In Which Two Sets of Brothers From Totally Different Dimensions Find Their Way To The Other Side And Struggle To Get Ahead
“Jesus, Ernie, where the hell are these pledges at?” Jorge asks me. “Your brother’s supposed to be on top of this.”
“I’ll talk to him,” I tell him, annoyed. “You just worry about the noise level here tonight.”
My brother became the Pledge Leader this semester, which means he’s in charge of mentoring the pledges and making sure they’re here when we need them. But he’s done a lousy job so far, and I have to pick up the slack for him. As the Vice-President of the Chi Nu Phi fraternity, he’s making my ass look bad.
There’s a harsh scraping sound coming from the next room over and Jorge does a 180. It’s one of our fall pledges. He’s dragging a keg into the room when he should be carrying it, but it’s a two man job. As it stands, he’s chipping away at the already crumbling black dance floor.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Jorge shouts. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
The pledge stands there dumbfounded. “I was, uh, just bringing up this keg like Frater Richard told—”
“I know what you think you were doing, but you’re doing it all wrong. Now, hit the deck, maggot!”
The pledge lets go of the keg and leaps to the floor in push-up position.
“Twenty, sir?” the pledge asks. His long, black hair falls in his face as he stares at the scuffed up, tiled floor that reeks of beer.
“Why aren’t your pledge brothers here, maggot?”
“Sir, I don’t know, sir!” the pledge shouts.
“Then give me 40!”
“Sir, yes, sir!”
Jorge hates everybody, but he especially hates pledges, who he finds to be “worthless pieces of meat.” This is besides the fact that he was probably the most worthless, good for nothing pledge, who ever stepped foot inside the Theta Rho chapter of Chi Nu Phi. And I should know, since I was his pledge brother. How he got to be President of this house, I’ll never know.
“One!” the pledge shouts as he goes down. “Two!”
“I can’t heeeear yoooou!”
“Three!” he screams, his pale forehead turning beat red.
I don’t have time for this. I have to deal with my brother.
Ever since Tita Zelda died a couple years back, Carlos hasn’t been the same. He used to cook all the time and we even had dreams of starting a Filipino restaurant together. It's something Tita Zelda always wanted. But he’s been drinking a lot now, and getting into fights. And that’s the last thing we need tonight. A drunk Carlos is an angry Carlos. Carlos drink, Carlos smash!
Tonight, by the way, is “Travel the World Night.” It’s our biggest event of the year and we use it to entice young men to become potential pledges. In other words, we want to recruit you, son!
As I leave the room and rush up the moaning stairs, I pass by a variety of paddles. All of them have the names of brothers who once served this house. There are even more paddles in the basement, with some of them dating as far back as 1910. I shit you not.
I turn at the top of the stairs and head toward the red door at the end of the tight corridor. This is where I live with my brother. Sharing a room with Carlos lets me be closer to him, which helps me keep him away from liquor. The whole house wins.
When I open the door, I find Carlos sitting on the carpet Indian style, shirtless. With light skin, enormous shoulders, and at a very un-Filipino height of 6’4, you would never know he’s my brother unless someone told you.
Currently, he’s playing video games next to his former pledge brother, Uche Anamdi. Uche is a rail thin African who hails all the way from Tanzania. Or at least, that’s where he says he comes from. But he doesn’t even have an accent, so he might just be pulling my leg.
Well, anyway, Uche is a pretty cool dude, but he’s also pretty weird. Sometimes, he’ll talk about how he believes in parallel dimensions right here on Earth. He’ll say stuff like, “There are other worlds right next door. Millions of ‘em. All you have to do is listen.” And he’ll cup his ear as if he can hear Rigel 7 right beside him. Again, he’s a strange dude, but I really like him. He crossed last semester with my brother, so they’re close. Real close. They’re also new, so they’re the lowest ranking brothers in the house.
“Hey,” I say, closing the door behind me.
Neither Uche nor Carlos responds. There’s an explosion on the screen. Uche hops up and hoots.
“Ha! Gotcha!” he barks.
“Yooooo, how could I even hit you your bitch ass when you kept jumpin’ around like that?” Carlos chucks his controller across the carpet. “Fuckin’ cheater.”
“Oh, hey, Ernie,” Uche says, finally noticing me. “The pledges here yet?”
“No. Just Colin. That’s actually what I wanted to talk to my brother about. Can you step out for a second?”
Uche glances at my brother, but Carlos puts his hand up. “Anything you have to say to me you can say in front of Uche.”
“Look, it’s cool, man,” Uche says. “I’m sure it’s important.”
“Sit back down,” Carlos says, which puts Uche in an awkward position. Carlos is his best friend, but since I have a higher rank than him, I can make him leave if I want to, which I do.
“Scram,” I say. “Jorge needs help downstairs anyway.”
Uche offers a half-hearted smile at Carlos and leaves. He shuts the door behind him. As soon as he’s gone, I lay into my brother.
“Why is Colin the only pledge here? You’re supposed to be on top of this.”
“Get off my back,” Carlos says, clicking out of multiplayer mode. “They said they’ll be here soon.”
“What do you mean soon? They should be here now.”
“They’ll get here when they get here. What do you want from me?”
Carlos starts playing his game. Gunfire rattles the room.
I go to grab his controller, but he moves his hands away.
“Don’t tell me to chill. You got Jorge breathing down my neck downstairs.”
“What, are you afraid of him or somethin’?”
“I’m not afraid of anybody. But when you mess up like this, it makes me look bad.”
Carlos rolls his eyes. “So the Vice-President looks bad for a change. Big fuckin’ deal.”
I go to grab the controller again, even though the game is paused, and he moves his arms again.
“Yo, chill,” he says again. “I called them, aiight? What else do you want from me?”
“You’re supposed to be in charge of them, Carlos. Yell at them. Call them pieces of shit. Do whatever it takes to make them respect you.”
“Who the hell wants to be called a piece-a shit?”
I rub my eyes. “Look, bunso, when I was your pledge class leader, was I ever nice to you?”
“No, you were a massive fuckin’ dickhead, and I ain’t gonna be like that.”
“It’s part of the process,” I tell him. “It’s to make them stronger.”
“Naw, son. It only makes ‘em hate you.”
“Son,” he calls me. Even though I’m two years his senior.
I rub my pimply forehead and take a deep breath. In doing so, I take a quick whiff of the room. It has a faint funk to it of dirty clothes and old food, but it’s nowhere near as rank as some of the other rooms in the house. And it definitely doesn’t smell like weed. I won’t allow it.
“You know what, man,” I say, shaking my head. “Sometimes, you make me wish I didn’t speak up for you when it came to you getting into this house.”
“What you tryin’ to say, huh?” He stands up and gives me a vicious stare. I have to look up at him. “You sayin’ I couldn’t get into this house wit’out you?”
“Don’t put words in my mouth.”
“Naw, that’s exactly what you said. You think I needed you to cross.”
Well, the truth is out. I might as well roll with it.
“Yeah, well, you pretty much did, right? You’re supposed to be at least a sophomore before you can pledge this house, and you pledged as a Freshmen. How do you think you managed that, huh?” I poke his chest. “You think they let you in here out of the goodness of their hearts?”
“Ah, I see. Next you’re gonna tell me that they voted me in as Pledge Leader cause they felt bad for me, right?”
He had a point. They did vote him in without any influence on my part. It surprised the hell out ofme since he’s so low on the totem pole, given that he just crossed. Still, I persist.
“I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying that you got in way earlier than you’re supposed to, and the only reason is because I’m your brother.”
Carlos nods. “Aiight, so maybe I wouldn’t have gotten into this house wit’out you, but you ain’t no different.”
“What do you mean?”
“You wouldn’t even be in this school if Aunt Zelda didn’t leave us all that money in her will, so I guess we’re both dependents, huh? Me on you, and you on our dead fuckin’ aunt.”
“Don’t bring Tita Zelda into this, asshole.”
“Don’t call me an asshole, faggot.”
I push my brother and he pushes me back before rushing into my face. His hot breath smells like protein bars and Muscle Milk. Even though my brother has a six-pack of abs and cannonballs for muscles, I won’t take being called a faggot from him, even if it’s true.
He scowls and I stare him right back. It’s like being kids all over again, except he’s bigger than me now. I could still whup his ass, though.
“Why’d you call me a faggot, bitch?”
My brother’s scowl turns into a twisted smile. “I thought you were comfortable bein’ homo.”
“I am, which is why I have no problem kicking your ass for calling me that.”
Carlos gives me his best ice grill, but then, he swats the air “You ain’t even about that life, son.” He walks over to the bar by the window.
I follow him, wanting to diffuse the tension. It wasn’t supposed to get personal. But I have to calm myself. I close my eyes and count to three. When I open my eyes again, he’s watching me. “Alright, look, man,” I say.
“As the head of your pledge class, it’s your responsibility to make sure they’re here right now. Not mine, and certainly not Jorge’s.”
He ducks beneath the bar and pulls up a bottle of Coke. He pours the black liquid into a red, plastic cup and takes a sip. He watches me above the cup as he drinks. There’s a framed picture of a train going inside a tunnel behind his head on the wall.
“And they will be here,” he says, putting the cup down. “I already told you that.”
I stare at him, waiting for him to say more, but he doesn’t. I cross my arms.
“You know, that was really messed up what you said about Tita Zelda,” I tell him. “You make it sound like I wanted her to die.”
Carlos shrugs his massive shoulders. “You know it and I know it. Her death was probably the best thing that ever happened to you.”
“Take it back,” I say, balling up my fists.
But just then, the door bell rings downstairs. Since it’s broken, it buzzes incessantly once it’s pressed. The buzzing is followed by heavy, close-fisted knocking.
“Yo, that better not be no pledge knockin’ like that.” Carlos says. He moves the curtains and peers out the window to his right. Being that our room is adjacent to the street, we have a direct view of our front door.
My brother raises his eyebrows. “Ohhhh, shit. What’s he doing here?”
“Who?” I ask, feeling ill all of a sudden.
“You better get your ass downstairs now and answer that,” he says. “The Dean’s here.”