Category : Books-Fiction
Sub Category : Fantasy
"I put tulips under all the pillows, then I set fire to the house."
Silence fell over the group for a minute.
Finally, Artemis cleared his throat. "...but why?"
"Why not?" Tripp shrugged, confidently sweeping his blond hair back. "My dude has to win."
"By burning down the house?" Nicole looked up dubiously. "I don't think that's a good way to win."
"This game is dumb," Analise huffed, crossing her arms.
"It only is 'cause Tripp made it dumb - take it back, Tripp."
"No! I win. I'm the best at role-play games." Tripp smirked, brushing imaginary dust off his shoulder.
Artemis sighed, sitting up. "Maybe we should just do something else, if Tripp's...winning the game."
"'There you go, making up lies again.'" Tripp widened his eyes at them all seriously. "That's what you told me, remember? I said that you guys can't beat me, and that's what Nicole said to me. Well, look who won."
"This isn't a game about winning, it's about being dorks and making up like...a story," Nicole argued.
"Arty, tell your sister I'm right."
Artemis' expression went blank, and he fell back, choosing his words carefully. "Um...well...I guess there are...some ways to win...?"
"Wow. I'm so convinced by that." Nicole rolled her eyes. "Great job, Artemis."
"Is the game really over?" Analise piped up, her voice taking on a whiney tone. "My character was the best one."
"Your character was a woman with twelve fingers."
"So! It made her unique - like me." Analise started playing with her hair, which was curled today, falling over her shoulders in mahogany-colored waves. "She was the prettiest in the group, too, like I-"
"Don't you dare finish that sentence." Nicole glared at her.
Artemis winced; Analise had been saying barbed comments like that a lot recently, which had been causing problems in their group recently.
If they cared about his opinion, he would have told them that they were both pretty in their own ways. Analise had darker skin the color of cocoa, with lighter honey eyes and a small, round nose. She was thin and curvy, and always wore nice things that her parents got her.
Nicole had darker hair that ended at her jawline, and hazel colored eyes that always sparked with mischief, and she had a boyish look about her, always wearing T-shirts with shorts or skirts that ended a little over halfway down her thighs, and her ratty tennis shoes were an addition to every outfit. She wasn't as thin as Analise was, and she was shorter and flat-chested.
Which is why, last week, she'd been so out of her element in a dress. It had been Analise's birthday party, and their friend had urged them all to dress nice.
Nicole and Analise had always been best friends, so she hadn't complained when it came to wearing a dress to her friend's party. In fact, she'd been excited to try something so different.
It had been the tear in her dress that caused the problems.
It hadn't been noticable at first - just a rip near the bottom of the dress' skirt. But it had gotten larger over the course of the night, and Nicole had noticed it because Analise had loudly pointed it out.
"Ohh, so this is why you don't wear dresses," she'd laughed. "It looks so bad, it's tearing right off!"
Needless to say, Nicole hadn't appreciated that, and Analise hadn't appreciated being accused of being insensitive and rude.
Things had been rocky since then, but Artemis hoped it'd pass with time. He knew it would; the four of them had been friends since they were all in grade school, and Analise and Nicole had been friends for far longer, from what Artemis knew. A small disagreement like this couldn't come between them, no matter how much more dramatic each one made it.
"Nicky, you know it's true..." Analise pursed her lips with a dramatically sympathetic look.
"Uh, no, nobody does." Nicole crossed her arms. "Right, guys?"
She glanced at Tripp and Artemis, looked satisfied as Tripp nodded, then continued before Artemis could contribute. "Besides, Analise, I really don't like that you keep saying things like that about me."
Analise gasped. "You don't like me??"
"No, I don't like how much of a snot you've been," Nicole corrected angrily. "We're going to high school next year and you're already such a b-"
"Hey, wow, I didn't realize what time it was," Artemis interrupted sharply, putting a hand on Nicole's arm. "Wow, guys, it's snack time."
"Smart idea, Arty." Tripp smiled at him, pushing himself up.
Analise huffed and stood up. "Fine. I want to pick first, though."
The rest of the kids stood up and followed. Artemis gestured for Tripp to go ahead, then turned to his sister worriedly, hanging back so he could talk to her.
"Don't even ask," she said before he could speak, holding up a hand with a sigh. "I'm fine. She just makes me mad, y'know?"
He opened his mouth to say something comforting, but she continued before he could. "Well, you don't know, because you never get mad and you think Analise is great, but...never mind, you wouldn't understand anyway."
"I understand more than you think," he tried, taking her arm gently. "I'm here for you, you know that, right?"
Her only response was a laugh, as if he'd just made a joke. "Yeah, right. Thanks, Artemis, but I'll just talk to Taylor about it later."
He blinked, certain that he hadn't made a joke. But she hurried ahead without him, not letting him press the issue or say anything in his defense.
He paused, left alone in the living room of his home. He hadn't been joking, had he? Why did she always act like he was a mindless...fish?
It's fine. She doesn't mean anything by it.
He went to go follow her but paused. He could smell his mother before he saw her; she always smelled like fresh mint and basil; the smells of her garden in the front lawn.
"Hi, Arty," she greeted cheerfully, ruffling his hair as she entered the room. She had a shorter stature, and with his tall build, he was slowly reaching her height - he reached up to just under her chin, now. She always joked that she would take it up with God if he ever finally got taller than her.
"You'll always be my little boy," she would tell him earnestly, kissing him on the head. "No matter how freakishly tall you get."
He was already taller than Nicole, despite being her age. Most of his other family members were shorter; he was the odd one out.
That was true about a lot of things for him, though.
"Hi, Mom." He smiled softly at her, pulling her into a hug. "You look nice today."
And she did; a long, soft-looking deep brown skirt swirled around her ankles, her feet bare (no one was allowed wear shoes in the house), and she had an autumn-y orange colored blouse on, with short, frilled sleeves ending a few inches down her upper arm. Her long brown hair was tied back into a loose pony-tail, and she wore a light amount of makeup on her round face.
"Aw, don't lie to me," she laughed, kissing his cheek. "What are you doing out here by yourself? Aren't you and Nicole spending time with your friends?"
"Yeah - we just got up for snacks," he assured her. "They're in the kitchen."
As if on que, Nicole gave a loud shout from the next room. "Ew, Taylor!!"
"Uh oh," Artemis mused.
"That doesn't sound good," his mother agreed.
They hurried through a large doorway together to enter the kitchen, trying to see what was the matter.
Past a small wooden table, Artemis' sister and their friends were gathered around the counter by their small microwave. There was a horrible smell emanating from it, and Artemis could see the goopy remains of something coating its inside walls.
"Taylor exploded something in here and never cleaned it up," Nicole gagged, looking at her mother. "That is so gross."
"It's disgusting," Analise agreed, scrunching up her face. "You gotta make him clean it up, Mrs. Fitzgerald!"
Artemis and Nicole's mother frowned. "Oh, dear...uh...well I'll certainly tell him to clean it when he gets home..."
"Mom, it's going to stink up the entire house by the time he gets back," Nicole groaned.
She shrugged apologetically. "Why don't you kids get something non-microwavable to eat for now, okay? And Nicole, Artemis - don't fill up on snacks, okay? I'm going to start making dinner soon."
"Alright, Mom." Artemis watched her leave the room, then turned to the others. "What do you think that even is?"
"Monkey brains." Tripp grinned, while Analise shuddered, giving him a disgusted look.
"I think it's monkey brains and cow poo." Nicole slammed the door to the device shut. "I think we should dump it out all over my brother's pillow, too."
"Me??" Artemis tried not to look too distressed.
"No, dummy - Taylor's."
"Oh - right."
Tripp opened the pantry and pulled out a container of oreos. With a triumphant hoot, he jumped up onto the counter and sat down, taking a few out.
"Uh, Tripp?" Artemis frowned. "Those are for-"
"Arty, relax," his friend interrupted. "Truth or dare?"
Artemis paused. "...what?"
"Truth or dare, Arty?"
"Oh- no, not this game..."
"Dare!" Analise grinned widely.
"Go touch the monkey brains."
Analise gasped. "No!"
"Do it! Or else you gotta take off a piece of clothing!"
"What are you, five??" She scowled at him.
"What are you, chicken??" He grinned right back at her, a grin that only widened at her outraged gasp.
"I'll show you!" She marched right over to the microwave and tugged it open.
"Analise-!" Nicole let out a squeak, slapping her hands over her mouth.
Everyone watched with anticipation as Analise stared at the hoop for a moment, swallowing nervously.
"Chicken," Tripp hissed. "Chicken, chicken, chicken, bawk bawk bawk..."
She stuck her tongue out at him.
Then, with a final, defiant look, she stuck her finger into the stinking heap of food.