I flicked the switch six times and locked the door seven times before I went and sat down, fighting the urge to go back and check them. I took a deep breath trying to concentrate on the computer at my desk. I had five pencils in a perfectly straight line to my left, and three yellow highlighters on my right.
One was crooked. Hands groped my heart, Jeanne, she was going to come. he was going to come now, like she did every night. I could fix this. I took a deep breath. Peering at it, I meticulously straightened it, trying not to let it bump into any of the other highlighters. I let out a sigh of relief now that I fixed it, I could concentrate.
My fingers hovered over the keyboard. For the net hour.
I poured my milk into a measuring cup, watching over it. It had to be exactly two-thirds. Pouring it into the bowl, I added one cup of cereal net. I glanced over at the kitchen table. My twin sister, Jeanne, was already sitting down; she was sixteen, and three minutes older than me. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail with several bumps throughout it. Her hair was the type of brown that could almost be confused for gray. It lacked vibrancy; it lacked color. My parents were at the table for once, I thought as I sat down at the table to the left of my sister. I focused on the bowl of my cereal the only thing I could hear was the splash of my spoon in my milk as I fished for three cheerios.
"Justin, stop playing with your food," my mom said.
I peeked up at my parents. My mom was washing down her toast with a glass of red wine, and my father was typing away at his computer. I ignored her and found the three cheerios.
A cold hand dragged across my thigh. Without looking down, I imagined Jeanne’s hand. Her ragged bitten nails and dry, calloused fingers. She liked to play the guitar. She never did have to cut her nails to play; biting them did the trick for her.
Her hand inched closer, her fingers tiptoeing across my freshly pressed corduroy pants, slipping up and down the material. I needed to change my pants.
"Jeanne, how was your session with the counselor last night?" Dad asked without looking up. Jeanne had counseling sessions every Tuesday evening at 7:00.
She started going after my parents had left us for a week; my dad left for work, and I wasn't sure about my mom. They had left enough money and a small note on the counter telling us only to use the money for food. We were okay for the first few days. Two days before they got back, I came home from school thinking I'd walked into the wrong house.
It was hardly recognizable. Furniture was overturned, curtains torn down. Words that I couldn't focus on enough to read were gashed into the wall. My skin had begun to itch as I took everything in. I couldn't fix it; I couldn't fix it. The house was always neat, mainly because my parents liked to pretend that no one lived in it. The whole house was screaming for attention. Glass was splattered around the hardwood floor, crunching beneath my feet, reminding me of Jeanne when we were kids. She would grab a handful of potato chips, squeezing them in her fist, pulverizing them before pouring it into her mouth. She would always giggle at the expression on my face as I watched her.
I had taken the stairs two at a time. Had she touched my room? It was suddenly all I cared about. I didn't exist in the other parts of the house. No one would find me on a Sunday night watching movies on our 65" TV, nor was I making myself a midnight snack in the kitchen. I got a mini-fridge for my room years ago. I had already memorized my parents' credit card information. They didn't notice when the large package showed up.
My door was shut, not ajar like all the others that I had passed. This gave me hope. My chest squeezed like a metal clamp had closed on it. I turned the doorknob, opening it a crack; I didn’t want to look.
I stepped into the room, my eyes pasted on the floor. Slowly, I lifted them, scanning the room for something wrong. The two blue pillows were placed exactly in the center of my bed, leaning slightly back against the headboard. The rug was perfectly straight; there were my five pencils and three highlighters. I walked closer; the pencil on the far left was tilted slightly too close to the pencil to the right. My breathing hitched, and I felt my fingers twitch. I resisted the urge to knock everything off of my desk and to start with a clean slate. She was going to come tonight, I knew it. I couldn’t breathe; it felt like someone was pouring sand down my throat. It didn’t mean anything. I could fix this and everything would be alright, I told myself. Slowly, I picked up the one pencil, placing it completely parallel to the other pencil.
I thought that my parents wouldn’t even notice that anything was awry until they went to sit down, only to find the couch flipped over. For all I knew that’s what happened. I was in my room when they came home. Headphones plugged in with Animal Planet playing at full volume. I didn’t even know they were home until I felt my bed shaking at the pounding of their feet on the stairs. Slowly, I pulled off my headphones. They were calling for both of us. I didn’t think that I had ever heard their voices so loud before. My dad’s voice had reached a guttural level, coming from deep within his chest. He sort of sounded like the Terminator. The doorknob jiggled. I sighed as I got up to unlock the door.
My dad’s lips were curled like a lion before it roars. His face was red like someone had covered his face in the wrong shade of blush. My mother stood next to him, looking only slightly flustered. A couple of hairs had escaped her tight bun.
“Justin, what happened?” he managed to say in a restricted voice.
“It wasn’t me,” I said, looking down at the floor.
“Your room hasn’t been touched.” They didn’t know about the pencil.
“Talk to Jeanne,” I said, turning my back to them, returning to my computer. I turned the volume back on trying to tune the rest of their words out.
That was three years ago now. My sister tried every move in her repertoire to try and get out of it. She faked sick, told my parents that she would fail school if they kept making her go, but nothing worked. My dad had my mom drive her there and pick her up after every session. I wondered if she ever talked about me.
Jeanne looked up at my dad.
“Fine, actually it was really productive last night; I think we made a big breakthrough.” She stirred her cereal a little too hard, splashing some milk on the table. I pictured her face, her pale upper lip raised slightly in the righthand corner, morphing her face into something that I knew someone might find attractive.
“That’s good, honey,” he replied, clicking the mouse on his computer.
“The therapist was saying last night that they think I can stop soon. That I’ve reached a point where there can be no more improvement.” I wondered if this was true; her hand squeezed tighter on my thigh, getting closer.
My father looked up from his computer, and her hands disappeared back into her own lap. I wanted to leave the table; I needed another shower. I needed to change my pants, maybe to khakis. Only the repercussions of leaving the table now stopped me. “We’ve talked about this. It doesn’t matter what the therapist says, even if she did say that you’re going to therapy until you turn eighteen. After your behavior…”
“That was years ago! Justin doesn’t have to go to therapy!” I felt my parents’ eyes turn to me, something that I wasn’t used to.
My mother piped in.
“That’s because Justin hasn’t done anything wrong.” Jeanne looked at me and then at my parents. Her typically gray eyes looked blue, and I knew what she was about to do.
She burst into tears. I watched her shoulders heave as she put her whole body into it. I couldn’t stand it any longer; I needed to take a shower. I left the room; I had to stop myself from running up the stairs. I heard my name through her sobs. I didn’t want to know what she was saying about me.
The second I reached the bathroom, I turned on the water. At first it trickled out like a small brook. I turned it up. It burst like a dam.
I walked down the stairs; I had decided to change more than my pants. I had switched to a pair of tan khakis with a green and white striped polo, perfectly clean. I had taken the time to blow-dry my hair so that it didn’t drip onto the back of my shirt.
When I looked up, my parents were facing me at the bottom of the staircase. Jeanne stood behind them, her face streaked with tears, like a car that had been washed by rain. She whimpered quietly.
“Jeanne, go up to your room.” She slid past them, her back and shoulders hunched trying to appear meek as she passed me on the stairs. What had she told them?
“We know what you’ve been doing to Jeanne.” My father looked at me like I was asking for money on the side of the street. My mom had brought her glass of wine over with her from the table and took a big gulp. She always took small sips, maybe to disguise how much she was actually drinking.
Jeanne was staying in a hotel with my mom. I was home alone with my dad. They didn’t believe me. They didn’t believe a word I said. I wished that there was proof. Some mark that she had left on my body. But it was all washed away. Only her word mattered. They didn’t know what to do with me. They yelled at me for what “I” did. They yelled at me for lying about it. They begged me to tell them why. They yelled at each other, “How could we have let this happen? Why didn’t we notice?”
They refused to take me to the police. It would become public. Once my mom left, my dad stopped talking to me. He was either at work or in the living room. He turned the volume up all the way. The Mets were losing.
I heard my dad late at night on the phone talking to my mom. They didn’t know what to do. They had already taken away every form of entertainment I owned, leaving me with my school books. I was grounded, no after school activities, just me and my room. They didn’t know what to do with me and I had given up on trying to get them to believe me. It was pointless.
They took me to therapy. My dad drove me there and left me in the waiting room. They had a couch, which I thought was interesting, more homey. Different from the standard armchairs of doctor’s office. There were a few magazines, and I flipped through them, flashes of pink and white dancing before my eyes. The door opened and the doctor gestured for me to enter. I put the magazine back, straightening the pile before I entered.
There was another couch in the office, and the doctor, Dr. Tupps, was sitting in a cracked, brown leather rolling chair. His hair was a deep honey brown. It looked a little wet, like someone had dipped the ends of his hair in syrup.
“Justin, how are you today?”
Fall, 2017 Issue