Jake didn’t immediately respond, and I assumed he wasn’t going to. He was busy wiping down his guitar. Finally, though, he lifted his head and said, “I’ll be fine… if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“It’s not,” I lied.
Jake exhaled loudly. “I’m not suicidal. Jesus, K.”
“I didn’t say you were.”
“Yeah, but you were thinking it.”
He was right. I was thinking that. Could he blame me? It’s not like he was unfamiliar with the word. Living with him all these years had been a roller coaster of ups and downs. For the most part, I found people to be fairly black and white, but Jake was more like fifty shades of gray… and not the good kind.
“So you’re fine, then?”
“That’s what I said,” he replied passively.
“Dude, I’m in pain, that’s all. Just drop it.”
He glared at me like I was breaking some unstated agreement. Jake always made the rules… and typically, I was in no position to refuse.
“What else?” He shrugged.
“You need to get it fixed.”
“So then why don’t you?” I pressed.
“With what time?”
“Make the time. Your fans aren’t going to split if you take a few months off.”
Jake was laying his guitar carefully in its case. When he finally looked back up, his eyes were dulled in somber resignation. “I know. I will… after the tour.”
I nodded. Yeah, sure you will.
The room got quiet. The pained expression on Jake’s face actually hurt me. I was acutely connected to his moods. It had been this way for years and was the reason why I worked so damn hard to keep his environment upbeat. We could talk and joke all day long about the stupidest shit, but when it came to discussing things that troubled him, Jake was fiercely guarded. Sometimes I wondered how his head didn’t just explode from all the years of built up pressure.
“I think you should go on the show,” he replied, his voice void of emotion.
“I don’t know,” I hesitated. “I’m just…”
“Kyle…” Jake interrupted, his impatience boiling over.
“Dude. I’m having second thoughts, okay?”
“Because of me?”
“Not because of you.”
Jake huffed as he shook his head. I didn’t know why I bothered lying to him. He always saw right through me.
“Okay, maybe a little bit because of you,” I confessed. “I mean, you have to admit, you’ve been kind of a shithead lately.”
“All the more reason to leave,” Jake mumbled, frowning.
“I was kidding. Don’t be so sensitive.”
He grimaced and turned away. “I want you to go. It’ll be fun.”
I eyed him skeptically.
“Uugghh!” Jake made a weird throaty growl before picking up his sweaty shirt and throwing it at me.
I ducked just in time.
“I hate when you do that,” he complained.
“What did I do?”
“You act like I can’t manage my life without help,” Jake replied, shaking his head. “But we both know I’m the fucking king of coping.”
I raised my eyebrows at him. That was certainly the understatement of the century. I wanted to ask him if he ever got tired of just coping, but of course I knew such a question would never be answered. As close as we were, there were lines that were not to be crossed. I knew those limits, and the fact that I didn’t push them was most likely the only reason he kept me around.
“And besides, if I needed a babysitter, I certainly wouldn’t hire you for the job. I’d get myself a hot Swedish nanny.” Typical Jake – always trying to redirect the discussion away from anything real.
I laughed anyway. “Okay. Fine. I’ll do the show.”
My brother picked up his phone and turned away from me. I stood there staring at him. Without even looking up, Jake said flippantly, “You can leave now.”
“What?” He glanced up.
“Don’t pull that star bullshit on me.”
“I wasn’t,” Jake mumbled. “I just really want you to go.”
Well, fuck you too. I didn’t budge – not because I was making a stand for my self-worth, but because I refused to let him win.
“Seriously? You have nothing better to do than annoy me?”
I shrugged. “Not really.”
Refusing to engage me, he replied with edge in his voice, “Fine. Stay. I really don’t give a shit.”
“Cool.” I pulled my phone out and leaned against the door.
Finding a game to play, I was halfway through it when I heard Jake groan, “Really, Kyle?”
His glare was icy.
“What? You said I could stay.”
I realized I was being annoying, but with Jake, my motto had always been There’s no such thing as bad attention. I just wanted to make him feel something, no matter how negatively it reflected on me.
“I seriously can’t wait to watch you crash and burn on national television,” he huffed.
“It’s going to be a train wreck,” I conceded.
Jake looked up from his phone with an honest-to-god actual smile on his face. Score!
“Of epic proportions,” he agreed. “It’ll be awesome.”
“I really hope I don’t let you down.”
“Oh, you won’t. When it comes to making an ass of yourself, you never let me down.”
We both laughed at that.
“Chances are I’ll get voted out of the game pretty quickly anyway.”
“Nah. You kill at swimming. Your team will need your mad skills in the water.”
“Something tells me once my teammates find out you’re my brother, they won’t give a crap about any of that. They’ll assume I’m a millionaire and kick my ass off the island.”
“So don’t tell them then.”
“Well, I don’t plan to, but you know me and secrets.”
Jake laughed. “Oh, shit. Yeah, you’re screwed.”
I nodded. “And even if I manage to keep my mouth shut, strategic thinking has never been my strong suit.”