The east coast of Canada was gorgeous, and that was not a word Chord threw around lightly. He’d grown up on the west coast, which was equally awesome, just different. Still, there was something about perching precariously on a rocky outcropping over the Atlantic that thrilled him. And the lighthouses.
The lighthouses were pretty damn cool. Vancouver didn’t have as many. It wasn’t a feature of the landscape like it was here. The more Chord travelled, the bigger he realized the world was. He wanted to see it – all of it.
The Provincial park they had found was crowded. Nothing brought people out to the beach like a hot sunny day late in the summer. No one had recognized them yet. Or, more specifically, Chord. He and Kian were usually the ones to get noticed because Tan looked so different on stage than he did out and about in the day-to-day. It was a struggle to prep Tan for a show. The dude just didn’t like expending the effort.
Today, Kian hung back at the hotel trying to cram for his last exam before they flew out tomorrow morning, which left Chord to his own devices while Tan lazed somewhere hidden along the shore. Chord had explored the small tide pools trapped along the rocky shoreline for the last hour or so. Not much to find; a few shellfish and tons of barnacles.
When he was a kid, his family used to go to Boundry Bay. The beach went out for kilometres when the tide was out because of the sand bars, and in between each was trapped pools of slimy life. He’d go exploring with Ayla and collect buckets of little crabs and snails to take home. Of course, they never lived longer than a day, maybe two, and he’d be devastated every time.
Rocks crunched somewhere behind Chord but stared out at the choppy water.
“Hey, kiddo,” Ayla called. “About time we reapplied your sunscreen.”
Chord groaned. It wasn’t fair. Ayla had gotten all the good genes, like the ability to tan. In the summer, she was a honey gold, but Chord’s pasty ass burned walking from one shady spot to the other. So, he obediently held out an arm for her to spray down lest he turned into a tomato. It wasn’t an attractive look under the stage lights.
The mist of sunscreen was a noxious cloud. Chord made the mistake of inhaling too early, and he choked and sputtered on the acrid fumes of sour sunscreen spray engulfing his head.
“Poor baby,” Ayla cooed cruelly and patted his back in mock sympathy, then continued to torment him until he shined and sparkled with greasy spray.
“Bite me,” Chord snapped back, shrieking when her teeth dully sunk into the shoulder of his t-shirt. When you have a sibling, you never really grow up. “The fuck, you ass!”
Ayla snickered gleefully as she folded her legs under her and sat down on the craggy beside him. There were frayed holes in the knees of her jeans. Mindlessly, Chord played with the white threads instead of pretending to watch the waves until his sister flicked his bangs. He jumped.
“Think it’s about time we had a little talk, hmmm, little brother?” Ayla said, her voice soft, but really left no room for argument. There was no such thing as arguing with Ayla.
Chord found the ocean fascinating, again. The choppy waves foamed and frothed. “I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Uh-huh. Sure,” Ayla said. She leaned back, hands braced against the stone and pretended to enjoy the scenery along with him while she sunned herself. “That would be more convincing if you hadn’t spent the last three days locked in the quiet room with your viola.”
“I need to practice sometime. I don’t do it often enough.” Oh boy, she was on to him.
Ayla nodded and hummed as if she agreed. “But you only binge write string arrangements of pop albums when you’re pretending you’re not angry.”
Busted. “I’m not angry,” Chord tried. A valiant effort, to be sure.
“No?” Ayla casually dropped her head to the side to study him. “So you and miss witch didn’t break-up?”
Chord scraped his fingers painfully against the rock in his haste to face his sister. “What? No,” he huffed indignantly. But his false bravado quickly crumbled. “How would you even know that?”
The responding smile was sad. “I did raise you,” Ayla said.
“Pffft.” Chord glared back out to sea. “You’re not my mom,” he said, then regretted it just as quickly. He had to have imagined the flinch. Ayla never showed weakness, especially in front of him.
“Sure feels like it,” Alya sighed, so quiet the words almost didn’t register.
“Shut up.” The response was automatic. Ingrained in him from childhood. Chord winced, even as the words left his mouth.
Alya clasped one hand over her heart with a sudden overdramatic gasp. “You cut me to the core.”
Ayla’s eyebrows crept higher on her forehead. “You’re a child.”
Chord stuck his tongue out. “Yours apparently.”
Together, Chord and Ayla chuckled to themselves until it tapered off into nothingness. They sat in silence. Siblings side by side. Chord slumped, head plopping onto his sister’s shoulder. Her hair, tousled in the sea breeze, tickled his nose. Except for the squawk of the seagulls overhead, the scene was peaceful.
“She cheated on me,” Chord breathed. Only the partial truth, but Ayla didn’t need to know that. He didn’t want her to know that.
An arm crept up around his shoulder, and Chord let it.
“I’m sorry,” Ayla said after several long seconds as if she had weighed her options. Not that there were a lot. Anything she said would make him feel like shit.
“Why?” Chord said. He pulled away in a sudden burst of energy.
Ayla had nothing to apologize for. He was the idiot. His sister wasn’t involved. He’d made sure of it. He’d needed to make sure of it because Ayla hadn’t liked her from day one. No one had. Maybe that should have been the sign of impending disaster.
“It clearly had been going on for ages, and I didn’t even see it. God, I’m pathetic.” Chord buried his face in his hands. His face was hot against his palms, humiliation burning through him even as a delicate hand rubbed his back.
“No. Just young.” Ayla sat up and draped an arm around Chord’s shoulders again. “I am sorry,” she added. “If I could, I’d put you in a little bubble and keep you safe forever, but I can’t. And life, well, life is dealing with assholes. It’s a sad truth. But at least, you’ll never be alone.”
“Doesn’t make me feel less like a complete loser, though.” Chord’s voice was muffled by his hands, but that didn’t seem to faze Ayla in the least because she ruffled his hair.
“Suppose not,” Ayla agreed. She nodded solemnly and rested her head on top of his. “And I doubt you’ll believe me when I say, it gets better.”
Chord lowered his hands enough to wrap his arms around his knees pulled up to his chest. His chin rested perfectly between the dip of his kneecaps. “You’re right. I don’t.”