The two seats up front in the front row of the gymnasium remained vacant when the concert started. I was flattered that someone assumed a loving couple would sit in those two chairs tonight. Knowing those two, they would just compare my performance to the concerto they saw in Italy that they loved so much. The band teacher motioned to commence the concert. I sank onto my cold duet bench. I began to ram my fingers into the ivory and black keys. Everything around me blurred with each passing note that filled the empty spaces of the room with its dreary requiem.
Once the concert concluded, I stood up with the rest of the junior high orchestra and faced the happy expressions of a doting audience. I rolled my eyes at the seats that remained as useless as the occupants they were intended for. As I left, other parents praised and congratulated me on "my best performance yet” and "they were so glad to witness it". They all had the same look in their eyes when driving by a puppy left on the side of the road. I hastened to the exit doors to avoid their words and barreled through them. I groaned. I wished someone would take me to the animal shelter to be rehomed. I shared my predicament with underwear-over-spandex superheroes, cosplay vigilantes, and misunderstood villains. Like them, I ended up standing in the rain, simmering. Except, unlike them, my parents were still alive. And they left their fourteen-year-old daughter drenched in record-high rainfall. Knowing them, they would call this a drizzle compared to the tree-bending monsoons in Thailand.
"Summer! Oh, Summer! Get into the car!" Could it be who I thought it was? Yes, it was! It was the woman my parents decided was a suitable substitute for them. The one thing they managed to get right. I did not blame her for her absence. Who else would want to be randomly dumped with someone's kid without notice? I ran into the sleek black Grand Tourer with its heated seats, which were greatly appreciated by my numbing skin. She smiled at me with her glossy red lips. Her lustrous black hair had glamorous waves that she always neatly pinned. Her face was a bright spot on this night.
"Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry I couldn’t attend your show! I just know you were fantastic, and I hate that I couldn't make it! I was just so busy tonight with your-" Her eyes darted away from mine. "Why don’t we get you something warm to eat? Hmm, what would you like, hon’?" I took in a sharp exhale. Her kind attempts to placate me never went unnoticed.
"Holly, where are they?" The rain drummed on the roof. Holly bit her ruby lower lip. Her smile lessened as she spoke.
"Well, Sum, you know your parents are kept busy by their jobs." No. The heated seat became much hotter. “And they wanted to make it there tonight; they tried so hard! They made sure to mark the date on the calendar and spoke with your band teacher about your solo." The audacity. Holly let out a nervous giggle. "But your parents have to go on their business trips!" Thunder clamored in the sky. "You and I can spend some girl's time together now! Your parents left you plenty of funds, so you can do whatever you want! It is the start of summer, Summer!" Everything else Holly said was drowned out by the night I stared out at. I did not, however, pass up the opportunity to have dinner with her.
Once my belly was satiated with my favorite Alfredo pasta, I overstuffed a sturdy black suitcase with gold trim that was used by my father for work with my belongings. I left a letter addressed to Holly explaining my departure and declaring that someday I would find her again. It took two whole days for my parents to drag their tanned bodies away from the white shores of Tahiti. They immediately fired Holly for being "careless". I shouted at them what the definition of irony was that day. I was whisked off to boarding school when the air became crisp, which ended the blistering feud between my parents and me. I never bothered leaving its home grounds for the next four consecutive summers. I detested the thought of a summer vacation.
"I just figured we could all share a family vacation. Just the three of us. I know this is sudden, but it has been too long since I have seen you two. We have so much to catch up on." I grasped my coffee mug between my palms and stole glances at them. We sat outside in a sidewalk café. A warm breeze was ebbed by a chill that rustled the foliage above and caused the fronds to glide down onto the cobbled ground. My father looked over at my mother. His pallid blue eyes were brimming with tears. It was settled. They were going. My mother's expression was as mixed as the green and gold leaves.
"Summer… I'm thrilled to hear you say that." My mother reached over and touched my hand. I chugged down a sip of my scolding coffee. I gently squeezed my hand around hers. Her russet hair was swept up by a gust, and she withdrew her hand to fix her tresses.
"Yes, it’s been too long, darling. Look at you! You are a chip off the old block!" My dad chuckled as he ran his hand through his ash-blonde hair that was beginning to fall out.
"I sure hope not," I added with a teasing wink towards him. We all laughed, and a few more loving jabs were thrown between us.
"Tahiti, huh? When was the last time we went, Carol?" My father mused. I rolled my neck and shoulders in unison.
“Six years. It was six years ago, dad." I quickly reached for my phone in my pocket and added, "Look, this is the resort I reserved for us to stay at. Isn’t it stunning?" I asked as I presented the pictures to my parents, who both gleamed with excitement at the palm of my hand. Our new tradition of an end-of-summer vacation was now on schedule.
"We must go to this wonderful beach your father and I discovered. Hopefully, there’s still that street restaurant nearby that makes an incredible Poisson Cru. Poisson Cru is a delicacy you must try, Summer. Do you remember the Poisson Cru, Noel?" My mother was practically drooling all over me. I cleared my throat to get them back on track.
"We can do that after our other plans, okay? Right now, let’s freshen up in our rooms, and then we can explore." I motioned for the concierge to pick up our suitcases from the car. My father insisted he would help. I grabbed his hand before he could reach for the trunk and told him he would still have to tip the clerk either way. I managed to corral them into the resort. I glanced back to make sure the clerk whisked away our bags to our separate rooms. We explored our villas and headed out for dinner. We had Poisson Cru, of course. I was unimpressed. Like many things, it was overrated. The wine glasses were piled on the table. My parents chortled like hyenas about their previous trip to the island together. They told me they wished I was there. I should have been there to understand the joke they told me when they saw my blank stare. I decided to make a toast to this momentous occasion.
"To us! Let this be a memorable summer vacation we experience together as a family!" They could barely clink their glasses together. I glanced at my watch and tapped my finger on the table as I listened to other adventures I missed out on. Afterward, I helped my stumbling father back to the villa. He complimented me on my strength as I carried him back.
"Good night," I turned on my heel to leave them outside their room.
"Summer. I’m so glad we’re doing this. I’ve missed you." My mother had her hand around my forearm. I was as gentle as I could be to release her grip.
"You need your sleep. You need all the rest you can get, especially at your age young lady," I said. I departed for my room, prepared for the night, and stared up at the ceiling before my eyelids gave up on me.
It was the shouting that made my eyes flutter open. The gunfire made me leap out of bed. I rushed to the window on all fours, keeping myself low. I peered out the window to see dark figures sprawling all over the villa. I could see red dots all over the doors, windows, and entrances. My adrenaline surged. I wondered if my parents were awake and seeing this.
In the moonlight, I saw a flash of copper hair. Like dominoes, the dark figures were brought down one by one. I was impressed by what I was witnessing.
"Summer!" My father materialized in my room. He had slipped through the back door of my room, and his eyes held an intensity that commanded all my attention away from my mother.
I quickly went to his side. "What’s going on?" I demanded. He brushed me off. I hated how he always did that.
"There’s no time to explain, darling. We must evacuate and get you to safety! I’m so sorry. This vacation is a mess because of us." I wanted to probe the matter, but he was yanking me away from my room. I ran behind him from corner to corner of the villas. We concealed ourselves in the night as we approached the beach. The gunfire became muffled as we reached the shore. I stopped. My father was fumbling with a boat tied to the dock. The black sea stirred.
"What about Carol?" I observed him closely. He was already sweating profusely. He was much more out of shape than I anticipated. The gunfire had ceased.
"Your mother will catch up with us soon. Hurry, darling, into the boat." The bellows became louder on the beach.
"No, I will wait. The plan will not continue until she is here." I turned my back to him and searched the coast eagerly.
"You and Carol never made it to Holly's funeral. I wonder what kept you from attending. Neither of you was sent out on a mission during that time." I whirled around to face Noel’s eyes, which were round like the moon. "Of course, I did not expect you to be there, just like all the other times. But I do love a good surprise."
"Noel!" It took three mercenaries to wrangle Carol. I did inherit my vigor from her. This was my moment. I whipped off my onesie (it was the only thing that would completely cover up my super suit). It got the reaction I wanted. Carol became a sputtering mess, while Noel wore a slack-jaw expression. I strutted around, making sure they took in every inch of my slick scarlet spandex suit padded with Kevlar, made from fibers more durable than steel, pockets-
"Summer, put your onesie back on immediately! That spandex suit is far too inappropriate!" Carol scowled. Noel nodded.
"Listen to your mother, darling." I felt my head implode. Did they not understand the gravity of the situation that was underway?
"You imbeciles! Do you not understand that I’ve beaten you? I, your nemesis, have outsmarted the so-called ‘best assassins’ money can buy’." My voice rang across the waterfront.
"Summer, do not speak to us in that tone. I will count to three, and if you do not have your mother released, well, you’re grounded. One." Were their heads in the sand? Were they not going to question how I figured it all out? I had the whole speech prepared. I was going to explain how I mixed up a black and gold-trimmed suitcase when I returned home after running away, believing it was the one I packed, only to find dossiers of clients, targets, and secret messages inside. I learned that their “business trips” were killing sprees they were hired to commit.
I had every detail planned to explain how I spent those four years away from home training my body and mind for combat. I schemed away and plotted for every possible outcome. When I left school, I spent the next two years connecting with their rivals all over the world and gathering resources to exact my revenge. I was even going to recite the devastating monologue I read to Holly, who died of a broken heart after all those long years we were separated. Why this summer vacation-
Noel produced a smoke bomb from his pocket. Ah, I should’ve checked beforehand. Sand spritzed into the dark smog as bullets hit the ground. I covered my eyes and dashed for clear air. I tripped over something and was sent crashing into the white sand. I rolled and sprung back up just in time to catch a jab from my loving "father". I swept my foot and aimed at his legs to return the favor. He leaped over it. I followed up with a left hook, which he dodged with a slip. He retaliated with a charged uppercut. I barely managed to block it.
“Very good, darling! You make a good sparring partner.” I seethed between gritted teeth. How dare he call me good and not the best! I whipped out my Beretta M9s.
“Say hello to the twins, Holly and Jolly. They’ve been dying to meet you.” I slammed down on the triggers. Silence followed the clicks. Sand had flooded into the chambers. My super suit was not sand-proof. I made a mental note of that. I cursed and tomahawked Jolly at him. I charged at him, but the wind in my sail died as I hit the rocky earth. I threw elbow strikes at Carol as she pinned me down.
“Summer, this is very immature of you! I thought we were over your tantrum stage!” We rolled, punched, and kicked all the while. I managed to break away, and I was less than gentle. I looked over to see that my men were subdued by her. Damn, she was good. Both stood together in fighting stances towards me. The world blurred around me.
“You both always hated me! Just admit it! You always left me! You were never there for me!” I cleared my throat after my shrill tone.
“Darling, we were off saving the world to keep everyone, including you, safe from dangerous people! We never meant to hurt you!”
“Saving the world? What about… saving your… What about me?” I retorted proudly.
Carol snorted. “We didn’t realize we needed to save you from yourself. But that’s clear now.”
“You could never save me! The only one who ever loved me was Holly! And you both took her away from me! She died of a broken heart because of you two!”
Noel put down his fists and scratched his head. “Holly was hit by a bus. I can’t help but notice you’re a little obsessed with her, darling. Have you always had these feelings towards other women?”
I felt my face turn the same shade as my suit. “Oh, don’t act like you care about my feelings.”
“I told you, Noel! Oh, Summer, I always knew. I’m so glad you feel comfortable coming out to us.”
“Shut up! Summer is dead! Only Phoenix remains as she rises from your ashes!” I charged.
“We respect your new identity, darling.” The sun peeked over the ocean as we collided. Jabs, hooks, kicks, grunts, backflips, and front flips were exchanged. It was exhilarating. I repressed the corners of my mouth from curling. By the end, the three of us stood with deflated bodies. This was getting me nowhere. I pressed my palms against each other, causing a beeping green light to appear. I put more distance between us.
“Sum- I mean, Phoenix, I’m sorry we were MIA during your childhood. Please, let’s put this behind us and enjoy our vacation as a family. Maybe we can talk about bringing you into the family business. And discuss the option of therapy.” My mother pleaded. My father held out his hand to me, and they both had smiles illuminated by the rising sun. They were mocking me, even now. A beat erupted into the air above us.
“Yes, you both better enjoy your last summer vacation as a family. I’ll be seeing you around.” I sprinted and caught the descending rope ladder from the helicopter overhead. I twisted around to wave at them as I flew into the sunrise. They waved back. I decided I would see them next summer. I would make it a summer vacation blowout they wouldn’t forget.