“We need to talk.”
David’s voice sounded like a stranger’s––subdued and hesitant.
Celeste’s stomach clenched, but she didn’t turn around. The dinner plate in her hand was dry, but she kept the dishrag moving in mindless, persistent circles. She could barely make out his reflection in the window above the sink, see-through and indistinct.
“It’s just…” David swallowed, Adam’s apple bobbing, and shifted in his seat at the kitchen table. “Things are different.” He hesitated. “You’re different.”
Celeste stiffened. She narrowed her eyes and focused, not on his ghost-reflection or the tiny cactus that he’d given her for Christmas perched on the windowsill, but through the glass out into the yard.
In the dying light, a drab brown finch huddled in the crook of the apple tree. The bird looked lonely with her beak tucked to her chest and an icy autumn wind ruffling her feathers. She clung to the bare branch as it dipped and swayed, scraping against the kitchen siding. The sound set Celeste’s teeth on edge.
“Cici? Are you even listening to me?”
Celeste jumped as David placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. She hadn’t heard him get up from the table. A shadow flickered across his face.
“See? That’s exactly what I’m talking about. You’re jumpy. I can’t even touch you anymore.” He scrubbed his hand through his hair, leaving it sticking up at odd angles. She used to find the habit endearing.
“You just startled me, that’s all.” Celeste didn’t meet his eye.
“It’s always something.” He folded his arms across his chest. “You tune me out.”
Celeste threw the dishrag on the counter and turned on him, face flushed.
“Exactly what are you saying, David?”
He took a step back.
“I get it, I really do.”
She opened her mouth, a tirade brewing––how could he possibly understand what she was going through?
David didn’t give her a chance to speak.
“This is all just too much for me.” He glanced around, eyes landing on the leather bomber jacket on the back of his chair. “I didn’t sign up for screaming night terrors. Or the anger. The shouting and breaking things.”
As if to make his point, the plate clattered to the floor. He shifted direction.
“Maybe a relationship is too…complicated right now. You should focus on yourself for a while.”
Celeste snapped her jaws closed, teeth snagging on her tongue. The spike of pain distracted her from the hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach. She squared her shoulders and turned back to the window. Her own translucent reflection stared back at her, eyes flat and expressionless, like buttons on a doll.
“Fine then. Go.” She forced the words through numb lips.
“Cici.” He clenched his fists at his side. “Celeste, maybe when you’re better–”
David sighed and reached for the scuffed leather jacket.
“Really?” Her voice dripped venom. “How dare you?”
“He gave it to me.” David’s grey eyes pleaded for understanding. “He was my friend. My best friend.”
Her heart lurched, then froze over.
“He was my brother.”
David cleared his throat, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
“I love you, Cici.” Leaving the jacket, he spun on his heel and left.
The door clicked shut, like a gunshot in the silence. Celeste snatched up the cactus and whipped it after him. The miniature clay pot shattered against cheap aluminum.
Gathering the jacket to her chest, she inhaled: supple cowhide, spiced cologne, a musky maleness. She could no longer distinguish between David’s scent and her brother’s. She hated them both for leaving.
A trickle of blood stained the soft leather, oozing from a finger punctured from the cactus spines. Through the window, Celeste stared past her washed out reflection, eyes fixed on the desolate finch in the apple tree until the shadows devoured the little bird whole.
She wished the darkness would take her too.