He begged the roads to clear for him. Every second mattered. Rain poured down so heavy he could barely see anything in front of him. He knew these roads well enough to get there without his sight. The hotel was within minutes of him. Those familiar skyscrapers he often saw in his youth were behind him now. He could barely see the city lights in his rearview mirror. Despite the weather conditions and him driving a rental car, he drove far above the speed limit. He thanked fate that getting through the airports was unusually quick today and that he hadn't been out of country. When he pulled into the parking lot, he drove around looking for the right number. The room was on the first floor near the pool. He couldn't see the numbers well, but he found his brother's car. There was nothing to take out of his own. He left without packing anything. He got out of the car and ran through the rainy night to the door. His heart pounded louder than his hand against the door. "Cyrus. Cyrus, it's me. I'm here." The door opened. A young man stood before him, eyes watery and nose running. It was his younger brother, Cyrus. Before his brother could say anything, he hugged him. Cyrus hugged him back, holding on tightly and crying on his older brother's shoulder. "Jake, I'm sorry...I'm so, so sorry..." "It's okay. I'm here now." Jake didn't want to let go. Earlier that day, Jake received a phone call at work from his brother. He'd called from a pay phone overlooking tracks, drunk and wanting to die. Jake managed to talk his brother out of it while he got his partner to buy him plane tickets. Before he left for Atlanta, Jake instructed his brother to go to a specific hotel if he needed to get away. It was one he regularly went to when he had work in the city. He called his brother again when he arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson. Cyrus had taken him up on the offer and gotten himself to the hotel. Jake was terrified to see he went by car, given how drunk his brother was when he spoke to him on the phone. The two brothers went inside. Cyrus stumbled forward a little trying to get to the bed. Jake caught him. "You didn't drink any more, did you?" "I did...I'm sorry." Cyrus admitted. "There's a case of beer...over there..." Jake saw the beer sitting by the small table in the corner of the room. "How much did you drink?" "Don't remember." Cyrus held his head. "Well, we're not going to drink anymore tonight, okay?" "Kay." "Did you eat anything?" Jake asked. "Nah." Cyrus tried to walk, but stumbled again. "I'm gonna order pizza." Jake helped him to the bed. "Why don't you lay down for a while?" Cyrus curled up on the bed, too tired and disoriented to take his shoes off. Jake looked for a phone book. He found it in one of the drawers in the dresser the TV sat on. He flipped through and picked the first pizza place listed. Jake made the order simple and hoped the store wasn't too busy that night. "Hey, what's your boss's number? I'll call him for you." Jake said. "I don't want to go back to work." Cyrus covered his face. "Why?" "I want to die." A deep pain pierced through him at hearing those words. He took a moment to compose himself. "I know that's how you feel, but I need to call him. Please, give me his number." Cyrus reached over to the nightstand beside the bed. He grabbed the cheap ballpoint pen and scribbled with it until it started to write. He wrote down a number on the first page of a bible he found inside the drawer and held it up for Jake to see. "That's his home number. We're not open right now." Jake ripped the page out. He unhooked the phone and went into the bathroom. Jake plugged it in there so Cyrus couldn't hear them talking. It was an awkward call, but not his first time making one like that. He'd done the same thing for Cyrus before, when Cyrus was in sixth grade. He called the school and personally spoke to all of Cyrus's teachers after Cyrus attempted suicide in sixth grade. His attempt the first time was similar. Cyrus planned on jumping in front of a train. Jake caught him before he could and talked him out of it. Within the week, their parents sent Cyrus to a mental hospital for treatment. He visited his brother as often as he could during those three months he was there. Cyrus came back saying he was fine, and the rest of the family believed it, but Jake saw through his act. He didn't feel any comfort the day his brother returned. He knew something was very wrong, and he needed to find out what. Years of searching gave him a lot of answers, and led him to the two jobs he currently worked, neither of which he was honest with his family about. As far as they knew, he worked for the military doing something top secret overseas. In reality, he rarely left the states, though he did travel from state to state often. Cyrus didn't tell him at first what happened at that place, but Jake learned on his own where he went was a place full of abuse before Cyrus drunkenly told him everything one Christmas. Cyrus wasn't "cured" or "fixed" or "stable". His brother did whatever was necessary to get out of there and buried his problems deeper once he left that place. Deep down, Jake knew this day was coming. It was only a matter of time. Cyrus got up from the bed. He struggled to walk. Jake tried to turn him back around. "Hey, easy. Just lay down. I'll get you whatever you need." "No, I need to...I'm gonna puke...Bathroom..." Cyrus put his hand over his mouth. Jake hurried him to the bathroom. Cyrus didn't quite make it. He puked on the floor in front of the toilet. Cyrus started crying again. "I'm sorry..." "It's okay." Jake said. "Are you done?" Cyrus puked again. He lost his balance leaning over and fell to his knees, getting his pants dirty. Then, he puked again. Shoulders shaking, he clutched his stomach and breathed heavily. Jake knelt down and wiped his face off with a wash cloth. Cyrus looked him in the eyes, his own red and wet, begging for forgiveness. "I'm...I'm so-sorry..." Jake continued cleaning him off. "It's alright. I'll clean it up. You couldn't help it. Why don't we get you in the shower? A nice, cold shower might help some and we need to wash your legs off." "I don't think I can...I can't stand up that long." Cyrus said. Jake looked at the shower head. It was detachable. "Looks like we can bring that down. Here, you can sit in the tub and I'll rinse you off." "What about the pizza?" Cyrus asked. "I'll get it when the guy gets here." Jake helped him up and had him sit on the edge of the tub. "You know, for a guy who's been drinking all day, you're still pretty coherent even if you can't walk right. Can you try and remember anything about how much you drank?" "I don't know...I wasn't thinking about it. I just drank." Jake made a note that he'd check what was left of the beer. At the very least, he could tell how many cans were missing from what Cyrus brought with him. "Did you bring any clothes with you?" "No...mmm...there might be some in my car. I think I still have a change of clothes in the trunk...for when I do side jobs after work..." Cyrus attempted to unbutton his shirt. He couldn't get the first button undone. Jake took over for him. "Your coordination's really shot, huh? I'll do this part." "Ugh, I'm so stupid..." Cyrus leaned sideways toward the wall. He rested his head against it. "You're not stupid." Jake finished unbuttoning the shirt. "You think you can get it off the rest of the way?" Cyrus managed to get the shirt off. Jake removed his shoes and socks for him while he did that. Cyrus struggled with his pants. "Damn it." Jake helped him through that too. Cyrus was clearly embarrassed by it, but Jake wasn't. When he was younger, and he lived with his parents, he always took care of all his younger brothers. That meant giving them baths when they were really little, helping them get dressed in the morning and getting ready for bed at night, and dealing with all sorts of messes. His mind unconsciously shifted to that role. He could almost smell the scent of their old home. Six years separated Cyrus and Jake, and less between his other brothers, but he was always playing parent. When they were very young, his parents didn't have a lot of money and were always away at work. After his paternal grandfather died and left them a lot of money, his parents cut back on hours but found other things to occupy their time with. The role of "dad" and "mom" fell to Jake. When he left for college, his brothers all called him for help about this and that before bothering with talking to their parents. He didn't really resent his parents leaving him in that position. It was his nature to be protective. If they hadn't have given him that responsibility, he would have taken it anyway. Jake got Cyrus into the tub. He washed him off with cold water. "I'll check the car before I clean up in here. If it's not there, I'll buy you some after the pizza gets here. I can at least vouch that this place always stocks really nice, fresh towels." Cyrus smiled a little. "This...reminds me of when I was a little kid...remember, back when Chris and I used to take baths together a lot. And you'd sit by the tub and wash my hair...I always got shampoo in my eyes." "You kept opening them when I'd tell ya to close them." Jake rinsed off his hair. "I had no patience then." Cyrus pulled his knees in. "Sometimes, I wish I could go back to then...Everything was good. The older I get, the worse everything is." "What feels worse?" Jake asked. "What doesn't?" "Why don't you tell me about something? Did you want to talk about what happened with your girlfriend?" Jake asked. Cyrus stared down at the water running down the drain. "I'm hungry." Jake dropped the topic. "When did you last eat?" "This morning." "Well, food's on the way. We'll get you stuffed full soon enough." Jake washed down his back. He heard a knock at the door. "Oh, that's probably it now. Wow. That was fast. I'll be back." Jake answered the door and paid for the pizza. He left it on the table and came back to Cyrus, who had already turned the water off. "Ready to get out?" "Yeah. I'm sleepy." Cyrus rested against the side of the tub. Jake got him a towel. He helped him dry off, then went out to Cyrus's car to look for the extra set of clothes. He found it and ran back inside. The rain hadn't let up any. Jake helped him get dressed, then cleaned up the mess. They ate pizza and wings on the bed. Cyrus ate laying on his side. They didn't have any plates, so they ate out of the boxes. Jake ate only a little, wanting Cyrus to get full before he ate any more. "How're you feeling now?" Jake asked. Cyrus put his slice down. "I don't know." "Still sleepy?" "Uh huh." Cyrus yawned. His eyes were heavy. Jake closed up the boxes and moved them over to the table. "Go ahead and go to sleep." "But it's not that late." "Don't worry about that." Jake helped Cyrus get under the blankets. "Sorry...I forgot to ask for a room with two beds...I told them to give me whatever." Cyrus apologized. "I wasn't thinking about it." "It's fine. It's not like we haven't shared a bed before." Jake said. He laughed. "But last time, you were a lot smaller. At least it's a king. Imagine if it was a twin." Cyrus laughed. "We'd never fit." Jake turned out the main light. "I'm guessing you didn't bring a toothbrush or anything like that." "Didn't think I'd need it after today." Cyrus said. "Right. Well, we'll get those in the morning. I know there's a store in walking distance of here." Jake took the other side of the bed. He turned off the lamp by the bed. "Night." "Night." The room went quiet. As Jake's eyes adjusted to the darkness, he turned to his brother. "Hey, Cyrus." "Yeah?" "Thank you for calling me." "I'm sorry...about everything..." "It's alright. Get some sleep." Jake watched his brother for a while in the dark. He doubted Cyrus would do anything at this point, but he wanted to make sure he really went to sleep. He got up from the bed and headed out for the store down the road to get them some things. Jake made the trip as quick as possible, hurrying back with a few bags in hand. Another set of clothes for both of them, toothbrushes and toothpaste, food and drinks for tomorrow, and aspirin--he couldn't think of anything else they immediately needed. Tomorrow, he'd use the on-site laundromat to get their other clothes clean. He left the bags in the room and walked to the pool. The rain had finally stopped. It was muggy out, but he liked it. Jake stood under an archway and watched the ripples in the pool the wind sent through. It was late, but sound surrounded him. They were still in the city. Cars drove by on their destination to somewhere, people checked in, some checked out, and others talked outside their doors. He heard a siren in the distance and arguing. Planes flew overheard. But these were all familiar sounds. It was quiet nights he couldn't sleep through. His restlessness tonight wasn't from the noise outside him, but within. Jake couldn't stop replaying the day in his mind. Amongst all the ordinary noises, one sound did stand out to him. He heard a coyote howling nearby. "Did you get him to call me?" He asked. No one responded. Jake recalled another sleepless night from long ago. It was sixteen years ago, when he was ten and Cyrus was four. His parents often went to see his maternal grandparents in Montana during the summer, and typically left them there for most of the summer. They'd go on a road trip from Georgia, their parents would stay a few days, then go back to work and pick them up shortly before school started. His grandma told him it was for their parents to have some time to relax from parenting and working, but Jake assumed it was more about money. The road trips cost his parents time and money from work, but they would then overwork during the time he and his brothers were away and they didn't need to pay for their food during those months. His grandparents had one extra room, one the boys all shared during the summer. Two boys could take the bed and two took the floor on a makeshift cot, but the first few nights their parents got the bed before they left. His grandparents lived near a big batch of woods. They played out there a lot, though they almost never went too deep in without their grandfather accompanying them. The house was always a quick sprint even when they went camping. One day, Jake wanted to explore a lot deeper in on his own. His other brothers, Todd and Chris, stayed behind to play on the porch, but Cyrus followed him. He didn't notice Cyrus until he was pretty far in after Cyrus tripped over a branch. Jake scolded him about coming out that far without telling anyone, but Cyrus wanted to keep exploring with him. Since he felt confident in his abilities to get them back, Jake let Cyrus come with him instead of taking him to the house. He was right that he could navigate back easily, but he was wrong he could handle taking Cyrus with him that far. He stopped for a moment to look at some stones by the river. When he called Cyrus over to look at them, Cyrus was gone. Jake assumed Cyrus was playing with him at first. He searched around the area for him, but couldn't find a single footprint. Jake called out to him, retracing their footsteps. There was no sign of Cyrus anywhere. Jake had to give up and tell his grandparents. That began the longest day and night of his life. His grandparents didn't have any nearby neighbors, and police weren't interested in beginning a search yet. As it grew dark, and with no luck in finding Cyrus yet, his parents both hopped a plane and flew out to help. Todd and Chris were made to stay at the house, both in case Cyrus walked back on his own and so that they didn't get lost themselves. Todd was eight then, and Chris was only six. Jake was allowed to keep searching through the night though he was only ten himself. His grandmother stayed at the house with his brothers. All the other adults spent the entire night roaming the woods with Jake until dawn. Not long before sunrise, when the night was its darkness and Jake's body was close to giving out on him, he ran across a pair of coyotes. One of them had a bandaged leg. They sat perfectly still ahead of him, the moonlight illuminating their silhouettes. Jake's hand shook, barely able to raise the big, heavy flashlight in his hand at the beasts. His heart raced and his sight blurred. He was so tired from being up so long and running around, his thoughts failed him. They scattered around like the shapes he caught out of the corner of his eyes. The stars slid down through the trees and across their backs, and the world itself moved away from him. Jake fell to the ground, too tired to stand up anymore. There, he saw the river again, glittering as a mirror for the stars. The beasts circled him. He saw his brother in their glowing eyes. 'Did you take my brother?' He asked with what little remained of his strength. They laughed at him, but did not answer. The river moved closer to him. 'Please, I'll give anything to have him back.' Jake begged them. 'You can take me instead. I'm bigger. Please, give him back.' The beasts exchanged looks, then sniffed him. They laughed again. Jake struggled to look up at either of them. The river was pulling him in. His left arm fell into the water. Blue lights glowed around his wet skin. Water came in higher, drenching half his face and all of him that was directly against the ground. 'We do not plan on eating that one.' He heard a voice say. The voice sounded masculine. Jake couldn't see where it was coming from. 'He is safe. You may rest in peace now.' 'No.' Jake mumbled. 'I have to keep...I have to keep him safe.' 'We can do that.' This voice was different from the other one. The second voice sounded feminine, though just as deep as the first voice. It came from the opposite side of the other voice. 'Please...' The water rose higher. 'Would you die for him?' The first one asked. 'Would you swear you would do anything for him?' 'Yes...' Jake's vision faded. The water covered most of him now. He couldn't speak anymore. He was falling into the river, its depths like the sea. Something grabbed at the collar of his shirt. Then, he was out of the water on his back and looking up at the sky. The stars moved above him, rearranging themselves in some order he didn't understand. His eyes were heavy. He could feel himself falling asleep. The two beasts looked down at him, blurry black shadows in the night. Jake wondered if they would eat him, but he didn't care. He wanted to see Cyrus. As he gave into his weakness and closed his eyes, he heard the second voice again. 'Then, you shall die for him another time.' When he came to, it was past noon. Someone had changed his clothes. The clothes he wore the day before were hanging up, soaking wet. The strange blue water he saw left no traces of itself. Jake got out of bed and rushed to the living room. Cyrus was sleeping on the sofa. His grandmother was washing blood soaked clothes in a bucket beside him. Jake's grandfather explained they found Cyrus sleeping in front of the barn, covered in coyote blood and without a scratch on him. There was one single tear in the collar of his shirt. Cyrus claimed he stayed the night with two coyotes who kept him warm. No one believed him except their grandfather, but no one could figure out how he got to the barn either. They had searched that area several times. Jake was found by their father, unconscious by the river. He brought him back home and his grandmother took care of him from then. Jake had passed out from exhaustion. He didn't say anything about what he saw that night, nor that he believed Cyrus. He kept everything to himself. That day, Jake started keeping secrets. Now, as an adult, keeping and stealing secrets was his job and he still couldn't tell his family anything about it. Looking back, everything he saw that night could have been a hallucination caused by him completely exhausting himself. That was the logical answer. When Cyrus was twelve in sixth grade and Jake was eighteen in his senior year of high school, he heard a strange howling outside the window of the room Jake shared with Todd. Todd was out that day with his then girlfriend on a date. Chris was with their father at a youth rifling competition. Their mother was at the store getting groceries for the week. Only Jake and Cyrus, who shared the adjacent room with Chris, were home. Jake heard Cyrus go out earlier, but he didn't think anything of it at the time. Their home was within walking distance of a bus route and there was a lot of woods behind their home. It wasn't odd for any of his brothers to go off for a walk through the woods or take the bus down to the store or the movie theater. Jake assumed Cyrus went off for something like that, or to play with one of the other kids in the neighborhood. The howling got louder and louder. Jake looked out the window and saw a coyote along the tree line. It ran off into the woods. Unsure where Cyrus had actually gone, Jake took one of his brother's guns and went out into the woods. He called out for Cyrus. He was reminded of that time at his grandfather's house. The longer he went into the woods, the more nervous he felt. It was too early in the day for coyotes to be out, and especially so close to their home. He didn't get a good look at it, but there was a chance it might be rabid. Jake saw his brother sitting at a short drop off in front of the train tracks that went through the woods. 'Hey, there's a coyote out this way. You need to head back home.' Jake said. Cyrus stared on ahead. Jake sat down with him. 'Something wrong?' Cyrus shook his head. 'I'll head back in a sec. You go on ahead.' 'I'm not leaving without you. Did you even hear me? I said there's a coyote out right now. We're going back.' Jake said. 'It's fine.' Cyrus looked down the tracks. Through the ground, Jake felt that a train was coming their way. 'Did you wanna watch the train? Jeez. I'll wait. After that, we're going back.' 'You can go back. I'll be right behind you.' 'I'm not leaving without you.' Cyrus stood up as the train passed by them. He said something angrily, but Jake couldn't hear him. His eyes were full of tears. Jake stood up. 'I can't hear you!' His brother turned away from him. Jake couldn't tell if he said anything else. When the train was gone, the first thing he heard was Cyrus crying. 'Cyrus, what did you say? I couldn't hear you.' Jake asked him. He put his hand on his shoulder. Cyrus covered his face. 'Hey, what's wrong?' At Cyrus's feet, Jake noticed a few pieces of paper. Jake picked them up. It was a progress report from Cyrus's school. Jake glanced over it. Every class was an F, a low F at that. One score was listed as a twenty-one. The next page were teacher comments, many noting a change in Cyrus's demeanor and him falling behind in his work. The last page was a warning from the school that if Cyrus missed more than a few more days without a medical reason, he would be held back for the year. Jake didn't understand that. He didn't remember Cyrus staying home more than any other school year. He got on the bus most days with Chris and came home with him. There was no way Cyrus could have missed so many days, Jake thought to himself. 'Hey, what is this? Cyrus, what happened?' Jake got in front of him. 'Why does it say you've missed all these days? Have you been skipping a lot?' Cyrus kept crying. Jake folded up the papers. 'It's okay. I'll talk to Mom and Dad for you about whatever happened. I won't let you get in trouble. I just need to know why.' 'I can't do anything right anymore.' Cyrus said through his tears. 'It doesn't matter. I'm gonna fail.' 'It's not the end of the world. You'll just have to do summer school. I can help you study for it.' Jake tried to cheer him up. 'I've had to do it before. It's really not a big deal. Is that why you're skipping? You fell behind, and then you couldn't catch up, so you gave up?' Cyrus nodded his head. 'You should've told me. I could've helped you out. You don't need to feel bad about falling behind. It happens to a lot of people. Was the workload in class a lot more than last year?' Cyrus shook his head. 'No, it's the same. I'm just stupid.' 'You're not stupid. Being good at school just has nothing to do with being smart. You might not be good at that kind of stuff, but that doesn't make you stupid. I'm not really good at it either.' Jake told him. 'I'm not good at anything.' Cyrus wiped his face off. 'Please, leave me alone. I don't want to go home.' 'Are you worried about what Mom and...' 'I'm not worried about anything!' Cyrus raised his voice. He sat back down by the ledge, eyes fixated on the tracks. 'Just go away.' Jake sighed and sat back down. 'Is something else bothering you?' Cyrus repeated what he said when the train passed. The world went silent for Jake then. Words exchanged between them after that, Jake couldn't remember them well. All he could recall is that his brother told him he was planning on jumping in front of the next train whether Jake left or not and that Cyrus actually tried to jump when it came and he held him back with all of his strength. Somehow, how he managed to talk him out of that the third time a train passed them. He got Cyrus home in the end, both of them completely dazed from the ordeal. While his parents were out, Jake called up every treatment facility, hospital, therapist, counselor, and psychiatrist in the area to ask about options. He wrote everything down, from names to prices and availability, for his parents to look over when they got home. He spoke with them privately after they both got home. His parents chose a hospital run by a company called Moone & Wolfe Corp. Jake didn't have a good feeling about the company, but he had no say in the matter. It was his parents footing the bills, after all. For three months, Cyrus stayed at one of their hospitals. During that time, Jake replayed the last year in his mind. Cyrus seemed to have been doing great at the end of fifth grade. He was really depressed over the summer, but Jake thought that was because he didn't get to see as many of his friends. He was up and down over the first semester of sixth grade, but nothing was really out of the ordinary. When Cyrus was in a good mood, he was in a really good mood. He was in three different clubs at school, his grades ended up being all A's by the end of it, and he won first place at two out of the five local school competitions he entered. Halfway through the next semester, and all his grades suddenly were low F's and he was skipping days constantly. Jake did the math in his head. Something didn't line up with what Cyrus said about that either. There was no way he'd missed that many days in those weeks. He had to have been skipping a lot of days the entire school year to rack up that many absences. Why would he do that when he was so eager to go to all those club meetings after school and enter competitions? It didn't make any sense, but Jake didn't know much about psychology. He told himself it was best to let the doctors sort it out. In mid-June, Cyrus came home. Everyone was happy about his return. Cyrus was able to get his grades up while at the hospital through an alternative learning program. Cyrus smiled a lot when he came back, but Jake sensed something was wrong. He couldn't pinpoint anything specific, but he went with his gut anyway. Jake postponed his first semester of college and switched to a different university closer to their home. During that semester off, Jake looked into the hospital Cyrus stayed at. What he found disturbed him, but he didn't say anything to their parents. Before his first semester began, Jake changed his major. Within two years, two men from two different companies approached him for a high paying job, and expected he would work for the other. He took both jobs, and worked sending and stealing secrets from each other, all while claiming loyalty to whatever side he was delivering information to. He used their trust to dig even deeper into both companies' histories to sort out whether he should attempt to destroy only one or both of them. At present, Jake was still unsure what he wanted to do in the long run beyond at least getting revenge on the first company, Moone & Wolfe Corp. While Jake was plotting his revenge, Cyrus went on through middle school as a student with slightly below average grades. He went to parties a lot with friends, which was something Jake was more concerned about than his grades. He wanted to see his brother happy more than come home with a meaningless school certificate. Jake stayed over for certain holidays and visited the rest of the family regularly. During the Christmas of the year Cyrus was fifteen and Jake was twenty-one, Cyrus ended up getting very drunk that night. Alone with Jake in the backyard, Cyrus told him about the things that happened at the hospital. It was worse than Jake expected. Hearing his brother tell him he was put alone in a dark room for twenty-four hours because he refused to eat a meal with an ingredient he was allergic to made Jake's blood boil. His brother didn't receive a proper bed and was made to sleep on the floor. Jake saw parts of the hospital. There were definitely bedrooms with actual beds, but he did read reports that many places like that didn't have enough beds and people often ended up on the floor. Cyrus told him of every mistreatment, and how he hid his symptoms simply to get out of that place. Jake held him close while he cried over it. Cyrus admitted to him he had already given up on going to college and that he wanted to work as soon as he turned sixteen. Jake promised him a car on his sixteenth birthday to show his support for Cyrus's decision. 'It's okay if you don't go. You do what you feel you can do. That's all you need to do.' Jake said. 'Promise me you'll do your best to finish high school and get a job, okay?' Cyrus wiped his face off. 'I don't know if I'll make it.' 'If you can't, I'll help you get your GED instead. You need at least that as an adult.' He reassured him. 'Keep trying. When your birthday comes, I'm getting you a car.' 'Can you afford that?' Cyrus asked. Jake shrugged. 'I make a lot of money now. And I still have some of my inheritance left.' A sad and lucky event for the family came when Jake's paternal grandfather died. Unlike their maternal grandparents, Jake's paternal grandparents had a good deal of money and left their parents and each child some money behind. Their parents were holding onto the money until each boy turned eighteen. It was a sad day, but that death significantly lifted their family financially. Jake didn't know very much about his grandparents on that side, as his father never got along well with them, but Jake at least was grateful for the money. As promised, Jake bought Cyrus a car for his birthday. Cyrus got his first job working at a Blockbuster, a job he was really happy with, and started his first serious relationship. Cyrus, even during his more depressed time periods, dated a lot compared to his brothers, but none of the relationships lasted more than a month or two. Cynthia stayed with him for a full year, until her family moved away. Cyrus's grades improved during that time. He was an honor role student again. Jake started to worrying less about Cyrus, though he was still focused on ruining the company that hurt his brother and so many other people. Then, Cyrus became erratic again. After Cynthia moved, a month later, Cyrus was in a relationship with a young woman who was out of high school. He quit the job he was happy at to make more money, and the next he heard, Cyrus had moved in with this woman. Cyrus didn't tell him about any of it. He heard through his parents, and was baffled they allowed their seventeen year old son to move out with some nineteen year old woman they barely knew. Cyrus did eventually finish high school. He changed jobs again shortly before graduating, working as a mechanic, the same job that Cyrus currently still had. His parents were ambivalent about the matter. His father gave him some nonsense about Cyrus needing to be free and that it was time to let him go. Their parenting was always lax, Jake thought. Cyrus didn't call him once for a full year after moving out. When he did start calling him again, it was usually to complain about his girlfriend or whenever he felt down. When Cyrus was nineteen, most of the calls turned into being about him feeling depressed. He rarely mentioned his girlfriend then even as their calls became weekly. Yesterday's call was the first time he'd mentioned her name in a long time. 'I broke up with Lidia.' Cyrus told him over the phone. 'I caught her...in bed with a guy from work.' That was how the call started. Ten minutes in, Cyrus told Jake he was planning on killing himself. Jake couldn't remember it well now, but he got Cyrus to back down again. This time around, there was an extra complication he didn't have to deal with before. Lidia was the only one on the lease for the apartment Cyrus was living in. From what Cyrus told him, Lidia gave him two weeks to leave after they broke up. Cyrus's parents didn't live in the area anymore. They'd moved to Arizona. Todd wasn't even on the continent, traveling through different countries in Africa for work. Chris had moved out to Florida. All of their grandparents were now gone. Jake lived on the west coast most of the time. No one but Cyrus remained in Georgia. Jake's work was too secretive to let Cyrus live with him. As far as his family knew, Jake didn't live in the United States at the moment. He told them he was in the middle east. The only options left were to have him move in with Chris or his parents and lose his current job, or Cyrus needed to find a new apartment immediately. For the sake of his stability, Jake figured the latter would be easier on Cyrus and should be what he planned around. He took in a deep breath. The howling in the distance stopped. "Alright, alright. I'll go back in." Jake said. He went back to the hotel room. Cyrus briefly woke when he came back in. "Where'd you go?" "Just right outside to get some fresh air." Jake got back in bed. "See ya in the morning." Jake barely slept that night. He woke around dawn. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. Cyrus rolled over. "Hey Jake..." "Oh, are you awake?" Jake asked. "Yeah." Cyrus yawned. "It's quiet in here." "Want me to turn the TV on?" "Yeah." Jake turned on the TV. It was a local channel airing the morning news. Cyrus stretched. "This reminds me of when we were kids...over the summer. We always got the bed, and Chris and Todd were on the floor." "Haha, yeah." Jake laughed. "Why was that? You'd think they'd want the bed over sleeping on a cot." Cyrus sat up. "It's cause you kept wetting the bed when you were really little. They didn't want to deal with that. You don't remember? We used to have to keep this thing under the sheet." Jake explained. The first person to ditch the bed was Todd, when Chris was little, for the same reason. When Chris got older and Cyrus came along, he moved to sharing with Todd. That left Jake to clean up the mess in the morning and bathe the sibling that did it. His grandparents helped him at first, but Jake took over the responsibilities of it eventually, including hang drying their clothes afterwards. "Did I really? God, how long did I do that?" Cyrus asked. "Hmm...I think until you were five? Or was that Chris? Maybe you both stopped doing that around the same age." All of that was so long ago that Jake barely remembered. "Sorry you had to deal with that. I guess morning summer memories probably weren't great for you." Cyrus laughed, a little embarrassment in his voice. "It wasn't that big of a deal. Besides, there was one advantage to that. Because it was more urgent, we got to use the shower first. Todd and Chris got stuck with cold showers." Jake said. "After you stopped doing that, I convinced Granny that we should get to go first still, because you were the youngest and I was taking care of you." "Haha, so you really just wanted the hot shower?" Cyrus laughed more. "I remember...I thought sometimes we bathed in the river. Maybe I'm mixing up days we went swimming." "We did do that a few times. You're thinking of when they let us go camping outside sometimes. You were older then. I think you might've been eight or nine when they let us do stuff like that. Grandpa gave us these walkie talkies and I'd check in with him every few hours. Haha, we really weren't that far from the house, but you and Chris thought we were days away the first time we did that." Jake reminisced about those days from long ago. "Didn't they let us stay out three nights once?" Cyrus asked. "Yeah, we did do that. You would've been...eleven then. That was the last time we all stayed over the summer." Jake said. They had planned to stay up there over the next summer too, to make it Jake's last summer with them before starting college, but that didn't end up happening. "Did you guys keep doing that after I stopped going on those trips?" Cyrus shook his head. "Nah, that was our last camping trip. Grandpa never really trusted any of us as much as he trusted you to be really responsible, and Chris didn't want to anymore." "We should do that again sometime." Jake said. "Even if it's only you and me." "That might be nice." Cyrus yawned. Jake threw the blankets off himself. "I got some food last night. Microwave stuff. Nothing fancy. You hungry?" Cyrus nodded. "Hey, did you get anything else? My head's killing me." Jake reached over the side of the bed and grabbed the aspirin from the bag. He tossed it to Cyrus. "Let me get you some water." "Thanks." They ate breakfast together at the small table in the room. "How're you doing today?" Jake asked him. Cyrus rested his head against his palm. "I don't know. I'm sorry about last night." "You don't need to apologize for that." Jake said. "Did you want to talk about what happened?" "I honestly don't remember what I told you." Cyrus sighed. "You caught your girlfriend cheating on you with some guy from work. Some guy named...what was it? Travis?" Jake tried to remember. Cyrus rolled his eyes. "Yeah, that's him. I walk in and they were fucking on our bed. I came home early from seeing a movie. There they were. I didn't say anything to them then. I went and took a long, cold shower, then told her it was over. He was gone by then. She gave me two weeks to find a place and told me I could sleep on the couch." "How did you meet that woman anyway? Any time you talked to me about her, you never said anything good. I'm kinda surprised you stayed with her for three years." Jake took a sip of coffee. "We met at a college party." Cyrus said. "What were you doing at a college party?" Cyrus took several gulps of his coffee. "Free beer." "Fair enough." Jake couldn't say anything. He'd do things like that himself as a teenager. "Okay, so you met there. And then you hit it off and moved in with her. But what made you stay so long? It sounded like it hasn't been working out for...a while now." Cyrus picked at his food. "I didn't want to be alone." "What do you mean? You don't have any friends around here?" Jake asked. "Mm...it's not about having friends...I guess, I don't really want to not be dating someone." Cyrus stared into his coffee cup. "When I'm not with someone, I get really lonely." "I can understand that, but you shouldn't stay in a relationship that's not working just to not be alone. That's not good either." Jake said to him. "Let's look on the bright side. Now you're a single man. Which means you're free to find someone new. Forget all about Lidia. Is there anyone you might be interested in? Someone you regularly see you could get to know better?" "There is someone...that I really like, but...that's it's own, um, problem." Cyrus lowered his head. "Is she married or something?" Jake asked. "No. I'm pretty sure he's single." Cyrus said. His face flushed. The room went quiet for a moment. "Uh, did I hear you right?" Jake asked, laughing awkwardly. Cyrus stared down at the table. "You heard me right." "Are you gay?" Jake asked. He expected he'd have this conversation with one of his brothers some day, but Cyrus wasn't the one he thought he'd have this conversation with. He was certain it'd be Chris. "I dunno. I don't think so." Cyrus leaned back in his chair, gaze averted to the side. "I like girls. I...used to wonder a lot when I was younger, if I might like boys too, but I never sorted that out. It's kinda hard to figure that out when damn near anything would get me riled up back then. There was never really a guy that I was really, really into though. So I thought, maybe it's just hormones. But then I met him at work, and...I'm not sure anymore. I don't know if I'm really lonely or what...most of my coworkers are guys. Lidia and I haven't really slept together in like...four months, at least." "How long have you been thinking about this guy?" Jake asked. Cyrus rubbed the back of his head. "Um...I dunno. A while..." Jake could tell by the look on his face that Cyrus didn't want to admit the exact amount of time. "Okay, so, you like this guy. Is there any chance you could ask him out?" "I don't know. I doubt he's into guys. He doesn't seem like he's into anyone. Like he just wants to be completely left alone." Cyrus said. "A loner type, huh? Then you'll have to break through that wall's he's putting up. There's gotta be a reason. Someone might've hurt him really badly in the past, or maybe he's really shy?" Jake suggested. "Yeah, I think you're right. I don't think he has any friends. He never mentions any family, and he's kinda young. I'm pretty sure he's a little younger than me." Cyrus said. "Maybe you two have more in common than you think, Mr. Runaway." Jake teased him. "I didn't run off because Mom and Dad did anything wrong. That was..." Cyrus finally faced his brother, only to look away when their eyes met. "That was because of me." "What do you mean? Did you do something I don't know about?" "No, it's....well, it's this. Whatever's wrong with me. I didn't want to be a burden on our parents anymore." Cyrus's mood worsened. "When they sent me to that hospital, I didn't get any better. I did my best to hide everything when I got back. All I ended up doing was wasting their money and time. And look at me now. I'm back to this again." "That's no reason to run away from us. That place didn't work out, but that doesn't mean we couldn't find another way to help you." Jake reached across the table to touch Cyrus's shoulder. "None of that was your fault." "I don't want to drag anyone else down with me. That's probably why...I didn't care if I was with Lidia. You know, when I was first dating her, she was cheating on someone else? And I didn't care. I wasn't really in love with her. I told myself I was. Really, I wanted to be with someone, but not close to anyone, so I couldn't drag her down with me. I don't know what the guy before me was like, but I ruined that relationship for him. He caught us too. This is my karma." Cyrus turned his gaze back to the floor. "I shouldn't have called you. You're supposed to be working right now, aren't you?" "Don't worry about my job. They already know I'm out to deal with a family emergency. I'm not going to get in trouble over this. Besides, even if it did cost me my job, I'd've left anyway. I can always get a new job. I can't get a new brother." "What's wrong with me?" Cyrus's eyes watered. "I don't know. But you know, it's not like you're the first person in the family with these kind of problems. Remember Uncle David? He died a year before you were born. He shot himself in the woods. Mom always said he would be the happiest guy around one minute, then he'd be in this deep despair that no one could pull him out of. A lot of time, no one could find a reason why he was in so much pain, but the pain was always too much for him." Jake barely remembered his uncle. He was so young when he died. "Uncle David tried going to see a psychiatrist, and some bad stuff happened to him too. He was so disturbed by that time, he never went to see another doctor again. But he never got better either and he withdrew from everyone. He shot himself the night his wife asked him for a divorce. He couldn't take any more pain. They never figured out what he had, but you might have the same problems as him. Please, if the pain does get too much, don't leave us. Call me. I don't care where I am or what I'm doing, I'll come to you." Cyrus rubbed his eyes. "I hate being like this. Every time I think everything's getting better, it always gets so much worse right after, and I never know how long it's gonna be like that." "Would you see another doctor if I found a good one for you? I'd pay for it." Jake suggested. Cyrus shook his head. "I don't want to go back to one of those places." "I know, but they're not all like that." Jake said. Cyrus refused to look at him. This route wasn't going to get him anywhere at the moment. He changed the subject. "Alright. We'll forget about that option for now. What about this guy from work? So, you don't know one way or the other if he's into guys, right? So, that means there's still a chance with him." "I..." Cyrus covered part of his face to hide he was blushing. "I don't know if I can ask him out. He's so hard to approach. I always act like a dork when I'm around him. And what if I weird him out?" "You could try being friends first. At least you'd get to be around him more." Jake said. "I know it's not the same as dating someone, but you could still have a lot of fun together as friends." "That is true..." Cyrus looked deep in thought, as if he were imagining scenarios in his mind. "Then...you really don't care? About me..." "Why would I?" Jake shrugged his shoulders. "What's the big deal? So what if you like a guy? What does that matter to me? I'm not gonna be the one takin' him home." "You don't think it's gross?" Cyrus asked. "I don't care what you do with who. That's not my business. I wouldn't wanna, but that don't really matter. This is about you being happy." Jake straightened up in his chair and crossed his arms. "And I'll kick anyone's ass who tries to fuck with you over it." Cyrus unconsciously smiled and laughed. He looked away. "What do you think Mom and Dad would think?" "Doubt they'd care. They'd probably just be surprised by it. Chris definitely won't care. I don't think Todd will either. He's not the brightest. He'd be more confused than anything, but he wouldn't hate you over it. You know none of us are those kind of people." Jake said. "I know, but..." Jake added. "It's not like you have to come out to everyone right now. If you're not ready, then hell, I'll pretend I never heard you say it at all." "Really?" "I swear." Jake said. He made an X over his chest with his hand. "Cross my heart." "Could you do that for me? I'm really...not ready to talk about this with anyone. I wasn't...planning on telling you. If I do tell everyone one day, can you pretend you didn't know?" Cyrus asked. "I have no idea what you're talking about." Jake winked at him. "Do you think I should really take my chances with him?" Cyrus asked. "Go for it." Jake said. "Try to get on good terms with him. See if you can be friends. And if the signs are right, maybe it can go in another direction. You won't know unless you take that chance." "I know it's crazy, cause we're not really friends, but...every time I look at him, I just want...I want to put a ring on his finger and I know we can't even legally get married." Cyrus's cheeks went a very deep red. "I'm getting too ahead of myself. That's weird, right?" "Damn, you've got it bad." Jake laughed. "Haha, well, it's okay to daydream. Just don't get too lost in it. Focus on building up that friendship first. Rings and promises can come later." "Yeah, I know. I know that's not reasonable. I just can't stop thinking about him. I don't think I've ever fallen in love with anyone this badly before. It's ridiculous." As Cyrus said the word "love", his voice softened slightly and his cheeks turned a darker shade. Jake was taken aback. He hadn't seen Cyrus act like this with anyone before. It reminded him of when Cyrus was working up the courage to ask out Cynthia. He hoped this was a good sign, and wished that something would work out between them. If Cyrus had his heart broken again so soon, Jake was terrified of how he might react. "You really like him that much, huh?" "But what if he ends up hating me?" "That could happen, but you won't know until you make the first move." Jake said. He tried to bring Cyrus back down to reality. "Besides, it might be you that ends up hating him. You don't really know him yet. You may not like him after you do." "Yeah. He might turn out to be an asshole." "Or he might not. Put yourself out there and hope for the best." Jake encouraged him. "If it doesn't work out, there's plenty of other people out there. Whether you end up with him or not, it's okay. Don't make any grand plans. Try to have fun." "I guess...I can try. I have...been trying to talk to him more, but I don't think he's noticed." "What is it you like about him?" Jake asked. Cyrus's mood seemed to be improving. He wanted to keep building that up. Cyrus fidgeted with his hands. "Well, physically...he's a perfect 10. At least, to me. He has really beautiful eyes. When we're working, and I see him over there, covered in grease and sweat, his hair all messy, my brain malfunctions. I can't think straight." "Clearly." Jake laughed. He didn't find anything appealing in the mental image that conjured for him. Cyrus laughed with him. "No, no, it's worse than that. When he talks, I can't think at all. This is really...embarrassing, but...Lidia and I haven't really...been too close for about a year now. When we were still sleeping together, she looked so uninterested in me no matter how she acted. I'd think about other people to get through it. And I...I started thinking about Scott almost exclusively." "So, his name's Scott?" Jake didn't know what to do with that confession beyond laugh awkwardly at it. "Yeah." "Do you know anything about him? Like hobbies and interests?" Jake asked. "Um...he reads a lot. When we're on our lunch break, he's usually reading by himself." Cyrus said. "A quiet bookworm, huh?" "I dunno. I can't tell if it's he likes reading or he doesn't like talking to other people." Cyrus said. "Whenever I look at what he's reading, his choices are all over the place. Westerns, romance, spy books, cookbooks, it could be anything. It made me wonder if he pretends to read to avoid other people." "Could be, or he has a really wide range of interests. Anything else?" "Sometimes, I catch glimpses of what he's writing down in a notebook he carries on him. Cooking plans, repair notes, budgeting, stuff like that. I don't know if he follows through on any of that, but it at least looks like managing that sort of stuff is really important to him. I asked him once if he went out on the weekends. He said he had another job that he did at night." "Sounds like he likes to be financially stable and frugal. Probably not the kind of person to take out to a really expensive restaurant or buy pricey gifts for." "Like I could afford to do that." Cyrus said. "Well, that's not much, but it's a little to go on. You could invite him to go with you to the library sometime or a used bookstore. He might like that, but I think you should work on getting to know him better first." Jake smiled at him. "You've got this. Get that guy. I'm rooting for you." "What if I end up back how I was before?" Cyrus asked. "If it gets like that again, call me. I'll fly out here immediately." With weary eyes, Cyrus asked him. "You really don't think I'm a burden?" "No." Jake shook his head. "You're my brother. You'll never be a burden to me. No matter how bad you feel or how you mess up or whatever happens, I'll come running to you. That's my real job. I am the oldest, after all. Let me rescue you." "You don't think I'm too much to handle?" "Nah." Jake forced himself to keep smiling. "If you wanted me to, I'd rearrange the stars for you." Cyrus put his hand to his mouth, then blinked several times to hold back the tears. He gulped hard. "Thank you...for coming out here for me." "And thank you for calling me. I'll be here whenever you need me." Jake took a deep breath. "Are you gonna be okay by yourself now? I'll pay for the rest of the week. If you need me to, I can extend it more until you find a new place to stay and I can stay more days with you if you want me to." "I'll be okay, I think. I'm gonna go stop by the apartment and move my things here until I find somewhere, if you're okay with it." Cyrus's shoulder's dropped. He lowered his voice. "Um, actually...I'm sorry. I kinda screwed up something else." "What is it?" Jake asked. "I blew through most of my money drinking and doing other stupid stuff before you got here." He admitted. "What kind of stuff?" "Aside from all the alcohol, I bought a bunch of pills, cleaning products, knives, and bullets. I didn't do anything with them, but I don't have the receipts anymore to return them." Cyrus said. "I threw them in a dumpster before coming here." "It's okay. And thank you for doing that. Getting rid of that then was more important than the money." Jake said. He asked. "How much do you think you'll need? I'll take care of it." "But you're already spending so much on the hotel room." Cyrus sunk down in his chair. "Don't worry about it. I have a lot saved away. I'm an unmarried guy with no kids and my job pays me a lot. This trip was funded from my emergency savings account. I don't care if I have to empty the whole account out. It's okay. Every penny spent is worth it to keep you safe." Jake told him. "I need to calculate up how much." "Okay. I'll write you a check before I go." Jake said. He smiled again. "Thank you." Cyrus thanked him once more. "Um, hey, could we not tell anyone else about this? At least not yet? I don't really want to deal with anyone else calling me." "This'll stay between us, for as long as you want it to." Jake said. He stayed for most of the day to help Cyrus move his things into the hotel room. When Jake was sure that he could leave Cyrus alone, he got a flight home. They talked for a long time after the flight. At home, when the phone calls between him and Cyrus ended, and when no one at work was ringing him up, his own home was quiet and empty. His family was under the impression he had a long term girlfriend, but there was no one living with Jake. He didn't have any real friends. There were too many secrets to keep to risk letting anyone in. Sometimes, he went out to hook up with girls, but he didn't bother remembering any names or numbers. Jake understood very well the loneliness Cyrus was afraid of. He told himself it didn't bother him. The loneliness would come and go. So long as he fulfilled his promise and got his revenge, the rest didn't matter.