Jessica and James arrived home soon enough, something that Sam was grateful for. He loved the kids but the house was small and Loxley and Faye could not be in close quarters without arguing, which meant they argued constantly.
“They’re quite a handful,” he sighed, hearing his daughter come into the kitchen again.
“I know,” she sighed. “We keep trying to tell Faye to stop letting him tease her. He only does it to get a rise.”
“I’m sure it’s a normal thing.”
“I hope so!” she exclaimed. “It’s so difficult knowing what to do in these situations. James was an only child for a while too, at least until his mother remarried.”
“Maybe part of the problem is that it’s a small house,” Sam mused.
“Maybe,” she sighed. “But I love this house so much. It’s ourhouse, and it’s so gorgeous… We don’t want to find a bigger house unless we have to, and can really afford it.”
“And they make such a mess in this small place too…” Jessica sighed, spotting a toy on the floor. Her dad laughed heartily.
“Trust me, Jess, kids make a mess no matter how big or small the house is. You were a right little tyke.”
“You were… most of the time. You were stubborn, though, and were determined to do everything yourself from a young age. Unfortunately you didn’t have the best coordination to be able to do all your buttons up correctly.”
Faye giggled, remembering her parents telling her that story. “I was just proving that I could look after myself.”
“You were three!”
“I’m sure you’ll see me again soon enough. I’m glad you and James had a bit of a break together.” Sam finished the last of his meal, the plate almost licked clean.
Jessica smiled. “It was much needed. Thank you again, dad.”
“Of course. I’ll happily do it again. Maybe not for so long, though…” He chuckled to himself.
“How do you think we feel?!” she snorted. “Anyway, it’s much appreciated. We’ll go back to the usual chaos tomorrow, I suppose.” The joy of trying to rouse five children for school – six, sometimes, she thought with amusement, if James was being lazy and groaning about leaving his warm bed for a cold car.
“I keep forgetting!” Kane snapped back. He was more angry at himself than her, but it never helped with Faye got annoyed. “I’m not smart like you, okay, just explain it to me again.”
Faye bit the inside of her cheek, almost waiting for Loxley’s smug voice to contradict Kane and tell all about how smart Faye wasn’t. Lox was the child genius; he put them all to shame. Nothing happened, though, so she leaned forward and began to explain the problem again, watching the furrow between Kane’s eyebrows deepen as they pulled together in confusion.
“I still don’t get it,” Kane groaned, angrily blinking back frustrated tears. “This isn’t fair.” His family were all good at maths and science, and Kane could only excel in english or art. His father didn’t approve, but try as he might, Kane couldn’t change it.
“Maybe I could help?” Jessica offered. She’d been listening in while she loaded up the dishwasher – the genuine distress in Kane’s voice upset her. “I have to do a lot of maths for biochemistry.”
“I don’t know if you can,” Kane sighed. “I just – I can’t get it.”
“You will,” Jessica soothed. She leaned over the homework page, which was crinkled and dirty with all the rubbing out he’d done. “It might take some time, but it’ll get there.”
Jessica reached over to pick up another empty plates (did they breed when she wasn’t looking?)
They looked over their shoulders as James wandered out of the bathroom. He gave Kane a warm smile. Automatically, the young boy smiled back.
He loved the Williams. They were so nice. He wished that they were his family, and not his criminal father and distant mother.
Faye led the way outside and sat down on the hanging bench. She kicked off from the floor lightly, so that the bench swung back and forth. The sky was a rare empty blue, with only one cloud in sight. The breeze was bitterly cold and she pulled the sleeves of her top down over her hands.
Kane joined her with a heavy sigh. She glanced over to him. They had been hanging out less in school, simply because Faye had found a group of friends that weren’t her sisters and had been enjoying their company. She was enjoying what it was like to experience some measure of popularity. Her siblings – and Kane – were not so well liked.
It was difficult to balance being friends with Kane and being liked by other people. The popular groups of friends seemed to think that hanging out with anyone unpopular was to sacrifice your own status, and Faye had to work doubly hard to keep it, with her four siblings firmly in the ‘nonpopular’ category.
She felt bad for ignoring Kane in school, but he seemed to understand.
They got to hang out at home all the time anyway, so what was the problem?
“I feel like I’m so stupid,” Kane confessed, looking away. “My sister did so well in school and mum and dad were always telling her how proud they were of her. I don’t know why I can’t be more like her.”
“Your sister’s mean,” Faye shrugged. “I’m glad you’re not like her.”
Kane tried to smile at her reassurance, but it didn’t hold. “I don’t think my dad is my real dad,” he said, the words bursting out of him in fast exhale, a confession he’d never made to anyone. “And I think they all know it.”
“Why would you think that?” Faye gasped. Why would he even think about it? Faye had never wondered such a thing about her own parents. Of course they were hers! How could Kane be questioning that?
Kane was silent for a long time.
“I heard dad yelling at mum after my report card came in last month,” he began, voice quiet. “And he said something about how if he had me in the house then the least I could do was not… be an embarrassment.” He shrugged awkwardly. “Mum lost her shit. She just kept saying how he agreed and stuff. She didn’t say anything else but…” He reached up to tug on a strand of hair. “I don’t look much like him. I don’t look a lot like my sister. So I thought about it a lot.”
Faye swung her legs awkwardly on the seat. “You could ask them?”
Kane laughed at the suggestion. “I don’t think mum would tell me the truth. And I think dad would. I don’t want to know for sure.”
“Isn’t knowing better than… not?”
Kane stared down at his lap. “I don’t want to find that out, either,” he said softly.
Faye felt herself cringe at the statement. She had no idea what to say. She reached over and squeezed his hand, like she had seen her parents do when one of them was stressed.
“It’ll be okay,” she said. “Do you want to try the maths problem again?”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “Sure.”
Jessica squealed as she felt an arm go under her legs, sweeping her off her feet (literally), her heart racing until James’ arm came around her back. “Morning, sweetheart.”
“Christ, I realise you’re trying to be romantic but I’d appreciate a warning next time.”
“It’s spontaneity. Nothing is more romantic than that! Besides, I caught you. I’ve been working out with Aiden. Did I tell you?”
“Only a thousand times,” Jessica sighed.
“Yeah, well, I’ve been working out. I’m kind of hot stuff.”
“Only kind of,” she snorted, and kicked her feet a little. “So are you just going to hold me here forever, or…?”
“Of course. I’ve captured you now. Why would I let you go?” He grinned at her, chuckling when she smacked his back playfully. “I got that new game I was telling you about, the racing one. Wanna play? Just like old times, except it was usually Courtney with the other controller because gaming is lame,” he said, mimicking her high pitched voice and earning himself another whack on the back.
“You’ve already practiced this game, haven’t you?” Jessica scowled, watching in fury as his speedy car got further and further ahead.
“I actually haven’t,” he smirked. “You’re just terrible at this.”
“Well if you continue to insult me, I shan’t play!”
“What the fuh – oh come on! I can’t believe – I was in first! Damn traffic… Did you see that car just swerve into me, sweetheart? I bet I’ve lost the race now…”
Jessica didn’t reply. In fact, she continued to snore softly and catch up on sleep instead.
Maybe the wind was cold, and maybe there were some encroaching dark clouds, but Skye was determined to make the most of what little blue sky the weekend gave them. Since Summer was busy with her nose in a book, and Liam busy “beating” their dad at some silly racing game, she dragged Loxley outside instead.
Skye pushed her hands into the sand, loving the way it felt against her fingers. She closed her eyes and thrust her hands up into the air, feeling the sand fly up and be caught by the wind. When it was safe, she opened her eyes and giggled. “Where do you think the sand comes from?”
“Beaches,” Loxley replied with a shrug. “Or under the sea. They extracted loads of sand for those palm islands. I read about it the other day in the library.”
“I dunno. I got bored of the stuff we were doing in class. My group were taking aaaages.”
“I’m always the first one done. The teachers just give me extra work but it’s all the same stuff.”
Skye wriggled in the sand to make her seat more comfortable, and then continued piling up sand. She might try to make it into a turtle. She’d seen someone sculpt one before and it looked easy enough. “Didn’t mum and dad talk to the school to try and get you a year ahead or something?”
“Yeah, but they didn’t want to separate me from my peer group,” Loxley rolled his eyes with a loud scoff. He squinted up at the sky and sounded kinder when he spoke again. “I wouldn’t want to leave Liam alone, anyway. He’d hate it.”
Skye smiled to herself. Despite how difficult Loxley made Faye’s life, he looked out for the rest of them.
“Speaking of leaving people,” Loxley said, after a yawn and casually destroying his sculpture. Skye had given up on the turtle before she’d even started: a sand castle was way easier. “I saw Faye hanging around with the big group of girls the other day at lunch. I see her with – what are their names? Clone 1 and clone 2, probably – all the time, and never with you and Sum anymore. What’s with that?”
“Popularity,” Loxley muttered with easy contempt. “What’s so interesting about being the same as everyone?”
“Beats me,” Skye shrugged. The first droplets of rain fell and Skye glared up at the sky, but they had to jump up and cover the sandpit from the rain before it got too wet. She brushed her leggings off and followed her brother inside, wondering why Faye wanted that so badly.
What better way to celebrate the start of the summer holidays than a dip in the outdoor pool? It was a rare day for it to be warm enough that the water wasn’t ice cold, and even though it was still chilly the sun’s heat kept them warm.
They had to make the most of their summer; the triplets had the start of high school hanging over them.
They had the luck of having the entire pool to themselves and, much to the amusement of the bored lifeguard, took advantage of that. Summer’s imagination was a wonderful thing, and she always came up with the best scenarios. Today was no exception.
Faye lay on the deck chair, trying to ignore their laughter and bad acting. They were going into high school in six weeks and her sisters were still playing make believe games. It was embarrassing.
Before Faye could answer, Loxley snorted. “She probably doesn’t want to get her hair wet.” His twin splashed him and gave him a look copied directly from their mother (the one that meant Loxley should have just kept quiet). In retaliation, Lox resumed his role as Jaws and dived down to grab at Liam’s feet.
Summer shrugged, disappointed, and exchanged a disheartened look with Skye. Faye either didn’t notice, or didn’t care. She was happier being dry and warm. Besides, playing in the pool wasn’t mature, sophisticated behaviour and she’d never hear the end of it if her school friends found out.
“I hate how quickly this summer is going already,” Constance moaned, delicately flicking hair over her shoulder. “It’s hardly been warm enough to call it a summer.” She toed at some loose grass and shivered, glad for her cute tights.
“When is it ever?” Faye interjected, rolling her eyes and leaning on one of the chains holding the swing up. “We should do more stuff. My house is so boring.”
“How can it be boring with all your brothers and sisters,” muttered Zoey, wrinkling her nose and making it clear she was happy to be an only child. “It must be chaos.”
“Yeah,” Faye said, shifting in her seat and feeling uncomfortable with the sudden attention on her.
“You have to share a room with your sisters right? That must be so awful.” Another delicate rearrangement of Constance’s long hair. “I’m so happy that my sister has a separate room to me.”
Faye shrugged. It’s not like her family couldn’t afford a bigger house if they wanted, but they had made their home there and they didn’t want to leave. Or, well, her parents didn’t want to leave. Faye wished she could have her own room too, if only because Constance always managed to bring it up as if it must be a constant source of embarrassment for Faye to share a room with her sisters. “Summer just writes and reads all the time. Skye likes to help mum bake. It’s fine.”
“At least you don’t have to share with your brothers as well,” Zoey laughed. Her laugh was always nasally and nasty. Faye didn’t like the girl, and was well aware the girl didn’t like her either, but Constance was both their friend and it was always a fight to compete for Con’s attention. With Con’s attention, they remained part of the main group at school rather than an embarrassing hanger-on.
Faye was saved from having to answer by Constance’s long sigh. “I can’t believe we’re going to high school soon. This is so exciting! My sister has told me so many stories.”
Faye slipped off the swing and tucked her hair behind her ears. As if needing the reminder, Constance finger combed her hair. “It’ll be nice to see people from the other schools.”
Zoey sniffed and shrugged a shoulder. “You have got to make a good impression in the first week.” The way she said it made sure it was directed at Faye, to remind her not to embarrass them.
“You too, Zo,” Constance said, nonchalant. Faye hid her smile and nodded seriously. She was Con’s favourite at the moment, then. Constance turned her gaze onto Faye. “You’ll need to keep around us, though.”
Faye nodded again. She was well aware that if she missed some crucial inside joke or bonding moment, she’d forever be on the outside of the group. She just had to figure out how to ensure her sisters wouldn’t try to hang around with them because there was no easier way to be seen as an easy target than with them. Summer only talked about books and stories and Skye – well, Skye didn’t really say much, but still. Kane was the bigger problem, really. Everyone at high school would already know of his family, thanks to his older sister, and Faye didn’t need people to associate them. She’d always be left out if that was the case.
School politics were hard.