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The night sky was a dark, warm cobalt; deep and vast and unyielding, and dotted with shining white stars. Stray clouds drifted across the face of the moon in wisplike patterns, and the stars danced in place before scattering.
I watched in awe as nature unfolded before me, thinking it was strange I’d never noticed how amazing the world was. Why had I always been so busy before? I couldn’t remember.
My body jolted in shock as a cool line of metal met the skin around my neck. Both hands were thrown forward in fists before I realized it. …This was defense mode. All or nothing. Mostly nothing.
But it was just Emerson, my brother.
He gave me a strange little half-smile and closed the clasp on the necklace. I glanced down at the gemstone that hung across my chest and saw that it was a ruby, my favorite. There were tiny diamonds glittering around the little red stone.
Emerson peered at me through piercing blue eyes, his gaze obscured by the raven-colored hair that hung in his face. A pale, purple vein shot across his forehead. His lips were thin and only vaguely pink. His cheekbones were high and prominent; his features were striking and hollow.
I blinked, wondering again why I’d never realized any of this. First I had neglected to see the sky’s beauty. And then I’d managed to ignore my brother’s face. What was wrong with me? Why would Emerson want to give me a necklace? Why me, when I was obviously so undeserving? Why me…plain and boring and ignorant?
I touched the necklace unconsciously, pressing the chain between my thumb and forefinger, feeling its coolness. It was actually a nice piece of jewelry. I was impressed with Emerson’s taste, and, absently, I wondered when he’d picked it up.
I blinked again, twice this time. Emerson was no longer a boy. He was nineteen and slightly, almost handsome, but…vexing. When had all of this happened? Where was I?
“Ericka,” Emerson said softly, and he reached for my hand. It seemed so frail and small inside of his, like I was a child all over again.
Suddenly I looked towards the sky and felt very, very small. After a meaningful moment of silence, I turned to my brother and made myself a promise to remember every line of his face.
I studied the angry purple bags under his eyes first.
There was my brother, Emerson, no longer a boy…no longer an infallible gentleman.
I laughed then, bitterly, for everyone in the world to hear. My entire life had been turned into a lie in thirty seconds flat, then into a bigger lie, and then it had been torn apart again, completely. It was almost funny, in a heart-wrenching sort of way.
I fingered the ruby necklace nervously and stifled a scream.
The sky opened up in a storm of tears, and I embraced them as my own.
…Next to me, Emerson looked tired. I tried to ignore him again, the way I always did without knowing it.
But this time, naivety would no longer humor me. I was too old to pretend.