To say they’re inseparable after ‘The Accident’ is a bit of an understatement. They don’t stray more than six feet from each other, which, incidentally, is the length of both of their arms twined at the fingers.
They people they used to know were too kind and too full of pity to say anything about how the brother and sister’s sudden proximity made them uncomfortable, so they just doted, brought them peach cobblers and whispered, “I’m sorry for your loss,” on repeat like it was going to scrub their brains clean or bring their parents back.
They went to see one therapist after it happened, sitting together on the couch in a wide room in the middle of New York City, because neither of them were ever going anywhere remotely rural ever again.
The therapist had said it was unhealthy; their developed codependency, Clay’s aggressive, protective nature, Whitney’s sociopathic void of emotion toward anything that wasn’t her brother. He said that they should really consider committing themselves to a hospital to recuperate from the trauma of watching their parents being brutally murdered. He said, “Oh god! Please no! I can’t breathe! Help, somebody, please help me!”
They don’t go back to see him again.
Clay tosses one leg over his motorcycle, revs the engine, feels Whitney press up against his back, thin arms twining around his stomach and they put New York in their rear view mirror. Neither one of them wear helmets and Clay obeys about a fourth of the traffic laws.
His name is Tom and Whitney doesn’t like him. He’s got a bright, vapid smile and dead eyes and when he approaches them in a bar in Houston, says, “Nice bike,” and rolls his eyes over the two of them Whitney tugs at Clay’s sleeve and whispers, “Let’s go.”
But something about Tom catches Clay’s eye. The old crinkled leather of his jacket, maybe. The ring of dried blood under his fingernails or the sandpaper rough cultivation of tawny stubble dotting across his jaw, Whitney doesn’t know.
Clay curls his hand around Whitney’s hip and tucks her behind him, but he doesn’t hit Tom for stepping too close, for breathing on his sister. He doesn’t hold him down and choke the soul out of him and Whitney wishes he would.
“Yeah, thanks,” Clay squints at Tom like maybe he’ll be able to see whatever it is keeping Tom alive right now in more clarity if he just stares longer.
Tom smiles again, eyes sharp, teeth sharper. “Wittaker,” he introduces, extending a hand. “Tom.”
“Clay.” Clay takes his hand and they shake, all gripping hands and white knuckles. “And this is my sister, Whitney.”
Whitney digs her nails into the small of his back and cuts a glare at him when he glances over his shoulder at her. They talked about this. They talked about never letting anyone else in again. They talked about how it was just them.
Clay shoots her a small, apologetic smile. His eyes go soft for her and she knows it’s only for her.
“Sorry about this,” Tom doesn’t sound all that apologetic and Whitney would call him on it if his hands weren’t wrapped around her throat.
Clay, she mouths, fingernails rasping against the textured wallpaper of the motel room as she claws against it. Clay.
“He’s just not realizing his full potential with you around,” Tom intones, like he’s being completely reasonable. “He could be so much more. We could be great, but you’re keeping him soft, you’re dragging him down.”
He hushes her gently when the lights start to fade and the world starts to blur, assures her that he’ll take care of her brother, that he’ll make him into a new monster.
Clay’s devastated. Tom makes it work.