The knock at the door had been expected for around a month now. Ever since Jake had stopped calling home. No matter where he was, or how secret his mission was supposed to be, Jake had always found a way to contact his sister and mother, even if it was only with the meaningless details deemed safe to share with them. When those phone calls had stopped, Rebecca had been fearing the worst.
But, no matter how much she knew that it was probably coming, she had prayed that it would never arrive.
Her mother answered the door, and Rebecca knew that she was fearing the same thing as her daughter was- that they would no longer be able to hold onto that remote hope that a letter or postcard or phone call would come through all of a sudden, and it would be Jake, telling them that he was sorry for worrying them, but that he had been somewhere where he couldn't contact them, and was completely healthy. That he wasn't dead.
Rebecca couldn't bring herself to go to the door alongside her mother. She wasn't sure if she would be able to stand seeing the apologetic face of the man who would tell her that her only brother was dead without running from the house, as far as she could possibly go.
She couldn't go downstairs, but she also didn't know if she could bear to wait until her mother collected herself enough to come to her room and tell her. There was a landing on the stairs that she and Jake had sat on when they were young, trying to peek down into the bags their mother brought home in December and see what she had gotten them for Christmas.
So that's where she went, pulling her knees to her chest and using one arm to keep them there while the other hand fiddled with her bracelet, an old woven bracelet that she couldn't quite remember where she had gotten. Probably at some souvenir shop somewhere. No matter.
The large man that her mother had let into their house had a uniform, but it was his face that drew Rebecca in. It was solemn, but not grief stricken. There was something in his eyes that she couldn't quite identify, but his eyes weren't as important as the words that were coming out of his mouth. She couldn't hear all of them, but she got the gist from one of them, and the way her mother screamed and collapsed into the man's arms.
Rebecca bit down onto her fist to keep from screaming. Because there was no way that could be true. Never. Jake would never...
Maybe she could have handled her brother dying a hero's death. Maybe. But this...
Before she could stop herself, Rebecca found herself, tears already beginning to form in her eyes, flying down the stairs so quickly that she almost tripped over a fishing rod that she must have forgotten to put back into the shed.
Her mother's eyes appeared from the arms of the officer, looking at Rebecca with a look that was so absolutely broken it almost made her daughter stop in her tracks.
"Mother," she yelled, desperation making itself known in her tone. "Mother, you can't possibly believe this!"
Her mother moaned in misery.
"I'm... Oh, B-Becky..."
The man, whose uniform declared his name to be Lundgren, ran his hands through her mother's hair and shushed her, then addressed Rebecca himself.
"I am terribly sorry, Miss McKenzie, to have to bring you this news. Your brother Jacob was an incredible pilot, which is why it breaks my heart to have to tell you that he was consorting with the enemy, and is a traitor to his country. My thorough condolences."
Red flashed behind her eyes at she stared at Lundgren. No matter how sincerely sorry he sounded, there was nothing, nothing, that could possibly make Rebecca believe that Jake had betrayed anyone. Not the same Jake that had defended her when that no-good Lucas Jones had decided that she was a perfect target for his practical jokes. Not the same Jake that had refused to abandon Mike even after his reputation had been totally trashed by the wormtongued Susannah Angelini in their sophomore year of high school. There was no way.
"Mother," she said, making for the door, tears of grief and anger pouring from her eyes. "You know your son."
And, with that, she shoved past Lundgren and ran for her favorite swimming spot on the Bayou. Her neighbors called after her, but she ignored all of them, even Mrs. Darwin, as she ran. She stepped on at least one sharp rock, and stubbed her bare toes twice, but the pain didn't even register as she ran.
No one was at the swimming hole, as usual. The only people who ever went there regularly were her, Mike and Jake, and since Mike and Jake had been away it had been empty for a long time. She hadn't swum there, not only because of the possibility that a gator could get her on her own, but because it felt wrong to go there without her brother and his friend. This was the place where Jake and Mike had taught her to swim when she was only four, and where they had spent the best days of her lives.
Without even bothering to pull off her clothes, Rebecca roughly yanked out her ponytail, and some of her hair with it, and jumped in. The water and plant life closed around her, enveloping her in their familiar embrace.
Maybe she would never come back here again, now that Jake was gone, but if she couldn't say goodbye to her brother, then maybe she could say goodbye to this place.
Closing her eyes, Rebecca felt the anger fade, replaced by a steely determination. Her head broke the surface, and she whispered, with no one but the animals and plants to hear her.
"I know you didn't do it, Jake. I don't care what they say, or how long it takes. I'll prove it."
She hoped that, from wherever you went when you died, Jake could hear her.