New York is a strange place.
I live there, on a multi-million dollar private estate, with my parents, who are celebrities, and my two brothers, Xaviar and Aiden. Xaviar’s moving out soon, hopefully. He’s going to Yale, and even though it’s the beginning of May, now is when he decides he needs his own apartment. Not, like, at the start of a semester or something.
It’s not going to change anything. Xaviar already lives nearly completely isolated in his own wing of the house; Mom and Dad are in another—although they sleep in separate rooms, shocker—and Aiden and I are in a third.
He didn’t have to choose to live by me. There’s a whole other wing of the mansion, after all. But he did, just a few doors down the hallway, in between that quarter’s living area and kitchen.
(Yes, there’s basically a whole separate house in each of the four sections of the place I live in. Does that surprise you?)
May 1, 2030, Wednesday, 5 p.m.
I put down my phone and sigh, pushing back from my desk and spinning in the middle of my room in the big office chair. I get up from the chair, take one last glance around the room, and leave. Soon I’m knocking softly on Aiden’s door and pushing it open before he has a chance to respond.
I know what his answer would be, of course. Aiden’s never turned me away.
His back is to me, and he, too, is sitting by his desk—the people who built and furnished this house weren’t creative enough to come up with different floor layouts and designs for each room, so the bare bones of Aiden and my bedrooms look pretty much the same. Red wireless headphones are tucked around his soft, messy burnt curls. Aiden never uses earbuds or AirPods, never even tried those bone conduction earphones or anything with a cord—it’s always red and black wireless headphones, the same pair for as long as I’ve known him.
As I walk slowly closer, I see that he’s writing in a spiral-bound notebook. Whether he’s doing something for school or just scribbling for fun, I can’t tell—when given the option, Aiden prefers not to use technology. His laptop sits, closed and abandoned, off to one side of the desk.
Though I’m being quiet, Aiden senses, somehow, that I’m here. He swivels around in the chair and pulls his headphones down around his neck. He’s wearing his prescription glasses, the roundish ones with the clear rims that he’s supposed to use all the time but really only ever does while reading. The dull metallic piercing at the end of his left eyebrow glints faintly in the dim light. “Hey, Cal. What’s up?”
I shrug and close my eyes. “Not sure.”
Aiden laughs lightly—he’s fond of doing that—and takes my hand, guiding me over to his king-sized bed. He sits me down on the mattress and lightly pokes one of my eyelids. “Open up, dearie.”
I shake my head and crack open my eyes, trying not to giggle. A singular quiet snort escapes from my lips and flutters into the air. Aiden smiles, his work complete, and lets go of my hand.
“What were you writing?” I ask him, leaning back and watching as he moves towards his desk.
“Just a song,” he mumbles sheepishly. Then when he catches my expression, he grins. “Okay, okay, but you have to promise not to tell anyone.”
“As if I had someone to tell?”
Aiden looks at me for a long moment, something slightly sad in his clear amber eyes. “I wish you wouldn’t talk like that, Cal.” He grabs his guitar from where it’s leaning against the wall and joins me on the bed, sitting cross-legged on the deep blue comforter as he positions the guitar strap around himself. He strums the strings a few times and clears his throat. “Okay, here we go.”
Aiden’s singing voice is beautiful, warm and rich, like cinnamon dark chocolate. My faint smile grows bigger the more he plays. Finally, he stops abruptly, setting the guitar back down on the floor. “That’s all I have so far,” he says. “What do you think?”
I roll my eyes and poke his shoulder lightly through the sleeve of his sweatshirt. “Come on, of course I love it.” When I sense Aiden flush, I add, “Is it for Evelyn?”
Aiden’s in 11th grade at a prestigious private school uptown. (I’m a freshman, but I go to a different one.) He’s quiet, of course--everyone in our family except Mom is--but now and then, when he’s putting creamer into his coffee after an early morning run, or standing dreamily on the balcony during a storm, the rain dampening his dark orange curls, every now and then, I’ll catch him staring hazily off, the phantom of a name on his lips, something resembling puppy love in his eyes. When he sees me sneaking glances at him, he’ll grin and try to attack me with a hug, but as much as I complain that he’s sweaty from his run or sopping from the rain, he knows I don’t really mean it, so he’ll run around with wet thumbs and try to smudge my eyeliner. We’ll eventually collapse somewhere on the floor, and as much as I don’t like laughing—it’s a sign of weakness—Aiden always has me giggling on the floor, tiny tears of joy pooling out of my right eye as I smile and wave him away with my hand.
I lean into him and sigh. “Thanks for being my brother, Aiden.”
Aiden gently kisses the top of my head. “Thanks for being my sister, Cal.”
And like that, tilted against each other, we listen to the listless rattle of rain on the windows, and, eventually, close our eyes, for there is nowhere I feel safer than when Aiden is near.
May 3, 2030, Friday, 4:03 p.m.
Mom is making a group call with the members of our family. I sigh, take one last swig from the pale pink of whatever this Japanese drink is (I can’t read the label), and set it on the bedside table to my left. Mom doesn’t approve of anything that isn’t fruit juice or kombucha or tea. If only she could see what Xaviar pumps into his body every day, she’d have a heart attack.
I sit up straighter in bed and press the green “accept” button, not bothering to make myself look happy. We’re all home right now, but we’ll admit it, most of us don’t have the energy to walk what feels like miles through the snaking hallways of the mansion just to convene for five minutes in Mom’s living space.
Says me, who chooses to leave early and walk through New York to school every day instead of taking the rich people bus that Mom deems “secure.”
Well, that’s different. Mom doesn’t know about that.
She calls it unsafe. I say it’s exciting.
I guess it’s all about perspective, right?
“Hey, kids,” Mom says brightly, her blindingly white and large teeth flashing. Small specks of salvia gather at the corner of her neon red mouth painted with waxy lipstick. Her hair, red with artificial streaks of brown, is straightened, of course. Aiden says he has a vague memory of seeing Mom with curly hair once, but that I can’t imagine. Curly, to Mom, means unrestrained and natural and rebellious, and heaven forbid we ever see that.
Clumpy mascara painfully coats her lashes, and the skin around her eyes doesn’t crinkle when she fakely smiles. “How is everyone?”
Xaviar and Aiden, who both picked up before me, have starkly different responses, but neither of them surprise me. Xaviar mutters, “Fine,” his phone propped up against a gaming console, his face unnaturally illuminated by blue light from a screen in the otherwise dark room.
Aiden, it looks like, is outside somewhere. He’s breathing heavily, and his cheeks are pink from the unusually chilly spring day. Wind blows into his phone and slightly distorts his words. “Hey, Mom, I’m fine, just on the grounds playing with Crickett.” Crickett is Aiden’s corgi.
“Wonderful work, son,” Mom says, as if my brother is some kind of kindergartener that deserves a shiny gold star. “And you, Calliope?”
I cringe. I hate it when people use my full name; four syllables, each one sounding so formal and yet like I’m in deep trouble. I much prefer Cal.
Except when it’s Aiden, of course. He can call me whatever he wants. Including Cantaloupe, which he’s done on numerous occasions.
“I’m fine, Mom,” I mumble, and fall silent.
“Well, kids, you may notice that your dad isn’t on this call. There’s a reason for that; he’s making arrangements, because this summer we’re going to be trying something new…” Mom pauses for dramatic emphasis. “How do you kids feel about space travel?”
Quickly and quietly, Xaviar whispers the f word, then continues moving his thumbs across the gaming controller as if he hasn’t heard anything at all.
Aiden bites his lip. “Uh, where, exactly?”
“Rectar, where else! Your father and I have decided that it’s a great place for both tourism and an opportunity in real estate investments. What do you think, Cal?”
I don’t like it when Mom calls me that, either.
I swallow, feeling suddenly very hot. “Um, what the hell, Mom?”
“Calliope! Watch your mouth, please.”
I roll my eyes and mutter something much worse under my breath.
Aiden cuts in. “Do we have a choice, Mom? Maybe Cal and I can stay here while you and Dad go?”
Mom frowns, her face looking so much like a pouting child. “No, no, it’s a family trip! I couldn’t dream of leaving you two behind!”
Aiden starts to say something again, but Mom cuts him off. “We’ll talk about it later. We leave at the beginning of August. I hope you’re all as excited as I am!” And just as suddenly as the call came, Mom hangs up.
May 4th, 2030, Saturday, 3:44 a.m.
I can’t sleep. Of course I can’t sleep. Why would I be able to sleep?
I quietly peel back the covers and slide out of bed. My parents aren’t going to hear me sneaking out of my room, but it’s a habit to stay silent. I open the drawer of my nightstand, where I feel around until my fingers grasp a glowstick. I snap it a couple times, make my way to the door, and slip out.
Holding the glowstick out in front of me, I move down the hall until I spot the door to the kitchen. I turn the knob and walk in.
Aiden’s slumped against the cabinets on the floor, his face pointed downwards at his phone, a cold mug of coffee by his side. He blinks a couple times and looks up towards me. “Oh, hey, Cal,” he says casually, as if this is a regular occurrence. To be fair, it kind of is.
I grin and close the door. Setting the glowstick on the counter, I fumble around in the cabinets for a glass, then fill it with water from the tap. Aiden stickily pats the linoleum next to him, and I sit down, our legs stretched out together across the kitchen floor.
“What are you doing?” I mumble sleepily, only half trying to read what’s on the phone’s bright screen.
“Oh, just texting someone,” he whispers, and I know, even as I start to doze off, who it must be. Evelyn, of course. But I don't mind. Why would I?
May 5th, 2030, Sunday, 11:35 a.m.
Mom and Dad are at church. She doesn’t make Xaviar go, since he’s an “adult and he can make his own decisions,” but they still dragged Aiden along, even though he’s seventeen. I said I was sick so I didn’t have to go, and they just took my word for it. Not Aiden—he can tell when I’m lying—but now I’m sitting in the hallways, scratching Crickett’s ears, and smiling as he sends me silly, discreet selfies from the front row. I send him a picture of Crickett, and he texts back, “Shoot, I should’ve brought her! I think she really would’ve gleaned a lot from today’s sermon.”
I close my eyes and pat Crickett on the head. “You’ve got a really great owner, you know that?”
Crickett yips as if to agree.
May 7th, 2030, Tuesday, 1:03 p.m.
My algebra teacher is lecturing, talking about something stupid that starts with poly. I tap my pencil on my desk and stare quietly at the wall, out the imaginary window. I never pay attention in math. Aiden helps me at home, occasionally, and Mom keeps offering to get me a tutor, but I don’t really care about my grades. I’m probably going to run away before I graduate, anyways, so there’s not really a point. Right?
May 8th, 2030, Wednesday, 3:09 p.m.
Gripping the straps of my backpack tightly and keeping my head down, I glance both ways briefly before I cross the street, my earbuds wedged firmly into my ears. It’s not that often that people recognize me as Jen Archer’s daughter—after all, why would they? I look nothing like her—but there are the select few who fall deeply in love with the mask she puts on to trick the world and research her, go crazy, study pictures of her and her husband andchildren as if they were stalkers on the lookout for their next victim.
That’s honestly probably what Mom would say if she knew I didn’t ride the bus.
I run to the other side of the crosswalk, my heeled combat boots clicking against the pavement as I hurry across the street. In the middle of the wide road, I pause, for just a split second, to catch my breath, and that’s when I notice a car, a dark red sedan, sliding towards me remarkably quietly but at an alarming speed.
I have my earbuds in, I remember, as, when the car is just a few feet away from me, I sprint to get out of the way.
May 9th, 2030, Thursday, 8:45 a.m.
“Oh my God, Cal, thank heaven you woke up,” Aiden says quickly, his voice cracking. “Oh my God, oh my God, I’m so glad you’re okay.”
“Hey, Aiden,” I say quietly, rubbing the back of his hand with my thumb. I already know where I am--in the hospital, in a bed that’s surprisingly uncomfortable for my parents being so wealthy, with my right leg in a cast and Aiden sitting next to me.
“I was so worried when I couldn’t see you yesterday, and I don’t know why Mom—”
“Yes, you do, Aiden,” I sigh. “It’s so she and Dad can act like concerned parents in front of the press without anyone who actually cares about me around to get in the way, and then when everyone's gone, to berate me for walking home because it’s ‘unsafe.’ When I’ve just broken a leg. Thanks a lot, Mom.
“Well, they’re suing the dude, anyways,” Aiden says quietly. “Of course, they’re going to win.”
“As if our parents need more money,” I mutter under my breath. Aiden starts to reply, but just then Mom comes rushing into the room, the stench of whatever perfume she’s wearing bringing small, stinging tears to my eyes. “Oh, my dearest Calliope, daughter, you’re awake! How are you feeling?”
“Well, it hurts,” I mutter, then add quickly, “But it’s fine. Not that much. Just an ache, really. I’m fine.”
“Oh, honey, I’m so glad,” Mom says, kneeling opposite Aiden on the other side of my bed. “We’ll get the man who hit you, I swear. From now on you’re being driven to school, okay? I’m getting you a chauffeur.”
I wince in Aiden’s direction, then turn back to Mom. “Sooo… does this mean I can stay home from the trip in August? After all, I’m injured, and—”
Mom tells her brain to display shock on her face, and sure enough, an offended look appears in her eyes. “Why, Calliope! That is our family vacation! I understand you must be hurting, but really it’s a brilliant opportunity, and you wouldn’t want to—”
I slump into the pillows and stare at the wall, wishing I was anywhere but here.
May 10th, 2030, Friday, 7:56 p.m.
Mom, Dad, and Xaviar are waiting outside in the car. (Xaviar’s been in my room a grand total of maybe four minutes throughout this entire ordeal.) Visiting hours are almost over, but Aiden’s been here ever since he got off school, just sitting by the side of my bed, being in my presence.
I think he understands how much he means to me.
I shouldn’t be staying here this long—after all, it’s only a broken leg—but when your parents have a lot of money and they don’t want to be around you, it’s amazing what they can do, really, it is.
After I get out, I have appointments with chiropractors and physical therapists and apparently I’ll have to use crutches and wear a brace for months and months, so, that’s fun.
A nurse pokes his head into the room. “I’m really sorry, Calliope, but I’m gonna have to kick your brother out soon.”
Aiden sighs and turns towards the doorway. “Thanks. I’ll be gone in a minute.” The nurse nods and disappears.
Aiden looks back at me. “You’re really strong, Cal. I hope you know that. I know you know that.” He slings his bookbag over his shoulder and plants, lightly, a kiss on my forehead. “See you tomorrow, okay?”
“Bye,” I call as he walks out the doorway. And before I know it, my eyes are closed and I’m drifting once again.
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As again very nicely written and have a incredible amount of detail! Can't wait for more