The Path, the Veritas Chronicles
He knew it wasn good when the police came to pick him up from Mikes in the middle of the night. Brandon was waiting in the back of the squad car when he was escorted from his buddys house still wearing his flannel pants and gray t-shirt.
”Hey. ” Brandons white chalky skin and sweat damp hair lent him the air of a man in the throes of a deep and prolonged illness, so different from the proud, athletic near- man hed been until a few months ago when hed changed.
At first the brooding withdrawal had only been visible in glimpses, masked by the otherwise good nature of a brother well liked by the majority of those in his class as well as on his hockey team. Steadily the sullen darkness had gained momentum until it had become Brandons prominent disposition.
Faced with this shadow of the brother hed regarded as a nearly invincible demi-god, Drew was more frightened by the shrunken shoulders and smell of fear marking him than the presence of the officers.
”Hey. ” He snuck a few guarded glances at the shaking figure beside him, terrified to ask and childishly hoping that by not saying anything he could somehow undo whatever awfulness had been done.
The popcorn in Drews stomach churned and he tasted the syrupy sweetness of the slushee he and Mike had so gladly ridden their bikes two miles to buy, thrilling at the lack of parental guidance only a few hours ago. The remnants of its blue raspberry flavor, sour in his throat, threatened to climb back up.
”Its Mom and Dad. ” Brandon was staring straight ahead. His eyes were unfocused, the words halting and flat.
”Why don we hold off on this conversation for now? ” The officer in the passenger seat, far too young for his paternal tone intervened, twisting around to give them both a stern appraisal. He nodded to himself after Drew murmured that he would and Brandon seemed to fold silently in on himself.
The other officer came around the back of the car to the drivers seat. Drew caught the spooked look that passed between the two in the brief flash of the dome light before the door closed.
e taking you boys to the station, we can talk about it there. Your Moms sister is on her way from Tampa, shell be here by morning. ” The driver told them without turning around.
Drew scooted himself farther back into his seat sparing a sideways glance at his brother. Forgetting the weakness he saw now, he reached into his memory to find the one he sought. Drew mimicked the self-assured fold of his hands and the cocky set of his jaw. He could be strong like Brandon. Not this Brandon but the one hed seen break an arm taking a bike over a jump without a tear. Biting his lip, Drew managed to keep his eyes dry and the fear knotting his insides from running rampant for the remainder of the ride.
At the Peoria Police Department a salt and pepper woman in a plain gray suit and over the top sympathy that put Drew on edge sat them down and bought them sodas. Neither boy drank from his can, both cradled them instead as props. When she began to speak Drew tried to tune her out, listening instead to the determined fizzing of the carbonation against the thin aluminum sides. She spoke up, demanding his attention.
Sighing, Drew forced his gray eyes up to meet hers. The tortoiseshell frames and lenses of her glasses caught the light washing out the eyes themselves. Drew thought of
Peppermint Patttys sidekick Marcy from the old Peanuts cartoons. His family had never missed an annual showing of the Charles Shulz characters holiday specials. The knowledge of that ritual now feared lost brought tears prickling back to his eyes and Drew took a deep, shaking breath, holding it until he felt dizzy.
Her eyes flicked over to Brandon who had yet to acknowledge her. Frowning, she saw him as a lost cause and concentrated her attention on the younger brother.
”Theres been an incident Andrew. At your house this evening there was a break-in. As far as we can tell, the burglars didn know anyone was home, your parents surprised them. Im sorry, they were killed. ” She reached a hand across the distance between their chairs to rest her fingertips on Drews knee.
He had to force himself not to push her hand away. Her touch was more real than her words and he focused on the anger her trespass induced.
Again he studied his brother deciding how to take the news he had intuited the second hed seen the look in his friends dads eyes when hed come to get him from the rec room where theyd been playing video games blissfully unaware. Hed known from the second hed seen the officers pale faces and their refusal to meet his curious gray eyes that this was what they had come to tell him.
Brandon was still staring blankly at a spot over the womans head. His dark hair had begun to dry in straggly clumps on his forehead framing his thin, pale face in dark contrast and parted over his ears like an elf from a Tolkien novel Drew had read last year in AP English. For the life of him Drew couldn think of this womans name. Ignoring the eyeless womans obvious desire to engage him, Drew sought answers from his brother instead.
”Did you see what happened? ” Gray eyes sought his brothers blue ones, the same blue as their fathers.
Blinking as if waking from a dream, Brandon turned his head a few inches before he caught himself and went back to staring at his spot on the wall. ”I was sleeping. They were quiet. ”
The social worker in charge of managing this little conference sat up a little taller, withdrawing her bony hand from Drews knee. Her tight lips told him she did not believe the seventeen year olds explanation. At twelve years old and under the blind worship a kid brother has for his elder sibling, Drew bristled instinctively at her wishing she would leave and give them some privacy.
”Whatd they do? ”
At first Brandon didn seem to hear and the judgmental woman granted them at least a pseudo private exchange. Waiting, Drew began picking at a string on his flannel pants wanting the painful wait to continue as long as possible, not wanting to hear what he needed to about the night that would change everything.
When Brandons hoarse voice broke the silence, Drew didn look up or even flinch for fear he would cause Brandon to break off. ”They took some of Moms jewelry from upstairs. Dad never heard them, at least I didn hear him fighting and there weren any gunshots or anything. They mustve had knives or something. There was so much blood. ” During his telling Brandon had begun rocking himself. Drew had gone cold.
For the next year while they waited for Brandon to turn eighteen so he could petition for custody of his brother, they lived with their Aunt Christine in Tampa. During that entire
time the boys held to an unspoken agreement never to mention their parents or what had happened that night. Brandon said he didn know anything and Drew believed him, though the police were never fully convinced and brought him in on more than one occasion. The lack of evidence linking their older son to Mr. and Mrs. Carters deaths precluded law enforcement from pursuing charges and the case remained unsolved.
There was no way one person could have inflicted so much damage they said, not with that little evidence of a struggle and there was never an accomplice tied to Brandon as a suspect.
Drew didn see his parents bodies, they were cremated before the funerals. Nor did he ever step foot in the house again. To think of them or the home where hed grown up sullied in such a way was something he couldn handle. It was enough to know they were gone and curiosity could not outweigh his need for a pure memory of his childhood now gone with their loss. It was a long while before he felt the need to know the details of what had happened. And with that knowledge came the soul crushing realization that he could never succeed in erasing those images from his brain, try as he might, from that moment on.
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