A subtle kiss that no one sees,
a broken wrist and a big trapeze
- Read My Mind, The Killers
It started with a broken wrist.
Your relationship with the Valeska twins was one of great complexity littered with moments of confusion, aspects of misguided trust, and interwoven tidbits of love over the years. Jeremiah and Jerome Valeska became your firsts for many things: kisses, dates, sex... It was strange to think that it all began with a broken wrist.
Well, a broken wrist, a chat in the woods, and a bottle of whiskey.
Life on the carny-circus circuit was still new to you. You'd been used to living here and there. It came with the territory of having two parents who longed for fresh soil after planting their roots somewhere new every few years. An aerialist mom and a dad with a knack for fire-eating were enough to catch the attention of the ringmaster for Haly's Circus. Next thing you knew, your dad quit his day job, your mom ended her contract with a performance group, and they bought a silver travel trailer. Three weeks into being stuffed into it, traveling around the States, your mom started the coaching.
She specialized in silks, a perfect accompaniment to the Flying Graysons according to the ringmaster, and she thought it'd be a great idea for you to return to the art. You agreed if for no other reason than to prove that you did not give up on it. You'd preferred tumbling. A month later, you were performing alongside your mother during a small section of her act.
Of course, during your third month in Haly's, this would happen.
You'd done the tricks loads of times, only this time your act consisted of a slip, a crack, stinging, and blinding pain. Your grip faltered. Your head wasn't in it. The silks may have shielded part of the audience from the nastiness of the fall, but they didn't grant you the grace to save yourself from it. The circus healer set the bones as best she could, splint and wrapped your wrist, and sent you on your way. The ringmaster made it clear this would not exempt you from performing. You would be tumbling as entertainment to the people in line, as many one-handed and no-handed tricks as you could tolerate.
Later that night, due to the pain, you snuck out of the trailer and attempted to walk it off in the woods. That's when you ran into them. Two red-headed kids about your age who looked very much alike, unless the aching surging through your fingers and up your forearm impacted your eyesight, standing in the woods, one on top of a log laughing, the other arms folded. The one on the log had a bottle of something dark that smelled sharp, the other wore glasses and chided that someone, she, would be pissed and he'd get beat again. The one on the log lifted the bottle to take a defiant sip, his eyes on you the entire time until he stopped. He screwed the cap back on and held out the bottle, eyebrows lifted in a silent question. You stepped closer.
"It'll take the edge off," he said. That you know you wanna tone drawing you in. "Have it all."
"Jerome, stop!" The other whispered, his teeth clenched tightly. "Neither of you should be drinking!"
"She can make her own decisions, Miah." Jerome kept his eyes locked on you. "And I didn't drink any of it, you know that. The bitch drinks enough for both of us."
"Don't call our mother that!"
"You know she deserves it."
The one called Miah made a face as if his brother had a point and he didn't want to admit it. "Just...just give me the bottle. I might be able to get it back before she realizes it's gone."
"No. She doesn't need it back...Splits, here, needs it more."
"She doesn't need alcohol."
"Of course she does. It'll relax her and make her hurt less. You saw that fall—they didn't even take her to town for a real doctor. Negligent fuckers."
"Because Haly is a tightwad. But what if they gave her pills? She shouldn't have alcohol."
Jerome broke eye contact with you for the first time since you'd stumbled upon them. His smile slowly faltered. "Jeremiah..."
You looked down at your broken right wrist and held out your left hand. "I haven't had pills. Mostly ice. If it's not better by morning, the ringmaster says he'll allow me to go to the doctor. They put a leather strap in my mouth for me to bite on when they set it."
The twins locked their attention on you. Jeremiah seemed disturbed yet slightly intrigued at your experience while Jerome's grin returned wider than before. You took another step toward them and could see them clearly now. One in a plain t-shirt and jeans, the other in a tank top and shorts. Freckles littered their skin. They both parted their hair on the left, though they seemed to be slightly different shades red. The longer you looked, the more you realized it was possibly because Jeremiah kept his neat and slicked by product that made his ginger a bit darker, while Jerome's was prone to wildness and stuck up at random ends making it as fiery as his personality. You could feel the gaze of their greens start to burn you and cradled your wrist closer to your stomach out of nerves.
"Um, I'll just take a quick sip," you added. "I-I don't know if it'll help...I don't want to drink all of it. Then you can get it back to your mom so she won't be mad."
"Well, Splits, the more you drink the numb-er you get."
"More like the dumber you get," mumbled Jeremiah.
"Ignore him. He wants to be Mr. Perfect. Likes to act like he's such a big kid or an adult or somethin' when we're only eight."
You nodded. So they were your age. You'd seen them around but never had a chance to talk to the Valeska twins. Their mother, Lila, was the snake dancer and something about her scared you. You always heard yelling from the trailer during the day or moaning at night. One time you thought you saw Mr. Lloyd and Ms. Valeska leave his tent together. You tried not to mention it to anyone because the Lloyd and Grayson kids were the only ones you talked to, even though they weren't exactly your friends. They spent more time fighting with each other around their families and laughing and playing when the adults were busy than they did wanting to be around you. It didn't bother you much. You were busy with practices and didn't want to get caught up in the horse drama between the two families. Hopefully, finally, you would have two friends in the Valeska twins.
Jeremiah huffed. "You just don't like that I'm smarter than you."
"No, you're not!" Jerome tossed the bottle toward his brother, who fumbled for it, before extending his hand to you. "I've seen ya perform but don't think we met...I'm Jerome Valeska. This is Jeremiah." Realizing you couldn't shake his hand, Jerome stepped forward and gently tapped his forehead against yours twice. "They say close friends bump heads at least once. Now we're super close." He played an invisible drum. "Ba-dum-shh!"
It wasn't super funny, but you found yourself laughing anyway.
With a roll of his eyes, Jeremiah adjusted his glasses. "Hi. As he said, I'm Jeremiah Valeska."
"My baby brother doesn't always like my jokes," said Jerome.
"He admits it! And who escaped first?" Jerome put a hand to his ear and leaned toward his brother. When Jeremiah glared, he bent back and laughed. "Oh, that's right. It was me! How much older am I? It's okay to have been a stubborn slowpoke from the start. Tell her you weren't always number one."
"I'm not gonna say or tell her shit just because you tell me to."
"Ooh! I made ya crumble! I love it when you curse, baby bro. See, Splits! He's a kid just like us. Stop being so unfun, Miah. You know it makes my body hurt."
There was a flicker of something half-sad, half-amused that ran across Jeremiah's face. He shoved his brother. "Shut up."
"Why don't ya make me?" Jerome moved beside his twin.
The sight of them standing toe-to-toe with their angry looks sent a chill over your arms. It felt weird but right seeing them close together. They had the same fight face, same scowl, same set jaw, same head bent down, same eyes glaring up near the top of their sockets. But they were different. It was like a wacky mirror. You wondered if Jeremiah made himself seem opposite on purpose.
Jerome tilted his head and taunted, "Make me, Miah. Why don't you make me, Miah? Make. Me. Miah!"
"You don't want me to, J." From his tone alone, you knew Jeremiah's warning wasn't without reason.
"Why not?" Jerome drawled. It was clear he already knew and the thought of Jeremiah showing him was why he was trying to tease it out of him.
You cleared your throat. To offer a distraction, you introduced yourself. Hopefully, now that Jerome knew your name, he'd stop calling you Splits. Then again, you were starting to like it. You turned to the quieter twin. "Um, I bet you ignore him a lot, don't you?"
Jeremiah's expression softened as he nodded, another roll of annoyance working through his eyes. "A little. His high energy….Um, it's nice to meet you officially. I hope we can be friends if my brother hasn't bullied you away."
"We can be. He hasn't done anything to make me not want to be friends with you two." You looked at Jerome and shrugged. "I like a good clown."
"Good? Nah, you're talking to the best, Splits! But still," Jerome bowed, "so glad you noticed."
Jeremiah's eyes went from his brother to the sky to the ground. You began to wonder how often he rolled his eyes when in the company of his twin. "I'm sorry you've had such a poor introduction to Haly's."
"Oh, this?" You lifted your wrist. "It's okay. I'm a leftie anyway. I figured it would happen eventually. When I was younger, I fell doing a flip and my lip needed stitches. Now, um, are you going to let me have a sip, or not? My hand hurts."
Jerome laughed. "I like her already."