“I can’t believe I’m gonna be in sixth grade!” Tum Tum bounced excitedly in his seat, his words as always slightly garbled by the piece of candy in his mouth.
“Yeah. One more year and you might even be considered a real boy, instead of a human candy disposal.” Colt teased.
“Shut up, spaz,” Tum retorted. “I’m a growing boy.”
“You’re a bottomless pit.”
Their oldest brother, Rocky, ignored their playful bickering, instead turning his gaze to stare at the passing scenery as they drove every closer to home. He missed the questioning look his siblings exchanged, even as they continued their back and forth banter.
The reason for his uncharacteristic moodiness became apparent when they pulled onto the street where they lived. As always, Colt was keeping an eye out for the bright blonde hair of Emily Andrews, Rocky’s on again off again girlfriend, and their neighbor. He started to cat call, expecting her to look up and smile as she did every year when they drove by coming home from their Grandpa’s, but the sound died on his lips when he saw who she was with. Rocky shot him a warning look, having seen the same thing, and shook his head, a silent order. Colt glared back, an equally warning retort that the brothers would be talking about this later.
Tum Tum, however, missed their exchange, and frowned. “Hey, isn’t that Emily? What’s she doing with Darren Jerkins little brother? And – ew! They’re kiss-” He grunted as Colt elbowed him hard. “Oh! Um, hey! Dad’s car isn’t in the driveway. Grandpa, are you gonna stay for dinner?” He said quickly, trying to cover his mistake.
“I will stay, as long as it is not pizza.” Mori readily answered, which led to playful protests from his youngest grandsons.
They finally pulled into their driveway, and the boys jumped out, grabbing their duffel bags. Rocky headed for the garage instead of the front door, Colt hot on his heels.
“Colt, let it go.” He said tiredly, huffing as his brother blocked his path inside.
“No. What happened?” Colt said evenly.
They faced off, identical in stance, body, and build, despite the ten month age difference. Colt’s perpetually messy, slightly long sandy brown hair and tanned skin brought out the hints of green in his hazel brown eyes, where as Rocky was of a slightly paler complexion, with lighter hair and more blue than green in his eyes.
“We grew up. She moved on. End of story.”
“Rocky.” Colt warned, his voice hard. “Either you tell me, or I go over there and find out for myself.”
The older boy sighed heavily, because he knew that his hot-headed younger brother wasn’t bluffing.
“What. did. she. say?”
“Why are you pushing this so hard?” Rocky demanded, shoving him back.
Colt let him do it, then shoved right back. “Because, jerkass, I know you almost better than anyone. You’re gonna internalize whatever she said and let it eat at you, because you are stone and invincible and a perfectionist and a control freak. But not even stone can stand forever against the wind, so just tell me so we can go inside and laugh at Grandpa grumbling about being out numbered on deciding on pizza for dinner.”
Rocky narrowed his eyes, but Colt merely raised his brows and waited.
“Wind? You’re full of hot air, more like.”
“At least I don’t have rocks in my head.”
The familiar retorts relaxed them both enough to ease out of their stances and stand more normally. Rocky’s shoulders slumped slightly, as he ran a hand through his hair. “We got into a fight before we left for the summer. She was mad because I chose to go to Grandpa’s instead of staying here with her.”
Colt’s jaw dropped. “But…we’ve been going to Grandpa’s every summer since we were seven!”
“Apparently, since I chose my brothers over supporting her trying out for cheer and drill team, she decided that she would find someone ‘willing to invest physically and emotionally’ in a relationship.” Rocky said dryly. “Also, dating Darren Jenkin’s little brother means that he and his goon squad won’t steal your bike or try to bully you out of your lunch money.”
“That conniving, two faced, scheming little – ”
“Colt!” Rocky snapped, grabbing his arm, but couldn’t help the reluctant grin. “It’s done. Let it go.”
His brother glared down the street. “Aw, c’mon. Can I go short sheet her bed? I can get in and out, easy. What about TP’ing her house? Or I know! I can go let all the air out of her tires.”
“C’mon, idiot. Let’s go.” Rocky rolled his eyes, turning away to grab his duffel bag. Colt darted by him, jabbing him in the side on the way.
“Still too slow! Guess you’ve got rocks in your head and your feet!” he teased, taking off with his brother in hot pursuit.
Later that night, after the last ‘mom’ bed check, Rocky’s quiet voice sounded out of the dark.
Nothing else needed to be said. For all of their bickering and competing over the years, they both knew that they would always watch out and protect each other, physically and emotionally – even when their sibling insisted that he didn’t need it.