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"Do you think they got on the wrong flight?" Freddy Alvarez, my uncle and guardian for all intents and purposes, asked the burning question and while it was possible for my cousins Zach, Zander and Thea to have gotten on the wrong flight back home to Boringville Pasadena, I had a feeling they were just lost in this huge airport. They'd been super young when they left ten years ago. I still had no idea why they decided to come back when it sounded like they were having the time of their lives traveling around South America.
We started exchanging emails as soon as they were old enough to scout the internet for porn. I teased them occasionally with random links to sketchy porn sites, and I looked forward to getting an angry phone call from Uncle Danny right after. I'd missed them. A lot. Pasadena needed a spark to bring it back to life and what better way to light it on fire than with the return of the Carter clan.
Being the liberal parents I'd heard all about growing up, my cousin's had claimed Aunt Serena and Uncle Danny had allowed 16-year-old Zander to get a lip piercing and ten year old Thea to dye her hair any color she wanted. I'd had my doubts when they refused to send pictures as proof, but as soon as I saw them walking towards us and saw that they had indeed lived up to their coolness, I jumped out of my seat and stood next to my uncle.
"Please don't embarrass me, Freddy," I muttered, leaning in so he could hear me better. I teased him about his hearing often, knowing how much he hated the fact that he was no longer in the prime of his life. His hearing was fine. It was his sense of humor that needed some work since he always glared at me right after a playful joke.
"Daniel and Serena are trusting them with me. If you want to keep them around, you better get your shit together, Giselle," he suggested sternly, sending me the all too familiar warning glance of death. I haven't behaved like the perfect little girl he wanted me to be since I was four. I don't know why he kept on holding out for miracles. Those types of divine interventions were reserved for religious folks and teen moms with trashy boyfriends.
"Just in time for the party," I exclaimed with a grin as I reached to hug the five-foot-eight giants that were my twin cousins Zach and Zander. Thea, the four-foot-nine, deep violet haired, ten year old girl was sitting on top of her brother Zach's back. He let her slide down to greet me with a hug and I smirked when I noticed she was no longer hiding behind her shell. The girl might've been quiet when she was younger, but her new dark and casual style of clothing was screaming; follow me into the darkness, you'll enjoy it. It was obviously a reflection of her parent's influence and I wished my own parents had been that cool.
"Hey guys," Uncle Freddy was next, and he greeted them all with hugs before they started making funny faces behind his back. I held back my laughter for my Uncle's sake, and placed myself in between the two giants, while Thea jumped back up onto Zach's back. She'd never admit it but Zach was her favorite brother out of the two. They had more in common than she and Zander. Zander on the other hand, was on another level of broody and cool. The kind that would make it easy enough for me to integrate him into Pasadena High next week. Not that Zach wasn't cool. He was just more into academics than anything. He took after his mom that way from what I've heard. But having the same face as his brother would definitely help him get into more parties.
They sported different haircuts and styles which helped with trying to tell them apart. Zander rocked the combed back hair and classic teen guy ensemble with the hoodie, fitted jeans and black vans. Zach preferred the shoulder-length hair and varsity look and it suited him well as he wore his leather jacket and white t-shirt underneath, paired with vans as well. Thea's style put my classic tomboy look to shame, when she reminded me that tying your jacket around your waist was still considered a cool thing, even in this era.
I caught her smirking when I tied my jacket around my waist as we exited the airport, stepping out into humid Texas heat. We met Uncle Mike and his daughter, Camilla, out front where all of the cabs and SUV's lined up for emerging passengers. Aunt Marley couldn't make it since she was too busy making dinner for everyone to leave her kitchen. My stomach practically growled when I pictured all the goodies she was making for our guests of honor.
"You didn't have to come, Michael," Uncle Freddy started his bitching and I loved Uncle Mike because he always completely ignored him and he moved on to greet the twins and Thea. She and Camilla had never been properly introduced, which was weird considering they were born on the same day, literally hours between each of their births. It probably had something to do with the silent feud between Aunt Serena and Aunt Marley. The same feud we still weren't allowed to talk about to this day. I should've been paying more attention ten years ago. At the time, I'd been busy trying to gain the attention of my mother, Rebecca Alvarez. The same woman who never wanted to have me to begin with. Her words actually. And they repeated often inside my head since the moment she screamed them at me from behind the fiberglass of the prison call room. I haven't been back since. But it was only because I had nothing to say that would hurt her as badly as she intended to her hurt me.
"Shit, when did ya'll get so big?" Uncle Mike's voice brought me out of my dark place and I chuckled when he began to size them up. He grinned when he realized they still had a long way to go before they reached his six foot stature.
"We've been fed well," Zach made his first sarcastic comment, with his first official cheesy smile of the day, embracing the sense of humor he inherited from both of his parents.
"Speaking of, when are we going to eat? I'm starving," Zander chimed in next, as he adjusted his glasses and I realized his insatiable appetite was still in tact after ten years. If anything, it'd gotten worse according to Aunt Serena. He ate more than the average teenage boy, although it didn't show. He also expressed his complaints of not being able to have eye surgery since Uncle Danny didn't trust doctors for shit. He'd rather pay what he needed to in order for his son to see the best he could with those name brand specs.
"Marley is cooking. I hope ya'll are ready to eat the best food on planet earth," Uncle Mike answered proudly, as he helped Uncle Freddy put everyone's luggage in the trunk of the SUV. Thea and Camilla were apparently bonding over their similar butterfly earrings while the boys and I circled around and they filled me in on when their parents would be arriving.
"They'll be here next week. The night before school officially starts," Zach answered first, and smiled sheepishly at the girl who just passed behind him. She swooned of course. The twins were babe magnets, but I was looking forward to seeing at what stage their raging hormones were on considering neither of them have had girlfriends before. None they've been willing to talk about anyway. Shocking in my opinion. They were at a tender age where it was natural for teenage boys to completely obliterate teen girl hearts.
"Since I know you swing for both teams, what are the girls like here?" Zach asked me openly, and since I held no shame over my sexuality, I had no problem answering it.
"There's nothing interesting here for me. But maybe you two can find some nice wholesome girls to take to homecoming," I teased, crossing my arms as I smiled up at them.
"Still an asshole huh, Giselle?" Zander first curse and cheesy smile of the day finally made it to the surface and it took him long enough. The boy was a bubbling mess of frustration and I wanted nothing more than to help him unleash it. The sooner, the better. I had a party in mind for them to crash tonight, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to start corrupting them so soon. Uncle Freddy didn't look like he was playing around this time. School was supposed to be my first priority this year, since I was two years behind due to me skipping class my junior and senior year. I wasn't dense. I knew my shit. I just had no interest in the narrow-minded curriculum they wanted to teach. It didn't look like I had much of a choice this time. I was almost twenty, and all of my old friends had all moved on to college anyway. Nothing was fun here anymore.
This year was the year of rehabilitation for my fucked up soul. I just hoped I could stay on the straight and narrow before it was too late, and I ended up just like my dad, Gabriel Montez, one of the few tragic stories in Pasadena. He'd been a pot-head and a drinker as well from what I've heard. Although people knew him through his vices and erratic behavior, I felt the closest to him when I emulated him. It was stupid, and I knew that. But the memory of him four year old me had been clinging to was starting to fade.
The only way I could remember my father now was to be exactly like him.
Dinner was full of good food and laughter. The twins and Thea had a lot of catching up to do with the rest of the family and they sat there politely listening to Uncle Mike and Aunt Marley tell boring stories about the cute things they used to do as kids. I excused myself from the table for a quick smoke break after dinner, since jealousy kept rearing it's ugly head with every memory they shared.
There wasn't any smoking allowed anywhere in Texas now except in bars and it was a complete killjoy if you asked me. I understood the entire town was paranoid due to the massive wildfire that happened two years ago because some dumbass kid left his burning cigarette in the middle of the fucking woods. He was lucky his friends pulled his drunk ass from there before he turned into crispy bacon. I was still severely upset my smoking habits could no longer be indulged wherever I pleased because of someone else's mistake.
I needed to quit though. I knew that. The unpleasant smell of burning ashes was starting to stick to all of my clothes and Uncle Freddy's water and electricity bill were off the charts because of it. He even forced me to get a job this summer to pay off my own phone bill and pay half of the bills at his farm now that I've moved back home. It was just us two now, since his ex-wife left and basically took half of his shit and his happiness along with her. He hasn't been the same since the divorce was finalized and I didn't blame him. Love was nothing but a disappointment to those who didn't know how to give it nor receive it. My ex-girlfriend taught me all about that just as she slammed her apartment door in my face, after throwing all my shit out onto the hallway six months ago. She claimed I had intimacy issues and that I refused to commit. She wasn't far off, but she didn't have to kick me out to show me that.
Uncle Freddy had welcomed me back with open arms and restrictions and I'd had a hard time adjusting to them at first. I still am. I'd gotten used to the freedom that came with not living with your family and now that I was back under his roof, the stress of all his rules and regulations were pushing me further and further into the land of disobedience.
"Can I have one of those?" the small voice came from Camilla Lopez, Uncle Mike's tomboy princess prodigy. He'd have a heart attack if he knew she was asking for one of my cigarettes. She wasn't my kid, nor did I think it was right for her to chose cigarettes as her stress reliever, but I was curious to see just how many gray hairs she was willing to give her parents this year. She'd already been involved in a couple of fights at her summer camp. Which was why she came home early. The camp owners had decided to ban her from camp until her behavior was dealt with. I was sure her behavior wasn't the problem. People do stupid things when they're unhappy. And Camilla losing her best friend at ten years old was bound to have some kind of affect on her.
"Do you have those mints I gave you?" I asked her as I lit my cigarette, and took a puff and blew it away from her face. She dug into her back pocket and handed them over to me. Smiling, I patted her head and handed her my cigarette. She took one puff and spit it out immediately, like she should've. Chuckling, I flicked the cigarette onto the grass just a step away from the porch and quickly stepped on it until it burned out. I took a mint and handed one to her before I placed it back into her pocket.
"Why the long face, pretty girl?" I asked her, as she shrugged and sat up on top of the wrap around fence covering her parent's porch next to me. She held her father's light complexion, his snarky sense of humor and his mean right hook, but everything else she got from her mother. And that included her chubby cheeks, her dark and wavy tresses, her advanced intelligence and her religious beliefs. The world was going to be her bitch one day, and I couldn't wait to see what she did with it.
"I don't think my friends like me anymore," she confessed, her tone breathtakingly sad and I could tell she was on the verge of tears, but she was good at keeping her emotions in check. Just like Uncle Mike. He preferred to let his fists do the talking. At least, that's what I'd heard from Uncle Freddy, who never lost the opportunity to remind everyone just how much of a screw up Uncle Mike used to be when they were kids. They also had a feud we weren't encouraged to speak about, but it was never silent. It wasn't a secret just how much they disliked each other. Aunt Marley had a lot more to do with that than they realized, but I wasn't about to get in the middle of that. I had my own fucked up love life to deal with.
"Why is that?"
"I think they blame me for what happened to Andrew," she continued, turning away as she tried to blink her tears away. I knew how much Andrew had meant to her. He'd been her best friend from the moment she stood up for him in the playground when they were four years old. They spent every moment they could together until Andrew disappeared without a trace a year ago and was never to be seen again. Camilla had the misfortune of being the last one to see him before he vanished into the night and the entire town had gotten a hold of that piece of information somehow. Her family had gone under heavy scrutiny because of it and Camilla's been a target for bullying ever since. Andrew had been everyone's pride and joy around here and they thought blaming a little girl for his disappearance was an amazing idea. Camilla would be better off knowing now that some people were the storm and the rest were the chasers left to deal to with the aftermath. But it wasn't my lesson to give. Not this time.
"Would you believe me if I told you he was probably out there somewhere, missing his best friend too?" I tried to comfort the girl, since nothing anyone else was whispering into her ear was working. She was too young to be this unhappy and I wanted to do whatever I could to keep her from turning into a storm no one will be able to contain in the future.
"You think so?"
"Absolutely, kid. He's probably sitting on a park bench somewhere, counting the days when he'll get to see that pretty smile of yours again," I complimented her, hoping it would seal the deal. When the infectious smile she'd gotten from her mother spread widely, I knew my mission had been accomplished.
"Do you think...Thea can be my best friend until Andrew gets back?" she asked carefully and in a whisper, as if she'd been forbidden to speak the girl's name out loud. I hoped whatever fucked up shit their parents had brewing between them would come to a stop once they realized none of us wanted to be in the middle of their drama.
"Well, you'll never know until you ask. Go on. Get yourself a new best friend," I encouraged as I patted her behind and scooted her back into her parent's house. I reached for another loose cigarette in my pocket and cursed when I realized I was out.
"Gabe used to do that, you know," Aunt Marley's voice crept into my ear and gave me goosebumps as she emerged from the shadows in her porch and crossed her arms. The woman's soft expression made me feel all sorts of gut-wrenching guilt for giving her daughter a cigarette and since she was one of the last people on my list I wanted to disappoint, I felt even worse.
"Used to do what?"
"Love making others feel better. Whether it was making a joke, or sneaking them out of their house in the middle of the night, or just sitting around and giving someone his ear," she answered, stepping closer to me, placing her hands on the fence as she looked up at the star-covered sky. I'd heard my fair share of sketchy stories involving my father. But I hardly ever knew of the good ones. It seemed we were programmed to mainly process and remember the negative, while turning a blind eye to the good stuff. It was sad when you think about it. Maybe we'd all be happier if that weren't the case.
"Thanks, Aunt Marley," I replied and she gave me a small smile as she touched my cheek, then proceeded to smack the back of my head.
"Give my daughter a cigarette again, and you'll have barn duty for a month straight. Got it?" she warned sharply and I nodded obediently. The woman was scary, but she only let her savage side come out to play purely out of love. She always did say you should love the Hell out of people. Meaning you should love them until whatever demons laid inside of them were gone. She'd done her best to love me despite of my vices. Just like she'd done with my Dad when they were kids. But it hadn't been enough for him back then, and I wasn't sure it would save me either.
"That's better," she replied with a sharp smile as she leaned in to kiss my temple, then turned to head back into her house. There wasn't a moment where I didn't wish she'd been my mother instead of the one I had, where I pictured her marrying my Uncle Freddy instead of Uncle Mike, just so that I'd be the one with the happy family.
But who was I kidding? I haven't done much to deserve one.