It’s the sun in my face that wakes me up, like usual. Ever since I was little and made my Dad read Goodnight Moon to me every night for six months straight, I’ve liked to sleep with my shades open, so I can see the moon and the stars before I drift off. Unfortunately, I pay for it with an east-facing window, and six a.m. wake-up calls. Cees could sleep through the apocalypse, but as soon as that light hits my face I’m done for.
There’s a knock on my door; Mom, I’d wager, it’s like she’s got a copy of my sleep schedule taped to the fridge. “I made breakfast,” she chirps, the ultimate in morning people, “You should get dressed if you’re going to come pick up your brother.”
“He too good for a taxi?” I grunt, throwing off the covers and scouring around for my jeans. There’s a pair of Ceasar’s I ‘borrowed’ when he was home for Christmas, hanging off my desk chair, so I decide to wriggle into those and see if he notices. You wouldn’t know it to look at him, born-and-bred beach bum that he is, but the guy is real particular about his jeans, and I hope he won’t notice the faded grass stain on the knee.
I’m still pulling on a t-shirt as I shuffle into the kitchen, drawn by the unmistakeable smells of french toast and bacon. “Did you remember to buy icing sugar?” I ask, and Dad pointedly raises the shaker and sprinkles some on the plate mom’s set for me. Grinning, I practically dive into breakfast, scarfing it down in record time and asking for thirds. Afterwards I ask if anyone’s fed Hen and of course no one has, it’s always on me to feed Ceasar’s stupid chicken, so I go do that, and then it’s off to the airport, and the stupid crowds, and waiting for an hour at the arrival gates because Mom doesn’t want to risk even the slightest chance of not being there with open arms when her baby steps off the plane.
I’m a little startled when Ceasar finally drags himself through the gates; he cut his hair pretty short since Christmas, though it’s still longer than mine is, and the blue tips he’s had since the eighth grade are nowhere to be seen. Trying to look like a responsible adult, I suppose. I’m not sure how I feel about it. Mom practically sprints to go hug him, and Dad’s not too far behind. I hang around for a minute, trying not to look too too stoked, and once Ceasar’s untangled himself from our parents he casually strolls over to me, and we do this manly little half-hug thing and I am kind of wondering if we’re being idiots, but if we are I blame it on hormones anyway so who gives a fuck.
“You stole my jeans,” he says.
“Borrowed,” I tell him.
“Where’s Ice?” Mom asks, craning her neck above the crowd. “Oh, back there! What’s he waiting for?”
“He didn’t want to interrupt our reunion,” Ceasar says, and Mom scoffs and beckons Ice over, or something, her gesture is little more than a wild flailing of her arms but I think he gets the point, anyway, because he picks up his bag and sheepishly makes his way over.
God, this asshole. Ceasar’s totally crazy about him so I gotta welcome him to Cali with a great big smile on my face but this asshole, goddamn. Now of course, anyone who’d ever met the guy would probably be looking at me all “How can you even hate this guy, this guy is the nicest guy,” and yeah, he’s a pretty alright dude under most contexts I’d wager, though his total thickheadedness makes me want to wring his neck more often than not. But the fact of the matter is, my twin brother, my best bud and the best all-around person you could ever hope to meet aside from yours truly, is madly in love with the guy. And I know Ice knows it, and I suspect Ice knows I know it and that in general facts are known by all parties involved. And this asshole, this goddamn asshole, pretty much eggs him on for no other reason I can figure than he takes some kind of sick entertainment from it. He’s never accepted him or rejected him, instead he’s all, “Oh hey Ceasar let’s go rock out with our cocks out in the steam room so you can stare at my hot bod like I know you want to every day and oh by the way how about you let me stay in your guestroom all summer?”
Fucker. He’s getting the middle seat on the way home, until I remember that would have Ceasar getting all giddy over this idiot again and we’re not having any of that, thanks much. They both look a little pissed off when I squeeze in between them, and I consider my mission accomplished.
* * *
I have work so it’s Thursday afternoon before the three of us manage to get to the beach together, though Ceasar’s been going every single morning since he got back. It’s a scorcher out, the heat waves are hitting early this year, and Cees is on some environmental kick again so we’ve got to walk the ten blocks to the beach instead of driving there in my nice, air-conditioned car like normal people. I opt to leave my surfboard at home, taking my skimboard instead and doubting I’ll even have the energy to use that after slogging across all this hot pavement. Ice is carrying Ceasar’s, and doing a real poor job of it, too, nearly flattens me with it whenever he turns to talk to him. When we finally hit the sand, I casually trip him, and Ceasar glares at me, and I just look at him all “What, me? Do I look like the kind of guy who would do such a thing?” and he rolls his eyes and helps Ice up. I’m not very good at faking nice, I guess, or maybe he just knows all my tricks by now.
Ceasar tries to teach Ice how to surf, but the guy is about as terrible at standing on the board as he is at carrying it. I watch the first few wipeouts with some amusement, but you can only watch a dude fall into the water so many times before it gets old, so I take my board and skim for a little bit, catch a couple good waves before I get bored of that too and prop my board up in the sand. “I’m going to just swim a bit!” I call out, “He can use my board if he wants to!”
“He’ll kill himself doing that!” Ceasar calls back, which of course just makes Ice want to try it more, and so I watch him wipe out doing that half a dozen times between drifting on my back and doing handstands. Before long I cut myself on a rock, though, and with a yelp I paddle in and crawl to where we spread out our towels, defeated.
Shortly after, Ice has a truly terrific tumble and scrapes his elbows all up, and he joins me at the towels. “Girls,” Ceasar scoffs at us.
“That’s salt water, you jackass!” I tell him.
Ceasar laughs and picks up his board. “Let me show you ladies how it’s done,” he says, running to the water and paddling out towards the waves. He must practice a lot at Sanya, more than he lets on, because his form is excellent, way better than the last time I saw him surf. When the wave comes he stands up and claims it, dominates it, like it’s just a ripple in a pond, like he’s part of the ocean, and fuck, no matter how much I practice I will never be as good at this as him.
I look over at Ice, expecting to see him flirting with the girls sitting nearby since, hell, that’s what I’m planning on doing as soon as my cocky brother’s done showboating. I’m surprised, then, when I see that he’s just sitting there, staring at Ceasar out on the water with this dopey smile on his face. Ceasar’s close enough now that I can see him laughing, and he waves, and Ice waves right back, full of energy.
“Are you boys here alone?” a girl asks me, and I turn my attention to her pink bikini top.
* * *
Ice’s birthday is six days after ours, so Mom decides to save the big bash for the Friday right in between. You might think I’d be pissed about sharing, but I’ve always preferred the quiet celebration to the rowdy party on the weekend, so it doesn’t bother me much. Mom sneaks in at about five in the morning to pull down my blinds, the rustling wakes me up but I try not to let her notice. I lie there reading until ten a.m., when I smell our birthday breakfast cooking, chocolate chip pancakes for me and waffles for Ceasar.
We open up gifts right after, impatient as always. From Ceasar there’s the Celtic history book I had loudly professed interest in when we went shopping a few days ago, and from Mom and Dad there’s a pack of classic horror movies and my wristwatch, miraculously repaired. Ceasar grins when he opens his gift from me, a marine biology book that he’d professed his own love for at the book store. Mom and Dad got him a couple of new video games, and he squeals, and he’ll deny it if I call him on it. He drags Ice off to play them, and I head to the porch to read in blissful solitude.
It’s late evening, still barely dark out, and I don’t mean to see anything, that is to say, I’m not a snoop, not in normal circumstances. I’m mawing down on the chocolate cupcakes Mom got in lieu of birthday cake, and suddenly I remember I left my book outside. It’s not supposed to rain or anything, but I still don’t want to leave it out there at the mercy of stray cats and morning dew, so I clomp downstairs to get it.
It’s when I get out to the porch that I spy them, sitting in the backyard near the lime tree that’s never produced a single fruit. They’re huddled right close together, and I can’t hear what they’re saying, they’re talking so quiet. I see Ice hand something to Ceasar, it looks like a small box but even in the light of this late dusk I can’t really tell. Ice is rubbing the back of his neck in that “Aw shucks” way he has, and even from back here I can tell my brother is so happy he just might die right under that tree. When I see him later, passing each other with a sleepy “Happy Birthday” in the hall, he’s wearing a silver ring on his thumb.
* * *
Ceasar crashed at Nick’s last night, so I’m out checking on Hen, filling her feeder and scattering some pomegranate seeds for her to munch on, her favorite treat. Ceasar will try to tell you she likes grapes better but who’s been feeding her all this time, what does he know?
I see Ice shuffling across the yard towards me, but I ignore him, not seeing any reason to change gears on him now. He leans against the coop, arms crossed, and just kind of watches me in silence for awhile as I clean out Hen’s bedding. I’m hoping he’ll go away, doubting that he will, is he going to say something or what?
“Ceasar says you’re into the occult and stuff,” Ice says just as I’m getting ready to bolt back inside.
“I performed my share of voodoo rituals,” I tell him, “Henrietta here can attest to that.” Hen ruffles her feathers and stalks off; apparently she get touchy about that particular incident.
Ice comes and sits down beside me, and I sigh and lean back on my hands. “What do you think about prophecy and fate and that kind of thing?” he asks me. “If you know something’s supposed to happen, can you change that thing?”
“I guess that depends whether you’re Oedipus or Scrooge,” I joke, but he just gives me this quizzical look and I guess classic literature is asking a little too much of him, maybe I should have gone with Marty McFly, though that’s not really the same thing. “If something’s destined to happen it’s going to happen,” I tell him, “That’s kind of the definition. And just because you think something’s destined to happen, well, maybe someone’s just playing you so the actual thing that’s destined to happen will happen.”
“Written somewhere else in bigger letters, underlined twice,” Ice mutters, leaning back on the grass, and hey, maybe I should give the guy a little credit after all. “I don’t know what to do about your brother.”
“Reject him so I can introduce him to a nice girl who puts out,” I say. The sun’s beating down on us pretty hard by now, I can feel the burn starting on the back of my neck.
Ice nods, serious, like he’s never heard a rib before. “That would be better, right?” he reasons. “A couple of kids and a house just like this one.” He smiles weakly at me, not the bravado grin but something smaller, and for the first time since I met him I think that maybe he’s not really an asshole, maybe he’s just an idiot like any teenage boy, like me. “I don’t want him to,” he says, “I’m here right now and I love him right now.”
“Then why the hell are you here talking to me?” I ask.
* * *
They’re holding hands when they tell our parents that they’re looking for a place closer to campus. Mom shrieks and starts laughing and crying and hugging them both, and Dad ruffles Ceasar’s hair, and I just kind of wonder how long before being an idiot catches up with us all.