From the author of Cracked and Empty comes a gripping, emotional story of two brothers who must make the ultimate decision about what’s more important: family or their differences.
It’s not Oscar’s fault he’s misunderstood. Ever since his mother died, he’s been disrespected by his father and bullied by his self-absorbed older brother, so he withdraws from his fractured family, seeking refuge in his art.
Vance wishes his younger brother would just loosen up and be cool. It was hard enough to deal with their mother’s death without Oscar getting all emotional. At least when Vance pushes himself in lacrosse and parties, he feels alive.
But when their father’s alcoholism sends him into liver failure, the two brothers must come face-to-face with their demons–and each other–if they are going to survive a very uncertain future.
I watch the nurse jab the needle into my father’s arm. He doesn’t make a move. He hasn’t made a move on his own in days. I look over at my brother, Vance, and his head is down, lost in his phone. I close my eyes and just focus on breathing.
I feel a gentle squeeze on my shoulder. “That should make him comfortable, Oscar. I’ll be right out in the hall if you need me,” the nurse says.
Vance told me that since Dad had this thing called a living will with a do-not-resuscitate order, there are no IVs or breathing tubes or anything else that will help to keep him alive longer. His liver is in failure, and he doesn’t have time to wait for a transplant. He will not be coming home from this place.
I nod. “Thank you,” I say to the nurse. Why can’t my brother put down his phone and be present?
“How long now?” I whisper. I read her name tag: Barbara.
She purses her lips into a tight smile. “I wish I could tell you. Definitely not today.”
“Tomorrow?” This is the end of day two here at the hospice, and I’ve been told multiple times that he’s not in pain, that they’re doing everything they can to make him comfortable. But I’m not convinced. How do they know he’s not in pain?
Barbara tilts her head and looks back at my comatose father. “Maybe, maybe not. He’ll leave when he’s ready.”
I want to jump up and shake her. She’s a damn hospice nurse! How can she not know? I want her to know.
I want her to tell me when he will die.
Sitting here watching him fail like this, so close, is harder than watching him live. I want it to just be over. I’m done.
“How many times does she have to tell you that she doesn’t know?” Vance asks after she leaves.
I turn away and ignore my brother.
“I know you hear me,” Vance says.
I lift my eyes and stare into his. To annoy him, I put in my earbuds and turn up the volume as loud as my phone allows. He shakes his head, indicating that he can hear the Mozart. Good.
My head fills with the layered richness of Symphony No. 29, and I let my eyes slide closed. While I’m into everything from baroque to classical to romantic, Mozart has always been my favorite. When I listen to his music, I’m taken out of my life.
My life right now consists of being trapped in this damn room with my brother and watching my father slip away one labored breath at a time. If I count the freckles on Dad’s arm one more time, I may start drooling.
I steal a peek at Vance, and he’s still glaring at me. When isn’t he? Having Mozart drown out him and his never-ending dickhead ways is helping right now. I turn and gaze out the window.
Vance has never understood me—and he never will. Even down to the music I listen to. When we were in middle school, he’d make fun of me because of it. I can still see him playing an imaginary violin with wild, insulting movements, doing everything in his power to look weird.
Were Vance and I ever close? I blink and realize the answer. No, we’ve never been close—despite only being ten months apart.
I scroll back as far as I can remember, and my hands tighten into fists.
I think it’s the classic “he took my place as the baby” situation. Vance resents me—like, my very existence. He couldn’t be any more unbrotherly. In fact, I’d say he stands firmly behind enemy lines. Let’s just say that if I needed saving on the battlefield, Vance would probably let me bleed out.
My brother is an attention junkie, and apparently I robbed him of having our parents’ complete and undivided focus. He has never verbalized this to me, of course—that would involve a deep conversation between us. This is all pure guesswork on my part. But I know I’m right.
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