She came to a sudden stop, her mouth slack and she looked at me. It was almost as if she were unplugged, then she looked away and walked toward the living room. I moved to block her, but she shoved past me and scuttled to her recliner. What happened next is fuzzy in my memory. There was a lot of yelling. She stayed in her chair but threw things at me, telling me to shut up. The remote, for instance. I remember the sound of the plastic hitting the wall.
In the end she wouldn't repeat it, but I'd heard. Teo was my brother – half-brother. Alessia was my half-sister, then. Mr. Petrakis, who always treated me like one of his own...well, I guess that came naturally. I became white-hot angry and sneered at my mother.
“You cheated with a married man, and you've held me hostage all this time? You've punished me all this time?” I shook my head in disgust. Pointing at her, I said, “You'd better not ever lay a hand on me again. I am done listening to you. Do you hear me? Done!”
She shook her head and kept saying 'no' over and over, but I had no time to worry about her being broken. I was too worried about my own damage. I turned and walked upstairs, suddenly feeling unnaturally calm. I guess I'd always thought the term bastard could be applied to me. I never knew if Chambers was my mother's maiden name or my father's surname. I'd assumed it had been my father's, but looks like I was wrong about that. Wrong about so much. No wonder Teo and I looked similar.
Teo. I'd kissed my brother. I'd beat off thinking about my brother. I felt a little sick at the realization. I shed my clothes and climbed mechanically into the shower. I cleaned by rote, feeling lost. My mother had always been a dead weight on me. I hadn't realized at first. I think everyone thinks their home life is normal – average. But not compared to the Petrakises'. The only one who seemed...unhappy was the mother. Holy shit. No wonder she never went on any trip I was taken along on. No wonder she always left the room or was less than polite to me.
I was a living reminder of her husband's infidelity. Considering how close in age Alessia and I are, he had been sleeping with them both around the same time. How fucked up is that? Jesus. My world was spinning, and without the suffocation of my mother I was afraid I might spin off into oblivion. I felt dizzy and squatted down in the shower, wrapping my arms around myself and letting the water cascade over me.
Slowly I became aware of time passing. The water grew cooler and I turned it off. I toweled dry, feeling as if I were running the towel over an empty husk. Everything I thought I knew seemed upended. I dressed for work, brushed my teeth and then went downstairs for my coat and shoes.
I looked into the living room, but my mother was looking away from me at the wall. Sniffling. It was a pitiful sound. Still, I found it hard to be sympathetic. Maybe if I knew more, I'd feel differently, but I didn't. I put my headphones in and trudged through the snow to work. It was Friday so I'd get paid – and this check would be all mine.
Once at work I hung up my coat, sniffed and grabbed a paper towel to blow my nose.
“Hey. What's with the red eyes?” Theresa, my manager, asked. I turned toward her and her eyes narrowed, yet her tone was incredulous. “Are you stoned?”
“No, I'm not stoned,” I said with a roll of my eyes. “I just had some big shit go down at home is all.”
She studied me for a minute. “Okay. I'm watching you, though. You start getting the munchies, I'm going to send you for a piss test.”
I stared at her. “You're going to go through that trouble to fire a minimum wage employee?”
“Your brain isn't done growing, yet. That shit will mess you up. You come in stoned, you might burn your ass on the grill – or burn the place down.”
I stared again. “Theresa, if I burn my ass on the grill I have more problems than some MJ. And I'm not stoned.”
“Order up!” Jorge called from the line. Theresa gave me the stink eye for a minute, then turned to take care of the order. I clocked in and took over the register while she went to do inventory and whatever else a fast food manager does. Order food, maybe. Make a schedule. Go have a cigarette. I should have said something to her about her smoking, considering she was ranking on me with that accusation.
Ten minutes later Molly, a part timer who was in college, came back behind the counter. “Hi, Drew.”
“Hi, Molly. Are you counter tonight or am I?”
“Theresa was going to have you spend some time on the drive through tonight, I think. Double check with her just in case.” She leaned forward and smiled. “I wasn't really listening to her.”
I smiled at her and wandered back to the rear door. I poked my head out the back and spotted Theresa, sucking on her cancer stick.
She didn't seem to hear me.
“Theresa?” I asked, raising my voice.
She turned her head toward me, but her eyes looked a little unfocused. “What? Oh, Drew. What's going on?”
“Molly is back from break. Do you want me on drive through or the counter?”
“Give the window some time, you could use the experience. If you get the hang of it, we can bump your pay a little.”
“Okay.” I ducked back inside and went over to the charging rack for the headsets. I flipped a switch that turned off the interior speaker – something they used during slow times – and sent the signal through the headphones.
I went to my station and organized for a minute, still thinking about events of the afternoon. I still felt thrown off by everything. My balance – the world I thought I knew – was tilted on its side and kind of kicked onto the floor, stomped on and then lit on fire. I went back and forth as to whether I'd be able to keep up resisting my mother and her bullshit, overcoming my programming.
Idly I wondered about Teo and Alessia. Things would be different, now. They'd know my mother cheated with their father. That I was their half-brother. That...we'd all been lied to. How would they react? Would they lay some...blame on me? And what about Teo and those kisses? Thinking back, comparing the two, I found that the second one was lacking. I mean, yeah your mother losing her fucking mind partway through played a part, but I wasn't seeing stars or anything.
What did that mean? I felt weird thinking that he was kind of hot, even if knowing he was actually related to me cooled my jets a bit. I didn't want to try it again, that was for sure. Unfortunately, I think I suck at kissing. I'm not even sure why Teo kissed me at all. There was no lead up, no 'hey you're kinda cute' or anything. I had no clue. An ass grab or something would have been nice. Ugh.
A car pulled up to the drive-through speaker. “Welcome to Flubberbuster's, may I take your order?” I asked.
“Hey – the fries fresh? They sucked last time.”
I rolled my eyes. “They are in the fryer right now, sir.”
“I think I should get that order for free, honestly. You're probably lying to me. I can drive over the hill and get a burger for a buck fifty, so I'll need you to mark down your burger for me, too. Got that?”
“Sir, I cannot mark down product even if I wanted to – the system won't allow it.”
“Look, kid. I spend a lot at this place – you should know me, or you haven't been working here very long. If you have to, ring me up for a junior burger, but make sure I get the double bacon combo. It's not that hard.”
I took a breath – what an idiot. “Sir, that would be stealing and I would be fired. If you want the bacon combo, I can certainly place that order.”
“Look you stupid fucker, this isn't that hard. You guys gave me crap food last time and I expect you to make good on it. I can go right over the hill to get better food, cheaper. So quit fucking with me and start making my sandwich, bitch.”
I was getting pissed by this time. It had been a long day. “What size, sir?”
“Extra large,” he said, sounding satisfied.
“Extra large bacon combo. Six-thirty-eight is your total, please drive up.”
“Don't you fucking charge me, you little asswipe! I'll call your fucking corporate office and get you fired! I told you, over the hill has better and cheaper – you're lucky I bother coming here!”
“Okay, Karen,” I said agreeably. “Then you go over the fucking hill and get your food.”
I heard tires squeal and moments later a middle-aged guy with thinning hair stormed into the restaurant. “Where's the fucking manager?”
Theresa looked up from the tray she was loading with food. She handed it to the customer and then turned her attention to the guy. “Is there a problem, sir?”
“Your staff sucks ass! That little motherfucker told me he'd replace my shit meal from the last time I was here. I told him the food over the hill is way better and cheaper, and that little fuck told me to go over there and get my fucking food, then!”
Theresa turned and looked at me over her shoulder. “Did you tell him to go over the hill?”
I looked her in the eye. “Yes.”
The corner of her mouth curled. “Good boy.”
She turned back to face the customer. “A drive-through person would never supply you with a replacement meal without a receipt – especially that employee. Take your language and your attitude and get out of my store before I call the police.”
His face contorted in rage. “Fuck you! I'll never be back here again! You'll be out of business in no time!”
“If it means not seeing you again, it can't come too soon,” Theresa said. “Now, bye-bye.”
He snarled, turned on his heel and stomped out the door, slamming it open. Moments later I heard tires squeal. She looked back at me.
“No one gets paid enough to put up with that. But don't make it a habit.”
The next few hours were uneventful, which I was grateful for. Things went steadily, but then business died. I was working steadily, minding my own business, when it all changed. Of course it had to, but I wasn't sure how to handle the change. Brax came in with his arm around Alessia and Cole followed, holding the door for Haylee. Did she know yet? Had she known before? Is that why she was protective of me?
“Bruh, wish you hadn't had to leave,” Brax said as they reached the counter.
I gave him a little smile and nodded at him. Alessia looked at me with a pleased expression on her face – and then her expression turned stony. “What did she do?”
Shit. I guess my eyes must still be red or something. “Not now.”
She stared at me. She started to open her mouth, but I beat her to it.
“I swear to God, Allie, if you don't drop this right this second I will never speak to you again.”
Her eyes went wide. There was a measurable pause before her eyes narrowed. “Later, then.”
“Later,” I agreed.
She looked at me again.
“'Less? I have to go to the bathroom. Come with me?” Haylee asked. Alessia waited a beat.
“Sure. Come on.”
The girls headed away and Brax let out a low whistle. “Bruh – Drew, my man. You have been helping me avoid that look and that tone. I am so grateful right now to know what you've been saving me from. That was nuclear. I'm going to walk funny for a week and that look wasn't even aimed at me.”
Cole stood behind him, just to his left. He was studying my face, but staying quiet.
“Do you know what you want to order?” I asked Brax.
“Gotta wait for the girls,” he said with a little smile. “Hey, you want to hang out tomorrow? Cole's going to help me snow blow after we drop the girls off and stay over. We're going to hang out and play some video games and eat junk food. Want to join us?”
I looked away for a moment. It was on the tip of my tongue to say no, due to my mother. But then there was the no I had to tell him since his girlfriend would be in full meltdown by tonight. I guess I should warn him.
Looking back to him I said, “I think Alessia will need you tomorrow. Thanks, though.”
A look of curiosity settled on his face. “Any idea what I'm going to be dealing with?”
I pursed my lips. “Sorry, Brax.”
He nodded his head slowly. The girls reappeared and Haylee said she really wasn't hungry. A discussion ensued and they eventually left without getting anything.
I clocked out and cashed my check. I purposely shredded my pay stub and threw it away. This time I was keeping what I had earned. After donning my coat I popped my headphones in and stepped outside, and was beyond shocked to see Teo's car in the lot. What could he want? A tremor of anxiety ran through me, and settled into the pit of my stomach. Teo climbed out of the car and waved to me.
“Drew. Come on, it's cold.”
Well, it has to happen some time. I walked to his car, trying to get a read on him. Teo had gotten mad at me once in a while over the years – and I with him. We'd never really come to blows or anything. Because of that I really didn't think of him as a violent person. I won't say I thought he would leave me dead in a ditch somewhere, but I worried that the thought did cross his mind.
He climbed back in and I sat down carefully on the passenger seat.
“How'd it go?” he asked. Before I could reply, he said, “Fuck that. No small talk, right? This is a fucked situation.”
I cleared my throat. “Yeah.”
“I am so pissed at my dad for cheating, Drew. You don't even know. It makes total sense now why my mom never goes anywhere with us. All she does is sit in her room.” He paused. “You know what I found out? They don't even sleep together. She sleeps on the floor every night, rather than sleep with him. He actually expected me to be sympathetic.”
I glanced at him. “Why doesn't she...leave? I mean...it has to kill her with my mother and...and me next door.”
He snorted and shook his head. “God. That's why. God says marriage is forever, she says.”
I made no comment. I guessed things were more or less okay with Teo and me, since he was giving me a ride home and talking to me. He was also driving the correct way to go home, so no worries about dropping me in the middle of nowhere to freeze to death. Mostly.
“I'm sorry,” I said, though I wasn't sure what I was sorry for. That we had a mess to contend with? That his mother was cheated on? That my mother was the one his father cheated with? I wasn't sure. Maybe all of it.
“You have nothing to be sorry for,” he said.
We pulled up to a stop light and I looked over at him. “Teo?”
“Why did you kiss me?”
He glanced at me and gave me a small smile before the light changed and he accelerated through the intersection.
“Truth? When I saw you in Alessia's room the other day, you seemed kind of appreciative of how I looked. You blushed and it was cute. I thought, 'You know, it sucks no one has ever kissed this boy,' and I figured, what the heck?”
He chuckled. “No. Probably my narcissism and thinking you looked cute like that, and hey it was a shame. You should have had a string of boyfriends by now, if it weren't for your mom.”
I nodded slowly. Well, that wasn't the worst reasoning, I guess. “And the second time?”
He tapped his fingers on the wheel. “You may find this hard to believe, but...I think that there are these rare moments in life. Little slices of perfection when someone looks their very best. Like, apex cute. When I ran up to give you back your phone and you turned to look at me, you had flushed cheeks from the cold and your lips were slightly parted. Your eyes were kind of wet, and I was just struck that you were the most adorable boy-next-door in that moment.”
My cheeks felt hot, but I nodded. “I know what you mean. Sometimes a person looks just right.”
“Exactly. No more of that, though. It's kind of...ick, you know? You're my brother. Even though we can't get preggers, it's not really on my to-do list.”
I snorted. “You date older guys anyway. I wasn't sure why you were kissing me. It was confusing.”
“I'm sorry, bud. I can be an asshole sometimes, I guess. I didn't think you'd mind too much since you were single.”
“No, it wasn't that I minded. I was just confused.” I hesitated. “Does Alessia know?”
“She should, or will when she gets home. I told Dad he had just the one chance to explain to her before I did.”
I pressed my hands together. “He must be angry.”
Teo let out a breath. “He's too busy dealing with his kids who are angry at him. Are you pissed at him?”
I shrugged. “I don't know. I'm mad at my mom. I guess, maybe, he did what he could. I'm guessing he doesn't believe in divorce either, so...it wasn't the worst thing he could have done, I suppose.”
He pulled up in front of his house. I reached down to unbuckle the seat belt and he asked, “So, you got your eye on any guys?”
“No one serious,” I said.
“Anyone you think is hot, though? Brax could be a nice specimen in a few years.” He winked suggestively and we both laughed.
“Brax is nice enough looking, and a decent guy. He's a good friend, I think. I don't...really feel like that for him, though. I mean,” I said quickly, “I like him a lot.”
“Yeah, I get it. You don't have to get a boner over every attractive guy.”
I nodded, guessing that was close enough for this conversation. He patted my shoulder and I nodded at him with a tight smile. We said goodnight and I went home. I kicked off my shoes and barely glanced at the living room before climbing the stairs. After a shower I settled in on my bed, but I wasn't really tired yet.
Idly I wondered what it would be like to go on a date with a guy. The movies, maybe. We could share snacks and maybe hold hands. If we were really bold, maybe make out during the movie – but movies were kind of expensive, so maybe only make out if it's a streaming thing or something. Yeah. I felt a little jealous of Alessia and Brax – or more accurately, their relationship. I never felt alone when they were dating, but I kind of wanted some of that for myself.
I heard a door close downstairs, and it sounded like the back door that led into our kitchen. Moments later stairs were being climbed, it sounded like two at a time. Alessia burst into my room, loudly enough that I sat up. I was worried it might have been my mother for a second, even though the sound of the door didn't make sense in that context.
Her eyes locked on me. “That fucker.”
I pulled my legs back, sitting Indian style. She walked over quickly, climbing onto my bed and sitting with her legs splayed behind her in a 'w' shape. She stared at me, but I didn't know what to say.
“Did you ask your mom what happened?” she asked.
I shook my head slowly. “I was too busy being angry at her for keeping me a prisoner all this time. Punishing me for her mistakes.”
She pursed her lips. “It couldn't have been the only time.”
“What do you mean?”
“Think about it. The one time he cheats, he gets a woman pregnant? Cheaters are cheaters. Who knows if there are any other siblings out there.”
I nodded my head slowly, still not sure which direction she was headed in. “So...you're pissed?”
“I screamed at him,” she said, her voice dropping. “I don't remember the last time I screamed at my father.”
I felt bad for her. Everyone got shocked today.
“I don't understand something,” she said.
“Just one thing?”
“Well, one major thing. He said something that made me think Teo was making him tell me, or he'd tell me himself. The thing is, how did any of this come out? How did Teo find out?”
I frowned. “Didn't he – I mean, he's home, right?”
“No,” she said, sounding like she was pouting. “Hector called. I think there was some kind of booty call going on. I think Teo went just to get out of the house. I mean, Hector is kind of hot, but you know how Teo feels about people not knowing who he is and him knowing who they are. He's not about staying with someone for looks.”
I nodded and let out a breath. “Well, he mercy kissed me the other day.”
“He – what?!”
I nodded. “Um. When I went to get your bag from your room. He was in the hallway in just his underwear and, I guess, I was appreciating the view.”
She dropped her chin. “You were checking out Teo? Teo? Drew! Even before this you were like a brother! Eww!”
I frowned at her.
“What happened? He kissed you?”
I shrugged. “He said it was a shame I'd never been kissed.”
“Well, yeah. Shouldn't have been him, though. That was days ago, how does that lead to tonight?”
I sighed again. “When he dropped me off he, um, did it again. My mom caught us and she lost her shit.” I cleared my throat. “She screamed at me inside that we were brothers and it was sick. I guess your dad's reaction was odd enough that Teo must have pushed him for an explanation. Got more than he bargained for.”
“Well, yeah. I mean, double eww once you found out.” She paused and tilted her head. “Did you...like it?”
I tilted my head to one side and brought up one shoulder in a half-shrug. “It wasn't impressive. I was confused. I thought kissing would be, like, sparks and stars in your eyes and stuff. It wasn't, though.”
She studied me for a moment. “It's because he wasn't right for you. I bet something in you recognized that he wasn't right for you. Some little part of you that recognized he was related. People get strange senses about things sometimes.”
“Maybe,” I said. “So...how are you feeling about all this?”
“Ugh. My father is a pig. I like that my bestie is my brother, though. I'll never lose you, now.”
I looked up at her in surprise. “Really?”
She looked offended. “Did you think I'd hold this against you or something? Drew! We've known each other our entire lives! We've shared secrets. Our lives are, like, incomplete without the other. For crying out loud, I showed you when Bryce Crandall sent me his dick pic!”
I grinned. “It was a nice picture.”
“Too bad he was a bigger dick than the one hanging between his legs,” she said and snorted. She looked at me for a quiet moment. “What about you? How are you feeling?”
“Like I said – angry. My mother has beaten me, bullied me and kept me a virtual prisoner. She was projecting all her problems onto me. I told her I'm done listening to her. I just hope I'm...you know, able to stick to that. I'm kind of used to what she does to me.”
“I'll help you,” she said confidently.
I smiled wanly. We talked for a little while longer, then we watched a video or two that she had saved on her phone. She finally headed back to her house because she was yawning, but I felt good by then. I had my brother and sister on my side, and I knew I wouldn't have to face any of this crap alone – or anything else, for that matter.