Loxley hadn’t heard the news from his twin. No, their father had mentioned Liam’s decision over dinner and he had avoided Lox’s piercing gaze. He wandered into their room once he was done the dishes and saw his twin sitting on the hard wooden floor, legs out in front of him and back against the bed frame, a cushion stuffed behind for comfort.
“You’re leaving?” Loxley kept his voice even and measured. Liam’s gaze was trained on a daddy long legs fluttering along the window pane. It thudded against the glass in a desperate attempt to escape, and Lox wondered if that was how his twin felt. Liam nodded idly.
While there was enough scientific evidence to support ESP in twins, Lox had never felt it himself. He and Liam were close, but there was no sixth sense present. Loxley would have to be dense not to notice Liam’s mood and disconcerted thoughts, but he was shocked that his twin was leaving.
Liam’s gaze remained on the insect. With a muttered curse, Lox thrust the window open and brushed it out. When he turned back, Liam was staring at him. His sky-blue eyes were unreadable.
Loxley heaved a sigh and sat next to his brother. “Why?”
“Because I need to, Lox. This house is too small.” Liam’s eyes were round and urged him to understand. Loxley could understand the intricate process of DNA replication, mRNA creation, mitosis, meiosis, viral infection of cells, and a thousand other things that his knowledge-hungry mind wanted to learn, but he could not understand why Liam had to leave.
Liam shrugged, staring ahead. The continual reluctance to meet his gaze was leaving Loxley frustrated. “I feel like I can’t think, I-”
“That’s silly,” Loxley scoffed, rolling his eyes and refolding the collar of his shirt. “You don’t need space to think. Your mind is as large as the universe.” At the furrowing of Liam’s brow, Lox sighed. “The universe is really, really big. That was my point.”
“I know that. My point was that I need to find something that I’m good at.”
Now it was Lox’s turn to frown. “You’re good at plenty of things.”
“But not as good as you are at stuff.”
“That’s just luck with genetics,” Loxley shrugged. “You would also excel if you tried.”
Liam fidgeted around until he faced his twin. Lox felt a small measure of relief when their eyes met. The cushion that Liam had been leaning against dropped to the floor, and Lox snatched it up for himself.
“I can’t explain it. I just need to get out.”
There were a thousand things Loxley could say to that. When it came down to it, he didn’t think it would do any good to ask Liam to stay. Such a request would be pointless, anyway; it would only serve Loxley’s sense of comfort and homeliness, and probably encourage the resentment between them to grow larger. With each answer he considered, Loxley rejected them in rapid succession. His logical mind worked seamlessly for a small moment of time, until he replied, “If that’s what you need to do.”
Liam gave a decisive nod. His sky blue eyes lightened with relief and his frown evaporated like thin mist under bright sun. “I do. Or I think so, anyway.” And then, in a quieter tone, “I hope so.”
Lox reached out to flick his brother’s nose, chuckling when Liam tutted and brushed his hand away. “You’ll be okay. Make the most of it. I envy you; being able to avoid Faye’s whining voice would be glorious.” As one they winced, hearing her ringing tone which seemed to magically carry through all the walls of the house.
Liam laughed, a delightful and pleasant sound, and Lox realised he heard that laughter less and less in recent months. It was good to listen to, and Lox joined in with a low chuckle. “Think of me while you have peace and quiet and Granddad’s.”
“Oh, I will. Try not to make arguments with her, okay?”
For a moment Loxley tried to feign innocence, but his eyes narrowed instead and his lips twisted into a grimace. “I don’t try. It’s Faye. Her very existence creates arguments.” He could easily have launched into a full blown rant, though he bit his tongue. Liam had heard it all before and, with silent nods, agreed entirely. There was nothing in the universe that made him quite as angry as their sister. Except physicists. And literalist Christians.
“When do you leave?”
Liam drew in a breath. Trepidation twisted his stomach. “In a week. As soon as the holidays start. You’ll let me know how you’re doing in that internship thingy, right?”
“Of course,” Lox assured. “I’ll let you know at every stage.”
Liam smiled proudly and reached out to flick Lox’s nose back, but his twin swiped his arm up and knocked him off course, before jolting forward and prodding Liam’s belly. He squeaked in surprise and Lox grinned. He’d miss Liam, but it would be better when he was back after the summer.
Liam insisted on a game night the evening before the taxi would take him to the station on the first leg of his journey. It wasn’t far, and Liam was more than capable of the simple journey, but there was an odd atmosphere settled over the family as they played cluedo and ate pizza.
Faye was conspicuously absent. She had promised to be home after school, instead of going to a friend’s house, but clearly she had forgotten. None of the siblings found themselves upset by this; in fact, it was nice to have a game without her bored complaints and constant need for attention.
“I’m suspicious of Mrs White,” Liam said, around a garlic doughball.
“Don’t accuse people of murder with your mouth full,” James scolded, reaching out to snatch the dice up. “And Mrs White is a lovely old lady, thank you very much, she would never murder a soul. It’s the Rev you need to be wary of.”
“Hey,” Loxley piped up, thin eyebrow slanted up. “The Reverend was definitely in church when it happened.” He grinned shamelessly when Summer pointed out there was no church on the board.
Liam shared a glance with Summer who sat across from him, her glasses reflecting the empty pizza box between them. The smell of garlic was thick in the air, but it was a scent that Liam loved. Pizza nights were the best nights.
“We can’t trust either of them,” he said solemnly, eyebrows drawn down in mock worry.
“They’re probably both the killer,” Summer nodded.
“If you killed someone, where would you hide the body?” Lox mused aloud, causing his mother to exclaim in shock, though she rapidly dissolved into giggles. “Come on, it can’t only be me that’s thought about it.”
“There are loads of peat bogs around,” Summer shrugged. “I wrote a short story where someone hid a body in there.”
“What a morbid conversation!” Skye gasped. “Lox, take your turn, for goodness’ sake.”
As it turned out, Mrs White was indeed the killer. James scowled when Loxley revealed, with a flourish, that his suspicions were correct.
“I miss the days where I won games all the time,” James muttered to Jessica, who put a comforting hand on his shoulder, though her wide grin proved she was enjoying watching him lose.
“Shut up!” James protested, while the kids packed the game away. “I can still win games. Just watch me.”
“You need to be young to win,” Lox said casually, picking at dirt under his nails and glancing up at his father with a shit eating grin. James spluttered.
“The cheek of you lot! Honestly, I’ll disown the lot of you if you keep on like this.”
At least, with the kids older and more independent, it was easier to snatch time away to themselves. Jessica cherished these moments; she felt young again, in university and falling in love, and her heart fluttered with every gentle touch and kiss.
It had been a long day. Liam had left in the morning and the rest of the day was dedicated to various items on their sprawling to do list, which never seemed to become shorter no matter how many words got crossed out. Relaxing in the garden with the evening sun was just what was needed; the air that had been muggy in the morning was even heavier now, and the storm would hit sometime in the small hours of the night. At least for now the grass was dry enough to sit on.
The silence was calming, and it was good to take a moment to listen to the rustling leaves, whistling birds and James’ quiet breaths, but eventually it had to be broken. There was something on her mind.
She pulled away from the embrace just enough to meet his gaze. James’ thumb rubbed circles on her back. He arched an eyebrow – he always was so good at reading her.
“Do you want to get married?”
To his credit, he recovered quickly. After a moment where he physically reeled back, he cocked his head to the side and smirked. “I have to say, if this is your proposal, I’m not very impressed.”
Jessica poked his chest. “I’m serious, James.”
The smirk faded. “I know you are.” He studied her and she could feel a blush rising to her cheeks. “You hate marriage. Why do you want it?” He squinted against the sun and pulled back more, hearing the buzzing of a bee somewhere close by. Jessica didn’t notice.
“Mostly the legal stuff,” she admitted. “And I guess it doesn’t really freak me out anymore.”
“Well we can’t get much more committed than five kids,” he muttered with a dramatic roll of his eyes, and though it was clearly a fond action there had still been an edge to his words. Jessica’s hand, which had been pressed against his cheek, dropped to the ground. Before, she might have said nothing, but since James was always going on about how communication was so important…
James let out a breath and leaned back, stretching out his legs to catch as many of the sun’s rays as he could. “After all this time,” he said slowly, measuring each word, “you still seem to assume marriage is something I want.”
A butterfly fluttered between them for the briefest of moments. It was bright orange, a deeper colour than the sun, with black markings around its wings. When Jessica reached out it flicked away. James caught her hand instead and brought it closer to him. “Listen,” he said, in the patient sort of voice a parent often reserved for their exhausting child, “if you really, really, passionately, desperately want to get married, then sure. You can buy me an expensive ring and drop to one knee. But I don’t want to get married if it’s for tax shite. That’s really unromantic and a lot of hassle to go through.”
“It’s not just taxes,” Jessica pointed out, curling her fingers in and bunching up James’ top. The fabric was warm where it folded in her hand. “Next of kin and health stuff -”
“We have wills and living wills, all up to date. Do you want to marry me because you want to see a ring on my finger?” When Jessica didn’t answer – only scrunched her face up in thought – James shrugged and extracted himself from her touch. He stood, peering around at his back to ensure there were no grass stains. “There, we have our answer. If you ever do change your mind, the ring should be at least six months of your wages.”
Jessica held her hand up to him, doing her best pleading look, and he snorted and pulled her up. Just as she was brushing off stray grass strands, he tucked his arms around her and lifted her up. She startled and squealed.
“Six months is a lot of money,” she said, somewhat breathlessly.
A slow grin spread over his mouth. “Aren’t I worth it?” He let her slide down through his arms until her feet were firmly on the ground. She caught the distant smell of his aftershave “Joking aside, just remember that I’m not all that bothered, okay? I’m not expecting to one day have this perfect marriage with you. I don’t need it, just like I told you many years ago. It’s a bit frustrating that you forget that all the time.”
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled, leaning her head on his chest. She felt his lips brush over her hair. “I guess I fall into the habit of assuming you want more.”
“Seriously, we have five kids, what more could I want?” James snorted, and this time his words were light. “I’m easy, okay?”
“You’re definitely that,” Jessica muttered.
“I meant I’m easily pleased,” he protested. “Don’t be so rude, you’ll hurt my feelings.”
Jessica craned her neck up and pecked his lips in apology. James smiled at her in return, the same dopey lovesick look that she had been used to seeing over the years. Her heart fluttered and she relaxed against him.
“I love you,” she whispered.
“I love you too, sweetheart.”
Loxley was so deeply focused that he barely noticed Summer creep in; the only acknowledgement he gave was a quick nod. He scanned the research article on the screen, making scrawling notes on the paper next to him. Summer leaned over his shoulder and peered at the tiny words. It was something about viruses. She preferred creative subjects over maths and science, so it didn’t mean much to her.
“What’s up?” he asked eventually, clicking off the article and reading the abstract of a second one.
“Skye is out wandering again. I got bored.”
Loxley took a moment to look over his shoulder, his arched eyebrow enough of a clue to how much he didn’t believe her answer, and turned back to the article. “Uh huh. I’m working on my project proposal. I know the guy likes viruses too, so I’m hoping to tailor it a bit to him.”
“Yeah, the researcher. Lukas. He’s kind of the new kid on the virus block, so he must be pretty young, but he’s done some interesting reviews on the current work.”
The entire conversation was rapidly becoming too scientific for Summer to understand, and Lox must have realised. He placed his pen down, rubbing away ink stains on his fingers. “Seriously though, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Summer mumbled, picking at dirt under her nails.
“Why do people do that? Fine then, I -”
“Okay, I did want to talk to you about something.”
Loxley rolled his eyes. “Finally.”
She perched on the edge of the chest of drawers and tapped her fingers on the wood. A car drove past at a crawl and she watched it with a frown. How did she even begin to broach the subject. “Um, so, you know Uma Frazier? At school, in my year? I really like her…”
Lox turned to Summer with a comically shocked look; his eyes were round and his mouth agape. “Really!?” he gasped, pressing his hand to his mouth. “I had no idea, Summer, it’s not like you stare after her every lunch time or anything.”
“S-Shut up!” She hid her face in her hands and realised her cheeks were burning hot. “It’s not that obvious, is it?” she asked desperately.
“Not if you’re blind,” he shrugged. “Anyway, no one else has noticed or they would have commented on it by now, I’m sure. What did you want to talk about specifically?”
“I don’t really know how to tell mum and dad,” Summer mumbled.
Lox squinted up at her. His research was well and truly forgotten. “How about ‘hey parents, I like girls.’ What the hell are they going to say about it? Aunt Courtney has been mum’s best friend since they were young.”
“Yeah, I know. But it’s just… I don’t know. I don’t know how to bring it up. It’s difficult.”
“It’s really not. You’re making it far harder for yourself than it has to be. Or just don’t tell them. They’ll find out soon enough when you bring a girl home.”
“Stop teasing me,” Summer whined. “How would you tell them?”
“I’m not gay, Sum,” Lox laughed. “I’m not really interested in people in general. But I would just say I was. No point dancing around it.”
Summer huffed. “You’re no help.”
“Funnily enough, the boy who doesn’t care about people’s opinions isn’t the best for advice. Who’d have thunk it?”