Brad's heart may as well never beat, for all the compassion he's ever really felt. Not that the measure of life is a man's compassion, thank goodness for most of us.
We got ready for the ball together, the second time he's buttoned me into a white dress. We were silent in the bedroom of Denton, made to look like Eden. Of course, someone made a fucking Eden room here. I don't mind never being able to escape that certain fate, but I do mind the way I'm looked at like such a cliche when it confronts me.
Brad's eyes were distant and cruel. When he moves to the austere and storm-watching part of himself, I use his formal name, and he uses mine, as if we were strangers come to this strange time in which neither of us belong.
"Joel?" I ask him, and he dips his hands into the basin on the dresser and slicks his hair back with a handful of water. It's a burnished gold, almost dull when it's wet. It drips from the ends onto the shoulders of his white shirt.
He answered me terse, and professional. The heartless boy he becomes, when he knows they're all watching us.
"Are you alright?"
He busies himself with the cuffs around his wrists, his reflection in the mirror wearing a critical sneer.
Brad's ability to turn into a creature as mystical as Clyde has developed along with the darkening of his hair. When we were young, he was blonde, vapid, fast-moving, stupid, beautiful, using his magical talent to slip through time and fuck both this girl, and that one. To become invisible in order to sneak his mother's Quaaludes from the medicine cabinet in her bathroom. To avoid police detection when he took the Ferrari off the lot in the midday sun.
Was it his seventeenth heartbreak, or his eighteenth? Was it Rosie? Was it me? Was it the realization in 2015 he'd had that he'd lived his whole life as some pathetic masquerade of himself? Was it the letter he wrote me? Was it when Lou died?
I can't say for certain what changed in him, but it also changed in his eyes. Something transformed, from adolescent arrogance to a cold detachment, and a far-reaching gaze to worlds beyond this one.
In Gray House, every joke has the potential to stop being funny at the behest of it's truth. We threw a ball - a Halloween ball - for the second time in five years. The first having gone so disastrously, why wouldn't we throw a second, and why wouldn't we don costumes which betrayed what we wished no one to know about us?
Brad asked me to go, and had in mind what we would go as, together. The Cruel Prince, and the Cruel Princess; white ghosts in formal attire, hearts missing from our chests. Military dedication to a magic-laden surgical procedure accomplished the effects, but the vacancy we had in both our expressions was authentic. Here is what we had become, given enough time, distance from one another, and hatred of all others. Whether he knew it consciously or not, he'd asked me to show everyone who we'd become; this tragedy of our ruin of a relationship. Hey, Evie, go to prom with me, but make sure you wear a sign that says we already broke up.
"You once told me to never be cruel, because it wasn't who I am," I reminded him, fastening my necklace in the mirror. "Do you remember?"
The room was hot and green, and he moved through it almost mechanically, or moth-like in his white clothes, fastening buttons as he walked on fast legs. The sound of his shoes was obscene on the barren floor.
"Yes, Eve, I remember."
I can count on one hand the times Brad has ever called me Eve, settling almost without exception on it's diminutive. It was one of maybe five things he tried to put in place between us. Let me be the older twin. Let me be the one who is cruel. Let me be the killer of the two of us. Let me be your first love. Let me live inside you. Hey, I don't want much, Evie, is that so hard?
But here I was, the Cruel Princess, not cruel how he was, but unintentionally, and as a result of all my failings to love myself and therefore anyone else. Cold inside, the way Jack's always insisted I am. Heartless, because I can't fall in love.
And Brad is cruel because he chose to be. Not that it will ever matter to anyone to know, but Brad is cruel because he chose to look down the barrel of every gun pointed at another human being, in order to understand the unwavering will of a killer. Brad chose knowledge over compassion, and the way back to kindness and decency was a long and arduous road to travel. Why bother, when you know what he knows? When no one is truly innocent, or righteous, or valorous?
It was his eyes that I fell in love with first, and their expressions which I knew by second nature. For all he'd seen, and all he couldn't say.
The sound of my skirts rustled while I crossed the room to him, to stand next to his knowledge, and to his cruelty. There are ways only we could ever love one another, the way orphans can, or those forgotten to fates and circumstances more than the heart can bear. It's this way that I can stand next to him and feel the isolation of our tragedy which brought me to this point where nothing else is possible. We had a kingdom, once, but we lost it when the King was executed, and now, no one knows what we know.
The tips of his hair still wet, his jaw still tense, his eyes still watching the slow storm pass over the desert beyond the windows, he was hard to the touch. I touched the bones of his shoulders, and his arms crossed against me, so the bones moved under his skin which is always five degrees hotter than mine.
Brad and I are not the same size. The sameness we have physically comes from an internal symmetry instead of an external one. I rested my head against his back, his height sprouting seven inches over me.
"What is it?" he asked me. "You're not frightened, are you?"
His back and his shoulders tensed as if to threaten whatever I was feeling into nonexistence by his reason or his presence.
"No," I told him.
"It'll be quick," he promised me, about the idea that he was minutes from removing my heart from my chest.
But it wasn't the fact I'm heartless, or would soon be, which bothered me. It was the idea that the circuit to become so would now be made by us, and that this somehow implied that we'd created the other's cruelty simply by existing. Did Brad look into the heart of every evil only to prepare himself as my protector? Did I stop short of love with so many others because they just weren't him? Had we done too much to make room for each other in our souls that now they would cease to function independently?
He turned to hold me while I started to cry, thinking only that if that were true, there was no way back from that place anymore. Brad would take us there, and further, on the point of his knife.