Better Left Unsaid
Chapter One

Nightmares have, by this point, become boring. I come awake at some unholy hour like three AM, not even screaming this time, and go right into the schedule Shrink number 3 and I came up with. Deep breath, deep breath, calming thoughts, count backwards from ten, reach to the right, grab the cigarettes, find the lighter, get out of bed. Go the window. We didn't agree on this last part, but she told me to find what works for me. This works, mostly.

The moon is visible tonight. Harvest moon, which is supposed to be a sign of a blessing or something, if I remember my twelfth year science class correctly. It just looks creepy to me. Blood-colored. I lean further out the window, conscious of the smoke alarm above my head, and shiver at the sight of my hand glowing reddish under the moon's light. Across the way, a girl is smoking on the balcony of her apartment. She catches my eye and gives me a crooked smile. I drop my own cigarette. Pull back inside. Some girl tried to ask me out at the grocery store last week, which made me stutter and apologize stupidly. Kat thought it was cute. I thought it was horrific, and I've been refusing to leave the house since.

Dramatic.

The crack under my door is larger than most. I can see out into the hall, or rather, I can tell if anyone else has their lights on. (I'm the only one who sleeps with the door shut.) No one does. Well, of course. It's the middle of the night, practically morning; even Alexa, fourteen years old and hellbent on setting her own bedtime, has gone to sleep by now. I'm used to this, but it still feels lonely.

I perch on the edge of the bed, glancing at the clock. By now it's 3:14, which means time is going fast, but not fast enough. I should go back to bed, even though it's not like I have anything to do in the morning. I graduated in June, and it's September now. But I have no itinerary; no desire to attend college, not even any plans to get my own place, though I turned eighteen two months ago and my father sends more than enough money every month to pay for rent. I think I probably would, if I had any friends who would move in with me. Though even if I did, one wonders if I could bring myself to subject them to my deluge of issues.

Even sleeping is better than sitting here and thinking about what I might do if I had any initiative to live a real life. I get up and cross to my filing cabinet, twisting open the lock—Alexa-ward, Kat and Ray never snoop—and grabbing out my bottle of sleeping pills. It's nearly empty, which sets off the usual spark of nerves in my stomach, but I know logically that I don't have to worry. I'll be seeing the doctor again soon; I am always seeing the doctor again soon.

I take two of the pills, and I sleep.

The pills aren't enough to keep my sleep dreamless anymore, and despite them I pass the rest of the night tossing and turning, always half-awake. Because of this I wake up late, maybe around eleven o'clock. I pull a shirt over my head, push my hair out of my face, and shuffle into the hall in my sweats. Kay's sweats, actually, whoever had packed my stuff two years ago had tossed them in by mistake. I've never owned any sweats, so I kept them and didn't send them back. On my way into the kitchen I catch sight of my reflection in the mirror on the hallway wall and grimace. My hair is a mess, I know I need a haircut. There are shadows under my eyes, and the T-shirt I'd grabbed off the floor clashes with the sweats.

Oh well, Kat and Ray have seen worse. I head for the fridge, stopping at the sight of Ray's broad back standing at the counter.

He glances at me, quirks the corner of his mouth up in a half-smile. Kat is nowhere in sight; Alexa will be at school already. I realize suddenly that it is Wednesday, Ray's first day off this week. He's a firefighter, always working for five days at a time and then having another five off. Kat will have gone in to work at the office; she's a graphic designer, works from home mostly, staying with me and going to pick Alexa up after school. She goes in to finalize her drawings.

"Morning, Josh." Ray is very nice. Being alone around him, though, makes me uncomfortable. There's no reason for it, no sense at all, because he knows how I am and he's never even touched me on the shoulder.

"Morning." I bury my head into the fridge, not that I'm particularly hungry. Ray stops peeling his orange, probably noticing me wasting his electricity.

"There's coffee. Want some?"

I close the fridge gratefully. "Please."

He grabs me a mug from the top of the cupboards, which I can't reach without a chair or something. This is some weird relic from Alexa's clumsy childhood, and they haven't gotten around to rectifying it yet. Not that it matters, because Kat and Ray are both ridiculously tall. Even Alexa is already only an inch or two shorter than me.

I take the mug from him, mindful not to touch his fingers, and grasp the handle of the coffee pot. I've lived here for two years, but it still feels foreign in my hand. I guess if I'm honest, though, everything kind of feels foreign like that. Ray goes back to his orange, his strong, callused fingers wielding the knife with easy certainty. I watch the blade flash for roughly .5 seconds before I turn away to grab the milk from the fridge.

"Do you have a meeting today?" Ray asks carefully. Ray always calls them that, meetings, though it's not like I'm sitting around happily drinking tea and flirting with a therapist my own age.

I shake my head, giving the coffee I'm preparing more attention that it deserves. "Tomorrow, at two."

"All right," he says comfortably. He's finished with his orange and he dumps the peel into the garbage under the sink, heading for the door with the remainder. "Oh, and Josh, there's a letter for you on the table."

My heart always skips a beat when I hear this, but my heart is always sadly off base. The letter will be from Tara, as it always is, and it will be full of details and begging for details about her budding relationship about my brother, like I could care less.

Sure enough, the envelope bears Tara's signature heart-dotted handwriting. I waver for a minute, but my conscience won't let me just throw it away, and anyway, Tara is my only real link to civilization. My only actual knowledge that the world still exists outside this apartment.

I sit down at the table and sip my coffee, carefully prying the letter open. Three scented pieces of violet paper fall out. And a picture. I don't mind the letters, but I hate when Tara sends pictures. I pick it up. They always include—

Sure enough, there is Tara and my brother Jack, smiling and hugging on to each other, and to their right is one Kayton Marks, looking sorely unimpressed with the world. There's some guy next to him, not one I know, but one a thousand times more attractive than me. Not that I'm comparing, or even that I know why that thought came into my mind. My eyes skip over the grim line of Kay's mouth, the elbow resting familiarly on the guy's shoulder, the way his eyes stray a little off-camera. Well. He doesn't look happy, but he doesn't look as sick and perpetually ruffled as I do. His tan is darker than it was in the last photo Tara sent.

I drop it on the table and pick up the papers instead, digging my teeth into my lower lip to bring my heartbeat back to its usual rate. Her letter starts the same as it always does. Dear Josh, how are you, we are fine. We miss you here in Toronto and Jack and I are thinking of coming for a visit… They are always thinking of coming for a visit, but somehow it never seems to happen. You'd think I'd mind, but I don't. Their presence would make the apartment stiflingly small. And they'd want to go out and do things, talk about things, and Tara, well-meaning Tara, would talk my ear off about Kay. And I couldn't even say that my psychiatrist told me not to talk about it, because then I'd point to the fact that my psychiatrist says I'm fucked up enough to have to avoid certain topics of conversation. And then it would be reported back to Kay, who, of course, couldn't care less.

I look back at the letter, skipping over lines of written dialogue about parties she's been to and dates she and Jack have gone on. Then something new catches my eye. Daddy is planning on opening a New York branch, and I'm thinking seriously about relocating with him.

Shit. I search through my brain for memories of Christian, vague though they are in the fog of things I've forcefully forgotten, and come up with his status as a lawyer and the fact that he'd spent most of Kay's eighteenth year away, working on getting his US certification or something. I close my eyes. I know already what this means; endless months of Tara taking me shopping and Tara taking me to eat and, God, introducing me to guys. The coffee is suddenly sitting in my stomach like lead, and I'm already shaking my head violently, even though this isn't more than some flighty fancy in Tara's head at this point. My only comfort is that she mentions nothing about her brother, and if Kay was thinking of making an international leap to stay in my country, Tara would be more than certain to let me know. Then again, Kay would probably rather kill himself than put himself in the same city as me. Not that I've talked to Kay since I left, or have any hard proof when it comes to his feelings; everything I know I've carefully extracted from Tara's chatter and his silence.

I'm only on the first page, and Tara's letter has already given me too much to think about. Enough to make my mind race, while my stomach churns sickly. For now I stuff the pages back into the envelope, heedless of what I might crumple, and snatch the photo. I'll lock it in the filing cabinet.

With all the others.

--

It's seven-thirty p.m. I've dragged Alexa through her homework, my appointed job in return for staying here past my expiration date (a paltry rent fee, at best). Now she's trying to teach me how to play one of her video games. I say trying because I suck at video games in general; Kay and Johnny used to try to show me how to play their "easiest" XBOX games, and I'd forever be running into walls and killing the girl I was supposed to save.

"Jeez, Josh." Alexa elbows me, her face scrunched in disgust. "You've been in this freaking alley for twenty minutes."

"I'm stuck," I retort, biting my tongue when I almost retaliate with a remark about her inability to do fractions. "I told you I hate this, Lexi." The name trips off my tongue a second too late, as it always does; her name is too close to Lex's, who either doesn't know where I am or doesn't care enough to contact me. Things like this bother me. They shouldn't, it was all over years ago, but when your entire life involves helping a ninth-grader with her homework and visiting doctors, it's the petty things that make a difference.

"Gimmie." Alexa grabs the controller from me and effortlessly maneuvers me out of the alley, her face set in a long-suffering grimace, but she's leaned her head against my shoulder in a subtle attempt at softening her snitty comments. Fun fact: my fourteen year old god-sister (is that even a term?) is one of the only people I can stand to let touch me anymore. Which is stupid, because it's not like I think half the world is going to molest me or even wants anywhere near my business. Still. It's not something I can help; my skin just crawls when anyone puts their hands on it.

Anyway.

"Here, you try from here." Alexa is shoving the controller at me again. I make a face at it, but I'm about to reluctantly take it when Kat, my godmother, appears in the doorway.

"Josh, honey." Her voice is sympathetic; Kat is about as good at these as me, and Alexa forces her to play just as often. "Phone for you."

More Tara. I sigh and wave off the controller, getting up to my feet and taking the cordless from Kat, then padding down the hallway to my room. Privacy for when I lie to Tara and tell her Kat needs my help with making lunches.

"Hello," I say, bedroom door locked firmly behind me.

"Hey, Josh."

My spine unfuses out of nowhere, leaving me with not quite the vigor to remain standing on my two feet. I sag back against the door and slide down its wooden frame, slipping heavily against the ground with my knees almost to my chest.

"Jack," I say in obvious relief, and he laughs.

"Expecting Dad, huh?"

"Not quite." Kat would swear to him I was at a friend's if he called, anyway. I close my eyes, breathing out a sigh that takes half the weight off my chest. "What's up, how are you?"

"I'm good. I'm really good, Josh." Jack's voice is earnest. Too earnest. It puts me on edge, reminding me of when we were in school and he would renege on driving me home so he could hang out with girls.

"That's good." I sound cautious even to my own ears.

"Yeah." I hear him lick over his lips on the other end of the line, Jack's one concession to nervous fiddling. My dread increases tenfold. "Tara sent you a letter, I think, I don't know if you got it yet—?"

An odd non sequitur. "It came today."

"Oh. Oh, good. Well, you saw that Tar's dad is starting a branch down there, then."

I pause for a long second, my breath caught somewhere in my chest. Across the room, the final digital number of my clock flips from 9 to 0. It is now eight p.m. "She, ah, no. I thought he was thinking about it. Planning it, maybe."

"Oh," Jack says uncomfortably again. "Well—yeah. He's doing it, now. And Tara and I were thinking—"

"I know," I say, suddenly seeing where this is going. Tara's going to move in with Christian or something, and Jack will need somewhere to 'stay' while, in reality, he's sneaking over there every night after Christian goes to bed. "Yeah, okay. Whatever."

"No, Josh, wait. I don't think you—"

"I get it, Jack."

"Josh, Tara and I are getting married."

"What?"

Jack still sounds uncomfortable, but a weird note of happiness I've never heard has crept into his voice. "Yeah. I proposed to her last night. We wanted you to be the first to know. Well, you and. Tara's brother, that is." I note, absently, Jack's good-big-brother role showing in the name he applies to Kay; most of my attention is focused way the fuck elsewhere. "We probably wouldn't have met if not for you, you know?" He says sheepishly.

I doubt this very much, Tara being the cheerleading queen and my brother having had the Rolodex on every hot girl in school. They knew each other before the trial, even, hung out in the same circles. It's how they'd started talking to begin with—did you hear about Missy Jenkins?, giving each other a welcome respite from the legal jargon and potential jail sentences.

"Josh?"

I realize I haven't said anything, that I have to force down the lump in my throat and get something out. Jesus Christ, my brother is going to marry Kay Marks' sister. He'll never be out of my fucking life now.

"You can't," I blurt without thinking, horrified as I feel the lump in my throat become the warning clog of tears.

Jack sounds not a little bit stunned. "What? Josh, I know—"

"She's still a kid," I babble wildly, throwing whatever comes to mind. Jesus Christ, I cannot live in the same fucking family as Kay. "You're still a kid, Jack, you can't get married—"

"I'm twenty-one," Jack interrupts stiffly. "And Tara's nineteen. She's not a child."

Fair enough. I'm the only one for whom being eighteen still feels like being a kid; Kat drives me to my therapy appointments, takes me to get my hair cut. I haven't been out alone since I got here. A couple walks in the beginning, maybe.

"But…" I'm trying and losing. Sounding pettier by the moment. I swallow again, stumble, and grab hold of middle ground with both hands. "That's great Jack." Each word comes out flat and measured, sounding as though the three of them are totally disassociated from the singular sound of each syllable.

"Josh…" Jack sounds worried. And all of a sudden I can hear Tara in the background, her voice coming closer. Reaching for the phone, I assume.

"Let me talk to him," she demands.

"Don't," I say, just as fast.

"Josh—Tara, stop—Tara."

"Jack, don't. Not right now, Jack, don't give her the phone—"

"Josh?"

Damnit.

I can't, I swear to God I can't. Not now, and not tonight, not when I am practically going to be fucking brothers with Kay.

So I hang up, knowing full well that the consequences will come my way.

--

"Josh? Honey?" Kat is knocking on the door. It reverberates behind me, sending vibrations down my skull and spine, making my head hurt. I'm still on the floor. Prone against the door. What time is it?

"Josh?" A note of panic has crept into her voice. The phone, on the floor next to me, starts ringing. It is shrill and angry sounding; I have the feeling I've been listening to it for a while. I try to find my clock; my eyes are glazed. I focus. 10:58. It was eight, not long ago.

"Josh! Ray, you're going to have to—"

"No!" I half-shout quickly. I meant to yell, but my voice is still congested from my—apparent sleep. I clear my throat. "I'm here. I'm fine." I don't want them to have to replace the door again. Ray's firefighting skills. I crawl away from the door half a foot, turning around and pulling it open. It's hard to reach the doorknob from the ground.

Kat looks in, then looks down. Finds me on the floor and she hits her knees, grabbing onto me with both arms and checking my eyes, my wrists. Like maybe I've been in here killing myself.

"I'm okay," I repeat unnecessarily. Over her shoulder I spy Ray, his mouth a grim line. Alexa is hovering behind him in tears. I am stabbed with white hot resentment for myself, as usual. What the fuck is wrong with me? "I'm sorry," I say. "I—I fell asleep, or something."

"Your brother's been calling." Kat wipes off her face, tears I hadn't noticed before. Ray is shooing Alexa back to her room. "God, Josh, he's worried sick. We were all worried sick." Her hands push my hair off my face, clumsy. My skin feels wet and clammy.

"I'm sorry, Kat," I mumble again, feeling like I'm about to start bawling like a kid. A kid. My phone conversation comes back to me abruptly, I jerk away from the ringing phone like it's a poisonous snake. "Jesus," I yowl. "Kat, he's marrying her. He's, he's fucking marrying her—" I don't even apologize for swearing.

"I know, honey, I know, I'm sorry. Josh, listen, your pills—did you take your pills?"

"No," I say, dazed. My brother's getting married. To Kay's sister.

"Are you sure, Josh? You didn't take too many?"

I focus on her again, seeing the worry plain on her face, and snap out of it a little. "I didn't take them at all. Shit." No wonder I'm freaking out, a damn mess on the floor. Ray is back again; he steps over with their "emergency" supply of my dosage and kneels down next to Kat. He hasn't brought any water, and I look at her.

"Water, Ray," she says, fast.

He disappears again and then comes back, Alexa's Badtz Maru glass from the bathroom. I can see the little white particles swirling in it and I wince. Tap water. But I take it, with Kat holding onto my forearm as though I'll drop it without her support, and swallow down the handful of pills with only a tiny grimace at the chlorine taste.

"I can't believe he's marrying her," I say, more thinking out loud than anything. Kat isn't paying attention.

"Do you think you need to see the doctor, Josh?" She asks. Her eyes are intent on my face. Kat is kind, way too kind, putting up with this kind of shit from someone not even really related to her. I barely even saw her, up until the trial.

"No, I'm okay. I'm sorry." I look past her. "I'm sorry, Ray."

"Not your fault, Josh." Ray looks angry, but somehow not at me. I get the feeling he doesn't entirely approve of my brother. My family in general, except for maybe Johnny. He looks like he wants to reach over and squeeze my shoulder or something, but he keeps his arms at his sides, squatting down next to Kat in a way that is probably incredibly uncomfortable for a man of his height. "Are you all right now?"

"I'm fine. Really, I just fell asleep. I'm sorry I scared you guys." I hand back the glass when he reaches for it, careful not to touch his fingers as always, and extract myself from Kat's death grip. My body is stiff after sitting in that position for two hours. Sleeping. I wasn't sleeping, I was blacked out again, but I'm not going to scare them any more than I already have. I have counselors for this. Drugs. "You should go to bed," I say suddenly, surreptitiously stabbing the 'off' button on the phone's ringer. "It's late, you work tomorrow, Kat." The silent implication, as usual, that I don't. Freeloader. Sorry guys, I don't think you knew what you were signing on for.

Kat is unconvinced, settling back on her heels even as Ray stands up with his knees cracking audibly. "Josh, I don't think we should leave you alone."

"I promise I'm fine," I say insistently. "Really. I'm just going to go to bed. Um, if you could maybe tell my brother that I'll—talk to him later, though…"

It takes another twenty minutes to convince Kat that I really am fine. By this time it's closer to midnight than eleven, and I'm tired as hell, but experience tells me if I go to bed now I'll only wake up from a nightmare in an hour or two. Instead I find myself sitting on my bed with my laptop, opening up a word doc that's suffered from too much writing in the last two years to even continue displaying my spelling errors, few as they are. It warns me of this all over again when I scroll down to the bottom.

This is probably the most fucked up of all my insane behaviors, from the compulsive fidgeting to my bizarrely OCD need to keep my closet and wardrobe perfectly organized. Hardly a day goes by without me sitting down and opening this file, never reading what I've already written, but simply adding more. A Dear Kay at the top, or maybe just a Kay, depending on whether or not I'm feeling particularly standoffish, and then the outline of my day or my newest problem or whatever I feel like talking about. I don't even really know who I'm speaking to, certainly not the Kayton Marks I dated in high school, who couldn't have been bothered to hear out my issues if I'd tied him to a chair. Nor is he the silent and invisible dad, hiding somewhere in Toronto with the gorgeous guy from Tara's photo. I don't think the Kay I write to even exists, not as a person. And yet here I am, forever dialoguing to him, endlessly typing a name I can't stand to hear in real time.

What I write about tonight is as obvious as my skewed mentality in casting Kay as the savior prince of my disenchanted kingdom. I type on and on until, out of nowhere, I have written my fill. I may even be able to deal with this Jack/Tara fiasco now.

Maybe.

It is now two-thirty in the morning. A sedative, and then back to sleep.