SECTION ONE: HAUNTINGS
When I had visited my brother in prison, I walked inside with the ever-so-still fantasies of a little sister.
I had hoped my brother was innocent. I had that fairytale still alive in me, somewhere deep inside. And as I had stared at him, into his eyes, I'd known what he was capable of and I knew that he was guilty. Every last bit of it.
That knowledge didn't damn him. It damned me.
He hadn't left home guilty, but he'd turned into it.
I wasn't stupid. I knew who my brother was. He was the second of Jace Lanser's empire. He'd been at the top. A few of my friends visited the Seven8, the exclusive club that my brother managed for Lanser.
They'd whispered about how hot he was, how great in bed. A few of them had joined up for a threesome. They'd giggled about that night for months. One still talked about it with a wistful grin on her face.
It always sickened me.
As I sat across from him, every comment I'd heard whispered came back to me like whiplash. Every one.
I shook my head slowly as the once-pure love a little sister should have for a brother died.
My daydream died when he'd slammed my mom's door with a bag over his shoulder. I just hadn't known it.
"Maya?" Krein asked, uncertain and a little fearful. He was afraid of me. I saw in his eyes that he was afraid of me and that sunk my heart even further.
I still hadn't said anything. My lips had turned numb. I just held that plastic phone, so formal to the touch, against my face and I breathed.
"Hey, uh…" He coughed and scooted closer to the table. His uniform crinkled against his body under the shift of movement. He looked good. Prison must've agreed with him—how sad of a thought.
That prison would agree with someone.
Krein looked leaner, tougher, and his eyes were hardened. Yet, as they looked into mine, there was a vulnerability that I'd witnessed when I was seven.
"Are you going to say something or did you just come to laugh at me?" He rasped out. Harsh.
"I think I have reason to do both." I said softly.
His eyes widened at my voice. It wasn't of a little girl's any longer.
"If you don't mind." I added and continued to study him. I absorbed every detail from the shadow of a three o'clock beard to the two extra wrinkles that had formed just underneath his eyelids. Each gave him further character and allowed him a wisdom that I didn't feel he'd earned.
His hands clenched the phone tightly and as I ran my eyes over them, his fingers jerked underneath my scrutiny.
He thought I was there as judge and jury. The joke was on me. I had been the one brought to prosecution and I was still serving my sentence. I just wasn't behind a steel cage like he was.
Krein let out a ragged breath and hunched his shoulders over the table. He propped his elbows on it and murmured, a forced attempt at control, "So…you look good. You look really good, actually. Mom must've had you on a diet or something."
My eyes whipped to his.
"Don't play with me." I choked out. "That's not funny."
Genuine confusion came to him as he tilted his head to the side and studied me.
"What are you talking about?" He asked.
"I left home when I was twelve."
"What?" He looked lost of speech. "What are you talking about? Why?"
"To see you." My eyes were hard. "I came to see you."
"I came to see you and you told me to get lost."
"I never. I would never do that to you. I didn't—I didn't know, Maya. I swear."
He was lying. My brother was guilty of so much, but the worst were his lies.
"Stop lying to me." I ordered in soft voice, but I knew my voice was hard. Nathan had told me I had steel in my voice. It could bend the strongest there was and I would emerge the victor. It had occurred too many times to count.
It wasn't that I had steel in my voice. I just saw through others just as I saw through my brother. I saw their insecurities. I saw their walls of defense that protected them and kept others out. And I understood how those walls were resurrected. I saw it all in one glance and when I shared my thoughts, it brought immediate humility and humbleness to the most uncaring soul I'd met.
With haunted eyes and a hollow voice, I said further, "Stop lying to me because I was there and you sent me away. I've been here for ten years and I know who you are. I know where you came from and I know where you'll end up. So stop lying to me."
Krein sat there. Silent. Watchful. And I saw a change in his eyes as a shield fell away. Now I saw my brother. Intelligent. Capable of too much, for his heart and mine. And I saw a slight jerk at his hands as he realized who sat before him.
"Jesus…" He breathed out.
I wasn't the coming of Christ.
"No." A grin quirked at the corner of my mouth. "But I might see you as he does."
Krein took a deep breath.
I added, knowing how he would crumble, "You've done awful and unforgivable acts. You have a hand in so many collapsed lives. And you deserve to sit where you are today."
The number two to one of the most powerful drug empires that spanned across my nation sat captivated in his chair. A caged tiger. That's what came to mind when I thought of what my brother was capable.
"What's happened to you?" He asked me, his eyebrows furrowed as one. I heard concern in his voice and I'd known all along it was still there.
A tear slid from my eye, but it went ignored.
He held so much power for too long. Power over me, over my mother. The reckless and savage power that he'd yielded for his business wasn't anything to the destruction he reigned over his family.
"A little sister was rejected by the big brother that was supposed to rescue her."
I saw a tear come to his eyes. He blinked them back rapidly while I let my tear slide free.
That was the difference between us.
My brother was still held capture by society's opinions, laws, regulations. He either chose to adhere by them, such as not being a man who cries, or he chose to violate them, such as selling drugs and his other illegal acts.
He still lived by those rules.
I had ceased living by them and in some ways it was true, maybe I was a reincarnated soul that had lived beyond thousands of years. Or maybe it was just that I was a twenty-one year old who had lived the life of a foryt-five year old.
"Maya." He choked out and placed his palm against the glass.
His veins stuck out against his pale skin. They were thick, strong with blood, but they were shallow, against his skin. They didn't run deep.
I wanted to know why—why to so many questions. Why he chose this life. Why he had crumbled under carnal pleasures. Why he had walked by me without a second glance.
Why. Plain and simple with an answer that was too complicated to ever be simple.
"That man." I murmured, still watching his palm. "That man that put you in here—where is he?"
Apprehension, rage, and sadness crossed his eyes. I saw the veins clench in his hands and I almost saw the emotion dart through them.
"He's—if he ever shows his face around here, he's dead. That's all you gotta know."
"I saw him once." I told my brother for reasons I didn't understand. I understood so much. I would know core lies and yearnings with one look, but with some stuff—I learned as a child.
"You saw Jace? When?" Krein frowned darkly.
"One of those days that I came to see you. I saw him."
He coughed again. "Well, just stay away from him if you ever see him. He's a fucking narc. He put me in here."
"No, he didn't." I said gravely. The truth was clear. "You were caught and that's why you're in there. He didn't put you in there. Your actions—those sins—put you in there. I think he was the one who saved you."
"He stopped you."
I wasn't religious, but some truths were clear as day. My brother would only be forgiven and live a life of purity if he confessed his wrong-doings.
He couldn't and wouldn't have done that on his own.
So he was forced to do it. His best friend and boss had done that for him.
"He loved you the most of all."
My brother didn't like to hear that. I saw the darkening in his eyes, the fury that stormed just inside of his shell. The truth would stir the dark inside until it could be cleansed.
"What are you? Some Christian freak?"
The thought brought a smile to my face. Maybe I was, though I'd never learned about Christianity.
"Would it be so bad?" I asked honestly as I looked at my brother in his prison uniform, with the security guard behind him.
"I don't need some damn Christian to come in here and judge me."
"Apparently you do because you're not judging yourself." I said sharply.
Krein fumed at that.
Yes, I was a lot like my brother. I am very good at lying, at out-witting and conning others. I have the capability to stop caring about how my actions wash over others. Unlike my brother, I also chose to live a different life. I chose to care. I chose to see people, not for their weaknesses, but both strands of weakness and strength together.
A human being is so colorful. A person just needs to know how to see their beauty, the portrait of every intricate brush of human life.
A human is capable of living life as an animal. And yet, that is beneath our potential and an insult to our children.
My brother had become one of those animals and he had become caged as one.
"You have a son." I told him and he was stunned.
He needed to blink those tears back again. I wondered when he would be able to break free of those rules. Invisible rules are always the hardest to see before a person could be free of them. I was still learning that.
"His name is Gray."
Krein asked hoarsely, "How do you know this?"
"You slept with one of my friends four years ago. When she tried to tell you, you gave her money to erase him."
When Cherry had told me that, that had been the first break I'd experienced from the cage I lived underneath my brother. The first crack.
He breathed out raggedly and switched the phone to his other hand. Both palms were sweaty now and I watched them in fascination.
"He's smart and he looks like your baby pictures." A tender smile came to me. "He asks so many questions. He knows where every lion and tiger lives. He even knows the continents and he's learning Spanish."
"What's—what's his last name?"
"You don't deserve." Another truth that stirred the storm.
"If—," His voice broke, finally. He tried again. "If he's my son, I deserve to know who he is. I deserve to be a part of his life."
"Then stop making other people decide for you. Judge yourself, Krein and maybe—maybe after you've dragged yourself out of that godforsaken hole you should be in—maybe I might tell you a little more about your son."
I saw the decision made in his eyes.
"And don't think of sending men after me. I'll see them coming before they see me."
Krein breathed out again. Ragged. Harsh. Like his soul had finally been stirred to awaken. Painful.
"What happened to you, Maya? You were just a little girl when I saw you."
"I was fat and I was on the outside. I learned to watch when I was out there. I never had to play the game because I was automatically cast out."
A third truth.
My brother had been fearful when I first sat down. He was more scared now, but from a different cause. I hadn't come to yell, scorn, and judge. That would've been expected and understood. He could've weaved a tangled web around me and spun me to whimper for his brotherly approval again.
My brother didn't understand me. I was a different breed from his species. And he was afraid of what he couldn't understand though I understood him too well.
"Why'd you ask about Jace?" Krein asked abruptly.
"I would like to meet him."
Krein finally grinned in amusement, but it was still encased in watchful weariness.
He shook his head. "No, you don't. Jace is wanted by a lot of people, Maya. If you find him, then that means that they've found him. He's a dead man, Maya."
The town talked in reverence of him. He'd grown into a leader. He'd led the town's gang, corrupted the saints among the police force, and connected two drug empires together.
He had the most power and in the end, he'd taken them all down because he had changed his decision about where he wanted his life to end.
He'd been coerced to work undercover with the DEA. When his brother had been murdered by a colleague, Jace had decided it was time and he'd destroyed them all.
"No. He's not. The only things Jace cares about is himself, his family and Taryn." Krein said bitterly. He looked away.
An alcoholic and abusive father that still lived. A younger brother who was in the grave and a lover who he'd wanted to be with someone else. Everyone knew the story about Jace Lanser and Taryn Rosette. She'd been the thief for their group and she'd been loved by both the Lanser brothers.
Jace wouldn't bring her into his work so he sent her away for a better life. He'd done it so she wouldn't be killed by his employers. Taryn had been rumored to have a knack of getting anywhere she wasn't wanted.
It had happened anyway. Taryn had realized that her life had been touched by Jace's world, she just didn't know how. She'd nearly brought her own death trying to figure it out. The truth was that Jace had been the one to manufacture her adoption into a better family. He really had wanted Taryn to live a better life.
In the end, even though Taryn had been kept alive, Brian Lanser had died.
"You miss him." I noted softly.
"He put me in here—" Krein caught himself. "I mean…he betrayed me, Maya. He was my best friend. He was supposed to have my back."
"True kinship requires sacrifice to save the soul, Krein."
Krein rolled his eyes. "What the hell does that mean? You've grown into a freak. I have a freak as a sister."
"You have a sister that came to visit you." I said matter-of-fact.
Krein stilled and watched me.
"I came to see you because I know what you did and I'm still here."
What kind of freak does that make me?
"Why did you come?" He asked. Finally, some truth shone through his surface.
And with that question, everything sifted away. The question was real and it was from his core. I knew that when I answered that, I would be answering the very soul depths of my brother.
That's what I revel in. Not talking through bullshit, but to the soul.
"I'm here because I'm your sister. And I'm here because…I'm searching for something."
A slight frown marred his perfection. His silence did not.
As I watched, my brother seemed to dissolve before me. All the layers, surfaces, manliness that couldn't cry, all seemed to vanish and I was left holding the eyes of the brother I'd once loved.
"Thank you." He said simply.
I stood and placed my palm against the glass.
And just as I did, he looked at it in fascination.
Hands were the second window to our souls. The eyes were the first.
My brother and I had finally seen both windows to each other.
And it wasn't enough.