Can't Help Falling(9)

By: Kara Isaac


It was one of his biggest victories. It was also the last time he’d raced. Little did that guy in the boat know he was only hours away from losing everything.

He steeled his face before he turned back to Victor, refusing to let him see how much it hurt. His brother would only go out of his way to pour more salt in the wound if he knew.

“I might need to stay a few days. Marissa and I, we’re proper done this time.”

Peter couldn’t say he was sorry. The truth was Marissa was better off without his brother. The guy treated women like they were disposable. He just hoped she’d been the one to work it out and end things. There were already too many girls bearing the scars of Victor’s charm-them-and-leave-them approach to life. Once he donned the blue jacket, the sign of having reached the highest sporting level at Oxford, he would be unbearable.

“You’ve got two days. I’ve got a friend crashing this weekend.” Jackson was actually going to sleep in Tony’s room, since his flatmate was going to be away, but there was no need for Victor to know that.

Victor took another slurp of his beer. “Okay, fine. Relax. I guess I can always go home. Tell Mum you kicked me out.”

He’d forgotten for a few brave moments his parents thought he and Victor lived together. Victor had spun that tale a while back, and Peter had never found a way to break his mother’s heart and tell her the truth—that her eldest son was actually shacked up with some girl she’d never met.

“Sure. Go for it.”

They stared at each other. Despite all his brother’s character flaws—and they made a long list—Victor did actually seem to care about their parents. As much as he cared about anyone.

Peter had long since stopped praying that they would ever be friends. There was too much between them. Had been since the day he dared to be born. The gap had just grown exponentially over the years. Something he was reminded of every time he looked at the scar marring his brother’s face.

About the only thing that still held them together was their uneasy truce to keep the depths of their antagonism from their parents. So Peter was going to take his chances that Victor wouldn’t go out of his way to upset their mother.

“So, little brother, how much does it suck knowing you’ve already lived the greatest moment of your life?” Victor pointed at the TV screen as the two boats crossed the finish line, Team Great Britain just ahead. Peter’s eyes locked on the sheer joy and exhilaration that radiated from his face. From the faces of his entire team.

Victor’s taunting question was one that dogged his every waking moment. It was the reason that, no matter what the experts said, he couldn’t accept he would never experience that again. He had to. There was no other option.





Six

EMELIA STEPPED INTO THE SMALL office she’d been assigned at SpringBoard, dropping her bag on the top of her pristine desk. She didn’t officially start for another forty-five minutes, but her latest strategy was to spend as little time in the hovel as possible.

Hopefully the alerts she’d put on roommate-search websites would yield something. So far she hadn’t been able to find anything that fit her criteria. She didn’t think she was being too picky. Her standards had started off pretty high but slipped by the day as her desperation mounted. Now she was down to affordable, within cycling distance of the city center, not with weirdos, and in a building that didn’t deserve to be condemned.

Sitting in her chair, Emelia ran her hand over the wooden desk. Four days since she’d started and there was no hint of anything personal. Nothing that would tell a passerby anything about her. Just stacks of paper and a plastic tray that held her stationery. The way she liked it. It was a habit she’d gained as a tabloid hack where the competition was as fierce between colleagues as it was between outlets. Anything personal hinted at a potential weakness. You didn’t get to be the best in the cutthroat world of tabloid journalism by displaying your vulnerabilities.

Emelia logged in to her computer, pulling up all the websites she’d been searching, hoping that maybe, in the last twelve hours, someone had listed her dream situation. But as the minutes ticked by, her hopes deflated. She was paid up at the so-called Manor until next Wednesday. She would not be staying there for one night more. If she didn’t have somewhere new to live by then, she’d dig into her meager savings. Stay in a hotel for a couple of nights. If even just to remind herself what it was like to be able to shower in bare feet again.

Closing down the sites, she pulled up the to-do list that Elizabeth had emailed her the previous afternoon. With the staff down to a bare skeleton crew, everyone was pitching in to cover basic administration. She scanned the columns. Photocopying, envelope stuffing, a few phone calls to the few remaining donors to take their pulse. Not exactly a heavy intellectual load.