Jason and Michael

There are things that get resolved, and then there are things that don’t. Michael and Jason are, and have always been, once of those that don’t. They are brothers, you could say, but they don’t like thinking of themselves that way. They prefer referring to the fourteen years they lived in the same house together as a situational accident that nobody could have predicted and, thus, prevented.
They shared a mother, it’s true. They didn’t share fathers. If that were the only problem they had… well, things probably wouldn’t have turned out the way they did. But they did, and things are the way they are now, and that’s that.
Of course, both Jason and Michael don’t realize how ridiculously similar they are. It’s inevitable, you might say, that brothers who live in the same tumultuous household for fourteen years end up using the same turns of phrases, or, taking shots of vodka with the same exact swoop and shake of the head as the burn goes down. It’s inevitable, you might say, and you might be right, but the thing is that Jason and Michael spent most of their time during those fourteen years trying their hardest to be as different as people with similar genes could be. Sure, alright, maybe not all fourteen years were spent that way. There must have been a few years, at the beginning there, after Jason was born, when they weren’t around each other all that much because one of them was in preschool and the other was at their mother’s breast. There must have been a while when Jason even looked up to Michael, and maybe wanted, in a vague and faraway kind of way, to be like him.
But the thing is, Jason got over that awfully fast. It wasn’t just that Michael tormented him, although that must have played a factor. It wasn’t only that right from the start the boys had incredibly different temperaments. No, there was something deeper there, something mysterious and unknown, and it was this that forced them apart. Trying to get them to play nicely together was like trying to force the minus sides of batteries to touch each other. It was like telling the moon to go and dance with the sun for a while. Their mother gave up pretty soon on the idea of their ever being friends.
Then she gave up on them altogether.
Here are some of the things that Jason and Michael have in common now. Neither one of them blames their mother for any of the problems in their lives. They both use the same exact sentence when they try to describe her to people: She had a hard time of it, they say. Other people try, some less tactfully than others, to call BS, but neither one of the brothers will accept any criticism. They see her every weekend – Jason on Saturdays and Michael on Sundays – and they bring her flowers and they kiss her cheek and they look at her with eyes that seem to have regressed to tender childhood, and they don’t blame her.
Another sentiment they have in common is this idea of utter and complete independence. If anyone tries to help them into a parking place, for instance, they will get very annoyed, very quickly. When they’re sick, they pretend they’re not and show up for work anyway. They insist on lifting heavy things for their significant others, even now that they’ve both got the beginnings of bad backs, and cling to this chauvinistic notion of chivalry as an unbreakable rule.
Even their taste in music is similar. If they talked more often – ever, really – they might realize that they’d both drifted away from the vastly different and extreme genres that they used to like and have both fallen in love, at a later stage in life than most people do, with the tuneless musical poetry of Bob Dylan. But they don’t talk, so they have no idea.
Their significant others tried meeting each other for coffee once. They both had a vague notion that it would be a good idea to somehow intervene, perhaps even initiate some sort of reconciliation between the brothers. But an hour into their conversation, the two women were angrier with each other than they’d ever been with either Jason or Michael. They parted bitterly, each of them convinced, for the first time, that her partner had a reason for acting the way he did.
Jason and Michael don’t talk. I wonder, sometimes, whether they’d even recognize each other now. In the grocery store, for instance. If they both reached for the same pack of frozen fish fingers of that brand that their mother always bought.

Flash Fiction Thursday: The House on the Hill

There was a house on the hill. It was a run-down old thing, with shingles fallen off the roof, and the door halfway off its hinges. The windows were all boarded up, except for one round window at the top of the house. In front, there was what used to be a lawn. Over the years it had turned into an almost-meadow, high weeds and the occasional wild flowers growing wildly. Then there was the fence. It was tall and made of iron, and not one bit of it was rusted. The strangest thing was, there was no gate. Nobody remembered that there’d ever been one. It was as if someone had left the house to rot and built a fence around it afterwards.

The Hensley brothers sat with their backs against one of the big oak trees that kept their own house separate from the hill behind it.

“You think anyone’s ever been in there?” asked Tommy. He was ten, and his pajamas featured a pattern of Pokemon creatures.

“What, you mean like mom or dad or the kids at school?” answered Jake. He was barely six, and his world view encompassed only those people he knew. He was unfortunate enough to have his mom still picking out his clothing, and his pajamas featured multicolored, grinning bunnies.

“No, stupid, I mean anybody. Anybody in town. One of the older kids or the cops or someone.”

“But how? There’s no way to get in!”

“Bet I can figure out a way.” He got up and yanked Jake up off the ground.

“Tommy? Tommy, we’re not going up there, are we?” Jake’s hand was held so tightly that he was stumbling after his brother trying to keep up and not fall and be dragged on the ground. Tommy marched resolutely upwards, and when Jake started getting breathless, he picked him up gingerly and brought him the rest of the way. He stopped at the tall fence and plopped Jake onto the ground.

“Stop sniveling, Jakey! Look, we could make this place into a club-house, right?”

Jake looked up hopefully, wiping his dribbling nose with the pack of one muddied hand. “Could we? Could we really? With secret meetings and stuff?”

“You bet. Now, all we have to do is this. Look, you see my hands? They’re like a step now, right? So step on, and I’ll lift you as high as I can so you catch onto the top.”

Jake scrambled onto his brother’s cupped hands and held onto the fence rails as he was raised slowly up to the top. He reached out an arm, and caught hold of the one of the raised spiky bits with one little hand. Tommy saw this, gave a whoop and let go of Jake’s feet.

A moment later, there was a crumpled Jake on the floor clutching his leg and a very white Tommy sitting next to him. His mind was very focused on two things at the same time. The first was that he had to get Jake back home quickly because that leg was definitely broken, and the second was how was he going to explain this to Mom??

It was years before either brother went up that hill again.

2. Amanda [3]

Amanda sat in the back of the auditorium, ready to spring up the moment the last speaker was finished. She was wearing a dark red t-shirt two sizes too big for her, bearing the legend “Valley Camp Leader” in bright pink letters. Once again, she felt that although she loved her college, their sense of humor was often a bit stilted. Not many of the first years liked the joke of being at camp – they, like Amanda had felt just a year before, wanted to be reassured that they were free from their families and from their old towns and homes and were embarking on some sort of independent life.

As the lights came on, Amanda got up with the other three orientation-leaders, and they all blew their whistles half-heatedly – more for the benefit of the overenthusiastic Office of Admissions employees then for the new students. Leaving off the piercing sounds, they just yelled instead for their respective groups.

She was leading the new Oakwood students to the day’s activities that were supposed to acquaint them with the campus and the school. Her group was rather feeble, stretching and yawning and rubbing their eyes. She gave them what she hoped was a sly smile, and told them that before they were going to go on their in-depth tour of the campus, they’d go back to Oakwood and bang on the doors and wake all the lazy butts who hadn’t shown up for the morning talk.

This won her a few smiles, and she led them down to Oakwood. A gangly boy, with a mop of blond curls adorning his head, came up to her.

“Your name’s Amanda, right?”

“Mhmm, it’s right on my sticker,” she pointed at the big tag on her t-shirt with her name on it.

“I know this is like, totally weird and all, but are you by any chance Jake’s twin?” the boy’s face was open and honest, and Amanda stared at him for a moment, wondering how on earth he knew her brother. Then the pieces clicked into place.

“Bo, right?”

He grinned at her and ran his fingers through his hair, making them unrulier than ever.

“Yeah, I work with Jake at Lila’s. I was working full time over the summer, but I’m thinking that at twenty-three, I’d better finally use that fund my grandparents left me for college. Plus, this way, I get to stay in a dorm instead of with my Aunt Tanya.”

Amanda couldn’t help but smile. She could see what Jake saw in this boy’s – young man’s, she corrected herself – guiless face and long limbs flying every which way as he walked.

“Well, I’m glad you came here. It’s kind of weird for me to be your-” she made air-quotes with her fingers, “Camp Leader and all. I’m only nineteen, you know.”

“Yeah, I know I’m starting college late, but heck, I figure I’ll be really popular what with having a real ID stating I’m over twenty-one and all,” he grinned at her as she waved a finger at him and walked back to join the group trailing after her like tired little ducklings.

Amanda’s mood took a definite upward swing. Jake had mentioned in his rambling and confused way that Bo was coming to Valley U, but Amanda hadn’t realized he’d be living on campus. She hoped this would mean she’d get to see Jake more often, as well as in a better mood. Good start to the year, she thought.