James Gang Ch. 01: Mean DarbiebyLordOfHell©
I grew up in a small town, with a nice quiet life—or at least, as quiet as one can get when you have eight siblings. I was the fifth of nine; along with my twin sister Darbie, I was the ultimate middle child. All of us were born no more than a year apart from each other, since Mom and Dad wanted to have a lot of kids, but didn't like the idea of spreading our ages too thin. That would ruin the joy of one or more of the kids having siblings their own age to play with, or some shit like that, they said. Maybe they just liked fucking, and nine stair-steppers was the natural consequence of that. I dunno.
Anyway, like I said—I was the middle child, but that wasn't the only thing that made me unique. I was also the only one of us, aside Darbie of course, that had a twin. Darb and I used to argue over which of us was "really" the middle child, although I had a leg up on her because I was actually born first. You know, stupid little kid shit. It seemed so relevant at the time.
And then there was one last thing that made me unique: I was the only boy. Or, at least, I was the only one that survived to middle school age. My big brother, Dwight, the second-born, died when he was only nine. I was five at the time, so I remember very little about him. From what my oldest sister Grace tells me, Dwight's death was a radical turning point for our family. Mom and Dad split up and got back together within a year and Dad started drinking around then. From what I've heard my sisters whispering from time to time, Mom never stopped seeing the guy she dated during her and Dad's separation, but that's whole 'nother story.
Eventually, we grew up and all of us kids eventually moved out of Mom and Dad's house, except for Caroline, the youngest, who stayed mostly to help deal with Dad's declining health. Like I said, Dad hit the booze pretty hard after Dwight's death, and he eventually developed liver problems that I had to donate a chunk of mine to stabilize. Even afterwards, he had certain complications, and Mom needed help taking care of him in addition to maintaining her salon business. So that task fell to Caroline.
I never moved far—I went to college just a few towns upstate and wound up back in town after I graduated. Most of the girls left, though. Grace moved to France and married some doctor there. Sarah met some negro football player and ran off with him, despite Mom and Dad's protests. I haven't heard much from her, but I did hear they'd started a litter of their own since. Rachelle moved to New York, but I heard she was struggling to make it as a chef and considering a move back to our town. Chloe moved to Idaho and became a family rights attorney; I heard she married and divorced about a year ago. And Barbara joined and left the Army; she and her husband decided to do a lot of globe-trotting before they'd eventually settle down and have kids.
Well, if you were doing some counting during that list, you may have noticed I missed one name. That's because, like Caroline and I, Darbie never left our hometown, either. She moved out of the house and opened her own pet shop, but that was basically it. She said she didn't want to move away from our quaint little burb, but she couldn't stay at home either with it feeling so empty. I understood.
I started a small contractor unit in town because I wanted to stick around and make myself useful. I loved that town, and as far I was concerned, I was going to live my whole life there.
Myself, Caroline and Darbie were the only three that never married or had kids of our own. Caroline often complained that it was hard to date when she lived home with Mom and Dad, but she loved them too much to leave. It was Caroline who began to suspect that Mom was still having an affair with the guy she dated years back, but she didn't pry because as long as it wasn't affecting their home lives or Dad's condition, she didn't want to rock the boat. She just noted that Mom did a lot of 'personal styling' house calls, only for her to observe that the same customer's hair looked exactly the same a couple days later.
In any case, my contracting business was doing pretty well. There weren't any competitors in our region, and the advantage of living in a small town is that people are always loyal to their own first and foremost. Me and my people did almost all the building for everybody in town, and it was a pretty nice feeling to watch the backwater little placeI grew up in become slowly updated and modernized with my help. It was like I was leaving my mark; one that my kids would eventually be able to appreciate.
Whenever I decided to have any.
That was another thing: my sex life, or lack thereof. I'd had my pick of girls when I was younger, and Dad used to encourage me to 'break some hearts' when I was old enough to date and fuck. Unfortunately, I did just that a little too often. I let some good ones go in my youth, and although many of them forgave me over the years, they moved on and married. Before I knew it, I was about ten-plus years older than most single bachelorettes in town, and I ain't no cradle-robber, so my only two hopes were to cross my fingers and wait until one of the gals my age became a widow, or to wait for her to get plain old bored with her hubby. But, I wasn't enough of a rat to do either of those. In the end, I settled into a house way too large for a single man to be living in, and just made the best of being a bachelor.
One day, I got a call from Darbie. A tree had fallen on the side of her pet shop and she needed someone to remove it and repair the damage. I promised I'd come and take a look at it, so I put some time aside to swing by and check it out that same day. It was a right mess: a big, two-yards thick trunk just leaning right through the side of the shack like it'd been invited in. It seemed that the roots had rotted out of the old thing, and some strong wind must have pushed it against poor Darb's building.
I surveyed the damage and let out a low whistle. "This is one fine mess you're in, Darb."
"Gee, Captain Obvious. You think? You wanna tell me that the Alps are cold, next?"
I just shook my head and smirked. "Still a firecracker. How do you always do these things?"
"Don't be an idiot. You can't blame ME for the wind, 'big brother'," she said, folding her arms, "I ain't Mother Nature."
"Nah, but you got a mean temper like her." She proved my point by smacking me upside my head.
Darbie was always the 'spitfire' of the family, kinda. In reality, there were two sides to her—one second, she was sweet and shy, and the next, she was the meanest handful you ever seen. I usually had the misfortune of being around during the latter moments, so I was usually her primary target . . . or, should I say, 'victim'. Since Darb and I were twins, we saw a lot more of each other than the other kids. She and I were usually in the same classes and age groupings, and in our early years, we were known as the 'terrible twosome', because got into all the trouble. Then, as time went along, and we entered middle chool, I saw a lot less of 'Sweet Darbie' and at lot more of 'Mean Darbie'.
Guess which one I was dealing with now.
"So are we gonna stand out here in the damn cold, or are you going to tell me if you can fix it or not?" she demanded.
"Of course I can fix it," I said with a chortle. "I can fix damn well anything I set a mind to. 'Cept your attitude. I don't know if the Almighty himself could contract that job."
She shook her head. "I don't know what's worse—your petty insults or your blasphemy."
"Aw, hush, little sister. The Lord knows I ain't mean it." Then, I whispered, "Mostly." Before she could ready her next quip, I tipped my hat and said, "this looks like a pretty big job. You'll probably have to move your stock somewhere until we can finish. Depending on how extensive the damage is, that could take weeks or months."
Darbie winced at that estimate. "My poor babies," she said, talking about all those damn critters she kept in her shop. "Where are they supposed to go?"
I shrugged. "Beats me. They're damn lucky to survive having a tree fallin' on 'em for one thing. Maybe you should let 'em loose and see if they can make the best of that luck."
Her lips twisted angrily. "They're domesticated animals, dummy, not bred for the wild."
I shook my head and sighed. "Then what's the point of bein' an animal if you can't even survive like one? Critters like that, they're more like imitation PEOPLE than what God intended them as."
That set her off. Raising her arms in agitation, she stormed back to her building, her short little legs pacing quickly as she hurried along. I watched her leave with a smirk on my face, always happy to get the final word against Darb.
It felt good to watch her storming off like that, although watching the way her tight little ass bounced back and forth as she walked in those tight jeans made me wonder why the hell she was the only single gal in town our own age. There may have been a shortage of single middle-age women, but the market was cornered on bachelors my age. I knew this, because I hung out with most of them.
But whatever, it wasn't my problem. Between the thick glasses, flannel shirt, jeans and boots she always wore, I could sooner assume Darbie was a dyke and leave it at that. I didn't approve of dykin', but that was a problem between them and the Big G. Were it up to me, I'd just throw some jello on 'em and pull up a chair.
Somehow, though, Darbie managed to get rid all of those critters. How, I have no idea, but I did notice a few more dogs and cats in yards that hadn't had them some weeks back. I doubted she sold all of the beasties, but the how of it didn't concern me. Me and my boys were ready to roll when we got the okay from her.
"Just be careful with my stuff," Darbie said to me on day one.
"Huh? Stuff? What stuff?" I asked.
"Hello? Anybody in there?! I LIVE here, 'big brother'!" As usual, she was using the 'big brother' title as an insult, throwing in my face all those times I claimed to be the older, more mature of us.
"You lived in a damn pet shop?" I said, dumbfounded.
"Above it, yeah," she told me. "My bedroom was the worst room hit when this damn tree crashed though."
"You could have been hurt!"
"But I wasn't," she retorted. "But thanks for worrying about me," she added with a warm smile.
I rubbed my hands through my hair. The job had just gotten more complicated than I'd expected. "So now we're gonna have to move all your stuff out?"
"Huh? Why?" she asked oafishly. "I thought you were just going to repair the damn wall."
"Darb, it's not that simple anymore."
"Maybe it is, but you're just acting too brain-dead to see it . . . 'big brother'."
I pinched the bridge of my nose, holding back the urge to smack the back of her head. "Darb, you could have major structural damage. This building is older than our grandparents, and there's no telling how well it was holding up even BEFORE this started. Even if that weren't true, you CAN'T stay here while we're working, so me and the boys are gonna have to move your things out."
"Oh," she said dejectedly. She really hadn't known, and I could tell that she felt remorseful for not having though that far ahead. "I'm sorry, brother."
That was the Darbie I rarely ever saw anymore—the sweet girl who used to be best friends with everybody. Of all the kids in the house, Darbie had usually been the one who got along with everybody else. She even got along with the other kids in school—even the boys who tried to pick on her when she was smaller, or the jerks who tried to hit her up when she was older. Everybody in town liked Darbie, but few of them knew about the other side of her—the one that her twin brother Kenneth saw on almost a daily basis.
"Don't worry about it," I said, bested by her saccharine demeanor. "We can take care of it."
"I can pay you extra," she insisted.
"Nah, we're barely gonna charge you anything as it is," I corrected her.
"What?! But a job like this has to be expe—"
"You're my little sis, Darb," I told her, placing an easy hand on her shoulder. "Our business is doing dandy without me tryin' to squeeze blood from blood. I'm gonna take care of most of the expenses and the guys will receive the same pay they always do. Heck, Ol' Chuck Willingham even offered to do it for free if I let him date you."
"Oh? And what did you say?" she asked, transfixed with her cool blue eyes.
"I told him that I have a track record of punching guys who put the moves on my twin sis, and that it was his call if he wanted to risk it after that. I guess we'll know how it turns out in a matter of days."
She smiled at me, giving me a long, satisfied look before she said, "Good."
I didn't know what that meant. 'Good' that I protected my sister's honor? 'Good' that I gave the guy a shot? 'Good' that she could finally be on a date for the first time in fifteen-or-so years? Unfortunately, she changed the subject before I could tease her about it further.
"Where are you gonna move my stuff to?" she asked.
"Well, the nearest storage depot is fifty-seven miles down the highway," I told her. People rarely needed to store things here, what with there being plenty of space to build sheds, barns, cellars, or whatever else they needed, but I doubted anybody in town had enough room to store all of Darbie's things at last notice. And that still left the issue of where she'd be bunking. She could stay at the inn in town, but that would be an awful waste of money.
In the end, there was only one solution I could think of that made sense.
"I live in a big ol' house by my lonesome," I told her. "No kids and no missus to ask for permission. All your stuff'll fit easy, and I got plenty of extra rooms."
Her eyes widened at the offer. "You . . . you'd let me bunk with you, brother?"
"Why the hell not? Be nice to wake up and see something resembling a woman around the house," I teased. To my surprise, she didn't hit me for it. The joke probably went over her head, I figured.
"You gonna move my stuff in today?" she asked.
"Yeah. We gotta do it before we get to the real work, so we might as well get it outta the way. You can come in with us, but make sure you wear a hard hat and keep out of any spots that look weak."
"Okay," she nodded, and we immediately got to work.
Me and the boys took the time to get Darbie completely setup in her temporary digs so that she could feel just a little bit at home while we did our work on her building. There wasn't quite as much as I expected, anyway—Darbie didn't live like most chicks I knew . . . she was completely bare-bones with hardly any furnishing, no nicknacks, and just a closet full of flannel and denim. Nary so much as a painting on her walls. How the hell was she planning to get a man . . . or whatever . . . in this setup, I wondered.
The only things I found in frames were one picture of all eleven us together, back when Caroline was just a fetus and Dwight was still hale and hearty, and another photo of just me and Darb, back when we were the 'terrible twosome'. The days when we were nearly inseparable.
After we got everything set up, the guys and I left and headed back to her place to get some work done before sundown. When I returned after dark, I found a delicious aroma coming from the house and a light on in the kitchen
"Oh, good, I was hoping you'd be back about now," Darbie said as I walked in, led by the sting in my nose and the watering of my lips. "I'm about to take the chops out of the oven."
"What's all this, Darb?" I asked, gazing at the mashed potatoes, steamed carrots, corn muffins, and a six-pack of beer strewn about my kitchen table.
"You and your boys are doing me such a favor, I thought I'd do a little something and fix you dinner," she told me. "I had to go out to the store for most of this stuff, though. You don't keep nearly enough food in your pantry for a man of your age and weight."
"I get by just fine," I said, eyeing her for snooping. "But you didn't have to do any of this. I told you, you're my little sister. It's my job to take care of you."
"You're older by about four minutes, 'big brother'" she said, once again mocking my seniority. "So, I think I'm entitled to do a little 'takin' care' of my own."
I decided not to press it. Arguing was doing nothing but giving me more of an appetite, so I sat down and eagerly waited for her to put some porkchops on my plate. The entire dinner was absolutely fantastic, and afterwards, I followed Darb through her section of the house we discussed the renovations on her place.
"Yeah, it looks like it's going to take at least a month, if it can be salvaged at all," I told her. "The building had some really bad weather damage, and if that tree hadn't fallen on it when it did, it's likely the building could have caved in about ten years or so down the road, or even sooner, if the conditions were just right. Or 'just wrong', as the case may be. "
"Oh. I'm sorry, Kenny, I didn't know," she said sweetly.
"Nah, don't be. Just be sure to thank the Almighty that he sent that tree through your place when he did. I don't think he could have sent a clearer message for you to get the hell out of there."
She nodded, though she seemed sad. She had lived in that place ever since she'd moved away at eighteen. Now, at thirty-three, it had become more her home in some ways than the one we'd grown up in.
I decided to try and cheer her up by talking about a positive subject. "So, why did you decide to live in a pet shop anyway?"
"It wasn't a pet shop when I moved in," she told me. "It used to be a china shop owned by Old Miss Kurtman until she passed way back."
"I remember Miss Kurtman!" I chortled. "She was the old bat who had the hots for Dad."
"Yeah, but she was a sweet old thing. She gave me my first job when I was sixteen, and she left me the deed to the shop when she passed. I didn't know anything about china, though, so I gave them all to her kids and grandkids and converted the shop into a pet store. I always did like animals."
"Why animals?" I asked her. "We didn't even have pets in the house when we were kids. Mom was allergic."
"I know, but . . . well, actually, I think it was less about 'animals' and more about just having something to take care of."
"A maternal instinct?" I said. "You just wanted to have kids?"
"I guess," she shrugged. "Yeah."
"Then why didn't you? With your looks, you could've had any pick of the boys in town. Still could, in fact. Why settle for pseudo-motherhood when you could just settle down have the real thing?"
She glanced away, and I could tell that I'd hit a sensitive spot with that question. Her reluctance was giving one of my most likely theories more weight.
"Look, Darb, if you're a . . . if you don't like men . . . then you don't have to feel ashamed to tell me. I'm your twin brother, and I'll love you no matter what. Mom and Dad might be a little upset because they're old-fashioned. They didn't like it when Sarah ran away with that black boy, but if you told them it made you ha—"
"Dammit, Kenny, what the hell are you talking about? I'm not a dyke!"
"Oh," I said, feeling a complete fool. "I'm sorry, I just thought—"
"It's the jeans and flannel, isn't it?" she accused me. "I figured people probably whispered about it behind my back, but it was just practical, okay? Dealing with so many animals all day gets a little messy, so there's hardly any point to wearing fancy, expensive clothes when they just get mussed on or torn to shreds. I wore this stuff because I had to, not because I wanted to."
Well, that shut me up. "Sorry, Darb. That's what I get for assuming, and not taking the time to ask my sis a proper question."
Again, she shrugged. "It's okay, I guess."