the art of not letting go
“You can’t really expect me to believe you like eating those things,” Damion said, gesturing to Bara’s little tub of hard-boiled eggs, shaking with laughter and something else. Derision? Anger?
"They're delicious," Bara protests.
"They're disgusting, and I hate the fact that they exist."
Bara sulks for a moment, forcing his last bite of egg down, pressing his palms down into the comfortingly solid wooden bench underneath him. Beside him, Damion swings his legs, already forgetting about the eggs and the terrible crime of liking them — he has spotted a couple madly in love on the other side of the street.
“Think they’re something special!” he’s crowing, jeering, but Bara thinks it’s just because Damion’s been trying to get a date for three years now and hasn’t gotten so much as a warm smile yet. Huffing to himself, and shoving another egg into his mouth whole — Ellie always hates when he does that, and now it’s a habit — Bara checks his phone.
Another notification from Ellie. She’s saying something about how stupid it is that he should get the car when he’s just going to waste his time at a game store, but at this point it’s not anything Bara hasn’t heard already.
“Anything from Jax?” Damion asks, leaning aggressively on Bara’s shoulder so that he nearly drops the phone.
“No,” Bara grumps. “Get off, would you?”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Damion mutters, and Bara would wonder if he’d hurt Damion’s feelings but there’s no point. Damion’s always been a sort of horribly shallow person, the kind that you could never rely on; this ‘grave insult’ would be forgotten in only a few moments.
A message comes through - now it’s Jax — and Bara nearly chokes on his eggs.
“He’s not coming,” Bara says.
“Huh? Why not?”
Bara shows Damion his screen, and the other boy reads, slowly, “Unlike you losers, I have gotten myself a very hot date.”
There’s a pause and then a shout of “He got a date?”
Bara leans back, lacing his hands behind his head so that the phone is hidden from Damion, and he watches passerby with feigned interest as Damion throws a small tantrum. His phone buzzes again — Bara has a feeling that it’s Jax again, with another dig probably aimed at Damion.
“Right, okay,” Damion says eventually his black hair sticking up everywhere, brown eyes wild. “We’re going to have the time of our lives here, without Jax, and it is going to be amazing.”
Bara raises his eyebrows and checks the nearest clock, already trying to estimate when his friend will have lost interest in the nearest video game arcade. He’s giving it ten minutes, generously.
“Sure thing,” he says.
“And that’s how I ended up here,” Bara ends lamely, tapping on the countertop with just his pointer finger, and then his pointer and middle fingers together. From across the counter, the woman nods, running a finger along the edge of her nose piercing thoughtfully. Her nametag reads “N.” She likes to say it stands for Nonna, but it might stand for Natasha just as easily.
“So here you are,” she says, voice quiet and soft. “Back so soon, eh?”
“Yeah, I suppose so.”
The only sounds are the tinny mall music pouring in from outside the little storefront, the scratching of Bara’s nails, and the burbling crowd. Bara breaks the silence, first, being far more impatient and younger than Nonna.
“Can I see that book again?” he asks. “I know the binding’s not fixed yet, but…”
“Oh,” Nonna says, tapping her lip with one acrylic nail. “I fixed it, actually. Last night. Do you want it back?”
She withdraws a small package, wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine, and Bara wants to laugh because what is this? the Era of Legends? but he reaches for it anyways.
And then he hesitates, just long enough that Nonna raises her eyebrows. His phone buzzes, and Bara has never been more glad for a distraction, but then he sees the sender and his heart dies halfway up his throat.
“Do you mind?” he asks Nonna. “It’s my sister.”
He opens the text, feels his hard-boiled eggs rise up from his stomach. Gagging, he reaches out for the counter to steady himself.
Hey, remember Ikara? What a simple question.
But now he’s thinking of a wild night, where they’d gotten drunk on some alcohol they’d filched from the basement, and there was the flash of Ellie’s smile and the shout “I’m going to be a sorcerer!” and a roof. And the next day, after the hangover had passed but when the bitterness still remained, where Bara had thrown a book — this book, actually — at his twin, afraid and scared and hurt, so utterly terrified that he would lose his sister to fairy-tales.
He texts something back, something meaningless that Ellie won’t look at twice, and wishes with all his heart that Ellie could be more like Damion, now pressing his face against the windows of the antiques and used bookstore. Able to let things go.
“Could you hold on to that for me?” he asks. “Just for a little while.”
“Sure thing,” Nonna says, drawing out the words. “Keep care of your sister, kid.”
As Bara leaves, he thinks her eyes are a little too blue to be natural. But then Damion’s tugging him on to the half-price pretzels down by the big department store and Bara lets it go.