The boys had never seen their grandpa so coldly furious with them. The ride home from the pizza parlor was spent in intense silence. Rocky gritted his teeth, itching to turn around and yell at Colt for instigating another fight yet again, and this time pulling their little brother into the fray. What was he thinking?
Grandpa parked the car and turned off the engine with sharp angry movements, jerking the keys out of the ignition. “You three, go sit on the bench.” He ordered tersely. “I am going to call the pizza parlor and try to salvage the situation.”
Glumly, they did as they were told. Colt managed to hold his silence until they sat down.
“They started it, Rocky!” The words burst out of him before the older boy could speak. “I’m not stupid, and I don’t have problems controlling my temper, no matter what dad says.” He scowled briefly. Sam Douglas Sr. had always been hard on his middle son, lecturing him about his temper and willingness to fight. “Dad still doesn’t get it, and neither does grandpa. I hate bullies, Rock – like Darren Jerkins and his goon squad at home, and those three hick cowboys today. Three grown men, harassing and putting hands on that girl, and no one did or said anything about it. They poured soda on her, and threw her down on the ground in front of a room full of adults.” Colt’s voice was filled with scorn. “And every single one of those adults sat back down quietly and looked away when the leader challenged them to say something.” He met his brother’s gaze, his own hazel green eyes dark with anger. “So I said and did something about it. That’s not being hotheaded, that’s just common sense!”
“He’s right, Rocky.” Tum spoke up, his tone somber and earnest. “Grandpa taught us to protect and stand up for those who can’t. That’s what we were doing. Besides, they threw the first punch, so it was self-defense, really. A bunch of goons vs two kids. So why are we getting punished for it?”
Rocky groaned, his anger subsiding. He should’ve known that it was something like that. “Fine.” He said. “I get it. I’ll stand with you. But Colt, you really have to – “
“-control my temper, yes I know.” Colt finished impatiently. “My control is just fine. If I see a situation like that, I’m not gonna just stand by like everyone else did!”
Rocky sighed. “Grandpa’s really mad this time though.” He pointed out.
All three boys involuntarily looked up to the kitchen windows, where they could see him pacing and gesturing as he talked to someone on the phone.
“…Yes. That’s a good idea. The boys will be down there first thing in the morning.”
Rocky and Colt exchanged a look; that didn’t sound like good news. They both straightened up as their grandfather came outside, while Tum moved to sit between them. No matter the outcome, they would show a united front and take the punishment dictated.
As it turned out, Grandpa was more concerned and angry over the scene he had walked in on of the three boys in the center of an adoring crowd, praising them for fighting. The resulting lecture was a mix of warning – “You’re getting too cocky!”- mild threat – “maybe I should stop giving you ninja lessons…” – and obscure lesson – “listen to the sound of the flowers blooming. Only then will you be able to walk the correct path.” Overall though, they had gotten off fairly easy, though Colt was still a bit irritated at the overreactions.
Grandpa hadn’t even given him a chance to explain why he was fighting! He hadn’t been thinking about wanting to ‘play hero’, as the older man assumed; at least not for a bunch of strangers. They had actually gotten in the way of the teen’s original goal – to talk to the pretty Native American girl from the protests who had been the catalyst for this whole mess in the first place. What did he care about a bunch of adults who were intimidated by three lunkhead cowboys?
Colt sighed heavily, punching his pillow as he turned on his side, facing away from his brothers.
“Colt. You awake?”
Colt turned back over to look at Rocky. “Yeah. Can’t sleep.”
“Me either.” Rocky propped his head on his arm, turning more on his side so he wouldn’t wake Tum Tum, who was snoring softly next to him. “Still thinking about earlier?”
“It’s not fair, Rock!” The words burst out of him again, rife with frustration. “I wasn’t trying to be a hero, or doing it for attention! I was just doing the right thing, when no one else would!” Why didn’t anyone understand that?
“Shh!” Rocky warned. “It’s okay, Colt. I told you I get it. Grandpa’s wrong about this one.” That surprised Colt into silence; Rocky usually believed that their grandpa could do no wrong. “But this isn’t a battle that we can win. So we go clean up our mess, because if the manager was too scared to say anything to those guys about harassing that girl in the first place, then they sure as heck aren’t going to blame them for destroying the parlor or dare to ask them to clean up their mess and pay for the damages.” He pointed out logically. “And we let grandpa think he has taught us a lesson. Okay?”
“You just said that Grandpa was wrong.”
“Go to sleep, Colt.”
“You never do that. Mister always-follow-the-rules, I-am-stone and never react to anything, Rock-bot just admitted that our all-knowing wise sensei grandfather was wrong.” Colt pretended to wipe a tear from his eyes. “I’m so proud.”
Rocky thumped him in the face with his pillow. “Shut up and go to sleep, jerk.” He pointedly closed his eyes, willing himself to take his own advice, but sleep wouldn’t come.
Stone. Rock. Cool. Composed. Steady. Rocky had always been an observer, a thinker. An ‘old soul’, his mom had called him once. He liked those descriptions, and was proud of his ability to observe, think, and assess a situation instead of charging straight into the chaos, as Colt often did. It was annoying and exasperating, but that was just who his younger brother was; full of life and energy, inherently confident in his own abilities, the same way his wild namesake was. Rocky had learned the hard way a long time ago that it was easier to suggest rather than outright order when it came to his impulsive younger brother. Orders and lectures just made him dig his heels in and more determined to do things his way just to prove you wrong. Unfortunately, the wilder Colt got over the years, the more Rocky had to be like the stone he was named for; unmovable, unyielding force to stand against the wind.
Sometimes it was boring though, always being the voice of reason. What if Rocky wanted to be the wild one, with the crazy ideas and impulsive decisions? His eyes shot open. What if he started acting more like Colt? The main reason his younger brother got away with some of his antics was because Rocky was there to pull him back. But what if Rocky turned the tables on him? Made him actually be the logical, thoughtful one for once. The teen smirked into the dark. He didn’t know if he would actually go through with his secret plan, but it was amusing to think about. Grandpa always reminded them that a ninja was equal parts mind, body, spirit, and heart, but somehow he had been designated as ‘mind’ only, while Colt embodied the spirit aspect. But his brother was intelligent and observant, while Rocky could be passionate and instinctual. Maybe they just needed the right opportunities to show it.
Rocky quickly forgot about his hazy what-if plan to be more impulsive and instinctive in an effort to get his brother to act more responsible, yet somehow Colt managed to do it all on his own. Maybe it was age, maybe something had just ‘clicked’ in the inexplicable ways of adolescence, but the two boys worked more smoothly than they ever had as a team over the next few days, planning and executing a rescue mission for Jo’s father (and later Jo herself) almost flawlessly, and being a big part of the obstacles that eventually foiled Jack Harding’s evil scheme of dumping illegal waste in the landfill.
The Indian reservation had been exceedingly grateful, and had ultimately shown that appreciation in the best way possible. Someone – Rocky suspected at Jo’s suggestion – had struck a deal with Doty’s Pizza Parlor on their behalf. Free pizza and unlimited game tokens for every visit for the rest of their lives. Even Tum had declared he was full – after consuming three medium pan pizzas loaded with anchovies, all by himself. Rocky and Colt had made him sleep downstairs on the couch that night, declaring that they couldn’t stand the smell. They had also chased him around with water balloons, as part of a ‘moving target exercise’, and to ‘help’ him rid himself of the last lingering remnants of the fishy smell. Grandpa had even the odds and given Tum a Super Soaker to return fire. The fight was eventually called a draw, and the older boys had let their younger sibling back into the loft.
The rest of the summer had flown by, between ninja training and Colt’s budding romance with Jo. For all of their teasing, Rocky and Tum actually liked her, mainly because she made a conscious effort to not interrupt their dynamic or relationship with their brother. She was also just as willing to team up with Tum for a baking day (and flour fight), or teach Rocky about the different types of birds and critters that habituated the reservation. She also taught Colt how to ride a horse, which he was terrified of at first but quickly took a liking to.
All in all, it was one of the best summers that the boys could remember having.
“Rocky. Phone for you.” Grandpa called, causing the teen to look up from where he was fiercely battling Tum in Mortal Kombat.
“Okay. Be there in a sec.” He replied, tossing the controller to Colt, who immediately took over with the ease of long practice. “I get my full turn when I get back!” he said, leaping over the back of the couch and going to the phone. “Hello?”
“Hey, Rock. Didn’t know if I would catch you before you guys came back.” The familiar voice of his friend Ethan filled his ear, making the teen grin.
“Oh, hey E. We’ll be back tomorrow. What’s up?” he said cheerfully, only half listening as he watched as Colt finally killed Tum’s character. “Yes! My title stands undefeated!”
“Rocky, have you talked to Emily at all this summer?” Ethan said, regaining his attention.
“No, but I never do while we’re here. Reception is pretty bad, so we’re only supposed to give this number to close friends and family. No girls.” He answered dryly. “Why?”
Ethan sighed. “You may want to make an exception to that rule, my man…”
“I can’t believe I’m gonna be in sixth grade!” Tum Tum bounced excitedly in his seat, his words as always slightly garbled by the piece of candy in his mouth.
“Yeah. One more year and you might even be considered a real boy, instead of a human candy disposal.” Colt teased.
“Shut up, spaz,” Tum retorted. “I’m a growing boy.”
“You’re a bottomless pit.”
Rocky ignored their playful bickering, instead turning his gaze to stare at the passing scenery as they drove ever closer to home. He missed the questioning look his siblings exchanged, even as they continued their back and forth banter.
The reason for his uncharacteristic moodiness became apparent when they pulled onto the street where they lived. As always, Colt was keeping an eye out for the bright blonde hair of Emily Anderson, Rocky’s on again off again girlfriend, and their neighbor. He started to cat call, expecting her to look up and smile as she did every year when they drove by coming home from their Grandpa’s, but the sound died on his lips when he saw who she was with. Rocky shot him a warning look, having seen the same thing, and shook his head, a silent order. Colt glared back, an equally warning retort that the brothers would be talking about this later.
Tum Tum, however, missed their exchange, and frowned. “Hey, isn’t that Emily? What’s she doing with Darren Jerkins little brother? And – ew! They’re kiss-” He grunted as Colt elbowed him hard. “Oh! Um, hey! Dad’s car isn’t in the driveway. Grandpa, are you gonna stay for dinner?” He said quickly, trying to cover his mistake.
“I will stay, as long as it is not pizza.” Mori readily answered, which led to playful protests from his youngest grandsons.
They finally pulled into their driveway, and the boys jumped out, grabbing their duffel bags. Rocky headed for the garage instead of the front door, Colt hot on his heels.
“Colt, let it go.” He said tiredly, huffing as his brother blocked his path.
“No. What happened?” Colt said evenly. “Does this have to do with that phone call you got from E?” His brother had returned to the video game only a few moments after speaking to Ethan, but something had been off for the rest of the night.
“He was calling me to give me a heads up about…that.” Rocky shrugged nonchalantly. “Whatever. I made my choice, and she made hers. It’s done.”
They faced off, nearly identical in stance, body, and build, despite the ten month age difference. Colt’s perpetually messy, slightly long sandy brown hair and tanned skin brought out the hints of green in his hazel brown eyes, whereas Rocky was of a slightly paler complexion, with lighter hair and more blue than green in his eyes.
“Rocky.” Colt warned, his voice hard. “Either you tell me, or I go over there and find out for myself.”
The older boy sighed heavily, because he knew that his hot-headed younger brother wasn’t bluffing.
“What. Did. She. Say?”
“Why are you pushing this so hard?” Rocky demanded, shoving him away.
Colt let him do it, then shoved right back. “Because, jerkass, I know you almost better than anyone. You’re gonna internalize whatever she said and let it eat at you, because you are stone and invincible and a perfectionist and a control freak. But not even stone can stand forever against the wind, so just tell me so we can go inside and laugh at Grandpa grumbling about being out numbered on deciding on pizza for dinner.”
Rocky narrowed his eyes, but Colt merely raised his brows and waited.
“Wind? You’re full of hot air, more like.”
“At least I don’t have rocks in my head.”
The familiar retorts relaxed them both enough to ease out of their stances and stand more normally. Rocky’s shoulders slumped slightly, as he ran a hand through his hair. “We got into a fight before we left for the summer. She was mad because I chose to go to Grandpa’s instead of staying here with her.”
Colt’s jaw dropped. “But…we’ve been going to Grandpa’s every summer since we were five!”
“Well, we’re fifteen now, and about to be freshmen, even though we’re still in junior high. This is year that makes or breaks our reputations, apparently.” Rocky said dryly. “And since I chose my brothers this year over supporting her trying out for cheer and drill team, she decided that she would find someone ‘willing to invest physically and emotionally’ in a relationship.” He shook his head as his brother rolled his eyes. “Also, dating Darren Jenkin’s little brother means that he and his goon squad won’t steal your bike or try to bully you out of your lunch money.” He grimaced. “Ethan called last night before we left to give me a heads up, otherwise it would’ve been news to me too when we drove by.” He had been watching for the couple as they drove up the street, knowing his ex-girlfriend couldn’t resist being out there to gauge his reaction. For that reason alone, he had made a point of not reacting, and enjoyed the scowl that marred her face as she glared at their retreating figures.
“That conniving, two faced, scheming little – ”
“Colt!” Rocky snapped, grabbing his arm, but couldn’t help the reluctant grin. “It’s done. Let it go.”
His brother glared down the street. “Aw, c’mon. Can I go short sheet her bed? I can get in and out, easy. Her parents are never home anyway. What about TP’ing her house? Or I know! I can go let all the air out of her bike tires. Let’s see her get to school on time after that!”
“C’mon, idiot. Let’s go.” Rocky rolled his eyes, turning away to grab his duffel bag. Colt watched him for a second before darting by him, jabbing him in the side on the way.
“Still too slow! Guess you’ve got rocks in your head and your feet!” he teased, taking off with his brother in hot pursuit.
Later that night, after the last ‘mom’ bed check, Rocky’s quiet voice sounded out of the dark.
Nothing else needed to be said. For all of their bickering and competing over the years, they both knew that they would always watch out for and protect each other, physically and emotionally – even when their sibling insisted that he didn’t need it. Of all the many lessons they had learned from their grandfather, this one was ingrained in them almost from birth, and had never needed to be vocalized.
The boys were up early the next morning out of habit, not eagerness to get to school. Well, Rocky and Colt weren’t eager; Tum was still bouncing and excited, literally riding circles around his older brothers as they got their bikes out of the garage. His enthusiasm was contagious, and within a few minutes the older boys had shaken off their pensive mood. Colt whooped and raced past his brother, darting into the fenced off construction area. Spurred on by the challenge, Rocky laughed and tore past him to the first improvised bike jump, catching a nice bit of air and enjoying the shock that ran through him as he landed. Tum was old enough to take the jumps on his own now, but he was still more cautious, bypassing some of them to come out ahead of his brothers as they went through the last set. It was a thrilling feeling, being free to do whatever they wanted, just the three of them.
Breathless and joking now, the older boys dropped their sibling off at Brookdale Elementary, with strong admonitions to be waiting out front for them when school got out. The three schools: Brookdale, Kentwood Junior High, and Emerald Ridge High School, were next door to each other in a loose horseshoe shape. The elementary was in the middle, with the high school on the left and the junior high on the right. The three schools had made use of the large fields in the back, boasting a shared baseball field, football stadium and track, a soccer field, and plenty of grassy areas for sports teams of all levels.
Rocky and Colt continued to the junior high, locking their bikes up among the jumble of others already taking up space at the racks, and moved to the front steps.
“I think that this is the first time that I’ve been nervous about going back to school.” Rocky said quietly, looking up at the building.
“Why? Because of Emily?” Colt scoffed. “C’mon, man. She’s just some chick. Honestly, she’s not even cute. Everyone says that you’re supposed to lose the baby fat when you hit high school.” He grimaced. “Maybe she’s just slow…to mature.”
“Did you just call my ex girlfriend fat?” Rocky said, incredulous, finding the words surprisingly easy to say out loud for the first time.
Colt shrugged innocently, though his eyes were sparkling mischievously. “Fat and slow, if we’re going for accuracy.”
The brothers stared at each other for about three seconds, waiting. Rocky broke first, throwing his head back and as he laughed until he cried. “You’re an idiot.” he said affectionately. “But thanks. Again.”
Colt rolled his eyes, leading the way inside. “In the spirit of this weird and incredibly awkward truce that we seem to have, I will even offer this one time, take it or leave it, yes there’s fine print but no you can’t negotiate or read it, extremely generous offer. I, Colt Daniels, promise not to get into a fight with anyone today.”
Rocky stopped dead in his tracks to stare. “Wait, what?”
“You heard me. For this one school day only, 7:45am to 2:30pm, I will not instigate a fight.” Colt said blandly. “Subject to change, via the aforementioned fine print. I suggest, however, that you accept the deal in the spirit in which it was offered, because this will never happen again.”
“This is very true.” His brother snorted, leading the way inside. “Okay, if you get through the entire day without throwing a punch, I’ll buy your lunch for a week.”
“I accept the amended terms.” Colt grinned over his shoulder, only to nearly run into the pretty redhead that had stepped directly in front of him. “Oh – hey Zoe…”
“Hey Rocky, wait up!” The yell could be heard clearly over the laughter and conversations filling the hallway of Brookdale High School.
Instead of heeding the call, Ryan ‘Rocky’ Kingston laughed and increased his pace, expertly dodging kids, stacks of books on the floor, open locker doors, and other obstacles in his path. He reached his destination seconds before his pursuer, who announced his arrival with a hard punch to Rocky’s shoulder.
“Thanks a lot, Rock. Way to help your brother out in his time of need.” Christopher ‘Colt’ Kingston grumbled as he opened his locker and exchanged his books for the ones needed for first period.
Rocky snorted, restarting the process to open his own locker, which his brother had interrupted. “I told you that I was going to my locker. Not my fault that you didn’t hear me. And from the looks of things, you sure as hell didn’t need my help.” He shot Colt a sly grin. “Of course, Zoe did have her tongue down your throat at the time, so you were understandably preoccupied. It’s also rude to talk with your mouth full.”
“She ambushed me!” Colt complained. “Since she heard that Nikki and I broke up, I haven’t been able to get her off of my jock! Now I know how Bambi felt.”
“You did have a whole wild eyed, deer in headlights look when she pounced.” Rocky agreed thoughtfully, dodging another hit. “Hey, I told you to stay away from senior girls. Dating Nikki put you on all their radars. We’re only juniors, man. They’re on a whole ‘nother level.”
“Yeah well, I’ve always been an over achiever. It’s why they skipped me a grade.” Colt smirked, unrepentant. His smile widened and turned slightly sharper as he added, “Still, you could’ve run interference for me when you saw her coming earlier. How convenient that you had to find your lucky pencil for AP Calc, and it took just enough time to get up the front steps at the exact same time as Zoe.”
Rocky ducked his head into his locker so his brother couldn’t see his shit-eating grin, even though they both could hear it in his voice. “Finals are coming up! What the heck were we thinking, taking Mr. Eagle for AP Calc? That guy is vicious. I need all the help I can get.”
“You’re a business major, you jackass.” Colt snorted, rolling his eyes and glancing down the hallway behind his brother before casually picking up his bag. “You know Rock, what goes around comes around.”
“Okay, Justin Timberlake.” Rocky scoffed, shutting his locker.
Colt watched him, hiding his grin. “Dude. After all this talk about AP Calc, you do realize that you have it with me, same as always, right?”
“Yeah. Lucky pencil, remember?” Rocky twirled it between his fingers.
“That luck and those books you just shoved in your bag isn’t gonna do you no good in Mrs. E’s first period AP English, which we have right now.”
Colt wasn’t finished though. “I told you – what goes around, comes around. And oh look! Here comes that bitch karma now.”
Rocky’s head jerked around, and his eyes widened at the sight of his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend heading his way. “Shut up, Colt!” he snapped, even though his brother hadn’t said anything else.
The other boy held his hands up in defence, now snickering. “Unlike you, brother mine, I am a caring and thoughtful sibling, so I am fully prepared to stay right here and watch this go down, even if it means being late to class.” He said solemnly.
“You’re a sadistic bastard and I hate you.”
“Aww, Rock. You say the sweetest things.”
Rocky swiped at him, which he dodged easily since neither boy was really trying.
“ETA is about a minute.”
“Not helping.” Rocky muttered, finally getting his locker back open and shoving the correct books into his bag. This whole situation was ridiculous; he probably didn’t even need the books themselves, except his assignments were in them and Mrs. E liked pop quizzes nearly as much as her husband.
A hand that was not his brother’s landed on his shoulder. Rocky reacted instinctively, grabbing it in a firm grip and whirling them both so that the owner slammed hard against the lockers. The surprised feminine gasp had him changing their momentum to a controlled shove instead, one hand bringing her arm behind her to trap against the small of her back so that she arched into him, taking most of the impact on her shoulders. HIs other hand landed beside her head, instead of on her neck as he originally had intended. He moved in close, shoving one hard thigh between her legs to limit her range of motion.
“What the hell?” he snapped. “Why were you sneaking up on me?”
Amelia “Mia” Blackwell raised her chin defiantly, her dark eyes narrowed. “I wasn’t sneaking up on you! I was approaching like any normal person, and about to speak when you grabbed me It’s not my fault that you have ninja like reflexes!”
“Ninja reflexes. Not ninja like.”
They broke their glaring contest to look at Colt, leaning casually against the lockers next to them.
“What?” Mia frowned, bewildered.
“We actually are ninjas. Been training since we were six or so. Most people know me as Chris, but I’m Colt, by the way. The strong, silent, and grumpy type there is my brother Rocky. And you’re Mia Blackwell.”
Mia turned back to the boy in front of her and raised her brows. “Is this where I make some ironic comment about being stuck between a rock and hard place?” She drawled, deliberately provocative, and watched his eyes darken with interest and temper at the challenge. “Colt, will you please tell your brother that I didn’t sneak up on him so that he will let me go?”
“She’s right, Rock.” He obligingly said, his voice full of humour. “She was being normal. You’re just a bit hyper aware, that’s all.”
“Colt.” Rocky warned through gritted teeth, which only made his brother’s amusement grow.
Colt knew his brother. They had trained together from the age of six, fought side by side numerous times, and still sparred as needed. He knew Rocky’s quirks and tendencies, and his ingrained ability to assess-think-react. The fact that this girl had managed to get under his skin and somehow rile his instincts like no one else – as not even Colt had managed to do – was driving Rocky crazy, Colt knew.
“What do you want, Mia?” Rocky sighed, backing off slightly. “I don’t have time for games.”
“But you’re so much fun to play with.” She said mockingly. “Actually, I came over to help you with your impending stalker problem,” she nodded down the hallway. “But it seems that she chickened out for the moment, so crisis averted.” She glanced again, and her eyes widened. “Oh wait – spoke too soon. Ugh – don’t move!” She snapped, grabbing Rocky’s arm to hold him place. “Colt, get lost. Rocky, kiss me.”
“What?!?!” They both exclaimed.
She huffed. “I don’t have time to explain right now. Just do it!” She latched her hand around the nape of Rocky’s neck, pulling his head down to hers. His lips remained passive against her own, which wouldn’t do at all. She nipped demandingly at him, before flicking her tongue out to tease and entice. That worked enough to coax him into softening his mouth and jaw. She increased her efforts, still nibbling and licking as she surged forward to press up against him in a full body, nose to toes contact.
Rocky didn’t know why she was kissing him, but he wasn’t about to waste the breath to find out. Not when he could use that breath instead to breath her in and swallow her surprised gasp as he suddenly came alive, his large hands skimming down her sides to land low and heavy on her hips, his fingertips spread wide and skimming lightly over her ass, which tightened. He leaned into her, pressing her back into the locker and causing her to arch into him, forcing her up on her toes. She tried to pull back to breathe, to regroup and take control but he wouldn’t let her, instead giving her his own breath, chasing it into her mouth with his tongue to curl around hers in a decadent, toe curling kiss.
A crumpled-up paper ball hit him in the back of the head, distracting him enough to pull away.
“Seriously, Colt?” he groaned, as Mia thumped her forehead against his chest, her shoulders shaking with laughter. “What are you doing back here?”
“Ninja reflexes and speed, remember? Not only have I been to class and back, I also charmed Mrs. E out of a couple of these.” He held up two excused tardy passes. “I’m sorry Mia, but I couldn’t ask for another pass without explaining that no, Mrs. Eagle, my responsible older brother is not actually dropping our baby brother off at school late, he’s really making out with a hot senior girl in some convoluted girl reasoning way to get his ex-girlfriend to go away. Which worked, by the way. Emily did an abrupt about face while you two were sucking face and flounced off.”
“I’m breathing just fine, jerkass, despite choking on the partially resolved sexual tension clogging up the hallway.” Colt retorted.
Mia slipped completely out from Rocky’s embrace, deliberately moving out of reach. “Are you two always like this?” she laughed, glancing between them.
They looked at each other, then at her and shrugged. “Pretty much.”
Still laughing, she leaned back in to brush her lips up against Rocky’s cheek. “Stick to actual nice girls, handsome. Emily is on a whole ‘nother level.” She advised. “You’re too nice of a guy to get caught up again in all of that – or with me. This was just a right place, right guy, prime opportunity to piss Blondie off some. Anyway, keep your head down for a few days, and she’ll be on to something – or someone – else by Monday.” Picking up her bag, she sauntered away. “Bye, boys.”
They stared after her.
“I’ve taken out a lot of opponents, but never quite as ruthlessly as that.” Colt remarked. “I think I’m in love.”
Rocky resisted the urge to slam his head – or his brother’s head – against the lockers, and instead groaned loudly, picking up his bag. “I will never understand girls. Is it summer yet?”
“Nope. Still the first day back. First period, actually.” Colt answered cheerfully. “But hey! I haven’t gotten into a fight yet!”
They jogged up the two flights of stairs to AP English, where their teacher was waiting.
“Boys! How nice of you to finally join us.” She said pointedly. “Please take your seats and pass your homework up. You’re just in time for a pop quiz.”
Rocky dug into his bag, sighing in relief as he finally relinquished responsibility of the homework that had gotten him into this whole mess. Behind him, Colt flipped through his English book, his eyes wide, and flipped through it again before turning his bag upside down.
“Erm, Mrs. E? Can I have a pass to go to my locker? I forgot my homework…”
The sound of Rocky’s laughter followed him all the way back down stairs.
“Why did I let you talk me into taking AP Calc?” Colt hissed at Rocky an hour later as they glumly accepted the papers for Mr. Eagle’s dreaded pop quiz. “Quick, gimme your lucky pencil!”
Rocky chuckled under his breath. “I’ll help you with Calc, you help me with History, same as last semester. And we didn’t have a choice – AP classes were the only thing that dad would accept in lieu of you being sent to military school!”
Mr. Eagle shot them a warning glare over his wire rimmed glasses for talking. Colt still kicked his brother’s chair for the military school comment before they turned their attention to their work; they both knew their dad had only been half serious, and their mom wouldn’t have let him send Colt away anyway.
Third period was Chemistry – thankfully not Advanced Placement – and then it was finally time to escape to lunch. Lunch was a chance to catch up with all of their friends, who over the years had merged and overlapped with the common bond of being teammates for the summer baseball league the year before.
“C’mon Rocky – baseball try outs are next week and we need a left fielder. Jose’s deserting us for soccer.” Ethan said, tossing a wadded-up wrapper at the other boy.
Jose batted it away easily with a grin. “Sorry. It’s in my blood, more than American baseball.” He said wryly. “I think my family would disown me if I tried to do another year in baseball.”
Rocky laughed. “No thanks!” he said. “I had my fill of playing against Darren Jerkins and his goon squad last summer. The guy is a dirty player. No way am I gonna knowingly associate with that as a teammate.”
“Aww, D’s not that bad.” Mark protested, earning sardonic looks from both Douglas brothers.
“The guy has held a grudge since me n’ Rocky-“
“Rocky and I – “
“ – kicked his ass in basketball at recess when we were in sixth grade. And also for losing to us in the championships last summer.”
“That was over a year ago!” Mark protested. “He’s cool now, I swear! Here, look. Hey, Big D!” he called across the courtyard. “C’mere a sec, would ya?”
Rocky and Colt rolled their eyes at each other and stood up with identical exasperated sighs, as Ethan scolded Mark. They knew better than to give Jerkins any slight psychological or physical advantage that sitting and being trapped by the table benches would give him.
“Colt, you promised. No fighting.” Rocky warned under his breath.
“It’s not fighting if he throws the first punch. It’s self-defense.” His brother retorted, watching the older teen and Emily saunter over.
“Hey Mark. Why are you sitting over here with these losers? Come sit with the real men.” Darren wasted no time with the opening shot, his beady eyes narrowed on Rocky as Emily tittered next to him.
“Ahh, Jerkins. My day isn’t complete until I see your mean mug.” Colt sighed mockingly, rolling his eyes. “How’s that guy from Pacific healing up? Convenient that you lost control of your pitch just enough to break his nose, which allowed the Mustangs to make a miraculous comeback. I’m surprised that his parents didn’t press charges.”
“No proof, no crime.” The blonde sneered. “The guy was a wimp anyway. We won that game fair and square.”
The muffled snorts from the other boys at the table countered that statement without dignifying it with a response. Mark sighed under his breath, unable to stop the oncoming train wreck that everyone could see was approaching.
“C’mon baby.” Emily urged after a moment. “This was a waste of time. Let’s go.”
“You do get that you’re still just second best, right?” Rocky said suddenly. “You two deserve each other.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Emily snapped, glaring at him. “Darren, let’s go.”
He ignored her. “Still a sore loser, Douglas? All she talks about is how dull and boring you were.”
“Okay first of all, I have never lost to you, moron. It’s why you’re so bitter and obsessed with me and my brothers.” Rocky snapped, incensed. “Second, your girlfriend is still talking endlessly about me, even though we dated less than a year. You don’t see the problem with that?”
Colt snorted laughter from next to him, and Ethan snickered under his breath. “That’s cold, man.”
“Did you not hear the part where I said she complains about you?” Jerkins blustered angrily, clenching his fists.
“Darren, let’s go.” Emily hissed, tugging on his arm.
“Rocky, maybe I better translate. I speak Neanderthal better than you do.” Colt offered innocently.
Instantly distracted, Rocky smirked and opened his mouth. Colt’s arm shot out without him looking, aiming for his brother’s side. Rocky blocked the blow, still laughing, and gestured for him to proceed, standing back to watch the show.
“Look, you Vanilla Ice wannabe, squinty eyed dumb jock strap. Emily is a conniving little shrew.” He ignored her gasp of outrage. “She only agreed to date you in some weird convoluted girl reasoning attempt to make my brother jealous., not because she actually likes you. Just like the main reason that you’re with her is that it was another way to get Rocky’s attention. It’s certainly not because she’s going to put out or anything. Hate to break it to you.” Colt shook his head, mockingly clicking his tongue. “You really need to move on from your obsession with us. IT was bad enough in sixth grade when you had your little posse and thought you were the biggest bully on the block, but now it’s just weird, man. Just take the L and walk away.”
“Why you little – “
The bell rang, startling everyone with its shrillness and blocking out the rest of Jenkin’s furious reply. Mark stepped in before it could get physical.
“D. Walk away, bro. You can’t afford another mark on your record for fighting. You’ll be kicked off of the team.” Mark reminded him, moving between the older boy and the brothers.
He glowered, but the other boy held firm, so he shoved Mark out of the way and turned on Emily, who planted her hands on her hips and glared right back, not yielding an inch as they began to argue furiously.
“Uh oh. Trouble in paradise. Guess the honeymoon phase is over.” Ethan noted, standing up and nudging Jose. “Time to go, fellas.”
They hustled out of there before the couple could turn their combined wrath on others instead of each other, barely making it back inside the school before collapsing in helpless laughter.
“So!” Jose said brightly. “You guys want to play soccer instead?”
They were still arguing when the school day ended.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Colt said loftily, sliding down the banister of the front steps. “I did not get into a single fight today, which means that you owe me lunch all this week.”
“You called Darren Jerkins a squinty eyed wannabe Vanilla Ice dumb jock strap, and implied that Emily was only dating him to make me jealous!”
“Okay one, he does look like a Vanilla Ice reject with that stupid haircut and tail, and two, that’s exactly what she is doing!” Colt retorted. “You’re just oblivious. And no one, specifically me, threw a punch, so it wasn’t a fight.”
Rocky grumbled under his breath, watching impatiently as the crowd around the bike racks grew instead of dispersing. “Let’s cut through the fields and go get Tum and then come back.” He said instead of responding, which only made Colt crow victoriously.
“Ha! You know I’m right!”
The older boy sighed and rolled his eyes. “I begged mom and dad for a dog, but noooo…”
“You’d miss me if I was gone.”
Rocky’s hand shot out and grabbed Colt’s nose, just as their grandpa had done so many times. “Don’t be over confident,” he teased, and took off running with Colt in hot pursuit.
They continued the chase all the way to the elementary, where their little brother was supposed to be waiting out front, as they had ordered that morning. However, he was nowhere to be seen, although the faint sounds of kids yelling clued them in as to his location.
“That’s your brother.” Rocky shook his head in resignation as they ran over to the chaos.
“Does that mean you’re adopted, Mister Self Control and Discipline?” Colt retorted with a grin.
“No, it just means that I got all the good genes from Mom and Grandpa. You and Tum got Dad’s qualities.” Rocky replied, not missing a beat as they deftly wove their way to the middle of the circle. “And it means that they should’ve stopped with me. I wanted a dog, and instead I got two obnoxious brothers and a fish.”
“Hey!” Colt yelled as they approached, which distracted the bullies long enough to give Tum and his ally the opening they needed.
“Tum! Disarm and disable only.” Rocky warned. He and Colt watched as their brother soon had the three bullies yelping and hobbling away, despite the brunette pulling his blows.
“Well, that was fun.” Colt remarked. “And the first day of school fight tradition continues!”