You’re probably all tired of hearing my apologies. So all I’m going to say here is, given that it’s been such a long time, it would not surprise me if most of you have kind of forgotten what’s going on with Gabriel. If that’s you, I would recommend rereading his first chapter, The Artist, before reading this one, as this chapter picks up right where the previous one left off.
“Hugo? Open up. I need to talk to you.”
I knocked again. “Come on, Hugo. I know you’re in there.”
I turned at the sound of Hope’s voice. “What’s he doing down there?” I asked, surprised.
She sighed. “Exercising, what else? What happened between you two?”
“I… don’t really know,” I admitted. “It’s kind of a long story. I think he’s angry with me over a girl?”
Hope groaned. “What else is new?” she muttered. As she turned to enter her own room, she added, “You’d better go talk to him. I’m not sure it’ll help the situation, but he might end up killing himself from overexertion if you don’t.”
I grimaced, and nodded, knowing that she was only half joking. I made my way downstairs to the rec room, where the communal exercise equipment was located, and found Hugo pumping out pull-ups like his life depended on it.
“Uh… hey,” I said uncertainly. “Can we talk?”
Hugo ignored me. I couldn’t blame him. In the back of my mind, I had begun to form an inkling of what might have happened in the lead-up to tonight, and I honestly expected him to storm out of the room again, or punch me, but he did neither. He just pushed on with his workout as though I wasn’t there, a tightening of his muscles and a deepening scowl on his face the only indications that he was even aware of my presence.
Several minutes passed, the tension between us becoming thicker by the second. More than once, I considered just giving up and going back to my room. It would be much easier to simply ignore whatever problem Hugo had with me and lose myself in my art, but I knew that if I didn’t address this now, things would only get worse. So I waited. After about ten minutes, my brother lowered himself down to the floor with a grunt of exertion, dusted off his hands, wiped the sweat off his face with a towel and gulped down several mouthfuls of water from the bottle at his feet. Only then did he deign to acknowledge my presence, turning and meeting my hopeful gaze with an angry glare. It was clear that I would have to be the one to extend the olive branch in this case.
“Can I talk to you?” I asked again. “Please?”
“What about?” he snarled. “Come to gloat?”
“What? No, of course not. Look, what you saw up there… it wasn’t what it looked like.”
“Oh?” his face hardened, disbelief etched in every line. “So you weren’t kissing Adelaide in your bedroom, then?”
“No! I mean, yes, technically… but it wasn’t like that-”
Hugo cut me off with a growl. “I suggest you get your story straight next time you come here trying to act like you didn’t just screw me over. Again. I don’t care how you’re trying to justify it, I know what I saw. Now get out of my way, I’m going to bed.”
He turned to leave, but I grabbed his arm to stop him. “What do you mean, ‘again’? When has this ever happened before?”
“When has it not?” he retorted. He slapped my hand away and rounded on me instead. “I always come second place to you, and you know it.”
“Second place? What are you even talking about?”
“‘Gabriel’s so smart! Gabriel’s so talented! Gabriel’s so hot and brooding and mysterious! Are you Gabriel’s brother? Oh, wow, can you introduce me to him?'” He dropped the high-pitched voice and glared at me. “I hear that shit every class I go to. So don’t you dare try to tell me it’s all in my head!”
I stared him, stunned. “Is that what this is about?” I spluttered in disbelief. “You’re mad at me because you’re… jealous, or something?”
Hugo’s scowl deepened, and his hands curled into fists at his side. “I’m mad at you because I’m sick of living in your shadow, Gabriel. I’m sick of always being second-best to you. I’m mad because it’s not enough for you to go about kissing a girl you know I had feelings for, you had to shove it in my face like she was some trophy you won!”
I gaped at him, speechless. Was that really what he thought had happened? There had to be something I could say to defend myself, but no words came to mind.
“Nothing to say, huh?” he snarled. “I figured as much.”
I swallowed, knowing if I didn’t say something soon, he would give up and I’d lose any chance I had at redemption. “Hugo… please,” I managed. “Let me explain.”
“Explain what, exactly? What is there to explain?”
“First of all, I don’t have any feelings for Adelaide. She kissed me. I didn’t even know she liked me that way!”
“Right, she came on to you,” Hugo repeated, his tone dripping with sarcasm. “And she invited herself over as well, did she?”
“Well… no, but-”
“Seriously, Gabriel? How do you expect me to believe that? You invited her over to your house, took her to your room, with purely platonic intentions in mind, is that it?”
“Yes! I didn’t realise what it would look like. I didn’t know she liked me, and I didn’t know that you had feelings for her. I wouldn’t have brought her here if I’d known.”
“That’s the biggest pile of bullshit I’ve ever heard. No one is that thick, especially not ‘Mr. Genius’ himself. Just because I can’t do equations in my head or whatever doesn’t mean I’m an idiot, Gabriel. And only an idiot would believe that story. So save it for someone who cares.”
And with that, he turned and left the room. Moments later, the slam of an upstairs door echoed through the house. I sighed. I wasn’t the most intuitive person on Earth, but I was beginning to understand that whatever this was between Hugo and me ran a lot deeper than I had realised.
* * *
The following Saturday, the entire family was seated at the breakfast table (a rarity in itself) eating pancakes Mum had prepared for us. Mum was usually far too busy with work to have time for the domestic side of things, but today was one of her rare days off from her job as city mayor that Dad was occasionally able to convince her to take, and all of us were reaping the rewards.
Partway through the meal, Mum put down her fork and announced to the table at large, “I’ve decided that we should all go out and do something today. As a family.”
Surprised, I glanced up at my siblings to see how they were taking this unexpected development, but Hugo was stubbornly avoiding my gaze and Hope was too busy looking excited to spare me a glance. “Can we go to the beach?” she asked Mum eagerly. I hadn’t thought that Hope was really much of a beachgoer, but lately I had been learning that there was a lot I didn’t know about my younger siblings.
Mum hesitated, but then said, “I don’t see why not. It might be a bit busy, but it’s a beautiful day, and it would be a nice change in routine.”
I snorted. Mum, enjoying a change in routine? She must have been more tired than I thought. The sound drew her attention, and she frowned at me. She probably knew exactly what I was thinking, knowing her. “Is something wrong, Gabriel?”
I shook my head, trying to suppress a smile. “Beach sounds good.”
When we arrived at the beach, Hugo immediately announced that he was going for a run and took off down the shoreline. Dad took Mum’s hand and dragged her down to the water, where they proceded to splash around in the shallows together, laughing like children. Hope scanned the area eagerly, but apparently who- or whatever she was looking for was nowhere to be seen, for she gave up after a few moments, looking disappointed, and left to join Mum and Dad.
I, meanwhile, had brought along a backpack with my portable easel, a small canvas and some painting supplies, and so headed down near the shore to set everything up. I didn’t often find the chance to paint from life like this, so I was hoping to seize the opportunity while it offered itself.
The beach was fairly crowded that day. As I painted, I enjoyed listening to the sounds of shouting and laughter around me, watching toddlers paddling in the shallows or building sandcastles with their parents, while their older siblings splashed around in the surf. At one point, I spotted a child standing alone up the far end of the beach near the cliffs, with no parents or siblings in sight.
It struck me as somewhat strange that he would be so far down the beach on his own, but I gathered from his street clothes that he wasn’t planning on doing anything dangerous like going in the water. I might have spared him more than a moment’s concern, but at that very moment I was distracted by the sound of someone shouting my name.
I turned my head at the sound, to find none other than the catalyst of relational rifts herself strolling down the beach towards me.
I glanced around furtively, hoping that Hugo wasn’t around to witness the interaction. The last thing I needed right now was to give him more reason to think the worst of me. Luckily, it seemed that he had made good on his workout plans and was currently doing sprints along the stretch of beach where I had seen the young boy a moment earlier – too far away to notice anything. Relieved, I put down my brush and pallet and turned to politely greet Adelaide.
“Hi,” she said, somewhat shyly, when she reached me.
“Hey,” I returned. “What are you doing here?”
“Same as you – enjoying an unusually warm Saturday at the beach.”
I nodded and shuffled my feet awkwardly, unsure what to say next. Deciding I should probably make some attempt to clear the air after the other night, I began what I hoped was an apology at the same time Adelaide started to speak as well.
“About the oth-”
“I wanted t-”
We both paused with a halfhearted chuckle. “You first,” she said.
“Er… right,” I stuttered. “Well, what I was going to say was I’m sorry for throwing you out like that the other night. Things have just been… rough, lately, between Hugo and me, and I kind of panicked. And… I’m sorry if I lead you on in any way. That wasn’t my intention.”
“Oh, no, that was my fault!” she exclaimed. “Um, with Hugo, I mean. I didn’t know he was going to ask me out, and I didn’t know – I mean, I knew you were brothers, but I guess I didn’t think things through very well. Um… I never meant to make things difficult between the two of you. And as for the other thing – well, it’s okay. It was a misunderstanding.”
“So… you’re not upset?”
“Upset?” she repeated, somewhat incredulously. “I mean… I sort of am. I don’t blame you, exactly, but it’s hard to get over someone that quickly, you know?”
I didn’t know. I’d never had to get over romantic feelings for someone else, but I tried to look as sympathetic as possible as she continued.
“I really liked you, Gabriel. I mean… I like you. Still. I’d… really like it if we could still be friends, at least? Platonically bond over art, or something?” she added with a small laugh.
Relief flooded over me. I did like Adelaide, as a friend, and I had been worried that this would make things awkward between us, especially at Art Club. I was grateful for how well she seemed to be taking this. I would have had no clue how to handle it otherwise.
“Sure. I’d like that.”
She smiled, but her smile quickly vanished as she glanced over my shoulder, peering closely at something in the distance. “Oh my… is that Hugo?” she cried, and without waiting for an answer, took off running down the beach.
I followed her without thinking, and together we raced across the sand towards what did indeed appear to be my brother, now emerging from the water with a limp, dripping bundle in his arms.
“What happened?” Adelaide exclaimed when she reached him, a few paces ahead of me.
Hugo didn’t respond immediately as he lowered the boy in his arms gently to the ground and checked his pulse and breathing. I looked wildly around for a lifeguard, but the patrolled area was a few hundred metres back the way we had come, and almost out of sight where the beach curved around the cliffs. There was no way any of the lifeguards would have been able to see a boy in the water from that far away, especially not with their attention on the crowds populating the main beach. It was lucky, really, that Hugo had been around when he had.
Adelaide and I both jumped as the child suddenly started to cough violently, spewing seawater onto the sand in front of him. Hugo gently helped him to sit up, and sat rubbing his back soothingly as he heaved and spluttered. None of us spoke until the boy had recovered sufficiently and sat sprawled in the sand in front of Hugo, shaking from with appeared to be a combination of shock and cold, but otherwise unharmed.
“What happened?” Adelaide repeated. Hugo looked up, and scowled as his gaze landed first on Adelaide, then on me. I could feel the accusation burning in his glare.
“He was drowning in the water,” Hugo explained stiffly to Adelaide’s feet. “I don’t think he can swim. What’s your name?” he added, turning his attention back to the boy.
“S-S-Samuel,” the child spluttered.
“Alright, Samuel,” Hugo said, his tone softening. “Where are your parents? Are they here?”
Slowly, Samuel shook his head.
“Where are they?”
“They’re… they’re at home.”
“Do they know you’re here?”
He shook his head again.
“Alright, well we need to get you back to your parents. Can you tell me where you live?”
Samuel looked terrified, but he nodded. He took Hugo’s offered hand and got shakily to his feet, staring wide-eyed at his saviour with a mix of admiration and trepidation.
“I’m going to take Samuel home,” Hugo informed us. “Let mum and dad know I’ll be home late,” he added, without looking at me.
I nodded, then realising he hadn’t seen it, said, “yeah.”
“I’ll see you later.” And with that, he took Samuel’s small hand and strode off up the beach, with the boy following somewhat reluctantly behind him. I watched them out of sight, before it occurred to me that I had left my art supplies and half-finished painting abandoned on the shore.
As I turned to go, a gentle hand on my wrist stopped me.
“I saw the way Hugo looked at you,” Adelaide said. “I’m sorry… I feel like that’s my fault.”
I paused. I didn’t want her to feel bad, but I couldn’t deny it either. “I think there’s more to it than just you,” I said at last. “Don’t worry, he’ll get over it.”
She bit her lip, looking worried. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” I lied.