Chapter One: A.K.A. The Moment Where Everything Went To Sh-
The entire fiasco started with a stupid piece of cornbread.
His older brother stood in the corner of the kitchen, gleaming knife in hand, sobbing like some sort of blubbering whale that had forgotten how to swim.
Walking in on the miserable sight, Matt immediately wondered who Leo murdered and how long they had before the cops came.
Then he glanced down and saw it.
Squashed beneath one foot, in an explosion of crumbs and mush, was the last piece of jalapeno cornbread.
Matt looked back up. Leo was still crying. A clear overreaction from any outsider's point of view. Or...anyone's view really.
Seriously. It was just bread.
But Matt could understand the ungodly amount of tears gushing forth to some degree. After all, his brother had gone through an awfully rotten day. His girlfriend broke up with him, his goldfish passed away, and he had just gotten fired from his temporary job. But hey- that's what happens when someone starts crying over the grill because they were dumped. They got fired.
Customers didn't care about an employee's relationship status— and neither did
the manager. Especially when that employee starts serving up soggy buns and
fries drenched in self-loathing.
The cornbread must’ve been the icing on the cake to Leo’s stellar achievements of the day.
Matt sighed. He hated seeing people cry. He stepped into the kitchen and put on a sympathetic face.
"Bro... You've gotta stop," he said.
Leo wiped angrily at his eyes. "Well sorry if I'm a little emotional right now. I'm just going through some stuff," he snapped. "I would appreciate some understanding."
Matt rolled his eyes at the theatrics. "Can you at least put down the knife? You're freaking me out."
Leo complied with an icy glare. “Happy?”
“Ecstatic,” Matt flatly replied. He watched as his brother pushed away from the counter. “How long were you standing there crying for?”
Matt eyeballed the cornbread on the tiled floor. “You gonna pick that up?”
Leo plopped himself down at their rickety round table shoved against the opposite wall. A hideous painting of a clown holding a balloon and iron light décor adorned the small area. Along with a jagged crack in the plaster from a wrestling match gone horribly wrong, there were also two wooden chairs they snagged from a yard sale in Jersey.
Run by their own dad.
For some reason he charged them more than the price scribbled on the price tag. And for some reason they didn’t protest. Now that Matt thought about it…why didn’t they?
“I’m so pissed,” Leo suddenly growled, jerking Matt from his wandering thoughts. He irritably shoved several unopened bills, a stack of Game Informer magazines, and box of Cheeze-It’s on the ground, glaring so angrily at the table Matt was half-worried it would burst into flames.
“Really? I couldn’t tell,” Matt mumbled.
“She dumped me for such a stupid reason,” Leo continued on as if he hadn’t heard. “Do you want to know why?”
“Her dad hates me. Thinks I’m some sort of loser.”
Matt frowned. “Wow. He sure found out quick.”
Leo frowned back. “Right? As if our situation wasn’t bad enough.” He buried his face in his arms. “Now I’m jobless, wifeless, and completely alone,” he complained, voice horribly muffled.
Matt stared. “You realize Kate wasn’t your wife, right?”
“She could’ve been…”
“Also you’re not alone. I still live here.”
Leo raised his head, giving his younger brother a pitying look. “Yeah but you don’t count. You’re like a brick wall. Boring…plain…” he squinted his eyes. “Did your nose get smaller?”
Matt kindly resisted the urge to sucker-punch his brother in the throat. Leo was only hurting. And when Leo hurt he lashed out the only way he knew how—with words. He was terribly weak otherwise and once sprained his wrist trying to open a jar of molasses.
Besides, Matt was well aware of how simple he looked. With limp brown hair, equally brown eyes, and square glasses, he was hardly the type of guy people stopped and gawked at. That was more up Leo’s alley.
Or it used to be anyway. Today, however, he just looked horrible.
His features were pale and sunken; gray eyes clouded in grief. He was tall enough but somehow managed to look incredibly small in his blue flannel shirt. Matt stared at Leo’s hair. And what the hell happened up there? It was fine this morning. Now it just looked like some wispy black cloud had planted itself over Leo’s skull.
Matt gazed at his brother, amazed. The break-up with Kate had done some really impressive damage.
At this point Leo had grown tired of the silence in the kitchen, deciding to stare miserably at the table instead.
Matt wanted to tell Leo to get over it because honestly it was just a girl. But he knew better than that. He’d never seen a relationship as complicated as theirs— barring Romeo and Juliet—and seeing how that romance ended, Matt wasn’t too keen on prying further into the situation Leo had gotten himself in. It never boded well.
Especially for Matt.
So he sighed a big huge sigh and held his hand out expectantly Leo’s way. “Fine. Give me your keys.”
Leo tore his gaze from the table. He studied Matt for a long moment, and then suspiciously asked, “Why?”
“I need to borrow the car.”
“You just got home.”
“Well I’m leaving again.” Matt caught the flicker of worry in his brother’s eyes. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back.”
Leo reached into his jean pockets, cautiously pulling out a Disneyland keychain. He suddenly paused. “Wait. How’d you get home from work?”
“I hitched a ride with some passerby.”
Matt scowled. “Well someone was too busy sobbing over cornbread to come pick me up,” he said.
Leo had the decency to look guilty. And like a kicked puppy. Matt rolled his eyes to the ceiling in exasperation.
“Forget it Leo,” he grumbled, snatching the keys before anything else could be said. While Matt was glad Leo’s attention had momentarily moved away from Kate, the mother henning was something he could deal without.
Still, Leo frowned. “Where are you going?” he questioned.
“To grab a dozen donuts before you drown yourself in tears.” Matt ignored Leo’s stare as he turned to go. “You like glaze, right?”
“Yeah, yeah, I won’t crash the car. I’ll be safe, etcetera.”
He halted in the doorway, looking over his shoulder at Leo. Leo uncomfortably shifted.
“…Can you get me some coffee too?”
Matt stood and stared at his brother for a very long time. Then he left for real, not bothering to look back even as Leo called down the hall:
“Oh! And some more cornbread too!”
Matt slammed the door of their cruddy apartment behind him, hoping it gave Leo the biggest headache known to man. He nodded to Mrs. Potts across the hall, offering a pleasant smile. “No rest for the weary, huh?” he joked.
The elderly woman warily nodded back before shuffling inside her door.
Matt’s shoulders slumped. He shoved his hands in his hoodie before trudging down the narrow, poorly lit hall. God—it felt like he was walking on the set of a horror film. Why couldn’t they ever fix the lights in this place? And ughh was it muggy! The landlord promised the AC units would be fixed last week.
Matt kept up his train of pessimistic complaints all the way down the five flights of stairs leading to the ground floor. He had long since given up on the elevator ever since five cables broke and sent them plunging to the basement. Luckily they’d been on the 1st floor. But it wasn’t an experience he was eager to have again.
Matt exited the building’s back door, striding quickly across the gravel parking lot to an ugly brown car squeezed in the middle of two rundown trucks. It looked like a stinkbug; smelled like one too, missing its bumper and taillight they’d been fined for twice already. Leo getting fired didn’t really help their financial situation. His brother would have to find another job— and fast.
But in this economy…Matt pushed aside the depressing thought. He jammed the key into the ignition and started up the car. They’d figure something out. They always did. Never mind the fact that a nineteen-year old like himself should be enjoying his youth instead of waking up every morning feeling like an eighty-year old man; plagued by nightmares of drowning in an endless pit of debt, bills, and cockroaches.
But no need to think about those things right this minute. No, no…
Matt began the precarious extraction of his car from between the two trucks. It was time to focus on the brighter things in life! Like that box of donuts at Dunkin’ Donuts calling his name. And Leo’s coffee too, he guessed. Leo could forget about the cornbread though.
As he successfully pulled out of the parking lot, Matt absently wondered if he should stop and grab his phone. He accidentally left it under his pillow when he woke late for work in the morning and didn’t exactly get the chance to get it when he came home and encountered Leo…
He shrugged a second later. Eh. Dunkin' Donuts was only fifteen minutes away.
What’s the worst that could happen?
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