August 2230 – By Rebecca Green
It was only an hour’s drive from the city to the small town that bordered the Academy. Adrian had passed the time as he was used to- taking along a book he’d read a hundred times, the pages and covers worn and wrinkled. For him, it was just another car ride- for the girl sitting in the front seat, it was much more. She was old enough to attend Strongwind Academy, a prestigious school for all types of students, and she could hardly wait. She wouldn’t be staying just yet, even though she could. Her mother had told her that staying this early was unnecessary. All she could do at that point was count down the days until she was free.
Veronica was the first out of the car when it came to a stop- Betty hadn’t even had a chance to put the car in park before the girl’s feet hit the pavement and she was darting around the car, yanking the driver’s side door open and bouncing on her heels. “C’mon!” she demanded, reaching out and tugging insistently on her mother’s arm. The woman gave a brief laugh, unbuckling her seatbelt and giving a glance at the boy in the back seat. “Patience, Veronica- the school’s not going anywhere. Put the book down, Adrian, and come on.”
Rising from the car, she pulled her arm from Veronica’s grasp, missing the look that crossed the girl’s face at the news that her brother was coming with them. “He’s coming?” she asked, meeting her mother’s gaze, annoyed by the confusion that flickered across Betty’s eyes.
“Why wouldn’t he come?” Betty asked, glancing at her son to ensure that he had listened, the book set aside. The boy moved to push the car door open, only for Veronica to lean heavily against it, the door clicking shut once more as she answered.
“He can stay here. We won’t be that long, will we? He’s slow… and you know how he wanders off. I don’t know why he had to come in the first place. Dad could have watched him!” Working herself up, she only just stopped herself from stomping her foot. This was supposed to be her day and her little brother tagging along was sure to ruin it.
“Don’t be silly, Veronica. He can’t stay here in the car, it’s too hot. Move aside now.” She nudged the girl away from the door and opened it, allowing the boy to slide down. “But she’s right- you have to stay close, Adrian. It’s a big place and it’d be all too easy for you to get lost. Do you understand?” Waiting for a vigorous nod of agreement before she turned back to Veronica. “See? He’ll be good. Now let’s go- we should stop in to see the Headmaster first, to see what House you’ll be in, and to see what classes you’ll take.” Still talking, the blonde woman started off, beckoning the two to follow.
Mindful of her request, Adrian followed, but he hadn’t gone far before two hands shoved against his back, sending him stumbling forward and landing heavily on his hands and knees. Veronica stalked past, her voice raised in a complaint, cutting off their mother’s explanation of what the school offered. “See?” she whined, a desperate appeal to Betty, who paused and glanced back. Adrian scrambled back to his feet, brushing his hands off on his shirt and straightening the glasses he wore. “We’re not ten feet from the car and he’s already falling behind! Why did you have to bring him, Mama?”
“Stop that,” the woman snapped at her, eyes flashing and a hint of gold appearing for a second. “I told you why. Come on, Adrian. Are you hurt?” Grasping at his hands as he caught up, turning them over and glancing at them. Assuring herself that he wasn’t bleeding- they were a bit red, but he hadn’t even skinned himself. “No, you’re fine.” She took a moment to straighten his shirt, and brush off his jeans at the knees, ignoring the constant popping of gum from the girl behind them, the girl rocking on her feet and glowering at her brother- he was holding them up, just as she’d thought he would.
Betty stood straight once more, a hand on Adrian’s shoulder, and the other going around Veronica, guiding both toward the school, keeping them on opposite sides of her body. Her hand kept Adrian from getting sidetracked as he noticed a game of soccer going on in a large field just visible from the parking lot, and kept Veronica from straying off toward a group of older girls standing on the front walk, giggling over something on a phone one of them held.
And not just people, but pets too. Adrian managed a quick rub behind the ear of one who wandered up to him, and the dog followed for a few feet before it was called away again. Veronica turned to glance at her mother, bright-eyed. “Mom, can I get a pet?” she asked, hopeful that Betty would agree. “I want a snake- or a lizard, but I’d rather a snake- a boa, they get huge, and I’ll take good care of it, I promise, I’ll feed it all the time-”
“You can get a pet if you can afford one on your own,” Betty replied. “I’m not buying you something so you can gush over it for two weeks and then get bored. And don’t give me that look, I know you better than you think, and you’ve got the attention span of a gnat.” Ignoring Veronica’s huff, Betty led the two on, through the doors of the Primary Building and toward an elevator. It was crowded, both elevators working non-stop. Lots of kids were with their parents at the campus for the open house
With the Headmaster’s office just on the second floor, Betty turned to the stairs, still keeping a hand on Adrian’s shoulder- the boy was turning his head in every direction, trying to see everything at once. The school was huge and it would only be a few years before he was ready to attend too. He hoped that, when Veronica was done with everything she wanted to do, he would have a chance to explore.
He sat next to Betty during the talk in the Headmaster’s office, his attention wandering as his mother and sister went over what they would need to know for Veronica’s enrollment. Kicking his feet, his hands curled around the seat and his eyes flicked to the pictures on the wall. Books rested in shelves around the rooms, and every now and then he focused on what his mother and sister and the Headmaster were talking about before drifting again. He had turned his attention back to the nearest bookshelf, leaning forward to read the titles, when Betty and Veronica were rising. He looked back to them, sliding to set his feet on the floor as they thanked the man and turned to leave.
Silent still as they left the office and another family was called in behind them. Adrian followed the two as they walked down the hall to the stairs once more, Betty glancing back now and then to make sure her son was still with them.
They hadn’t gone far when Adrian became quite sidetracked by what he saw through an open door- trailing to a halt at the sight of a huge library. His eyes widened in wonder at the thought of so many books gathered in one spot; that instant, he forgot the promise he’d made to his mother, and Adrian darted toward the library. He slipped past a couple people just leaving the large room, and paused for a few seconds once inside.
Staring, he turned in a circle, taking in the sheer amount of books. This place was bigger even than the library he went to with his mother and father; two levels, and each shelf jam-packed with more books than he’d ever be able to read. There was no holding back the shrill squeal of joy and Adrian darted over to the nearest one, leaning close and tilting his head to read the title printed on the spine. Too advanced- he didn’t know the words there, but he wasn’t about to give in so quickly.
Spinning on one heel and racing off in search of a book more suited to his level, Adrian rounded one shelf and ran full-tilt into another person. He was knocked off his feet and landed on his backside with both hands braced against the floor. Adrian glanced up to see who he’d run into. A man, standing with one arm braced against the shelf as he regained his balance, his blue eyes gazing back at the boy. A smile crossed his face in the next moment as he spoke. “You okay? Where you going in such a hurry?”
Holding out his hand for Adrian, who took it to get back to his feet. “I’m okay. Thank you. And I’m not going anywhere… just looking around. Sorry for running into you. I got excited- I’ve never seen so many books in one place before.”
The smile on the man’s face grew, going from merely polite to understanding. “You like to read?”
“Oh, yes!” Adrian replied brightly, quickly warming to the man who seemed to understand what nobody in his own family did, other than his grandfather. At least Mom and Dad encouraged it, and books were a common gift, given every birthday and Christmas, but Veronica turned her nose up at the activity and teased him for being a bookworm. He didn’t mind, per say, but he wished she wouldn’t tease him for doing something he enjoyed.
“My name is Professor Gryph. Are you here for Open House, to enroll?” the man asked, kneeling down to be at a level with Adrian and tapping a name badge on his chest.
“No, I’m not old enough to be a student here- my sister is, though, and I’m here with her and my mom. I’m Adrian.” He stuck his hand out for the man to shake; confusion crossed his face as the man, instead of offering his opposite hand, grasped Adrian’s with the one on the same side. Sidetracked, the boy’s eyes flicked toward where there should have been a second hand hanging from the end of the sleeve, and blinking as he saw nothing.
“What kind of books do you like?” Professor Gryph inquired next, all too aware of the trail of Adrian’s eyes and forestalling any questions he might ask.
“Um… all kinds,” Adrian replied, his gaze returning to the man’s face. “I’m reading an old series right now, Journies. My mom bought them for me for Christmas, and they’re really good, I’m reading them for – I’m not sure. The third time? They’re really good. I’m on the third one now.”
“Ah, I know that one!” Professor Gryph replied, and Adrian, easily sidetracked from the oddity of the man’s missing arm, perked up.
“You do?” he asked, amber eyes brightening. “You’ve read them? I don’t know anyone else who has, they’re so old, Mom said she got lucky finding them online, and they were cheap.”
“Yes, I have them, and I’ve read them too. I was actually around when they first came out, and I bought them then. They’ve lasted all these years, with gentle care. Ah, that was a journey, following the three through all their adventures, to the end of their mission. It’s funny, isn’t it, how something like that can make you sad? The ending of a great series- makes you wish the author could continue it forever.”
Adrian was gazing at the man, thrilled to be talking with someone who got it- who understood how a great story could make you feel, the journey you went on with the characters, and the bittersweet feeling as that journey ended. Professor Gryph was just about to answer, to agree, and to touch more on the topic, when someone else approached, pulling the man’s attention from Adrian and asking him questions about his class.
Adrian stood there for a moment, listening silently, but when Professor Gryph started to walk away with the woman and her kid, Adrian turned to go back to his own search of books. Scurrying down one aisle after another, pausing now and then to look at the book titles within reach, and his face lighting up when he did find a few that looked interesting. Pulling some off one shelf, he clutched them to his chest and raced off.
He lost his balance just as he heard his mother’s voice; his feet tangling and pitching forward to land on the floor, his glasses falling off and skidding a short distance away. He turned his head to see Betty and Veronica approaching.
Adrian could hear Veronica’s voice even over the hum of conversation from the rest of the Open House crowd. “There he is, Mama! Running off, when you told him not to, and he’s a liar because he agreed not to! You should punish him, he didn’t listen, he’d deserve it!” Betty’s reply was inaudible, but Adrian knew her enough to know that it would be a sharp retort. Then from the other direction came Professor Gryph, a wry grin on his face. He reached Adrian first, leaning down to help him to his feet once again.
“There you are!” Betty spoke up, coming to a halt in front of her son, and the boy ducked his head at the scolding tone. “Adrian, I told you not to wander off. You could’ve gotten lost, and who knows when we would have found you? And why am I not surprised that you’d find the library within an hour of arriving?” A glance at the man as she continued, “Nice to meet you- I hope my son wasn’t being a bother. He’s just easily sidetracked- especially when there’s books involved.”
“Not at all!” The man was quick to brush aside the matter. Watching as once more his missing arm drew the attention of the two new arrivals; the woman, at least, ignored it.
Veronica had kept up with Betty, eager to witness her brother being scolded, but nothing of the type had happened- overlooking the tone directed at the boy as Betty was brushing him off, looking over him to make sure he was okay from his fall. Arms still crossed, a frown on her face, and she glanced away- a glint catching her eye and her gaze landed on the boy’s glasses, lying forgotten on the ground. She took a step forward to snatch them up, glancing back at the man, and she was all too quick to pipe up, unhappy with the attention being lavished on her brother. She was holding Adrian’s glasses in her hand, stepping closer as she spoke.
“Hey, you only have one arm!” A comment geared toward getting attention, her hand half-lifted with the glasses clutched in her fist; annoyance crossed her face as Hermes ignored her entirely and Betty hardly glanced her way, scolding in a cool tone.
“Hush, Veronica, don’t be rude.” For a moment, he and Betty spoke between themselves. Adrian glanced up at them, and then to Veronica, and while she didn’t say anything, she didn’t have to; he could almost feel the deep aggravation coming off her in waves. Adrian glanced away and Veronica’s grip on the glasses tightened, her free hand joining the other and squeezing, dislike- and a feeling she couldn’t define boiling inside- a desperate need to be recognized, mostly, and annoyance that her mother was talking to the Professor about Adrian- it was always about Adrian…
The glasses she was holding snapped, the bridge breaking cleanly, and the lens of one cracking under the pressure.
Betty’s ears caught the noise, quiet as it was, and she broke off mid-sentence, glancing back as Veronica dropped her gaze to the two halves of the glasses, holding them up with her eyes going wide in surprise. “Mama-” the girl began, trying to explain, but Betty was already speaking, her voice rising over the single word, lashing out at the girl in immediate fury.
“Veronica! What the hell is the matter with you? Do you know how expensive those were? What on earth compelled you to break them? Your brother needs those glasses!”
“I didn’t…” Veronica started again, holding the halves up to her mother, eyes pleading for her to understand.
Betty snatched them from her and shoved them back in her face as she railed on. “Look! They’re ruined- what am I supposed to do now? Maybe you’re not mature enough to come here- I should keep you in that public school and take from the tuition that was going toward your education to pay for their repairment! At least Adrian can be trusted- maybe he should come here in your place! I’m sure he’s not as childish as to break stuff that someone else needs!”
“Mama…” the girl tried again, face falling and tears appearing in her eyes at the threat, the thought that she might not get to attend the school she’d been looking forward to joining for months.
Betty interrupted again, stepping forward to grasp Veronica’s arm and bending to speak into her face. “Don’t try to make excuses. You did that on purpose, I’m not an idiot. Come on, we’re going home. Now, Veronica!” she snapped out when the girl didn’t move straightaway, her words jerking Veronica into motion. Veronica shuffled forward, tears still in her eyes and sniffling. Betty watched, still holding on to the halves of the glasses, and none of them still aware of the presence of the Professor standing awkwardly nearby.
With that done, Betty spoke again, her tone slightly less harsh, but not reacting to Veronica’s continued sniffs. “Now, come on. And maybe next time, you’ll think twice about acting without thinking, won’t you?” The girl gave a nod, her eyes on the ground and her hands rubbing over her face. She hadn’t expected it to go this way, but why was she surprised? Mama did love Adrian more, and she was making that clear with each painful word. This was supposed to be her day, but her brother had stolen it from under her nose once again.
Barely registering her mother’s words as Betty apologized to Professor Gryph for the scene he’d been witness to, her head still hanging and wishing that Adrian hadn’t come along. It would have been the perfect day if he had stayed at home. He’d ruined it all. The hand around Veronica’s arm tightened, keeping her close to Betty’s side and moving her toward the exit with Adrian just behind them.
The boy had been standing, unsure of what to do and as such doing nothing, his eyes pointedly looking away to avoid witnessing his mother scolding his sister, though it wasn’t as easy to close his ears. When she started moving, it was a moment before he realized; a glance back at the Professor and a quick wave before scrambling after his mother and sister. “Stop crying,” Betty was saying to Veronica, speaking in a snappish tone. “I’m still not happy with you. I’ve told you time and time again to not destroy things- especially expensive things- and you just don’t seem to get it, Veronica!”
“I’m sorry,” Veronica replied, voice breaking over the words, keeping her head down to avoid looking into her mother’s eyes and seeing the dislike she imagined to be there.
“You say that all the time, and nothing ever changes. Why should I believe you now? Do you know how much it’s going to cost to get these fixed? They weren’t cheap in the first place, and he’s hardly had them for six months!” Ignoring the looks they were getting, towing Veronica along with her and glancing back frequently to make sure Adrian was keeping up, the broken glasses held in her free hand.
Both were silent, but there was plenty of lingering disapproval in the tight grip and the waves off irritation coming from Betty. Veronica hadn’t exactly lied- she was sorry, but less so because of what she had done to the glasses and more because her mother had seen. She should have known Mom would take Adrian’s side; she always did. Hatred simmered in her mind, burning away the misery borne of being second best and less loved. She’d be more careful- but she wasn’t about to forget. He’d stolen the attention she deserved, and the girl wasn’t about to let him slide that easily. She’d teach him not to take all the attention- she’d teach him that she mattered to Mom and Dad just as much as he did. She’d make him regret everything.