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My ears rang while she spoke.
At some point in this whole fucking mess, her voice morphed into a high-pitched buzz that filled my head. Her lips kept moving. Sharp lips. Lots of red lipstick. The skin creased around her eyes and the corners of her mouth as she said that she was sorry it came to this.
I stopped listening a while ago.
Right around the time she said: “I think it’s best for everyone if you move out.”
Her husband of seven years crossed his arms over his chest like a club bouncer and gave a grave nod.
I didn’t look at him. It amused me to imagine him hyping himself up for the role, taking deep breaths to make his chest appear larger, and frowning at the mirror in search of that unique look of fatherly disappointment.
Not that Harold Bartlet was my father. But he sure liked playing the role. “Now, Parrish, you can’t speak like that to your mother,” was his favorite of disappointed dad phrases. That was because he couldn’t meddle too much. I wasn’t his son to school. He had his own offshoot upstairs; the best boy ever created, incapable of doing the wrong thing.
Margaret preferred saying things like: “Don’t you dare use that tone with me, young man,” even as I pushed into my twenty-third miserable year.
“Parrish?” Margaret’s voice was deep and warm, whereas Harold spoke in a nasal, metallic rasp. This was her calling me back to the present moment. “Parrish, are you even listening to what I’m saying?”
“Yeah,” I said, voice oddly dull. “Got it.”
Fuck me if I did, I thought. She could have been telling me that the Martians invaded our planet and were heading straight for River Bend to crown her as their queen. How long did it take a person to monologue about throwing their son out of their house before they felt their conscience was clear?
“Then you understand why we don’t have a choice in this matter,” she said, not quite asking, but still expecting a reply.
“I totally understand,” I said with a sarcastic compassion. “Your hands are tied, Marge.”
My sarcasm translated. Harold’s arms dropped by his sides and Margaret’s face hardened. “Don’t be like that. Why are you always like that?” She slurred these words all at once, somehow.
This, at last, made me grin. I win, I thought. It was petty for sure, but you had to give the newly homeless guy a break.
I’d stopped arguing with Harold and Marge a while ago. When I realized annoying them subtly was so much more enjoyable than shouting the roof off the house, I changed my tactics. Now, they had no idea what to do with me.
It hurt Marge on that artificial level where she was expected to be hurting. You know? A weeping mother who didn’t deserve a troublemaker of a son who only ever disgraced the family.
Family this, family that. It was always about our family. What a dumb joke. We had never been a family despite their desperate attempts. Harold had known that all along. That was why he couldn’t scold me as often as he would have liked. Oh, there had been an odd occasion now and again when he grabbed me by my arm and dragged me where nobody could hear us, then told me things. Empty threats. Poorly disguised desperate pleas for the sake of my mother.
And then, there was Natalie. My little sister. She’d fallen for the story they’d told her. Abandoned by our actual father before she ever got to know him, Natalie had welcomed two new residents into our house. She was just happy to have a bigger family, even if they never could be our family. We had been doing well on our own. We didn’t need our estranged father or his new, hot wife. The three of us had been enough. Or so I’d thought.
And finally, there was Levi.
Our little stepbrother. Not that he was so little anymore. At eighteen years old, his impression of a spoiled youngest child was no longer excusable. He still lived the geeky, carefree life like he had when he was only eleven. Bubbly, happy to be a part of the family, glad to have a substitute mommy, Levi was a fleeting annoyance in the periphery of my awareness. He was that scream of morning sunshine that woke you up when you were hungover. He was Vivaldi’s Spring played at full blast as an alarm sound. He was Willy Wonka’s on-screen introduction; and not the original one, but the cringe-inducing ‘the Earth says hello’ Johnny Depp one.
For a while there in the beginning, Levi had looked up to me the way Natalie had some years earlier. He’d looked at me like he had expected some profound life lessons an older brother could impart. Fuck him. He wasn’t my anything. Never could be.
I had made sure quickly enough that Levi stopped harboring hopes he could ever be close to me. I had been sixteen when that nerdy eleven-year-old moved into our home and took the spare bedroom next to mine. Suddenly, he and I shared the bathroom that separated our rooms, and that rubbed me wrong, among all the other things he did. Harold took a heavy step forward and placed his hand on Margaret’s shoulder. “Your mother and I are willing to overlook the damage to the car.”
“How gracious,” I said.
His mustache trembled. “You should be grateful, Parrish. Or would you rather we send you a bill?”
“Send where? I don’t have an address,” I said.
Margaret whimpered. Give me a break, I thought. You’re sorry that you’ll have to explain this to people. “Where’s Parrish? Haven’t seen him in a while.” I could already hear Layla, Margaret’s hairdresser, asking.
“Careful, Parrish,” Harold continued, dropping his voice a little. He gave a nervous glance at Margaret, like he wasn’t sure how far he was allowed to push me. After all, I was Margaret’s son and her responsibility. “You’re pushing it.”
I leaned back on the dark green sofa. The dim lamplights made the entire room feel somber and a little stale. I never saw any warmth here. Not in the living room, not in the entire house.
“You will listen to Harold, young man,” Margaret snapped. “This man has been nothing but kind to you for seven years and you’ve spat in his face whenever he offered you a hand of friendship.”
Jeez. Could you be more dramatic? I nodded instead of saying that. “Okay. Then, kindly, could I get the fuck out of here now?”
“You can thank him for his patience with you,” Margaret said, her voice dropping lower with every word. “The repairs will cost us a fortune. We’ll have to spend our savings for Cabo, won’t we, Harry? And you can’t even apologize? Do you have nothing to say for yourself? Nothing to tell us?”
Would you believe me if I told you I swerved when a hedgehog scurried into the middle of the street? I thought. She hadn’t believed me once since Harold dragged his perfect son into his house and made an example out of him. I was done trying.
I blinked in mock thought. “You know, now that I think about it…No.”
Margaret pursed her lips at the same time Harold sighed. She glared at me with the restrained anger only a mother could feel. It didn’t matter if we talked of a good mother who’d gotten a bad deal with her child or a crappy one who fussed over the appearances far more than she worried about her kids. Good thing I wasn’t a kid anymore. And her eyes sparked with rage. And her lips quivered. “Get out,” she spat.
I clapped my hands and hopped onto my feet.
Tears did well in her eyes, but I had a hard fucking time distinguishing hers from a crocodile’s. “Bye,” I singsonged as I headed up the stairs. I had shit to pack.
As I nearly reached the upper floor landing, I spotted her. Natalie. Standing in the doorway of her room. Though she was twenty years old now, she looked infinitely smaller in the pale night light coming from the open door. Her big eyes twinkled. “Parrish?” she whispered.
My throat constricted. “Hey,” I managed to squeeze out.
“W-what happened?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “Everything’s fine. Don’t worry.” I did my best impression of a soothing voice. I was shit at it. Especially with Natalie, who had been my world since Dad walked out on us.
“Don’t lie,” she said softly. “I heard Mom’s voice.”
I shrugged, holding onto the banister at the top of the stairs. “What did you hear?”
“She’s upset,” Natalie said.
I made a step toward her, my hand falling off the banister and hanging by my side. “I’m going to leave for some time,” I said. My skill at talking softly about sensitive topics wasn’t something I honed a lot. I was direct. Always. “I don’t know how long.”
“They’re throwing you out?” Natalie asked, voice cracking. She made a jerky move, but paused like I was contaminated. Perhaps she knew that showing emotions wasn’t my strength, so she spared me.
“Pretty much,” I said.
“They can’t,” she protested.
“They can. And should. I overstayed my welcome,” I said. “Twenty-three, remember?”
“I’m twenty and I’m still here,” she pointed out.
“It’s different,” I said.
She understood my meaning. Natalie was someone we all loved no matter what. That was the only good thing I could say regarding Harold and Levi. Whatever their faults, they loved my little sister.
“I might have scratched the car a bit,” I said with a sinister grin. “And got Officer Cooper to drag my ass here, threatening Marge that he’d jail me next time.”
Natalie’s eyes widened.
I didn’t elaborate. It was funny in a dark and twisted way. I bumped the car against a lamppost while Cooper watched from the coffee shop where he’d been waiting for his caramel latte. He ran out and crossed the street, spilling hot coffee over his fingers. When he reached me, he set the cup on the hood of Marge’s car, and had to wipe his sticky, burnt hand against his pristine uniform. That was probably what angered him the most. Not the fact that he’d been bringing me to Marge and Harold’s door for the past seven years on numerous occasions. Misunderstandings, most of them, of course. What teenager with abandonment issues hadn’t set trash on fire? Or bombarded the mayor’s house with toilet paper and eggs? Or stolen a stop sign from an intersection? Or snuck into the police station and slipped a fart balloon under this very officer’s cushion? Little things that brighten your life, right?
“Parrish, why?” Natalie asked, voice cracking again.
I spread my arms and pulled her in for what was supposed to be a comforting hug. “It’s all good, Sis. I’ll still see you all the time.” I said that knowing there was no way I could make that promise. “You’ll see. It’s gonna be better than ever.”
That was when Natalie cried. I couldn’t be sure, but my guess was that she knew my words meant nothing. I was saying these things just to soften the blow. She probably knew they were as good as lies.
Natalie hugged me tightly, fingers clawing into my back, and sobbed quietly against my chest. At long last, when silence enveloped the entire house, she sniffed once again and pulled back. “Promise to call all the time, Parrish.”
“I promise,” I said right away. “All the time, you’ll see.”
“I’m not kidding,” she said. “If you try pushing me away, too, I’ll find you and kick your ass.”
“I don’t expect any less,” I said. And, when I had nothing else to say, I added: “I should start packing.”
“What? In the middle of the night?” she asked.
It was barely midnight, but that wasn’t the point. “I wanna be out before they wake up.”
“Goddammit, Parrish,” she said softly with such bitter regret that it tickled my eyes.
I shrugged in defense. “I’m sorry.”
Natalie nodded, mouthed that she loved me, and smiled when I mouthed it back. We’d had that thing going on for ages. I had always been awkward around speaking the exact words. Natalie had been the first to mouth the words instead.
I would never forget the delight on her face when I returned the gesture.
She shut the door and I walked down the hallway, past Levi’s room and into mine. His was in the middle of the upper floor’s plan. Down the hallway was my room.
I barged into the room, then stormed into our shared bathroom to gather my shit.
Not a minute later, the other bathroom door creaked open. “Parrish?” he whispered.
“Mm.” With him, I had the least amount of patience. Less every day. Lately — well, for the last couple of years, really, but I pretended I hadn’t noticed until a few months ago — Levi had been changing. Something about his behavior was always shifting.
He was still that bubbly person he’d always been. But he had also gotten moody with me. Not that I paid much attention, but it was hard to miss when your roommate was sulking for no fucking reason.
But, the truth was, I cared so little about Levi Bartlet that I never bothered to find out what caused these mood shifts around me.
“What’s going on? Is Natalie crying?” Levi asked.
I rolled my eyes. Couldn’t he see I was trying to ignore him? Why the hell did he have to go and make himself appear good by worrying about Natalie? “She’s fine,” I said.
“Oh,” he muttered as he leaned against the doorframe. His blond hair appeared silver in the moonlight that poured through the small window looking over the backyard. “It’s just, I thought I heard some noises from downstairs.”
I walked out of our bathroom and headed for my closet. Levi followed behind me and watched as I began throwing my things out on the floor. “Nope,” I said. “You must have dreamed it.”
“I wasn’t sleeping,” he said harshly. “Don’t treat me like a child.”
“Don’t be one, then,” I said, not even looking at him. Within seconds, my T-shirts cluttered the floor around me, pants falling on top of them. I couldn’t pack all my shit, but I didn’t want to leave some behind either. Not that there was a tradition of Levi inheriting my worn out stuff, but I still didn’t want to risk him destroying my style. This was the guy that could make ripped skinny jeans lame.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Minding my business,” I said matter-of-factly.
“Parrish,” he said, firmer.
I spun my head to face him as he stood up. “What do you want?”
“I want you to tell me what the hell is going on,” he insisted.
“Marge and Harry will tell you tomorrow. It’s not my fucking job to keep you posted.” I turned away from him and found my duffel. Quickly, I started filling it with my clothes.
Levi crossed the short distance between us before I was completely aware of him and touched my shoulder. My defensive instincts, mixed with my anger at the turn of the evening’s events, got the better of me. I grabbed his wrist, twisted his arm up behind his back, and pressed him face-first against the closed side of the closet.
Levi grunted as I released him.
“Don’t fucking touch me,” I growled, though it didn’t come out as stern as I’d meant it.
“You’re such an asshole,” Levi said.
“Then be happy you’re rid of me,” I replied, stuffing my clothes into the duffel and realizing I would need a suitcase as well.
Levi rubbed his wrist where I’d twisted it. “I was just asking, for fuck’s sake.”
“And I answered,” I said. I dropped my duffel on the floor, zipped it up, and straightened. When I faced Levi again, his big, green eyes were wide and catching the moonlight. His lips parted and he inhaled. I couldn’t tell if that was fear I saw on his face or something completely different.
“Are you leaving?” he asked.
“Jesus Fucking Christ,” I snapped. “Can’t you see I don’t want to talk to you?”
“I can,” he said calmly. “Are you leaving?” The corners of his mouth stiffened.
I groaned. “Yes. I’m leaving. Happy?”
The rest of his face hardened now.
I frowned in disbelief. He didn’t look overjoyed at all. Quite the opposite in fact; Levi looked like he was trying to keep his sadness in check.
Releasing a deep breath of air, I spun away and scanned the rest of my room.
I spotted my medium sized suitcase at the top of the closet, reached for it, and felt a sigh of relief leave my lungs. I could pack all of my clothes, at least.
When I dropped the suitcase on the floor and looked up, Levi was closing the door and leaning against it. His arms were crossed at his chest. His blond hair was unruly and growing in every direction. He wore a pissed off expression on his face.
I promptly ignored his entire existence and headed for the dresser where my underwear and socks were stacked in two drawers. Filling up my suitcase, I was aware of Levi’s gaze on the back of my head.
Fine. Alright. I was loud. I was the reason he couldn’t sleep right now. But did he really have to stand behind my back and stare at me? I could practically feel him breathing down my neck.
“Listen,” I said as I turned my head to look at him, voice tight. “Not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’m having a crisis and my life’s splitting apart. Would you mind giving me some privacy?” The politeness failed to translate and sarcasm was all I managed.
Levi rolled his eyes. “Will you stop being a child?” he asked, putting his hands on his hips and stepping up to me. I dropped what I was doing and stood up, staring down at him. I was a head taller, so towering over my little stepbrother was as effortless as annoying my mother. “Yeah, you heard that right,” Levi spat. “I’m trying to be here for you, for once in our fucking lives. And you’re being a brat.”
“Ooh,” I said, amusement spiking in my chest. “You really want to talk to me about brats?” I cocked a corner of my lips and took a step forward, practically forcing him to take a step back. “You? The cover model of Brats Quarterly? The president of the Spoiled Rotten Club?” I let out a mirthless laugh, taking another step forward and trapping Levi on course toward the closed closet door. “You want to talk about that, huh?” He bumped back against the door, eyes wide with something that wasn’t quite fear, but it wasn’t annoyance either. I couldn’t read him. “Can’t you see?” I asked, touching his chest with mine for the briefest of moments as I lifted my hands and pressed them against the door on either side of his head. “I don’t give a fuck about you, Levi,” I said slowly and with terrible darkness in my voice. “I only see you when you annoy me. Sadly, you annoy me very often, but I have learned to live with it. You are nothing to me. I don’t need your help. I don’t want your sympathy. You and I only know each other because your dad and my mom like fucking each other and get along reasonably well. That doesn’t make you my friend, let alone my brother.” I was slowly leaning in. Levi’s short breaths were coming out in quick bursts. I could feel them on my face as my nose came a fraction of an inch away from his. “You’re free to be their little puppy all you want, Levi. Do the tricks, get the treats, have a fucking blast.” The tip of my nose brushed against his and I felt his chest rise against mine when he sucked in a breath of air. “I wonder how long you’ll be in their favor without me to make you look good in comparison.” Every word that left my lips traveled straight into his mouth. He glared at me, but didn’t dare move. “And when I walk out this door, you’ll be the thing you’ve been to me all along. Nothing.”
As I emphasized the last venomous word, my body pushed into his. It hadn’t even been intentional. And it was definitely without any meaning. But the moment our bodies touched, every alarm went off inside of me. Levi, blushing, breathless, and wide-eyed, let out the softest of whimpers. It happened at the exact same moment my thigh slid against his crotch and I realized he was hard.
I froze. My heart pounded and my body revolted against the first onslaught of thoughts. Except, it wasn’t revolting at all. I was heaving breaths of air and staring into his wide eyes, seeing my own fright reflect in them. He throbbed against my leg, wincing and clenching his jaw. He wasn’t moving. He wasn’t even breathing. And all the while, my heartbeat was flooding my ears, pulsing in my neck, until I got my feet to work.
Jesus Christ Almighty, I thought as I stepped back. Abort, abort, abort! I narrowed my eyes as panic soared through me. Did I do that? I wondered.
I swallowed and pulled myself together enough to know that the only thing I could do was ignore. I had to ignore Levi; I had to ignore his hard on; I had to ignore the million reasons for his reaction to what I had said. But the hardest thing of all to ignore was the tightening in my pants at this devious, horrible idea of what would have happened had I not stepped back.
Maybe I was completely wrong. Maybe it was one of those spontaneous erections people got at funerals or whatever. But I didn’t believe in coincidences. And I was definitely not getting myself tangled in this sick and twisted mess. I could only pretend; pretend I didn’t notice and pretend it didn’t make my pulse spike out of nowhere. I could pretend that it didn’t make me shiver with an irresistible fascination for the mixture of eroticism and fetish.
“Now, if you’ll be so kind,” I said in the same, tight voice, pretending all the way. “Get out of my room while I pack and leave.”
Levi, panic filling his eyes, gave a jerky nod and scurried away, slouching and sort of leaning forward like he was trying to conceal the very thing we were both fully aware of.
I needed a few minutes to cool off once the doors on both sides of the shared bathroom were closed and Levi was as far away from me as I could hope, in the middle of the night, in the house we would no longer share.
When I finally started packing again, my fingers were trembling.
In my life, I have been chased by cops and stray dogs. I had been in fist fights which had left me with a bloody grin on my face every time. I had been mugged at gunpoint when I was only seventeen.
But I had never been as scared as I was right now.
Scared of whatever storm began to rage inside my rib cage.
Terrified of the rising tide of a feeling so unfamiliar that I hardly dared to look at it, let alone believe it might be real. I was petrified of what had gone through both our bodies just a few minutes ago, and oddly enough, relieved now more than ever to be thrown out of the house. At least, I had a really good fucking excuse to run away from him.
I hope you enjoyed this look at Destructive Relations. The story picks up five years later, but the sexual tension between the stepbrothers only gets harder to ignore! Pre-order Destructive Relations today.