He didn't know why he felt so guilty afterwords, only that he did. He tried to tell himself that it was understandable, that given the circumstances, there was nothing he could have done, but somehow it didn't fully convince him. Not really.
"Have you seen Nate?" Chloe asked him. Behind her, the TV was on, playing another one of her low-grade horror movies. He teased her about that sometimes, but she always just shrugged it off. 'It's because they're lame that they're great,' she'd say.
"No," Grady told her, ignoring the twist of guilt that wrung his stomach like a white shirt with a bloodstain. He didn't know why he felt bad for lying to her; of all the things he'd done, this was by far the most mild.
"I'm worried about him," said Chloe. "I haven't seen him all day."
"He'll turn up," Grady said. He had to force himself to smile.
It was kind of sweet how much Chloe cared about Nate. But then, it wasn't a surprise. Most people assumed that because Nate was older, he was the caregiver of the two. But it was exactly the opposite. Chloe was the one who took care of Nate. She fixed his meals and washed his clothes like a mother would. And Nate was like a child, perhaps like her child.
The twisting in Grady's stomach was from jealousy this time.
They'd met shortly after Grady had arrived in town. At first he'd thought Chloe and Nate were a young couple picking up snacks for the weekend. It had been too bad, too – Nate was handsome. But he'd told himself that it didn't matter anyways – it wasn't like he'd have the balls to talk to him. But Chloe had simply laughed and shook her head and told him that they were cousins. They'd parted ways with her telling him to come and visit sometime. Grady hadn't believed that he would. It was only when he saw Chloe standing in the middle of her lawn that he realized how close they actually lived to each other. His trailer was parked right down the street.
They'd started talking more often, just a conversation here or there. Chloe was very friendly. She invited Grady over for dinner one night, and he'd accepted, looking forwards to some real food for a change. That was the first time she and Nate had mentioned that they were looking for a boarder. Grady had let it slide at first – where would he get the money to pay for board? But the more time he spent over there, the more he began to realize how much better it would be to live in a house instead of a mildewed trailer with cracked windows and rusty fixtures. Traveling from place to place and harvest to harvest was all he knew. But what would it be like to settle down, to stay in one place for a while? Maybe even make a few friends and acquaintances while he was at it?
It had taken him a while to get the money together to make the down payment. But it had been worth it to see the warm welcome he got. His room was meticulously prepared, every detail thought of and prepared for. They'd gone through his bathroom with a fine-toothed comb and replaced the broken mirror over the sink. They'd wanted it to be nice for him, they said. He ate with them on a regular basis. Gathered around the table, sharing stories and laughing, they were like the family Grady had never had. He'd never felt more at home around two people.
There was something special about Nate. The childlike way he dealt with small issues, the way he was always putting together foods that shouldn't be combined, the way his hair was always messy but perfect at the same time, the way his teeth were so pearly when he smiled. Grady had never met anyone like him in his entire life. He was so vibrant, so smart and impractical and beautiful. Grady just couldn't help falling in love with him.
One day he'd asked Chloe why she'd always been so friendly with him. He was half afraid of the answer – she was like a sister to him, nothing more, and he couldn't bear to see her crushed. But she'd simply smiled impishly and leaned closer.
"Nate likes you," she murmured with a wink. Grady turned around. Nate was dangling his legs off the edge of the porch as he read from a large volume on his lap. He was blissfully unaware of his surroundings. If he heard them at all, he gave no sign of it.
It made Grady insanely pleased to think that Nate liked him.
He'd never gotten up the nerve to tell Nate his feelings. Not properly, at least. He had tried, in the moments leading up to the last time he saw Nate, but it wasn't right. He hadn't expressed himself clearly, not in the way he wanted to.
And it was too bad. Nate deserved to be told that he was loved.
Grady moved towards the door to the living room and peered inside as if at a photograph. Chloe was sitting in her favorite armchair with her knees to her chest and her eyes trained on the TV. It was times like this that her resemblance to Nate really came out – they both had that solemn expression that gave them an almost detached quality. He couldn't read her thoughts by her chocolate-brown eyes, but he guessed that they were not turned to Nate in this minute.
Without thinking, he wandered into the room. There was something surreal about the furniture when it was bathed in blue light. The creepy music on the TV added a darker ambiance to the air, a sort of melody that told of secrets and betrayal.
Chloe looked up at him questioningly, resting her chin on her knees. She waited patiently for him to speak. She was beautiful, Grady realized suddenly. Her soft, firm features were simple but glamorous, her blond curls innocent and childish. He had to swallow a lump in his throat.
"Have I told you recently that I love you?" he asked gently. Perhaps he had been trying to sound lighthearted, but he failed miserably. Chloe blinked, and the corners of her lips turned upwards.
"I know," she said, both playful and serious. She saw him like family. He and Nate were the only two people she had in this world. It made him sad, just to think about it. On the outside, she was always soldiering on, but on the inside, she must be just a little bit unhappy thinking about it.
"And you know I would never do anything to hurt you," Grady prompted weakly. His voice was beginning to fail him, to give out completely and leave him mute and mouthing the words he so desperately needed to say.
"Of course," Chloe responded with nothing short of absolute honesty. She was so trusting. He could see the question in her eyes, but she didn't ask it.
"I just wanted you to know that," said Grady lamely. He turned around – there was nothing left to say. He felt like a ghost as he departed, silent and lonely. He turned his head several times to look upon that gentle face again. She watched him go, curious but respectful. Suddenly he stopped, struck by another thought. "And you know that if anything were to happen to me, you could have all my stuff, right? All of it."
"What's going on?" Chloe frowned. She looked worried and scared. Grady hated to see her like that. It didn't suit her sweet personality.
"Nothing," he said. "I just needed to tell you that."
She ducked her head, and for a moment he thought that she wasn't going to let it go. Then she nodded. He could feel her eyes watching him till he turned the corner in the kitchen that brought him to the back door. He slipped outside as quietly as possible so as not to draw her attention to it. He didn't want her to have to get up; she'd looked so comfortable.
He made his way across the lawn, barefoot in the cool damp grass and clumsy because of the little rocks his feet kept finding. The forest was just ahead, where the two sections of fence ended and the briars began. As he navigated the familiar path, Grady let his thoughts wander.
It had been an accident. He hadn't meant to kill Nate, not ever. He just loved him too much. Nate was... Nate was something else, something special, something he loved to the point of obsession. Nate was everything. Nate's smile, Nate's laugh... it was all Grady could think about.
"Liar," Nate had said. "You can't really tell me that you love me. You don't really know me."
All Grady had wanted was for him to put down the knife. The blood was flowing so quickly, but it could still be stopped; there was still time. He'd begged, pleaded, but Nate had shook his head, stubborn and adamant.
"You don't know what I've done," he said. "There's a reason that Chloe's all alone. I could have helped her, you know. I could have protected her. But I didn't. I left her in danger and pretended like I was the only thing in the world that mattered. When I saw her again, after the police found her, I thought... I thought I'd been given a second chance. I thought that we would start over again, just the two of us, and have a happy life, one that wasn't like our first lives. We'd get along so well, because we understood. We knew what it was like to be miserable. But I should have known... should have known it wouldn't work out like that!"
He'd looked at Grady with so much pain in his eyes that it physically hurt.
"They're re-opening the case," he said. "Chloe... Chloe didn't know anything the first time around. I protected her, sort of. She never figured out what happened. But now she's going to have to know. They're going to tell her the whole story, including... including how I failed her."
He hung his head.
"She never knew I could have saved her," he said. "She never even knew."
His voice switched to a shout, broken by the sobs wracking his frail shoulders.
"I can't live with myself seeing how she looks at me! I was finally starting to forget how I'd turned my back on her, and now... and now...," he couldn't continue.
The next part was a blur. Grady stepped forwards and reached his arms for Nate. Nate, caught off guard, looked up just in time to feel the knife in his hands prick Grady just hard enough for there to be blood. Nate stumbled back in horror.
"Oh no," he'd whispered. "Oh no. I hurt you. I... never meant to hurt you. Grady, I..."
Grady tried to tell him that he hadn't, that it wasn't his fault. He reached for Nate again, but this time Nate shrunk backwards. He failed to notice the rock behind him, or the remnants some ancient structure's cellar behind all that. He had fallen and landed with a sickening 'thud' that was still ringing through Grady's ears.
Grady had wanted to scream. He wanted to tear his hair out, to cry – anything. But as he peered over the rock, bracing himself for the worst, what he saw instantly calmed him.
The tears were no longer falling down Grady's face. His expression was one of accepting calm. His eyes, once wild with shame and pain and grief, were serenely staring at the space that Grady couldn't see, the world that Grady couldn't reach. His pale skin contrasted the dark packed-dirt floor, making him look like he was glowing.
He looked like an angel. Like Grady's own version of an angel.
And he still did, Grady noticed as he peered down into the depths of the old cellar. He was so peaceful and beautiful, inhuman and impossibly perfect. He was like a vision Grady could have never had because he never could have conceived of something so beautiful. He couldn't help but smile as he took in the scene below him. His hands, acting of their own accord, reached into the elastic of his pants and took out the now-familiar lukewarm metal that had been resting there.
Part of him knew that it wasn't fair. Chloe needed someone to stay with her. But another part of Grady knew that it couldn't be him. He would never be able to look at her again after knowing what he had caused to happen to her dear cousin. He was like her child, after all, even though he was older than her. She wouldn't want to have to look the one who couldn't save him in the face every day. There were better places for her, places where people could love her even more, if it was possible.
Places without people who had killed the ones they loved.
He pressed the muzzle to his temple hard enough to know that it would leave a mark. He kept his eyes trained on Nate, who lay like a fallen angel. He was so beautiful – if only it wasn't too late. If only Grady could tell him.
He didn't give himself time to think more than that. There was nothing else to think about. He pulled the trigger. And as the shot rang out in the woods around him and he began to fall fall into the darkness which opened its arms to receive him he had one final thought towards the angel waiting on the bottom.
Happy Halloween, my love.
Author's notes: Well, that was Halloween-ish. Okay, I lied. A lot. But whatever; it's done. I thought I wasn't gonna be able to make it, even though I had all day today to write my yearly Halloween oneshot, but I did it. Hooray accomplishment!
So for those of you wondering why in the hell I uploaded this but haven't updated anything in some rough approximation of eternity: you don't even wanna go there. The story I could tell would be longer than the one I just wrote. And is any of it important? No. And does any of it really count as an excuse? Of course not! I'm just a pathetic excuse for a human being. Nothing new.
But I am going to work on my updating. I'd like to have a new chapter up on either of my two major ongoing projects soon. I won't say that it will be in the next few days, but I'm going to keep pushing myself. I hope you all appreciate my efforts! I'm thinking that's how I'll observe NaNoWriMo – by working on the things I should be working on instead of just screwing around with a keyboard.
Well, before my head explodes, goodnight all, and have a happy Halloween!