Bare feet pounded on grass with the rhythm of war drums. Sharp breaths were punctuated with high-pitched squeals and whoops. And the music of youth played over the rolling hills and drifted down into the valley town. As the music drew near a few idly raised their heads to see with their eyes the grace that followed such sounds. Light and colorful clothing clung to the fronts of miniature frames and billowed out behind them. Loose hair flew out like banners for some, or whipped around the faces of others. Toothy grins flashed and bright eyes sparkled. First there were the two larger boys, competing to see who would reach some undetermined destination first. Then the bold young girl determined to keep stride with them and prove her worth. Then came the smaller boys and girls all weaving around one another without a care for where they were in line as long as they were a part of it. And then, another young girl followed, yelling to those in front while holding a toddlers hand as they lagged behind.
By the time a finish line was determined the two boys had fallen into a wrestling competition instead. They broke stride to grasp each other by the shoulders and push with all their strength, trying to leverage the other away from the destination. The young girl ran past them, giggling, and placed her hand possessively over a knot on the rough, old tree. The smaller children followed her lead, ignoring the boys now rolling through the dust. One boy in the line paused to cheer for one of them briefly before following the rest to the tree. The stragglers chose a path around the scuffle and sat heavily under the tree to watch the match continue. And as the boys grew more aggressive the little ones laughed and cheered, braver ones reaching up to climb the branches of the tree. Sides were taken, and before long the match had become a small battle under the tree as children began to push at one another angrily.
"That's enough, you two!" The girl holding the toddler in her lap cried out with a small frown on her face. The smaller fights ceased at her words, but the boys continued. The girl turned to her counterpart who had lead the final charge to the tree. "Can't you do something?"
The other girl shrugged and giggled. "Nothin' to do. They'll either give each other a black eye or sulk all day tomorrow." With that final word she leaned cockily against the tree.
"And how do you expect their parents will react if they turn up with black eyes? Or worse?" The first girl flinched as she watched a particularly brutal punch make contact with one of the boys' stomach.
"Not well, I s'ppose. What d'ya want me to do?"
"Can't. I may be able to outrun 'em, but they're bigger 'n me." The second girl turned her face and folded her arms over her chest.
A cry drew the two girls' attention in time to watch one boy pull the other's arm backwards into a brutal hold and pin him to the ground. The boy on top hollered with victory as a small group of the children cheered. The boy on the ground growled in frustration and tried twisting his legs to get some leverage. One of the younger boys leapt out of the crowd then.
"Come on, Cameron! You can do it!" He cheered.
Cameron grinned and redoubled his efforts to throw the other boy off of him. Now he began to twist his hips in an attempt to throw his assailant off balance. In a brief moment the fight went from one sided to having both boys kneeling on the ground with their arms locked trying to force the other to the ground. Cameron's supporter began to whoop with joy and jump up and down, shouting all forms of nonsense as encouragement. The toddler laughed and clapped her hands at the sight.
"You think Cam can win too, right Filly?" The younger boy turned to the toddler.
"Cam! Cam!" Little Felicia giggled with glee. Her smile was infectious and suddenly the small audience turned and began rooting for Cameron. "Cam! Cam! Cam!"
The girl holding Felicia groaned. "We'll never break this up now."
The other girl giggled. "Why'd ya wan'na do that? Come on Tom! Yeah!"
"What?" Willimina shrugged innocently. "It's good exercise for them. And it's keeping this lot out of trouble." She pointed a thumb at the crowd of small children, once again divided in their support and beginning to push one another.
"Honestly! I'm surprised you haven't begun selling tickets to this." The girl gestured helplessly to the two boys still fighting. Their expressions were set in grim determination with Thomas grinding his teeth as he lost ground and Cameron grinning wickedly.
"Hey now." Willimina's eyes lit up as her grin grew to cover her entire face. "That's not a bad idea, Sarah!"
"I was being sarcastic!" Sarah cried out in panic. She could only guess how Willimina would accomplish such a feat of making money from such sport, and that was good enough for her.
"OW! I GIVE! I GIVE!" Thomas was now screaming from the dusty ground. Cameron had one of his feet squarely on Thomas's back as he held both of his arms backwards. With those final words Cameron dropped the arms quickly and stepped back with a grin. Thomas stood with a scowl etched onto his face and spun around to face his opponent. "But I did have you first!"
"So?" Cameron's first supporter had now run over to stand by his hero. "Cameron never said 'give'."
"That's right, bro. Never give up." Cameron beamed down at the smaller boy.
"Then how exactly do you decide the end of a fight?" Sarah demanded. Everyone had walked over to the once battle ground by now. Sarah was carrying Felicia, the toddler resting her head lightly on the girl's shoulder with drooping eyes. Willimina walked straight over to Thomas and clapped him on the shoulder, despite the boy being nearly a whole foot taller than her. The rest of the children sort of milled around them all, watching expectantly, perhaps waiting for an answer.
"Someone gives up, obviously." Cameron shrugged and huffed, his chest pushed out with self-importance.
Sarah attempted to reason with her peers, wanting to show the futility of a game with no rules. "But you just said -."
"Let it go, Sarah. This is about fightin'. None o' this rules stuff. It just goes 'till someone gives." Willimina stepped in to end the talking. "Now, seeing how Cam won, I think he owes us all some treats. Like some o' his mom's cookies!" She grinned wickedly over at the boy in question. A general cheer and murmurs of agreement went up at this declaration.
"What do you think, Galen? Think Mom's got some cookies hanging around?" Cameron looked down at his little brother.
"I don't think she's got enough." Galen eyed the crowd of children suspiciously, as if they were already in his home eating his mother's cookies.
Willimina giggled and reached down to ruffle the boy's hair. "Then we'll just wait for some fresh ones!"
"I should really take Felicia home." Sarah interrupted. "It's getting late. And tomorrow's an early start for everyone in town." She pointed out to the rest of the gathered children. She shifted the weight of the toddler in her arms and started to walk away. As she passed by Thomas she nodded with a small smile. "I think you did really well, Thomas."
The boy blushed furiously and dipped his head. "Thanks." He whispered.
"Yeah! First pin ain't bad. But ya got'ta hold it." Willimina shook the boy's shoulder, which she still had a hold on.
"Otherwise it doesn't count." Galen added.
Thomas glared down at the younger boy and huffed. "It's not my fault your brother's stubborn as a beast. Doesn't know when it's in his own best interest to give."
"What's that mean?" Galen demanded.
"One of these days he's going to push himself too far. Sometimes you have to quit to get up another day." Thomas explained venomously. With that he turned and stormed away back into town. Sarah followed him with Felicia in her arms and a couple of the children in tow.
Willimina pouted. "I guess that's a no on the cookies." She muttered. "Latter!" She held her hand high and waved as she walked away. A few groans followed her as the rest of the crowd dispersed into the fading light. The town's children filtered from the grassy hill and began picking their way through the paved streets to their homes. The large domed structures dotted the landscape of the valley in the pink glow of the sunset, and slowly began to light up from within. The barefooted children patted down their dusty clothes, wiped the sweat from their foreheads and walked into their homes tired but satisfied.
Cameron watched them walk away for a moment before resting a hand on Galen's head. "Ready to go, bro?"
"I guess." Galen muttered. He began to walk on without his brother and Cameron was forced to take a couple of wide strides to catch up to him.
"What's up?" Cameron asked. He wasn't used to his brother sounding so listless after a win. Whether it was his own victory or Cameron's.
Galen chewed the inside of his cheek before answering. "Is Thomas right?"
"He is about most things." Cameron raised his hands and rested them behind his head as he walked. He looked up into the sky, fading from light blue to pink to dark blue now. "Tom's a pretty smart kid. Just not as strong as your big brother."
"But he knows stuff. Like when to give?"
"He knows how to save his neck from getting too hurt. He doesn't take a beating well."
"Well no. I wouldn't say that. I mean, not every kid will face me in a fight. That's something. And he doesn't mind listening to Sarah's lectures, for some reason."
"I think he just likes to talk as much as Sarah does."
There was silence between the brothers as they walked the rest of the way home. As the rounded the last corner and walked up to the front door Cameron spoke again. "Thomas and I like seeing how far we can go. Thomas likes to see how far he can go tomorrow and I like to see how far I can go today."
"What's the difference?" Galen had paused in his reach for the door. They now both stood outside their home in the growing darkness.
"Just that. Tomorrow or today? What's more important?"
"But Thomas doesn't think so?"
"But he's smart, you said so. Does that mean you're wrong?"
Cameron paused and looked up to the sky again. "Don't know. Never really bothered me. Why's it bugging you?"
"I wan'na be right!" Galen insisted with a stamp of his foot. "I wan'na be strong like you and smart like Thomas."
"Don't let Dad catch you talking like Willimina." Cameron chuckled quietly. "Why not be like Dad?"
"Yeah. Think of all the stuff Dad knows. He's pretty smart. He went to school to be the best he could. But he's also really strong. He always competes in festival games."
"So I should ask Dad?"
"Yeah, you probably should. I just don't know, bro."
"Don't you want to know?"
"Na! Not my thing. I'm going to be the strongest there is. Like Brian Treamond, and play on a big time Crash Ball team."
Galen laughed. "Yeah, like Brian Treamond. You going to be famous too?"
"Of course." Cameron walked passed his little brother and into the house with his head held high. A faint giggle followed him. "We're home!"
"It's a little late. Where have you been?" The boys' mother looked up from where she was leaning over a counter with a small device in her hand. Her round eyes were hidden by a pair of glasses which she peered over to eye her two sons.
"Just out." Cameron attempted to placate their mother. He was in no mood to explain the layer of dust and grass stains on his clothes.
Galen seemed to pause, chewing the inside of his cheek again. "Hey Mom?" He rushed forward and stood on tiptoe to see over the counter. "What's more important? Today or tomorrow?"
Their mother blinked with shock and stared down at her youngest son. "Today or tomorrow? Well." She paused for what seemed an eternity to the little boy. "I think I'd need both of them. I love today. It's so full of life and joy. But tomorrow? That's where all the wonder and hope is."
Galen considered this for a while. "Wonder?"
Their mother laughed. She picked up the small device she had been poring over and showed it to him. "Like this part for my washing machine. I don't know how it works; all I know is that it isn't working right now. But tomorrow, or even maybe just later this evening, I will know. And I will have fixed it. All that knowledge, all that satisfaction in learning, is part of tomorrow. That's how 'wonder' works."
"Oh. Learning. Yeah, I guess that's important." Galen tilted his head to consider further.
Their mother smiled. "But you know, Galen. You never asked how important yesterday is? Isn't that important too?"
"I wouldn't confuse him, Mom." Cameron warned from behind their mother. He had walked further into the house and retrieved a glass of water to drink. "He's focusing on today and tomorrow to see if he's more like me or Thomas."
"But neither you nor Thomas would be who you are without yesterday. You've both grown from your experiences and refer to your past for insight." Their mother pointed out. "It's true. Thomas lives in tomorrow while my men live for today." She raised her hand to ruffle Cameron's hair. "But we all need yesterday. I think that's my favorite of the three." She sighed. "I miss how little you were. When I could hold you in my arms and -."
"MOM!" Both boys exclaimed and ran from the room. Soft chuckles followed them out.
"Diner will be ready in a few minutes!"
The boys ran down the hall and skidded to a halt once safely on the other side of their bedroom door. Cameron landed heavily on his bed and rolled over to face the door, smiling contentedly. "Smells like stew." He grinned and reached for his digital pad on the bedside table. Without another word he began to tap away at the screen. A light breeze filtered in from the window and played with the sheer curtains of their room. Galen chose a spot on the floor near the window and brought with him three toys.
The first toy was a plush bear, barely bigger than the boy's hand with a ribbon around its neck. This Galen placed first to his left. The second was an action figure with large muscles with the face worn off from constant use. This he placed directly in front of him. The last was an action figure in a robe with a staff and a long beard, less played with than the first. The wizard found its place to Galen's right hand side. And there he stared at them. In the past there were the soft memories, like the ones his mother had. Now, he had most of the day to play with his strong older brother. And in the future, he could become someone truly powerful. He wanted to be powerful, he wanted to be important. The future was very important to him. But Cameron was who he was because he lived for today, so that must be the right way. Maybe he had it wrong.
This thought instantly brought more bad thoughts with it, like a cascade of dominoes. There were good memories in the past, and there were bad ones. Like how he couldn't climb trees as well as some of his friends for the longest time. He got scared and cried when he pulled himself up to the first branch until someone came to help him down. And he may be able to play with Cameron now, but that was only because they were on break from school, it wouldn't last forever. And even now, Cameron still wanted time to himself. He looked over at his older brother lying on his bed with his pad in hand. And what if he couldn't become something special when he got older? Not many people were able to leave their town when they grew up, they didn't travel or become famous. They stayed right here and got jobs in the town and had children who grew up to have jobs in the town. Why should he be any different? Abruptly Galen picked up the bear and hugged it to his chest. Yesterday he didn't have these worries on his mind.
Cameron noticed the movement from his brother and looked up from the screen. There his little brother sat with the bear in his arms staring sadly at the toys before him. "What now?" He put the pad aside and sat up to watch Galen better.
"This is hard." The small boy wined.
"Mom says that yesterday is most important to her. Today is most important to you. And tomorrow is important to m-. To Tom."
Cameron blinked. "It's not that big of a deal, bro. Don't sweat it. Besides, weren't you going to ask Dad too?"
Galen looked up as if startled. "Oh yeah! I forgot." He grinned. "Dad will know."
Cameron rolled his eyes. It was pretty easy for Galen to become obsessed with something. Their father insisted that it was a good sign that he could stay focused. Cameron only found it annoying. He wanted to move on to the next source of excitement as soon as possible. He picked up his pad again and returned to what he had been doing before the interruption. Maybe he shouldn't have brought it up in the first place. It would have been easier to just say that Thomas was wrong and that today was more important that tomorrow. But in some weird way Cameron couldn't help but respect his classmate. Even if they did spend most of their time fighting.
"Boys." A deep voice called from outside the door. "Your mother says diner is ready." Their father informed them with only the smallest of smiles.
"Hey, Dad!" Galen leapt up from the floor, tossing the bear behind him. "I have a question."
Cameron rolled his eyes and passed by his father and brother towards the dining room. Their father bent down to be closer to Galen's level. "Ask me over diner. I don't know about you but I am very hungry."
"OK!" Galen bounced on his feet and ran a few steps down the hall.
Once the family was seated and served Galen wasted no time asking his question. "So, Dad. What's most important? Today, tomorrow, or yesterday?"
The stoic man raised an eyebrow in question and stared down at the little boy. Cameron smirked and their mother simply giggled and shook her head.
"Mom says that yesterday is most important to her. It's where the memories are. It's what makes us grow. Then again, she also said we learn tomorrow. That's important. And we're happy today." Galen explained. Their father smiled slightly but allowed the boy to continue. "Cameron wants to see how far he can go today. That's what's important to him. And tomorrow there's dreams and stuff. So, what's important?"
There was a long pause as their father leaned back in his chair taking in a deep breath and releasing it through his nose. He closed his eyes and began to speak. "Growth is change over time. It requires us to use the lessons of yesterday to do everything we possibly can today in order to reach our goals of tomorrow. People who favor yesterday treasure their memories and value the lessons they have already learnt. I do not recommend such a life for a child. But for grownups, who have dreamt their dreams and seen them come true, it is truly a prize. The reward of a lifetime. People who value today are dedicated to enjoying what they have, in being grateful for everything that yesterday has given them and not concerning themselves with the weight of tomorrow. They work hard and play hard, enjoying everything as it comes to them without worry of being out of balance and going with the flow. It is an enviable way of life. Those who value the future look forward to what could be. They have vision, imagination, hope and ambition. They speak in terms of 'some day' and then find a way to make it happen. And everyone should think of their futures. Especially children." The man leaned forward again and opened his eyes to lock with his son. "But you have already decided what is most important to you. So why do you ask?"
Galen jumped slightly and began to blush. He shifted slightly in his chair and fiddled with the spoon in his hand. "What if it's wrong?"
The man at the head of the table smiled. "Then you learn. Growth and learning are more important than anything else in life. You must learn, and you must change. Some can learn from books and schools, other need to feel the bite of life. A parent's hope is that their children will favor school. But, in all honesty, either is fine. If you make a mistake, life will teach you. Never be afraid to learn."
Galen stared up at the man, chewing his cheek again in concentration. Then he grinned, beaming from ear to ear. "Some day I'm going to be someone special! And even if I'm wrong, I'm going to keep looking for a way to be special."
Cameron began to laugh at the other side of the table. "Look out, everyone. Here comes Galen! He's taking on the whole universe!"
"And I'm gon'na win!"
"'Gon'na'?" Their father growled.
"Going to." Galen repeated sheepishly.
"Yeah? Just don't leave me behind. Your old bro is still your hero, right?" Cameron grinned.
Their mother smiled and sighed softly. She looked to her husband and began to chuckle. "Looks like I'll never keep up. Just promise you'll visit your mother when she's old." She turned back to her sons.
"Oh!" Galen suddenly perked up again. "But, Dad. You never said what was most important to you."
Their father had been in the process of bringing a spoonful of food to his mouth when Galen had reminded him that he had avoided the question. He grimaced inwardly. "I think your mother will agree when I say that the question is no longer as simple now that we have children."
"Because, now we need to think about what's important to you as well." Their father gestured, taking in the entire table. "I have always worked hard to stay focused on my present. But now I also need to wonder about your futures. For you, there is a 'some day'. And it's important to take that into account."
"Well then I'm never having kids." Cameron snorted.
"Never?" Their mother exclaimed. "You would leave me without grandchildren?"
"But he's my baby!" Their mother was smiling now. Cameron was blushing heavily as she teased him. "I can't ask my baby such a thing. I need my big boy to find a nice girl and have lots of grandchildren for me."
"Wouldn't having kids be fun, though?" Galen chimed in. "You could play with them all day!"
Their father barked out a laugh at that, startling both boys. Soon the meal digressed into jokes and story telling, mostly about the two boys' baby years. At the end of the meal they cleaned up the table and wandered off to bed, yawning after a long day of playing. And Galen fell asleep dreaming of tomorrow.