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My Brother Tobin: Part One

by fields_of_gold


A story about the two wonderful pets on my side account. Reviews always welcome. Enjoy :)

My brother Tobin was born on Kreludor. He's not really part of my family, a white weewoo dropped him off on our front porch with the Neopian Times one day. At least, that's the story I tell all my friends, the ones who ask why Tobin is so... weird.

      Tobin has always been different, I've never known him not to be. At nine years old, he's two years my junior, but he certainly doesn't act like it. Some days, it's like he's five, others, more like fifty. I never know which side of my brother I'm going to see next. He loves petpets... and algebra. He's crazy smart and never gets less than a B in school, but if you ask him to start a conversation with a stranger... he won't remember that he's supposed to start by saying 'hello', or that 'conversation' doesn't mean 'captive audience for listening to me talk about petpets and algebra for an hour straight'.

      My brother Tobin has his routines planned down to the minute, and executes them the exact same way every day. If one thing gets thrown off, be warned, the ensuing meltdown is not pretty. He has weird quirks that throw people for a loop, like the one where he wanders around the living room in circles for hours quoting random weather reports from the Neopian Times... or the one where he never takes off his stupid yellow rubber rain hat, even when it's not raining. Or when he's indoors.

      My brother Tobin is different.

      My brother Tobin is bizarre.

      My brother Tobin is funny, and quirky, and probably the smartest person you're ever going to meet.

      My brother Tobin is... well, no one is quite sure what Tobin is. But if there's one thing he isn't, it's ordinary.

      Let me tell you his story.

      I was sitting at the breakfast table playing aimlessly with my unappetizing omelette early one morning, wondering if there was any way I could fake neomonia in time to avoid my maths quiz at school today, when I heard the clock on the wall strike seven thirty. I looked up the stairs to see Tobin coming down them, his yellow rain hat rammed so far down over his goofy Ogrin ears that I could barely see his eyes. It went this way every morning, and this morning was no different.

      Tobin walked into the kitchen and sat down at "his" spot at the table, where Mom had already put his crunchy toast, light on the butter, heavy on the grape jelly, the same thing he ate every morning.

      "Don't play with your food Kathryn," Tobin said, doing a perfect imitation of Mom. "There are starving pets in Shenkuu you know." He said all this to his toast, as if I weren't even there.

      I put my fork down and sighed. "Tobin, do you have to wear that dopey rain hat to school every day? It looks ridiculous; it's not raining, and besides, it clashes horribly with your fur; yellow and blue do not mix."

      Tobin ignored me. "Did you know that the mallard can't actually fly?" he asked, taking a bite out of his toast.

      I rolled my eyes. "Yes, Tobin, you tell me every day. I also know that white weewoos weren't the first petpets to deliver the Neopian Times, they used to use – "

      "Meepits," Tobin interrupted. "But that was before anyone realised they were out to destroy the world. Do you know how the Meepit rebellion got started?"

      I sighed and tuned him out; it wouldn't make a difference what I said, he'd tell me anyway.

      Mom saved me by entering the kitchen just as Tobin was launching into his history lesson. "Kathryn, hurry up, you're going to be late. Go and brush your fur; a well-groomed Zafara is – "

      "I know, I know!" I said, jumping up from my chair and heading for the stairs before she could bore me to death with the same cloying idiom she used every morning.

      I skidded into the bathroom and dragged a comb hurriedly through my tuft of red fur, then ran downstairs, grabbed my backpack, and was three steps out the door before my mother called, "Wait for your brother!"

      Great, now I'd have to listen to him yammer on about meepits and mallards and altachucks and every other stupid petpet to ever grace the face of Neopia all the way to school.

      Tobin put his backpack on slowly, then precisely adjusted the straps, just as he did every morning, then he stepped out the door and closed it firmly behind him.

      I walked about ten steps ahead of my brother all the way to school, though unfortunately for me, it wasn't far enough for me to get away from the incessant stream of arbitrary petpet facts. Eventually I rounded on him and shouted, "Tobin! For the love of Fyora, shut up! Shut up about your stupid petpets! Nobody cares! Me least of all! Now can it!" I stormed off, satisfied that he'd keep quiet for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately, I'd chosen my words rather poorly.

      Tobin trotted up beside me looking rather confused. "Can what?" he asked. "It's the middle of spring Kathryn, nobody starts canning fruit til autumn. Besides, I don't know how to – "

      "Never mind!" I cried, throwing my hands in the air with exasperation. Of all the times to forget about how ridiculously literal-minded my brother was.

      We reached the schoolyard and I sighed with relief. Maybe a maths quiz wouldn't be so bad after all; at least it meant I could get away from my crazy brother for a few hours.

      Two seconds later, all the relief fizzed right out of me as I saw who was standing on the front steps. Mason, the nastiest Skeith in school, accompanied by his brainless cronies, stood tossing some poor little Kacheek's backpack back and forth to each other, laughing as their victim tried in vain to get it back.

      If we were lucky, Tobin and I could sneak past unnoticed. "C'mon," I whispered to him, beckoning him silently as we made our way past the front entrance to the side of the school.

      Tobin followed me, tiptoeing in the exaggerated, cartoon-like manner I'd demonstrated for him when last I'd taught him how to handle situations like the one we were in now.

      We were almost in the clear when suddenly a large green hand clamped down on my shoulder. I swallowed nervously and glanced up at the owner of the hand.

      Mason loomed over me, and his cronies circled in around Tobin, who flattened his ears against his rain hat and cowered.

      "Well, well," Mason said. "If it isn't the alien tamer. How's your little extraterrestrial friend?" He sneered, throwing a glance at Tobin.

      I pulled myself up to my full height and glowered at the bully. "Leave us alone," I said evenly, hoping my voice wouldn't betray the fact that my insides were turning to jelly.

      Mason just laughed. "Oh, relax, floppy ears," he said, tugging my right ear sharply. "We don't want you, we just wanna play with ol' Space Cadet over here."

      Before I could do anything, one of Mason's thugs, Kiran, the biggest Kyrii I'd ever seen, yanked Tobin's rain hat off and tossed it like a frisbee to the Skeith. "Catch Boss!" he called.

      Tobin yelped, his eyes widening in horror as his most prized possession was lobbed over his head. "Hey! Give that back!" he cried, galloping back and forth between the bullies as they chucked it at one another.

      "You want it, Kreludan?" Mason laughed. "Go get it!" With that he hurled Tobin's cap into the air, aiming it just right so that it landed in a thick slimy mud puddle on the edge of the playground.

      Tobin raced off after it and Mason and his cronies cackled as they headed indoors.

      I ran after Tobin, who was holding his mucky rain hat gingerly in his teeth and staring cross-eyed down his nose at it, looking rather sad.

      I took it from him and tried to wipe some of the mud off. "I'm sorry, Tobin," I sighed. "We'll get those stupid bullies back one way or another, you'll see."

      Tobin, who had started swaying side to side the way he did when he was distressed, stared sadly at the chain link fence beyond me and murmured. "I wish Mason were a petpet."

      I regarded him quizzically. "Why?" I asked as we made to head back to the school.

      "So I could take him to the petpet ray and turn him into a pile of soot," Tobin replied matter-of-factly.

      I had to laugh at that one.

      I dropped Tobin off in front of his classroom and headed off to my own, almost wishing I'd paid attention the last time my brother had gone off on one of his obsessive algebra spiels. This test was going to sink me.

      By the time I slid into my seat at the back of the class, my teacher, Ms. Robbins, had already started writing instructions on the board. She turned and faced us, then said, "Alright, class, I want you all to get out a clean sheet of paper and copy these problems down. You'll have twenty minutes to finish... begin."

      Twenty heads bowed, and twenty pencils scribbled on paper as I stared at the board. I had no idea where to begin. Slowly I copied the problems onto my paper and hoped some of it would come back to me as I wrote. It didn't.

      Twenty minutes came and went, and I had eleven of the thirty questions guessed at.

      Ms. Robbins called time, and I stared hopelessly at my virtually blank paper. I sighed as I passed it forward, wishing I had a brain like Tobin's, which never forgot anything.

      As I slogged my way through English, science, and yes, more maths, I started to wish it even more. I hated to admit it, but I was envious of my brother. He seemed to have such an easy time of learning. He caught on to everything the first time it was taught, and never forgot it. He was two years younger than me, but in the grade below mine because he had skipped first grade. The teachers said he was too smart. No one ever said that about me.

      The bell for recess rang, and I was still brooding, staring at the pavement as I made my way across the playground, searching for a quiet spot to go and sulk over how stupid I was.

      I was halfway to the football field, when I heard a familiar voice close by.

      "Hey, can I play with you guys?"

      I looked up; it was Tobin. He was standing nervously on the outskirts of a group of kids forming kickball teams. One of the team captains, a green Shoyru almost twice Tobin's size, looked him over and smirked.

      "Get lost, Space Cadet, we don't wanna hear all about your stupid petpets no more."

      Tobin looked rather hurt and confused. "But I don't wanna talk about petpets," he said earnestly. "I wanna play kickball with you." He just didn't understand.

      A small red Scorchio near the middle of the crowd pushed his way toward Tobin and flapped his wings with irritation. "Don't you get it? We don't want you here! Beat it!" With that, the two teams ran off toward the kickball field, leaving Tobin standing by himself.

      "Beat what?" he asked quietly, his ears drooping rather sadly as he looked around half-heartedly for whatever it was the other kids wanted beating.

      Watching my brother trying so desperately to make friends, and not understanding why he was failing, I suddenly realised the terrible price Tobin's gifted intellect had. He understood facts better than he would ever understand people, or how to interact with them. It broke my heart to watch him as he wandered aimlessly around the playground looking for something to do, his bright yellow rain hat bobbing between the groups of kids all playing with each other. I felt guilty for ever having been jealous of him. I might not be able to do maths, but at least I knew how to make friends.

      I ran after him as he meandered toward the swings. "Tobin, wait up!" I called.

      Tobin looked around for the source of his name and smiled when he saw me approach. "Hey, Kathryn," he said, shifting his gaze to the oak trees behind me as I approached. "How did your test go?"

      I winced inwardly as I remembered it, then sighed. "Let's just say, whatever you do, don't mention it to Mom," I said.

      Tobin nodded. "Okay," he said, then paused. "But how did you do?"

      I rolled my eyes and smiled slightly exasperatedly. "Tobin, 'don't tell Mom' means I didn't do that well, okay? It means I don't want her to remember it and ask me what grade I got." I stopped myself before I said 'because it wouldn't be pretty,' knowing I'd just have to explain that too.

      Tobin nodded again, understanding now. "Oh," he said, "Okay. Don't worry, she won't hear a thing from me." He grinned at his attempt at expressive language, then said, "It just means – "

      I smiled and rolled my eyes again. "I know what it means, Tobe. C'mon, let's try out these swings before the bell rings."

      I slogged home that afternoon through a slew of petpet chatter from Tobin, wishing I could deck him.

      "Hi kids, how was school?" Mom asked as we walked in through the front door.

      I shrugged, "Fine," I said. "Boring."

      "I helped the teacher figure out percentages for our book report marks," Tobin said, moving to the living room to begin his circling routine. He paced round and round the coffee table and said, "It was really easy, but the teacher was having a hard time because she didn't know how to combine all the points for each section of the reports properly, so I showed her how."

      Mom smiled. "Good for you, Tobin, I'm impressed. Did you talk to anyone new today?" She always asked this question, and the answer was always the same.

      "No," Tobin said simply as he continued circuiting the table.

      Mom sighed a little sadly; she was desperate for my brother to make some friends, but it seemed like an impossibly tall order for my genius brother. She turned to me, "Speaking of maths, how did your quiz go, Kathryn?"

      My heart sank. I was about to lie when Tobin said, "She doesn't want you to know."

      I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, willing myself not to strangle my blabbermouth brother.

      "Oh? And why is that?" Mom asked, raising a disapproving eyebrow at me.

      I inched into the living room and stood near Tobin in case I had to clamp my hand over his mouth as I said nonchalantly, "Oh, no reason, I'm sure everything went fine, I just, you know, didn't want to get my hopes up until I knew for sure I did well."

      Tobin opened his mouth to respond when I shot him a death glare so piercing even he understood what it meant.

      That evening Tobin and I lay in the living room playing Neopoker while Mom made dinner. Tobin was just about to beat me at our third hand when he raised his head and sniffed the air.

      "What's that?" he asked uncertainly. "It doesn't smell like macaroni and cheese."

      Mom's head popped over the partition separating us and said, "Nope, I thought I'd try something different tonight."

      Tobin's face paled. "What do you mean 'different'?" he asked edgily. "We always have macaroni and cheese on Fridays."

      "I know," Mom replied, seemingly oblivious to the brewing storm, "but I was getting tired of eating the same thing all the time, and I thought I'd mix it up a little."

      I watched as Tobin's jaw clenched and he put his cards down heavily. "You can't do that!" he protested.

      Mom finally picked up on his distress and peered over the partition again. "Calm down, Tobin, it's alright, it's just dinner, we don't have to have the same thing all the time."

      "Yes, we do!" Tobin's voice rose, bordering on hysterical as he leapt to his feet. "We can't change the menu, we can't! This is a disaster! It's Friday and we have macaroni and cheese on Fridays! This is wrong, you can't do this, you can't!"

      I edged away from my brother, having seen enough of his freakouts to know when to clear the area.

      Mom sighed and came into the living room. She sat on the floor next to Tobin, careful not to touch him; he hated being touched. "Tobin," she said evenly. "Look at me."

      My brother, still flighty and agitated, looked at her fleetingly with wide, panicked eyes before dropping his gaze to his forepaws. "Are you going to fix it?" he sniffled. "Are you going to make it right?"

      Mom shook her head. "There's nothing that needs fixing," she said slowly. "There's nothing wrong with trying something new. Come into the kitchen with me and I'll show you, everything's fine, there's nothing to panic about."

      But Tobin wouldn't take no for an answer. He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head rapidly. "No," he whimpered. "No, no different, nothing different, it all has to stay the same or it doesn't work! Put it back, put it back!" he cried, bursting into tears as he dashed off up the stairs.

      Mom sighed and looked at me despairingly; she looked very tired.

      I grit my teeth; I was fed up with my dumb brother being such a freak all the time. "What's the matter with him?" I snapped. "Why is he so weird? Why can't he just be normal?"

      Mom sighed again. "Some people are just born different, special. Tobin can't help the way he is; he doesn't get upset over little things just to be annoying, it really bothers him, and he doesn't know how to handle it, just like he doesn't know how to handle people. It's just part of who he is."

      "Well, I'm tired of it," I growled. "I wish I had a normal brother instead of a kid who acts like he's from Kreludor."

      Mom didn't say anything; she just picked herself up off the floor and disappeared off upstairs. When she came down, she went into the kitchen and pulled out macaroni noodles, cheese, and a single bowl from the cupboard.

To be continued...

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