What if Natalie had been the child that died, and Gabriel lived? (Written for fe_challenges on LiveJournal, the Feeling Electric fanfiction community I created.)
Not when she has crisis after crisis, and Mom goes running to her side. Which, he thinks, is especially ironic when you consider that she doesn't even exist. But she's all he hears about. Is she on drugs? Why didn't she come home last night? Why's she switching to art, when she was doing so well in that Life Skills class, the incident with the duck pillow notwithstanding? (Duck pillow? He doesn't want to know... Really, he doesn't.)
Sometimes he catches himself thinking that if she did exist, he'd probably beat her to death with his trumpet case. But that's not like him, and he knows it. It's just that he's so tired of it, tired of Mom's constant worrying, and never a word on his concerts, his football triumphs, his near-perfect academic record...
Sometimes Dad remembers, giving him an absent smile and a pat on the shoulder, but his attention is focused on Mom, and Mom's is focused on Natalie. He's stayed out later and later, just to see if she'd notice, but when he comes home, she barely looks at him. He's not the one she's waiting up for.
How strange is it, he wonders, that the perfect son is living in his little sister's shadow? Probably no stranger than the fact that there are times when he almost thinks he sees her, just out of the corner of his eye, a hazy figure, sardonic amusement in her eyes.
He ignores it, and when that doesn't work, he comes home less and less often.
She finds him one night on the playground. All the kids have gone home, and it's just him and the abandoned swing set and the monkey bars, which he's perched on top of, staring at the sky and wondering if it's even possible to see the stars in Seattle. He's just about decided that the only way Mom can relate to someone is if they're more fucked up that she is herself. So where does that leave him?
"I know you." The voice is oddly familiar, and he looks down at the girl, trying to remember where he knows her from. He can't place her, though, and he really just wants to be alone.
"Really?" He's being cruel, but right now, he doesn't care. "You remind me of someone I've never met before."
She laughs. "You're out here a lot."
"I've got issues," he tells her, grinning savagely, savoring the taste of the words. Yes, he, the golden boy, the student council vice-president, the football god... He has issues. Maybe that'll chase her off.
She doesn't take the hint, though. Instead, she swings herself onto and over the monkey bars with a gymnast's grace and perches next to him. "Issues, huh?"
He opens his mouth to tell her to go away, but what comes out of his mouth is the whole sorry tale of dysfunction, of trying to be the normal one in a family gone insane... And she just sits there and listens. It's weird, but kind of comforting.
"I'm Kristen," she says, with a smile he knows he's seen before. She looks like she's a year or so younger than him; he's seen her in school, probably. Of course, school... Where else would he know her from?
She just nods. "I know. Want something to make it better?"
"Like what?" He raises a skeptical eyebrow at her. She's not offering him what he thinks she's offering, is she?
She pulls a baggie out of her pocket, filled with little colored tablets. He's got a lot of experience with his mom's pill collection (most often finding them spilled out over the floor), but these, he's never seen before. She gives him a grin like sex and violence and candy all wrapped up into one, and places one on the tip of her tongue. And then she kisses him.
She tastes like marshmallow lip gloss and cotton candy, but there's a lingering bitterness on his tongue when she skillfully deposits the pill there and pulls away. "Now swallow."
He obeys without thinking. "What...?"
"I told you. It'll make it all better."
And maybe he'd argue with her, maybe he'd demand to know what it was she gave him, but then he remembers Natalie, remembers the worried discussions about whether or not the dear apple of her mother's eye was on drugs, and he just doesn't care anymore. He's done with being good.
She hops off the bars and pulls him down after her. He stumbles, falls, and suddenly he's flat on his back in the grass. His knees can't support his weight anymore, but it... feels good.
She leans down over him, wearing a strangely satisfied expression, but he doesn't notice her. A small part of his brain notices the hand that slides under his shirt, fingers tracing a burning line down his chest, and his body reacts accordingly, but his eyes are fixed on the sky.
The rest of the world may have become a blur, but for once he can see the stars.