The birthday boy
What?! Yet another story begun when I haven't finished anything yet? How dare I? What sort of mentally unfit individual would do such a thing?
Ahem. Sorry about that, but there's a reason for this story. I'm taking this class in fiction-writing (thought it would be a shoo-in, haha, boy was I wrong), and I am _required_ to finish this story. So I thought, okay, my classmates are practically duty-bound to tear it and my ego to shreds, but I am having fun writing it and maybe someone else will enjoy reading it too. Oh, and if you find that _you_ want to tear this story to shreds, well then, take a number.
Just kidding. Seriously, I do hope you like it. (Forgive me, Rush. The coffee made me do it.)
Okay then, standard rules apply. Part of this story is set in Manila, hence the appearance of the usual Filipino words, as follows:
kuya - (koo-yah) older brother, like oniisan
ate - (ah-teh) older sister, like oneesan
Aling - (AH-ling) a title for older females, something like Mrs. or Madame
Mang - ("a" as in "father") a title for older males, something like Mister
Digos - pronounced "DEE-gos"
Musang - pronounced "moo-SANG" ("a" as in "father), actually means wildcat
karitela - (kah-ree-TEH-lah) a horse-drawn carriage you can still find in Old Manila
camisa - (kah-MEE-sah) a woman's blouse
tubao - (too-BOW) a plaid-patterned bandanna
leche - (LEH-che) cussword originating from Spanish, means "milk" but also stands for, er, a less maternal kind of bodily fluid
To prevent this chapter from turning into a glossary, I'll just deal with the names and their pronunciations per chapter.
So, uh, hope you enjoy it!
Linc blinked. "For me?"
He stared at Emerson's unsmiling face, then at the box wrapped in shiny paper that was sitting in his brother's arms. "You're kidding, right?" Linc asked again, his tone clearly stating that if Emerson was indeed, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, just kidding, then he was perfectly willing to laugh and indulge in some brotherly camaraderie so long as they got the punch line over with quickly.
Emerson scowled. "Look, it's a birthday present from all of us, okay? Will you take it already?" he said, and his tone clearly stated that any more dumb questions from Linc and he was going to chuck the damn box right at his head.
Still, Linc made no move to lower the graphic novel he'd been reading and peel himself off his unmade bed. His smile widened, though. "Wow. Even Ate Carmen?"
"Yeah, Carmen, too. Ma blackmailed her. Now get off your lazy bum and take this before I change my mind."
In a series of moves that reminded his brother of a lion rising from his repose to partake of his share of the kill, Linc swung his legs off the side of the bed, laid the graphic novel down, stretched, yawned, scratched his ribs through his undershirt, and only then reached out to take the box from Emerson. He plucked the card that had been taped to a corner and read: "'To Lincoln, happy birthday, love Mama, Kuya/ Emer, Kuya Jeff and /Ate Carmen.' Gosh," he added, his smile turning faintly ironic. "I'm touched."
"Open it," Emerson instructed.
Linc did, and lifted the sleek, black Acer Travelmate 8005LMi out of its bed of Styrofoam and bubble wrap. He turned it on and watched as Microsoft XP Professional launched itself with a cheery, electronic tune, momentarily bathing his face in blue light.
"A Pentium M chip, 512 meg worth of RAM and an 80 gig hard drive," Emerson enumerated. "No fancy programs, just basic Office."
"I don't mean to shock you or anything, but I can/ read." Linc waved the instruction manual with one hand. "Nice," he breathed, surprised pleasure winning out for a moment over the charmingly insolent mask he usually wore. "Geez, this must've cost a bundle. Thanks, /Kuya. This is--"
"Strictly for academic work only," his brother cut in brusquely. "We got a copy of your grades in the mail. Frankly, they're disgraceful. You gotta start shaping up if you don't want to repeat subjects again next semester. With this thing, you won't have any excuse for submitting papers late, and with the Internet you won't have any excuse for not being able to do research."
At this, Linc tore his gaze away from the laptop and gave his brother a dewy look. "Nice of you to remember how allergic I am to all that dust in the library."
Emerson's stare pointedly failed to notice the piles of clothing, empty soda cans, tottering stacks of CDs, paperbacks, comic books, graphic novels, FHM magazines, the array of aftershaves and styling gel, and the veritable gallery of movie posters and comic book characters that made up the disaster area that was his youngest brother's bedroom. "Yeah, you're allergic to dust, all right," he muttered. "Look, you really ought to--Linc, will you turn that thing off and pay attention?"
Linc sighed, folded the laptop and turned so that he sat with his hands on his lap and a good-little-schoolboy expression on his face.
Emerson glowered, frustrated by the wall he could see in Linc's eyes. His brother had closed him off again, and Emerson knew that anything he could say now would be listened to, nodded at, agreed with and completely forgotten within the next three seconds. There would be no reaching him wherever he was behind that wall, and Emerson was running out of options. Linc just never seemed to think. He flitted from one interest to the next worse than a damn butterfly and behaved as if it never occurred to him that anything he did would have any effect on the rest of the world. And when he wasn't leaping from the flames of one burning passion to another, he was lolling around at home with that silly, sleepy look on his face and locking himself in his room for hours on end. Emerson often wondered if his baby brother wasn't mildly autistic; in his less charitable moments, he was convinced that Linc was plain stupid. But then he'd remember those sessions with the child psychologist and the score Linc got in his college entrance exam. And he'd see the wall in his brother's eyes and realize that Linc wasn't stupid. He wasn't stupid at all.
He just didn't think, the selfish brat.
"Ma spoils you," Emerson muttered. "She keeps forgetting you're not this adorable baby anymore. She dotes on you so much, and you go and break her heart over and over again."
Linc tilted his head, looking affably interested.
"She's got such high hopes for you. You wanted to be a scientist, and she buys you a chemistry set. You wanted to be a photojournalist, so she arranges for photography lessons. You wanted to be a painter, so she practically sets up a studio in the garage. But what happened, Linc, huh? What happened to all those chances she gave you? Nothing, that's what. Look at you. No ambition to speak of and absolutely no direction in life. You're twenty years old and you've got nothing to show for it except a string of bad grades and failed subjects. Thank God Pa died before he could see what a disappointment you turned out to be."
Linc lowered his head dutifully and nodded. Emerson clenched his fists to keep his fingers from wrapping around his brother's neck. "Well?" he growled. "You got anything to say to that?"
"Just one," Linc said meekly, but when he looked up, Emerson could see the mocking glint in his eyes. "You won't be singing 'Happy Birthday', will you?"
For a moment, Emerson felt his mind go white with fury. "Clean yourself up," he snapped when the urge to commit fratricide had passed. "Then fix this goddamn pigsty of yours. It's a school night, Linc, so drop that piece of trash you're reading and start studying."
Then he turned and stalked away, slamming the door behind him.
Linc stared at the space so forcefully vacated by his brother, then swept the wreckage of wrapping paper, bubble wrap and cardboard onto the floor, lay back in bed and stared at the ceiling. There wasn't any reading light left outside the window. The sun had set while his brother had been delivering both birthday gift and scathing diatribe, and dusk had turned his room into a study in shapes and shadows. He flung an arm over his brow and closed his eyes, searching the darkness in his mind, and was oddly relieved to find he was alone. Alone meant no one to witness what had just happened, no one to hear the truth about himself from his brother's lips.
How weird is that?/ a voice in his head whispered derisively. /Worrying about what a figment of my own imagination thinks of me.
After a moment, he opened his eyes again, pulled the laptop close and leaned back against the wall. He scrolled through the programs then played a few desultory games of Pinball. After a while he got up, cleared a space on his desk for the laptop, turned the light on, then slipped out of his room only to return dragging the phone cable under the door. He checked his e-mail, surfed a few sites, then, feeling bored and strangely restless, logged off and unplugged the phone cable. The screen beamed at him in anticipation, patiently awaiting his next move.
He stood up, paced around his room or at least the spaces on the floor that still allowed for free movement, then lay back in his bed, waiting for the strange itch in the back of his mind to pass. He closed his eyes again, but the darkness was still empty. Suddenly, he wished it wasn't. He tried to call up the warm, golden presence that had haunted his darkness for most of his life, then gave up when the presence wouldn't come. He couldn't call it up. He could only wait for it.
He laughed wryly. It figured...
The itch was still there, the sensation of waiting for the next breath to come, the next heartbeat...it was getting annoying. He felt as if somebody had promised to tell him a secret then clammed up. As if he was staring at a blank screen waiting impatiently for the movie to begin.
He got up again and moved to turn the laptop off. Its air of eager helpfulness was getting on his nerves. But instead of clicking the shut-down command, his finger called up a new document. He stared hard at the digit, then at the screen. The blank, white screen.
Something in his head went click.
He pulled up a chair, shook the small pile of socks and shirts off the seat and sat down, flexing his fingers over the keyboard.
Oh well/, he thought. /If this turns out really bad, there's always the delete button.
Later, a knock on the door turned out to be Annie, the family helper, urging him to come to dinner. Still later, his brother shouted through the door at him, just a friendly reminder about what he was supposed to be doing on school nights. And much later still, he heard the gentle footfalls of his mother coming up the stairs and stopping just outside his door. She must have changed her mind, because the footsteps moved away again, followed by the soft shutting of her door. She was always the last one to go to bed, his mother.
Not this time, though.
And his fingers continued to race over the keyboard well into the night.
Thanks for reading, and for reviewing, if you did. ^__^