While Eloise endlessly tries to make sense of Grace’s departure, Elijah drifts over to me. “Black and white,” he mumbles.
I look at him. “What?”
He gestures towards them. “Look at them. Eloise would never even think of leaving our family. I don’t know what this guy’s reason is, but he looks pretty happy. And Eloise…” She’s looking more and more horrified with each answer. He shrugs. “Black and white.” When I don’t answer, a short chuckle escapes his lips. “Hey, I haven’t made a pun that good in a while.”
“So that wreck out front,” Grace says, his eyes, miraculously, landing on me, “that why you’re here?” I swallow and open my mouth to speak, but nothing really comes to mind, so I just nod. He notices, I can tell by the slight pull of his lips, but he doesn’t comment on it. “It looks pretty gnarly. I’m surprised you guys are okay.”
Nobody answers, but he’s undeterred. “Have you guys eaten?” He takes off the lid of one of the tupperwares. “I can share, if you want.”
Eloise nudges Elijah forward. “Go eat.”
They get food as I settle back onto the windowsill. Eloise and Elijah drag their chairs to sit by me and Grace squeezes onto the windowsill with me, smiling sheepishly. My face flushes.
I’ve never had people willingly be around me before. It’s not like I’ve been bullied or harassed- At least, not more than the average amount -but you have to give to have the chance to take.
The survived whiskey presses against my back. I reach back and set it on the ground; If there’s a palpable conscious after death, I want to remember this.
Eloise once again introduces her and Eli, ruffling his hair as he scowls. Grace nudges my foot with his and I look up, startled.
“You’re not going to eat?”
I look away and then back. “Uh, I wouldn’t want to take all your food.”
A bright grin spreads across his lips. He digs around in his backpack, leaned against the wall below him, for a moment. “I always come prepared.” He pulls out another tupperware and plastic fork, offering it to me.
I take it, and his smile only widens. “Thanks.”
“I never got your name,” he says curiously.
I hesitate. What had I told them? “Nash,” I say, a little uncertainly.
“Nash! That’s a cool name.” I don’t know much about social cues, but he seems genuine. “Your parents are smart.”
I hesitate, before looking away and saying, “Were.”
He laughs. “Oh, come on, don’t talk like that! We still have a little bit of time.”
I shake my head. “My parents died when I was three.”
They fall silent. I don’t know why I said it, but the way Grace looks at me, like he’s really, actually thinking about how to respond, I can’t regret it. Finally, he guesses, “So you weren’t adopted, then,” and I nod. “I was wondering why you didn’t seem so upset by this.”
I’m way too aware of Eloise’s and Elijah’s stares, so I keep my gaze on Grace’s, his beautiful, sparkling black eyes. “I guess I just don’t… I don’t feel like I’m leaving anything behind.”
“I never thought of that,” Eloise mumbles, and I look at her in surprise. She’s looking away, her face crumpled. Empathy, maybe?
“Me, too! I mean, my parents are alive, so it’s not the same thing, but I get it.” Grace smiles.
No, no, that’s empathy. So Eloise is… What? Sympathetic?
“What’s up with your parents?” Elijah asks with furrowed eyebrows.
“Oh, they suck,” Grace says cheerfully. I look at him bemusedly. He looks between us for a moment before seeming to realize we want more; I guess we’re all still getting used to being blunt. It’s not exactly instinctual to know that everything we say will be wiped from existence in- I check the clock -an hour and fourty five minutes. “Well, they’re… Controlling.” He nods a little, as if congratulating himself for choosing the right word. “They had this… Plan for me. You know, they think I can read people. They call me perceptive. So they’re always having me exercise it, so I can get famous.”
“How would you get famous off that?” Elijah asks incredulously.
His cheeks flush pink. “Faux-psychic. They had me try it a few times and, well… I guess they thought I was good.” He clears his throat and looks away. When I first saw him, I didn’t think he was capable of feeling anything but energetic or outgoing, but now he just seems nervous. Guilty, even. Or… No, not guilty. No, hurt? “I could tell it was about to take off, so I decided to run away. You know, I’ve thought about leaving for a while, but I always decided on waiting until after high school. But my mom started talking campaign designs, and I…” A frail laugh shoots from his mouth. “Well, then Lilah happened.” Something flashes across his face, and it gives me a headache trying to read it.
It’s silent for a moment, then Elijah whistles. “Damn, your parents are crazy.”
“Don’t cuss,” Eloise sighs. “You know what Mom would say if she were here.”
He arches an eyebrow, leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest. “Really? You think she’d scold me for my mouth right now?”
A pinched scowl comes across her face as she blushes. “Maybe! I don’t know. Probably!”
“So you guys have a cool family, huh?” Grace asks. We’ve shifted so that our shins are pressed together. It’s nice.
The siblings look at him. Elijah shrugs but Eloise nods vehemently. “Yes. We got really lucky.” Elijah rolls his eyes, and Eloise frowns in, if I’m not mistaken, annoyance. “You don’t miss them at all?”
“What’s the point?” He shrugs, looking away. “It’s not going to change anything.”
She quirks an eyebrow. “What about Reuben?”
His face flushes red, and Grace asks, “Wait, who’s Reuben?”
Elijah shoots her a glare but she says, “His dog. Not even the family’s- His dog.”
Grace hums, amused. “I kinda figured you as a cat person.”
“Well, I’m not,” he snaps, and then blushes.
“They must really miss you right now.” Grace frowns deeply, as if he’s actually upset by this.
Eloise’s face crumples and she shrinks in on herself. Elijah hesitates, before wrapping an arm around her waist. “Yes,” she whispers. “I’m sure they do.”
“They were on their way home when I…” I look away, suddenly feeling guilty. I don’t know where it came from, but it’s uncomfortable, even unnatural. “They’re going to stay with us, now.”
She looks up and nods slowly. “Yeah.” She smiles even though a few tears have leaked down her cheeks. “Yeah, we are. You’re a good guy, Nash.”
A Quiet Finale comes out on October 21st. Subscribe to my mailing list to read it this Saturday.