Chet Flash wuz here Circulation: 170,229,176 Issue: 391 | 8th day of Hunting, Y11
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Brother


by o_liveandlearn_o

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Today was a very special day, but Abigail seriously doubted that her brother knew.

     The blue Aisha quietly munched down her cereal, half-listening to the Neovision set, half-listening to the familiar beeps and whistles from the living room.

     "Yes!" she heard her brother exclaim. "A perfect score again!"

     Abigail rolled her eyes and tried to refocus her attention on the Usuki Doll commercial running. Aristotle's gaming obsession had gotten them into plenty of trouble. After he had declared that he was the Game Master of all of Neopia, a mob had gathered around their house, made up of angry gamers shouting for his head. And then after that happened, a crazy Blumaroo called Roothless and his Wocky henchman had kidnapped them, thrown them into a dungeon, and forced them to play games. Abigail shuddered at the memory and got up to put the dishes away.

     Abigail filled up the sink with cold water, then hot. She pulled on her mother's oversized gloves and began to scrub, separating the dishes into two different piles as they were cleaned. She liked being neat and orderly. It was one of the habits she had picked up from living with Aristotle. He always threw a fussy fit whenever something was out of place.

     It would be nice to be a normal family, Abigail thought. Aristotle could be just another game nerd... their parents could stop traveling so much and maybe settle down for once... and Abigail herself could be a regular little girl. Maybe then people would stop jabbering and complaining about her brother.

     Abigail set aside the last dish and pulled the sink's plug. The water went down slowly in a lazy whirlpool. Glug... glug... glug...

     "Oh yeah!" Aristotle's voice made Abigail snap out of her trance. "Let's see how many people can beat that score!"

     Abigail sighed. Maybe Aristotle would remember this special day. Maybe he wouldn't. "He's my brother," she muttered. "He should know!" But it was highly likely that he wouldn't have noticed. She gave another heavy sigh.

     When Abigail entered the living room, it was the usual chaos and disorder. Game cases were set in haphazard piles (which Aristotle claimed to be 'organized'), a few extra controllers were scattered around the room, and the sound of electronic beeps, as well as the furious clacking of her brother's fingers moving across his controller, filled the air.

     Abigail sat next to him. "What are you playing now?"

     "Mynci Beach Volleyball," Aristotle muttered, eyes glued to the screen.

     Abigail kicked the sofa with her feet to get his attention. It didn't work. "Why don't we play a real game of volleyball?" she asked.

     "Nah. I'm allergic to the sun," the yellow Blumaroo replied. He leaned forward.

     Abigail almost laughed at that. "Let's play indoor volleyball then."

     "Maybe later."

     Silence descended. Abigail waited.

     "Well, aren't you going to say something?" she prodded.

     Aristotle shrugged. "Should I?"

     "Yeah. I think you're forgetting something very important."

     Aristotle glanced at his sister. He shrugged again. "I don't know. I've gotten all the power-ups here... I haven't missed the ball once... I don't think I should say anything, except that this game is unbelievably easy, considering that it's only my 500th time playing it."

     Abigail suddenly felt very hollow inside. "You don't remember?" she asked.

     "Remember what?"

     "You promised me that you would come with me to the Toy Store. They have a special Usuki exhibition today, and they're giving out Usukicon plushies."

     Aristotle's eyes seemed to drift over to her before snapping back to the screen. "Sorry," was all he said.

     Abigail narrowed her eyes, crossed her arms. "Can't you pause that game for a second?"

     "I can't," Aristotle protested. "This is the second to last level and I'm about to beat my high score..."

     "Aristotle..." Abigail began, and then caught herself. "Never mind. I'm going outside to play."

     Aristotle hesitated. "Whatever. Have fun."

     Abigail lingered, waiting to see if her brother would say anything else. He didn't. "They call this a game?" he muttered under his breath. "Ha, I could play this in my sleep..."

     Abigail left, feeling unusually dejected. It wasn't the first time that Aristotle forgot her birthday, but this time it really stung for some reason...

     Abigail shook her head as she pulled on her jacket. She wasn't going to think about it. Today was supposed to be a happy day, it was a happy day, and she didn't need her brother to help her with that. She could head over to Lulu's house. Yes, that would be a lot more fun than watching her brother beat his own score over and over again.

     As Abigail rode off on her bike, though, she knew that she had wanted to hear those three simple words from Aristotle. Maybe she never would hear him say it, she thought bitterly as she pedaled. She was nothing compared to the pixels he so dearly cherished.

     The sun shone cheerily, but Abigail felt none of its warmth as she whizzed down the street.

     ~*~

     "Happy birthday, cousin," Lulu said. The red Cybunny smiled as she handed Abigail a neatly wrapped box. Abigail smiled back.

     "Thanks."

     Lulu's house wasn't like a house at all: it was a mansion. The windows weren't merely windows; they were giant stained glass art. Silky fur carpets lined the floors. All sorts of expensive looking murals were hung around the walls. Lulu's parents were collectors, just like their daughter, and they showed it by decorating their 'modest adobe' with all sorts of rare and exotic items.

     And Lulu's room was no exception. It was filled to the brim with weird and wonderful doodads. There was a wind-up Slorg toy, a Happiness Faerie Doll, and several limited edition keyrings that flashed and said funny things whenever you pressed them. Hanging from the ceiling were several cages, their Petpet occupants staring silently at the world around them with big, wide eyes. Abigail stared up at those Petpets and watched as they rolled around in their small confinements.

     "Abigail? Abigail?" Lulu waved her hand in front of Abigail's face. "Neopia to Abigail!"

     Abigail blinked. "What?"

     "You spaced out there for a minute. Are you all right?"

     "I'm fine."

     "You aren't."

     "Yes, I am," Abigail insisted.

     "I can tell, you know. Is it that brother of yours? Is he bothering you again?" Lulu's voice remained level, but Abigail could sense a hint of excitement in it.

     "He doesn't bother me," Abigail said.

     "Aristotle's always bothering somebody," Lulu said. She jumped onto her bed. "Tell me, what did he do?"

     Abigail crossed her arms. "He didn't do anything. Can we talk about something else?"

     "C'mon, tell me," Lulu pestered. "You can trust me. I'm your cousin. You can tell me anything. I'll help you out."

     Abigail rolled her eyes. "My problems are my business."

     "Aha!" Lulu sprang to her feet. "So Aristotle was bugging you!"

     "What makes you think that?" Abigail snapped. She looked down at the present in her hands. "He's a good guy. He just gets lost in his own world sometimes."

     It was a lie, albeit a very bad one. A small smile spread across Lulu's face. She didn't buy into Abigail's fib. "Oh, really?" Lulu said in a singsong voice. "Well, I guess everything's wonderful between you two and--"

     "He forgot my birthday," Abigail blurted out. "Again."

     Lulu's eyes went wide. "'Again?' What do you mean 'again?'"

     Slorg dung, why did she blabber that out like an idiot? "It's the fourth time that he forgot," Abigail admitted reluctantly.

     "The fourth time?" There was disbelief in Lulu's voice, and a smug triumph as well. Abigail suddenly hated herself. "How can he forget? That is seriously unforgivable." Lulu pronounced the last word slowly and carefully, and with pride.

     "It sometimes hurts," Abigail said quietly. "Aristotle..." She trailed off. She shouldn't be talking behind her brother's back like this. But once she started, it was hard to stop. Abigail swallowed and went on, the words tumbling from her like water. "He sometimes doesn't notice that I even exist. He spends the entire day in his room or downstairs, playing video games. I try to get him to play with me but he never listens unless it's related to the game he's playing. He... he spent some of my money, once, to buy a new game. And he never paid me back..."

     And so it went on and on and on. Abigail couldn't believe how fast the complaints came out of her mouth. Months of pent up frustration and hurt were spilling out from her, and the more she talked, the guiltier she felt. She shouldn't be telling Lulu this. She shouldn't be in this room.

     "You know what you should do?" Lulu said when Abigail finished. "You should get back at him."

     "How?"

     "Embarrass him or something. Steal all his games. Mess his room up."

     Abigail bit her lip, and then said, "He's going to a game expo tonight. He was going to challenge everyone there and beat them."

     Lulu rolled her eyes. "Sounds like him. Wait here. I have something that might trip him up." She ran out of the room, and was back a minute later. She was holding a controller, not unlike the one Aristotle had. "It's glitched," she explained. "That'll mess him up for sure. Switch it with his controller."

     Abigail stared at it. "Lulu," she said. "I'm not sure if--"

     "After all the bad stuff he's done to you?" Lulu demanded huffily.

     Abigail took a deep breath. She took the controller from Lulu, who instantly cheered up.

     "Why don't you record it and then send it to a Neovision studio?" the Cybunny said brightly. "I mean, I'd love to see the look on his face... hey, where are you going, Abi?"

     Abigail didn't meet Lulu's gaze as she answered. "I-I have chores to do. Thanks for the present, Lulu." She ran off before her cousin could answer.

     ~*~

     The house was unusually quiet and dark when Abigail returned. The Aisha found the living room empty and cleaned up, with no sign that Aristotle had been playing here. Had he left for the expo early?

     No. She could hear his footsteps upstairs. Abigail went to the kitchen. It was lunchtime. Her brother would be wanting his grilled cheese sandwiches soon.

     Cooking usually soothed Abigail. It was a bit odd for a nine year-old to know how to cook entire meals alone. But her parents were usually off in some other place, like Geraptiku or the unexplored parts of the Haunted Woods, and Aristotle usually burnt the food and himself.

     Grilled cheese sandwiches were easy to make. Too easy. They weren't complicated enough to keep Abigail's mind off her troubles.

     Aristotle's footsteps had ceased. He had probably settled down to play some more games.

     Chop chop chop. Thin slices of cheese dropped to the chopping board. Abigail glanced at the controller. Aristotle deserved it, she thought glumly to herself. There was nothing to feel guilty about. It was time for him to feel humiliated for once, to be laughed at, to knock him back into his place. His arrogant behavior almost demanded it.

     Chop chop chop. But he didn't deserve it. He was just afraid, just like any other person, afraid of failure and of being ridiculed. His games were his lifeline. With his games, he could be a king. With his games, he could be at the top of the world, he could be somebody important and admired.

     Chop chop chop. She should do it. He was shallow, he was self-centered, an all around jerk. It didn't matter that he was her brother who had taught her how to play her first game of Destruct-O-Match. It didn't matter that he had bought her first set of Usukis for her when she was little. It didn't matter that they had supported each other through the horrible hours in Roothless's dungeon, how he had given up some of his food for her to eat, even when it had meant that he would go hungry.

     Chop chop chop. She couldn't do it. She didn't want to do it. But wouldn't that let Aristotle treat her like a nobody again? She didn't want that. She didn't want to become a stupid accessory to him, a little footnote in his life. She wouldn't let him. She would switch the controllers, she would watch his humiliation. And she would stand there and smile.

     Abigail chopped with a fiercer intensity.

     Chop chop cho-- "Ow!"

     Abigail jerked her hand back. A small trail of red trickled down her finger. She got a napkin, wrapped it around the cut, and squeezed it. Ouch, ouch, ouch. It stung. She would have to bandage it later.

     "Hey, Abigail!" Aristotle's voice floated from upstairs. "I require your assistance!"

     Abigail squeezed her finger tighter. "Coming!" she shouted. She switched off the stove and shuffled slowly over to the stairs. Aristotle was waiting there. That was surprising.

     "Here, close your eyes," the Blumaroo said.

     "Why?"

     "Just do it, okay?"

     Abigail grumbled to herself but did as she was told. She felt Aristotle grab her arm. His hand was sweaty. "Where are we going?"

     "My room."

     As she stumbled up the stairs, she wondered why Aristotle was so nervous. What was he hiding from her? He probably broke something and needs me to fix it, she thought wearily.

     Abigail heard a door swing open. Aristotle said, "You can open your eyes now, Abigail."

     Abigail did.

     She couldn't believe what she saw.

     She blinked, to make sure that her eyes weren't playing tricks on her. They weren't.

     Aristotle was standing in front of her, holding out a pink box. "It's the Usuki you wanted from the Toy Store," he said awkwardly.

     Abigail stood there and stared. Aristotle cleared his throat. "I wanted to tell you, but it was supposed to be a surprise," he explained. He cleared his throat again. "Uh... happy 10th, sis."

     Sis. It had been a long time since he had called her that. Abigail slowly reached out and took the present. She looked down at the plushie. The world began to blur.

     "You like it, right?" Aristotle asked nervously. "I had to push past this huge crowd to get it. I got a bruise on my arm and I had to replace my glasses, they got cracked up..." His voice drifted off. "Abigail?"

     Abigail swallowed and looked up at him. "You stuck-up jerk," she said. Before he could react, Abigail hugged him, tears running down her face.

     "Oh. Uh..." Aristotle was at lost for words. He patted his sister on the back, hesitated, and then returned the hug.

     Abigail pulled away. "Grilled cheese sandwiches," she said, her voice wavering. Aristotle looked at her oddly.

     "Pardon?"

     Abigail took a deep breath. She clutched the box. "Do you want ham with it?"

     Aristotle opened his mouth, then closed it. Then he pointed out bluntly, "Your finger is bleeding."

     "It's just a small cut. I'll be all right."

     Aristotle said nothing, but he put his arm around his sister's shoulders. It was a strange, but comforting, gesture. "We could eat lunch at Hubert's instead, you know. And we could stop by the Toy Shop, too, if you want. It's your birthday after all."

     Abigail's heart soared. "That'd be great."

     He cared, in his own odd way. He had his faults, he could be frustrating at times, but he was only Neopian after all. Aristotle was her brother: that was all she could ever ask for.

     "Abigail?" Aristotle asked tentatively as they walked down the stairs. "Are you happy, now? I mean, you were crying and everything back there and..."

     Abigail smiled, a true, deep-from-the-heart smile. "I've never felt better in my life."

     And that was the truth.

The End

 
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