. Passing their classes too, in case you were wondering.

So... she started after a moment of silence, the topic starting to slip into a different tone. ... are you ready to come home? To see everyone? He couldn't help but fall silent and let the smile fade, it was obvious he would react that way. I... don't know. Old scars and buried memories waited for him back in Aspen and he didn't look forward to digging up either of them from the grave. I'm probably not exactly coming back to a welcome party. Maybe from Tes, but not from everyone else. He might as well not arrive at all. Maybe they could just detour in Denver and spend time with each other without the weight of the town on his shoulders.

Well, maybe you could talk to Uncle Josh about it. Oh boy. ... He told me you never swung around to talk to him the last time you were here. Or even called him. A heavy sigh rung from his chest. Leigh, you— Promised, I know. I promised and I still didn't do it. Another beat of silence festered between them. Sorry. For not talking to him like I said I would. It was hard to hide the shame behind the screen, though at this point he hardly made an effort to hide it. She knew how to see through him. It's okay, she sighed, though the disappointment was thick in her voice. You're scared and it's uncomfortable. I get it. We can... he started, hesitating a moment. ... talk about it when we're driving in from Denver, okay? You can take me over to the church and I'll have a chat with him. I won't say I promise but I know you'll probably make sure no matter what I say. Another sigh. It's a three and a half hour drive, we'll have plenty to talk about.

Another beat of silence rang between them. A hell of a call this was — maybe all that time away gave them less to talk about. Or maybe he was still letting what she said to him sting him and he didn't want to elicit another cut like that from her. He never made Peter or Lily angry as far as he knew, but he had nothing but positive times with the both of them. Maybe it wasn't always super happy — especially concerning some of the conversations they had — but they all learned and grew from them in the end. Here it was... feeling a little more like that stagnant distance he felt from his family.

Y'know what's funny? Tes started again, changing the subject and grabbing his attention. I'm glad you ended up going out of state, even if I don't get to see you. If we ended up like how Jack and I did... Tes hadn't really talked much about how she and Jack got along, especially not after a specific incident at school. She publicly voiced her disapproval of how he handled protecting his brother from the likes of the other students and they didn't really speak on great terms when he slew back with a biting insult that cut a little too deep for her liking. He was there for that moment, actually, if only on the sidelines.

Did I tell you about how we went to a party one time in high school? He shook his head. Both of us had been drinking a lot and he had been talking up a storm to me the whole party — I honestly never thought I'd hear him talk so much. But once we got alone, he kind of... started confessing all this deep stuff to me. Some of it I knew about through you, but... some of it I had no idea. I never expected him to be so emotional. Raleigh couldn't really recall anything like that either, in all honesty. He talked about how he really appreciated that I was there for you when he couldn't be and how I helped him out whenever he asked. She paused for a moment, like she was hesitant to continue. And then... he kissed me. It was weird because it wasn't bad but... it didn't feel right. I think he knew, too, because he took everything back and instantly became distant all over again.

He wasn't sure why she was telling him this story, but he let her continue all the same. When we were sitting on the hilltop, the week before you went off to college... you were talking about how much you were going to miss us being together all the time... I almost felt like you were going to kiss me, too. Right then. But you didn't. His eyes kept a pensive gaze on the screen, on her.

I almost did, he admitted softly. She didn't look too surprised at the fact, but more that he told her at all. But... I decided it didn't seem like a good idea. I didn't want to make our relationship like that, y'know? And, in the end, I don't think I would have gotten that chance with Lily or Pete if I tried to stick it out with you. She smiled softly, touched by the sentiment. I'm glad we could keep it the way it is. Even if it's not always perfect.

Same. The silence this time was mutual — they didn't need to add anything in to fill it up because they knew how the other felt.

Sorry to cut the call short, but I have one more class tomorrow and then I have to pack for the flight. I'll talk to you in a couple days, yeah? Yeah, of course. I'll see you in Denver. He offered a small smile before the call disconnected, severing that line for the time being and leaving a picture of her own face smiling back at him as he exhaled another deep breath. This was going to be a long week.


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This post was last modified: 09-02-2017, 11:19 PM by Raleigh Pace Posted | 09-02-2017, 11:16 PM

March 2012

The hours before his flight were nerve wracking. He didn't bring very much with him, knowing he wasn't going to be back home for long, but there was a giant weight he carried that was invisible on his shoulders. Home hadn't really been home to him, not for a long time. To go back was... a poor decision for his health but Tesni had refused to budge on it. She really had felt that it was something he really needed to do. Why exactly that was... a little vague from her end. Burying hatchets hadn't felt needed — they were buried with his familial connections a long time ago.

But he did it for her. Because she had asked so fervently. Because he respected her and would have gone to the ends of the earth for someone he considered more blood than some of his actual family.

So he worked through the waves of anxiety, the hours of leg bouncing and repetitive phone-checking as he waited for his flight to take off. He'd left a few voicemails and texts letting her know when exactly his flight was leaving, how much he looked forward to seeing her in person again and how much they would have to talk about during the car ride over to Aspen. None of them were met with an answer, which had been an additional source of worry for him. The flight wasn't that long, he ended up telling himself. She was probably on her way to the airport right then and probably didn't want to look at her phone while driving.

That was what he used to hold himself over so he could get some (unsucessful) sleep on his flight.

The anxiety that had built up over the course of the last week ate at him in slow, painful chunks. The more time that passed the stronger it became as he felt it build up in his chest and his stomach. A grinding of gears that slowed his steps and made him hesitant to even step off the plane, let alone go through with everything he had agreed to. Maybe it was because he felt obligated to do it, instead of actually wanting it like Tes had. Instead, he had just wanted to appease her, which was one of the many issues he had, it seemed. He never once stopped to think about whether or not Tes was taking advantage of him or whether years of abuse took a toll on his thought process.

But maybe she was right in that he had needed someone to talk to, whether or not that person was her priest uncle or an actual licensed therapist. Or even just a friend. Bottling everything up often led to explosive results. He had never been the explosive one, though. That had always been—

Jack?

His older brother had been the last person he expected to see waiting for him in Denver, especially with the absence of Tesni in the terminal. Hey Junior, Jack responded, not looking entirely happy to be there. The bags under his eyes were incredibly evident — It looked like the man hadn't slept in... god, days. There was thick, apparent stubble on his face and he looked relatively haggard, like he was barely ready to leave the house. Jack wasn't usually someone that cleaned up well, but... this felt extreme, even for him. Where's Tes? He already had his bags with him, but he kind of regretted not saving his sleep for the car ride instead. Then again, he would never have guessed that he would find his brother waiting for him instead of his friend. We should go. It's a long drive. Huffing out a breath of air, Raleigh followed him back to the car, wondering what kind of tricks Tesni had up her sleeve to force him and Jack together in a car for three hours.

Raleigh said nothing to his brother, simply following him begrudgingly out to the car and settling in for what would be an excruciatingly long and awkward car ride for the both of them.

An hour and a half passed by with no words between them, just music that sounded dusty through the old radio of the car, which had been their dad's originally. Fitting that Jack seemed to use it now, seeing as how all the same hiding places for glass bottles were still as obvious as they always were. Reaching down into one of them, he even found a bottle, half empty but it was a brand that Jack preferred — it was incredibly obvious that Jack had inherited the truck now.

Jack quickly snatched the bottle out of his hand before he could even try to take a drink, sinking it into a different hiding place on his side of the cab without even taking his eyes off the road.

'Course, Raleigh scoffed, looking back onto the road, the familiar sight of coniferous mountainsides and fading snow that still held some places on the peaks that passed them by. Hatchets still yet to be buried made long car rides painfully passive aggressive, even if the silence felt nice over a trip full of arguments and harsh words. Tes put you up to it? he asked, not looking over to the driver's side, but rather down at his hands to pick at his fingernails. They weren't as dirty as they used to be. Tell you we had to settle our differences or we'd always have a bad relationship? He flicked whatever dirt was under his nails onto the floor. Something like that. His tone sounded flat, like he really didn't want to be talking at all. Classic Jack, never one for words. Raleigh let out another scoff, knowing he should have expected as much from his brother. They were both pretty predictable in that sense.

She said I shouldn't... be so hard on you. About... His voice trailed off, but Raleigh knew what he was talking about. His eyes shifted over to Jack finally, who shot him an uncomfortable glance before looking back out to the road. Yeah. It still bothered him after all this time. And? Jack glanced over again. ...And what? And did you agree with her? A short spell of silence filled the car before he spoke again. Listen— Raleigh jutted in before Jack could even start. I don't wanna fucking hear if you're just gonna make excuses, he said curtly, swinging his gaze back out to the road.

Jun— Don't, he hissed, cutting him off again. You have no excuse for throwing me out to the wolves like you did. You encouraged them to go after me when you should have been defending me. Raleigh's stare was hard and angry, boring into Jack even though their eyes never met. But you'd rather not look like an apologist than helping your brother.

Yeah, you might be right, Jack grumbled with a harsh tone, staring angrily out into the road ahead. Maybe I don't have an excuse. But that doesn't mean I wanted that for you. The younger man stared with narrowed eyes, letting another pause soak into the tense air. Then why did you let them? Why did you watch me be kicked into the dirt instead of help? Another pause, the sound of Jack's hand gripping the leather on the wheel the only sound that was heard over the soft radio. Because I thought you'd stop. I thought you'd eventually hide it and wouldn't be so obvious with it. Raleigh leaned against the door now, his torso almost facing towards his brother as the man's voice turned soft for a moment. I tried to protect you from the harassment, the teasing, the ridicule, the abuse... but goddamn if you aren't a willful son of a bitch, Raleigh. You refused to hide even though I just... He seemed frustrated, gripping the wheel again and making it squeak under the pressure. I was hoping that if you just... stopped or pretended — even for just until you graduated and left for college — that it wouldn't be so bad. You'd seem normal and nobody would be bothering you.

I am norm— NOT TO THEM! The burst of Jack's anger finally flared out, the stress of the tension between the two of them breaking it. Raleigh wasn't as fazed as he should have been, though. It was usually only a matter of time until he snapped. Jack took a moment to collect his breathing and resume with a calmer voice, something Raleigh remembered seeing him do after high school. You would never be normal to them and we both knew it. I just wanted you to be safe but I couldn't protect you from yourself. I didn't want any protection. I wanted support, Jack. I wanted to feel like you were at least on my side. No amount of shit I caught would ever make me any different. Love things more or less.

The tension started to calm down, if only a little bit. Jack remained silent, though Raleigh continued to speak. I have a friend at college. He... he grew up a similar way to us. And he uh... he was like how you wanted me to be, I guess. Talking about Peter without him being there, especially about something that caused him so much conflict, felt uncomfortable. But Jack needed to know about this. He tried to hide everything, and pretend that it was okay — just like you said. Hoping no one found out about him and making sure he never came across that way. Jack stayed silent, listening as his gaze switched over for only a moment at a time. But, god, Jack... I couldn't ever get close to him until we were shit fucking drunk. One time I brought it up sober and... I'd never seem him so afraid. He spooked like a deer. He had almost regretted that, after the fact. Raleigh never expected the turmoil he caused but hoped that they could work through it somehow. And he had to some extent, even if it was an uphill battle. Would you rather have me so afraid of myself? Or beaten, ridiculed, teased... but happy?

Jack looked over, a little unsure as his eyes darted around the cab. I can take being ostracized and assaulted. I can't take lying to myself for fake acceptance.

Is he... better now? Your friend? Better was... maybe generous depending. Than he was? Yeah. But... that kind of fear, man. He grew up with it. We knew it too, in a different way. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to unlearn something like that. Jack sighed, the grip on the wheel having long since faded now into something more relaxed. I just wanted to protect you. I know, he nodded, looking back out into the darkening forest.


They were past halfway, but had decided to stop at a gas station for a break from the tension in still lingered in the car, not to mention the fresh mountain air that Raleigh hadn't even knew that he missed. He stood at the edge of the road, taking deep breaths as he looked out into the forest that seemed to stretch for ages. Eventually, Jack emerged from the shop, tossing a few snacks into the truck before walking over to stand next to him. Silences seemed prevalent between them, either not knowing what to say or knowing it was probably better to not say what was on their mind — they never seemed to be on the same page about that. Jack seemed rather solemn, though Raleigh had assumed it was because of their earlier conversation.

So... The hesitation was a little strong in his voice. So, Raleigh parroted. I'm sure Tes'll be thrilled to know we at least talked. Her plan sure worked out well. Jack coughed, catching his attention as his head turned towards him. It wasn't Tes' idea for me to pick you up. Don't tell me it was yours. That would be a hell of a surprise. Jack wanting to talk wasn't a common occurrence. No.

His body turned to face him now. So whose idea was it? Jack continued to hesitate, biting at his lip and refusing to look at his brother. Jack. The lack of an answer didn't settle his nerves in the least, raising a hand to shove his brother on the shoulder to get him to talk. Jack, he called again, voice rougher with a tenseness that settled into his muscles. He almost made another shove before he finally heard his answer. Something happened. With Tes. Don't. He shoved him with both hands, but Jack didn't budge, finally looking at him but with an expression he'd never thought he'd see.

That was not an answer he wanted. The other day the police got called out to her house for a domestic disturbance. Neighbors said they heard arguing between her and her boyfriend and were worried. Jack's eyes looked sorrowful, but Raleigh hid his behind a growing anger. I talked to her two days ago. She's fine. Jack shook his head, taking a step towards his brother but was met with an outstretched arm. She's fine. She said she was fine. The police said it looked like a murder-suicide. Another step forward was met with fervent shoving, growing fury that hid pain underneath.

I'm sorry, Leigh. The shoving ceased for a moment. Jack had never called him that. Before he had time to resist, Raleigh found his brother grasping around him, preventing him from trying to shove him away. I'm so sorry, he heard whispered into his ear. His arms finally gave, grabbing onto fabric with a weak grip.

There was nobody else at the station to witness it, but it was probably that first time he'd actually hugged his brother for... years. A decade, at least.

I didn't know how to tell you, Jack continued with a waver. But you deserved to know. You deserved to find out without any kind of audience. They wanted to tell you when you got home, in front of everyone. A sob sounded, muffled by fabric. You never deserved that. Any of this. The grip tightened for a moment before releasing slightly, Jack clearing his throat. Come on. He motioned towards the car. Better to work through it on the road than at some random gas station. A cough burst from Raleigh's chest — or a chuckle, likely something in between. Jack always was a tactful one.

Raleigh hoped that he could sleep off the shock, but instead stared blankly out into the road, not touching any of the food bought. All that flooded through his mind was the last conversation he had with her, how they argued, if only for a moment, but left so many things unsaid and unresolved. How he brushed off some of her advice so many times. How he regretted never pursuing his feelings for her. If he had, maybe she wouldn't have ended up the way she did. He could have protected her.

Eventually, Raleigh slipped off into an exhaustive slumber, slouched in his seat as his brother dutifully drove them back to a place that, no matter how much he tried to escape it, always seemed to cause another scar.


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