“I bet I can go higher than you, grandpa!” Loxley smirked, flinging his legs forward and leaning back on the swing. His granddad chuckled.
“I’m sure you can, Lox. Your young back is probably much more suited to swinging than mine.”
Loxley poked his tongue out on his way back down in lieu of a reply. His granddad chuckled again and began to swing gently, picking up speed and height bit by bit.
“I like having you here,” Loxley declared, voice loud and echoing through the park otherwise empty but for the family. “Mum and dad should go on holiday more often.”
Sam snorted. The swing creaked as he reached a higher height than before. “Your mum always said the same thing to us, funnily enough…”
While Loxley played on the swing-set with their grandfather, the rest of the family made the most of the excursion to the playground. Faye galloped on her pink steed, chasing down bandits, or racing other horses (the imagined scenario changed every couple of minutes).
Summer, Skye and Liam, meanwhile, played in the treehouse inventing potions and making mudpies for the upcoming war with pirates. They had to defend their ship from those dodgy characters, after all, though Summer (ever the imaginative one) began to pretend that she was being wooed by a particularly charming pirate, who was going to change sides to help them after falling in love with her, giving them secrets and advice that would give them advantages in the next bout with the evil pirates.
“The pirates are coming back! Skye, get on the mudpie canons. Summer, ready the potions. We go to war tonight!”
Muffled war cries came from inside the treehouse.
“Yeah, I’m talking to you, Red.”
“My name’s not Red,” he scowled, pushing his bottom lip out.
“What is it then?”
“Kane,” he shrugged.
“Fine. Get on the other end, Kane. My siblings are busy and I want to play.”
“You’re in my class,” Faye said, happily wittering on even when Kane seemed content to play in silence.
Faye scowled. “Why didn’t you say hi when you saw me, then?”
“I dunno. Why would I?”
“Why wouldn’t you!”
Kane shrugged again and pushed the seesaw up. “Why would you want me to?”
“…Why wouldn’t I?” Faye asked, screwing her face up in confusion.
“Seriously, you should talk more in class,” Faye continued, unperturbed by her new friend’s love of long silences.
“People don’t really like me,” Kane shrugged again.
“Probably because you make it so hard to talk to you,” she grumbled, giving him a smile so he knew it wasn’t a genuine complaint.
“No, it’s because they don’t like my family.” He grunted when Faye did the same trick as he had before and sent him into the air momentarily.
“What’s wrong with your family?”
“They’re loud,” he said, blowing a raspberry to indicate his displeasure. “And they think my dad is scary.”
“I don’t know. Maybe? He mostly works a lot, I don’t see him all the time.”
“What does he do?”
Kane lowered his gaze and mumbled something under his breath. Faye cupped her hand to her ear like her mum always did to get Summer or Skye to speak up. Kane narrowed his eyes. “I’m not supposed to say.”
Faye huffed a breath and decided it was too much work to ask again. Footsteps ringing on a metal ladder alerted her to Skye’s presence. Skye gave Kane a long, inquisitive look and then turned to Faye. “Do you want to play with us?”
“Okay,” Skye shrugged. “He can come too. We’re fighting pirates.”
Faye wrinkled her nose. “I’ve already chased pirates on my waterhorse,” she lied. “We’re going to stay here.” Kane offered no opinion on the matter, which was good. She wanted a friend for herself. She didn’t want to share everything with her sisters, after all.
“Go play all together with your sisters, Faye, it’ll be fun!” Sam called from his watchful position on the swing. Faye turned around to pout at him.
“I want to stay here with Kane.”
“You can both go and play,” Sam said, exasperated. Loxley ignored them both and continued on his mission to do a full swing over the top of the bars. He knew it was possible. Someone in his class said they did it the other day.
“I should go anyway,” Kane interjected, sliding off the seesaw without warning and making Faye squeal as her seat dipped to the floor.
“Why can’t you tell me what your dad does?” Faye asked, curiosity tingling up her spine. She bounced on the balls of her feet.
Kane looked away again, eyebrows pulling together into a pensive frown. “Because my dad told me not to. Everyone knows anyway. Ask someone at school,” he muttered.
Faye let out a loud groan. Overhead, seagulls squabbled over something noisily. “I want to know now. Pleeeeease?”
“You won’t want to be friends with me anymore…”
Kane scratched his head and finally met her gaze. “They say he does bad stuff. I don’t know. My dad doesn’t talk about it with me, but I heard Marie saying something about it. She helps him sometimes.”
“With what? Who’s Marie?”
“I don’t know. She’s my older sister. She’s almost eighteen.”
Faye wasn’t about to give up her line of questioning now she was finally getting answers. She’d had no idea that this was why the other kids at school avoided Kane, but the more she thought about it, the more she remembered hearing the other girls talk about his family like they were bad.
Kane gave a loud sigh. “Dad says it’s because they’re idiots. And I don’t really know what stuff he does. He doesn’t do anything bad at home. I saw him with some guns, once, but he said they were allowed.”
Faye’s eyes widened. Guns! Her granddad had one locked up back home, but he said it was for hunting animals that he ate, and that he’d had to keep the key on him at all times. He’d told her that it was very dangerous and that she wasn’t to go near it even though it was locked up.
“I should go home now,” Kane said, squinting up at the sky. He looked uncomfortable. Faye leaped forward and enveloped her new friend into a hug.
“Okay,” she beamed. “I’ll see you at school or here later.”
Kane studied her. He eventually shrugged (he liked to shrug, Faye noticed) and turned around to wander back home without another word.
Meanwhile, while Summer was continuing her daydreams in the treehouse and Faye was chasing after Kane, the three siblings sat down on the warm grass and took out their homework. Skye always managed hers without too much trouble, but she liked having company while she worked. Liam always found it more difficult and would pester Loxley for answers, who had often finished his homework in a few minutes. It never looked rushed, but he barely paused to work out the answers.
“What’s number three?” Liam whined, looking up at his brother hopefully.
“It’s easy, Lee-lee,” Loxley teased, his usual smirk fixed in place. “All homework is easy peasy lemon squeezy.” Loxley was a genius. He knew he was because his dad always called him his little genius. He was also his mum’s cheeky wotsit. Liam was the baby of the family, and Summer was on another world all the time. Skye was the sweet girl and Faye a bossy so-and-so. Loxley definitely agreed with their name for Faye.
“No it’s not,” Liam sighed.
“I’ll help you, Lee-lee,” Skye said, shuffling over to look at the question.
“I’m stuck again,” Liam pouted. Loxley picked up his homework from the ground and tossed it towards his brother before going back to his daisy chain that he was trying to make. He stuck his tongue out from the side of his mouth as he worked. His thumbnail really wasn’t sharp enough for this.
“You shouldn’t give him all the answers,” Skye scolded. “Lee-lee, you need to know how to do it yourself.”
“The teacher will explain it in school tomorrow,” Liam said, copying his brother’s answers into his jotter.
Skye shook her head and tutted, but she couldn’t finish the last question because her granddad called for them then. She saw Faye skip towards him and Summer emerged from the treehouse. With a sigh she stood and brushed her leggings off. She’d try to do the last question in the car so she could play when she got home.
It seemed that all of the loudness and argumentative tendencies had gone to both Faye and Loxley, missing the other three children entirely, so it was common on a night to hear them bickering with each other. It was usually at the end of the school week that the arguments became screaming matches, when Faye had had enough of school and Loxley was bored enough to wind her up.
“You’re SO annoying, Loxley, I wish you would just shut up!” Faye moaned, eyes narrowed and face screwed up into a frown.
“You’re so annoying Loxley,” he imitated, voice going high and squeaky.
“I don’t sound like that!” she protested, flinging her arms up in the air in exasperation and annoyance.
“My name is Faye and I’m the biggest loser of the school! I’m sooo lucky that my brother is super duper smart to help me with my homework because I’m such a ditz!” Loxley squeaked, ending in a ridiculous giggle.
Faye kept her scowl in place but felt her eyes prickle with tears. She blinked them away before he could tell that his barbs had been successful. “Shut up! You’re the worst brother in the entire world and I wish you would just go away,” she screamed, hands fisting at her sides.
Loxley blinked at her for a moment, and then suddenly erupted into tears. Had she gone too far? Was he actually upset?
Summer and Skye exchanged worried glances, but Liam had no such concern. “He’s just faking,” he said. “He does this at school allthe time. It’s so embarrassing.”
Skye sympathised with her brother. School was a harsh place and it was easily made worse by a brother acting like a teacher’s pet. “Do you think it’s safe to go in yet?”
“Nah, he’s only crying so that granddad will come over and tell her off.”
“It’s cold,” Summer complained.
“If you want to go inside and be dragged into another argument, you’re welcome to, but I’m staying here,” Skye muttered.
“No,” he sniffed, wiping his running nose on his hand. He made sure to hold his eyes open a bit longer than was comfortable so that when he blinked plenty of tears spilled down his cheeks. His granddad sighed and patted his shoulder briefly before turning to Faye, schooling his face into something a bit sterner while Loxley smirked at her from behind his back. Faye gaped at him, unable to find the words to accuse him of being a liar.
“Faye, you are the older sister, and you’re supposed to look out for Loxley, not make him upset.”
“He’s just faking it!” she protested, voice high with disbelief.
“Faye, you weren’t being nice. I think you should apologise to your brother.”
Sam nodded his approval. “Why don’t you go outside and play with your siblings?”
“Fine,” Faye muttered, glaring at a smug Loxley.
Loxley whistled under his breath as he raced through his homework, well aware that his whistling irritating Faye if the glares and huffs were anything to go by. That, of course, was exactly why he was doing it, but Faye didn’t seem to realise this.
“This homework is so easy,” Loxley boasted, glancing up at Faye to see her roll her eyes dramatically. He was being honest, though; he’d never found any piece of homework to be challenging to him, and it boggled his mind that his siblings did.
“Would you shut up!” Faye snapped, shocking the house out of its content silence. Loxley smirked, victorious, and nodded innocently. Faye relaxed and turned back to her work, ignoring her grandfather’s warning to be nice.
Loxley began to whistle again a few moments later, rewarded by Faye slamming her pencil down on the table and glaring at him.
Liam glanced over to the table and watched the storm brewing. He sighed and turned back to his imaginary driving game. He was pretending that he was in fast and furious, except he’d never seen the films because they were too old for him. Instead he was copying the trailers that had been at the start of some other boring film his parents had watched at one time. He loved driving. He wanted to be a racer when he was older. He could drive away from Faye and Loxley when they started to argue!
He’d have to take Summer and Skye with him. They were also innocent bystanders, but he didn’t think they’d be okay with him going really fast in his car. They always told mum off whenever she went over the speed limit, even just a little, while Liam was secretly hoping she was about to start a street race like he had heard the older kids did.