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Chapter Seven
Nobody's Hero

"Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."
~ James 4:17 ~

Ethan felt as dead as any human can feel while still breathing. His world had slammed to a stop, leaving him face-up on the bed with nothing but his thoughts. He never should have tried for startup number nine, and he never should have crawled into this over-priced luxury suite, for it had been a complete waste of money.

Not that he actually cared.

He settled into his gloom, got comfortable for a lengthy stay, and saw no reason to work himself up over nothing. He no longer had to worry about the reputation of his good name, or the next step in his career, or whether or not he was widely admired. In a scary way it felt good to no longer care and to let go of that ever-present fear. Everyone in Silicon Valley could shake their heads and suck their teeth all they wanted, for he no longer feared what they thought. If they all took a flying leap into the nearest body of water, he could not care any less than he did right now. He felt no fear, only nothing-- wonderful, beautiful nothing.

The sound of doorbell chimes shattered the sweet dark feeling.

With a groan, Ethan left the bedroom to answer the stupid door. Though he had a pretty good idea of who it was, a hiccup of fear caught him by surprise. It took effort, but he pushed down the fear and slipped back into his gloom. He would not care, for he was dead already, and nothing anyone could say or do to him would matter in the slightest.

He wished he didn't feel so sick though, that his head didn't feel so split wide open, like his brains were hanging out. But whatever. He opened the door, and without making eye contact, went straight back to the bedroom to get some sleep.

"Hey." The voice was Matty's, and when the door shut, Ethan's hangover stabbed Ethan in both ears.

"Hey yourself," Ethan muttered. He lowered himself back onto the mattress, and closed his eyes. He heard, but chose not to acknowledge the person who had followed him into the room.

"At least I don't have to ask how you're doing," Matty said. "Seeing you answers that question right off the bat."

Ethan made no comment. When he heard the sound of a plastic bag, and the clink of empty bottles, he blocked out the room, and everyone in it.

"How much did you drink, and when?" Matty asked.

"What makes you think I've been drinking?"

When Matty said nothing, Ethan opened his eyes and saw his brother standing by the foot of the bed with a grocery bag. There couldn't have been more than three empty bottles in that bag, for Ethan was vaguely certain he had thrown the others into a public trashcan. Even if he was wrong though, he decided to play dumb and make Matty work for it.

Ethan smiled. "If any of those are a single-malt scotch, let me know."

Matty tugged a chair from the small table at the end of the bedroom, placed it beside Ethan's bed, and looked Ethan in the eye. "I love my boys," Matty said in a matter-of-fact voice, "and though I know you don't want to hear it right now, I love you, too."

"Spare me the violins."

"I will. So how much did you drink?"

"Obviously not enough, because you're still here." Ethan tried to act as though he didn't care what his brother believed, but he had a deep-rooted suspicion Matty wasn't buying it. "It's my life, all right? You don't have to worry about me-- I'm not your responsibility, and I never was. Just leave me alone."

"You're my brother."

"I know," Ethan flat out begged, "but this isn't helping me. Just go, forget you ever came, and I'll return the favor and pretend this never happened."

"I can't."

"Then try harder. Pretend, lie to yourself, do whatever, but go away."

For several long moments, Matty said nothing.

"I never know what to say to you," Matty said finally. "Every time I open my mouth, I think, 'I've told him that already. My words weren't enough then, and they won't be now.' So." Matty nodded as though he'd come to an agreement with himself. "I've always thought you didn't need to hear this, but I was wrong. You do. I need to tell you something that you don't know about me."

Ethan wanted to laugh. "This sounds vaguely like a deathbed confession. Give me a moment, and we'll trade places. You take the bed, and I'll play the priest."

"You know I was hooked on meth, but I'm a bigger sinner than you'll ever be."

"Stop. Just stop." Ethan shoved his hands over his ears to block out all sound. "On any other day, I'd be recording every word so I could torture you all I want. But not now. I don't want to hear it."

Matty stared at the carpet. He gave a small shrug as though he agreed to drop whatever he was about to say, and Ethan relaxed. "Hands over your ears? Really?" Matty asked, his brows raised in mild amusement. "You're a little old for that, aren't you?"

"If I really wanted to make myself look ridiculous," Ethan grinned, "I've would've also hummed the National Anthem. That would've drowned you out."

"Brings back memories." Matty folded his arms over his chest and smiled. "Growing up, I could not watch TV in peace. Every time something even remotely touchy-feely happened on the screen, you'd run from the room shouting 'Oh, say can you see.' I hate to break it to you, buddy, but you were such a coward at ten."

"Hey, I wasn't the only one. You were very free with that mute button."

"We had a lot of growing up to do," Matty admitted.

Pushing against the sad edge in his brother's voice, Ethan made no comment, and glanced down at the roughly scuffed boots on Matty's feet. In a strange sort of way, Ethan felt comforted by seeing those cowboy boots. Life had a habit of changing everyone, but not Matty; Matty was the one fixed point in Ethan's life. He was Ethan's Polaris, his North Star, never moving from its place in the sky and always pointing in the right direction.

"Do you still wear your hat everywhere you go?" Ethan asked.

"Everywhere but indoors," Matty smiled. "And of course not when I'm driving."

"Of course."

The sadness in Matty's face deepened, and Ethan sensed he was turning thoughtful again. "You know," Matty began, "when I pray alone, or with Beth and the boys, all these good thoughts, and all this love comes when I'm pleading your cause before God. But when I see you, and you refuse to even listen, I'm tempted to think what's the use?"

"Then go home."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"You're my brother."

"You keep saying that, like I don't already know."

"I love you, Ethan."

"I know that-- you just said you're my brother. I get it. You can go home now."

"I'll be honest with you, a part of me wishes I could. It'd be easier than standing back and watching you do this to yourself. When you opened the door just now, it was like I was looking at myself, and not you."

"Please." Ethan had his guard up. Though he was the younger brother, he wasn't much else right now but sick and tired of being sick and tired.

"In a way, I had it easier than you." Matty looked at Ethan, and Ethan felt that whatever was about to be said, it wasn't the deathbed confession Matty had been preparing to give. "When I was in my darkest moments," Matty went on, "I had you, and Cass, Ryan, and later Dylan to be brave for. I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other, by necessity, just to keep us under the same roof. I had no choice. It was either give up, or let go."

"You had a choice." Ethan shook his head. "You could've walked out that door and left us to fend for ourselves any time you wanted. But you didn't. You were there for us-- you made that choice when our parents would not."

Instead of the rousing agreement Ethan had expected, Matty just sat there looking depressed and sad all over.

"Look, I get what you're trying to say-- you wish you could fix this. But you can't. This is my problem, Matty, and not yours. You've paid your dues, you've fought the good fight, or whatever, and you've won. I'm not you, and I've got to find my own way through this. My mess isn't yours. I got myself into this, and I'll get myself out." When Matty made no reply, Ethan added for effect, "You did it, so how hard could it be?"

Matty took the bait, and gave Ethan a hard stare. "I wish it was that easy, I really do. But you don't have necessity, like I did, and you don't have that still small voice inside you to give you the strength that you're going to need."

"I don't need anything, especially some weird voice talking over mine." Ethan tried to give any easy shrug. "You kicked meth. This is only booze. It's not that serious."

"How many times have you tried to stop?" Matty asked. "I mean, legitimate number of times where you put in the willpower and effort to actually try? How many? Five? Ten? Twenty? A hundred?"

"You're overreacting."

Matty nudged Ethan's foot. "How many?"

"I don't know-- twice? What difference does it make? I'll get through it. Things are different this time."

"How so?"

"I don't know. This time I mean it."

"Have you meant it before?"

"Yeah," Ethan said offhandedly. "Of course I meant it. I'm not doing this on purpose to annoy you."

"I'm not annoyed." Matty leaned forward in the chair. "I'm scared."

"Well, so am I." Ethan sat up, felt dizzy, and moved back to lean against the headboard. "Do I look like I'm having fun?"

"You've meant to stop before-- you've just said so-- and yet here you are, wasted, and looking sicker than I've ever seen you."

"Thanks, you're a bright ray of sunshine."

"You need help, Ethan."

Ethan glared at his brother. "Don't you think I don't know that? What do you want? You want me to open a vein and bleed all over your boots? I know I need help. I know--" Ethan felt sick, and closed his eyes until the throbbing in his head dulled to a low roar. "I'll look up the nearest AA meetings, and start going to whatever is it they do. I'll get help, I promise."

"Will you let me take you to a doctor?" Matty asked. "You shouldn't stop drinking cold turkey."

"It worked for you, with meth."

"Yeah, but it's risky, and you're supposed to be brighter than me. How much have you been drinking?"

"You saw the trash," Ethan shrugged.

"Was that all of it?"

"What do you think?"

"I think you've got a problem and you still aren't facing up to it. I know the hold addiction can have over a mind and soul."

"Leave my soul out of this." Ethan pushed off the bed, took a step and felt sick to the pit of his stomach. "Like I said, I'm not you. I appreciate your concern, I'm sorry I put you through unnecessary worry, but I've got this. You don't have to stick around and hold my hand."

"You see me holding anything?"

Ethan shook his head and made no reply.

"I am different than you," Matty said. "I had more necessity, I had you guys, but I also had the promise that I wouldn't be alone, even when it was all I could do to just hang on. I wanted to give up, but God would not let me go. It's His strength that got me through all that-- not mine."

"Man, you really lay it on thick," Ethan laughed. "God wasn't there-- you were. God didn't pay those bills, God didn't put food on the table. That was you, Matty. Don't sit there and tell me some heavenly being did all of that, because I know better. I was there, remember?"

"There's more to life than what you can see, Ethan."

"Yeah, yeah." Ethan tried to calm down, for all this mushy gushy God stuff wasn't doing his hangover any good. "Finish what you were saying, and go. I'm tired."

"When I stopped meth cold turkey," Matty continued, "there were many times when I thought I was going to die. This one day, I remember thinking 'this is it-- I'm not going to live to see tomorrow.' Every fiber in my being needed that drug. I needed it so bad that it came down to life or death if I didn't get it. I was shaking, sicker than any dog could ever claim to be, and I figured this was it. I was dying."


"Let me finish."

"You were dying," Ethan nodded, hoping to hurry along the commentary.

"I begged God to live. You weren't there in that room, but I was, and I was on my hands and knees, on the floor, begging God to let me live. You guys needed me, but I wasn't going to be able to do anything unless God did it for me. All I had was my will, and I gave it to Him. I was His. If He wanted me dead, then so be it-- I would be fine with that. I trusted Him to take care of you guys, even if I couldn't be there for you myself. He was my father, the only real father I've ever had, and I trusted Him with not only my life, but with yours as well."

"Thanks," Ethan said, and bit his tongue when Matty shot him a look. "Sorry. You were saying?"

"When I gave Him my family, that's when I knew."

"Knew what?"

"That it was going to be okay, that I was going to live."


"I remembered something from the book of Jeremiah. 'For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.' I had already repented of my many, many sins, been baptized for the remission of those sins, but when that promise entered my heart that day on the floor, my soul was at complete and total peace. I knew He had heard me, and that I was going to live."

"That's crazy," Ethan said with a half laugh.

"Crazy or not, it's what happened." Matty went over and picked up the grocery bag with Ethan's empty bottles. "Where's the trash go?" he asked.

"Outside, in the hall." The crinkles of the plastic bag made Ethan think of the eighteen-year-old Highland whisky he'd bought before coming to the resort. He felt dry. He wanted a drink, just one small glass to make it all feel better and to take the edge off this hangover. He sat down on the bed as Matty returned.

"Like it or not," Matty said, going to the chair, "God gave me an expected end."

"What?" Ethan tried to focus, for his mind was on that whisky.

"God was good to His word, buddy. Because here I am, and there you are."

"Yeah, here I am." Ethan felt so tired he had to fight not to shout. If only Matty would leave. All of his problems, or at least the more important ones, would go away if only his brother would just leave.

"Is there any food in that kitchen?" Matty asked.

Ethan lifted a shoulder. "No idea. I've been eating out."

"Have you been eating at all?"

Unable to give a ready answer, Ethan strained to remember the last thing he'd eaten. "Nachos--" he said with some triumph-- "I had a large bag of nachos, just yesterday. I would've had lasagna and beer, but the restaurant down the street was closed Sundays."

"Today is Wednesday," Matty said quietly.

Ethan pulled out his iPhone, checked the date, and found that his brother was right. Where had all those days gone? And what about those nachos and the restaurant? He distinctly remembered the chips. He focused. Wait-- that had happened months ago, in Oakland, and certainly not yesterday.

"Ethan, you've been missing since Saturday." Matty gave Ethan one of those looks that had Ethan feeling seventeen again, and on the verge of being grounded for a month. "You've always had a weakness for drinking. When you were a teenager, before I cleaned up my act, it seemed I always saw you with a beer in your hand. It scared me then, and I'm scared now."

Ethan really didn't want to hear it. What he wanted, he could not have, and probably would not get, until you-know-who had given up and left.

Matty looked at the door, then at Ethan. "I'm not going away, if that's what you're thinking."

"I've already promised to get help, okay?" Ethan went to the open bedroom door, and motioned to his brother. "I need sleep, and you're getting in the way."

"I'm not leaving here without you."

"Yeah, you are." Ethan pulled the phone out of his pocket. "All I have to do is make a call, and you'll be escorted out of this overpriced dump faster than you can say 'God bless America.'"

Matty shrugged. "Go ahead."

Unsure of himself, Ethan moved into the living room and weighed the phone in his hand. Matty was bluffing, and didn't really expect him to call security. But if Ethan did, would they actually haul Matty from the suite? As Ethan considered his options, or lack of them, the doorbell chimes sounded. He groaned. Though not likely, he hoped it was someone from housekeeping to ask if he wanted more towels.

Please, let it be more towels.

He swung open the door and groaned. Served him right. He should have known God wasn't listening.

"Hey," Ryan greeted as he stepped past Ethan, "I got tired of waiting in the lounge." The teenager whistled as he looked about the wide, richly furnished living room. "Have you really been here all this time?"

Man. Ethan felt his sanity slip another few notches. He was losing it, and all because of his family.

"We've been turning Cielo Grande upside down, looking for your red Ferrari," Ryan went on. "Grandpa figured it shouldn't be too hard to find-- I mean, how many could there be? We didn't guess you'd be hiding in Phoenix though."

"I am not hiding." Ethan slammed the door shut, and felt a measure of glee when Ryan jumped. Despite his headache, Ethan's ears felt surprisingly little pain. "I was just about to have security haul Matty out of here. If you don't leave on your own, you'll go with him."

The poor kid's eyes grew wide. "Hey, Matty?" Ryan called. "Ethan says we have to go."

"I don't care what Ethan says," Matty said, striding into the living room with the remainder of Ethan's things. "Ethan is checking out."

"Oh, no, you don't." Before Ethan could call someone-- anyone with authority would do-- Ryan grabbed the iPhone and danced it out of Ethan's reach. If Ethan hadn't been so hamstrung by the aftershock of all that booze, he would've taken his brother apart, piece-by-piece. Or so Ethan told himself as he leaned against the wall to keep from keeling over. He'd known he wasn't feeling well, but this was pushing it. His stomach turned upside down, and he searched for a quick place to be sick.

"Does Aiden have the car ready?" Matty asked.

Ethan looked up from the tall fern near the couch. "There's no way I'm letting Aiden drive my car."

"It's staying here," Matty said outright. "You can pick it up later."

"Ethan said he's calling security," Ryan related, but Matty was too busy herding them out the door to pay attention to a hollow threat.

Though Ethan wanted to fight, he felt shaky, and was in no condition to take on his brothers. Still, Ethan begged, and argued, and tried to not get even sicker as they passed a large window where early evening light greeted his aching eyes. He spotted a drinking fountain, and paused long enough to rinse the taste of bile from his mouth.

Though he didn't want the risk of having people stare at him, Ethan paid his bill at the front desk. He wanted to tell the guy behind that stupid counter that a kidnapping was taking place, that his brothers were doing this against his will. It was wrong, and probably unconstitutional. But whatever. Ethan guessed everyone could see what he'd done, and still wanted to do, just by looking at him; that his face said everything they thought they needed to know. It wasn't fair. He was a good guy, he didn't know of a single person on the planet who hated him. Okay, so maybe there were a few green with envy types back in the Valley, but no one really thought he was a bad person just because he bent the elbow a few times too many.

Let's have some perspective, people.

As they passed the lounge, Aiden joined them, looking as grim and gruff as Ethan would've expected under the circumstances; that came as no surprise, though Ethan was a bit shocked that Aiden would even bother to come at all. This was a Taylor family mess, not a Campbell one. No one had invited him, so why had he come? Ethan wished the old buzzard had stayed home, and kept that grim face to himself.

Once outside, Ethan slipped on his shades and headed for his car in the hopes that he'd be able to drive himself home. Matty caught up with him though, and thrust out his hand for the keys. It was useless to fight, and Ethan knew it. He tossed the keys to Matty.

"I'm not leaving without my car," Ethan warned.

"You can come back for it when you're sober."

"I'm sober now."

Matty made no reply, but motioned Ethan across the parking lot to where Aiden was climbing into a newer model sedan.

Ethan groaned for mercy.

"Either we go with Aiden," Matty announced, "or we sit in the shade until all that booze has worked its way out of your system."

Ethan snorted. Some choice. Since he could burn pizza on that sidewalk, in the shade, even at this late hour, he opted for the sedan.

The four men packed into the snug compact car while the air conditioner blasted on high to keep them from melting. On a day like this, Ethan could've wished he had bags of ice under each arm. Just when he thought it couldn't get worse, Aiden switched on the radio. Worship music? Was Aiden serious? Ethan was about to protest, but then, his life was over anyway.

So far, the time Matty had spent pleading for Ethan to get help, and for him to find God had been rather straightforward. Ethan thought of what he might expect after they were all back in the Campbells' home. Yelling maybe? They would pray-- Ethan knew that was a no-brainer, for Matty, Beth, and the boys would pray at the drop of a hat. Heart-to-heart talks were also a given, for Matty had started that already, back at the resort. At home though, the talks would be longer and possibly be made with tears.

As Ethan measured his dread for each of the possible scenarios, he at first didn't notice the familiar house coming into view; when he did, he sat upright in his seat and tried not to fear what was coming. The drive had been too short. He needed more time to regain some pride and self-respect before dealing with the rest of his family. Couldn't they circle the block a while, just until he was ready? Was a little more time too much to ask?

The moment the car stopped in the driveway, Ethan pushed out and headed for the house.

He was here on protest. It was his life, after all. He was a grown man, if he wanted to toss himself down an endless rat hole, they had no right to stop him.

Going into the house, Ethan slammed the front door behind him. He froze as Shannon came to him, and gave him a grandmotherly hug that left Ethan feeling bad and instantly guilty.

"I'm so glad you decided to come back," Shannon said in a confidential, just-between-you-and-me kind of voice. "We don't get to see enough of you as it is." She paused. "Matt called ahead to say you'd be hungry, and that you might need some encouragement to eat. Do you want to sleep first?"

Ethan nodded that he did.

"Did Matt talk to you about seeing a doctor?" she asked.

Ethan shrugged. "It never came up." With that, he stepped around Shannon and kept going. He didn't feel like eating at all, and truth be told, he didn't feel like being polite, either. His one goal, aside from the obvious stiff drink, was to get to his room without having to see or speak to anyone else.

Once again, heaven wasn't listening.

As Ethan rounded into the great room, he spotted Cassie on one of the couches. When Cass saw him, she put her book facedown on her lap.

Ethan waited for her to say something. "What?" he asked.

Cass stared at him evenly. "You warned me to not become Mom."

"Look at me," Ethan asked, his arms wide open, "do I look like Mom or Dad to you?"

"Drugs or alcohol?" Cassie asked. The question had an absent ring to it, as though he'd let his sister down in some big and important way.

Shaking his head, Ethan headed for the hall. He didn't have to listen to any of this.

"You're a loser," Cass shouted to his back. "I'm never listening to you again. Do you hear? Never."

"Fine with me," Ethan muttered. He pushed into the hall, and pulled up short as Dylan stepped from one of the bedrooms. The fifteen-year-old stared at Ethan as though he didn't know what to say.

Cassie shouted over a now barking dog. "I thought you were better than this, but you're not. You're no different from Dad. Maybe you should go live with him-- I'm sure he'd be more than glad to share his cell with you, you idiot!"

"Cass, please stop." Matty's voice sounded over everyone else's, but Cass turned on her big brother.

From in the hall, Ethan listened to Cassie's whining and complaining voice about how Ethan was putting their family through a trash heap of misery. Their parents had been one disappointment after another, and now Ethan was following in their footsteps. Wasn't that just great. She'd rather leave than watch him slowly kill all chance he ever had of being healthy, and boringly normal. What was wrong with him?

Gritting against the hot burn of anger, Ethan slammed into his room. He kicked the door shut behind him. Let them talk-- he was going to sleep. He tore off the dark sunglasses, and stalked to his neatly made bed.

The room had the fresh scent of having been cleaned recently, and as Ethan ripped back the blankets, the clean laundry smell had him feeling sick. He hadn't asked for clean sheets, and he hadn't wanted them. Why did they have to keep poking their noses into his life? Had he asked anything from them? Anything at all? He closed the window curtain, pulled off his shirt, and got ready to crawl into bed. He didn't want to talk, eat, or stand about with a stupid look on his face as his sister tore him to shreds. It was bad enough that Dylan had seen Ethan squirm, and Ethan had his pride.

The bedroom door opened, and Ethan turned to see Ryan. Wonderful. He'd forgotten that he shared the room with his brother.

"She doesn't mean it," Ryan started to say, but Ethan waved him off, and got into bed.

Ethan didn't want to hear it.

Someone knocked on the door, and Ethan wanted to bark out a threat, something that would make people leave him alone. When he found no words, he rolled onto his side so his back faced the room. The door opened, and as Ryan spoke to whoever it was in the hallway, Ethan stared at the wall and concentrated on calming down. He tried to keep his breath from catching, to hold in the tears, and felt a little easier when he didn't burst out and start bawling like a little girl. He could do this, he was under control.

"Doesn't he want anything to eat?" Ethan heard Beth ask, her voice soft and quiet as though he were already asleep. She gave a heavy sigh. "It's all right, you don't have to put on a brave face in front of me. If you need to cry, I won't tell the others."

Ethan was about to roll over and ask Beth how she could possibly know what he was feeling, when he heard Ryan quietly sob. Ethan squeezed his eyes shut and wished he could disappear. He hated himself for causing them pain, and for scaring them half to death. He wished he could change, but he was trapped by his sins. And yes, they were sins. Ethan knew enough to be able to admit that to himself. He could hardly call his own actions righteous.

But he wasn't that bad-- not as bad as Cassie had made him out to be.

He was in no way Dad.

As Ethan listened to Ryan cry, an idea came to him, and he let himself grab onto the thought with both hands. His car was in Phoenix, but he could call a cab. They had taxis in Arizona, didn't they? Even out here in the middle of nowhere? At any rate, he could solve getting a ride into Phoenix, some other time. Now he had a plan, now he wasn't just drifting.

Ethan let out a slow, easy breath. He was nobody's hero, and he had never claimed to be. So why did he feel dead inside, like someone had just blown out a candle he hadn't really known was there? He felt no pull to move forward, to somehow fix, or improve things with his family. It took work and effort to mend a relationship, and he had none of either to give. He felt no patience with himself, or anyone else.

Worn out but no longer feeling like sleep, Ethan waited for the house to grow quiet, and to turn in for the night.

Then he would run.

"Thus saith the Lord... ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart."
~ Jeremiah 29:10, 13 ~

end of chapter
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