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TRISTAN

 

“I like her.”

“She’s annoying.”

“Bold,” Amy counters.

“Abrasive.” I shut her down with a press of my key fob.

The lights on my classic Mustang flash, an intrusive beep from the alarm piercing the air.

“I wish you’d set that to silent disarm,” Amy bitches as she reaches for the passenger door. “It’s like you feel the need to flex every time you push it.”

I lock the car before she lifts the handle, making the alarm sound again. Unlock it and wait for her to twitch her fingers near the door, and then lock it again.

“Stop being a jackass.” Amy’s lips set in a firm line.

I hit the fob again and let her have some reprieve. She’s been patient with me this week, attending every appointment I set and saying exactly what I told her to. “Dad wants a family meeting.”

My baby sister meets my eye before dropping into the car.

I duck down to the driver’s seat and expel a sigh, aware that she chooses not to look in my direction. “I get you’re hurt. But you know he won’t back down about this.”

“I don’t want to do it.”

“You don’t get a choice.” I roll my head her way and wait for Amy to make eye contact before adding, “It’s what we do and it’s who we are.”

“Why?”

And once again, with a single word she can unravel the very fabric of my world. I don’t know why we do the things we do, why we uphold the traditions of our family. I don’t know why creatures like us exist or who thought it was such a great idea to assign the extremes of the human psyche individually for groups to handle on their own. Why can’t we share this burden equally? Why do some people seem to get a free pass through life while others carry the weight of their experiences with an emotional burden the fairer kind could only hope to comprehend?

“Because if there aren’t people like us to balance the scales,” I finally tell her, “the whole thing collapses.”

Her resulting sigh shows me understands. That I’ve given her a reasoning that she can’t deny. 

Good and bad. Light and dark. Happy and sad. Up and down. Everything and anything have an opposite. The contrast is what makes the individual stand out. Without one the other isn’t unique. You need that variation to appreciate each end of the extreme. Some of us harbor more of the uncomfortable ends, that’s all.

“Did he actually say what the meeting was about?” Amy asks as I start the car. 

“No.” I expel a sigh and then maneuver out of the parking space. “But it’ll be about you.”

“What if I don’t go?”

“Then he’ll go looking for you.” I stare at the dusty pickup ambling down the road with a little more anger than necessary. “Make it easier on yourself and just show up.”

The back right tire gives out with a pop and a puff, forcing the driver to make an emergency stop.

I pull onto the clear road ahead of the truck and turn us toward home. “We all went through this, Amy.” Fire laces my veins. “We all resisted.”

“And look what it did to you.” She pulls her knees up. A habit whenever she feels she oversteps the line.

“What did it do to me?” I ask with fake malice. “Spell it out.”

“Made you hostile.” She huffs, lifting her body a little to stare at a lady leading a horse down the side of the road as we speed by. “You know, you should slow down for people with stock. It’s safer.”

“But I’m hostile,” I tease. “Why would I be friendly to strangers if I’m mean and nasty?”

“You have a point.” Amy slumps again. 

“Excuse me?” The corner of my mouth curls up. Of all my siblings, my baby sister is the only that manages to bring humor to my dull days. 

“You’re mean and nasty to strangers.” She lifts one eyebrow and pins me with a hard stare in my periphery. “Should we rehash how you treated Gina?” Amy leans toward me, one elbow on the center console. “How do you know her name already?”

“Leo mentioned her.”

She makes a satisfied huff. “Did he also mention that he left campus before lunch?”

“He didn’t.” The ease seeps from my features, frustration weighing my brow heavy. “Why?”

“He went to Classics to make moves on Phoebe like you asked him to.”

“And?” I relax into my seat now that we’re on the open road stretch before the mansion, dropping my right hand to rest on my thigh. 

“He said the only thing he wanted to do was throttle her.”

“I don’t give a fuck if he makes it kinky.” My thumb presses hard against my ring finger. “He just needs to get it done.”

“As I’m sure father will make abundantly clear.” Amy waves her hands with a flourish. “Right after he puts me on lockdown with a fucking nurse to make sure I eat.”

“Language.”

“What?” She scoffs, whipping her black hair off her shoulder with a flick of her wrist. “You swear all the time.”

“Because I’m hostile.” I glance across and give her a wry smile. “It adds to my character.”

“You’re so much more.” She slaps my arm before her smile fades. “At least, when you’re not pretending to be something else.”

“I’m not pretending.”

“You are playing a role, though.” She returns to staring thoughtfully out the windshield. 

“Aren’t we all?” I tuck my left heel against the seat and switch to steering with my right hand so I can cradle my head with the left, elbow rested on my knee. “Did Leo say anything else?”

“Just that he’ll try again later.”

“He knows we’re running out of time, right?”

“I’m sure.” Amy’s chest rises with a sigh. “Yet another thing our father won’t let us forget.”

“We have a responsibility,” I remind her. “A duty to pay back the entitlement we were born into.”

“And so, the cycle repeats.”

I straighten in my seat and reach across to take her hand. “As it always will.”

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