Do You Love Him?

“What is it about men and barbecues?” Elisabeth pushed aside a slender branch that overhung the steep path. “I mean, you can’t get one in the kitchen normally. The best you can expect is beans on toast, but when it’s a barbecue, it’s all, ‘Me man. Me make fire. Me cook meat.’ Weird, isn’t it?”

Susan shrugged. “Jason’s a good cook, actually,” she said over her shoulder. “He cooked for me a few times when we were at university.”

“Oh, you went to Oxford too?”

“Yes. A couple of years behind him, of course, but we overlapped for a year. He has a natural flair for food, but then he’s so good at anything he sets his mind to.”

“I think that’s nice.”

“Nice?” Susan stopped and faced Elisabeth. “What do you mean, nice?”

“You and him. You’re obviously close. You see so many brothers and sisters at each other’s throats. It’s nice that you love him.”

“Of course I love him. Why wouldn’t I?”

“No, no, you’re right. He’s very easy to love.” Elisabeth pulled a handkerchief from her jeans and dabbed at her face. “Phew, this is quite a climb. I’m glad it wasn’t me that had to lug everything up here. Is it much farther? When he said barbecue, I thought it would be in the garden or somewhere.”

Susan stared at Elisabeth for a long moment, then shook her head. “No, it’s just over the next shoulder. It’s a great view over the valley. Me and Jason used to picnic up there all the time, when we were kids. We practically lived in these woods.”

“Look, before we get there, do you mind if I just say something?”

Susan folded her arms. “What?”

Elisabeth took a deep breath and looked around the sun-spackled greenery. Somewhere close a thrush serenaded the world. “I don’t want to replace you, you know? Peter talks about you all the time. You and he, well, you’re close, and I get that. I’m not trying to usurp you at all. You’ll always be his sister, and that will never change.”

“I know,” said Susan, as though it were the most basic of facts.

“Of course. It’s just, well, I hope we can be friends, you know? We’re not rivals or anything.”

Susan smiled. “Of course not. Come on, I want to show you something.” Susan turned and scrambled down the steep slope, away from the path, towards the gorge. “Come on. It’s safe. There’s a fence.”

Elisabeth picked her way through the light undergrowth, waving her arms for balance. “What is it?”

“Come and have a look at the river.” Susan stood by a small tree. Along the length of the gorge edge ran a low wooden fence. “This is the only spot you can see this part of the river from. There’s no path down there.”

Elisabeth approached the fence carefully. “Are you sure it’s okay?” She stopped at the fence and looked down. Thirty feet below them the river, hardly more than a stream when she had seen it by the road, was a boiling torrent confined in a narrow rock gulley. “Yes, very nice,” she said.

“Oh, look. There’s a kingfisher.”

“Where?” Elisabeth screwed her eyes up and stared.

Susan shoved hard, and as Elisabeth half turned, pivoting over the fence, Susan grabbed her T-shirt, her fingers clawing into her bra. Elisabeth gave a strangled scream, her legs kicking for balance as her arms windmilled. She grabbed Susan’s arm. Susan held her right arm out straight, effortlessly keeping Elisabeth poised on the point of falling as her left hand held onto the tree trunk.

“I could let you fall,” said Susan, her face dispassionate. “I could just let go. That’s granite down there. If the fall didn’t kill you, the water would. There’d be no rescue, not for hours, and by then you’d be dead.”

“No, please.” Elisabeth looked down. The height was sickening. She kicked again, pulling at Susan’s arm, trying to regain some balance.

“Listen,” said Susan. “Listen!” She jerked her hand, and for a heart-stopping moment Elisabeth thought she was going to fall. She gave a little scream.

“Are you listening?” said Susan. Elisabeth nodded. “Jason’s, well, he’s special, understand?” Elisabeth nodded again, too frightened to speak. “No you don’t. How could you? He’s clever and funny and kind and sensitive and better than you’ll ever know. Better than you deserve. You’re not the first, you know. He was engaged before.”

“I know,” said Elisabeth in a tiny voice, as if the smaller the voice, the less likely it would be to topple her over the deathly drop. “He told me.”

“Of course he did, because he’s honest. He wouldn’t be able to hide that, even if he wanted to. You know what happened? Do you? She dumped him. Just like that, out of the blue, she gave him the push.” She gave a little shove to illustrate her point. Elisabeth gave another shriek.

“You know what that did to him? You know how many times he turned up at my digs, drunk and in tears? She ripped his heart out, the bitch. He wept for weeks. Weeks! And the thing is, he didn’t deserve it. My god, if there was ever a man that didn’t deserve it, it’s Jason. The absolute cow. Anyway.” Susan looked down at the river for a long second. “Anyway, the point is, he suffered. If he has a fault, it’s he trusts people too much. He lets them in. He doesn’t hold anything back. He was a wreck, a total wreck, when that bitch finished with him. I don’t know how he would cope if that happened again. I don’t think I could, either. I cried myself to sleep every time he cried on my shoulder. How either of us survived, I don’t know.” She sniffed. “Anyway, that’s history. This is now. So I’m going to ask you a question. You love my brother? Because if you do, you’ll make him happy. You had better make him happy. If you don’t love him, tell me now. But if you love him, you better be sure. Because I’m telling you this, if you make him unhappy, even for a minute, I will get rid of you. You think this is frightening? You have no idea what I can do to you, if you make him cry. So? Well?”

“Well?” Elisabeth couldn’t read Susan’s face anymore; her tears blurred her vision.

“Do you love him?”

Elisabeth screwed her eyes shut. “Yes,” she whispered.

For a long moment Susan held her arm out, stiff and unrelenting. Then she pulled Elisabeth in. Elisabeth fell onto the forest floor, weeping silently.

“Okay then,” said Susan brightly. She turned and started to climb back to the footpath. She stopped and turned back, treating Elisabeth to a beatific smile. “Well? Come on, slowcoach. Let’s not keep Jason waiting.”

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About snodlander
Snodlander is the nom de plume of Bob Simms. He is an IT trainer, but it's not as glamourous as it sounds. When he's not enthralling classes with adventures through SQL Server, he writes, draws and drinks his own home-brew. Buy his novel on Amazon Kindle at The Young Demon Keeper, It's 74p, for crying out loud!

2 Responses to Do You Love Him?

  1. D. Longo says:

    Well written, Bob. Good tension achieved in two ways: The obvious cliffhanger, and a hint of devotion exceeding the boundaries of healthy sibling love. Elisabeth might do well to endure the barbecue while considering a move far, far away.

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