They were sitting at the top of a hill and, for the fourth time that day, they had fallen into a thick silence that felt like a wall between them. The light was dwindling as twilight blanketed the town, and Brien thought that if he spoke now, he might be able to fix things. He could say anything. Anything at all. He turned to look at Phoebe and saw that she was looking at him already, blue eyes bright in the ebbing light. His stomach seemed to twist in on itself and he opened his mouth to speak, but no words came to him. After a moment, he closed it, and they sat still, watching each other as the sun set before them.

Eventually, Phoebe left. Brien stayed put, watching her go and wanting to call out after her, but not knowing how or what he might say. She had disappeared from view and he still couldn't think of anything he wanted to say to her. It had all been said already. There wasn't anything left.

It was pitch dark before he finally went home. The night sky was brilliant.

...

He loved her once.

Or, at least he thought he had.

No, of course he must have. He must have...

It was just a natural thing for relationships to die, that's all.

They just weren't right for each other.

People rarely ever are.

...

"I gotta pee," Marie said from her spot at the table. She was four years old, and had bright, golden locks, which she wore in pigtails. It was early morning, and the smell of crisp bacon and frying eggs wafted through the kitchen as her mother, Rose, stood in front of the oven, keeping watch on the cooking food. She was a stout woman, and rather short. Her hair hung down her back in a braid, the golden strands shining in the light streaming in through the window. Bread lay ready on the counter, and toast popped up out of the toaster just left of the stove top. Rose took them and began buttering them as she spoke.

"Then go, dear," she said, "You don't need me. You're a big girl now." Marie rose sullenly from the table, not used to using the bathroom on her own yet. She didn't like being a big girl, because it meant that she could get away with less, and that it was expected of her to learn how to dress and do up the velcro on her shoes herself. She stomped off down the hall as Brien entered,dodging to the left as he gave her a wide berth. She looked like she was in a temper, and he didn't want her to hit him.

He lowered himself into a chair solemnly, and immediately began brooding about Phoebe. He wondered if she was upset, or if she cared at all. Maybe she thought they were still together? He thought girls cried when they were dumped. But then, they hadn't really broken up properly, had they? Neither of them had actually said it out loud, but there it was. He rubbed his temples and closed his eyes, trying to fend off a headache.

"You came home late last night," Rose said as she worked over the food, an unasked question. He had known this was coming, and thought about grunting in response, or evading the question, but decided that it would be less trouble to just own up.

"Yeah, I did."

"Where were you?"

"Out with Phoebe." an immediate silence fell between them, and he hastened to correct himself, "But she left early, so... I just lost track of the time, is all."

"Ah," she said, but he knew that he was in trouble anyway. He cast around for something else to say, but she spoke before he could change the subject, "Your father left early for work this morning. I expect he'll want to have a word with you when he gets home." Her tone suggested finality, and he sighed, but nodded, even though she wasn't looking at him. He rose from the table, unwilling to sit in stony silence with her or endure Marie's tantrums today. He wasn't hungry anyway.

"I'm going," he said, and his mother gave a vague noise of consent as he exited the room. He could hear his little sister already stomping around in the bathroom. She would probably break something soon, and Brien didn't want to be there when she did.

The morning air was a crisp relief after the close, stiff air of the kitchen. His mother might open a window soon, but she normally waited until the early morning chill had ceased. Brien always hated that. He thought it made the kitchen stuffy and uncomfortable, but he didn't bring it up anymore. He'd been told off for being rude when he'd said something a few months ago. Apparently he was being "intentionally contrary" or however the hell she had phrased it. He thought she was the one being contrary.

She had her own reasons for being frustrated with him, because despite his parent's insistence, he refused to attend college after graduation. The argument that had resulted after he told them had thrown Marie into another of her tantrums, and they'd tried to ground him to be done with it. "Tried" because he was eighteen, and liked to lord that fact over them whenever they had arguments. That usually resulted in the Threat of Homelessness, but he knew they'd never actually kick him out. Or... he hoped they wouldn't.

The argument was now on pause, and he knew that they were just waiting for an opportunity to start it up again.

He thought of Phoebe again as he started his car and wondered if she'd be in class today. Would she ignore him? Would it be alright if he ignored her? Would she be upset with him and start an argument in the middle of the hallway? Did everyone already know; had she told them? She hadn't been a spiteful girl when he'd known her, but it could be hard to resist setting the stage. For all he knew, he could be The Villain now, given her large social network, and there wasn't really anything he could do about it. Maybe if he cried... No, it wasn't worth it. He'd just be cautious, that's all. He'd know right away if he'd been vilified.

The drive to school seemed to take longer than usual as he chewed over the possibilities that might await him through those dreaded Double Doors of Hell. The parking lot was nearly empty, as he had arrived twenty minutes early, and high school students tried their best to be late. Brien waited in his car, unwilling to leave and go inside for fear of being trapped. Should he try to look upset over the breakup? That might be difficult, because he was almost relieved. It had felt, in the later stages, almost as if they were starting to hate each other, only going out for convenience and because they didn't want to be alone. When the time had come, they had needed no words, because they both must have wanted the same thing. They must have.

The parking lot started to fill up faster and faster, and Brien forced his doubt to settle, leaving the safety of his car and putting on a stony face as he set out into the world.

...

No, he had never really felt anything for her.

If he was being truly honest.

She had been there and he had been there.

And it was only convenient.

Otherwise, how could he be so indifferent?

He wasn't even happy.

... ... ... ...

Snakes writhed in his stomach.

They didn't know.

She hadn't told anyone after all.

How could he think that she would?

She wasn't even here.

...

"Hey, man," Anthony said at lunch, looking tired and too skinny over the top of his book. Next to him sat Mark, his head newly shaved and his expression permanently cross. He also looked up as Brien approached, greeting him in a similar way. The latter nodded to the both of them, "Didn't see you in first hour," Anthony said, "Thought you weren't gonna come."

"Phoebe and I broke up last night," he said abruptly as he sat down, and then studied his hands, fingers interlocked and rough, as he waited for their reaction.

"Whoah, really?" Anthony set his book down, looking mildly uncomfortable. Mark seemed to be paying closer attention to the conversation, as he had leaned forward, and Brien thought that might be the most he could expect. He doubted that Mark would take part, but at least he was listening, and he knew Anthony didn't really want him to talk about it. Not that there was anything to talk about in the first place, Brien reminded himself. There wasn't anything to say.

"Yeah," he wondered where Phoebe was, "It was kind of a long time coming, I think."

"Well that was obvious!" Anthony said, relieved that there would be no emotional talk. Brien wouldn't have bothered Anthony with it anyway, even if there had been any emotions to talk about, "Do you think she feels that way too?"

Brien thought of Phoebe and how she hadn't showed up for school today. He thought of her silence last night, and her continuing silence today. He thought of how she hadn't told anyone about the break, and he thought of Phoebe, proud Phoebe, her figure growing smaller and smaller on the darkening horizon until it disappeared from view, tears staining her face now that she was hidden from him. Now that she could cry by herself where nobody had to know. Where nobody could see.

"Yeah. I do."

Lunch seemed to drag on for Brien, who sat silently across from his friends as he searched himself desperately for some small bit of emotion for the break up. He still cared for Phoebe of course, but as a friend and not anything more, and he was curious about her whereabouts (though he assumed she was at home). If they never spoke again, though, he thought that it would be alright with him. That just didn't seem right. They had seen each other for months, and now he couldn't remember even being attracted to her. She was pretty, of course, in a traditional sense, but when he thought about her, he felt... nothing.

"Why did we ever even date," he murmured bitterly to himself in fifth hour, and when the last bell rang, he didn't look around for Mark or Anthony. Instead he stowed his books away in his locker and headed straight for his car.

Brien was frustrated, to say the least. Raging, to say the most. He hated himself for ever even encouraging her advances, and he hated himself more for the way he had let things drag on like they did. Of course she must have cried; just because he hadn't been man enough to call after her didn't mean that the tears hadn't been there. It didn't mean that she hadn't cared at all, just like him. It didn't mean that she wasn't still crying, and her parents must hate him for this, and she must hate him for this just like he hated himself for this.

It was his fault, all his fault, and he didn't even have the common decency to feel upset.

Outside, he could hear a fight, just around the corner from the front door. He was so angry that a fight sounded just about right, especially if he got hurt. He was feeling reckless, and he had just remembered that his father would be coming home later to yell at him anyway, so why not give him another reason? He rounded the corner and spotted three boys fighting, though it looked more like two had ganged up on one. He hardly cared, though, and as he marched forward he found that he didn't care about anything at all.

He grabbed the one nearest to him and punched.