"That's a horrible way to think about things! God, Lucas, sometimes you're just so-"
"So what? That's nothing, in the end. Just pleasantries. And anyways, you can't base anything off of someone 'being nice' to you."
Lucas and Milo sat outside in the bus shelter, waiting for the Route Seven bus to take them home. It was a quiet evening, the only sound in the air that of the occasional rustling of leaves, or the birds chirping, or the cars rushing, and really it was just a chaotic mess, but at least, Milo thought, there were no people around. Milo had decided that the time waiting for the bus would be best spent discussing something that had been on his mind for a while with Lucas. A girl he liked, in his homeroom class. He expected Lucas to have some words of wisdom about it, given his past relationships, but instead his brother was full of discouraging words and advice to stay away from women. When did his brother get so bitter, he wondered, that he would say these things?
"Do you think she doesn't like me?" Milo asked. It felt good to finally come out and ask. He felt like he understood that that's what Lucas meant, but he needed to make sure before he started taking his brother seriously.
Lucas looked at him, and snickered. "I don't even know this girl. What's her name? You haven't even told me her name."
"I ain't telling you," Milo said with indignation, looking away, though not fast enough to avoid taking a good look at Lucas' face as he thought about who it could possibly be.
"It's, ah, what's her name," Lucas said after a short pause, "Maya, right?"
"W-wrong!" Milo said, flustered. Lucas let out a short laugh, and stared at his shoes.
"Bless your heart, Milo," Lucas said, waving a dismissive hand towards his face and staring back off into space.
"What the hell's that supposed to mean?" Milo asked, raising his voice. The coy smile disappeared from Lucas' face, and he shot Milo a look.
"Why're you shouting?" he asked.
"I'm not shouting," Milo replied, getting even louder, "You need to get your ears checked if you think I'm shouting."
"We have this talk," Lucas sighed, looking down at his hands, "every single time. Every single time, we have this discussion about volume, and nothing changes. Nothing ever changes, with you."
Milo's mouth hung open for a few moments, a pregnant pause just long enough for him to process just what Lucas was really trying to say.
"You're doing it again, Lucas," Milo said, pointing a finger at his brother's face, "Oh my god, literally last night, you tried this shit, and it still didn't work." Lucas narrowed his eyes, and stared straight at Milo's finger until he started seeing double. Then, he batted Milo's finger away, and turned his eyes up towards his brother.
"What thing?" Lucas said.
"The thing!" Milo said, now ready to believe that he really was shouting, "The thing where you try to convince me or anyone else present that you're some persecuted scapegoat, and that everyone's just repeating themselves or something, and that 'Oh, woe is me, nothing ever changes,' or some horseshit like that, and nobody likes it and everybody hates it and you wind up looking like an idiot! 'Oh, everything's bigger and more nuanced, and' - hey, where are you going?"
Milo had failed to notice that his brother had already started to walk away, his hands in his back pockets and his posture crooked. Getting off of the bench, Milo jogged to catch up Lucas, tugging on his sleeve when he finally did. Reflexively, Lucas shook his brother off in one lumbering motion, Milo stumbling back a few steps before regaining his balance. When Milo managed to get a good look at his brother's face, he saw a bleak weariness in his eyes behind his smudged glasses and strands of brown hair. With a shake of the head, Lucas turned and kept walking. Milo slapped himself in the face a few times, lightly, to get himself to focus, and cupped his hands around his mouth to shout to his brother.
"We're going to miss the bus!!"
Lucas shrugged, pulling his hands out of his pockets and holding his palms open to the sky for a few moments, and kept walking.
With a sigh, Milo walked with him. After they had made it a block away, the bus came and passed them, hurtling down the avenue. Lucas got a peek through the window who was on the bus, recognized the face of someone in his homeroom, and quickly looked away. Dodged a bullet, there. He smiled, and let his arms dangle down by his sides.
"Ah, shit," Milo said, "there it fucking goes."
"We'll just have to walk," Lucas said, nodding along, "maybe we'll stop somewhere and get lunch along the way."
Milo perked up. "Lunch?" he asked, "but it's already sunset."
"Well, I didn't eat earlier, so this is my lunch. Okay?"
Milo didn't like how snappy Lucas had been with him today. Had something gone on at school? Come to think of it, hadn't he been acting this way the entire week? Something differently wasn't right.
"Look, Lucas, I'm sorry about raising my voice at you, it's just-"
"I'm sorry, too," Lucas interrupted, and suddenly Mylo felt a lot less confident about what he was about to say. What was once a vacant expression on his face had been replaced with a deep look of regret. Mylo felt like this wasn't the first time that Lucas had come to blows with someone this week, but quickly kept the thought from dominating his view of things. Lucas wasn't a fighter, and he was pretty sure there was nobody who would want to fight with him, anyways. People who thought he was annoying, sure, but people who'd hit the guy?
Burger King was busy. Always was, always had been, but Lucas made it clear that he had a hankering for a Big Mac, so Milo caved in and went along with it. The line was crowded, so Lucas decided to go and find a seat by himself. He picked the barstools at the window and sat down, pulling a book out from his jacket pocket, a worn out paperback edition of Faulkner's novel As I Lay Dying. The stream of consciousness first person narration was wearing him thin, even though he'd had experience writing that kind of thing himself. Granted, his own writing was on a much lower level at that point in time, but what was really tripping him up was the switching between different perspectives bitagain, a technique he himself had attempted before picking up the book, but still done far more effectively here than anything Lucas could ever attest to. He was on the part where the family had to ford a river, or cross over a broken-up bridge, he couldn't tell which.
Milo came over, receipt in hand.
"You asked for mine without tomatoes or mayonnaise, right?" Lucas asked. Milo nodded his head.
"They don't even put mayonnaise on the Big Macs," Milo recited, "they use a special sauce instead."
"And you got the combo, too?" Lucas continued, ignoring his brother's tangent. This question had Milo looking a little more worried, his brow furrowed, his eyes narrowing.
At last, he said "I'm pretty sure," and the older brother decided he was just fine entrenching himself in his book again. Darl was narrating.
"Number thirty-five!" The cashier intoned, and Milo stood up from his barstool. Walking over to the counter, Lucas watched as Milo picked the tray up off of the counter and brought it over. His steps were too close together, almost like someone had tied his shoes to each other. Was it nerves? Maybe Lucas had been too rough with his brother earlier. As he put the tray down and set himself down on the barstool, Milo looked grim. Lucas opened his mouth to apologize,Darl wrote: "Jewel," Cash says. Jewel does not look back. He lifts the horse on.
"He can swim," I say. "If he'll just give the horse time, any-how .."
but different words came out instead.
"Did you really only get yourself a milkshake?"
Milo nodded. Lucas shrugged, and reached into his bag. When he pulled his hand out, he expected to find himself grasping at stray fries, but couldn't even find the box to start with. Just his sandwich. Come to think of it, Milo hadn't come back with a coke cup the first time around, had he?
"Aw, what the heck?" he said, looking over at Milo, "I thought you said you got the combo."
"I did," he replied, "right?"
"Wh- do you not know what a combo means?"
"I don't come here to eat most of the time!" Milo retorted, throwing up his hands like Lucas was some kind of cop. With a sigh, Lucas reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet, removing a five dollar bill and pressing it into one of his brother's open hands.
"Just take this," Lucas instructed dejectedly, "and go back up there, and say you want a small order of fries and a small coke. If you've got anything left, at least get yourself some nuggets. You're skinny enough as is."
"Fine," Milo said, and got off his seat. Lucas opened his book again. He never ate a burger before he tasted the fries.
What kind of plan is that, Lucas asks himself, trying to picture the scene in his head. First off, how would they get the coffin over? Secondly, weren't Vardaman and Dewey Dell and Anse and Vernon all able to make it over on foot? Is the water that deep, or is it just something I missed? Should I skip back a page? And, thirdly, if they can just ride around the other side, why don't they take the entire wagon around the bank too? Or, wait, that's not what they're saying, is it? No, they mean for Jewel to go a bit away, have Vernon come back over, and then take the horse home. That isn't going to work, is it?Darl wrote:"Watch it, hell," Jewel says. "You get out of that wagon and let me have it. By God, if you're afraid to drive it over ." His eyes are pale as two bleached chips in his face. Cash is looking at him.
"We'll get it over," he says, "I tell you what you do. You ride on back and walk across the bridge and come down the other bank and meet us with the rope. Vernon'll take your horse home with him and keep it till we get back."
Milo makes it back eventually with the fries and Lucas' coke drink. The older brother pats the younger on the back.
"Attaboy," he says. Milo smiles, and Lucas goes to fill up his cup at the fountain. He puts the Sprite and the ice cubes in the cup in the wrong order, and the soda is displaced everywhere. A little bit of cold sprite gets on his hand, so he wipes his face with it. The coolness will wake him up a bit, he figures. Putting a lid on it, he pushes in all the little buttons with the words "Diet" and "Other" on them. He doesn't remember when he started doing it, but it must've been some time since he was a young kid. While he's in the neighborhood, he picks up some napkins and a cup of ketchup.
Lucas takes a sip of the Sprite on his way over to the barstools. Something isn't right with the tastethe machine must have run out of flavoring. His lips pucker in discomfort.
Darl wrote:"Goddamn you," Jewel says.
Lucas sat at his computer in the family room later that night. The copy of As I Lay Dying sits on his desk, next to his keyboard, as he typed away at an unfinished story draft about a group of teens who kick cans around and don't get anything done in their lives. Its name was Afterglow, and he'd been working on it for a year on and off. Last time he tried to show an excerpt of it to somebody, they told him it was alright, but not much else.
The last person he showed it to was Charelle.
He looked over at the nearest couch. Milo lay there asleep, a purple fleece blanket pulled over his head. It was almost one o'clock in the morning, and Lucas could feel his eyelids getting heavier and heavier with each passing moment. Afterglow was playing in between his ears, bouncing back and forth down the paved streets of his mind, each clatter of aluminum crashing echoes into the caves of his head. Lucas tried to sit up a later straighter, but then his left hand started to cramp up. He crossed his legs, and then uncrossed them again. He questioned why he still had jeans on. Looking over his shoulder, he could see the closed door of his room. His pajamas were probably in there, waiting for him to crawl into them, but he knew he wouldn't get any sleep if he put them on.
Of all the people he missed, Charelle was the one he missed the most. Why these thoughts had to creep into his head, right then and there, he couldn't tell, but he figured it was as good of a sign as any that maybe it was time to stop writing.
He looked at the assortment of things on his desk, and sighed. The receipt from Burger King was crumpled into a ball next to one of Milo's drawing pencils on the left side of the monitor. On the opposite side, there was a stapler sitting next to a collection of cards Lucas had received for his birthday, back in October. A couple of calculators, there, too. The home phone charger, red "play" button blinking on and off with unheard voicemail. The miniature giraffe sat solemnly glancing at it, still as always, a family keepsake adorned with accumulated hats.
Closing the Afterglow tab, he moved his mouse over through the start menu button when he realized that he had wanted to write some poetry earlier, and never got around to it. The mouse moved back over, now to his poetry document, and he typed a few stanzas. A nice rhythm worked up, and Lucas was getting the hang of
Miguel's hand was on his shoulder. Lucas looked up at his father, startled, and quickly minimized the google docs window.
"Time to go to bed," he said.
"I know," Lucas replied.
"If you know," Miguel said, "then do it." Then, he walked off to his room. For a moment, Lucas went back to his writing, before his father came back.
"Come back to it tomorrow."
"It is tomorrow."
The clock read one fifteen in the morning.
"After you get some sleep," Miguel amended, and walked over to wake up Milo so that he could crawl over to his bed. Lucas sighed, and typed the last couple lines of the poem, not really caring how they turned out.
Then, he walked over to his room, crumpled into the lower bunk, and didn't fall asleep.
The taste of spit in his mouth woke Milo up at three o'clock in the morning. Smacking his lips, he sat up in the dark, his head almost bumping up against the ceiling. His eyes found their way to the glow of the alarm clock on the top of Lucas' dresser. It read three o'clock in the morning. Slowly, he moved his blanket over to the side, and something shifted in the bunk bellow.
"Lucas?" he asked groggily, rubbing his eyes.
A phone flashlight turned on and off. Lucas was awake, but wanted to stay quiet for some reason. Milo listened closer, and heard the sound of a television in the other room. It was probably Mom, watching television in the kitchen. The clinking of a wine glassDad was in there, too, probably. Lucas groaned and rolled over in his bed. A page turned. Was Lucas up late reading again? One of his fancy novels, no doubt.
Big deal. Milo had just finished Crime and Punishment the other day, and after that book he felt like he could take on just about anything.
He remembered a string of books that Lucas took out from the library last summer. A bunch of works by Japanese authors; they were translated, of courseMilo was the linguist of the family, not Lucas, though he'd tried Japanese in the past and not felt all too keen on it. He remembered flipping to random pages and finding every single word terribly, horribly, awfully depressing. The titles, too, were indicative of the contents. No Longer Human? Confessions of a Mask? Those all sounded vaguely suicidal. There was another one with a name in Japanese that was just as depressing, but you wouldn't know from the name. Kokoro, was it?
Ever since Lucas returned from the hospital, Milo had been on watch. Not just for Lucas disappearing out to the park or to the struggling parts of town, but for the smaller things. Often, this meant looking at his receipts. Whether for library books or for lunch, Milo had to make sure his older brother wasn't putting himself in a destructive state of mind. When he confronted Lucas about the depressing literary streak he'd been on, Lucas brushed him off, but wound up returning his books. He brought home a copy of Infinite Jest which he took with him when they visited family in Boston later in the month, but never made a dent in. Milo didn't know what that book was about, but at least it had a happier sounding title.
Maybe his brother was in another of those moods, lately. His book had the word dying in the title this time around, didn't it? Maybe he'd try cheering him up, even if it was just before going to bed. He couldn't think of much, but maybe he didn't quite have to.
"Hey," Milo said, hanging his hand down over the railing of his bed, "bro."
Lucas shushed him, and turned another page. Milo didn't know what he wanted to say.
"I love you, man."
Lucas laughed through his nose. "You're sounding really tired, man. Go back to sleep," he whispered.
Milo rolled back over and shut his eyes.
The last thing he heard before he fell back into slumber was the sound of a book closing and being put back on the shelf.
Only after Milo fell asleep did Lucas dare to say the words "I love you, too."
- [+] spoiler
I'll go first
and you go second