Only Simon and his dad drove over to the hospital, and at least it wasn’t the same one where Simon had spent the worst night of his life not that many weeks earlier. That said, it still brought back uncomfortable memories as they parked and then made their way towards the entrance to the ER at North Fulton.
The medium-sized, regional hospital was located further out past the Mall, set on Alpharetta Highway. And by the looks of the number of doctors and nurses scurrying around the busy center, they saw their fair share of accidents and incidents. It seemed a full-house that day, but there was still a calm efficiency about the place as Simon and his dad approached the reception desk. After a few enquiries, a nurse pointed them towards a curtained cubicle, where they found Toby, as well as Lucy, Grace and Daniels.
The space was already cramped, with Lucy and Grace parked on two, plain hardback chairs. Daniels was standing on the scrubbed linoleum floor next to Grace. The renewed taint of smoke hit Simon's nose as he took in the austere surroundings.
Toby was sitting up on the examination bed, leaning against the backrest. He looked like crap. His hair was greasy and matted, and streaks of soot marked his face. The worst were his eyes, which appeared bloodshot and teary. He was covered by a sheet above which he only wore a tee. Attached to a tube coming from the wall, a small mask had been placed over his mouth.
"Hello, Hon!" Simon's mum had that same cheery voice she used when he was hospitalized. "You found us!"
She stood and gave his dad a quick hug as the two extras squeezed in.
All the time, Simon's eyes never left Toby, though with everyone listening, Simon wasn't able to say what was on his mind. Instead, for the sake of appearances, he put on a front. "Hi Toby. You gave us a real scare." It actually made him angry this time that he had to lie. He'd lived too long like that, and it wasn't him.
Toby's bloodshot gaze held him for a few moments before he shrugged and then looked away.
"We got here as soon as we could," Geoff said, cheerily unaware of the tension flicking between the boys. "And I brought a change of clothes for Toby, like you asked. They're some of Simon's, Grace, so they should fit."
Geoff lifted the backpack that Simon had seen him bring from the house, but had been too lost in conflicting thoughts to ask about. Simon kept the broiling irritation from his face. The thought of Toby taking something else of his just now galled him. They were his clothes—he should have been asked! As quickly as those angry thoughts swelled, he made an attempt to put them down. Feed the right wolf. He didn't want to walk that road again!
"Geoff...thank you,” Grace said. “I don't know what we'd do without you all!"
Grace sounded so tightly distressed that Simon lowered his head, feeling guilty and fearful that she could read his hidden disapproval. He'd never seen her like this before—she was usually always so strong. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt her, and it wasn't her fault how things were—she didn't deserve any of this.
"So how are you doing, Toby?" Geoff asked, resting the backpack against the end of the bed and coming closer.
"It looks like he's going to be fine," Grace said, answering for her son. She stroked Toby's forehead, sounding tired but relieved. "His throat is a little inflamed, and they're still washing out his eyes, but they say he should make a full recovery."
"That's great news!" Geoff said.
Standing near to Grace, Daniels looked hopeful too. He said, "We're just waiting on the results of a few more tests, and then the doctors said Grace should be able to take him home." His concerned tone was revealing, and a far cry from the classroom teacher Simon knew better.
Though he didn’t look anywhere near as bad as Toby, Daniels looked a bit 'smoke damaged', too. His eyes had a puffy redness to them and there was soot on his skin and clothing.
Simon watched as Daniels scanned the room and suddenly looked uncomfortable.
"I should probably be getting off myself," Daniels said. Even in his tracksuit, he sounded stiffly formal.
"But how are you going to get home, Marcus?" Grace asked. She looked troubled and Simon remembered they said that Daniels had gone with Toby in the ambulance. He had no car there.
"Oh, don't worry about me. I'm just relieved Toby is out of the woods." Daniels' tone remained formal. "I can get a taxi easily enough."
"Why don't you take my car?" Grace pressed. "I'm sure Lucy can drop us home."
Daniels shook his head. "Thank you, Grace. It's very kind, but you shouldn't be without a car tonight, just in case..." He nodded towards Toby to make his point. "It's fine, honestly. I can get a taxi to the school and pick up my own car from there."
"Don't be ridiculous, Marcus!" Lucy said at once. Despite everything, Simon smothered a smirk at the tone his mum usually reserved for him, Luke, and other naughty schoolboys.
"We're not leaving you to go find a taxi, for goodness sake!" she continued, giving Daniels a determined glint. "Of course Geoff will take you back to the school to get your car."
"Mrs. Summers..." Daniels lifted his hands protectively. "I appreciate the offer, but it's really not necessary."
Good luck with that, sir!
Geoff seemed to agree with Simon's silent verdict, and broke the impasse. "I can save you a lot of time, Marcus, and tell you from experience that you won't win! I'm ready to go whenever you are." He grinned and didn’t look at all put out that, no sooner than he’d arrived, he was being sent off again. Simon wondered if it was because his dad thought he could get the inside story about what was going on between Grace and Daniels.
"Thank you, Hon. I'll bring Simon with me," Lucy added looking satisfied.
"Well, that's kind of you both. Thanks." Daniels accepted gracefully. "I guess I should really be getting back there to see how bad the damage is."
"Let's go then," Geoff said, and the four adults stepped out of the curtained cubicle, talking as they walked a few steps in the direction of the parking lot. It squashed any possibility that Simon might be leaving any time soon. It also left him alone with Toby for a moment. They stared at each other warily, but neither spoke.
It wasn't long before the curtain swished back again. It was just the mums now. Lucy studied him and Toby and then said, "Well, now we have some backup, why don't we pop over to the cafeteria, Grace, and get a hot drink?"
By backup, Simon guessed she meant him. Pushed into a corner, he kept his feelings to himself and, for Grace's sake, said, “Go ahead—I can wait here for you.”
Grace looked at him with uncertainty, her eyes flicking between him and her son. He could tell from her expression that she knew stuff was bad between them. But who was it that she was worried for? Him or Toby?
"It's just down the hall," encouraged Lucy, perhaps also sensing Grace's reticence. "Simon can come and get us if we're needed...can't you sweetheart?"
"Well, that might be nice," Grace admitted. "Just for a couple of minutes."
As soon as they were alone, Toby did nothing but watch him through achy, dull eyes. Simon remained tight-lipped too, leaning against the wall, and finally looking elsewhere. Around them, the sounds and smells of hospitals did little to fill the vacuum. He resented being forced into the same space as his ex-boyfriend, but for now he was stuck.
It went on like this for several long minutes until Toby finally pulled down the face masked and croaked, "Why the hell are you even here...?"
Simon glared at him, though he was shocked by the painfully dry, raspy voice. "Why did you set fire to the Art block?"
Toby coughed. It was dry with effort and his eyes were wide in surprise "You think I did that?"
"Do you even care?" Toby sounded angry.
Simon shrugged. Yes and no.
They were interrupted by a nurse who breezed through the curtain unannounced. Briefly glancing at Simon once she had pulled it behind her, she went on to ignore him and replaced the mask on Toby’s face.
"We want to start you on some antibiotic drops, Toby," she said after checking the chart and scribbling a note. "And then we just need to see your mom before you can go."
At her request, Toby put his head back and blinked rapidly as she let a few drops of the solution from a small bottle slip into his eyes. Then she left. Immediately, he wrenched down the oxygen mask again, and hissed, "Look...I get it okay... you fucking hate me! I get that, but you can't hate me more than I hate myself." He sounded dull and defeated, and was unable to hide how miserable he felt.
Simon ground his teeth, though for the first time, there was something in Toby's voice that touched him. Maybe it was because Toby seemed to accept now that it was over, that there really was no going back or sweeping it under the carpet. He looked broken—burned by more than the smoke and flames of the fire. For the first time, Simon actually felt a tinge of sorrow for him.
However, it was nowhere near enough to say anything other than, “You should have thought about that before you...” Breathing hard, he'd kept his voice low, but he didn’t need to see the alarm in Toby’s face to let him know there was somebody behind him. He could already sense it and froze, relieved he'd not finished what he was about to say.
“Toby?” Grace’s tone was rigid with accusation and not a little fear. "What did you do?”
Simon wheeled and hung his head as shame threatened him again. His immediate thought was that somehow she knew, somehow she'd heard the unspoken end of his last sentence...'fucked me'.
But it wasn't that. Outside there were voices and the curtain was pulled back further revealing two unknown men. It didn't take the badges around their necks to know they were plain-clothed police officers.
Grace's eyes flicked from Toby to them, and in a more controlled voice, she said, "The police are here to take a statement."
Both officers squeezed through the curtain. Without any introduction, one of the men referred to something in his notepad, and said, “Mrs. Skerrit, this is your son, Toby, correct?”
“Yes.” Grace tore her questioning eyes off Toby, and faced the officers. It was hard to know what she was thinking, but she looked flustered, and it didn't look like she'd had much time to drink a cup of coffee.
“And this is...?” The man pierced Simon with what felt like an accusing glint. Who are you? Why are you here? What role did you play in all this?
From behind the police officer, Simon's mum came to his rescue.
“That’s my son, Simon, Detective,” Lucy said quickly, stepping next to Simon. “He and Toby are friends.”
“At the Academy, too, Ma'am?”
"And you are?" The detective poised with his pencil. He was polite, but it wasn’t hard to figure out why they were there, or what his tone was inferring. There had been a fire at the prodigious Atlanta Academy. Possibly it was arson, and Toby was the prime suspect. And now Simon was in the frame too.
"Lucy Summers. We're family friends of Grace and Toby."
“Would you mind if we ask your son a few questions, too," the detective said. He sounded firmly determined as he scribbled. "Just to try to get a better picture of what might have happened?”
Lucy's eyes narrowed and she didn’t look happy at where it seemed to be leading. Her face was tight. “I’m sure that will be fine,” she replied, though her tone said otherwise.
“Thank you, Ma'am,” the officer replied, “and would you mind stepping out into the waiting area for a few minutes? We’ll only be a moment here.” He stood his ground and waited until both Simon and Simon’s mum left. Behind them, the curtain was pulled firmly across.
Simon and his mum did as they were asked, and as they sat down amongst the many people in the ER waiting room, Simon muttered quietly for her ears only. “Before you go off the handle and start assuming things, I’ve got no idea what happened, and it wasn’t me!”
“For goodness sake, I didn’t say you did!” she said in just as low a voice, though he knew her too well to actually believe it.
Yeah right—you’re wondering it though.
“But how come Toby was in there?” she probed, sidestepping the look in his narrowed eyes. “In the Art building, I mean... I thought they usually locked everything off during a sports day?”
Simon shrugged. “Daniels gave him a key so he could get on with some work. Toby doesn't go in for sports—and that’s all I know.” It was the truth, and he left it at that as they descended into an uneasy silence and waited. He wondered what Toby was telling the cops, and it was way more than a couple of minutes before they seemed to have finished with him. They stood as the officers ambled up.
“Sorry about the delay, Mrs. Summers.” The detective looked at the two of them enquiringly, putting his pencil to his notepad. “You’re not from this country I take it? Have you and your family been here long?”
“About five years.” Her reply was clipped as those round about them tuned to stare. “Is any of that relevant?”
“Just being polite, that’s all, Ma'am,” the detective said smoothly. He moved on. “Would your son mind if we asked him a few questions?”
Her tone was becoming combative as those around them watched the mini-drama unfold, and she glared at him. “All we came here to do was to visit a family friend in hospital, and now you want to interrogate my son—just because he’s here?”
“Ma’am, it’s just a few simple enquiries, that’s all—nothing to be worried about.”
"Then you won’t mind me being present," she returned, much to Simon’s relief.
“Of course, Ma'am.” A look flicked between the two cops. “For now.” It was ominous and Simon got the feeling they would have been happier to corner him alone!
“Maybe we could use one of the side rooms?” the second officer suggested. One was found, and Lucy picked up her jacket and purse before they followed the detectives into an office space that was vacated for them.
The two police officers gestured for Simon and his mum to sit before saying, "Simon, my name is Detective Preston. This is Detective Willett."
The older of the two by far, Preston was tall and greying. Willett looked about half his age, and his dark eyes flickered constantly, gauging the surroundings and drilling into Simon and his mum. That one made Simon nervous, and he was glad he had his mum at his side.
“We just need to ask you a few questions, son,” Preston continued once they were comfortable. Simon said nothing, so he pressed on. “You say you and Toby Skerrit are friends?”
“For how long?”
“I dunno.” He shrugged and looked to his mum for confirmation. “Five years?”
“Have you ever been in trouble with the law, Simon?” asked Willett, cutting into the questioning. "Here or in your home country?"
“Of course he hasn’t!” Lucy was immediately irate.
“I’m sorry Ma'am, we have to ask,” replied Willett, though he didn’t sound at all apologetic. “There's been a serious incident at this school, the Academy, and we’re investigating. Now, as I—”
Simon interrupted him. “No, I have haven’t been in trouble with the law. Do you think I did it?” He glared at them.
“Did what Simon?” Both detectives leaned forward as though expecting a confession. Simon didn’t reply, so Preston returned to his notes. “It was the school sports day, correct?”
“And you were competing?”
“Oh?” The detective seemed surprised. “Then you were watching?”
The two of them glanced at each other. “Why not?” Willet asked, shifting in his seat. His nose flared as if he were scenting something not quite right.
“I didn’t want to.”
At the admission, Preston took over again. “Simon, can you tell us where you were when the fire started?”
“I think this has gone far enough,” Lucy growled at them. “You're beginning to make it sound like my son needs a lawyer!”
She made to stand, but Simon overrode her, holding her arm. The last thing he wanted was a scene. “It’s alright mum. I’ve not done anything wrong."
He turned back to the detectives. "I was in the library most of the day.”
“The library?” The manifest tone of disbelief that a young man could spend the whole day in a school library during a school sports day was unconcealed. “The whole day?”
“Well, I went out for some lunch at around twelve-thirty, but then came back.”
“And what time would that have been?”
‘When I got back?” Simon shrugged. He wasn’t exactly sure, but he could take a stab within five minutes. “I guess about one o'clock.”
The officers looked at their notes and frowned. “And you’re sure you didn’t leave after then?”
“Did anyone see you there?”
“Oh, for goodness sake!” Lucy muttered. Her tone was scathing. "My son has recently had a surgical procedure. He hasn't been fit to play any sports for a number of weeks! If you don't believe me then–"
“Mrs. Reed was there," Simon interrupted. "And Wingy...Adam Wingford, I mean.”
“And Mrs. Reed is…?”
“She’s the school librarian. Ask her. She’ll tell you—I was there all afternoon.” Simon’s tone became sullen. He was getting fed up of being asked questions too. He sat back and said, “Can I go now?”
The two detectives actually looked mildly disappointed that Simon had some kind of alibi, and he wondered what Toby had said to them. Knowing the bastard, he’d tried to put the blame on him somehow!
Both officers stood, and Preston said, “Yes that’s fine. We’ll be in touch if we need anything more.” They took some contact details, and with that, they left.
“Well! That was pleasant!” His mum was fuming once they were alone, and made it sound like it had been her who’d been interrogated! She shook her head in irritation. “We’d better go and see how Toby and Grace are doing—no doubt they got the Spanish Inquisition, too!”
They went back to Toby’s bed, and indeed it looked like Grace wasn’t that happy. From the guarded glance that she shot him, Simon wondered how much that had to do with what she had just got out of her son regarding what was going on between him and Toby.
Lucy interpreted it differently. "Tell me about it. If what we just experienced with those two is anything like you got, you have to wonder!"
They paused as, coated in efficient white, an ER Doctor swept in. He gave Toby the briefest of examinations and then said he could get dressed and scarper! They left Toby inside the closed curtain to shuffle into clean clothes—Simon’s clothes—while they waited outside.
"What did I do with my jacket?" Lucy pursed her lips and her eyes flicked around. After a moment she frowned and clucked. "I left it in that room, didn't I. I won't be a minute." With that, she hurried off.
Just outside the curtain, Simon was left under Grace's beady eye. Gently she touched his arm, and just as gently said, "Toby told me about the two of you."
Oh bloody hell. Simon froze. He had no idea what to say. A dozen things passed through his head, but nothing was right. However, she saved him from yet again nearly putting his foot completely in it, when she softly added, "that you'd decided to split up.”
Simon hung his head and said nothing, angry with the lie, but accepting the necessity of it at the same time. Suddenly he wanted to cry.
“I’m real sorry to hear that,” she continued quietly, and he could tell she meant it. “Is everything okay?”
No, everything was not okay!
“It’s fine,” he said, though he couldn’t look her in the eye, knowing that if he did, he would probably burst into tears—and then all hell would break loose! “It's just one of those things.”
One of those things? Was that what it was, and what people meant when they said stuff like that? It was over, finished—just one of those things.
But he still hadn't wanted Toby to set fire to himself—if that's what had happened. It was weird, but now he'd spoken it to Grace, he felt a loss, as if somebody important had died and left him.
The curtain next to them swished back and he had no doubt that Toby had heard everything that had just been said. Toby lowered his eyes too—another acknowledgement that it really was over.
A few moments later, Lucy returned. Toby was eager to be discharged, so they waited until the paperwork was completed, and then got into their separate cars to leave for home.
Simon settled into the front seat of the van, and they followed Grace in her beat-up Nissan. He and his mother didn’t say three words to each other the whole way home. Either she was still fuming about the way they'd been treated by the cops, or she'd just run out of steam.
In the silence, he thought about Grace. It was a relief really. He'd been dreading that conversation. He didn’t know if he could face her and somehow explain why she wouldn't see much of him again. They parted company from the Skerrits and drove through their subdivision. As they pulled onto the drive, he was glad he was home. He knew he had to start doing better at feeding the right wolf—only then would he start moving on.
His mum felt distantly abrupt when she took her purse and slammed the van door, saying, "I'll get dinner on if you want anything." He followed her into the house more slowly, wondering whether his family would still want him after the way he'd been the last month.
* * *
That dinner time, the talk around the table was all about the fire, the hospital, and the ridiculous police department who should know better than to go around hounding young people and treating them like criminals! Luke had to smirk—the way their mum was going on, you'd think she and Si had been strip-searched rather just asked a few simple questions!
The good news was, it seemed Toby would make a full recovery, and as a result, everyone seemed a bit less uptight. A few hours ago, as he'd been staring at the burning building, terrified that Simon might be in there, it felt like the world was ending. Now that it was all over, it was just becoming one of those things that was bound to fill conversation in years to come. Where you there that day the Art Block went up like a tinderbox? Did you see when Dodds took a swing at Benton? Oh come on...he never took a swing. I was there! He just pushed him!
It would all take on a life of its own like these things did!
In the here and now, Simon seemed to be making more of an effort too, chatting, and even smiling a few times. Luke hoped that if he could see it, their mum and dad would, too.
Before dinner, he'd rung around a few of the guys to let everyone know Toby was on the mend. Then, to help out, he'd done a run to the dry cleaners with his and Simon’s school uniforms—the place they used did a fast turn around with some special spray just for this kind of thing—and the rest of their clothing was in the wash. He'd picked up some Chinese takeaway at the same time at his dad's request rather than their mum have to start cooking.
Everyone liked Chinese!
After dinner, he planned to do some homework first, and then had offered to go back to recover the dry-cleaning—and probably stop off on the way back, to fuel up. At least now the prices had begun to drop steeply after the summer high. It was a good sign that things were getting back to normal.
But there was still the question of the painting he'd picked up from the ground outside the Art block. To anyone else, it would have just looked like part of the detritus of the building that the firemen had been clearing out, but he knew better. However, he held back on pushing Simon on that, not wanting to cause a reversal of his brother's improving mood.
“So what did Marcus say about it all?” asked Lucy. Now that she'd eaten, she seemed more relaxed.
Luke's ears pricked up. "Daniels, you mean?" He knew the guy had gone to the hospital with Toby, but nothing more.
“Your dad drove him back to the school from the hospital to get his car,” she explained for Luke's sake.
"What did Marcus say about what—him and Grace, or the fire?" Geoff grinned as she gave him a testy look, then went on, “Nothing much. Just that the Art block was on fire, and him and Milton went into the building along with the guy from Creek..."
"Coach Dodds." Luke reached through the multiple tubs, to snag the Beef Chow Mein. "Pretty cool guy!"
"That's him," Geoff continued. "The place was full of smoke, but Marcus said he knows the place well enough to be able to get around blindfold if he had to. Even so, they were brave guys in my opinion. He said they found Toby curled up apparently unconscious on the floor by the desk he usually works at, though why the kid didn’t just leg it when it first started, I’ve know idea? They just grabbed him and ran for it.”
“Maybe he was overcome by smoke—Toby, I mean,” Lucy suggested.
“Maybe. Did he say anything to you, Simon?”
Simon shook his head as he studied his empty plate.
“And you were in the library all afternoon while this was going on?” asked Geoff. He took the Chow Mein from Luke and dumped the remains on his plate.
Simon became uncomfortably uptight as he looked up. “So you think I did it too, then? I told you. I went back after lunch, checked out a book and spent the afternoon reading! Why can't you believe me?"
Luke grimaced, wondering if it was going to spiral, but his brother paused a beat and took a breath.
“Oh, for goodness sake! Of course we believe you!” Lucy wasn’t so restrained and literally threw up her hands in frustration. “We just don’t understand why you would want to spend the whole day sitting in the library during the school sports day!”
"I..." Simon paused and dropped his eyes. "Sorry... Wrong wolf..."
Luke stepped in quickly. He had no idea what his brother was talking about, but Si really seemed to be making an effort—couldn't they see that? “Didn't you say you checked out a book?” he said. He'd seen the school library book on Simon's bedside table earlier.
“Yes, that’s what I said," Simon mumbled. He seemed conflicted. If he was upset, Luke got the sense it wasn't at them.
“Well there you go, Dad. If the police are doing their job, that will prove it! We had a look at the school library system in computing last year. It sets a date and time stamp when a book gets checked out.” Luke studied his brother, and could see truth there. Si hadn’t been involved in lighting any fires. On the other hand, that didn't mean he'd provided any answers for the other questions Luke had for him.
“Well that’s it then.” Their mum gathered up the plates and tried to smooth it over. “Idiotic policemen!”
It was better than nothing, and the tension eased a little. Luke glanced at his brother to see how he would react—if he reacted at all—and Simon caught his eye and held it.
"Sorry..." Simon said. It was unexpected and he looked worn out by the day. But there was something about his body language that was different from most of the recent meals they'd had around that table. Nobody else was speaking, but even so, it seemed to go quieter.
Luke frowned, turning his head inquisitively, but Simon continued softly. "The stuff I said yesterday...I...I don't blame you for hating me. It was pretty crap. I really am sorry."
Luke didn't quite know what to say. He'd been royally pissed off at the embarrassing scene with the bottle of lube, though he didn't doubt that Simon meant it when he said sorry. However, it was their mum that spoke first.
"Nobody hates you, sweetheart!" She reached towards Simon and covered his hand with her own. She appeared determined to grab hold of anything good, and even the word 'crap' got ignored! Simon left his hand with hers on the table. Even that, thought Luke, spoke volumes.
Simon's tone was awkward as he said, "I know you want me to see a therapist, but can we just see how goes for a bit. Just this week."
A therapist? It was the first time Luke had heard about that, though he kept his surprise from his face. The thought that his little brother might be going into therapy was...was bloody shocking, actually.
Their mum and dad exchanged a look. It was difficult to know what they were thinking. Then the phone rang. Leaving the question hanging, Geoff went to go answer it.
"Hello...” Geoff held the phone to his ear and listened. Then he mouthed, "The Walkers..."
"Are they going up this Sunday?" Simon asked immediately as Geoff continued to listen to the hidden voice.
"This Sunday?" Geoff said. "Sure, he's just here, I'll ask him."
Geoff put his hand over the mouthpiece. "Yes, they're going up to the lake on Sunday. They want to know if you want to go, too?"
"You bet!" There was an enthusiasm in Simon's voice that had been missing for weeks.
Back on the phone, Geoff said, "That's a yes, Kev. Nine at our place then...and thanks!"
Geoff came to sit back down and returned to the earlier question, but was cautious. "Let's see how the rest of the week goes shall we. Me and mum think there's nothing wrong with getting a bit of help if you need it, but a good dose of fresh air up at the lake might be good, too."
Luke leaned back in his chair and considered it all. He was still reeling from what he'd learned. Somewhere along the line, he'd given up on his brother, and it didn't feel good—not now he realized they felt Simon needed a counselor.
What the hell happened to him needing a brother!
Luke decided that, whatever the rest of the week brought, he was going to start Simon talking soon…that night if possible! In fact, it wasn’t him that was banging on Simon’s door demanding answers.
Not long after dinner had finished, Luke went up to his room where he passed the time surfing on his laptop, while at the same time keeping a weathered eye through the open door to the landing. He saw Simon pass by heading to his room. Luke had been waiting a few minutes and gathering his thoughts, when Simon came through from his own room on his own accord. Si hadn't done that in a while! Even more telling, was that the picture—the one that Luke had left propped against the wall in Simon’s room earlier that afternoon—was in his hand.
Luke swiveled and gave his brother an encouraging smile. "Hey."
"Hey..." Fingering the frame in his hands, Simon quickly got to the point. In a low voice, he said, “Toby and me…we broke up.”
“Oh…” Luke slowly closed the lid on his laptop as he tried to get his head around Simon’s explanation. It made sense of a lot of things and wasn’t really a surprise—the pair hardly spoke these days. He got up from his desk and first went to close his bedroom door. Their parents were downstairs watching the TV, but it didn't do any harm to be careful.
Next Luke came to sit cross-legged on his bed, leaving an inviting space nearby. He wasn’t sure what to say. I’m sorry? That’s too bad? Never mind, there’ll always be a next time?
Instead, he asked, “When?”
Simon came and perched some distance away at the end of the bed. Still fingering the picture, he said, “A while. It was around the time I had to go to hospital.”
Lots of things swirled into place at that revelation. “Si, what happened?”
Simon shrugged. “Just one of those things, I guess. I don’t really want to talk about it—I just came to let you know.”
Luke was silent for long moments, and then asked, “And the picture?”
“Is it okay if we don’t talk about it? At least not just now?” Simon's tone got back some of its caution.
“Not if you don’t want to.”
There was really only one other question, though Luke already knew the answer as he asked, "Are you okay?" He lifted his arm encouragingly and Simon shuffled nearer. As Luke wrapped his brother in a hug, Simon—fifteen-year-old or not—started crying.