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We were all dead when we were sent away. Figuratively, of course, but dead all the same. We all hid behind meaningless façades, trying to pretend we were okay.
James pretended rehab had worked.
Keith pretended he had moved on.
I pretended I was sane.
It worked decently for a while, the pretending, until we started to see through each other’s masks too easily. We slowly fell to pieces. Our manager was pissed when we began missing events, using all of his six-foot height to scream at us while we ignored him, lost in the trance-like states that our demons used to shred our minds. That’s when he sent us away. None of us argued. It wasn’t like we had the will to dissuade him, or even cared enough to think about it.
The car dumped us off, our driver eagerly screeching away to celebrate his freedom in some Irish pub. Darren stood to my right, looking like the arrogant jerk he was with his torn clothes and hair like a bird’s nest. In every way that mattered, from demeanor to attitude, he was my opposite. But we had the same dark hair, the same face, the same posture. He was my twin. I hated him with all my heart, but I couldn’t for the life of me find a way to leave him behind.
James stepped through Darren to stand by my side. I hated when they did that, but they didn’t know any better.
“This is where we’re staying?” James asked, his voice raspy as a rusted chainsaw. “It’s a piece of c***.”
“It’s Victorian, late nineteenth century,” I told him sadly. The three-story house was a dead spider; an oversized building surrounded by a spindly porch, spindly turrets, and spindly foliage. The purple paint had faded to an ugly, peeling grey. It was the most god-awful place our manager could have chosen for us to vacation in. “Smirnoff made a lot of calls to get us this place for a few weeks.”
We called our manager Smirnoff after the brand of alcohol he preferred to drown himself in ever since the press had found out the James had gone to rehab. It was ironic in more ways than one.
“I bet it took him awhile to find the biggest piece of c*** that he could. He probably figured the more we hate it, the quicker we’ll come back,” James sneered, shaking his head. “If he thinks that this ‘vacation’ is going to make us all perfect and untroubled, he’s as crazy as you, Dan.”
“He was crazy to begin with.” Keith hauled up his tattered suitcase, turning his eyes away from the hideous mansion.
“No, he was an idiot to begin with, which was almost better than the deranged freak he is now.” James stepped forward with Keith, approaching the house with disgust on his face.
“You coming, Dan?” Keith paused, watching me with caution. It was remarkable that I could even distinguish emotion on his face; so long had it been blank of anything but despair. Of course, it was still twisted with his inner misery, but I had become superb at reading his expression. Years of friendship made it possible.
I licked my lips, stealing a sideways glance at Darren. He smirked, seeing the loathing on my face. He knew my mind as well as I did. It was understandable. He was just another part of it.
“Yeah, yeah I’m coming.” Darren shadowed my footsteps up the stairs, through the foyer, up to the gilt-edged table that sat in a sea of overstuffed peach couches. James was scanning the stiff piece of paper he held in his yellowed fingers. He snorted, passing the note to Keith. Keith rolled his eyes, handing the note to me.
Enjoy the house. Believe it or not, it’s worth a fortune, so if you destroy it you will pay. There’s a hired cook, so don’t wallow in starvation either. Try to have fun or something.
Smirnoff’s scrawl ended in an extravagant signature. I almost laughed, reading the note. He was the one who had sent us here in the hopes of us getting “better.” The chances of us having fun were slim to none.
“I’m going to find an acceptable room in this place, and then I’m gonna grab some grub. Don’t know when I’ll see you around. This house is enormous.” James sauntered off, meandering towards a spiral staircase. I fell against one of the couches, watching the dust spiral around me in whirlwinds of filth. Surprisingly, Keith followed suit. He usually followed James around, presumable because it was easier letting someone else do the thinking. Darren lounged on the arm of the chair by me, a smirk still deforming his face.
“This is house is like death, don’t you think?” I asked Keith, spreading my arms along the back of the couch. I was trying to ignore Darren as best as possible.
Keith’s eyes widened. C***. I realized a second too late what I had said, and how it would affect Keith. Instead of shutting down completely though, Keith turned a violent shade of red and tensed his muscles. Anger didn’t fit his gentle appearance well.
“Who does Smirnoff think he is, sending us to this place? Why’d he choose this house?” he spat. He snatched the note from our manager off the table, crumpling it in his fist. “And ‘have fun?’ Does he think that a week without the press out in the middle of nowhere is going to bring us back to the talented kids he scouted all those years ago? Screw him.” Keith threw the note behind him, storming towards the stairs. I hadn’t seen him so animated since before Kathryn, the love of his life, had died.
“Where are you going, Keith?” I called after him. His reckless fury struck a chord somewhere in me. I sensed danger coming, danger for him.
Keith never responded. Before I could stop him, he was up the stairs and out of sight. I closed my eyes, thinking I’d find him red-eyed and defeated in some corner of the house later the next day.
That was the night we lost Keith.
When James went outside the next morning, he found his body crumpled around the skeletal bushes at the east side of the house. Suicide, the coroner said with a sad shake of his head, as if we hadn’t already guessed as much.
James and I avoided the east turret after that.
The vacation wasn’t very well planned, not even including Keith’s death. I don’t know what Smirnoff imagined we would do in the Victorian mansion, but I ended up reading most of the time. Even though the words melted from my mind as soon as I placed the book down, the stories pulled my thoughts away from memories of Keith’s anger and from the grinning monster that was always beside me. Darren would blur around the edges when I read, his demonic appearance fading as I placed my focus on whatever book was in my hands. The more he faded, the easier it was to ignore the vicious words he whispered in my ears.
You’re worthless. You’re nothing. Everything is your fault.
I ignored him as best as I could, trying to keep my thoughts diverted. Book after book passed through my hands, each one read, none absorbed. I saw James every so often when we shared the occasional meal, and he was almost as good of a distraction. As he clumsily ate soup, I analyzed his bloodshot eyes and the stench of alcohol that hung about him. I didn’t know where he got the stuff, but I didn’t question him. We didn’t really talk.
You shouldn’t be here. You’re no good.
I discovered countless ways to distract myself from Darren. And yet, I still found myself crumbling.
You should just die.
“I know,” I heard myself whispering to the figment of my imagination. I looked up at the face that was so like mine, feeling an odd sense of loss at his cruel sneer. He was triumphant. I was surrendering.
As I gave in to my delusions, I had a fleeting, harshly ironic thought. Smirnoff had sent us here to help us regain ourselves, but in the end we were all more lost than ever.