Chapter no 5

A Flicker in the Dark

I excuse myself from Shannon and Daniel and slip outside through the sliding door. My mind is spinning by the time I make it to the back porch, my hand clutching my fourth variety of alcoholic beverage. The endless small talk is buzzing in my ears, the bottle of wine I’ve polished off buzzing in my brain. It’s still muggy outside, but the breeze is refreshing. The house was getting stuffy with the drunken body heat of forty people bouncing off the walls.

I wander toward the picnic table, the heap of crawfish, corn, sausage, and potatoes somehow still steaming on the newspaper. I put down my wineglass, grab a crawfish, and twist it, letting the juice from the head drip down my wrist.

Then I hear movement behind me—footsteps. And a voice. “Don’t worry, it’s just me.”

I swing around, my eyes adjusting in the dark to the body before me.

The cherry-red tip of a cigarette glowing between his fingers. “I know you don’t like to be surprised.”


I drop the crawfish on the table and walk toward my brother, wrapping my arms around his neck and inhaling his familiar scent. Nicotine and spearmint gum. I’m so shocked to see him, I let the jab about the surprise party slide.

“Hey, sis.”

I pull back, inspecting his face. He looks older than he did the last time I saw him, but that’s normal for Cooper. He seems to age years within months, his hair turning grayer at the temples, the worry lines in his forehead creasing deeper by the day. But still, Coop is one of those guys who seems to get more attractive with age. In college, my roommate had referred to him as a silver fox once when his neck started to grow patchy with salt-and-pepper stubble. For some reason, that stuck with me. It was a pretty accurate depiction, really. He looks mature, sleek, thoughtful, quiet.

Like he’s seen more of the world in thirty-five years than most people have seen in their lives. I let go of his neck.

“I didn’t see you in there!” I say, louder than I intended.

“You got mobbed,” he answers, laughing, taking a final drag before dropping his cigarette to the ground and stubbing it out with his foot. “How does it feel to have forty people swarm you all at once?”

I shrug. “Practice for the wedding, I guess.”

His smile wavers a bit, but he recovers quickly. We both ignore it. “Where’s Laurel?” I ask.

He shoves his hands in his pockets and glances behind my shoulder, his eyes growing distant. I already know what’s coming next.

“She’s not in the picture anymore.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I say. “I liked her. She seemed nice.” “Yeah,” he says, nodding. “She was. I liked her, too.”

We’re quiet for a while, listening to the murmur of voices inside. We both understand the complexities of forming relationships after going through what we’ve been through; we understand that, more often than not, they just don’t work out.

“So, are you excited?” he asks, jerking his head in the direction of the house. “For the wedding and stuff?”

I laugh. “And stuff? You’ve got such a way with words, Coop.” “You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I say. “And yes, I’m excited. You should give him a chance.”

Cooper looks at me, his eyes narrowing. I sway a little. “What are you talking about?” he asks.

“Daniel,” I say. “I know you don’t like him.” “What makes you say that?”

Now my eyes are the ones that narrow. “Are we really going to do this again?”

“I like him!” he says, holding up his hands in surrender. “Remind me what he does again?”

“Pharm sales.”

Farm sales?” he scoffs. “Really? Doesn’t strike me as that kind of guy.”

“Pharmaceuticals,” I say. “With a p-h.

Cooper laughs, digs the pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, and pops another one between his lips. He offers me the pack and I shake my head.

“That makes more sense,” he says. “Those shoes are a little too shiny to be spending much time around farmers.”

“Come on, Coop,” I say, crossing my arms. “This is what I’m talking about.”

“I just think it’s fast,” he says, flicking open his lighter. He lifts the flame to the cigarette and inhales. “You’ve known each other for, what—a couple months?”

“A year,” I say. “We’ve been together for a year.” “You’ve known each other for a year.”


“And how can you really know someone that well in a year? Have you even met his family?”

“Well, no,” I admit. “They’re not close. But come on, Coop. Are you really going to judge him by his family? You of all people should know better than that. Families suck.”

Cooper shrugs, takes another drag instead of answering. His hypocrisy is pissing me off. My brother has always had this nonchalant way of getting under my skin, burrowing deep like a scarab and eating me alive. Even worse, he acts like he’s not even trying. Like he doesn’t even realize how cutting his words are, how badly they hurt. I have the sudden urge to hurt him back.

“Look, I’m sorry things didn’t work out with Laurel, or with anyone, for that matter, but that doesn’t give you the right to be jealous,” I say. “If you’d just allow yourself to open up to people instead of being a dick all the time, you’d be surprised at what you can learn.”

Cooper is quiet, and I know I’ve gone too far. It’s the wine, I think. It’s making me unusually forward. Unusually mean. He sucks on his cigarette, hard, and exhales. I sigh.

“I didn’t mean it like that.”

“No, you’re right,” he says, walking toward the edge of the porch. He leans against the railing and crosses one leg in front of the other. “I can admit that. But the guy just threw you a surprise party, Chloe. You’re afraid of the dark. Shit, you’re afraid of everything.”

I tap my fingers against my wineglass.

“He turned off all the lights in your house and asked forty people to scream when you walked in. He scared the living piss out of you. I saw your hand fly into your purse. I know what you were going for.”

I’m quiet, embarrassed that he picked up on that.

“If he actually knew how fucking paranoid you are, do you really think he would have done that?”

“He meant well,” I say. “You know he did.”

“I’m sure he did, but that’s not the point. He doesn’t know you, Chloe.

And you don’t know him.”

“Yes, he does,” I snap. “He knows me, Cooper. He just won’t let me be afraid of my own shadow all the time. And I’m grateful for that. That’s healthy.”

He sighs, sucks down the rest of his cigarette, and flicks it over the railing.

“All I’m saying is we’re different from them, Chloe. You and I are different. We’ve been through some shit.”

He gestures back to the house and I turn around, eyeing all the people inside. All the friends that have turned into family, laughing and mingling without a care in the world—and suddenly, instead of feeling the love that I had felt just minutes before, I feel a hollowness inside. Because Cooper is right. We are different.

“Does he know?” he asks gently. Quietly.

I turn around, glaring at him in the dark. I chew on the side of my cheek instead of answering.


“Yes,” I say at last. “Yes, of course he knows, Cooper. Of course I told him.”

“What have you told him?”

“Everything, okay? He knows everything.”

I watch his eyes flicker back to the house, to the muffled sounds of the party going on without us, and I’m quiet again, the inside of my cheek raw from grinding between my teeth. I think I can taste blood.

“What is it with you two?” I ask at last, the energy drained from my voice. “What happened?”

“Nothing happened,” he says. “It’s just … I don’t know. With you being who you are and all, and our family … I just hope he’s around for the right reasons. That’s all I’m gonna say.”

“The right reasons?” I snap, more loudly than I should. “What the fuck does that mean?”

“Chloe, calm down.”

“No,” I say. “No, I won’t. Because what you’re telling me right now is that it can’t be possible for him to actually love me, Cooper. For him to have actually fallen for someone as fucked up as me. As damaged Chloe.

“Oh, come on,” he says. “Stop being dramatic.”

“I’m not being dramatic,” I snap. “I’m just asking you to stop being selfish for once. I’m asking you to give him a chance.”


“I want you in this wedding,” I interrupt. “Really, I do. But it’s happening with or without you, Cooper. If you’re going to make me choose


I hear the door glide open behind me and I swing around, my eyes landing on Daniel. He’s smiling at me, though I can see his eyes darting back and forth between Cooper and me, an unspoken question lingering on his lips. I wonder how long he’s been standing there, just behind the sliding glass door. I wonder what he’s heard.

“Everything okay?” he asks, walking over to us. He winds his arm around my waist and I feel him pull me closer to him, away from Cooper.

“Yes,” I say, trying to will myself to calm down. “Yes, everything’s fine.”

“Cooper,” Daniel says, extending his free hand. “Good to see you, man.”

Cooper smiles, giving my fiancé a firm handshake in response.

“I haven’t had a chance to thank you, by the way. For all your help.”

I look at Daniel and I feel my forehead scrunch. “Help with what?” I ask.

“Help with this,” Daniel smiles. “The party. He didn’t tell you?”

I look back at my brother, my white-hot words to him flashing across my mind. I feel my heart sink.

“No,” I say, still looking at Cooper. “He didn’t tell me.”

“Oh, yeah,” Daniel says. “This guy’s a lifesaver. Couldn’t have pulled it off without him.”

“It was nothing,” Cooper says, looking at his feet. “Happy to help.”

“No, it wasn’t nothing,” Daniel says. “He got here early, steamed all the crawfish. He was toiling over that thing for hours, seasoning them just right.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” I ask.

Cooper shrugs, embarrassed. “It wasn’t a big deal.”

“Anyway, we should get back in there,” Daniel says, pulling me toward the door. “There are a few people here that I’d like Chloe to meet.”

“Five minutes,” I say, planting my feet beneath me. I can’t leave my brother on these terms, and I can’t apologize in front of Daniel without revealing the conversation we were having just before he walked outside. “I’ll meet you in there.”

Daniel looks at me, then back at Cooper. It seems like he’s going to object for a minute, his lips parting gently, but instead, he just smiles again, squeezing my shoulder.

“Sounds good,” he says, giving my brother one last salute. “Five minutes.”

The door slides shut and I wait until Daniel is out of sight before turning back around, facing my brother.

“Cooper,” I say at last, my shoulders sinking. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“It’s fine,” he says. “Honestly.”

“No, it’s not fine,” I say. “You should have said something. Here I am, being such a bitch, calling you selfish—”

“It’s fine,” he says again, pushing himself up from the railing and walking toward me, closing the distance between us. Enveloping me in a

hug. “I’d do anything for you, Chloe. You know that. You’re my baby sister.”

I sigh and snake my arms around him, too, letting my guilt and my anger melt away. This is our dance, Cooper’s and mine. We disagree, we shout, we argue. We don’t speak to each other for months on end, but when we finally do, it’s like we’re kids again, running through the sprinklers barefoot in the backyard, building forts out of moving boxes in the basement, talking for hours on end without even noticing the people around us evaporating into thin air. Sometimes, I think I blame Cooper for making me remember myself—who I am, who our parents are. His mere existence is a reminder that the image I project out into the world isn’t actually real, but carefully crafted. That I’m one small stumble away from shattering into a million pieces, revealing who I really am.

It’s a complicated relationship, but we’re family. We’re the only family we’ve got.

“I love you,” I say, squeezing harder. “I can tell you’re trying.” “I am trying,” Cooper says. “I’m just protective.”

“I know.”

“I want the best for you.” “I know.”

“I guess I’m just used to being the man in your life, you know? The one that looks after you. And now that’s going to be someone else. It’s hard to let go.”

I smile, squeezing my eyes shut before a tear can escape. “Oh, so you do have a heart?”

“C’mon, Chlo,” he whispers. “I’m being serious.”

“I know,” I say again. “I know you are. I’ll be okay.”

We stand there for a while in silence, hugging, the party that came to see me seemingly oblivious to the fact that I have vanished for God-knows-how-long. Holding my brother in my arms, I think back again to the phone call I received earlier—Aaron Jansen. The New York Times.

“But you’ve changed,” the reporter had said. “You and your brother.

The public would love to know how you’re doing—how you’re coping.”

“Hey, Coop?” I ask, lifting my head. “Can I ask you something?”


“Did you get a phone call today?”

He looks at me, confused. “What kind of phone call?” I hesitate.

“Chloe,” he says, sensing me backing away. He grips my arms harder. “What kind of phone call?”

I start to open my mouth before he interrupts me.

“Oh, you know what, I did,” he says. “From mom’s place. They left me a message and I completely forgot. Did they call you, too?”

I exhale, nodding quickly. “Yeah,” I lie. “I missed it, too.”

“We’re due for a visit,” he says. “It’s my turn. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have put it off.”

“It’s fine,” I say. “Really, I can go if you’re too busy.”

“No,” he says, shaking his head. “No, you’ve got enough going on. I’ll go this weekend, I promise. Are you sure that’s all?”

My mind flashes back to Aaron Jansen, to our conversation on my office line—not that you could really call what we had a conversation. Twenty years. It seems like something I should tell my brother—that The New York Times is snooping around in our past. That this Aaron Jansen guy is writing a story about Dad, about us. But then I realize: If Aaron had Cooper’s information, he would have called him by now. He said so himself: He’d been trying to reach me all day. If he couldn’t reach me, wouldn’t he have tried to move on to my brother? To the other Davis kid? If he hasn’t called Coop yet, that means he hasn’t been able to dig up his number, his address, his anything.

“Yeah,” I say. “That’s all.”

I decide not to burden him with this. At best, the news of a Times reporter calling me at work to get dirt on our family will piss him off enough to chain-smoke the rest of the pack of cigarettes stuffed in his back pocket; at worst, he’d call him up himself and tell him to fuck off. And then Jansen would have his number, and we’d both be screwed.

“Well hey, your groom is waiting,” Cooper says, patting me twice on the back. He sidesteps me and starts walking down the porch stairs, toward the backyard. “You should get back inside.”

“You’re not gonna come in?” I ask, although I already know the answer.

“That’s enough socializing for me for one night,” he says. “See ya later, alligator.”

I smile, picking up my wineglass again and raising it to my chin. It never gets old hearing that childhood phrase escape the lips of my nearly middle-aged brother—jarring, almost, hearing the words in his adolescent voice, taking me back to decades ago when life was simple and fun and free. But at the same time, it fits, because our world stopped spinning twenty years ago. We were left stranded in time, forever young. Just like those girls.

I down the rest of my wine and wave in his direction. The darkness has enveloped him now, but I know he’s still there. Waiting.

“In a while, crocodile,” I whisper, staring into the shadows.

The silence is broken then by the crunching of leaves beneath his feet, and within seconds, I know he’s gone.

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