“We have to go back, Brenda,” Josh said, twisting in his seat to look behind them, as though the act of looking backward would persuade his sister to turn the car around and do the right thing. “You’re not going to get away with this.”
“Says who, Josh?” she made his name sound like a curse.
“Says the law, Brenda. You broke the law. It isn’t like you swiped a candy bar. You’re not going to be able to talk your way out of what you did back there.”
Brenda leaned over, jabbing a finger in the air, aiming for Josh’s head. She missed, which only served to heighten her irritation. “You want people to think you’re so pure, don’t you, little brother. Would people believe your goodie-two-shoes act if they knew the real you?”
Josh slid down in his seat, folding his arms across his chest, and trying hard not to take the bait. Brenda was better than anyone else in the world at finding, and poking, at the sore spots in his psyche and, why not? His psyche was her psyche. He assumed it was a twin thing; the way she read him and knew how to wound most deeply. True, they weren’t identical twins, which Brenda insisted was like not being twins at all. When they were little, Brenda hated having to share her birthday with him. As they approached their tweens, she mounted a prolonged campaign aimed at convincing Josh that he was adopted. When they studied high school Biology, she reminded him, at every opportunity, that they ‘shared a womb, not an ova’, which was supposed to be sufficient to explain her failure to acknowledge, and share, the twin connection. But he felt the connection strongly enough for them both, always had. The more she rejected him, the more determined he was to prove himself worthy of her love. Somewhere along the line, he'd convinced himself that he would earn her love by protecting her from herself; a task that proved to be exhausting and impossible to achieve.
Josh did not like being in trouble, but here he was again, an unwitting passenger on Brenda’s crazy train, wondering how in the world he was going to right her most recent wrong. Left to his own devices, Josh would pass happily through life keeping his head down and his backside well clear of trouble. His sister, on the other hand, was a trouble magnet, always had been. From his earliest memories, Brenda had not so much lead him, as hurled him into transgression and stood by watching while he did his best to explain, excuse and extricate his twin from the snares she set without regard for consequences.
“The only way to fix this,” Josh said slowly, through clenched teeth, “is to go back and return what you took.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, little brother,” Brenda said in the soft, sweet voice she so often successfully used on teachers and parents and other adults attempting to call her on her crap.
“Just stop, Brenda,” Josh, his tone uncharacteristically clipped. “I saw what you did back there at the Gas ‘N Go. We have to go back, now, and make this right.”
Brenda’s soft, smooth brow wrinkled in concern. “I don’t know what you’ve been smoking, little brother. I’m worried about you,” she said, her words dripping sarcasm. “You’re hallucinating.”
“I know what I saw, Brenda,” Josh said firmly.
Brenda jerked the car’s steering wheel to the right causing a chain reaction of squealing breaks and blaring horns. Josh grabbed the car’s dashboard and held on as the car bounced up over the curb and fishtailed into a nearly deserted parking lot. Unfazed by the cacophony protesting her erratic maneuver, Brenda swerved through the lot, grinning as Josh lurched helplessly from side to side. She circled the lot twice before stomping on the brakes, shifting the car into Park and twisting in her seat to face her brother.
“You think you saw me lift some old dude’s wallet back there at the Gas ‘N Go?” she asked. “Is that what has your undies in a bunch, little brother?”
“What were you thinking, driving that way?” Josh demanded. “You could have gotten us killed, Brenda.”
“You are a drama queen,” Brenda sneered. Her contempt for him was so palpable he felt it not as a sentiment, but as a solid mass, a wall of loathing between them that would not, could not be breached, however hard he tried.
It was not the first time she’d looked at him that way, but it was the first time he understood and maybe more importantly, accepted what the look conveyed. His sister despised him. Acknowledging this reality was both excruciating and liberating.
Josh felt something shift deep inside. He swallowed hard and said, “The guy was old, Brenda. He probably lives on a fixed income.”
“You know who lives on a fixed income, Josh-u-a? I do. Mom and dad haven’t given me a penny for a month.”
“It’s called punishment, Bren. You broke curfew, again and they stopped your allowance because of it. Your behavior—"
“Oh, for god’s sake, Josh. Did one of your boy toys shove that stick up your a—”
“You’ve crossed the line,” Josh cut in. “It’s not like you took a few bucks from mom’s purse or my dresser. You stole from a stranger.”
“Wrong, dim wit,” Brenda snapped. “You saw a friendly with a stranger and you somehow got the wrong idea.” She cocked her head to one side and gave him her wide eyed, innocent look. “Oh, did I move in on your territory? I didn’t realize you liked older men.” She rolled her eyes. “Really, Josh, if you’d given me a signal I would have backed off.”
“You’re not a smooth as you think you are,” Josh said. “If I saw you pick up his wallet and pocket it, the camera saw it too.”
Brenda snorted. “You are a dumb-ass, Josh,” she said. “You think old man Wilson is smart enough to know to install camera in his dumpy little roadside station? I’ve been in that place hundreds of times. Old man Wilson is half blind and dumb as dirt. I’m not saying I did do anything wrong, but if I were going to, I would be smart enough to do it in a dive like his place.” She said, tossing her head in that way she did when she decided a subject was closed.
Josh gave a small nod. The subject was closed. He was going to have to accept that he was not accountable for his sister’s behavior, but he was, indeed, accountable for his own. Josh reached into his jacket pocked and touched the cell phone that held the evidence of his sister’s crime; video he was fully prepared to turn in to the authorities along with the witness statement that would doubtless seal her fate. It felt both good and bad to know that, at long last, he was ready to climb down off his sister’s crazy train.