"How likely is it that Mom'll kick us out for this?"
"Let's take the last 100 of our indiscretions; 50 mine and 50 yours. My Mom responses are 5 kick-outs and 50 yells coupled with assorted other punishments. Your Mom responses are 8 kick-outs and 50 yells.
"I've had 8 major indiscretions and 42 minors, you've had 13 majors and 37 minors. 4 of my 5 kick outs were for majors, and 5 of your 8 kick outs were for majors. Since we'd probably get the same punishment, together we have only a 19% chance of being kicked out for something this big-- which means there's an 81% chance we'll wind up stuck with Mom.
"If we do get kicked out, you'll wind up fighting the raccoons for the garbage cans and I'll fall asleep on the sidewalk and get ABC gum in my hair-- I think we'll agree that's a less than ideal situation. But, there's already a 100% chance that Mom will yell at us, and if we don't get kicked out, it means she gets to keep yelling at us and making our lives hell the additional amount of time our average kick-out is, which is about 18.3 hours. Frankly, it's a lose-lose situation."
They both pause.
"But we're still doing it, right?" Reese asks.
Malcolm grins at him. "Of course."
"Reese." Malcolm's voice crawls toward a whine.
"We say nothing," Reese responds.
"Reese, it really got out of hand-- it's in the paper." It's now definitely a whine, masking itself as logical argument, "How won't Mom find out?"
They listen as their mother's feet hit the floor. Her steps seem to echo, to vibrate through the floorboards, as she makes her way closer.
"Distraction!" Reese whispers loudly at him, an idea compressed hastily into one word.
"Boys!" Their mother yells.
Reese and Malcolm share a look. Malcolm has the bad habit of weighing things against each other, pros and cons and statistics and possibilities, which is useful in science and horribly counterproductive to getting out of trouble. "What if she already knows? That's why she's yelling." He whimpers first. He backtracks to try and convince his brother, "It's better if we tell her now."
Reese grabs Malcolm by his shoulders, shaking him roughly.
Malcolm's words roll together in a frantic undertone as their mother pauses outside of the door, "Let go of me. I'm telling you, she's going to be so pissed if--"
Eyes widening in desperation, Reese cuts him off with a kiss.
Malcolm manages to release the mangled exclamation, "Dipwad!" directly into Reese's mouth before the door bangs open.
Malcolm meets his mom's eyes through a sideways glance, and for an instant she looks absolutely surprised. Surprised like a normal person, even, not like the patented Mom Surprise that she says is surprise ("I can't believe you two!") but is more tightly-wound anger than any emotion that slightly resembles shock. Although she recovers quickly, this millisecond of emotion so fills Malcolm with smug victory that he instantly decides to go along with Reese's plan, whatever it may be.
"Well," she says, "excuse me."
"Oh! Mom!" Reese rockets away from Malcolm. Head bowed, scuffing his sock against the floor, he mumbles, "We--we didn't see you."
Tracking the events with his eyes, from Reese to his mother's face, Malcolm thinks his brother's usual overacting seems almost right in this case and follows his lead. "Y-Yeah. We were just…." He and Reese share an ashamed glance, in sync from years of practice. "I mean. It's not what it looks like."
Their mother folds her arms, squints. She's thinking, which is frightening in itself, but she's also quiet. If there's one thing worse than having their mom yell immediately, it's having her be silent long enough to think up an abnormally terrible torture before bursting into scream; the next look between Malcolm and Reese is one of entirely real fear. Suddenly the wheels in her head stop turning, her face muscles relaxing just long enough to be reshaped into a horrifyingly placid smile.
"Kitchen. Now," says Lois, already on her way to the kitchen.
"What've you got planned?" Malcolm hisses into Reese's ear as they follow the trail of their usual death march. Reese, seemingly enthralled to be the one to maneuver them out of trouble, just grins, keeping the glory to himself. Malcolm huffs. "Fine, don't tell me. Jerk."
They sit at one side of the table together, their mother planted across from them.
"You." Lois points at Reese. "Explain."
"Malcolm and I are in love," Reese answers plainly. The structure is a little crude; there's no build-up to the conclusion, a hole their mom is sure to spot, but the performance is wonderful and Malcolm is still so happily impressed with Reese's ability to lie that he almost doesn't catch his mother's next words:
"And you, Malcolm?"
"Right," says Malcolm, careful to keep his voice even, "in love."
"You're in love, huh?"
Both boys nod solemnly.
Lois' eyes narrow and her tongue's trek over her upper teeth is visible through her skin. "All right, fine. I don't know what you boys are up to, but I'll play along. For now. You want to be a couple? Fine. Congratulations. You're a couple. From now on, you will do as normal couples do, behave as normal couples behave, scrounge as normal couples scrounge. You will: Celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, and Valentine's; you will sleep in the same bed; given how needy you boys are, there will be PDA--I expect it to be tasteful, I didn't raise hooligans; you will cook, clean, and generally take care of each other's needs; any money you make will be pooled and will not be spent on one of you without consent of the other. Although you will continue to live in this house, don't expect Mommy to take care of you. I will not feed you, give you clothes, or wake you for school; you have each other for that. And, since from here on out you are, for all intents and purposes, independent, I expect you to pay rent. Nothing unreasonable; a hundred dollars a month. Understood?"
Malcolm, having grown increasingly incredulous through his mother's speech, slaps his palms onto the table and opens his mouth up to object. Reese, however, smiling defiantly, snags one of Malcolm's hands and clasps it between his own. Having expected backup, Malcolm looks to Reese in sheer horror. Holding the gaze, they communicate with their eyes, a silent language that sometimes happens quickly enough that their mother can't fully comprehend it.
After a violent back and forth composed only of moving eyebrows, wrinkling foreheads, and crinkling eyes, Malcolm's shoulders slump in defeat.
"Yeah, Mom," Reese says victoriously, "we understand."
When Hal shuffles wearily into the kitchen, well-worn from work, Lois smiles broadly. "Why don't you tell your father the wonderful news?"
Malcolm and Reese's eyes and mouths open wide.
We'll do all kinds of stuff to make Mom mad, especially if it distracts her from something that will make her madder-- hey, in that sense we're being kind and considerate, right? And besides, Mom is tough. But the thing is, it's different with Dad. It's like how Reese can't beat up on Stevie because he's in a wheelchair; Dad's an emotional cripple. It's kind of a low blow to make someone like that actually feel bad.
"We're…going to start paying rent," Malcolm tries, casting worried glances at his mom.
Lois overrides him with: "The boys say they love each other."
"You should have known better than to try that old scheme. Just tell your mother what you did so we have this over with, quick and painless."
"No, Hal. They say they're in love with each other."
"'In love'. Like…" Hal makes an empty gesture. Lois nods. Like an automaton, Hal sits beside her and stares vacantly between his sons, who release hands and escape to their room wordlessly. Their movement inspires Hal to look slowly to his wife. With an air of sad wistfulness, he says, "You know, my cousin Maureen had the same thing with my cousin Rory…. Wouldn't it be ironic if something like this were genetic?"
"Oh, Hal, they don't have anything. They're faking! They're trying to distract us from something; I just can't put my finger on what. Don't worry, I made darn sure that in a few days, tops, they'll give it up."
That night involves Malcolm moving to Reese's bed. Dewey lets out a long, loud, happy sigh like he always does when either of his brothers are out of the house (voluntarily or not) and thusly out of their beds. He stretches out his arms and legs and flaps them like he's making a snow angel.
This kind of behavior would probably warrant a 'Shut up, Dewey,' at best under normal circumstances. Having to share a bed together after Malcolm's grown used to his much shorter brother and Reese has always had a bed to himself, however, does not inspire normal circumstances. Malcolm gets two kicks to the shin, a knee to the gut, an elbow in his ribs, and Reese's cold feet on his thighs. Reese in turn, not entirely on accident, gets a head to the nose, a punch to the eye, and fingernails in his spine. They glare at each other in the dark, about to tear each other and their room apart--
Dewey's sigh of contentment is purely bad timing.
Malcolm and Reese's faces relax, and they grin at each other. They both slip out from under the covers silently.
"Where're you going?" Dewey asks.
"To the garage," Malcolm answers honestly.
Dewey's eyes show the briefest flicker of suspicion, but, tired and having a bed to himself, he merely sinks back into his pillow.
It takes a good deal of the night, but everything goes according to plan.
"Sleep tight, Dewey," Reese says. He and Malcolm go back to bed. This time, completely tuckered out, they curl around each other comfortably.
Although she vowed not to wake them for school, Lois can't resist asking the next morning, "So how did you boys sl--Oh, my God!"
Malcolm and Reese wake to her yell. They sit up sleepily and look over to Dewey.
"You should be proud of us, Mom," says Malcolm. "We worked together." He smiles fondly at his younger brother strapped to his bed, which is dangling vertically in the middle of the room precisely 6 inches off the floor. "It's a simple matter of having enough pulleys and a sufficient amount of rope."
"Get him down now." Lois says.
"The vein in her neck is pulsating. We should probably do what she says," Malcolm whispers to Reese.
Reese nods. "How do we get him down?" They look to their mother, who is tapping her foot. They quickly have a whispered conversation. "All right," says Reese out loud, "Mom, we think we can save either Dewey or the bed; we can't guarantee both…"
Her eruption almost makes the entire ordeal not worth it.
Unenthused about having to go past their mother to use the door, they eventually follow the rope out the window to the tree it's tied to.
It takes fifteen minutes to lower the bed, set it right, and free Dewey.
It really wasn't as bad as it looked, they insist; Dewey, used to being forgotten in a corner after his parents punished him, knew how to fall asleep standing up. Really, it was one of the nicer mean things they'd done to him. Nonetheless, their mother's ears are steaming, so Malcolm and Reese get Dewey dressed and take care of his breakfast before they even think of starting in on their own school preparation. Dewey, liking the attention, promises to forgive them if they take him for ice cream after school.
The truth is, at least this once, he's not holding any grudges-- he really can sleep standing up without any discomfort-- but he figures he may as well milk it while he can.
Dewey has already strolled outside by the time Malcolm and Reese are stepping into their shoes.
"Hands," Lois tells them right before they leave.
Both Reese and Malcolm stare at her blankly. Malcolm finally asks, "What?"
"Hands." she repeats.
It's a completely random comment that Malcolm, trying vainly to place into the context of their conversation from the day before, manages to understand. He laughs uneasily. "Oh, come on."
"Hands," she demands, loudly.
Malcolm sighs and takes Reese's hand into his own.
Lois leaves them with this thought before turning to walk away: "You wouldn't think it'd be such a chore to hold hands with someone you love."
"All right, no problem," Malcolm announces. "We get out of sight of the house, then we can let go."
Cleverly, they do just that, releasing sweaty palms to the cool morning air. Just as the perspiration is starting to dry from their fingers, they hear a whistle. They walk faster when they see their father driving slowly alongside them. They know what their mother told him, but they realize he must not entirely believe that they're faking; Hal continues staring straight ahead, giving them only the most minimal of looks. This makes Reese and Malcolm embarrassed for having embarrassed their father, and ends with all three participants avoiding each other's eyes.
"Boys," he calls through his rolled-down window. Connecting Reese and Malcolm by way of gesture, Hal waggles a finger in their general direction. Both of his sons groan and grab hands again. Hal's eyes shift as he gives his boys a quick peripheral glance. "Very good." With that, Hal rolls up his window and continues driving.
It takes surprisingly little time before they hear another voice:
"What's with…the hands?" Stevie asks, rolling up beside them.
"Mom was afraid Reese would get lost on his way to school." With a glare, Reese hip-checks Malcolm, who in response kicks Reese in the calf. Malcolm continues with, "Really, it takes too long to explain."
"No it doesn't," says Reese. "Mom thinks we're fucking. There. It's even shorter than what you said."
Malcolm glowers at him. "Great. Spread it around, Genius."
Reese is about to counter when he realizes it isn't the sort of thing he wants to get around, either. "Tell anyone and you're dead, Kanarben."
His threat goes ignored.
"I'll tell you about it tonight," Malcolm tells Stevie. Remembering his promise, he rolls his eyes and adds, "Well, maybe tomorrow. Tonight we have to take Dewey for ice cream."
"Wish I had…dads like…you," Stevie wheezes.
"Har, har," Malcolm answers sarcastically. He spots the school, and after a quick check for any spying parents (Reese going so far as to peer into the shrubs for his mother; Malcolm allows this because he can't say it's outside the realm of possibility for her to be hunkering down in there), he and Reese drop hands.