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John and Julian Umland
After the Concert.
Wed Aug 16, 2017 20:42

Sammy’s family was, if nothing else, never boring. Trying to find his footing with these people permitted John to spend a substantial part of the evening not dealing with two of his many problems, perhaps the most urgent of them all – that his family was here and he couldn’t see them, and, more practically, no idea what this meant for the weeks separating him from university. He had, with some effort, to get himself accepted to one, but that wasn’t going to help him much on a practical level until August. It was currently June. Late June, but still – June. He had not yet figured out a plan for addressing this, other than getting off a wagon Joe wasn’t on somewhere in the States and winging it from there, and ‘winging it’ was not a great plan when one was not actually a bird or, for that matter, a legal resident of this particular country for the next month….

This had been worrying him for several days, but he almost, in everything going on that evening, forgot about it for the duration of the Concert. He let himself focus on the moment, which was why it was both a surprise and not a surprise when he noticed a pair of high heeled shoes had appeared in front of him without his noticing their owner’s approach as the party started to break up. He hoped against hope they were random shoes as he looked up, but couldn’t say he was altogether surprised when the body they propped up turned out to belong to his sister.

He tried to think of something – anything – to say – either just to say or to get out of the situation – but nothing came to him. Julian seemed to have the same problem: she looked as if she started to speak several times, but did not seem to be able to get words out. She began to twist her engagement ring violently on her finger, and John reached out to stop her without thinking.

“I didn’t expect you’d still have that by itself now,” he said finally.

“Wedding’s not until August,” said Julian.

Silence fell again. John had a million things he wanted to ask, a million more he wanted to say, but he suspected that if he tried to say more than a few words, he would lose his composure in front of all these people, which was not something he wanted to do. Mom and society were united, for once, in their opinion that expressing emotion in public, particularly the kind of emotion and expression of same that involved falling to the floor clutching his sister’s and mother’s and father’s knees and weeping, was not quite civilized. “I should go,” he said, his voice cracking a bit even on that, and he tried to suit actions to words, but Julian grabbed his arm first.

“No, you shouldn’t. You never should have in the first place!” If he had hoped to avoid a scene with his initial inane comment, he’d failed. Julian was all red and white at once now, never a good sign. “What were you thinking, just – just leaving us like that – “

“I had to – “ he began, but then realized this was not the proper trail to follow. “I thought you, anyway, you would have been happy about it – “

“Happy? What is wrong with you? I couldn’t even go in our house for a week. I’ve been worrying about you pretty much twenty-four seven for a year! Happy!”

“Yes,” said John, forcing himself to it. “It might make some of your friends and cousins uncomfortable, after all, you associating with the likes of me.”

He must, he realized a moment later, have been expecting her to slap him. She didn’t. Instead, she allowed – it was, he told himself, ineffectively, almost certainly deliberate; Julian was a messy crier when it was real – tears to roll down her face. “I don’t associate with you,” she said, more quietly now. “You’re my brother.”

He knew how to make her angry, he thought. He knew how to agitate her into such a passion that she did slap him and stormed off and declared herself well rid of him. Using that knowledge would be the right thing to do. He couldn’t do it and so stood there, hating Joanie for refusing to just let him die and be done with it last summer and Julian for having learned much more sophisticated ways to fight than she’d ever used when they were kids, before all this happened to them.

His silence seemed to encourage her in some way, because she took his arm again, this time more gently. “Look at me and tell me you don’t love us,” challenged Julian, and John became vaguely aware that Mom and Dad and Joe were standing a bit behind her, clearly uneasy with the scene.

John gasped in irritation. “Damn you, Julian!” he swore. “You know I can’t.”

“Then we can – we can fix all of this. Just come home with us.”

“I can’t do that,” he said, turning and trying again to leave. “It’s not possible. I’m sorry – “

“Sorry for what?” said Julian, now louder, sharper, angry. “If you’re not wrong, then what are you sorry for?”

Just keep going. Walk. Don’t listen to her. Focus. You can do this. This is penance. Do it. Keep going -

“Or are you so much of a coward that you’d rather go live off charity from your little boyfriend than deal with the fact you’ve hurt us like a man?”

…Okay, that was out of order.

John stopped and turned back to face her. By this point, she had to be deliberately pitching her voice – both to him, an increasing distance away from her, and to make sure everyone else around her heard it. “What?” he said, more quietly but just as angrily.

Julian maintained her distance. She crossed her arms as if to emphasize that she was going to stand where she was and that he could come crawling back to her if he liked. “Deny it,” she taunted him. “But prove me wrong if you do – otherwise, you aren’t my brother. If you’re as weak as that – “ Joe appeared to be urgently trying to whisper to Julian that she should stop talking now, but she shoved him behind her with one hand – “My brother was a lot of things, but never that.”

Since she was clearly not going to come to him again, he went to her – but furious, not crawling to beg her pardon. “You call me coward?” he demanded. “You – you!” He moved to seize her by the shoulders, but checked himself at the last moment – even now, he didn’t want to hurt her, and he was afraid he might do so whether he wanted to or not right now, in this extreme of emotion. He half-turned away and gripped the back of a chair instead. “I seem to remember you sneaking about, going off to see Bill and Lenore and Bertram and all those other do-nothings for the fun of it and not having the guts to admit you were doing it, because you knew you were wrong!”

“And I remember you lying to us all, making me cry just to distract me from what you were doing!” hissed Julian in return, rounding the chair to face him again. “At least when I was found out, I didn’t vanish into the night! I had the nerve to come here and humiliate myself trying to reason with you, and you haven’t got the balls to hear it? I’m not even sure you live in a glass house at this point!”

She reached out as if to grab him by the front of the shirt in her rage, but he jerked back from her. “Don’t touch me. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Julian stared at him wide-eyed for a moment. “Hurt me?” she asked, more softly again. “Are you trying to scare me? You’ll have to do better than that. You’ve hurt me a lot of times, but you never harmed me in your life.” Abruptly, before he could get out of range this time, she threw her arms around him and pulled his hair hard when he tried to get away from her. “You promised you’d always have my back,” she said, now sounding on the brink of one of her proper cries. “Is this how you keep a promise?”

“It’s my fault,” managed John into her shoulder. “If I go back – “

“That’s all in the past,” insisted Julian. “We’ve both done things we’re not proud of, but it’s all over now. We can start over. Just come home with us.”

  • Midsummer Event: Concert!Professor Sophie O'Malley, Sun Jul 30 12:45
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    • After the Concert. — John and Julian Umland, Wed Aug 16 20:42
    • Last minute friendship! [Tag: John]Sammy Meeks, Thu Aug 10 15:46
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        • But so much to gain!The Meeks-Jones family, Fri Aug 11 17:14
          Lauren and Cheryl blinked at one another for a moment. John. They searched their memories in synchronized silence. Had Sammy mentioned a John before? Usually she talked about Kira or Laila or... more
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