“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.