Decision Time, Peanut (one-shot)

It'd been a sweltering hot day.

The kind of heat that reached deep into your lungs and burned away inside you whenever you inhaled, that hurt your feet on the footpath despite your shoes and that made everything shimmer as if it was about to melt.

It was early evening as I slid out of my car and the heat was morphing itself into that sticky, clingy kind that told you a good night's sleep was going to be nothing more than an abstract concept that night. Not that I'd been sleeping too well recently anyway, I conceded to myself.

I pulled at my red, cotton dress as I walked up the path to my boyfriend's place, making sure it sat correctly even as I knew that it would have become crumpled on the drive over. Despite its tendency to crease, it was one of my favourite dresses; flirty and pretty, it looked fantastic on me. But I was absolutely not, I tried to convince myself, wearing it on the off chance that he was going to be there.

I stopped fussing with my clothing as I reached the front door to my boyfriend's family home and, knocking briefly, let myself in. The drop in temperature was instant and overwhelmingly relieving. Quickly shutting the door behind myself I leant back against it and looked around to see if anyone had noticed my arrival yet. It seemed they hadn't and I took the opportunity to draw a long, deep breath, tasting the cool air as it passed over my tongue.

Good old fashioned home cooking was in the air, the warm yeasty smell of something savoury coming out of the oven in the kitchen, and the faint, sweet aroma being released from the potpourri sitting on the side table. Even fainter than that, there was the scent that always clung to a house that was both well-loved as a structure and in its occupants - that sense that told you in no uncertain terms that those who lived within these walls were happy, content, and totally assured of their love for each other.

I exhaled the first, perfect breath and inhaled again searching as I did so for that heavier undertone. The spicy something that indicated that, despite first appearances, all was not right within this house, that something, no someone, was disrupting the calm vibe.

It was not there.

I finally admitted it to myself and my shoulders drooped even as I questioned myself. What had I been looking for? What had I wanted to sense?

As if you don't know, a part of me mocked back, he's not here so you can wipe that eager look off your face.

I don't care if he is here or not! I tried to tell myself, he's not the one I'm here for.

As if on cue, there suddenly came the sound of heavy footsteps and, looking up, I saw my boyfriend thundering down the stairs in front of me.

"There's my girl!" he beamed, jumping down the last couple of steps in one bound and sweeping me into his arms.

"Hi, Davey," I said, trying to push as much enthusiasm as possible into the greeting, partly for his benefit, but also for my own, as if I could convince myself I wasn't disappointed that he was the one who'd come flying down the stairs for me and not…

"I missed you today," my boyfriend crooned, squeezing me hard and then holding me at arm's length, smiling warmly.

"We had two classes together!" I laughed awkwardly, trying to avoid having to lie outright in replying that I'd missed him too when I knew that, except when he was right in front of me, I hadn't thought about him once. "Anyway, happy birthday again. I brought your present, you want to see?" I said, trying to distract him like I would a small child.

It worked a charm and I tried not to feel too relieved as he let me go and took the brightly wrapped parcel I had pulled out of my bag.

Standing there in the entrance way I wrapped my arms around myself and watched this person I knew so well and treasured so dearly as he shook the gift gently against his ear and played the role of the excited present receiver to the tee.

I desperately tried to keep my focus on his sweet, open face, but, as he slowly unwrapped the fancy new sandshoes he'd wanted, I found my eyes wandering to the photos hanging up on the wall behind him.

There was the usual obligatory shot of Davey's parents on their wedding day, the fashion cringe-worthy but their happy expressions timeless. The second photo was one taken on this same couple's wedding anniversary, showing them older and less demonstrative with their affection, but smiling at each other in a way that demonstrated the love was definitely still there for them. I liked these two photos, they were proof that love really could be sustained, that it would change as all things do with time, but that happiness with one person could last.

Next was a photo of Davey smiling at a family barbeque with me tucked securely under his arm, grinning just as widely and genuinely. Our heads were bent closely together, his tousled sandy hair merging with my dark locks, as if we were sharing a personal joke. That had been a good day, perhaps one of the last days, I allowed myself to acknowledge, that I had felt the zing I once had felt automatically when I saw Davey. I really missed those days, I couldn't remember the last time I had smiled that widely or my brown eyes had sparkled so happily.

The sensible part of my brain demanded that my eyes remain on that photo, that I remember the good times when love for Davey was about sparks and tingles not the gentle fondness coupled with the slight frustration I always felt around him now. A stronger yearning, however, pushed me to leave that picture behind, to remember that that had been taken almost 8 months ago and that there was another photo just to the right…

I caved and moved my eyes across to the last photo, the one I knew I should be ignoring in order to pay attention to my boyfriend of nearly a year but the one that was like a siren calling for my attention.

And there he was.

Frozen in time in the photo; 2D and completely inanimate but still able to steal my breath.

His lithe body was leaning back against his pride and joy, and the only thing I think he'd ever professed any love for, his ute, his arms crossed and his head tilted at the arrogant angle I knew so well. His dark hair curled thickly against his neck and, although I couldn't see his eyes clearly from my position, I knew the mix of green and brown would be speckled with flecks of gold that would be catching the sunlight.

"Evie? Are you with me?"

I dragged my eyes reluctantly away from the photo and focused once more on Davey who was discarding the now empty shoe box and holding the shoes I'd given him loosely in one hand.

"Yeah, what do you think? Are they the ones you wanted?" I asked quickly, hating the wording he'd used. Are you with me? It was a dangerous question, especially as my head was still so full of images of someone else.

"They're exactly what I wanted. Thanks, babe." He leaned in and I caught his lips with mine automatically and then went to pull away as we'd done the requisite couple of seconds our kisses usually lasted now. So I was taken by surprise when he grabbed my waist with his free hand and kept me pressed against him, his body hot through the thin material of my dress.

After the initial shock I relaxed into him, sliding my hands up his chest to his shoulders where I let them rest as I tilted my face to achieve just the right angle.

Davey, I told myself fiercely as I kissed him, you love Davey, you have for ages. This other thing is just a blip, it isn't anything. The way he looks at you, the way you look at him it isn't right, you can't allow it to be real.

As if on cue his face swam to the front of my mind. His mouth twisted in that way it did, his eyes slightly narrowed, his jaw set, as if he was furious at me for kissing someone other than him.

It was like a bucket of cold water had been dumped over me and I tore my mouth from Davey's, only just managing to hold down the little gasp of horror I wanted to let out at the idea of picturing one person and kissing another.

"You all right?" Davey asked as I took a hurried step away from him, firmly instructing myself not to wipe my hand across my mouth.

"Yeah, just, you know, your parents are in the next room!" I laughed shakily, gesturing towards the kitchen where, sure enough, I could hear voices.

"So?" He asked, looking confused, "It's not like they've never seen us kissing before."

"I know but-"

"Evie, I thought I heard your voice." Thankfully, Mrs Lawrence appeared in the hallway at that moment and beckoned us forward. "Tea's ready, we were about to sit down."

We! The treacherous voice in my mind whispered excitedly. Maybe he is here after all!

Oh, shut up! I thought viciously, but I did hurry over to the kitchen a lot faster than I would have usually…only to be disappointed when I saw that the only other person in there was Davey's father.

"Hi, Mr Lawrence," I said politely, hiding my disappointment, sliding down into one of the dining chairs and turning my face towards the fan that was blowing cool air across the room.

"Evie, it's you," he said, not unkindly but with a hint of regret. "When we heard Davey talking to someone, we thought it was-"

Davey's mum breezed back into the room and shot him a look, which was the one kind of ice that wasn't refreshing on a hot day, effectively shutting him up.

Davey took a seat beside me, slinging an arm across the back of my chair and chatting amiably with his dad while his mum fussed about at the counter doling out the food. I perched uncomfortably, Davey's arm pressing awkwardly against my back, and tried to look engaged in the conversation even as I thought to myself that if he had been there I wouldn't have had to try to look involved.

Eventually, Mrs Lawrence placed dinner in front of us and I was able to lose myself in her fantastic cooking, as did everyone else, so, for a while, a blissfully contented silence reigned. Eventually, however, the last mouthful was taken and we all sat back with full tummies.

"Well, happy birthday, Davey," Mr Lawrence said. "I hope you have a fantastic 20th year."

"Hear, hear," Mrs Lawrence and I murmured, holding up our glasses in a sort of toast.

Davey nodded his head in acknowledgement of the birthday wishes and then his dad had to ruin it all by saying, "It's a shame there are only the four of us here to celebrate."

"Oh, for goodness sake!" Mrs Lawrence got to her feet and began to take our plates with such ferocity I was sure they would break. "I told you he wasn't coming, it's fine just with the four of us!"

I quickly stood and took over clearing the table, trying both to be helpful but also to cover the little jump I'd made when she said he just like I'd been doing in my mind for months.

I saw Davey and his dad exchange exasperated looks as Mrs Lawrence crossed to the fridge and removed a large cake platter. Balanced on top was a massive ice cream cake that looked big enough to be able to make an entire class of grade one kids sick, let alone the four of us.

"Don't say he like that mum." Davey sighed, also rising and then walking round to his mother's side.

"Make the first cut in the cake, darling," she told him curtly, proffering a knife at her youngest son who rolled his eye,s but took it and made the first ceremonial slice into his birthday cake.

"Seriously, though," he tried again as he pulled the knife out, "I told you before that I talked to Mac and it's cool that he's not coming. We're not exactly close or anything, and he's been all weird lately."

Mrs Lawrence snatched the knife back and began to efficiently cut the cake up into pieces in a no-nonsense 'I don't want to talk about this anymore' sort of way.

I was glad she was being melodramatic as it meant no-one had noticed my reaction. I had almost dropped all the plates I'd been holding when Davey had said 'Mac', and had to quickly dump them on the draining board as my fingers felt numb. It was so long since I'd actually heard his name spoken aloud, I simply hadn't been prepared for it.

"I don't think it is 'cool' that he's not here," Mr Lawrence growled and Davey shot him a look pleading him to just to let it go while Mrs Lawrence pursed her lips at her husband warningly. As for me, I turned my face resolutely towards the fan again not wanting any of them to see my expression, scared it would give too much away.

"He is family, this is a family event, so he should be here. It's that simple." Mr Lawrence was insistent and I wished he'd just shut up so that we could eat the damn cake and I could go home and scream into my pillow.

"It is his choice not to be here," Mrs Lawrence pointed out shrilly. "He's the one who upped and left without any explanation and he's the one who has chosen to barely come home since. So don't feel sorry for him, or make it seem like we didn't invite him. Mac will always be welcome in this house, he knows that, but I won't grovel to my own son to get him to come home."

"But you know what? I will." I spoke loudly and confidently but I'd surprised myself just as much as I had them. And, judging by their stunned expressions, I'd surprised them a lot. I really hadn't been planning on saying anything, but standing there listening to them discussing Mac and knowing that it was my fault that he was gone, was too much.

"What are you talking about?" Davey asked, completely bemused.

They didn't understand, none of them knew just how much I understood about the eldest Lawrence boy, how much about him just clicked with me, how intimately I'd been involved with him. And, frankly, thank God, but enough was enough. Mac was making everybody miserable on Davey's birthday and that just wasn't on.

"I'm going to go over to Mac's," I told them, "and tell him what I think of him and the stupid way he's been acting."

"That's not your responsibility."

"Honestly, Evie, I don't care."

"I don't think it will do much good."

All three of them spoke at once, but I ignored them, snatching my bag up and heading for the front door.

"Thanks for tea, Mrs Lawrence."

"Evie, wait!"

I heard Davey call after me, but I marched on down the hallway and let myself out of the house, pretending I hadn't. He caught me up just as I reached my car, however, and put a hand on the door to stop me opening it.

"What's going on here?" He asked, and the confusion and slight hurt in his voice was just about my undoing. "Are you really about to drive over to my brother's place to yell at him for not coming to some stupid birthday tea thing that I don't even care about?"

"Yes," I replied simply, although this whole thing was far from simple. "It bugs me the way he's been treating your family lately and I think it's time somebody told him that it's unacceptable."

Davey looked at me for what seemed like a very long time, his eyes searching deep into mine trying to figure out what was going on with me.

Good luck with that! I thought bitterly.

Eventually, he pulled away shaking his head.

"Okay, go and do what you think you need to, but," he paused and rubbed a hand across his face, looking very weary for someone who had only just turned 19, "then come back and explain what's going on because I'm really confused here."

I felt my eyes begin to tear up and I tried to smile dazzlingly past it. "Of course I'll come back!" I said brightly, perhaps too brightly, moving forward to give him a quick peck on the cheek. "I'll be back before you know it."

Without waiting for his response, I practically dived into my car and started the engine. Putting it quickly in reverse, I barrelled down the driveway and swung onto the road, wanting to put distance between myself and Davey's baffled and upset expression, and also, I had to admit it to myself, get to Mac as quickly as possible.

Arriving on the street Mac lived on, I swung my car off to the side and climbed out, slamming the door and hitching my bag higher up onto my shoulder which was a sure sign, as every woman knows, that I was going into warrior mode.

Walking – no, stomping - down the footpath, I headed towards the dingy little house I knew Davey's brother shared with a few other guys in a similar, impoverished situation as him.

It had definitely cooled down, weather-wise, and, feeling a whip of wind against my cheek, I noticed that dark clouds were bubbling up across the skyline. A storm! Brilliant, that was exactly the kind of weather I wanted for this confrontation.

The strange tingles and crackling of electricity you feel just before a thunderstorm merged with those I was already feeling, and my indignant rage began building with each step closer I took to Mac's place.

Who the hell did he think he was? Did Mac really think that we, no I, was going to let him get away with it? It was one thing to suddenly move out and barely talk to his family, but quite another to not even show up to his brother's family birthday thing!

Especially when he knew you were going to be there, that damn voice muttered in my head, and you know that you would have moved heaven and earth to be with him in a similar situation.

That he hadn't done everything in his power to see me, that it obviously hadn't been killing him like it was me, made me more than just simply furious. I was incandescent with rage!

I practiced my opening line over and over in my head, wanting to jump in straight away, and knowing that I needed to have a plan otherwise just seeing Mac might reduce me to a quivering mess.

Stamping up the cracked concrete steps, I ignored the doorbell, which looked a bit crusty anyway to be honest, and thumped hard on the door with my fist. Waiting a moment and not hearing any sounds within, I thumped again, and then again until I had a steady beat going, adrenaline blocking any discomfit I might have felt from the hard wood against my skin.

Just when I was getting a nice sheen of sweat from the steamy weather, the effort it took to remain furious and, of course, my continual knocking, the door swung open suddenly, making me stumble across the threshold.

Momentarily disorientated, I blinked in the dingy gloom at the person who had opened the door, and then, recovering slightly, snapped, "What are you doing here? I can't believe you are being so immature!"

Which had been the line I'd decided on as the first I would say. Unfortunately, it didn't have the desired effect because, as my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I could see that the guy I'd attacked with it wasn't Mac at all.

"Woah," the stranger took a step back further into the dark entrance way, "do I know you?"

"Oh, God! No, I'm so, so sorry I thought you were someone else," I apologised, mortified. "Is Mac here?"

"Oh, Mac, right." The guy suddenly seemed to understand. He eyed me for a moment while I shifted impatiently, wanting this stranger to get out of my way so I could get to Mac. Seeming to make a decision about something, the guy leaned closer and lowered his voice, saying to me in an almost whisper, "Listen, whatever he's done, give him a break about it all right? He's been having a tough time of it recently, I think he's into some girl who's messing him about and it's made him a bit..." He trailed off, his face creasing into a grimace as he took in who he was talking to. "You're her, aren't you?" He asked slowly and I nodded curtly.

"Probably," I admitted through clenched teeth. "Look is he here? I really need to talk to him."

"Yeah, he's through there." He gestured towards a closed door with a chink of light shining out from under it, and then reluctantly stepped back to let me pass by him. "Just go easy on him," he muttered as I passed, before raising his voice and shouting, "Chick in the house! Everybody cover up your boy bits!"

I jumped in surprise at his shout, and then tried desperately not to be amused by the content. It was no time to be amused.

Moving forward, I took a deep breath. I can do this, I told myself, he's just a person and right now he's a person who I'm not too impressed with.

"Right." I spoke the word out loud to lend it extra conviction, and then swung the door open to reveal the room and its occupants.

There were three guys sitting on the couch, and they all looked up in surprise at my entrance.

It wasn't ideal, I'd hoped Mac would be alone so only he would see the undignified screaming act that I was probably going to pull, but there he was sitting between two strangers.

Oh God, there he was.

I froze in the doorway and saw him go similarly still as our eyes snagged, caught, and held. He sat there in just his boxers caught by surprise and so, for once, not putting on an act but rather just being. Contrary to what he probably believed, he was far more attractive like this then when he was in his snarling, arrogant mood.

I'd always thought, even from when I'd first met him, that attractive was the perfect word for Mac. He wasn't unbelievably good-looking, he didn't have those perfect features that we're all supposed to be the most drawn to. In fact, I reckon there would be a lot of people who would say 'that guy? You just about melt every time you see that guy?' because they wouldn't understand his appeal at all. But there was just something about Mac that made my pulse quicken and my mouth dry up, something that made all my nerve endings tingle.

And that was why I liked the word attractive to describe Mac. Attractive as in I was attracted to him, and that it couldn't all be explained by his looks.

I guess I'd thought it would take either Mac or me to break the tense, searing into each other's soul thing that we had going on, but in the end it turned out to be a digital woman's voice saying: "Game over. You lose."

For one mad, baffled second, I thought that I was the only one who'd heard it, that it was an internal comment on my situation, but then Mac's eyes broke away from mine and he switched his attention to the TV in front of him.

"Shit," he swore with feeling, and I noticed for the first time that he was holding a Playstation controller.

I'll admit I'd felt a slight softening towards him when I'd first seen him sitting there, hair rumpled and barely clothed, but now I realised that, far from sitting at home agonising over his decision not to see his brother on his birthday, he'd been unconcernedly playing video games! Not to mention he'd shown more emotion and pain at the failure of his mission or whatever in a stupid game then he ever had about treating his family so badly.

So that was it, I was back in bitch mode.

"What the hell are you doing here?" I snapped, stalking further into the room and deliberately planting myself between Mac and his precious TV. I didn't even spare a moment's thought for the other two people in the room, for me at that moment there was only Mac.

My prey raised an eyebrow incredulously and I saw a flicker of temper spark in his eyes.

"Well hello there, peanut. Did you seriously just ask what I'm doing here? I live here, what are you doing here?"

His friends chuckled, and I blushed a furious red that just about matched my tomato dress. I hated his stupid nickname for me, the one he used when he wanted to put emphasis on the three year age gap between us. That is, when he wanted to push me away.


"You know what I'm doing here," I responded coolly.

Real, proper anger, somewhat akin to my own, flared up for him then, although he tried to hide it, and he threw the game controller to one side and made a big show of lounging back against the couch. "Well clearly fucking not," he drawled, "otherwise I wouldn't have asked you."

I'd known he was going to be like this, but it still hurt, still cut like a knife into my chest. He always knew just how to do that.

The other two guys in the room exchanged glances and shifted uncomfortably in their seats, all amusement gone now.

"Mac, mate, should we…?" One of them began to ask, but Mac cut him off.

His gaze never left mine as he said, "Nah don't go anywhere. This is just my kid brother's girlfriend and she's going now."

His rudeness took my breath away and I allowed myself a moment of jaw-dropped repulsion at his behaviour before I pulled myself together.

"No I'm not," I contradicted him stonily. "I'm not going anywhere until you understand why I'm here in the first place."

"I know exactly why you're here!" He exclaimed. "Do you think I'm stupid?"

I let out a sarcastic little laugh, "Trust me, that's not a question you want an honest answer to right now."

He was on his feet then, quick as a cobra and, it seemed, just as dangerous. He was taller than me and used that to his advantage, but I refused to be intimidated and stepped forward so that we stood chest to chest.

"Of course you know exactly why I'm here," I said, my voice shaking a little, "because you know what today is. You know that, less than an hour ago, your family were sitting down to dinner to celebrate your brother's birthday and you know that there was a big bloody space where you should have been."

Rather than being ashamed or acknowledging his poor behaviour in any way, Mac stared at me for a moment and then threw his head back and laughed. Not a nice laugh either, but a forced kind of bitter one that made the hair rise along my bare arms.

"Is that what you're pretending this is about?" He asked. "Me missing Davey's stupid little birthday thing? I'm kind of disappointed, peanut, I thought you'd come up with something better than that."

Now I did take a step back from him, but only because he'd changed the rules of the game and I wasn't quite sure how I was supposed to play my next move. We never called each other out on the excuses we used to end up in the same room or go the same places.

"I know you enjoy speaking in code, Mac," I finally managed to say, "but for those of us who haven't taken 'how to be a mysterious jerk 101' would you mind telling me what the hell you're on about?"

And just like that he was gone from me, the anger suddenly blocked by a wall of nothingness that he slammed against me like a force field. It was a move I recognised so well, it was the shutters that had been coming up time and time again during the months that we had been dancing around each other not sure what to do with the thing that was sparking between us.

Because there was a thing.

Not terribly well defined and completely inappropriate considering the circumstances, but definitely there. My reaction so far had been to rail and scream at myself while trying to stay normal for Davey. Mac, however, had done this whole shut off thing, culminating in moving out of his parents' place and barely returning home. I would have been able to convince myself that him leaving had nothing to do with me if it hadn't happened straight after we'd let our feelings, and alcohol, get the best of us at my own 19th birthday party a little over two weeks ago.

There was a sudden bright flash and all four of us in the room instinctively turned our eyes to the window to see that the clouds I'd noticed earlier had blanketed the sky and a full blown storm had set in. How appropriate, I thought just as the loud thunder boomed.

When the noise rolled away, the quiet was interrupted by a pitter-patter of rain which began softly but soon was flinging itself down torrential style.

"Get out, Evie," Mac said as he turned his back to me and snatched up a pair of jeans lying crumpled in the corner. "I thought you were here for a goodbye fuck or a pity fuck or just a plain old I've-been-wanting-to-rip-your-clothes-off-since-I-first-saw-you fuck and that I could have taken, but not this bullshit about me missing Davey's birthday." He yanked on his jeans, zipping them up over his plain boxers before swinging round to face me again. "Because we both know that Davey couldn't give a shit about me being there, in fact the only person he probably did want there was you but, surprise, surprise, you're here with me."

He advanced on me and I moved back again, wanting to run and hide from him and his cruel words.

"All you've managed to do here is screw with both the Lawrence brothers at once without either one of us managing to actually get screwed."

This, in case you were wondering, is not the real Mac. The real Mac has his testy moments, but can also be incredibly warm and funny. I hated this pretend Mac, but found that I couldn't voice that at that moment. Instead the only thing I managed to force through my numb lips was: "This isn't about sex."

Which was undoubtedly true but not the best retort under the circumstances.

"Yeah?" he asked disbelievingly as another bolt of lightning skittered across the darkness outside. "Fine, you want to talk about 'spaces where people should be' instead? I can do that, I reckon there's a space right now you should be and it's not this space, so piss off."

And, speech over, he stalked from the room, slamming the door behind himself. The resultant thunder from the lightning bolt a second before pulsed against the house, echoing the roar that I heard in my head. For one brief, horror struck second I became dizzy and thought I was going to faint, but, as the noise from the elements subsided, so too did the threat of imminent collapse.

Coming back to myself, I looked up and saw that the two other people in the room were sitting absolutely stock still, looking completely horrified, eyes wide and staring fixedly at the wall as they tried to pretend they hadn't witnessed that little scene.

"I'm sorry," I managed to croak out past the huge lump that'd formed in my throat, "really sorry. Excuse me."

As I moved blindly towards the door Mac had just exited, I realised I'd started to cry. It was a detached realisation, almost academic. The tears fell into little rivulets and meandered their way down my cheeks without any input from me, I was too disconnected to even cry properly.

Still, at least this meant I didn't have the emotional energy to be embarrassed about weeping in front of complete strangers or at having had such a painful and humiliating conversation in front of them. Hey, silver lining in everything I guess.

Letting myself out of the house, I paused for a moment on the veranda as the smell of rain hitting the hot earth filled my senses. I normally found this smell completely intoxicating, but it didn't manage to cut through my gloom this time. I recognised it only as a smell- not good or bad but just…there. Was that what being without Mac did to me? Did it take away my ability to enjoy even the simplest things in life?

With this depressing thought, I was about to step out of the cover of the porch and into the downpour when there was suddenly a little burst of flame at the corner of my vision.

Automatically swinging my head round, I saw that Mac was leaning against the veranda railing cupping a flame from his lighter and setting it to the cigarette dangling from his mouth. The orange glow lit up his face in the stormy gloom, making his eyes glow like coals and giving him an almost demonic appearance.

But that wasn't right, I realised, he wasn't a demon he was just as confused, angry and soul destroyed as I was by this whole thing.

The flame flicked out and Mac became a vague shadow with the end of his smoke glowing an intense red/yellow in the darkness.

The smell of the smoke he exhaled galvanised me, it made me sick to my stomach and my anger returned, albeit this time tempered with a little bit of sanity. And, as everyone knows, sane anger is a mighty weapon.

The Playstation was wrong, this wasn't over, not yet. I needed to be the one to properly close this thing otherwise it would just continue to haunt me.

Mac looked up as I approached, but wasn't prepared for my hand whipping out and snatching the cigarette out of his mouth.

"Hey!" he growled, his voice low and dangerous, but I ignored him and stubbed the smoke out quickly on the wet railing, squishing it completely and all but grinding it into the wood.

"I'm leaving like you wanted, but there are a few things I want to say first. You want to kill yourself slowly, painfully and expensively then fine, do it in your own time. I'm talking to you now and this is my time." He seemed too stunned by my firm, calm voice, so different from the one I usually used around him, to react so I continued unhindered.

"You were right, you were pretty much right about everything okay? Me coming over here like this has got pretty much nothing to do with it being Davey's birthday, although it does have a lot to do with you not being there. Because I wanted you to be there, I ached for you to be there and it killed me that you weren't."

The wind changed and a spray of rain hit me in the face the water mixing with the wetness already on my cheeks and I wiped it away brusquely with the backs of my hands.

"You're crying." Mac sounded detached, but his tone was belied by the hand he reached up as if to help me wipe away my tears.

I flinched back, however, knowing that if he touched me I would totally lose it and that I had to keep it together just a little bit longer.

"Of course I'm crying," I said frankly, "I've been crying for months. In fact I've pretty much been crying ever since my boyfriend said 'oh and this is my brother Mac' and I thought I was having a heart attack."

I'd had 11 blissful Mac free months with Davey as I'd met him about a month after his older brother left the country for a year long travelling expedition. Sure, I'd seen that photo in the hallway and thought that he was pretty hot, but it was nothing compared to being hit with the sledgehammer of desire when I'd seen him in the flesh for the first time three months or so ago.

"And so now I have these days, "I continued, "where I wish that you'd never come back, that I'd never met you so I wouldn't feel as if I was cheating on my boyfriend every time I look at you. But then I try to think of not meeting you and somehow that seems so much worse."

I guess I'd always bought into those corny lines about there only being one person in the world who is meant for you and that you could only ever have that deep feeling for them. Now, of course, I saw that that was absolute rubbish.

The heart isn't your email inbox, it doesn't get too full and receive nasty messages from the administrator, which in this case would be the brain I guess, saying that you'd reached your limit and you wouldn't be able to love anyone else until you deleted some old loves. It was entirely possible to love two people at once…which is what I think I was doing.

I wouldn't advise it.

"I thought I was safe," I tried to explain to Mac. "I thought, because I loved Davey, there was no way I could get in too deep with you. I thought, in fact, that I was invincible. Which is why this has gone on for so long and why what happened on my birthday happened."

Cue another lightning bolt and subsequent thunder, although I barely noticed the electrical display or the booming rumbling as I was too busy watching Mac's reaction to my mentioning what had happened on my birthday.

"You thinking you were invincible had nothing to do with that." He spoke forcefully although his body had gone very still with tension. "I was the one who kissed you. I was the one who grabbed you and dragged you out of your own damn party and I was the one who kept you pinned against that wall until Davey came looking for you. Me not you."

Memories of that night came flooding back, my frustration with Davey, my longing for Mac and, most specifically, that moment when our eyes had met across the room and I knew that something was finally going to happen.

I'd slipped out of the back door as soon as I thought I wouldn't be missed from the party and only had to wait a couple of seconds before Mac marched through the door after me, grabbing my hand and pulling me round the side of the house.

We hadn't spoken a single word, just clung to each other and kissed with everything we had until Davey's voice calling out my name had brought us back to ourselves and I'd run from him, guilt stricken but flying high at the same time.

The next day Mac had moved out and that was the last time I'd seen him before this afternoon.

"We were both there, Mac," I said quietly. "I could've stopped it any time I wanted, but I didn't." I steeled myself for my next words, knowing they had to be said but hating to do it anyway. "But I'm stopping it now."

"What do you mean?" Mac's hands tightened on the railing until the whites of his knuckles were showing, but he spoke in the same restrained way he always did.

"I mean that this is it between us. I'm going to go back to Davey and try to fix things with him because I love him, but if it doesn't work out between us it won't have anything to do with you." My voice cracked on the last word and I unconsciously mirrored Mac as I clenched folds of my dress to hold myself together. "You're his brother and I'm not breaking up your family just because I'm confused."

Mac remained silent, as was his usual way, and I was half disappointed, half relieved he couldn't or wouldn't find some way to fight against me. He just continued to stare at me and, I was disconcerted to realise, there was something pitying in his gaze.

"Goodbye, Mac," I said firmly, refusing to be cowed. "I'm really sorry about everything."

I walked away from him then, along the veranda and down the steps, fully intending to get into my car and not look back. I was sure I'd managed to close it this time because the hollow feeling in my chest was definitely indicating that something vital was missing.

I made it as far as the bottom step, my feet getting wet from the rain, when he called my name and I froze, unable to stop myself wanting to hear what he had to say.

I turned slowly and saw him standing at the top of the steps, his expression a mirror image of the devastation I felt.

"You don't love him." His voice was hoarse and so quiet I barely heard him over the rain thundering down onto the tin veranda roof. "You want to because it's easier if you do, but you don't."

I shook my head as he spoke because he was wrong, so wrong. I did love Davey, just not in the same all-consuming hungry way I loved his brother.

"Stop it, Mac," I whispered as I finally stepped out from under the veranda's protective roof and into the deluge of the storm.

I was soaked within the second, my dress sodden and sticking against me, hampering my efforts to walk as the skirt tangled against my legs. Despite this, I ploughed on until Mac's strong fingers closed over my arm and pulled me back.

I gasped in surprise, not having heard him come up behind me, and then wanted to howl in misery as I realised there wasn't going to be any escape from him.

"Why are you doing this?" I almost wailed, refusing to look at him but rather staring down at the muddy ground. "You have always been the one to push me away and you told me to piss off so why won't you let me go?"

"Look at me, Evie." His deep voice was commanding, but I was too scared to obey so I wasn't prepared for the hand the suddenly cupped one of my cheeks and guided my face up to towards him. "Look at me," he repeated, and it was the plea in his tone that shattered my resolve and made me lift my eyes to his.

Rain was dripping down off his dark curls and running in little rivulets down his bare chest, but it was like he didn't even realise it was raining, there was none of the cowering or wincing so many of us automatically do when thrust into bad weather. He stood tall and noble gazing at me as if the rest of the world had ceased to exist.

I was lost… and he knew it.

"Mac don't-" I tried to say, my last vestiges of strength failing, but he simply brought his other hand up to rest on the other side of my face and bent his head down.

"I have to," he whispered and then he pressed his mouth against mine.

It was all over.

I fell against him in complete submission, snaking my arms up and around his neck, tangling one hand into his hair and tugging his head down further to mine. It was all the encouragement he needed to release his gentle hold of my face and wrap his arms possessively around my waist, melding our bodies together.

His lips caught mine over and over again, pulling at them, teasing them until he finally opened his mouth slightly and ran his tongue over my bottom lip.

My body acted instinctively, arching up against him in a way that made our breaths hitch in our throats as I opened my mouth fully to him, a move which he took full advantage of.

His hands moved downwards as we kissed so he was gripping the tops of my thighs, pressing me closer and lifting at the same time until I hooked first one leg, and then the other over his hips and allowed him to carry my full weight. We fit together perfectly and I could feel the strong effect I was having on him pushing hard against my stomach.

Mac suddenly tore his lips away and rested his forehead against mine, breathing hard.

"Evie?" It was half query, half entreaty and I nodded, running kisses along his jaw line as I did so until, realising he couldn't see my agreement, I breathed,

"Yes, God, yes."

The next moment we were moving, making me squeal and cling to his shoulders, but not stop kissing him, the dam was broken after all and there was no way I could stop myself now.

Mac walked, almost jogged, with me wrapped around him, across the lawn and once more onto the veranda, pausing only momentarily to open the door.

Once inside, and finally out of the rain and wind, Mac stopped for a moment, pressing me back against the wall and kissing me so fiercely it felt like every single nerve ending of mine got up and sang. I groaned into his mouth and I think it was only the voices we could hear talking in the other room that stopped us from ripping each other's clothes off right there and then.

Instead, Mac spun us around and barrelled backwards into his room, kicking the door closed behind us with a loud bang.

I got a quick little glimpse of the room, painted a soft white and pretty much bare apart from a large bed with dark blue covers, before we toppled backwards onto said bed in a wet, wanton heap…


I wish I could say that it was awful, that I was ashamed or that sex with Mac wasn't as good as I expected, but I can't. It was perfect, every clutch, every slide of our skin against each other, every gasp and moan- perfect.

And it was only when we collapsed together, satiated and glowing, that my pure pleasure began to feel tainted. But still I allowed myself to lie silently, brazenly naked, across his body, listening to his breathing calm and feeling the sweat on our skins beginning to dry.

It was the worst and best moment of my life rolled into one.

I don't know how long we would have stayed there like that, silent and unmoving, if a shrill ringing hadn't suddenly started up from down on the floor making us both start.

As Mac swore and rolled away from me to find his mobile, I felt a wash of frozen fear move down from the top of my head right through my body so that my toes curled this time from dread rather than sexual elation.

"Mac, don't-" I warned, but too late as he had already looked at the caller ID and I knew, by the stony expression on his face, exactly who was calling.

"It's Davey," he said and, although I'd known who it would be, a thready whimper escaped my lips, making Mac wince and move to the very edge of the bed away from me.

I wanted to tell him not to answer it, but then I thought about my mobile, sitting unanswered in my car and in my mind's eye I saw Davey calling and calling, wanting to know why I'd run out on him…and why I hadn't returned. He deserved at the very least to have his calls answered, although what Mac was going to say to him I had no idea. His greeting certainly took me by surprise as he said calmly, "Hey birthday boy, what's up?"

Even I would have been fooled into believing that he was completely unconcerned if he hadn't shot me a look which showed clearly the range of complex emotions he was dealing with.

There was a pause while Davey said something on the other end of the phone and then Mac replied, "Yeah she's here, I thought you knew? She's been going on at me about this stupid birthday tea thing I missed."

I winced. I could see the line he was trying not to cross in terms of outright lying, but it was too close to the edge for my liking.

I slipped out from the covers, grabbing my wet dress and slipping it back over my head. I really didn't want to be lounging about naked while my boyfriend and the guy I'd just had sex with were conversing. I did manage to stop myself making a run for it, however, and instead stood, with my arms folded, while Mac listened to what Davey was saying with a set jaw.

"Send her home? Are you fucking kidding me?" he snapped. "For one thing your girlfriend has never really struck me as the type to be 'sent' anywhere; and for another, if you wanted her to be with you, you shouldn't have just sat back and watched her go in the first place."

"He hung up on me," Mac said abruptly shutting his phone with a snap and narrowing his eyes when he saw that I was dressed. "10 to 1 he's on his way here now. Decision time, Peanut."

Decision time…right. And what did I have to decide? Who to hurt? Who to love? The direction my entire life was going to take from now on? Was this seriously the moment it came down to? Standing in a damp dress that was chafing my skin which, by the way, still tingled from the mind-boggling sex I'd just had. This was when the decision had to be made?

I felt panic rising within me and firmly pushed it back down, it was definitely not the time to panic. I thought about my situation for a moment and revised that, it was exactly the time to panic I just couldn't afford to.

Okay, a decision. We'd just done a unit on decision making at uni, I racked my fried brain for some helpful hints. Right, when making a decision it was first necessary to make sure you had all pertinent information.

I looked over at Mac who was pulling on a dry pair of jeans and a T-shirt; one thing was for sure, when it came to him I didn't have full information.

"What am I supposed to do here, Mac?" I asked. "Choose between the two of you? How can I do that? On the one hand there's this guy who is crazy about me and has made this pretty clear, and then there's you. I don't know what you're thinking one moment to the next let alone where you stand when it comes to me."

Mac snorted. "You think I have any answers for you? I thought it was sorted. I left home and avoided my family so I wouldn't have to see you, but I couldn't stop thinking about you and then the second you turn up I throw you into my bed. This is so fucked up. But you know something?" He suddenly looked up, his expression fierce. "Even I'm not so much of an arsehole that I would sleep with my brother's girlfriend just for the hell of it."

I felt my spine straighten and I met his gaze solidly.

"In fact," he said slowly, watching me carefully as if he thought I was suddenly going to bolt, "it seems to me that two usually quite sane people must have some important reason to act so crazily."

Was this his convoluted way of saying he loved me back? I wet my dry lips with the tip of my tongue and smiled shakily. "And it seems to me that two people who would betray someone they love like this probably deserve each other," I added.

Mac let out a long breath and said quietly, "Meaning?"

"Meaning," I clasped my hands tightly together, "I'm breaking up with Davey."

Once the words were finally out, I felt a huge burden lift from me. I knew that whatever else was going on, or was going to happen after, breaking up with Davey was the right thing to do, in fact I should have done it a long time ago.

"And you and me?" Mac asked, coming round the bed to stand beside me.

"You and me comes afterwards," I said firmly. "One step at a time."

He nodded curtly and, for a moment, I thought I'd lost him back to the surly, sulky state he'd been in earlier, but then he placed a hand on my shoulder and said, "Whatever happens, Evie, I'm on your side. I've got your back."

It was exactly what I needed to hear and I felt my eyes fill with tears again as I leaned into him and buried my face into his shoulder, wrapping my arms tightly around him and feeling him do the same to me.

We stayed frozen like this for several minutes, taking comfort from each other, until we heard a loud knocking on the front door and reluctantly separated.

"This is it?" I asked and Mac nodded.

"This is it," he confirmed.

"Right, I'd better get on with it, then." I opened Mac's door and then walked across the little foyer until I reached the front door.

With a shaking hand, I reached out and turned the door knob, pulling at the door until Davey was revealed standing, soaking wet, on the veranda. His hair was plastered against his head and, I noted with a sinking heart, he wore the shoes I'd got him for his birthday. The crisp whiteness of the leather was splattered with mud and I couldn't help thinking that it was somewhat of a reflection of our relationship status- what had once been so pristine was now dirtied.

"Evie, what the hell?" he spluttered, and I wasn't sure whether he was asking about the whole situation or my crumpled, red cheeked and damp appearance. I suppose it didn't really matter.

Moving forward past Davey, I pulled the door shut behind me and took a seat on the top step, just out of the rain.

"Come and sit with me," I said quietly, looking at him imploringly as he opened his mouth to object. "Please, we need to talk."

And talk we did. Sometimes yelling, sometimes crying, always teetering on the edge of a breakdown. I knew Mac was just on the other side of the door listening to every word, but he stayed away and I was indescribably grateful. He and Davey would have their reckoning sometime soon, but not yet. Those moments on the steps were solely about Davey and myself.

It was exactly as bad as I'd thought it would be. Davey sat silently, his face a mask as I explained that recently I'd felt like I was drifting apart from him and that I'd just been going through the motions, but as soon as I mentioned Mac his true feelings shone through.

He was furious and hurt and confused and he had a total right to be so. I hung my head as he railed at me, cried when he cried and sat quietly as he choked out his feelings of betrayal.

Eventually, unable to cope with even seeing me anymore, he stalked off into the night, my boyfriend no more.

I watched him go, feeling as if I'd just run an emotional marathon, and then heard the door open behind me and footsteps on the wooden deck. The next moment, Mac sat behind me, his legs appearing on either side of me and his arms coming forward to pull me back tightly against his chest. He dropped a quick kiss on my hair, but didn't say anything, leaving me to my own mixed thoughts and crumpled feelings.

It seemed that, just as soon as my heart shattered with the thought of losing Davey, it healed at the thought of gaining Mac. I'd hurt someone deeply, but, in the process, I'd brought indescribable substance to the lives of two other people. I was confused and I was pretty sure I was going to continue to be so for some time, I guess this was just something I was going to have to come to terms with.

It was an ending, but, as I melted back against Mac finally beginning to relax, I realised it was also one hell of a beginning.