Chapter One: Are You Ready To Lose?

Three people with three fires fueled by three secrets. I couldn’t tell you each one if I wanted to. I only know my own secret.

I lay back and rest my head against the arm the couch. Casually flipping through the channels on the TV, I find something that catches my interest. MTV’s real world suspiciously reminds me of my own house. Seven people all living under one roof. There are seven kids in my family, all trying not to step on each other’s toes. Of course, like any family, there are times we don’t even bother to try. Even after our move two years ago to this bigger house where we all have our own bedroom, it still feels like there’s no privacy anywhere. There’s always someone listening in on a phone call or asking you where you’re going when you put on your jacket. Thankfully, there’s one rule in the house no one breaks. No one has ever opened anyone else’s journal. It’s out of respect.

Avery marches into the room with two friends beside her. “Zac, Mom brought us to rent a movie and we need this tv to watch it.”

I groan and look up at them, squinting as the lamp above my head blinds my eyes. I had just gotten comfortable too. “Can’t you use the tv in the basement?”

“Taylor’s down there working on music and Mom said not to disturb him,” She replies, kneeling by the dvd player and pressing buttons on it.

“Oh sure, but disturb Zac.” I roll my eyes slightly, but I understand. Music comes before Real World, I know, I know. I stand up and nod at her friends who remain nameless to me. I can never remember any of my siblings’ friends’ names.

I shuffle out of the room, adjusting my blue pajama pants as I go so the drawstring hangs down in the center of my waist rather than off my right hip. It’s 2 o clock in the afternoon and I’ve done nothing all day but mope around the house looking for something to do. I wander into the kitchen and open the fridge. Orange juice or apple juice. Oh the decisions of life that haunt me…

I pour myself a glass of apple juice and stop to listen to the sound of Taylor’s guitar coming from the basement. He’s in the middle of breaking up with his girlfriend so he’s been especially unbearable lately. I’m sure he’s writing about the heartbreak.

I make my way over to the basement stairs, slowly creek the door open, and sit on the top step with my juice, listening. Taylor’s usual raspy but passionate voice floods the basement.

Are you ready to lose
Are you ready to win
Well I’ve been losing for so long
I can’t begin
I’m a man on the moon
I’m a man on the edge
I’m the words you never knew in your head
To be read

It doesn’t sound like this song is about Anna, but you never know. Taylor can write some pretty messed up songs about girls sometimes. I remember when we were younger he wrote a song about a girl he liked comparing her to the psychotic woman in fatal attraction. He meant no harm by it, but that fling didn’t last very long when word got out to her.

But no, this song seems more passionate than songs I’ve heard Taylor write about girls. I know his 19-year-old soul is full of secrets I’ll never know of.

In the midst of sipping my apple juice, Taylor’s voice bellows up to me. “Come here!”

Do I get up and leave and pretend I was never sitting there or do I come down and show my face at the risk of being accused of spying? I slowly step down the stairs to where I can see Taylor.

“How’d you know I was there?” I ask him, perplexed. I was being especially careful to be quiet.

“Why were you listening to me?” He says, setting the acoustic guitar down on the ground.

I sit down next to him on the futon and shrug. “Curiosity?”

We sit in a silence for a moment. Taylor and I have good silences. When Isaac and I are quiet together there’s tension. That’s because Isaac is always talking, so if he’s not babbling you know he’s mad about something.

“Want to go to mall?” He asks, making eye contact with me.

“Nah…”

“C’mon Zac, you never want to do anything anymore. Let’s go to the mall.”

“Why would I want to go to the crowded mall with tons of people and bright lights…”

Taylor puts up his hands in exhaustion and picks his guitar up again. “Forget it Zac. Continue being a hermit.” He strums some chords and hums lightly.

I know this s my cue to get up and leave the room, but I don’t. I don’t know if I don’t want to because I’m too lazy to venture back up those stairs or because I’m enjoying the company of another human being.

“So, uh,” I stumble, “What’s going on between you and Anna?”

The death question, but someone has to ask it.

“What do you mean what’s going on with us?”

He knows exactly what I mean, but I know he’s hesitant to give more information than he needs to. He’s testing me out to see just how much I know and how much he needs to tell.

“Isaac said that he heard you and her talking on the phone like a week ago and you were fighting. Besides, you haven’t gone to see her all week.”

“Does everyone in this family feel the need to spy on me all the time?”

“You’re just so damn interesting Tay, we can’t help ourselves.” I roll my eyes slightly. I complain about no privacy in this house, but I’m equally guilty of being involved in everyone else’s personal lives.

“Yeah well, control yourselves…” He plays the guitar lightly with his fingertips and sings quietly-

I’m a man on the moon
I’m a man on the edge

He’s avoiding the question. “So…? Are you guys going to break up?”

“How am I supposed to know?”

“Uh…well it’s your relationship-” I start to remind him, but I’m cut off.

“Yeah well, newsflash Zac. I have no say in my own relationship! I’m just tied to a string like a little cat toy and people do whatever the hell they want without my consent! I don’t have a say in whether or not Anna and I stay together Zac! Christ…”

“Maybe if you told her how you felt-”

“Shut the fuck up Zac. You don’t know what you’re talking about so just shut up.”

Taylor has an insane temper. He’s had it for years, but it’s gotten really out of control in the last year or so. Taylor seems all sweet and innocent on the outside. But he’s got so much anger inside of him. I don’t know where it comes from, but he loses his cool so easily. I stare at him and slowly start to get up.

“Yeah, just run away as soon as you offend me Zac. Really mature…”

He’s trying to manipulate me into thinking I am the one in the wrong, but I know even he knows he’s got a bad temper. I know he’s embarrassed of losing it to quickly too. I hurry up the stairs and close the basement door, sighing loudly.

~

We’re all gathered around the dining room table shoveling food into our mouths and talking over each other. That’s one thing my family is good at- interrupting each other.

“So then Coach McKenna said that I could play as forward this season, so I’m going to be a forward which means a lot less running-” Mackie is attempting to explain. He’s on a 3rd grade soccer team this summer and really pumped about it.

“Avery, lean over the table when you eat or you can vacuum for me when we’re finished.” Mom scolds.

Isaac turns to Mackie and nods as if he’s listening. “Cool Mac.” Someone has to give the guy some attention. Mackenzie scowls in the direction of my mother and slouches down in his chair, demoralized. I remember being his age and fighting for Mom’s attention. I find myself still doing that even now sometimes.

“Taylor, how was the ride to the doctor’s this afternoon?” Dad speaks up, “Did the accident on Elm cause much of a hold up?”

“How come Taylor goes to the doctor all the time now? What do you have, cancer?” Avery says, looking at him puzzled.

“Genital warts,” Isaac jokes, glancing at my mother’s expression as soon as it comes out of his mouth. I think she’s pretending she didn’t hear him say that. Either that or she thinks it’s funny and doesn’t want to laugh at the risk of encouraging it.

Taylor glares at him and stabs the pasta on his plate with his fork, “I do not.”

I cannot help but smile. He defends himself so seriously. “Actually Isaac, it’s a psychiatrist. He’s going to therapy so he can talk about his genital warts.” I pipe in, “They’re pretty traumatic I hear.”

Taylor stops chewing and looks at me. But he’s the only person looking at me. All other eyes are on Taylor.

“That was completely uncalled for Zac,” My mother frowns at me. “That’s not something to joke about.”

I can feel Taylor’s eyes digging into my own. His are like daggers going through my pupils. It almost hurts physically. Finally, he breaks his stare and says, casually, “Yeah, you figured me out Zac…” I can tell it’s sarcasm. We all watch as Taylor gets up from the table, setting his silverware on his plate, and starts heading for the kitchen.

“Doesn’t he have to ask to be excused?” Avery says, looking at my mom.

She looks at Avery and says sternly, “Worry about yourself, not your brother.”

There’s an uncomfortable silence around the table as we all listen to Taylor clunk around the kitchen. He rinses his plate, puts it in the dishwasher, and gets something from the cabinet- probably some kind of snack to take to his room or something. Without saying anything to any of us he walks past the dining room and upstairs. Mom and Dad don’t say anything to him. He’s not asked to stay to help clean up the table or to take part in family conversation. I definitely said the wrong thing.

~

After dinner, clean up, and bickering with Isaac over the recliner in the living room, Jessica approaches me. I’m sitting on the couch because of course Isaac, who’s a good five years older than me, won.

“Can you move your legs so I can do my homework on the couch too?”

I look at her for a moment without doing anything. I want to say, “You know what Jessie? I don’t really feel like moving my legs right now. I’m sick of moving for everyone else in this house. I’m sick of accommodating everyone else. I want to stretch out so you know what? I think I’m going to.” In good judgment, I move my legs and look back at the TV. I just pray that she doesn’t talk to me. I just don’t feel like socializing right now. I’m too angry that Isaac got the chair and I’m too angry that I have to share the couch too.

She sits down and opens her binder, reading through some of her homework. I think I am safe but then she looks up at me. “You shouldn’t have said that to Taylor.”

I raise an eyebrow at her and pull the blanket on the back of the couch down over my lap. It’s freezing in here and it’s the freaking middle of June in Oklahoma.

“Why not?”

“It was just insensitive.”

“Why, is he really going to a psychiatrist?”

“How am to I know?” She gives me a challenging look and looks back down at her homework handout. That’s just the thing. Jessie does know. Taylor trusts Jessica. Isaac trusts Jessica. And I trust Jessica. I’m positive she knows each of our secrets. And I trust her enough that I am positive she will never tell me what fires Taylor’s temper or what causes Isaac to disappear into the woods sometimes for two-hour walks.

I remember one night a couple weeks ago at around one in the morning I walked down the hallway to her room to talk. I was having hurtful memories and I needed someone else’s company. Jessica is the best in our family at listening. She’s the best at understanding. My bare feet hurried down the hard wood and I remember wishing we had went for carpet floors instead. I yanked open Jessica’s bedroom door to wake her up but found someone had beat me to it. Taylor sat on Jessie’s bed hugging a pillow. His face was exhausted and you could tell he had been crying. His cheeks were ruddy like he had been worked up. I remember I wanted to go in there and grab the pillow from his arms and smack him over the head with it. “It’s my turn to talk to Jessica! I’m the one having problems here Taylor! What could you possibly need her for!?” But I didn’t. I just apologized quickly and walked back to my room. I sat in my bed that night for a while thumbing through an old Calvin and Hobbes book of mine for an hour or so until I fell asleep at the foot on my bed.

“I’m just saying,” She goes on, “It was insensitive. What if he is really going through some emotional trauma and we don’t know? He seemed pretty bothered by it.” Nice save, Jessie. Of course you don’t know…

I shrug and look back at the TV. “Well then I feel bad. Oh well. Can’t go back in time.”

Isaac gets up quickly from the recliner and it snaps back into its normal position. “Unfortunately, no we can’t Zac.” He puts his feet in his slippers. “Chairs all yours. I’m going to go get some ice cream. Anyone want any?”

Jessica’s face lights up, “Will you get me a pint of Ben and Jerry’s?”

“What kind?”

“Whichever. I don’t care. Just don’t get me the low fat kind again. Not only was that gross, but it was mean too.”

Isaac grins at her, “Hey, I didn’t mean it that time. I didn’t even notice that’s what I had gotten.”

“Yeah yeah…”

“Zac?” He looks at me questioningly.

“Yeah, just grab me something random too.” Who cares what kind of Ben and Jerry’s? It’s all delicious. He nods and walks towards the door.

“Go with him.” Jess says, “When was the last time you saw daylight anyway?”

I think for a moment and smirk, “3 days ago?”

“You’re disgusting! Go with Isaac!” She laughs and types something into her calculator.

“But it’s dark out. There’s not even any daylight!”

“Go make sure he doesn’t get me low fat crap again!”

I get up from the couch. Maybe I will go. Besides, I’ll get Isaac to get me a couple packs of gum. Taylor and I are gum freaks. There has to be gum in our mouths at all times. I think we got the habit from each other. I can’t help but notice lately though the gum in my room has been disappearing lately though. Taylor is a gum thief.

“Wait, you said you wanted the low fat crap, right?” I tease Jessica and hurry after Isaac.

~

I wander up and down the ice cream isle of the mini-mart, scanning through the flavors.

“Jess like’s Cherry Garcia, right?” Ike says, holding out a container of it.

“Who doesn’t?”

I reach for the cookie dough kind for myself and tuck it under my arm. On second thought, I take out another container of it too.

“How hungry are you…?” Isaac frowns at me.

“For Taylor.”

Ike nods and we walk over to the counter together. I grab a couple packs of orbit and toss them nonchalantly into our pile next to the register. I glance at Ike. He noticed but apparently doesn’t care enough to say anything. What an awesome brother. I rarely think that, I know. But at this very moment I feel really glad to be in his presence. Even if he did kick me out of the recliner earlier, he’s buying me three packs of gum without putting up a fight. It’s the little things that make him awesome.

~

“Get off of me! You’re sick!” I scream at Isaac, trying to push his body off of mine. He’s got me pinned onto the floor and is burping directly into my face. Jessica and Taylor just sit in the background laughing- glad it’s not themselves who are in my position. Usually I’m the one harassing my siblings with gross bodily functions, but every so often it’s returned to me.

Isaac blows at my face and finally gets off of me. I sit up and punch him in the thigh, slamming my fist down. Honestly, how sick. He’s disgusting. I’m offended to be related to him.

“That really is sick, Isaac,” I say seriously, “I can smell what you ate for dinner.”

“Good,” He says matter-of-factly, leaning against his bed and spooning some more ice cream into his mouth. We’re all sitting on Isaac’s floor, each trying to finish our container of ice-cream. We’re well aware there’s about 1000 calories in each container, but we don’t care. Taylor needs the calories anyway. We always say, “You’d be surprised how much Taylor eats! He’s just a skinny guy though!” But to be quite honest, in the past year or so, Taylor started eating next to nothing. Just the fact that he’s eating the ice-cream I brought him is surprising enough.

Isaac, Tay, Jess and I do this a lot. We just sit around, enjoying each other’s company. For a while it used to be just the three of us guys, but the conversation always got too dirty then. There was never a time when we weren’t talking about girls and sex. There wasn’t a joke told that wasn’t in the gutter. But Jessica grew up a lot in the last year. Now it’s usually the four of us hanging out. Of course, it never gets too personal with all of us. Our conversations consist of the funny lines on the Simpsons and the dorky things our dad does. Secrets are not shared within this group. That doesn’t mean they’re not there.

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Chapter Two