Thanks everyone for sticking this out with me. It's not that I haven't been writing, it was just I couldn't end it. And I'm not completely satisfied with the ending, but it'll have to do because this is getting way too long. Longest last chapter ever in fact, haha. But thanks to anyone who sent me kind words in the interim. I've been really anxious to finish this and get it posted. Please let me know what you think (in addition to the too long, crappy ending thing)

Chapter 17


No matter how fast you drove, quiet rides still felt endless.

Irony hit Bobby like a sledgehammer on the way home. He knew he was speeding, trying to end the unbearably tension-filled ride as soon as he could, but it was all too clichéd when he saw the lights flash behind him.

For a moment, he just paused. His heart skipped a beat, and he wishfully thought he would maybe see the cop car speed past him, focused on something else, something more important. But a moment later it was all too obvious that the lights were meant for him. The siren squealed.

"FUCK." Bobby pounded a fist down on the steering wheel.

Angel craned his neck to look out the back of the car at the sound of the siren, eyeing the cop with a frown. "Is he pulling you over?"

"Yes, he's pulling me over, you idiot," Bobby snapped. He slowed the car and started to pull up against the curb, almost in disbelief. "Fuck. Why now?" He looked in the rear view mirror at the cop parking right behind him and then looked at Angel. "Put on your seatbelt." He glanced at Jack. "You too. Both of you, now."

"He's not pulling you over for our seatbelts," Angel objected as he pulled his on hastily, clicking in the buckle while rolling his eyes. "Why are you so obsessed with that..."

Bobby knew seatbelts weren't the reason. It was his own fault he was getting pulled over, but it just felt so much easier to try to blame somebody else. He hated taken on the blame. He glanced back at Angel and then looked beside him to make sure Jack was buckling up as well.

"I've told you… They don't pull you over for that," Angel persisted.

Bobby put the car in park and turned off the engine. "Shut up."

Jack sat there frozen. He was terrified, and wasn't even sure why. Maybe because he was afraid Bobby would get out of the car and deck the cop for pulling him over, allowing his anger to take over. At the same time, through the fear, he felt some relief that Bobby had tossed his stuff down a drain just moments earlier. If not, he would probably be having a coronary.

Bobby sighed and rolled down his window. He felt boiling inside. It was the worst timing for this to happen. Not like there was ever a great time to be pulled over, but after everything that had gone on recently, he had enough on his mind. He wanted nothing more than to just get home...

It's your own fault, dumbass, he reminded himself. Don't take it out on Angel and Jack. They're not driving, you are.

He eyed the cop in the mirror and realized the guy looked familiar. As the middle-aged man with a moustache approached the car, Bobby tried to place his name, knowing he'd had some kind of run in with him before. Unable to place it just yet, he reached for his wallet in his back pocket.

"Hands where I can see them," the cop said sternly as he reached the window. "All of you."

Bobby put his hands back on the steering wheel with a small sense of exasperation and turned his head to look up at the officer. As he met his eye, he saw the recognition cross the man's face.

"Robert Mercer…. Bobby," the cop said. "Is that you?"

Bobby scrutinized him, then nodded, the man's voice slipping in the final clue he needed. "It's Frances, right? Hello, Frances."

"That's Frank, Bobby. Officer Frank Credio. I haven't seen you around in a while." He squinted into the car. "These your brothers?"

"Do they look like my brothers?" Bobby returned.

With a sigh, the cop simply rolled his eyes and continued. "Do you know why I pulled you over?"

"I'm going to take a wild guess and say you were bored."

"On the contrary. Do you know how fast you were going?"

"Speedometer's broke. So I can't really say…. Are you going to write a ticket or just lecture me?" Bobby replied. "Because if you couldn't tell by my speeding, I'm kind of in a hurry."

"I doubt that." The radio on the officer's belt mumbled out something intermittent with static. "Where are you coming from?"

"Just playing hockey."

"This time of night?"

"Yes." Bobby rolled his eyes. "You sound like my mother."

"Where you headed now in such a rush?"

"You need my license and registration, or what?"

Jack then realized that the car registration was always in the glove compartment. What if that whole conversation hadn't happened before and Bobby had to open the compartment, revealing the bag of weed? But then again, maybe Bobby was speeding because of that whole conversation. Regardless, it put him on edge.

"Can you get out of the car, please?" the cop persisted. "Let's have a little chat."

"Are you kidding me?" Bobby let out a frustrated breath. He realized the cop wasn't kidding and unbuckled his seatbelt, pushing open his door.

As Bobby got out of the car and slammed the door shut behind him, Jack turned to look at Angel. He could see out the back as Bobby walked several feet away with the police officer, looking pissed off. The cop's mouth was moving with words Jack wished he could hear and their brother had his arms crossed over his chest.

"Okay, whatever Bobby was ticked off about before," Angel began, "multiply it by about a million. And by two million if he actually gets a ticket. Which he will because he's being a fucking dick, as usual."

Jack frowned, continuing to watch the conversation between the two outside. "Was he going that fast?"

"Yeah," Angel admitted. "But he always goes fast."

Jack took a deep breath. "Yeah."

"It's the whole asshole attitude that's the problem."

Jack didn't answer for a moment. He watched Bobby and Officer Credio for another moment before looking at Angel, who was now scrutinizing the bandage around his elbow. Slowly, Jack asked, "Can I tell you something?"

"Yeah, sure." Angel shifted his attention off his arm and back to Jack. "What?"

With his conscience eating him, Jack began to open up, voice low. He hesitantly explained how Bobby had gone through his room, how things had been found, and then how he'd gotten the stash back. Only to have it on him and in the car, causing even more of an issue. He tried to explain it all, feeling like he was making no sense at all. Finally he finished summarizing his guilt.

"Dude, he threw that down the drain?" Angel made a face, focusing on just one part of the story. "That sucks. How much was it?"

Jack shrugged. "Well, a good amount…"

"Damn. And you told me you didn't have anything on you. Liar."

"Yeah, well..." Jack paused. "My point is what if I'd still had it and they searched the car?"

"Yeah, well then Bobby might have killed you, but it's gone and the guy didn't even glance in the car."

"Yeah…" Jack made a face. That really didn't make him feel any better. "I really think the whole chance of it is the big deal. That's what I'm worried about."

"It's his fault he was speeding. You didn't tell him to speed. His whole 'what if we get pulled over' is complete bullshit, because it's his fault if we are. There's really no we at all. You weren't driving. I wasn't driving. He was."

"Yeah… I know that."

"Grow a spine. I don't know why you're afraid of him."

"I'm not."

"So don't worry about it. It's his problem. If he's in the right mood, Bobby gets mad when somebody breathes the wrong way. But it has to be big for him to really be mad at somebody for real. I don't think he's ever been actually mad at you."

Jack shrugged.

"Trust me," Angel said. "You've gotta do something big for him to be mad."

"I did."

"No, I mean like kill somebody. Not sleeping is hardly something for him to hold against you."

Jack rolled his eyes. He appreciated Angel's attempt to make him feel better, but it wasn't completely helping. "Lying to him about drugs isn't on his favorite list either."

"Well… Not sharing drugs isn't one of my favorites, and I'm not mad at you." Angel shrugged. "It's no big deal. It's a small deal. And like I said," Angel persisted, "he got himself pulled over. Not you."

There was really not much else to say. Jack didn't know if he could characterize everything that had gone on as a 'small deal' like Angel had, but he decided there wasn't much left to the conversation about it all anyway.

Angel looked behind the car again. "I wonder what the cop is going on about."

"He's not writing a ticket, whatever it is," Jack said after he looked as well.

"Not yet anyway."

"Maybe he won't."

"If I was a cop and Bobby acted like that to me, I'd sure as hell write him a ticket. Maybe even two."

ooooooooooooo

"Understand?" Officer Credio ended.

"Yeah, I understand," Bobby replied with a nod, brow furrowed. He hadn't listened to a word of the man's spiel, but couldn't help but feel thankful that no ticket had been written. He thought the guy knowing him, and his record, would go against him so he hadn't even tried to talk his way out of anything; but apparently luck was slightly in his favor for some unknown reason. It was about time luck was on his side.

"Good, well then take your brothers home and good luck with hockey."

"Thanks." Bobby nodded. "Have a good night." He watched the officer walk away and get back into the squad car before turning to walk back towards his own car. Angel and Jack were completely silent as he got back into the vehicle.

After a moment, Angel was the brave one. "How much of a ticket?"

"A million dollars," Bobby replied, pulling his seatbelt on. He turned the key in the ignition and flipped the radio off as the sound came back on. He watched in his mirrors, wanting the cop to pull away first.

Angel paused. "He didn't give you one?"

"I didn't say that."

Angel felt a little relieved. "I can tell he didn't. You never even took out your license. That's pretty lucky."

"Lucky," he echoed. It didn't make Bobby feel any better. Well, perhaps slightly. But the heat he felt from being pulled over in the first place still lingered. That wouldn't fade for at least a little while. But he had to at least try to let the luckiness of it make him feel better. "I don't know why he didn't write a ticket actually."

"Your charm, maybe?" Angel replied wryly.

Bobby ignored him. He watched the cop car finally pull away and zip down the street.

"And he knew who you were," Angel added.

"Yeah, wasn't expecting that either."

"You know, with whatever I've done," Jack spoke up, "at least not every random cop recognizes me."

Annoyed, Bobby gave him a look. "You think that's fucking funny?"

After a quick, "No," Jack quieted, drumming his fingers against the car door beside him.

"He's right, Bobby," Angel pointed out with a slight smirk. "When a random cop pulling you over knows your full name, that's something. Pretty impressive.

Bobby knew he was right. And Jack was right in his comment too, as facetious as it was. Jack rarely got in trouble with police. His trouble was a different kind. Not to mention that if they could help it, none of them would ever let Jack near anything or anyone that would get him into serious trouble. Bobby realized this and was angry at himself more than anyone else, but that was still anger nonetheless.

Jack was staring out the window now, forehead pressed against the glass with an obvious desire for a change of subject, but Bobby persisted, somehow feeling it in his right.

"So what if he wanted to see my license and registration, Jack?" he began. "And I had to go in there to get it." He reached over and patted the glove compartment. "Huh?"

"You got rid of it all," Jack said.

"And what, that's luck again?" Bobby replied. "Wow, I'm such a lucky man. No ticket, no drug bust. Everything's just falling into place today. Maybe I ought to stop and buy a lottery ticket on the way home. Whattaya think?"

"Bobby, whatever," Angel said. "Quit giving him a hard time and let's go home. You got rid of his shit, and what a waste I might add, so whatever. And you didn't even get a ticket. It's over."

"Hindsight's great, isn't it?" Bobby retorted. "And what do you mean, what a waste? You like it when he's fucked up or something?"

"It's just not as big a deal as you're suddenly making it."

Bobby looked at him in the rear view mirror. "Not a big deal until somebody's stupid, and he's stupid. Plus we're supposed to look out for him, so you being a pusher doesn't thrill me. Fun is one thing, encouragement is another.

"I'm not pusher, and what the hell are you getting mad for? Bobby, you were the one speeding to begin with," Angel said.

"It's not just that," Bobby answered. "It's the whole combination of it. And you can give me the 'it's no big deal' spiel and call me a hypocrite all you want, but it's my fucking car and you're my fucking brothers so if I want to be mad about it, I can be mad about it."

A moment of silence passed. Bobby sat there thinking. He really didn't want to get them to where they were before. He didn't want to argue about it, any of it, or get so heated about it that Jack got that teary look again and there was all that silence. And he didn't want Angel to have to stick up for Jack, who wouldn't stick up for himself

But he couldn't just leave it either. And they were already having that awkward silence. It seemed like step one of the same downward spiral.

"Yeah, so let me just say," he continued, feeling the need to somehow just end it without just leaving it unanswered. "The whole recreational drug thing. Whatever. Been there, done that, understand it. But…" He looked straight at Jack, "I think you're in enough shit that you could just realize, or maybe it might just once cross your peabrain mind, that it's stupid to put yourself in these situations."

Jack exhaled loudly, fogging up the window with his breath. He wiped his hand across the glass to clear it.

"Jack," Bobby persisted.

"I'm listening," Jack answered.

"You feel you need it or like it, I'm telling you you're wrong, but okay, fine, figure that one out for yourself at some point. But you don't bring your shit where you can get caught. You don't hide it in my car, you don't bring it out with you and take chances, and you sure as fuck don't bring it to school."

"He's not stupid," Angel said.

"Yeah, but he's done all of those things, Angel. He does it all the time. You wanna see him in juvie?"

"He's not selling, it's not a big deal. And with you advice, then what, he should smoke up in his room so Ma can enjoy it?"

"No…" Bobby leaned his head back, rolling his eyes in exasperation. "You two make my life so difficult."

"I understand what you're saying, Bobby," Jack said, looking at his frustrated brother and wanting just to end the confrontation. "I get it."

"You say you get it just to make me shut up, but think about it." Bobby turned his head to look at him. "Ma's pissed enough as it is with me stepping over her to bring you out tonight—imagine we come back with some possession charge or something worse against one of us?"

"But we didn't," Jack said.

"It's about the situation, Jack. I feel like I can't trust you," Bobby told him. "You wouldn't even tell me whether you had anything or where it was. What if there was more and they searched the car?"

"That was all of it."

Bobby simply shook his head. "That's not the point." He put the car in drive and started to slowly pull away from the curb, letting another car pass before he pulled into the street, driving at a more reasonable speed.

"That was all of it," Jack insisted.

"How do I know that?" Bobby replied. "I don't. Maybe you won't tell me because you don't want me to take it away. And maybe I have no right to do that." He stopped at the upcoming light. "You're high, Angel's bleeding. I'm bringing back a mess. At least I'm not drunk. Maybe I should be."

Neither Angel or Jack replied, and Bobby reached to turn the radio back on. Bobby's mood would improve sooner or later. At least they were now close to home.

ooooooooooooo

Jack was admittedly nervous when the car finally pulled back up to their house and they started for the front door. He really wanted the night to be over. It seemed like everything continued to be messy. Even going to play hockey, which was supposed to be fun, got complicated. It had been fun in itself, but the surrounded events cast a shadow, making him wish he'd never even gone.

Angel pounded up the stairs as soon as they got inside, mumbling something about calling some girl, and Jack watched Bobby drop his rollerblades in the corner of the hall tiredly.

He then decided maybe they should talk. He was really afraid that Bobby was still angry. Or that he would spill everything to Evelyn without knowing any of the reasons for what happened, making everything worse. And Jack wanted to at least explain his reasons, but what were the real reasons? He wasn't sure. Regardless, he knew Bobby always confided everything in Evelyn. He could keep a secret from anyone but her.

And beyond his fear of all that, he just wanted to get rid of the uneasy nervousness he felt. Sometimes talking did that.

Hesitant, Jack watched Bobby slide off his sneakers and kick them over with the rollerblades.

"Bobby…" he started. He didn't feel they were right yet from before, and wasn't sure how to start.

"Nope, kiddo, I'm done…" Bobby shook his head and turned to face him. He didn't even want to know what Jack was going to say. Rubbing his jaw, feeling the roughness of his stubble, he sad firmly, "Just go talk to Mom and then go to bed."

Jack made a face. It was quiet and he wondered if Evelyn was even up. He hoped not, but at the same time, that just left him dreading tomorrow. "But…"

"Don't give me that look or pull your act, I'm just tired." Bobby walked past him, and Jack hesitated a second before following him. He wasn't sure whether to follow because it meant he might come across Evelyn in the next room. Almost holding his breath, he was relieved to see that the TV was off and the room was empty. That meant she had probably gone to bed, not surprising since it was fairly late.

"Don't follow me," Bobby persisted, sensing Jack trailing behind him. "I'm going to shower and you're not invited."

"I don't think she's up," Jack told him.

"Fine, then go to bed," Bobby answered with a little bit of exasperation. "I know you're tired."

"I'm sorry," Jack persisted. "About the whole thing in the car. Can we just talk?"

Bobby turned around, causing Jack to stop short in his tracks. "Stop following me. Understand? We talked enough. Now go to bed."

Jack just stood there.

"It's late, Jack… I'm tired. I'm sweaty. I'm in a weird mood. I really need to sort my head." Bobby shook his head. "I really have nothing good to say so let's not do this. You need to go to bed."

Jack knew Bobby didn't feel like arguing, and neither did he. He really just wanted to talk and clear his head with somebody, thinking that would probably be best in terms of feeling better, but it didn't seem like Bobby was in the mood for that. He couldn't blame him, after everything that had happened, so he just kind of nodded.

"Go to bed," Bobby repeated.

"Alright," Jack agreed. "Night…"

"Night." Bobby watched him walk away and sighed. He almost wanted to tell Jack to hold up, giving in and letting them talk more, but he knew it wouldn't get them anywhere. It was too late and they both just needed some rest. He didn't want to argue with him again, yet was feeling too exhausted to be able to promise himself he wouldn't.

Ten minutes later Bobby found himself a bit more relaxed, taking a long hot shower. He felt the stress of the car ride fade away. Instead of what was going on with his little brother, he thought about the fact that the four of them had been able to get together and play some hockey. It had been a long time since that had happened, and they'd actually, despite extenuating circumstances, had a good time.

He tiredly changed into the sweatpants and t-shirt he'd brought with him into the now humid and fogged up bathroom. He picked up his sweaty clothes from their pile on the floor, mentally reminding himself to do laundry the next day.

When he walked back into his bedroom, with all intentions just to go to bed, he found himself stopping in the doorway, a little surprised to find Jack sitting there on the edge of his bed, still up and with a morose look on his face. He'd taken a pretty long shower, and Bobby thought for sure that the kid would have been passed out in his own bed by now. It was kind of frustrating to have to tell him again it wasn't a good time to talk.

"Jackie-boy," Bobby began, leaning in the doorway. "Look, man, go to bed." He ran a hand through his wet hair and sighed. "Alright?"

"Okay, I will, but I've just been thinking…" Jack began in a low voice, bowing his head down a little bit like he always did to avoid eye contact when having a conversation. "You know, about what Mom and I started talking about before. She actually made a lot of sense."

"Yeah? She normally does." Bobby decided he would give him a minute, but that was it. He didn't want to sit up with Jack all night; he was too tired and wasn't even sure what to say to him anymore. He was interested in what Jack might say but was beyond knowing how to respond. "What was it you guys were talking about?" He walked across the room to put his dirty clothes down.

"About why I do it," Jack answered. "I never really thought about it, or at least never analyzed it, but I guess it was kinda obvious. I mean, at least she understood it was a kind of a relief…. Something I did when I just really needed something else to think about. And it's really just the easiest thing to do when I need that, because it works. It really works. And you just kinda get used to it, you know? Because it actually helps."

"What works?" Bobby replied as he eyed his pile of dirty laundry disappointedly. There was really more than he thought. Maybe it would be a few loads of laundry tomorrow. He'd been mentally reminding himself the whole week to do laundry, but of course, it always came down to the last minute.

"Well, I was thinking about how she said it, and how she tried to explain it to herself, which was good. It was almost like she was explaining it to me. She didn't just say…" he trailed off. "Well, the point is that really …. Like, there's other ways to do it, or to feel better, and they aren't so… Well, maybe they're more normal? I don't know if you know what I mean. Other ways to feel better."

Bobby turned and looked at him. He'd been listening, but felt like he hadn't been. He had no idea what Jack was talking about. "What are you talking about?"

"I don't even think I really realized the reasons I did it until she said it to herself, you know?" Jack persisted, finally looking up at Bobby. "I mean, I guess I knew, or knew what it was doing, but it wasn't really until she really said it out loud… that it made sense. And then I felt kinda stupid. When you say it out loud, it really does sound stupid."

"Kiddo… I have no idea what you're going on about." Bobby studied him, watching the way Jack sat there stiffly, and suddenly noticed the way his right hand was gripping his left forearm. That was when he noticed the reddish smear on his hand.

Bobby frowned. "Hey, Jack," he started, walking towards him.

"But my point, and yeah I do have one," Jack continued, "is that I think I need to find something else…" His voice trembled just slightly towards the end of the sentence. "I need to do it another way. Feel better another way... Because…" He looked up at Bobby, brow furrowed. "This isn't working. Especially this time. It's not working."

"I still don't know what you're talking about," Bobby told him. "What's on your hand? Are you bleeding?"

Jack didn't move as Bobby got closer. He swallowed and instead asked, "Didn't you hear what I said? I want to know what you think."

"I did hear you. And I just told you I have no clue what you're talking about. But why are you bleeding?" Bobby reached out to his arm. "Show me. Is it your hand or your arm?"

Jack let him move his hand and slowly revealed his left arm.

Bobby stared at Jack's arm, eyes trailing from the palm of his hand to the inside of his wrist and his forearm, which was now smeared with blood. He reached down and wiped away some of the blood with his own fingers, eyeing the short, fine cuts, maybe five of them, all in a neat row, parallel to each other.

Straight and deliberate.

As he stared, he saw a new trickle of blood form on one of the cuts.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Bobby sputtered out, forgetting everything Evelyn had said about acceptance, and attitude, and reassurance and all that other apparent bullshit that didn't work. "Seriously, man. What the fuck is wrong with you?"

Jack pulled his arm back, suddenly regretting his transgression, and held his arm against his shirt. Maybe his explanation hadn't come out right. Didn't Bobby understand what he was trying to say? What he was asking for? "I didn't mean for it to be like that…" he said. "I didn't mean to do it like that this time, you know?"

"No. I don't know." Bobby wiped his hand against his sweatpants, rubbing off the blood and shaking his head. "What the hell, Jack… That's your stress relief? That's what you're talking about? Your distraction?"

Jack frowned, exhaling deeply and lifting his hand up to rub at his jaw, inadvertently smearing his own blood onto his cheek. "It's not that easy to explain. But… Well, yeah…" He faltered at Bobby's reaction. "You never actually want to talk to me, do you? You only say you do, until I want to. And then you never understand."

"I'm getting Evelyn. I can't just… I don't know what to say to you…" Bobby told him. But he didn't move. He was afraid to move just yet. So he just watched him, unsure what to do. Unsure why Jack did what he did. A stress relief? Bobby was clueless as to how scarring yourself could possibly ever reduce stress. In fact, didn't it just leave reminders of the pain you felt? "What am I supposed to say to you?"

"I just wanted to talk before," Jack replied, frown deepening. "And I couldn't talk, so I had to think, and then I had to do something to get rid of the thoughts."

"You did this because I didn't want to talk? Bullshit. Don't put it on me, Jack." Bobby reached down and took Jack's arm again, pulling it away from his chest. His shirt now had a few splotches of blood on it. "God… Do you need stitches?"

"No," Jack replied. That was a ridiculous question.

"Maybe you do," Bobby persisted. "Why did you do this?"

"I just… I just needed to. I'm kinda used to it," Jack replied helplessly. "I'm just so used to doing it… Or something. It feels really weird not to. If I don't, later I just feel more like I need to do it. That's what I wanted to finally try to explain to you." Jack felt powerless. Didn't Bobby understand how hard this was to explain? His heart was pounding. Didn't he understand at all what kind of power it meant to give up?

"It looks deep," was all Bobby said.

"It's not," Jack replied defensively. "I thought maybe it was, but—Forget it." Jack pulled his arm away and dropped his hands to his lap. "It's fine."

"Tell me you didn't do this just to get me to talk to you."

"No. I just needed to feel it. That's what I'm trying to tell you. So before you get like you were the last time, you have to know that it felt good. That's why I do it. It makes me feel better, and I just have to do it."

"Does it feel good now?"

Jack shrugged. "No..."

"I don't get you," Bobby replied. "I really don't. I guess I'm supposed to be understanding or something through whatever this is, whatever complex you have now, but let me tell you… It's hard to do that when you go butcher yourself. Do you really expect me to be able to have a conversation with you about this?"

"No," Jack admitted. He'd hoped for it, but hadn't really expected it. Talk, everyone told him. Open up. You'll feel better. Yeah… Right. Now he just felt guilty.

"No," Bobby echoed. "Then why did you do it?"

After a second's pause, Jack simply said, "I already told you."

"It's when you're stressed," Bobby answered. "Alright. That part I get."

Jack rubbed his arm against his shirt.

Bobby didn't understand at all. He studied him for a second longer and then turned away. "Okay, let's get Mom," he said as he moved away from the bed, towards the door. "C'mon. Enough of this… I just don't know what to do with you."

Jack slid off the bed with a little alarm. "Bobby, it's late," he objected. Realizing his brother meant it, he started after him. "Don't."

"It wasn't too late for you to come in here though, was it?" Bobby replied, ignoring the protest and walking out of the room.

Jack followed him. "You were up. And I knew you were up. That's different."

"I wasn't up for this," Bobby replied, turning to face him. "Why'd you have to come to me with this?"

Jack didn't answer right away. He stood there in front of him and gave a half frown as he studied the carpet. "I don't know." He had a lot of reasons. Like because sometimes Bobby could really talk to him, and he was hoping for one of those times. Or because Bobby told him in the car he didn't trust him, and Jack wanted that trust back. But in all, it was just a final release, a well needed release despite the fact it went against all instincts he had to hide this compulsion.

Bobby was almost glad Jack didn't give a real answer as he realized it was a stupid question. Shouldn't he want Jack to come to him? What was he supposed to do—get lost inside of himself and not tell anybody? That was exactly what they were trying to get him not to do. But still, inside Bobby felt like he was the last person to approach.

He had no idea what to say without calling Jack an idiot. He wasn't sure if waking Evelyn up was even a good idea. He wasn't sure what that could accomplish at this time of night. He struggled with it for a moment, wondering if she would want to be up for this. He couldn't decide. So instead he took the easiest approach and stuck with what he was used to. The physical problem.

"Come on." Bobby nodded his head towards the kitchen. "Follow me."

Jack followed him warily and said. "It's not a big deal."

"Right."

"It's not," Jack persisted as he walked behind him. "I just thought—"

"Thought nothing," Bobby replied. "Because if you thought, then maybe you'd realize that anything involving making yourself bleed might not be the best idea."

"It's like a temporary thing. You don't get it." Jack sighed. "Do I not make any sense at all?"

"None." Bobby walked across the kitchen towards the sink. "Temporary until what?"

"It's just a quick thing."

Rolling his eyes, Bobby pulled off a few sheets of paper towels from the roll sitting on the counter and ran the water at the sink, dampening the sheets. He turned and handed them to Jack. "Here. I hate blood. Clean it up."

Jack acquiesced, taking the paper towels and pressing it against his arm. "Are you—"

"Don't ask me if I'm mad. I'm sick of you asking me if I'm mad." Bobby turned off the faucet.

"That's not what I was going to ask," Jack replied, watching the paper towel soak up the drops of blood on his arm. He kind of liked watching it.

"What were you going to ask then?"

"Whether you're going to get Mom."

Bobby looked at him and leaned against the counter. "I'd rather she talk to you than me. What do you think? You wanna talk to her?"

"It's not as bad as I thought it was," Jack said with a sigh, looking at Bobby for a moment. He glanced at his arm and then appeared thoughtful.

Bobby looked at the smear of blood on Jack's face. "Actually, it's pretty bad." He watched the way Jack stared at his own arm, and it reminded him of how when he was a kid and got a scrape or papercut or something similar, how the urge was always there to watch the blood bubble up and ooze from the wound.

It was sick. But seeing blood on any other person always bothered him much more than anything on himself. He'd been through plenty of bumps and bruises and gashes, for a variety of reasons; some actually that might have been considered something he'd done to himself. But regardless, seeing any kind of bump on someone else always made him wince a little bit and want to look away.

"Why would you show me this?" Bobby asked. "Here." He reached over and patted Jack's cheek, where the blood was. "You got blood there."

Jack rubbed the paper towel against his jaw, wiping away the crimson smudge.

"You hid everything. Why would you show me this tonight?" Bobby persisted. He started to wonder if bandaids would be appropriate. Then he started to wonder if even stitches would be appropriate. He doubted it. He'd had worse cuts from hockey injuries without stitches. This was just a nick compared. But still…

"I didn't even really know I'd done it…" Jack admitted. "Until… Well, after. And it's something I know I have to stop so you don't have to tell me that."

"Didn't that scare you?"

Jack shrugged. "A little. It didn't surprise me though. I guess I kinda knew. It was just I didn't think about it until after. Does that make sense? I kind of watched myself do it."

"No," Bobby replied. Screw this understanding thing, he thought. Evelyn was normally right, but now it seemed full of crap. Why should he lie to Jack? He never lied to Jack. And it didn't make sense at all. He wasn't going to tell him he understood when it sounded to him like another language.

Jack looked slightly disappointed, and Bobby tried to change his demeanor to look less judgmental. He guessed that that's what he looked like. He didn't understand, but he could at least act like he wanted to.

"You're not doing this because you know I'm leaving," Bobby began. "Are you?"

"No," Jack scoffed.

"Because you always seem to do something stupid, or at least more stupid than usual, when I'm about to go."

"No, I don't."

"Last time I was home you disappeared my entire last day here. You didn't even say good bye to me."

"How is that stupid?"

"Ma had no clue where you were."

Jack shrugged. He kind of recalled the time Bobby was referring to. And recalled being completely stoned out of his mind that day. But he didn't say that. Instead he said, "I'm sure I just had something better to do."

"You never have something better to do."

That dug into Jack the wrong way and he scowled. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing," Bobby answered. "But your idea of a good time recently seems to be all sorts of fucking yourself up."

"No."

"No? Well recent evidence says otherwise."

"You don't know anything."

Bobby sighed. "Yeah? Then what's your idea of a good time?"

Jack thought about it. It was actually an interesting question.

"Where would you like to be right now, if you had to pick," Bobby persisted. This was good, he thought. A slight change of subject while he didn't know what to say yet.

"A concert," Jack answered.

"Seeing one of your gay bands?"

Jack glared at him, or more at his shoe, still not looking Bobby directly in the eye. "No… I mean, me. I want to do it. That would be a good time."

"Well, I guess being in an actual band you can definitely be fucked up all the time, right?" Bobby answered. "That's what rockstars do. So what a shocking choice of a good time that is."

Jack glowered at Bobby but didn't respond. Of course his brother would ridicule his answer.

"So you talked to Ma about it?" Bobby asked.

"About my band?"

"You don't have a band," Bobby replied. "One high loser and a shitty guitar does not a band make."

"Forget it," Jack replied irritably. "Forget about it all." He moved away from the counter but froze when Bobby reached out and caught his arm. "Let go, Bobby."

"Nah, listen, I'm sorry," Bobby objected, squeezing his arm. "You know I don't mean it. I asked the question because I wanted to know the answer, and it's dick of me to then make fun of it."

Jack wasn't sure he meant it, because that was all Bobby ever did. Quips and jokes like he really didn't give a shit about what anyone was really talking about.

"You're too fucking sensitive," Bobby persisted, letting him go and patting him on the chest. "You make it too Goddamn easy, you know that? Ang fights back. You just give up. It's no fun."

"If it's no fun, then stop."

Bobby smirked, and then thought about Jack's words. "Hm, stop. Good advice," he said, raising his eyebrows. "Don't you think?"

Jack scowled. "Don't try to be deep with me, Bobby."

"Fuck that. I'm not trying to be deep at all. I just think that's good advice. If you realize something ain't right, you stop."

"It's not even advice. It doesn't make sense. Like… School's not fun. Why don't I stop that too?"

"Because it's the law. And you know Ma will never let you drop out. But I'm talking about the other not fun things. Like playing tic-tac-toe on your skin."

"Things have purposes, Bobby," Jack replied touchily. "People don't like doctors but it's so that you stay healthy. People don't like dentists but otherwise all your teeth fall out."

"That's such a different thing."

"No, it's not."

"It is. Why do you need to do anything to yourself? What's gonna happen if you don't? Your teeth won't fall out."

Jack paused. "I'll go crazy."

"No you won't."

"I will," Jack persisted. "And I'll find something else. I said I would, so I will. But that's what's there right now and that's all there is to it. You don't get it, but I need it. I need to feel it. Until I can find something else."

"Okay…" Bobby tried to understand. "Then what were you so upset about that you did it?"

Jack shrugged.

"You don't even know, do you?" Bobby answered. "That's the frustrating part. I mean, sure shit happened. Like in the car. But that's me, Jack. Why would you get upset about me? I wasn't even mad. Not really."

"It wasn't you."

Bobby didn't believe him. He knew he was part of it. But he didn't believe it was just him alone either. He had to admit that actually talking about it felt a lot better than arguing about it, and tried to remind himself not to push Jack's buttons with the teasing. It was chance enough the kid was being open. He started to regret not agreeing to talk to Jack before his shower. Then this wouldn't have happened. But then maybe there wouldn't have been anything to directly talk about.

A moment of silence passed between them.

Bobby knew there had to be a way to get Jack to understand how they saw it. Why they judged it. Why they potentially got angry or frustrated over it. And not as a reason to hide it, but just to understand how it was perceived.

"What do you think the hospital would say if we went there right now?" Bobby asked.

"I don't need stitches," Jack answered. He held the paper towel dumbly against his arm, unsure whether he was still bleeding or not. Regardless of Bobby questioning the need for stitches, the cuts were not at all deep, and would probably just look like scratches by morning.

"Maybe not. But don't you think they'd be concerned?"

Jack frowned.

"Do you think Ma would be concerned?" Bobby persisted.

Jack paused. "Not until tomorrow."

"That's if she finds out tomorrow. What if we just woke her up now?"

"Bobby, it's late…" Jack's eyes found the digital clock on the microwave. "Don't."

"Something tells me she'll feel wide awake once she sees you."

Jack shook his head.

"Didn't you think I'd tell her when you showed me?" Bobby asked. "I mean, I think she'd be much better at knowing what to do right now." He looked at the bloody paper towels. "Where's Ma keep bandaids and all that?"

"In the bathroom."

"Upstairs or down here?"

Jack shrugged. "Both I guess."

"Let's go upstairs then," Bobby replied.

Jack looked at him in surprise. "No," he protested.

"Why not?"

"Because." Jack squirmed. "I'll show her tomorrow."

"Will you?"

"I showed you."

"True," Bobby admitted. He wasn't sure why that was. Or what to do now. Did he just clean him up and tell him to go to bed? Or did he stay up with him and try to figure things out? He wasn't sure. "Alright, down here then." He moved away from the counter.

Jack followed him "You really won't wake her up?"

"No," Bobby replied. "I don't really want to either," he admitted. "It is late and I don't want her freaking out. She's gotta go to work tomorrow. And you should be going to school though I doubt anyone'll wake you in the morning."

He reached the bathroom and pushed open the door, flipping on the light. Opening the medicine cabinet, he glanced along the tiny shelves, past the Pepto Bismol and Tylenol, and found a box of Bandaids. He pulled it out and opened the box, eyeing the different sizes. Then he moved over and flipped down the lid of the toilet. "Sit."

Jack took the box from him. "I can do it," he said.

"I know." Bobby watched him sit down and then moved to sit on the wall of the bathtub himself. He eyed the bloody paper towels in Jack's hand with a frown. "God…" He still couldn't believe it. "You're such an idiot. I don't even know what to say."

"Then don't say anything." Jack wiped off some new blood and then dropped the paper towel on the sink counter beside him. He pulled a bandaid out of the box and ripped the paper off the edge, feeling awkward to have Bobby watching him but not quite wanting him to leave yet. He put the bandaid on slowly.

Then he glanced up at his brother as he pulled out a second bandaid, feeling a little guilty. "You can go back to bed if you want." He didn't mean it, but felt obliged.

Bobby sighed. "No… Not yet."

There was hesitation there and Jack said, "But you'd rather go to bed."

Bobby shrugged. "Depends."

Jack pressed his lips together and carefully placed the next bandaid on his arm. "I won't do anything else."

"You always say that."

"But I feel fine now."

"Yeah." Bobby rolled his eyes. "Right… Well, that's not completely why I want to stay up a little bit anyway."

"Then why?" Jack eyed the two bandaids lined up beside each other. He reached into the box for a third.

"Because maybe I just feel I shouldn't yet."

"Why?"

"Because."

Jack eyed him, holding the third bandaid stiffly. "Because you don't trust me."

"I didn't say that."

"You said it earlier."

"Well, that's different," Bobby began. "I can tell when I can't trust you. I know when you're lying. And it's usually about something serious."

"That's bullshit." Jack ripped open the bandaid packaging. He rolled his eyes and began to realize how stupid his arm was looking with all of these bandaids. He normally wore long sleeves to hide his arms and how he would have more of a reason to make sure he did tomorrow.

"Jack…" Bobby sighed, realizing that in order to feel like he could go to bed, he had to start to be a bit more serious with his little brother. He always took people's problems in stride, almost underestimating the issues. It was easier to distract, both himself and the troubled person, with something else, but that in itself was almost Jack's problem.

"I'm glad you're talking to me…" he continued. "Especially since I gave you such a hard time earlier… You know sometimes you don't give me a choice. But either way, you know you can always talk to me."

Jack stuck down one last bandaid, hearing in Bobby's tone that the guy was probably going to try to say something meaningful. He wasn't sure what to expect, nor what he had been hoping to hear from Bobby by approaching him tonight after doing this to himself. It could have gone either way.

Shifting his weight a little, Bobby leaned forward to rest his elbows against his knees. "I guess this whole thing tonight shouldn't surprise me, right?" he asked. "You've done a lot of the unexpected this past week, Jack."

Jack shrugged, crumbling up the bandaid wrappers to throw into the small trash bin.

"I guess what I really don't get… Or what bothers me…" Bobby continued, hesitating slightly. "Well, I'll try to explain how I think of things. Or what it all goes back to with me since I always seem to fixate on something..." He paused. "Do you remember what I said to you when you first came here?"

Jack paused and then shook his head.

"No?" Bobby made a face. "Well, this was way back when you first came here, and I don't remember exactly what we were talking about, but sometime during the conversation I told you that nobody would ever hurt you again," he explained. "And I promised to make sure of that. And I meant it. Remember?"

Jack didn't reply, but remembered vividly.

"And even if I'm not always here, and even when I've got stuff going on with hockey or something," Bobby persisted, "I guess I still feel that way… Like it's a promise I made. And I always keep promises. But it's really hard to keep that promise when it's you doing the hurting... What I'm supposed to do then. You know?"

"Yeah…" Jack said softly.

"So what am I supposed to do?" Bobby continued. "I mean, we both went through the same thing, you know… And you wait for what feels like forever until people don't hurt you anymore. Until they can't hurt you. And I don't get why when that day comes, after you have it so much better, why you would turn around and become what those people were to you. I don't get that at all."

"No," Jack answered. "That's not how it works."

"I don't see how it's different."

"It's very different."

"How?"

Jack shrugged. "It doesn't hurt."

"Jack, you're bleeding. How did it not hurt? You're lying to yourself if you say that."

"But it didn't hurt," Jack persisted. "It's completely different."

"Well, then tell me how?"

Jack shook his head.

Bobby knew that Jack wasn't going to be able to put it into words. But that didn't stop him from believing his own version of it. He always felt this overwhelming need to protect Jack. To rough him up enough to learn to be tough and take care of himself, but to protect him nonetheless. And when the kid was this confusing, Bobby just felt kind of lost.

"It's okay," Bobby replied. "We just have different ways of dealing with things. I understand that. And I didn't always deal the way I do now, so you'll figure it out. But you gotta stop this track you're on."

"I told you. I know that."

Bobby nodded. "Yeah. It's important."

Jack didn't answer.

Bobby wondered if any of that meant anything to Jack. If he'd even listened to a word of it anyway. But that was about all the seriousness that he could muster at this hour, so he didn't try to follow it up with anything. Instead, he turned back to humor.

"Plus," Bobby persisted, "it's very unfairy-like."

Jack's face clouded over.

"Don't you agree?" Bobby asked.

"Fuck you," Jack retorted.

"Seriously. What will all your little fairy friends say? I think there needs to be like a fairy intervention."

Jack looked up at him with a scowl, narrowing his eyes.

"What?" Bobby replied, enjoying Jack's expression immensely. What Jack had yet to learn was the power of reactions as a motivation for Bobby. He loved getting someone riled up. Jack's face always became a sea of emotions, and his eyes spoke a thousand words. And this reaction was fantastic. "No?"

Jack glared. "Stop it."

"Stop what? What's the fairy gonna do?"

"Fuck off," Jack snapped, and then reached out from his seat on the toilet to shove Bobby backwards with a hard push against his shoulders. Not expecting the move, Bobby slid back off his perch on the bathtub wall straight into the tub, nearly taking down the shower curtain. His legs remained hanging over the side, and he laughed aloud despite the ache in his arms from his elbows hitting the tub basin. It was hilarious to him. "Fuck, Jackie… Too much."

"Stop calling me that," Jack said stiffly.

"Aw, sweetheart, I really can't…" Bobby answered. "It's too perfect." Then he noticed where Jack was reaching next and started to quickly get up, but it was too late.

Jack promptly pulled the on the knob of the shower, releasing a cold, strong flow of water from the showerhead before getting up from his own seat, which he knew was within easy reach of retaliation.

Bobby nearly screamed as the cold water hit him, frustrated he hadn't gotten out fast enough. He stretched to shut the water off, but not soon enough to avoid the freezing cold blast.

"That was a mistake," Bobby warned as he pushed himself up from the slippery tub and promptly moved forward to grab a retreating Jack by the arm. "You think you can just get away with that?" He wasn't angry, but it was well-deserving a response anyway.

Jack pulled from Bobby's wet grasp. "No," he objected. "Stop. You deserved it."

"Well, then you deserve this," Bobby retorted, taking him around the waist and pulling him back towards the tub.

"Stop!" Jack nearly shrieked, cursing at his lack of comparative strength. He struggled against Bobby's stronghold, trying plant his feet on the now slippery tile floor. He'd nearly been dragged into the tub when from the doorway a voice made Bobby pause.

"What the fuck?" came Angel's confused voice. "Ya'll are so fucking loud, you know that? And weird. What the hell are you doing?"

Jack was nearly able to pull away with the distraction, managing to get himself a couple feet from the tub before Bobby hastily grabbed him again and after a bit of a struggle forced him to the ground, pinning him belly down on the now soaked bathroom floor. "Let go…" he warned, feeling Bobby's knee against his back. He squirmed and looked up from the floor at Angel, who looked incredulous.

"Ya'll are gonna wake up Ma," Angel warned them. "What the hell are you doing to him, Bobby?"

"Just giving him some of his own medicine," Bobby answered, putting more his weight onto a wiggling Jack to keep him down.

"Let me up!" Jack protested, nearly whimpering. He let out a frustrated groan, pushing against the floor.

"Quit crying," Bobby ordered.

Angel looked at the two doubtfully. "Bobby, you're gonna give him a panic attack," he warned. "Let him up. You know he hates that."

Bobby ignored him and the writhing Jack, asking instead, "Did we really wake you?"

"No, I got up to piss, but heard ya'll so came down."

"Is Ma's door closed?" Bobby asked, suddenly realizing how loud they had been, even if it was just in the last couple minutes.

"Yeah," Angel answered. "Seriously, Bobby, stop bullying him."

"You wanna draw on him or something?" Bobby offered.

"No. Grow up. Look at him, man. He's gonna freak out. Let him up or you'll definitely wake up Mom, and she hates when you torment him."

"I'm not tormenting him."

"Get off!" Jack wailed.

"Why are you even still up anyway?" Angel studied Jack's now flushed face and kind of felt bad for him, knowing full well what it felt like to be the object of Bobby's harassment. Then he noticed his arm, frowning. "Dude, are you bleeding?"

Jack glanced at his own arm, knowing the bandaids looked suspect enough but now noticing that one of them had become displaced, allowing some blood to show. "I'm not," he said sourly.

"What'd you do to your arm?" Angel asked.

"Nothing," Jack persisted.

Angel looked at Bobby who just shrugged.

"Okay," Angel sighed, deciding it wasn't worth it. "Well, thanks for the freak show, but I'm going to go back to bed. You both need to shut up and go to sleep..."

As Angel walked away, Bobby looked down at Jack and said, "You get one chance. Tell me why I shouldn't throw you in a cold shower.

Jack squirmed, feeling increasingly frustrated at Bobby's weight on him. "Let me GO!" he persisted, growing upset. "I'll kill you!"

"You'll kill me?" Then Bobby started to feel bad when Jack kind of just whimpered, reminding himself that restraining Jack was one of the worst things to do to the kid in terms of potential reactions. He could very well make him freak out just like Angel warned. He started to lift his weight off of him and sat back on the floor beside him instead.

Jack stayed down for a minute, although not trusting the sudden release and took a few deep breaths.

"I'm done," Bobby said. "You done?"

Jack nodded.

"Truce, this time," Bobby told him, reaching over to rub Jack's back for a moment. "Kudos on catching me off guard." When Jack didn't move, he persisted, "I mean it, it's over. I won't touch you."

Slowly, Jack moved to sit up.

Bobby wrung out the edge of his shirt a little bit and water dripped onto the floor. "You're lucky you didn't break the shower curtain…" Bobby shook his head.

"Would've been you breaking it," Jack replied.

Bobby gave him a look. "Indirectly."

"No, directly. You'd've been the one pulling it down."

Bobby rolled his eyes and then started to get to his feet. "Not sure that'd fly." He pulled a towel from the rack on the wall and rubbed it over his wet hair. Then he dropped it on the floor near the tub where he noticed a puddle of water. He tiredly wiped it up with the towel using his foot. "You oughtta get ready for bed. You might have school."

Jack looked at him in alarm. "No. I don't."

Bobby bent down to pick up the towel. "Did Mom say you should stay home?"

Jack paused. "No," he admitted. "We didn't talk about it."

"Well, then." Bobby shrugged. "Maybe you do, maybe you don't."

"I can't."

Giving him a skeptical look, Bobby replied, "You know, staying up late and dicking around isn't really a good reason not to go."

"But you said—"

"Do I look in charge here?" Bobby replied. "Man, I get vetoed all the time under this roof so don't gimme that look."

"You said no one would wake me up in the morning."

"No, I said I doubted anybody would wake you up. So yeah, I think you have a good chance of being a loser at home tomorrow. But even as lucky as I have been today, what, with not getting busted for possession and all, I wouldn't call myself infallible."

Jack frowned at the answer. First because he didn't know what infallible meant, and second because he really didn't want to go to school tomorrow. There were numerous reasons for that. He hadn't been planning on it, and as much as that shouldn't mean anything, it did because he didn't like things going against plan.

He felt a large lump of anxiety in his gut when he thought about going back, mostly because he had vague memories of just how whacked out he'd acted the day he went to the hospital. And even if he hoped most of it was just in his head, he couldn't be sure. Everyone already thought he was a freak as it was. Now for sure they'd think something was wrong with him.

"What's the matter?" Bobby asked, nudging Jack with his foot. "Get up."

Jack snapped out of his stupor and climbed to his feet, watching Bobby throw the dampened towel over the shower rod. He supposed there was something wrong with him.

Bobby walked out of the bathroom, pulling off his shirt as he went, and mumbled something about more laundry. Jack followed him after turning off the light in the bathroom behind them.

"Bobby, wanna watch TV?" Jack asked.

Bobby turned and looked at him like he was crazy. "No." He twisted his shirt in his hand, wringing water out while thinking water couldn't stain as it dripped onto the carpet. "I wanna go to sleep."

"Alright."

"You should too," Bobby answered. "It's getting late." He watched Jack stare off towards the other side of the house distractedly.

"I like falling asleep doing something," Jack explained.

"Well, then go jack off, Jack, and go to sleep," Bobby told him. He started for his own room. "Thanks for the second shower and near concussion."

Jack watched him leave quietly. He was exhausted as well, but knew that he would have trouble falling asleep anyway.

When he heard Bobby's door shut loudly, he sighed and headed to his own room.


"Jack staying home today?" Bobby asked Evelyn through a large mouthful of cereal the next morning.

"Does this look a barn, Bobby?" she replied, eyeing him from across the table.

"Yes," he answered, still chewing.

With a roll of the eyes, she whacked him in the arm with her newspaper. "Oh, please."

He crunched on the cereal for a few more seconds before he swallowed. "Well, is he?"

"I haven't decided. I'll get him up and see how he seems."

Bobby paused, eyeing his spoon. "I don't think he should go…"

She looked at him curiously. "Oh?"

"Yeah. I mean…" He shrugged. "I think he needs a break, that's all."

"You know, life doesn't give people breaks, Bobby. In fact, most people just have to buckle up and keep going. Besides, do you know how much school he's missed?"

"Not exactly."

"A lot. Between the days he just plays hooky and the other days where he cuts out early… I mean… They'll hold him back. Without even a hesitation."

"Oh, no they won't," Bobby answered with a slight hint of exasperation. "Not for a medical emergency."

"They're just going to see it as drugs once they get an explanation, Bobby. That's barely a medical emergency."

"Oh, come on. You expect me to believe that you'll accept that? He was in the hospital. It was exhaustion."

"He's getting too old for me to make excuses for him."

"It was exhaustion though. Self-induced, but that's what exhaustion is…" Bobby studied Evelyn's no-nonsense expression and frowned. "You're going to be hard on him, aren't you?"

"Something's gotta give."

"Ma, come on. He's a saint compared to the rest of us at his age." Bobby dug his spoon back into his cereal and filled his mouth once again, this time with a more reasonable amount that he chewed politely.

"And maybe that's why I've babied him," she answered. "And look what that's done."

"Everybody babies him," Bobby replied. "You basically made us." He caught her look and started again. "I don't mean that in a bad way. I just mean…" He shrugged. "I mean, it just seems like the thing to do. And still, he's just fifteen. I say give him a break. It's a rough age."

"Speaking of giving him a break..." Evelyn took a sip of her coffee and eyed her oldest son.

Bobby returned the look warily. He sensed the oncoming conversation. "This is about last night, right?"

She nodded.

"I know you're not happy about the way I handled that," he allowed. "I just wanted to get him out of the house and… Well, out of his little world. And Angel wanted to go, and we got Jerry too…"

"You knew he was high."

He paused. "No… I—"

"Don't lie to me, Bobby."

Bobby let out a breath. "Well, yeah…" he confessed. "I did. But… It wasn't gonna change that, him going with me," he persisted. "It was already said and done. It's not like I got him high or anything. You know I didn't do that."

"That just facilitates it, Bobby."

"What happened to the whole not judging thing?" he replied with a smirk. "Isn't that what you told me?"

"This is something you have to take seriously," she told him. "It's the whole fact you're not that bothers me. Last night you didn't take me seriously, right now you're not taking his whole problem seriously."

"I am," he replied firmly. "I am. I mean, last night I shouldn't have crossed you. I know that. I don't know what I thought I was defending him from; it's just I wanted to do something real with him. I need it to be concrete. Physical."

"Did you say anything to him about being high?"

"Sure," Bobby said. "He knows I'm not going to pat him on the back for that, Ma. It's not like he flaunts it in my face. It's just becoming obvious." He thought about it. "I thought it would be funny to play hockey while he was blazed too…" he chuckled.

"It's not funny."

Bobby slouched back in his chair. "I know you're mad. And at me too, and I understand that, but it's what's done, and I'm not making a joke out of it."

"If you would just talk to him, Bobby… Instead of just all the teasing about everything. Sometimes I don't even understand why he still clings to you like he does with all the teasing you do, except that he's a creature of routine, even if the routine hurts."

"I don't hurt him," Bobby replied. "And I do talk to him. Who do you think he talks to?"

Evelyn didn't answer. She took another long sip of her coffee, hand wrapped around the warm cup.

"He talks to me," Bobby persisted. "After all the hundred failed attempts of mine to start conversations, eventually he'll talk to me." He poked at his cereal. "Like he did last night."

"I think I'm going to insist he see his doctor again. I know that sounds like a copout, and I agree sometimes therapy is exactly that, but I think it really helped him when he was younger. I know he'll hate me for it, but what do you think?"

"He hurt himself again last night."

Evelyn looked up from her cup of coffee at Bobby, watching him swirl the milk around in his cereal. She hesitated. "Did he really?"

Bobby gave her a look, brow furrowed. Sarcastically he replied, "No, I'm joking about that too."

"Bobby, I know you don't joke around when it's important. What happened?"

Bobby just shrugged. "I don't know. It was after we got back last night. I don't even know. It's just fucking disturbing."

"It's a false sense of relief."

"I don't care what it is. It's disturbing." He shook his head. "He said he was going to talk to you. I was going to wake you up but I figured I shouldn't. It was late."

"He woke you up?"

"No, it was right before I went to bed," Bobby answered. "But yeah, he just sitting in my room when I got out of the shower, like he wanted to talk about it." He looked up at her. "See? I do talk to him."

She sighed. "I know you do, Bobby…" After a pause, she persisted. "So what did you tell him?"

He rolled his eyes. "That he's fucking crazy. That's what I told him."

"No you didn't."

"More or less. I mean, it was bad. And even when he tries to explain it, not that there's any way to make sense of it, it's still bad."

"You didn't tell him he was crazy though."

"So what if I did?" Bobby shrugged. "But you're not gonna wake him up, are you really?"

"I think he should get up. Even if he doesn't go, he has work to do."

"Yeah, that paper. Personally I think it's ridiculous he has to still write a paper for that class."

"Deciding to be self-destructive is not a very good excuse for getting out of doing your homework."

"Well, if not for that class he wouldn't have been self-destructive.

"Well, maybe he would have gone to bed that night," Evelyn replied, "but you're kidding yourself if you think that everything else was just part of the so-called experiment."

"Yeah, I know. But there would've been no hospital, no freak out, none of that…" Bobby answered. He ate another spoonful of cereal.

"I guess it's almost a blessing in disguise he deprived himself of sleep. It made him a little less of a good of a pretender."

"Yeah." Bobby paused. "But what's he supposed to write his paper on?"

"That's up to him."

"Well, whatever. He won't do it."

Evelyn looked at him. Bobby crunched on another mouthful of cereal. "Yes, he will. But if you tell him you think he won't, then he won't."

Bobby rolled his eyes. "What, no reverse psychology?"

"Not when you give someone a convenient excuse not to do something they already don't want to. It's like, what point does he have to do it? You already thought he wouldn't."

"To prove me wrong," Bobby persisted. "He always wants to prove me wrong. This whole fucking thing was exactly that."

"It's to please you, Bobby."

"How was being a lunatic supposed to please me?"

"Maybe in his mind staying up was impressive."

"Yeah," Bobby scoffed. "Real impressive. He's an idiot."

"Idiot or not." She sighed. "I need to wake him up."

"For what? I'll keep an eye on him while you're at work. Which, by the way," he eyed her bathrobe, "you seem in no rush to get to."

"I'm not going to work today. And I need to get him up so that I make an effort like I'd prefer him to go to school." She glanced at the clock.

"Just call his school, go to work, and don't worry about it," Bobby answered. "I'll be fine with him."

"And you'll just stay here all day." She gave him a critical look. "You've barely left him this week. And you're only here for—When do you have to get back?"

Bobby shrugged. "To be honest, my plan was just to stay this week, so I should really be on the road maybe tomorrow… Maybe the day after…."

"Okay, well you need to let me know when you decide. But either way, I'm sure you'd rather get out of the house today than watch him. And I don't want him alone, so I figure it's a good time for me to finally talk to him."

"I have to do laundry and packing today, so there won't be anything to go out of the house for," Bobby answered. "Don't worry about it. Go to work."

"Already called and told them I wasn't coming in." She pushed back her chair, getting up and yawning a little. "I need a family day. And I want to talk to him."

"For the whole day?"

She eyed him as she walked over to turn off the coffeemaker. "Not the whole day. What's wrong? You don't want me to talk to him?"

"No, you should."

"Then why do you keep telling me to go to work?"

Bobby smirked. "Just because I think he's going to want to go to school when he finds out you're not going to work."

She gave him a wary look, but Bobby had already moved on.

"I'm still hungry," he said, pushing his bowl of cereal away. "I'm going to make something. French Toast."


Jack couldn't help but agree with Bobby's words when he realized that Evelyn would be staying home specifically to deal with him. He hated the sinking feeling and suddenly felt even worse than he did from the guilt of eavesdropping from just outside the kitchen.

He'd woken up at the slightest sound downstairs that morning. First it was someone opening and closing the front door. Maybe Angel left? Maybe someone went to get the paper? He wasn't sure, but he knew it made him sit up straight in bed. Next it was realizing what time it was and beginning to fear actually getting up. Maybe having to go to school. He'd gotten to the point where he felt like he would actually have to go, and not just pretend.

It was when he first dragged himself to the bathroom to pee that he heard the voices downstairs and felt the undeniable realization that someone was talking about him. Maybe it was the paranoia of it, but somehow he could just tell.

He couldn't go back to sleep anyway, not with the anxious heaviness he was feeling, so he instead pulled on a sweatshirt and tiptoed quietly down the stairs.

Over the last few years, he'd learned every inch of those stairs, the creaks and the groans. He was easily able to make it downstairs without the slightest squeak and true to the Mercers teasing that he was quiet and timid as a mouse, he'd inched himself up as close to the kitchen as his stealth courage would allow.

Neither Evelyn nor Bobby's words surprised him or made him feel any differently. He was a little surprised at Bobby's defense of him in terms of school, but it made sense with Bobby's own academic history.

He became nervous at the thought of spending the whole day with Evelyn. He didn't know whether that or spending the whole day with Bobby would be worse. It was hard to say. After the night before with Bobby, he was getting nervous about how much more that man could take of him.

When he heard Evelyn's chair push back, he froze. If she left the kitchen he'd be standing right there in plain view, unable to disguise himself or avoid imminent conversation. It would probably be obvious he'd been there, listening, but if he ran back towards the stairs it would undoubtedly be more obvious.

He walked backwards, edging himself away from his listening spot, towards the stairs.

What are you scared of? He criticized himself. She wasn't going to do anything to him. He was getting too old to be so afraid of everything.

When a moment later she emerged from the kitchen, he simply froze.

She looked surprised to see him. "Good morning, Jack. I was just about to go up and see if you were up."

"Oh…" he responded. "Uh, yeah, I just got up."

She had a slightly suspicious look on her face, or so he thought, but he tried to convince himself he was far enough from the door to elicit any question.

"You feel a little better today?"

He nodded. "Yeah."

"You hungry?" she asked. "I'm about to take a shower, but Bobby was going to make something."

"Aren't you late for work?" he asked dumbly.

"I'm not going to work today."

He was hoping she hadn't meant that. He paused. "Why not?"

"I thought maybe it would be a good day for me to stay home."

"Why?" He hesitated, knowing the answer, but not wanting to let it show. He would do the same as Bobby and try to act like she should go. And what about him? "Should I go to school?"

"Do you want to go to school?"

He didn't know what to say to that. If he claimed he did, well, that would just be uncharacteristically weird. And if he simply said he didn't, she could speculate why and read into that too. "I… I don't know. What do you think?"

"I think you should think about it and decide," she replied. "I'm going to go upstairs and get myself together, and you let me know when I come back down."

He frowned at her as she walked past him to head upstairs. He stood there for a moment, toying with his options, then walked slowly towards the kitchen, entering in time to see Bobby dropping a loaf of bread on the counter next to the stove.

"Yo," Bobby greeted him. "What's good?"

"Nothing." Jack moved towards the kitchen table and took a seat, eyeing the discarded bowl of cereal.

"Mom was just going to wake you."

"Beat her to it," Jack replied sarcastically.

"You hungry?" Bobby asked. He pulled open the fridge door and took out the carton of eggs.

Jack shrugged.

"I'm making French toast. I make it really good, remember?" Bobby persisted. "Want some?"

Again Jack shrugged.

"What's with you?" Bobby replied. With a sigh, he decided not to take it personally. "Fine, I'm going to take that as a 'Yes, please make me some of your delicious French toast, Bobby, you enviable cook of the Gods'."

Jack just eyed him tiredly, and then said, "I heard your whole conversation."

"What whole conversation?" Bobby replied as he gathered the rest of his ingredients.

"You know. About why she isn't going to work."

"What, you were standing outside while we were talking?" Bobby asked with a frown. Then he just rolled his eyes, not waiting for a response. "Yeah, well, I can't say any of it should be a shock to you."

"Should I go to school?"

"You were crying about going last night, why change your mind now?"

Jack made a face. "Because I don't want to spend my day with her." Jack caught Bobby's look and said, "I mean that in the nicest possible way."

"Well, looks like you have no choice, Flapjack." Bobby yawned and pulled out a bowl from the cabinet. "Right?" He turned to view his brother. "Because don't even think of skipping out again."

"No…" Jack agreed. He rested his head in his hands. "I wouldn't though."

Bobby didn't answer.

Jack watched the man move around the kitchen. "Are you really leaving tomorrow?"

"Maybe."

"Maybe I could come with you sometime."

"Maybe no."

Jack was a little disappointed with how quickly Bobby responded. "Why?"

"You have enough to do here," he told him. "Like school. And most of the time I'm training or going somewhere for a game, so it's not even like I'd have time to watch you."

"I don't need to be watched."

"Right, well, you know what I mean."

"I want to go somewhere too."

"Well, how about you get a little older, go to class and actually graduate one day, and then you can fly the coop." Bobby broke an egg into the bowl, dropping the empty shell on the counter. He reached for another egg. "You'll talk to her today, and you'll get it off your chest, and it'll be fine. Get over it."

Jack swallowed. "You told her."

"Told her what?"

"About last night."

Bobby took a deep breath. Of course Jack knew it, he'd just admitted to eavesdropping, so he couldn't deny it. "Yeah. I did. I mean… What was I supposed to do? Besides, you're the one dragging the inevitable out."

Jack watched Bobby pull out a stack of bread from the bag and objected. "Bobby. Don't make so much. I'm not hungry."

"Well, I am," Bobby responded. "Besides, I know you're gonna have some." He glanced at him. "You want me to show you how to make it?"

"No…" Jack sighed. "You've already shown me."

Bobby frowned. "Fine…"

Jack traced a finger along the edge of the table. "You still shouldn't have told her."

"Now you don't have to," Bobby replied. "I did you a favor. Now tell me this… What's the worst possible outcome of talking to her?"

Jack shrugged.

"Seriously," Bobby persisted. "Tell me what the worst is that could happen."

"I don't know."

"You must. Or else what are you afraid of?"

"I don't want you to go, Bobby…" Jack made a face. "You always go."

"I'm not leaving today, so don't do this now. Answer my question."

With slumped shoulders, Jack frowned at the table. "I don't know. I just don't wanna talk about it."

"Normally you like talking to her." Bobby moved to turn on the oven range. "And I know things have been crazy this last week, but let's not run around in circles with this crap, alright? I'm not going to go through this whole thing with you again. You know what I think."

Jack took a deep breath. "I think I'm going to go to school."

Bobby laughed, dropping an egg and cinnamon covered piece of bread onto the frying pan. "No." He shook his head. "Man, don't even."

"I'm going to get dressed." Jack pushed back his chair.

Bobby dropped one more piece of bread on the frying pan before turning to give Jack a look. "Just take a seat, Jack, and consider today a freebie."

"No, it's not." Jack stood there. "And I don't want to get suspended or anything."

"You won't. Just sit."

"I can talk to her after school."

"You don't actually want to go to school, so stop it."

Jack didn't want to go to school. He wanted to go back to bed. But he was too restless, and despite the hours of sleep he had to catch up on, that wasn't how it worked. He had slept enough for now.

Bobby adjusted the oven range heat and wiped some egg off of his hands before turning away from the stove. He walked towards the fridge. "You want juice?"

Jack looked at the clock.

Pulling out the juice carton from the refrigerator, Bobby next grabbed a clean glass from the cabinet and walked towards the table, setting them down. "Don't look at the time. You're not going anywhere."

"Why would you tell me not to go to school?" Jack replied, eyeing him skeptically.

"Because." Bobby returned his look. "I'll tell you why. Say you go, and you actually make it through the school doors. Do you really expect to make it through the whole day, and to every single class?" He raised his eyebrows. "Honestly? I don't think you would. Not just yet. And then they call here, tell Ma that you're skipping again, and then she tells me because she tells me every time she's disappointed about anything. Then I kick your ass because enough is enough and it makes me feel better, and then nobody is happy."

"I would too stay."

"Well, I don't think you would. And you've done nothing recently to make me think otherwise. So I say we avoid all that shit, and you stay home, fix things between you and Ma, and make me able to leave thinking you're all okay."

Jack got a thoughtful look on his face.

Bobby noticed the look and immediately shook his head. "No. Don't even think about it. If your shit's not in order, I'm leaving anyway. Have some juice." He walked back to the stove, grabbing the spatula to flip the bread over in the pan. "Oh, and how's your arm?"

"Fine," Jack replied bitterly.

Bobby said nothing else, letting Jack just sit there in his self-created misery as he continued to make French toast. When he had several pieces piled high on a plate, he decided that was good for now and turned off the oven range.

He located a bottle of maple syrup and placed it with the plate on the table. Then he got two extra plates, forks, and knives before sitting down.

"I told you I'm not hungry," Jack objected, staring at the plate in front of him.

"Please...?" Bobby asked.

Jack hunched his shoulders a bit, frowning as his brother dropped three pieces of French toast on both their plates. He really wasn't hungry. He wasn't a huge morning food person, especially when he had so much on his mind.

Bobby ignored him, pouring a generous amount of syrup on his plate and taking a huge bite. After a couple more bites, he noticed Jack slowly pick up his own fork. He didn't say anything, not wanting to jinx it, and instead devoured a slice of his own French toast, congratulating himself mentally on being a master of the frying pan.


Jack knew it was coming. He just didn't want to admit it to himself or anybody else. But Bobby was right, it wasn't something he could run from anymore, and it was something he would have to face, sooner or later.

Sooner really was better than later if you thought about it. Later entailed endless worry, undesirable anticipation, and anxiety over the unknown.

Normally when he felt something was coming, it was a feeling of dread. Regardless of whether it might be good, anticipation equated bad to him. So that was the way he felt in the case of Evelyn approaching him to talk, and he couldn't help it. He felt that way out of habit.

Bobby was doing laundry, and Jack hadn't even gotten a chance to shower or change. That was his own fault really, considering after breakfast he'd simply collapsed on the couch in front of the TV. Evelyn soon was on the other side of the couch, making small talk that adeptly led into a more serious conversation.

Somehow starting from a conversation about whether he needed new sneakers, Evelyn somehow led him into the last week. He was exasperated about how she was able to do that, and slouched down to to wonder how he could move to do something else without making it obvious that he didn't want to talk, but in the end he found himself there, stuck and targeted.

He just listened initially, mostly watching the TV with a stiff posture that tried to portray listening, but as Evelyn edged into more direct, more serious converstion, he had no choice but to listen a little bit more and give small answers. He had to admit that she explained things really well.

Somehow it wasn't as easy to make excuses or speak freely like he had with Bobby the night before. He wasn't sure exactly why. There were more terms of endearment from Evelyn, a more patient tone, more questions rather than accusations, but despite all that he still felt like he had more to prove, or at least more to make up for.

He knew deep down he didn't have to fear either of them, but for whatever reason he still did. No matter how much time passed, he still began to feel that things were temporary whenever something seemed to go wrong. He still felt their sentiments were an insincere act or the paperwork for him to stay there was just a muse.

At the same time, thinking that was a distraction, because wasn't it his fault to begin with.

"Jack," she said. "Are you listening?"

He glanced at her, away from the TV for once, and nodded. "Yeah."

"You understand what I'm saying then."

Jack didn't understand. It was the same old story about everything, just a slightly different version. It wasn't until her next words that he actually started to think about it.

"You know, Jack," she said. "All your life, no matter what the circumstance, you'll have emotional scars. From this, that, or the other. So what would make you want physical scars as well?"

He didn't have a good answer for that. It was a really good point, but he didn't even really have the words to tell her that either. Instead he just kind of shrugged, because that was all he was really good at doing.

Then he asked, "Is Bobby leaving tomorrow?"

She gave him a look. "Honey, we're not talking about Bobby. We're talking about you."

"Is he leaving?"

"Maybe." She eyed him. "Don't worry about him for now."

"But I don't want him to go."

"He'll be back soon enough. You know that."

"No," Jack objected. Bobby's visits were irregular, and normally unplanned. He dropped in like it was nothing, yet to actually expect him to be somewhere was a challenge.

"Well, then you have to talk to him about that. He's a grown man, Jack. He can come when he wants," she replied.

Jack just made a face. If he wanted to come, then he would.

"But we're talking about you, right now, Jack," she replied. "Don't try to change the subject on me."

"I'm not."

"You heard what I said then."

Jack nodded. "I did."

"Are you going to say anything?"

He made a face and repeated, "I did."

She sighed. "You asked about Bobby."

He nodded. Saying anything should include that, he thought.

"Would you rather talk to him?" she persisted.

"No," Jack persisted. If he talked to Bobby, it would simply turn back into threats to talk to Evelyn. Like that was the magic fix about everything. It wasn't. It definitely wasn't. And that was nothing against Evelyn. There just was no magic fix.

"You talked to him last night," she told him, like he didn't know. He did know, but it was some distant memory. "You told him about how you cut your arm."

He pressed his lips together, eyeing his long sleeved shirt, although blaming it for revealing his secrets despite its covering.

"Whether you burn, or cut..." she continued. "I think it's the same purpose."

He shrugged, sighing. Why couldn't he disappear when he wanted? Here comes the judgment, he thought sadly.

"It started with the sleep," she said. "A challenge... But there was more. More before I even knew to look for more, right?"

"I guess."

She sighed. "Honey, I'm not here to to just speculate and have you blindly agree with me. I want you to be able to explain what you're thinking."

"I know," he replied. "But right now I'm not really thinking anything." He paused. "You know?" He gestured at the TV. "I'm just thinking about watching TV."

"Holding it in..." She shook her head. "It's not good."

"I told Bobby last night because I was in the middle of it last night," he said, glancing at her. "I'm not in it now." He frowned. "It's hard to talk about it when I'm not in it."

"Yeah... I know, Jack... But you've always fought to hold things in until it's just too much. Why wait until it's too much?" She paused. "Just because you're used to doing something or accepting something, doesn't mean you have to."

He took a deep breath, rolling his eyes up toward the ceiling, hesitating in his response.

"I know it's hard," she persisted, before he could say anything. "Let's get past the whole hard part, and remember who you're talking to, alright? And if you have a reason for not talking to me, then we should talk about that."

"No," he admitted. "No reason."

She nodded. "Okay. Well, let's talk about last night, okay?"

Last night? Jack thought. He wasn't sure what she meant. What part of last night? Was it because he and Bobby had been up late, maybe too loud?

"You know how I feel about you getting high, Jack. And drugs in general." She shook her head. "It's just downhill from there. You know that. Even your brothers tell you that."

That part of last night... Jack had almost forgotten about it.

"No gateway speech," she said stiffly. "No side effects speech. You're not dumb and you don't need it repeated. You're just not the one to usually let me down, Jack. And I have to say, this past week has been pretty disappointing."

He slouched down a little, feeling her eye on him. "Yeah, well..." he mumbled.

"Missing school, being in the hospital, the drugs... Should I go on? What's happening, Jack?"

He made a face.

"Do you even remember the details of the hospital?"

"Of course I do."

"Do you really?"

He didn't. He remembered parts of it, sure. But for the most part he remembered just feeling exhausted and being forced to rest. He definitely didn't recall being anyone's favorite person during that ordeal. So he didn't answer again.

"I made you an appointment. With Dr. Probe. It's for Tuesday."

He paused. "No. You didn't. You're just saying that." He looked at her, and tried to read her expression. She always had the same look in her eye, one like she was trying to look through you into your soul, like she was worried, and it ate through him, made him feel guilty.

"Why would I just say that?"

"Because. You wouldn't do that."

"You had no problem seeing her before, Jack. I let you decide that you were comfortable to stop, but I think it might help to talk to her again. The point is that when something's wrong, you need to express that thing that's wrong. You don't need to cover it up, and you don't need to replace it. You need to fix the root of it."

He shook his head. "I'm not going on Tuesday."

"The root of it might be from long ago," she persisted. "And deep down I think you know who or what your own demons are, Jack. Only you know what's truly in your head and in your memories, and why it bothers you when it does. Why it bothers you when people come or go within a certain distance. But you can figure it out and control it."

He continued to shake his head. "No. I'm not going."

"Are there any drugs in your room, Jack?"

He frowned at her. Wasn't she listening? He wasn't going on Tuesday. No matter how nice that doctor pretended to be, there was something about going there and sitting there and having her look at him and only him that made it unbearable. "No."

"Well, if there are, you're going to get rid of it," she said. "All of it."

He wanted to respond to that. About how he knew she'd done things in her past, and how Bobby had joked about her being a hippie in her day. Or how Angel definitely had stuff around that she didn't know or say anything about. But he didn't. Instead he just stared at his hands.

"You listening?" she persisted. "It's trouble, Jack, and in my house it won't happen. A simple charge of possession, or intent if you had enough of it for them to think that... Well, that's not going to happen. Never mind just being caught in school and getting yourself suspended."

"Yeah."

"You're fifteen. Enough. Being a teenager is tough but we've all gone through it. And drugs don't make it any easier, or make it go by any faster. A few little things add up to a lot. Ask Bobby. He did his time in juvie to know."

"Yeah." He didn't want to ask Bobby. He also didn't think a little bit of weed would pave the road to juvenile hall but he didn't want to question her on that either. She would certainly come back with something else to make him feel worse.

She continued to talk, and it was a lot of what he'd heard before, both from her and others. And it was completely right and not much he had any good response to. Regardless, he tried to pay attention to it and keep a skeptical look off his face, but the whole time he couldn't help but think that he would be back with the same old therapist on Tuesday. He had his habit to block out these lectures, but this time, he felt enough was enough, like she said, and tried.

Did she really mean it? He would have to talk to a therapist again?

He figured he brought it on himself with all of this. And it was really stupid, everything he'd been doing. Just kind of letting himself spiral. Not sleeping, as much as he thought he'd been proving his will, had done nothing.

"Are you listening?"

Jack looked up and was about to insist he was, at least half-listening, when Bobby walked into the room, a frown on his face. He looked between them and then crossed his arms over his chest. "Mom."

Evelyn sighed and looked up at her oldest son. "What, Bobby?"

"Question..." he began. "What do I do if I think I might've maybe possibly thought I put a pen in the dryer on accident?"

"Might've maybe possibly thought?" she echoed.

"Uh..." Bobby took a deep breath.

"Bobby, what'd you do to my dryer?"

"I don't know. I'm just asking. Hypothetically."

"You know I don't believe in your hypotheticals."

"Well, then what do you do?"

"You have a lot of clothes in there?"

"Maybe?" He looked hesitant. "Are they completely ruined?"

"I don't know." Evelyn looked at Jack, who sat complacently on the couch staring at the TV.

Bobby looked at both of them and shook his head. "It's okay. Forget it. I know you guys are talking. I can figure it out."

"Is it all over my dryer?"

Bobby looked pathetic. "Maybe."

"Oh, Bobby..."

"I swear it's not my pen."

"Then where did it come from?"

"No idea."

"How many times have I told you to check your pockets?" she answered, getting up off the couch. "You did this with chapstick once too, remember?"

He shook his head. "Just tell me what to do. It's fine."

"We're done, she can help you," Jack said.

Bobby and Evelyn both turned to look at him. Suddenly he felt small and looked back at the TV.

"I'll look at it," Evelyn told Bobby. "Why don't you tell your brother about juvie?"

Bobby laughed out loud and then realized she was serious. So he resolved to a smirk and watched her leave the room before flopping down on the couch beside his brother and reaching over to slap him on the thigh. "Juvie, huh?"

"She's crazy." Jack stared at the TV.

Bobby looked at his ink covered hand. "I think I ruined the dryer. She's going to hate me."

"It'll come out."

"Ink? No it doesn't."

"Sure it does."

"Who are you, Martha Stewart? It's permanent ink. And it's all over. Like on the clothes, in the dryer. When I say everywhere, it's everywhere."

Jack shrugged.

"I'll be lucky if it even comes off of my hand. See, you don't care because the attention's off you now..." Bobby slouched down, stretching his legs out straight in front of him. "But if I ruined the dryer that's a lot of money."

"Things air dry."

"Air dry," Bobby scoffed. He reached over and rubbed his ink covered hand on Jack's cheek.

Jack pulled away. "What the fuck?"

"Just seeing if it comes off," Bobby answered, disappointed to find that the ink was indeed dried onto his hand and his hand only. He sighed. "What's this juvie thing? You didn't do anything worth that."

Jack shrugged.

"I remember this speech of hers," Bobby persisted. "Not that you're anywhere near it. But I think I remember her telling me to tell Angel about why to calm his ass down before, and I guess I didn't do it right or whatever, because a year later... Guess where Angel was?" He laughed. "You weren't around yet."

"Nope."

"They shave your head there," Bobby persisted, reaching over to pull at Jack's locks. "No more rockstar look."

Jack slapped his hand away. "No, they don't."

"How do you know?"

"No one ever shaved your head."

"Because I'd kick their ass. You on the other hand would probably just cry."

Jack just shook his head. "Bobby, they don't shave anybody's head."

"You don't know that."

"I do know it. And they don't."

Bobby laughed at his insistence. "Okay, Jack. Of course you know. You obviously know everything."

Jack just shook his head, scowling.

Bobby waited a minute, eyeing the TV and sighing at the silence from Jack, then changed the subject. "You talking over a lot with Mom?"

Jack shrugged. "Like you care. Go do your laundry, Bobby."

"Can't. Remember I fucked it up."

"Yeah. Shocking."

"Come on..." Bobby sighed.

"No. I'm already having this conversation. I don't need to have it with you too."

"Well, fine... I just figured I'd ask because it's your last chance to do it in person for a while."

Jack glanced at him, remaining stoic.

"I think I'm leaving sometime tonight," Bobby continued. "Only because I was thinking about how the traffic would be if I leave tomorrow morning. And it just makes sense to get on the road tonight. I mean, I'd like to get my laundry figured out before I go, but still... Not like I need clean clothes."

Jack simply nodded, focusing back on the TV.

"That okay?" Bobby persisted.

"Why wouldn't it be okay? You just said the traffic's better."

"I meant okay with you."

Jack shrugged. "Yeah..." he muttered. "Of course."

"You sure? I know I said tomorrow, but I'd rather not sit in traffic all morning if I don't have to."

"Don't make yourself seem so important. I really don't care when you leave."

Bobby sighed and pushed himself up off the couch. "I'm going to see if Mom needs help." With no answer from Jack, he just walked out towards the laundry room. He found Evelyn there, picking through his ink stained clothes.

"How bad is it?" he asked.

"Fortunately," she began, "most of these shirts are ones I told you to get rid of years ago."

"Oh no..." Bobby reached out to take a Bud Light shirt into his hands. "I love this shirt."

"It's nearly threads left."

"Still. You gotta wear the shirts for a few years and then they become perfectly worn in."

"Throw them out."

"Can't you get the ink out?"

"I'm not even going to try." She pulled out a pair of jeans, scrutinizing them. "These are dark enough you can't even tell."

"Yeah..." he agreed. "And... What about the dryer?"

She looked at him and took a deep breath. "That's a bigger challenge."

"What do I need to do?"

"Well, ink's tough to get off off. I'm not sure if it'll stay or get on clothes if you leave it... I'm thinking maybe rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover. Those are the only two things I can think of that get nearly anything out."

"I'll try it. You go talk to Jack, and I'll see what I can do."

"Yeah... Listen, I have old rags right under the sink that I use for dusting. You can use those trying to clean it off. And if you can't get it off... Just try a load of dark clothes..." She gave him a look. "I know you don't separate your colors, but this time, try it. And check your pockets."

"I'm sorry."

"I'm sure it'll be fine, Bobby," she assured.

He took her arm, pulling her away from the dryer. "It's fine, leave it. Go talk to him."

"I'm sure he was thrilled you broke up our conversation," she replied, moving towards the door of the small room.

"He giving you a hard time?"

"No, not really. He's just like a brick wall sometimes. I mean he says one thing to me, mostly to appease me, and then God knows what else goes on in his head when he disappears into his room."

"Go through his room."

She frowned. "You know I don't like snooping. I'm torn about that. I would like him to get rid of whatever he has that he shouldn't, but I want to be able to trust him."

"Make him go through it then. If he lies to you, I'll kick his ass."

She shook her head. "Things are so black and white to you, Bobby..."

He shrugged. "Yeah, well it would just be nice to leave tonight and not have to worry about you guys." He sifted through his clothes on the top of the dryer thoughtfully.

"Tonight, Bobby?" She frowned. "You'll at least stay for dinner, right?"

"Yeah." He nodded. "Sure, Ma."

"Good. I'll call Jerry too, and see if he'll make it. With the baby. It'll be the whole family. I want to have all my boys together."

For some reason, the way she said that, really hit Bobby. He realized how important something that simple would be to her today, especially with all the stress of recent events. He knew that no matter how well she presented herself and seemed calm and collected, inside it tore her apart. Evelyn wanted to fix the world, but at the same time she struggled just trying to help the four of them.

It was worse when they made it harder.

"He'll come," was all Bobby replied. He told himself he'd make sure all four of them were there. He suddenly felt extremely sympathetic for Evelyn, and how much shit she put up with. Even with the ink in the dryer right now, she wasn't so much as showing a second of anger. If he was her, he felt he would have knocked himself into next week already for doing something so stupid.

"Okay, well let me run upstairs and find you some of my nail polish remover and then you can try that out."

He nodded and watched her leave. A moment later, he shut the dryer door and stalked out of the laundry room, heading back inside. Jack was still on the couch, slouched down with his eyes tiredly locked on the TV. Bobby walked over, stood directly in front of him, and reached down to grab a handful of his shirt, yanking him towards him.

"Listen," Bobby began, not angry, but insistent. "Look at me." When Jack pushed his hand away, pulling back, Bobby adjusted his grip and shook him slightly. "No, listen. When Ma comes back downstairs, I want you to stop being a little bitch about all this, and just talk about what she wants to talk about and end it."

Jack raised his foot against Bobby's leg, pushing him away, but Bobby was persistent. He sank down into the cushion next to him, keeping his brother's shirt fisted in his hand. "No, stop pushing me and listen... It just hit me, something in her voice, and I just don't think you understand what that woman is doing for you and what she's putting up with. Not just you, but in general. But let's make it a little easier for her."

"I'm not doing anything," Jack replied, looking at Bobby's hand gripped on his shirt.

"Exactly," Bobby said stiffly. "Stop being so fucking passive. How about you work on it a little bit and stop stressing her out?"

Jack didn't respond. He didn't know what Evelyn might have said to him inside that would have made him come back out here again.

"And," Bobby persisted, "you need to go through your room, show her some respect, and throw all your stash out. Anything else that is in there. And if you don't tell me you will, and make me believe you will, I'll do it myself."

"I will," Jack replied reflexively.

"Is there more?"

"I don't know. I'll check."

"You're answering what I want so I'll leave you alone. You know if you have more." Bobby knew Jack wasn't completely listening to him, probably because of his approach, so he let go of his shirt and smoothed it down. "Tell me like you mean it."

"I will," Jack persisted, leaning back into the couch, relieved to be free. "God..."

"She wants all of us at dinner tonight," Bobby said. "Jerry too. So you're going to act normal for it. She thinks it would be nice for all of us to just sit down together without something crazy going on. How's that sound?"

"Boring."

Bobby leaned across him to pick up the TV controller, turning it off. The room went silent.

"Look... Stop closing people out..." Bobby said in a low voice. "You understand? She's trying to help you."

"Nobody asked you..." Jack replied, giving him a look. "What's your deal?"

"My deal is... Do something... Even start small. Quit smoking."

"I like smoking."

"Well, tough. I like drinking. I don't drink all day long. And I still think you're too young to smoke, but I feel like I've been telling you that forever."

Jack looked at him. "You give up drinking, and I'll give up smoking."

"It's different, Jack."

"Right. Whatever. I knew you wouldn't," Jack retorted, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Smoking cigarettes or weed?"

"Huh?"

"Which would you give up?"

"Doesn't even matter," Jack answered.

"If both, you've gotta deal." Bobby stuck out his hand as if to shake on it.

Jack stared at his outstretched hand. "No. You wouldn't ever do it. And either way, you get to go off and be on your own and none of us know what you do while I'm here having everyone watch me."

"I'd do it," Bobby persisted. "C'mon."

"No. It's not a fair trade."

Bobby at least appreciated a true answer rather than a pretend one. It wasn't uncommon for Jack to agree to make things easier, but it was frustrating either way. "I thought you were into challenges now."

Jack shook his head. "No one likes a quitter."

Bobby narrowed his eyes, feeling annoyed. "Do you ever stick with anything, Jack? Or are you so weak? You didn't make it through the two hundred whatever hours, well, good, but it's pretty fitting. Because you never make it through anything. You quit everything that isn't easy. You know that? That's why you're the fairy."

Jack set his jaw, hurt by the comments, but refusing to answer.

"You hear me?" Bobby persisted. "You're being weak." He pushed himself up off the couch. "And no one ever taught you that. You taught yourself that." He looked down at Jack, who just had a dark look on his face. "I know you're listening, but go ahead and pretend to zone out. It's one of the things you're good at."

Jack could hear someone coming down the stairs and knew it was Evelyn. He wasn't sure where he'd rather be at that moment. Between Evelyn telling him to go back to his therapist and Bobby having zero patience on his last day in town, he was starting to feel discouraged again. His plan to be quiet and let them say what they need to say wasn't working either.

Before Evelyn reached the room, Jack lifted his leg again, trying to push Bobby away again with foot. Bobby seemed to ignore him, looking up as Evelyn entered the room a moment later, a bottle of nail polish remover in her hand.

"Here, Bobby," she said, walking over to hand it to him. "Try this."

"Perfect," Bobby replied. "I hope it works."

"Try not to breathe it in, okay? Last thing I need is you breathing in chemicals."

"Oh?" he paused. "Maybe I should have Jack here do it. He loves getting high off of weird things."

Jack kicked him them. Hard.

Bobby winced, stepping away from the couch. "Fuck, Jack. It's the truth." He bent down and rubbed at his stinging shin for a moment, then took a step back towards the couch and reached down to slap Jack hard upside the head. Jack winced and again used his feet to kick him away.

"Both of you, stop," Evelyn demanded, shaking her head when it looked like Bobby was ready to drag his brother off the couch. "You hear me? There's no kicking and no hitting in this house so stop or take it out of my house. Bobby, go fix the dryer."

"Go away, Bobby..." Jack persisted. "Seriously."

"Seriously," Bobby mimicked. He gripped the nail polish remover bottle and sighed. "Fine. I see when my presence is no longer appreciated."

Jack watched him leave without saying another word. He sighed as Evelyn took her seat again on the couch beside him.

This was going to be a long afternoon.


At dinner, Evelyn got her wish. It was all four of her boys. Jerry came without Camille, who was at her mother's with the baby, and it was almost like old times. Evelyn was disappointed when Bobby requested ordering in pizza when she asked what he wanted her to cook for them, but then seemed a little relieved not to need to lift a finger in the kitchen.

Things seemed back to normal, with typical dinnertime arguments and squabbles, kicking under the table, and devouring every last crumb on anyone's plate. And while an extra effort had been made to make sure they were all there, it made them all feel somewhat more complete to be together like that. Conversation stayed away from Jack's craziness, for which he was relieved, and instead Bobby joked about the dryer, which seemed to be okay, and talked about hockey. For once, the level of stress was nearly unnoticeable.

After dinner, Bobby packed up his car with Evelyn at his side. Despite his insistence that she just sit down and not worry about it, she walked with him on each trip outside, talking along the way about this or that and dropping her motherly tidbits of advice about the normal subjects with him: drinking, fighting, impatience, calling home more...

"You really just need to stop," he told her, as she on the last trip out suddenly appeared with a bag of canned food, from tuna to vegetables to soup. "Really."

"Just to get you started again," she answered, putting it into the back of his car before he could object. "You have everything?"

"Yeah... I really didn't have that much, you know?"

She nodded. "Yeah... I know."

"Okay, gotta just say good bye to the stooges, and then get on the road..." he replied.

"Now remember, Bobby," she said as they walked back towards the house. "Leaving now is avoiding traffic and making good time, so there's no need to speed or to try to rush... You'll get there when you get there."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah..." he agreed, opening the front door. "I know." He walked towards the family room, where he knew Angel was the last time he walked through. Jerry had already said his good byes and headed home. Evelyn walked passed him towards the kitchen.

Bobby eyed his brother on the couch. "Angel."

Angel barely looked up from the TV. "You leaving?"

"Yeah," Bobby replied. "Look at me."

Angel paused for a second, eyes locked on the screen, and then he looked up at Bobby. "Have a safe trip."

"You gotta look at someone when you say good bye," Bobby persisted, walking towards him. "Alright?"

"When you gonna be back around?"

"I dunno. I'm sure it'll be pretty soon."

"Alright then." Angel's eyes shifted back towards the TV. "So I'll see you when I see you."

Bobby stuck out his hand. "Thanks for pretending you care."

Angel nodded, leaning forward slightly to exchange a shake with his brother. "Sure, anytime."

"Fuckwad." Bobby shook his head. "Where's Jackie?"

"Not here," Angel replied. "I think he went upstairs."

"Alright..." Bobby studied him. "You stay outta trouble, okay?"

"Only if you do."

Bobby shook his head and left the room, heading upstairs. Angel was never very verbose when with good byes and Bobby didn't take it personally. He climbed the stairs tiredly, exhausted from being on his feet most of the day and the recent packing. He could hear music playing as he reached the landing and saw Jack's door was open. He approached it slowly, peering in to see Jack reclined back on his bed with his guitar, strumming it lazily with the song on the radio, but mostly just looking like he found some kind of comfort holding it there. He looked up just briefly when he noticed Bobby in his doorway.

"Hey," Bobby said.

"Hey."

"You clean up in here?" Bobby asked him as he walked in.

Jack eyed him carefully and shrugged. "Sure."

"Did you?" Bobby glanced around the room warily and then reminded himself that he'd been lecturing enough for the past few days and Jack already knew all of his worries about his habits. He didn't need to repeat it all now, so instead he just sighed and walked towards the bed as he said, "Look, bud, I'm leaving now. I got everything packed up so I was just coming up to say bye, not give you a hard time."

Jack strummed a couple chords. "Alright."

"You wanna say bye?"

"Bye..." Jack replied nonchalantly, continuing to run his fingers across the strings of the guitar.

"You even gonna look at me?" Bobby frowned. "Come on, man."

Reluctantly, Jack sat up and pushed his guitar off his lap, setting it beside him on the bed. Then he slowly slid off the bed to his feet, walking towards his brother quietly. When he was within reach, Bobby reached out and pulled him close, causing Jack to stiffen just a little but not pull away. Bobby wrapped him in a hug.

"I'll call you," Bobby said.

Jack nodded into his shoulder. He knew Bobby wouldn't call. Bobby rarely called anybody. But it was the thought that counted.

"Promise me you'll be good and quit the stupid stuff, alright?" Bobby persisted, pulling back from his embrace but holding Jack at arms length. "No more hospitals or anything like that. Just normal fifteen year old stuff?"

Jack studied Bobby's untied sneaker. "What's normal?"

Bobby smiled and let go of his little brother. "Interesting question. You'll figure it out. Just be good for Ma in the meantime."

Jack nodded.

"You'll be fine." Bobby paused. "Anyway, I'll be home again soon. So I'll see you in no time anyway. Try not to get any taller in the meantime, okay?"

Jack nodded again, continuing to stare at the floor. "Okay."

Bobby laughed. In general, he felt like it wasn't okay, or something wasn't okay, and he hesitated ending the conversation just yet. It was mostly because he hated saying good bye to anyone important... particularly because he knew he hated anyone to say good bye or leave him. He always felt like he was abandoning them. "Alright, buddy." He glanced at his watch. "I gotta go." He reached up and patted Jack lightly on the cheek. "You know I love you, Jackie. I'll see you soon."

Jack looked up briefly. "Bye, Bobby."

Bobby resisted hugging him again and turned to leave the room, chiding himself for letting certain people in his life turn him into mush and reminding himself that Jack was getting too old to baby him like he had when he was younger. As he walked out the door he grew frustrated at the things he hadn't said but didn't turn back, already hearing the sound of a soft guitar strum as Jack went back to his favorite hobby. Mostly, Bobby had meant to apologize for losing his patience earlier, for calling him weak among other things, and just growing so frustrated. He knew Jack was a good kid who would learn his limits and realize what not to do, and Ma would help him get help for his issues, but often he still forgot to keep his quick tongue in check when dealing with him. Jack knew he didn't mean anything by it.

Or so Bobby hoped.

ooooooooooo

The next day was an attempt at normalcy for all. Jack went to school on time, made his bus, and made it to class. Evelyn went to work, silently praying that Jack would spend the whole day in school, that Angel would show up for his shift on time, and that Bobby wasn't speeding like a maniac anywhere. She didn't think it was too much to ask of any of them. For herself, she continued to think like she had for the past few days how she missed so many warning signs with her boys sometimes, and how far problems had to get before she saw them. Especially with someone like Jack, who was regularly so quiet.

She missed Bobby already. As challenging as he was, and as human and imperfect as he was, he'd grown into a strong individual who had taken upon himself to be the man in their lives, almost as though he wanted to replace that missing piece in his own childhood and life by filling in as that person in other's lives. At this point, Evelyn trusted no one more than Bobby, and she knew he would do anything for his family. Not just out of his need to please, but out of his own need for it.

When he wasn't there, there was a sad lack of his presence. Bobby was someone who was in your face, regardless of what mood anyone, including him, was in. He was loud, opinionated, and physical, so it was painfully obvious when he was gone. Evelyn knew they felt the same way.

She was thinking about this when she came home that day from work, about how it was always an adjustment for her when one of her boys was gone even for a day and how she would happily have them all crowd back into her house if they could. A full house was a happy house in her life.

Finding her front door unlocked, Evelyn put her keys away and walked inside, hearing the TV from the other room. She yawned, exhausted from the day and from the last week in general, and walked into the other room to find Jack sprawled on the couch. She glanced at her watch as she put down her purse.

"I went," Jack said, as though reading her mind.

"To everything?" she asked.

He nodded, stifling a yawn. "Every second of it."

"Did you miss a lot while you were gone?"

He looked at her skeptically. "I don't know."

"How do you not know?" she persisted. "And turn off the TV. I'm sure you have a lot to do, Jack. If you not, you can help me with dinner."

"I told you I'd go to all the classes. I didn't tell you I'd pay attention."

She shook her head. "If you have to repeat this quarter... I swear to God, Jack..."

"I won't," he persisted. Then suddenly he smiled and sat up straighter. "Oh. And guess what?"

Evelyn gave him a suspicious look, feeling like Bobby had when Jack had looked like this before explaining his whole idea to stay up for hours to beat a record. She suddenly felt nervous, wondering what it was schools were teaching kids nowadays. "What, honey?" she asked carefully.

"That class," he said. "The science class I did this whole... thing ... for."

"The 'thing'. Yes..."

"She cancelled the project."

"Cancelled it?" Evelyn raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah."

Evelyn frowned, trying to decide if he looked truthful or whether this was his attempt to explain how suddenly he wouldn't be responsible for writing any kind of paper to make up for the events of the week.

"It's true," Jack persisted. "She said she meant to just have us be creative and stuff, but that it just wasn't working out as an unstructured assignment or something." He smirked. "So you thought what I did was stupid. This one kid caused a chemical fire in his kitchen. 'Cause of some reaction. Which is crazy, if you can just take a few household items and- Hey, do we have any-"

"Don't even think about it," Evelyn replied. "The answer is no."

"What if I do it outside?"

"What if you never watch TV again?"

Jack frowned but then continued. "This other kid burned himself on dry ice. That is so crazy. I don't even know what dry ice is. It's colder than real ice."

"That's so dangerous..." Evelyn sighed. "So no more project?"

"Nope." Jack smiled. "Nothing. No papers or anything."

"I just don't even understand why she would assign something like this in the first place. You don't teach somebody something by telling them to do what they want. Without guidance it's just a mess. Especially with science. Did she even give any instructions to begin with?"

"It was like... Demonstrate your ability to write an objective, hypothesis, steps, conclusion, and analysis through a performed experiment."

Evelyn gave him a look. "That was it?"

Jack nodded.

"Jack, you could have done nearly nothing and completely the project so simply. Without any of these problems..."

"Well, first I thought of doing something really dumb..." he admitted. "Like having the hypothesis of... Like, ice will melt if it's not in the freezer. But then I thought she'd think I was just trying to do it with no work. You know, not actually do the project."

"I wish you'd done the simple version."

"It would've been boring."

"You prefer this past week over 'boring', Jack?"

"If I could take out the hospital part and some other stuff..." he said. "Then I prefer this week."

She shook her head. "You can't take it out, Jackie. It's a domino effect. It's either one or the other."

He shrugged. "Can't go back now."

"That's true..." she sighed. "Did Bobby call or leave a message?"

"No." He paused. "Why would he?"

"I told him to call when he got in."

"He never has before."

"Yes," she admitted. "But I think we all know that people are capable of change. Right?"

"Not Bobby."

"Honey, you'd be surprised how much Bobby has changed over the years," she answered with a smile.

Jack shrugged. He'd heard many stories of Bobby, some told by the man himself. He had to admit that since he'd been in the house his brother seemed to have grown a little bit more mature or responsible, but for the most part when it came to his own experience, the guy had always treated him mostly the same. Around him Bobby never did anything too crazy. Not like the things he told stories about anyway. But being fifteen, Jack didn't get to go out with him a lot of places either.

"I didn't smoke today," Jack spoke up after a moment of silence. He looked up to catch her expression and added. "Anything."

"Good, Jack." She glanced towards the TV. "It's a step in the right direction... Did Angel say he was coming home for dinner?"

"I don't know." Jack was a little disappointed that she didn't talk more about the fact he hadn't smoked all day, especially since it was true. Truthfully he'd run out of cigarettes and didn't have the cash or time to get more during the day, since he'd made a commitment to stay in class the whole day. "I didn't miss any class either."

Evelyn knew Jack was looking for praise, and she would give it, but not without knowing he realized why. "Good, honey," she said. "I'm glad. But you know, there are certain things that are expectations. It doesn't make me any less happy for you to do them, but I also want you to know that they're expectations. But I think we're already having a better week. Are you caught up on sleep yet?"

"I don't know."

"Sweetheart, I have to start counting how many times you say 'I don't know'..." she replied, almost teasing. "You know a lot more than you let on, and it's dangerous."

Jack smiled at that. He thought it would be nice to be dangerous.

"That wasn't a compliment," she reminded him, making a face. "You boys... Don't know what goes through your head sometimes... But enough. Come on, help me with dinner."

Jack forced himself up. "I want a new challenge," he told her.

Evelyn felt her stomach drop a little bit and didn't want to look at her son just yet. She walked into the kitchen, knowing his was following her and afraid to encourage the conversation. "I don't know if I can handle another one of your challenges, Jack, to be completely honest."

"Not science related."

"Should that make me feel better?"

"Do you know there's a record holder for oldest male stripper?"

"Jack..."

"No, that's not the one I'm doing."

"Well, good, honey. And it better not be most tattoos or piercings either." She walked over and opened the fridge.

"No. But I do want a tattoo. Bobby said I could." He hadn't really, and he'd been drunk, but in Jack's mind he hadn't thought it was a terrible idea either.

"Oh, so you're okay letting Bobby tell you what you can and can't do now?"

"There's also a record for a guy that hicupped for sixty-eight years."

"God, I thought 265 hours of something was bad." She sighed. "Jackie, why don't you read a book about something other than records, okay? History, literature, sociology... How about those things?"

"Can I have the leftover pizza for dinner?" Jack asked, peering into the fridge as she took out chicken.

"Have it for a snack," she replied, taking the chicken over to the stove. "And quit thinking about challenges and records. I have a challenge for you: how about no drugs, alcohol, or anything like that? Certainly if you can give up sleep, you can give up those things. Or find a new stress relief, how about that?" She turned the oven on. "Running, or something."

Jack shrugged.

The phone rang then and Evelyn walked across the room to pick it up. Jack tried to decide if he wanted pizza.

"Hello?" she answered.

Jack nervously watched her expression, wondering why he always worried that a phone call was something bad, maybe about him. It made him so anxious.

"Hi, sweetheart, I'm so happy you- Oh, that's okay... How was your ride?" She paused. "Really? Good... Can you do me a favor before you do..." She looked at Jack. "Uh-huh... OK. Just... I know you need to go, but I'm putting your brother on so you can tell him why you called... Because, I told you to, Bobby..." Evelyn gestured Jack over and then said, "Here he is," as she handed the phone to Jack.

Jack skeptically put the phone to his ear, confused, and gave a simple, "Yeah?"

"What the fuck?" Bobby replied. "I need to go."

"Okay, then go," Jack answered.

"She pissed at me for not calling earlier or something?"

"Yes."

"Really?"

"Fuck. I don't know." Jack glanced at Evelyn. "Can I put her back on now?"

"Why do you hate phones so much, you pussy?" Bobby replied. "Fine. Actually, just tell her I need to go. At least I called. Alright?"

"You can't just take the five seconds?"

"Fine, fuck face. If I could hit you through the phone I would. Put her back on."

"Bobby, you shouldn't say that about her, that's terrible," Jack said, as though Bobby said something insulting about their mother. Then he passed the phone back to Evelyn before there was a response.

"Hello?" she said. "Bobby... Don't say that in front of me. Even if it's meant for- No, I will not pass it on." She shook her head in exasperation. "Okay, well be safe, and I love you... Right... Bye."

Jack just stared at her as she hung up the phone, expecting an explanation.

She simply smiled. "So, Jackie, tell me again that Bobby never calls." She walked over to the stove, looking a bit more content now.

"So now he does." Jack shrugged, watching her. She was nearly beaming, all over an unexpected 'expected' phone call. Every time anyone went anywhere, they were told to call when they got in, let her know they were okay. For years Bobby agreed to and never did. But this time, he had remembered. "Better later than never."

"Exactly," she agreed. "Jack, that's exactly it."

It was a small change but it had a huge affect on her. He was kind of surprised, and first attributed it to his suspicion that Bobby was her favorite, but then realized it was more than that. A lot more than that. And as cliched as the whole thing was, it paralleled her advice perfectly.

Make an effort to do the expected.

Looking at her face now as she began to prepare dinner, he realized it was worth it.

A new challenge after all.

ooooooo