A/N: No one get excited! Well, okay, you can get a little excited. Here, for your entertainment, is the first chapter in The Academy prequel (title still unknown) about Vyen and his experiences.
JUST ANOTHER DAY
I won't say I've never been out of my home state of Michigan; it was practically a family tradition to travel to Ravenna, Italy, to visit our roots and somewhat estranged family members—it happened every summer since I was five. However, my journeys inside the United States were limited to a sophomore field trip to Julliard in New York City. Surprisingly, the first city that came to mind with everyone I introduced myself to was not the capital of Michigan, which is Lansing, but my hometown of Detroit. In hindsight, I should have expected it, Detroit being the seventh largest U.S. city, but I didn't. I found myself angry rather than flattered, and instead of ignoring it, I filed these people away as morons, putting myself on a higher step of the academic ladder.
For me, this wasn't unusual behavior. I don't mean to brag—well, yes I do—but I'm not your average run-of-the-mill teenager. When I choose to use it, my range of vocabulary rivals only Webster's New World Dictionary. I excel in most of my high school subjects, and whatever I don't excel in, I do better than standard. As such, my opinions of my peers resulted in being very low. To say the least, I looked down on everyone, which wasn't hard to do since I lived in the slums. The only people I held on a higher level than myself were my parents, and above them, Nonna and Nonno, my grandmother and grandfather respectively.
Then, of course, there's the matter of my brother, Delano. Twins we may be, we're also full-blooded Italians, which makes us hot-headed, him especially. He often gets himself in trouble because it's his way of rebelling. I'm the quiet rebel, he's the loud one. Our grade point averages are practically on par with each other's, and Nonno jokes that neither of us will know who comes out on top until the day we graduate. Ask Delano, he'll say it's me because I'm Mr. Goody Two-shoes, Little I-Can-Do-No-Wrong. If you were to ask me? Well, I'd tell you Delano's right, but not because I can do no wrong or that I'm the perfect son, as true as both those statements may be. The reason is simple: I was born first with a larger brain and a higher capacity for learning. The thing with twins is that one of them will undoubtedly be better than the other because of fetal development patterns. Lucky me.
Now, don't get me wrong or anything. I'm not hating on my brother. In fact, you couldn't find a pair closer than the two of us—not even conjoined twins—and we both know it. We're each other's go-to guy, party back-up, safe haven. We vent to each other, wrestle with each other, and props to him for being the only one who can make me laugh. During infancy, we had to share a crib; we couldn't be without each other for more than an hour. Once we graduated to big kid beds, we shared the same room. When high school finally came around, we agreed that it would be nice to have our own space since our interests were obviously going in different directions. It may have cost us most of our college tuition, but Delano and I managed to persuade our parents to add on a second floor to our home. They got their own large master suite, and Delano and I gained free reign of the second floor.
One probably wonders, "Vyen, if you had enough money to renovate the house, why not move out of the slums?" I don't know. Parent money means parent decisions. We're not a rich family, but we have a comfortable life, and our neighbors aren't half bad. All the children on the block, as well as one over on either side, I grew up with. I wouldn't call most of them my friends, but there are a few that are worth the time and energy that are fun to hang out with. After all, thanks to them, I can hold my own on a b-ball court. That's pretty much my home life in a nutshell.
As for school…well, I guess you could say Western International was…standard. Like most public schools around Detroit, white skin makes a person a minority rather than majority, but what can be expected from a public school? It's not so bad, honestly. As much and often as I put myself on a high pedestal, I do have respectable and respected friends gained through classes with them, or through my brother. We don't share all of our friends, but, both of us being decent judges of character, we share many. My friends are smart, and his are funny. We're a well-rounded group.
However, this isn't a story about teenage woes in public school, or how much life sucks. This isn't just another teenage fiction novel waiting to be picked up off the shelf. This is a story of how my life came to an end, and then what happened after. See, somewhere between the sides of Alive and Dead, there's limbo. It's the gray area, when one's not sure if it's better to walk away from the bright light or walk into it. Here, though the sun and moon have their rotations through the forever-clear skies, time is lost, unimportant. No one bothers to count the days, relaxing with the weather like a permanent vacation.
I remember my last week alive. It was nothing special; in fact, it was just another week of X's on my calendar, another week lost to boredom…
"Checkmate," said Delilah triumphantly, pushing over my King. With nothing more than a large smile, she collected all the white pieces to her side of the board while nudging the black pieces to my side. "It's too bad lunch ain't longer. I like kicking your butt."
I gave her my best stony glare. "I vote for Chinese checkers tomorrow."
"You don't hafta be such a sore loser, Vyen."
"You're kicking my butt in chess every Monday through Friday. Something's bound to become sore."
She giggled, flipping over the chessboard so we could put our pieces back into their foam-fitted compartments. Delilah, who lives in the house behind ours, has been a consistent companion of mine since preschool. She's bossy and loud-mouthed, but for as long as I've known her, she's always been ready with her hand on her hip to tell us why what we were about to do was wrong—keep in mind she followed our group anyway—and she's always had her hair up in pig tails with ribbons or flowered barrettes. Standing strong at a fierce five feet and seven inches, she's a third chair mathlete, one of the trumpet players (can't say I didn't see it coming) of the orchestral band, and most importantly, president of the Chess Club.
Which is why I constantly get roped into a match every lunch period—and if I'm lucky, breakfast, too—while my government-funded school meal goes cold beside me. It isn't all a waste; I'm getting progressively better. However, sometimes I could appreciate a change of pace, like a game played with numbered pieces of floppy cardboard. I'm a pro in poker.
"So what now?" She watched me with her dark eyes as I popped a corn dog nugget into my mouth.
"I think Sonya, Nathan and Dequain are with Delano."
"I don't like Delano. He's bad news."
"You've never liked Delano, but you like Sonya." I pocketed what I could of my lunch and dumped the rest as Delilah and I left the cafeteria to the blacktop with the basketball courts. "And...a little birdy told me that you like Dequain." I nudged her with my arm.
"Do not!" She screamed. "He's as dumb as your brother."
"All good little girls want bad boys."
"Whatev. I ain't crushin on Dequain."
"So then Delano?"
She punched me. "Would you stop that? I ain't gonna tell you who I like."
"But you like someone."
She put her hand on her hip, stopping me in the hall. "Vyen Tomas, don't make me go all crazy black chick on your behind, cuz I will and you'll be sorry."
I smiled. "I like you, too."
"URGH!! You're hopeless!"
"Where are you going, Delilah?"
"To the library. I don't want to deal with you and your stupid boy drama."
I waited until she was gone, shrugging the fight off as no big deal. It happened all the time, so I knew she'd come back. Delilah always felt the need to help hopeless cases. I continued to the basketball court, settling on the bench near my brother's bag as I watched him chase the orange ball from one side of the court to another. The game was easy-going, and the point of the match seemed to be to capture the ball instead of making shots.
Sonya, with her fake, long nails carefully manicured, stood on the sidelines, a McDonald's cup in her hand. I could hear her shouting, "Get him, Dequain. Show that white boy what's what."
I watched Delano get hit from the side by Dequain, who actually played on the school's basketball team with Nathan and Vance. "Cheap shot, Dequain!" I hollered.
"Don't be hatin', boo," Sonya told me, walking over to the bench. "Where 'Li at?"
"Library. She got mad at me for asking her who she liked and suggesting she prefers dangerous guys because she's a good little girl."
"Man, why you gotta be so mean to the poor little girl?"
"She's mean to me all the time at lunch."
"'Kay, just cuz she whoop yo' ass in a game don't mean it's okay to go buggin up in her personal bizz."
"Excuse me for helping a brother out."
"Who you tryin' to help out?"
"Dequain asked me to find out if Delilah liked him or not."
"Oh no he didn't! Dequain! DEQUAIN! Get over here! I said, get over here NOW!"
I suddenly felt an uncontrollable urge to cover my head and run to the nearest bomb shelter. Sonya was about to go off like a nuclear warhead, and there wasn't any way our group could avoid it.
"What's it to you if 'Li likes you, huh? What is it?" She asked, then popped the cap off her cup and dumped it on Dequain. "You's my boo, and if she gonna mess with you or you gonna mess with her, then I mess the both of you up, you hear?"
Until that day, I'd never seen Dequain with that look on his face, and for a moment, the ratio of white to black students shifted in white student favor before shifting back. "It ain't like that, baby," Dequain told her, and we knew it was a bold-faced lie. Kudos for him trying, though. "Yeah, I aksed Vyen to aks Delilah, but I just wanted to check that I wadn't given no wrong impression."
"Mhmm, sure you were, lyin' cheatin' nigga. Don't you eva let me catch you messin' 'round with none of these hoes or we through, ya dig?"
"You only sayin' that cuz you got yo ass busted." And just like that, the crisis was averted. Good save, Dequain, good save.
"Yo!" Delano shouted, dribbling the orange ball from one hand to the other, constantly keeping the ball moving. "Are we playing or what, Dequain?"
I stood up, pulling off my button-down shirt. "Dequain's in trouble right now. I'll play you."
"Yeah, right. That's not even a challenge." He looked me over. "You're not wearing the right shoes. Where the hell do you think you're going?"
"I have a presentation in English with Daniella."
He stopped, his brain instantly frozen. "Ooh, Daniella. She's a piece of—hey…hey! Get back here!"
I jumped and shot, sinking the ball in the basket. "What's this about no challenges?"
"No fair! You distracted me with thoughts of pretty women."
"I can't help that you're not getting the proper amount of blood to your brain. Stop letting hormones drive you."
"Psh, I'm not driven by hormones. I just like looking at the ladies." He threw the ball, and scored. "Which is a lot more than I can say for you. Seriously, random hook-ups will lower your stress level." He bounced the ball to me.
"No thanks. I'd like our parents to be proud of one of us."
"My GPA's just as good as yours."
"Yeah, but your lack of responsibility kind of lessens the fact." The bell rang as I threw, and I missed. "Well, I guess I lost."
"Pick-up after school?"
"Awesome. I'll even throw you a bone and reset the counters to zero."
"That's only because you can't remember what the scores are right now."
He wrapped his arms around my neck, rubbing his knuckles roughly against my scalp.
"Deno, stop! You're messing up my hair!" I pulled at the arm around my neck with one hand while using the other to push at the arm attached to the fist on my head. "Delano, seriously, quit."
"Zio," I groaned, trying to back out of the headlock.
"Such an over-achiever. English would have been enough." He let me go, grabbing our bags from the ground as I pulled my shirt on. "Tell Daniella to call me sometime."
I glared at him. "Really, Delano? What happened to Clarice and Senna and Ebony and Imelda and Eloise and La'Rae and—"
"Don't hate, bro. The ladies love the guido. Can't help it."
"I wouldn't ever let dad hear you say that, or else—"
"What? He'll belt me? He can't even touch me."
I pinched his arm, and pulled my bag off his shoulder. "Save me a seat on the bus."
"Ditto." He flashed me a peace sign before ducking into the crowd as it moved down the hall.
I stepped into my English classroom, which only had three people in their desks currently—most of my class was waiting outside until the bell when they would file in all at once. I loaded up the disk for the presentation on the teacher's computer, and sat next to Daniella, who I could see from even across the room was muttering to herself.
She was a pretty Cuban girl, average height, and today she had her thick, shoulder-length raven hair crimped. Her coffee eyes were looking somewhere else, probably at the crowd who would gather for her presidential speech. We didn't talk much, Daniella and I, and it was just luck that I was paired with her for the presentations—ours was on the many cases of Romeo and Juliet in mythology. She normally wore her clothes too tight, low and fitted so it displayed what most teenage boys wanted to best advantage; she was definitely Delano's type of girl, but to her, Delano and I were interchangeable and beneath her to even socialize with.
"Don't talk to me," she murmured, hesitated, then cursed. Such a pretty mouth shouldn't have been producing such words, but who was I to lecture? To her, I was nobody. "What do you want, wop?"
I'll pretend I didn't hear that…On second thought, "You know, if you want to be president one day, you'll have to be nicer to your subjects."
"Nobody asked you."
"Don't call me wop, please."
She rolled her eyes.
"Delano says you should call him some time."
"That would mean calling you, too, wouldn't it?"
"It would be my house, not me, but if it's your prerogative to call him anyway, who am I to question you?"
"I don't have your number."
"We're in the phone book."
"Yeah, I thought that's what you'd say. Got a pen?"
"Seriously?" She dug through her grocery bag of a purse—an elephant could've fit in that thing—and passed me a pink pen with feathers top.
"Call at nine—"
"They always do, donnina." I tried not to smile; by the look on her face, she had no clue what a donnina was, and I wasn't about to tell her. Instead, I focused on scribbling the number in her notebook as the bell rang to signal the start of class.
I picked up the phone when it rang at nine. I knew it would. "Pronto."
"Uh…is Delano there?" It was nice to know Daniella felt fear sometimes. Or was that embarrassment because I would find out that she called?
"Si, one minute." I opened my bedroom door, then immediately closed it. "It sounds like he's in trouble. I can have him call you back."
"I'll just call back later."
"Take it from me, it's for the better that you leave a call back number or something." I wrote down the seven digits she said in quick procession before the line went dead. "Ciao," I told the phone since Daniella was no longer there. I opened my door again, slipping downstairs and into the kitchen as voices were raised.
My mother was grinding meat as a dinner cooked on the stove in several different pots. "Bambino, vouta la pasta per favore." Bambino, drain the pasta, please.
"Si, Mamma." I turned off the flame, and she whacked my head with a wooden spoon.
"Provi primo, Vyen." Test first, Vyen.
"Si, Mamma." I pulled a tortellini out of the pot, testing the firmness. "È fatto." I pulled the strainer from the cabinets as my mother washed her hands.
"Concludete questo." You finish this.
"Si, Mamma." I put the rest of the chunks of meat into the grinder, turning the handle to make ground beef. My mother didn't believe in buying premade pasta or pre-ground meat. Our dinners were as made from scratch as possible, and usually consisted of antipasti, a pasta dish, meat or fish, and vegetables. There was always something to eat no matter how picky the palate, and there were plenty of leftovers to be packed into the men's lunches the next day. Mamma always made sure we ate well. "What did Deno do this time?" I asked when I heard the crack of leather.
"You understand English, Mamma." I waited.
I shook my head, wrapping the bowl of ground beef with plastic wrap. She was pretending to not know what I was talking about, which was fine with me. If she didn't want to get in the middle of it, then I would go straight to the source after dinner, especially since the source was howling in the living room after the second crack of leather.
"Ahi!" Delano screamed, and ducked into the kitchen. "Spiacente, Papà! I'm sorry!"
I looked up from setting the table long enough to catch my brother's eye.
"Later," he mouthed, rubbing his side.
"Get the—" I began, and Delano clunked a tall red glass by my hand.
"Papà! Berrete il vino?" He looked at me, holding up a wine glass, and I nodded. "Voi, anche, Mamma?"
"They always drink wine," I whispered when he returned to the table. "Why do you have to ask every night?"
"Because Mamma will hit me with her wooden spoon if I don't." He glanced over his shoulder at the heavy set woman who we loved dearly, Mamma. "I don't like the spoon anymore than I like the belt."
"Then stop getting into trouble." I pulled out Mamma's chair as Delano uncorked the wine, and then we stood behind our chairs as Mamma set the table and Papà meandered into the dining room. I filled my father's plate as Delano poured the wine, and we all sat down at once.
I knocked on my brother's door, even though it was open. "Delano?"
"Come to rub your high-and-mightiness in my face?"
"Some guys at dad's work were watching my free-running videos, and dad saw them. He lectured me on the dangers, then he called me stupid and reckless."
"To be fair, he's got a point."
Delano threw his pillow at me. "If you're going to mock me, then get the hell out of my room. I need a brother, not an enemy."
"Dude, sorry." I grabbed his pillow, then sat down on the end of his bed, looking at the posters that decorated his wall. "I haven't heard you listening to Nine Inch Nails recently."
"Mamma and dad don't like it when I jump around in my room since I'm right above them." He leaned back against his wall, slouching. "Sometimes I wish Mamma would go to work so when we get home, we could trash the place."
"You need an after school activity."
He surged forward, wrapped his arms around my neck, and pulled me back with him so we were both stretched out on his bed. "Nothing's interesting enough."
"You could join drama. I hear they do a musical once a year."
"Eh…" That was the end of that conversation. If the idea truly interested, then he would join drama. Simple enough. It didn't matter to me anyway. I liked filming Delano's free-running escapades, which involved doing flips and tricks off of obstacles. It's a more aesthetically pleasing than its counterpart of parkour. I don't have many activities that are considered dangerous, so following Delano's movements in continuous shot with a camera was an adrenaline rush for me. I didn't do any of the tricks, but I did occasionally jump from building to building. He was a hit online, with each of his videos racking up hundreds of millions of viewers.
He lifted his arm to check his watch. "Thanks for telling me earlier."
"I figured we would have been done with dinner before she called tonight. I didn't know you'd be getting in trouble."
"She's going to be mad if I don't call her back, won't she?"
"She a Cuban princess, and I mean that as a derogatory slur. I don't know why you have to jump between girls."
"None of them are interesting enough to keep around forever. They're just toys to pass the time with. Besides, most of the pretty ones are self-centered and materialistic. Why would I want to keep one of those?"
"I didn't know you've thought about it that much."
"You may want one or two kids, but I like to believe sometimes that I'll have a kid in tenth grade, a kid in preschool, and three or four more spread out between the two."
"And your job would be…?"
"I also like to believe I'll come up with a killer invention that'll beat all other inventions, and for the next millennium, my invention will reign supreme."
"And this invention is…?"
"I don't know yet."
"At least I know you won't be marrying some high school hussy." I nudged him over. "Are you going to call her back?"
"Nah. Maybe she'll call back tomorrow."
"I told her you were getting in trouble."
"Way to make me look un-cool."
"You did that yourself."
"Whatever. Are you sleeping here tonight?"
I looked at him. "I give you a hard time all day, and you ask if I'm staying?"
"Why not?" Have I mentioned we're closer than conjoined twins could ever hope to be?
"Do I have to kiss you good night?"
"Just clean your funky mouth, bro, and we'll be square."
I rolled off his bed to brush my teeth in our shared bathroom, and by the time I returned, the covers were turned down on half the bed, and Delano was tucked in on his side, eyes closed. I tried my best to not disturb him, but in the end, we were staring at each other through identical pairs of brown eyes. I don't need a mirror to know what I look like. With the exception of freckles and hair styles, we were identical down to every detail. "Having you stare at me is kind of unnerving…"
"Well, having you stare at me is kind of unnerving, too."
I put my head on his shoulder. "Night."
A/N: That's that for now. I'm still taking editors for Lenore's story. Message me and let me know!