Chapter 3 - Part 1
It was almost noon on one of the hottest Saturday's that William could remember in his fifteen years. He pounded on the attic door with the impatience of a hungry teenager, bellowing: "Lunch is going to be ready in 5 minutes!"
He waited to hear signs of life from beyond the door, but heard nothing. He peered into the darkened room. The attic was converted into a third bedroom, specifically for his father's summer student. Short of the summertime stuffiness that came with being on a higher floor, the room was much larger and nicer than his own.
It was refurbished with a polished hardwood floor, and the walls had been painted shades of lilac and white to give it a feminine touch. Overlooking the room was a single large window which suggested that the former homeowners had always intended to use this space as something other than storage. The window had a charming little reading nook that doubled as a storage space for extra blankets for the colder winter months. A collection of miss-matched stuffed bears stared back at William from their seat in front of the window. He wasn't sure if his guest ever opened curtains to let the sun warm the already stifling room.
On the right side of the room was a standing wardrobe and a work desk for her summer studies. Her desktop was password protected, and no doubt had severe parental locks installed, restricting the digitized surface to approved areas of study and guardian surveillance. Its surface had been kept clean, save for a couple of his father's books that she was made to study from and the row of teddy bear companions who occupied the furthest part of the desk. There were no decorations, no paintings, no posters, nothing that made the room feel like home. It was a clean, functional space and that was all. Everything in its place, like a carefully crafted illusion of what he was meant to see.
He narrowed his eyes at the sleeping girl, bare leg hanging over the side of her bed, as a string of drool pooled onto her pillow. In his opinion, Astral slept a lot. Far too long for the average human being. If she had a super power, it would be sleeping. If he slept as much as she did, his father would have grounded him citing: "I'll give you a reason to be so damn exhausted."
Yet here she was sleeping the day away without repercussion. He listened for his father. Content that the master of the house was still in the process of preparing their meals, he crept up on Astral's sleeping form. She had a teddy bear pinned under her arm. It was a little worn. It's ear had been sewn on crooked, and he was missing a button eye. Her shirt had left her back bare, winding its way up her torso in a failed stranglehold. Her pajama shorts bore a teddy bear pattern. He didn't understand why she wore such childish things.
He guessed that someone might think she was pretty if they liked the clumsy skinny unkempt sort. He noticed the bruises on her legs and cuts on her arms. 'Stupid kid, she probably tripped when she was outside yesterday.' She was taller than him by a couple of inches. He didn't think that was fair at all. He was supposed to be taller than her; that was just the way things were supposed to be. Boys are taller than girls. The end.
He looked around the room, carefully considering his options on how to best to wake her. He could just spring open the curtains, blinding her with sudden light. He could go downstairs and get some ice from the ice box. Or he could just pounce on her while roaring his best demon roar and scare the living daylights out of the rich priss. Two of his three options would get him into a world of trouble with his father.
He snuck over to the window and pulled the curtains open, singing "Rise and shine sunshine! It's a beautiful day!"
Astral's face rose from her pillow to look at the clock on her nightstand next to her bed before sagging lifelessly back into position. William frowned. If he pulled that stunt with his dad, he'd have been dragged out of bed by his toes and made to do weeding all morning.
He jumped on the bed, careful to avoid her lanky legs. She bounced to the floor, teddy bear firmly held to her chest. She glared up at him. "Dad says it's time to get up," William taunted, "better hurry because I'm super hungry. You might not have any food by the time you get downstairs."
Astral grumbled something inaudible as she lumbered toward the nearest bathroom while scratching her exposed back.
William helped himself to a second helping of fruit salad, ignoring the way Astral was rolling a grape across her much smaller portion. She was always a picky eater. It was like nothing was ever good enough even though his dad went out of his way to make sure that she was always served meals with the freshest possible ingredients. Sure his father was no gourmet cook, but it wasn't like it was bad.
"Eat up," Mathias urged patiently. "We've got to head in town this afternoon and I don't have time for pit stops."
Astral looked like she could pass out on her lunch plate. William smiled. 'Welcome to the country princess.' It wasn't like she shouldn't be used to it. Every year since he was ten years old, she'd turn up for the summer. When school started, her granddad would come get her, pay Mathias his due credits, and they wouldn't see her again until the following year.
He once made the mistake of asking how much Mathias made for babysitting the rich brat. He had to do volunteer work all year until Astral came back in late June for her regular stay. He didn't really understand why her grandfather wanted Mathias, of all people, to tutor his granddaughter, but maybe there was something in having a Red Order Master teach your kid.
"So..." William decided to try a conversational approach to wake his sleepy guest. He liked day trips into town, particularly if they were unsupervised. By his judgement, he was old enough to see friends on his own and hang out where ever he wanted. Getting into the Council's Academy made him popular in town. He was the first from Clearwater ever to attend the reformed military school since the Council took over. He'd idly wondered why no one managed to get in before now. The exams were hard and crossed a large range of topics that he felt no average kid would know about. Hard was an understatement.
Of course, the exam wasn't the only way into the school. He was well educated by his school mates that everything had a price and for those who could afford it, entry into the Council's Academy only meant making the appropriate donation.
It came down to being an issue of pride for William. He wasn't wealthy; his father's employer didn't believe in education outside of the Red Order mandate, so the logical conclusion was that he got in because of the marks on his exam. He got in without even trying. He got in when his peers couldn't. That made him special. "...I guess you're headed back to Serenity in a couple of weeks."
Astral shrugged and rolled a strawberry onto it's back, exposing it's middle before idly spearing it with her fork. "Just a few more bites," Mathias cooed, "then go brush your teeth."
She hesitantly popped the strawberry in her mouth as though carefully trying not to taste it. She chewed a few times and forced herself to swallow. She turned green in an instant. She dashed up the stairs and slammed the bathroom door shut. Father and son pretended not to hear the young girl vomit her first meal of the day.
"She may have the flu," Mathias told William casually. "It's probably best if you were extra mindful of your cleanliness until the bug passes. Though, they do say that the contagious phase ends when the symptoms manifest."
"I think that she thinks that she's too good for us," William replied, sliding her small bowl in front of himself. "She's always giving you a hard time with meals. Sometimes she's a vegetarian, sometimes all she wants is meat, the bloodier the better. I mean how are we suppose to plan around someone's eating habits when they're all over the place like that."
"She has the flu," Mathias repeated firmly.
The sound of Astral furiously brushing her teeth followed by gurgling filled the stern silence.
- If you've ever had to wake a friend or sibling, what were some of the inventive ways you woke them for the day? Were you nice about it? Mean about it? What spurred that decision? (Oo! A loaded question)
- We're introduced to William, one of the three central characters of this story. What are your first impressions of him? Love him, hate him, or somewhere in between? Does he remind you of anyone?
- By this point, do you feel the story is moving too slow? Too fast? As a reader, do you have any questions about what's going on? Or are you willing to just go along for the ride?
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