June & Justin

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chapter-one

drop-cap-justin woke up groggily. He kept trying to go back to sleep, but the persistent noises wouldn’t let him settle back in again. He rubbed his eyes, still disoriented at being wakened out of a heavy sleep. He tried to sort out the noises. He thought he could hear his mom’s and June’s voices, and running water. He looked over at the other bed, where June still usually slept, even though their parents had moved her to Ronnie’s old bed in Chloe’s room ages ago and didn’t want her sleeping with her twin. Girls and boys weren’t supposed to sleep in the same room anymore once they were school-age.

But the night light provided the light that he needed to see that she hadn’t snuck back in. The bed was empty. Unslept in.

Justin swung his feet over the side of the bed and crept down the hallway to the bathroom. His mom’s and June’s voices were more clear now, and the loud noise of water running into the bathtub. Justin turned the handle and opened the door silently to see what was going on. June was in the tub, their mother sitting on the edge, washing her. The woman turned around, maybe feeling a draft from the open door, or sensing that someone was there.

“Justin. Go back to bed,” she ordered.

Justin ignored the command.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. “Is June sick?”

“Yes. Now back to bed. Go back to sleep.”

“Did she throw up?”

“Bed. Now. You’re making it cold in here.”

Justin looked worriedly at June. She was crying. She looked small and forlorn, like she was a toddler instead of eight. Her face was washed clean of the makeup that she had started to wear lately. Her dark hair, wet, straggled in rat’s tails down her back. Justin ran a hand through his own dark hair, shorter than June’s, but still long for a boy’s. June didn’t look at Justin. He wasn’t even sure that she was aware he was there. Their mom told June impatiently to hush, swishing the washcloth in the tub water and wiping the tears from her face.

“Close the door,” she told Justin again, raising her voice but not turning around again.

Justin withdrew and closed the door. He stood for a couple of minutes in the hallway with his ear pressed against the door, listening to June sob and their mother repeatedly shush her and tell her she was okay. Eventually, Justin turned around and returned to his room. He pulled the blankets over himself and curled up, trying to warm himself up again. He wiggled his toes under the pile of his old teddy bears and plushies to warm up.

He lay there, listening to the sounds down the hallway, waiting for his mother to take June back to bed.

When he woke up to sun starting to filter into the room through the closed blinds, Justin realized he must have fallen back asleep again while waiting to hear June go back to bed. He stretched and scratched his chin. Justin reached over to his dresser and pulled out a dark hoodie and a pair of socks. He got up and added a gold necklace to the outfit and dragged a comb through his hair. A handful of mousse wet it down and would hopefully keep it in place. Justin paused for a moment to inspect the healing cut above his lip from a fight with Banks, one of the older boys, a fifth-grader. He was pretty sure it would leave a scar.

Justin went to find June.

Chloe’s door was shut. Justin didn’t bother to knock; he just opened the door and went in. The thirteen-year-old was standing in front of the mirror, primping her shaggy blond hair, and turned to Justin with a scowl, pulling the fallen strap of her pink halter-top back into place. The air was thick with the fumes from her hairspray. Justin coughed.

“You can’t just come in here,” Chloe growled. “This is my room, not yours.”

“It’s June’s room.”

“It’s my room too. You have to knock and get permission. Girls need privacy.”

Justin shrugged and turned around to June’s bed. June eyes were open just a slit, looking at him. She was dressed in a pink nightgown edged with lace that he couldn’t remember her ever wearing before. Something their mother must have picked out. June usually liked t-shirts or sweats. June’s skin was white, not rosy like usual. Justin sat on the bed and touched her dark, tangled hair.

“Are you okay, June?”

June grunted something.

“Did you puke?” he asked.

June held her hand to her head and rubbed it.

“Don’t remember.” She burped, and lurched toward him, her other hand on her stomach. “But I think…”

Justin moved quickly out of her way. June staggered out of the bed and stumbled out the door. Justin followed behind her at a distance. June made it safely to the bathroom before throwing up. Justin stayed in the hallway, waiting for her to finish. He suddenly wasn’t feeling too hungry for breakfast himself. June rested her head on the edge of the toilet.

“You okay?” Justin asked after a few minutes.

“Uggh. No.”

“You must have thrown up last night too.”

She turned her head and looked at him. “I don’t remember,” she repeated.

“Are you done?”

June held her stomach, shaking her head.

“Want me to call Mom?”

“What for?”

Justin shrugged. Chloe came out into the hallway. She had put on a faded denim jacket over her outfit. One side of her blue jeans sagged down below her hip.

“Are you going to school?” Chloe asked June.

Justin looked at her in astonishment. “Are you kidding?” he demanded. “She’s too sick to go to school!”

“Sometimes after you throw up, you feel okay,” Chloe pointed out, hands on hips.

“She’s too sick.”

“Let June answer.”

Justin scowled at her.

“I’m too sick,” June moaned in agreement.

Chloe turned her attention to Justin. “Well, you’d better get ready for school then. You don’t want to be late.” She glanced at the time on her phone and slid it away.

Justin didn’t bother to point out that he already was dressed for school. “I’m staying home to look after June.”

Chloe looked in at June, frowning. “She’s not a baby. She can stay home by herself. You have to go to school.”

Justin shook his head. “You can’t tell me what to do.”

“I’m in charge when Mom and Dad aren’t home.”

“You can’t make me,” Justin maintained.

They were interrupted by June throwing up again. They both looked at her. Chloe wrinkled her nose and went into the kitchen to make coffee. Justin stuck around.

“I’m staying home with you,” he assured June.

June just moaned.

It was a few nights later; Justin stirred as his door squeaked open. He turned over and saw June creep in and slip into the empty bed. Neither of them said anything. He closed his eyes and went back to sleep again.

But he didn’t sleep soundly. June was tossing and turning noisily. Justin drifted in and out of dreams. June’s breathing finally settled into a steady rhythm, but she still moved around. Then she started to moan and cry out. Justin slipped out of bed and went over to her. He shook her arm gently.

“June. Wake up. You’re having a dream.”

She gasped and sat up abruptly. “No. No, Mom!”

“Shh,” he quieted her. “I’m here, June. It’s Justin. Shh.”

“Justy?” June hugged him. “Oh.” She breathed out, relaxing in his hold.

“You okay? Have a bad dream?”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“Come on over with me,” Justin suggested.

June agreed, climbing out of bed. They both went over to Justin’s bed. Justin lay down with her, and wrapped his arms around her comfortingly. “There. Now go back to sleep.”

With a sigh, June snuggled and drifted quietly off to sleep.

The teacher called on June, and Justin glanced over at her, moving his eyes but not his head. June appeared to be gazing out the window, completely oblivious to Mrs. Mitchell. Some of the other children started to giggle, but June still didn’t clue in and turn her attention back to the class. The teacher walked over to June’s desk and stopped right beside her. There was silence while everyone waited for June’s reaction. Eventually, she turned her attention back to the class, and startled when she saw the teacher at her desk.

“Oh! Mrs. Mitchell.” Her eyes were wide, and she looked over at Justin for some sort of clue as to what she should do. She adjusted the shoulder strap that was falling down her arm.

“What are you daydreaming about, June?” the teacher asked.

“Oh… ummm… I just…”

“I need you to focus on what we are doing.”

“Okay. Yes.”

Justin watched June’s feet shift back and forth and cross and uncross. She shot him another look, desperate for help. But there was nothing Justin could do. They had already threatened to put the twins in different classes, and they had both promised to act like they didn’t even know each other, and work on their own schoolwork separately, and not talk to each other during class. It was a mistake that had put them both into the same class in the first place. Schools didn’t like having siblings in the same room. If Justin interfered with class discipline, they would go ahead and move him to the other grade three class, even if it was mid-year. He swallowed and looked straight ahead at the board, unable to help June.

“Stay in at recess. I want to go over some of your work with you,” Mrs. Mitchell directed.

June nodded, looking down at the top of her desk with teary eyes. Justin longed to be able to go over and comfort her. It wasn’t fair that he had to ignore her embarrassment. But he stayed stoic, staring straight ahead.

The teacher went back to the front of the class and continued with the lesson. But Justin barely heard a word of it, too distracted by June’s sniffles on the other side of the room.

It was lunch time before Justin had an opportunity to talk to June. She’d been kept in all the way through recess, not just for the first few minutes. Once the lunch bell rang and they were both outside the classroom, they immediately joined hands.

“What did she say?” Justin asked.

He gave her hand a squeeze and then let go, not wanting to look like a sissy in front of the other boys. June shook her head. Her eyes filled with tears again. “I didn’t get my worksheets done,” she explained. “And the stuff that I did was wrong… I just didn’t understand it.”

“Which worksheets? Math? Phonics? I’ll help you.”

“All of them,” June shook her head and wiped at the corners of her eyes.

“All of them? I’ll help you…”

June sighed deeply. “I don’t even want to do them,” she said.

“But… you have to do them,” Justin pointed out.

They got into the cafeteria and looked around for seats. Justin pulled June over to a pair of free seats that were side by side, and they sat down and opened their lunch bags.

“I don’t want to do anything, Justy. I just can’t do it.”

She put her face in her hands, elbows on the table. Justin studied her, frowning to himself. Something was very wrong. He’d known for a while now. There was something she wasn’t telling him. And it was getting worse.

“Don’t cry at school,” he murmured to her, giving her back a quick rub.

“I’m not.” But clearly she was. Her body jerked with her sobs.

“Come on, June. It’s okay. It’s just schoolwork.”

She shook her head.

“What, then?” he demanded.

“I don’t know. I can’t say.”

Justin’s stomach knotted. Guilt washed over him like a wave. Why couldn’t she tell him what was wrong? They shared everything. “What?” he persisted. “Come on. Tell me.”

June shook her head again. She rubbed her eyes and lifted her face out of her hands. Without looking at him, she unwrapped her sandwich and poked the straw into her juice box.

“June,” he prompted.

She took one glance at him, her face screwed up in an attempt not to cry, and then looked back down at her lunch. Justin held her arm.

“Is it because you’ve been sick lately?” he asked. “Is that why you’re having trouble with the school work? It’s okay!”

June shrugged. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” she said.

Justin let it go. He ate his lunch without tasting it, watching her movements covertly. June sniffled a few times, but had nothing more to say. She drank her juice, but only took a couple of bites of her sandwich.

“I’m not hungry,” she said, offering it to him.

“You need to eat,” Justin said tentatively.

“I don’t feel good.”

Justin touched her face with the back of his fingers, but she didn’t seem hot. “Your stomach again?”

June nodded. Justin took the sandwich from her. She put her head down on her folded arms on the table, and closed her eyes.

“Do you want to go to the nurse’s?”

“No.”

“Do you want to go home?”

June opened her eyes and looked at him, not answering.

“Do you?”

June nodded. “Yeah. But they won’t let us.”

Justin shrugged. “It’s lunch time. They can’t stop us from leaving.”

June sat up again. Her eyebrows went up hopefully, eyes widening. “We can go home?”

“Sure. Let’s go.”

They both got up, leaving the rest of their school lunches on the table, and headed for the door. A supervisor stopped them.

“Where are you guys going?”

“June’s sick. I’m taking her to the nurse,” Justin said.

The supervisor looked at June, and decided it was okay. She motioned to the door, and the children left.

“I don’t want to go to the nurse,” June complained.

“We’re not. I just told her that. Come on.”

They left their schoolbags in the classroom, and just headed out the nearest door. They had only gotten a few steps out the door, when Justin heard a voice calling his name.

“Justin Simpson.”

He turned quickly, and was relieved to see it wasn’t a teacher, but one of the other boys, affecting a deep voice. Justin shook his head.

“Thought I was in for it!” he complained. “What’s up?”

Robbie nodded at him. “Where are you going? Looking for some action?”

Justin motioned for Robbie’s cigarette, and when Robbie handed it over, took a quick drag on it, hoping it would help to relax the knot of worry and guilt in his stomach.

“Just headin’ home,” he explained.

“Why don’t we get some of the boys together and do something? Who wants to go home?”

Justin glanced aside at June. “I gotta look after my kid sister. She’s sick.”

Robbie took the cigarette back, looking June over. “She looks okay to me.”

“She’s sick,” Justin repeated. “I’ll have to catch you tomorrow, okay?”

“She can go home by herself.”

Justin shook his head. He took June by the arm, and headed across the playground toward home.

“I’m not your kid sister,” June muttered.

Justin grinned. “You’re twenty minutes younger. I can call you my kid sister if I want.”

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

June and Justin

By P.D. Workman

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