Updated: Nov 17, 2020
Sometimes, weird guys aren't the worst problem to have. The woods behind Parker's new house are dangerous, filled with crags and sinkholes, the scars of old mines and new fracking. When Parker's neighbor, the surly, ogreish Melville, shows up to stop her from falling into one of these crags, she's both relieved and irritated as he's the reason she nearly fell in the first place. But when Melville's fraternal twin brother, Antares, shows up to invite Parker to dinner... well, that's a different story. These brothers, different as night and day, quickly capture Parker's interest. As do their very nerdy, very unbelievable secrets. By the end of the novel, she'll have a choice: stay and live a life of science, or go where no human has gone before.
But first, let's see how that dinner goes!
At the back of the big white house, on the other side of a glowing pool that isn’t visible from the farm due to a cluster of evergreens, there’s a broad, cobblestone patio running the width of the house and lined with square columns of varnished cherry wood. On the patio is an outdoor kitchen where a slender man in a pink polo stands over a grill. The aroma of fish and browning butter reminds Parker of a dinner she once enjoyed in Manhattan, celebrating her mother’s new position at JPL. That was just before she moved to California without them.
“Excellent timing, gentlemen,” says the man. “I need a table set.”
“Inside or out,” says Melville, hardly opening his mouth.
“You pick,” says the man, looking up. “And who have we here?” He’s brightness and sunshine, like Antares but with wrinkles.
“Dad, this is Parker Vochinsky,” says Antares, dragging his fingers along the stone counter.
“She was in the woods with Mel, and I invited her to dinner.”
“Perfect!” says the man. “I love it when the numbers work out.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Gilroy,” she says. “Thank you for having me.”
“Doctor,” says Antares, clearing his throat.
“Darin, is fine,” says the man. “Your grandfather was a good neighbor. We were sorry to hear he’d passed.”
“If you call hydroplaning off the freeway passing,” says Melville, exiting the screen door laden with plates and silverware.
“Melville!” says Darin. “A little sensitivity.”
“Hey,” says Melville. “It’s our duty as survivors to remember tragedies as they were.”
“At a more appropriate time,” says Darin.
“It’s okay, Mr. Gilroy,” says Parker. “We weren’t very close.”
“Doctor,” says Antares.
“Darin,” says Darin. “And that’s not an excuse. I’d prefer my children to know how to engage in social dialogue without offending half the room.” Using black tongs, he moves four piece of salmon from a cast iron skillet and onto a waiting platter. From a grill basket, he moves a medley of vegetables onto the same platter. He quickly sears four lemon halves and adds them to each of the corners.
Dinner begins and progresses, and Parker is fairly certain that she’s never had fish this good before, not even in the city, and that’s definitely true of the vegetables. She says as much. Parker has tried to like vegetables, but this is the first time she legitimately has. Darin asserts that her lack of prior enthusiasm is probably because they were never prepared correctly. There’s some discussion about how its done, assurance that it’s a relatively simple thing followed by a lengthy explanation that affirms its anything but. When the meal is concluded, the plates are practically clean, and that includes Parker’s.
“Mom’s going to be annoyed she missed this one,” says Antares, sipping from a glass of blush wine. Melville is also drinking wine, though he’s hardly touched it. Parker is comfortable with Perrier, no ice.
“Parker,” says Darin, sitting back in his chair with his third glass of Prosecco. “Tell us a little about yourself.”
“Um, like what?” says Parker.
“Activities, hobbies, plans for the future?” says Darin.
“Activities,” says Parker. “Haven’t really been here long enough for activities. I taught swim lessons last summer.”
“We both have a little summer blonde to show for it,” says Antares.
Darin nods in his fairer son’s direction. “Antares is on the swim team, school team and summer league.”
Melville’s smile is cool. “Make sure you tell her that you win everything.”
With a flash of eyes toward his darker son, Darin’s focus returns to Parker. “Hobbies? Future?”
“No hobbies right now,” says Parker. “I mostly study.”
“There’s more to life than studying,” says Antares.
“Not everyone can pull off perfect grades and a perfect tan,” says Melville.
“Son,” says Darin. “That’s enough.”
Melville smirks and looks off toward the lingering gold of the horizon.
“Surely you have some interests,” says Antares, unfazed.
“Oh, absolutely,” says Parker. “I like music. And books and games, strategy mostly. But those aren’t super productive, you know? I can’t really get into the colleges I want if I don’t put in the time now. It’ll have to be a scholarship, for sure."
“And which college is that?” asks Darin.
Parker bites her lip. “MIT would be my first choice,” she says. “But I’ll probably end up at Purdue. My mother went there, and she found her dream job right out of undergrad.”
“Ambitious,” says Darin with a grin. “You don’t mess around.”
“I don’t have the time,” says Parker.
“Your mother, what does she do?”
“She worked on rockets in Huntsville before she took a position a JPL.”
“Ha!” barks Darin. “What a small world! We moved here from Birmingham when the boys were nine. Forester’s energy division is there, just outside the city. It’s where I got my start as well. When did you move to California?”
“Dad got a job in Newark when I was ten,” says Parker. “Mom was gone before that, so…”
“I’m sorry,” says Antares.
“We’ve got Cheryl now,” says Parker.
“And you’re a senior?” says Darin. Parker nods. “Probably have your eyes set on valedictorian, eh?”
“I was on track at my old school,” says Parker.
“Well, I hate to say that Antares is going to give you a run for your money,” says Darin. “Oh, but don’t be nervous. That’s just one mark on what I suspect will be a rather impressive application. You know… I have some friends at MIT. And Cal Tech and Stanford. All great aerospace programs. If you’d like, I might be able to send a letter of recommendation along.”
“Mr… Dr. Gilroy! Darin…” says Parker excitedly. “That’s so generous, but I’ve already put in for early admission. Not in California, but at the others. Their entrance scholarship programs are very competitive, and I need every advantage.”
“All the more reason for me to reach out,” he says. “I doubt they’ve made their decisions yet.”
Parker can hardly keep from lifting out of her chair. “You would do that? You really would?”
He nods. “Of course, I’ll need to see what you’re made of. And you should consider a few activities to round things out. Schools are putting a lot more emphasis on liberal arts and engagement these days. No sense in hiring a math genius that can’t communicate.”
“That’s oddly convenient,” says Parker. “I missed out on o-chem this semester, and I’m in Creative Writing instead. I thought I was wasting my time.”
“See there?” says Darin, looking toward Melville. “Didn’t I tell you?” He turns his attention back to Parker. “Melville is taking Creative Writing. He was worried that he wouldn’t know anyone.”
Melville shakes his head, his eyes stark. “Wow, could you listen less? I told you I didn’t _want_ to know anyone. And I’m not interested in getting up in front of a bunch of amateurs to take a bath in forced criticism either.”
“I’m just trying to support you, son,” says Darin, brows furrowed at Melville. “If you don’t want to be an engineer, then don’t. Take whatever classes you want.”
“I am,” says Melville slowly.
“I’m in o-chem,” says Antares to Parker. “If you wanted to get a head start on next semester, I could help you out.”
“But don’t tell Rachael,” says Melville. “Wouldn’t want her to implode.”
“What’s with you?” snaps Antares. “You’re being a real horse’s ass tonight.”
“I’m sorry,” says Melville. “Are you not happy with your degree of praise? Should I bow?”
“Melville,” says Darin. “You’re embarrassing yourself.”
“Oh too bad for me,” Melville replies. “Are we done here?”
“You are,” says Darin firmly. “Good night.”
Melville smirks and pushes back from his chair, and soon he has disappeared into the house.
“I’m sorry about that,” says Darin. “Melville is… still trying to find himself.”
“I think he’s found himself just fine,” says Antares. “He just happens to be a dick.”
“It’s okay,” says Parker. “I get the impression he puts up with a lot. You know, at school.”
“What do you mean?” says Darin, leaning forward slightly.
Parker glances at Antares who is inconspicuously shaking his head, eyes slightly widened.
“Oh, you know,” she says. “Senior year is tough. Lots of pressure.”
“You’ll know something about that,” says Darin with a smile. He stands up suddenly. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a very nice meal. Teen angst not withstanding.”
“Yes, thank you again,” says Parker. She stands as well. “Can I help clean up at all?”
“No, no,” says Darin. “Guests don’t clean. But if you’re not in a rush to get home, maybe Antares can give you a tour of the house. I think I can speak for all of us by saying we’d like to see more of you, and you’re welcome to drop by any time.”
“Thank you, sir. Darin.”
“Sir Darin?” says Antares, rising. “Don’t give him any ideas. Sure you don’t need a hand, Dad?”
“I can manage a few dishes,” says Darin. “Get going.”
With a bright smile, Antares says, “Want to look around before you go?”
Parker’s eyes follow Melville’s path of exit.
“Don’t worry about him,” says Antares. “He’s probably already in the woods. That guy moves like a ghost in the dark. Come on.” He grabs Parker by the hand, and leads her across the shadowy patio while Darin stays behind to the clink of stacking plates.
Parker’s whole body feels electrified, and she suddenly finds herself just short on air. The skin of Antares’s hand is rough around her own. Firm but not tight. She spends as much time looking down at their hands touching as she does his sleek profile, and jutting eyelashes.
She held hands under her coat with a boy at a football game freshman year. Arjun Madan, he played lacrosse, but Parker had no idea if he was any good at it. What she did know is that he hooked up with Jenna Baker after he dropped Parker off that night. She knows because he told her. In the text in which he also said he could only date athletes. Meanwhile, Jenna Baker was about as athletic as a bicycle tire, and just slightly more interesting than that. But she probably worked up quite a sweat squeezing into her middle school jeans every day. And since kindergarten kissing under the crayon table doesn’t really count, that sums up Parker’s romantic life. At the moment, she’s choosing to ignore all Melville’s references to Rachael, who could be none other than Boobs McSqueezealot. And as Antares drags her polished room to polished room, it’s easy for Parker to pretend she has his full attention. Though she’s probably not going to remember much about any of the rooms.
The longer they go, the less Parker’s brain processes the things Antares is saying, leaving behind pleasant tones. As the moonlight streams through the huge, round window over the front door casting him in silver, his eyes catching all of the blue light behind his glasses, the shadows brushed sharply under his cheek bones, she loses her grasp on any replies she might contribute. And the meanings of words in general. Imagine if she’d had wine. Wine? What is wine?
In a narrow, dark cove between the staircase and the kitchen, Antares turns suddenly, and Parker finds her thighs pressed against a cold, granite desk built into the wall. Conspiratorially, he leans in close, and Parker inhales. His lips look so… words…
“Do you want to see something awesome?” he says. Sooo much eye contact.
Antares turns and opens a door that Parker didn’t even see. He flips on the light switch, illuminating a downward staircase. When he drops her hand to begin his descent, Parker exhales. Her mind swims for a second before sentient thought returns. Chewing on her bottom lip, she continues down the steps.
“My dad’s company has all these programs to help kids get a good start,” says Antares. “They want engineers and scientists, you know? So, if you were interested, you could probably apply for one their mentorship programs.”
“That’s a real thing?” says Parker.
“Forester is a really good company,” says Antares. “They get a bad rap for treading on the environment, but they have an entire division dedicated to offsetting their activities. There’s a rainforest protection group, wildlife conservation group, thermal regulations group, a group working on repressurizing depleted gas pockets, planting trees, building parks. All that stuff. Their alternative energy division is making some pretty serious advancements in fusion, too.”
“And they’re trying to buy my grandad’s farm so they can strip-mine it,” says Parker, before she can keep the words sequestered in her head.
“Oh,” says Antares. “But surely it’s only an offer.”
“Their legal team has moved past the offer, and they’re quoting some kind of homestead clause for the mineral rights. That’s why we moved here. If no one is living on the land, Forester can pay my father the submarket minimum to do whatever they want. Now that we’re permanently in residence, it’s going to be hard for them.”
Antares stops at the bottom of the stairs. “That… sucks,” he says.
Parker shrugs, dropping from the last step. “I think my dad should have sold it. So does my step mother. Okay. So what’s all this?” She points to the massive construct dominating the finished basement. Well, not so finished anymore. It looks like the carpet has been torn up to make a stable base for the cinderblocks that support the construct. And there are tools and materials everywhere. And copper. So much copper. On big spools. The construct itself is rather circular, and it seems to be some kind of massive tray.
“This is what I wanted to show you,” says Antares, his blue eyes lighting up as he waves grandly over the chaos.
“Mm, that’s a lot of stuff,” says Parker.
“Sorry,” says Antares, “I thought you might recognize the shape. It’s a particle accelerator.”
Parker blinks. “You’re building a particle accelerator. In your basement.”
Antares provides a wide look at his perfect teeth. “Indeed I am. There’s a small scale way to do it with a cathode ray tube, but I’m more interested in managing the magnetic field of something larger.”
“Isn’t that… dangerous?”
“Not with the amount of power I’m using. Frankly, it won’t be able to do much. But that’s not really the point. It’s really all about the magnets. My mentor, Dr. Rosen, says experience like this will get me early internships. Right, but that’s not the point, either! I’ve got some theories on fusion that could… you don’t care, do you.”
“Actually,” says Parker, “I think it’s incredible.”
“You have kind of a look going on,” he says with a laugh. “Mostly that means people are checking out.”
Nope. He’s incredible. That’s the stare for incredible.
Their exit from the basement is quick, and by the time they reach the kitchen, Darin has nearly finished the dishes. Final goodbyes are shared with a commitment that Parker will bring her parents by. Antares insists on walking her home.
The trip down the Gilroy driveway is without comment. As they exit the gate and hit the road, they walk a little slower, cool night air settling damply around them. Parker can’t say which of them is at fault for the reduction in pace, but at this rate, she might never make it to her front door. And she’s not sure she’d really mind. Antares has his hair pulled back, and Parker studies the angles of his too-large ears. The crest of his nose. He catches her looking, and he smiles.
Parker has no choice but to look away. “No wonder your brother is insecure around you.”
Antares pushes his glasses up his nose. “Yeah, well. He shouldn’t be. My dad doesn’t see it. No one sees it. But Melville is a genius.”
“There _is_ something about him, isn’t there,” says Parker.
“He’s conceptual,” says Antares. “My fusion idea… it isn’t really my idea at all. Melville pushed me toward it. I came up with the how-to, but he kind of opened up the possibilities. He’s like that. Seeing things other people can’t see. I’ve never seen any of his writing. I’m not really sure anyone has, not the stuff he cares about. But I have no doubt that it’s beautiful. Or mind-bending. Or super twisted. Really, who can say?”
“You guys used to be close?” asks Parker, to which Antares nods. “What happened?”
“Can’t say,” says Antares. “When we lived in Texas, we did everything together. I mean, we were still yin and yang, but it worked for us. And then after coming here, things just… changed. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
“Why were those kids so horrible to him?” asks Parker.
Antares lets out a long sigh. “You know why.” When she doesn’t respond, he says, “He’s a loner. He’s different. He wears a lot of black. Kids are mean. Take your pick.”
“Why didn’t you do anything?”
“For starters, I was faced the other way,” says Antares. It’s partially true, Parker reflects, he was facing away from Melville. At first. “But really, he would have been more pissed to have a rescuer.”
“You don’t believe me?” he says.
“I believe that would have been his reaction,” she says. “I just don’t know if that’s an excuse.” God, Parker. You just met this guy. “Or maybe it would have been an unpopular move?”
Antares scratches his head and winces. “You shoot pretty straight.” His sheepish smile lets Parker’s shoulders relax.
“Sorry,” she says.
“I see why Melville likes you.” He bumps her hip, and Parker wonders if he means what she thinks he means.
“In the two whole times we’ve interacted?” says Parker. “He tolerates me.”
“Same thing,” says Antares. “You don’t seem to be put off by him either. And that’s even more amazing.”
“We have a complicated history,” she says, working her shoulder which is still a little stiff from yesterday.
“He stopped me from falling into a collapsed mine. So you know, I guess I owe him a life debt.” She chuckles awkwardly.
Antares nods. Like it’s an afterthought.
And they keep walking, their feet scuffing the gravel. And after a minute, the conversation picks up again. They talk more about fusion. About mathematics. About Parker’s mother and NASA. But not about Melville. Or Rachael. Parker has mixed feelings on that one.
The rest of walk, from the road up the gravel driveway and to the steps of the farmhouse porch, Parker leaves her hand within reach. But Antares never takes it. Not that she expected him to. It’s out there, though. Just in case.
Their goodnight is brief, little more than a wave really. It’s funny how easily someone can convince themselves that a moment is what it isn’t. Parker consoles herself with that thought as she climbs into bed. But it’s so hard to let reality win when the moment in question makes your heart flutter.
Right! There it is. If you loved it, you hated it, you think I should change names, you thought this site was for ordering pizza... LMK! Throw some words at me through the comments, and I'll ABSOLUTELY read them. If you like these samplers and want to know when the net one is out - SUBSCRIBE for updates (but no pressure). Until next time!