Since the thought of patronizing The Coffee Shop had started leaving a bad taste in his mouth, Morde had been getting his caffeine fix by staying home with his Keurig machine. On that particular morning, however, because he had insisted upon driving Alex to work in the city, he decided to visit one of his old haunts before heading back to Hawthorn, craving the freshness of coffee not brewed in a K-Cup.

The Van Gogh Coffeehouse, Morde's favorite independent coffee shop in Seattle, had been a staple of his college experience at the University of Washington. Though he had never been a morning person, he had spent many evenings at the coffeehouse as an undergraduate — not because he'd needed a place to study (The Seattle Public Library would've been a good place for that, had he not stopped studying after high school), but because he'd needed a place to run away to, a place to sit and decompress on difficult days. Intimate and inconspicuous, the coffeehouse had been his respite from collegiate life, and it still felt like a safe place as he ordered and paid for his coffee more than six months after graduation — until a familiar voice greeted him.


Given The Van Gogh's casual ambience, Morde was surprised to see his older brother, the characteristically formal Eliya Wolff, sipping a cappuccino at one of the tables nearest the cash register.

"Hey." He greeted Eliya with as much feigned enthusiasm as he could muster.

"How are you?" Eliya asked.

"Fine," Morde said.

Eliya cleared his throat, perhaps in an attempt to defuse the tension between them, before gesturing awkwardly for Morde to join him. "Do you want to sit?"


Coffee in hand, paper cup not nearly as hot as the ceramic mug he'd ventured to burn his palms on in his father's kitchen, Morde took a seat opposite his brother. He suspected visiting with Eliya — involuntarily, no less — would be as torturous as visiting with Natan, if not more torturous because he hadn't had the opportunity to mentally prepare himself. Distressed to find his brother in a place he'd thought belonged only to him, Morde already craved a release for his repressed frustration; as he resisted the urge to scream at his brother, he found himself wishing his coffee was hotter, wishing he had something more pressing — like physical pain — to focus on than the anger swelling in his gut.

"Dad told me you got married," said Eliya, pulling him from his reverie.

"Of course he did," Morde scoffed, setting his coffee cup down on the table and removing the lid. The coffee wasn't hot enough to burn his hands through the cup, but it was hot enough to burn his mouth if he sipped it, making it useless to him unless he could somehow decelerate or accelerate the cooling process. He settled for the latter.

"Why didn't you?"

The truth of the matter was that telling Eliya hadn't even occurred to Morde. They may have been blood relatives, brothers, but they hardly ever spoke of their own accord; in fact, most of their interactions since Morde had started high school and Eliya had started college more than eight years ago, had been orchestrated by their father. They were, despite shared DNA, like strangers to one another. But for some reason, Morde couldn't bring himself to say as much. "I wasn't in the mood for another lecture," he said, ultimately, leaning back in his chair. "I suppose I should've known I'd get it eventually, anyway."

"I'm not going to lecture you."

"Why not?"

Eliya gave him a sympathetic expression, and though it could have been in earnest, Morde didn't like it.

"Don't look at me like that," he protested, narrowing his eyes. "I don't want your pity and I certainly don't need it."

"I don't pity you, Abel."

"Then why are you looking at me like that?"

"I'm sorry," Eliya replied, looking down.

"For what?"

"For Dad," Eliya answered, shifting uncomfortably in his seat, eyes fixed on his own coffee cup. "For me, for everything. I don't know how we got to this place, but ever since he told me what happened, how he kicked you out, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. I feel so guilty."

"Please," Morde snorted, folding his arms. "You don't have to feel guilty for him."

"I feel guilty for me," Eliya explained, looking up again. "I— It's no wonder you didn't tell me you got married. To say the least, I haven't exactly made it easy for you to talk to me. I haven't been there for you."

"No, you haven't," Morde replied. Suddenly reluctant to make eye contact with his brother, he watched the steam rising from his coffee; he decided it must have been the thickness of the cup, not the temperature of the beverage, that was keeping him from burning his hands. "But I haven't made it easy for you to talk to me, either. And I haven't prioritized being there for you since we were kids."

Eliya smiled half-heartedly. "You aren't the older brother," he argued, as though his being alive for longer made him more culpable for crimes they'd both committed.

"That doesn't matter," said Morde. "What matters is, older or younger, we both suck."

"I suppose," Eliya shrugged, letting silence settle between them for a moment, fumbling with one of his cufflinks, before asking: "Do you, um… know about the letter?"

"What letter?"

"Alex wrote a letter to Dad."

"Oh," Morde responded, unsure what else to say. "She didn't tell me that. What did it say?"

"I don't know," Eliya answered. "He won't let me see it, but I know it's had an effect on him."

"He won't return my calls."

"He's sorry," Eliya assured him. "He is."

"So am I," said Morde, reaching for the lid to his coffee cup and replacing it. "I've left him voicemails saying so, but he still won't return my calls. Why can't he just talk to me?"

"You know how he is."

"I guess," Morde replied, sipping his lukewarm Americano. "But I know how you are, too, and this," he added, gesturing between the two of them, "is unlike you."

"I just thought after— I thought you might be—"

"I'm fine, Eli," Morde said. "Really. Not up, not down, just me."

"Are you happy?"

"Yeah." The thought of Alex made him smile. "Yeah, I am."

Eliya had just enough time to return Morde's smile before his phone rang.

"Damn it," he cursed, fishing in his pocket for it. He checked the caller I.D., mumbled an undistinguishable expletive, and pocketed it again. Just like that, he reached for his coat. "I'm sorry, Abel. My boss is— you know, she's, um— I mean, I've got to go before she fires me, but…" As he spoke, Eliya stood up, smoothing the fabric of his shirt and slipping his arms into the sleeves of his coat with a kind of grace Morde had never, and would never, be able to emulate. "I meant to ask: are you still looking for a job?"

"Desperately," Morde answered, "which I'm sure comes as no surprise to you."

"There's an opening at the firm," Eliya went on, buttoning. The phone call from his boss had undoubtedly instilled fear in him; Morde could sense the urgency in his words and actions. "It's not glamorous, and quite frankly, I know it's not something you'd really enjoy doing, but it pays all right. It's a desk job. Answering phones, data entry, filing, that sort of thing. I thought, maybe, if you wanted— you know, as an 'in between jobs' job."

Morde nodded, understanding. "I'll think about it."

"Good," Eliya said, retrieving his messenger bag from where he'd set it down beside his chair and slinging it over his shoulder. "Listen, I'll call you, okay? I'll talk to Dad."


With that, Eliya closed the distance between them, leaning down to kiss the crown of his head. "Bye, kid." It was the first time he'd shown anything resembling affection to Morde in years.


It was the first time since his childhood that Morde was sad to see him go.