Things aren't a whole lot better after graduation, except for how they kind of are. Mom's not dying of lung cancer anymore, for one. For two, Dad's been going back to work. He's still popping pills but only the ones he's supposed to be popping, as far as anyone knows—since he's not sitting on the park bench all day long, Tim figures it's pretty likely that he's doing the right thing as far as the pills go. Penny's around for the whole summer because of Vern, which pretty much just means that she and Vern have horrifying sex in every room of the house at all hours of the day and night.
"So your sister, she's really cool," Vern says to Tim one night while really high. Vern starts pretty much every conversation he has with Tim that way, so Tim just lets him get it over with.
"Your mom's really cool, too," Vern adds, which is new.
"Yeah, I know," Tim says, a little wary of where this is going, but then Vern tells him about the time he hit on Tim's mom in the grocery store and then bailed her out of jail.
"No shit?" Tim says.
"Scout's honor." Vern holds up the wrong fingers for the Boy Scout sign.
"Huh," Tim says. Mom smoking pot actually explains a whole lot about his family.
Dad's been doing well enough that when Mom lights a bonfire in the middle of June, Dad goes and gets Matt's clothes and throws them on the fire without prompting. The rubber from Matt's sneakers and swim caps stinks like something awful, but they all stand around the fire until sometime after four in the morning, bawling and not talking. Even Penny cries a little. It's probably just smoke in her eyes, but it still counts.
They still don't really talk about Matt, but at least they aren't spending all of their time not talking about Matt. It's an improvement. Tim will take it. By the end of June, everything's starting to feel a whole lot closer to normal.
Except for the fact that six months, twenty-nine and a half days ago, Tim had sex with his next door neighbor, who is also his best friend, who is also his brother.
That part isn't normal at all.
Tim doesn't actually write about it in his diary—for one, it's not a diary, it's a notebook full of music; and even if it were a diary, he wouldn't have ever written about it, not even before Mom and Dad both tried to read it—but if he did, he would write something like:
Seven months and one day ago, Kyle and I did E, made out for an hour, and sucked each other off. The next morning I pretended not to remember what happened, but actually I was already pretty sober by the time I had Kyle's cock in my mouth. I've been jerking off thinking about it ever since. I tried to stop after I found out we were brothers, but that lasted about two days tops. Basically, I'm screwed.
But he doesn't write about it in his diary, and he's sure as hell not going to say any of that out loud.
Tim and Kyle are talking again now, but not about anything in particular. They're both on the lawn crew again for the summer.
"I scored some Vicodin," Kyle announces in the back of the truck, holding out his palm. There are four pills on it. "You want?"
Tim's still got a couple dozen at home in an unopened bottle from when he broke his leg—the last refill of the prescription. He'd been saving it up, meaning to pass it on to Kyle, but then he forgot he had it, and then New Year's happened, so yeah.
"No, thanks," Tim says.
Kyle stares at the pills for a long second like he's not entirely sure how they ended up in his hand in the first place, then sticks them back in his pocket.
Mowing lawns completely sucks.
It's a dry, sunny summer, at least, so there aren't a ton of lawns to mow. Tim spends most of his time sitting on the porch swing with a glass of lemonade sweating on the armrest. Sometimes he spikes it with vodka—Dad's still got that huge stash of booze that's supposed to be good because it's expensive only it actually tastes like shit—but more often he just drinks it plain. He always brings his notebook out there, but he's not writing a lot of music these days. For a while there he had plenty to say, but ever since he played that one piece at graduation and talked to the family afterwards, he hasn't written anything else about Matt. It's like he's said all he needs to say there, and now he's done.
Now, whenever he tries to write music, all he gets is Kyle. He's got one dead abusive brother, and another brother whom he's slept with, and he's never written music about anything but them. It's pretty fucked up. If he's alone with his thoughts long enough, he always ends up back there.
Penny comes out back and finds Tim in the saucer one night in the middle of July. It's hot enough that the crickets are still chirping after three a.m. She lies down next to him and passes him a joint. There are maybe three hits left before he burns his fingers off.
"So where are you going to college next year?" Penny says.
Tim lets the question hang while he takes his three hits then carefully grinds the roach out on the edge of the saucer. "I'm not," Tim says. "I'm not going."
Tim can hear Penny cocking her head beside him, or that she would be if they weren't both staring up at the sky. "Huh," Penny says. "Why not?"
"Forgot to apply," Tim says, and they're both high enough by then that it's the funniest fucking thing Tim's ever said in his life.
"You forgot to apply to college?" Mom says over dinner. "Did we not ever say anything when the deadlines were coming up?"
"How did this happen?" Dad says.
Tim shrugs. "We all had other stuff on our minds, I guess," he says, and waits patiently while Dad remembers that he spent the majority of nine months mixing his prescriptions and zoning out on a park bench.
"Huh," Dad says. "What are we going to do now?"
"I can just apply for next year," Tim says. "Get a job until then."
Mom frowns. "There's also community college, you know. Marge was saying that's where Kyle's going, and I know they're still taking applications for the fall. You should go talk to him."
Tim breathes out through his nose. "Sure," he says.
Kyle's mom is home vacuuming, so Tim and Kyle work on the application in the kitchen. The sound of Kyle's mom moving around upstairs makes Tim breathe easier.
"They pretty much just want to know if you have a credit card number and a pulse," Kyle says, sliding a printout and a ballpoint pen across the table. "I think you can even make your mark if you can't sign."
The whole application is two sheets of paper long and doesn't include a single essay. Steph spent most of last fall complaining about the Princeton application and its eight personal statements. The hardest part of the Larchmont Community College application is Tim's social security number; he doesn't remember if it ends in a 9 or a 6. Tim's already filled in his mom's credit card number; he's had that memorized since he was nine.
Kyle orders an SAT report and a transcript for him online and also addresses the envelope. "You've got to lick it yourself," Kyle says, handing him a stamp. Tim briefly imagines grabbing Kyle's hand and sucking on his fingers the exact same way he remembers sucking on Kyle's dick, with his lips curled to cover his teeth and using long strokes of his tongue—but then he catches himself and just takes the stamp. Their fingers still brush. Even that goes straight to Tim's cock.
They stick the letter in Tim's mailbox and put the flag up. "Well, congrats," Kyle says, leaning back against the mailbox. "We're going to be college students."
"We don't know that for sure yet," Tim says.
Kyle pushes off the mailbox. "Tim, they would let my dog in."
"You don't even have a dog," Tim says.
"That's my point. We're in. You want to celebrate or something?" Kyle looks hopeful for a minute.
"I can't, sorry," Tim says, heading up the sidewalk. "I told my mom I'd help her with dinner. Thanks for helping with the application."
"Sure, anytime," Kyle says.
Tim doesn't turn back, but he can feel Kyle's eyes on him all the way into the house.
"Boy, you're interested in cooking all of a sudden," Mom says. "Not that I'm complaining, but I mean—two weeks in a row of helping with dinner every night, it's a little unexpected. Are you sure you aren't coming down with something?"
"I'm fine," Tim says. "How small do you want these tomatoes?"
Mom snaps her fingers. "I know what it is. You want to learn to cook because you're going to be away from home in the fall."
Tim nearly slices his fingers. "Huh?"
"Geez, you could have just said you wanted to learn how to cook," Mom says.
"No, I mean—since when am I going to be away from home?"
"You thought that just because you were going to be at community college that you weren't going to be living away from home? That's the whole point of college, kiddo," Mom says, ruffling his hair. "You go off by yourself for a few years and learn to be your own person."
"But LCC is only like twenty minutes' drive from here," Tim says.
Mom looks at him for a long time like she's peeling layers away. "Your dad and I have to learn to be our own people ones of these years, too, you know."
Tim's face is trying to move in wildly different directions; he's laughing and getting choked up all at once. He looks down at the cutting board. "About these tomatoes."
"A little smaller than that," Mom says. "Here, like this."
Tim's not entirely sure how it happens, but somehow that turns into his mom talking to Kyle's mom, and then he's signing a lease to share an apartment with Kyle starting August first. It's a terrible idea. Tim's known it was a terrible idea from the start, but he's also known for a long time that he can be perfectly well aware that something is a terrible idea from the start and still go all the way through with it: ecstasy on New Year's, case in point.
That doesn't stop Tim from getting out as soon as they're done signing the lease. Mom's saying something about Kyle and Marge coming over for dinner and Tim is right the fuck out of there. He drives all the way to the waterfall three towns over and spends a couple hours staring at the water crashing on the rocks before he realizes he's just made himself into the biggest tortured artist cliché in the world and has to hate himself for being so incredibly, unbelievably lame.
At least when he gets back, Kyle and Marge are nowhere to be seen. Mom's asleep over his plate of cold food.
"It was a good party," Dad says from the doorway. "That boy from next door—Kyle—he's a nice boy."
Remembering Kyle's name at all is a big step for Dad. "Yeah, I know," Tim says.
"I think you'll like rooming with him."
"Sure," Tim says.
"That's a big part of college, you know. Roommates—they're a big part of it."
"Okay," Tim says. He's itching to get past Dad and up the stairs. He's not really sure what for; he's way too hyped to sleep.
"You're allowed to freak out about it," Dad says finally.
Tim takes a careful breath. "About what?"
"Going to college," Dad says. "I know you're not really going away yet, but it's still a big deal. I know. It's a really big change, and I just want you to know that it's okay if you need to freak out about it."
Tim catches himself before he just says okay and walks past. It's a big deal for Dad to be saying this. "Yeah," Tim says. And then: "Thanks." It's probably not everything he should say, but it's trying at least.
"Right, better get your mom upstairs," Dad says, nudging her shoulder. "Good night, son."
Dad's been making a real effort to call him 'son' lately, and in return Tim's been making a real effort to be a little less bitter. Because yeah, a couple of months can't really make up for eighteen shitty years, but Dad's trying anyway and that's better than before.
Tim spends a lot of time lying awake in bed that summer. He's got a window that faces Kyle's bedroom. When they were in the fourth grade they learned Morse code and Tim and Kyle used it to talk between their houses, flashing signals in the dark. Tim spends the summer not looking at that window because he keeps thinking that if he looks over there Kyle will be behind it with the flashlight again. Tim has no idea what words he'd be spelling out, but they certainly wouldn't be anything he wants to see.
Tim still goes to the high school parties sometimes. They were really more Steph's scene than his but force of habit and a whole lot of liquor keep him going back. If he plays it just right and gets a good enough buzz going, he can usually trick himself into thinking the high school jackasses are funny instead of just absolutely unbearably dumb.
Tonight's not one of those nights. Tim drank too much too early and after that there was really nothing to do but keep on drinking, so it's a little after eleven and he's all kinds of hammered—totally a sitting duck when Steph walks up and sits on the couch armrest.
"Hey, Tim. I haven't seen you in a while. How's it going?"
"Fine," Tim says. The couch feels really good, and also moving would require way too much effort. "The beer's great. You?"
"I'm good," she says. She makes it sound like he's supposed to be apologizing. "Really good. I'm heading to Columbia in the fall, did I tell you? I'm so excited about it. What about you?"
"Larchmont Country Club," Tim says. "For a year or so. After that I'm thinking MIT."
Steph just lets that one slide right past her. "So how's Kyle doing?"
Tim's pulse speeds up. "Fine, I guess. Why?"
"No reason," Steph says, and for a second he thinks that she knows everything: about New Year's, about the fact that Tim's been jerking off thinking about Kyle for more than seven months, about the fact that they're brothers. He's being ridiculous. It takes him that long to realize that the note he was hearing in her voice was bitterness.
"If it makes it any better," Tim says, "I'm sorry I didn't love you."
Steph frowns. "It doesn't really," she says. "But thanks." She looks a little less unhappy as she leaves.
One night toward the end of July Tim drinks a bunch of wine at dinner and gets tired enough that he actually passes out around ten o'clock. He wakes up in the middle of the night to a quiet thunking against the wall near his window. He jolts awake, waits until he hears another thunk, then goes to the window. Kyle's on the lawn looking up with him. Tim was pretty sure of that even before he woke up.
Kyle's already over at the back door by the time Tim opens it. "What do you want?" Tim says.
"Happy birthday," Kyle says.
"It's the middle of the night," Tim says, rubbing at his eyes. His vision still hasn't cleared all the way from sleeping.
"Yeah, I know. But it's your birthday now," Kyle says.
"So you could have just texted me and then said it in the morning," Tim says. His vision finally clears: he sees the Hostess cupcakes in Kyle's hand.
"Oh," Kyle says. "I didn't really get you anything. But here."
Tim takes the cupcakes. The wrapper's still warm from Kyle's hand. Tim hasn't had these since elementary school when Mom used to pack them in bag lunches for field trips, but he loved them—he used to look forward to field trips just for the cupcakes. He's sort of amazed that Kyle remembered. "Thanks."
"Sure," Kyle says.
Kyle's twitchy, like he wants to bolt as badly as Tim does, so there's not a single reason in the world why Tim should say, "You want to talk a walk?"
Kyle's mouth falls open briefly. "Yeah, sure."
Tim isn't wearing shoes, and the back door clicks shut heavily in a way that means he's just locked himself out—but there's a key under the planter around front, and Larchmont's not the kind of place where he's likely to step on glass and die of gangrene, anyway.
They don't talk much while they walk, but Tim opens the cupcakes and lets Kyle take one. Kyle eats it the same way Tim always has: punching his tongue through the side to get at the filling, then eating the rest of the cupcake after. Kyle gets some of the filling on his face; Tim stares at it for so long that Kyle finally wipes it off. He looks right at Tim the whole time. Neither of them says a word.
They make a big loop through the neighborhood and end up right back at Tim's yard. Tim's not surprised; it feels like something bigger than himself is carrying him along. They go to the spinning saucer and lie down in it, Tim's whole right side pressed against the length of Kyle's left.
"Hey, Tim?" Kyle says. Tim turns to look at him; he can't stop himself. "If I tell you something, you're not going to hate me, are you?"
Kyle's already looking at his lips, so Tim doesn't say anything: he just rolls over and kisses Kyle. Kyle's mouth is sticky and tastes like the frosting from the cupcakes; and he groans and slides his tongue into Tim's mouth, his hand coming up to fit against Tim's neck just like it did on New Year's. Tim shifts so he's not leaning funny on his elbow and licks along the edge of Kyle's teeth, back toward his lips.
Finally they pull apart to breathe, lying back in the saucer. Tim lies with his back against the cool metal and quietly freaks out about the fact that he kissed his best friend, who is also his future roommate and his brother—that he did it before and that he just did it now and that he wants to do it again already. Above them the stars look just the same as they always have, always will.
First thing in the morning Tim goes over to Kyle's house. The sun's bright on the hardwood in Kyle's front hall. It couldn't be a worse time for what Tim has to say, but Tim's already over there, too late to turn back.
"My mom's at work," Kyle says when he opens the door. He says it the same way he'd say it if Tim were a UPS man who wanted Kyle's mom to sign for something, but there's a flicker of a smile behind it, and Tim almost goes along with it, almost kisses Kyle on the mouth. He knows what that feels like now. He knew before but now he's got all the details of it catalogued in his head, just how hard to push his tongue against Kyle's lips before Kyle opens his mouth.
Tim doesn't kiss Kyle, and he doesn't close the door. "So, um. You're my brother."
Kyle stares at him. "Uh, okay."
"No, I mean." Tim takes a step forward, like it'll make Kyle understand. "You're my brother. We're brothers. That kind of brother."
Kyle's eyes go huge. "Like—"
"Yeah," Tim says. "Like that." He really doesn't want to have to spell this out. Kyle's already getting it anyway; Tim can see the gears turning in his head while he figures out configurations, how it could have worked.
"Oh," Kyle says. "Oh."
That's all Tim sticks around for. He's out of there, bolting back toward his house and locking the door, even though Kyle doesn't come after him. He doesn't see Kyle again for days.
It turns out Kyle had to go out of town with his mom for a long weekend, which gives Tim way too much time to think through everything and get his head all turned around. But by then it's already August first and time to move into the apartment. "Five hundred a month cheaper if it's a walk-up," Dad says on the second trip back to the car. Tim spends a while trying to think of how he's going to explain to everyone that he appreciates all their help but he really can't move in here, would they mind taking his crap right back downstairs, but by the fifth and last trip Tim's not moving anything back down those stairs, there's no chance.
Somewhere around the time he and Kyle are in the middle of assembling the futon, everyone else leaves—Tim's so busy trying not to get his hand wedged in the middle of the futon frame that he doesn't really notice they've left until it's just him and Kyle in the room, and this is where he's supposed to be living. Three nights ago he and Kyle made out in the spinning saucer until Tim got a Charlie horse in his arm from leaning on his elbow for too long, and now Kyle's looking at him from across the futon they just finished assembling.
"Tim," Kyle says. "Are you going to—is this okay?"
"I don't—" Tim starts to say, but then he gets to the far side of the futon nonetheless, so he's standing right next to Kyle. He doesn't really know what he means by it, but Kyle seems to: he pulls Tim's head down and kisses him.
Tim's going to stop; he's sure that he is until they fall onto the futon, working each others' shorts open and grabbing each others' dicks, and by then it doesn't matter anyway. He's got the same feeling as before, that this is all inevitable the same way New Year's was inevitable: there was no way he could have gotten out of that night any differently so there's no point to trying now, not when he's already got Kyle's dick in his hand.
Touching it is familiar in that Tim knows he's touched Kyle's dick before but the weight of it in his hand is still new; Kyle's groan and the way he claws at the mattress when he comes are new. Tim comes just after Kyle does, clenching his teeth. They get come all over their shorts and the mattress and also, somehow, the floor, and afterwards they just stare, wide-eyed, at each other, flopped back on the futon, staring at the edges of the glow-in-the-dark stars someone forgot to take down when they moved out, just barely visible against the white paint of the ceiling.
Tim keeps his eyes on the stars. "This is so weird."
"Only if we make it weird," Kyle says.
"We're brothers," Tim says.
"Yeah, you told me." Kyle props himself up on his arm and looks down at Tim. "It doesn't have to matter. I mean, it does, but it doesn't, you know? We can still have this. If you want to."
Only if he wants to. Tim takes a long moment to look at Kyle and breathe and try to think, but the only thing he can think about is what Mom said when he asked her if he was in love with Steph—if he wasn't sure then he wasn't. Now, he doesn't have to ask. He's sure.
"Okay," Tim says finally, swallowing. "I mean, yeah. Okay."
Kyle touches his fingers to Tim's jaw. "Okay."
It's pretty fucked up that Tim's kissing his best friend, who's also his roommate, who's also his brother, but he doesn't care. He can have this, and he's going to take it.