Disclaimers: First, I should disclaim that this is nothing more than a writing exercise. I've been so mired in novel-length work lately that I've decided that taking short mental health breaks to dash off stories that can be started and completed within a reasonable amount of time is a must. This particular story just resulted from my thinking of the bare bones of a scenario during my commute to work, and then deciding to write out a scene based on that scenario in a little character development/dialogue kind of exercise.
The second disclaimer is the shocking revelation that there is no sex in this one. No, wait! Please come back! I know, I know... it's unusual for me. But I hope you'll read it, anyway.
This story does contain mild drug use and some bad language. Nothing worse than you'll see on HBO or Showtime, in any event (of course, that's not saying much...)
On an additional note, keep an eye out for some more substantial stuff from me in the coming weeks (with sex and everything!)
Feedback is always welcomed, appreciated, and replied to. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or adulations. :)
Jane found him sitting on the front porch, his ass planted at the edge and his long legs stretched in front of him. He pulled a lighter from his pocket as she watched, bringing the orange flame to the joint that was held loosely between his lips. Jane watched him inhale and then release an impressive cloud of blue smoke into the crisp night air. She followed the smoke with her eyes, looking up and out into the forest that surrounded their house.
"Gonna sit down?"
Jane hesitated a moment before pushing open the screen door and stepping out into the night. Taking a deep breath, she walked to the edge of the porch and sat down beside her brother. Caleb handed her the joint and she took a long drag from it before passing it back. She exhaled slowly, and then chewed on her lip before speaking.
"What the hell were you doing in there?" she asked.
Caleb shrugged, taking another hit from the joint. "What do you mean?" His voice was tight from the effort of holding the pot smoke in his lungs.
Jane kept her eyes straight ahead, twisting her hands in her lap. "I mean," she began, "what the hell is wrong with you? Talking to Morgan like that. And in front of Danny, even."
Caleb chuckled and offered her the joint again. Jane frowned, snatching it out of his hand with barely restrained fury. His laughter at her anger further enraged her, just as it always did. But then he knew that. He always knew what buttons to push.
"I was just joking around," he shrugged. "It's not a big deal."
Jane took as big a hit as she could handle, choking a little as the acrid smoke tightened her lungs. "It's a big deal to me," she managed, still coughing, and then passed the joint back to him.
"Yeah, well," Caleb said, turning to give her a sidelong glance. "You've always overreacted to shit."
Now Jane turned to him, pinning him with cold green eyes. "Caleb, you were making sexual comments to my partner, in front of our son. You were flirting with her."
Caleb chuckled again, reaching over to slap her hard on the back. Jane jerked away from his hand at the first touch, shooting him an icy look.
"Don't touch me right now," Jane warned. "Just... don't."
"Look," Caleb said, and ran a hand through his wavy hair. He paused to take a quick hit from the joint before passing it to her. "I was just messing around. I didn't mean to get you all upset or anything."
"Well, you did," Jane said. She frowned and took another hit.
"Sorry," Caleb said. The lightness of his voice and the smirk that played upon his lips belied his apology.
"No, you're not," Jane said. All of the frustration she'd ever felt when it came to her brother simmered within her, and she could feel her body nearing an explosion. She took a deep breath, willing herself to calm down. "I don't think you're ever really sorry, Caleb."
He accepted the joint when she gave it back to him, but hesitated before taking another drag. "Morgan's a really beautiful woman," Caleb commented, and shrugged again. "Sorry, so I noticed that. It's not like she's going to run off with me just because I make a few comments."
"Not for your lack of suggestion, though, right?"
Caleb turned and looked at her, joint held to his lips, and raised a dark eyebrow in mild surprise. Jane released a disgusted sigh, turning back to stare out at the dark trees that lined the gravel-filled driveway.
"I heard you," Jane continued. "In front of Danny, making comments about stealing her away, making her an honest woman." She looked over at her brother with eyes full of hurt. "Do you really believe that? That she's not an 'honest woman'? That what we have... well, that it's not valid?"
Once saying the words, though, Jane found it hard to stop. "Would you have done that if I was your brother?" she asked. "Or is it just because I'm your dyke sister, playing make-believe with a wife and a kid?"
"It's not like that," Caleb protested, but his voice was weak.
"Isn't it?" She accepted the joint when Caleb passed it to her without meeting his eyes.
"Look, I won't lie to you. I can't believe that this is the best way to raise Danny, without a father," Caleb said. "There's a reason why things are the way they are. Men, women... that's what's normal, and it's what works."
"What the fuck would you know about what works or doesn't work?" Jane spat out. She took a second drag from the joint, hoping the potent smoke would help ease her rising frustration, and raised her eyes to the night sky. "What would work for Danny, do you think? A father like you?"
"Maybe," Caleb answered. He pulled his legs up, planting his feet on the bottom step. "Maybe he needs a male role model."
Jane snorted. "I'm not enough of one?" she asked, handing the joint back to her brother. Without waiting for him to answer, she said, "You have no idea, Caleb. None."
"You don't know anything," Jane interrupted. She turned furious green eyes on Caleb, smirking a little at the way he shrunk back from her. "How could you know? You're never here."
"I'm here now," Caleb offered. He sounded hurt, defensive, and Jane was glad for it.
"Why is that, exactly?" Jane asked. That was the real question, and no matter how much her parents begged her not to ask it of their prodigal son, she felt better for having posed it. "Why the hell are you here?"
Caleb shrugged again, the cocky mask slipping back on to his face. "Why the hell not?" he asked. "Things didn't work out in Florida, and so this seemed to be a decent enough option."
"You'll just come home again until the next woman or idiot scheme lures you away?" Jane asked. "I've stopped counting how many times you've disappeared from our lives, only to reappear acting like you never left at all." She shook her head, watching as Caleb stubbed the roach he held out on the porch. "It's not fair. It's not fair of you to come back here and make judgments, stir shit up."
"Life's not fair," Caleb commented, shrugging.
Jane released a disgusted snort at that. "What do you know about life?" she asked. Her voice rang with her contempt. She closed her eyes, nostrils flaring, and mentally counted to three. "What have you ever accomplished, what have you ever achieved for yourself, that makes you worthy of judging me and my family?"
"I'm just telling you what I believe," Caleb said. "I'm sorry if that upsets you."
Jane half-turned her body to face her brother, glaring at him with cold green eyes. "No, I'm sorry," she said. Under her breath, she mumbled, "I'm sorry I keep feeling like I should give you a chance."
"Ouch," Caleb commented. He looked down, reaching into his jacket pocket to retrieve another joint. Lighting it up, he took a long drag and then held it out to her, waiting until she took it before exhaling. "Ouch," he said again.
"Why can't you just be happy for me?" Jane whispered. She kept her eyes turned out towards the darkness of the trees, peering hard into the shadows as if she could discern something from them.
The sound of the screen door opening behind them stopped his words. Jane turned her head to glance back over her shoulder at Morgan, who stood in the doorway with a cautious expression on her face. She felt a smile come to her face unbidden, as she always did when she set eyes upon her partner.
"Um," Morgan began, and cleared her throat. From her tense posture and careful voice, it was obvious that she knew she had entered the scene during a particularly tense moment. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but I just wanted to know if I could get you two anything?"
Jane met her lover's eyes and gave her a reassuring smile. She could feel the concern radiating from Morgan in waves, and just this simple connection restored some of her equilibrium.
"I'm fine," Jane answered. Turning to look at her brother, and taking the joint he offered, she asked, "Caleb?"
Caleb turned to give Morgan a wide grin. "I'm just great," he said. He lifted an interested eyebrow in her direction. "Why don't you join us, Morgan?"
Jane frowned at her brother's mild flirtation - was she imagining it? - and met Morgan's eyes when the redhead glanced over at her again. She gave Jane a slightly exasperated look, which Jane met with a sympathetic smile.
"Is Danny asleep, then?" Jane asked.
Morgan nodded, stepping out on to the porch and letting the screen door close behind her. "I put him to bed and, even though he didn't want to admit it, I think he was so exhausted he's probably out like a light already."
A fond smile tugged at Jane's lips. "Good," she murmured.
Morgan crossed the porch and then dropped down to sit cross-legged next to her partner. Jane wordlessly passed her the joint she held, and Morgan took a deep, calming hit.
"Nice," Morgan complimented when she exhaled. "Tastes good."
"It should," Caleb said. He reached across Jane's chest to accept the joint from Morgan, and Jane watched their hands meet with critical eyes. "I paid $70 for an eighth."
Morgan murmured in acknowledgement, pulling her hand back and resting it on Jane's thigh, and a heavy silence descended upon the scene. Jane leaned into Morgan's warmth slightly, enjoying the gentle touch of a slim pale hand against her leg.
"So Danny mentioned that he tried out for the baseball team," Caleb said after some time. The remark sounded casual, but Jane stiffened at the underlying tone of it. "Some special team?"
Morgan nodded again, glancing at Jane as she took a hearty puff of the joint. "It's kind of like an all-star Little League thing," she said. "He's on the regular Little League team now, but he was really hoping to move up to the better one. A lot of his friends are on the tryout-only team."
"He was really upset when he didn't make it, huh?" Caleb said in a sympathetic voice.
Jane passed the joint to Morgan, who took it and held it while she answered. "Devastated," she confirmed. "It took some talking to convince him not to throw in his glove for good."
"Huh," Caleb said. Though he fell silent, Jane knew he had something more to say.
Intercepting the joint from Morgan and passing it to Caleb herself, Jane turned and gave her brother an impatient look. "What?" she asked, her voice harsh.
"I was just thinking," Caleb said, sucking on the joint for a moment before continuing, "it's a shame he doesn't have a guy around who could help him with his game. That's the problem with raising a kid without a father."
Jane's face burned with anger. "Back to that again, huh?"
Caleb gave her the joint, which she took with a trembling hand, and then he held up two hands in a placating gesture. "It's not like either of you girls are into baseball, right?"
Her lack of athletic ability firmly established through years, Jane couldn't dispute that statement. Looking at her decidedly feminine - and clumsy - lover, she couldn't defend Morgan's abilities, either.
Morgan spoke up before she could find the words. "That's not the point and you know it, Caleb."
"So, what's the point, then, Morgan?" he asked.
Morgan passed the joint off to Jane, who held it out for Caleb without turning to look at him. The redhead stared at Caleb with intense eyes, looking him up and down, and then shook her head.
"You just do whatever you please, you don't think of anyone, and then you pretend to know what's best for our child?" Morgan asked. Her voice fairly crackled with irritation, and Jane was glad it wasn't directed at her. "You come here, we haven't seen you in three years... Christ, Danny barely remembers you, but somehow you know how he should be raised?"
Once Morgan's anger was uncaged, it was like a wild animal. Knowing better than to tangle with such a beast, Jane sat back and moved her eyes between her partner and her brother. Caleb's mouth hung slightly open in an almost comical expression of surprise at Morgan's ire.
"All I was trying to say-" Caleb began, but Morgan interrupted him.
"We know what you're trying to say," Morgan said. "You've been trying to say it all night, and you know what? I'm sick of it. No more. It's fine that you just flit in and out of everyone's life, but you've gotta realize, Caleb... when you're away, we're still here. We're a family. A real family. We depend on each other... we love each other, all of us. Can you say that about anyone in your life? Do you even know what that's really like? Living your life as much for someone else as for yourself?" Without waiting for an answer, Morgan reached over and snatched the still burning joint from Caleb's hand. "No, of course you don't."
Morgan took a monster hit, closing her eyes, and her jaw worked for a moment before she released a steady stream of smoke into the air. Jane reached over and found the hem of Morgan's sweater, slipping a cool hand up to stroke the soft skin of the redhead's lower back. Morgan leaned into the touch, opening her eyes and giving Jane a barely perceptible nod.
Caleb cleared his throat, holding his hand out for the joint. Jane took a quick hit and passed it to him. She met his eyes as he took what was now barely more than a roach from her hand, and she was shocked at the emotion she saw in them. There was some anger, and embarrassment, but what shone through most clearly was an emotion she'd never stopped to consider from him. Jealousy.
"You're right," Caleb admitted quietly, bringing the joint to his lips for a desperate toke. "I don't know anything about that."
The sudden melancholy in her brother's voice softened Jane a bit, and she sighed deeply. Still stroking Morgan's back, she said, "That doesn't mean you can't change that, Caleb. If you want it."
Caleb was silent for a few long moments, and then he reached across Jane to offer Morgan a final hit from the too-short joint that he held between two fingers. She took it from him carefully, inhaled one last hit, and then put it out on the ground beside her.
With nothing left to distract them the air grew silent and uneasy, and Jane shifted where she sat. Morgan reached behind her and extracted Jane's hand from beneath her sweater, bringing it to rest in her lap. Jane interlaced her fingers with Morgan's, giving her a little squeeze.
"I could help Danny out with the baseball thing," Caleb said. His voice was tentative and reserved, as if he feared being struck down where he sat. "Help him with his swing, stuff like that..."
Jane sighed, closing her eyes. "I don't know." Morgan squeezed her hand, and Jane opened her eyes to glance over at her brother. "I don't know if that's a good idea."
Caleb's eyes darkened, and he gave her an instinctive scowl. "I can change it, but just not with your family, huh?"
Reaching up to massage at her temple, Jane sighed again. "He's just a little boy, Caleb. He's a little boy who won't understand when you lose interest and move on to something else." Jane dropped her hand in her lap and gave her brother a serious look. "He's not one of your little projects that can be abandoned when you get bored."
"And if I told you that I don't want to move on anymore?" Caleb asked. He leaned back, planting both hands on the porch and giving the two women a sidelong glance. "Would that make a difference, if I planned on sticking around this time?"
"I don't know," Jane said. "I just... what happens when you disappoint him? Why do I want to set my son up for that?"
"Who says I'll disappoint him?" Caleb asked.
"You've disappointed me," Jane told him. "Mom and dad... you disappoint them every time you take off without so much as a word to any of us."
Caleb's mouth was set in a hard line. "What if I promise not to disappoint him?" he asked, after a moment of tense silence.
Jane gave him a small smile. "Prove it and we'll see."
Caleb sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees and dropping his face into both his hands. He exhaled harshly, running his fingers through his thick brown hair, messing it up. Looking up at Jane again, he nodded. "Fine."
"And Caleb-" Jane continued, waiting for her brother to acknowledge her before she went on.
"Yeah?" Caleb asked in a defeated voice.
"If you want to be involved, you need to respect this," she said, and held her and Morgan's joined hands aloft. Glancing at Morgan, she gave the redhead a tender smile, which was returned without hesitation. Jane looked back at Caleb with a serious gaze. "You need to respect us."
Caleb bit his lip, and then nodded. "I can do that," he murmured.
"Good," Morgan piped up. She lifted Jane's hand to her mouth, planting a soft kiss on her knuckles. "I really hope it works out, Caleb. Danny does like you, you know."
"Yeah?" Caleb asked, a ghost of a smile tugging at his lips.
"Yeah," Morgan confirmed. "When I was putting him to bed, he was talking a mile a minute about the video game you two played earlier."
Caleb cracked a grin. "Gran Turismo 3," he supplied.
Jane couldn't help but smile at the playful light in her brother's eyes. She closed her own eyes, sending a quick plea heavenward for this time to be different.
"That's the one," Morgan agreed, laughing. "Anyway," she said, and raised Jane's hand to her lips again. "I think I'm gonna take this one to bed." She leaned forward to look across Jane at Caleb. "Thanks for the smoke."
Caleb nodded, waving a hand in the air. "No problem."
Morgan released Jane's hand and stood, raising up on her tiptoes in a decadent stretch. Once satisfied, she reached down and extended her hand, pulling Jane to her feet when it was accepted. Without letting go of Morgan's hand, Jane looked down at her brother, who stared up at her in silent contemplation.
"You staying the night?" Jane asked.
Caleb shrugged. "Don't know," he said. He looked out at the woods, and then patted his jacket pocket before retrieving a soft pack of cigarettes. He shook one out, lit it, and took a long hit. He glanced back up at Jane as he exhaled. "I'll just crash on the couch if I do."
Jane nodded, sighing at the non-committal answer. "Drive carefully if you don't stay, okay?"
Caleb smirked. "I always do," he answered.
Jane hesitated for a moment before reaching down and tousling thick brown hair so much like her own. "'Night, little brother."
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