Page 5 of Corrupt Kingdom

“Can’t I come to check on my sister?” He tries to say this in a joking manner, but his tone doesn’t match his words.

I lift a brow in speculation. “You could, but then you wouldn’t be my brother.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” He halts his steps and then stares at me.

With the bright light gleaming down on me, I can’t see him well. I place my shovel on the ground, and then I stand before making my way to him. When he’s directly in front of me, I look at him closely and then shake my head.

He looks like shit.

Normally handsome, he seems rundown and tired. Large dark circles and dull eyes make it appear as though he hasn’t slept in days.

“Did you come here straight from the bar?” I incline my head to get a better look before narrowing my eyes. On top of his appearance, Trent is acting strange. He’s bouncing from foot to foot, almost as though he’s high or in withdrawal from drugs. “Why are you acting like this?”

“Like what?”

“Cagey,” I respond. “Are you high?”

“No, Ivy.” His voice is stern, not even trying to mask his annoyance at my question. “That’s ridiculous.”

“Is it, though? You show up out of nowhere, and you look like . . . shit,” I deadpan.

He takes a deep breath, then shakes his head. His signature smirk appears on his handsome face, and a glimmer of his normally playful personality pops through. It reminds me of when we were kids, and we used to play in the dirt together. Trent would grab Mom’s watering hose and sprinkle us like it was raining. After playing for hours, we would both be drenched, and Mom would watch us as she gardened, laughing. “You’re not being very nice, sis.”

“And you are being shady as fuck.” I place my hands on my hips and purse my lips. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing. I told you.” He stops talking and starts to pace back and forth on the patio in the backyard. His short-lived good mood fading faster than a mirage in a desert.

What’s going on with him?

This is odd behavior, even for Trent. I watch as he walks, his mouth moving as if he’s talking to himself, but no words come out, and then he’s pulling out his phone from his pocket. His shoulder tense as he reads what I assume is a text message.

“Everything okay?” I ask him.

He looks exhausted and beat as he lifts his free hand and runs it through his light brown hair.

“It will be,” he says before letting out a sigh. Whatever the text was about is obviously not good because he looks worse off than when he first got here.

“You’re worrying me. Are you sure? If you need help—”

He raises his hand to stop me from talking, and I do. Normally, I would fire back a witty comment about how rude it is to butt in, but something tells me I shouldn’t. Maybe it’s the circles under his eyes or the way his brow furrows, but I decide to shut my mouth instead and hear what he has to say.

“I’m not using drugs, Ivy, but I appreciate the concern. Can’t I just be here to see my baby sister?”

I opt for a joke, trying to cut the tension hovering in the air between us. “Yes. If that brother is anyone but you.” He chuckles, and then I begin to laugh too. I love the sound of his laughter. He places his hand against his chest in mock disbelief. “Just keeping it real, bro.” I miss this version of my brother.

We both go quiet after our momentary reprieve from the tension. It’s once again awkward and uncomfortable, and although I’m not close with my brother anymore, it feels wrong. With his shoulders slumped forward, he kicks the dirt with his shoe before looking up and meeting my stare.

“Is Mom okay?” He finally breaks the silence.

“You can ask her yourself, Trent.”

He looks back at his phone before his pale blue eyes meet mine. “On that note, I think I’ll be going now.”

“Please, Trent, what’s going on? Are you okay?”

A shadow of something passes over his features before he rubs his temples as if a headache is forming. “I’m just checking on you. I was here to talk to Dad . . .”

“He’s back?” My stomach muscles tighten. I have no desire to see him today.

“No.”

I shake my head in confusion. “I don’t understand. Mom said he was, but I didn’t see him.”

“Stay away from him.” His tone has my back straightening.

“Why? You’re scaring me. Did he do something?”

“Just promise me you’ll stay away from him. I’ll go find him, but in the meantime, can you go back inside? And if anyone comes here looking for him, don’t answer.”

“What? No. Look at it outside, it’s beautiful.”

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