By Anonymous, Barr., RI
2+2=1I giggle, the sound muffled under Colby’s shirt; he’s on top of me, and his shirt (Lakers, of course) is stuffed into my mouth. I spit fruitlessly, using my last ounces of strength to try rolling over; that might dislodge Colby once and for all. He stubbornly clings on, tickling me so that another giggles slips out. I lift up my arms and tickle his armpits, and he squeals in an unlike-him-way, surrendering simultaneously. I heave myself up, gingerly feeling my pouring-with-sweat cheeks, and my ruffled hair. Grady and Braelyn are also in an intent wrestle, Braelyn pinning down her cousin but he knocks her arms down, and she tumbles outright on top of him, and Colby and I share a glance, stifling another outburst of laughter. Grady’s face is red and he’s puffing with determination. Braelyn’s stubbornly spitting a curly brown hair out of her mouth, panting with frustration and hotness. Colby and Braelyn and Grady are my cousins. I have lots more: Tim, Melanie, Julianna, Nolan, Matthew, Ryan, and Spencer. Abby is my fifteen-year-old sister. I’m closest to Colby; he’s ten and I’m nine so we get along well. Braelyn and Spence and Grady are all six or seven, and Mel’s, like, seventeen. Tim is Abby’s age, with Juju (Julianna) not far behind at the age of thirteen. Matt and Ryan are eleven-year-old twins, and Nolan’s two. We’re a pretty wild and close bunch. Anyway, Grady finally shoves Braelyn off and stuffs a blanket in her face. This is pretty cruel, since we’re all sweating and panting. We (and, frankly, the whole house) hear Braelyn’s scream of outrage and spitting cotton out of her mouth, launches herself at a squeaking Grady, who covers his head and collapses under Braelyn, who cackles with laughter and slaps Grady’s butt, which is the only part of him that isn’t under the sweaty blanket. I remove the blanket from Grady, and shoot Braelyn a reproachful glance. She glares defiantly back, folding her arms across her chest. While she’s distracted Grady screeches a true battle cry and slams into her, wrapping her like a mummy in every part he can reach. “Ahhhh!” Braelyn whines, shifting uncomfortably in the blanket. “Grady, you’ve defeated the Braelyn Butt! The Wrestling War between Grady Grump and Braelyn Butt has been won—by Grady Patrick Livingston!” crows Colby in excitement, slapping his younger brother triumphantly. Grady’s eyes widen with happiness. “Yay!” he screeches, and Colby (with a big grunt) hefts him onto his shoulders and marches around the room, while I unravel the “Braelyn Butt”. She only agreed to play Wrestling War with Grady and Colby and I when we said she could be a dog. This meant disruptive barks and growls of war were commonly heard, and she was secretly dubbed “The Braelyn Butt” by Colby and Grady. We all try to think of horrible Wrestling War names for each other, but Braelyn is unaware of this knowledge, because she’d probably quit if she knew her nickname. I’m “The Cranky Caroline”, Grady is “The Grady Grump”, and Colby is “The Colby Crab. But Braelyn’s is the worst; she has a tendency to annoy some of us cousins. But we all love her. Mummy-Braelyn escapes, emitting a bark of triumph and crawling on all fours towards Colby and Grady, grabbing Colby’s shorts in her teeth and viciously pulling. “Ahhhhh! BRAELYN!” shouts Colby, losing his grip on Grady, who falls to the floor. “Ow!” he screeches, rubbing his butt. It’s suddenly a scene of mayhem; Braelyn and Colby in a tussle over his shorts, me screaming to the high heavens for everyone to shut up and get off each other, Grady still wailing about his butt, and Spencer kicking the door open with a “Hello, mates!”And quickly leaves as he sees the ugly scene. I try to drag Braelyn off Colby, but she stands her ground. To my surprise, she abruptly lets go of Colby and with a little “Oh!” sinks onto the ground, blood trickling from her mouth. I open my mouth, about to panic, when Braelyn grins, and holds up a pearly white tooth, laced with blood. I suddenly notice the little gap in her teeth, and gasp. Nana (since this is her and Pop-pop’s house) rushes in due to all the shrieks and shouts and Braelyn squeals excitedly, “I lost a tooth, Nana, I really did!” Nana gazes at the blood steadily dripping from Braelyn’s mouth and tooth, and ushers her into the bathroom. Grady smirks at Colby, who was staring disgustedly at his shorts, which were bloody and teeth-marked. I notice that his butt-complaints have mysteriously ebbed away. Colby glares at his little brother and grabs the pillow out from under him, so Grady falls down, his elbow splashing into the blood on the ground. “Auggh!” I shriek as blood splatters on my hand and nose. Colby’s victorious expression is distinguished as blood showers him, too. But Grady whimpers and my eyes swivel back to him. His elbow is covered in blood, and I give a ragged gasp and fall against the bed. Grady dashes out, irately yelling gibberish to the whole house. I meet Colby’s gaze, light brown into light blue. Something twinkles in the light blue, and something in my eyes twinkle back, and then we start laughing hysterically. I don’t care that boys don’t usually do this, but this calls for a hug. I launch myself at him, skidding in the tiny splotch of blood, and throw my arms around him. In his laughter he does too, and we giggle until our clothes are a mixture of blood and laughter-tears. We go and change after Braelyn’s out of the bathroom, and we hear her loudly telling her story. “So I grabbed Colby’s shorts in my teeth--” “you what?”interrupted Aunt Kelly, her mother. “I—um, accidently bit Colby’s pillow he was holding and it came out!” “Different story she’s got there,” I murmur to my cousin, wiping blood off my nose. Colby nodded indignantly. “Wow, you’re rocking the shorts!” I marvel, gesturing to his shorts, which have Athletics printed on the sides in white, a perfect finishing touch to the black background. Colby smiles at me, his dimples appearing in his cheeks. Braelyn bursts into the bathroom, her brown curls flying and her ice-blue eyes wide, as usual. “I was looking for you everywhere and you were in here, staring at each other like a bunch of googoo heads?” she demands, adding a frustrated bark for good measure. Colby’s face reddens and he pushes past her. I smile at her, and she barks back, shaking her butt like an imaginary tail is there. She and I find Colby and Grady stuffing their faces with Nana’s famous chocolate-chip cookies. Typical boys. When Grady sees Braelyn, they slip off together, leaving Colby and I alone to chat. The twins and Spencer are loudly planning hiding spots for when we play hide-and-seek later, and Juju, Abby, and Tim are listening to Tim’s iPod and making a music video. Nolan is waddling around making everyone laugh. The many adults are chatting. “So, I heard Kobe Bryant is--” I begin, trying to stir up a heated conversation about Colby’s favorite Lakers player. But my voice is drowned out by everyone else. “—maybe the basement is a good spot!” “No, don’t be stupid, Spence, we’re not allowed down there and--” “—should we do a Taylor Swift song? How about Katy Perry? No? Lady Gaga? Well, what about--” “—did you read the newspaper, Kim, I heard that--” My ears buzz with Abby, Tim, and Juju’s, Matt, Ryan, and Spencer, and the adults’ conversations, and I tug Colby towards the door, planning to sit on the porch instead when we find two kids already sitting there: one with long, curly brown hair and the other with golden-brown. Braelyn and Grady! I signal to Colby to be quiet, and we eavesdrop easily. “I’m going to play a trick on Caroline and Colby,” Braelyn tells him in a low voice. “I’m gonna tell them to go look for Spencer because I can’t find him anywhere, and then I’m gonna lock them in the room until they agree to play dogs with me!” I gasp, insulted that Braelyn thinks she can do such a thing and get away with it. Grady giggles. “Yeah! I’m going to help!” Colby’s face morphs into an incense scowl. “Colby--” I begin but he ignores me and barges out onto the porch. “And how do you think you’d fool us with that stupid trick?” he growls. Grady flinches and Braelyn squeals. Colby chases Grady into the backyard. Braelyn just smiles at me. I glare back, hoping I look foreboding. “If you ever try to play a trick like that on me again, you’re going to get in big trouble,” I hiss. Her smile immediately falters. “Okay,” she whispers. Colby and Grady pelt around the house. Colby’s hot on his little brother’s heels. “It was all Braelyn’s idea!” screeches Grady. “If I didn’t go along she said she’d hurt me!” “Liar!” Braelyn screams. “I didn’t say anything like that!” “Let’s play hide-and-seek,” I interrupt. Braelyn and Grady stop their bickering and look at me. “Okay. Who’ll be it?” Grady says. “You,” I reply, and then me and Colby and Braelyn scatter. Braelyn creeps into an old dog house while Colby grabs my hand (I blush but hold on) and leads me into the woods, steadying me as I stumble in my old flip-flops. We end up in a thick tangle of brambles. I duck under, clutching Colby’s sweaty hand tightly. Soon we hear the traditional cry of “Ready or not, here I come!” and trampling footsteps. I hear a loud bang, and scream quietly and throw my arms around Colby, thinking it’s a thunderstorm. I see his face grow red, and then he whispers, “Don’t worry. Grady just found Braelyn and pushed the dog house over for revenge since Braelyn bit my shorts.” I embarrassedly let go of him, and he smiles at me, his dimples appearing again. It’s strange how constantly bickering brothers like Colby and Grady would do anything for each other. Thudding footsteps were straying closer to our bramble sanctuary—far too close. I slip through what Colby calls “the emergency exit” and slither to a large oak. Colby follows. We hear Braelyn insisting loudly. “They went into the woods and if you don’t keep looking, you’re a bonehead,” she snaps, punctuating with a bark and using her favorite “swearword” since she started loving dogs, which was like, when she was born. I pull a dirty Colby (I’m just as dirty, especially my face and feet and clothes, which are old anyway) up beside me, and as we turn to slip behind another tree, my shoe gets caught in a branch. Brutally caught. Colby urges me on, and I longingly glance at my shoe but disappear behind the new birch tree that serves as cover. I suddenly get an idea and start to climb up the birch, grabbing one white branch after another until I reach the cozy nook where me and Colby host our club meetings. It’s not very high. See, we belong to the mythical world of NinjaClan, (merged from my interest in Erin Hunter’s Warrior series) where I become redhead, blue-eyed, freckled Ginny Weasley from Harry Potter (my favorite series) and own New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Florida. Colby becomes Kobe Bryan, and owns California, Chicago, and Massachusetts. We also belong to the Sock Club, where our enemies are pelted with socks and we listen to my MP3 player. Our NinjaClan signing page is resting where we left it, cradled with its clipboard. Our Sock Club entertainment lies neat. And Grady and Braelyn are approaching, closer to our birch tree than I ever imagined they would. Grady scornfully spots our sign nailed to the tree, and screeches when he finds my shoe. I will him not to touch it, and then I realize it’s so tightly wound that he can’t even get within two feet of it. Colby smiles at me, and points to the two vines nestled in the tree. My eyes widen—in excitement. We both grab one, and each other’s hands, and give out battle cries as we swing right over Braelyn and Grady’s heads. “Found you!” Grady sneers. “You have to catch us first!” I taunt, gliding blissfully to the giant oak. I know this is the closest I’ll ever get to flying, and it’s more amazing than I ever predicted. I land on the oak, teetering dangerously close to the edge, but Colby grabs me by my waist. I usually would never have tried this, but the vines were sturdy and sure to get you to the oak, and the nooks we are in are quite low to the ground, but not so much that I would jump. Grady howls with rage, and Braelyn glares up at us. I murmur to Colby that I’m uncertain of what to do next, but Colby beckons me to climb stealthily down the tree, and I oblige. He slides down after me, and we creep silently into the bushes. I snort quietly. Colby slaps a sweaty hand onto my mouth. I indignantly try to shove it away, and it slips in the sweat, but he clamps it firmly on again as we both come to the top of a tiny hill and take a step. I’m suddenly falling, falling, into nothingness, not even aware of Colby’s arm squeezing my waist. I thump to the bottom with Colby’s arm still clutching my waist tightly. I scream; my butt is sore and I smacked my eye on something hard. I throw myself onto Colby, sobbing and stroking my eye. He hugs me back, tactful enough to know this isn’t the time to act boyishly annoying and refuse to hug me. The drop is about four to five feet; we hadn’t anything but sore butts and a black eye (me). It was too slippery to climb up, and I continue to sob into Colby’s shoulder, though he was soothingly patting my back and suddenly I hear familiar voices; I lift my head up, my face a mess: puffy eyes, wild hair, grubby dirt everywhere on me, and blood dripping steadily from a scratch on my nose. “Grady, I wanna go back to Nana’s!” whines a familiar voice. “Soon; stop whining!” snaps the other; I hear a loud “Ow!” and a laugh. So, if you don’t get the scene going on above me, it was: Braelyn whines that she wants to go back to Nana’s and Grady snaps at her to stop whining; they’d go back soon; to express his annoyance he pulls one of her curls and laughs. I smile in relief, thinking that we’ve finally rescuers. “Well, I’m going home!” I could almost see Braelyn; curls flying, head held high, icy blue eyes etched with boredom, clenched fists, stomping away. But then it hit me. They were walking straight toward the hole. They would fall down too! “No!” I howl, but then two sandaled feet appear at the top of the hole, followed by a sundress, brown curls positively twitching with boredom, and a familiar face with icy blue eyes, which, I could tell, had been blazing with anger but was now blank with fear. “Braelyn?” I could faintly hear Grady calling worriedly. “Braelyn, where are you?” I knew there was nothing we could do to soften her fall except move away or try to catch her. Colby and I make an effort to catch her, and for a moment I thought she’d be okay, but we only half-caught her feet, which are thrashing wildly and kick his nose by accident, causing a spurt of blood trickling from his nose, and then a whole wave of scarlet blood pours. Braelyn crashes to the ground. Her curls cover her face, and she is silent. I lean over her in panic, worried she is hurt or worse...........And then she sits up, and says, “My butt hurts,” as if that was our worst problem with a bloody nose (which we could do nothing except watch and move away) and a black eye, which was swelling rapidly and throbbing painfully. And suddenly a green-black flash appears at the mouth of the hole, gaining speed rapidly as we had, and we all instinctively back away. I realize as I see a tinge of gold-brown that it’s Grady—I can vaguely make out his terrified features. The Grady-blur spins towards us like a tornado, taking much of the earth with him; we get splattered with dirt. He finally reaches the bottom. “My butt hurts!” he moans. I roll my eye—it would cause me too much pain to roll them both. “Join the club,” I say drily. I glance at him a second time and take in his look; his golden-brown hair is streaked with dirt, so that the gold is extinguished; his eyes are wide with fear, his clothes are coated with dirt, and I suddenly look up. I’m right—a pair of green shorts is caught on one of the upmost roots, and Grady is wearing SpongeBob Squarepants underwear, shivering although I’m sweating. “Why would you be such a doofus to follow Braelyn when she suddenly disappeared in the ground?” inquires Colby, his mouth smeared in blood but twitching with amusement at the loss of shorts. Grady glares at him before answering. “I was going to stop on the edge to investigate but my sneaker skidded and fell off and I fell down!” “Your sneaker’s not the only thing missing!” Braelyn snickers. Colby laughs. Grady looks highly affronted that someone who has just been planning with him should be so rude, and Braelyn parts a piece of hair to reveal a giant lump. “That’s only half my revenge for knocking the dog house over!” she hisses, her icy blue eyes flashing in the dim light. “You’re lucky I didn’t tell Nana!” Grady snorts with laughter, and even Colby rolls his eyes at Braelyn’s obsessive threat to be a tattle-tale. Braelyn’s eyes narrow until they’re nothing more than glittering icy slits. “You’d better watch where you step!” she says menacingly. “And not just literally!” “Hypocrite!” I retort, losing patience with her stupid threats. Three heads swivel to stare at me; curly brown, golden-brown, and dark brown. I feel my face redden. “What’s a hipocritt?” Braelyn implies. “A person who tells someone off for doing something when they do it themselves,” I reply. Now Braelyn reddens, and all signs of the threatening tough girl are gone. Colby and Grady throw out jibes at Braelyn, who regains some of her own defiance and growls fiercely. “Whose side are you on?” I ask the boys. One minute they’re throwing witty retorts at each other with Braelyn on one of their sides, and the next they’re teasing her, poking fun at her gap and hypocritical comments. “Everyone’s,” Colby replies simply. Braelyn immediately objects. “Well, you’re not on my side anymore if you keep going on other people’s side!” “That’s your problem. You won’t have a backup!” Colby sneers. Braelyn flips her curly brown hair superiorly. “I don’t need a backup!” “Yeah, right!” Braelyn gives an angry bark in reply. Grady glares at her crossly. “Will you shut up with the barking?” Braelyn barks just to show him he can’t boss her around. Grady kicks her shin. She scratches his leg with disgustingly long fingernails. “Ow!” howls Grady, clutching his leg as blood trickles down his leg and kicking her agan, this time in the arm. Harder. She whines loudly. “This time I am going to tell Nana!” “Before you go tattling to Nana we have to get out of here,” I point out drily. Braelyn pulls one of her classic pouts and slumps against the dirt wall hopelessly. Grady rolls his eyes and starts tracing in the dirt. Colby, with nothing else to do, tramples his brother’s design and cuffs Grady on the head. “Lame, dude, lame!” he snaps short-temperedly. “Yeah, well, have you thought of anything better to do?” Grady continues his drawings. “Well, that is pointless if we’re going to try to think of a way to escape.” I hate putting my cousin down, but this time I have to agree with Colby. Grady’s missing shorts are brought up again by Braelyn and Colby, who both have bones to pick with Grady and want to get back on him. “At least we have pants on!” Braelyn snickers. “Shut up!” Grady’s eyes are brighter than usual, and his face is bright red. “Guys, really, just shut up!” I agree. Colby knows he’s crossed the line, and starts mumbling apologies to Grady. Braelyn barges on, though, spewing out insults left and right; she hasn’t anything else to do. “Caption Grady SpongeBob Nopants!” she cackles. “Really, Braelyn, that’s enough!” I tell her. Braelyn barks snottily, but shuts up for about five minutes, and then she titters and whines about being too hot and too dirty and bored and wanting to go home. “Don’t we all,” I mutter, tired of her complaints, tired of doing nothing, tired of this stupid hole. Grady is still sobbing, although I don’t think it’s only because of Colby and Braelyn’s teasing. Colby is comforting his younger brother, awkwardly patting his back and trying to state positive things to the whole hopeless hole. A light bulb appears in my head, a dull shining light that begins a clever idea. “Okay, I think I have an idea,” I say quietly. “What?” Colby’s normally expression-full blue eyes are dull, and Grady looks just as defeated. Braelyn’s expression is unreadable, no knowing of what lies beyond the usual bored pout. I begin. “Well, I thought that maybe we can make footholds, you know? Like clearing out some space in the wall for your feet and hands? And then we can climb out!” Colby’s dullness begins to glow. “You’re brilliant, Caroline, just brilliant!” Braelyn’s pout turns even sourer than before. “You mean I have to get even dirtier? Count me out!” “Then you can stay here,” I reply. She scowls but agrees to the idea. Grady’s round face turns hopeful. “And I can get my pants back?” “Of course,” I tell him warmly, ignoring Braelyn, who is twisting a piece of hair amusedly. Colby knows better, and only laughs quietly in my ear once, his warm breath tickling me. Grady and Colby and I start making the footholds (Braelyn swore if she had to do anymore dirt-touching that didn’t involve escaping from the dreadful hole, she would stay) and Braelyn flopped against the wall. I tentatively place my foot on the first hold, and then start the next one, Colby at my side. Grady watches from the bottom nervously. We start on the third. Another step. The fourth. Another step. Braelyn twiddles with her dress idly. “Will you hurry up already?” “If you were helping we’d all get out faster!” Colby snips at her. Silence sweeps over the stuffy hole. We’re starting on our fifth. And then sixth. We’re one step away. Colby exultantly reaches the top. “I made it!” I’m about to whoop, and then the foothold crumbles. Before I can even scream, Colby’s grasped both of my hands. “Oh………………” My expression says it all. The dimples appear. “Did you think I’d let you fall?” “Never,” I answer. He pulls me up. I scrabble into fresh air. I pluck Grady’s shorts from the root, and soon Grady and Braelyn are with us. I survey us all. Braelyn’s dress is streaked with dirt, and so are her hair, face, arms, and legs. Grady’s not much better. Colby’s nose is covered in dry blood, and he looks like a mud-cake. My own face is smudged with dirt, and my old clothes are muddy and disgusting. “Nothing a little OxiClean can’t fix,” I joke. Braelyn wails loudly. “This was my favorite sundress!” “We’ve more important matters, in case you hadn’t noticed,” Colby says coldly. Braelyn whines and barks and yowls until Grady ties her hands behind her back with his shoelaces, (and although this was quite disgusting, it was necessary) yanks off his sock and stuffs it in her mouth. High-pitched nonsense is the only thing that can be heard, and we can actually talk now. “Maybe we should go get my flip-flop now,” I say, indicating my bare left foot. “We’ll get a little more dirty, but--” At this Braelyn splutters and spits until the sock flies out—right into the hole again. Grady screams furiously, but Braelyn ignores him. “I have already touched dirt, sat in dirt, fell in dirt, and got dirty.” Her face is intent, eyes narrowed, lips pursed, and her voice is low and raspy, the stage that’s past loud whining and crying, the ultra-quiet voice she uses that means if she doesn’t get her way, a tantrum bigger than a tornado is on the way. Grady’s consistent shrieks about his sock are only faintly registering. “I am not, not, not, not, not, not, not, not, not, going to do anything else.” Her voice is steady and raspy still, but I can detect the faintest of quavering in her voice. I look at her, her half-grown teeth and long, messy, curly brown hair, eyes so icy blue that they can make all the warmth of summer drained from you. Dirt is defiantly clinging to her face, and blood is faintly stirring from an old cut on her nose. “Braelyn, this is what we’re going to do.” The curly brown-haired girl in front of me is vibrating like an erupting tornado. The contempt in her icy chips for eyes turn to a wild anger, her hair in a wild pouf, and her fists clenched. “I WANNA GO HOME!” she screams. “NOW! NOW, NOW, NOW, NOW, NOWWWWWWWWWWWWW! I WON’T STAY HERE, I WON’T! I’M GOING TO NANA! I’M GOING HOME! NOT GOING IN THE STREAM, NOT, NOT, NOT! CAROLINE’S BOSSY, GRADY’S ANNOYING, COLBY’S MEAN!” I feel so offended by her words that I nearly fall back into the hole again. Grady is frozen. Colby’s eyes are wide with hurt. My eyes are sparkling with angry tears. “Braelyn,” I say shakily. “Shut up. Now.” The screaming abruptly stops. “Why?” Braelyn has stopped thrashing and banging her fists and kicking and has sat up, looking at me with an expression of queer interest. “Why should I?” “Because you sound like a lunatic,” I reply honestly. Her eyes are positively bulging. At first I think that she’s going to throw a fit again. But she just sticks her tongue out at me. We troop along a narrow stream, a quicker route to get to my shoe. The bank is muddy and slippery. My flip-flop flies off into the murky water. “No!” I cry. I tug a stick from under a tree and try to fish my shoe out. The bank curves into an arc, and I fall in. The stream leads into a much deeper section, and I thrash and scream wildly, grabbing my shoe. I try to tread water, coughing and sneezing. Colby tries to reach out his hand to me, but the current is carrying me steadily towards the deeper section. A sickening screech is followed by a gigantic splash, and a curly brown head is bobbing above the surface, with no idea which swimming technique to use. I try to reach Braelyn but the current is stronger, and soon I’m underwater again. I surface quickly, and Braelyn does too. “Lie on your back and keep your stomach up!” I scream desperately. She follows my orders, and almost has it. I prop her stomach up and then I sink under again. By the time I surface I’m coughing and spluttering and sneezing. I lie on my own back, and my head bangs into something hard. I’m so tired and wet; I can barely keep my head above water. Suddenly, with a loud splash, Colby is beside me and pulling me to shore. I cough up lots of water, and then everything’s black.