“How can you know?” Warner finally glances at me, just for a second. “I’m telling you,” he says, “it’s impossible for him to know this—”
“He’s your brother,” I finally choke out. “Please. He’s your brother. You have the same father.”
Warner goes rigid.
He turns to me.
“What?” he breathes.
“It’s true,” I tell him, feeling so heartbroken as I do. “And I know you can tell I’m not lying.” I shake my head. “He’s your brother. Your father was leading a double life. He abandoned Adam and James a long time ago. After Adam’s mom died.”
Warner drops Adam to the floor.
“No,” Warner says. He’s not even blinking. Just staring. Hands shaking.
I turn to look at Adam, eyes tight with emotion. “Tell him,” I say, desperate now. “Tell him the truth.”
Adam says nothing.
“Dammit, Adam, tell him!”
“You knew, all this time?” Warner asks, turning to face me. “You knew this and yet you said nothing?”
“I wanted to—I really, really wanted to, but I didn’t think it was my place—”
“No,” he says, cutting me off. He’s shaking his head. “No, this doesn’t make any sense. How—how is that even possible?” He looks up, looks around. “That doesn’t—”
Looks at Adam.
“Tell me the truth,” he says. He walks up to Adam again, looking like he might shake him. “Tell me! I have a right to know!”
And every moment in the world drops dead just then, because they woke up and realized they’d never be as important as this one.
“It’s true,” Adam says.
Two words to change the world.
Warner steps back, hand caught in his hair. He’s rubbing his eyes, his forehead, running his hand down his mouth, his neck. He’s breathing so hard. “How?” he finally asks.
Little by little. It’s pulled out of Adam. One word at a time. And the rest of us are looking on, and James is still sleeping, and I go silent as these two brothers have the hardest conversation I’ve ever had to watch.
Warner is sitting in one corner. Adam in another. They’ve both asked to be left alone.
And they’re both staring at James.
James, who’s still just a little snoring lump.
Adam looks exhausted, but not defeated. Tired, but not upset. He looks freer. His eyebrows unfurrowed. His fists unclenched. His face is calm in a way I haven’t seen it in what feels like a long time.
He looks relieved.
As if he’d been carrying this great burden he thought might kill him. As if he’d thought sharing this truth with Warner might somehow inspire a lifelong war between him and his brand-new biological sibling.
But Warner wasn’t angry at all. He wasn’t even upset.
He was just shocked beyond belief.
One father, I think. Three brothers. Two who nearly killed each other, all because of the world they were bred in. Because of the many words, the many lies they were fed.
Words are like seeds, I think, planted into our hearts at a tender age.
They take root in us as we grow, settling deep into our souls. The good words plant well. They flourish and find homes in our hearts. They build trunks around our spines, steadying us when we’re feeling most flimsy; planting our feet firmly when we’re feeling most unsure. But the bad words grow poorly. Our trunks infest and spoil until we are hollow and housing the interests of others and not our own. We are forced to eat the fruit those words have borne, held hostage by the branches growing arms around our necks, suffocating us to death, one word at a time.
I don’t know how Adam and Warner are going to break the news to James. Maybe they won’t tell him until he’s older and able to deal with the ramifications of knowing his heritage. I don’t know what it’ll do to James to learn that his father is actually a mass murderer and a despicable human being who’s destroyed every life he’s ever touched.
Maybe it’s better James doesn’t know, not just yet.
Maybe it’s enough for now that Warner knows at all.
I can’t help but find it both painful and beautiful that Warner lost a mother and gained two brothers in the same week. And though I understand that he’s asked to be left alone, I can’t stop myself from walking over to him. I won’t say a word, I promise myself. But I just want to be close to him right now.
So I sit down beside him, and lean my head against the wall. Just breathing.
“You should’ve told me,” he whispers.
I hesitate before answering. “You have no idea how many times I wanted to.”
“You should’ve told me.”
“I’m so sorry,” I say, dropping my head. My voice. “I’m really sorry.”
“I have two brothers.”
I lift my head. Look at him.
“I have two brothers,” he says again, his voice so soft. “And I almost killed one of them.”
His eyes are focused on a point far, far from here, pinched together in pain and confusion, and something that looks like regret.
“I suppose I should’ve known,” he says to me. “He can touch you. He lives in the same sector. And his eyes have always been oddly familiar to me. I realize now that they’re shaped just like my father’s.”
“This is so unbearably inconvenient,” he says. “I was prepared to hate him for the rest of my life.”
I startle, surprised. “You mean . . . you don’t hate him anymore?”
Warner drops his head. His voice is so low I can hardly hear it. “How can I hate his anger,” he says, “when I know so well where it comes from?”
I’m staring at him. Stunned.
“I can well imagine the extent of his relationship with my father,” Warner says, shaking his head. “And that he has managed to survive it at all, and with more humanity than I did?” A pause. “No,” he says. “I cannot hate him. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t admire him.”
I think I might cry.
The minutes pass between us, silent and still, stopping only to hear us breathe.