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Embers (Ch. 6)

Adolescence in Training Series

Photo by Sai Kiran Anagani on Unsplash

ZANDER

"What the hell would you two do without me?"

Thea's question was the first thing to greet us the moment she stepped inside. Her scrunched up angry face followed next as she handed me Zach's pills and went into the kitchen to fetch for some water. He'd been out for about an hour now. He'd wake up soon, which meant Thea had no time to snitch on me. Not yet anyway. Giselle had come up with an excuse for Thea to come join us at the bonfire, and Uncle Freddy suddenly had no problem with letting her, giving her the liberty of passing by him without letting him know what was really going on with Zach.

Shit. Things could've gone south real fast if I hadn't ran to him when I saw him with that chick. I forgot what her name was, but she'd been nice enough to offer up the sofa in her parent's place, which wasn't too far from where the bonfire was still in full swing. I was highly grateful for her hospitality. Zach would've flipped out on me if everyone had managed to sway their attention towards him.

"Chill out, Thea. It's not like you were busy doing something other than burying your nose in a damn book," I scolded the second she sent one of her glares in my direction. She rolled her eyes in response as she sat by Zach, placing his head on her lap before she began to slap his cheeks, trying to wake him up sooner rather than later.

"Is that really necessary?" I asked and she shushed me, making me wish I were an only child. Things between my sister and I hadn't always been this... strained. The first two years after she was born were probably the best we've all had together. The second she learned how to talk and sprinkle some attitude onto her words was when things began to take a different turn. She talked as if she were much older than what she actually was and it was a shame her age never showed during an argument. It was hard to look like a winner in front of someone who believed they knew it all. And that was the epitome of my sister Thea. 10 going on 45.

"He'll wake up faster if his brain senses he's in pain. Haven't you read the articles I sent you?"

"What do you think?" I snapped and she smirked, reminding me of Mom right before she gave Dad one of her sassy comebacks that left him quiet for the rest of the day. Speaking of Mom, I debated on whether to call her tonight or not, seeing as though I'd probably get another lecture from her before the phone call ended. She made it hard to talk to her at times, reminding me she raised me better than what my actions have been showing. I wished I knew what she was like at my age. Just so that some part of me could relate to that part of her, and maybe... just maybe we could go back to how things were before I changed. Before everything changed.

"Useless, I swear," she taunted again, with the rolling of her deep hazel eyes and I had half a mind to shove her into a closet somewhere and throw away the key. I wasn't in the mood for any of this. I had the urge to go for another run, clear my head, and forget for just one second I wasn't the town pariah. I had no idea why I was being punished for saving people, but I guess the answer to that would come later when things got worse. They always get worse.

"Should we call someone?" The question came from that girl my brother had been talking to before he fell asleep, as she and Giselle returned from talking in the other room. Her parents were out of town apparently and she had the place all to herself. I wondered if she spent a lot of time being alone by choice or because she had none. I hadn't spotted her with the other rowdy group of drunk kids. Which meant she was just as much of an outsider than we were.

"You were with him?" Thea asked, pointing at Zach, her surprised expression causing me to smirk as the chick sat by the floor next to my brother, taking his hand in hers as she nodded. She barely knew the guy, but apparently he'd made a good enough impression on her for her to already be so friendly. I would've teased him relentlessly for it but he was still unconscious.

"How bad can this condition get?" Her curiosity was refreshing. It was free of judgement and that's something I always wanted my brother to find in a friend. He'd had a hard time back at our old school when people found out about his narcolepsy. I'd been partially to blame but shit, I can't keep my eye on him twenty-four seven. You can't control what people wanted to see you as anyway. What mattered is that you didn't care. I certainly didn't. Neither did she...

No. Don't go there. This isn't about her, I told myself silently, praying my thoughts wouldn't go down that dark road. But I knew, deep down, she'd been the reason why I ran into that store without a second thought. I couldn't tell my parents any of this. They'd definitely have me committed. So I pushed those thoughts away and focused on my brother.

"It can be managed. He just has to remember to take his medicine before going anywhere. Or he could fall asleep at the wheel, or in the middle of talking to someone, like he did with you," Giselle answered for us, and we shared a look. Like me, she was probably wondering why this girl was being so hospitable. Were people here always this nice? I couldn't remember. That was the problem with people like me who suffered from insomnia. Our memories and attention spans were short. As well as our tempers, causing us to be more irritable than normal. Doctors recommended I tire myself out with some kind of physical activity during the day, so that I'd be able to sleep at a decent hour. I chose to jog whenever my thoughts tried to consume me and rob me of my much needed sleep. It seemed to be working so far. I just wished there was another solution other than popping pills for my brother.

"He's waking up," Thea informed us, while my brother slowly stirred awake, his speech slurring as he rubbed his eyes and looked down at his hand, which was currently being held by his new best friend. Possibly more if he got over the boner he had over Leah. I didn't want to judge but she seemed like she came with a lot of drama and I didn't want my brother getting involved. Especially if I had to end up getting involved with him. Which always seemed to be the case. Zach fought with his words, never his fists. Leaving me to come running to his defense whenever his mouth shot off without thinking. I guess we all shared that trait, only we let it slip in different ways.

"Please tell me I'm still dreaming..." Zach pleaded as his hand slipped out of her grip and she frowned. Thea and I shared a look before we helped him sit up on the sofa.

"Here, take these, shit head," Thea resumed her scolding and glared at me, motioning for me to hand over the two pills, with the glass of water. Zach didn't hesitate. He swallowed them and washed them down with the glass of water, then lowered his gaze to his hands.

"How much did you see, Rhiannon?" he asked the girl, probably wondering if she'd tell anyone about what she witnessed tonight.

"I won't tell anyone. If that's what you're worried about."

"No, she wont. I'll make sure she wont," Giselle warned with a smile as she stared Rhiannon down and she swallowed hard, her eyes widening slightly in fear. My cousin wasn't to be messed with apparently. It looked like she'd had her fair share of gossip being spread about her and she had no problem correcting people with her devil-may-care personality.

"Chill, Giselle. Don't kill her just yet. I like your hair by the way," Thea complimented Rhiannon, and added a rare smile to go with it. I think we could all agree we liked this girl enough to trust her with Zach. I was relieved, to say the least. Maybe I didn't have to watch him like a hawk this year. Maybe Rhiannon could take over for a while. I was exhausted. I've been exhausted since we found out what was wrong with him and Mom made me promise I'd be her eyes and ears when she wasn't around. She used to say; without family, you'll be running around blind like a chicken without it's head. What she meant to say is that she didn't want us ending up like Dad. We'd heard the stories about how he used to be. The mess he grew up in and didn't bother to get out of until Mom was pregnant with Thea. I couldn't imagine how terrible it must've been for her to see someone she loved spiral like that.

Then again, I'd witnessed it myself two years ago when I fell in love with a girl who had a double life and had no clue how I could still love her even after knowing all the horrible things she'd done after she was gone. It didn't make sense to me then. Or even now. My mother always told me that was a good thing. And if it ever started to, that's when I knew I was in trouble.

"Thanks," Rhiannon replied with a grin as she high-fived my baby sister. I smiled over to my brother, who's worry had faded away when he noticed even Thea liked his new friend. Thea rarely liked anyone. That's how you knew you were special.

"Can we go back to the bonfire now? There's a very hot prospect waiting on me," Giselle hurried, the four of us sharing looks of amusement as we headed back out into the night.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Zach, Rhiannon, and Thea decided to stay together for the rest of the evening, while I wandered further down the beach alone. I took a seat closer to the waves and closed my eyes while the ocean breeze hit my face. Mom, Zach, and I used to sit by the beach like this. But never at night. It had a different atmosphere to it. More uncertain since you couldn't see much but the moon and the sand. Maybe that's why I felt so peaceful here.

The rustling behind me in the trees made me turn towards it and my eyebrow raised when I saw Leah and Felix charging out of it. I could hear them arguing. I could also see him putting his hands on her in a rough manner and Leah trying to push them away. He wasn't backing off. I needed to stay out of it. I knew that. This wasn't my problem and I shouldn't care. I shouldn't. But there it was again, the pull of anger swarming my body, fueling me enough to gain the courage to do something. I got up, cursing underneath my breath as I approached them, stepping in between them while I shielded Leah away from this asshole. He was angry, that much I could tell. And drunk. His zipper was halfway down and I could just picture exactly why Leah had ran out of those bushes to begin with.

"Is there a problem here?" I asked, trying to keep my cool. Felix glared down at me, and I hadn't realized just how much taller he was until now. It didn't make a difference. If I needed to help Leah out, I had no problem laying this guy out for the crabs to eat tonight. No guy should ever have to force themselves onto a girl. No meant no. That was the end of it. Idiots like Felix was what worried me about my sister getting older. I already knew Dad was going to have a fit about it. She was his entire world next to Mom and Zach and I. A single unwanted finger on her, and he had no problem digging up a grave for whoever dared to touch her without her consent.

"Get the hell out of the way," Felix growled, reaching for Leah again, but I waited until he put his hands on me to strike. My parents always encouraged us not to fight, unless someone else started it. Felix had pulled the trigger now. I had no choice but to allow the bullet to aim for its target. And when my fist managed to crack his jaw, he tripped on his feet and fell onto the sand. I was ready to punch him again, but Leah's hands began to pull me back. She stepped in front of me as she ripped something off her neck before throwing it at the pathetic guy whining in the sand.

"Stay away from me, Felix. I mean it this time," Leah's words would've meant a lot more if she wasn't looking at him as if she felt bad for telling him off. I cursed, wondering why I got involved in this bullshit to begin with, and stepped back as I began to walk in the other direction. I listed about 20 things I wanted to punch in silence before Leah caught up to me.

"You can't just run off like that without letting someone thank you first," she claimed, sounding completely annoyed and I scoffed, not bothering to respond. I had nothing good say so I decided to keep my mouth shut.

"You know, your brother was friendlier. Where is he? I haven't seen him tonight," Leah's statement made me laugh as I turned to face her.

"You might've seen him if you weren't busy entertaining a guy you claim you want nothing to do with," I snapped, growling with frustration when I stepped out of line again without wanting to. I didn't mean to sound like the asshole I just finished punching. I didn't like this side of me any more than those who managed to experience it. Leah seemed to recognize that and waved it off without so much as the wave of her perfectly manicured fingernails.

"He should stay away from me," Leah mentioned quietly. A familiar face suddenly popped into my head and it was all it took to make me stop walking. How many times had she warned me to stay away and I didn't listen? Knowing how stubborn I was myself, I knew my brother would do the same and take warnings from pretty girls with a grain of salt. Here I was, once again, balling up my fists in his defense.

"I'll make sure of it," I didn't stick around to hear her response. It didn't matter anyway. It was clear Leah was going to be a problem. All I knew was I had to come up with something, anything to keep my brother away from this girl. I only hoped Rhiannon entertained him long enough for him keep his distance, and for me to keep him from living the hell I'm still burning through.

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