Illustration by Charlene Grace Tan
It was too quiet. The kids didn’t even dare to breathe too loudly for fear of attracting their oldest brother’s attention away from his glaring match with their older sister.
An impending visit from a VIP had everyone on edge, none more so than Ban, who was expected to accompany the visitor throughout his stay. He’d been barking all day, although he would have liked to think he was taking the stress in good stride. That is, until Down had come home half-drunk a little over an hour before.
“Vel was stressing out again, so Ced took us out to loosen her up. Let up a little, man. It’s not even that late,” she slurred. “I didn’t even drink that much! I’ll be fine for tomorrow. I didn’t forget, okay?”
Then Ban snapped.
“You were supposed to help me clean the place up! Review shit for questions he might ask! Help me come up with shit to do so he doesn’t get bored out of his mind! You can’t just pull shit out of your ass last minute again. We’re trying to impress the guy, show him we’re as competent as him and his elitist buddies. How can you of all people, with your stupidly high pride, be okay with them looking at us like we’re countryside hillbillies?!”
It was his tirade that drew North’s attention away from where South was helping him with his homework. The kids traded worried glances and snuck down the hallway, carefully maneuvering past North’s and Ban’s sports equipment and Ban’s diving gear. Ban’s only chore for them had been to polish and arrange the trophies and awards, clean up all of North’s equipment, and arrange South’s bookshelves. South thought dividing the labor so she and North worked together was a little unfair. Her shelves were always in perfect order, whereas North’s stuff was always a mess.
Past the hallway, the kids had tiptoed down the staircase where they found Ban and Down locked in their argument.
“Well? What do you have to say for yourself?” Ban eventually asked.
“I’m. Going. To. Be. Fine. Tomorrow. He’s going to be stuck to you the whole time, anyway,” Down replied, crossing her arms.
“You’re going to have to contribute to the conversation at some point! The two of you,” he said, gesturing to the staircase where North and South were hiding, “can’t be silent dogs trailing behind us!”
“What about old man Sem?” North piped up in a whisper. South nudged her brother to stay silent, but Ban heard him anyway.
“Down here is going to be the one reporting to Sem. She’s the one who likes handling old men, isn’t that right?” Ban jeered.
Down directed her glare at North.
Ban exclaimed. “Kids, go back to your homework!”
Down huffed, shouldering her way past her twin brother, and the kids scrambled back up the stairs in compliance.
“And stop locking your damn door! My antiques are in your room. I need to clean them for display!” Ban shouted after Down. He didn’t know why he still stored his antiques there. She was impossible about her room, barely letting anyone in. He’d find enough space for them after reorganizing his display of award-winning inventions and science projects, he figured.
The next day, Salle arrived with his patented grumpy look and jacket slung over his shoulders. He nodded a greeting at Talamban and spared a few assessing looks towards the rest of the family. “Err…” he said, stopping in front of Down, “how about you show me around this time?”