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Getting Dirty

By:Mia Storm

omorrow night to say goodbye.”

“Surprised he didn’t have to be back sooner for training,” I say, popping the tab on my Coke.

“Guess his coach decided they’ve earned winter break off after winning that tournament last month.”

My brother and I could be the same person…if I was two years older and a six foot four guy. We look just alike, with Dad’s wavy espresso hair, Mom’s amber eyes, and skin that doesn’t tan no matter how much time we spend in the sun—which is a lot, considering we both play water polo. Marcus graduated valedictorian of his class last year, but his focus was always more on athletics. He’s on a full-ride water polo scholarship at UCLA, which he chose because they consistently rank at the top of their conference. “That tournament” they won last month was the NCAA Championship. It was a huge deal, televised and everything. But I don’t think Mom really gets it.

The brains, Marcus and I can’t really take too much credit for. Mom is a biochemical engineer and Dad is a nuclear physicist. They both have multiple degrees, Mom’s from Brown and Stanford, and Dad’s from Harvard and Cornell. They met at Platinum Biomedical, where they both work. Which makes sense, because in addition to the fact they’re both cripplingly socially awkward, work is all either of them ever do. They’re out the door at the crack of dawn, before I’m even up for school, and never home before eight or nine at night. From the time we were six weeks old, Marcus and I were raised by the nice ladies at Marie’s House of Discovery and Day Care Center.

Marie had been a kindergarten teacher for nine years before she became unbearably frustrated with the “one size fits all” approach to teaching in public schools. She quit so she could open a learning center and do her own thing. And because she was a total ‘60s hippy throwback, her own thing involved a lot of self-discovery. (Thus, the House of Discovery.) From the time we were old enough to talk, we sat in circles and discussed our feelings every morning. Where public schools suspended kids for touching each other, at Marie’s it was encouraged. (I’m pretty sure Marcus got his first hand job from Uma Newman before we aged out of the after school program at the end of fifth grade.) But where Marie’s true gift lay was in discovering each kid’s strengths and playing to them. Where Marcus’s and my IQs might have been a gift from our parents, Marie is the one who nurtured those synapses to form and multiply. She made learning exciting.

After fifth grade, Marcus and I took care of each other. I don’t think either of us were ever really aware of what triggered our drive to overachieve, but we fed off each other. Pushed each other. When we were little, it might have been our parents’ attention we craved, but as we got older, we found out each other’s was enough.

“Where is he?” I ask, just now realizing Marcus’s car was gone from the curb when I came in.

“Out with Nathan. I think he’s staying over there.” Her brow creases. “Or maybe Nate’s staying here. Don’t remember what he said.”

My stomach does a somersault. I’ve managed to avoid Nate the entire winter break. He and Marcus have been out partying for most of it, but I’m still surprised I’ve made it this far without stumbling into him in the bathroom or whatever. But there’s no way I can avoid him for the rest of my life. Since Marcus and Nate were in elementary school, Nate’s spent more time here than at his own house. The three of us have always been tight. I don’t want to screw that up because he’s weird about fucking me. If he’s here tonight, I’ll talk to him. We need to clear the air, or else things will only get weirder.

“I’m heading up,” I say, grabbing my Coke and slinging my bag over my shoulder. “I’ve got a ton of homework.”

“’Night, honey,” she says without looking up from her puzzle.

This is how it’s always been in my house. Just going through the motions. Mom’s obligated to love me and Marcus. Dad’s just calling it in.

When I get to my room, I spend a few hours working through my calculus and history homework, then read the recently published part four of Jonathan Livingston Seagull for senior English. My teacher, Mr. Bates is an existentialist and the head of our local Transcendental Meditation Society chapter. I wasn’t too sure about his reading list at first, but now I’m interested in checking out more of Richard Bach’s work. After a quick Google search, I decide to ask Mr. Bates about The Bridge Across Forever tomorrow, then pull Don Juan from my bag and crack it open.

At the stroke of midnight, same as every other night, the TV clicks off downstairs and Mom wakes Dad and shuffles him across the family room to their bedroom next to the kitchen. It’s an hour later when my eyelids get heavy and the words on the page stop making sense. I pull myself up and head to the bathroom to get ready for bed. I’m just padding back to my room when I hear Marcus and Nate slam through the front door, laughing and wrestling, based on the sound of things crashing downstairs.

Heavy bodies start smashing and banging up the stairs, a slurry of insults like “suck my fat cock” and “bite me” coming from the melee. My brother and his best friend slam into the wall on the landing with a loud thud that shakes the floor under my feet. Nate has Marcus in a headlock, but Marcus has Nate’s knee cinched over his shoulder. I can’t believe they’re making any progress up the stairs at all. What progress they are making is slow, so I have plenty of time to duck into my room before they see me. But I don’t. I wait near my door as they fight their way to the top.

“There she is!” my brother yells, letting go of Nate and lowering his shoulder as he charges toward me. I don’t even have time to get out of the way before he takes my feet right out from under me and has me hiked over his shoulder with my ass in the air. I can smell the stale cigarettes on his T-shirt as I hang over his back. I’m sure he w