The string pulled taut at three AM. Bobby was facing the other way, the sleeping bag corkscrewed down to his feet. Joel lay very still, watching his brother’s shoulders rise and fall, looking at the soft fuzz on the edge of Bobby’s ear illuminated in the light from the fish tank. Then he gently traced the line from his own wrist to his twin’s, following it with two fingers as it stretched across a small expanse of stained carpet, reaching over Bobby’s torso and finding his open, empty hand.
“I had a dream.”
Joel drew back. “Did I wake you?”
“I was awake. I had a dream. A while ago.”
“Do you want to tell me?”
“No. I want to pee.”
They crawled out of their bags in unison. They walked to the bathroom. They were tired and it was too time consuming to sever the line and then re-do it, so Joel stood behind Bobby and then Bobby stood behind Joel and then they stood side by side while they washed and then they went back to the living room. They looked into the fish tank. Everything inside was dead.
It was their fifth tethered night. The clinic receptionist had been insistent that the earliest appointment was Friday, late morning. Joel used the phrases “suicidal ideation” and “specific, available plan,” but the receptionist said if that was the case then they should go to the emergency room. He wasn’t taking Bobby to the hospital again. They lay back down.
“You all right?” Joel asked.
“You want to tell me about the dream?”
Joel groped for another question. There are only so many ways to ask someone if they’re feeling the urge to hurt themselves in the immediate future.
“I’ve been researching broken hips,” Bobby said.
“What did you find?”
“Probably the same as what you found.” Words like death spiral appeared in his mind, but he didn’t say them. “He’s a tough old man. He’ll be all right. If Hamburger Hill didn’t kill him, this won’t either.”
Bobby rolled away.
“I’m going to close my eyes,” Joel said.
“Safe as can be.”
Joel closed his eyes. He counted breaths, his own and his brother’s in unison. He thought about Samantha and weighed options for their third date. Someplace nice, with real menus and cloth napkins. He had seventy-five dollars to spend.
The string tugged a little bit. He opened his eyes. “How did Grandpa do this?” he whispered to the ceiling.
The room was silent for a moment and then Bobby responded. “I don’t think he slept.”
“The last time I was like this. He just sat by my bed. I don’t know when he slept.”
Joel weighed this in his mind. Their grandpa liked to sit in his yard with a small gauge rifle, shooting squirrels out of trees before they could throw acorns into his swimming pool. He was a lot to live up to. “He’ll be all right,” he said. “He just tripped. We’ll go see him this weekend, if they say he’s ready for visitors.”
They lay in silence again. Then Bobby rolled over to face Joel. “Fuck it” he said, bringing his untethered hand out of the bag to slap an old Boy Scout sheath knife down on the floor between them. The brothers stared at it for a moment. Then Bobby said “good night” and closed his eyes, leaving Joel alone in the dark.
“TGIF” Bobby said when he woke up.
You have no fucking idea, Joel thought. He hadn’t slept more than three connected hours all week.
They got up and cut the line with the flip knife Joel kept in his pocket, which he had thought was the last remaining sharp object in the apartment. He stood by the open bathroom door while Bobby took a shower and brushed his teeth and then had his brother do the same for him. Always in sight. They looked into the steam-clouded mirror together, assessing their scraggly new beards. The razors were gone.
Frozen waffles, Joel’s toasted, Bobby’s frozen. Coke from a shared two liter. Bobby talked through breakfast. He talked while they walked to the bus stop. He talked through three rides and two transfers. He asked a little girl on the bus to guess his middle name. She said “Lawrence” and his eyes widened in amazement. “You can read minds!” he told her, and she was still beaming when she got off with her mother at the next stop.
“Your middle name is Humphrey,” Joel said as the doors closed.
“But look how happy she is” Bobby replied, twisting in his seat to look out the window as they pulled away. “She’ll always remember that.”
Bobby stopped talking when they got to the clinic. He sat in a corner of the waiting room while Joel checked in. “He’s seventeen,” the receptionist said. “He needs a parent or guardian.”
“I’m his legal guardian,” Joel said. “I’m his older brother. You should have the paperwork.”
The receptionist shrugged and looked at her phone. “His new psychiatrist is reviewing the chart. He’ll be out when he’s out.”
Joel sat down next to Bobby. “You’re not older,” Bobby whispered.
“It was basically a tie.”
“I’m three minutes older. What if she’d checked the file?”
“It’s the same one who wouldn’t give me a better appointment. She doesn’t give a shit.”
The doctor was twenty-five minutes late. “You’ve been on a lot of medications” he said, reading Bobby’s chart for what seemed to be the first time. Joel couldn’t stop looking at the man’s eyebrows. They seemed never to have been trimmed. “How are you feeling?” the doctor asked without looking up. Bobby shrugged and continued to say nothing.
Now is when you’re goddamn supposed to talk, Joel thought. “There’s been an uptick in symptoms,” he said. He rattled them off.
The doctor wrote some down. Then he stared at the chart some more and sighed. “I trained as a surgeon,” he said, “and now I’m stuck in this crap branch of medicine.”
Joel tried to look interested and sympathetic. “I wonder if…ummm…” He tried to think of a way to ask for a doctor who knew what he was doing without getting bumped to the back of the waiting list. “Maybe a second opinion?”
“You want someone who knows how the human mind works?” the doctor asked, gesturing at Bobby but looking at Joel. “Try talking to God.” He scribbled something on a notepad and handed it over. “Two weeks.”
“You want to see us again in two weeks?”
“No, this drug should start to work in two weeks, if it works at all.”
“What happened?” Bobby asked.
Joel and the doctor both stared at him. It was the first time he had spoken.
“Why aren’t you a surgeon?”
The doctor raised his right hand, fingers spread, palm out. A thick scar ran from the base of his thumb across to the far edge of his wrist. His hand didn’t open all the way.
Bobby leaned forward, nodded as if in recognition, and then got up and left without another word.
They stopped at the desk on the way out. “When does he want to see you again?” the receptionist asked Bobby.
“He didn’t say,” Joel said.
She shrugged. “There’s a twenty-five dollar co-pay.”
Joel looked in his wallet. He had his lucky two-dollar bill, three singles, a bus pass, and the seventy five dollar AmEx gift card his grandfather gave him for Christmas and that he sure as shit wasn’t using for this. “Can you bill us?”
The receptionist reached up and tapped a framed notice on the counter. Payment is kindly requested at the time of service.
“I don’t have it on me,” Joel said. “If you send a bill I’ll get it paid.”
“We won’t provide further care if you have an outstanding balance,” she said.
That’s not a major loss Joel thought as he smiled apologetically. “Can you guess my middle name?” Bobby asked the woman. Joel took his brother by the arm and pulled him from the office without waiting for her to respond.
As he stood on the sidewalk, Joel felt betrayed by modern medicine. What kind of drug took two weeks to maybe work? “That doctor sucked,” he said.
“He was probably a great surgeon.”
“He’s a piece of shit.”
“I’ve seen a lot of psychiatrists. There aren’t many good ones. It must be hard.”
“We need to go to the pharmacy.”
Bobby studied the paper from the surgeon/psychiatrist. “I think I’ve been on this one before. I’m not sure. Grandpa would know.”
“Grandpa’s not here.” Joel leaned forward, looking for the bus. Of course some drugs took longer to work. He’d had a sinus infection the winter before and Grandpa had to take him to the doctor twice to try a couple of different things, and even then he didn’t feel better for over a week. He’d just convinced himself that once they got to Friday things would be better.
They took the bus to the pharmacy and filled the prescription. There was no getting out of the co-pay and Joel used the gift card, lowering the balance to fifty dollars. He grit his teeth as he swiped it.
It was two more buses to get home and Bobby had grown quiet. Joel went on his phone and studied the online menu at the restaurant where he had decided to take Samantha. There was a chicken entrée for under twenty dollars. He hated chicken. They would skip appetizers. It would be romantic to share dessert.
Bobby almost missed the second transfer. Joel got up to go to the door and then glanced back. Bobby was looking out the window to a spot where a kink in the river that bisected their city shone through a gap between buildings. Joel followed his gaze to the water, smooth and gaping, and then back to Bobby’s eyes. He grabbed him by the collar and pulled him from his seat just before the bus started moving again.
Their mother was in her room when they got home. They knew because her door was closed and there was an extra towel on the pile in the bathroom. They took turns peeing. Bobby flipped the mirror open and looked into the medicine cabinet. “There are rubbers in here.”
“You’re not a Magnum.”
“Fuck off. Your dick’s the same size as mine.” Joel closed the cabinet and started to walk away before he realized that he couldn’t.
“Those are for Samantha?”
“Well, not anymore,” Joel said. Then he shrugged and stuck his hands in his pockets. Bobby looked at him for a moment and then walked past him and sat down on the couch in the living room. Joel sat down next to him. “Do you want to watch TV?” he asked.
“I fuck everything up,” Bobby said.
“No, you don’t.”
“I still want you to go.”
Joel didn’t say anything.
“You can leave me alone for a little while. I feel okay.”
They looked at the fish tank. They looked at the two sleeping bags, rolled and piled in the corner. They looked at the thick spool of string. They looked at their mother’s closed bedroom door.
“I don’t want to be like this,” Bobby said.
“I know you don’t.”
“Sometimes I think I’m okay.”
“You know what I mean? Don’t I look fine?”
“I do. I look like you.”
“But I’m not.”
“You will be. You’ll be all right.”
Bobby flexed his hands, looking down at them. He held his palms close to each other as though he were crushing some invisible ball. “You know what I dreamed last night?”
“I dreamed I was dying of a disease. Some tumor. The doctors told me I only had a little time left and there was nothing they could do. You and Grandpa were there and he wasn’t hurt, he was okay, but there was nothing you guys could do, either.”
“I’ve had dreams like that.”
“Me too, but you know the crazy part?”
“This time, when I woke up, I didn’t feel relieved.”
They sat together for a while longer. Then Bobby said “I have to go to the bathroom again.”
He got up and Joel followed him to the bathroom and waited in the doorway, and while he was waiting he thought about his grandfather. He thought about stories of him winning the New England 200-meter butterfly when he was sixteen years old, even though he had pneumonia. Charging up Hamburger Hill. Going to Yale on the GI Bill. Sleeping on the couch in his office while he worked twenty-hour days setting up the biggest accounting firm in the state.
“What’s wrong?” Bobby asked.
Joel hadn’t realized he was holding his face in his hands. “I’m just tired,” he said. “I think I have a headache.” He rubbed his temples. Music was playing below them. “I have an idea,” he said. “Let’s go downstairs.”
Joel knocked on the door to the downstairs apartment. It was labeled Unit 1, which seemed unnecessary since there were only two units in the house. It took a moment for the door to open and when it did Mrs. Richardson stood in the doorway, a baby on one hip, spatula in hand. “Hello, boys,” she said, looking from Joel to Bobby and back again. “Is everything all right?”
Bobby looked at Joel. “Is everything all right?” he asked.
“Can we come in?” Joel asked Mrs. Richardson.
She stepped aside and gestured with her spatula. The baby studied Joel and sucked on a finger. Joel smiled at him but couldn’t remember his name.
The apartment was too warm and smelled of hot tomato sauce. Two other children were working over a plastic table designed to look like a workshop. One of them pushed down on a lever and strands of purple Play Doh emerged from a spout. Music came from a room down the hall, its door closed. A single trumpet playing a jazz piece Joel had heard before but couldn’t name.
“What can I do for you?” Mrs. Richardson asked, pushing a strand of hair out of her face with the end of the spatula.
Joel opened his mouth to speak, and froze. He hadn’t planned this far ahead. He hadn’t planned at all, actually. His hope was this: that the Richardson family might watch his suicidal brother for the evening, really watch him, possibly including the stipulation that they leave the bathroom door open a crack if he had to go, and also feed him while he, Joel, went to dinner and tried to stretch the fifty dollars left on his gift card far enough to pay for him and Samantha to have a romantic meal and maybe, just maybe, to continue to watch Bobby for a little while longer so that they, Joel and Samantha, could have sex for the first time. Upon reflection, it seemed like a lot to ask for.
The smoke detector went off in the kitchen. Mrs. Richardson swore in Spanish. The trumpet music didn’t stop. She handed the baby to Bobby, who held him out with two stiff arms as though he were a lit stick of dynamite, and hurried into the kitchen. “Joel,” she called, “come help me.”
Joel followed and saw that she was not quite tall enough to reach the smoke detector. She was waving her spatula at it, trying to fan the smoke away. He walked over, reached up, and pressed the red silence button.
“Thank you,” she said. She hurried to the stove and moved the pot of sauce off the burner, cursing some more. Joel understood about twenty percent of the words. He watched as she stirred the pot, reached into the oven to loosen the aluminum foil on whatever was cooking, and then leaned back on the counter. “Are you boys ok?” she asked again. “What do you need?”
Joel stepped out of the kitchen and looked into the living room. Bobby was standing in the same place, holding the baby at arm’s length. They seemed to be staring at each other. “Sit down,” Joel said. “Just play with the baby, okay?”
Bobby nodded and stepped to the sofa. He sat, and after an uncertain moment settled the baby on his knee. One of the kids at the plastic table turned to him. “Do you want spaghetti?” she asked, holding up the purple strands. Bobby nodded. Joel went back into the kitchen and pushed a shutter over the sink partway open so that he could look into the living room and see his brother. “I was wondering if Bobby could stay here for a few hours?” he asked.
It was not, by itself, a strange request. The Richardson’s had been their downstairs neighbors for three years. Seven months earlier Joel had been awakened at two in the morning by a frantic pounding on the door. Mrs. Richardson was in labor, the baby was coming fast, and someone needed to stay with the two kids while they waited for her sister-in-law to come. Joel had stumbled downstairs, half-awake, not knowing what to expect. It was anti-climactic. Mrs. Richardson was already in the car and her husband ran out to her, leaving Joel to sit in their silent living room until the sister-in-law arrived. He fell asleep on their couch and then went back up to bed. He’d really done nothing. Still, he thought there might be some sense of reciprocity.
Mrs. Richardson frowned at him. “Any particular reason?”
“He’s not feeling well. He’s not sick, he’s just not himself. He’s feeling down. I’ve been trying to cheer him up, not let him be alone, but I have a date tonight. So, I was just wondering, instead of him being alone upstairs, if he could come down here.”
“Is your mom sleeping?”
“I hope Bill’s playing doesn’t bother her.”
“It never does.”
“Well, of course he’s welcome to stay and hang out. We’re not doing anything special, just having chicken parm and watching TV.”
Joel looked through the window from the kitchen into the living room. The baby had squirmed closer to Bobby and was pulling on his scrap of beard. The other two kids seemed to be making an entire Play Doh meal, handing him one plastic plate at time. “That’s great,” he said, “I really, really appreciate it.”
Mrs. Richardson looked at Bobby through the window. “Do you think he’s depressed?” she asked.
Joel had thrown the Boy Scout knife into a dumpster on their way to the bus stop that morning. He thought about it sitting on the carpet between their sleeping bags. It had been one hundred and twelve hours and thirty-three minutes since he took another, bigger knife from his brother’s hands, terrified at his lack of expression, terrified that he wasn’t weeping in spite of what he was clearly about to do. He’d tied Bobby to him that night, and each night since. “I think that he might be,” he said.
The door at the end of the hall burst open and Joel realized that the music had stopped moments before. Mr. Richardson emerged, chest bursting from his V-neck undershirt. “What smells delicious?” he demanded.
Joel thought that the chicken parm smelled mediocre, but that wasn’t what Mr. Richardson had in mind. He passed the kitchen and went into the living room where his two older children squealed in delight and rushed to him, plates of Play Doh in hand.
“Spaghetti!” he roared, scooping the girl up and holding her over his head. Mr. Richardson was close to seven feet tall and weighed two hundred and fifty pounds. He swung his daughter perilously close to a ceiling fan. She screamed in delight and threw Play Doh across the room.
“Bill!” his wife called, “be careful!” She smiled and turned back to the oven.
“May I use the bathroom?” Joel asked.
“Of course.” She gestured to the hall.
Joel peed and then ransacked the medicine cabinet. Acetaminophen. Definitely toxic if taken in high enough quantity. He didn’t feel good about the number of tablets in the bottle and flushed half of them down the toilet, leaving what he thought would be a non-lethal dose. Nail scissors and a three pack of disposable razors went into the front pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. He would ask to use the bathroom again when he came back to retrieve Bobby and return them then. No one shaved on a Friday night. What else? Q-Tips. Birth control pills. Band Aids. He looked under the sink. There was a half-full bottle of Liquid Plumber. He dumped it into the toilet, flushed again, and replaced the empty bottle. Joel took a final look around and, satisfied, went back to the living room.
Mr. Richardson was on all fours, the two older children straddling his massive back while he bucked and they screamed in delight. The baby lay on a blanket on the floor. Mr. Richardson lowered his head and blew raspberries on the baby’s stomach in between episodes of shaking the older ones from one side to the other. Mrs. Richardson was setting steaming plates of chicken parmesan on a crowded table. Joel had never seen so much delight in a single place at a single time. He looked at his brother, still sitting on the couch. Bobby’s eyes were negative space defined by the joy in the room, and Joel knew that he could not leave him there. “We need to get going,” he said to Mrs. Richardson.
The five Richardson’s looked at him, the baby twisting around for a good view. “Both of you?” Mrs. Richardson asked.
“Where are we going?” Bobby asked.
“We’re going to dinner.”
Joel sat in the back of the bus and studied the appetizers. He swiped the screen on his phone, moving on to drinks. “You’ll sit where I can see you,” he said. “I think you can get cheese sticks or fries, but not a main course. And a drink, but ask whether refills are free before you get one.”
Bobby had lapsed into one of his silences. He sat next to the window, looking out at the fading light. Joel’s face, as he leaned forward, merged with his brother’s in the reflection. “Are you all right?”
“Stop asking if I’m all right. It’s a stupid question.”
Joel wanted to punch him in the back of the head. Instead, he began to talk. He listed every sacrifice and inconvenience he’d ignored for the past week and then he started in on the rest of their lives. Once, many years ago, he’d been sent to therapy and the counselor had tried to get him to stop using the word always. “It’s a dangerous word,” the counselor said. “It closes doors instead of opening them. It shuts out possibility.” She wasn’t used to working with kids but Joel, who at age eight had already read the Lord of the Rings straight through twice, had no trouble understanding her and he tucked this dangerous word away for when he might need it. He produced it now, polished and sharp, and plunged it into his brother’s turned back. “Always,” he said. “Always,” again and again, tucked into every sentence, opening every observation. Bobby always had been this way and always would, and then of course “never,” the corollary of “always”: Bobby would never change, and Joel would never be free of him.
He stopped talking as the bus stopped up the street from the restaurant. The brothers got off and walked the rest of the way. Joel burned with regret but he would take nothing back because everything he had said was true.
The restaurant was nice enough that a girl their own age in black pants and a white button-down shirt stood inside the door to seat people. “We need two tables,” Joel said. “Not right next to each other but not too far apart.” He didn’t want Samantha to spot Bobby. It’s hard to hide your twin. The hostess looked at him doubtfully but the restaurant was half-empty and she showed Joel to a table by the bathrooms. “How about over there for him?” Joel said, pointing to a small table in the corner.
“Sure,” the hostess said. She took Bobby to the small table. He sat down and took a menu, studying it closely even though his options were very limited. Joel sat down; Samantha’s back would be to his brother and she’d have no reason to turn to that corner. He fiddled with his silverware, unwrapping the white cloth napkin and wrapping it back up again. This was the kind of restaurant his grandfather took them to, but Grandpa always paid and Joel never paid attention to the prices. He and Bobby used to get three desserts between them, sharing brownies with piles of ice cream and tiramisu that they left half-finished while Grandpa drank his Irish coffee and watched in amusement. Everything looked different when there was a cost attached.
“What’s up, stranger?” Samantha had dressed for the occasion. A red dress, with her black hair down and a thin gold necklace. Joel felt stupid and underdressed in his sweatshirt.
He got up and pulled out her chair. On the other side of the room Bobby was talking to a waiter. Joel hoped he’d remember to make sure refills were free. He sat back down. His eyes remained on his brother.
“Are you okay?” Samantha asked.
Bobby was right, it was an irritating question. “Yeah, sure I am.”
“You’ve been out of school all week.”
“Yeah, but I’m okay now. You look great.”
The waiter appeared at their table. Joel didn’t want to ask about the refill policy in front of Samantha so he got water. The waiter, who had long slicked back hair and tattoos covering one forearm, frowned and walked away.
Samantha opened her menu. “What are you going to have?”
“Chicken,” Joel said, again looking at his brother. Bobby had placed his order and was staring into space.
The waiter returned and Samantha made her choice. Joel added the cost of the chicken to what he guessed Bobby was spending and the veal his girlfriend had just ordered. No dessert, no tip, though he wasn’t feeling much like tipping. Samantha was talking about something that had happened at school that week, a drama Joel couldn’t care about involving a bunch of kids he sort-of knew. He tried not to stare at his brother, concerned that Samantha might turn and follow his gaze and see his spitting image dining alone on the other side of the restaurant. He tried to make appropriate noises and comments, laughed in the right spaces, rolled his eyes in others. He played the part of himself playing the part of her boyfriend and wished, more than anything else, that his grandfather hadn’t slipped getting out of his pool.
Their meals arrived. Samantha’s veal and his chicken, which he could almost convince himself looked good. Joel spread his napkin in his lap and smiled at his girlfriend, and then looked over her shoulder to where his brother was being served a massive steak with a Caesar salad which, he knew from extensive study of the menu, cost an extra $8.99.
“Oh, no,” he said.
Joel looked down at his plate. “Nothing.” He looked back up. The waiter brought Bobby what seemed, from a distance, to be a mocktail from the bar. At least five dollars. It didn’t matter, though. The steak had blown the whole thing wide open. Joel breathed deeply.
“Are you feeling sick again?” Samantha asked.
“I…no. Maybe.” With a sickening feeling he realized that his eyes were filling with tears. “Excuse me.” He got up, dropped his napkin on his chair, and went into the bathroom. He leaned over the sink and looked at his face in the mirror, and then bent over and washed it. He rubbed his hands together under the water, over and over again. He didn’t know what to do. The only person he could imagine coming to help was Mrs. Richardson but he didn’t know her number and it was a crazy idea anyway, the thought that she would come out and drive across town to give him a couple of twenties.
He couldn’t stay in the bathroom. He washed his face one more time, rubbed it with a paper towel, squinted his red-rimmed eyes, and went back into the restaurant. He sat down at the table, smiling at his girlfriend. He picked up his fork and knife and took a bite of the chicken. He chewed, and breathed, and asked Samantha a question about something at school that she had probably already told him, and then he allowed himself to look across the room to an empty table with a barely eaten salad and an untouched steak.
Joel leaped to his feet. “Where is he?”
Samantha stared up at him, her eyes wide, her mouth open. Joel spun in a full circle. The place had filled up since they came in. He saw the waiter on the other side of the room.
“Where is my brother?” He pointed to the empty table. “That guy! Where did he go?” Everybody in the restaurant was staring at Joel now. He felt like he was in a nightmare where something terrible was happening and no one understood or believed him. He scanned the room. There was only one option and he ran for the door, ignoring the stares, ignoring Samantha calling his name, and then he was on the street. It was empty. The railroad tracks were in one direction, the river in the other. He made a decision and ran as fast as he could, past the bus stop where they’d gotten off, past closed stores and an empty playground, down a flight of steps to the Riverwalk.
No one was there. He looked to his right and to his left and again moved at random, his chances of getting closer to Bobby cut in half by each mental flip of the coin. The sun was setting and it was reflected in the water, burning his eyes. He ran along the river, his lungs and legs aching. He wanted to give up but he knew that no one else was going to come. Should he turn back? Go the other way? Back to the train tracks?
Then he saw him. Bobby was over the river, on a footbridge, looking down. Maybe fifty yards ahead, midway across. The sun was behind him and Joel had to squint to see, but he knew as surely as he knew his own face.
He paused, his chest heaving. He wasn’t sure he could do this. Then he charged, like a member of 1st battalion, 506th infantry taking Hill 937, what they called Hamburger Hill. He ran as hard and quiet as he could, trying not to disturb any of the molecules between him and his brother. He reached the steps and sprang up. His foot caught at the very top and he sprawled onto the bridge, the skin tearing from his palms and knees, his teeth smashing shut, the contents of his sweatshirt pocket skittering across the concrete, his good jeans ruined.
Bobby hadn’t moved.
Joel stood. He didn’t know what to say. “Don’t jump” seemed obvious and, given the mocktail and steak, somewhat insincere. “Don’t leave me alone” would have been the truest thing, but at age seventeen was more honest than he was prepared to be. Bobby spoke first anyway.
“I can’t do two weeks.”
Joel leaned against the railing and tried to catch his breath. He tasted blood in his mouth. The river seemed a long way below.
“Tell me how I can do two weeks.”
Joel couldn’t. He didn’t know. He wasn’t sure he could do two weeks with him. He moved toward Bobby. Bobby stepped away and shuddered. He took a deep breath but it caught and came out in a staccato. He placed his palms flat on top of the railing and looked down. He was a good fifteen feet away from Joel, maybe more.
“What is that?” Bobby asked.
“What is what?” Joel’s eyes scanned the water.
“These.” Bobby stooped and picked up a small plastic case.
“Those are Mrs. Richardson’s birth control pills.”
“What are you doing with them?”
“I took them. When I thought you were going to stay with them for dinner. I was making the bathroom safe.”
Joel took another step. Bobby backed away. Joel stopped. He breathed once, twice, and opened his mouth, hoping for something honest. “I’ll be with you,” he said.
“You can’t be with me all the time.”
“I’ll be with you tonight.”
Bobby looked out at the river and the city beyond. There was a chill in the wind over the water. “You thought I was going to OD on these?”
“I wasn’t sure. I thought they might jack up your estrogen to a dangerous level or…or something. Cause a seizure.”
“So, you stole her pills?”
“Yeah. I was going to return them later, when I picked you up.”
The boys looked at each other for a moment. Then they began to laugh. Bobby leaned forward, forehead on the rail, hands on his head, and Joel finally reached him. He put his arms around his very slightly older brother.
They laughed until they thought that they would break.