“And don’t forget to like and subscri—”
My twin brother barges into my bedroom right as I’m filming the closing for my latest YouTube video. Delicate flower that he is, he slams the door behind him, causing my desk to shake, which in turn topples my delicately rigged ring light. The light falls onto my tripod, knocking my vlog camera from its precarious spot on my desk right into the trash can. Bonk-clank-plop. It’s like the old game Mouse Trap, but with semiexpensive electronics.
“And one,” Jordan says, making some kind of basketball motion with his hands.
“Damn it, you ass, I was filming. I finally got a take without my voice doing that scratchy thing, and you ruined it.” The only projectile I have to fling at him is the friendship bracelet I made for today’s video, but it’s so light it just floats limply to the carpet.
“Sorry ’bout that.” Jordan flops onto my bed and starfishes out. We were the same height until about seventh grade, but then he shot up like a rocket, cementing his destiny as a basketball star, and I stayed the same shrimpy height. So, while I can actually spread myself out on my twin bed with room to spare, Jordan’s long legs dangle over the end and his large hands graze the carpet. “And sorry I’m late.”
“You’re always late,” I say, stretching my leg out to kick his dangling arm. “And you’re never sorry.”
“I have awesome news to make up for it, though.”
“To make up for thirty entire minutes? It better be good. You said you’d help me today, Jordan. Luckily I had other parts of this video I could film while I was waiting for your slow ass, but you even ruined that.” I hop up from behind the second desk in my room, a small garage sale Ikea piece I painted hot pink to use as a video set, and I fish my camera and tripod out of the trash can. “You owe me some In-N-Out.”
“Add it to my tab.” Jordan sits up quickly, scoots toward the end of the bed, and rests his elbows on his knees. “So, do you want to hear this news or what?”
I grab one of the throw pillows from my bed, a purple one that I hand-beaded for a video last month, and I smack him in the head with it. “The only thing I want to hear is the sound of you making friendship bracelets with me for the next hour or so for this video. And not laughing at your own jokes in the middle of every take like last time. That’s it.”
“But, Andi, this is—”
“Jordan, you promised. You’re my only option right now. Plus, you took the car with my ring light in the back the other day when I told you I needed it. And you ate the last of the cereal yesterday. You owe me, dude.” My hands flex in and out of fists as I try to keep myself from losing it on my brother. “I promise I’ll listen to whatever you want to tell me as soon as you let me walk you through the intricate steps of friendship bracelet design with your smile on and your mouth shut. Got it?”
Jordan smirks and lowers himself onto one knee, then bends forward into an elaborate bow. “I am at your service.”
“Good. Now, this is my final product.” I grab the friendship bracelet I tried to throw at him and wave it in his face. I made it last night while binge-watching cake-decorating videos, and it turned out pretty close to perfect. “I’m going to walk through the directions for one of these bad boys, but I’m going to give alternate, easier directions for a beginner design that’s less complicated, and that’s the one you’re going to do.”
“I always get the dumbed-down version.”
“It’s called offering modifications. Okay, sit. And pick out four colors you want to use from the embroidery floss box while I set up the camera again.”
“Ah, friendship bracelets,” he says as he pokes through my extensive floss stash. “Nonstop thrilling craft project content. Bound to go viral instantly, thanks to the influential middle school contingent.”
“Shut it, jerk. Middle schoolers actually are an influential audience. And lots of people love crafting. I may not be viral, but my subscribers are into it.” I’ve been making crafting videos for YouTube for about a year now, a total labor of love, and I’ve developed a small but passionate group of followers. “And who cares about going viral, anyway? Sure, one of these could get picked up and recommended by YouTube and get tons of views and blow my channel up, and believe me, I wouldn’t complain. But I’m just here to put out quality content that is useful and interesting. Not be the next Ryan’s World, or whatever.”
Once the camera and light are out of my trash can and back in their places, I head back to my pink desk to sit down and get my own embroidery floss organized. But I can’t avoid Jordan’s smirk and how he keeps sneaking little peeks at me out of the corner of his eye like he’s a cat with a whole mouthful of canary.
“What’s up with you?” I ask.
“I told you I had good news. I can’t believe you don’t want to hear it.”
I let out a long, pained sigh. This is so Jordan. He’ll be completely insufferable until I let him spill.
“Let me guess. That hot girl from the movie theater finally followed you back? Or you completed the bacon eating challenge at the diner? Is your picture on the wall now? Did you get the ‘I’m a Big Pig!’ bumper sticker to proudly display?”
“I was trying to tell you that this is good news for you, too.” He ties off his purple and gold embroidery floss, LA Lakers colors, clips it on a mini clipboard, and starts knotting himself a friendship bracelet. As much shit as he talks, my brother loves my craft projects, which is why I never have to work hard to convince him to be in my videos. Well, that and the fact that he loves scrolling the comments for people mentioning how hot he is.
I smack his hand. “Save your creativity for filming.”
“I think you are filming,” he says, pointing to the red light on my vlog camera. “It’s been recording this whole time.”
“Ugh.” I get up to turn it off, but he reaches his long arm out to stop me.
“Wait. My news. Let’s get this on camera.”
“And you say I’m dramatic.” I sit back down at my desk, positioning myself right in line with the camera, and speak directly to it like I do when I’m filming a video. “Hi, everyone! Jordan Kennedy, future SCU basketball star and my very favorite twin brother, has some big news. Tell us, Jordan.”
Jordan lifts himself off my bed and crowds close to me, putting his face right against mine so we’re both in the camera’s frame, my hair almost completely blocking his face. “Your boy got two weekend passes plus camping to Cabazon.”
My head whips toward him so quickly I’m surprised it doesn’t fly right off of my body. “The Cabazon music festival?”
“That’s the one.”
“How did you get those?” The passes for this coming weekend’s festival went on sale, and then immediately sold out, months ago. And for the twenty minutes they were available, they cost, like, hundreds of dollars.
“Sergio won them at work.” Jordan’s best friend works as a valet at a fancy hotel, where he always seems to get nice stuff from people who think it’s no big deal. “But he has his grandma’s ninetieth birthday party this weekend, so he can’t make it.”
I stare at him as my brain slowly processes this unexpected information.
“But it’s this weekend,” I finally spit out.
This weekend, Saturday to be exact, is the five-year anniversary of our dad’s death. It was lung cancer, it was an absolute nightmare, and now the actual day, April 16th, is completely cursed. Not only did my dad die on April 16th, but I’ve been broken up with on April 16th, I’ve gotten a flat tire on the freeway on April 16th, I had my school email account hacked on April 16th. It has been a five-year constant that my life, and Jordan’s life, too, completely goes to shit on this day. The universe knows we’re already suffering and decides to really dig that knife in and twist it around.
I lean back in my chair, out of the frame of the camera, and push my hands through my hair. “Do we really want to go somewhere? Shouldn’t we just lock ourselves inside and ride it out with junk food and Netflix this time around instead of tempting fate?”
“I thought about that,” Jordan says gently. “But then I also thought that Dad would have loved this festival. I mean, where else would he rather have been than surrounded by a bunch of bands? He lived for live music. This could be a way to, I don’t know, kinda honor him. We’ll be doing one of his favorite things, and we’ll be together. There’s no way we could have a bad day like that.”
He does have a point here, and I rub my hands up and down my thighs as I mull it over. Jordan got his height from Dad, I inherited Dad’s wavy blond hair, and he passed down his love of music to both of us. Dad, who was a radio DJ, wasn’t exactly musical, and neither are we—I love to sing, but after a few unsuccessful auditions for children’s theater and kids’ choir, we all realized I was better suited to living room karaoke, while Jordan has at least three instruments stashed under his bed that he was never able to get past a month of lessons with. But both of us connect with music on a visceral level, even more so since Dad died. So, yeah, spending the anniversary of the day he died doing something we know he would have loved does seem like the perfect way to connect with him.
“And, you know, next year…” Jordan trails off, but he doesn’t need to finish. The rest of his sentence has been appearing in my nightmares ever since he committed to Southern California University, our dream school and our parents’ alma mater, to play basketball on a scholarship. I got into SCU, too, but I can only go if I get the huge scholarship I applied for, because we can’t afford it otherwise. So, seeing my twin every day next year, like I have for the past eighteen years, and following in my parents’ footsteps … well, it’s all in the hands of a faceless scholarship committee. It’s a committee headed up by my mom’s boss, who specifically told me to apply, so I guess it’s not completely faceless. But still.
There’s a small chance that next year we may be separated.
There’s a small chance that next year is going to suck.
He reaches across my desk and grabs my still-recording camera, turning it so it faces me. “So, Andi, do you want to go? To the best music festival in California? With the best brother in the world?”
I look directly into the lens. “We’re going to Cabazon!” I scream.
Well, as soon as we get permission from Mom, anyway.
* * *
We find Mom sitting in the corner of our worn-in sectional couch, her laptop perched on her crossed legs. Spring has sprung in full force in Southern California, but my mom is still zipped up into her SCU hoodie like it’s a cocoon, and I can guarantee her heated throw is turned up to at least medium. “I’m cold-blooded; I can’t help it,” Mom is fond of saying.
“Give me ten seconds,” Mom says as we creep down the stairs. She doesn’t even have to turn around to know that we have something we want to talk to her about. And as we get closer, I notice she’s not working on her laptop like she’s supposed to be. She’s typing furiously on her phone and laughing gently while she shakes her head.
“I thought you were working,” I say, coming up behind her and playfully pulling the hood off her head. Mom works from home managing all online and social media content for a group of local shopping centers. She has an office upstairs, but she often prefers the couch. “Easier access to the snacks,” she says.
“I was, but then your grandma needed me to explain some memes she saw on Facebook. You know how confused she gets.”
“Poor Grandma,” Jordan says, leaning against the back of the couch. “Didn’t she quit Facebook after she got in that fight with her neighbor?”
“She can never quit. Okay, done.” Mom drops her phone onto a pillow. “Now, what’s up, my children?” She pats the cushion next to her, motioning us to join her, but her aggressive patting sends the ever-present tall pile of envelopes at her side spilling all across the couch.
Since Dad’s death, the envelopes have become his replacement in the house. The cancer tore us all wide open, but even worse than the trauma and unending grief of losing him is the flood of medical bills that never stop pouring through our door. His steadily growing ratings and status as LA’s number two most popular morning DJ didn’t matter when his station got bought out by some faceless, heartless megacompany and his entire morning show team got replaced like yesterday’s cat litter. He lost his dream job, we lost our health insurance, and then, bam, cancer.
Oh, your father is dying in a horrible way? Here, let’s have that awful death make you poor, too.
So, the tall pile of envelopes is like our own Leaning Tower of Pisa—impressively tall and headed for a fall any day now. But no one is taking cute pictures trying to prop this tower up; we’re just crossing our fingers that there isn’t a major collapse.
Before we can join Mom on the couch, she switches gears, pushing her laptop onto the envelope pile and hopping up. “Wait. I need to eat. Come with me.”
We trail her into the kitchen, where she rummages through the pantry before giving up and opening the fridge.
“What do you need? A signature on something? A ride? An alibi?”
“We have a proposition for you,” Jordan says.
“I’m listening.” She grabs a tray of veggies from the fridge and slides it onto the dining table.
“This weekend is the Cabazon Valley Music and Arts Festival out in the desert—”
“Ah, yes. Your dad and I went to Cabazon one year.”
“You did?” I’m not surprised; Mom and Dad had all kinds of fun pre-us, and even after, thanks to Dad’s job. I’m more surprised that we’ve never heard her mention it. For a while, her Dad stories didn’t get very far—the tears stopped them in their tracks. But lately it’s been easier for her to talk about him. Just like it has for all of us, I guess.
“Yeah. It was the second or third year they had it, right before you kids were born.” Mom’s voice gets thick with nostalgia as she slides into one of the dining table chairs, taking on that misty, faraway tone she always gets when remembering her times spent with Dad. When she shifts into that voice, it’s usually the signal of a good story coming. “Your dad got sent by the station. He got to interview Dave Grohl, who is, like, the nicest man alive. He bought us beers.”
I want to hear more about Dave Grohl, but Jordan is a man on a mission. “Well, Sergio gave me two weekend passes he won because he can’t go.” He flops into the chair next to her and grabs a handful of baby carrots. “I don’t think Foo Fighters are playing, but the Known are headlining.”
Copyright © 2021 by Jessica Patrick