The wind-up clock by the side of Mitch’s bed read 6:50 when his head finally hit the pillow. It was soft and cold on his cheek, a welcome sensation. His stomach ached and his head pounded, signs that his body was trying to tell him to cut back on the partying, though his mind wasn’t having any of it.
Actually, his mind wasn’t having anything. He fell asleep instantly, so exhausted that the next ten minutes passed in an instant. At 7:00 A.M. sharp, the little hammer on the top of the clock pounded those bells incessantly.
Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring!
The upper half of Mitch’s body shot straight up. “Arrgh!” The boy fumbled with the clock for a minute, pressing buttons, turning knobs and switches, only to give up and throw the clock against the wall. It bounced off, fell to the floor with a crash and then stopped ringing.
Mitch rubbed his eyes and enjoyed the silence, which wasn’t maintained for long.
“That bad, huh?”
The nerd turned to see his sister standing over his bed, a juicy red bloody Mary complete with celery stalk in hand.
“Double argh!” Mitch shouted. “Don’t you knock?”
“Oh, yeah,” Whitney said. “That’s a good idea. Keep making a bunch of noise so Mom and Dad come in here to see what’s going on and then ask you a hundred questions about why you’re in a bell hop uniform.”
Mitch sat up on the edge of his bed and grabbed his head.
“Some hair of the dog?” Whitney said as she passed the drink over.
“Yes, please,” Mitch said as he seized the glass and sipped. “Oh yeah.”
“Just for the record,” Whitney said. “I had moral qualms about making that for you. I didn’t want to contribute to your full-blown alcoholism but I didn’t want to see you suffer either.”
Mitch burped. “I’m not an alcoholic, Whitney.
Whitney took a seat on the edge of the bed next to her brother. “Says the guy who just said ‘Oh yeah’ to a drink offered at 7:00 in the morning.
“I’m just a social drinker and I’ve been extra social lately.”
“Whatever you need to tell yourself.”
Mitch took another sip. “I can’t go to school today. Tell Mom I’m sick.”
“I don’t want to lie for you anymore than I already am,” Whitney replied.
“It wouldn’t be a lie,” Mitch said. “I feel like I could hurl at any minute.”
“That’s on you.”
“No,” Mitch said as he rubbed his stomach. “It’s just like your dumb song. Sex Barf.”
“Sexual Vomit,” Whitney said. “And it’s not dumb. It’s art. And if you make yourself sick, it doesn’t count. Come on, get up. You need to make an appearance at school.”
“Why?” Whitney repeated. “Because I can’t do this anymore, Mitch. At first, I thought I’d have to cover for you for a night or two. Fine. Whatever. That’s what siblings do for each other. Help you get your little disco bug out of your system and you’d get back to normal. But it’s months now and normal is nowhere in sight.”
Burp. “Welcome to the new normal.”
“You’ve got me telling lies on top of lies on top of lies, Mitch,” Whitney said. “So many lies, just dangling in the air, like plates spinning on sticks and I have to run around, spinning and spinning until one day I’m not going to get one of the plates fast enough and it’s going to stop spinning and then the whole shebang is going to come crashing down.”
“Oh, please,” Mitch said. “Stop being such a wimp.”
Mom’s voice travelled upstairs. “Kids?”
Mitch freaked and dove under the covers, desperately trying to cover up his stolen uniform.
“Yeah?” Whitney asked.
“Hurry up,” Mom said. “The bus will be here any minute and you’d better not miss it!”
“OK,” Whitney said.
“I mean it,” Mom said. “I’ve only got one can of gas to last me a week and I don’t want to waste it driving you two to school when there’s a perfectly good…”
“OK, Mom!” Whitney shouted. “We’re on the way.”
Mitch removed the covers and sat back up. He coughed, and coughed, and coughed some more.
“That sounds good,” Whitney said.
“Yeah, you look it,” Whitney said. “So, I’m the wimp? You just nosedived into bed to avoid Mom.”
“No, I didn’t,” Mitch said. “I was just tired. I still am, so, excuse me.”
Mitch laid his head back and closed his eyes.
“Mitch,” Whitney said. “You can’t keep going on like this.”
“I beg to differ,” the nerd said with his eyes still closed.
“Fine,” Whitney said. “Then I can’t keep going on like this.”
“It’s not so bad.”
“Are you kidding me?” Whitney asked. “I can barely keep track of the web of deception I’ve spun for you. You’re at your non-existent job at the bowling alley. You’re doing your non-existent volunteer work at the soup kitchen. You’re across the street, playing video games with Claudette.”
“Aw, Jeeze, Whit,” Mitch said. “They’ll never buy that. It’s been sixteen years since the Jenkinses moved in next door and Claudette hasn’t said a peep to me.”
“They bought it,” Whitney said. “Mom’s already worried you’re going to get her knocked up. Your parents believe in you more than you do.”
“I believe in myself just fine.”
“Good,” Whitney said. “Because your teachers don’t anymore. I left all your homework assignments on your desk. I can’t count the number of times one of your teachers has come up to me to ask what’s going on with you and why are you flunking?”
“Tell them I come from an abusive home,” Mitch said.
Larry’s voice travelled upstairs. “Kids! I made pancakes!”
“Somehow I don’t think they’ll buy that,” Whitney said.
“Tell them I’m just another statistic in the never-ending cycle of unwanted children who fall victim to years of emotional neglect.”
“I put blueberry smiley faces on them!” Larry shouted. “Come on! Get your butts down here before they get cold!”
“They won’t buy that either,” Whitney said. “I told Mrs. Spaulding that you have pneumonia, Mr. Klugman that you have mono and Mr. Daniels that you have the flu.”
“Couldn’t you have just picked one and told them all the same thing?” Mitch asked.
Whitney threw her arms up out of sheer exasperation. “I’m not a professional liar, Mitch! I’m doing the best I can but I’m telling you, sooner or later, and I don’t know if it will come from you or me but one of us is going to screw up and you’re going to be caught.”
Mitch shot up. “What? How?”
“I don’t know,” Whitney said. “Maybe because some asshole werewolf is beebopping all over public access television!”
“Bah,” Mitch said. “That could have been any asshole werewolf.”
“I could tell by the look in his eyes, Mitch,” Whitney said. “He knew.”
Mitch was quiet for a minute. “OK. Well, he’s not going to tell anyone, is he? He can’t, so, problem solved. Don’t worry about it.”
“I bet he’s disappointed in you,” Whitney said.
“I bet he thinks he’s a moon man from Uranus,” Mitch said as he laid back down. “His mind is shot.”
Whitney stood up,grabbed the covers and yanked them off the bed. Mitch remained still. “Get up!”
“Can’t,” the pesky brother replied. “Sleepy time for Mitchy poo. Night, night.”
Whitney stood up. “Fine. If you want to skip school again and keep flushing your life down the drain then good for you, but I’m not going to lie for you. Not when I don’t have to. You want to play hooky, fine, but you’re going to have to lie to Mom yourself.”
“But all you have to do is…”
“Nope,” Whitney said. “I’m only going to tell the bare minimum amount of lies necessary to keep this charade going and right now, it’s not necessary. You’re here. Your mouth works. You want Mom to be lied to again? You do it.”
“Ugh,” Mitch said as he stumbled out of bed. “Fine.”