Chapter One: Dead Things
"Where's my man?" Kayla asked as soon as I opened the front door. She peeked around me in the hopes of catching a glimpse of my twin brother.
I moved aside to let her in. "In the kitchen—but you don't want to go in there just yet, trust me." I knew that she had a weak stomach. She nodded, taking my word for it. In thanks for my thoughtful advice, she plopped down in my seat and started digging into my yogurt.
"Hey!" I whined. "Come on. Now you've got your germs all in it."
"Oh no. Girl cooties. Poor Steven," she teased me. I shot her a dangerous look and she quickly switched the subject. That didn't stop her from eating another huge spoonful of my yogurt, though. "Please, do have a seat. You don't have to stand for little old me."
I rolled my eyes. "Why thank you, your highness."
I always sat on the same end of our couch, the part where the green color started to fade a little bit from overuse. It was the softer side, and it was positioned directly in front of the television. I was attached to that particular spot.
So I would sit there…even if it was already occupied.
"Hey, get off my lap!" she cried. I was too thin to cause her any actual pain, but she acted like I was crushing the life from her body. "I give, I give! I'll move!"
I lifted my butt so that she could slide from underneath me to the other side of the couch. She straightened out her hair, sending me a glare as she pulled a mirror from her purse to make sure she still looked pretty for her boyfriend. When she was satisfied, she reached over to poke me in the stomach. "You're getting heavier. Lay off on the candy, dude."
"It's all muscle," I argued. "I'm bulking up." I flexed my arms at her, and she laughed at how pathetically skinny they were.
"Yeah. You're going to give Lucas a run for his money, huh?"
I scoffed. "I said I was bulking up, not taking steroids." She slapped me in the arm, but she was grinning when she did it, because, honestly, my brother really did overdo it with the weightlifting. Kayla loved the body builder look, but I thought his dedication to it was excessive. Looking "right" had become steadily more important to the both of them in the past couple of years, and the result was my twin brother looked less and less like me. With all the extra muscle, people could hardly tell we were twins—our coloring was even different, since Lucas dyed his hair a lighter shade of blonde on a regular basis and tanned as often as the salon would allow.
Yet despite all the time he spent primping, he never got the same insults or sideways glances I did. When people called him a pretty boy, it was hyphenated, a taunt and not an insult.
Then again, Luc's reaction to such taunts were decidedly not pretty.
Kayla got bored with my yogurt and ran upstairs. I followed her—I had learned not to leave her alone for too long around non-childproof objects. It never ended well. We'd only lived in this house for a little over a year, and already she had broken two doors and a stair railing.
I found her in my room. She was rifling through my closet, throwing clothes onto my floor. I narrowly avoided getting hit in the face by a belt.
"What are you doing?"
She pulled out an article of clothing and held it up with a flourish. "You're wearing this."
It was safer to just go along with Kayla's ideas—she had a surprisingly painful punch for such a petite girl. I switched my comfortable black shirt for the tight red one she had chosen, then looked down at myself and made a face; the material clung to my body, outlining my ribs and the sharpness of my collarbone, and making it stupidly obvious that the adjective 'broad-shouldered' did not apply to me. "Damn, I haven't worn this in years."
"Trust me, it's in right now."
"It's never in when I wear it."
"You can't wear your ratty t-shirt out in public," she began in a familiar tone of voice.
"I'm not wearing my ratty t-shirt, do you see me wearing it? I'm being a good little dress-up doll, you can cut it with your lectures."
"Steven!" Shock. Horror. Genuine hurt. I didn't often contradict her.
"I'm just saying. It's only the mall. I don't see why it matters what I wear," I grumbled, looking down and grabbing the front of my shirt and pulling it forward in the hopes of stretching it out a bit. Kayla saw and lightly slapped my hands away.
"Because boys will be there." She grabbed my arm and tugged on it until I sat down on my bed. I rolled my eyes at her while she dug through her purse. Of course that was it. She didn't want my appearance to reflect badly on her.
"Kayla, boys are everywhere. Besides, you have a boyfriend. My brother. Remember him?"
"Not for me, silly. For you." She finally found what she was looking for. "And don't think I didn't see you roll your eyes at me."
I tried not to blink in surprise. She had started in on the eyeliner, after all, and I rather enjoyed being able to see.
"No makeup," I said firmly, waving her back and trying to keep my voice even. "I only let you do it that one time because it was a concert. What is with you today?"
"Do you realize it's been two years already?" She said it so nonchalantly that the actual words didn't sink in right away. I pulled away from her, scowling.
"Are you counting?"
She cautiously said, "Well, come on, Steven, two years is a long time."
"I don't need a—" boyfriend, I didn't say. I glared. "Stop bringing it up. Jesus, Kayla. Luc and my dad are right down stairs." I pushed past her, stomping down the stairs.
She followed after me, her makeup bag jangling as we went down the stairs. "I only have one eye done!"
I rubbed my eye with the palm of my hand. In the full-length mirror at the bottom of the stairs, I saw that all I had managed to do was smear the black eyeliner around my eye. I grabbed a few tissues from our coffee table in the living room, not even breaking stride as I headed toward the kitchen.
Kayla followed me. It was mean, I know, to lead her there, but I was angry with her. We'd been best friends since seventh grade—she should know me by now.
We entered the kitchen, and Kayla's apologies stopped very abruptly. She quickly spun around and went back into the living room, one hand over her mouth.
If I weren't used to it, it would probably make me sick, too.
Our normal, off-white kitchen was temporarily bathed in red. Garbage bags were spread over the floor to protect against most of the mess, but I could see a puddle of blood near the back door that I would need to clean up when I got home. A chunk of animal—a leg of deer, from the looks of it—lay on top of the bags. My brother and father were kneeling next to it, cutting pieces of muscle off in neat, even strips and wrapping them in freezer paper. The stench was so thick that it seemed to linger at the back of my throat.
Lucas looked up from his work and saw that I was ready to go. He went to the sink and washed his hands. "We're taking off to the mall," he said to Dad.
Our dad took in my handful of blackened tissues, my half made-up face. His eyes darkened with suspicion, but he thankfully said nothing.
I self-consciously rubbed the tissue across my cheekbone to get rid of any leftover eyeliner. Lucas dried his hands on a towel and I moved out of his way so that he could get past me, into the living room. I knew that his day didn't truly begin until he saw Kayla.
Lucas smiled at her, and went to hug her, but she held out her arms to stop him. "I know you didn't plan on hugging me," she said pointedly, eyeing his torso.
Confused, he looked down at his shirt. It was white, and like every other shirt that he owned, it advertised one of his favorite bands. Across the familiar logo was a fine spattering of red.
"You look like you just murdered someone," I said.
He grinned at Kayla. "Okay, I'll be right back."
"He's lucky he's so adorable," she sighed as my brother ran up the stairs, his footsteps thundering through the whole house.
"So you're going with Luc to get his tag?" my father asked as he came into the living room, a note of approval in his voice. "I thought you only wanted to hunt squirrel?" I saw that he had to search his memory for it—it wasn't often that he interacted with Lucas and me, so it was difficult for him to keep track of our likes and dislikes. My one ill-fated attempt at squirrel-hunting had happened four years ago. It was impressive, in a way, but seeing him try to care was awkward, and I knew the fastest way to make him lose interest.
"I just need a ride to the bookstore."
"And I'm just going to keep him company while he checks out all the guns. Arm candy, you know," Kayla said, trying not to focus on my father's hands, which were covered in blood, some dried and some fresh.
I thought we all looked very festive—my father in his bloodied camouflage, me in my bright red shirt, and Kayla with her green face. If it were nearing Christmas instead of Halloween, we could almost be a holiday display.
I looked away from Kayla before her expression made me sick. My eyes fell to the floor, and, more specifically, to my father's feet, and the crimson footprints his shoes were leaving on our white carpet.
"Dad!" I cried, shooing him back into the kitchen. "Mom is going to kill you."
"Sorry," he said carelessly. "I'll clean it up later."
I knew he wouldn't. "If you don't clean it now, it's going to set in and be impossible. Cold water."
"I can handle it. You sound like your mother."
I rolled my eyes. Ever since Mom went to visit her sister in North Carolina last week, the house had become Manly Man Zone. It was by my efforts alone that the floor was still recognizable and the bottom of our kitchen sink was still visible, and I was not exactly the neatest person in the world. It was that bad.
"Do you even know where the cleaning supplies are?" I asked, already knowing he would get it wrong.
"Under the sink?" he guessed.
"In the cabinet next to the fridge."
He shrugged. "I would have found it eventually. When did you become the little household cleaning goddess, anyway?"
"Seriously, Dad, if you don't clean it right away, it'll stain," I warned, mildly agitated by his apathy.
He waved a hand at me, unbothered. "It's fine." Lucas came down the stairs then, shaking the house and interrupting my next remark. He grabbed his keys from the hook next to the front door and stole a quick kiss from Kayla.
"See ya, Dad." He opened the door for us, and I shot one last warning look at my father before I followed the two lovebirds out to Lucas's truck.
It was cramped in the small cab, and consequently it set my nerves on edge. Kayla sat in the middle, squished next to Lucas, shifting for him. I tried to take my mind off of the lack of room by staring out of the window as we backed out of the driveway. I tried not to breathe: Even with a changed shirt, my brother still smelled grossly like a dead animal.