There's this picture on her dresser, resting on a corner in the back. Behind a line of candids, her parents and a few friends, it gathers a blur of dust; in smears, the adhesive still pretends to be brand-new. Four or five dollars, just for a wooden frame. She remembers buying it. Then she doesn't. The story always changes on that end.
It's just the two of them though. They're ageless. Him and her, brother and sister, with a backdrop that can be anywhere. The sky, gray, holds a blanket of clouds with a few lines that heave and pull. There's a tree, too, the branches bony and thin and stretching, like hands, to clasp behind their shoulders.
It rained that day. Or didn't. Mostly, she remembers nothing else.
When Chase picks it up, he holds it between his palms and frowns, looking back at her. "What's this?"
You've met him before, she almost says. Her brother. Once upon an accident; Chase was coming out of her place and he was coming in, a while back, when he was here instead of home. That's all Chase knows. There's another photo too in her mother's wallet. A lunch, absent, and he learned there too. She just has a brother. It should seem easy, the acknowledgment.
She steps forward though, her throat drying, and peers over his shoulder. She doesn't take it. Somehow, that's what the corners are for. Slowly, her arms wrap around her chest as she sighs. She thinks of the answer, but there's really no answer. Everything always seems to begin with: well, once that summer like a joke, if she wanted to be funny.
It does go like that.
Well, once that summer. He was eighteen. She was fourteen. She was nothing more than skinny knees too. He wore brass buttons, grinning for bronze and gold stars – there was a favorite song that year too, something she and her friends used to sing at the top of their lungs. Ribbons. Medals. But he said something like I'm going to make you proud, waving his admission papers around for days. Her mother cried for weeks, after he left, and her father just remembered Vietnam. It was never the same for them after that. The picture stands alone though, one of those memories that isn't quite memory. Just there, all the same.
"It's -" she's hesitant, out of habit. Not because of what it is, more so because Chase is Chase and there are just those things. She swallows though, staring at the frame. She remembers. It was hot and wet. She lost that tank top weeks later, to the washer and dryer and more than a few grass stains.
It stops though. He's looking at her. There's heaviness to his gaze that she doesn't like. It's almost predictable. She waits for him to say something; he reaches for her, keeping the picture in his hand, and presses his mouth to her hair. He lingers too long and her shoulders twist, rising and then falling. He knows a little bit, but not much. As much as she can tell him. Or chooses, depending on the day. There's little comfort in that.
"It's just a long time ago," she murmurs finally. She means it.
The truth is she's had the letter since June, scrawled against the back of a yellowing page.
Hey, it still says. Hey. Sorry I've been - well, sorry. There hasn't been time for an email or two. Or whatever. Just been busy. I'm heading back for a little while. Not really ready to go home. You know how it is. I guess - I'd like to talk. But I'm saving that for later. Listen -
It always stops there too. When she holds it, her fingers feel stif. The paper is too thin. She remembers a story about haggling. Mom and dad wanted another teacher. Neither of them really had a love for it; it was an early sign, even then, of wanting to get out. Maybe. Maybe, not.
It was as far as it went. They both grew up.
But her fingers crawl over the ink, the blue that looks like black, sprawled sharply in contrast. She can almost hear his voice. He's rambling. It's like him, she thinks too. Just like him. That's the difference between Jamie and her: he thinks, he speaks, he writes - it's all the same for her. He tries not to show too much. She hesitates more. But it's the first time that he's stopped something and it worries her. It really worries her.
There was an email to say that she got it. See you then. She hasn't said anything else. She doesn't know how to say anything else. He comes, he goes, and she lets him. Most of the time, she just lets him without a word. It's the kind of thing she always uses as an excuse. It's family. It's nothing new.
Turning the letter over, there's just a date and a time. See you then?