They stop laughing and stand there at the glass, side by side, arms at their sides, hands touching, staring at the man they refuse to call Father. They study him, eyes unblinking. They appear as if they are trying not to smile.
The two men look like they could be twins—with their dark, curly hair, high cheekbones, and emerald eyes—but they are not. Twenty-two months separate their births.
The older son steps forward, presses his forehead against the cool glass, like an innocent adolescent anxious to spy the first fluttering flakes of a forecasted snowstorm outside his bedroom window. But neither of these men was ever young of heart or innocent of mind. Such things did not exist in their home.
The younger man remains in place. After a moment he crosses his hands as in prayer and says, “Do you remember the first time?”
“Like it was yesterday.”
“All of our yesterdays.”
The older son leans back from the glass and nods. “I was nine, you were seven . . .”
“. . . and we were at the beach house,” his brother finishes.
“Mother remained at home in the city, presumably attending to some important business errand, but we both know He planned it that way. He wanted us to himself that weekend.”
“We arrived on Friday evening, and after we’d unpacked and had dinner—I remember we ate at the Bayside Inn; best crab cakes and lobster bisque on the coast—He surprised us by allowing us to play on the beach until sunset. I tried to build a sand castle, but the surf was too rough and kept washing it away. You collected seashells.”
“I still have one of those shells. Hidden in my sock drawer.”
“Celeste showed up the next morning, looking as perplexed as we were.”
“We had three rotating housekeepers on duty in the city, but none of them had ever worked at the beach house. He used a local service for that.”
“He told us to go into the playroom and not come out until He’d had a chance to speak with Celeste.”
“We thought He was going to fire her. She had missed her bus the week before and come in ten minutes late. He’d been furious.”
“But it was so much worse than that.”
“The playroom at the beach house had been one of the few pleasant memories I had of that time.”
The younger son’s lips twitch into something resembling a smile. It’s a painful expression he doesn’t often wear. “All those books and puzzles.”
“The movie posters on the walls. And the miniature horses by the big bay window. What did we name them again?”
“Mine was Spirit. Yours was Thunder. I remember we would have races.”
A snap of fingers. “That’s right.”
“The racetrack and the train set were my favorites. I would pretend I lived in one of the tiny houses that lined the tracks, and I’d fish off the little stone bridge.”
“What about the stuffed dinosaurs? They were as big as we were.”
A shake of the head. “I’d forgotten all about them.”
“I noticed the cameras first. One tucked up high on the bookshelf, another smaller one attached to the ceiling in the corner, its red light blinking in the shadows.”
“It wasn’t until later that we learned He had hidden a half dozen cameras throughout the room.”
“Before we could even investigate, He brought in Celeste and explained the Game.”
“She was smiling and nodding along with Him as he told us, but her eyes were puffy and shiny as if she had just finished crying.”
“And she kept glancing over her shoulder at the open door.”
“At first you didn’t believe Him. You told Him so and He just laughed. But I knew He was serious. He never joked about His work.”
“She screamed the first time I swung the hammer. And then she started praying.”
“There was so much blood. Her foot was ruined.”
“But she never said another word after that. Not when we switched to the pliers or the razor. She just made that grunting sound, almost like an animal.”
“And she cried the whole time. I remember the silent tears on her blood-spattered cheeks. Like makeup running in the rain. And her eyes . . . I think her eyes were the worst.”
“That look of betrayal.”
“He didn’t even stay in the room with us. Just barked out His instructions, left His tools, told us what would happen to Mother if either of us disobeyed, and locked the door behind Him.”
“We never had a choice, did we?”
A long moment of silence. Then: “Celeste was a tough lady.”
“Yes. She was.”
“I’m sure she was paid handsomely for her . . . efforts . . . and never had to clean another house in her lifetime.”
“Would have been difficult with all that damage to...