"I think we have, like, the worst parents in the world," Mark said to his brother.
"Yeah?" Justin said, barely paying attention. He was lying with his feet up on the couch, reading a Daredevil comic book. It was a new couchcream-colored suede. Their mother had just bought it last week, and their father’s only comment was, "Do you think it’s smart to get that color with two teenage boys in the house?" Justin would have been in big trouble if his mother had seen him with his sneakers propped up on the arm of the couch. But their mother wasn’t home.
"Yeah. I mean, what kind of parents leave their twelve-year-old kid alone every afternoon?" Mark demanded.
"You’re not alone," Justin pointed out. "I’m here."
"I just don’t think you can provide proper supervision for me."
"Uh huh," Justin said sarcastically, going back to his comic.
"I can’t believe they did this to me." Mark kicked the side of the entertainment center. The entertainment center was also new, and it the real reason Mark was upset. The bulky piece of furniture was stationed in a corner of the living room and it housed the TV and the stereo. Their mother had gone to buy a couch, and had come home with this as well because she had seen it displayed in the store with a sign propped up against it that read, "Better than the V-chip." The entertainment center was made out of solid oakand it was equipped with a heavy lock. Their mother had always hated when they watched TV, but she hadn’t been able to control how much they watched in the hours between when they got home from school and she returned home from work. Now she’d found a way.
At that moment, the cabinet was shut and firmly locked.
"I’m gonna miss my show," Mark wailed. "They don’t understandI can’t miss that show. Everyone watches it. Everyone. And tomorrow at school they’re all gonna be talking about what happened, and I’m gonna look like a total dork. What if someone asks me about it? What am I gonna say?" Mark paused, waiting for an answer, but Justin just shrugged.
"Can you even believe they put a friggin lock on the friggin TV?" Mark demanded.
"Yeah," Justin said. "I can believe it."
In a high-pitched voice, Mark mimicked, "It’s for your own good. You boys watch too much TV." Then, back in his normal voice again, "I mean, did anyone ever tell her that too much is a relative term? Too much for one person may not be enough for another."
Justin lowered his comic and looked at Mark. "Yeah… but you do watch too much, you know."
Mark rolled his eyes. "But they don't understand. This is important. Shit." To punctuate his remark, Mark landed another kick against the side of the cabinet.
"There’s nothing you can do about it," Justin said, philosophically. He could afford to be philosophicalhis favorite show was on later, when their parents would be home.
Justin heard something in his brother’s tone, and he looked up just in time to see Mark heading out of the room.
"Where are you going?" Justin called after him. But Mark didn’t answer.
Justin stared at the empty doorway for a moment, then went back to his comic.
Mark returned a few minutes later brandishing a screwdriver.
"Nothing I can do about it?" Mark taunted. "Is that what you said?"
Justin snorted. "You gotta be kidding me."
"Just you wait and see." Mark crossed to the entertainment center and knelt in front of it, carefully fitting the screwdriver into the lock.
"You’re not gonna be able to open it," Justin said.
"Says you," Mark snapped. Then he attacked the lock.
Five minutes later Justin looked up at the sound of the screwdriver skidding across the floor. Mark had tossed it across the room, and had sat back on his heels.
Justin shook his head and went back to reading. A minute later he heard Mark get up, retrieve the screwdriver, and go back to work on the cabinet with redoubled intensity, muttering, "I’m gonna get this thing open."
"You won’t," Justin said, mater-of-fact.
After another furious attack on the lock, Mark let the screwdriver drop. "You're right," he said. "I'm not gonna get this thing open."
"Course I’m right," Justin said, but he was surprised that his brother would admit it.
"Yeah, but I know what I can get open," Mark said. And he stood up and left the room again.
"Where are you going?" Justin called. "Mark?" Justin stared at the empty doorway again for a few seconds. When his brother didn’t reappear, he tossed aside the comic and followed. He found Mark in the upstairs hallway, outside their parents’ bedroom, bent over the lock on their door, working at it with the same screwdriver.
Justin walked up behind him and peered over his shoulder. "You’re not going to be able to open it," he said again, but hopefully this time.
"Oh yeah?" Mark straightened, turned the knob, and pushed the door open with a flourish.
Their parents’ bedroom was large and reflected their mother’s compulsive orderliness. The huge, king-sized bed had been made-up without a wrinkle, there were no clothes lying around, no drawers open, and even the pillows looked like they’d been fluffed. But all Mark and Justin saw was the huge, flat-screen TV opposite the bed.
Justin stood in the doorway for a moment, not quite believing it. Suddenly he gave a whoop and ran in and dove onto the bed. Mark followed, belly flopping on top of him. Justin let out an exaggerated groan and heaved him off. There were both laughing.
"Where’s the remote?" Justin asked, looking around. "You don’t want to miss any of the show."
"Oh shit," Mark scrambled off the bed and found the remote in the drawer of one of the bedside tables. "Figures it would be on Mom’s side," he said, and flicked on the television.
An hour later Mark and Justin were stretched out, glasses of coke on each bedside table, and a bag of chips on the bed between them. The bed itself was a mess. It was rumpled, with pillows tossed on the floor and propped under their feet. A few of the chips were spilling out on the duvet and had left some faint grease stains. The TV was on, the sound turned up. Both boys had their eyes fixed on the screen, but Mark watched with especially intense concentration, almost as if he were hypnotized.
Justin reached over and picked up the remote, which was lying on the bed between them, and changed the channel.
"Hey," Mark protested, jarred from his trance. "Change it back."
"We watched your show," Justin pointed out. "Now I get to chose. And TRL is boring."
"I like TRL."
"Too bad. I’m couch commando."
"That’s so not fair," Mark protested, pushing himself up. "I got the door open"
"And I’ve got the remote," Justin finished.
"Not for long," Mark retorted, grabbing for it, but Justin playfully shoved him away.
At fifteen, Justin had just begun his growth spurt. He was five-ten and still growing. He hadn’t filled out yetMark called him the string beanbut he still outweighed his brother by a good twenty pounds. In a fight, Mark didn’t have a chance…but that never stopped Mark from trying.
It started out as a good-natured tussle. Mark was deliberately exaggerating his lunges for the remote. He liked imitating old slapstick comedy; the Three Stooges’ films were his absolute favorites. But after a few minutes of this kind of pantomime fight, Mark paused in his attack. They were both laughing and slightly out of breath.
Mark said, "Okay, seriously now, give it to me." He held out his hand.
"No," Justin said, hiding the remote behind his back.
"Don’t be a jerk. It’s only fair since I got the door open."
But Justin was in the mood to torment his little brother. Mark did it often enough to himusually when he was on the phone. It was the worst if Mark knew he was on the phone with Megan, his girlfriend.
"You gotta learn, little brother, that life isn’t always fair."
"Come on, Justin," Mark said, getting annoyed.
Justin shook his head.
Mark went for the remote again, but this time he was serious. He grabbed for it, but Justin held it over his head, out of Mark’s reach. As soon as Mark pulled down one arm, Justin transferred it to the other and held that one upthe way you would with a little kid. Finally, in frustration, Mark tried to tackle his brother, and turned their struggle into a wrestling match. Mark ended up flat on the bed with Justin sitting on his chest, his arms pinned under Justin’s knees.
"You give up?" Justin asked, laughing.
"Get off, you fat freak," Mark said, still struggling to free himself.
"Say you give up."
"You’re so stubborn." Justin looked down at Mark, and he relented. He climbed off his brother, lay back down on the bed, grabbed a handful of chips, and turned his attention back to the television.
Justin knew when Mark got up, but he wasn’t actually looking at himso he didn’t notice Mark open the drawer of the bedside table.
With a mouth full of chips Justin said, "See, I always win. You should write that down somewhere: Justin always wins."
"Not this time," Mark said.
Justin glanced over to see Mark standing by the bed. Mark was grinning, and he had a gun pointed at Justin’s chest. Putting on a tough-guy accent Mark said, "You might want to think about changing that channel."
"You might want to put Dad’s gun back or you’ll be in serious trouble," Justin retorted.
Mark changed position, resting the gun on one forearm and closing one eye. "Go ahead," he said. "Make my day, punk."
"You shouldn’t be playing with that thing," Justin said.
Deciding to change tactics, Mark pointed the gun at his own head. "If you don’t change the channel I’m gonna kill the kid," he said in a gruff voice.
"Be my guest," Justin replied.
For the rest of his life, Justin would never hear anything louder than the sound of the gun going off.