By AJ Cunder
The twins did it all the time. No one could ever tell. And they never got caught.
“Mom!” Jack cried. “How is this fair?”
“You failed your test, and that was our deal. No concert.”
“I almost passed.” He slapped the table, nearly knocking over his orange juice.
“Jack, stop,” his father growled, his eyes cold. “You’re not going.”
“Keep it up, and you’ll be grounded for the rest of the month too.”
Jack folded his arms, staring into his potatoes as if they had some divine solution to his misery. “It’s not fair. Asher’s going. He doesn’t even like the band.”
Asher kept chewing, his head down.
“Asher passed his test,” their mother said.
“Maybe you’ll study harder next time instead of playing your video games.” His father rubbed the stubble on his chin. “If you fail another test, I will take them away from you.”
Jack’s face darkened. “You wouldn’t.”
“Jim,” their mother soothed.
Jack back-handed his glass, spraying Asher and his mother who tried to avoid the orange wave, the glass shattering on the floor.
“Boy!” his father roared, standing up, his forehead turning purple. “Your room! Now!”
His hands shaking, Jack ran from the table, leaving Asher to scrape the last of his plate covered in juice.
“Give me your shirt, Ash,” his mother said. “I’ll put it in the laundry, and you can go get cleaned up.”
“That boy!” their father steamed, flexing his fists.
In his room, Asher found Jack lying on the bed. “What are you doing in here? You’re supposed to be in your own room.”
“Ooo, scandalous,” Jack mocked, flicking Asher’s nipple.
“Stop it! Get out of here or I’m telling Dad.”
Jack snorted. “He’s such an ass.”
“Why’d you have to get him mad? Seriously, bro, you even got Mom with your stupid juice. Now she has to clean up your mess like she always does. What does she have to do with anything?”
“What’s that supposed to mean? And she’s not letting me go to the concert either.”
“Well, you should’ve passed your test. It wasn’t even that hard. I’ve known how to calculate slope for months. Do you not even pay attention in class? Seriously, if you paid attention you would know this shit.”
Jack ran a finger along Asher’s desk. “You really should clean your room, you know. It’s a little dusty.”
Asher rummaged through his dresser.
Jumping back on Asher’s bed, Jack said, “You don’t really want to go tonight, do you? Wouldn’t you rather study?”
“I have all weekend to study.” He pulled a few t-shirts from his drawer. “Where is my dragon shirt? Did you take it?”
“No.” Jack blinked at him, merging his eyebrows like a puppy.
“What? What do you want?”
Jack smiled. “You know.”
Asher slammed his drawer closed. “Why should I?”
“Cause you love me.”
“Oh, yeah, right.” He rolled his eyes.
“Please? I’ll do your chores for a week.”
“That’s it? After you drenched me with your juice?”
“I’ll be stuck in your room all night without any of my shit.”
“Take it with you.”
Asher folded his arms over his bare chest. “What if Mom and Dad find out? Then I’ll be grounded too. And Dad will kill you.”
“They won’t. We always do this. Come on.”
Asher bit his nail. “Five months.”
“Deal.” Jack leaped up, peeling off his shirt and pants. “Give me your clothes.”
When their friend’s mom came, she waved to Grace and Jim from the car. “He’ll be back by eleven.”
“Have a good time, Ash,” Grace said. “Good job on that test.”
Jack smirked, hopping in the back seat while Asher watched from the upstairs window rubbing the spine of his favorite book where the final s in A Series of Unfortunate Events was starting to wear out.
He cautiously tested the bed as if it might collapse, then sat stiffly on the edge, eyeing the posters on the wall of muscle cars and motorcycles that he thought he knew so well. Up close, though, when they were suddenly his posters in his room—not the familiar tapestries of his brother—they became alien, vivid colors and shapes appearing where Asher’s eye had before caught only vague archetypes and outlines. A desk hidden in shadow and covered in gum wrappers haunted Asher as he tried to avoid looking at it, textbooks stained with drool, homework assignments crumpled, their bright red F scratched out unsuccessfully with blue pen. Asher was afraid for a moment that the abyss might suck him in if he ventured too close—swallow his book and him along with it.
Cracking open the cover, he resigned himself to a night of rereading The Grim Grotto when the door burst open and his father stormed in. “Jack,” he said, slamming the door shut. He tore the book out of Asher’s hands and flung it across the room.
“Dad!” he yelled, running to pick it up.
“Stay right there,” his father commanded, unbuckling his belt and holding Asher with a grip like iron. “You know what’s coming, don’t you?”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’ll study harder next time, I promise.”
“Study? Oh this isn’t about the test, boy. What you did to your brother and your mother with that juice. I’ll teach you respect if I have to whip it into you.”
“But what? A little late for buts, now.”
He folded the belt, pushed a trembling Asher over the bed, pulled back his arm, and struck with the strength of a linebacker. “So help me, Jack. If you ever do something like that again.” He tossed the book on the bed, a few of its pages bent. “Since when do you…” He looked at Asher massaging his bottom holding back tears and opened his mouth. But then he rubbed his jaw, closed the door softly, and mumbled something that may have been I’m sorry from the other side.