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39 - Hi Again, Big Brother
'I'm fine,' shrieked Anjuli in frustration. 'For the millionth time, I'm fine!'
Seth shot his brother and Jubilee a worried glance, then looked back at his girlfriend, who was sitting at the back of an ambulance, sipping a very sweet soda.
'By all the signs, she is indeed ok,' said the paramedic.
'Told you,' grumbled the redhead.
'Are you sexually active?'
She blushed a furious red, and stared at the paramedic.
'Why are you asking?'
'Maybe it wouldn't hurt to take a pregnancy test.'
Seth's face turned chalky white, and he stared from his girlfriend to the paramedic, in horror.
'I am not pregnant!' said Anjuli decidedly, blushing even more. 'I am not an idiot, and neither is he,' she continued, stabbing a finger in Seth's direction, who looked like he was about to collapse. Upon seeing his face, her expression softened, and she scooted a bit to the side, making space for him to sit down.
'Now look what you've done,' she said to the paramedic, patting her boyfriend on the arm. 'Here, sweetie, have some of this,' she said to him, handing him the cup of soda. He took it and drained it in a few big gulps.
'When did you last have bloodwork done?' asked the paramedic, glancing from her to Seth, whose colour was slowly returning.
'I had the routine check-up right before school started, and everything came out fine. So my blood pressure dropped and I fainted, big deal. I'm fine now, I'm not even dizzy, can we stop this monkey-show and go mind our business now, please?'
'She does seem fine,' interjected Dominic. 'She wouldn't have this attitude if she were sick.'
The paramedic seemed torn, but after a moment gave in.
'Fine, but if you have as much as a dizzy spell within the week, you will need to see a doctor. Understood?'
'Yeah, sure,' said Anjuli. 'I'll let them bleed me, and poke me, and prod me all they want, just let me go.'
'Maybe they should keep Seth for a while,' said Dominic only loud enough for Jubilee to hear. She watched the older Sandborn's pale face, certain that all was wrong with him was caused by shock, and patted the younger's shoulder reassuringly.
'We'll get some sugar into him and he'll be fine,' she replied. 'And avoid any pregnancy talks.'
Dominic gave a small chuckle, and in spite of the situation, Jubilee felt a small smile creep on her face, which she hid as soon as Anjuli hopped out of the ambulance and joined them, followed by Seth, who was walking on shaky legs.
'You ok?' she asked.
He nodded reluctantly.
'Don't be a baby,' said Anjuli, and his face fell again.
'Maybe you shouldn't use the b-word,' suggested Dominic. 'He might faint, and we might have to stick around the paramedic.'
'Come on,' she said, linking her arm in her boyfriend's. Let's hit the food court and get you something to eat.'
Seth gave an indistinct mumble, and the small group set out for the food court.
'I really do wonder what happened to her,' said Dominic, falling into step with Jubilee and letting his brother and Anjuli take the lead.
'No idea, we were walking, and she just collapsed-'
Jubilee stopped in her tracks and looked around.
Something was missing.
He'd been there when Anjuli had fainted, she knew it for sure.
Jubilee scanned the parking lot for the black Mitsubishi. It was nowhere to be seen, and its owner was surely nowhere in the vicinity. When Anjuli had dropped down unconscious, she hadn't paid him any more attention. She was glad he was gone. Her day was going badly enough without having to look over her shoulder all the time.
She wondered why he'd followed them.
Or maybe she was just being paranoid, maybe the guy just needed a new pair of pants or something.
'What's wrong?' asked Dominic.
'Nothing, I was just-'
'You coming, guys?' called Anjuli from a few feet away. 'If Derpy here falls off his feet, I'll need some help.'
'Coming, coming,' she mumbled, and jogged to catch up with her schoolmates.
'You're not going to get all wobbly at the thought of possibly becoming an uncle, are you?' she asked Dominic.
'Me?' he asked, amused. 'No, I'll be the amazing Uncle Dom, who teaches the kids how to make stinkbombs and hack the neighbours' WiFi. But not at age 15.'
'You're 15?' Asked Jubilee, surprised.
Dominic blushed faintly.
'You don't look 15,' she said. 'So you're a freshman?'
'I'm a junior, like Seth. I skipped two years, and he skipped one, like Angie.'
Jubilee looked at the kid walking alongside her, and felt very subpar with her average achievements.
'I suddenly feel really stupid around you people,' said Jubilee.
Dominic seemed very embarrassed and said nothing more for a little while.
'Sorry,' he said in the end.
'What?' she asked, surprised. He turned a very deep shade of red. 'No, don't say that! It's just that at the age of fifteen, my greatest achievement was landing my triple lutz - and it was only happening around 70% of the time. But anyway, if your IQ is, like, 200, why didn't you skip more years? How come you're not, like, in college?'
'It's 178,' he said, looking at his feet. 'And I'm in no hurry. My future isn't going anywhere. I'll graduate in a little under two years and go to MIT, then I'll see where next. Research, probably. But the higher I go, the more complicated things get. It doesn't hurt to slow down a little bit and still be a kid. Sure, I want to get a Nobel prize and everything, but I want to enjoy my young age while it still lasts, you know what I mean?'
He shot her a timid glance, then looked at his feet again, still beet red.
Jubilee took in the huge change that his attitude was from the one she'd gotten from those who considered themselves to be the 'academic elite' back in Big Rock. She hadn't made school a priority there because of her skating. Her results had always been good - better than those of the rest of the Six Pack, even - but not extraordinary. She'd been at peace with the idea that she was doing the best she could, given the minimum of four hours she was spending daily in training. However, the honors students seemed to have taken it upon themselves to create a conflict between them and the skaters, and constantly reminded them that they would end up freezing their asses off in ice rinks, teaching little brats to skate, while they, the smart ones, would be making money off their fancy jobs. The Six Pack generally didn't respond to such comments. After all, their faces were the ones in the glass case in the hallway, smiling among medals and trophies, and they were the ones who got to bow at center ice in front of hundreds of people, and that was what was important to them.
With a pang of sadness, she realized that she no longer was certain of what was important to her, now that she had left home.
'I think you're the nicest genius I've ever met,' she said to him, shaking off the gloom.
He looked up timidly and smiled, then immediately looked back at his feet again.
'Oi,' called Anjuli from the table she and Seth had just occupied. 'Over here, guys!'
Dominic and Jubilee joined the redhead and her recovering boyfriend at the table, and the younger Sandborn shot his brother a sympathetic look.
'You had a bit of a scare there, bro,' he said. Seth nodded, and dropped his head in his hands.
'I just figured that I am not ready to be a father,' he replied.
'Don't worry,' replied Anjuli, patting his hand. 'You're in no danger of having kids any time soon. So, Marvel, you said you were meeting your brother at two?'
Jubilee checked her watch, and noticed that the dreaded moment was approaching rapidly.
'Yeah, which gives me, like, another hour with you guys.'
The feeling that came over her was very strange - like her impending doom had been penned into her agenda. The unexpected New York episode, so fresh in her memory that she couldn't close her eyes for more than a split second without finding herself back on the roof, at gunpoint, had not been preceded by hours of intense fear. Fear had indeed been there, but the known enemy had not been this close to home, like Chad was now.
Her phone buzzed, and broke her train of thought. It buzzed again, and she glanced at the screen to see that her brother was calling her.
'Hi,' she said, keeping a tremor out of her voice.
'Jubilee, can we meet sooner?'
His voice had a hint of anxiety in it, which made her wonder what he was planning.
'Sooner?' she asked. 'Why?'
An edge crept into her voice, which she noted to tone down, for the sake of appearances.
Anjuli nudged her, and made some confused hand motions, to which Jubilee responded with a shrug.
'We have a lot to talk about, and we're expected somewhere-'
'What?' she snapped. 'Where?'
'This really isn't something I can tell you over the phone,' he replied, still anxious. 'Can you come to-'
'No,' she snapped. 'No, I'm not coming anywhere. You're messing up my schedule, you drive over and pick me up.'
'Fine, where are you?'
'Georgetown Park mall. Food court. I'm here with some friends from school. You really can't miss me.'
'Couldn't you have picked a less crowded spot-'
'No. See you when you get here.'
She didn't wait for his reply before she ended the call, and shoved her phone in her pocket, scowling at the tabletop. Her hands lingered under the table, grabbing each other to keep their nervous shaking hidden from her schoolmates.
'You weren't very nice to him,' said Anjuli casually.
'He's messing up my afternoon,' she replied. 'He's the one who isn't very nice.' He held me at gunpoint, for fuck's sake!
'Come on,' said the redhead. 'I wish I had relatives who actually keep in touch while I'm at school. You're lucky, first your uncle comes to see you, then your brother, both in the same weekend.'
You don't know what you're talking about...
'Yes, I love it how they have no consideration for my homework,' replied Jubilee. 'And after last week's Chemistry episode, I'll totally flunk.'
'You won't,' said Dominic in a small voice. She looked at him, and he blushed. 'I'm in your Chem class. I'll help you out.'
Jubilee stared at the boy, feeling awe and gratitude. Up until that morning, he'd been a total stranger, and yet he was nice to her, and offering his help.
'Really?' she managed. 'Thank you so much!'
'It's fine,' he said, 'you just got off on the wrong foot with White. Just do a few things for extra credit and don't be late for his class again, and he'll soon forget. He just thinks that nobody respects him in our school, and hence his attitude.'
'Yeah, he only likes you and Derpy here,' interjected Anjuli. 'Though he can't find much of an excuse to give me anything below an A-.'
'You chew gum in his class,' replied Seth. 'That ticks him off. Stop that, and you'll be best buddies.'
'It's hard to imagine that anybody can be best buddies with White,' said the redhead. 'He's as friendly as a python.'
'Oh, come on,' said Dominic, 'Seth and I had breakfast with him on Friday...'
Jubilee tuned her three schoolmates out, giving them the occasional nod, smile, or approving mumble. She felt like someone had dropped an ice cube down the back of her shirt, and its chill was slowly spreading from her spine to the rest of her insides, making her feel trapped in a steel cage of fear, even though she was finding herself in the middle of a merry banter.
Before she knew it, footsteps approached their table, and she looked up to see her brother walking towards them. His face bore an artificial smile, the rehearsed kind he gave her teachers whenever she was in trouble, and that told her that no matter how nice he was when he fixed things for her, a less pleasant talk with her would follow. He was wearing a suit, something she'd rarely seen him wear, and which brought up the very unpleasant memory of him telling her that men in suits are the most dangerous kind that there is.
'Hey kid,' he said cheerfully, clapping her on the shoulder, as he'd done so often before. Only this time, the gesture felt alien to Jubilee, and she almost recoiled from his touch. He, however, didn't notice her discomfort, and went on to introduce himself to the small group.
'Hi guys. I'm Chad, Jubilee's big brother.'
Anjuli seemed to be the only one who was enthusiastic to meet him. She grinned widely as she shook his hand, and introduced the Sandborns, who were much more reserved in his presence.
'You two twins?' asked Chad, and Jubilee knew it was just his small talk, his strategy to create rapport with anybody he encountered. Before New York, Jubilee had thought that his ability to make friends so easily was awesome, but after that night, she was much more weary of his motives. He had to have hidden intentions. He must have had them all his life. It was part of who he was... whoever he was.
'No, they're not,' she replied, talking over the brothers' mumbles. 'What's with the suit, big brother?'
'I just got out of a meeting with a client,' he said.
'On a Sunday?' she asked, not bothering to hide how skeptical he was.
He chuckled, and almost made it seem genuine to her.
'It's been nuts, Jay,' he replied. 'I've been in talks with this guy since Friday evening. He wanted to meed up tomorrow too, but I insisted on at least trying to wrap it up today, so I can take the evening flight home. Anyhow, I'll tell you all about it in the car. You ready to go?'
She looked up at him, clearly not mirroring his enthusiasm.
'Whatever,' she said, standing up. 'I'll see you guys tonight,' she told her school mates.
They said their good byes, and Jubilee wished that one of them would pick up her distress at going away with Chad. However, a glance back at their faces confirmed to her that he'd won them over, all three of them. None of them had noticed her anxiety, nor how false Chad was. So much for that.
'So where to?' she asked coldly.
'We'll talk in the car,' he said wearily, all his cheerful demeanour suddenly gone.
She glanced over her shoulder again, and hoped that it wasn't the last time she was seeing the small group she'd left behind in the food court.