Chapter 19

Kat blearily opened her eyes and flopped to her side within the warm comforts of her bed. She, not bothering to move a single muscle in her neck, lazily rolled her eyes over to read the boxy numbers on her bedside clock… and then she groaned.

7:30.

7:30.

What was wrong with her? It was the first day of summer for Christ's sake! Why couldn't she just sleep in? She rolled over onto her back and shielded her eyes with her hands.

"Stupid sun," she muttered aloud.

Kat, unfortunately, was one of those unlucky individuals who faced trouble in falling back asleep once the sun was up. She let out a whiny moan and then pulled herself up into a sitting position. She stretched her arms up high as she yawned and then dropped them back down in defeat. Slowly, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and placed her feet on the carpeted floor, wriggling her toes against the soft fabric.

Barely even thinking of what she was doing, Kat grabbed her phone off her nightstand and dialed a familiar number.

"Hello?" said a chipper voice from the other end of the line.

Kat groaned once again. "Becca, please don't tell me you were already awake!"

"Why?" asked Becca cheerfully. Kat internally cursed her friend for being a morning person. Becca continued on ignorantly, "So, I'm coming over, okay?" She spoke this in a question, although she didn't really expect a negative response. It, after all, was a summer ritual for Becca to come over and campout all day chez Kat.

"Yeah, sure. See you in ten," said Kat, finally coming to a stand. She hung up the phone after saying goodbye and then walked to her bathroom, where she was met with an unpleasant surprise. Her eldest brother, it seemed, had sometime in the night passed out on the floor, reeking of booze and vomit. Kat scrunched her nose in disgust and nudged him with her foot. When she received no response (besides his head lolling ever so dangerously towards the toilet), she pulled her foot further back and gave him a harder whack. His moan indicated his coming back into consciousness. Kat was about to tear into him when her cell phone began to ring. She gave her brother one last scathing look and then retreated into her bedroom, cursing the fact that their individual rooms were connected through said bathroom. It created several early morning conflicts, although none involved a seemingly drunk (not to mention stupid) brother.

Her cell phone was spinning erratically as it vibrated on her desk. She huffily picked it up and answered with a gruff. "Yeah?"

"Well, good morning to you, too," said her boyfriend sarcastically.

"Hey, Josh," she said half guiltily. "How'd you know I'd be up?"

"Well, I didn't actually," he admitted, "but I was really calling to give you fair warning."

"Of what exactly?" Kat asked suspiciously.

"Well, your brother, Matt, and—"

"—how he's suspiciously passed out on our bathroom floor?"

"Oh, shit," she barely heard Josh mutter. There was a pensive silence before Josh spoke again. "Listen. I know it may look bad, but… You see, we were at a party last night and-" Kat's heart began to race as she immediately thought of the worst. Had Josh cheated on her? "-well, your brother just had a really rough night. You should talk to him. And be nice. He may really need your support…" There was another pause. "I just wanted to make sure I talked to you before you let him have it. There is a reason he's in the state he's in right now, but I'll let him explain," he said cryptically. "Anyways, I gotta go, okay?"

"Yeah, okay," Kat responded quietly, fears of cheating assuaged, but concern for her brother on the rise. "Bye."

"Bye. I'll se you soon."

Kat smiled to herself as she thought of the last few months of her junior year. Everything, from SATs to final exams, was blissfully over… Well, everything was over except her and Josh. She internally berated herself for harvesting even the tiniest thought of Josh cheating on her. She trusted him wholeheartedly, and she almost loved him…almost. Kat blushed to herself and fingered the necklace Josh had given her as a spur of the moment gift. She didn't allow herself to dwell on their relationship for long, though. Right then she needed to sort out the issue of her brother.

When she returned to the bathroom, she found her brother finally pulling himself into a sitting position. He had a hand on his head as he tried futilely to rub away the throbbing pulses of a hangover. When he heard Kat clear her throat from the bathroom door, the rubbing stopped and he froze, unsure of whether or not his pounding head could take the scolding that was bound to ensue. But Kat merely sat down on the floor in front of him, bringing her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them to hold her legs in place. "You look like crap," she said bluntly, surveying her suffering sibling. He winced at the sound of her voice, both because of her tone and because of his headache. "So, you gonna tell me what's up?" she asked. "I mean, it's not often you come home hungover."

Matt stared at the ground in front of him, allowing his soft bangs to sweep into his eyes in a fashion similar to his sister's. "I was just having fun. It's graduation," he said vaguely.

"Bullcrap. Now, tell me. What's up?"

Matt, again, stared at the floor in front of him. "It's Rachel," he said bitterly, speaking of his on-again off-again girlfriend. "She wants to break up."

"But Matt," Kat said scootching closer so that she could better offer her support, "you guys always break up." She considered things for a moment before adding, "But you're always back together within the week."

She saw his shoulders slacken, half-hopefully, before he seemingly remembered something and stiffened once more. "No. This time she means for good." He brought a hand to his stomach and clutched it tightly. "She says it's time to move on, what with college and all."

From the side, Kat carefully studied his character, and she was surprised to find that he didn't seem all that upset when he was speaking of Rachel. More than anything he looked as if he were ready to be sick from binge drinking all night long. And, a few short moments later, he shooed Kat out of the bathroom so that he could do just that. Kat waited on her bed, humming loudly to herself so as to drown out the sound of her brother's retching. She was put out of her misery when the shower turned on and drowned out all other sound. During this time she called Becca and asked her to come later in the day. She and Matt had some unfinished business, and she instinctively had inkling that there was more to the story than him just breaking up with Rachel.

A few minutes later, the shower head turned off, and there was the general sound of things being set down and picked up within the bathroom. Then she heard a door shut, followed by a temporary silence. After another minute or so, she heard another door opening and then the door that linked her bedroom and bathroom swung open. In came Matt, wearing comfy plaid pajama bottoms and a hoody (hood up). He walked in with both hands in the front pocket of his sweatshirt, stretching the shirt while resembling a toddler who knows he's in for a scolding. He warily approached her bed (where she sat looking very much like an unsympathetic interrogator) and stopped at its foot. Kat held out a hand and motioned for him to come up, and up he came. Then it was quiet…

Matt swore his heart would beat out of his chest if nothing was said soon. But as soon as she spoke, Matt wished Kat would've kept mum.

"Matt, for both our sakes, would you cut the bullshite-ing and tell me the truth.We both know this isn't really about Rachel."

Matt's eyes momentarily widened before he sputtered the general 'I don't know what you're talking about' mumbo-jumbo.

Kat rolled her eyes and motioned her hand around her ear, frustrated. "And that's exactly the bullshitting I'm talking about," she spurted. Matt, who was aware of the impeding danger signaled by Kat's use of cuss words, immediately gulped.

"Okay, so it's not just Rachel," he admitted. "But the rest…" Kat waited. "…the rest, I just can't tell." He struggled internally before he slipped in saying, "I promised Mom I wouldn't tell—I mean— shit!" The last word he hissed under his breath.

Two green orbs narrowed into perspective slits. Now her attention really had been caught. "What, exactly, did Mom make you promise not to tell?"

All of a sudden, the mood in the room shifted. It was nearly suffocating. Matt's eyes clouded apprehensively. "Kat," he begged, "please don't make me do this." His eyes showed that whatever he was hiding was a serious matter, something that had been troubling him for a while. Kat met her brother's eyes and was nearly pained to find that he was shaking. Her heart sped up, and with a jolt, she realized he wasn't the only one. She slowly crawled close to her brother and grabbed his trembling fingers. Their hands jittered together as the world seemed to turn darker.

"Matt," she said, "what's bothering you?" She watched as he hung his head and brought his lower lip between his teeth. He was fighting an inner battle, and she couldn't tell which side was winning. "C'mon. You can tell me," she soothed, "I promise I won't get mad." He was scaring her…Could this secret really be that bad? She wasn't sure if she wanted to know.

"No," he asserted in a broken voice. He shook his head, and an unfamiliar saltiness traced its way down his cheek until it pooled in the dip above his lip. Kat felt a warmth trickle in her eyes and clenched her hand tighter around his.

"Matt, you're scaring me," she rubbed her hand along his back. "But I'm sure you'll—," it was becoming harder for her to speak coherently, "—feel better if you—when you—. God, Matt please."

"No," he repeated, just as broken as before. He rose from his spot on the bed and began to walk away, fearing that the fissure in his resolve would turn into a full on crack if he let his sister comfort him any longer. He couldn't speak up and was angry at himself for desiring to do so. If he told, Kat would be a ruin…and he couldn't add even more guilt to his already full plate. It, after all, was his job, his duty to protect his baby sister. That's what big brothers were supposed to be for. They didn't let their kid sisters get hurt…they didn't let them grow up too soon.

He'd already been bad brother enough this year…He couldn't believe he'd let her get kidnapped. He should've known…

Matt's wall of resolve was slowly fortifying. But then Kat agonizingly spoke words that crumbled every brick. "Matt, what did I do? Because that's it, isn't it? I've done something…but you can't tell because you think it'll kill me, right?" Kat swallowed, hoping to ease the ache in her throat that sprung up out of nowhere. She looked at her brother bravely. "But I can take it. Whatever it is, I can take it. And if I hurt anybody, I'm sorry." She, too, rose from the bed and walked to the place where her brother stood, frozen with anguish. His mouth was open and wavering as he shook his head in protest to Kat's words. Kat grabbed his hands and peered at her sibling. "Matt, please, I'm a big girl. I—I can take it," she whispered tearfully.

All at once, Matt knew that he had to tell. He couldn't protect his sister if, by hiding this secret, he was really hurting her. So he cradled her head in his hands, and brought his head to her level. He caught her gaze and held it, trying to channel all of his strength into her, just to ease the pain he knew was going to ensue with his words. "Dad's getting worse…" his heart broke as he saw the words slice at his sister's heart, "And it's not been looking good at all."

Kat nodded silently as her vision blurred. Okay, she told herself, trying to keep calm. Okay. "But the doctors are gonna make him all better, aren't they?" she spoke this question half rhetorically, half pleadingly. When Matt was silent, she knew better. Okay, she repeated to herself, Okay… But the voice in her head was getting more and more hysterical as each second ticked by, seconds in which her father was progressively getting worse. "How long have you known?" she asked finally.

Matt's eyes fell shut and tightened, "I don't know, exactly. A while—but we wanted to tell you," he struggled to explain in a way that would keep Kat from getting hurt "But you were just getting over the kidnapping. Mom was afraid that adding Dad to the picture would crush you… and what she was saying made sense at the time. But now I see that that was all wrong…that, that… Kat, I'm sorry."

Kat nodded. She wasn't mad. She really wasn't. She just needed time to think. Her brain was muddled with too many things at once…and she needed time to be alone and…think. "Okay," she said, sounding surprisingly calm. She quickly reached up and kissed her brother's cheek, a dismissal that he understood. He gave her shoulder a final squeeze before he retreated the way he had come. As he walked through the threshold, she saw him wipe his eyes with the back of his hands.

In a slight trance, Kat turned to go back to her bed, where she lay herself down on her side to start her thinking. But she found that her brain was silent with the aftershocks of unfortunate enlightenment. She stared thoughtlessly out her window for quite some time, only aware of the peculiar way that her tears tickled her cheekbones. Minutes, and then hours morosely dawdled away. At some point, however, she felt a weight sink behind her, and then she felt a soothing pattern being traced onto her back. The pattern was familiar, as was the hand that created it. Kat subconsciously turned into the chest behind her, and slowly sunk into a calming sleep.

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Author's Note: Yes, I know… Very emotional chapter (I hope it wasn't too much so). I had this moment coming for a while, but I just didn't know exactly how to execute it. I hope that none of you are disappointed with what happened this chapter.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed your read, and thanks a bajillion to SouledChampion, Youdontknowmyname, lil-dreamy-eyez, and SheBreaksSilence for your reviews. Thanks for sticking this story out and taking the time to review. I really do appreciate all of the feedback.

Thanks again!!

'Danni'