"Five, four, three, two, one ready or not here I come!" called out a boy of about eleven as he stood facing a large tree. He spun around when he heard the light bubbling laughter of the small brunette girl he was seeking. He gently tiptoed towards the tool shed at the end of the garden, speeding up as he heard loud shuffling behind the wooden door, he grinned to himself. He would wait until she got curious as to why he didn't come looking for her and when she would poke her head through the door he would pounce. "It's going to be great!" he muttered. He positioned himself on the side of the shed that didn't have windows and waited.
She was crouching next to an ancient lawnmower and an army of garden gnomes. The swirling dust was making her nose itch. Her legs were beginning to ache from being in one position all this time. She began to get anxious when it felt like hours had passed by and he didn't come looking for her. She was getting impatient and her favourite white dress was getting grubby. "This is getting stupid" she declared to thin air and stood up and reached out to push the door open, she squinted when greeted by the bright sunlight. She was just about to step out when a figure leaped out at her and yelled "BOO!" so loudly that she gave a start and let out a shriek of surprise and landed on her butt amongst the shattered gnomes and broken flower pots.
"Hahahahahah!" he was laughing hysterically; it was better than he planned. The way she fell on her ass was classic! He was gripping his sides when he finally registered the murderous look in her eye, "Daniel Blake the first, you are mincemeat!" he stepped back in alarm when she stood up and looked as though she was ready to punch his lights out.
"Oh shit! Now Sophia lets just think about this for a moment" he pleaded.
She advanced further brandishing a fist at him, "Think about what? You scared the bejesus outta me! And I want justice!" she leaped forward and began chasing him around the yard. They were tearing through the sprinklers when they heard a loud voice, "Daniel and Sophia, you two better not be ruining my tomatoes!" they both stopped dead in their tracks and made their way to safer grounds and resumed their frantic chase. Daniel streaked away whooping with laughter, "Muahahaha! You can't catch me!"
Sophia rounded the corner of the house when she crashed into someone, "Oof!" she was sprawled on the ground next to none other than Gray the older Blake child and brother to Daniel. "Watch it, you nearly gave me concussion!" his forest green eyes were narrowed in pain and annoyance. He groaned clutching the side of his head trying to sit up, "Damn, that hurt."
Sophia huffed in exasperation, she suddenly had a vision of a huge bump protruding from his head in a Tom and Jerry fashion and she burst out laughing, but she regretted it almost immediately as he whipped his head around to look at her straight in the eyes. He gave a look of pure venom; if looks could kill… she would be dead.
Her gales of laughter slowed to a nervous chuckle as his gaze never faltered, burning bloody holes into her skull. She scrambled up and brushed off her once pristine dress and mumbled a quick apology and hurried away from Gray Blake's silent wrath. He was the only thing that could render her speechless, and she hated it.
Gray watched her scurry away hastily as if she had expected him to suddenly brandish a butcher's knife and hack her to pieces. He had that effect on people.
Thomas Gray Blake was a surly child, dark and brooding who had no real friends and didn't really want any. Some may have called him a loner or even creepy, but what they really couldn't understand is how Gray and Daniel were related because they didn't act like brothers, hell they didn't even look anything alike. One was brimming to the fore with joie de vivre and the other lived like a hermit. It was all very strange, but certainly enough Gray enjoyed the air of mystery that preceded him.
He hadn't moved since being bowled over, and he stretched out on the dewy grass under the shelter of the apple tree and closed his eyes. The dull throbbing of his injured skull had receded and he lay there listening to the incessant ringing in his head and the blood rushing in his ears; it was relaxing. And before he knew it he had drifted away in the back yard.
"There you are; I got bored waiting for you to catch me." Daniel said thickly through a mouthful of ice cream which was dribbling down his chin. Sophia had trekked into the large kitchen and wasn't surprised to find Danny raiding the refrigerator.
She sat on the steps leading to the living room and groaned, "Your brother is so weird, I think he wants to kill me." She sighed dramatically and slouched forward and leant on her hands. Danny watched her with amusement in his eyes,
"I know that he's weird, but I don't think he's a murderer… at least not yet." He grinned and shoved a heaping spoonful of ice cream into his mouth and smacked his lips noisily. She grimaced as the sticky ice cream melded with the soil from the yard, leaving him looking like an overgrown baby who hadn't yet learnt how to use a spoon properly.
"But he looks so angry all the time, would it kill him to crack a smile?"
"He doesn't even smile at his own mother, what makes you think he's gonna smile for you?" he ate another bite of ice cream and went on, "But you know what's really weird, is that he's really an alien cyborg; sent to observe humans and report back to the mother ship. That is why he has no emotions and I've noticed that he keeps a telescope in his room, no doubt to locate his fellow aliens." He nodded knowingly, all the while trying to hold back the smile that was threatening to spill over and ruin his story.
"Shut up Danny, I'm not stupid." She scoffed sceptically, but secretly thought that it would explain so much if it were true.
"It's true, haven't you seen the Terminator? He looks normal but is really a machine with a realistic human exoskeleton!" his eyes were wide but the melting ice cream on the tip of his nose ruined the effect and Sophia burst out in laughter.
"What?" he asked indignantly, "That was a damn good story, and admit you nearly bought it!" he yelled triumphant, brandishing the spoon and scattering blobs of liquid ice cream.
"What's going on back there? Danny you better not be setting the house on fire!"
They could hear footsteps heading toward them and Danny quickly shoved the carton of ice cream back into the freezer. Somebody was whistling a jaunty tune as they entered the kitchen. A handsome dark haired man stopped short when he ran into them. He grinned widely looking from Sophia over to Danny, his eyebrows raised and looking amused.
"Daniel! Boy, you look like a pig in muck." Samuel Blake ruffled his son's hair and turned to Sophia, "Sophie darlin' you better be stayin' for dinner, I'm making my famous chilli!"
"Sure Mr Blake, do you need any help?" she loved having dinner at the Blake household; it was always so much fun.
"It's nice of you to offer, but I can't risk anyone finding out my secret recipe. Its top secret!" he whispered, tapping the side of his nose. "Oh and do me a favour and call me Uncle Sam… geddit?" he chuckled briefly at his joke and continued, "Mr Blake makes me sound old, so don't be pickin' out my casket just yet, I'm still a spring chicken." And he did a little jig to prove it.
"But dad you are old! Practically middle aged!" cried Danny earning a playful swipe from his father.
"Son, you wound me deeply" he exclaimed dramatically, clutching at his chest just over his heart, "And for that outrageous, heinous and franklyshockinglyincorrect lie, I'm gonna make yours extra hot, dude!"
Danny groaned audibly at his father's attempt at 'being hip'.
"Sure dad, just don't expect to be using the bathroom anytime in the next week or so." Sam laughed uproariously and clapped Danny on the back. "Touché, son,"
"Go clean up before your mother gets back from the grocery store and has a fit." He shooed them both away before getting started on dinner.
Sophia had watched both father and son enviously, enjoying their easy banter. She wondered what it would be like to have her own father. Would he be kind and funny like Sam or boring and serious? But she would never know; she sighed and plopped herself onto the couch. It had been herself and her mom for eleven years, and not once had she heard a mention of the man who had aided in her conception. Maybe she'd ask her tonight when she went home.
"Cchh! Hello, this is earth calling, come in Sophie, over!" Danny was hanging over the back of the sofa, talking into his hand as if to imitate a walkie talkie. She hadn't realised that she had been sat there lost in her own thoughts for that long. Danny had even managed to change into a clean shirt and wash his face.
She shoved him hard and he landed with a thud on the floor, "ouch…"
"You shouldn't interrupt people when they're pondering life's mysteries Danny it's rude!" she reached over and helped him up. He stood there feigning nonchalance, as he brushed himself off.
"Jeez, I was only kidding. And what life's mysteries are you talkin' about; you're eleven for Pete's sake!" he landed on the couch next to her and flicked the television on with the remote.
Sophia hesitated, she had never talked bout her absentee father to anybody before; she hadn't felt the need. But witnessing the exchange between Danny and his own father had stirred up a longing in her heart for the same.
"I was actually thinking about-"
But she was interrupted by the front door swinging open to reveal Susie Blake; wife and mother. Hugging to enormous bags of groceries to her chest; her face showed the evidence of her exertions as she blew her blond hair out of her face, annoyed.
"Oh, hey kids. Mind helping me with the rest of the groceries?" She breezed past them quickly and into the kitchen, dropping everything on the counter with a sigh of relief.
They both jumped up and ran for the car, both clamouring to snag the heaviest bag as a test of their brute strength. When they were sufficiently leaden with the shopping they made their slow and treacherous journey back into the house, being careful not to drop anything.
"Hah! I am officially the strongest!" exclaimed Danny triumphantly as he reached the kitchen first.
"Only because you pushed me, cheater!" their bickering was stopped short as Sam entered the kitchen from the garden with a bowl of his home grown tomatoes.
"Whoa! People you cannot be in here while Sam's makin' his chilli," Susie grinned knowingly, and slung her arms around his shoulders, leaning close.
"I cannot reveal my secret recipe!" he was obviously trying to resist his wife's advances, but failing. "What's this, bribery by kisses? You are cunning, wife, but I will not be moved. To reveal my recipe, I'd have to kill you. And that would be a shame because I love you." He kissed her softly and waved her away, "away with you wench." He teased, then drawing her back in for another kiss.
Sophia and Danny watched the whole exchange with muted horror. Witnessing the adults kiss and hearing them giggle like lovesick teenagers was enough to drive them back into the living room, feeling nauseas.
"Eurgh!" Danny shuddered, and Sophia nodded in agreement. But secretly wishing that if she ever got married, her relationship would be as playful and loving as theirs. They passed the time until dinner by watching television. When dinner was ready they both scrambled up, stomachs rumbling with ravenous hunger.
"Danny, honey could you get the bread and the salad bowls for me?" Susie was carrying over a pitcher of lemonade and Sam was stirring feverishly at the stove. Sophia noticed that Gray wasn't anywhere to be seen; she voiced her query to Susie.
But it was Sam, who answered, "He's in the backyard, I swear that boy can sleep anywhere; and he has," he chuckled, "Sophie darlin' why don't you go and wake him up?"
She gulped visibly but acquiesced as she thought it would be rude not to. She stepped out into the garden and saw that Gray was indeed, asleep under the apple tree. She approached Gray in the manner one would approach a sleeping lion.
"G…Gray? It's time for dinner; wake up" she was afraid that if she spoke too loudly he would lash out. But it seemed that he hadn't heard and was still fast asleep, snoring softly. She gazed at the fifteen year old boy; she noticed that he didn't have that permanent scowl on his face now that he was sleeping. He looked peaceful and not angry for once.
He wasn't waking up and she was hungry. She considered poking him with a stick but decided against it. She got an idea and bent down and seized the biggest leaf she could find and knelt on the grass beside his prone figure and proceeded to tickle him under the chin with it. It worked immediately and she saw Gray swipe absently at the offending leaf, but she tickled his nose instead. He groaned in annoyance and flapped his hands in front of his face.
Sophia had to hold back her laughter as she leant in more and blew in his ear. He clapped a hand over his ear and shot up, "Wha-?" he said groggily, still squinting, bleary eyed and half asleep. He heard Sophia's almost silent laughter and jerked away.
"What the hell? I'm sleepin' here!" he scowled in irritation at her, awaiting her response.
"Dinner's ready, your dad made chilli." Sophia decided that Gray looked like he was actually going to kill her so she got up and ran back into the house.
Gray watched her go and growled softly, she really was annoying. He was having a great dream but she had gone and interrupted it.
Although, he thought, I am hungry and I could murder a bowl of chilli right about now.
He chuckled softly and stretched, he had gotten a crick in his neck for sleeping on the ground for so long. His back ached and the stretching offered temporary relief. He glanced at the sky; it was almost dark and his stomach rumbled. Sighing as he got to his feet and stalked towards the house.
Once everyone was seated, Sam served the food and they all tucked in; mumbling praise through their mouthfuls. When their initial hunger had been sated, everyone had slowed down and conversation flowed. Sophia noticed the withering glances that Gray kept sending her and tried to ignore them the best she could.
Danny was working on his third helping when everyone else had given up and leaned back in their chairs clutching their stomachs in satisfaction. She didn't think she could eat another bite but when Susie declared that dessert was pie, she couldn't resist.
"Hey, who ate all the ice cream?" she held up the empty carton and Danny raised his hand guiltily.
"For what it's worth mom; it was good and I'd do it again" he grinned cheekily but held his arms up in a 'do not shoot' gesture. Everybody shook their heads in amusement.
Dessert was nearly finished when Sam cleared his throat, to catch everyone's attention,
"I have an announcement to make, I know you wont like it but it's happening…," they all waited with bated breath, Susie took over and smiled encouragingly, "Your father has been promoted, and with that he has been relocated to New York. That means we will have to move house. Soon"
Danny sat frozen; his fork that had been halfway to his mouth at the time now clattered loudly onto his plate. His mouth forming a rather large 'O',
"You can't be serious! Were moving to New York? That's so unfair! All my friends are here, mom!" he looked over at Sophia, who was dumbfounded at the news. Danny was moving away?
Sam and Susie had expected adverse reactions to the news from Danny and assured him that he will make new friends at his new school, and no, his old friends will not forget him.
Sophia realised that while Danny was kicking up a fuss, Gray hadn't said a word. Had he not heard? Did he not care? Due to his lack of speech: obviously not.
Danny was still griping when Sophia's mother arrived to take her home. She thanked Sam for dinner and was about to leave, when she turned back on her heel and hugged Danny tightly around the shoulders and whispered,
"Bye Danny, I'll miss you. Don't forget me okay?" she had tears in her eyes as she left. She knew Danny would be trying to act manly and hold back his own tears.
"I'll call you from our new house, and I'll miss you too Soph." he waved goodbye and knew he would probably never see her again.
Gray watched the scene with a touch of resentment.
Nobody would miss him.