What did Sunday nights and undercooked,undercheesed cauliflower have in common? That Will hates them both. At least the cauliflower he can push around his plate, crush into finer pieces and mix them into his mashed potatoes to make them more palatable一or just more concealable. But Sunday nights? Sunday nights offer no escape in the Franklin household, just hours spent locked in his home, forced into the same proximity with someone he can barely tolerate, all in the name of “family bonding.” It is bullshit.
“Who’s ready to play a game?” Will’s mom exclaims, shaking a box of cards at Will as she perches on the edge of the couch like a bird, or more in character, a know-it-all student in class, waiting with anticipation to answer whatever question the teacher asks.
“No one,” Will drawls in the plushy white recliner across from her, his body as slouched as it can be without sliding out of it like a slick of goo running onto the floor.
“That’s not true,” his dad comments from the kitchen. In the crook of his arm, he cradles bottles of ketchup and mustard, his other hand palming a plate of mini hotdogs. “I’m looking forward to it.”
“You would be.” Will’s parents met in their high school debate club, and when they found a game that gave you different topics to debate along with a rubric to help guide the judges they swiped it up faster than a discounted coffee machine on Black Friday. Because, you know, any game that comes with the rubric automatically spells fun. “This is like, how you two flirt or something. It’s gross.”
“It kind of is.” Will’s eyes slide towards the sound, but no other part of him moves. That would be giving Oliver more attention than he deserves. Although, if Will admitted it, Oliver had been getting way too much of his attention as of late. His bespectacled twin brother had taken up vacancy in Will’s head rent free and Will wanted to evict his ass. ASAP.
“Well, if Oliver’s says it, you know it’s true. If anyone knows about gross, it’s him,” Will says, and from the couch, a flick of his mom’s eyes tells him what her lips don’t. ‘
Yes, yes they fucking do. They weren’t the ones who had Oliver going behind their back, lying and stealing. So, in his humble opinion, these snipes, if he can even call them that, are the dullest of the barbs he could throw out right now. Oliver deserves a bayonet to the gut, or a mace to the face. Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh, and maybe this has become his default way of communicating with his brother over the past week, but it’s not like it’s unmerited.
Will replies with the quirk of an eyebrow, and turns his attention to his phone. There is one text message across its screen from his friend, Nick. I just saw Palmer, and I still can’t believe it. How?
Will bites back another sigh and types his response. No goddamn idea. If he could figure out the 10,000-piece Palmer puzzle, he’d probably have a 4.3 GPA versus his 2.9, or at least a better grasp on how to explain the unexplainable, like UFOs or the appeal of a never-ending Marvel universe.
He nudges the tray of food towards the center of the graphite-colored table, and waves for them all to grab a hot dog, and for Mom to pull the first card for, of course, he and Oliver to battle over. Their debate is who is the greatest actor of all time, and why. Will picks The Rock, if for nothing more than his range. Wrestler to action hero to Disney star to sitcom inspiration.
“Tell me who has another trajectory like that, and maybe I’ll reconsider,” Will says. Because Oliver is Oliver and nothing like Will, he chooses James Stewart for his “everyman appeal,” in basically every movie he’s in一It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Rear Window, etc. Or maybe Meryl Streep, because what role hasn’t she played? One that Will has cared about, that’s for sure. Their parents award Oliver more points for supporting his argument, but it’s the points he loses in being wishy-washy that put Will over the top.
Their parents go at it next (innuendo fully intended), sparring over what is the most important issue facing the United States today. Dad takes the economy and Mom gun control, or lack thereof. Considering Mom has Dad agreeing with her by the end of her spiel, she’s the obvious winner, with or without Will’s scoring.
The topics keep coming: is pineapple on pizza acceptable; universal healthcare: for or against; should schools ban books; and what do you consider to be an underrated film? By the end of the fourth round, all of their scores have increased, and Will’s irritability has increased in tandem. At the game, his parents, and Oliver. Especially Oliver.
Throughout the game, Will can’t help but be distracted by the glow flashing like lightning from Oliver’s phone Once. Twice. Twelve times. Not that Will’s counting or anything.
But he is wondering, the question at first just a whisper in the back of his mind, and then, over time, becoming a bellow, until his inner voice overpowers his outer voice.
Oliver lifts his head from his phone to look at his brother, and this time, their gaze connects. “What?”
“Stop.” Will mimes a rapid-fire tapping of thumbs. “Texting. Your phone is like a strobe light over there.”
“Oh. Sorry,” Oliver says. “I didn’t think I was doing it that much.”
“Well, you were,” Will tosses back as he jams the debate card he read to their parents back in the box. “Why don’t you tell Palmer you’re busy with your family and you’ll talk to her later.”
It’s an interesting position to be in, defending a game and a night he resents, but when it comes to Oliver, rarely does Will react normally. It’s a fact Oliver recognizes and his reaction is one Will recognizes一head tilting and eyes crinkling like he is a human x-ray machine, trying to see inside and identity the problem.
“I didn’t think it was an issue considering you’ve been texting too. And for the record, I wasn’t talking to just her. I was talking to Trent,” he says, sounding annoyed. For evidence, Oliver flips around his phone and shows Will the screen, and sure as shit, there’s the conversation with Trent—Oliver’s one friend, as Will had branded him in his mind.
“Whatever,” Will says with a roll of his eyes. “Just when it is Palmer, you can tell her I say ‘hi,’ you know because we’re friends if she remembers that.”
Even to his own ears, Will is irritating, the words that sounded like the perfect Palmer slam in his head coming out needy and complaining.
“Will do,” Oliver replies, and leaves his phone on the table. As he does, Will swears he hears Oliver, under his breath, whisper “asshole,” but that could just be his imagination.
“Okay then,” Mom huffs, sliding the box of cards across the glass tabletop through the graveyard of dirtied plates and crumpled napkins to her. “Let’s save any sparring for the next question.” From the box, she pulls a small, powder blue card, smiling as she reads it. “Good one, and very fitting for today. Do you think that the name Sunday Scaries is a fair description for Sundays? Why or why not?” Her eyes flick between them. “Who’s going to start?”
Will smacks his hand against the table like it’s a buzzer. “Yep. It definitely is.”
“Okay. Tell us why,” Dad says.
“Well, I mean, what comes after Sunday? Monday. Mondays you have to go back to school and you have homework due or a test coming up, or you have to go back to work. Sundays, yeah, you’re off, but you also have the dread of what’s to come, that’s the scary part of it, and that makes it hard to enjoy. At least a lot of the day.”
What he keeps from saying is how he lives for the weekends, the hours when he can be around the people he loves without any distractions. Sure, he has time during the school day to be with his friends, but that also comes with the interference of bells, and teachers, and red marks on homework and tests reminding him of all of the ways he doesn’t feel good enough. On the weekends, he doesn’t have to worry about it. He is on top of the world, good as fucking gold.
Actually, not even that’s true anymore. Since he found out about Palmer, the insecurity has bled through the whole week, no barriers keeping it out.
Unlike some people believe, guys and girls can be friends without any feelings blooming between them. Friendship is friendship no matter the gender of the people involved.
It’s that Palmer has a crush一no more than that, deeply likes, maybe even, gag, loves一his brother. His twin. Oliver. And has been dating him for months without a word.
As a matter of pride, Will wanted to believe the reason this was happening was because she really had a crush on him, and his brother was a sloppy second. It was the only thing that made sense in their incongruent Jessica Rabbit/Roger Rabbit relationship. But, when he stupidly chose to verablize that, she shut it down quickly.
“No, I love having you as a friend, Will, but, your brother, it’s different. It’s always been different,” she said, and somehow, it hurt more than a short and sharp “no” would’ve. Palmer liked his brother because Oliver was different from him.
“Okay, Ol, how about you?” Mom asks. “Sunday scaries: yay or nay? Remember, you need to make a different argument if yay.”
Across from, Oliver twists up his mouth and runs his fingers through the same sandy brown hair as his brother, before drumming his fingers against his kneecap. “Uh, nay,” he says, because why wouldn’t it be the opposite of Will? So predictable. “I mean, Sundays do make me anxious. Like Will said, you have a list of things coming at you. But on Mondays, you actually have to deal with them, and I think the fact that you can’t push them off anymore makes Monday scarier. And then there’s Fridays一”
Unable to stopper his throat, Will scoffs. “Fridays? Seriously? How could Fridays be worse? It’s the end of the week. You’re home free.”
“Yeah, that’s true, I guess,” Oliver says and runs the pad of his thumb over the crest of the table, pressing it in until the tissue around it bleeds to white. “Except maybe some people like the structure of having something to do, rather than a bunch of empty time to try to figure out how to fill. Some people don’t have a ton of friends, so maybe for them, it’s lonely.”
As much as he’d like to say it doesn’t, the answer stuns Will. Lying beneath the surface of Oliver’s words is subtext laced with pain and vulnerability. While Oliver seems like he wants to cover his tracks, he’s doing it with bright red paint, a line from “some people” leading directly back to himself. It’s a line that doesn’t make sense, considering everything Will’s found out about his brother in the past week should mean the opposite.
Which is why, Will finds himself saying, “How is someone lonely when they have a girlfriend named Palmer?”
This time, when Oliver looks at his brother, he’s squinting, a touch of anger in his mirror of a gaze that automatically sets Will’s teeth to grit. It’s the look that says, I’ve reached my fill of this bullshit.
“Plenty. I know you think we were going behind your back every second of every single day, but we weren’t. We never were together at school except in class, and you were with her most of the weekend. I got a few hours here and there. So, yeah, it was lonely. When you guys were off hanging out with your friends, I usually was here without anyone else except for sometimes Trent. You got more time with Palmer than I did, because she didn’t want to have you react like this or worse if she hung out with me instead. It’s like, it shouldn’t be a problem if someone is dating me and friends with you. It shouldn’t be an either/or, but it felt like it was. I think you still think it is, and this is some, I don’t know, affront to you, even though, believe it or not, you were winning without trying,” he says, before his voice loses its force, falling into resignation. “You have no idea how jealous I was of you.”
If he’s being honest一hell, if everyone was more honest, the world could agree that it’s easier to deny logic and cast yourself as the wronged party than to see a situation for what it really is, and your own role in it. In this situation, he can still call himself half wronged: They did go behind his back rather than telling him they were dating. But when it comes to time lost with someone, he’s not the one who suffered there. That’s Oliver (and Will doesn’t quite mind that he was jealous. Not that he’ll say that out loud. It sounds petty).
“I wouldn’t have been worse. I’m not that much of a douchebag” Will mumbles, wanting to acknowledge Oliver’s truth in some way. In a different environment, in a different time, he may have even lowered his guard and told Oliver that he understood what it was like to feel not good enough, like he’s on the outside looking in. It’s what has hurt him most about Oliver’s relationship with Palmer: for once he’s been forced to the sidelines, only able to watch as an observer. For once, he knows how his brother feels.
Oliver nods, and whether that means he agrees that Will is not a huge douche or not is up for debate. Will wants to believe it is the latter, and that in his response Oliver sees the smallest of olive branches, the largest Will can extend.
“Anyways, uh, no, Sunday doesn’t deserve the name. Lots of other days that are just as scary if not more. So yeah.” Olivier punctuates the sentences with a couple of taps to the glass of the table, and leans back against the foot of the sectional, arms folded across his go-to Harry Potter sweatshirt.
“Okay. I guess we’ll tabulate the score,” Dad says, a look passing between him and Mom, inscrutable to everyone but them. In it, they come to some consensus, as Mom says:
“Yes, that one is a draw. Well done, both of you.”
Neither of their arguments were particularly well-constructed, and based on that, the praise doesn’t seem earned, but Will thinks the game is what she’s referring to.
It could be that in the answers to their stupid question, Oliver and Will finally found commonality: insecurity.