“Be true to yourself, Ellie Mae. Follow your heart,” she whispers before kissing my cheek, letting our cheeks linger together for a moment after as the side door opens to the guys’ laughter. I can pick my brother out even before I see him, the infectious nature of his chuckle filling the house. I take a deep breath before releasing my cousin and turning around, facing my future head on while holding my head high. “Ellie!” Jack shouts and I don’t hide the wide smile as my brother is throwing his arms open, inviting me to jump into them just like he has since we were little and I don’t hesitate. Walking quickly to him, I take in his built stature. He’s more muscular than I remember, but that goes hand in hand with the work I can only imagine he’s done. “God, girl, you’re skinny! Haven’t you been eatin’?” I punch him in the arm before throwing my arms around his neck as he lifts me off the floor, spinning me around, making me giggle. “I’ve missed you, Jacky.” I joke with the nickname he’s always hated and kiss him on the cheek as he sets me down. He shakes his head at me, moving away and greeting Rhea and little Charlie and I’m suddenly aware of the other person, standing behind me in the living room. I can feel his eyes on the back of my head and my heart feels like it is being rung out by someone with claws for hands. “Hello, Ellie Mae,” he whispers, the smooth voice making me want to melt. But I take a deep breath and hold it all in as I turn, looking up into those hazel eyes. He’s in a jacket and jeans, but he still looks like the same fit Bobby as he was before, his stare roaming over me as I say nothing, just nod at him. He shoves his hands inside of his pockets, shifting from his left foot to his right and I wonder what he’s feeling inside, if anything. “Hello, Bobby,” I say, but not without a little scratch evident and I try and clear it away as fast as I can with a cough, fighting the tears still trying to break loose. I will not cry tonight, at least not in front of him. “Uh…it’s good to see you again,” he stammers out, finally dropping his gaze to his boots, alleviating the pressure and blush that has taken me over. It’s good to see me again? That’s all he can think of to say? I giggle out an incredulous laugh, causing him to snap his eyes back to mine as I’m shaking my head in disbelief. I will not let him see me cry, I keep telling myself as I turn and hear Jack issuing his see you laters to Rhea and Chad. That’s my cue to get out of here. “Jack, you got a place to stay the night or do you wanna stay at my place? It’s not much, but I have a pull out couch and I can fix it up for ya.” I nod for him to follow me as I head for the door and he’s right behind me, followed by Bobby. God, I need the cool fresh air. I wave to Rhea before facing the dark and the borderline freezing air burns in my lungs. “Yeah I’m stayin’ with Timmons right down the street.” I stop at the bottom of the steps and give him a questioning look. He points down the street to the SOLD sign displayed on the old Pullman house. I did notice that a couple of days ago, but Rhea had no idea when I asked her about it. Great. “Alright, well I gotta get home,” is all I say and my brother’s grey eyes seem to invade my thoughts, even now in the dark with the only light coming from the porch bulb. He grasps my shoulder, gently squeezing and I know he knows I’m hurting, but thankfully he just nods, giving me the famous Jack smirk and kissing me on the forehead. “I’ll see ya tomorrow, lil’ sis. Come by and get me and we’ll do breakfast?” He smiles again, poking me in the ribs lightly over and over again, knowing it’ll make me giggle and it does as I try to block his prodding. I nod and he stops, looking between Bobby and me and taking a deep breath, rubbing his hand over the back of his head. “Alright, well…I’ll leave you two, well…I’ll see ya tomorrow, Sis.” He winks at me and grabs a duffel bag from the sidewalk, but I don’t miss the look on Bobby’s face as Jack passes him. He must be issuing one of those big brother warnings because Bobby nods slightly before Jack picks up his pace to a jog, disappearing down the street into the dark. I’m on the edge of breaking down, right here and right now, but I can’t do that. I’m not strong enough to talk to him right now, so I turn and head for the driver’s door of my Berretta. Yanking it open, I freeze when the whiskey-like voice says, “Ellie, wait!” I stop, I can’t help it; his voice has this pull on me like some kind of magnet. His long shadow falls over the stones to my side, but I don’t turn around. The tightness in my chest is almost unbearable and my breathing is uncontrollable. I know he can hear me gasping for breath and I see the outline of his hand come up, reaching out to me; but then it falls back to his side. “I can’t talk to you right now, Bobby. I thought I could, but it’s… it’s just too hard,” I gasp out, the tears finally breaking through and running down my cheeks, hot and fast. I’m shaking as I grip the door handle and I hate myself for being such a sniveling weakling right now. Just turn around and talk to him! Yell, scream, it doesn’t fucking matter, just don’t run! “Okay,” I hear whispered from behind me, sounding so defeated and small and I can’t take it. I throw myself into my car and bring it to life as fast as I can. The tears are flowing like rain as I pull out from the street and step on it, not caring about my speed right now. I can’t fucking breathe.