The apartment seemed a lot bigger in the pictures. That’s the way it always was. I could see that the parental units were not impressed at all. Mom kept wrinkling her forehead, and Dad frowned. But the building actually had pretty good security so neither of them could complain about that.
“Can I have this room?” Vi asked when we went into the bigger room. Zari opened his mouth to protest and she stuck her tongue out. “Teasing! Stupid. I’ll take the smaller room. It’s not too bad,” she added when she peeked in.
“What do you think?” Zari asked when I stepped into the room we’d be sharing.
I shrugged. “It’s not too bad.” I was more concerned about the cleanliness of the place but when we checked the kitchen and bathroom, I was pleased to see that it didn’t look too gross. Dust and stuff, but nothing… moldy.
“So we’re going to have to get your beds here or are you aiming to buy new ones?” Dad inquired when we finished the quick tour.
“Dad, come on, we’ve have those beds since we were seven!” Zari complained. “Ten years!”
Mom seemed very amused. “So we give you a college education and help pay for your apartment. What thanks do we get, Kell?” She turned to Dad. “‘Buy us more stuff’!!”
Dad laughed, slipping an arm around Mom’s waist. “Kids. They’re little moneygrubbers, eh? Well, how about this. We’ll get you beds if you use every last simoleon of your paychecks to help pay for your education. Hmm?”
Zari frowned. “I guess we’ll make do with our old beds.”
“That’s what I thought,” Dad laughed.
Once we got back home, we drew up plans for the place. We had measurements so we were able to figure out where to put the beds, and after much grumbling about space decided to share a desk and a dresser. I figured if I needed more room, I could keep clothes in my suitcase under my bed or something.
Vi was the first one to get news back about a job. She was hired as a weekend receptionist at the spa in town. Not surprising, as she had the best resume of the three of us what with summer jobs for three years. Zari got a reply next, working as a ticket taker at the local movie theater over weekends.
As June progressed into July and August started creeping closer, I heard nothing back. I began to get a bit worried and wished I had filled out more applications. If all else fails, I decided, I could just devote more time to studying and keeping the house clean. A week before our birthday and two weeks before we’d be moving, I got a reply. Burial specialist at the graveyard. Fine and dandy for me. It meant hardly any interaction with people.
We never really had any birthday parties, for our big ones. Mom and Dad said with three of us plus two of them it was big enough. I figured they just didn’t want to have to deal with a bunch of hyper kids all the same age. Though when we turned teenagers, we were allowed to invite one person each other. Since I didn’t invite anyone at all, Mom took the liberty of inviting cousins over.
Now we were going to be turning eighteen! Once again we were told we could invite one person but this time none of us did–Zari and Vi were going to go out afterwards and party on the town with their friends.
“Are you sure you don’t wanna come?” Vi asked for the zillionth time.
“I’d rather just stay home and, erm…” I tapped my chin, trying to come up with an excuse. “Continue packing! Yep.” She rolled her eyes but said nothing else, going off to help find candles for the cakes.
After we ate and watched a movie, Mom lit the candle for Vi. She stood over her cake, thinking about what to wish for. It didn’t take her too long before she blew out the candle and underwent the next step in life.
She gave us a twirl and grinned, asking us how she looked. “You have boobs now!” Zari exclaimed, looking shocked. “Now you won’t have to keep stuffing. OWWW!” he howled as she kicked him in the shin.
“YOU’RE SUCH A JERK!” she yelled. “I swear, you have no sensitivity at all! Puh! Seb’s turn. At least I have one decent brother who’s at least semi-intelligent. Come on!” she squealed, tugging my arm.
“Can’t Zari go next?” I grumbled as she pushed me to my cake. Dad lit the candle and I sighed. “Okay, okay, I’ll just get this over with.”
“No!” Vi yelped. “You need to make a wish. Come on, make a wish.”
I sighed again and closed my eyes, pretending to think of something. But then something did come to me. I want to meet him again, I realized. I knew now that the likelihood of us meeting again was slim, but… I wish that I’ll meet that masked boy again… soon! I bent over and blew out the candle.
After my change, I felt rather sick to my stomach. I didn’t understand how people could stand it. Ugh. “Okay, I’m done. Time for Sir Annoys-A-Lot.” I stepped aside so Mom could plop down the third cake and light the candle.
Zari stuck his tongue out at me then made his wish, blowing out his candles rather quickly and changing. As soon as he was done, Mom wanted a picture of the three of us so we quickly got in a line and posed before being allowed some cake.
It was well after Vi and Zari left. I finished my packing–not that I had much left–then sat on my bed, going over all the stuff I had about the college. It was after ten when there was a tap at my door, which really surprised me. Usually Mom and Dad were in their room by now, spending some ‘quality time’ together. Which meant making out. Or worse. Oh…. Watcher, ewwwwwww!
“Come in,” I said and Mom opened the door, stepping in with a smile on her face. “Hey. I figured you and Dad were being all lovey by now.”
She shrugged. “Lovey? With that look on your face? You’re as bad as I am when my parents are being lovey.”
I crinkled my nose up. “Ew, Mom!!! Don’t even begin to make me think of Grams and Gramps being… lovey…”
“By the way, lovey means what now?” she asked, enjoying my squirming. “Kissing? Cooing? Or…?”
“OKAY! Moving on to a new subject!” I yelped, holding up my hands. “Did you need something? Or did you just want to gross me out?”
“I didn’t intend on grossing you out when I came in to see you,” she laughed and then held out a present. “Surprise.”
I raised my eyebrows, a lot more surprised than she probably thought I was. “You already gave us our presents,” I pointed out. “And you’ve never given us more than an even amount. Or did they get something else too?”
She shook her head, putting the box in my hands. “It’s special. For you. Just open it up, I’ll explain when you do.”
I untied the ribbon and removed the lid, even more surprised than I was before to see a plaque inside. “It’s… like those plaques we got for graduating,” I said. “But it looks ancient.”
Mom chuckled. “It’s quite old. It belonged to your great-grandfather. Jacob. You remember the stories I told you guys?” I nodded my head and she continued. “That plaque was something he was always proud of.”
“I thought he died before even Uncle Kyle was born,” I said, holding the plaque close to my chest.
“He did, but Dad always told us about him,” Mom continued, sitting down on the edge of my bed. “He gave that to me when I was about your age. He thought I’d need it the most in my life. It’s sort of… a token. A symbol, really. Of love and of strength.” She reached up, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear and looking rather wistful. “But I just put it away and never even paid any attention to it. Truth be told, I forgot about it until about six, seven years ago…
“Sebastian.” She reached up and took my free hand. “I am so sorry I wasn’t around as much as I wanted to be when you and your brother and sister were growing up. I got too involved. And I–well, it’s a bit difficult to say I’d change things. Oh! It’s all so complicated!” She pressed her fingers against her temples.
I sank down onto the bed next to her. “Mom, are you okay?”
“Yes,” she promised. “Viola is so outgoing, and friendly. And Cesario is so…”
When she trailed off, I grinned. “Loud?” I offered which earned me a chuckle.
“He knows what he wants. As does Vi. But what about you, sweetie?” She put her hand on my cheek and I began to feel a tad uncomfortable.
“Wh–what do you mean?” I stammered.
“What do you want in life?” she asked. “What’s your dream job?” She stared at me and I just shrugged, unable to answer. “Well, do you want to travel?” That earned her another shrug. “Well… money, maybe? A wife, eventually? Kids?”
I felt my face going hot. “Mom, I’m happy with my life!” I stood up quickly and handed her the plaque back. “If you’re giving this to me because you think I’m so pathetic that I–that I–“
“No!” She stood as well, looking upset. “Seb! That is not why I want you to have it! I would never, ever, ever think you are pathetic!” She pushed the plaque back towards me. “I love you, and your dad does too. And we see so much in you. We want you to be happy, no matter what you do. Whether it’s publishing bestsellers or becoming teacher of the year or just delivering pizzas…” She stopped and sighed. “I’m not going about this very well, am I?”
“I’m happy, Mom,” I assured her. Her eyes met mine and I could see she didn’t believe me. I quickly looked away, blushing. “I don’t know what I want in life but I’m happy. Ok?”
Mom bit her bottom lip, but nodded. “Okay sweetie. I’m sorry to bother you.”
“You didn’t bother me,” I mumbled. “I just… I feel so pathetic!” The words came out without me wanting them to. Mom stared, and I stepped back. “Everyone knows what they want, at least something they want! You, Dad, Vi, Zari–everyone! But I feel like such a loser b-because I don’t know what I want! Or even if I want to want something!” I closed my eyes. “I’ve never felt drawn to anything. Except for–“
There was a moment of quiet as I managed to finally stop my words, and just in time. Mom kept staring at me, and I went even redder. I had nearly said it, had nearly confessed to her about that guy on the beach. But would that be so bad…? Perhaps it’s time to tell her, I thought, but then when I opened my mouth again I felt like I was going to throw up. Fear seized me, and I couldn’t tell her.
“Except for something I’ll never have,” I finished in a whisper.
Mom smoothed down some of my hair and gave me a very loving look. “Even castles in the air can be reached, so long as you find the means to get to it.” She leaned forward and kissed my forehead. “No matter what you do, Seb, I’ll be proud of you.”
She left me hugging the plaque, feeling as though I had left my body. I slowly slumped down to the floor, squeezing my eyes shut so I wouldn’t cry. If I could change my birthday wish, I would, I thought miserably because I really, really, really wished I wasn’t so weak.