When Rhys and I showed up at my “brother” Matt’s house at eight in the morning, he was happy … in the sense that he was glad I was alive and hadn’t disappeared forever. Despite being angry, he listened while I put together a vague explanation, glaring at me the whole time with mystified rage.
At least I only had to face Matt. My aunt Maggie is my legal guardian, but she wasn’t there when we arrived. Matt explained that she had gone off looking for me in Oregon. I have no idea why, but for some reason, she thought I’d run off there.
As Rhys and I sat on the shabby-chic couch in Matt’s living room, surrounded by the boxes that he had yet to unpack from when we’d moved into the house two months ago, Matt paced back and forth in front of us.
“I still don’t understand,” Matt said. He stopped in front of us, arms folded over his chest.
“There’s nothing to understand,” I insisted, gesturing at Rhys. “He’s your brother! It’s pretty obvious when you look at him.”
I have dark, wild, curly hair and mahogany eyes. Matt and Rhys both have sandy hair and sapphire eyes. They had something much more open in their faces too, and they had the same easy smile. Rhys stared up at Matt with bemused wonderment, his eyes wide with awe.
“How could you possibly know that?” Matt asked.
“I don’t know why you can’t just trust me.” I sighed and laid my head back on the couch. “I never lie to you!”
“You just ran away from home! I had no idea where you were. That’s a major trust violation!”
Matt’s anger couldn’t cover up how hurt he still was, and his body showed signs of the strain he had been under. His face was gaunt and haggard, his eyes red and tired, and he had probably lost ten pounds. When I disappeared, he completely collapsed, I’m sure. I felt guilty, but I hadn’t had a choice.
Matt had always been too preoccupied with my safety, a side effect from his mother having tried to kill me and all that. His life revolved around me to the point of being unhealthy. He had no friends, no job, no life of his own.
“I had to run away! Okay?” I ran a hand through my tangled curls and shook my head. “I can’t explain it to you. I left for my safety and for yours. I don’t know if I should even be here now.”
“Safety? What were you running from? Where were you?” Matt asked desperately, not for the first time.
“Matt, I can’t tell you! I wish I could but I can’t.”
I wasn’t sure if it was legal for me to tell him anything about the Trylle or not. I assumed everything about them was secret, but nobody had expressly forbidden me from telling outsiders either. Matt would never believe me, though, so I didn’t see the point in trying.
“You’re really my brother,” Rhys said in a hushed tone. He leaned forward to get a better look at Matt. “This is so weird.”
“Yeah, it is,” Matt agreed. He shifted uncomfortably under Rhys’s stare before he turned to me, his expression serious. “Wendy, can I have a word with you? Alone?”
“Uh, sure.” I looked over at Rhys.
Taking his cue, Rhys stood up. “Where’s your bathroom?”
“Down that way, off the kitchen.” Matt pointed to his right.
Once Rhys was gone, Matt sat down on the coffee table in front of me and lowered his voice.
“Look, Wendy, I don’t understand what’s going on. I have no idea how much of what you’ve told me is true, but that kid looks like a total weirdo to me. I don’t want him in my house, and I don’t know what you were thinking bringing him here.”
“He’s your brother,” I said wearily. “Honest, Matt. I would never, ever lie about something this major. I am one hundred percent certain that he is your real brother.”
“Wendy…” Matt rubbed his forehead, sighing. “I get that you believe that. But how could you actually know? I think this kid is feeding you a story.”
“No, he’s really not. Rhys is the most honest person I’ve ever known, except for you. Which makes sense, since you’re brothers.” I leaned in closer to Matt. “Please. Give him a chance. You’ll see.”
“What about his family?” Matt asked. “Who has been raising him all these years? Don’t they miss him? And aren’t they your ‘real’ family or whatever?”
“Trust me, they won’t miss him. And I like you better,” I said with a smile.
Matt shook his head as if unable to decide what to make of all this. I knew a large part of him didn’t trust Rhys and wanted to throw him out of the house, so I admired him all the more for his restraint.
“I wish you would be straight with me about all of this,” he said.
“I’m being as straight with you as I can be.”
When Rhys came back from the bathroom, Matt leaned away from me and eyed him warily.
“You don’t have any family pictures up,” Rhys commented as he looked around the room.
That was true. We didn’t really have decorations of any kind up, but we didn’t particularly care to remember our family. Matt especially was not fond of our … er, his mother.
I had yet to explain to Rhys about his mother being a lunatic locked up in a mental institution. Stuff like that is hard to break to someone, especially someone as awestruck as Rhys.
“Yeah, we’re just that way,” I said and stood up. “We drove all night to get here. I’m pretty beat. What about you, Rhys?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess I’m tired.” Rhys seemed a bit startled by my suggestion. Even though he hadn’t gotten any sleep, he didn’t look tired at all.
“We should get some sleep, and we can talk more later.”
“Oh.” Matt got to his feet slowly. “You’re both going to be sleeping here, then?” He looked uncertainly at Rhys, then back at me.
“Yeah.” I nodded. “He doesn’t have anywhere else to go.”
“Oh.” Matt was clearly against the idea, but I knew he was afraid that if he kicked Rhys out, I’d go after him. “Rhys, I guess you can sleep in my room, for now.”
“Really?” Rhys tried to tone down his excitement over staying in Matt’s room, but it was obvious.
Matt awkwardly showed us up to our rooms. My room was still my room, all my stuff the same as I had left it weeks earlier. As I settled in, I listened to Matt and Rhys talking across the hall in Matt’s room. Rhys was asking him to explain the simplest things, like how to turn on the bedside lamp, and it made Matt frustrated and uncomfortable.