The boy beside the mailbox waited. There was no movement about him except for his fine blonde hair ruffling in the breeze as he stared patiently down the rural road. He would have been a good-looking teen, except for the angry twist to his mouth and the haunted look in his eyes.
George Lemke peered out through a crack in the window shades, old lips moist and pursed together in anticipation. This time, that freaky kid would get the shock of his life when he messed with George’s letters. Every day for weeks, his mail went missing, got dropped in a puddle, or worse. Once it was stuck in a pile of dog poop. That kid, Brad, was no good. Everybody knew it. In a small town like this, the car prowls, drinking bouts, vandalism and petty theft became everybody’s story. That’s what happens when nature makes a freak.
Brad knew the old fart, George, was watching him. People always watched him. Even his mom and dad would stare at him when they thought he wasn’t looking. Everyone wondering and wondering whether his even being alive was a mistake. Brad furiously chewed the side of his lip. He’d show them how big a mistake the doctors had made. He lived because they said he was the strong twin, that with only one heart, they’d both die if one wasn’t sacrificed. Unconsciously, Brad ran his hand down his side where the scar roped beneath his T-shirt and jeans. He remembered – hell, he never forgot – the last time he looked into Chad’s eyes. His brother’s happy eyes were dimming. They were both dying, but Chad was going a little faster.
The mail truck rounded the curve, right on time. So, what would he do? Something crazy to commemorate his last evil deed. He stepped back to wait, just as a soft voice whispered in his head, “This is a bad idea.”
“No, it’s a good idea,” Brad said loudly. Then he looked around, frantic – had anyone heard him? Every day, the voice in his head was getting louder and louder, arguing with him, trying to make him stop striking back at all these stupid people who judged him, who called him a freak.
“You didn’t kill your brother,” the voice whispered.
“I’m alive; he’s dead. That’s all that ever mattered.” Brad turned his head, angry tears starting in his eyes. “And now I’m crazy too.”
The mail truck pulled up. Brad tried to look cool as the carrier slotted the letters into the right boxes. She glanced at him sharply. “It’s against the law to interfere with the mail.”
Brad assumed his innocent look, the one that made his face pleasant and his eyes narrow a little. “Just picking up the mail for my mom.” He didn’t bother to add, because she’s such a wreck that she won’t come out of the house any more. Everybody knew she had tortured herself into crazy over choosing the strong, bad boy over her other, gentler son.
The truck pulled away in a spurt of dusty gravel. Suddenly raging, Brad grabbed the mailbox with both hands – he’d pull it out by its rusty nails and stomp it into a twisted relic.
And then three things happened at once. Brad spotted the wire leading from the box to George’s house, George yanked open the shades and gleefully flipped the circuit switch.
A thousand bees stung Brad’s hands, arms, and heart. He screamed and collapsed. But the hard gravel yielded to something soft and warm, something that eased his heart instead of broke it. When he opened his eyes, Chad was holding him.
“Told you, you didn’t kill me,” he said. “Two bodies. One heart.”
Staring at his twin, Brad let out a long shuddering breath. As the loss and loneliness surged and choked him, he grabbed his brother’s hand. Dead or not, he began sobbing out the long years of despair. Chad never let him go.
In the vague distance Brad could hear screaming, pleading, sirens, but he clung to his brother. “I can’t go back,” he wept. “I can’t do it any more.”
“I’ll carry you. Climb on my back.”
“But you’re weak,” Brad clung to his hand. “They said you were weak.”
His brother grinned. “Nope. Just looking out for you. Your turn to take it easy now.”
The medics watched as the vital signs stabilized. The kid’s mother kept pushing closer, wailing until suddenly, the boy’s eyes fluttered open. He looked around and smiled.
“Hey mom, good to see you again.”
The woman stood motionless, as though turned to stone. “Chad?’ she whispered.