At first glance, tonight was just your average night for the Anderson's. Nothing strange or out of the ordinary to report.
That is, unless you count the pointed looks and quick head shakes passing between the families youngest boys, Tommy and Beau, from their side of the table.
James Anderson, the patriarch of the family, just wanted to finish his supper before relaxing in his favorite chair in front of the tv. A John Wayne western was due to come on soon and he didn't want to miss the beginning. Unfortunately, his boys weren't as subtle as they thought. He ignored them at first, but after several side long looks in his direction, he finally sighed and looked up.
"Okay, guys," He started, "what's going on?"
Another look passed between the two and Beau shook his head, harder this time, obviously no longer caring if anyone noticed.
"I'm waiting." James said. Across from him, Ruth hid a smile as she reached for the mashed potatoes.
Tommy looked up at his dad. Then down to his plate of untouched food. Then back up.
He gave a small sigh before nodding his head, as if he had just talked himself into something.
"See, dad, it's like this. Me and Beau were wondering if-"
"What?!" Beau suddenly exclaimed, but before he could protest further, he received a swift kick to his shin, care of Tommy's left boot. The thirteen year old scowled at him but said nothing else.
"Just spit it out, Tommy." James interrupted them once more.
So he did.
"Can we get earrings?"
The table fell silent except for the sound of Ruth's fork hitting her plate. Beau became suddenly interested in his uneaten peas while James simply glared at his middle child.
"Why does he insist on causing me headaches?" He thought as he slowly put down his knife and fork.
"You're joking, right?" James asked, his voice lowering a notch like it always does when he's about to start lecturing one of his boys. They usually took that as a warning sign to abort whatever mission they had foolishly started, but tonight, Tommy seemed to have missed that particular sign.
"I'm serious, dad. They're cool and a lot of guys are getting them now."
James shook his head.
"No, you can't be serious because you ought to know that no son of mine is gonna walk around with a diamond hanging out of his ear that looks like it should belong to his mom."
Then Tommy did something he would never admit to later. He laughed at his father. His green eyes danced with amusement as James' own brown eyes seemed to harden.
"C'mon, dad. We'd get cooler ones than that. Russell McKinnley has all kinds. He usually wears this feather that's attached somehow to this gold chain but today, Dad, today he came to school with a safety pin sticking in his ear! Can you believe it?!"
Ruth's eyes widened and this time it was Beau who kicked Tommy in the shin before dropping his head and slouching down in his seat.
If anything, James glared harder and his voice got even lower.
"You are not helping your case any, son."
Tommy's grin finally faltered and he blew out a breath as he looked down at his plate.
"Let me make something perfectly clear here, boys." He looked directly at Tommy. "Beau, sit up straight." James rebuked his youngest while still glaring at Tommy. Beau sat up. "Neither of you are getting anything pierced. Not now, not ever! Not your ears. Not your nose or your lips or your eyebrows. Nothing. Do I need to say that any clearer?"
"No, sir." Beau answered immediately without looking up.
But Tommy, who could never just let anything go, groaned and said, "Geez, dad. Lighten' up, will ya? You were right, it was just a joke. No need to get all tore up about it." He tried to smile but everyone could tell it was forced.
Tommy sighed. "Yeah, yeah, totally clear."
All he got in response was another pointed look his way and he glanced away. "I mean, yes, sir, I got it."
"C'mon, Tommy, this is not a good idea."
Beau was following after Tommy as he searched through the kitchen drawers for the safety pins he had remembered seeing there a while back. Tommy didn't even spare him a glance as he said, "Sure it is. Mom's at the store and Dad's working over at Coop's. It's now or never, Squirt."
"Don't call me that." Beau shot back.
"Found it." Tommy held up two small safety pins in his hand and grinned wide. "Don't worry so much. Hey, grab some ice from the freezer, will ya."
Beau sighed and rolled his eyes but headed towards the freezer anyway. He grabbed a cup full of ice and Tommy pulled out a lemon from the fruit basket and used a knife to cut it in half before making his way through to the living room and up the stairs, Beau on his heels.
Upstairs in the boy's shared bathroom, Tommy pulled a bottle of rubbing alcohol from under the sink and poured some over the needle.
"That should be good enough." He said, putting the cap back on the bottle and turning towards Beau. "You ready?"
Beau's eyes widened and he shook his head. "No! I'm tellin' you, Tommy, this is a bad plan. You heard Dad last night. He'll skin us alive for this."
Tommy shrugged his shoulders. "Yeah, well, that's a risk with most of the stuff we get into. Besides, by the time he finds out, it'll already be done. Don't be such a baby, Beau. Are you really gonna let Daddy take away your freedom to express yourself?" He asked this in such an off handed manner that Beau almost caved. Almost.
"Yeah. Yeah, I am, and you should too. Know why? 'Cause dad can take away our freedom. Period. And me and Josh finally convinced them to let us go camping this weekend by ourselves. Without any parents. Without any nosy big brothers hovering over us, tellin' us what to do all the time. Just us; and I'm not riskin' it."
Tommy rolled his eyes and turned to look at himself in the mirror. His blonde hair looked messy and too long for his dads liking, but Tommy liked it just fine. He turned his face back and forth, examining the bit of scruff on his jaw. He liked that, too. As far as he could tell, the only thing missing to complete his look was the pierced ear. A few of his friends had theirs pierced. How hard could it be?
"Okay," He said, looking at Beau through the mirror, "you don't have to if you're scared-"
"I'm not scared." Beau interrupted. "I'm just smarter than you."
"Yeah, yeah, smarter than me. Whatever. But help me out with mine, will ya. I can't put that needle through myself."
"It's not even a needle. It's just a little bitty pin. Is the big bad Tommy Anderson still scared of a tiny needle?" Beau grinned and picked up the pin, waving it in front of his brother.
"Shut up." Tommy groused and shoved Beau backwards. "I'll hold the ice to my ear and numb it up. Then you hold the lemon behind it and poke the pin through."
A few minutes later, Tommy took the ice off of his ear and sat down on the toilet seat. Beau grinned as he came towards him with the pin. He was enjoying this entirely too much. Tommy's leg was jumping as he sat there, his hands clasped tightly together.
"Stay still or I'm not gonna be able to do this." Beau said as he lined the pin up with the mark they had made earlier on Tommy's ear.
Tommy took a deep breath and let it out slow. "Okay, on the count of three."
"On three, or say three then do it?" Beau asked, knowing he was just making him more anxious.
"On three. No. Just...just do it alright. Get it over with before I throw up." He did look a bit green.
Beau nodded. "Okay. Ready?"
Suddenly, they heard the sound of gravel crunching in the driveway. Tommy froze.
"Who's tha- Ow!" Beau pierced the ear and jumped back as Tommy jumped up, holding his hand over his ear. "Geez, Beau!"
"I got it done, didn't I?! It's what you wanted!"
Tommy looked in the mirror. The sharp pain was already leaving. He grabbed a wad of toilet paper and wiped away the bit of blood and there, in his ear was a safety pin earring.
From behind him, Beau was looking out the bathroom window towards the driveway.
"Who is it?"
"Mom." He answered quietly.
"Now what?" Beau asked after a few minutes had passed and Tommy still hadn't moved from the mirror.
"I'm thinking." He replied.
"Well you better think fast 'cause if mom sees that, she's gonna lose it."
"I know. I know. Just give me a minute here." Tommy started running his fingers through his hair, trying to flatten the sides so that it covered his ears. But his hair wasn't long enough and no matter what, the safety pin was still visible in his left ear.
"That's not working." Beau offered helpfully. Tommy cast him a sidelong glance through the mirror.
"No, duh." He stopped messing with his hair and opened the bathroom door. Before stepping out, he peered up and down the hallway to make sure it was clear. Then he made for his bedroom, Beau right behind him.
"Okay." Tommy said once in his room. He opened his bottom dresser drawer and started shifting through the clothes. "You go downstairs and distract mom. As soon as I figure this out, I'll come down."
"No way!" Beau hissed. "Distract mom? Are you crazy?! She'll see through me in two seconds!"
"Not if you don't act like a doofus. Just be normal."
"Na uh. I'm probably already gonna be in trouble for helping you this much!"
Tommy nodded and pulled out a cap and placed it on his head. It didn't help so he promptly took it back off. "Exactly. You're gonna be in trouble anyway. Might as well delay it as long as you can. Really, Beau, you're helping yourself out too."
And that was how Beau found himself trudging into the kitchen, feeling sick to his stomach and regretting that he had let himself be pulled into another of his brother's schemes.
"Hey, mom. Want some help?" He asked Ruth who was putting away groceries.
Ruth smiled when she saw him come in and handed him a box of Hamburger Helper to put away.
"How was school?" She asked.
"Fine." Beau answered, reaching for another bag of food.
"Where's your brother? Is he still sulking about last night?"
Beau scratched at the back of his neck and turned away from her.
"Uh, no." He said too quickly and he wished his heart would quit hammering so hard against his chest. "He's um, you know just...upstairs."
Ruth raised an eyebrow and smirked at the boy.
"Uh, huh. What's he doing upstairs?" She turned back to the groceries and pulled out a bag of apples and began putting them in the fruit basket.
"Well how should I know?" Beau became defensive, a fact that Ruth didn't miss.
She smiled and gave a short laugh. "Honey, calm down. I was just asking. He's probably just doing homework or something."
Beau scratched his neck again. "Yeah. That's what he's doing. Homework."
"I thought you didn't know."
"I don't." He blushed scarlett. "I was just...guessing. Anyway, I gotta go, mom. Chores and stuff."
"Okay." But before he made it to the back door, Ruth called out, "Hey, Beau?"
Beau sighed and turned back around. "Yeah?"
She pointed to the fruit basket. "Do you know what happened to the last lemon? I was saving it to put in my tea later."
Beau's eyes widened. "No." He tried to sound sure of himself but his voice had cracked and he looked away. "I don't even like lemons."
Ruth smiled knowingly. "Okay, okay. No need to be all defensive. If you say you don't know then I believe you. Just like if you say you don't know what Tommy is up to, I believe that too."
Beau nearly choked but tried to cover it up with a cough. "Gotta go, mom." He said before lunging for the door handle and going outside.
Back inside the kitchen, Ruth rolled her eyes before turning back to the groceries that Beau didn't even finish helping her with.
The next two days passed in the same way. Both boys avoided James and Ruth whenever they could.
Tommy had taken to wearing a beanie almost constantly when he was home. Despite the temperature being nearly eighty degrees every day that week.
Beau's stomach was almost always queasy with the idea that they could be caught any minute. Tommy said it was just 'Guilt Gut' and that it would go away eventually.
Beau wasn't so sure. In fact, the only thing he was sure about at the moment was that they knew. They knew and they were just stringing them along waiting for them to hang themselves.
"I'm tellin' you, Tommy." He said, barging into Tommy's room without bothering to knock. Tommy was sitting in his desk chair, holding a mirror in his hand as he examined his ear, which was red and swollen and it looked like something was draining out of it. "They know. This is bad. And that looks, really really bad."
"They don't know." Tommy assured him, putting down the mirror and turning to face Beau. "Do you honestly think that dad, our dad, would know that I disobeyed a direct order on anything and just not say anything about it? No. He'd come down with the full force of Leutineut James Anderson and there would be nothing we could do about it. Trust me, kid. They don't know, so stop your bellyaching."
Beau dropped down on the edge of the bed. "Okay, fine. Say you're right, which you're not, and they don't know, which they do." Tommy rolled his eyes. "What are you gonna do? Just keep wearing that stupid hat til you go off to college and move out? Don't you wonder why they haven't even mentioned that you're wearing it anyway?! C'mon, Tommy, I know you're not that dumb!"
Tommy shook his head. "Of course not. I'm gonna tell them. I'm just waiting for the right time."
"I'm pretty sure there's not gonna be a right time to tell him this. Besides, I'm not kidding, that looks gross."
Tommy winced and held the mirror back up. "I kinda think it's infected."
"You 'kinda think'?"
"Okay, so it's infected. I guess we didn't sterilize the pin good enough. But it should be fine. I just gotta make it til after this weekend. I don't want you to miss your trip. You leave tomorrow and then I'll be good and fess up to dad."
Beau shook his head. "No way! I'm just as much a part of this as you are! I'm not gonna let you take all the blame."
"You got that right, kiddo."
The teenagers looked up in time to see James open the door and step into the room. He crossed his arms over his chest and glared down at the pair of them.
"Evenin', boys, I was just comin' to get you for supper. But let's talk first."
James leaned against the door jamb and said,"Looks to me like you did the exact opposite of what I told you, Thomas. I thought I was pretty clear last night." Tommy looked down and swallowed hard.
Beau decided he'd rather be anywhere but here so he stood up and tried to sound casual as he said, "I'm just gonna let ya'll talk."
But James just laughed and said, "Nice try, kid, but you just go ahead and sit right back down."
Beau dropped back down to the mattress and kept his eyes trained on the toe of his boots.
James came fully into the room and stood next to Tommy. He reached out his hand towards him and Tommy jerked back, but James just rolled his eyes and caught his chin in his hand before turning his face away so that he could look at his ear.
"How long has it been like this?" He asked before lightly swatting at Tommy's shoulder and motioning towards the bed. Tommy took the cue and moved to sit next to Beau so that James could have the chair. He sat down facing them, but leaned back and crossed his arms once again. Beau had a fleeting thought that he actually looked relaxed.
"Since yesterday." Tommy admitted.
"You should have let us know, Tom. Infections are nothing to play with. You know that."
Tommy nodded. "I know."
And Tommy did. Two years before, Tommy had been kicked in the shoulder by one of the horses. (One he wasn't supposed to be working with, strictly speaking) He tried to hide it but the wound ended up getting infected. It wasn't until Tommy was so sick that he had a 104 temperature that he finally came to his mom for help. James thought he'd made sure that Tommy realized then that he expected to be told when one of his boys was hurt. Evidently, the message hadn't got through to the boy.
James shook his head to clear it of the image of seeing Tommy so sick. Instead, he plastered a grin on his face and said to the both of them, "And here I was thinking about changing my mind on the whole earring matter. I was mighty impressed with how well you two dropped the argument the other night and me and your mom had been considering letting you boys get it done in a few weeks."
Both Tommy and Beau's eyes grew wide.
"What?!" Tommy exclaimed.
"Really?" Beau voiced at the same time.
James kept his smile up for a few seconds before shaking his head.
"Not a chance! Clearly, neither of you need any more holes in your heads."
The boys deflated instantly.
"So how long have you known?" Tommy asked tentatively.
"The whole time." He answered flatly. "You," James pointed to Beau, "are a horrible liar and you're even worse at covering up. Your mom saw through you like that." He snapped his fingers and Beau turned to Tommy.
"I told you!"
"Well I thought you'd do at least a little better than that! Have I taught you nothing?"
"For your sake, you better hope not." James interrupted.
Tommy ducked his head. There really wasn't anything he could say to that.
"Okay, guys. Supper's waitin' and I don't wanna drag this out. You both messed up. You're both in trouble. I was clear the other night when I specifically said NO piercing. Right?"
"Yessir." Came the immediate reply from both of them.
"That's what I thought. So, Beau-"
"Dad, c'mon, he didn't even really do anything." Tommy spoke up quickly. "And I made him do what he did. It was all my idea. He didn't want anything to do with it. He even tried to talk me out of it."
"Are you through?" Tommy sighed and dropped his gaze again. James turned back to Beau. "Did he twist your arm? Force you at all? Now's the time to speak up, son."
Beau sat up straight and looked James in the eye.
"No, sir." He said, his voice was quiet but sure and steady. "I knew what I was doing. I lied to mom… and I guess really to you, too by trying to cover for Tommy. I just didn't want him to get in trouble. And- And I mighta done it too if I hadn't wussed out." He admitted the last part softly and looked back down. Had he still been looking at James, he wouldn't have missed the proud smile that James was sporting.
"Okay, then. You're grounded. I think a week oughta do it."
Beau nodded. "Yes, sir."
"But I'll make a deal with you." Beau looked up hopefully. "You can still go on your camping trip-"
James held up his hand. "Don't celebrate just yet. You can go IF, Wesley goes with you."
"Awe, dad! Saint Wesley?!"
"Take it or leave it."
The look on Beau's face said that was the last thing he ever wanted but he knew it was as good as he was going to get so with a great sigh that made his shoulders slump forward, he nodded.
James grinned before looking back at Tommy.
"Alright, you," Tommy looked up. "Got anything to say?"
"I'm sorry I went behind your back and got my ear pierced and then tried to hide it from you."
"Apology accepted. But I hope you know that there's no way in the world that I'm letting you keep that in. And I think a solid three weeks of hanging around the house will do you some good."
"Yes, sir." He gingerly touched his ear, "I think I'm mostly just sorry that I ever let a thirteen year old pierce my ear in the first place."
This was news to James who turned back to his youngest.
"You did what?!" He bellowed. "No wonder it's infected!"
Beau took this as his cue to leave, for real this time.
"Hey, I just did what I was told! He's the one who passes out at the sight of needles. Maybe if he wasn't such a baby about it, he coulda done it himself!"
Beau took off towards the door, barely escaping without getting caught by his dad, and ran all the way downstairs to the kitchen.
Just another average night at the Anderson house.