The surface of things seems deceptively unchanged. The rhythms
household continue undisrupted around them: Grandad pottering in his work
room; Mom in the kitchen or on the porch with her book after work; the usual
controlled chaos it took to get the three of them out of the house in the
Sometimes it even feels the same, some days Sammy is just his
again, and Mom has to yell at them to stop bickering in the back of the car
when she drives.
But the surface is fragile. Sometimes all it takes is Sammy
meeting his eyes
to open a fault line in what used to be his life, to drop Michael into the
secret world that lives beneath the surface now, a place like David's lost
hotel beneath the cliff, where everything is beautiful and ruined and wrong.
The night before last Sammy had slid a slick finger up
Michael's ass as
they'd rolled on his bed. Michael's body had accepted it easily enough -
he'd done this to himself more than once on those hot sleepless nights. But
his mind had balked, and he'd made a shocked sound and bit his tongue so
hard it bled.
"Am I hurting you?" Sammy had said.
"No," Michael had panted, "But jesus *christ*! Where'd you learn *that*?"
"I can *read*, you know," Sammy had said, his face intent as
curiously, "I'm not a *moron*!"
And before Michael could collect himself enough to ask just
*what* Sammy had
been reading, and if he'd hidden it carefully from Mom, his body had spasmed
with sudden electric pleasure as Sammy's finger found his prostate, then
found it again, and again, until Michael was moving jerky and frantic into
the touch. Eyes squeezed shut he'd groped for his own cock, but Sammy's
other hand had gotten there first, and as he'd found a rhythm the two
sensations had joined and coiled together around the base of his spine until
his body had arched rigid off the bed and he'd come explosively.
He'd opened his eyes to see Sammy grinning down at him, face
guess you liked that, huh?" he'd said. Then he'd bent his head and started
licking the come from Michael's stomach.
Michael feels responsible. Sammy might have come to him of his
that windy Santa Carla night, but Michael feels like he crossed some
invisible line years ago, set this all in motion long before Sammy had any
choice in it.
He'd seen Sammy being born. It had been a hippy parent thing, a
midwife and incense and sweetgrass and chanting all planned out months in
advance. But Mom and Dad had fought again one night, and Dad had stormed
out, and when the pains started - almost a month early - there'd been no one
but his four-year-old self to wait with Mom for the midwife.
The whole thing had frightened him - his mother's split and
the blood and the noise and the mess. But he'd curled up in his father's
chair and stayed, unable to look away. And eventually an energetic cry had
split the air, and the midwife had summoned him over. "Look, Michael," she'd
said as she'd cleaned the baby off, "You've got a little brother to take
care of now. Isn't he perfect? Do you want to hold him?" And he'd found
himself with a carefully-supported armful of blinking, squirming, perfect
And he *had* been perfect, right from the start, in spite of
the chaos of
his birth. Sunny and laughing and fearlessly friendly, a child who
effortlessly drew love, who made strangers smile in the street and follow
him with their eyes. And Michael had sensed, in some murky wordless way,
that there were dangers to this quality as well as rewards, and had done his
best to -
//Keep him all to yourself?// sneered the accusing voice in his head.
//protect him!!// he protests, unconvincing even to himself.
They'd moved three times before Sammy was six. The last time
had made him
cry. "Why do we have to move?" he'd sobbed to Michael, "I like my teacher.
I like my friends."
"I know," Michael had said, wiping Sammy's face with his
sleeve, "but we
always move. We have to take care of each other. Come play with me if you're
He'd always told himself it was for Sammy's sake. "Come play
with me if
you're lonely," he'd say, his other reassurance unspoken //you can count on
me when you can't count on friends.//
Come to me if Mom and Dad wake you in the night with their
don't tell anyone else about it, no one else will understand.) Come tell me
if anyone bothers you (and someone will, if you're not careful, people
aren't to be trusted). Come to me...
And Sammy had. And then he'd started coming to him at other
times, as well -
when *Michael* couldn't sleep, when his report card made Mom and Dad fight
again and they could hear Mom crying in the night. When the new teachers at
the new school looked at his sullen scowl with suspicion and he knew how it
was all going to be again, school just a place he got away from as fast as
possible at the end of the day. At those times Sammy would bring him
crumbling stolen cookies and curl beside him in his bed, tickle him and make
him laugh until it all seemed bearable again.
He can see it now, how he's made it too tight, too close
between them, left
Sammy no space that didn't hold some piece of Michael, too. And now? Now
he's sure that Sammy simply read the final shameful truth in his heart and
did what they'd always done for each other, had come to him and tried to
give him what he needed.
Though Michael knows it's gone too far this time. He looks at
sometimes and quails at the damage he's sure he's doing.
"Do you love me?" Sammy had asked after he licked Michael
clean, and what
could Michael say but yes? It was true, after all, but he wants desperately
to tell him that this isn't what love should be, that this love is too much,
or not enough, or the wrong kind, or some combination of all three failings,
and that Sammy shouldn't be looking for it here. But whenever he tries to
say something Sammy gets the bruised look in his eyes that Michael remembers
from the last time Dad left, and he can't bear to go on.
So wrongness just compounds wrongness, and there doesn't seem
to be a lesser
evil left in the choices he's presented with. If he goes on he hurts Sammy,
if he stops he hurts Sammy, and he's twisted tighter and tighter inside at
the hurt he's sure he's done already. And the worse he feels the more it
upsets Sammy, and then there's nowhere for either of them to go for comfort
but to each other, and their comfort never stays innocent for long. And that
puts Michael right back where he started, only a little deeper this time,
every time a little deeper.
And the truth is that he doesn't know if he *can* stop - in
everything it's just so fucking *good* to hold his brother in his arms. The
way it makes him feel... it scares him to pieces and he doesn't think he can
give it up.
Wednesday morning. Another nearly sleepless night and Michael woke up late
and tired and crabby, the routine chaos like sandpaper on his nerves.
Sammy was in the shower when he reached the bathroom, and he
for a few moments, shifting impatiently from foot to foot. "Sammy!" he
shouted through the door, "what are you doing in there, writing a novel? I
have to take a piss!"
"Language, Michael!" said their mother as she hurried by.
"Sorry, Mom," he said, then pounded on the door again. "If
you're not out in
thirty seconds I'm coming in there!" he warned.
"I'll be out in a minute!" Sammy called, but the pressure in
bladder was growing urgent. He fished his bus-pass from his pocket, slid it
into the crack of the door, and flipped the hook inside.
The door opened in a whirling cloud of steam and he dove into
the door behind him. "Hey!" yelped Sammy, but Michael was already at the
toilet and unzipping his fly.
"You couldn't have waited one minute?" Sammy said, sticking his
behind the shower curtain. "I don't take nearly as long in here as *you*
do!" and with one hand he flicked hot soapy water at his brother. Michael
flinched away and nearly missed the bowl with his first few drops.
"Watch it!" he said, but Sammy merely opened the curtain wider
more water at him, wetting the side of Michael's shirt and jeans.
"Fuck off!" said Michael, turning to face him. Sammy just stood
laughing, his hair plastered to his forehead and water running in rivulets
down his body. And without thinking about it, Michael moved closer, his cock
still in his hand, angled his hips forward, and let go again, his stream
hitting Sammy squarely in the belly and joining the rest of the water that
flowed over him.
Sammy's jaw dropped. He stared at Michael in shock and
Michael felt his own eyes widen as what he'd just done sank in. Then Sammy's
cheeks flushed, his tongue flicked out over his lower lip, and Michael
looked down to see his brother's cock rising and hardening under the flow of
There was a moment of frozen silence between them as Michael's
slackened and died and he finished with a shudder. In the background he
could hear their mother calling from downstairs that breakfast was almost
ready, but all the normality of the morning had vanished, and as he and
Sammy stared at each other in the drifting steam he could feel the chasm
open around them again, feel their fall in the pit of his stomach.
Then he was climbing into the shower, still in his jeans and
shirt, his cock
hard in his open fly. And Sammy's hand was on his erection, and his was on
Sammy's, and they were kissing hungrily as they urged each other on rough
and quick and desperate. Sammy was wet and slippery against him and it felt
doubly obscene to be clothed and doing this, his cock naked in his brother's
hand while his clothes clung wetly to the rest of his body. Sammy broke the
kiss, let his head slump forward against Michael's shoulder, his breathing
shaky and rapid. Then with a moan he bit him, hard, through his shirt, and
Michael felt the first jet of Sammy's orgasm just as his own hit him like a
Then they slumped apart, shaken, staring at each other with
eyes as the evidence washed down the drain. Their mother's voice called them
again from downstairs.
"Oh my god," said Sammy. "Michael, you ... you'd better get
all wet." Then he looked down at his stomach, as though some sign of what
Michael had done might still be there.
"Right," said Michael, "Change. I should change. Are you... are
Sammy hesitantly touched his stomach with his finger-tips, then
looked up at
Michael and nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. But you'd better go, before Mom
comes looking for us."
Michael went, and changed. But somehow the crack in his world
again this morning, and the feeling of wrongness seemed to seep out and
infect everything, making it all seem strange and skewed and awful. He'd
grown to love this house in all its creaking California-gothic splendour,
but this morning it felt crazed and impossible. The glass eyes of Grandad's
handiwork seemed to follow him accusingly, and he imagined for a moment the
ghosts of all the animals moving around him, come to reclaim their antlers
and hides and sad stuffed bodies.
And Mom in the kitchen was a pathetic ageing hippy in pathetic
clothes, and he wondered how she could be so oblivious, sitting there with
her home-made granola. "Aren't we friends anymore?" she'd asked him, back in
David's time, and this morning he wanted to shout at her, "You're not
supposed to be my friend, you're supposed to be my mother, and you're not
supposed to let me get away with this." And even Sammy... Sammy was quieter
than usual, and he wouldn't quite meet Michael's eyes, but when Mom asked if
he was OK he just smiled innocently at her, and Michael wanted to shout at
him too. Sometimes he wondered if Sammy didn't quite grasp what this thing
between them meant, couldn't see how sick it was.
They both sat quietly on the drive into town, not looking at
When they stopped at the school Sammy jumped out quickly and took off
towards a knot of his school-friends, smiling boys and girls with clean hair
and good posture who sat on the front steps of the school like they owned
Michael thought about going after him. This felt wrong to him
the way that the complex caste system of school could separate them so
easily, in spite of all their complicated ties. But the circle had already
opened to admit Sammy - a boy had slapped an arm across his shoulders, a
girl was tugging teasingly at his upturned collar - and Michael turned
away, his wet hair prickling on his neck.
He headed for what had become his territory, the cramped
courtyard by the
back doors of the school, where the grass was brown and trampled and heavily
strewn with cigarette butts. There the serious smokers gathered, the smokers
and the slackers, the misfits and the outcasts and the freaks.
And Santa Carla seemed to hold a lot of them. He looked around
at the tight
little knots of teens who stood around the perimeter of the yard, and for
the first time it occurred to him that if they emerged from their separate
tribes they would outnumber the golden children at the front of the school.
He had a momentary vision of banding them all together, leading them in a
badly-dressed, chain-smoking wave to take the front of the school by storm.
But his vision died as he watched a boy with a shaven scalp kick the feet
out from under a boy with long black hair and eyeliner. The golden children
might have declared them all invisible, insignificant, but they had turned
the same weapons on each other, all the same scorn and contempt and
rejection. He watched a few people glance around curiously, then turn their
backs on eyeliner boy, and something like desolation rose in his stomach.
Someone tapped him on the shoulder, and he jumped, then turned
to see one of
the guys from his homeroom. "Hey Mike," he said, "You look freaked. You
tripping or something? Got a smoke?" Michael grinned the smart-ass half-grin
he'd perfected, a look that meant neither yes nor no, and handed over a
cigarette. What could he say? "No man, I'm not tripping. It's just that I
pissed on my little brother this morning, and it gave him a hard-on, so we
jerked each other off in the shower. Oh, I didn't mention I've been fucking
my brother? And now apparently I've gone to hell. And you know what? This is
it. It's right here."
They guy took his smoke and wandered off, casting a curious
look back over
his shoulder. Michael felt a prickle of paranoia. He was far from the oddest
looking person here, but this morning he felt like an alien, and with a
sudden rush of self-pity he wondered if anyone else here had a secret like
his, something so big and strange that it tore a hole right through the
fabric of their lives...
And with the morning's strange mood on him the question
real, and important. He looked around him again. Craig the skin-head was
still half-heartedly hassling the eyeliner boy. Craig had been in Michael's
english class at the start of the term, and he'd been a disruption right
from the start, up until the day he'd noisily overturned his desk during a
pop-quiz and stomped out of the room. He'd never come back. Today Michael
remembered what he'd seen later that afternoon: Craig sitting in the far
corner of the courtyard, staring down at the book on his knees with a look
of panic, his thick fingers digging viciously at his own temples, as if he
could *force* the knowledge inside. Thinking back now he wondered if Craig
could even read, and how he'd gotten this far without someone realising it.
And the others in the courtyard...
On a bench by the door sat the two Kimberlys. One was
grotesquely fat, the
other grotesquely thin, and Michael had never heard them speak to anyone but
each other. A girl he used to eat lunch with sometimes - herself
mysteriously vanished part way through the term - had told him that she'd
walked in on them in the washroom right after lunch one day.
"It was the grossest thing," she'd said. "Skinny Kim was
puking, and crying,
and I thought she had, you know, stomach flu. And fat Kim was kind of
bending over her, like she was holding her hair or something, and saying
"It's OK, it's OK!" And then thin Kim said "One more time!" and I saw that
she was getting fat Kim to stick her fingers down thin Kim's throat!"
He'd shuddered along with her when she'd told the story, but
today he felt a
weird tenderness. What secrets did the Kims have that they couldn't stand to
live in their own bodies? He wondered if that was what had brought them all
here to their self-imposed prison yard, if somehow they'd each had something
tear a hole in their lives, a hole they'd never quite been able to mend. He
wanted to go to the Kimberlys and say "What is it? Why are you doing this to
yourselves? Please, you can tell me. You tell me your secrets, and I'll tell
But his secret wasn't his alone. It was Sammy's secret too, and
somehow made a place for himself with the golden children. And if they had
secrets of their own, they had managed to keep them from their smooth clean
surfaces. Michael wondered how they did it.
The bell rang, and the sound made his head hurt. He let the
current of the
crowd sweep him along as they filed in through the narrow back doors. //Act
normal// he told himself, his fists clenched involuntarily at his sides.
//just act normal, and you'll get through the day somehow//
He did his best. He skipped phys ed. He smoked in the yard
during his spare.
He stared out the windows in class, paying just enough attention not to get
taken by surprise. Gradually, his hair dried. Gradually, the morning passed.
He was cutting through the parking-lot after lunch on his way
to the north
building when he saw Sammy. His brother was walking along the side of the
school and three older boys were behind him, following lazily.
"Nice shirt, faggot," said one of them, and the other two
aggressively. It was nothing, really, routine school-yard menace, but
Michael felt prickling sweat break out across his chest.
Then one of the sniggerers stuck a foot out and tripped Sammy.
sideways, into one of the other boys, who grabbed him by his upper arms and
shook him, snarling, "Watch where you're going!"
Michael took off across the parking lot, running faster than
he'd ever known
he could. The boys didn't even have time to turn around before Michael
kicked the one holding Sammy in the back of the knees and threw himself on
top of him in the dust.
It was a blur after that. He was punching the boy he had
pinned, putting all
the force he could behind the blows. "Don't touch him, don't touch him!" he
heard himself grunt, and it felt good to be doing this, landing these hard
bruising blows whose impact shuddered painfully up his arms. He was dimly
aware that the face beneath his fists was bloody now, that the boy had
stopped trying to block his punches and people were shouting, but he
couldn't stop. Someone grabbed at him from behind, and he swung out at them
blindly before realising it was Sammy.
Sammy was shouting at him "Michael! Stop! Stop it! You're going
Then Sammy pulled him off the boy and wrapped his arms around
behind, pinioning Michael's arms, holding him back, surprisingly strong.
"Michael!" he said again "Take it *easy*!"
Michael twisted in his grip. He wanted to touch Sammy, wanted
to put his
hands on him, wipe away all the other touches, but Sammy kept his arms
pinned to his sides and looked into Michael's eyes with a look that both
warned and implored.
Michael stopped struggling, and looked around him. The boy he'd
still on the ground, curling weakly into a ball now, and his friends were
kneeling beside him, staring up at Michael. "Fucking *psycho*!" one of them
muttered. Other faces were staring from the edges of the yard and the
windows of the school, and through the glass doors Michael could see the
Vice-Principal striding down the hall. He met Sammy's eyes again. Sammy
tightened his grip for a moment, in warning or embrace, Michael couldn't
tell. Then he dropped his arms. Michael ran.
The summer carnival-grounds were shut for the season now, but
always flash and sleaze to be found somewhere in Santa Carla, and Michael
found himself drawn into the midst of it. He drifted in and out of the noise
and flashing lights of the arcades, watching the player's rapt oblivious
faces, and through the sweet smoky staleness of the head-shops with their
gaudy T-shirts and arcane counter displays. He ducked a group of businessmen
who swept unsteadily out of a strip bar on a gust of beery air, all of them
laughing tipsily at the neon woman on the sign overhead who kicked a single
leg spastically, the lights of the other all burnt out. He stopped in a
greasy spoon for a while, which was doing more business in the hallway by
the washrooms than at the counter, and ordered a plate of fries which grew
cold in front of him, untouched. His stomach felt acid and empty, but the
thought of putting food in his mouth made him feel vaguely ill.
He kept walking. When his legs got tired, he sat for a while in
parkette where boys younger than Sammy openly held bags of glue to their
faces and laughed manic empty laughter at each other. A girl with
amphetamine shakes came and sat beside him for a while, stuttering out an
incomprehensible story about a boyfriend, her landlord, a car crash. After a
while she reached for his hand, but when he looked down he saw that his
knuckles were swollen, their creases filled with dried blood, and he pulled
away. He felt the ache in his hands then, the bruised throb, and he wanted
to dip them in the cool water of the fountain, but a used condom was
floating in its basin and a sweet, rotten reek came from its drains and
He went back to his bench, pulled his knees up to his chest and
rested his hands on top of them. A three-legged dog came limping by, and
then, from the other direction, an older man with a built-up shoe and a
cane, and Michael felt a high hysterical giggle rise in him as their limps
synchronized for a moment and they performed a bobbing little slap-stick
dance together. Deliberately he flexed his hands, pushing the ache to kill
the laugh inside him. Had the city always been like this? He suspected
grimly that it wasn't just the day's strange mood that made it look like
this, but that it had been this wretched since the start, and he had simply
never seen it clearly before.
Eventually he drifted home. It was dark by the time he reached
it on foot,
but he could see his mother waiting in the porch for him, her reading-light
glowing at her side. With the light at this angle he could see the faint
ridge of the scar on her forehead, where Dad had thrown a plate at her once,
and the throb of his bruised hands suddenly felt like a reproach. He stuffed
them guiltily in his pockets.
"The school called," she said quietly as he climbed the steps.
that boy pretty badly. What's going on, Michael?"
Sammy appeared at the screen door behind her as she spoke.
attacked me first!" he said.
"Go back inside, Sammy," Mom said, still quietly. "I need to
Michael." Sammy went, with a cryptic hand-gesture at his brother.
"I'm sorry, Mom," Michael said, and she must have heard the
genuine pain in
his voice, for her face softened a little.
"I'm sorry too, Michael. For what it's worth I realise how
strange it's been
since we moved, and I know it's been hard for you both. And believe me, I'm
glad that you two look out for each other. But I worry about you, Michael.
Please tell me what's going on?"
Eventually he managed to escape, with Mom safely convinced that
this was all
David aftermath. He wondered grimly when vampires had become the
*acceptable* excuse for his behaviour. He could hear music playing in
Sammy's room, but he hurried past quietly, straight to the bathroom, where
he locked the door and ran a bath as hot as he could stand.
He stayed in it until it was cold and his fingers and toes were
could *feel* Sammy's presence on the other side of the wall, and
half-expected a knock on the door, but none came, and finally he crept down
the hall to his own room and crawled miserably into bed.
Movement woke him some hours later. He opened his eyes to find
on the side of his bed, looking at him seriously.
'Hi," said Michael awkwardly, pulling himself up to sit against the pillows.
'Sshh," Sammy warned him. "Mom's still awake - she's downstairs."
Michael nodded. He felt strangely shy, and brushed nervously at
that hung in his eyes.
"God!" said Sammy, "Look at your hand!"
His hand was swollen and starting to bruise, two of his
knuckles split and
scabbed. Sammy took it gently between his own, held it against his chest.
Michael could feel the beat of his heart.
It made him feel strange and raw. "I didn't," he said
know if you would... you know, come to me again, after... after what I did
He felt Sammy's heartbeat jump and speed a little, but Sammy
away, just kept staring at him intently.
"What you did this morning?" he finally said. "No, I ... I liked it."
Michael felt his throat go dry.
"It kind of freaked me out at first, but then I- " Michael
swallow, "-I've been thinking about it all day." He moved Michael's hand
from his chest to his groin, laid it softly there, and Michael could feel
that he was already half-hard.
And to his own horror Michael felt his eyes fill with tears.
"Oh my *god*
Sammy," he choked, "this is so fucked-up. *So* fucked up!"
"Sshh," Sammy said again, but Michael was past caring, he
couldn't stop the
"*All* of it. You and me, and David, and Mom and Dad, and, and,
*everything*, it's *all* fucked up," and he found himself sobbing out a
confused story about about Craig and the Kimberlys, the glue-sniffing boys
in the park and the three-legged dog and all the ugliness everywhere.
By the time he finished Sammy was crying too. Crying, but
angry. "Fuck you,
Michael!" he said, Sammy who almost never swore.
"I *know*. You always think I don't know anything, but I do -
I'm not just a
kid anymore, I can see what it's like out there. But if everything is so
fucked up, then why - then how -" he struggled for words, wiping angrily at
his watering eyes, "then why is what we do so much worse than anything else?
I love you - "
Michael tried to pull away, but Sammy caught his wrist, wouldn't let him go.
" - and I know you keep saying you're not *supposed* to love me
but you know what? It doesn't *work*, the way they say things are supposed
to be. Dad wasn't supposed to leave, and school isn't supposed to be a
battle zone, and for god sake there aren't supposed to be *vampires* walking
the streets, but there are, and school is, and he did leave, and I want this
with you, Michael!"
He scrambled up on the bed and swung his leg over so that he
Michael's hips, pinning him to the bed, and for the second time that day
Michael was surprised at the sheer weight and strength of him - in his mind
he still thought of Sammy as smaller and frailer than he really was. Then
Sammy leaned close, so close that Michael could feel his breath against his
face, and said, "You don't like my friends, do you?"
Michael mutely shook his head, confused.
"I don't all the time either. But I've learned stuff from them.
could too, you know. Their lives aren't so perfect. But the thing about them
is, they think they have a *right* to be happy. And so they are. Happy, I
mean. And they don't let the things they do to be happy eat them up inside
the way you do. I love that you worry about stuff, Michael, that you worry
about me, but you keep thinking that you're all *wrong* somehow. It's like
you *want* people to get mad at you, so you do stuff that guarantees that
they will, and then you just let them, 'cause you think you deserve it. And
I *hate* that!"
He raised Michael's hand to his face, and rubbed it against his
cheek with a
tenderness that contradicted all the anger still in his voice. Michael
just stared at him, feeling oddly frightened by everything his brother had
"But -" he said weakly.
"*You're* the one who always told me not to worry so much about
think!" interrupted Sammy. "Are you saying you don't want me? Did you want
me to stay away after this morning? Is that what you really wanted?"
And Michael, still stunned, couldn't say yes.
"I didn't think so," said Sammy. But he sounded relieved all
the same. Then
climbed off Michael, and said "Squish down."
Michael slid down obediently until he was lying flat again, and
cuddled in beside him, his head on Michael's chest and one arm across his
torso, his thumb softly stroking the point of Michael's hip-bone. Michael
took a shuddering breath and let himself settle into Sammy's embrace,
feeling his breathing slow and synch up with his brother's.
"Mom's still up!" said Michael worriedly as they heard
footsteps on the
stairs, but Sammy said, "Don't worry, she won't come in." They listened to
her pause at Sammy's room, then move further down the hall towards
Michael's. Michael made as if to get up, but Sammy tightened his grip, held
"Boys?" she called softly.
"Yeah?" they answered, voices overlapping.
Sammy looked up at Michael defiantly, and said nothing, thumb
Michael's hip. Michael felt the weight of his solid warmth against him, the
beat of their hearts together.
"Yeah, Mom," he called through the door. "It's OK. Everything's fine."