“Not always eye to eye, but always heart to heart”– Unknown
The prelude to this chapter were several sit-down talks between Declan, Rory, Jay and his older half-brother Elliott, succeeding the last chapter, where during a family dinner at the Cameron Estate Jamie told Elliott he had enough of the constant toxic atmosphere between the brothers, threatening to limit the Camerons’ exposure to him by only allowing him visitation of his children, but no longer inviting him to family dinners and events.
At some point, in order to avoid Jamie feeling forced to exclude Elliott, Declan suggested a bonding trip for the brothers, to get to know each other without outside influences distracting them from doing so.
Elliott suggested Strangerville … Jay agreed, as he always tried to please Declan and Rory.
Strangerville, deep in the desert
A long, exhausting car ride later, they finally pulled into the rental property parking lot the navigation system had directed them to.
“So THIS is where we’ll be staying? For a WEEK?” Jay groaned.
“This is where we’ll be staying. Trust me, compared with the other rentals here, this is luxurious. And it has two beds, meaning we don’t have to bunk. Didn’t figure you wanted to get THAT close so quickly.”
“You figured right. You are 100% not my type!” snorted Jay.
“Let’s grab our bags and get them inside, then rest up for a moment.” suggested Elliott after unlocking the front door and both peeking inside to find a simple, but normal smaller home.
After picking their bedrooms they found two old camping chairs and decided to enjoy the balmy late afternoon outside.
“We really have nothing in common. We don’t look much alike, we have different interests, except for maybe Abby and the triplets, different careers, different life choices, … nothing in common.” Jay mumbled, as they sat down next to each other in the exact same position with the exact same movements, after having been asked if they were brothers at every stop on the way down, which both dismissed as lucky guesses.
“Nothing. Kinda sad for brothers …” Elliott confirmed.
“Well, we’re only half-brothers. And we didn’t exactly spent too much time growing up together. You ditched when I was 15 and you were 18 and a few months later, I ran away from home too. So how could we have anything in common?”
“Right. I wonder if this here was maybe a bit too ambitious. We’re practically strangers …”
The next morning
The next day started just as gloomy and gray as the evening before had ended when both men turned in relatively early, exhausted from the long car ride out here.
Elliott was up early and exploring the surroundings when he made a strange discovery.
“Interesting … hmm …” Elliott mumbled, while aiming the cell phone camera, zooming in and out.
“What the hell is THAT thing?” Jay yawned as he walked up behind his brother, whom after a brief search he had easily spotted just a few hundred yards from their rental home, when he joined him he saw Elliott was staring at an oddly pulsating fruit or flower growing from the ground. Jay kept a safe distance. If that thing acted as weird as it looked, it could take a chunk out of Elliott for all he cared. If his brother insisted on getting up THIS close and personal with that thing, it would serve him right.
“That, my dear brother, is why we came here. Declan suggested we find something meaningful to bond over. I heard of this mission, seemed pretty straight forward and amateur stuff, so I figured this can answer your questions about what I do for a living AND satisfy Declan’s request.”
“Oh joy. A mission? You mean like, we are on one of your damn assignments together? You gotta be kidding me! I thought we were gonna bond over daiquiris while working on our tan somewhere. Had I known your idea of vacation from work is more work, you’d be here without me.”
“Yeah, I figured. Anyway, we should go back to the trailer. Luckily it has some workout equipment. We need to work on your fighting skills. My guess is we’ll need it. And if not, some solid training to get into good physical shape is never wasted.”
“My fighting skills? To fight weeds? Dude, that is literally part of what I do for a living as the janitor at Cameron Enterprises. If it doesn’t flush but should, if it doesn’t glow but should, if it has a switch that does nothing, and if it grows where it shouldn’t, that is when I am called to fix it. Are we at least getting paid to get rid of those plants for the weirdos that live here? They all must be huge ‘Walking Dead’ fans, the way some of them roll. Bunch of crazy fucks staggering around like their head came off the hinges! Wonder what they’ve been smoking.”
“Jay, those plants are just a symptom, and I suspect the odd behavior of the residents is not just some over-the-top fanboys and -girls. Something is seriously wrong here, well beyond digging up plants, spraying weed killer and screwing in light bulbs. We will need to fight with actual people at some point, probably heavily armed I suspect, not vegetation and clogged toilets.” Elliott explained.
“Are you kidding me right now? You know how hard Declan, Rory and I worked on fixing my anger issues and my reflex to solve my problems with violence and now you want me to be violent on our bonding trip? You are nuts. No way Declan and Rory would want me to do that.”
“You’re not supposed to be violent, you are supposed to know how to hold your own if worse comes to worst, for your sake and mine.”
“Oh, I can hold my own all right! I lived on the streets since I was 15, remember?! If I didn’t know how to defend myself, I wouldn’t be having this weird convo with you. You’d be looking at a headstone. A REAL one this time.”
“Well, good to hear. Let’s go back and show me how you walk that walk after you talked the talk, Jay.” both brothers silently headed back to the nearby rental home, where Elliott didn’t waste any time.
“So, it is important to know how to block …” Elliott started to explain his actions.
“Is it also important to look and sound like a doofus? Cos you are knocking that out of the park. I said I KNOW how to fight. If I wanted a work out instructor, I’d be at a gym. And with any luck, it would be a ‘she’ and a helluva lot easier on the eye than YOU.”
“Fine. You already know everything and then some, so we’ll skip the instructions. Just watch me and be ready to copy.”
“Yah, you betcha.”
“Low kick and then …” Elliott commentated some of his pretty impressive moves.
“…and then time out for lunch? This Jay here is hungry!” Jay finished his brother’s sentence sounding deliberately unimpressed.
“Hungry? Are you kidding me? Shut up and focus!”
“Sure, I’ll focus until I pass out, starved to death, staring at you like a perv stares at a naked ass, because you just won’t understand that I already know how to defend myself. I can ruin anyone’s day, Elliott, no need to watch you contort yourself while I am wasting away.”
Elliott tried to ignore Jay and just continued with his efforts.
“Kick, kick .. .kick … and …”
” … and lunch?” Jay smirked, resulting in a groan by his brother, who continued anyway.
“And drop kick!”
“How Chuck Norris of you. Bet that kinda crap is a real panty-dropper with the females. Now can we go eat?” Jay grimaced, as he watched Elliott get back up off the ground, patting sand and dust off himself.
“No. Now you will show me what you got.” Elliott growled.
“You sure you can handle all of my combat glory at once?”
“100% positive. Go! The faster I see what you got, the faster you get your lunch.”
“NOW we’re talking!” Jay measured up the strange equipment, while Elliott chuckled behind him.
“What?” asked Jay irritated.
“Nice stance. You never mentioned you took ballet at some point.” laughed Elliott.
“Fuck you, Evans! It’s a secure stance to do THIS …” Jay said, then planted a series of powerful high kicks sending the machine rotating like a fan.
“And this and this and this!” Jay groaned as he landed hard, powerful punches, making Elliott nod appreciatively.
“Well, I’ll be damned. My little brother can really fight. I am impressed, Jay. Good job. Makes me feel much better and should make this here a picnic in the park!” he said then playfully punched his brother in the stomach.
“That tickles. You can hear the echo of your love taps resonating in my completely empty stomach, which is about to digest itself. And you said picnic, now I am trembling like an earthquake from it rumbling so loud. I swear my stomach growling registered on several Richter scales.” Jay snickered.
“You’re such an arrogant prick and a whiny crybaby! But actually funny sometimes and you are not just hot air, you actually can deliver. Come here you jerk!” Elliott laughed as he surprised Jay with a bro hug.
“Well, guess we do have something in common then after all … that arrogance and we can both kick some mean ass. And now: FOOD! My amazing self needs sustenance.”
“Yeah, yeah, you’ll get your food … and we both could use a cold beer … or ten.” Elliott agreed, smiling.
“You are finally making sense!” Jay said, as both started to head across the street to what they had been told was the one and only watering hole for hundreds of miles. Seeing it up close made both brothers halt for a moment.
“Well, looks like this is the finest this place has to offer and it is really not much to write home about. Makes you wonder what the rest of the venues are like.” Elliott sighed.
“I don’t care. I’d eat the butthole out of a dead rhino by now.” Jay said.
“I am almost confident they even serve exactly that here.” Elliott said as they entered, chuckling about his evaluation.
After getting seated and ordering – surprisingly they also served regular bar type foods – both men devoured the food in record time, washing it down with several beers.
“Ha – had you told me a week ago I would be sitting in some desert bar with my brother, happily sipping beer after beer in happy unison, I would have pissed and shit myself laughing. Hey, did you bring me out here to kill me and hide my body?” Jay laughed, the alcohol was helping to loosen him up more.
“Why bother, didn’t you see the many vultures circling everything everywhere here? I’d just leave you out in the open and in half a day you would be turned into a heap of bones and bird shit. Anyway, Declan and Rory helped me decide on this, so they know where we’re at. Just in case.”
“In case what? We both fall in love with the dusty charm this shithole does NOT have and can’t bring ourselves to leave, instead buy a quiet little house to move into together, rescue at least two dozen cats and pick up knitting and cross stitch? HAHAHHA” Jay laughed.
“Well, I am not hating it here … and the view is fantastic from where I sit. Hello ladies!” Elliott’s attention was now on the female barkeeper and some chick wearing a military uniform, the reaction of both was the same polite pity smile which literally flashed in proverbial neon lights “Thanks, but no thanks”.
“Oh dear lord! Total strike out times two. Nice going, you smooth operator. You sound like a drunk Mr. Bean trying to pick up chicks …” laughed Jay.
“Bite me. I am just a little rusty with the flirting and dating game. I’ll get back into it. You have Abby, I am single and a man has needs.” retorted Elliott, just loud enough for both of them to hear.
“Right … I have Abby. Best thing I heard you say in forever.” agreed Jay, before sipping on his fresh beer.
“Look Jay, it sunk in now. I get it. I lost out, because of my choices. I can waste everyone’s time and patience gambling on fighting to win her back, or I can not disturb the peace I think we could all use and just move on while being an honorary part of the Cameron family, rather than part of a problem. Jamie and Declan are right. Little kids are involved now. Last thing I want to do is have my own children live a version of what we lived through. Two men fighting over the same woman, like your father and mine and our mother, and the kids caught in the middle. No thanks, not ever.” Elliott’s words sounded genuine.
Several days of bonding over investigating confusing sights and sounds later ...
“What a weird place .. good grief!” Elliott mumbled, donning a safety suit limiting his field of vision.
He had snuck away while Jay was taking a well deserved nap.
The past days had been busy and harrowing, the more information they unearthed, the more questions they ended up having, Elliott realized it was more dangerous than he had guessed, so he had chosen to check some secret lab out on his own, where all leads they had gotten so far seem to run together. Whatever the answer was to whatever was going on in this strange town, it would be found here. And most likely it was dangerous.
“I have seen a lot in my days … a LOT … but this … what is all this?” Elliott mumbled to himself, his voice sounding strange to him as he looked around the odd collection of odd looking contraptions around him, all of them alive and moving.
“Well, one thing is for certain … I am not gonna be able to do this alone. I am gonna need Jay …” Elliott sighed.
He had wanted to bond with his brother, while keeping him out of danger still, but this was definitely not a one man job and he did have three children he wanted to see grow up, not end up dead for real this time.
Question was, would Jay even risk it?
The next day, back at the secret underground lab ...
“What the hell is all this, Elliott?! Is this a fairground? A horror ride? Madame Tussaud’s for someone on crack?” Jay ranted on. He had agreed to help Elliott right away, which made Elliott feel good, but also worry. Somehow, for some reason, he felt protective of his baby brother.
“I don’t really know, Jay. All I know is it’s dangerous and if you want to back out, now is the time. This is not a drill, I am dead serious. This is real.”
“I have had worse. Let’s do this and then get lunch.”
“LUNCH!?! How can you look at all this and think of food?”
“My growling belly helps with that. What do you want me to do? Curl up in a ball and cry? We’ll get this done and that’s that.”
“Cover me on the wing, JAY!”
“What wing? Man, now I am even more hungry, can’t stop thinking of chicken wings…”
“Jeeze – GO TO THE RIGHT AND AIM ON THAT THING!”
“My right or your …”
A long, exhausting fight ensues …
“We got it! WE GOT IT!”
“Ugh, finally! That damn thing knocked me down!” Jay growls.
“We did it! We really did it! Together! Great job, baby brother!”
“Yeah, that was wild! You really know how to fight, man. Impressed the heck outta me!”
“Straight back at ya! Let’s get out of those damn hazmat suits now and get you some food and a shower!”
“So this is what you do for a living, huh?”
“Kinda. Mostly classified, but yeah, similar to this. Just usually it’s not weird overgrown angry plants, but humans …”
“There goes my idea to buy you some giant hedge trimmer for your birthday.”
Back at the rental trailer home ...
“Where are you going looking like James Bond?”
“You are nuts! After all this you go back for seconds?”
“Nah, just a lame meeting, no mission. Not sure it’s any better than fighting angry plants, but has to be done. Shouldn’t take long.”
“Take your time. I will take a shower till my skin wrinkles and then call Abby.”
“Hey baby … yeah, I miss you terribly. No, everything’s good here. Great even. Yeah, I got a brother, Abs, and turns out he is actually kinda cool … I’ll tell you all when we get back home. Now tell me about the triplets …”
Some weeks later, the brothers road-tripped once again, back to Strangerville, but this time in a moving truck.
Elliott had fallen in love with the new-found charm of the desert city, the admiration of the residents for his bravery spoke to his soul, and he had been offered a nice mostly desk position at the local military base.
He bought a charming family home, with enough room for the triplets to come visit and he started over, expecting frequent visits by Jay, Abigail and the triplets, while he came back to Windenburg twice monthly as his new position allowed him to mostly set his own time.
But above all, the brothers were building a solid foundation for a relationship, and Jay no longer feared losing Abby or his beloved job.