Chapter 1
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The entrance to the Trowsa residence was marked by a pebble-ridden driveway, its route which twisted and rose to a small uplift upon the hillside. There at the top rested an eldered cottage, worn with time and bearing all the essence of a family home. Small white carriages planted themselves in a frontside flower patch, wild lilies and roses winding around the metal joints in ferver. A wooden rocking chair cowed on the deck, its use all but gone: chips of wood and paint scattered as the wind blew, and a leg splintered as pressure was applied to its perch. Wooden beams from a lost archway hung limply off rusted nails. The pavement leading to the house was cracked and overflowing with weeds. 

It appeared that some effort had been made to maintain the hagid appearance of the home, however. Freshly potted tomatoes rested their burdens against the porch, and manicured grapevines transversed the posts of the roof in delicate spirals. Two birdbaths, their brims overflowing with undirtied water, replaced daily, sat within clear view of the living room window. The constructs were commonly visited by robins and bluejays that bathed in exuberance, before fluttering to a restocked feeder that supplied numerous seeds and nuts for their enjoyment. 

While the outside maintained a calm and peaceful visage, the interior was not so kind. The cottage had raised three young children, and the dents in the walls and dinged permanent marker drawings on the floors all attained to that fact. The furniture was all worn, tatters in the fabric enveloping the outer framework, and the pipes rattled within the walls as they struggled to continue their duties. Yellowed wallpaper curled as it peeled away from the walls. Where before had piled second-hand toys and clothes now rested mountains of studious books and paperwork, bills and taxes that demanded immediate attention. As it goes, the artifacts had been strewn together in a formation that resembled some lick of order, pushed against the walls and stacked haphazardly, teetering on edges. Still, such constraints did not slow the occupants of the household, they who rushed between rooms, brows furrowed in concentration. From the entrance led a split living/dining room; it was here that two men set about preparing a table for indulgence, occasionally disappearing into the kitchen, only to return moments later with a steaming dish, hastily set upon the stand before the vapor could fully distance itself. 

The eldest of the duo was a relatively handsome man, glowing in the youth of the early 20s, his bronze locks flowing untamed across his head as he went about preparing the silverware and glasses in designated order. The completion of his task was significantly impeded, however, by the darting of his greyed eyes, which sent a constant stream of nervous glances out the nearby window. He muttered quietly to himself in worry, shoulders tense. The other man, just breaching the edges of the teenage world, sighed as he finished setting the final plate. Delicious aromas permeated his nose, and he inhaled deeply, stepping back to observe his work. Glancing over, the adolescent smirked humorlessly as he watched his brother pause once more. His own concern was just as strong, but forced maturity at an early age had given him the control to maintain his emotions more thoroughly, and he refused to wither.

“You know, you keep going like that and soon you’ll be grey-headed.” The eldest tossed a swift glance back but ignored the tease. “Come on Sul, Beth will be home soon- and Carlos.”

“They shouldn’t be taking this long.” 

“Relax, they’re probably just taking their time.” Stepping around the table, the teen rested a hand on his brother’s, Sul’s, shoulder. “Worrying isn’t going to change anything.”

“Maybe we should go look for them.”

“They said they were going to walk, let them enjoy the sun. It’s going to be a nice day afterall.” He squinted his eyes. “Besides, we promised we’d have everything set up by the time they arrived.”

Sul eyed the silverware clutched between his palms, exhaling and loosening his shoulders as he forced his body to relax. “You’re right. I’m just overreacting.” Gritting his teeth, the man began to finish laying out the utensils while his brother watched quietly from behind. It was obvious that Sul’s thoughts were still troubled, but he was making an effort, and that was what counted. The teen glanced up as his brother began to chuckle, the sound flippant. “I’m supposed to be the oldest one here, the one comforting you, and yet, here you are Ryan, stealing my spot.”

Ryan grinned. “Don’t tell me you’re jealous?”

“Of course not!” The response was too quickly returned, and the teen sniggered as Sul turned his back to him, knowing that a blush was probably racking the man’s face. The atmosphere began to calm as the brothers bickered, natural sibling rivalry soon easing the tension. In minutes, the space had been entirely composed, all dishes perfectly aligned and wine poured. Steam rose from the platters, the food ready to be consumed. Sul’s stomach growled eagerly, and he grumbled.

“Wish they would hurry up, though.”

“Your wish might just come true, Sul. Look.” The teen pointed out the glass, gesturing towards the two figures that were steadily approaching the cottage. Sul leapt forward, hands pressed against the window as he gazed concentratedly at the couple. Their hands were entwined, fingers laced together in an unbreakable grasp, arms swinging as they crossed the gravel. 

“She’s okay…”

“What did I tell you?” The man shrugged off the remark, striding out of the room and throwing open the front door, laughing when a body lunged for him excitedly. Ryan rolled his eyes, beginning to follow his brother. He smirked at the sight that met him. 

Beth and Sul were on the ground, embracing each other with all the strength they could manage. Carlos stood off a ways, observing with mirth the scene. Ryan strode to his side, shaking his hand in camaraderie. They exchanged a few pleasantries, but were interrupted when Beth took notice of her other brother, leaping up and wrapping her limbs around him. Despite being the youngest, Ryan was already taller than his sister, and in joy, spun her around, letting her slide to her feet wistfully.

“So, you made it?” A nod and smile. 

“We were beginning to think you weren’t coming. What took you guys so long?” Sul approached from behind, wrapping an arm around Beth’s shoulders. He nudged her playfully as she blushed, beginning to stutter. Carlos stepped forwards then to rescue his girlfriend, ignoring the way the other man tensed, and tugged her to his side. Ever formal and proper, he replied.

“We got a little lost along the way. We hope you weren’t waiting too long.” 

Ryan quickly shook his head before his brother could interrupt, ignoring the glare that was sent his way. “Not long at all.”

“Is the food ready?” Beth jumped in breathlessly.

“It’s all on the table.”

“Oh good, I’m starving.” She giggled, grabbing at Carlos’ hand. “Let’s go in before it gets cold.” Ryan stepped away from the doorway as the couple skipped through. Sul sulked, watching glumly as their sister disappeared.

“Still say you’re not jealous?”

“Oh shut up.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Are those-?” The question went unfinished, but it seemed the brothers instantly knew her want. Elizabeth felt tears well up in her eyes as Ryan nodded solemnly behind her.

“Ma’s dishes, yeah.” 

“We thought- well, Ryan wanted to- Is it okay?” Sul butted his way in, anxious as streaks dripped off of his younger sibling’s cheeks. She had frozen in the entranceway at the sight of the dishes, and the brothers had instantly shoved past Carlos, assuming the worst. A hand clasped before her mouth as Elizabeth shook her head.

The fine dishware, features obtained only through the passing of generations, reflected with an ethereal fashion the light from the candles delicately set in the centre of the table. Floral vines entwined the glass, framing the carefully molded forms, while hand-painted grapes clouded the concaves. Beside each plate rested silverware of the finest quality, with wine glasses completing the set, filled appropriately with light chardonnay. An eldered glass stand was plated to the brim with iced cakes and biscuits, a femininity surrounding the piece that rarely male chefs could accomplish. 

Elizabeth jumped slightly as Carlos approached from the foreground, resting his hand upon her shoulder. Their eyes met, and not soon after, in unspoken communication, they arose at an agreement. Twisting back to face her brothers, she forced a tight smile across her face.

“It’s great Sul, really.” The men were unimpressed by her blatant lie. 

“We can change them; there are still our plates in the cabinet. It’ll only take a few seconds, you know?” Elizabeth shook her head, wiping at her eyes.

“No,” Uncertainty rang. “No, really. It’s time I moved on anyways, right? Besides, look at all the hard work you put into setting it all up.” Sul could only nod in muted acceptance. The happy mood had dissipated to be replaced with melancholy morose.

Ryan advanced from the back, a vaguely uncomfortable frown marring his face, brows slanted. Meeting Sul’s eyes, he hinted towards the table, where Carloss had just pulled a chair for Beth to sit. Together they joined the couple, resting against shined wooden surfaces. Sul naturally assumed a position at the head of the table, where once before his father had remained as the head of the family, however, feeling out of place, he transitioned to another seat, directly across from the couple. The two brothers now faced the loving pair, and watched as they sniffed the air tentatively, the rumbling of empty stomachs breaking the silence. 

“It smells delicious. Thank you for inviting us.”

“Of course.” Ryan nodded at Carlos, tucking a napkin under his chin. “We have a lot of catching up to do.”

“Yes, we do.” The man nodded. Sul frowned at the hesitance in Carlos’ voice, the way in which his body stiffened. He eyed the ring on his sister’s finger, a recent addition he had expected, but was not yet prepared to face, glistening in the lamplight. Carlos cleared his throat, noticing the source of Sul’s attention, and reached out to hold Beth’s hand. She tossed him a confident grin, and he shifted in his chair, emboldened. 

“Shall we begin? I would hate for all this food to go to waste, and it’s better to talk on a full stomach, so they say.”

“Guests first.” Ryan waved absently, also noting the ring with muted surprise.

Beth jumped forwards immediately, a testament to her hunger, filling her plate and piling on steaming vegetables and smoked meats. The clinking of silverware soon filled the room, along with that of short small talk, until with a final drop all plates in the room had been plattered high. An awkward silence reigned then, but it was broken by Beth’s giggle. She ducked her head in embarrassment as the men all cast her curious glances. 

“You’re acting so formal… It’s cute.” The two brothers grinned, leaning back in their chairs simultaneously, reclining. Carlos chuckled. “We’re all family here, just relax.”

“All of us?” Ryan smirked as Beth came to the realization of her slip-of-the-tongue, her cheeks lighting up. Carlos perked up, opening his mouth in preparation to speak, but the brothers hushed him with a single hand. 

“We want to hear Beth say it.”

Elizabeth stammered, blushing profusely. “Well, I- we-” She inhaled deeply. “We were gonna tell you after brunch, but… Carlos and I are getting married.”

The words came out in a rush, barely intelligible to the men, but the brothers had guessed as much from the ring, and their brief shock was quickly overshadowed by concern. Reaching across the table, Sul took his sister’s petite hand in his own, squeezing it gently as he met her eyes.

“Are you sure about this, Beth?” He ignored Carlos’ gaze on his face. His sister’s eyes softened, but withheld their determination. She nodded.

“Yes- I’ve thought it over, and yes. I want this.”

“Are you happy?”

“More than ever.”

Sul and Ryan sat back, their frowns disappearing to be replaced with honest smiles. They shared a knowing look.

“Well then, I don’t have any problems. But you-” Sul pointed his fork at Carlos, who straightened. “You will take care of her, you hear?”

“I will love her for always, no matter what.” The brothers nodded, accepting his response. Ryan speared a cut of steak, popping it in his mouth and chewing half-heartedly. 

“So,” He swallowed, smirking. “Do we get to be your bridesmaids?” His joke immediately left all the occupants of the table laughing at the mental picture, and Beth hurried to hush him, tossing a strawberry at his head. 

“Only if you can fit in the dress.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The platters had been almost entirely cleaned by the time everyone announced that they were full. Instantly, the brothers leapt up, beginning to clear the dishes, denying Beth’s pleas to allow her and Carlos to assist. They were guests, and as such, would sit comfortably while Ryan and Sul did the work. The leftovers were hastily shoved into containers and placed in the fridge, the plates dropped in the sink to be scrubbed later. It did not take long before the table was bare, only one complimentary wine bottle remaining, ready to be poured. 

The household gathered their glasses excitedly, shuffling into the living room and plopping down on the weathered sofa. Sul grabbed the bottle, pouring out each individual an appropriate amount, before corking and setting it aside. By the time he had taken his seat, a soft chatter had already broken out. Elizabeth was detailing passionately the proposal, and the eldest sibling had to grin at his sister’s enthusiasm. Sighing, he peeked at Carlos.

The man was good looking enough, fashionable and well-trimmed, however, what interested Sul was Carlos’ behavior. Upon first meeting the man, he had immediately taken note of his formality, his properness. He had been strict, timely, and fervent in his endeavors, especially those that pertained to his work, but the hard shell had cracked around Beth, allowing the brothers some insight into Carlos’ personality. Now, he smiled freely, one arm comfortingly wrapped around his fiancée’s- Sul shivered at the word- waist. His eyes were squinted happily, and the occasional corrections he made to the story were done with humor and good intent. His touch was gentle, and never had the man made a motion that suggested bringing harm to Elizabeth. Overall, he was the perfect candidate for Sul’s sister.

And she herself, Sul watched with amusement, had changed. Her smile was brighter, her eyes a little less lonely. Her head was held higher, and the self-confidence she exhibited was remarkable to see. Beth laughed then, and Sul grinned, completely ignorant of the story, too engrossed in his own observations. It was such a sight to see, and despite his concerns, the brother was happy for his sister. The two were young, but their love was that of a timeless bond, and Sul felt his heart grow lighter as he imagined Beth walking down the aisle, the smile that would adorn her face, the utter joy in her motions. 

“Sul?” The man glanced up as his name was called, shaking his head to clear his thoughts. He nodded at Beth to continue.

“Did you hear what I said?” Sul blushed, replying in the negative and apologizing. She brushed it aside, too animated to recognize his embarrassment. “Carlos is getting a promotion!”

“A promotion?” Sul glanced up, eyeing the man pointedly. 

“Yes, the Chief is promoting me to head of the Investigation team. It will come with a pay raise, which Beth and I were thinking of putting towards the wedding.” Carlos angled his head, brow furrowing. The man was an officer, a position in which Sul and Ryan had never been particularly fond of, fearing what the risks and emotional strain might bring upon their sister, but they were nevertheless grateful for the pay it brought. Elizabeth would always have a secure check to rely on, and all her needs attended to under the dependent status. Sul bowed his head in acknowledgement. Ryan shifted in his chair, mind running as he worked through the little he knew of the force. 

“You won’t be on the frontlines?” Beth frowned at Ryan’s question. Harrowed, she clutched at Carlos’ arm, pulling him closer.

“No. The team will be strictly behind-the-scenes. We won’t be in any danger. I can assure you of that.” Ryan nodded. Selfishly, he feared for Elizabeth’s mental wellbeing over all else, but he had grown to like, or at least, appreciate Carlos, and was uncomfortable with the idea of him dealing in deadly situations. The man could handle himself, he was certain, but testing the waters was nothing short of idiotic. Reclining, Ryan sipped at his wine; The sweet taste elicited numerous tingles across his tongue.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

For another half hour the couple and the siblings talked, however, eventually, the clock struck midday, and with duties to attend to, the four were forced to admit their goodbyes. Sul and Ryan hugged Elizabeth close, making in her promises to return and keep them updated on all that was happening. A firm handshake and reminder of his vow was left for Carlos, he who took it in stride, nodding and restating his wishes proudly. Their rings flashed brazenly in the sunlight. 

“We’ll be back soon, I promise Sul.” Beth released the arms that had wound their way behind her brother’s midsection, stepping back and smiling, giggling when he frowned. 

“It can never be soon enough.”

“You act like she’s never coming back.” Ryan elbowed Sul playfully, watching together as the couple walked away. 

“Yeah, I just have this feeling…Something is coming.”

“They’ll be fine.” The teen glanced backwards. “We should start those dishes before the flies come.”

“You’re such a mother hen.” Sul smirked, reaching over to tussle Ryan’s hair, laughing when he yelped, flinching back. 

“Damn it Sul!” The man ducked into the cottage, ignoring his brother’s shouting protests.

“Come on slowpoke! We’ve got dishes to do.”

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