"Do you wanna die?" I seethed with rage seeing that soccer ball in Trent's hands. He'd invaded my privacy, trampled over my things to get it. It didn't matter that he wore an identical face to mine—being a twin didn't automatically mean having a sibling you got along with.
Trent set the ball aside for a moment and took off his shirt. "Huh?" He asked as he reached for one of his exercising shirts, giving me a confused and impatient look. I wanted to wipe it from his face.
"You came into my room and took my soccer ball," I said, crossing my arms over my chest as I fixed him with a strong glare.
Trent clicked his tongue angrily at threw his shirt to the side, picking up the ball and holding it for emphasis. "That's our soccer ball. It was a gift to both of us, remember?"
"Yeah, but it was my room," I replied, dropping my arms and clenching my fists as I stepped toward him, barely managing to keep myself from physically attacking my brother. "You entered my room without asking. What the hell is your problem?"
Trent breathed in deeply and remained calm, but I could tell from watching his eyes that he wanted to hit me as much as I wanted to hit him. "Well, Justin and Denny are outside waiting for me, and I promised them a ball," he explained. "You had it, I didn't, so I went in to take it. I tried asking you, but you were so into your game, I decided not to bother you." He set the ball down again and picked up his shirt and began sliding into it.
I felt my anger begin to subside as I considered his words. "You tried asking me?" I said numbly.
"Yes. Twice," Trent said as his head poked through the neck hole of his shirt. "You were in a boss fight, I think. It's hard to tell with that game."
"Shit . . ." I said, taking a step back and trying to relax. "Yeah, I was, actually. I guess if you tried asking, it's not that big of a deal anyway."
He looked at me, his eyes beginning to redden and mist over. He grabbed the ball again and said, "I'm sorry I didn't do it the way you wanted. It won't happen again."
"Why are you . . ." I said, then met his eyes. He avoided my gaze. "Are you crying?" I asked.
He pushed past me and said, "Just leave me alone, Jake."
"No, please, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have gotten that angry," I said, catching his arm and spinning him back toward me. "Why are you crying?"
Angry tears rolled down his cheeks as he faced me, letting me see his emotion. "Why do you think I am? First you insist on having your own room, to the point of making Dad clear out his storage in the basement, then you're always down there with the door closed and never come out, and now, you're upset about me using stuff that always belonged to both of us."
"Yeah . . ." I said, not sure how to respond to what he was saying, "and that's bothering you?"
He scoffed bitterly and pulled his arm away. "Forget it. If you can't understand, then I don't know why I keep trying. I guess you just hate having a twin now, so I'll just let you live your life." He stormed out of his room.
"What the fuck?" I asked myself aloud. That wasn't the way things were at all. It took a moment for my legs to start working, and I shouted after him. "Trent!"
But then the front door slammed shut, and it was my turn to cry. I'd been doing that a lot lately.
I road my bike to the Somerset Apartments at the corner of Banks and Main. Usually I was driven here, but this time I couldn't ask my parents. They wouldn't understand, and I didn't really want them to question my fresh tears, either.
This was the only place I could come, my eldest sister Hayleigh's apartment. She'd moved out a few months ago, and the house had been lonely without her there. She had always been the person I could talk to when I couldn't talk to Trent.
And I doubted I'd ever be able to talk to Trent again at the rate I was going.
Hayleigh answered the door and immediately knew something was wrong. She invited me in, gave me a quick hug and said, "Hey little bro, what's wrong? You don't usually show up unannounced."
"Yeah, well . . ." I choked back a sob. "I h-have a problem."
"You've been crying," she said, wiping my cheek with her thumb to remove the freshest tear. "I hoped your eyes were red from allergies or something."
"T-trent," I sobbed, knowing she would understand the urgency of that name.
"Uh-oh, twin problems." She guided me toward the couch and sat me down, then slid in next to me, wrapping her arm around my shoulders. I let her pull me into her shoulder as she said, "I'll see what I can do, but these are usually outside of my depth."
I sniffled. "He thinks I hate him."
"And what gave him that impression?"
I sighed and said, "Because I've been acting like I hate him."
"Seems like you've already diagnosed the problem," Hayleigh said dryly. "Why do you need me?"
I sobbed, then cursed my lack of emotional control. Hayleigh reached to the end table beside the couch and plucked a tissue from the box. After wiping my nose with it, I said, "Because I don't know how to act differently."
"Why? Why do you need to act that way?"
"You know why," I said impatiently. "I told you a few months ago."
"Because you're gay?" Hayleigh asked.
I nodded. "Yeah . . ."
Hayleigh shook her head and said, "I don't understand why that changes the way you need to act toward your brother."
I pulled away so I could look at her. Cuddling was great, but it impaired conversation. I needed eye contact. I needed her to understand what I was saying. "Because I heard Trent talking with his buddies, and he was saying some really nasty things about a kid in our class, Mitch. Mitch is the only gay kid who is out at our school, and Trent was making fun of him, talking about how it's nasty to be gay, and how he couldn't understand it."
She raised an eyebrow. "But he was just talking to his buddies. Are you sure he wasn't just trying to impress them?"
I snorted. "How is that supposed to impress anyone?"
"Simple-minded people are impressed by simple things," she replied, shrugging. "Are Trent's friends the cool kids, or are they the ones who go against the grain?"
"The cool kids, I guess. They're always trying to one-up each other, always trying to get everyone to like them."
"And what kind of kid is Mitch?" She asked.
My thoughts drifted to that dark-haired boy with hazel eyes and thick-rimmed red glasses. If I concentrated hard enough, I was sure I could picture him well enough to count the freckles on his face and get close to an accurate number. I'd certainly stared at him often enough to know his features. "He's a really nice guy, quiet, keeps to himself and doesn't bother anyone. He reads a lot, and he's got this squeaky laugh that just . . ." I stopped, clearing my throat and looking away in embarrassment. "Um, he's a nerdy kid, I guess?"
"So, you like Mitch," Hayleigh said with wide grin. "I'm glad you have a crush on someone, that's great."
"Could you just get to the point?" I asked, shifting under her gaze,
"Sorry," she replied, holding her hands up in apology. "What kind of a kid are you?"
I shrugged. "I guess I'm not part of either group. I don't really have a group. I used to hang out with Trent a lot, but I've been avoiding him this school year. I have a few friends in a couple of different groups, but Trent's always been my best friend."
"So, you're not in any groups at all?" Hayleigh asked. "Sort of like a lone wolf, huh?"
"I'm not sure I get it."
She sighed. "The analogy isn't so important. I think you're someone who is able to see the big picture when you stop to think about it, because you can pull yourself back from everything going on and look at it critically."
"Yeah, I try to do that sort of thing," I replied.
"What do you think is really going on here, with you and Trent?" Hayleigh asked.
"Well, I wanted my own room because I was afraid once Trent found out I was gay, he wouldn't want me in there," I explained. "I've been hiding in my room because I didn't want to see anyone or talk to anyone, and I've been snappy at him because I guess I'm angry at him for saying those things about Mitch."
"And what has Trent done?" Hayleigh asked, as if leading me to some foreign land filled with logic. I'd heard of such a place, but only my sister had ever managed to convince me it might exist.
I shrugged. "I guess all he's really done is make some stupid comments to his best friends."
"I'm not saying this to excuse Trent's remarks, but a lot of people say things in public they don't really believe. Happens in politics and religions all the time," she laughed at her own statement. I didn't find it as funny, but I offered her a pity smile and she sighed dramatically. "And, apparently you're still too young to find that funny. Anyway, my point is, Trent might not actually believe what he was saying. You two have always been close until now. Do you really think he'd hate you for being who you are?"
"I guess I never gave him the chance," I admitted, pulling my leg into my lap and idly twisting my shoelaces as I considered her point.
"Maybe you should?"
I stared at her, a desperate plea for some alternative to her implication. "What if you're wrong?"
She smiled at me consolingly and swept my hair back with her hand. "I don't think I will be. Your brother is a good guy. But what's he going to do, kick you out of his room?"
She was right, of course. The next move was mine.
I waited in the living room for Trent to come home. He entered through the back door, and I heard him moving around for a minute, walking through various parts of the house. At one point I heard him in the basement near my room, and I thought about going to him, but decided to wait instead. He'd have to pass me to get to his room.
"Hey," he said when he saw me, then turned to walk up the stairs.
"Hey, Trent . . ." I said awkwardly, "could we talk for a minute?"
"About what?" he said quietly over his shoulder.
I struggled to control my breathing. "About . . . about earlier."
"I already put the soccer ball back. I put it in front of your door and didn't go inside. I'm sorry, okay? It won't happen again, and I'll make sure to ask next time." He growled the last few words and then started up the stairs.
"No, that's not it, please—" I began as I started after him, but stopped short when he rounded on me at the top of the stairs, his eyes blazing.
"I don't want to talk anymore, okay?" He snapped. "Just leave me alone!"
"Okay, but . . ." his door slammed, and I slumped down on the staircase, fresh tears coming to my eyes. "Dammit . . ." I muttered, pulling my knees up to my chest.
Several long minutes past until I heard movement coming from Trent's room. The door opened and Trent called out, "Uh, Jake, could you come up for a minute?" I wiped my eyes as well as I could with my arm and headed straight to his room.
I pushed the door open slowly, then followed his gaze to the sleeping bag I'd laid out where my bed had once stood. "Why is your sleeping bag in here?" Trent asked quietly.
"I wanted to ask you if I could sleep over . . ." I said.
"What? Why?" Trent asked. He folded his arms and took a step back, sitting down on the edge of his bed.
"I don't hate you," I said awkwardly. "I'm just dealing with something right now, and I . . . I don't know how to talk to you about it."
"We're twins, dude. We can talk about anything," Trent said, shaking his head in confusion. "Why is it hard this time? This is exactly what I mean; you don't talk to me anymore."
I nodded slowly as I made my decision. "Okay," I breathed.
"Okay what?" Trent asked.
"Okay, let's talk," I replied.
Trent unfolded his arms and leaned back, supporting himself with his hands on his bed. "I'm all ears, Jake, and I promise I'll hear what you have to say."
"What do you think of Mitch Paulson?" I asked. It was a roundabout way of coming out, but at least this way I didn't have to get to the confession yet.
Trent shrugged. "I don't know, he's a nerd I guess. He's quiet, so I don't really notice him most of the time. Why?"
"I like him," I said. "I want to be friends with him."
"Okay, what's that have to do with me?"
"Um . . ." I paused, searching for the right words, "don't you have a problem with him, being gay?"
"No. Why, do you?" Trent asked. "I mean, I've made fun of him before, but a lot of guys do."
"Yeah, I have a problem with that," I said testily.
"Oh . . . because I'm making fun of him?" Trent asked. Before I could reply, he went on, "Or you mean you do have a problem with him being gay? Because that's pretty messed up."
"Dammit!" I said, groaning in frustration. "No, the first one. You shouldn't make fun of him."
He shrugged. "I didn't mean anything by it. I don't think anyone does."
"Yeah, well it's wrong," I said.
"Okay, I'll stop," Trent said easily. "You're right, it's not nice to make fun of people."
"And you'll ask your friends to stop, too?" I asked.
He looked at me funny. "They're your friends, too. Why don't you ask them?"
"Justin and Denny?" I asked. "I'm not really comfortable with that. They've always been closer to you than they've been to me."
"They've missed hanging out with you," Trent said.
My eyes widened. "I don't really believe that."
"Okay, but they asked about you yesterday," Trent said. He continued in almost a whisper. "We've all missed you."
"I'm sorry, okay?" I said forcefully. "I just . . ."
"What!?" Trent asked, "What is going on? Just tell me!"
"I'm gay, okay?" I said, and once the dam had been breached, the words flooded out in a torrent, "I'm gay, and I have a crush on Mitch, and I know you'll hate me, and that's why I haven't been talking to you . . ." I trailed off into blubbering nonsense.
The room was silent.
Three seconds. It took three seconds, and I was against the wall, Trent's full weight carrying us both back as he wrapped his arms around me. He sniffled, and pulled me close to him, his face buried into my shoulder. The tears I'd been about to unleash paused for a moment, then ran down my face in a steady stream as I returned Trent's embrace.
"That's it?" he whispered. "That's all . . . that's why . . . fuck, I'm such an idiot."
"You're crying," I observed.
He pulled back, laughing hysterically. "So are you, ya big pussy."
"Why are you crying?" I asked.
"Jake . . ." Trent said, looking at me with a sad smile. He took my hand and pulled me toward his bed. "Come with me. Come on, lie down with me."
"Um . . ." I said carefully, but let him pull me. "Okay."
I laid down and he laid down behind me, wrapping his arms around me again and pulling us close. It felt weird, but was also familiar. It only took me a few seconds to feel comfortable there.
"Do you remember when we used to share a bed after Mom and Dad tucked us in?" Trent asked. "I remember crawling into bed with you when we were five, still doing it when we were six and seven. It happened less and less, but I always remembered it. I always missed you."
"You're not coming on to me, are you? I may be gay, but . . ." I knew he wasn't, and I hoped he could feel I was teasing.
"Don't be gross," he said, but he hugged me tighter. "I'm not gay, but I do love you."
The words found their place in my mind easily, like coming home from a long, foreign trip and entering their room for the first time in ages. I'd kept that room tidy, never knowing if those words would return. "I haven't heard you say that in a long time."
"Well, I'm thirteen, it's awkward to say it to anyone," Trent said.
"I get that," I replied, then bit my lip nervously. I'd already risked so many of my personal thoughts with Trent, I could risk one more. "Could we ignore that rule in the future between us? I didn't know how much I needed to hear you say it until you just said it."
"Yeah," Trent said, pulling me even closer. "Yeah, we can ignore it."
"Good, because I love you, too," I said.
"I missed having you with me," Trent continued with his earlier thought. "I didn't like when we were suddenly too old to sleep in the same bed together. We were so close all the time. But then you pulled away from me." He hesitated, and his next question surprised me. "Did you know you were gay back then?"
"Yeah," I admitted, "I had a crush on Denny."
Trent snickered. "I wonder what he'd say if he knew that."
"You can't ever tell him."
"I won't," Trent promised. "But I guess you started pulling away from me because you thought there was something wrong with you, that two boys in the same bed was wrong somehow."
"You're right," I said, surprised at his intuition. "I never told anyone that part. Not even Hayleigh."
"I need to go see her."
I smiled. "I saw her earlier today."
"Did she tell you to talk to me?" Trent asked.
"Yeah," I replied. "The sleeping bag was my idea, though."
"I liked it," he said. "It definitely made me stop and think."
Silence settled over us. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence, and in fact, as Trent buried his face in my back, I cherished it. This was perfection to me, and I hadn't felt it in a long time.
But there were other thoughts on my mind, and after a moment, I had to voice them. "Why do you make fun of Mitch?"
"That makes me stop and think, too," Trent said. After a few seconds, he added, "I guess because everyone else does?"
I sighed. "That's a terrible answer."
"Yeah, it really is," Trent replied thoughtfully. "Are you busy tomorrow?"
"I'm never busy on Saturday unless I'm doing things with you," I said.
"Fair enough. Do you have Mitch's number?"
"Yes. We did a project together a few weeks ago."
"You said you want to be friends with him, right?" Trent asked.
"Yeah," I said.
"Invite him to hang out with you at the park," Trent said.
"What are you planning?" I asked suspiciously.
"I'm planning on proving to you that I don't have a problem with gay people, and that I don't have a problem with you." Trent squeezed his arms to add emphasis to his statement.
That worried me a little. "I'm not going to come out publicly yet."
"Don't worry, I'm not going to out you," Trent replied. "Just get Mitch to the park around eleven. Hang out for a bit, and I'll be there around eleven-thirty."
"Okay," I said. "I trust you."
"You better," Trent replied. "I have one more condition, though."
"What is it?"
"Move back into this room with me. I'm lonely here without you."
"Do we get to sleep like this again?" I asked.
"I'd like to. Sometimes. When I'm feeling like I need it. Or whenever you're feeling like you need it. Or when we just want to. Or hell, every night as far as I'm concerned." He giggled like a little kid and then added, "I guess I should've just said yes."
"Then we have a deal," I said. "I love you."
"I love you."
God, it was good to have those words in my head again.
"Mitch!" I called out when I saw the red glasses at the end of the walkway. He looked up at me, smiled, and jogged the rest of the way toward me. I stood and gave him a fist-bump. "Thanks for coming."
"I'm surprised you texted me," Mitch said, straddling the bench of the picnic table next to me, "but thanks for inviting me."
"I don't know if the park is your thing or not, but . . ." I looked out at the people playing and picnicking around us, "this is one of my favorite places. I love watching people."
Mitch nodded. "Me too. I sometimes think about joining some of the games, but I'm really shy."
I grinned at him, "You talk to me really easily."
"You're different," He said, shrugging. "You make it easy."
The dam was still broken, and the words leaked out before I could stop them. "That's probably because you're cute."
He leaned back, his eyes widening as he stammered, "Y-you think I'm cute?"
"Um . . ." I coughed awkwardly and said, "So, what do you like to do outside of school?"
He smiled at my shyly, but then answered the question. "I play forward on the Punishers, and I like movies."
I stared at him in shock. He was a soccer player, and good one to make it on The Punishers team. "No way."
Mitch scrunched up his nose in a way that made his freckles stand out. I wanted to kiss each one. "What, doesn't everyone like movies?" he asked.
"My brother is going to love you," I said. "He's really into soccer."
"Trent?" Mitch asked. "He's kind of a jerk. No offense."
I grinned. "Not once you get to know him. Speaking of which, what kind of movies do you like?"
We spoke about likes and dislikes for the rest of the half hour, and found out we had more in common than not. I'd already asked him out on a real date after fifteen minutes, and he accepted immediately. By the time Trent came running up to me, I was certain I'd just found my first boyfriend.
"Jake!" Trent said, pulling up short in front of me. Justin, Denny, and another friend, Fran, jogged up after him. "I'm so glad you're here. We're trying to get a soccer game together but there's only four of us. We need a couple more guys at least if it's going to be any fun."
"Do you play, Mitch?" Justin asked. He sounded sincere, and I looked at Trent, mouthing a quick, 'what is going on?'.
He just smiled at me knowingly as Denny said, "Yeah, we'd love to have you out there."
"Me?" Denny asked.
"Yeah, if you're free," Fran said. "Jake, too, of course, but you're welcome if you're available."
"I'll be on Mitch's team," Trent offered. "How about me, Jake, and Mitch against you three?"
Justin, Denny, and Fran shared a shrug as Justin spoke for them. "Works for me."
"All right!" Trent said. "Let's go play!"
We ran toward the field, and I pulled up short, keeping Trent with me. "I'll play goalie," I said. "You should play midfield."
"Are you sure?" Trent asked, eyeing Mitch skeptically. Someone passed him the ball as we watched, and he toed it up into the air and began juggling it on his knee.
"Yep," I said, closing Trent's open jaw. "Trust me. We're about to kick their asses."
I followed Trent into his room and we both collapsed on his bed, sweat-soaked and exhausted. "I'm so tired . . ." Trent groaned. "That was some game. Playing on Mitch's team was one thing, but once we switched up the sides . . . damn, that boy can play!"
"Well you can't rest yet," I said, laughing.
Trent gave me a sidelong glance. "Why not?'
I sat up straight, my whole body protesting the movement, but I was determined. "I need some help moving some stuff."
"Can't we do it tomorrow?" Trent asked sleepily.
I wiggled my eyebrows and said, "I thought you wanted me to move back in?"
Trent bounced to his feet refreshed and ready to go. If he wasn't covered in sweat, I wouldn't have believed he had just played two hours of soccer. "What are you waiting for?" He asked, pulling me to my feet. "We've got shit to do!"
"Hey," I said, hugging him. The sweat was gross, but I didn't care. He smelled a lot like me, after all.
"Hey," he replied, hugging me back.
"I love you," I said.
"I love you, too. And Mitch is welcome any time. So are you." He whispered his next words, "You always will be. Please don't forget that again?"
I pulled away and nodded, then grinned wickedly. "So . . . you'll cover for me at sleepovers?"
"Duh!" Trent said, pushing me playfully. He then pointed at the sleeping bag I'd left on his floor. "But Mitch stays in your bed."
This story is part of the 2017 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: In His Room". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 26 September to 17 October 2017 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.
The challenge was to write a story inspired by this picture:
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