Soldier Mine (Chapter Eight: Claudia, page 1 of 4)

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The rest of the day passes quickly. I'm doing my best to keep the world and my emotions at bay, and it leaves me in a rather distracted haze. I'm too rattled by Petr's insistence to be offended by him offering his advice about my brother. I can't get over the thought that I'm preventing Todd from being happy.

I don't know what to do or how to make life better for my brother.

He brings Maya in briefly before they head to her parent's for dinner. As ordered, he texts diligently every fifteen minutes and warns me he'll be home around nine.

For the first time in forever, I walk home alone and stand in the apartment, surprised by how empty it is without him. We've spent little time apart over the years, usually only when he's in school.

I despise the feeling of loneliness. Turning on the television loudly, I straighten the house and venture into Todd's room. It's a mess, as usual, and I gather the dirty laundry and clean up where possible. In his closet, precariously balanced on top of his suitcase, is his Secrets Box, the name we give to the container I'm not allowed to open. It's his privacy vault, where he can put whatever he wants, a sort of compromise in parent-kid relationships we arrived to when he turned thirteen and brought home his first Playboy. He's too good of a kid to sneak drugs into the house. Every once in a while, I wonder what he's hiding but respect our agreement enough not to pry.

Cleaning around the shoebox-sized box with warning stickers all over it, I bend over to pair and line up his shoes and end up knocking the box over with my shoulder.

Muttering a curse, I bend to retrieve the container, praying it stays closed so Todd never has a reason to distrust me.

It's landed on its top, and I pick it up carefully. Whatever is in it is too heavy for the lid to stay on, and I lift the box and leave the lid.

The contents render me too shocked to speak. For a long moment, I stare at the box's secret, unable to process a single thought until my surprise wears off.

I pick up the cold, metal black handgun. It's not a revolver, but I don't know enough about weapons to name what it is. Berretta? It smells of gun oil, which tells me he maintains it. There are three clusters of bullets held together by thick rubber bands, a spare magazine and a small cleaning kit.

The box contains nothing else.

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