My cousin came down from Auckland today. Naturally, he didn’t bother telling me first, so when he appeared on my doorstep I suffered a minor panic attack.
He's very tall, thin and pale, see, a strange genetic quirk that seems to run in the family. I met another cousin of more distant relation at a reunion once who was almost exactly the same save that he was blond and wore glasses. It took me a few seconds to realize the person at the door had hair and wasn’t wearing a suit, and proceeded to panic in an entirely different way, rushing around and deactivating the traps.
It’s a good thing he knocked instead of trying the doorknob or I would have quite an amount of explaining to do. Maybe I should tone things down a little.
“Interesting sign you’ve got there, [Med],” was the first thing he said, placing a bag down by the door.
I made a noncommittal noise from the kitchen. “Want any tea?”
“Coffee, please, if you’ve got it.”
“So, why are you here?” I passed him the coffee and sat next to him with my own drink.
“What, I can’t just drop in and say hello?” I raised an eyebrow. “Fine, fine. I’m on a business trip. I thought I’d check in while I was in the area.”
I hit his shoulder goodnaturedly. “You could have warned me! How long are you staying?”
“Ow! It’s just for the day. I leave in the morning. Should I give you advance notice so you can disengage all five locks?” he teased. “Why do you have them, anyway?”
“Stops cats getting in.”
“There’s been some burglaries in the area.”
“Did they use a battering ram?”
I… couldn’t think of anything for that one. His look turned more serious.
“I came to see if you were fine, [Med], first time living alone and so on. Five locks and whatever you were doing before you opened the door scream not fine. What’s going on?”
Damn, I just remembered I could have told him they came with the place.
“None of your business.”
“Screw that. If you’re not going to tell me I’ll tell the family you’re keeping secrets.”
I glared at him.
“I would!” he gave me a cheeky grin. “So what’ll it be, telling me or having to tell everyone else?”
My mind was utterly blank at the time when it came to ways to wriggle out of this one. I know my general philosophy was to tell him the full truth since he’d eventually find out anyway and the more time to prepare the better, but it felt a lot different in practice.
I’m such a hypocrite. I folded like a house of cards and lied like a rug.
“There’s a group of thugs that keep harassing me. It’s to keep them out.” I showed him the faded remains of the bruises from the fight. “They did this.” He winced.
“If it’s that bad, don’t you think we should call the police?”
I shook my head, thinking fast. “Already did that. They weren’t much help.” I could see that he was having trouble believing that one, so I added “I saw one of them in uniform. I think they’ve got members in there.” I really hope there aren’t actually police proxies in town.
“Hey, if we expose them, imagine the reward! Plucky town heroes, the newspapers will say.”
“Stop it,” I snapped. "This is serious, [cousin]. It’s not one of those adventure games we played as kids. It’ll just end up with people getting hurt. Mostly us. Me. You’re not going anywhere near this.”
He moved to put a hand on my shoulder. I smacked it away. “I know, but…”
“But nothing. I’m fine. I’m dealing with it.”
“You don’t sound like it.”
“Your coffee’s gone cold.”
“[Med], don’t you think…”
“New subject please.”
Things were incredibly awkward for the rest of the visit. I sat in silence, eating the biscuits he’d brought. He’d occasionally comment about innocuous things like the weather, to monosyllable replies, or open his mouth only to close it. He was clearly torn between what society expected of him, which was to comfort me, what I wanted, which was for him to go far, far away, and the question of what was the right thing to do. Good, I thought, a little viciously. This is the kind of thorny problem that’ll take months for him to unravel.
And then he left, and I slumped on the couch emotionally drained.
…Project’s going well.