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a girl so bright she'll blind you

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10


The first time Aaron sees Katelyn, she’s smiling in her bright-coloured Vixen uniform, waving to the crowded court grandstands, joining arms with the pretty girl next to her. He’s an athlete, but she’s athletic, all grace and power, and he’s not stupid enough to be tripping over himself because of any girl, but if he were –

He’s not. He’s not that stupid, and girls like that are vibrant daydreams for boys like him, born out of the gutter. Even if he didn’t have the knife of his brother pressed to his spine, he couldn’t –

He can’t. It’s very simple, except for how it’s not.

The first time Katelyn really sees Aaron, she’s leaning over him in the library, the breadth of her body throwing his textbook into an eclipse. She says, “Hey, about the group assignment-”

The sound of her voice is an assault, unexpected. Aaron cuts her off with a snarled, “Back off.”

There’s something secretive inside him, something that makes him hiss when someone encroaches on his space, or when someone looks over his shoulder. Today all he has to protect is a biology text he’s too broke to afford and the vulnerable skin of his back, and that’s enough for him.

She steps back straight away, startled. “Sorry, I didn’t…”

Probably Aaron is meant to apologise for snapping at her. Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. He doesn’t, levelling a look at her over his shoulder that says the complete opposite of that.

He’s used to girls who won’t meet his eyes. It’s with a touch of surprise that he sees the expression on Katelyn’s face turn from apologetic to resolute. It’s at odds with the grinning cheerleader he sees at games. It’s harder than anything that laughing girl should be capable of.

She puts a hand on her hip, raises an eyebrow. “The assignment.”

If he was hoping she was going to leave, he isn’t going to get that wish. Also, he didn’t take this shitty deal-bound chance at a college education to fucking fail out of it because of spite. “What about it?”

“Are you going to work with us or not?” she asks. Demands, maybe. “Because your grades are probably nearly as good as mine, and I want to do well on this.”

Aaron wants to tell her to fuck off, but something in him sticks and holds fast. “Nearly?”

There’s a flicker in her expression. “What?”

“You said ‘nearly as good’,” Aaron says. “What makes you think mine aren’t better?”

Another flicker. This time a tiny dot of warmth blossoms in the centre of her mouth so her lips quirk a little. Her lipstick is dark purple like aubergine, high-gloss. Aaron wants to see teeth.

She says, “I guess if you work with me, we’ll find out.”


9


The thing about having a brother like Andrew is that you always look normal by comparison.

The thing about Aaron is that he’s a fuck up, too.

The thing about Katelyn is that, somehow, she either hasn’t realised that yet or has and just doesn’t care.

They meet in the library because they’re working on a project together. They keep meeting in the library because Andrew won’t set foot inside the doors, as long as he doesn’t have a good reason to. At first, Aaron doesn’t bother to explain the whys of it to her, that they don’t go to coffee shops like normal people. It’s not until the drama at the banquet, Neil’s sharp tongue and Riko’s anger and Kevin’s impending meltdown, that he realises he needs to. Before Katelyn is too entangled to avoid making an accidental misstep.

The thing about their deal is that Andrew never said Aaron couldn’t fuck anyone. It rankles at Aaron that maybe somehow Andrew knows he isn’t cut out for casual, that he could never let someone that he didn’t trust that close to him. Maybe that’s why it feels more transgressive to buy Katelyn coffee and sit across a table from her than it would to go back to her room to taste her careful lipstick and every other part of her.

There’s no ‘just’ for him and everyone like him. Not unless you count ‘just barely alive’. 

Katelyn is so, so alive. He can’t look away from her, with her smiles and her steadiness and her intelligence and the clever turns of phrase that play so beautifully off of her tongue. Aaron has never met someone who talks like Katelyn. He can’t get over it. It’s her honesty and kindness he really wants a taste of. Just a little, just, just - 

They stay late one night, Aaron texting Nicky with a little white lie he knows will be passed on to Andrew, and Aaron ends up walking Katelyn home. She lives in one of the other dorm buildings on the edge of campus.

They stop in the halo of a streetlight, not touching but standing close. It’s cold out, and he can see Katelyn’s breath. It makes him think of exhaled smoke.

She smiles, a fine edge. “Want to come up with me?”

Her expression is all invitation. Aaron isn’t stupid. He knows she isn’t asking him up to do more schoolwork or to give him a tour. Unless it’s the latter, and the tour ends at her bed.

“I’m not that kind of guy,” he says, and though he means it to sound light, the words land like stones. “Sorry.”

She smiles, unperturbed, perhaps a little rueful. “You can’t blame me for trying, right?”

“I don’t know,” Aaron says, and then winces. “That came out wrong. I just…”

“You don’t do this much,” Katelyn says. “I can tell.”

This time she’s the one to wince and catch herself. “Uh.”

“It’s fine,” Aaron says with a shrug. “It’s not like you’re wrong.”

“You’re a serious boy. It figures you would want something serious,” she says, and if Aaron likes the fact she calls him a boy rather than a man, likes the implied naivety of it, well. He already knows he’s a little fucked up.

“Can I kiss you?” he asks, surprising himself.

She looks surprised, too. But after a moment she says, “Yeah. Yes, Aaron, you can.”


8


She makes a game out of leaving lipstick marks on him when they’re in bed, her clever eyes gleaming in the half-light, but she’s so, so careful to wipe them off later. Somehow, that makes it worse.

Today’s colour is turquoise with a touch of glitter in it. He’s wearing more of it than she is, his mouth bitten and stinging. It feels stupid-good in a way he’s unfamiliar with but wants so much more of.

They lie together breathless in the space and time they’ve made for themselves, in Katelyn’s bed and between their classes. She curls into him, head on his chest and her fingers tracing delicate shapes over his ribs.

There’s a mark there from her lips. She says, “This colour looks good on you.”

“Better on you,” he tells her. He strokes her hair so light she might not feel it. He’s marvelling. 

“I don’t know,” she replies. “I think it compliments your eyes.”

“My eyes aren’t that colour.”

She pushes up onto an elbow so she’s leaning over him, and somehow he doesn’t feel claustrophobic. Her skin is glowing with sweat and good health. 

She looks closer, straight into his eyes, her mouth curving up. “You’ve got a little green in there. A little gold. Some grey, some blue. They’re pretty.”

Aaron, who is pale like he doesn’t get out much and who has an ugly series of scars not old enough to go silver yet, hasn’t ever been called pretty. “They’re mostly light brown.”

Katelyn sighs. “You’re not exactly a poet, are you?”

“Bio major. What do you think?”

“Then let me explain it in a way you’ll understand,” she says, stroking her thumb over his brow. “Great combination of alleles. I like them.”

She leans down and kisses him, cupping his jaw. Aaron’s heart shakes in his chest.

He might be breaking a deal here, but it’s not as bad as murder. 


7


Aaron wakes and scrubs at his face with frantic, clumsy hands. He swears he’s –

- covered in blood, covered in it, self-inflicted, his fingers nerveless to the soundtrack of nothing but his own heartbeat - 

- and maybe the sound of someone gasping their last like they’re drowning - 

- and maybe the sound of Andrew, laughing –

- “Aaron. Aaron, sweetheart.”

He takes his first breath in what feels like hours. It wheezes pathetic in his throat, and in his clutched-closed ribcage. Fuck.

“I’m here,” Katelyn says. “It’s okay. Just breathe.”

She isn’t touching him. That’s good. The fear of hurting her in a moment of blind panic is enough to make him spin out all over again.

“You can credit me in,” Aaron whispers, and then breathes again, “your psychiatry thesis.”

“As if I’m going to do psychiatry,” she scoffs, and the laugh Aaron lets out is hysterical. “Shh, shh.”

“Fuck,” Aaron says. He’s shaking, and it’s bleeding through him. His teeth start chattering.

“It’s okay, baby. You’re okay,” she says, a mantra. She pulls the blankets up and wraps them around him. “Can I touch you?”

He’s shaking too hard to reply, but when he nods she wraps herself around him too. She holds on tight like she’s trying to keep him together. He needs it more than he needs oxygen in his lungs, craves her steady strength.

She lays her cheek between his shoulder blades. 

“He got it good,” Aaron mutters. “Quick. He didn’t deserve that.”

“You deserve better than being the one to kill him, though,” Katelyn says, and Jesus fucking Christ. Aaron would argue, but those words rob him of the breath for it.

“You need to sleep,” he says eventually. His voice comes out hoarse but even enough.

“Yeah,” Katelyn agrees. “Will you lie down with me?”

Aaron isn’t shaking anymore, or not so much. A part of him wants to climb out of bed and find whatever he can to drown everything out – booze, whatever drugs he can get his hands on – but it’s easy enough to push down. Practice makes perfect, he thinks with a trace of amusement.

“Okay,” he submits. He lies down blanket and all, pressing the two of them together. They still feel new, in bed like this just sleeping, but it’s getting less so. They’re beginning to fit.

Yeah, he’s breaking a deal. But he and his brother are one for one in terms of killings, and Aaron might just see Neil’s point if he looks at it slant-ways.


6


The thing is, nothing like that – sharing a bed every night, being careless, being together – can last. Andrew comes back from Easthaven, looks at Aaron for a second and then looks away in dismissal, and they’re back to where they were at sixteen all over again like nothing ever happened.

Aaron’s hands might be dripping red every night in his dreams, but he just swallows it. He pulls back and doesn’t have to explain to Katelyn why. While they sleep apart he at least has the luxury of lying about the nightmares.

On their last night together before Andrew came back, Katelyn told him to get some help. More accurately, she said that he couldn’t go on like this. She said there was a psychiatrist there for him to use anytime in Dobson. Aaron replied that there was nothing Dobson could do for him and that she was a waste of time. Katelyn had said something about her own therapy, how it had helped her.

Aaron had said she can’t help me. Maybe it worked for you, but we’re not the same, and then not slept that entire night like that might have proven he was okay.

It’s the truth, what he said. It’s hung between them ever since, irrefutable and almost damning. The two of them are nothing alike, not really. Case in point: Katelyn thinking he can’t go on like this. Joke’s on her, because he’s been ‘going on like this’ his entire life so far.

Maybe intractability is a Minyard trait. It would explain a lot about how neither of them is dead so far.

Given everything, Aaron should predict what happens next.

Katelyn doesn’t call much – they generally stick to text, and because Andrew is Andrew Aaron keeps his inbox cleared – but Aaron’s too stupid to feel a bolt of uncertainty when his phone rings and her name is the one on the screen.

He’s just walked out of his biochem class, phone in hand, so he answers straight away. “Hey.”

“Hi,” is the reply, and that’s when he knows something is wrong. Her tone isn’t right. Careful in a way that doesn’t suit her, like she’s tiptoeing around the edges of him. Aaron is used to that from all kinds of people, but not from her.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, because getting straight to the point is one of his few good traits.

“Nothing,” she tries, but her voice wobbles. “I just – can you talk?”

“Do you need me to come over?”

“No!” she says, too sharp. “No, it’s fine. I just – just let me talk?”

“Of course.” Aaron isn’t that particular kind of asshole.

Katelyn is quiet for a while. Aaron doesn’t say anything, waiting for her to gather herself, or whatever it is she’s doing at the other end of the line. It’s then, though, that he starts to feel what he’ll later recognise as unease.

“I love you,” she says, and apparently it’s time to get back on the emotional rollercoaster because he has no idea what he’s feeling right now.

“Okay,” he says, which is a horrible response. On the other hand… “But?”

She laughs softly. Her voice shakes. “Are we going to go on like this forever?”

“You know why we’re doing it,” Aaron tells her. It feels inadequate.

He’s clearly not the only one who thinks so. “Actually, Aaron, I don’t.”

Half of Aaron immediately wants to tell her everything. The other half knows that’s a goddamn stupid idea. He’s stopped from doing anything at all by Katelyn continuing, “Well, I didn’t.”

It’s ludicrous that Aaron’s first thought is that Andrew must have talked to her. 

“Neil talked to me,” she says, confirming his second thought an instant later. “Whatever is going on with your brother, it has to stop. I love you, but I can’t do this anymore. Either you sort this out with him, or we’re done.”

Aaron’s stomach drops. Or maybe that’s his heart.

“Neil thinks the two of you need to do therapy together. I agree,” she goes on. Her voice sounds tear-wet. “Until you do, I won’t see you or talk to you. And if that means we never talk again, I’m going to be really pissed off at you.”

There’s a long silence. Then she says, “Aaron. Say something.”

He should hang up and be done with all of this. He says instead, “I can’t.”

“You can,” she tells him. “Please. For me, if not for yourself. I love you.”

She hangs up on him first. 


5


It’s not that hard to find Neil. The elevator opens on the third floor and there he is, casting an instinctive look over his shoulder. Aaron hits him a split-second later, bulling him straight into the wall.

Neil isn’t much of a fighter, but he has a tolerance for pain that is frankly ridiculous. He wears a rabbit punch to the cheekbone without even seeming to feel it, bends a little with a harder punch Aaron lands right on his mouth, and then hits Aaron in the belly hard enough to almost buy him a little space.

The sound of Neil colliding with the wall must have caught the attention of the other athletes, though – hard hands grab Aaron’s arm and shoulders, wrenching him away from his renewed grip. He drags Neil with him for a moment before he can’t hang on any longer.

Aaron fights for a moment and then gives it up as a bad job. He’s going to have a bruise on his ribs, but the blood on Neil’s lips is worth that.

“Cool it,” Ricky from the soccer team says, hands spread. “We’ve got enough trouble to deal with right now without your bullshit.”

“We’re good,” Neil lies, expression already smoothing. 

Aaron, on fire, barks in rapid and brutal German, “Fuck you! What the fuck did you tell her?”

Neil shrugs coolly. “Why, did she finally make up her mind? What happened, you showed up at her door to complain about the car and got an ultimatum in response?”

“You should know!”

Ricky says something, but Aaron doesn’t hear it over the crackling in his ears, and Neil seems to ignore it. “I told her to make a stand. I never went back and asked her if she found her spine. For what it’s worth, I did it before I found out how specific Andrew’s promise was. I might have been a little more considerate if I’d known how stupid you were.”

He’s lucky Aaron is still being held back because otherwise he would have broken Neil’s face for that. “You had no right to drag her into this!”

He can read from Neil’s face exactly what he’s thinking, and that’s I’m not the one who dragged her into this. It really, really infuriates Aaron that he’s right.


4


Neil thinks Aaron is stupid. The feeling is mutual.

Aaron doesn’t blame himself for missing Neil-and-Andrew, because Andrew never does anything normally. It’s the expression on Andrew’s face that gives him away – the fact that there is one at all, even if it’s mostly anger and blind, brutal determination. That, and Aaron having to help peel Andrew’s hands off of Kevin’s throat.

If that wasn’t enough, then there’s Andrew in a motel room in Baltimore, doing something Aaron swore he would never see his brother doing – opened up and vulnerable, on his knees, brought low by Neil Josten. Brought something. 

That’s why he’s here, on the balcony of an overpriced cabin in the woods that someone else’s money paid for, with Neil cornered.

There’s a thin taste of satisfaction mixed with the blood from his split lip. Aaron looks down where Neil is hunched over his own hand but still spitting something vitriolic and tries to focus on that.

“Nicky guesses it’s nothing more than hate sex,” Aaron says, ignoring him. “I’m hedging my bets on it being something else. We’ll know soon enough, right?”

“Stay out of it,” Neil attempts to growl. It’s less than threatening, given that he still can’t stand up straight.

“I won’t,” Aaron tells him. “You wanted me to fight for her. Do you think he’ll fight for you?”

“No,” Neil replies, without a pause.

Aaron shrugs, and leaves.


3


The first session where Aaron joined Andrew in therapy wasn’t ugly, because Andrew doesn’t care enough for that, and because Aaron didn’t talk. Neither was the second, because Aaron was actually trying. Neither was the third, because no matter how hard Aaron tried, Andrew would rebuff him with a well-placed and absent-seeming change of subject.

Patience isn’t Aaron’s strong suit, but he knows the power of observation too. 

He’s thought before that Andrew’s intelligence and ruthless foresight is a curse, and that it lets him see through Aaron like a pane of glass. He’s never thought that that might be because it’s less nonspecific intelligence and more insight via self-awareness. 

They’ve been ships in the night for years, but now they’re at a crossroads, standing face to face. It figures that it would take Aaron this long to realise just what it’s like to look in a mirror.

If sitting in the library with Katelyn and refusing to feel anything seemed deal-breaking to Aaron, he has to wonder exactly how Andrew felt letting Neil stay.

Do you think he’ll fight for you?

No.

Neil is wrong. Aaron is more than willing to bet on that.

“Does she know about the love of your life?” Aaron asks in the fourth session, and he phrases it that way because Andrew doesn’t have the exclusive rights to being self-aware, or of recognising himself in his twin.

Andrew’s mug pauses on the way to his mouth. His expression doesn’t shift, but that’s enough of a giveaway. To surprise him is a thrill. “I think you are confused.”

“Am I?” Aaron says, edged. “Do you think so?”

Maybe Andrew would react better to something that wasn’t so obviously Aaron playing all his good cards at once, determined to win. Aaron doesn’t give a fuck.

“Go on,” he says. “Tell her about Neil.”

It’s dangerous to look away from Andrew then, but Aaron does it anyway. What he sees on Dobson’s quiet face is the fact that she knows, has known for a while. He sees in the corner of his eye Andrew looking to her and seeing the same thing.

“You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to,” Dobson says. She sounds calm. 

“And here I thought therapy was all about talking about shit you would rather not tell anyone,” Aaron can’t resist saying.

The look she sends him is frustratingly nonjudgmental. “Of course not. I would never get anywhere if talking therapy was coercive.”

There are dozens of things Aaron could say to that, starting with how about the legal requirement that Andrew comes here once a week forever, huh? but he certainly can’t afford that segue. 

Andrew says in German, “You do not know what you are doing.”

There are plenty of things Aaron could say to that, too. Yeah – I’m going to win. Or, neither do you. But it’s been months, been years, and the brutal understanding that Neil forced into him weeks ago in regard to his mother’s death has been boiling under his skin in a sickening stew of hurt and clarity and confusion.

“You know what? You’re fucking right,” Aaron says, and he’s angry, and the words, tangled between his brain and his tongue, come out in English rather than the German he means them to. “I never do when it comes to you. I never know what you want from me, and your stupid insistence that I should trust everything you say when I’ve never been able to-”

He bites the inside of his lip hard enough to taste blood and takes control of himself. The next words out of his mouth are at least in German, which is better, because even though he’s ignoring Betsy he can feel her gaze.

“I may not understand what you really want from me, but I know something you want,” he says, more steadily. “Neil Josten.”

“I don’t want anything,” Andrew says, those same tired old words.

“Don’t fucking lie!” Aaron snarls, so suddenly he sees Betsy’s hand twitch on the table. “All that shit about deals, and you’re barely any better at keeping up your end than I am. Guess what, brother? You can’t have it both ways. Either you let me go, or you give up on him. So make a fucking decision.”

He stands. It hasn’t been an hour yet, but he’s not the one sentenced to stay here, and he’s tired of looking in this mirror, of beating his head and his hands against the glass. 

“Aaron,” Betsy says, but he’s already out of the door.

Andrew is his ride. Aaron looks straight past the car in the lot and starts walking. At least by the time he gets to the Court, he isn’t shaking anymore.


2


It’s days. Long enough that Aaron has basically resigned himself to the status quo. 

Once upon a time, he believed wholeheartedly in Andrew’s born-in-the-gutter-destined-to-stay-there theory. At some point, he stopped, and even he isn’t entirely sure when it happened, but he thinks it might have been tangled in lipstick marks on his skin and a honey-low voice telling straight-faced jokes in the library.

He’s not angry anymore. That’s the worst part. This feels more like grief, thick on his tongue.

That means he nearly drops his phone when it goes off with Katelyn’s name on the screen. Unlike last time she called him, this time it feels like he’s been transported straight into a horror movie, because it’s easy to go straight to the worst case scenario when you’ve lived nothing but.

“Katelyn?” he says.

On the other end of the line, there’s a rough breath, and then she says, “I just talked to your brother.”

That fits the horror theme. There’s a moment of silence where he imagines violence, imagines gore. Imagines that loss, the finality of it.

“Are you okay?” Aaron demands, his heart beating double-time.

“He called me a tumour,” she says.

Aaron is pre-med, but it honestly takes him a moment to begin to understand. “He…what?” 

“He said he should have cut me out while I was still benign,” she continues, and sobs. “What a fucking drama queen .”

Her voice is shaking like she’s terrified, but the amusement is unmistakeable. Aaron has to concede her point.

“Baby, where are you?” he asks, because he’s probably more frightened than her right now.

“I’m in my room,” she says. “I’m okay. But you should come here.”

There’s nothing Aaron would rather do more. He’s been hoping for this moment in a way he barely dared to think about directly, and he thought Andrew wouldn’t go around him like this, would end it face-to-face, but he supposes it’s not just between the two of them. 

“I’m coming,” he says. “I’m five minutes away.” It’s more like ten, but the second she hangs up he’s going to run. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

“I’m fine,” she repeats. “Really. He’s just a sore loser.”

She’s not wrong. “You won,” Aaron tells her.

We did,” Katelyn corrects, “But, you know what? I’m still going to consider it a win for me.”

“You should.” It’s all hers. It’s all for her.

“He said he hopes we’re miserable together,” she tells him.

Despite himself, despite everything, Aaron laughs.

He says, “Katelyn, I think that’s the closest to a blessing from him we’re ever going to get.”


1


Wedding organisation is a fucking disaster. Even Katelyn, who is generally coolly put together at all times, wakes him up at three in the morning and says, “Maybe we should elope.”

Aaron, drunk on sleep, says into his pillow, “Fine by me.”

“I don’t want you to die, though.”

That seems like a leap of logic. “Is the death of the groom common in runaway weddings?” Apparently being a doctor makes Aaron far more capable of logical speech when woken in the middle of the night than he ever used to be. The benefits of being on call.

“Mom loves you, but I still think she might kill you,” Katelyn says. “Also, Nicky would be sad.”

“Your mom would have to catch me first, and Nicky would get over it.” He wouldn’t, but that’s irrelevant because there’s no way they’re going to elope. “Vegas? We could go Elvis-themed. Or have a drive-through wedding.”

Katelyn’s hand grips his arm, rolling him over so they’re face-to-face. “You know a suspiciously large amount about Vegas weddings.”

She’s beautiful in the half-light of their alarm clock. He says, “Maybe I wanted to cover my bases for when you got sick of seating plans and floral arrangements.”

“Okay, now I know you’re fucking with me because I know you know that you’re doing the seating arrangement,” Katelyn says.

“We already paid the deposit on the venue, trust me when I say I’m definitely fucking with you.” 

“How’s that going, by the way? The seating.”

“Baby, it’s three in the morning. Please, I’m begging you, go back to sleep.”

She snorts. “You’ve gotten soft. Gone are the days where we pulled all-nighters.”

“That was to get into med school.” Also, it was hell. Aaron loves to sleep.

“And now it’s to make sure we have a perfect wedding.” 

“Who’s fucking with who now?” Aaron asks, because she’s grinning. The wedding is stressful, yes, but they’ve never been too worried about perfection. “It’s fine, anyway.”

She hums, nestling her forehead into his shoulder. “Where did you put Andrew?”

They’re no longer eye-to-eye, so Aaron has to settle for squinting at the wall instead of her. “What?”

“Your brother,” she says, and pokes him in the ribs. “He’s on the guest list, so he’s going to need a place to sit. I even booked him for the vegetarian option with the caterer.”

“With Matt and Dan,” Aaron answers, and then, “Uh.”

Because Dan is one of Katelyn’s bridesmaids, and Matt is a groomsman – who says you don’t stay friends with the people you meet in college – but that means Neil and Andrew will be sitting at the head table, with them. Which means the empty seats when they don’t turn up will be glaringly obvious.

“Works for me,” Katelyn tells him, clearly having already reached that conclusion.

“Maybe I’ll,” Aaron says, and then realises he has no actual solution to this problem off the top of his head. “I’ll figure it out later.”

“Again,” Katelyn says, “he is your brother. It’s not exactly a crazy idea that he sits with us. Nicky is.”

“He’s not going to come,” Aaron says. “It doesn’t matter.”

She pulls back to look at him. “Did he tell you that?”

It’s been years since they graduated from Palmetto State, and Aaron honestly thought he would never hear another word from Andrew unless it was coerced by Nicky. That hasn’t been accurate – they’ve seen each other several times – but when they do talk, it’s not about Aaron’s wedding. 

“I haven’t asked,” Aaron says.

“They RSVP-ed and said they were coming when we sent out the invitations.”

“Do you think that means anything?” His voice sounds vaguely scathing. “It was Neil who said yes, right?”

“Uh, yes, it was, but I do think it means something,” Katelyn says, in the same tone. “I think it means that they’re both coming to the wedding and that they’ll need somewhere to sit.”

Aaron sighs. “I mean this is the nicest way possible, but you don’t know him.”

“No, you’re being a condescending dick,” she says, fairly, and then punches him in the shoulder, which is less fair, “And maybe I don’t know him that well. But I know enough, and, more to the point, I know you.”

“That doesn’t have anything to do with-”

“Don’t finish up with being intentionally obtuse,” she warns. “If tomorrow in the mail you got an invitation to his wedding, would you go?”

“That’s irrelevant. There’s no way they’ll get married.” The thought is honestly laughable.

“Okay, for one thing, don’t be so sure about that,” Katelyn says. “Because a lot of people said the same thing about us, and we’re getting married at twenty-six. And, for another, answer the goddamn question.”

Aaron considers it. He forces the idea of Andrew getting married – ridiculous, no matter what Katelyn says – from his mind, and considers Andrew himself. Andrew, in all his contradictory stoicism, who these days plays a sport he always claimed to hate professionally, and who owns two cats with the person who is sometimes called his college sweetheart in the media.

“Yes,” he says, after a while.

“Yeah,” she echoes, and then punches him again. “So figure out where he’s goddamn sitting.”

Aaron grabs her and drags her in as she laughs, and the situation kind of devolves from there. They’re both exhausted when the alarm goes off at six-thirty, but, well. It’s worth it.


0


Aaron marries the love of his life on a Saturday afternoon in summer.

“I can’t believe you’re not crying,” she whispers to him when her father passes her over to Aaron at the altar. It’s a traditional church wedding but it’s so hot every door in the building is thrown open, letting light pour over the dark wood inside.

“I love you,” he whispers back, and suddenly she’s the one looking damp-eyed. 

She’s so, so beautiful. Aaron had thought he had been happy when she’d said she would marry him, but that’s nothing compared to this.

The entire ceremony passes in a blur, his entire focus on Katelyn as she says her vows, as he slides his ring onto her finger, as the celebrant says that he can kiss her. The cheers from the guests, bright and brash, make her laugh as they pull apart.

“My grandparents are here, you know,” she tells him, her lips a little reddened.

“It takes two,” he reminds her, his grip on her unshakeable. She’s a livewire, and she can’t blame all that on him.

When they walk out hand in hand, there’s a rain of confetti that gathers on Aaron’s shoulders and crowns Katelyn’s elaborately styled hair. They’re at the base of the stairs when Aaron pauses, just for the quickest split-second before he recovers himself.

Katelyn was right. At the fringes of the crowd, barely visible but for the brightness of the hair colour they share, is his brother.

What do you know. Apparently I hope you’re miserable together isn’t the best they’re going to get.