“We need to talk.”
The scientist’s voice came out of nowhere; Loxley hadn’t heard the man approach, nor had he heard the door opening. He jumped, adrenaline coursing through his body like he was prey, He spun around, gasping, hand to his mouth, and then laughed when his brain caught up with his body’s reactions.
Lox’s laughter died when he saw how serious Lukas was.
“Your performance has been lacking,” the scientist said, obvious disapproval in his voice. Lox stuffed his hands in the pockets of his trousers, trying his best not to look like a petulant child being told off. “This close to the deadline, I don’t think you can pull it back. I’m giving the internship to Bethany.”
Loxley blew air out through his nose. He couldn’t say that was unfair. The only thing he was annoyed at was that he couldn’t spend more time studying Lukas.
“You need to stop,” Lukas said softly. “With this obsession of me.”
Obsession wasn’t really fair. That sounded like this was a crush. Lox scoffed, but Lukas shook his head before he could speak. “You know what I’m talking about. I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you that you’re wrong about me, whatever you’ve figured out so far. But I can tell you that for a genius, you can be really bloody stupid.”
Lox raised an eyebrow. This was the closest Lukas had been to a swear in front of him. The scientist leaned forward, his eyes wide and earnest, and spoke slowly. “Sometimes,” he said, “there are some mysteries better left undiscovered, because they are dangerous. Do you understand me?”
“Why are your canines super sharp?” Loxley whispered back. He had meant it as a joke, but they were a little sharper than most human teeth. Lukas jumped back and smacked his hand over his mouth, then scowled deeply.
“You’re not listening to me, Lox. I need you to listen.”
“Alright,” Loxley said, his smile fading. “I’m listening.”
“I’m going to leave.”
Of all the things Lox had been expecting, that hadn’t been it. He reeled back in surprise.
“It’s too dangerous for me to stay in one place too long, and anyway, this is a lost cause. Bethany will continue her internship under Febe, who will be taking my position.”
“…Did I… make you do this?” Loxley wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but he did know that there was a deeper meaning to the conversation they were having.
“Partly,” Lukas sighed. “I can’t risk you knowing the truth. You need to drop this. There’s a lot of mysteries in the world that you shouldn’t chase. You need to understand that, before I go. You need to understand the danger. You’re a smart man, Lox. Don’t waste your life on those types of mysteries.”
“Why were you here, then? What were you trying to do? Just that. Just answer that, and I promise I won’t try to figure anything else out.”
Lukas sighed, rubbed his eyes underneath his glasses (glasses that he really didn’t need, but was quite fond of) and answered. “I’m trying to find a cure for my problem. For a virus. I hoped some younger brains could help me with it.” He rolled his shoulders in a shrug. He was more tired than Lox had ever seen. “I’m going to leave now. Hopefully you won’t see me again. Keep safe, alright?”
By the time that Lox had thought to answer, Lukas was gone.
Liam had never applied himself in school before he came to live at his granddad’s. Honestly, studying had been boring. Lox was so good at it that Liam just felt more inadequate, and his sisters were too far ahead to be of much use. He’d discovered, here, that studying with his friends was far more fun. Their stomachs were full of pizza and they occasionally asked each other some questions about the class content, but other than that browsed through the textbooks silently. It was simply nice to have some company.
Liam tried not to dwell on the fact that soon enough he’d be home for the summer, as was his agreement with his parents, but he also knew that he would be coming back. Still, six weeks without Serenity or Finn by his side didn’t seem like much fun.
Serenity lay on her back and stared at the ceiling, clearly giving up on studying for now. Liam pushed his book away. “Are you going to miss me while I’m gone?” he asked, throwing a grin over his shoulder.
She pondered that with a ‘hmm’. “Nah,” she teased, laughing when he jabbed her in the waist. “Kidding! Of course I will. We both will. Our duo has become a trio, and it won’t be the same without you.”
Even though Liam knew she wasn’t serious, it reassured him that he wouldn’t come back to find that Serenity and Finn were no longer interested in being his friend. He cared for them both far more than he had for any other friend.
Serenity turned over and shuffled around so that she was facing the same way as Liam. “We really will miss you a lot.”
“Good,” he grinned briefly. “You know… I really care about you a lot, Serenity.”
“Of course! But…” Liam faced her, trying to feel brave. His cheeks were red. “You know. Come on. Don’t make me say it. I don’t mind if nothing changes, I just want you to know.”
Serenity bit her lip. She picked up a highlighter and doodled with it on the edge of the empty pizza box. It was making Liam’s room smell like cheese. “I want you to know… I like you too.” She drew a heart and scribbled it in. “But nothing can change. Because of Finn.”
Liam sighed and shuffled closer to see what she was drawing now, but it was too much effort to prop himself up so he rested on Serenity’s back, laughing when she theatrically went ‘oof’. She didn’t complain when he stayed there.
“He likes you too,” she said quietly. “That’s why we started talking to you. He kept seeing you mowing all those lawns.” She giggled. “But… he liked you first. Guy code, girl code, whatever. It’s the friend code. You don’t date someone that your friend liked first, and still likes.” She paused, crossing out the heart with aggressive lines, and blew out a sigh. “Don’t tell him I told you that, though. He’ll be pissed.”
“I won’t,” Liam promised. “You’re a good friend, Ser.”
“Yeah, well, you bought me pizza, so I guess you’re a pretty good friend too.” She nudged him playfully and they laughed together, and as far as Liam was concerned, that was all that needed to be said.
Loxley placed an armful of Liam’s books onto the shelf and turned around to see his twin gazing at the room. Lox had taken the liberty of sprucing it up, since Liam had never bothered while he lived there, and it was hardly like he’d be staying long enough to complain.
Lox’s favourite addition was the plant. Or the books. Or the scientific posters. In fact, he just liked what he’d done with the room. Liam’s complains would fall on deaf ears.
“Yeah, well, it’s been a while.”
“I mean the house.”
Liam stared at him. Loxley couldn’t help but feel unnerved at the scrutiny that the sky-blue eyes held him under. “Uh, yeah. Skye? Dyed her hair? Wearing bright red lipstick and stuff? And she broke up with Josh?”
“She broke up with Josh at the end of the holidays. Last year.”
Liam wandered to the window, staring out at the trees which were finally in full bloom. The pink leaves brushed against the glass; Lox remembered that he meant to tell his father that it needed to be cut back.
“What happened with Faye? She was actually at the desk when I came in.”
“Oh yeah, she’s trying to find a job. Dad told her that she could either get good marks in her exams or get a part-time job this year.”
Liam snorted. “Bet she loved that.”
“She complained. Noisily. Though she did start studying. A bit, anyway. I don’t think she’s confident that she achieved what dad asked for. Hence the job search.”
Lox shrugged and scowled at his twin’s back, but that wasn’t really fair. “I didn’t get the internship. I would have told you a few weeks ago, but…” But it wasn’t like they spoke much anymore.
Well, Loxley thought, at least it wasn’t only him that carried resentment towards his twin. He sighed and reached out to get Liam’s attention.
“S’alright. I was distracted. Beth talked to Febe, our sort-of boss, and she might let me help out on a voluntary basis for more experience. Are you sad to be away from Granddad’s?”
Liam shrugged. “Yeah. It is nice to be back, but also…” He took a deep breath and explained what he had learned, that Serenity and Finn both liked him, and that the more he thought about it, the more confused he became about his own feelings.
Lox tutted. For him, this didn’t make sense; he hadn’t been lying to Beth when he said he had never found anyone attractive before. Still, it made him see situations clearer, he supposed. “If they both like you, and you think you like both of them, why not just be with both of them?”
“Simple solution. Bang them both.” Maybe he’d been spending too much time with Bethany, if he was using words like that.
Liam still didn’t seem to understand the concept but Jessica called them for dinner, and if they were late to the table then the best bits of the food would be gone. He’d worry about it later.
“Summer,” James said, as his daughter went to refill her glass of water. They were half-watching a stand-up comedy show on TV for their first night together again (and to celebrate the start of the holidays) and it had been a headache trying to get everyone comfortable on the sofa. “Don’t you have some good news to share?”
“Oh! Right, yeah. I, um, I applied for a job at the bookstore. A summer temp position. And I got it! Now I can fund my obsession a little easier,” she said, giving a little laugh.
“Because you pointed it out, then fine.” She fiddled with the hem of her shirt. “I kind of like the girl that works there.”
“Kind of,” Lox repeated with a snort. Skye leaned across Faye and poked him in retaliation.
“The studying didn’t really make you any smarter, did it?” Lox said snarkily, rewarded this time by Jessica flicked his ear.
“Be nice,” she warned. “We’re very proud of Faye for getting her head down and studying.”
“You’ve met her before, dad,” Skye jumped in, leaning forward to meet her father’s eyes. “The one and only time Faye brought her friends around while she had to get changed or something. They were waiting on this very sofa.”
“While you were singing badly in the kitchen,” Faye muttered, remembering how mortified she had been.
“Really?” James screwed up his face, trying his best to remember. He shrugged. “Oh, well, I’m sure she’s a lovely girl.”
“Anyway,” Summer huffed. She needed to get this conversation back on track before James asked any more embarrassing questions. “I start tomorrow for training.”
“Well done for getting the job. It’ll look great on your CV,” Jessica smiled. “Did you find any that you liked the look of, Faye?”
“Not really,” she mumbled. “I’ll see what my results are first.”
Skye shared a glance with Summer. Even with Faye’s attempt at studying, neither of them expected her to pull decent grades from nowhere. She had whined more than she had read.
“Oh, I forgot to say!” Skye jumped up. “Felix said I can try camping out at his site. I think I’m going to do that soon.”
And with that, the others joined in with their own plans; Lox would spend time with Bethany in and out of the lab, Faye was planning a weekend excursion to the nearby city for shopping and a concert, and Liam said that he’d find something to busy himself with.
“Is this going to be another over-protective dad talk about how much I’m changing?” she asked, readying her scowl. James held up his hands in surrender.
“You know I’m just concerned.” Outside, rain pelted the windows. Water gushed down the side of the house. A typical Scottish summer.
Skye recalled what Felix had said. She also remembered the many stories that Jessica had told her, about how her parents had met and how patient James had been. The story always reminded Skye how good her father could be at communicating, and it was time that she tried it herself.
“I know,” she said, to James’ relief. “But I want you to know that I’m very happy. This is how I’ve always wanted to be. When I was younger I thought motorbikes and leather jackets and stuff were so cool! But I didn’t want to admit that because it was better to fade in with the crowd than to stand out. I don’t want to do that anymore, whatever people at school say.”
Skye turned to the damp window and pulled Summer’s book away from the edge where it had been absorbing moisture. She curled her hair behind her ears, as pleased with her blue tips as she had been when she first got them done. Each successive step in her growing confidence had been easier than the last, and she was proud of herself even if no one else was.
“Oh, Ms. Blue Skye,” James sighed, his face softening. It was then that Skye noticed the hints of wrinkles in his skin. Her parents were getting old. It made her chest feel tight. “I’m sorry if you felt that I was trying to stop you from exploring how you wanted to look. It just scared me; with your sudden friendship with Felix I wondered if he was pressuring you into changing.”
“It’s not that, dad. I promise. He’s actually been wonderful. He’s given me confidence.”
“Well, in that case, I’m glad he’s there for you.” A shadow passed James’ face. “I’m not ecstatic that you’re going to be camping with him for a few days.”
Skye blinked. “Why?”
“Well…” James rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “Just um… You know that if you ever… I mean we want to have a good relationship with you so that you can talk to us and ask for things and… well if you wanted to… I mean you are sixteen…”
“Dad, what are you talking about?”
“I’m just trying to say…” James sighed and looked heavenward. “Don’t forget to use protection. And if you’re too embarrassed to buy some then ask your mother.”
“DAD!” Skye screeched, her face burning. “UGH! No! Felix and I aren’t going out, oh my God, please don’t ever talk about this again. I know where to get stuff if I ever want it, you really don’t need to have this conversation with me ever again.” Skye pushed her father towards the door. “Ever again! EVER! AGAIN!”
James, both mortified and laughing, let her push him. “Okay, thank God, but just be sensible when the times comes!”
The twins turned fifteen, and the triplets seventeen, and time flew by.
Leaves brightened, darkened, fell. The days grew, and then shortened, and time flew by.
Lukas had left for good; there was no sign of him, and Loxley kept his promise. He let the mystery lie.
Throughout the town, other changes happened. Kane moved away, though Faye didn’t learn about this until months later, and she spent an evening on the porch swing-chair remembering their long-dead friendship.
In a blink of an eye it was Halloween, and then Christmas, Easter, Summer, all over again.
The triplets’ last year of school seemed to come out of nowhere, for Jessica and James. Soon their children would be adults, leaving the nest. It was a hard thought to bear.
Time flows by.
A/N I needed a time skip. I made over the characters and it seemed right, plus fits with the story better. There’s only so much plot I can squeeze in without having thirty chapters before generation two starts….