Coming Undone

I caught my sister staring out the window, watching the leaves on the trees outside AJ's house turn brown and brittle, the wind making the leaves and young branches sway to and fro. Her usually expressive and bright eyes were blank and turned to a meaningless brown. Her usual smile was wiped from her face and she sat still on the couch beside me. To the outsider, her hands seemed to lay dormant inside of her jacket pockets, but I knew her better than that. I knew her hands were fidgeting inside of her pocket. It's been a nervous habit of hers since we were children.

But this time, Charlotte wasn't nervous. If anything, she was hurt and remorseful. I couldn't blame her.

The love of her life just announced that he was getting engaged to our cousin, Amy.

Amy was nice enough – she was caring, nice, smart, independent, but AJ wasn't in love with her. Everyone that has known us since childhood knew that it was always AJ and Charlotte. Strangers have even commented on how good Charlotte and AJ were together. Everyone claimed that one day they'd get their act together and finally be together because that's how it was supposed to be.

Well, now they'll never get their chance.

AJ and Amy had faced us with bright smiles plastered onto their faces, holding hands. We didn't know that the next words coming out of their mouths would render us speechless, but it did. Luckily for Charlotte, I was always the quicker-thinking twin, and I was quick to congratulate them, and gave a subtle nudge to Charlotte, reminding her to speak up.

I winced when she smiled, immediately recognizing that it was forced. I glanced at AJ, and he seemed to notice, but didn't speak up and accepted her hug and quick kiss on the cheek as congratulations. Amy, as usual, didn't pick up on Charlotte's lack of animation, but her excited nature more than filled the room. Her bright smile didn't leave her face when they announced the engagement, and it sure didn't leave her face when she asked Charlotte to a part of the bridal party.

Charlotte hesitantly accepted, but only at the prodding of AJ. She would never admit it, but AJ was her weakness. It has been since childhood. Whenever he asked her to do something as a favor to him, she usually went ahead and did it, smile and all. Nobody was surprised when AJ asked me to be his best man. Charlotte gave me a small smile and a squeeze on the arm, letting me know she was happy for me.

AJ and Amy left the room to finish up dinner, leaving Charlotte and I alone. The silence was deafening, but I wasn't going to speak up unless she did.

"How do you feel about this, Chris?" she asked softly.

I chose my next words carefully, caught in between my sister and my best friend.

"They've been together for nearly a year, Charlie. It was a little expected. But I can't say I'm ecstatic about this. Not when it obviously hurts you."

Charlotte gave a faint smile. "It shouldn't catch me by surprise, but it did."

I nodded towards the kitchen, where we could hear Amy and AJ laugh.

"That should be you in there, Charlotte."

Charlotte lifted up one corner of her mouth. "But it's not, Chris. It should be, but it's not. And now, I've got to learn to accept it as what it is. Regret's an ugly monster."

That was my sister in a nutshell. She hated wasting time thinking about one thing when she had her life in front of her to think about. She was always quick to accept things the way they were and then move on. For that, I admired her. The man she was in love with for years was getting married to her cousin, and she was strong enough to accept it. And in the midst of those sentences, I knew she knew she made mistakes regarding him, but now she was going to have to grin and bear it.

The doorbell rang, and Amy and AJ came from the kitchen and welcomed the rest of our joined families into their home. As we sat down for dinner, we all caught up with each other's lives. I kept an eye on Charlotte as she interacted with our family, a fake smile plastered on her face, and hollow laughs coming from her mouth. As dinner ended, Charlotte excused herself to the bathroom, and I stayed with our family before we moved onto the living room.

I had a feeling Amy and AJ would make their announcement in the living room, so I hung back and searched for my sister.

I caught up with Charlotte outside on the balcony, a hot chocolate in her hand, staring out into the chilly fall night. Her expression was back to how it was earlier, emotionless and seemingly uncaring. She closed her eyes as we both heard the unmistakable sound of rejoicing in the living room and excited questions asked, while AJ and Amy's laugh seemed to ring louder than the rest of the family. I turned to look at her, and she turned to me and finally let her tears escape.

My strong sister, the girl who loved to be the more daring twin, the smart twin, the one who never wore her heart on her sleeve was hurt and even if she never admitted it, she needed someone to look out for her at that moment.

And right now, I had to be that someone.

I gathered her in my arms, and she took solace in me and wept. Her sobs escaped into the autumn night, seemingly drowned out by the joy and happiness escaping from the living room.

Even as she sobbed, the world marched on and the world kept spinning. The leaves would continue to turn into different colors and the air would continue to get chillier. And in the morning, Amy and AJ were still going to be engaged, and my sister would still be hurt.

A/N: Reviews would be nice, constructive criticism would be much better.