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It happened when we were two. I don't remember any of it, and neither did Jon, I bet. But he ranted about it so often in such detail that you would have thought he was there when it happened.

He would usually get set off whenever we ate at any small-town diner, which was almost all the time. He would flirt outrageously with the waitress on duty, and she would return his attention with varying degrees of amusement and coy banter. Then as soon as her back was turned he would drop his charming facade. "Worthless whore" was probably the kindest thing he could say about her then. After about a minute's worth of raving about the unsuspecting waitress's morality - or lack of it - he would inevitably bring up the subject of our mother.

"She didn't deserve it," he would declare vehemently. "Not like these bitches. Mum would never return a stranger's passes. That was what pissed off the bastard that night. The loser couldn't take the fact that Mum wouldn't even look at him."

And as he talked he would get even more agitated. "So when she got off work, he followed her. With a steel bat, for fuck's sake."

After the first few times, I learned how to shut him up before he got to the graphic parts. I'd mention the fact that our mother's murderer got life for his crime. Jon wouldn't give up even then, but at least he would subside a little, muttering over and over under his breath that it was not enough for him. But I took what I got. It was better than if I had let him continue. The first time, before I found out how to stop him, he described both the rape and the murder in such loving detail and in such a frenzy that one of the other diners called the police. I don't blame him either, but I pulled Jon out of that place really fast that time.

And it always ended the same way after that. Jon would become very cold towards the same waitress with whom he had been flirting just moments ago. The poor girl would invariably be terribly hurt and puzzled by his behavior. And it always happened at every single diner we went to. It always happened, because Jon was very handsome, and he could charm the birds off the trees if he wanted to. Me, I'm what I call bland in both looks and character, and I like it that way, thank you very much. But Jon had a very pretty face, the kind that would send girls' hearts aflutter at just a glimpse. We were twins, undeniably, but we certainly weren't identical. And though Jon and I seemed to share the kind of link between twins that's so often mentioned, I couldn't have told you at the time that my brother was only going to get worse.

-------------------

Jon did get better for a time. He never had a girlfriend for more than a month at a time - Eliza was a miracle for having put up with him for three weeks before he came back drunk and hit her - so it wasn't because of a girl that he became a so mild. I don't know what it was, actually, but it was around the time that the landlord was threatening to evict us. Aunt Susan was so thankful for his spell of sanity that she didn't even seem to mind the landlord's repeated demands for the rent.

Susan Cadwell isn't really our aunt, but she took us in after our mother's death. Aunt Susan is like that. She'd take in sick and injured animals by the dozen and trail scores of little children home after she got off work as a checkout lady at the supermarket down the street. And those who don't know Jon better were totally amazed to find him willingly helping with both animals and children. He was entirely transformed by their presence, and the expression on his face as he tended to the broken wing of a bird or the complaints of a child was almost gentle, angelic. Watching his pale face beside Aunt Susan's dark one as they worked together among the animals and children, I often wondered how long he could keep this up. It usually wasn't long.

Jon was in one of these milder moods that afternoon when the landlord finally came to force us out of Aunt Susan's cramped little apartment. Aunt Susan was away at work. Eliza was there too, since I'd asked her to come up for a drink. We were in the kitchen gulping Coke and beer when the landlord came hammering on the door. Jon, as luck had it, got to the door first. Eliza and I exchange worried glances and hurried out of the kitchen, nearly tripping over two of the three invalid cats that Aunt Susan had taken in permanently.

The landlord - his name was Mr. Forrester, if I remember correctly - came storming in, and promptly stumbled over the third invalid feline, who hissed at him and shot under the television rack on its three good legs. He got to his feet, black as thunder, and turned on Jon, who was nearest to him.

"Where's Mrs. Cadwell? You people are three months overdue. Three months!"

He had a breathless, heaving way of speaking in short bursts, and he paused now to glare at Jon out of yellow-rimmed eyes. Jon extracted the angry feline from under the rack and stood stroking its ruffled fur soothingly. He didn't even look at Mr. Forrester.

"Aunt Susan's at work," he said, not raising his voice. "I'll let her know you dropped by."

Mr. Forrester's face turned a dark purple. He drew himself up to his full height, but he still had to look up at Jon. "You owe me three months' rent," he heaved.

Jon smiled. "I know."

I had to step in at that point. Mr. Forrester was heaving as if on the verge of having cardiac arrest, and Jon was succeeding very well in goading him further.

"I'm very sorry," I said, firmly putting myself in between him and Jon. "Mrs. Cadwell was about to drop by your apartment to hand you last month's rent later today. The rest of the money will come at the end of this month."

Mr. Forrester glowered at me, breathing hard.

"I came down here to tell you that I don't care about your rents anymore. Tenants like you I can't afford. Tell Mrs. Cadwell that she and her cats and the two of you smartasses had better be out of here by tonight or I'll have the police on you first thing tomorrow morning."

With that, he marched out, slamming our door behind him. As soon as he was gone I rounded on Jon, though I knew that it wasn't really his fault.

"Did you have to do that to him?" I nearly yelled at him. "Did you have to stand there with that smirk on your face? Now look, he's pissed off enough to kick us out, straight. Damn it, Jon!"

"Yeah," said Jon, still stroking the cat absently. "I'm pretty sorry about that."

He didn't mean it, of course. But we had other things to worry about. I'd just lost my job as an assistant at a shoe shop several streets away when they went out of business the week before. Only Aunt Susan's salary and whatever money Jon managed to scrape together from doing odd jobs kept us going. And much of it went towards the upkeep of the various animals and children that streamed in and out of our home. Aunt Susan, of course, wouldn't even consider giving up her precious invalids. So it was that we moved out of the old battered apartment that we had called home all our lives.

Eliza offered us the meager hospitality of her apartment, for old times' sake if nothing else. But her mother drew the line at the three invalid cats and the stray mongrel that had taken up temporary residence with us at the time, and Aunt Susan, refusing to be parted from her darlings, chose to make the streets her home. She did insist that we take up the offer, however.

"There's no reason why you shouldn't have a roof over your heads," she urged us. "I'd be happier out here with my pets. At least they'd have free run of the place. More room for them. Spacious." And she laughed.

We moved in with Eliza over the next few days. Jon fell into a kind of bad-tempered brooding about the whole matter, but Eliza was used to him by now, and I knew exactly how he felt. I just coped with it differently. As soon as we were settled in, I struck out on a job-hunt that was near savage in its intensity. I tore the newspaper apart looking for ads and ranged about the neighborhood, looking for any kind of a job that could pay enough for us all to get an apartment again. But with all of Aunt Susan's salary going into our food and lodging, I did not dare spend much more on transportation. So I went on foot, and I made very slow progress.

It took too long. Jon helped out around the house as much as he could as payment for our lodging, but I could see that he was restless. And so was I. Even though Aunt Susan did come upstairs every morning and evening to get and stow away her supermarket uniform, we worried. She was our mother, and we couldn't stand to see her in the streets even though she did seem quite contented there with her various pets. I suppose that I was desperate to find a job just so Aunt Susan could have a shelter, and I know Jon felt the same. But every night, when I came home exhausted, he would ask me how it went, and I had to give him the same answer: I still didn't have a job.

One night, after another disappointing day of job-hunting, I went to check on Aunt Susan's little corner in the alley adjoining our block, as was my daily habit. I was totally unprepared to find Jon lounging there, feeding a rat.

"What the fuck," I started, bearing down on him. He looked up, and I saw the stubborn look in his eyes that meant he was going to fight me out.

"Someone's got to look after the house," he said, spreading his arms to indicate the pile of cardboard and old mattresses that was Aunt Susan's home. "You don't have to look for a job anymore, Seb. Just go upstairs to your girlfriend and earn your own keep. I'm with Aunt Susan."

I couldn't even answer. I just turned my back on him and raged upstairs. I think I surprised him. I definitely surprised myself. I'm seldom so enraged that I can't find words to scream at him. He always called me naggy. But this time I was furious. I was doing my best, and all Jon could do was act like a spoiled child. I poured it all out to a bemused Eliza. I ranted and waved my arms, stalking back and forth in her room. When I had tired myself out, I flopped down on her bed, still fuming.

"I found a job opening in a coffee place on Pennings Street," she said calmly. "They need more waiters. Have a look."

I shot upright and grabbed the newspaper from her hands. "Eliza," I cried, "you're a genius!"

"Oh, not really," she replied lazily. "Doesn't take much to be sharper than the two of you." And she smiled at me sweetly.

----------------------------

I did it, of course. I got the job at Lovitz's Place at Pennings Street. I never saw such a misnomer. Lovitz's was a place you'd have to stand in line to hate. It was pest-infested, its al fresco dining area was encrusted with bird droppings, and its food often turned up with assorted insectile condiments in it. I may be exaggerating slightly in my description of it, but believe me when I say it was quite literally the dirtiest eating-place I ever saw.

It was run single-handedly by its owner, Gideon Lovitz. He was probably the only reason why people actually came back. He had a wink and a wide grin that immediately put you at ease, and his coffee was strong enough to raise the dead, for a few hours at least. His trademark sandwich creation, Yewgodda Lovitz (Lovitz's idea of a joke - it was basically nothing more than a ham and cheese with a special mayonnaise sauce that he concocted himself) was good enough - when it was insect-free - to keep customers buying.

His customers, however, almost always ordered their daily espresso and Yewgodda Lovitz to go. Given the condition of the dining area, I totally understood their point of view. As a result, I had no one to wait upon, as the only waiter in the place. So I got relegated to unofficial cleaner instead. As Lovitz sang along to the crackling radio in his kitchen, I mopped, scrubbed and washed to the beat of the 70's radio station that was Lovitz's favorite. All in all, it wasn't a bad job at all. Best of all, Lovitz, delighted to find a sixty percent decrease in the number of cockroaches, flies and ants in his Yewgodda Lovitzes since I came along, handed me a very generous paycheck at the end of the first month. I set out immediately to find an apartment, which I did quite easily with our increased budget, and with what remaining money I had I got myself a bicycle, so that I didn't have to wake up at the crack of dawn to get to Lovitz's any more.

Our new apartment was even smaller than our old one, but it was clean, bright, and not more than five minutes' walk away from Eliza. Most importantly, it was big enough to take Aunt Susan and her precious pets. Even Jon seemed to cheer up at this unexpected burst of sunshine in our lives. He shrugged off the cloak of perverse brooding that had so dogged him for the past months and willingly became a perfect housekeeper. Eliza was astonished at the change in him, and became quite sulky over the fact that she could find nothing to criticize about him.

We got ourselves a small, second-hand color television set. It was our sole source of entertainment. In the evenings, we would gather around the tiny flickering screen and roar with laughter at the politicians on the news. We bit our nails over the condition of starving and Aids-infected children around the world, Jon ranted about the number of people wearing things made from animal hides on television, and Aunt Susan watched every single wildlife documentary that came on almost religiously. We were having the time of our lives.

I got a letter from our father during this time. It was addressed to our old apartment, and amazingly it had been forwarded to us. I suspect that it only arrived because of Mr. Forrester's wife, since I doubt that our ex-landlord would have bothered with us.

It wasn't long - about a page of typewritten fonts - and it was mostly about Dad. He told us about Janet, his current wife, and how guilty he felt for working such long hours and not having enough time to spend with her, and how sweet and patient she was for putting up with him. He praised Aunt Susan for being an "angel" and stepping in when he needed someone most, twenty years ago. The letter ended very abruptly, and it didn't mention our mother. He enclosed a hundred-dollar note, which surprisingly had come through intact with the letter. I nearly threw the whole thing away, money and all, but on second thought I used the hundred dollars to buy a wooden cross that I often saw in a shop on my way to work and had wanted very much. I hung the cross on our bedroom wall opposite my bed and left the rest of the money on the table between my bed and Jon's. I didn't mention the letter to my brother.

When I came back from work the next day, the money was gone, and in its place was a pack of Jon's favorite brand of cigarettes.

---------------------------

Jon got restless again after a week or so of domesticity. All good things come to an end, I suppose. Even the invalid cats couldn't keep him at home. He began to roam around aimlessly. I didn't comment on it, mostly because Jon wasn't shirking his household duties. He would finish his chores by the early afternoon, make sure the cats were all right in Aunt Susan's room, and then vanish for the rest of the day. I was a little surprised, therefore, when he told me that he had found a job as a delivery boy at a drug store somewhere near Lovitz's. But I wasn't going to complain about the extra income.

We indulged in a little celebration that night after Aunt Susan came home from work, and we ate out - not at Lovitz's, and certainly not at a diner. We ate at a proper little restaurant. Jon was very amused by the whole affair, and flirted shamelessly with all the waitresses there. I extravagantly ordered wine, and we all made a toast to ourselves. Jon even persuaded the waitress who brought the wine - a sparkling young girl whose name-tag read Roberta - to join in. I could tell that she was really taken with Jon. Her manager was watching with an expression of stern disapproval, but Roberta had eyes only for my brother. And I have to admit - very grudgingly - that Jon really did look good, since he had actually bothered to clean himself up. Even Eliza couldn't help stealing glances at him, and I wondered for a jealous moment if she regretted leaving him. Aunt Susan observed us all with twinkling eyes, but she didn't comment.

When we were finished with the wine, Jon, dissatisfied, called for something stronger. Jon and I got drunk, rather predictably. The dinner was supposed to be a treat from Jon and me, but I don't remember paying the bill. I expect Aunt Susan settled it quietly for us. I just remember being really witty with Jon, and feeling the bond between us more strongly than it had felt for a very long time. I may have flirted with Roberta, I'm not sure. At one point, I couldn't even tell the difference between what Jon said and what I said. It was all the same to me: Jon and I were inseparable. Eliza and Aunt Susan must have had a hell of a time getting us home. But we were all together, and that was all that really mattered to me.

We paid the price for it the next morning, of course. Both of us took the day off and slouched in front of the television set like dead things. Jon only roused himself from his chair long enough to answer the phone when it rang some time that afternoon. I hauled myself to the kitchen to make us some sandwiches, and I eavesdropped idly on Jon's conversation as I opened a can of tuna.

It was Roberta. Jon must have given her his number the night before. She had quarreled with her manager that morning and gotten herself fired. She sounded very upset about it, mostly because she said she needed the money to pay for her schooling, and her father would be mad if he found that she had lost yet another job.

Jon was very sympathetic. I could tell that he did like her, or else he would never have had the patience to sit through her rambling. I wondered, amused, if she would last longer than Eliza.

She lasted almost two weeks. That was when she got a job as a waitress at a diner. Jon turned cold towards her almost immediately. She was devastated, as I recall. I felt like calling her up to explain everything to her, but on second thought I kept silent. It would be kinder to both her and Jon to let them be in the long run, or so I thought.

Jon periodically stayed out all night, coming home only at four in the morning to sack out till nine, when he had to go to work. I could see the signs that he was dabbling in drugs again, as he had when we were teenagers. I cautioned him not to spend all our money on his habit, but I refrained from saying anything else. I didn't have to ask to know why he was resorting to drugs. It was a very predictable reaction, really.

Aunt Susan also seemed to be preoccupied with something. She still trailed children and animals home, but instead of bustling among them as she usually did, she would rather sit in her old cushioned chair and watch them play with one another. Jon saw nothing wrong with that when I brought it up to him. "She's just tired, Seb," he said with exaggerated patience. "People tire easily when they get older. You don't have to worry - your turn will come eventually."

Fortunately, I'm not quite as blind as my brother. I didn't mention it any more, but I kept a close eye on Aunt Susan. She did seem to tire more easily, and she sometimes sat at our table with her head on her folded arms, apparently dozing. Whenever I asked her if anything was wrong, however, she would give me a weary smile and say, "Cramps, dear."

I don't profess to know a lot about the mysteries of the female body, but I'm quite sure that cramps don't occur almost regularly once every fortnight. It didn't use to in Aunt Susan, anyway. I became convinced that something was wrong, but as she refused to see a doctor about it, there was nothing much that I could do except to continue watching her.

Eliza seemed to be the only person who agreed with me on this. She volunteered the services of her mother's close friend, who was a nurse at the local hospital. Aunt Susan reluctantly agreed to an examination, and I could see the fear on her face as she discussed the details of the checkup with Eliza. I felt it too. Aunt Susan was not a young woman, and she often overworked herself for our sake, even though now that we were grown up she no longer had to take two jobs as she used to when we were small. Still, I knew that she didn't take very good care of her physical health, and I often lay in bed imagining the worst.

Eliza took her for the examination, and I went to work as usual. Jon seemed unconcerned about the whole matter. "You seem determined to see Aunt Susan sick," he said to me the night before.

"Come on," I said irritably. "Don't tell me you're not worried about it. This is Aunt Susan we're talking about, Jon."

He took a deep drag of his cigarette. "You're all jumping at shadows. She's a strong woman."

We all hoped fervently that he was right. For a couple of weeks we lived in anticipation of the results. Predictably, we all tried to pretend that nothing was wrong. We went about our daily lives, and Eliza came around in the evening to watch television with us. We seemed to sense that our time together was limited, although there was no real change in our outward behavior. Jon, especially, clung stubbornly to his late night habits, refusing to even entertain the idea that something might be wrong.

The results came in due time. Eliza turned up at our house one evening, went directly over to Aunt Susan, and took her into the kitchen. I noticed a white envelope in her hand, and the sight of the stark white paper seemed to strike a physical blow to me. I turned quickly and looked about for something to do. Jon was playing with the three ragged children who had followed Aunt Susan home. I sat down next to him, and he looked at me questioningly.

"Send the kids home, Jon," I said in a low voice. "Please."

He obliged quietly. I sat in front of the silent television set, staring blankly into its dark screen. My ears were straining to hear the conversation that was taking place in the kitchen, but for some reason I could hear nothing.

Jon came home alone, his behavior subdued. I was rather surprised to find him so sober. We sat together, not speaking.

Eliza finally emerged from the kitchen and behind her came Aunt Susan, calm as ever. Jon and I must have looked pretty comical, seated side by side as we were with identical expressions of hopeful trepidation etched on our faces. But no one laughed.

"Colon cancer," Aunt Susan told us as gently as she could. "I need to go to the hospital again on Friday for advice on treatment."

--------------------------------

Life without Aunt Susan was ridiculously slow. The days seemed to drag on like molasses running uphill. We went to work as usual, but even Lovitz remarked that I seemed more subdued than usual. He was right, of course. Jon and I may have been making a mountain out of a molehill, but if you think about it, I'm sure you'll realize just why we were overreacting.

Eliza came over in the evenings as usual, mostly to help out in the house, because Jon - the only one besides Aunt Susan with any homemaking skills - refused to do anything except lounge about the house with knitted brows. We gave away the three invalid cats, although it was terribly difficult to see them go. Jon shut himself up in our room the day the cats' new owner came to claim them. The cat with the bad leg seemed especially reluctant to leave Aunt Susan's empty chair. I carried him snarling and kicking to the door of our apartment and placed him in a separate box from the other two cats. Then I stood alone in the doorway and watched a part of Aunt Susan being carried away.

We called the hospital regularly, and they assured us that Aunt Susan was doing wonderfully. Aunt Susan herself sounded cheerful on the phone, more so than she had seemed at home. I couldn't help wondering if she was even better off relaxing in the hospital than she was at home, overworked with three needy animals and two cranky sons to feed.

Jon, too, seemed very much encouraged by her positive attitude. He went back to his old routine of late nights. I was the only one working, but with the reduced number of dependants we could scrape through on my salary alone.

Time marched on and the day of Aunt Susan's operation arrived. Eliza came around to give us moral support. She, like Aunt Susan was previously, was firmly positive about the matter and refused to hear of even a hint that something might go wrong. Jon and I blubbered, and she scoffed at our fears. I really don't know what we would have done without her. I love that girl.

Our fears turned out to be unfounded. Aunt Susan's operation went smoothly, without a hitch. Eliza was just a little smug about it. I threw my arms about her and kissed her soundly. Jon laughed like a madman. It was a huge weight off our shoulders.

Another worry intruded itself on me during this time. We had raised just enough money for Aunt Susan's operation, but her post-operation bills were accumulating by the day. There was no way my salary could cover that. I refused to even consider relying on the charity of Eliza and Lovitz. I shuddered to think of having Jon disappear for a month again. I definitely had to find another source of funds, and as far as I could see, there was only one way.

I didn't say a word of my plan to Jon, but I confided in Eliza. She stared at me incredulously.

"Your father!" she exclaimed. It wasn't even a question. She obviously thought that the stress of the past week had unhinged my mind.

"It's worth a shot, Eliza," I insisted. "The worst that can happen is that he totally ignores us. What have we got to lose?"

"What about Jon?" she asked.

I simply left him out of it altogether. I composed a short, terse letter to my father, explaining the situation and asking for any help that he might be able to render. Then I posted it.

I was totally unprepared when he turned up at our doorstep four days later.

-----------------------

Timothy Ross was a manager in a multi-national firm. I called him Dad. Jon called him all kinds of other names, but the fact remained that he was our father. Mercifully, Jon was not at home when he showed up. Eliza and I were looking forward to some peace and quiet together when there was a knock at the door. Eliza and I exchanged looks of astonishment. No one had knocked on our door for months, not even salesmen.

I quite literally froze when I saw who it was. To his credit, Dad didn't look too comfortable either. He was dressed in a business suit, and he was one of those people who would never look good in formal wear. His face was paler than usual, sweat stood out on his forehead - in short, he was a total mess. He put out his hand and held the door the moment he saw me, as if afraid that I would slam it shut in his face.

"Hi, Sebastian," he said softly.

"What are you doing here?" I asked. The question came out rather more harshly than I'd intended.

He looked injured. "I got your letter. Well," he amended, "I didn't get it personally. As it happened, I was here, in town on business, and your letter missed me. But Janet called me about it, and here I am."

I grudgingly let him in. He was here at my request, after all - not that I had asked him to come, but I couldn't have closed the door in the face of someone whose help I needed.

He stood in the middle of the living room and looked about awkwardly. I shoved a chair towards him and resumed my seat next to Eliza. He took the chair with a mutter of thanks. "Where's Jon?" he asked.

"Out somewhere," I mumbled. I wasn't sure myself.

"Any news about Susan?" he said then.

"She's fine. Getting on ok."

Dad seemed to realize that he was getting nowhere. He reached into his tailored jacket and pulled out a thick, bulging envelope. "I don't know if this is enough," he said, tossing it to me. "Cash is a good way of getting robbed, but I thought you might need it urgently. You can keep whatever's left."

I put it aside without looking at it. "Thanks."

We sat there in awkward silence for a few moments. I could see that Dad was inwardly struggling with something, but I wasn't about to help. Eliza fidgeted beside me. Finally, Dad stood up and walked to the door. I got up automatically, mechanically, to see him out, but he stopped me.

"Sebastian," he said, quietly. "I don't know you any more. You are as much a stranger to me as that girl sitting on the sofa. I won't pretend to know you. And I won't pretend that your face doesn't cause me pain. But the fact remains that I made my decision after your mother's death, and I'll stick to it. I don't know if it's right or wrong, but I will stick to it."

I never hated our father, but at that point I did. I hated him with a fury that I never knew I could feel. But I said nothing.

He left, and I slumped against the door, my fists clenched so hard that my hands hurt.

Eliza picked up the envelope I had left on the sofa and opened it. She pulled out a wad of cash, then another, and then another. Minutes ticked by as she counted the money.

"Twenty thousand dollars," she said finally.

--------------------------

Jon didn't come back that day, or the next. I had an uneasy feeling about him - it was too much of a coincidence that he went missing the day our father came to visit. I know my twin well, and he was definitely getting into trouble. I could bet my life on that. But I had no way of contacting him, so I hid my worry from Eliza and Aunt Susan and went on with life.

The money that Dad gave us more than covered Aunt Susan's bills. She demanded to know where it came from before she would accept it. I assured her that it wasn't from Jon, and told her about Dad's visit. She was not really surprised. I think she knew all along that we would eventually have to turn to our father for help.

We all smiled and pretended that everything was fine, and for a while it really was fine. Aunt Susan was well on the the mend after her operation, and the doctors said she could be home soon. Our father didn't come back. I even allowed myself to hope that the worst was over.

But as the days passed and Jon still didn't return, my unease turned to fear. There was no reason for Jon to pull one of his long disappearing acts. All the previous times he had been away from home for long periods of time, it had been his way of coping with something larger than himself, of dealing with problems that he would not share with the rest of us. When our father had abandoned us, he would regularly stay out for weeks on end, causing Aunt Susan no end of worry. He had always been childish that way, and I knew that the only way to handle him was to let him stay out until he had purged himself of whatever was troubling him. Then he'd come back, languid and docile, as if nothing had happened. But this time, I had no idea why he was gone for so long. Nothing had been troubling us that I recalled. I hadn't said a word to him about our financial problems, or about our father. I began to wonder if he had found out somehow. And sometimes, as I lay in bed alone, I stared at his empty bed and wondered if he was all right. Those times I would stay awake all night.

I had kept a close eye on the news ever since he disappeared, leaving the television set on the whole time that I was at home. I may have been overreacting, but I was half-expecting to hear the news that his body had been found. But the news did not come, and I went on worrying. Eliza knew what was worrying me, of course, but there was nothing that she could do.

On one of those nights that I kept myself awake worrying about Jon, I finally managed to drift into a half-doze, tired out from fretting. I dreamed of him. We were sitting in a diner. He was calm, even mild. His eyes were half closed, and he had a smile on his face.

I shifted nervously in my seat. The diner looked familiar, although I could swear that I had never seen it before.

A waitress came to take our order. I didn't see her face. I only watched Jon as he looked up and smiled at her. He stood up and took her hand, and they left the diner together.

I turned to find our father sitting beside me. With the bemusement of a dream, I asked him where Jon went.

"Justice," he said.

Then a scream ripped through my head and I struggled awake out of the dream. My bedsheets were soaked with sweat. I stared at the ceiling until morning, too afraid to move. The feeling that something was very wrong - probably a vestige of the dream - refused to leave me.

I went to work as usual in the morning. Lovitz noticed the black circles around my eyes and told me to get off early and get some rest.

I went home an hour early. The first thing I did when I got home was to turn on the television set, but there was nothing on the news the whole day.

Then, as I was making dinner for myself alone that evening, I heard something that made me drop everything and run for the television set.

A body had been found in a garbage bag in a park on the other side of town. It was not Jon, but a female working at a nearby diner. The body was still dressed in the uniform, and the name tag identified her as "Roberta". She had been stabbed several times in the abdomen, and then bludgeoned to death with a heavy object.

I stared, trembling and unbelieving, at moving images of policemen at the scene, and of Roberta's body being removed. My legs gave way and I sank to the floor. There was no doubt who Roberta's murderer was. I drew a deep, shuddering breath. That left only the question of why he had chosen this time to do it.

The phone rang, and I almost screamed. I managed to answer it. It was Eliza.

"Seb?" she said, sounding panicky. "It's about Jon."

I started to tell her that I knew, but she interrupted me desperately. "He knows that your father is in town. Aunt Susan told him, I just found out. She didn't know that you hadn't told him about the money, and he called her, and she told him about your father's visit - "

It all fell into place. As clearly as if I had seen it happen, I knew what Jon had been doing for the past weeks, and why. Worse, I knew where he was right now.

It took an hour for the both of us to find out that my father was still in town, and that he was staying in a posh downtown hotel. Eliza took her mother's car and drove me down at breakneck speed.

Eliza must have broken all the traffic rules there are, but we still got there too late. Jon must have known that he could not stay hidden for long, and he had chosen that night to make his move. We arrived to find several police cars and an ambulance parked outside the hotel. A throng of people milled outside the building, kept away from the glass doors by hastily erected police tape. Eliza pushed her way to the front, and I lagged behind, terrified of what I would see.

I managed to catch a glimpse of the hotel lobby. A couple of official-looking men were standing off to one side with a third person. I saw with a small shock that it was Dad, wrapped in a hotel bathrobe, his dark hair tousled. He 's alive, I thought with some confusion.

Then I saw a group of paramedics huddled in a corner of the lobby. They parted, and two of them lifted a body bag. My blood ran cold at the sight of it. I shoved the curious onlookers aside, and I would have run into the lobby if Eliza hadn't held me back. I screamed and wrenched myself away from her, but by this time the two official men had noticed me, and they came running to intercept me as I stumbled into the lobby.

They didn't have to. My father also came towards me, and his tear-streaked face told me what he could not say in words. He put his arm around me, but I turned away. I kept telling myself that it wasn't Jon, that it was a mistake. He could not have been so stupid as to let himself get killed. It was someone else in the body bag - it had to be.

Then one of the official-looking men showed me something that I vaguely recognized as a police badge, and asked me if I was Sebastian Ross. When I said yes, he told me that the suspect, Jonathan Ross, had tried to force his way past the hotel's front desk earlier that night, and had threatened the hotel staff after they denied him access. The receptionist called the police, and the suspect was overpowered by two security guards. They had failed to disarm him, however, and when the police arrived to arrest him he had attacked them with a knife and stabbed one of them in the side during a fierce struggle. That was when one of the officers fatally shot him. Timothy Ross had already identified the suspect as his son, and the police now wanted me for questioning.

I went with them, and Jon went in the ambulance. They asked me many questions, most of which I don't remember. I know I broke down a couple of times.

They took me to the hospital to identify the body, which was of course entirely pointless. I think the official guy who had questioned me - Jordan was his name - just thought that seeing the body would make me feel better somehow.

It did. Jon didn't look peaceful, the way dead people are always shown in movies. His mouth was slightly open, the way it always was when he was asleep after a late night out, and he looked small, defeated. His pale skin seemed to shine with a waxy pallor in the dim light of the morgue. His eyes were mercifully closed. I stared at him for a very long time, until Jordan pulled me away.

Jon's funeral was a very quiet affair. It's not good to advertise the location of  the funeral of a known killer. Aunt Susan didn't attend; her doctors didn't let her. In the end it was just me, Eliza, her mother, Dad and Lovitz. I didn't speak to Dad at all during the funeral. He sat to one side, alone in his grief. And though I was surrounded by sympathetic voices, I was alone in my grief too. No one loved Jon like me. No one knew.

It's been five years now. Jon's trial, such as it was, came and went. He was convicted Roberta's murder, of the attempted murder of our father, and of assaulting a police officer. I testified, I told our life story, and they judged Jon based on my words and those of Dad and Eliza and Aunt Susan. I saw Roberta's parents in the courtroom. They turned away the moment they spotted me. It was a good thing; I would never have known what to say to them.

Aunt Susan, Eliza and I have moved to a new neighborhood. We're happy here. I found a new job, and soon I'll save enough to move into a new apartment with Eliza.

I still dream of Jon. He's too much a part of me to be gone just like that. To others, he's a madman whose early death was a blessing to society. To me, he's my twin, and he'll never be gone.

- end -
This is an old story of mine that's been on my website for ages. It was the precursor of Sands and the story that made the comic possible. I'm just posting this here for anyone who may not have read it yet.

I'm not putting a mature warning on it, but it does contain some violence and sexual themes.

All characters are mine.
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:iconblackshinobi:
BlackShinobi Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2006  Professional Traditional Artist
i'm one lazy grek bastard when it comes to reading something. but ever since i started reading Dune, i've been fascinated with stories.

anyways, enough of my worthless crap.

this story was absolutely wonderful, a few grammar erors, here and there. hey, i'm not one ot be critisizing grammar since i can't spell online with a keyboard worth a shit.

all in all, absolutely wonderful.
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:iconauriond:
auriond Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2006
Thanks, it means a lot.

As for the grammar/spelling errors, I'm just lazy to correct them. :P
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:iconblackshinobi:
BlackShinobi Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2006  Professional Traditional Artist
WOW! ME TOO!

exept i just hired an editor...so...i made someone else do it.

where ca i buy Sands again?
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:iconauriond:
auriond Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2006
Haha, smart thinking :P

[link] I think that's the URL.
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:iconketene:
ketene Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2006  Professional Photographer
I started reading this on your site once but for whatever reason I didn't finish. I think I had to leave or something and just didn't get a chance to come back.


Anyway, I saved it in my devwatch for when I could sit down and read it, so I just did. I was absolutely drawn in, I really really really loved it. It was fantastic. It's beautiful. ::flails:: There's a perfect balance of detail with what's vague, and the way you closed off each section was perfect. The characters were fantastic.


The only slight problem I have with it, is that it's got a really nice pace, it flows beautifully, but ends abruptly. I don't know if you have any intention of fixing it up or whatever, so that might be useless even telling you lol. But I thought I'd let you know, anyway.


It's great, darling. ::bites it::
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:iconauriond:
auriond Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2006
*glomps*

Thanks, that was the best review I ever got of it ^^ :heart:

You're not the first person to complain about the "rushed" or "abrupt" ending... but the fact is I don't know how to fix it. XD I told it exactly how Seb remembers it, and I think he didn't remember much, or didn't want to remember much, about the details of Jon's death. And it left something open which I was planning to work on next, but I've forgotten my plans for Seb and Eliza now, so that's a bit of a problem. Any ideas how I might fix it?
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:iconketene:
ketene Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2006  Professional Photographer
It's how Seb remembers it but you're still the one writing it. =P You've got him by the balls.

What threw me off wasn't that the situation was rushed so much, but that the scene ends and he just cuts to talking about the aftermath. There isn't much of a segue. My immediate thought would be to cut it after this - No one loved Jon like me. No one knew. and then write an extra section, the way the story is told in sections, if you wanted to still fill everybody in one where they went with it. The last three paragraphs give a bit of an epilogue but they're just tacked on there, there isn't a break to absorb what's just happened and, like I said, no real segue.

And, if you were to do that, you'd have to fill in the last bit a little more just so that it fit with the rest of the story, so that it doesn't change gears so quickly. I don't know what you want to do with that, lol, so I don't know what else to say. =P


It's your story, so it's all up to you. :heart::heart:
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:iconmilktoothcuts:
MilkToothCuts Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2006  Hobbyist General Artist
wow, your such a great writter! ^ ^ everything was written so proffesional and you could really see what was happening and what the characters where like, super awesome work :nod:
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:iconauriond:
auriond Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2006
Thank you! :hug: I had more practice writing than I did drawing =P
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:iconmilktoothcuts:
MilkToothCuts Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2006  Hobbyist General Artist
ee your welcome :hug:
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:iconsolariguti:
solariguti Featured By Owner Aug 2, 2006  Hobbyist Artist
i didnt read it before and now that i have.. its pretty kewl..
in my own stories i have much detail.. to the point wehre my friends yell at me for it

but you did a nice combination of before details and dialogue..

job well done

:ahoy:

~SArS
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:iconauriond:
auriond Featured By Owner Aug 2, 2006
Thank you! I used to suffer from too much dialogue. Then I discovered that I should probably write in first person. =P A story with detail is not always a bad thing! My stories suffer from too little detail.
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:iconsolariguti:
solariguti Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2006  Hobbyist Artist
Yeah.. i was going to say that... but i dint want to..

lol.. but i still love it... its so original...
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:iconauriond:
auriond Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2006
*g* Don't worry about it. I know my weak points. But I refuse to change my style - I like less details because it leaves more to the imagination.
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:iconsolariguti:
solariguti Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2006  Hobbyist Artist
^^ yeah.. my mind was coming up with all of these possiblities and hehe.. i had fun with it to be honest..

^^

`Sars
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:iconauriond:
auriond Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2006
^^ That's good! That makes it all worthwhile! :)
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:iconsolariguti:
solariguti Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2006  Hobbyist Artist
yep.. so hows you bin?

~LEn
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:iconauriond:
auriond Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2006
Busy... no inspiration for creating much.
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