Just Once - Page 25

“And that was pretty much it,” Art told Caleb with a shrug as he concluded his tale. “Eventually I got dressed and went back to the house because there was nothing else I could do, end of story,” he added with a patently false tone of nonchalance as he averted his face away from his brother and toward the truck's passenger window.

When it was clear that Art wasn't going to say any more, Caleb took a deep breath and did his best to speak through his emotions. “That . . .” he said slowly, “that was . . . I mean . . . wow!” Caleb shook his head. “To tell me something like that, you must really think I'm . . . what's the word?” He twirled a free hand for a moment as if to summon the term he was looking for. “Oh, yeah!” Caleb exclaimed in mock triumph before snarling, “stupid!”

Art didn't bother to turn around at the provocation, he just continued to look out the window. “I told you that you wouldn't believe me,” he said softly.

“And you were right!” Caleb snapped. “I mean come on! It's bad enough that I actually thought you were telling me the truth through most of that, but that last bit . . .” Words momentarily failed him, so Caleb shook his head in disbelief and tried again. “What is it? You taking another creative writing course and thought you'd try your material out on me again or what?”

“No,” Art answered so softly this time that his brother didn't consciously hear him at first.

“Because it's not bad, don't get me wrong, much better than the one you strung me along on about the dog you hit with your car coming back to life, but you can't honestly expect me to buy that horseshit ending!” When Art didn't respond, Caleb continued in a more conciliatory tone. “Look . . . like I said, it's not bad, and you did have me going for a while, but your ending just doesn't work. Not only does 'and then I went home' fall flat, you forgot to have 'Art' and 'Annika' undo the spell on the Captain before they separated; you just have her leading him away with no way to snap him out of it. No reader is going to let you get away with that.”

“Oh . . . that,” Art said with a bitter chuckle. “We made him hearing her father accusing him of treason the trigger for snapping him out of it,” he explained with a shrug. “It just didn't seem important enough to mention.” He fiercely wiped at the side of his face.

“You have to mention these things, Art,” Caleb chided. “Otherwise . . . wait!” Caleb did a mild double-take as certain facts caught up with him, specifically his brother's earlier denial paired with the disturbing significance of his most recent gesture. “Art . . .?” Caleb hesitantly ventured. “Are you . . . crying?”

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