Rob had finally had enough. His assholic older brothers had crossed him for the last fucking time. The three jerks had once again—well, Frank had and he totally fucking hated Frank—Frank had said he was a girl. Worse, a cheerleader. This time in front of the entire fucking football team. The bastard had stood in front of everyone and said the reason his little brother couldn’t try out for the team was because he was really a chick and they should have him cheer instead. And then everyone had laughed. Dan, his other asshole of a brother, had laughed the loudest and even Joey, who was usually the nice one out of the three, had joined in. Whenever he was around Frank and Dan, Joey always took their side. It wasn’t fair. Rob had three older, stronger, meaner brothers and they always picked on him.
Today, he was going to show them.
Rob stalked into their family kitchen, his parents still at work and his brothers still at practice. He placed the bag of sugar he had bought at the convenience store on the table, pulling a chair out and standing on it so he could reach the higher cabinet over the fridge. Fucking Frank was always laughing about how he needed to stand on something to reach the cabinet just like their mom. But Frank was a goddamn giant, as was Dan and Joey, and normal people needed a stool to reach that high. He wasn’t short and petite, he was just being compared to fucking giants. Everyone looked like a matchstick compared to his brothers.
Grinning viciously, Rob grabbed the container of whey protein powder out of the cabinet, gasping when he fumbled the large, plastic container and nearly dropped it. Fuck, that would have been a total mess. He cradled the container to his chest as he jumped down from the chair, then headed straight for the sink.
They thought they were so fucking great with their bulging muscles and tall, athletic forms. Just because mom had wanted a girl for the longest time and used to call Rob her baby Robyn didn’t mean he was a girl. Just because she had spent the first five years of his life dressing him in pink and calling him Robyn and telling everyone he was her honorary daughter didn’t mean he was actually a fucking girl. And what the fuck did his brothers do? Did they show sympathy? Did they try and help him bulk up like them or help him practice so he could join a sport? No. They just made fun of him too, teasing him for his slender body and cute face. They were always calling him Robyn, and cutie, and their pretty sis. God, he hated them all.
Just wait until the three of them were fat and slow, then they’d wish they were even close to as skinny as he was.
Rob poured three-fourths of the protein powder straight into the sink, turning the faucet on and running the garbage disposal so it wouldn’t clog. Taking the container with him, he hefted the five-pound bag of sugar and tore at the top of the heavy paper bag. Only to scowl, his fingers not strong enough to actually rip through the thick material. Goddamn, he hated his brothers. He could just hear Dan jeering in his ear about how weak he was. He didn’t have girl’s hands!
Grabbing the nearest knife, Rob stabbed into the bag, tearing the instrument out and pouring the sugar into the nearly empty protein powder container. He didn’t need to be strong; he was fucking smart. Once the plastic jar was filled, he replaced the wide cover and gave the powder a good shake to mix the contents. He got back on the chair, putting the container back where he had found it.
His brothers mixed the stuff into everything. Everything. It wouldn’t take long before they started getting fat, then they’d see how terrible it was to make fun of someone because of their body. Rob couldn’t help that he was short and thin. It was just the way he had been born. Just because his three older brothers had been born looking like Greek gods didn’t give them the right to treat him like shit. Fuck them.
Putting the chair back, Rob had a moment of quiet worry, his gaze sliding up to the cabinet. They always mixed the powder in stuff, usually flavorful stuff because it tasted like crap. He was pretty sure none of his brothers would be able to tell.
He snorted, grabbing the empty bag of sugar and crumpling it between his hands, then stuffing it into his backpack. He’d dump the evidence at school. He didn’t want to risk anyone seeing the bag in the house trash. No, he was fucking brilliant and didn’t have to worry about shit. His older brothers were a bunch of idiot jocks. Like they’d fucking figure it out?
It was after five before the once nearly empty house was full, Frank, Dan, and Joey coming home, sweat still clinging to them from their time working out. They all beelined it to the kitchen, crashing through the house like a small herd of animals. Their parents wouldn’t be home till much later seeing as it was their weekly date night, meaning the boys had to fend for themselves for dinner. Rob was nowhere to be found but the sound of the shower could be heard from the downstairs bathroom. Joey’s expression was grim as he scolded the eldest of the three tall, tanned, dark-haired brothers for his earlier comment.
“You know how sensitive Robbie gets, Frank. You really shouldn’t have said that. Not in front of the entire team.” Joey’s hair was longer than the other three, black and shoulder length with a soft curl that was currently dripping sweat while he chugged a bottle of water.
Frank, the tallest and strongest of the three, looked far from apologetic as he reached above the refrigerator and grabbed the protein powder from the cabinet. His hair was short with bangs that teased over his forehead when they weren’t spiked back. “Come on, Joey, the kid gets asthma walking to the fucking mailbox. He can’t join the team. Those guys would break Rob to pieces and you know it.”
Joey flinched, his kind, gray eyes full of worry as he imagined their petite, slim-limbed brother trying to go up against an entire football team. Rob was just too small and delicate even if he was all punk attitude.
“Besides,” Frank continued, taking the glasses Dan handed him and putting the three out on the table. “You know what Johnson would pull if Rob even stepped near a fucking tryout. No way in fuck I’m letting that happen.”
At Frank’s unhelpful lack of explanation, Joey turned with furrowed brows to Dan, the youngest of the three rolling his deep blue eyes back at him.
“Seriously, Joey? Don’t you fucking pay attention? Johnson’s been perving on Robyn for a fucking year now. You really want to let that creep near our little brother?” The glass clinked, Dan stirring milk into his protein shake. “Rob doesn’t know how to handle himself with a guy like that. Johnson would have the kid stripped and on his knees sucking cock in five minutes flat.”
His spoon held in his hand like a knife, Joey pointed it straight at Dan’s face, the brunette’s expression dark. “Could you please not put that mental image in my head, asshole? I will stab that fucker if he touches my Robbie.”
Dan and Frank exchanging a silent look, Frank carefully pulled the spoon from Joey’s hand. “Yeah, well, to save you from a life sentence in prison for murder with spoon, I made sure the kid wouldn’t step near the field,” Frank said flatly, using the spoon to stir his own drink. He dumped a final scoop of powder into Joey’s glass, replacing the lid to the container. “Robyn is too sensitive for sports. Remember when he tried to play kickball, then spent an hour bawling when he stepped on that butterfly?”
“Come on, he was ten,” Joey reminded, unable to stop a small smile from gracing his lips. Robbie had always been ridiculously adorable. It was kind of hard not to pick on him. He had the cutest face and just got so worked up over everything. How could you not want to piss him off until he threw a little hissy fit? Robbie’s beautiful, violet-blue eyes would flash angrily and he’d always try to take a swing at you even though the kid had the scrawniest damn arms. Of course, it always ended in tears, the boy so emotional, he’d be hiccuping by the time the older brothers relented.
Joey admitted to a dark, secret thrill in seeing his little brother cry, especially when Robbie would cling to him for comfort after, burying his face against his chest until he finally calmed.
Joey slowly frowned, growling internally when his mind flashed for a second on Nate Johnson who had started hanging out with the three of them more, always asking to come over to the house. If that fucker so much as looked at Robbie funny, he was going to beat the guy’s face bloody. He’d beaten guys for less when it came to his little brother. All but Frank and Dan, who he shared an unspoken agreement with to back off when things got too rough when picking on their little brother.
Maybe it was time to teach Robbie how to take care of himself. If a creep like Johnson was looking at the kid…
“He asked me to show him how to get strong,” Joey said after a moment, meeting Dan and Frank’s eye as his glass was handed to him. “He wants to learn how to fight.”
“Like fuck,” Frank growled. “The kid would be fighting everyone that looked at him sideways. He’s too mouthy, too undisciplined—Way too angry all the time.”
Dan agreed with a grin, raising his glass. “Besides, if Robyn was strong, then he wouldn’t be our cute little sis anymore.” They each took a sip from their respective drinks, Joey immediately spitting his back into his cup when the overwhelming flavor of sugar hit his tongue. Frank and Dan slowly followed suit, their eyes growing dark.
“Son of a whore—Didn’t we just get this stuff?” Frank tore the lid off the protein mix, scooping the powder up and putting it in front of Joey so his brother could inspect it. It was clearly sugar, the crystals unmistakable, large and nonclumping.
“The little bitch,” Dan growled lowly.
“He must have been really pissed,” Joey muttered, going to the sink and dumping his glass down the drain. He cupped some of the running water into his hand, rinsing his mouth from the teeth-itching sweet flavor.
“Yeah, but sugar? He knows that can kill you, Joey.”
Joey shrugged but his expression was grim as he glared down while the sink drained. Robbie had never tried to get him to eat sugar before. Watching his older brother take daily injections of insulin since the age of seven had set a line none of the Conner brothers had dared to cross before. “You know how he gets when he’s angry. He forgets shit. Says and does things he doesn’t really think out.”
“I’m the one that called him a cheerleader,” Frank said with a growl, tossing the protein powder straight into the garbage bin. “He should have come at me.”
“We all use the powder. Rob knows as much,” Joey reminded reasonably. “He wasn’t just going after me.”
“Fuck, fine, what the fuck are we going to do about it?” Frank fixed his forgiving brother with a hard look. “That shit was expensive and we can’t have Robyn dosing the diabetic with a daily shot of sugar. He’s got to stop with this shit already. It’s getting old, man.”
Joey sighed, slumping against the sink. “Come on, guys, you’re just going to get the kid more upset. You can’t keep picking on him. He’s never going to grow up if you’re always on his case about shit.”
Frank and Dan exchanged another look, Dan stepping up and whispering into his taller brother’s ear. Joey watched them warily, his arms folded over his chest.
“It’s just a punishment, Joey,” Frank assured him. “So Rob won’t do it again. Think of it like training.”
“Like fuck,” Joey said with a scowl. “What are you going to do, duct tape him to the door again? Robbie was pissed for weeks and only acted out more. This prank war hasn’t helped anything.”
Snickering at the memory, Dan shook his head. The boy’s eyes were full of mischief, Joey even more anxious to see. “Nope, I think it’s time our little bro grew into a full-fledged woman.”
“Damn it. You guys know that shit pisses him off the most,” Joey growled in exasperation. “He’s tired of us calling him a girl.”
“He looks like one,” Frank said flatly. “He’s sure underhanded and bitchy like one. And if Rob keeps this shit up, we’re just going to have to treat him like the girl he is.”
Joey inhaled sharply, his stomach tightening against his will. A part of him loved the idea of Rob as a girl. It was the same part that used to love to tease the boy merciless until he’d cry and cling to him, whimpering into his shirt front. For the longest time growing up, Robyn had been their little sister and it was really hard to let go of seeing the boy silky and in pink. But Rob wasn’t a girl, he was a really angry boy who had been a total pain in the ass lately. One that he really wanted to protect from whatever revenge Frank and Dan had up their sleeve. His other brothers knew Joey could take care of himself but because of his illness, they still felt the need to overreact. Something he was pretty sure the two were going to do again as Dan suddenly bounded down the stairs and out of the front door right after flashing Frank a grin.
Fixing his remaining brother with a glare, Joey pushed himself from the sink. “What the fuck did you mean by that? What are you going to do to him?”
“You mean, what are we going to do to him.” Frank wasn’t intimidated by Joey’s scowl, returning it with a tilted chin. “You’re the one babying him, Joey. You let Rob get away with all kinds of shit.”
“I have to,” Joey said reasonably, used to this particular argument. “You guys are total asshats to him. He thinks we all hate him.”
Frank wasn’t impressed. “We just say shit, bro. Robyn’s been a total terror. He poured soda in our beds, put glue in the shampoo and I’m pretty sure he’s the one that left out Dan’s porn for mom to find. He told Jessica that we all have crabs and that—”
Joey sighed heavily, running his hand through his shoulder length hair. “Fine, I get it. He’s been a total dick lately. Just, you freaking out on him isn’t helping shit.”
Frank shrugged, opening the fridge and pouring himself a glass of orange juice instead. “You babying him hasn’t done shit either. You notice when it all started?”
Joey thought back but couldn’t really pinpoint when Rob had started being quite so angry. A few years back he had gotten really defiant about mom pretending he was a girl but it had only been recent that the kid had started pulling these stupid and sometimes dangerous pranks.
“Well, I noticed,” Frank spoke up when Joey didn’t have an answer. “It started when he was passed over for that bit in the school play.”
Blinking, Joey nodded after a moment in agreement. That could have been about the time.
Frank poured him a much smaller glass of juice, handing it over. When Joey went to take the glass, Frank didn’t let go, meeting his brother’s eyes steadily. “The play you prep’d him for like two weeks straight. Where he kept making doe eyes at you until you were wrapped around his finger.”
Huffing in annoyance, Joey rolled his eyes. “Come on, man, he’s a good kid. Annoying at times but he’s—”
“Joey, he’s in love with you,” Frank interrupted curtly. “Head over fucking heels. Absolutely, completely smitten with you.”
Nostrils flaring, Joey put more pressure into his grip until Frank relented the glass. He drank it down like a shot, trying to ignore the way the cold liquid felt like lead in his gut, heat rising over his skin in an anxious wave. “That’s crazy,” he finally said after the silence had stretched on too long, his voice gruff.
Frank was unaffected, looking completely at ease. “It’s pretty obvious. Robyn threw that hissy when you started dating that chick from the next town over. He sulked the entire time, you know, when he wasn’t spreading rumors about the three of us and hiding all our fucking shit. Dan figured it out before I did,” he added as if Dan thinking the same thing confirmed it all. “I was ready to hold the little brat out of a window by his ankles until Dan spoke up.”
“This is crazy,” Joey muttered, turning and rinsing his glass to give him something to do with his hands while his mind reeled. He glared over his shoulder, his expression full of accusation. “You’re just saying this shit to get me to agree to whatever terrible you’re about to do.”
“He loves you, Joe. He was auditioning for the role of a chick—”
“There weren’t any male roles!”
“Yet he still wanted to be in the fucking play,” Frank replied, his eyes narrowed on the way his brother’s face was flushed in anger. “Believe me, Robyn is in need of facing some facts about himself and that is not going to happen if you don’t face the fact that our little bro wants your dick. Bad.”
Glaring stonily out the small window that looked into their backyard, Joey held his tongue. There had been times, glances, sometimes hugs that had gone a little too long that had made him wonder. But that had been a while ago and he had told himself it had all been in his head.
“He doesn’t,” Joey said, sighing softly. “He really doesn’t and you’re going to freak him out if you suggest such a thing. The kid is angry enough, Frank.”
Giving his younger brother a calculating look, Frank tilted his head, indicating Joey should follow. After a moment, Joey did, dragging his feet as they walked down the hall past the bathroom, stopping in front of Rob’s room. There was a pretty pink unicorn superglued to the boy’s door covered in swipes of black sharpie. One of Dan’s jokes after Rob had deliberately erased one of his video game saves. Mom had set aside a room just for the girl she had always wanted. Instead, her Robyn had been born a Rob and the woman had still insisted her youngest get a room of his own. It used to be all pink until Rob had finally put his foot down a few years back.
Frank pushed the door open, stalking immediately to Rob’s backpack. The room was painted a mellow sage green, no remnants of the soft pink and white lace curtains their mother had inadvertently tormented her son with in view.
Maybe it had been all their faults. Just, Rob had never really seemed to mind. He used to like his pink clothes, used to like getting to wear socks with fun patterns and do twirls to show off his latest dress. It was really easy to forget that their little sister was a boy, especially when it was just so easy to make Robyn cry.
“Come on, Frank, don’t go through his stuff…” Joey trailed off, Frank pulling out the empty bag of sugar from Rob’s pack. Gnawing on his lip, Joey didn’t say anything when Frank turned the bag over, searching for whatever evidence he was determined to find. He looked around the room again, taking in the posters on the wall Rob had started putting up. Most were of girls in elaborate, funky clothes from school girl outfits combined with combat boots and crazy, sparkling pigtails to a wall dedicated to leather, gothed out vamp girls. They had a subtle sexuality to them, very subtle when compared to some of the posters Frank kept on his side of their shared room. Rob was young in a lot of ways still, Joey reminded of it at every turn.
Grunting, Frank continued his search, finding what he was looking for deep in the pages of Rob’s math book.
Joey sighed heavily when Frank held up the photo that had been carefully hidden away, his own face staring back in a quiet, easy-smiling pose. Fuck.