Liam and Ethan Cole are fourteen year old identical twins. They’re terribly shy and everyone says they speak to the other with their eyes. They’re the biggest mystery in this dingy southern town. No one ever sees their mother, who raises them alone. Neither do the twins. The lanky teen duo is often seen around town, dangling their feet off a bridge or collecting glass bottles for money. One of their secrets, and they have many, is that they have a plan. To leave. Never mind where to. That’s not the important part. The important part has to do with the love between them. It’s more than that strange bond we know twins to have. It’s a bond bred in darkness because sometimes flowers can grow in ashes. Sometimes love can grow in hate.
Summer has just begun and the boys are off to the creek. A year or so ago, they built a fort out of tin and plywood. They’ve had to rebuild it a few times after some storms ravaged the fragile structure. They enjoy the work. Broken things are their specialty.
They walk a few miles north on the east side of the creek. The fort is about a football field and a half away from the water. After weaving through cedar elms and pecan trees, they enter the hideout through a maroon shower curtain with the image of a mallard duck in its center. The fort is like a shabby sanctuary for them. Kinda like what home feels like to most people. A place to simply exist.
Stale sunlight fills the small space through ill carved windows. Dust dances along the beams of light that penetrate holes in the tin walls. The boys take a seat in two teal lawn chairs just inside the door. Ethan takes two cigarettes from the pack, simultaneously lighting them before handing one to Liam.
“She was home last night.” Ethan says as he exhales the smoke. Liam squints as he inhales.
“There were cigarette butts in the shower in this morning.”
Liam nods. Their mother has a habit of lying in the tub and chain smoking as the shower head pours water over her body. Both lean forward resting their elbows on their open knees and stare off. Their eyes follow the wisp of gray smoke as it rises and dissipates into the air. Liam breaks the silence.
“Eighty three fifty seven.”
Liam raises a brow.
“Sorry. Had to dip into to it for that cigarette you’re enjoyin.”
Usually they keep their habit up by stealing a pack or two from their mom’s carton. She doesn’t really notice things. When she didn’t have any, Ethan pays a little extra to their neighbor, Nick, a high school dropout one felony away from the three strike rule.
It’s hard to understand the twins’ dynamic. Ethan speaks for them when they deal with outsiders and often makes the deciding rule. However, it can be said that Ethan is influenced by an innate sense of Liam’s unspoken directives. Anyone in town will tell you, a lot is said but little is heard when those two boys look at each other. Some see Liam in Ethan’s shadow, others see Ethan at the end of Liam’s leash.
Liam scratches his buzzed head.
“You’ll need to give me a shave by Friday.”
Both boys keep a buzz cut all year round. It’s just easier that way. Liam’s hair grows a little faster than his brother’s. Ethan does not mind the frequency. Their entire life they have taken care of each other. Although their mother works to provide for them, she is disgusted by them. As children they were punished for seeking affection. But her hate strengthens their love. Hands are held tighter in the dark.
It was on their 9th birthday when they learned the root of their mother’s disdain. After supper, on a school night, there was a knock on the door. From their shared room they heard the door open and then a man’s voice. Like skilled thieves they silently slid down to the end of the hall and kneeled at the living room’s entrance.
They could not see their mother or the man sitting next to her on the other side of the wall. In innocent curiosity, they listened.
“I’m sorry to have interrupted your evening Miss.Cole, but there have been some advances in your case. Four other women were assaulted in the same manner you were ten years ago. The similar M.O.’s of the assaults and matching descriptions provided by you and the other victims have led to an arrest.”
She lights a cigarette.
“Great. Guess that completes my healing process.”
They hear the sound of fabric and friction as the man adjust his position.
“I can’t imagine what it’s like for you, having gone through this, but there is more you need to know. You see, he left a DNA sample on one his victims. And our records indicate that ten months after you were admitted to the hospital for a rape kit, you gave birth. Since no DNA sample was obtained while investigating your assault, we would like to request that you consent to a paternity test for your boys to determine if the man in custody is the assailant.”
“Sure. They’re down the hall to your left. Feel free to scrape whatever you need off ‘em .” She exhales her smoke audibly.
The detective pauses, his experience has taught him to tread lightly.
“We can arrange for the DNA test at a later date, now that we have your consent. If he is the father, we would like you to testify against him. He has done this to a dozen women. However, very few of the cases have solid enough evidence. It’s all very circumstantial. You’re involvement could bring the bastard down.”
“So….the others, he did the same things to them?”
“Yes. Yes he did. The prolonged torture and genital mutilation are too similar in each case for it not to be the same man. It will take a few months to get this all in order and ready for trial.”
Her snicker evolves into a laugh.
“So what? After everything he took from me, now he gets my time? My energy? For What? Justice? Closure?”
She snuffs her cigarette out in frustrated jabs.
“Go fuck yourself.”
Silence. The detective takes his cue. She does not even see her boys cowering in the shadows as she walks down the hall to the bathroom. She starts the shower. The sound of running water is like a dreary hum to the lullaby that puts the boys to sleep .