“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.”