Long Way Home
To the other customers, the confrontation was dinner theater. Chris had no one to blame but himself for all those prying eyes and ears; he'd chosen the location. Aaron had always opted for fight over flight, and the hope had been that a public forum might temper those instincts. So much for a happy reunion.
Chris couldn't meet Aaron's eyes and focused instead on their surroundings. It was hard to believe, but the diner had managed to get more run-down since they'd last been there. The tiled floor had bubbled up into a linoleum minefield. The chairs and booths were equally dangerous, with cracked vinyl mouths ready to bite into any customer foolish enough to offer up a taste of exposed flesh.
Aaron banged his knuckles on the table, knocking over the salt shaker in the process. Even in his mid-thirties, he had about as much mass as a bundle of twigs, and looked exactly like he had the last time they'd seen each other. He could still pass for a college kid, and dressed the part too, in a baggy black t-shirt for some band Chris had never heard of, with the highlighted blonde tips of his hair - artistically mussed - hanging down into his eyes. "Come on, you wanted to chat, so let's chat. Looks like you lost some weight. At least something good came out of your time in prison, yeah?"
Chris wished he'd never even bothered. It had taken him three hours to get here, the last hour and a half slogging across the length of the city through fitful traffic and noxious clouds of midnight-colored exhaust. In spite of all that, he was ready to pack it in and head home. There was no chance this conversation, their first since the prosecution had made Aaron its star witness, could possibly go well. And now Aaron sat across the table, paying no mind to his volume or the eyes locked on them.
Chris rested his elbows on the table and leaned in close as if sharing a secret. Although he kept the volume low, his voice had too much bass to allow an actual whisper; the other diners continued listening to every syllable that rumbled out of his mouth. "Can we please just have a conversation for once in our lives? It's been eight years, for God's sake. Is it too much to ask my big brother to finally listen to my side of the story?"
Big brother. Chris was the one willing to forget everything that had happened between them. Aaron was the one who always had to go out of his way to prove how tough he was, who always had to wear his badge of indifference, like a teenager. If he were the big brother, why hadn't he ever grown up?
"Sorry, I don't have conversations with murderers," Aaron replied.
"I'm not a murderer."
"The Marathon county court system sure seems to think you are. They convicted you of homicide."
"Negligent homicide," Chris corrected. "Big difference."
"Tell that to Dad."
Chris stared at his brother as he fought to slow his breathing. "This was a mistake."
He started out of his chair, but Aaron grabbed his wrist. "You dragged me all the way downtown. Back here." Aaron shook his head. "Total low blow. You don't get out of here that easy. So tell me your side of the story. Tell me why you just stood there. Tell me why you just stood there, did absolutely nothing and watched Dad die."