Shotguns fired across the line of three men, echoing out over the field amid cussing and whoops of laughter. The approaching end of fall was clinging to the last bit of green grass and ghosting through the empty trees. Very rarely did all four find a Saturday where they weren’t working but this particular day of the year they all made sure to be free. 

“I don’t think Benji has hit a clay all morning,” Gabe smirked, tossing a box of shells toward his brother. “Ole Dead-Eye is slippin’.”

Shrugging, Benjamin ignored the taunt and took a deep breath of autumn air, his lungs searing with the iciness of early morning. His eyes stung from lack of sleep but his heart was full; he was content for the first time in months just being surrounded by his brothers.

“Watch it, he’ll run back and tell Mom,” Luke stated seriously as he worked another pigeon into the thrower and pulled back until it caught. 

A smile danced across Benjamin’s lips as he flipped off his oldest brother. Things wouldn’t feel normal without all the bullshit being thrown around. As the baby, he’d grown to expect and accept it; he’d had twenty-two years of defending himself under his belt against three older siblings.

Off in the distance, the rumble of a tractor fired up in the hills and the smell of spent shotgun shells was glue to their jackets and sweatshirts. Birds sang raucously in the cut just south of their shooting, crows harshly cawing their way into the sky.

“It must sting a little knowing I’m Mom’s favorite,” Benjamin said, looking back at Gabe. He towered over Gabe by several inches, something he’d always enjoyed rubbing in his brother’s face. Benjamin’s eyes glinted with challenge, the blue irises catching the rays of the sun like turquoise and the edge of his cheekbones pinching to hold back a smile. 

Where Benjamin was tall, Gabe overpowered him easily in brawn. Tattoos flooded down the inside of the second youngest’s arms where his sleeves were rolled up, no gangling limbs or stretched out thinness marring his bulk. The same blue mirrored back into Benjamin’s stare, a product they’d both received from their father. 

“How you figure?” Gabe’s deep timbre was tinged with sarcastic edge but he raised his eyebrows in question.

“She finally created perfection so she stopped,” Benjamin finished, raising his chin arrogantly. “I’m sure she figured she needed to make up extra for her latest disaster.” 

Benjamin’s cockiness faded slightly at Gabe’s slug to the shoulder. The two older brothers watching shook their heads at the typical games and slams.

“Pull,” Hank shouted at the end, quickly obliterating the neon orange disc before either of his brothers could even raise their guns. At their pissed expressions, he continued on pretending not to notice. “Actually Gabe’s just not the favorite because Mom could never love a son with a man-bun.”

“Agreed. No way could Mom love a son with hair that looks like Aunt Betty’s,” Luke nodded, the same serious look plastered across his tanned face. Benjamin’s snort broke loose at the jab, his snort causing Gabe to snort the same way and then ripple out again into silence. 

Only seven years of age gap spanned between the four brothers: Luke the oldest, then Hank, to Gabe, and ending with Benjamin. While Benjamin and Gabe sported the blue eyes and dark hair of their father, Hank and Luke bore the emerald green and ginger of their Irish mother.

Luke was the product of a failed marriage to his high school sweetheart and the realization people change no matter how much you may love them. They’d never had any children, something he was now coming to terms with as a blessing in its own way. He was a late twenties, type-A, control freak with a tendency to focus too hard on work but counteracted these things with a love of horses and old books. His position at the sheriff’s department had been a dream come true until he realized it was the foothold of destruction for his marriage. Looking at his youngest brother, he wished there was a way to get Benji to see there wasn’t any pressure for him to start a family or settle down.

Benjamin was going into his senior year at the local university, finishing his studies in biology with a focus in conservation. He was the only odd-ball of the group choosing neither the law enforcement or military paths his brothers had all followed. A day with his brothers had been exactly the distraction he’d needed to step away from the recent breakup with his girlfriend of two years. Glancing over at Luke he knew what his brother was thinking but refused to open up the door for discussion. His oldest brother may have the opinion he didn’t need to rush but that didn’t mean he didn’t hurt over the loss of a relationship he’d worked hard to build. Emily had simply showed up one night, tossed all her things into a duffel bag and promised she’d never be back. Hank had been the one Benjamin had chosen to call that night, needing the calm and collected reassurance of the “steady” brother.

Hank was engaged to a hot-head of a brunette named Jade with a passion for art and tequila. Hank was a good old boy with two bloodhounds who slept on his front porch. He’d joined the military after high school, she’d attended NYU to study photography and imaging. Hank’s temper rarely flared while her’s set off at the tiniest of offenses. After being discharged due to an injury, Hank met her while breaking up a bar fight she’d started. No two people could’ve been more polar opposite. Yet they worked. Comforting his youngest brother had been Hank’s specialty their entire childhood; the older they both got, the more the element came into play. Hank exuded warmth, the kind of walking teddy bear who would give the shirt off his back to a stranger. He worked at the feed store in town and was perfectly happy with staying right where he’d grown up. 

Gabe, however, was not happy with such a situation. Two tours in the Marine Corps had provided his outlet to the world and he hadn’t stopped moving since. No one to tie him down, he differed from his brothers when it came to the relationship department. He preferred solidarity, not because bachelor life was “better” but because it suited him. He loved his motorcycle, his country, and his chocolate lab Goose. He’d traveled all across the country, welding one job to the next, barely coming home three or four times a year. In his heart he knew it hurt his mother how little she got to see him but he knew in her heart she admired his love of the road. 

Of the times he did come home, this day was specifically one of them. He’d pushed his old Chevy thirteen hours straight to make it back to spend the morning with his brothers, knowing it’d be fully worth it to only get to spend the day with them before heading back.

Copyright © 2016 Pearl Bayou


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