Have you ever felt like you couldn't be yourself, even in your own house? Well, that's the way I live.
My house is big. We have several stories- Grandma Cassie and Grandpa Oliver live on the third floor, my parents live on the second, and I share the fourth with my sister and brother, and someone who's not related to any of us- Davi Souza.
He's a family friend, and he stayed with us each summer. He's Brazilian, with dark hair and darker eyes. He makes me feel inexplicably uncomfortable. It might be the way he looks at me- like he knows everything about me. I always make a fool of myself whenever I do anything with him nearby. Once, I was cooking, and flung a hot pan of hash browns at him. I was tongue-tied, and couldn't even apologize properly. That's why I always keep quiet and avoid him whenever I can. It makes my life a lot less embarrassing.
Alyssa, my twin sister, says I'm being foolish. She says that he's just about the nicest person she's ever met. My older brother Dylan, however, likes that I keep away from him. He says that having Davi here is a bad idea. He would love nothing better than for me and Alyssa to never meet a nice boy, or any boys at all, for that matter. He thinks that having one stay with us is just asking for trouble.
Though Davi kept me feeling hopelessly awkward in my own house, I was glad he was here all the same. Life was good.
There came a day when everything changed. Dad came down to the kitchen, ashen-faced. He got out a good strong drink- the kind he normally saved for when his football team lost- and poured two cups. He wordlessly retreated back up the stairs. Alyssa and I exchanged glances.
"Something's happened," we both said at once. I would have laughed, normally, if I weren't so worried. Alyssa and I might be twins, but we sure didn't act like it. We ran upstairs.
As I always did, I showed off my klutzy side for Davi. He had been standing at the top of the stairs. I noticed too late and toppled into him. He grabbed me to keep me from falling over, but didn't let go once I was steady. Instead, he was studying my face. My stomach flopped.
"Your grandparents are dead," he finally said. I could hear the grief in his voice. He might be a foreign exchange student, but he had really only been here for them. His grandparents and my grandparents had been best friends back in their prime. I knew he'd grown up hearing stories about them. He'd been here for a year, and he spent several hours every day with the two of them, talking.
"What happened?" My usual awkwardness around him had been shocked out of me. It was replaced with a sort of calm, though I felt suddenly very fragile.
"Cassie had a heart attack. Oliver simply died once she'd gone."
I took a minute to absorb this. At least neither had to live without the other. That was comforting, but it didn't quite block out the double-blow that went straight to my heart. I sat down, leaning against a wall for support. Then I looked up at Davi, and realized that he was probably hurting worse that I was. I stood up again and looked at Alyssa. Her expression reminded me of a deer caught in the headlights.
"Go take care of Mom and Dad," I told her. She needed something to do, or else she would let her grief take her. She nodded and walked away briskly. That left me alone with Davi.
"Are you alright?" I asked him. He gave me a funny, twisted smile.
"Bria, this isn't the first time people I love have died. It hurts, yes, but I'm alright. Besides, they're your grandparents; it is I who should be asking you," he told me. He was studying me again, assessing me. Normally, I would be squirming under his gaze. For now, though, I just felt numb.
"We all knew this would eventually happen, Davi. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to check on Dylan," I finally said. I was proud of myself- my voice hadn't shaken one bit. As I walked away, I realized that I had just had my first conversation with Davi, ever.
The next few days around the house were hard. Mom and Dad kept to themselves, while Alyssa sat in the living room all day, staring into the flames in our fireplace. Dylan refused to leave Grandma Cassie and Grandpa Oliver's room.
"Davi, I just don't know what to do," I confessed. We were both in the kitchen; he was helping me prepare a dinner no one would eat. I was chopping carrots to put into a stew. I got lost in the sound, and started cutting them faster and faster, until bits started flying off of my cutting board. Davi grabbed my hand, stopping my cutting mid-swipe. I saw that he had just saved me from cutting off part of my thumb.
"Here, let me," he said. He took the knife away and took hold of my shoulders, gently guiding me to a chair at the table. "You should really go rest. You can't keep pushing yourself like this. When's the last time you slept?"
I hadn't slept since my grandparents died, three days ago. I was afraid to dream about them. Of course, I didn't tell Davi that. "I'm fine," I mumbled, looking away.
Davi sighed. He looked genuinely worried. He was studying me again. "I'm leaving tomorrow. I'm going back home," he finally said. I felt myself pale, and my heart started hammering in my chest. He couldn't leave. He just couldn't. Not without knowing…
He stared at me sadly, watching as I struggled to contain me emotions.
"I have no reason to stay," he said. The words were a knife in my heart. I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping to put the tears that were coming on hold, just until I was away from him. "My grandparents only sent me here because they wanted me to meet yours. Now that they're gone… well, I have to go home. I have no choice, Bria."
He was still staring at me. Though I might have been able to act normal in his presence at that point, I knew I couldn't handle his gaze for very long- especially not when I was on the verge of a breakdown. I ran out of the room.
I went outside, down to my favorite spot. There was a little cave I'd found by our pond, the only entrance by land being through a bush and into a small hole in the back. The view was beautiful. There was a canopy of leaves over the pond, and light streamed in at the prettiest angles. I went there a lot, though no one knew about it except me.
I felt bad about walking out on Davi, but how could I stay without making a fool of myself? Or worse, without bursting into tears? Already there was a steady flow of them running down my cheeks. I didn't know how to act around him. I thought about the look that had been in his eyes just before I turned and left. I shivered.
I must have been very deep in thought, or else I would have heard him coming. Twigs snapping, leaves rustling, something. But I didn't. So when he was suddenly next to me, I jumped up and shrieked a little.
How humiliating. At least I wasn't crying so much anymore. After I caught my breath, I apologized and sat back down. He sat, too, leaning comfortably against the back wall of my cave. He didn't look comfortable, though. Something in his posture told me he was strung up.
"Aubrey, why do you always do that?" he asked. I blushed, and I took a few minutes to collect my poor scattered thoughts. When I thought it was safe, I glanced at him. He was staring out at the water, for once not watching me. He was blushing, too.
"Do what?" I asked dully. I knew what he meant, but I was prolonging this, hoping he would drop it.
"Why do you always run from me?" I heard in his voice a thousand emotions that I had no name for.
"I just…" I let my voice trail off. I had no good explanation.
"Really, Bria, you can tell me. Do I bother you?" My heart melted, and I shivered again. He was the only one who called me that.
"Are you cold?" Davi asked, smiling a little, though there was no trace of happiness in his eyes. His smile wiped away all rational thought. I concentrated on looking away. It was hard, but I did. I regained my senses.
I had no choice but to tell him. At least wouldn't have to try to avoid him, once I confessed. He'd be gone. "You… I…" I couldn't spit it out. I tried again. "Davi, I just… You might hate me for this, or maybe think I'm just a silly girl who hasn't seen enough of the world, but I…"
I couldn't do it. I watched him carefully. There was a small crease between his brows, and his eyes were shut, his face blank. I knew what he was doing- he was schooling his expression so that I couldn't tell what he was thinking. I'd seen him to this a lot, in the past.
"Please, continue," he said. His voice wobbled a little.
I was cut off abruptly. He was kissing me. It took me a few seconds to realize it. To realize that I wasn't imagining things.
When he pulled back, much too soon, I thought, I said, "I love you."
He grinned. "I hoped that was what you were going to say. Otherwise, that would be pretty embarrassing."
And he kissed me again.