My world was turned upside down. Literally. I had been chillaxing on the teeter-totter, reading a comic book, and someone had come up behind me and slammed the other end of the teeter-totter down. I went flying head-over-heels and crashed into the ground with a lot of pain.
“THE HELL?” I yelled, sitting up and rubbing the back of my head. My twin sister was standing over me, arms folded. “Lumes, what was that about? Trying to kill me?”
I got to my feet, trying to wipe the grass from my clothes and then adjusting my glasses. “You’re not making any sense,” I muttered, though I knew exactly what she was babbling on about. I had known she’d be furious, but I shoulda been able to sense her getting closer. She and I had this link, which only got stronger when we hit the teenage years–but we had also been working on a way to block each other out and she musta been really concentrating on that so I wouldn’t run away.
Lumie tried to kick me and I danced out of her way. “You quit the team, Zaid,” she snarled. “You–you quit! Danny called me! Heather was practically in tears.”
I rolled my eyes at that.”Heather is a drama queen.”
“And you’re a brat! Why did you quit? We have the finals coming up. The finals. The big competition. We need you.”
I ran my fingers through my hair and shrugged. “You don’t need me, I don’t do a thing on the team. I just sit there and don’t press the button.”
She spread her hands out. “So? You knew that when you joined the team! Zaid, we need a fourth member to go to finals. We need someone sitting in that seat, and who cares if you don’t press the button? We need four.”
I picked up my comic book and tried to edge away from my sister. “Then get a fourth.”
“The competition is in three days. Three days. How are we supposed to find someone in three days, people have plans,” she hissed. “It’s a Saturday! People are busy.”
“Get Glados,” I suggested. “She can press the button, she’ll show you all up.”
I headed into the house with Lumie on my heels. “Gladdy is going out of town Saturday and you know it.” I shoved open the door and went inside, figuring I’d go to my room to get rid of her but when I got to the stairs she grabbed my arm and whirled me around. “Zaid why are you doing this to us?” she asked.
“I don’t want to be on the team anymore!” I snapped, shaking my arm free. “I hate math! I’m not a mathlete! That’s your area of exp-er-tise. I’m sick of sitting there, of being useless, of–“
“When you joined us you said, you said exactly ‘yeah I don’t mind being the extra body as long as I don’t do anything’,” she said in a whiny imitation of me.
I opened my mouth to argue but Pa, who had been on the computer, was getting up and hurrying over to us. “Kids, hey! What’s with the fighting?” he asked, tilting his head and looking back and forth between us.
Lumie’s arms tightened over her chest. “You tell him, Zaid? You tell Pa? No? Go on, tell him. Or should I?” And before I could say anything she turned to look at our pops. “He quit the math team. We have our final competition Saturday, and if we don’t have four members we can’t compete.”
Papa looked at me and I shifted uncomfortably, not wanting to argue. “Pa, come on. I don’t want to be part of it anymore. Are you gonna force me to be in something I hate?”
“You quit everything,” Lumie said, shoving my arm. Papa quickly got between us, gently nudging us farther apart. “For Watcher’s sake! You just need to sit there for one more thing, just one! And we win, and–“
“You’re going against Midnight Hollow, they’re like… robots! Nobody’s ever beat the Ravens in any of those sorta competitions,” I pointed out.
Lumie put her hands on her hips, one of them stuck out in her usual cocky manner. “That’s cause Moonlight Falls never had me on their team.”
“Oh-ho!” I exclaimed. “Well aren’t you Miss Special!”
“Zaid! Lumie!” Papa said, going into the scary-parent voice he almost never had. Dad got it a lot, but Papa only rarely got it so we knew he meant business. “Stop fighting. Lumie, Zaid can make his own decisions about this,” he said and I stuck out my tongue as she scowled. Then she stuck out her tongue and I scowled when Papa went on to say, “And Zaid, Lumie is right–you just need to sit there, I don’t really understand what the big deal is. Why can’t you wait till after to quit?”
I clenched my teeth, feeling like they were ganging up on me which really wasn’t unusual. Everyone in the family usually did. Do this, don’t do that, go-go-go, no you need to stop. I was feeling that familiar feeling bubbling up inside me. That overwhelming feeling like quicksand, like I was going under. It was getting hard to breathe. I couldn’t think of anything to say back about it so I just turned and clattered up the stairs, making sure to stomp as I went.
I raced to my room, flinging the door shut once I got inside. My brother was on his bed, feet up on the wall as he flipped through a magazine. He raised an eyebrow at me but said nothing, not bothering to ask because he would already know. Damn him and his super-hearing. But then he said, “Need to be alone?”
“Yes,” I said.
He swung his feet to the floor and got up, tossing the ‘zine on his bed. “‘K,” he said and went to the door. I breathed out, happy he wasn’t gonna lecture me but I felt that relief a bit too soon since at the door he said, “They have a point you know.”
“Not you too!”
“Zaid, seriously, dude, what’s up?” he asked and I glared. “You do quit everything. What’s a couple hours this Saturday? You have a date?” I just shook my head, remaining silent. “You just need to sit there for Watcher’s sake! I’d do it if I was allowed to be on the team.”
I turned away from him, not wanting to hear it. Villy called me a brat and left our room, slamming the door so hard the windows rattled and the door frame creaked. I let out a few swear words then began kicking things around, AB-SO-LUTE-A-LY furious with all of them. None of them understood. It was like, they were all so disgustingly happy with each other and I was sorta the kid they never talked about. Okay maybe it wasn’t that bad but I was definitely the one left out in the cold.
Seriously. Villy was the beloved oldest son, the adopted one. The chosen one. He was strong, fast, and had super good senses. And Presea! Miss Perfect! She already had been working for a couple years, saving up for college and also doing volunteer work. Then Gladdy was a super genius as well as captain of the swim team, winning medals and crap. And Lumie, super popular in school and spending her time doing stupid math competitions and even tutoring kids.
So what about me? I just sorta hung out in the corner. It felt like I was forgotten, a lot. I didn’t have any trophies or medals or awards or anything for my dads to display or brag about. I just sorta did my own thing, coasting along… if I complained about it, people would point out I was the baby of the family. And by people I meant my siblings. They kept saying that I could get away with almost anything but that wasn’t true. It was Villy that could get away with anything, not me.
All right so I usually didn’t care I was in the shadows of all my older siblings but just once I kinda wished my dads would be all ‘guess what Zaid did’.
I sighed and went to the bathroom, shutting myself in and pulling off my glasses, tossing them onto the floor. They weren’t real, I didn’t need glasses. I bought them and wore them since I felt like they suited my look. But now they felt really ugh on me. In fact everything looked and felt ‘grody’ on me (as Presea would say). Scowling at my reflection I began yanking off my clothes. I had begged my dads to buy them for me at the beginning of the year but now I despised them.
Soon my clothes lay in a heap on the floor and I shivered, standing there in my boxer shorts. Maybe Vils has something I can borrow, I thought because my old clothes from the autumn just seemed just as ugly as the ones I had shed. I left everything in the bathroom and wandered back in the bedroom, going through Villy’s section of the dresser. I found some jeans then tiptoed into my dads’ room to find a top to wear. Once I was dressed in new (ish) clothes I felt kinda better. More relaxed.
Annnnd now that I was relaxed, I could think. I flopped onto my bed, wriggling my fingers through my hair and thinking. Why was everyone so obsessed with me staying on the team? Lumie was popular, she could find someone to be the fourth member and it wasn’t like they were gonna win anyway, nobody beat the Ravens in the brainy competitions. Wasn’t like, the big rule of parenthood not forcing their kids to do things they didn’t want to? At least the rule of awesome parenting. Respecting their kid’s decisions and all that.
Pa did sorta understand, I thought with a bit’ve hope. Dad never would. I’d do my best to avoid talking to him about it. I loved him and I knew he loved me but we were totttalllyy on different wavelengths. Papa once told me it was cause I never really settled on anything, but jeeez so what if I hadn’t ‘settled’ on anything for Watcher’s sake I just turned fourteen! What, did he want me to make all my life choices under the influence of raging hormones or something? Oh yeah, that was a brilliant idea.
All of a sudden I felt stuff. Emotionally. My sister had dropped the shield on her side, with the psychic stuff. So I dropped mine since I figured it meant she wanted to talk. Sure enough I could feel her wanting to talk and then… well, it was complicated. Some people said it was like reading each other’s minds and maybe it was. But Lumie wanted to talk, and promised she wouldn’t yell at me again. So I left the bedroom and sat at the top of the stairs. She begged me to come down and after a moment I began sliding down the stairs on my butt, more nervous about Villy than anything.
>Why are you nervous about Villy?< I felt from Lumie inside my head.
>No reason< I lied as I got to the bottom of the steps.
“He’s outside anyw–those are his jeans aren’t they?” Lumie had walked over and was standing over me, arms folded.
I pressed my lips into a long, thin line and began putting up the shields again. “Maaaaaaybe. So, you’re not gonna yell at me?”
“I called Saul,” she said.
I raised my eyebrows. “Underwood?” I inquired and she nodded. “How come?”
“He’s agreed to be the fourth on the team,” she said in a I’m-trying-not-to-be-pissed-off manner. “So yeah, you can stay off the team.”
I tried not to do a victory dance but it was hard. “Sweet deal,” I said and Lumie glared. “What? Look, there was zero point of me being–“
“Just shut up. You let Heather down, you let Danny down, you let me down. You can’t keep doing this crap, Zaid. You can’t just keep running away form your problems like–“
“WHAT? I do NOT run away! What problems?” I demanded hotly.
“You quit the team–“
“Oh, and how was the team a problem?”
We both were speaking at the same time, or rather yelling. I felt anger bursting from inside her head and soon we were yelling at each other both verbally and mentally which holy guacamole on a stick, let me tell you that’s not a pleasant thing at all. And we would probably have continued arguing like that except Papa swept over, pushing us apart and telling us to go to our respective rooms. Lumie huffed up the stairs but before I could, Pa snagged ahold of my sleeve and turned me back around to face him.
I had the feeling I was gonna get one of his lectures which was one of the worst things in the universe, a Papa lecture. Dad’s lectures were… well, not much better since he got all furious and Papa was always having to do his best to keep Dad calm. But Pa‘s lectures, ugh. He gave us these sad looks and spoke softly and just made us feel sooooooo guilty. So I prepared myself for that but instead of one of those, Papa asked, “That’s my shirt?”
I blinked. Okay. I often wished I could read Papa’s mind as well as Lumie’s. He was so weird sometimes. Like where Dad would go off about the matter at hand, Papa usually said super weird things that seemed to have little to do with the matter. Gladdy often said he was just in his own little world which I guessed was true. “Yeah, uh, can I borrow it?” I finally replied.
He smiled and shrugged. “Sure.”
Ooookay, I thought as I headed to my room. I put up my shields against Lumie which was fine since hers were up too, though I did make a face in the general direction of her room. I went into my room and flung myself on the bed, brooding and grumbling for a while. By the time Dad came home and it was announced we were going out for dinner, I was still in a pretty rotten mood.
I did not run away from anything, and there was nothing wrong with me making my own decisions about what I would do with my time. I was not just gonna go along with whatever my twin wanted, or whatever my other siblings wanted, or whatever society wanted.
I was my own person, and damn it that’s how it was just gonna be.
They watched from the woods as the seven people came out of the house. Even from where they stood, they could hear their voices. The oldest girl was complaining about not being able to go to a party. The middle girl was begging her dads to let her drive. The youngest was busy texting. And the two boys were arguing very loudly about pants.
A finger raised and carefully pointed. “The youngest. The boy.”
“Oh goodie.” The second figure focused intently on the brown-haired teen, and then fangs gleamed through the darkness. “This should be fun.”