The waves were almost black, this night. His eyes shone against them, the shimmering water catching his eye only momentarily.
He held the wad carefully in the sleeve of his coat and walked down the street, turning into an alley that seemed to be lit brightly by the moon, the white gleam like a spotlight between brick walls. There was a man standing there, in the light, but when he walked he seemed to have stepped out of the dark. His coat was black and leather, the sleeves flouncy and untamed, and over his eyes was a dark ribbon, two holes in it to let him peer out, black pupils dilating at the sight of him. The two of them shook hands, the man with the ribbon grinning widely. His front left tooth was filled with pyrite.
“Docker,” the man greeted, low and timid, but sure. He grunted in response. “I’m feeling funny.” He said, eyes shining. Sweat beaded down his forehead as the exchange hurried to occur.
The man took his time, though the mask over his eyes was becoming damp as well. “What’s so damn funny?” He said, and the codes slipped together like lock and key, and the two of them moved towards each other, the wad of money slipping from the first man’s sleeve into Docker’s, and in return a cool, moist ziplock was pressed in its place. “Ah, you’re not worth the time.” Docker said, and one of his eyes blinked shut like it was injured. “Get out of here.”
He was grateful, promising more, heart swelling with pride and relief and a thrill that Adam had warned him about. “Screw you,” he said, a smile on his face that on-lookers wouldn’t see, and Docker grunted in response, waving him away. He hurried down the street, and it was a cold night, and sweat was freezing in his palms, being flattened by the air as the wind took its course; he coughed into his sleeve to let out his excitement.
Once he was fresh out of sight, he ran down the street, gid in his veins, and he hurried past the docks and ignored the salty smell of the ocean even when it chased after him, because home was just a second away.
Finally, he burst through the door, mirth in his lungs, and then panic, when he saw his brother’s stone cold face awaiting him. He tried not to breathe so heavily, calming the rapid flow of his chest, up and down, up and down, mouth open like a dog, except he plastered on a smile and begged his tongue to moisten. “What?” He exclaimed, like he had just come home from a run, even though he was wearing jeans and a beanie.
The bag threatened to slip from his sleeve, so he walked carefully around the couch to mask the way he gripped it tightly. Their house was wood and more of a cabin, and her room wasn’t far. He just had to get away from his brother, first. “Take off your coat.” Adam said, and when he turned to look at him, his eyes were stormy and crude.
“I’m cold.” He said in return, wishing maybe he had just jumped into the sea when it told him to.
“The heats on.” Adam said. “You ought to start sweatin’ soon, Mercer.” As if their tiny house could afford heating, but Mercer smiled.
He pressed his lips together, and he turned his face away just for a second to grimace in defeat, before turning back to his brother with the same dopey grin. “What can I say,” he shrugged. “I got ice in my veins.” And pride, he thought, taking another step to her door.
“Don’t go in there, Mercer.” His voice was deadly, and then it lightened. “You oughta try some of my tea first.” He lifted the kettle off the edge of the coffee table without breaking eye contact, and he poured the cup directly without looking. It spilled onto his hand and burned his fingers. Mercer winced. “Take off your coat.”
But if he took off his coat, the bag would surely fall out, so Mercer said, “I’m cold, but I’ll have some tea, Adam.” And he walked around the couch and took the cup, even as Adam tried his hardest to pour it right onto his sleeve, Mercer held it tightly and took a shaky sip. It scalded the flesh right off his tongue but he held through and then peered up at him over the rim. “Warmed me right up,” he said. “Thank you.”
Then there was panic, he walked faster around the couch and grabbed the doorknob to her room. “I told you not to do it, Merce.” Adam said, and his voice sounded angry but Mercer knew he was just sad. Because they had no other choice. The doctors wouldn’t help her. They had to do what they could.
Mercer turned around slowly, biting the inside of his cheek. Maybe the tea really had warmed him up, or maybe his words were just anger-inducing. Either way, he was much too hot in his coat. “If I didn’t, you would’ve.” He said in response, and that was the closest either of them would get to admitting it.
Then he finally opened the door, the gid and eagerness dying when he saw her limp form on the bed. The bag slipped out and crashed to the floor, and even though it was dry, he thought he could smell it. He stared at her. “She sleeping, Adam?” He asked without taking his eyes away, hand trembling on the doorknob.
“I said get your last words in,” Adam replied, and for the first time Mercer thought he heard his voice break.
Mercer stooped and picked up the bag before walking towards her, his eyes glossy, his lips parted. He knelt down by the bed and looked at her. It was much too hot in his coat. “Hey, sissie.” He whispered, voice cracking. “I brought you some medicine.”
She didn’t move, but her eyelids were still fluttering. “The good kind?” She croaked. He marvelled at the sound of her voice, little and frail as it was. He reached to cover her better with the fleecy blanket, the one with lint that never stopped falling, and balls of fur, that they never knew where they came from.
He sniffed, hands shaking as he lifted the bag. “The good kind.” He affirmed. “I’m gonna leave it here, okay?” He dropped it onto her nightstand and knew it would go untouched for the rest of their lives.
She finally turned, her slender arm coming to touch his face, before collapsing back on the dusty mattress. They hadn’t come to this town to live in pride. But nobody paid lost kids to do much of anything. This is what it had come to. But what else could they do, to help their undying sister, other than buying painkillers illegally before the pain killed her. Only that was just what they were, the second people in the story, the bystanders, the watchers, that never did much of anything. And those that watched them, well that was all they did.
“Mercer,” she said, voice impossibly gone. They said the death rattle would be terrifying to hear. It sounded like sweet music from her. “Mom’s coming to get me so don't you worry.” She whispered.
He held her wrist limply, like she was a strand of hair he didn’t want to break. “I know, sissie.” He said, smiling. “Tell her I said hi.”
“I will,” she said quickly, eyes fluttering and fluttering.
And just before they stopped, her hand frozen on his face, she told him, “She says hi back.”
Their money went to waste.