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devil on my shoulder

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First time Tom brings up the idea of getting separated is when Barry twists his ankle on the Head. They're thirteen. They'd been running amok in the woods around the island for hours, like they always are in the afternoons. Roberta waits for them to return for dinner until the sun's half-set behind the mountains, the sky bleeding crimson. Father's already finished eating by then. He retires into his workshop; Roberta treks out on foot in her Wellingtons. The drizzle soaks through the hood of her coat within the first ten minutes.

She finds them because they're yelling. Barry's voice carries further, sinks into the surrounding underbrush, rushed and indistinct. When she finally gets a good visual, she sees the two of them lying in the mud, Barry's leg spread out at an odd angle against the root of a huge oak tree, his trousers hiked up around his knees. The skin at his right ankle is going an angry purple.

They don't notice her. Barry's laughing, now, and Tom's face twists as he balls a hand in Barry's soaked shirt.

"I don't even want this," he says, the first thing she's able to hear clearly. "I don't want you. I wish I could—" He licks his lips, blinks rain out of his eyes. "I wish I could just get up and walk away. From you."

Barry's mouth stops laughing, but his eyes don't.

 

 

The doctor from the mainland stops by on the next ferry. He says Roberta can keep using the ice packs. Barry would be all right soon.

They can't leave the house for three weeks. Part of it is the sprained ankle, and doctor's orders, but part of it is also Tom, who refuses to budge whenever Barry so much as tugs on his shoulder.

"Not gonna let me up to go to the loo anymore either?" Roberta hears him say from their room, two mornings after the accident.

"We've a bedpan for a reason," Tom mumbles.

There's a rustle of bedclothes and the scrape of the pan across the wooden floorboards. Roberta busies herself with putting the dishes away in their cupboards, and the next thing she hears is a loud thump, and Barry's giggle arcing high against the beams in the ceiling.

"Fuck," Tom yelps.

"Sorry, Tommy," Barry's wheezing. When Roberta comes in through the door the bedpan's been upended, her brothers are sprawled out on the floor, Tom's pant leg soiled, and Barry's entire face is red with mirth.

She helps them hobble into the shower. The bedroom floor is still wet with soap and water when they get out, and they collapse in a heap on the sofa, Barry trying to wind his arm around Tom's neck and Tom shoving him away as far as he can. As far as two people conjoined at the ribs can move away from each other, and somehow Barry's bad ankle gets twisted wrong in between two of the cushions. He goes very still, mouth twisting in a grimace of pain, and Tom freezes with him.

"I hate being stuck in here," Barry says, voice rasping out of his throat.

"I know," Tom says. "Don't push me into a tree next time." When Barry reaches out for him again, slowly, gingerly, Tom lets the arm descend. Barry's hand curls around the slim jut of Tom's shoulder, and his face turns into the line of Tom's neck, melts into his side. Tom's arm disappears behind Barry's waist, and it almost looks, for a blurring second, as if Barry is nothing more than a dangling puppet attached to his arm, a boy-sized plaything fastened to his wrist.