“Hey, do you know what today is?” Ten-year-old Gordon Tracy asked his younger brother, nine-year-old Alan as they rode the bus to school.
Alan groaned. “Yeah, I know. I was hoping you’d forget.”
“Me, forget April Fool’s Day? No way!” Gordon exclaimed. “Now, what do we want to do today and who will be our victim? Mwahahaha!” He rubbed his hands as he laughed a fake maniacal laugh.
Alan rolled his eyes. “Nothing to nobody. Gords, every year you do this and every year we get pounded. Or paddled, depending on who you pull the prank on. Can’t we go this year without a prank?” he pleaded in a whining voice.
“Huh? No prank! Whatchu talkin’ ’bout? It’s a tradition. April Fool’s Day and pranks are like peanut butter and jelly, like Laurel and Hardy, like Abbott and Costello…”
“Who’s on first.”
Alan rolled his eyes, and shook his head, and sighed an exasperated sigh. “Sometimes I don’t understand you.”
Gordon grinned. “That’s okay. You don’t have to.” He rubbed his hands again. “Now what are we gonna do? The water over the door trick?”
“That didn’t work. You sloshed water on the outside of the pail and it dripped down the door and Virgil saw the drip before he opened the door.”
“Hmm. You have a point, young grasshopper. Maybe the fake spiders in the bed trick?”
“Scott didn’t even notice them.”
“Yeah. He’s got some thick skin, doesn’t he? How about the snake in the candy can bit?”
“Mom got hold of that one and when Dad was through with us, I couldn’t sit down for two days!”
Gordon grimaced. “Oh, yeah. I remember that.” He rubbed his behind absently at the memory. Then a smile lit his face. “Well, I guess that leaves John as our victim, doesn’t it?”
“John? What can you do to him?” Alan asked, scratching his head.
“Don’t worry. I’ll think of something.”
The school day passed quickly. Gordon’s teacher had to address him sharply a couple of times during the day because he was so absorbed in trying to think up a good prank to play on his thirteen-year-old brother. Alan quickly forgot about Gordon’s obsession in the routine of school, but the gleam in his brother’s eye as they got on the bus brought it back to him in a hurry.
“I got it! I got it!” Gordon whispered, wriggling in his seat with excitement.
“Gords, I don’t wanna know, and I don’t want to do it, no matter what it is,” Alan said stoutly. “I wanna be able to say to Dad that I didn’t do it and have him believe me.”
Gordon waved a dismissive hand. “You don’t have to do anything but keep John busy and away from his room. That’s all.”
“Isn’t that enough?” Alan whined.
“Alan, just do it,” Gordon insisted. “I promise, I’ll tell Dad you had nothing to do with it. It was all my idea.” His tone changed, and his eyes narrowed. “Besides, if you don’t, I’ll tell Virgil who ate up the last of his Milky Way stash.”
“That’s not fair!” Alan shouted.
Gordon shushed him, glancing around furtively at the other children, some of whom were looking their way with curiosity. “Just help me out a little, Al. Just keep John busy and away from his room. You can do it all innocent like. Ask him to help you with your math or your spelling; you know he’ll go for that.”
“Oh, all right,” Alan huffed. “I’ll do that.” He stuck his index finger in Gordon’s face. “But only that. I don’t even want to know what you’re doing.”
“Deal!” Gordon said with a grin, holding out his hand. Alan reluctantly shook it, and for the rest of the trip they sat quietly, the fourth-grader looking delighted, and the third-grader looking as if he were going to his doom.
They got off at their stop, and Gordon ran home, while Alan walked slowly behind him. The redhead barreled through the front door, slamming it as he passed. He slung his backpack to the floor just inside the entryway, and hurried to the kitchen. Lucille was there, preparing dinner.
“What’s for supper, Mom?” he asked as he opened the fridge to rummage around.
“Meatloaf and baked potatoes,” she replied, her hands gooey from mixing the meat and crumbs. “You can have a piece of fruit for a snack. No cookies.”
“Aw, Mom!” he cried. “Why no cookies?”
“Because your father is due home tonight and he hasn’t had any,” came the swift reply. “A piece of fruit, Gordon.”
“Oh, okay,” he said sullenly. He pulled out an apple and began to munch on it.
Lucille looked at him sharply. “Where’s Alan?”
“Oh, he’s coming. He was being a slow-poke,” her second youngest replied airily.
Just then, Alan trudged into the kitchen. “Hi, Mom,” he said in a woeful voice.
“Alan? Are you all right?” she asked, quickly rinsing off her hands and wiping them on a paper towel. She put the back of her hand to Alan’s forehead. “You don’t seem feverish.”
“I’m okay, Mom,” Alan said, sighing. “I just need a snack.”
“A piece of fruit, that’s what Mom told me,” Gordon jumped in quickly. Alan nodded and grabbed an orange, then started to peel it.
“How was your day, Alan? Gordon?” Lucille asked as she went back to shaping the meatloaf in the baking pan.
“Mine was fine,” Gordon said with a grin.
“Okay, I guess,” Alan replied. He brightened a bit, “We’re going to have a field trip to a historic battleground, Mom. I have the form in my backpack.”
“Good. Bring it to me and I’ll sign it, then put it on the family calendar,” she responded, glad to see her youngest smiling.
The front screen door banged shut, and a moment or two later, Scott, nearly eighteen and a senior in high school, entered the kitchen. “Hi, Mom. Hey, squirts.” He detoured to give his mother a kiss on the cheek, then opened the fridge and began rummaging around. He was followed by Virgil, a high school freshman at fifteen.
“You can have fruit to snack on, boys,” Lucille informed her two oldest. She glanced around. “Where’s John?”
“Track practice,” Virgil replied, easily fielding the apple that Scott tossed to him.
“Yeah. I said I’d pick him up at five,” Scott explained.
“Oh, good. Your father’s due back tonight. He said he was planning on being home for your birthday, Scott.”
“Great! Can we go out to that steak place I like?” he asked before taking a huge bite of apple. He chewed it some, then spoke again, spitting little bits of apple out as he did. “After all, I’ll only be eighteen once.”
“That’s what you said when you turned sixteen,” Lucille said wryly. “And please finish what’s in your mouth before you speak.”
“Is it?” Scott asked after swallowing the bite of apple. “I don’t remember; it was sooo long ago…”
The boys chuckled as their mother shook her head. “Get your homework done, boys,” she instructed.
“Okay, Mom.” “Sure, Mom.” “I’m on it.” “Later, Mom!”
The four boys filed out, Alan stopping to throw away his orange peels. Virgil motioned for him to keep the trash can lid open. “He stops. He shoots. He scores! And the crowd goes wild!” he repeated as he tossed his core into the trash can from a distance. He then stepped over to Alan, clapped the younger boy on the shoulder, and they left the room together.
Gordon was already at his desk in the room he and Alan shared when the younger boy arrived. “John’s at track practice! Now you don’t have to do a thing, except maybe warn me if someone’s coming,” the older boy crowed. “And what I plan…”
“I don’t wanna know what your plan is, Gords. I’ll keep watch, but you better be fast,” Alan warned.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be quick. C’mon.” The two boys left their room and headed down the hall. They saw that the doors to the older boys’ rooms were shut. Suddenly, music blared from Scott’s room, loud and with a heavy beat. “Great! Now no one will hear us!” Gordon gleefully whispered. “We need to go downstairs for a minute.”
“Why?” Alan whispered back.
“I need the stepladder.”
Alan shook his head again as the two boys padded downstairs in stocking feet. Alan stood in the dining room while Gordon boldly made a beeline for the utility closet beyond the kitchen, pulling out the lightweight, three-step ladder that lay against the wall in there. He also pulled out a light bulb.
“What’s the matter, honey?” Lucille asked, looking up from wrapping potatoes in foil.
“A light bulb’s out in our room,” Gordon brazenly explained.
“Why don’t you ask Scott or Virgil to help change it?”
“I did. Virgil asked me to get the stepladder.”
“Oh, okay. Put it away when you’re done with it.”
“I will, Mom.” And with that the redheaded rogue carried it off and up the stairs, followed by Alan.
“You just lied to Mom!” Alan hissed, his eyes big.
“No, I didn’t. You watch. But first, John’s room. Keep an eye out, okay?”
Alan stood in the hall while Gordon disappeared into John’s bedroom, closing the door carefully behind him. The blond fidgeted for a bit, then went into the hall bathroom to get a drink of water. And another. And another. And another. Between each tiny cup of water, he peered out into the hall, looking back and forth. But Virgil and Scott didn’t budge from their rooms, and the loud music, which Scott would never dare to play if John, a believer in quiet study, were home, continued to boom from the oldest boy’s stereo.
Finally, Gordon came out. He went right down the hall into their bedroom and left the stepladder there, then ducked into the bathroom, Alan trailing him all the way.
“What are you doing now?” the younger boy asked.
“Just a finishing touch,” Gordon said with a grin. He pulled out a tin of something from beneath the sink, palming it so that Alan couldn’t see what it was. “The less you know, the better,” he told his brother, and he disappeared into John’s room once more. Alan fidgeted in the hall again, and thought about another drink, when Gordon came out. He passed Alan, tossed the tin back in under the sink, and washed his hands, scrubbing them well. “Go turn off the light in our room,” he ordered. Alan left to follow instructions, while Gordon knocked on Virgil’s door.
“What?” Virgil asked peevishly. He had his headphones on and his tiny music player in his hand.
“Uh, there’s a light out in our room,” Gordon said, almost apologetically. “Can you change it for us?”
Virgil sighed a long suffering sigh. “Okay. I’ll need the little stepladder.”
“And a fresh light bulb.”
“Got that, too.”
“Okay, I’m coming.” the teen ducked back in his room and took off his player, then followed Gordon down the hall. “Which bulb is it?”
“Uh, I’ll show you.”
Virgil nodded, and carefully took the glass globe off the light fixture, handing it to Gordon. He touched the light bulbs, and drew his hands away quickly. “Ouch! These are still hot! When did this happen, Gords?”
“Just a few minutes ago.”
“Okay, which one is it?”
“The one on your… left.”
Virgil carefully unscrewed the bulb and replaced it with the fresh bulb that Alan wordlessly handed him. Then he fitted the globe back up where it belonged. “There. All done. Alan, turn on the lights, please?”
“Okay.” Alan did as he was told, and both bright light bulbs shone behind the glass.
Virgil climbed down from the stepladder. “I’ve got to get back to my homework. Will you take care of the stepladder and the old bulb?”
“Sure, Virge. No problem,” Gordon said, grinning.
Virgil reached out to ruffle his hair. “Great.” He sighed again. “Back to the salt mines.” With that, he turned and left, heading for his own room.
Gordon took the stepladder and the bulb downstairs and put the ladder where it belonged and the light bulb in the trash. Lucille was washing her preparation dishes. “That took a while.”
“Virgil was in the middle of some important homework. We had to wait until he was through,” Gordon prevaricated.
“But it’s all done now?”
“Yeah. It is. Gotta get back to the homework.”
“Okay, sweetie. Oh, remind Scott he said he’d pick up John.”
Upon his arrival back upstairs, Gordon pounded on Scott’s door. The music was immediately muted, and a moment later, Scott stood in his doorway, an irritated look on his face.
Gordon was unfazed. “Mom told me to remind you to pick up John.”
Scott ran a hand through his hair and looked back at his alarm clock. Then he turned back to Gordon. “Thanks, squirt. I’ll get going in a few minutes.”
The redhead returned to his room and found Alan hard at work on his math assignment. Gordon picked up his spelling book, pulled out a pencil, and sat down at his desk. Without glancing over, the younger boy asked, “So, what did you do?”
“Not telling.” The older boy twisted around to face the younger. “You’re the one who didn’t want to get into trouble. I’m just making sure you don’t.”
He could hear Alan huff. “Okay, I guess,” the blond said. Gordon grinned. Not only had he pulled off a cool prank, but Alan was burning up with curiosity and that was icing on the cake.