“Just a bit tighter,” Jackson whispered to his twin brother, furtively glancing towards the bedroom doorway.
There was a deep chuckle as Jackson’s twin brother tightened the rope. “Chloe’s going to scream when she comes home, you know,” Jake warned.
Jackson looked over at his brother, an almost mirror image of his own features – including the evil, anticipatory smile. “I know. But what would be the fun of her coming home from college without tormenting her first?”
Jake laughed and pushed himself out from underneath her bed. “I’ve got this one tight. What’s next?”
Jackson looked around. “I think that should do it, don’t you?”
Jake stood back and took in Chloe’s room. “I think you’re going to die a very painful death in your sleep tonight,” he said, then patted Jackson on the shoulder and walked out.
Jackson laughed, then carefully pulled the door to Chloe’s room closed. “I don’t know why you think you’ll get out of whatever retribution she’ll rain on us for this one,” Jackson called out. “She’s going to know that it was both of us.”
Jake flopped onto his bed, pulling his laptop closer. “Yeah, but she’ll know that this is your evil mind at work.”
“Why won’t she think that it was yours?” Jackson asked, grabbing his economics textbook and flipping to the page for his homework.
Jake didn’t bother to look up as he replied, “Because everything I think up is online. Everything you do to torment her is physical and…”
Jake and Jackson both turned their heads, looking at each other with surprise. “She’s home early!” Jackson replied, then laughed, shaking his head. “Why does she think that an early arrival will stop our evil deeds?”
Jake laughed, shaking his head, but both brothers jumped up from their beds and hurried down the stairs to greet their sister.
“Hey Chloe!” Jake said, grabbing her and hugging her. Jackson was next, but he lifted Chloe off of her feet with his exuberance. “Glad your home!” Jackson muttered, low enough so that she was the only one to hear him.
Chloe smiled at both of her brothers. “It’s good to be back.” She stood in the foyer, peering around the two tall teens. “Now tell me what you’ve done to torment me.”
Deni, their mother, stepped out of her office and smiled, wrapping her arms around Deni’s shoulders. “Oh, I’m so glad that you’re home!”
A moment later, her father, Sebastian Hughes, took his turn and hugged her as well. “You look beautiful, Chloe. How was your flight?”
Jackson leaned a shoulder against the wall, watching it all and waiting. Just waiting.
Chloe and his parents talked about her flight and her final exams and several other issues, then Chloe turned and looked at him again.
“Okay, spill it! What did you do to me?”
Jake and Jackson looked at each other, feigning innocence. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Jake said, then turned and walked into the kitchen to get a snack.
Chloe’s eyes narrowed when Jackson remained in the foyer. “Jackson? What did you do?”
Jackson laughed. “Chloe, you wound me with your suspicions,” and then he turned to head into the kitchen as well, suppressing the laugh that threatened.
Jake stood by the fridge, the container of milk in his hands which made it obvious that he’d been drinking from the jug. His eyes flashed to the doorway, but when it wasn’t their mother walking into the kitchen, he relaxed.
“Give me some,” Jackson said, taking the jug from his brother. But Jackson wasn’t as lucky because their mother walked into the kitchen just as he was wiping the milk from the top of his lip.
“Don’t drink out of the jug!” she snapped for maybe the hundredth time.
“Sorry mom,” Jackson said, ignoring Jake’s snort because he hadn’t gotten caught.
That’s when they heard the screech. “I’m going to kill you guys!” Chloe screamed from the top of the stairs.
Deni turned, looking at them with laughter shining in her eyes. “Oh no!”
Jake and Jackson looked at each other, then they both heard the sound of their older sister’s feet stomping down the stairs. With identical bursts of laughter, both boys sprinted out of the house, laughing because they’d strung string across their sister’s bedroom, zigzagging back and forth, from one side of the room to the other, from the ceiling to the floor, corner to corner, even under her bed.
“It’s always worth it,” Jackson laughed as they sprinted over several pool chairs.
“Oooh! He’s here!”
Melanie turned her head slightly, but the afternoon sunshine made the effort almost too much to bear. Which is exactly why she and her best friend had come to the neighborhood pool to cool down. Also, there wasn’t a lot of other things to do. They lived in the sleepy suburbs and nothing much happened. In their parents’ minds, that was a good thing. Good schools, good neighborhoods, nearby doctors and grocery stores and…well, just general suburbia at its best.
“Who is here?’ Melanie asked, not overly concerned. It was late summer and school would start in a few weeks. In her opinion, this was prime relaxation time!
“Keith Maxwell!” Jenny hissed.
That incited a bit if interest in Melanie’s teenage mind! Keith Maxwell was worth a bit more effort. If he was here at the pool, Melanie definitely had the energy to turn her head in this miserable heat. “Where is he?”
Jenny sighed, letting her head flop back against the pool chair again. “Darn it, Rhonda just walked through the gate as well.” She released a disgusted snort. “That means that Keith will migrate towards the ever-so-lovely-and-big-boobed Rhonda.” With a disgusted flourish, Jenny put her sunglasses back on and tugged her hat lower over her head. “I truly hate that girl!”
Melanie continued to watch the couple, impressed with Rhonda’s curves that were currently displayed in a very small, very red bikini. “We could get Keith’s attention if we tried,” she muttered to her friend.
Jenny laughed. “Right. How?”
Melanie looked down at her conservative black maillot. “Well, for starters, we’d need to wear something other than our current bathing suits.”
Jenny shifted, looking worriedly over at Melanie. “You’re in planning mode, aren’t you?”
Melanie ignored the anxious tone. “And we wouldn’t be able to swim. Because it would mess up our hair. Rhonda doesn’t let a drop of water touch her hair. Or her makeup.”
Jenny looked at Melanie with a tilt of her head. “What’s the point in coming to the pool if we can’t get into the water?”
Melanie shrugged. “I agree. I love swimming and, in this heat, there isn’t much else to do. I’m just pointing out what Rhonda does to attract the attention of a guy like Keith.”
Jenny shrugged. “I think that men like that also look for women who are more confident. Or a woman that has a certain quality to them. I don’t know what it is, but I definitely don’t have it.”
Melanie considered her friend’s words. “You might have a point. Guys like Keith are super confident and exciting. And I suppose that the women he is attracted to would be just as exciting and with that sense of personal awareness that lures men towards them.” She slipped her sunglasses back on and leaned her head back, absorbing the warmth of the sunshine. “I don’t think I have the patience for that kind of attitude. It sounds boring anyway. I mean, why would a woman work that hard to get a guy?”
Jenny lifted her head to look at Melanie, then turned her attention over to Keith. “Because he’s super hot!” she replied, then laughed. “I guess we’ll just learn to be satisfied with the dorks.”
Melanie wasn’t impressed. “The man I marry will be someone who looks below the surface. A man who sees my quirks and assets. Someone who is interested in more than just physical beauty.”
Jenny eyed her friend. Melanie was beautiful, but in a softer, more gentle sort of way. While Rhonda was glamor and overt sex appeal, Melanie was…she was like a Daisy. She was like a flower that opened up and smiled to the sunshine.
Jenny shook her head and relaxed back against the pool chair. “Men are fickle, Mel,” she announced. Unfortunately, the really good looking men prefer the more flamboyant roses. Which was a shame, because Jenny thought that Melanie was a really amazing Daisy!