"I don't have any friends!" I bitched a few days later.
"My faith in humankind has been restored," Evan muttered.
"What the hell are you doing in here anyway?" I demanded, looking up from my pillow. I was sprawled out on my unmade bed and Coby was sitting on the floor by me, reading over the rules of conduct for his new job at Blockbuster. Evan, for some reason, was keeping us company.
"I like it when you're in a bad mood. It cheers me up," he explained.
"That's very logical," Coby said.
"Your only friend was a girl," Evan exclaimed, as if he were letting me in on the mysteries of life. "Girls are not good at being friends. Okay, look. When guys disagree about something, they kick each other's asses and then all is forgiven and forgotten. When girls get into a spat, they spread cruelly elaborate rumours about each other and if they even speak to each other again, it won't be till months later, and they'll always hold grudges for the rest of their lives. Find a guy. Pay him to be your friend. Your life will be easier."
"I'm mad at Talia," I grumbled.
"I would be too," Evan agreed. "She makes you act like a girl."
"I mean, she doesn't tell me that she and Brennan have been sucking each other's faces off for the past I don't even know how long and then she gets mad when I get mad and makes some shady comment about me not noticing her when she was available."
When I finished my angry speech, I looked up to see Coby and Evan staring at me. Coby looked confused. "Maybe you need a job," he said.
"I HAVE a job." I liked staying home and watching TV. That was my job. I was talented at it.
"Prostitution doesn't count. It's not even legal. Come on, I'm taking you job hunting."
"I have a bad resume," I protested.
"Don't include the fact that you're a whore," Evan said helpfully.
"I'm not a prostitute!" I yelled. "I don't know where you people come up with this stuff."
"I'm wearing suspiciously clean clothing," I said slowly, the next afternoon as Coby and I walked around downtown. It had taken Coby and us all night to make up a resume for me. "Oh my God, I'm job hunting."
"Bagel place," Coby said. "Oh, give it a damn try," he snapped when he received a dirty look from me.
"Einstein Bagels?" I said skeptically. "What kind of genius do you have to be to put cream cheese on a bagel?"
Apparently Einstein Bagels wasn't hiring.
"Dominoes," Coby suggested. "Everybody loves pizza."
Into Dominoes. Out of Dominoes. They needed people to deliver and I was a dangerous driver, considering I didn't even have my learner's permit.
"We mostly hire college kids to deliver," the manager said to us not very apologetically.
"Yeah, that's good thinking. It's not like college guys aren't going to be zipping around totally wasted," I congratulated him.
Coby led me away while trying to say goodbye politely. "We occasionally order from Dominoes. I don't want them blowing their noses on my pizza."
As a last resort, we went to Blockbuster. The manager looked at me appraisingly while I filled out an application. "Richard, huh?"
I nodded. Well, Coby nodded for me. I watched a fly.
He was a small man with intense eyes. He stared at me like he meant something--like I was supposed to throw up my hands and confess, yes, yes, I intended to steal a penny from the Got-A-Penny-Leave-A-Penny-Need-A-Penny-Take-A-Penny jar.
"What's with you Sparrow kids trying to get jobs here?"
"It's good work experience and Gabriel and I just keep telling Richard how gratifying it is to--" Coby jabbed me in the ribs when I tried to catch the fly. "He wants to be a part of the work force."
He looked me up and down. "Weak arms."
"What about them?" I demanded defensively.
He shook his head. "You're too young. You're only sixteen. You have to be eighteen to work at a video store because of all the…inappropriate movies, plus you have to be able to work on your own. The only job I can offer you is putting away movies."
"Would you pay me to do that?" I asked eagerly. I was skilled at alphabetizing.
"Are you kidding? Of course not."
"Well then, up yours--"
"He'll take it," Coby interrupted, squashing my foot.
I shot him an evil look.
He returned it. "You need to do something other than mope."
"And what are you, my activities director?"
"Tomorrow morning, ten AM sharp," the manager announced, sliding my useless application back to me. "I don't tolerate lateness crap, all right?"
"Don't you want to see my references?" I asked (even though I had made up most of my references), as Coby ushered me towards the exit by force.
At supper that evening, Dad was absent as usual, and Tannis was telling us a gross story about boogers, also as usual.
"Oh my gosh, you guys, I swear, he must have been shoving carrots up his nose because when he sneezed, it was orange, and I do mean orange--"
Mom put her fork down, trying to be patient. "This is hardly a topic for dinnertime, Tannis."
Evan cocked his head at our sister. "Who's this you're talking about?"
"Duncan, that kid I've been babysitting," she said cheerfully. "And so I didn't know what to do because, you know, boogers are gross, and I didn't want to get near the mess he'd made all over his shirt so I tucked a dishtowel in his collar so it just looked like he was wearing a bib! Aren't I smart?"
"Well, you're definitely my little sister, that's for sure!" Evan said proudly.
I looked down at my uneaten carrots and lost my appetite. Luckily, the phone rang, so I sprang from my seat and leapt over to the phone. "HELLO?" I practically yelled.
"Richard's a dooork," Gabriel sang quietly.
"Hey, Richard? This is Brennan."
"Oh." My nose wrinkled involuntarily. "Hey."
"What are you up to, man?"
"I'm enjoying a tasty meal. I really should get back to it before it gets cold or eaten or coughed on."
"Yeah, go ahead. Could you pass the phone on to your sister first though?"
"Who, Tannis? Since when do you talk to Tannis?"
"I meant Devin."
"SICK, dude!" I cried. "I hope you enjoy each other--bleech." I shoved the phone at Devin, who looked up at me questioningly. I sneered at her.
Downing the last of her milk, she pushed her chair back and snatched the phone out of my hand. "Hello? Oh--hi, Brennan!" She disappeared into the living room with the cordless.
"Everyone likes Brennan more than they like me," I sighed.
"I don't like Brennan more than I like you, honey," Mom assured me.
"See?" Evan messed up my hair. "Not everyone. Mom's the only one though."
The next morning, Coby pounced on me.
"What the hell are you doing?" I shouted, not exactly enjoying having an unexpected visitor in my bed.
"I figured you'd think it would be cute if I woke you up by making you jump out of your skin."
I rolled over and swatted my brother, making him fall off the bed. "No. Now screw off."
"Fine!" he said from the floor. "I guess I'll just go to work by MYSELF and get all the valuable work experience."
"Dammit, what time is it?"
"Time to start being NICE to me!"
"Shut up, I'm in a shitty mood. And you make my mornings unpleasant. What time is it? I'll beat the living crap out of you if you make any stupid comment you think might be funny."
"Dammit," I growled. "Thanks, get out so I can get ready."
Coby got up. Then he mauled me.
"What are you doing?" I asked, trying to be patient.
He laughed. "I know how you hate being bothered in the morning, so I'm bothering you."
I smirked. "Thank you. Now get the hell out of my room."
Gabriel and Coby immediately punched in at Blockbuster and left me standing alone, waiting for the manager guy.
I rested against the counter. "Maybe he's at the back in the Adult's Only section." I gasped. "I wonder if I'll get to put away movies back there!"
Gabriel flipped on the Open sign. "No. You're not an adult."
The manager finally appeared from a back room.
"See, back room, told you," I whispered.
"Shut up!" Gabriel hissed. "You're not costing us a job just because you have to be our brother!"
"Good morning," the manager, whose nametag read Harry, greeted me in a rush. "Do you know what you're doing?"
"I'm standing here, inhaling and exhaling, sir," I replied.
"We got another smart ass, that's great," he grumbled. "I'll get Tobias to show you what to do. You'll get along with him. He's a smart ass too."
"At least I'm not a dumbass," I muttered when Harry was out of earshot.
A few minutes later, Harry came back with a tall, grey-eyed guy a little older than me. "Have fun," he told us.
"Hey," the guy said to me nonchalantly. "Tobias. You're Richard?"
"You know how to alphabetize things, right?"
I nodded, but glared at the ray gun. I hoped it didn't touch me.
"Why are you looking at the swiper like you want it to die?" Tobias asked.
"Because it looks like a laser beam."
"You swipe the bar code with it. It's how we keep track of who has what movie and stuff. It's not a laser beam."
"How does it keep track of things? What, does it have a brain or something?"
"No. It's just magic."
"Anyway, back to the alphabetizing. You can do that, right?"
"Put the alphabet in alphabetical order."
"A, b, c, d, wait…That's a trick question. Are you trying to psyche me out so I do something stupid?"
"Yep," Tobias said. "See those four stacks of movies on the counter by the door?"
"Yes, I do."
"Good. Will you put them away? Oh, and put them in the proper genres please. Do not put Titanic in science fiction, or Bride of Chucky in romance."
"Or you could do that, to piss Harry off. We could blame it on one of your brothers."
I snickered. "I think I'm going to like working here."
There was a Subway across the street from Blockbuster. Tobias, my brothers, and I walked over there at noon to get something to eat, and on our way back, Coby elbowed me and asked, "How's it going?"
"Still pissed about Talia?"
"Look, Richard, I'm not Jo Jo's psychic line, I can't read your mind. I know it sucks. You know that girl Tara? I was crushing on her hard core last year, but she was all like 'Ooh Coby I love you because you're just like one of the girls! I can talk about periods with you because I don't even consider you a boy!' So I went all crazy and stuff. I was like…" Coby spent a few moments having a mental breakdown. He sounded like the Tasmanian Devil. Then he resumed talking. "But you and Talia have been best friends for a thousand years. What's going on right now isn't the end of the world for you guys."
I didn't say anything. I took a sip from my iced tea.
"Why don't you phone her when we get home?"
"The phone will probably be busy because she'll probably be talking to Brennan."
Coby sighed. "You never had any interest in having her as a girlfriend before. So why does it matter if she's someone else's?"
"Whatever. Leave me alone, okay?"
"Leave you alone? What, don't throw bricks at you?"
"I don't want to talk about this right now, we're going to get hit by a friggen bus and you won't shut up!" I grabbed his arm just as he was about to cross the street. A bus went by.
"Having fun up there?" Tobias called. He and Gabriel were walking a few feet behind us.
Coby grinned with an unusual innocence. "Are we ever! That huge tank almost hit us! It was horrific!"
"It was a bus and you almost got hit, not me. I saved your damn life."
"You saved nothing!"
"Be ungrateful! I don't care. I'm not going to tell you the bus is there next time."
"Eat your sub," I snapped, smiling at him.