the sound of the tv on the news channel played softly while the neighbor’s lawnmower roared and then proceeded to do its purpose. the soothing humming of amanda stern filled the quiet living room of the family’s little home. connor and richard sit in the dining table, eating breakfast miss stern cooked for them. connor was feasting on handfuls of dry oatmeal and richard was drinking coffee that he managed to brew without miss stern realizing in time. usually she would never let him indulge in the caffeinated beverage but ever since he’d hit the age of 16, she gave up in trying to snatch the mugs away.
“connor, why don’t you just eat the oatmeal in a bowl like a normal human?” richard cringed when his almost lookalike drops from crumbs on the table from his hand and mouth.
“i’m not like other girls, richard. i’m quirky, you don’t have the right to make decisions for me.” connor smirked as he proceeded to intentionally drop a couple more oatmeal on the table and even spilling some on the tiles. “plus, you shouldn’t be talking, you aren’t even eating breakfast.”
“coffee gets me through the day just fine, food only slows me down.” richard eyed connor with a blank look and acts much more superior.
“suit yourself but at least eat an apple.” connor rolled his eyes but has a sympathetic frown on his face. richard didn’t like being sympathized with, he similarizes it with pity.
“what are you, my doctor?” richard furrowed his eyebrows as he bit at connor. richard never really focused on expressions while his brother was beyond overdramatic at just about anything and everything.
“just eat something, richie.” connor pops the last handful of oatmeal into his mouth and then sits up to wash the bowl, which wasn’t really dirty to begin with but miss stern will throw a fit if connor made anyone reuse a oatmeal-smelled bowl. richard scolded him once for leaving his finished cereal bowl back in the cabinet.
“pass me the strawberries then.” richard gives in and follows connor to the sink to wash his coffee mug.
“you know that strawberries won’t get you through the day, right?” connor sighs as he opened the fridge to find a clear plastic slotted basket full of strawberries ripe for consumption. connor grabbed it and popped a berry in his mouth before handing it richard who was drying his hands.
“you ate a total of eleven handfuls of oatmeal without using a spoon and only oatmeal that's without any other nutritional value. you can’t be talking.”
“what do you know about nutritional value?” connor grinned as richard was about to walk away before miss stern’s voice picked up from the recliner she was occupied on.
“boys! quiet down.” miss stern increases the volume of the tv and listens carefully. richard and connor make their way to the living room as well and take a glance of what’s going on.
“—eems to have a robbery at a nearby convenience store, seven-eleven, the police had yet to find the armed suspect. no one was hurt, thankfully. the thief had been reported to have stolen money, cigarettes, and tobacco.”
“oh god, i hope johnny is okay.” miss stern worries and starts fidgeting with her fingers idly.
“you mean one of the employees at the store?” connor asked curiously and kept his eyes on the tv.
“indeed. i visited mr. chen a few days ago and he had just gotten divorced and surely didn’t need more things on his plate. i should come by again.” miss stern gets up from her recliner and walks to the kitchen to find anything to gift johnny. “maybe i should bake cookies…”
connor kept watching the news, the interviewer was asking an old police lieutenant questions about the robbery and how they were going to catch the thief. the security cameras managed to get a pixelated outline of the robber. they assumed a male with a dark red beanie and a puffy black leather jacket. the man was armed but wore a black bandana to cover his face. the police couldn’t identify more than that.
while connor was stuck in a trance with the tv, richard loudly bites a strawberry and connor turns his head annoyed but it vanishes as his face lights up. “should i be a police officer?”
richard almost choked on his strawberry but manages to cough and finish swallowing. “you want to be a police officer? don’t you know how dangerous that could be?”
“i understand, but i don’t want anyone to get hurt. mr. chen at the convenience store could’ve gotten hurt! i bet it’ll be a piece of cake to get into police academy.” connor huffed and looked at miss stern for support but she was too busy making cookie dough to notice. they can talk about the topic another time.
richard shakes his head and stares at connor with a plead in his icy blue eyes, which are entirely different from connor’s brown big ones. “i really hope you’ll be right on that.”
“shut up, i’m just considering it. i’m still seventeen, i have enough time to think it over.” connor crosses his arms and falls onto the couch with a cushioned thud. “you don’t have a clue on what you’ll be when you grow up anyways so, right now, i’m better than you.”
“you’re worse than me in many ways but for your information, i do have a clue.” richard pouts but you could barely see it.
“and what’s that?” connor smirks and waits for richard to speak up.
“i—“ richard started. “i have no clue.”
“how about i allow you to follow in my dreams too. we could be partners in crime.” connor finger guns and winks. richard’s disgusted look would’ve gotten connor to burst out laughing if it weren’t for the pillow that was thrown to his face.
“that’s not what partners in crime mean but i would consider your offer when we graduate.” richard means it genuinely. he wouldn’t want to be alone in the outside world to figure out whatever to survive by himself.
“you’ll find something you’ll be decent at!” connor throws the pillow back but richard catches it. after a second of smirking and pouting, the smell of baked almond cookies bounced around the room. hunger was really setting in now..., richard self-deprecates.
“okay, i’ll be visiting mr. chen for a while so don’t burn down the house or get kidnapped,” miss stern fast-walks over to richard and connor to give them both a kiss on their foreheads, richard gave an uncomfortable look and connor smiles back at miss stern and waves her off. “i’ll be back soon and when that happens you both better be sleeping.” after that, the woman left clutching her cardigan close to her chest and the basket of the vegan cookies.
“she didn’t offer us any cookies…” connor gets up from the couch and heads to the back door.
“connor, if she did the cookies would be gone.” richard follows suit after connor. they go outside every once in a while, usually to talk about private matters or just to joke around.
“you don’t know that.” connor opens the door and leaves it open knowing richard had been behind him.
“i know everything.”
“says the person who almost ran over pedestrians while learning how to drive.” connor laughed at himself and drops himself on the playground swing.
“they got in my way, they should’ve known that there was a car coming.” richard grabs the chains and starts rocking himself too. “you have made plenty more mistakes than me.”
“we don’t talk about that.” connor glared at richard but with a small smile on his face. it took away the feeling of intimidation, which richard never felt whenever he was around connor.
“what? like how you kept falling whenever you mopped the floors?” richard smiles, for the first time today. connor rolls his eyes and swings himself high off the ground.
“when i said misty copeland was my idol for a day, i meant it, now let’s drop the subject.” connor said with a smile on his face.
“i will always bring this up.”
“then i’ll bring up the time you basically fell in love with—“ connor stops talking and glances at the yelling coming from the other side of the fence surrounding their backyard.
“—OOTER! come back, baby! it was just an accident, i swear!” a voice that sounded like a male teenager but much higher pitched, like the stranger was talking in a baby voice. connor and richard made eye contact, both looking as confused as the other. connor got up from the swing and to the fence.
“are you okay?” connor assures and waits for a reply that he definitely got, connor must’ve surprised him a bit.
“oh! uh, i’m fine. just my cat ran away thanks to two dumbasses.” connor gives a smile even though the person on the other side couldn’t see it, of course richard could though as he gives connor an eyebrow and connor telepathically shuts him up.
“how long have you’ve been looking for it?”
“just passing a couple houses.” the stranger sounded a bit out of breath, not as if he were to pass out though. “do you go to kjellberg high? i don’t think i’ve heard your voice before.”
“why would i tell you if i did?” connor sits on stacked fertilizer bags and rests his back to the brown chipped fence, waving richard to come and sit down with him. richard sighs and obliges.
“would you answer my question if i tell you who i am?” the deep voice was clearer now that connor moves closer. it was somewhat soothing but he’ll never admit that to the stranger nor with his teasing brother right next to him, keeping quiet.
“it depends on who you are.” connor smirks.
“that’s a safe enough bet. my name is markus, two of my rowdy friends scared off his cat, scooter, then i had to go after him. i go to kjellberg, i’m in my senior year so i’ll be out of his hellhole of a state soon.” connor can hear the man, markus, crumple up some paper and he can hear a pen click. “now answer my question.”
“well, you sound truthful enough. i don’t go to high school, i learn from home. my name—“ connor cuts himself off and turns to richard, he shakes his head and connor nodded. he thinks for a moment before speaking back up. “you can call me eights.”
“eights, huh? i get why you wouldn’t want to tell me your real name. i am just a stranger to you anyway. you sound smart, take this.” markus slides a sticky note through a crack in between the fence and connor takes it. it read a symbol and a quoted message, “find jericho”.
“thanks, i guess? what do you expect from me to do with this?” connor looks back at the fence, he feels a bit silly now that he might look funny talking to a fence with a soothing voice. richard didn’t seem to have an opinion on the matter though so he buries the thought.
“i hope you will be able to find us. all i can tell you is to look around. i’ll see you then, eights.” connor was about to ask again but he makes out gravel being stepped on and then markus was gone. he hears another faint “scooter?” though.
after the conversation with stranger was over, connor looked at the note and studies the strange symbol.
“may i ask why you chose eights?” richard peaks his head forward and connor turns back to lock eye contact with richard who had kept his eyebrow raised.
“october 8, 2008. don’t tell me you forgot about the day miss stern and dad got married.” connor playfully punched richard’s shoulder and got up from the bags they occupied.
“i don’t forget things.” richard rubbed his arm idly even though the punch didn’t hurt. “what are you going to about the note then?”
“obviously we’re going to find whatever jericho is.” connor placed his hands on his hips and heads to go back inside for reasons richard doesn’t know.
“where are you going then?” richard hurries off the fertilizer bags and inside like connor had done. he always goes off and does things without talking or checking with anyone first.
he followed connor to his room with a backpack already in front of him on the floor.
“i’m packing the necessaries in case markus is a kidnapper or if we get in any trouble.” connor said calmly as he zipped open his black backpack.
“so you’re bringing surgical masks?” richard asked, questions flooding his head.
“you never know, richie.” connor smiled but it soon was covered by his mask that had cartoonish dog’s snout print and pulled out another mask with a bunch of tiny little colorful robots with more little colorful shapes with a dark blue background to complete the little boy gendered product. “this is for you.”
richard eyed the mask in disbelief and offensively looked back at connor. “you expect me to wear that?” richard frowned at the childish mask and held it with two fingers and as far away from him as possible.
“of course. it’ll be funny when we pull it down and he’ll see that we both look alike.” connor’s crinkled when he turned to richard, even when his smile is hidden, richard can still sense the positive energy radiating off of the elder brother. “if you won’t wear it then at least just keep it in our bag.”
“i was planning to.” richard dropped it in the backpack with a careless expression.
“rude.” connor pouted but he knew richard couldn’t see that. he dug more into the depths of his closet and found something else. he pulled the mask down to his chin and unknowingly frowned.
“what is it?” richard walked on his knees to sit next to connor on the ground. connor leaned out and grabbed a worn black beanie to show richard who’s eyes slightly widened. “is that…?”
“i guess so… i think i took it when we were playing dress-up all those years ago.” connor sadly smiled when thinking of richard and him laughing and get all excited to dressing up like miss stern and dad only to find miss stern later scolding them for making a mess but dad just laughed it off. connor fixed the beanie and then pulled it over his head.
“it fits better now. last time it covered your eyes and you ran into the dresser.” richard attempted at comforting connor with jokes. it seemed to have done its job since he chuckled a bit.
“thanks for the embarrassing memory. dad had recorded it and posted it on facebook.” connor cringed but laughed. richard laughed for a while too.
“you’re set then?” richard got up and looked at the clock. 1:54 p.m. they had more than enough time to get back before miss stern would, as long as they didn’t run into her when coming back. connor nodded in response and pulled the backpack to hang on his shoulders. “what did you even put in there? it looks too packed to only carry my mask.”
“you’ll see.” connor hummed and went skipping out of the door.
richard got up and grabbed his keys off of the drawer and turned off the light. when he stepped out of connor’s room, the other was already waiting impatiently by the front door.
“let’s go now.” connor let open the door and stepped out, already going to the driveway. richard locked the door behind him and went after connor. connor was rushing things but he didn’t know why. the thought of seeing whoever markus really was got his curiosity spiking and he was desperate to relieve it. richard probably would think him as weird but then drained the thought. richard never judged him so connor shouldn’t be thinking so lowly of his older brother.
“let me see the note.” richard pulled his hand out and waited for connor to stick his hands into every pocket before finding it in his back pocket. he took a good look of the symbol himself and then handed it to richard.
“do we just start walking until we find it then?” connor asked, now completely unsure of what to do in the situation. are they just going to jump into this blindly? they only know markus’ name and where he goes to school but that’s about it. what is jericho anyway? is it some low-profit organization or just a group of other high schoolers? how would they even spot the symbol considering how wide their neighborhood was. it’s mostly a littered space where there’s houses but also barely anyone cleaning the place. the people who live here have to mow the grass and pick up the trash. no one could clean up all of the leaves that fall during autumn but it doesn’t mind anyone much.
“i see one.”
connor swung his head in richard’s direction with a confused and surprised look. “what? how? where?” connor started to look around everywhere until richard cut him off.
“it’s spray painted on that tree.” richard pointed to the direction of the kelsie family’s house and sure enough, one of their trees had the symbol spray painted with black paint.
“let’s follow it then! don’t just point and tell me where it was!” connor made a run for the tree across the street.
“but you’re the one who—we’re running, we’re running now, that’s fine.” richard could be heard from behind him but connor chose to ignore the irritated mumbling.
“can you spot another one?” connor smiles brighter, clearly excited about this scavenger hunt they’re having.
“just because i saw the first symbol, doesn’t mean i’ll find the next.” richard shook his head and took one glance around the corner of the street and groaned. “it’s on that fence over there.”
“you’re the best, little brother!” connor said with enough sarcastic enthusiasm and skipped over to where richard guided.
“never talk to me again.” richard jogged up to connor who haven’t reached the fence yet before he gets tackled from the other side of the corner of the sidewalk they were on.
richard heard connor yelp and a low groan coming from the attacker. connor got up from the grass and the stranger on top of him got up hastily and shoved off dirt from his clothes. the clothes the boy was wearing was a brown leather jacket and a black and gray striped sweater. his baggy black ripped jeans showed the skin underneath that had been red and scraped from the fall. his hair was brown, messy, and unkempt and it stuck to the sweat from his forehead.
richard blinked and felt his face burn. why was he burning up? was it the adrenaline or the heat? it wasn’t that hot out so it was definitely the adrenaline.
“move out of the way!” the stranger yelled and went to turn the other way but unfortunately for him, richard was blocking the path. “get out of my way.”
richard then got a better look of the rude stranger’s face. he had dark gray eyes and his hair looked even more messy from this angle. the stranger had bared his teeth and that allowed richard to see how sharp his canines were. his right eyebrow was had a little scar coming through and there was another scar that went diagonally on his lips to his chin. richard kept his eye on that for longer than he wanted. he then saw red coming from the top of his forehead and only tiny drips coming down to his scarred eyebrow. what stuck out was the red scar on his nose. it didn’t look recent nor was it old. richard’s growing curiosity for the stranger wasn’t helping him in this situation since richard didn’t notice him moving forwards and shoulder checking him.
richard’s mind then snapped out of the trance and he grabbed the kid’s arm without thinking.
“what the fuck? get the hell off!” the stranger tried pulling back his arm but richard didn’t let go so easily. instead, richard pulled the kid in close until he could hear his breathing.
“apologize to my brother.” richard pierced his eyes into the other stranger’s. he had gotten the color of his eyes wrong. they weren’t gray but a dim and dark shade of green. richard’s expression must’ve changed when the stranger instinctively kicked richard in the shin causing him to groan and sink down.
“don’t you dare touch me!” the stranger was about to stumble back a bit when connor came out and caught him. the kid slumped down and was liquid in connor’s arms. connor made a noise of disgust and accidentally dropped him to the grass bed. richard got up and stood over the kid who was rubbing his head harshly and groaning incoherent mumbles.
“i didn’t mean to drop you there. you just surprised me, i’m sorry.” connor bent down and tried helping the kid back up but his hand was swatted away and the stranger got up by himself.
“i don’t wanna hear it, dogface.” dogface.
“excuse me? i’ll have you know that—“ connor was cut off by calls and yelling coming from where the kid had came from.
“how the fuck can he run so goddamn fast?” a female voice cursed.
“he’s on the track team, what did you expect?” a deep and masculine voice.
before richard could break off in a run, three teenagers showed up and it had to be bad timing since richard was on the ground huddled around the suspect they might’ve been looking for and connor had his hands shielding around the kid.
“what happened here?” a familiar voice now. deep and soothing and frantic. connor whipped his head up and saw two very pretty eyes staring right back at him. they weren’t the same. one was green and the other had been blue. they were so beautiful. “who are you?”
connor recognizes the voice now. it was so clear, he should’ve known. he smiles, genuinely, too happy or excited for his own good.