Not Meant To Be Broken

By: Cora Reilly

“So,” Dad interrupted my thoughts and the uncomfortable silence, scratching the back of his head nervously. He’d started shaving his hair off only a few weeks ago because his bald spot had reached the size of a saucer and he hadn’t gotten used to it yet. “Maybe we should go inside.”

“Yes, right. That's a good idea,” Brian agreed eagerly. I couldn't blame him for wanting to escape the situation. My eyes returned to Zachary. What must he be thinking about us, about me, watching this? He hadn’t said anything yet but his blue eyes were attentive, taking it all in. He was even taller up close, definitely 6’3. He didn’t avoid my gaze like my father and brother did, and I felt uncomfortable under his gaze. But that wasn’t unusual. I always felt that way when people stared at me. It made me feel as if they were judging me, but Zachary seemed only curious.

Brian cleared his throat nervously, his gaze shifting between me and his best friend. “That's Zachary,” he said slowly, then he shot Zachary a badly disguised warning glance. “Zachary, that's my sister Amber.”

“Hi Amber,” Zachary said with a grin that lit up his entire face. He had a strong prominent jaw and his face was all angles and sharpness but his eyes and grin took away some of the hardness. “You can call me Zach.”

“Zach,” I confirmed in a bare whisper. He didn’t try to shake my hand or get closer. If I wasn’t mistaken, he hadn’t as much as twitched since I’d reached them. Brian had done his job. He’d probably warned all of his friends and the entire neighborhood of my impending arrival. I scanned the surrounding houses, even the windows, but nobody was trying to risk a peek at the freakshow that was me. I wasn't sure how I felt about Zach and possibly other people knowing what was wrong with me. This was supposed to be a new start, but how was that even possible if everyone knew I was broken? A brief flash of anger at Brian hit me, then it faded. It wasn’t as if Zach wouldn’t have realized that I wasn’t quite right on his own.

“I'll get your belongings,” Dad said, then hesitated. “Okay?”

Warmth spread in my cheeks. If he was worried about leaving me alone with Brian and Zach for a couple of minutes, how was I supposed to survive sharing an apartment with them?

“It’s fine, Dad.” He practically rushed toward the jeep. Zach followed after him at a much slower pace, leaving me alone with Brian. Hesitantly, I tilted my head and looked at my brother, catching him watching me with wistful eyes. I willed the corners of my lips up to wipe that look off his face.

His eyes lit up the slightest bit. “I'm glad you're here,” he said quietly. I wanted to believe him and I knew that he wouldn't deliberately lie to me, but he couldn’t possibly want me in his life, not like this. I was going to mess everything up for him, and for Zach, who was getting in the line of fire without any fault of his own.

“I'm glad, too,” I lied without hesitation. The way Brian looked at me made it clear that he knew I didn't tell the truth. Maybe I wasn’t as good a liar as I thought, or maybe I'd just done it too often. I averted my gaze, unable to bear Brian’s scrutiny, and turned toward Zach and Dad who were heading our way, carrying my two suitcases. If I couldn’t even stand Brian’s closeness for ten minutes, taking that much luggage with me might have been a bit optimistic.

Dad’s eyes found me as he and Zach passed by, for once not concerned. They were talking about college football and Brian joined in on their conversation eagerly. I didn’t mind. It made me happy to see him and Dad so animated and relaxed. It wasn’t something I saw often when they were around me.

I followed them at a safe distance, stroking Pumpkin’s soft fur all the while. It always managed to calm me. I slipped past Dad who held the door open for me, careful not to touch him. The hall of the building was narrow and dark, but at least it looked clean. The floor was dark brown wood with scratches all over it, and the bricked walls were painted in a sterile white.

“Our apartment is on the fourth floor, so we should take the elevator,” Brian said, heading for metal doors at the end of the corridor. A beeping noise announced the arrival of the elevator and a moment later the doors slid open, revealing a small space with barely enough room for six people – or four people with two suitcases. Zach, Brian and Dad stepped into the elevator without hesitation. It looked so easy: set one foot in front of the other. But my throat was closing up at the sight of the crammed space. I hadn’t used an elevator since my hospital stay three years ago. It would be close to impossible not to touch someone. I tightened my hold on Pumpkin, causing my cat to let out a noise of protest.

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