I’m sitting in my bedroom, my covers pulled up to my waist, thumbing through a Rolling Stone magazine. I’ve already read it once before but with lack of better things to read, I go over it a second time, mostly just looking at the pictures.
I hear quick footsteps on the stairs. When you live with people long enough you begin to hear how they walk.
My dad walks the loudest next to me in this house. His footsteps are slow and powerful. They’re steady.
Isaac wanders slowly. His walking will suddenly slow down in pace and you can tell he is daydreaming.
The footsteps on the stairs are soft, but quick. They go up every other stair, stretching and using the banister. I can see Taylor opening my bedroom door before he even does. It sort of helps though knowing he is the only person home.
“What is your problem?” He flings the door open and stares at me.
“I don’t feel good. Can you leave?” My stomach is churning and my head kills. Mom said do not get out of bed if you’re not feeling better Zac- do not. And that is exactly the advice I’m going to take.
“I said, what is your problem?” He stares at me, stepping inside and swinging the door closed. This could get ugly. There is no escape now. He steps closer to me.
He’s referring to my phone conversation with Anna. I suppose I should explain what I’m talking about…
Just a few minutes ago Anna called looking for Taylor. We’re talking about the Taylor who ate the last pop tart that I was looking forward to when I rolled out of bed at noon. I felt too sick to eat anything when I got up- except for a pop tart that is. But Taylor ate it. We’re talking about the Taylor who refused to turn down his terrible Courtney Love music on the living room stereo. This is the Taylor who told me to answer the phone even though he was feet away from it.
So I did. I answered the phone in the kitchen, away from him and his angry attitude that inhabited the living room this Saturday.
“This is Zac, hi.”
“Sorry Zac, this is Anna.”
“I know.” Unlike you, I can identify voices.
“Is your brother available?”
“It depends what you mean by available? Can’t you hear? He’s with Courtney.”
The music blared into the kitchen.
I smile faintly. This could get interesting,
“Yeah, he’s on the couch obsessing over Courtney.”
“His wanna-be lover.” This is going down a path I’m going to regret.
“Taylor is in the living room and Courtney is screaming. Why should an innocent little brother have to endure this? Save me!” I slammed the phone down on the receiver. Stupid Taylor and his stupid music. I stomped upstairs. I could hear the phone ring again as I crawled under my covers and pulled a magazine into my lap. I don’t feel so good.
“It was just a joke Taylor, relax.”
“Relax?” He steps closer to me. “I tell you a couple days ago that things aren’t going so well with Anna. I trust you enough to tell you about my relationship and you attempt to sabotage it even more?”
“Woah! That was never my intention. I don’t want to sabotage anything!”
“Then what’s your problem!?”
“It was just a joke! Calm the fuck down!”
He steps next to my bed and glares at me. “Go call her up and apologize.”
“Hell no. I’m going back to sleep.” I slide onto my stomach and put my face in my pillow.
“It’s noon! Get up and apologize!”
I feel a sharp pain on the back of my head. Taylor smacked me with the back of his hand. I sit up quickly and look at him. He’s standing there staring down at me.
“Don’t fucking touch me…” I mutter, rubbing the back of my head. Without any time for me to react, Taylor pushes me hard off the other side of my bed. I go falling backward onto the floor, landing on my back. My knee hit the side of the bed and is throbbing. Who the hell does he think he is anyway? I get up and push him against the wall, punching him in the stomach and watching him double over in pain. At age 17, Taylor and I are much more matched than we were before.
I know no one is home and if we continue to fight no one is here to stop us. We could probably even fight until one of us dies and we still wouldn’t stop. Whoever was still standing would just sit there beating the nonexistent life out of the dead corpse. But I don’t care. I punch him again in the jaw, taking full advantage of the wind being knocked out of him. But he regains his strength and grabs me, slamming me onto the ground.
The next moments are a blur for me. Taylor’s fist is plunging into my face two, three times.
Somehow I pull myself out from under him and shove him away with my feet, kicking like crazy. In fear of being beaten some more, I get up and run down the stairs. I can feel blood dripping from my lip and I cup my hand under my chin. I look around in the kitchen in panic. Am I supposed to call the cops? Should I call Mom and Dad? “Hey Mom, hey Dad, I pulled a prank on Taylor, swore at him, and then jumped on top of him. But I swear, he started it.”
I need to think rationally. Taylor is going to stay upstairs. I know my brother well enough to know he’s going to stay away from me for the time being. He may have a bad temper, but he also knows how to cool down when he really needs to. It wouldn’t be like Taylor to come chasing me down the stairs and continue to attack me in the kitchen.
I open the freezer and pull out an ice pack, holding it to my swollen and bleeding lip. I pull it away and examine it. Blood. I wrap it in a paper towel and apply it to my lip again, sighing heavily.
No sign of Taylor in the kitchen. I walk over to look up the stairs. No sign of Taylor on the stairs. Unless he’s hiding under the kitchen table with a knife, I’m safe. I duck and glance under the table just in case but there’s nothing there. I almost wish he were though. I almost wish he would stab me through my heart and put me out of misery.
Mom walks in with handfuls of brown grocery bags.
“Zac, go grab some of the bags in the trunk. The food doesn’t walk itself in.”
I carry the last of the groceries in for her, three bags on each arm.
“Where do you want me to set these?”
“Kitchen floor is fi…what happened to you?” She stares at my face, noticing my huge lip and bruised eye for the first time.
“Fell off my bed,” I mutter, not entirely lying. I sit back down at the table and look at the Algebra problem sitting in front of me.
“Zachary Hanson I’ve seen too many bruises in my time to believe that story. What on earth happened?”
I know if I tell my mom Taylor and I will be both be in trouble. In fact, I could even be in more trouble than him, depending on how knocked up he looks. The best thing to do is to play it cool.
“Taylor and I were messing around and it got kind of out of control. I guess we got carried away.” That sounds like a realistic situation for two teenage boys, right? Testosterone took over and we both underestimated our own strength. It wouldn’t be a first in the Hanson household.
She eyes me suspiciously. “Taylor! Come down here!”
And the charade is about to end.
Taylor comes down into the kitchen seconds later, looking at her but refusing to make eye contact with me. “Yep?” He says coolly. His hair is wet from his shower and if I did hurt him at all, it’s not obvious.
“What did you do to your brother?” She takes my chin and faces it towards Taylor. “Look at his face. His lip is busted and his eye is only going to get more purple within hours.”
Taylor frowns at me, stepping closer to really examine my face, “Dude Zac, did I do that? I didn’t realize it.”
“It’s okay, we were just messing around.” I swallow hard and keep my eyes firmly on him. Please go along with it. Please go along with it.
“Sorry man.” He says, then looking to my mom, “Sorry Mom.”
She looks us both over and lets my chin go. She walks over to the bags of groceries and starts unloading them. “Come and help me.”
I sigh, relieved, and follow her. I start taking out pancake mix, boxes of cereal, and cans of soup and putting them away in the cabinets. Taylor and I work side-by-side but not acknowledging each other. I work as quickly as I can. The kitchen is awkward. There’s anger floating around the air that we all can feel but refuse to speak of. Sometimes I wish we spoke of it.
I pick up the telephone in my room and dial carefully. All of a sudden it hits me. Her memory suddenly takes over my mind.
Taylor skipped into the room whistling, looking at me on the phone.
“Who ya calling?” He whispered, sitting on the edge of my bed.
I waved my hand at him, trying to shoo him away. “Give me some space, I’m trying to-”
Ellie’s step-mom picked up the phone.
“Uh, hi, is Ellie there?”
“Sure, may I ask who’s calling?”
Ellie and I had been best friends for years. I called her a couple times a week and each time her stepmother, who’d known me for about three years, asked who was calling.
“Sure Zac, hang on a second.”
I held my palm over the speaker on the telephone and scowled at Taylor, “Tay get out. This is private.”
“Private eh?” His eyebrows raised and his eyes twinkled. Great, I’d sparked his interest. “How private can a 15 year olds conversation be anyway?”
“I turn 16 next month, idiot.”
“How could I forget. That’s when the people of Tulsa are no longer safe with you on the roads.” He cackled at his own lame joke.
“Can you just leave?” I was nervous about talking to Ellie and Taylor being in the room was not easing my fear much.
“What are you calling Ellie about that has you so excited?”
“Taylor! Get out!” Older brothers are so annoying.
“Hello?” Ellie picked up the phone.
“Hi, it’s Zac,” I said meekly.
“I know. One kiss doesn’t make you a stranger.” Damn that girl and her bluntness. We weren’t even a second into the conversation and she had to bring it up. I glanced at Taylor to make sure he couldn’t hear her and by the bored expression on his face I guess that he couldn’t.
“Hang on a sec,” I muttered into the phone, setting it in my lap. “Taylor get out or I’m telling Mom!”
He grinned wildly at me. He loves this threat. He knew Mom didn’t care where he sat or who he bothered since he wasn’t actually doing anything. She can’t stand being bothered for trivial bickering and he knew quite well I wasn’t going to put her in a bad mood by complaining to her. I had no shot at getting him to leave at this point. He could already tell by my secretive manner that this was something he wanted to stick around for.
I rolled my eyes at him and sighed loudly, putting the phone back to my ear.
“My brother won’t leave the room, sorry.”
“Your brothers in the room? Your metro-sexual brother?” No need to ask who she’s referring to.
“Then we can talk later. This is private.”
“No!” I’d been trying to call her all week and this was the first time she came to the phone. “Tay, please leave.”
He lounged back on my bed and pulled the fleece throw over himself. He had made it quite clear he wasn’t going to leave.
I reached over to my closet door and slammed it closed with my foot. “He left.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.” I fiddled with the buckle on my belt aimlessly, nervously anticipating what she would say next.
“So what do you need?”
“I wanted to talk.”
“About what? Because I have homework and so far you haven’t done a lot of talking.”
“I wanted to apologize, for the other night.”
“For kissing me?”
I swallowed and glanced at Taylor. “Yeah, I’m sorry. It wasn’t…right.”
“Because, you’re my best friend.” I could see Taylor’s interest level grow at this point.
“Yeah, and that’s all I want to be. No strings attached.”
“Because even if you did want to date me, I’m done with dating Hanson’s. I’ve called off the entire species when it comes to dating.”
“I’m sorry to hear,” I muttered.
“Well I’m not sorry for my sake. I’m sorry for your sake. That you dislike us that much.”
“You don’t wish you could date me?”
“Ellie, are you crazy? You’re my friend. My really, really good friend. Don’t be delusional.”
“Then apologize for messing with my mind and kissing me.”
I rocked slowly on the bed, contemplating what to do. Taylor couldn’t know I kissed Ellie. Her and him had just broken up months ago, and even though he claimed he was glad they did, I know his feelings were still lingering. He would have been too hurt to know I did that to him. It betrayed my brother and I knew it.
“I’m sorry I did that. It was stupid.”
“No, you’re sorry for messing with my head and kissing me. Say it. I want to hear it.”
Taylor was watching me carefully. I knew I could either hurt Ellie or Taylor, but hurting someone was something I couldn’t avoid at this point.
“El…you know I’m sor-”
“Then say it Zac.”
“I’m sorry…I’m sorry for messing with your head, and I’m sorry for kissing you.”
Taylor sat up quickly and looked at me. His expression wasn’t angry, but hurt.
“I’m sorry Tay…” I mumbled to Taylor. He sat there for a moment, examining the truth in my face, before getting up and walking out.
“No you’re not. You’re a liar too. I knew it. I knew he didn’t leave. I don’t want to talk to you.”
She hung up on me. In the process of trying not to hurt anyone, I’d hurt Ellie and Taylor. It’d lost both of their trust. I dropped the phone on the floor and crawled over to the window above my bed, looking out. Isaac was standing on the back deck below me just staring off in space with a cigar perched in his mouth. Mom would kill him if she walked out and caught him. But she never caught him. She always tried not to.
Ellie and I rarely fought. But as we grew older, and my hormones started raging, I started looking at Ellie in different ways. I started seeing her as more than just my best friend. Of course, this wasn’t love. This was just the natural part of growing up though. Ellie was really the only girl in my life. Of course I was interested in her in some ways. But kissing Ellie, as thrilling as it was, wasn’t worth hurting my brother. And it wasn’t worth confusing Ellie over. Kissing should have been outlawed until you’re old enough to know what you’re doing. I knew one thing. I knew, a month before my 16th birthday, I certainty did not know what I was doing.
Jessica picks up her cell phone and whispers into it, “Hello?”
“Zac, why are you calling me?”
“I wanted to see if you were awake.” It does seem rather stupid I suppose if you really think about it. I’m a couple feet away from her, just down the hallway, and I am calling her up.
“Yeah, well I am now. Come talk.”
I nod and click the phone off. I knew Mom had Jessica for a reason. I toss the phone down on my bed and crawl out of bed, pulling on a sweatshirt and hurrying down to her room to lift some weight off my shoulders. It’s tradition these days.