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Beep! Beep! Beep!
Evann woke with a start, his heart pounding in his chest. He could feel the blood thundering through his head. His pulse sounded as loud as his alarm, and he felt nauseous. Reaching over, he slammed a hand down towards his alarm. Instead, it came down on his glasses with a crack. He swore under his breath and fumbled around trying to get at the right button on the alarm clock.
He found it, and the room was finally quiet. With a sigh, he fell back on his pillow…and thumped his head on the wall. Pain shot threw his skull. It was going to be one of those days. Did he really have to go to school today? Going to school meant he would have to deal with people. More specifically, with the bullies.
In Evann’s experience, there were two ways to deal with being bullied. The first is to live life looking at the floor. That was how he used to get through the day, but in high school, he developed a new method. Just laugh when you get harassed, surround yourself with friends, and pretty much just be the big party on campus. In other words, keep the depression hidden. Both of these coping methods were mostly defensive and neither helped him feel better about himself. When your every action is shaped by defensive thinking, you are left with the unrelenting feeling that you are different. Strange. That you will never truly be able to let down your guard because you are an alien—tolerated maybe, but always just tolerated.
Emotionally void—like a desert on the moon—that was how Evann had become. He smiled all the time, but no feelings of happiness lay behind the smile. When he was younger, he had been afraid of the bullies, now he didn’t even feel fear. Evann was bored.
But all of that was before he met Logan. Like him, Logan was neither accepted nor rejected. Instead of being just tolerated, however, Logan was hidden. Evann felt sorry for Logan because he understood how hard it was. He used to be that way, too.
Sorrow was the first emotion Evann had felt in a long time. Logan was the first person to make him care, and that had attracted him immediately. He clung to Logan like a drowning person would cling to a life preserver. He wasn’t sure, but he thought that Logan felt the same way about him. Evann had tried to be sympathetic and supportive, someone Logan could be honest with. He had tried to be everything Logan seemed to need.
But there was more to Logan than he was telling. There was something he was still hiding, something that seemed vaguely dangerous. Evann had felt it a few times, and it always made his heart quicken with anticipation. It made Logan all the more enticing.
Beep! Beep! Beep! The alarm went off again, making him jump. With a groan, he pulled back the covers and climbed out of bed. What he needed was a hot bath.
The water steamed as it came from the tap. Reaching for one of the bottles on the edge of the tub, he poured some bath salts into the water and swirled them around with his hand. In a few minutes, he was up to his armpits in a luxuriously warm bathtub of water. He sighed contently, laid his head back and closed his eyes.
Skeagan woke with a start. His eyelids were caked with sleep and he rubbed at them until he could see the clock on the table beside his bed.
His mom had let him sleep in. He looked over at Logan’s bed where his older brother lay on his back, snoring. For a second, Skeagan considered waking Logan with a glass of cold water to the face. Then he changed his mind, it would be easier to let him sleep. Logan always woke up from his night benders in a bad mood with a headache. At least with him asleep nobody would have to deal with the older teen’s crankiness.
Climbing slowly out of bed, Skeagan stretched and yawned. A pair of flannel pajama bottoms was lying on a nearby chair, along with a white t-shirt. He pulled these on then made his way out of the room. Like a lot of homes, the kitchen was his family’s favorite hangout spot. As he came through the doorway, he was not surprised to find his mother and sister there. They were talking and sipping coffee from hand-painted mugs. The two women stopped their conversation and looked up at him when he walked in.
“Well, good morning, honey. Did you catch up on your sleep?” His mother smiled, and turned to pour him a cup of coffee.
“Yes, thank you.” As always, Skeagan wondered if his mother had figured out what he and Logan were really up to at night.
She kissed him on the cheek as she handed him the mug. He lifted the mug to breathe in the rich, roasted smell of the steaming liquid, and immediately felt better. His sister Aaliyah caught his eye.
“Good morning. How was last night’s expedition?” Her face bore no expression, something the sixteen-year old was known for.
Her ability to appear emotionless was a trait she had inherited from their grandmother. And, like that venerable lady, Aaliyah had aspirations of being a great mediator for their clan. Maybe even the official mediator for her older brother when he was Head. Secretly, however, she aspired for even more than this. It peeved her that Clan law forbade women from being Head. She was not even allowed to go out on the nightly training expeditions her brothers ran. She had read of other Clans with female Heads, but theirs, the oldest and largest in the world, considered it unacceptable.
Skeagan looked at his sister for a moment before answering. If anyone in the family could find out his secret, it was Aaliyah. A few times, he thought she had followed him when he was tracking Logan. But if she knew anything, she had not revealed it. Finally, he answered in what he hoped was a properly enthusiastic tone, “It’s going great! Very exciting, really. Sometimes a little too exciting.”
He quickly took a drink of coffee.
Mrs. Prey wasn’t sure about the cause, but she could sense the veiled tension in the conversation. Before Aaliyah could say anything more, she spoke up, “Is Logan still sleeping?”
Skeagan nodded, studying the creamy swirls in his cup instead of making eye contact.
“Well, he’d better be up soon. Grandfather will be coming today for a special meeting with us. I’m sure he will want to talk to you boys about everything you have been learning."
Skeagan nearly choked. “Grandfather’s b-back in town?”
“He will be flying in this afternoon.”
“What’s the matter?” Aaliyah’s eyes drilled into her brother. "Aren't you excited to share all the details about your nightly adventures with grandfather?"
Skeagan wished he had his sister’s maddening gift. His face was probably showing extreme horror at the moment, he felt his cheeks getting warm, As calmly as he could, Skeagan said, “I’d better go wake him up, then.”
“Yes, dear, that might be a good idea. Here bring him a cup of coffee, too.” His mother filled another mug and handed it to her son.
Give it to him? Skeagan wanted to throw it on him. Why couldn’t Logan just do right! He was about to be in the biggest trouble of his life. And worse yet, his family was about to be completely embarrassed in front of the Head of the Clan.
When Evann woke up, sunlight was streaming through the bathroom window. He was still in the tub and the water was freezing! He groaned and looked at the clock on the sink. It was almost nine, he'd been in the tub for over an hour. He stood up, almost slipped, and stepped out of the tub. Shivering, he reached for a thick towel and began to rub vigorously. This was a perfect example of how much his family loved him, he thought sarcastically. He looked at his hand, the skin was as shriveled as a raisin.
'I’m surprised my fingernails didn’t fall off!' he thought to himself.
Wrapping a robe around himself, he stalked from the bathroom, using the towel to dry out his ears. Seeing his backpack on the floor by his bedroom door, he cursed school and decided to make some coffee. Fifteen minutes later, he was curled up in an armchair with a steaming mug and his laptop. Blood was finally beginning to circulate in his feet again, and his mood was considerably better. Pulling out his phone, he scrolled through his messages. Most were just updates to group chats, but a few classmates had asked him why he wasn’t at school and if he was coming. He responded to his friend Val with "🤒".
At least some people know I exist.
There was no message from Logan, though, and that’s what he really wanted. The other boy was probably still in bed sleeping. “Such is the life of a home school student,” he mused aloud. “Lucky.”
Opening his laptop, Evann settled back to watch Netflix. But as he sat there, his mind began to wander to the night before. It bothered him that he could not remember much about it. He definitely had a hangover this morning, but not a bad one. He didn’t remember drinking that much, and he never did drugs. So why were his memories of the night before so hazy? Maybe Logan would remember more.
Logan was not in his bed when Skeagan re-entered their room. He looked around with a sour expression as he closed the bedroom door. There was a nondescript sound from the attached bathroom, and Skeagan made his way in that direction. The door was only half shut and Skeagan could see Logan standing on the other side, leaning heavily on the sink. Kicking the door open, he went in and sat the mug down with a clink beside his older brother’s hand.
Logan’s hair was greasy and flattened from sleep. It hung in a tangled mess over one eye. He looked down at the mug of coffee then up at Skeagan’s reflection behind his own in the mirror. His younger brother’s face was a dark scowl.
“Don’t look at me like that, Skeagan. I already hate myself.” His voice was still husky from sleep.
Skeagan’s expression did not change. “Mother sent this up for you. I personally would like to throw it in your face.”
Logan groaned quietly and looked down into the sink.
“Feel sick? Not surprising. Do you remember anything from last night?”
“I remember making a fool of myself.”
“Are you sorry?”
Logan didn’t answer.
Skeagan snorted, “You’re gonna be. We both are! Do you know who’s coming today?”
Logan looked up, an inquisitive expression breaking through his scrunched-up, hungover, headache face.
Logan’s pale face grew slightly green. “Oh…Skeagan,” he whispered.
Skeagan nodded solemnly.
“Oh, man!" Logan held his head in both hands and squeezed his eyes shut.
“You’re a mess,” Skeagan replied in matter-of-fact voice. He sighed and leaned against the bathroom wall, crossing his arms over his narrow chest. “Logan, why can’t you just be good?”
“I don’t know. I want to, I really do! It’s just…” His voice trailed off and he shook his head at the sink. “I’m so in trouble.”
“You’re in trouble?! What about me? I’m gonna be grounded for life for covering your butt the last three weeks!”
Logan picked up the coffee mug shakily and took a long drink. He closed his eyes and sighed. Skeagan rested his head against the wall. They stood in silence, contemplating their fate.
“So, what are we gonna do?” Logan broke the silence.
“I’m still mad at you,” Skeagan replied, but his voice no longer sounded angry.
“Maybe I should run away.”
Skeagan turned his head towards the mirror. “Running away won’t solve anything. You need to just fess up and get it over with.”
Logan looked at his brother balefully then turned away. “I don’t think I can. There’s just so much.”
“Yes, you can,” Skeagan replied. “You don’t really have a choice.”
“You don’t understand, Skāg.” Logan turned to face his little brother. “Everything works for you. The Clan, all the rules, this family…” His shoulders slumped, and he let out an exhausted sigh.
Skeagan searched his brother’s face with confusion and frustration. Why was this so hard for Logan? He turned and walked from the bathroom, closing the door behind himself.
Logan looked at his pathetic reflection in the mirror. Why couldn’t life be easier? Why couldn’t he just live his life without having to worry about letting everybody down? Why!?
With a growl, he slammed a fist against the mirror. Cracks spread like a spider web from the point of impact. He let his hand slide down and fall limply to the counter. Streaks of red followed the path of his fist. He looked at the blood dumbly, then leaned his forehead against the glass. A silent sob parted his lips, and he started shaking with dry tears.