Castle Roland

Family Values

by Rilbur


Chapter 2

Posted: N/A

Family Values

Copyright © 2012 - 2014 by Rilbur and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.

All Rights Reserved

Family Values LogoJoe stepped up to the curb, smiling as he said "Stop!" It was a silly little game, but at least it got the girls to remember to stop, look, and listen before crossing the street. He craned his head left and right, looking. "I don't see any cars to the left. I don't see any cars to the right. I've looked!"

He paused and looked around one last time. "And I don't hear anything, so I've listened. No cars!"

"Cross!" his eight year old sisters chorused gleefully, pulling him forward into the street, abusing his sixteen-year-old dignity without a second thought.

The un-twins chattered back and forth happily as they finished the walk home. Amelia's class had made clay turtles today, but Abigail had gotten to make a pretty ribbon for her hair. Both of them had been asked to read for the class, though, from a book about some kid who met a phoenix. Joe kept his face carefully straight as they nattered about how silly this 'David' boy was, and how they'd love to set him straight. Some day, these two were going to break a lot of hearts.

Joe felt the urge to smile fade away as they got closer to the house. The twins weren't anywhere in sight, which was bad enough, but the trash cans were still out on the street. Either the twins had forgotten to pull them up to the side of the house, or they hadn't gotten home yet. Off-hand, Joe could think of a hundred reasonably innocent reasons for the twins not to rush out to great him, and a thousand more not-quite-so-innocent reasons. But he had a sinking suspicion that the dynamic duo had once again landed themselves in hot water. Which normally wouldn't cause too much trouble, but he had plans for tonight. And if the twins were in hot water, the Moms would probably insist that they needed a babysitter.

"Fudge," he swore under his breath, mindful of the little pitchers with big ears — and bigger mouths — on either side of him.

"Whats wrong Joe?" Ami asked.

"Hopefully nothing," he said pleasantly. "But the twins should be out and bugging me to let them on my Xbox by now."

The girls looked over at the house, then as one let go of him and charged to the door. "It's locked!" Abi pouted.

"I've got the keys," Joe laughed, trying to ignore the way his stomach sank. If those brats really had gotten themselves in trouble again… He'd kill them. He really would. Throttle them both with his bare hands. Chop them into little bits and pieces.

Or at the very least, urge the Moms to spank them until they couldn't stand.

As usual, the doorknob unlocked readily enough but the deadbolt fought him, even after he grabbed the knob and pulled the door tight against the frame. After a minute's effort he finally got the door to swing open, then stepped back to let the girls push through. "No fighting!" he called as they barreled their way to their room. It seemed like he barely had time to unlock his bedroom before they reappeared.

"I wand a soda!" Ami called out.

"I want crackers!" Abi shouted, deliberately emphasizing the 'tuh' sound in want. Ami retaliated by sticking her tongue out, which caused Abi to escalate by making a funny face right back.

"Calm down, girls," Joe interrupted before they could go further. The last thing he needed was to piss the Moms off by not taking good care of the girls.

"We are calm!" they chimed back, suddenly all smiles.

Joe got them downstairs, settled in with a small stack of Ritz crackers each, accompanied by a soda for Ami and a milk for Abi. Trudging upstairs, he grabbed his history textbook and his binder before returning just in time to stop another incipient fight. Setting his stuff down on the table, he quickly opened up the assigned reading and began flipping the pages. Predictably, the book gave short shrift to Napoleon's military successes, and instead focused heavily on his civil changes. It was a lot more boring than the biography of Napoleon that Joe had read a few months back, but thankfully it didn't look like there was anything new in there. Flipping to the back of the chapter, he quickly found the assigned questions. He'd barely headed the top of his paper with his name and student ID when an evil thought crossed Joe's mind. Ms. Engels was well known for both her prissiness and her detestation of anything even remotely military. Hence why the school's history textbooks treated wars as barely a footnote, interruptions to the real progress of human activity.

Joe charged upstairs and grabbed his biography of Napoleon off his bookshelf as a reference material. Back at the table, he filled in the first few questions with brief answers. The importance of Napoleonic code was that it replaced a patchwork legal system with a single, unified legal system. The book spent paragraphs and paragraphs explaining how the old system was rooted in feudalism and Napoleon had found inspiration in Justinian's similar revamp of older Roman law, and bla bla bla. Joe left his single, terse, detail less answer alone, grinning as he started in on the next question. With the biography as a reference book, Joe managed to easily fill in better than half a page with a description of the Peninsular War and how disastrous it was for Napoleon, and why.

Joe made short work of the assignment, then reached the final question and had to fight back the urge to howl in laughter. The old bat had slipped up. She'd assigned every even numbered problem up to sixty — the odd ones had answers in the back of the book — but overlooked that the book only had fifty-nine 'hard' answers. The last six questions were short-essay opinion questions, exactly the type of thing she hated to give. She'd given a few early in the year, but had quickly given up on the practice, much to the relief of Joe's classmates. Joe suspected that part of the problem lay in him. The other part lay in the fact that he could count on the Moms to support him. He'd never go so far as to be disrespectful — the Moms would tan his hide if he even dreamed of doing that! — but it was possible to call your teacher an obsolete old dingbat without actually being disrespectful about it. All you had to do was write an essay that shredded her position, and then have the nerve to take it up with the administration when she tried to fail you for it. After the second time he'd demonstrated to the satisfaction of the administration that his essay was better reasoned, better researched, and just plain better written than those of his peers who achieved an 'A ' grade, she'd quit giving them essay questions. And whatever his mothers might think of 'deliberately provoking' a teacher, they both agreed that he had a right to his own opinions, and it was the teacher's job to either prove him wrong — fat chance, old bat! — or gracefully accept them.

After finishing the assignment, Joe hesitated for a moment. He'd already baited the old crow enough this year. Maybe he shouldn't be quite so obvious. Pulling another clean sheet out of his binder, he quickly copied over a 'better' set of answers. Returning to the first sheet, he carefully added a sub-header reading 'Personal Notes', then stuffed both back into the binder. He'd keep the first version and use it as reference material in class, when they went over the assignment. Ms. Engels would catch on after the first answer, but even the majority of AP track students found that discretion was the better part of valor in her class. If he was willing to volunteer to answer questions, well, they would gleefully take the excuse to keep their heads down and avoid the harpy's tongue. And with verbal replies, it would be extra hard for her to 'prove' that he'd over-elucidated on the 'unimportant' questions about 'meaningless military activities'. Especially if he simply made a point to only raise his hands for the military related questions. After all, it's hardly his fault that the questions he could best answer were military related.

Oh, no one would be fooled. But it was an excuse that wouldn't be laughed out of the proverbial courtroom, if he had to defend his actions. And he'd already amply demonstrated his ability to prove that Ms. Engels' prejudices were as wrong as they were absurd, so she'd be leery about pushing matters too hard without firm proof that he was trying to bait her.

Looking at the clock, he sighed. Time to get dinner started. It was the twin's night, but with them running so late, it was either start dinner himself or listen to everyone whine over how hungry they were. Including, most likely, himself. Trudging into the kitchen, he checked the fridge. The twins had set hamburger meat out to defrost, but no other preparations to show their intentions. Grabbing the cooking book, Joe flipped through it, trying to figure out what he could make with the ingredients on hand. They didn't have the makings for burgers or sloppy joes, so what on earth were the twins planning to make? After a few minutes futile search, Joe gave up.

Grabbing a can out of the cupboard, Joe quickly put a new meal together. Tim hated chicken, but it was his own fault for being over an hour late getting home. Joe soon had Rice-A-Roni simmering away on the stove, with a bag of frozen brussel sprouts standing by in the microwave and a can of chicken drained, waiting to add to the rice once it had cooked down a little.

Just as he finished preparations, he heard the garage door rise up. The twins always carted their bikes in through the front door, so that had to be one of the Moms, but it was still a little early for them to be getting home.

Joe stuck his head out of the kitchen just in time to see his mother stalk in angrily, grumbling to herself. "Hey Mrs. B!" Joe shouted over the noise of the girls clamoring for her attention. "Any idea where the twins are?"

"Don't ask!" she shouted as she made her way to her room. "You don't even want to know!" She gave the girls a more gentle smile as she shooed them away. "Mommy needs to get out of her uniform, then she'll be right back, okay honey-darlings?"

Joe turned back to the kitchen and surveyed the results of his labor with a deep satisfaction. It wasn't half bad for something thrown together at literally the last minute. Not bad at all. He'd barely turned the microwave on when the garage door began opening again. "Hello Mom!" he poked his head out of the kitchen to greet his biological mother.

"Hey Joe," she waved back. "How long has Laura been home?"

"Not more than two or three minutes," Joe told her. "What's going on with the twins?"

"You'll hear at dinner," Mom told him, laughing. "I suspect Laura will be keeping a belt handy after she changes."

"Ouch," Joe winced. His mother was a very big believer in corporal punishment, though at nearly thirteen the twins really should be old enough to avoid it. "That bad, huh?"

Mom rolled her eyes. "Not really, but you know how the twins like to push. She'll want it on hand as a threat. I hope."

"Are they going to be home for dinner? Chicken Rice-A-Roni and brussels sprouts. And it would have been nice if someone had called to let me know I needed to prepare it."

Mom frowned. "I'm sorry, I forgot it was their night. And wasn't it supposed to be meatloaf?"

Joe slapped his forehead in exasperation. "Is that what the two pounds of ground beef was for?" he asked. "I flipped through the recipe book, but didn't think of that."

Mom laughed. "Don't worry, it'll keep until tomorrow."

"Good," Joe smiled. "I like meatloaf."

"I'll go rescue Laura from the girls," Mom decided. "Let me know when dinner is ready."

"Will do," Joe said as he turned to reenter the kitchen.

It seemed like he'd barely gotten back into the kitchen before the microwave dinged, letting him know it was time to stir the veggies. As he finished that, the front door slammed. "Finally," Joe muttered. "Tim, Tom, time to set the table!" he shouted.

"Be right there!" one of them shouted back as they manhandled their bikes through to the garage. Joe winced at the banging, wishing the Moms would get around to installing that external keypad they'd been talking about for years.

Joe decanted the canned chicken into the Rice-A-Roni as the rice approached completion, just early enough to warm up before serving. Unlike the twins, who usually wound up with either cold chicken or chicken mush, Joe could — usually, at least — time that more-or-less right. "Eww, not chicken," Tim complained, one step behind Tom as they tromped into the kitchen, bags still on their backs.

"Wash your hands," Joe ordered firmly, pointing at the sink. The boys quickly shifted course, pretending that was their goal all along, squabbling over who washed first. Tim wound up giving way, unwilling to fight too obviously with the more strongly-willed Tom. At least, Joe thought it was Tim giving way. You never could be too sure with those two.

Joe carefully stayed out of it as Tim tried to take the plates away from Tom. The silent struggle didn't last long before Tom was on his way out the door, plates in hand, while Tom sullenly grabbed the silverware. When the table was set, they tromped off to their room to set their bags down. Joe waited until he figured they'd had a chance to set their stuff down, then bellowed, "Tim, Tom, in here!" Maybe, if he was very lucky, the boy's hadn't yet had a chance to piss the Moms off too thoroughly. If he could warn them to behave before the Moms started lecturing them, maybe, just maybe, his plans with Susan wouldn't be fucked.

"Can it wait a minute?" Mrs. B shouted back. "We're talking with them."

"Sure!" Joe shouted back, shaking his head. Dammit, too late. Well fuck that then. He'd just have to go through with his threats instead of using them to convince the boys to behave. Maybe next time-

A loud cracking sound made Joe wince, even before he heard the yelp that followed it. Holy fucking shit. At nearly thirteen, the twins should have been old enough to avoid a spanking for anything short of… Joe stretched his mind and actually couldn't find anything. What the hell did the little morons do?! And for the sound to carry like that, Mom was using the belt, and not holding back. Short of hitting Mrs. B, Joe could not think of a single thing those two could do to have caused this, at least not and have them come home afterward instead of being sent to jail.

Three loud cracks later, there was a long, pregnant pause before another three sharp cracks echoed through the house. Joe pretended not to hear anything as he set a shaker of cayenne pepper on the table. Tim and Tom trudged slowly to the kitchen, judiciously rubbing their backsides when they thought he was too busy to see them. Joe suppressed the urge to blurt out 'what the hell happened to you?' when he caught an eye of their matching shiners. "Kitchen," he ordered harshly, instead.

They disappeared quickly, just as the Moms exited the hallway, Mom clearly pissed.

"Why don't you two spend some time with the girls?" Joe suggested. "They could probably use some help washing up, anyway."

Mrs. B nodded. "I'll handle that," she said, turning away from Mother. "Alone."

Joe's mother sighed, then collapsed into a couch. "Fine by me," she snapped.

Well shit. Maybe Joe's plan's weren't ruined, but this wasn't exactly how he wanted them un-ruined. Reaching out, he snagged the kitchen door. "Stay there," he ordered the twins as he shut it. "What happened?" he asked.

"You know we don't like to talk about punishments after they're done," Mom told him unhappily.

"I also know that you want me to be the 'mature male role model', and right now I need to know what I'm modeling," Joe told her. "A little bit of trouble I might not have done anything, but as old as they are, you would not spank them for anything minor. I was what, eleven the last time she spanked me? And it was for-" Joe's voice trailed off. "I can't imagine they followed in my footsteps. They love their mother."

"As opposed to resenting the hell out of my wife?" Mom asked, raising an eyebrow.

Joe winced. He'd brought it up, but she had a point. He'd been six when his parents divorced, the apple of his mother's eye, and very much daddy's boy. The two of them having knock-down, drag out fights had been hard on him, and he'd reacted by choosing one side of the conflict to identify with. Completely. As a result, he'd been more than happy with a divorce settlement that didn't involve his mother having visitation rights. The judge had planned to revisit the decision later, after Mother had finished rehab, but for some reason that had never happened. As a kid, Joe had never even thought to ask about it. As a teen, first he hadn't cared, and then more recently he hadn't had the nerve to ask.

His father's decision to re-wed hadn't impacted Joe much. At least, not at first. Then the new Mrs. Peters had gotten pregnant. His relationship with her — or rather, her attitude towards him — had cooled as the pregnancy progressed, until finally it became outright icy.

Being dumped in his mother's 'loving' lap without warning had been hard on all involved. For an eleven year old boy who truly, deeply, and completely loved his father, and had no experience dealing with siblings, it had been outright torture. A pair of highly inquisitive seven year old boys paired to a set of three year old girls had been more than he could handle. And his reaction towards his mother having 'shacked up' with another woman had been a decisive, and embarrassing, legacy of his father's attitude towards 'appropriate' behavior. Which didn't include anything other than one man, one woman, much less two women with several kids.

It had taken him a long time to realize how absurd he was being. "We all had a hard time of it," he deflected the comment. "And you didn't go half as hard on me as you did on them just now."

"No, I suppose we didn't," Mom sighed. Unlike Mrs. B, who cut no slack for anyone or anything, Mom had always tried to understand a behavior before correcting it. The two balanced out well. "You know what we said about old man Grayson?"

Joe nodded. "Yeah, and we were all supposed to avoid antagonizing his son about matters."

"Those two decided to poke him exactly where we told them not to poke anyone," Mom said angrily. "Exactly where we ordered them not to go. Disobedience, deliberately hurting another student, and then capping it off with direct disrespect to a teacher. They baited him good and hard."

"Ouch," Joe winced.

"Any one of those would have pissed me off. Maybe I overreacted, but any one of those would be worth a great deal of trouble. Two of them at once are definitely in the level of trouble to earn a mild spanking. All three of them, on top of causing a fight?" Mom shook her head. "I didn't like it, but I had to agree in the end. Three sharp ones, not enough to really hurt them, but enough to damned well get their attention."

"So Mrs. B isn't, um…" Joe hesitated.

"She's as angry with them, just annoyed with me being stubborn," Mom shrugged. "You know her temper."

Joe's mouth twitched. Mrs. B had a short fuse. A very, very short fuse. But it tended to burn out just as quickly as it arrived. From the sounds of it, by the time she was done with the girls she'd be in a good mood again. "She seemed more than, ah, 'annoyed' just now."

Mom shrugged. "That was directed at the twins as much as at me," Mom explained. "I imagine she'll be over it before we go to the movies tonight."

"Speaking of movies," Joe said hesitantly, "we kinda discussed a few things over the last few days. I mean, we never really committed to anything, but you and Mrs. B both agreed- I mean, I understand that they've misbehaved, and we don't want to reward them, but-"

"Oh calm down," Mom laughed. "That's half the reason I went so hard on them. Scare them good and straight, since they're going to be on their own for so long tonight."

Joe let out a sigh of relief. "Thanks, Mom."

"Even if we'd decided not to, we would have hired a baby sitter," Mom promised him. "You got permission to use my car tonight in advance, and have your own plans with Sarah. Plans I expect you to stick to, young man. No detours to any hidden woody valleys. To the mall, the theater, and then home. Directly home to her house, then just as directly home to ours. We'll know if you're late. And while we may or may not know if you aren't at the theater, I plan to quiz you about the plot of that movie."

Joe laughed. "It's Susan, not Sarah."

Mom laughed. "Oops. I could have sworn…" She shook her head. "No, I'm quite certain. I remember thinking about the coincidence of my name being the same as your girlfriend's. Just last week."

"Um, ah," Joe temporized. "Well, you see… Susan and I, ah… Sarah… Um…"

"Joseph Randolph Peters, are you cheating on your girlfriend?"

Joe swallowed. "She broke up with me. Just this Monday. She thought I was being 'too friendly' with Bethany Stephens."

"Bethany Stephens," Mom said slowly, as if tasting the name. "And two weeks ago, you were going out with a Jessica something-or-other."

Joe tugged on his collar. "I don't cheat on them, I swear," Joe promised. "I just, well, I'm nice. To the girls. All the girls. I never cross the line. I know you'd kill- I mean, I know it would be wrong. But I'm still nice. Help them with homework. Or in the lunch line. Or carry them over a muddy spot in the parking lot."

"And I suppose they pay you in kisses?" Mom growled. "Laura and I have been meaning to have a little talk with you, but suddenly I wonder if we should move that up."

"No ma'am," Joe said firmly. "Sometimes they decide to give me a little peck, but that's always their decision. I don't prompt it. I'm just… I just…" Joe spread his hands. "Is there something wrong with being nice?!"

"If that's all it is, how have you gone through six separate girlfriends in the last two months?" Mom asked challengingly. "Which, you will note, coincided with your birthday. And when you started taking the car places."

"Well, I suppose technically you could view it that way," Joe agreed, then added more firmly, "but I don't. I've gone through two girlfriends. Mary, who moved away a week after my birthday. And while I've dated other girls once or twice, other than Clarissa we never called ourselves a couple. We were just, well, dating."

Mom's eyes narrowed, then she started laughing. "Is that it," she guffawed. "You're spending your allowance money like water just to take girls out on dates, without any hope of them putting out?"

Joe blushed. "Well, um, it's not always my money-" he began.

"Joseph Randolph Peters!" Mom bolted upright. "You do not make them pay for their own dinners?!"

Oh Hell. Joe realized instantly that he once again had managed to find a minefield by stepping right into it. "I suggest that we could watch a movie together," Joe said carefully, "or go out to eat. I never imply or suggest-"

"You are!" she shouted, clearly aghast at the thought. "My son is making his dates pay for their own dinners!"

"Mom-" Joe began to protest.

"No," she shook her head. "I'm not going to demand you pay for everything. But the first date, at least, you should pay for."

"What?" Joe blinked, then narrowed his eyes. "But you just said-"

"I know what I said," she cut him off, the corners of her mouth twitching. "And I am just shocked, shocked, to find that my son is going dutch!"

"Mother, are you laughing?" Joe asked.

"No, I am not," she replied, clearly struggling to hold it back.

"Oh really?" Joe disagreed.

"I was not," she managed to say relatively levelly. "Then." Finally it burst out of her.

"One of these days," Joe laughed. "I will get you one of these days."

"I'm sure you'll keep trying," she agreed. "And failing."

"So you don't actually object?" Joe asked.

"Actually I do," she sobered up slightly. "I don't mind her treating you, or you treating her. But going dutch isn't a great idea. Studies show that it tends to be an ineffective approach to dating. You both enjoy yourselves either way, true, but if you pay for her, it shows you value her time. And if she pays for you, it shows that she values your time. It's a way to make each other feel good. Going dutch looses that."

Joe had opened his mouth to argue, but found himself forced to close it halfway through her explanation. "Can't you make a little less sense, at least sometimes?" he said eventually.

"No," she told him angelically. "Now, I imagine you wanted to go and read the twins the riot act about interfering with your plans for the evening. We left that for you."

"Thanks," Joe grumbled. "Alright then, time to go be Mr. Substitute-Dad."

The twins were rummaging through the fridge, trying to find a soda, when Joe entered the kitchen. "Alright, Mom and I had a little talk. Now why don't the two of you explain what exactly has the Moms so royally pissed off." Joe picked one of them at random and pointed at him. "You first."

"Well, we kinda misbehaved," the twin started hesitantly.

"You 'kinda' misbehaved?" Joe snorted. "Try again. Or I won't let you bring cushions with you to the dinner table." Both boys winced at the threat.

"Well, Tim and I had a run in with the school bully, Joel Grayson," Tom started out with a bit more certainty than his first try. "We really didn't mean to start anything, but he kept harping on about how we had two moms."

"He what?!" Joe snapped, then took a deep breath. "Alright, you two are officially no longer dead meat," he said after a moment. "Continue."

"Well, he kept going on about our moms, and we just ragged him back about his dad," Tim continued for his brother. "Eventually he took a swing at us — we didn't swing at him, honest! — and then a teacher intervened. The teacher didn't like us much."

"He was really nasty to us," Tom added hastily. "We didn't mean to 'bait' him, he just, well…"

"Let me guess, Mr. Gray," Joe sighed. "I had to deal with him a few years ago myself." The twins nodded. "Alright, so you baited Joel with something you were ordered not to mention, which provoked a fight, then got into it with a teacher. That about cover it?"

Tim and Tom shared a long look. "Yeah, I think so," Tom offered after a moment. "Mostly."

"Mostly?" Joe raised an eyebrow.

The twins shuffled a little, looking at the floor. "Well, we kinda opened our mouths to the Vice Principal," Tom said quietly.

"You didn't," Joe covered his face with his palm. "Bad enough to disrespect a teacher, but the Vice Principal as well?"

"No, no!" one of the twins protested. "We didn't disrespect him!"

Joe looked up, silently asking them to continue. Tim looked sideways. "We just kinda said more than we should have about why a theoretical prankster might have done a few things. And he brought it up with the Moms."

"No evidence at all that we were involved," Tom added quickly. "Just suspicions."

"And a suggestion," Tim added. "That it might be a good idea to back off."

"Yeah, he told the Moms that anyone caught pulling a prank would likely be blamed for all the pranks," Tom agreed. "Even the ones he wasn't responsible for in the first place."

"Any other details I should be aware of, shrimp-for-brains?" Joe asked. The twins shook their heads quickly. "So the Moms got called out of work to talk to the administration?" The twins nodded. "And you didn't think to call me and let me know about dinner because…?" Joe let the sentence die out.

The twins looked at each other, shocked. "We thought the Moms called you!" Tim protested.

"They're the ones who insisted our first session of detention should be today!" Tom added.

"We had to help the gym teacher clean the spare uniforms," Tim wrinkled his nose.

"And pick up the trash on the courts," Tom agreed.

"And it didn't even count!" Tim complained.

"'Count'?" Joe asked.

The twins shared another look. "We've been assigned detentions. Until Joel's grades improve."

"And another kid's, too," Tim added.

"That seems unlikely," Joe frowned. "Them making your punishment dependent on someone else."

"Well, we're supposed to be improving their grades," Tom said after a moment. "Tutoring them."

Joe hoped he managed to keep the growing smirk off his face. That was actually kinda funny, but he needed to finish pounding some sense into these two. "Alright then, I think that covers everything you need to tell me. Unless there's something else you'd like to add, before I find out about it on my own?" Joe made his second sentence into a threat.

The twins shakily shook their heads in complete disavowal of the mere possibility that they'd overlooked anything. "In that case," Joe scowled at them, "I would like to make a point that I suspect has yet to penetrate the rocks you idiots replaced your brains with. If you misbehave, you get in trouble. If you get in trouble, you're less trustworthy. And if the Moms decide you can't be trusted alone at home, someone has to stay here and watch over you little morons."

"So, I want you to think long and hard over what, exactly, I'd be doing to you if you'd interfered with my date tonight," Joe let his voice drop nice and low, filled with complete and utter menace. The little shits deserved that much at least. "And don't forget what the Moms said the last time you… seriously annoyed me." The twins paled at the memory of that little incident. Few things could piss off a fourteen year old boy as much as discovering that a pair of ten year old brats had decided to tape him in a private moment. And all the Moms had needed to hear was that he'd been recorded, in secret, during a 'private moment', without any pesky additions or extensions to the terse, bald phrasing, and they'd hit the roof.

Neither of the twins had sat down for the rest of the day after that incident, but that wasn't the worst of it. Oh no. The Moms had decided, in their rage, that they weren't going to be the ones to spank the idiots. Joe's hand had ached for a week, but the sheer humiliation the twins had felt, being forced over his knee, had been sufficient to derail any future thought of doing anything quite so moronic. Especially since the Moms had made it clear that Joe had the spanking privileges to keep, so long as he didn't abuse them. And he'd made it clear on several occasions that he wasn't afraid to do just that, if the twins managed to piss him off enough. He hadn't had to do it in nearly two years now, but the temptation was there. And the twins knew it.

"And if you think I'd be angry over interrupting my date," Joe continued, "just imagine how incensed I'd be to discover that the Moms had been forced to derail their plans for tonight. Or did you idiots. You morons. You brainless nincompoops, forget that they were going to be leaving for a small trip after dinner? Something about a trip to the theater? A treat the girls have been looking forward to ever since they discovered that the theater was hosting The Lion King this weekend?"

"We didn't mean to cause trouble," Tom protested quietly. "Joel was just being a bully."

"The road to Hell is paved with good intentions," Joe said softly. "Good intentions, without a lot of thought behind them." It was one of Mother's favorite sayings. "Now, as you may have guessed from my choice of words, neither of those extremes happened. The Moms, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to trust you at home tonight, while the rest of us are out."

The twins shared a relieved glance. "I'm not trusting you two, however," Joe let his voice raise a little. "My room is off limits. As is everything in it. My computer. My Xbox. My TV. My books and magazines. All of it. Off. Limits."

"But Joe-" Tom began to protest.

"Deal with it," Joe cut him off. "There are consequences for your actions and you need to learn to accept them bla, bla, bla. You know the spiel as well as I do. Better, probably. If you want something to keep yourselves busy, you can start in on your homework for the weekend."

Joe turned and started walking for the door, then smiled evilly, hand outstretched. Without turning to let the twins see his smile, he added, "And anything of mine that might be in your possession, I suggest you put back where it came from. You two are grounded all weekend at the very least, and I expect those magazines you have hidden away under your mattresses to be put back under mine before this evening."

"Magazines?" one of them asked, bluffing. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"I think you do," Joe told him. "And don't think I don't know about your second stash, either, so you can't just move the stuff there."

"Second stash?" a twin yelped. Joe felt his smile spread even wider. Battleship, hit. Battleship, sunk.

"I was twelve once myself," Joe reminded them. "In fact, maybe I should insist on emptying both stashes, since you apparently don't want to-"

"We'll do it!" they agreed hurriedly.

Joe laughed, then opened the door. "Dinner time, come and get it!" he shouted. "You two grab the food," he ordered the twins over his shoulders.

Quickly, all seven of them were sitting around the table, drinks ready and food steaming. "Grace," Mrs. B said simply, and they all joined hands. "Lord God bless this meal and grant us your grace. May this food nourish our bodies as you nourish our souls, and may we grow together as a family. Amen."

After rumbling 'Amen' back at her, food was quickly served, and almost as quickly devoured. Tim and Joe both made use of the cayenne shaker, but the girls insisted it be kept away from them. Mrs. B almost insisted on having it passed to her, but at the last moment, laughing, decided not to press the point. Tom's willingness to toss it to her so that the girls wouldn't have to handle it may have had something to do with her decision.

Quickly, the food was cleaned off their plates, which were carted off one-by-one to the kitchen. "Joe, boys, I'd like a word," Mrs. B said once the table was cleared. "Sarah, why don't you take the girls and help them get ready for tonight." Mrs. B led the boys back into the kitchen, and indicated that Joe should close the door. "Joe, you don't have any plans for tomorrow, correct?"

"Well, I was hoping to hang out with some friends," Joe shrugged. "But nothing specific. Why?"

"Sarah thinks I need to have a little talk with you," she shrugged. "I understand her concerns, to be honest, but I think she's overreacting. But those concerns directly tie into needing to have a talk with these two. A talk we don't want the girls to be hearing for another four years or so. Would you mind taking them to the movies tomorrow, our treat?"

Joe frowned for a moment, then caught the oblique reference. "Ah, if you're going to have 'The' talk with these two, I'd be happy to keep the girls out of your hair," he agreed instantly, feeling his cheeks heat up.

"Somehow, I thought you'd approve," Mrs. B smiled. "Now, as for you two," she looked at the twins, who groaned.

"Not more punishments!" one of them complained. Joe made another mental note, one of several hundred on the topic, that sooner or later he needed to come up with a way to tell them apart.

"I'm sure you're going to view it that way," Mrs. B told them. "You'll be staying home to have a talk with me and Sarah. I suggest you get plenty of sleep tonight, and have a nice, healthy breakfast. You're going to need plenty of energy."

"The better to fuel your blushes with, my dears," Joe muttered.

"What?" the twins asked.

"Hrm?" Joe shook himself. "Nothing. I didn't say a thing." The twins looked suspiciously at him, then turned back to Mrs. B.

"I'm sure you didn't," Mrs. B covered for Joe. "Anyway, Joe, I was wondering if we can count on you to answer any questions the boys might have after we finish talking. We'll distract the girls ourselves for most of the afternoon.

"Thanks," Joe rolled his eyes. "Fine, fine. They'll ask them anyway, at least this way I don't have to worry about being walked in on."

Mrs. B nodded, smiling. "Don't worry, we'll keep the girls well away from things," she said. "Now, I think you two should go to your room, where you will be spending the next several hours doing homework," she ordered the twins. "Stay a moment, Joe."

Joe waited as the twins left, curious. "Your mother and I had a small talk. Well, I overheard what she said and called her out on it. Treat those girls you date well, and you won't hear any more about it. You're young, it's not unreasonable for you to want to date someone every night of the week. You're doing a good job, holding things down to what you can afford on your allowance, though I suspect your bank account is becoming increasingly thread-bare."

Joe shrugged. "I've managed to avoid hitting it too hard. Most of the money is still in there."

Mrs. B smiled. "Well, I stand corrected. Sarah and I intend to talk and find some more chores for you to do around the house, to earn more money each week."

"Thanks," Joe nodded. "I'd actually like to find a job, but that's not going to happen," he shrugged.

"Our fault," Mrs. B nodded. We rely on you too much to help out around the house, with the girls and with the twins."

Joe shrugged. "It's not that big a deal. You pay me a pretty good allowance."

"But not as much as you could earn if you could get a job," she shook her head. "Money is too tight to really hope to make up for what we've done to you. So we'll cut you some slack."

"Slack?" Joe asked, confused.

"Yes," she smiled. "We won't talk about what might or might not be under your bed. Or what's under the twin's beds, about to be moved to your bed."

Joe blushed instantly. Oh shit. "Um, I… Ah…"

"Kitchen door doesn't block sound that well," she shrugged. "And it was a masterstroke. Just make sure we don't catch you, or them, with anything we'll need to take notice of. Magazines we'll tolerate, so long as you don't flaunt them. I find another joint there…"

"Joint?" Joe asked. "The only time… Oh. You've known for that long?" he laughed. "In case you're wondering, it really wasn't mine. I'd had Ben over the previous day. You know, the guy who used to be my friend?"

Mrs. B nodded. "We suspected that, or we would have lowered the boom before now. And my attitude is slightly different from your mother's, not that that will save you from her wrath. I don't particularly care if the number of condoms you have stashed there starts to dwindle, so long as you take care not to run out."

"I don't think that will be a problem," Joe managed to force out, feeling like his cheeks should be used to cook food.

"Joe, take it from a woman," Mrs. B laughed, "you're handsome enough I could just eat you up if I weren't married to your mother."

"Ew," Joe made a face. "I need mental bleach now."

Mrs. B gave him a quick peck on the cheek as she walked past him. "Well, in that case, why don't you check the clock. You have about fifteen minutes to wash, dress, and get out the door if you want to get to your date on time. And you'll want to shave, too."

"Fifteen minutes?" Joe looked at the clock. "Ah crap!" All thoughts of cougars vanished from his thoughts as he rushed for the restroom, resisting the urge to yank his shirt off as he ran.

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