Home > The Theory Of Second Best (Cake #2)(9)

The Theory Of Second Best (Cake #2)(9)
Author: J. Bengtsson

“For who? Him? Or us?”






Kyle: A Mind Reader



We woke early the next day to eat breakfast with the other half of Mitch’s family. Mitch was my half brother and my father’s oldest son. We didn’t see a lot of him growing up and whenever we got together it was always a little awkward. My dad and Mitch’s stepfather, Tony, had never really gotten along. I didn’t know the specifics, but the story I’d been told was that Tony had tried to force my father to relinquish his parental rights when Mitch was five. Tony was marrying Mitch’s mom and wanted to adopt her son. Dad refused, and a lifelong feud ensued. One thing was for sure: Tony had been more of a father to Mitch than ours, and their close relationship was clear to see.

By the time we arrived at the church for the rehearsal later in the day, my eyes were droopy. Keith and I had stayed up late into the night drinking and eating his junk food. Since nothing of significance was currently happening, I lay down on a pew and closed my eyes. I could not have been relaxing for more than a minute when I sensed an evil entity hovering over me. I opened one eye and then quickly closed it upon seeing who was standing there.

“What are you doing here, Emma? Did someone leave your cage open?”

There was dead silence. Clearly Emma was formulating a comeback but wasn’t nearly as quick as me.

“You know, Kyle, I’m jealous of the people who don’t know you.”

“That’s all you’ve got?” I shook my head. “So disappointing.”

“Get up.”

“No. Find your own pew.”

“I want this one.”

“Go away! I’m sleeping.”

“We got here two minutes ago. How could you possibly be asleep already?”

“When it comes to relaxing, I’m like an Olympic athlete.”

I didn’t have to see Emma’s face to know she was rolling her eyes at me.

“Can you please leave? You’re sucking up all my oxygen,” I complained.

Emma huffed and grabbed my legs and swung them off the bench, nearly knocking me to my ass, and took a seat where my feet had been. I was actually forced to perform a backward pushup on the bench to keep from falling to the floor. It was the most exercise I’d gotten all week. I sat up and sneered at my sister.

“What?” Emma shrugged innocently. “I haven’t seen you in months. I thought we could chat.”

“And you couldn’t talk to me yesterday? We were in the car for seven hours together.”

“I wanted to talk to you privately.”

“Oh, well, why didn’t you say that in the first place?” I whispered, like we had some pressing secret between us. “You’re finally coming out? Good for you.”

She ignored me and stated condescendingly, “I heard you got a job.”

“I heard you got a boyfriend,” I shot back, and then paused dramatically. “Oh wait…”

A disgusted scowl transformed Emma’s smug face. “I’m not looking for a boyfriend.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not looking for a job.”

Emma and I glared at one another. This had always been our thing. Rarely did a civil word pass between us. Even as kids, we’d never really gotten along. As far as I could tell, I was the only sibling she disliked. Of course, I’d be the first to admit I probably deserved that distinction. Starting from about five years of age, I’d made it my mission to raise her blood pressure at every opportunity. She was just too easy to annoy. But Emma was no pushover, and she was certainly not above employing tactical warfare to put me in my place. We were two completely opposite human beings. How we'd come from the same parents was a mystery to me. In fact, the only thing we had in common was our undying devotion to Jake.

Interestingly enough, it was probably that same devotion which also drove us apart. Emma had been three years old when Jake was born, and she'd doted on him as if he were her very own real-life baby doll. And then I came along, with my hyperactive antics, and ruined everything.

“Have you talked to him since you left?” Emma asked.

“Yeah. I’ve been texting him. Why?”

“He’s all right?”

“I think so. His knee is flaring up again.”

“I figured.”

“He promised me he’d get it taken care of after the tour.”

Emma nodded, nervously tapping her nails on the bench in front of us. “I talked to him the other day.”

“And?” I questioned impatiently.

“He didn’t sound great.”

My stomach tightened. “Why? What did he say?”

“Nothing alarming. He just seemed drained.”

I nodded.

“So you noticed it too?”

“Yeah. He’s been moody.”

“Like ‘moody’ moody, or ‘we should be worried’ moody?”

I cringed, knowing exactly what she meant. Memories of a not-so-distant past still fresh in both our minds. “He’s okay. I think.”

“You think? That doesn’t make me feel better.”

“I don’t know what to tell you Emma,” I shrugged. “I offered to drop out of the show and stay with him, but he insisted I go.”

We sat there staring up at a mural of Jesus on the wall, neither of us speaking. I hated the feelings she stirred up in me. An anxious thumping attacked my heart. If something happened… if Jake did anything stupid… I’d never forgive myself. By the look in Emma’s eyes, she shared my unease.

“It’s been crazy at work, but maybe I can take a week off.” Her voice was riddled with uncertainty. “I’ll talk to Mom, and we’ll work out a schedule while you’re gone.”

“He’ll love that.” I frowned. “Not to mention he’ll see right through it. You know how much Jake hates it when he thinks we’re checking up on him. I mean, he’s kind of accepted my constant irritating presence, but you two… oh, yeah, he’ll be pissed.”

Emma sighed. “I know, but what choice do we have?”

“Well, we could trust him.”

“Can we?”

It wasn’t an unreasonable question. Jake had given us all a run for our money in the days, months, and years after the kidnapping. Suicide attempts were not an uncommon occurrence in our household. It had taken a comprehensive and proactive effort, on all our parts, to keep him alive.

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