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“Jasmine! Don’t eat so much chocolate before dinner, for God’s sake.”
“It’s okaaay, I’m just warming up my stomach for later. That’s how I keep my figure so good.”
“Mom! I saw you sneaking off a basket of sweets to your room on Halloween, just so you didn’t have to share any of it with the kids. That’s way worse than munching on some chocolate before dinner.”
“Don’t pull that card on me, young lady!”
The tinkle of the main door opening put a stop to their ongoing conversation. Jered’s water-filled shoes squelched from the entrance up to the hallway, before finally waltzing within their sight. Jasmine bit back a smirk as she eyed him up and down, water dripping down from his hair. “Looking clean, bro.” she draped a leg over the other, wrinkling her nose ever so slightly.
“And muddy too…” Jane observed. “Why don’t you take your shoes off and go take a shower?”
Jered nodded, “Yeah…” he then squinted his eyes at the content in his sister’s hand. “I hope those aren’t my snickers.”
The girl in question swallowed whatever dollops of chocolate were still in her mouth, and promptly hid the murder weapon behind her back. “I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
“You snooze you lose.”
Jasmine looked undeterred. “Yes.” she sniffed arrogantly for good measure. “What are you going to do about that?”
“Well… I could, you know…” he took his shoes off and started making his way for the stairs, “Tell everyone what you use the computer at 2.59 am for. You should really learn how to f****** delete your browser history.”
Her face visibly paled. “B-B*******! I call b*******!” however, when no response was heard, she sprung up to her feet and made to chase after him, “Jered, get back here!”
“Jasmine! You stained the couch!”
“B-But mom… he… he—”
Jane stared her down so hard that the shadow of death seemingly hovered behind her. The discussion was over.
“No buts. Get back here. You’ll settle your problems with him after dinner, and after cleaning up your mess.”
Jasmine eeked and slumped her way back to the couch, “Fine…”
After a revitalizing shower, Jered flopped on his bed. He could clearly hear the mishmash of noises from downstairs, it was… odd, to say the least. A couple of months ago, it was not uncommon for their house to be mistaken for abandoned. It was the target of rumors or dare challenges among the kids in their neighborhood. The so-called House of Horrors. He chuckled at the memories. Thankfully, Halloween swept off any ghastly gossip about their little house once Jane shooed away trick-or-treating children. Those candies belonged to her, she had said.
It might have cleared up the rumors, yes, but from then on the Jacobs were even weirder to the eyes of the other families, not that they cared.
He rolled around, and after concentrating for a bit, a bright white orb spawned on the palm of his hand. It was like a swirling and glowing sphere of mist, slightly warm to the touch.
And once he stopped feeding mana to the orb, it dwindled out of existence.[Mana Orb, Lv.1][Experience: 15%]
The results of such a low-cost effort brought a giant smile on his face, and it motivated him enough to not waste time and keep studying. Jered reached for his nightstand and grabbed the still wet bag. He had bookmarked the page he was reading by folding the edge of the page upon itself.
“Page 24… Chapter 2.”
‘In my world there is no God, just humankind sitting at the top of the universe.‘
That was the subtitle, written in bold characters.
He leaned back and started reading…
“Jeeeereed! Dinner is ready honey.”
Jane’s voice whipped him up from his binge-reading. He would have asked for five more minutes if he didn’t know his mother’s temper about eating together as a family. Now that Jasmine was back for the foreseeable future, it was all the more of a moot point.
He stretched his joints, got up, and headed downstairs. The clatter of the pans and the cutlery being moved around echoed off the kitchen. He stared at the ‘corpse’ of his sister sunk in the couch, a knee upon the other as she zapped through the channels of their TV. Her hair was tidied up into a half-heartedly done ponytail, some of her blonde tresses were shooting up everywhere around her head. Even her garments bespoke clearly for her laziness; a baggy white t-shirt that reached all the way down to her waistline, and shorts.
“Haven’t you heard mom? Dinner is ready…” he said.
She twisted around and took a long whiff of the throw pillow under her chin. “Damn, I so missed the smell of home…” she then looked up at him. Something brewed in her eyes, begging to be set free but forced to stay confined. A hollow laugh parted her lips, “Oh, yes, I missed you too by the way.”
He smirked, “Oh wow, glad to know a pillow has more importance to you than your brother…”
Jasmine answered with a smirk of her own, “Well, a pillow is soft and cuddly.” she emphasized that fact by burying her face deeper into the object of question.
“And I am not?”
She cupped her chin in thought, “You’re more of a punching bag than a pillow. Soft enough not to hurt when throwing a punch, but not soft enough to hug to sleep.”
“You’re so foul-mouthed sis, I’m hurt.”
“I am not!”
Their mother’s voice thundered out, and the heat of their bickering quickly cooled down. Sharing a mirthful glance between each other, they scrambled their way to the kitchen. Dinner was a lively affair. Jane didn’t stop asking questions or making sure that the conversation didn’t die out amidst their eating. Jasmine never stopped gifting them with tales of her time at Alison’s house, and their mother made sure to hang on to her every word. Jered watched the ongoings like a detached spectator, wearing a practiced smile to not stick out of the cheerful atmosphere.
A spark of envy prickled his features. Their happiness was so genuine it made his stomach churn. He made sure to savor every bit of it though, it was one of the few things he was allowed to feel, after all.
He looked up, blinking any vestige of irregularity off his face. “Yes?”
Jane’s eyes met his, and he so wanted to pay back the love glimmering inside those orbs with something authentic. At least once, because she deserved it. “You’ve been awfully silent. Are you okay, sweetie?” Jasmine stopped eating and stared at him as well, a touch of concern dressing her expression.
“No… nothing, I was just a bit nostalgic, that’s all. I really missed days like this, you know? This house is not the same when we’re not together. Let’s all move on. At least for the sake of father. I know he wouldn’t have wanted this.” his voice was so soft—and somehow heartfelt—that it melted away all of their worries. He took a sip of water and stared back at his sister, who met his gaze with a more subdued one. “All of our bickering notwithstanding, I really missed you, sis. Things have been hard on you too, I know. So please, stay. Mom’s been eating a lot of sweets to fight off her loneliness, after all.” that earned him a playful swat on his shoulder and a chuckle. It was worth the effort, because he had never seen such a beautiful smile on Jasmine’s face before.
Jane and Jasmine moved back to the living room, where they lined up all sorts of snacks upon the coffee table. It was literally a warzone between cans of sugary drinks, and bags of chips or some other kind of unhealthy food. It was movie day, and god forbid his mother organizing these kinds of events. She’d always wrap it up with a banquet that wouldn’t have been out of place on a birthday, and his sister—so similar to their mother in her exorbitance—would follow suit and stuff her face with whatever she could get her hands on.
At least they looked happy. Jane skipped around as if she were a little girl at her first sleepover, while Jasmine was lost in a very silly conundrum; what to eat first. Chips or chocolate? Her hand darted forth to unwrap a chocolate bar, but then for some uncanny reason stopped. She changed her mind. The cocoa goodness was not her aim anymore, instead, a delectable bag of chips was beckoning her attention. Her hand whirled around and made to grab her target, yet she halted again. And now Jasmine had her lips scrunched up in deep contemplation, and when no solution was found, she looked like she was about to cry.
And amidst all of that, Jered couldn’t believe that he was spectating all of that with such solemnity.
“What do you guys propose to watch first? Horror, comedy, drama, or romance?” Jane called out as she turned the TV on, and logged in on their Netflix family account. “Umh… let’s see.” she scrolled through the slew of titles, “Should we rewatch some old classic? Hmm…”
“The emoji mo—”
“Hell no!” Jered silenced his sister with a nasty glare, which quickly deflated her. “I’m pretty open to everything, but please don’t push my buttons. I’d rather rewatch Shrek at this point.”
“Oh Shrek! Yes! Yes! He is so cool.” Jasmine mock-blushed as she sighed wistfully. “His humanized version is kinda hot too and—”
“—and we don’t care.” he rolled his eyes. “What about Pirates of the Caribbean?”
Jasmine gasped dramatically. “Well, shiver me timbers! Really? Pirates of the Caribbean? Why not Harry Potter then?” she huffed when his lips curled into a knowing smirk. “What?” she wrinkled her nose.
He sighed wistfully, “Harry is so cool. Those piercing green eyes could undress me anytime he wants, and he’s pretty good with his wand too, isn’t he?”
“Oh god, Jered! Damn! Why do you always have to go overboard? I might start thinking you have a thing for dudes.”
“And I might start thinking you have a thing for ogres that brush their teeth with swamp slugs.”
“T-That’s different…” she defended. “I was just trying to make you feel uncomfortable…”
“What a lovely coincidence, then.” Jered chuckled, his eyes alight with mirth. “And it seems I have won.”
Jane watched the banter between her kids with a raised eyebrow. “I gave birth to two oddballs.” she shook her head ruefully.
“…” there was a short awkward silence as both of her children looked at her, “Says you?” they chorused.
“This is literally the pot calling the kettle black…” Jered said. He knew he was pretty bungled up in the head, but no one in his family was the synonym of a sound mind either.
Jane at least had the decency to blush. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” she whipped her hair around and, mustering all of her authority as a mother—which was at an all-time low at that moment—she cleared her throat and said, “Shush now, we need a movie guys, a movie! What are we going to watch?”
“Ahem,” Jasmine straightened her posture, a smirk splitting her face. “I’m glad you asked because I have the solution.” at their confused looks, she popped open a bag of popcorn and nestled one between her fingers. “This is the popcorn of truth, it will pinpoint to us what we are destined to watch tonight. Ohhh salty one, with all my heart I have sought you; and uhh… do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from bad movies so that Jered won’t bug me anymore. Amen. Jasmine 6:69”
“Oh my…” their mother covered her mouth with a hand, looking positively amused by her daughter’s shenanigans.
“Of course…” Jered drawled out. “Are you actually serious?”
Jasmine wrinkled her nose at him, before pitching the salty treat in her hand towards the screen like a Pokeball. He didn’t know what she expected to happen, and neither did Jane. The kernel wound up ricochetting off one of the sliding movie playbills, and her reaction was like she had just seen the messiah smiling down at her. “Yessh! That one! That one! We found it!”
“Which one…?” Jane was too busy contemplating her life choices to track down the popcorn’s trajectory.
“That one! Flowers in the Attic!” Jasmine jumped to her feet, stole the remote from her mother, and pressed play. “Trust me guys, I know what I’m doing. This is going to be one of the best movies ever! Believe it!”
It could have been worse, Jered reminded himself.
Flowers in The Attic had a strong start. The plot revolved around the Dollangangers, a family of seemingly perfect-looking people; the sort of people Hitler would have wanted for his Aryan project. Blonde hair, blue eyes, porcelain skin. It was the kind of family you were jealous of, that one annoying well-off neighbor that always had the grass greener. Then, the death of their father snowballed everything towards a more grim… territory. Granted, Jered liked the drama that ensued in the movie, and the now-widowed mother of four was decisively an interesting character with her shady motives.
What started ticking off his alarm’s bells was when the Grandmother—the supposedly bad character in the movie—begrudgingly welcomed them in her mansion, and locked the children inside the attic for nefarious purposes, and among other things, blatantly accused the eldest siblings of incest. Of course, if you wanted to avoid such a scenario you don’t just lock two f****** beautiful teenagers inside an attic for two years and expect them not to do anything.
That was when Jasmine realized the mistake she made. However, at that point, they were already halfway through the movie. It would have been more awkward getting up and stopping the movie than finishing it as if nothing happened, hence they decided to soldier through it.
It could have been way worse, Jered reminded himself yet again. Child abuse, religion demonization, and incest was not a good way to start the evening. Not after the two fictional siblings started making out. He was pretty sure his sister had just lost any right to vote for the next movie.
The end credits started rolling up.
“Should we watch it again?” Jered grinned. “I liked that part where he used his tongue to inspect her tonsils.” it was so unappropriated to say such a thing, especially in front of his mother and sister, but he didn’t care.
“Ughh…” Jasmine tried to make herself small on her side of the couch, holding tightly onto a throw pillow. “I’m sorry?” she probed, batting her jade green eyes in a fashion that would have levelled any weak-hearted men. It was her ultimate guilt-inducing move. He didn’t want to admit it, but in an ironic slap of fate, they were all more or less similar to the Dollangangers in the movie. He wondered if they thought the same.
“It’s okay, it wasn’t bad.” Jane smiled down at her, running her fingers through her daughter’s silky blonde hair. “I mean yeaaah, they should have avoided such controversial topics, but… it was refreshing. It was legit not bad.”
He silently agreed. “As much as I don’t want to take your side because watching you suffer is entertaining…” he almost laughed when her eyes screamed ‘betrayal’, “I’m with mom on this one. It’s not for narrow-minded people. And it was refreshing, to a lesser extent. Well, now that the review is over, I propose to call off Jasmine’s veto for movies until her birthday.”
Jane nodded seriously, “The motion has been approved.”
“I object!” Jasmine called out.
“Objection rejected.” Jered stole the remote from her.
She crossed her arms and wrinkled her nose in defiance.
And thus, the movie night went on until the wee hours of the morning. Jered didn’t sleep much though. Armed with a tome in his hand—and a glowing orb in the other—he thumbed through the pages at a fast pace, devouring all of the knowledge like a thirsty wayfarer in the middle of the desert. And when the sun peeked above the skyline, he realized one thing. That it wasn’t enough. He needed more.
Synopsis: The online game <