I-II • SATAN'S WATERFALL
'Do you have to stand there like a creep?'
Cold metal bit into the back of her bare legs causing her to shift nervously in her seat. Legs crossed and back straight, Serena sat on the very edge of her chair. John B, sat beside her, looked the polar opposite. One arm was resting on the back of the chair and he was slightly slumped, legs apart.
Fiddling with the hem of her skirt, Serena scanned the posters blu-tacked to the walls and tried to ignore the situation that she was currently in. On the other side of the cluttered desk, the social worker scanned the twins as she grilled them about their current home situation. No matter how many supportive posters they decorated the walls with or how many warm lamps they lit, the DCS would always be a cold place. It represented too many upsetting topics. Serena ran a hand over the tops of her thighs in an attempt to warm them.
"When is the last time you spoke to your uncle?" Cheryl, their social worker, asked.
As the twins began trying to convince her that their uncle was living with them, Cheryl's face made it abundantly clear that she wasn't buying a word that they spoke. Quickly glancing down at the silver watch on her wrist, Serena informed the older woman that she had spoken to their Uncle Teddy a mere thirty-four minutes ago. The lie rolled effortlessly off her tongue, making direct eye contact with the social worker who stared her down. Serena had to make Cheryl believe them. Their future in the Chateau depended on it. Unfortunately, the dark-haired woman had deduced the fact that John B was the weaker link of the two. Thus, she directed her next question towards the nervous boy.
"When's the last time you saw him, John B?"
"Two hours…," he paused. "…and forty-three minutes ago."
Cheryl arched a brow. Serena sighed, running her hands over her face in exasperation as she sunk lower in her chair. The pair of them were screwed. If the DCS obtained concrete evidence that she and John B were two unemancipated minors living on their own, they'd be shoved into foster care. The Pogues would be divided, and that wasn't even the worst outcome.
"Okay, we're going to come out there tomorrow to talk to your uncle. If he's not there then we're going to move forward with foster care. I assure you that we'll find you both a safe and loving home."
Serena scoffed whilst John B nodded in disbelief. They already lived in a safe and loving home. Sure, it wasn't conventional by any standards. Neither of their parents were around anymore and they didn't live with a person over the age of eighteen but they were still safe. Serena made sure they were fed. John B made sure the doors were locked at night. Both of them worked in order to pay the water and electricity bills. The clothes were washed (even if it only occurred when they were down to their last clean pair of underwear). In fact, their lives weren't much different to when Big John had been around.
Being part of a loving home certainly wasn't a concern in the Chateau. The Routledge twins loved each other fiercely. When family had abandoned them, they clung on tightly to each other and made their own family. Forcing them into an unknown home with a strange family would not be a safe or loving thing to do. If anything, it would cause more damage than leaving them be. Trembling slightly, Serena worked up the courage to ask the one question that she was terrified to know the answer to.
"Will you, uh… I mean, you're not going to separate us, are you?"
Reaching over and grabbing her hand, John B squeezed tightly equally as anxious as his sister. Two sets of eyes stared at the social worker in anticipation. Somehow their faces were strikingly similar and yet still so different but there was no denying that the hopeful look in their eyes was identical. Looking away from them for a few seconds, Cheryl prepared herself to deliver the bad news. All she wanted was to help children but sometimes helping them caused a little hurt.
"We can't guarantee that you'll be taken in together."
"You can't split us up!" Serena screeched, standing from her chair with such force that it teetered slightly. John B righted it.
Yeah, thought John B, the DCS is really looking out for us. Did they think we'd be happy to hear that?
Golden grains provided a soft cushion from her bottom as she plonked down onto the soft sand. A can was thrust in front of her and Serena drank greedily. Laughter enveloped her, attempting to wash away some of the day's negativity. Even Pope was displaying a rare case of emotion as he chuckled at JJ's joke, clutching his side. Serena's sunglasses were resting on his nose and he had paired the look with Kie's bucket hat.
A grey hoodie that technically belonged to John B's covered the top half of Serena's body as the wind picked up slightly. (She liked that the long sleeves meant she could smack people in the face with them). To her left, JJ was drinking from his own can and Serena had to resist the urge to run her fingers through his hair. Blond curls billowed in the sea wind, pushed out of his face by a grey bandanna. A dark grey jacket kept his arms warm, only a sliver of his chest on show. JJ thrived in hot weather and was often found shirtless when the sun was out. Whilst she enjoyed those moments, Serena had a hidden appreciation for the rare moments he had a sweater on.
Only because you fantasise about stealing his sweatshirts, teased Serena's conscience.
Kie wrapped her arm around the other girl's waist, snuggling in for warmth. An orange hue tinted the sky; the sun slowly slipping beyond the horizon. Flames flickered from the small campfire they had built, puffs of smoke floating upwards. A bag of marshmallows lay discarded at Pope's feet. Previously, JJ had been chasing Serena around, trying to shove a marshmallow into her mouth despite knowing she despised them. Pope, the voice of reason, chastised them for being too close to the fire. JJ had simply been trying to coax a smile out of his glum friend, and it had worked; for a while.
Head turning so that she could see her brother, Serena's smile dropped when she spotted him alone on a small dune of sand. An hour had passed since he had wandered over there and yet there he stayed, staring sullenly out at the water. Whereas Serena buried her sadness with a smile, John B preferred to sulk his problems away. A picnic blanket had been placed between Serena and JJ in the event that somebody got chilly and so she bundled it into her arms before standing. Brushing sand off her butt, Serena shuffled over to her brooding brother.
Goosebumps rippled down John B's bare arms but he paid no attention to the wind that froze him. All he could focus on was the words Cheryl had said to them earlier. Over and over they replayed in his head. Being taken from his home was bad enough but snatching away his sister was unacceptable. Yet they thought it was the 'caring' thing to do? The DCS had gotten involved with the Routledges because they lacked family but now they wanted to separate a family.
This whole thing is bullshit, he seethed.
Warm material was draped over his shoulders and he turned to look at the worried girl who curled up next to him. Soft curls spilled over his arm when she rested her head on his shoulder. Instantly, he wrapped an arm around her.
"I won't let them take you." John B promised.
A sad smile tugged at her lips as her pessimism kicked in. The pair of them were two halves of a whole. John B preferred to look on the brighter side of things, believing that he could find a way out of the trickiest of situations. Serena immediately began preparing for the worst situation possible. She would rather be pleasantly surprised if things worked themselves out than disappointed and blindsided when it turned out wrong. Unfortunately, there was no possible way for this situation to have an upside – a fact even John B admitted to himself. Unless Uncle Teddy found a way to teleport, the DCS would take the twins away. Optimism wasn't a trait she possessed but for her brother (who was cutting off the circulation in her hand), she could try for one final time.
"I know you won't, Bean."
Plates in hand, the teenager wove between tables and chairs, dodging a few rowdy children. Numerous conversations echoed in her ears, overlapping each other and worsening the pounding in her head. Outside The Wreck, the trees swayed violently in the wind. Placing the dishes down in front of the customers, the flustered girl asked if they required anything else for their meal. Dismissed by a shake of the head, the brown-haired girl hurried off to hide behind the bar for a few moments.
Iced water was placed in front of her and she took a large gulp, wincing when it stung her sensitive teeth. Thanking her friend, Kie barely managed a smile – she was also suffering from a similar ailment. At the beach, the pair of them had drunk slightly too much and had been in the sun for longer than they should have. Unfortunately, they'd forgotten that they had been scheduled to work the dinner shift at The Wreck until Serena's alarm went off with a reminder. Now they were attempting to wait tables, deal with people, and not throw up/fall asleep.
Mike Carrera had clocked on to the reason for their dishevelled state the moment they shuffled through the door. So he had been extra hard on them. Head resting on the cool glass, Serena grunted when the aforementioned man addressed her loudly. A grin was plastered on his face at the sickly pallor of her face.
"Table 3," he handed her two plates and then chuckled when she swayed slightly as she stood up straight.
Disappointed that she had showed up to work intoxicated, Mike begrudgingly admired her ability to pretend as if everything were fine. If she were to drop a plate, he would reprimand her but she was always light on her feet so he had faith in her. Of all his daughter's friend, Serena was the only Pogue that Mike actually liked. Not just because she worked for him but because she had always been polite and considerate. If the Pogues made a mess, she was the one to clear it up. Ketchup bottle in hand, Serena returned to the bar where Mike was still watching her.
"What?" She asked, eyes narrowing under his scrutiny.
"How much longer do you think you'll last before you throw up?"
"I have heat stroke!" Serena claimed defensively.
Mike nodded but his facial expression indicated that she wasn't fooling him. Kie bent over the sink, gagged once and clenched her eyes shut. Her father shook his head disapprovingly. Behind them, the small television screen played the news to the patrons of the restaurant. The weather report warned the residents of the Outer Banks that Hurricane Agatha was fast approaching. Bouncing over to her friend (and then stopping when the floor started moving), Kie made a remark about how lucky Serena and John B were. Serena didn't think they were very lucky considering the DCS were involved in their lives in the first place, but she accepted the small victory nevertheless.
"I wouldn't start celebrating so soon, girls." Mike interrupted, a smug smile on his face. "I'm going to need you to stay for a little longer so that you can help prepare for the storm."
Kie pretended to sob and Serena banged her head on the top of the bar.
Rain lashed against the windowpanes, threatening to break through. Wind hammered against the small house, sneaking in through the gaps in the door and creating small whistles. Music blasted out from the smallest bedroom in the house, blocking out the horrific wails of Hurricane Agatha. Seated at the small wooden desk, Serena flipped through a large textbook before highlighting a few key facts. John B had disappeared a few hours ago, claiming he was going to see Pope for a few hours.
Because she wasn't insane, Serena took the clever option of reminding indoors whilst Agatha waged her war against Kildare County. Snuggled in an oversized sweatshirt (that she's pretty sure belonged to JJ before she stole it), Serena was still in her pyjamas. She didn't feel the need to get dressed if she wasn't leaving the house all day. However, as the sky darkened, she knew she needed to shower and put some clean ones on soon. She couldn't summon up the energy to move, though her butt had long since fallen numb.
Head bobbing along to the bass, the oblivious girl was unaware of the person watching her from the doorway of her room. Smiling, the blond boy gazed at her with adoration in his eyes when she began singing along to the rock song. Laughter poured out of his mouth when she began aggressively playing the air guitar. Alerted to the fact that she was no longer alone, Serena spun round on her chair and jumped at the sight of the man filling up her doorway.
"Shit, JJ! Do you have to stand there like such a creep?"
"No, but it's far more entertaining this way."
Pushing off from the doorframe, JJ entered the bedroom. Evidence of the life the Pogues led were scattered all around the room. Seashells decorated the windowsill from when Serena and Kie had cleaned litter off the beach. A surfboard leant against the side of the wardrobe, untouched and collecting dust.
Since Big John's disappearance, Serena refused to go in the water. Only two months ago, they had managed to convince her to bore the HMS Pogue once again. However, that had been a long process filled with numerous panic attacks. Whilst the Pogues viewed her fear as irrational, they understood why she was reluctant to resume her reckless behaviour in the water and supported her through her fear. When they all went surfing, sometimes Serena was strong enough to sit on the beach and watch them. On the days where her anxiety was high, she remained snuggled in bed with Netflix.
Eyes moving past the abandoned board, JJ looked at his favourite part of the room. Three of the walls were painted a bright white but the one behind her bed had vibrant yellow splashed onto it. JJ remembered the day she had painted it (and he'd kept the white shirt he'd worn that day though it was too small for him and littered in yellow splodges). White string had been placed from one end of the wall to the other and Polaroids had been hung from it.
One of them featured JJ in the middle of smoking - his head was tipped back, his hat on the wrong way and a puff of smoke surrounded him as he exhaled. Another saw JJ in the middle of mowing a Kook's lawn, shirt off and a cheeky grin on his face. He had winked at her not long after the flash went off.
On the line underneath was Pope - reading his book, mid-handshake with John B, and the best one was Pope halfway through a 'woogity'.
Kiara's line showed the time Serena had captured Kie mid-rant with pink glasses on her nose. Whilst the expression on Kie's face was frightening, the glasses made the photo hilarious. Another snap contained both girls beaming, baby turtles in their hands as they helped rescue them.
The wire closest to the bed were the ones that Serena loved the most. During a shift at The Wreck, the Pogues had gone to visit Kiara and started throwing fries at her. As the sun set behind them, John B had an arm wrapped around Serena as they celebrated their sixteenth birthday with a party at The Boneyard. All five of them stood atop a freshly painted Pogue.
JJ grinned as he looked at his favourite photo of the bunch. He had stolen a copy of the image and hidden it under his pillow (so that his father couldn't destroy it). Nine-year-old JJ had sprinted up to an oblivious Serena, and kissed her on the mouth. It was the first time he did it. Sixteen-year-old JJ hoped it wouldn't be the last time.
Toeing off his boots, the blond collapsed onto bed, pulling the stuffed giraffe into his arms. Usually the brown-haired girl would giggle at the sight of him with 'Gerry' but she hardly even glanced at him.
"All right, spill."
"You're being moody. Is Satan's Waterfall here?"
A stuffed penguin smacked him in the face, knocking the hat off his head. Infuriated at the misogynistic comment, Serena started yet another lecture on how he should never blame a woman's emotions on her period. Nodding, JJ listened as she told him that he should be ashamed of himself. It wasn't the first time he'd been told. Women have other problems aside from PMS, JJ - a phrase he had heard many times from both she and Kie. Many people didn't believe JJ to be of high intelligence but he was crafty and there was no denying that. After having been friends with girls for many years, he was well aware that their mood didn't depend on their period but by saying that it did, he achieved the results he wanted. They caved and told him the real reason they were upset so as to prove it wasn't hormones.
How are you? Such a simple question with such a loaded answer. Agatha had delayed the DCS from visiting but it only saved them for an extra day or two. Before the week was out, Cheryl would still be entering her home and ripping her away from her brother. Realistically, Serena should be using the time to pack up her belongings but putting away her things reminded her of the gravity of the situation.
Large hands wrapped around her forearms, tugging her out of the desk chair. As she landed atop the grey comforter, an orange face stared down at her. JJ grabbed hold of the stuffed animal's leg before swatting her on the nose with it. Using continuous nose boops as a threat, JJ asked once more why she was upset.
"They're going to separate us. The DCS are going to take John B away from him and stick us in different homes."
"You know John B won't let that happen. Anyway, worst case - they steal you, lock you in a tower and throw away the key. Do you know what'll happen then? John B and I will break you out." JJ laughed, gently jabbing her in the side.
Serena remained silent.
"Look, I doubt they'll separate the two of you. You're twins, reassured JJ, shuffling closer. His hand reached for her own, digging between the blanket she had been twisting. Beautiful green eyes glanced up at him, tears shining in them."
"I don't want to leave you."
Mint mixed with the faint aroma of weed washed over her as JJ let out a wry chuckle. His arms wrapped around, hugging her tight.
"I can't believe you think I'd let you go."
A nose bumped against her own as they pulled back slightly. Serena's tongue farted out to wet her bottom lip and JJ gulped. Head tilting down slightly, JJ's eyes fluttered shut. Serena's heartbeat picked up dangerously. Lips only a hair's breadth away, JJ's heart thudded wildly in his chest. He was finally about to experience something he had dreamed about (day and night) for years. Just as their lips were about to connect, the front door slammed. A deep voice called out for Serena, who leapt away from her best friend. Teetering dangerously on the edge of her bed, she was saved the pain of a bruised tailbone when JJ reached for her.
Feet thundered down the hallway causing the flustered pair to separate once more, neither looking at the other. Grabbing the giraffe and the penguin, JJ placed them in his lap. Partly so he could pretend to be occupied by something but also to hide the semi forming in his shorts. Discreetly, Serena crossed one leg over the other, clenching her thighs tightly together. A small grunt of pain as he stubbed his toe preceded John B's entrance into her bedroom. Water dripped from his dark locks and onto Serena's floor. As she opened her mouth to complain about him dripping, the young woman was cut off from speaking by the lights cutting out as the island lost power.