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“I don’t know.” John said suddenly, making Dave stare, confused. The two brothers were criss-crossing their ways across the country in an eighteen wheel truck containing the latest “product”. They were truckers for the same “company” their father had been hauling for. It was, quite literally, the family business.
“What?” Dave asked blankly. Neither had talked for over twenty minutes, both withdrawing to themselves. Being on the road did that to you, when the wheels turned for the ten thousandth time that day and the mid-afternoon sun coaxed waves from the pavement.
John sighed and pushed his hair back, forgetting about the cuts and bruises just below it. He managed to let out nothing but a hiss, though the injuries hurt to no end. This was exactly the type of conversation John went out of his way to avoid, and here he was starting it up, having those much-hated ‘chick flick’ moments. “I don’t know what I’d do it if I wasn’t doing this.” He waved his hand, encompassing both the road and the situation. The product drop-offs that ended in gang standoffs and gunfights. The friends that went missing for months at a time, or never resurfaced at all. The long days of trucking followed by long nights of “working” for their father and grandfather.
The younger brother seemed to be very intent on a large gouge on the inside of his arm; he didn’t look up at John, didn’t attempt to meet his eye. And John was thankful for that. “Don’t you have any…hobbies?” Dave questioned tentatively.
“Kid, this business doesn’t leave time for much anything else. What am I gonna do, sit around at night painting and s***?” This was said part sarcastically, part self-deprecatingly. God, he wished he wasn’t on the move all the time, wished that they could settle in a place for more than a few nights. Heck, a week would be alright with him.
“You could…read. Or….” Dave’s voice trailed off as he officially ran out of hobbies that did not require a large amount of non-portable items. He ran a hand through his hair, a habit he’d unknowingly picked up from his older brother. “I don’t know John, what did you do when we were kids? For fun, I mean?”
John thought about this. Their childhood had been turbulent, to say the least. They’d moved three or four times every school year and usually ended up staying with friends for the summer holidays when their father stayed away on business. With all the uprooting, you made sure not to get attached to much of anything, though John did remember Dave joining several clubs. The kid had always been book-ish, likable.
“C’mon, Davey, you ain’t stupid. With all the moving and dad being gone, it wasn’t like I could exactly go out for the basketball team or anything.” God, why had he even brought the subject up? It just made him out to be what he must have looked like in high school --- a loser with no purpose.
It wasn’t like he hadn’t been popular. In almost every school he went to he made friends without even trying, unwanted friends for the most part, since he knew he’d be leaving them in a month or two. But with Dave at home and their dad away, he’d been pushed into the highly uncalled-for position of surrogate father on top of being the over-protective big brother.
“You made me go out for basketball.” Dave was indignant and John had to smile. They had been living in a small town in New Jersey, of all places, and John had convinced Dave to go out for the decidedly unsuccessful Junior-High basketball team.
“I hated it.” Dave whined, playing the child he had been twelve years ago when first pushed onto the squad.
John punched him playfully. “No, you didn’t. Plus you needed something to bulk you up a little, you pussy.” John had gone to all of Dave’s games that year, and every one had been on a Friday night. Their father hadn’t seen any.
Dave remembered that, too. “You watched all my games.”
“Just to see you fall, kiddo. I still remember that one time to put the ball in the other team’s basket…I think that was the only shot you made all season.”
“No, I mean, you were at every one of them, and home every night when I got home…”
“Because you were all of nine, man.”
“And you were all of thirteen.” As if it had just dawned on him. “Playing dad didn’t leave much time for picking up hobbies, huh?”
“Or picking up chicks.” John admitted, grudgingly. “You held me back, Davey. Only one or two girls a week.”
“Must have been rough for you.” Dave actually stuck his tongue out at John, and the older boy had to laugh, though stopped when it hurt too much. He really ought to let Dave drive so he could get a hold of that First Aid kit. “But you still must have been into something.”
“Some of us actually like the job, Davey, twisted as it sounds.” And John did, he really did. Their profession was exhilarating and anxious and fearful and fun, like being drunk or high. But could he see himself doing this when he was his father’s age; to have no wife or kids or place to call home other than then his car, the precious Impala? And what about Dave, who was constantly threatening to leave their nomadic life and settle down in a small town with a job? If he made good on his word, he’d be gone soon, too.
Dave’s hand touched his and a cool cloth dug into a long gouge on his upper arm. “’M sorry, John.”
“What for?” Dave had nothing to apologize for. He sought a life. That was what John had always wanted for him, more than he’d ever hoped to give his baby brother.
“For making you take care of me.”
“Somebody had to, and after the zoo wouldn’t take you back after the second or third time I brought you there….” He smiled and mussed Dave’s hair.
“You think you’re real funny, don’t you?” Dirt, dried blood, and other assorted debris were wiped out of the gash and blood flowed freely for a second before a bandage was applied.
Through clenched teeth, John managed to reply, “Only because I am, little bro. You’re just too juvenile to realize it.”
Dave moved to John’s head, hands gentle even as his words came across teasingly, “I found a profession for you after you give all this ---” a waved arm. Like John, Dave didn’t particularly care to name or acknowledge their high-stress job, “--a rest.”
“Yeah? What?” John’s hand swatted Dave away of its own accord as the younger man pressed hard against the wound, drawing tears to John’s eyes.
“A stand-up comedian.”
John took the washcloth from Dave and threw it at the boy, who was smiling, “Oh, now look who thinks their funny.”
“I’ll come to all your shows.” Dave promised quietly and John had to look at him. He’d meant to keep his kid brother as isolated as he could from the dangerous circles their father moved in. It had never occurred to John that his brother might have grown up, could possibly have a clue about the awful implications behind their jobs. But twenty-two was older than nine, and maybe, just maybe, Dave understood.