A/N: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! AN UPDATE, AN UPDATE! I’M SCREAMING! AHHHHHH!!!!!
Gah!! I know explanations aren’t necessary, but if you weren’t already aware this long hiatus has been due to the combination of a complete lack of inspiration and a ton of schoolwork. However, I will say that in the past month the main reason for my absence has been that I’M WRITING. I mean writing like crazy too, to the point where I have material stacked up to be photographed and posted—oh my goodness!
So, not only is there this update, but also an Augustus and Gemma III just around the bend. Then I have the outlines for more Augustus and Gemma parts, but probably after a Joanne update. I’m not sure yet….it might be Augustus and Gemma II, III, IV and THEN Joanne actually. I don’t know…they cross over at some point so it’ll need to coordinate with the intersection. I’ve got all the story boards outlined though and there’s currently 3 more chapters for Joanne and then her epilogue and like 7 parts (I’m really trying to condense this) for Augustus and Gemma and then possibly their epilogues?
I KNOW I HAVE LOST MY MIND!!!! It’s just, I’ve had the twins’ stories in mind ever since I wrote Chapter 5.5 and I recently got SO much inspiration to write them and I don’t know I’m really excited about this and I think you will be too once you start reading but I DON’T KNOWWWW. PLEASE ENCOURAGE MY INSANITY.
I practically have three heirs now and right at the end of the generation wtf, help.
*coughs* So yeah, this installment takes place after Chapter 5.20—Milo was born at the end of July and it is now the last week of November in Gemma and Augustus’ junior year of college. You don’t technically need to be caught up to read this, but make sure you’ve at least read “Generation 5 Special: Augustus and Gemma I.”Oh and if their house on campus looks different it’s because it is—they aren’t living in the same one anymore!
Anyway, I’m really excited to hear from you all—it’s been far frickin’ too long and I miss everyone to a million pieces, seriously!!! The vast majority of my friends in life are the ones I talk to through my computer screen and that means YOU. Happy reading and I sincerely hope you enjoy! ^_^;
Gemma Winters looked from one monitor to the next, her sluggishly moving brain vaguely trying to derive meaning from the endless lines of data before her. Whenever she thought she had happened upon a significant connection though, the idea disappeared like a balloon whose string had been severed.
It was exhaustively disheartening, for all she wanted was to be a gleaming marble that could tip scales in the direction of enlightenment, especially because she felt that her cleverness was her primary (and perhaps only) source of worth. This self-deprecating mentality did nothing to fuel her inspiration though, so she stopped to close her eyes for a moment, taking deep, quiet breaths as she pushed the toxic thought from her mind. She hoped that doing so would help, but still instead of crisp light beginning to shine through the fog of her mind there was only untethered balloons.
“Gemma,” an uncomfortably familiar voice called. She opened her eyes, mentally bracing herself before turning around.
“Yes, Dr. Saint?”
“Hey—sorry to interrupt. I wanted to give you the heads up that the lab’s going to close early tomorrow.”
The curly-haired brunette was so startled by this announcement that despite who she was talking to, she blurted out, “Why?”
To her further bewilderment, Dr. Saint looked suddenly embarrassed. A light pink tinge underlay his freckled face and he glanced around for a second, as if checking to be sure that there was no one else in earshot. Once he had seemingly confirmed that no one else could hear, he sheepishly answered, “Well…I’ve uh—I’ve actually got a date.”
Gemma had been bludgeoned. It was the only explanation for the feeling that now overtook every miniscule particle that comprised her being. Someone had found a dense, blunt object, perhaps a bat, and they had mercilessly bludgeoned her. In fact, she was so convinced of this that she had to reach up to touch the back of her head in order to ensure that she wasn’t bleeding profusely.
The sound of laughter shifted her focus ahead, where Dr. Saint was bashfully wiping his glasses on his sweater and chuckling. He replaced them and then stated in a good-natured tone, “That’s how you know the state of your personal life is in disarray, right? When your students get stunned into silence upon hearing you have a date?”
“Oh, no, I—”
“It’s okay,” he continued in a reassuring manner, his sparkling blue eyes kind. “I don’t blame you. It’s been years, which is funny because I always imagined having a family as soon as I finished my schooling. Things happen and aspirations shift though. Oftentimes for the better, I think. At any rate I’m happy with what I’ve got….It’d just be nice to share it with someone.”
The figure with the bludgeon seemed to have returned, only this time it was hitting her repeatedly atop her head—as if she were a nail and not a human being. Gemma even thought she could feel her shoes beginning to sink into the yellowing linoleum.
“Too much information,” he remarked with another laugh, brushing away a lock of blonde hair that had obscured his vision. “Anyway, the lab will close early, around 2, but it’ll be back to normal hours on Monday…unless I say otherwise, I guess.”
“Okay,” Gemma heard herself reply.
“Oh and before you go tonight could you make sure the data from each machine has been saved to the Shared folder? People keep saving it on the desktop instead and then I can only access it from that computer.”
“Thanks, Gemma. Have a good night, then. Don’t study too hard,” he joked with a crooked smile.
A feeble smile made its way to her lips and Dr. Saint turned to go, presumably back to his office nearby.
The young woman turned her fading attention to the computer screen before her, whereupon she discovered that she had plotted the exact same data point no less than seven times in a row.
Seven points of data in a straight line going nowhere.
* * * *
The day was bright, cool, and cloudless as Augustus leaned against the trunk of a tree, absently sketching on a notepad he had propped open on his thighs. He had originally planned to draw the scene before him—the crystalline fountain, the verdant fields, and the young trees—but the drawing was turning a little more surreal—rolling hills marked by tufts of spiked grasses and streams floating up and around gnarled trees. It used to irk him, this failure to capture what was intended, but now he was growing to appreciate how art was ever shifting. It meant that it always felt new.
His phone vibrated in his pocket and Augustus took it out, smirking when he saw a simple text from his boyfriend, Patrick: three sleepy emojis followed by a skull emoji. Augustus had warned him that Professor Kettleton was drier than the sands of the Atacama Desert, but he’d unwisely figured that he could handle it. Suppressing a laugh, Augustus sent him back a smiley face with its tongue sticking out—about the closest he’d come to saying, “I told you so.”
A snap of a branch above abruptly shifted the young man’s gaze skyward, but upon seeing nothing he went back to his drawing, envisioning a creature much like a rabbit, but with scaly legs and thin, leathery wings.
The vivid picture in his mind was only just coming to life on the page when all of a sudden there was a loud CRACK and a terrified shout!
Augustus yelled too, covering his head with his arms as a massive tree branch fell down beside him along with a dull thump and….
“Sorry!” the pale, auburn-haired boy yelled, sounding completely panicked and mortified. “Sorry, sorry—” He glanced up and his dark brown eyes widened before he gave a heavy sigh of relief. “Oh, it’s just you.”
“What do you mean it’s just me!?” Augustus growled angrily. “Is it somehow ‘okay’ now that you’ve realized it was your own brother you nearly murdered?”
Tobias groaned, pushing himself slowly onto his hands and knees. “No, my neck isn’t broken and no, I didn’t shatter my knees—I seem to be just fine thanks,” he sarcastically drawled, and Augustus responded by grabbing his sketchbook and whacking him sharply over the head with it.
“Now your head hurts! What the fuck were you doing in a tree? You could have died!”
“Ouch,” Tobias scowled, cowering and reaching up to rub his head. “Don’t be mean.”
Augustus clenched his jaw, both waiting for an answer to his question and vaguely wondering how the hell he was expected to be perfectly pleasant about the fact that his younger brother had blatantly put himself (and others for that matter) in such a stupidly dangerous situation.
“I was tracking down a parakeet,” Tobias finally replied, as if this were a regular activity that people engaged in, like eating or watching television. He sat back and then began to elaborate, “I think someone had it as a pet and decided they didn’t want it anymore, so they threw it outside. Problem is, 1.) It may not be able to provide for itself, and 2.) Since it’s not native to this area it’s an invasive species, which means that if it proliferates it could cause substantial damage, such as choking out native species who share its ecological niche or otherwise causing harm to the already existent natural balance. It’s like iguanas in Miami contributing to erosion by digging burrows next to seawalls. Not to mention the extensive damage that they do to native flora.”
“And what would you have done if you’d caught it?” Augustus casually asked, resting his elbow on his knee and trying not to think too hard about how their conversation had jumped from safety concerns to concerns about rogue reptiles in the south.
Tobias scratched his head. “I dunno….I hadn’t thought that far ahead.”
The older boy briefly closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose and willing patience to return to him. He knew it technically wouldn’t be his fault if Tobias crushed a classmate with a falling tree branch or got kicked out of the dormitories for hoarding small birds, but still he felt he had a responsibility to at least try to prevent these events from occurring.
Sighing heavily, Augustus unzipped his backpack, securing his sketchbook inside it and then pushing off from the ground to stand. He held out his hands to Tobias, who took them gratefully, wincing a bit as his brother helped him to his feet.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, just don’t tell Mom and Dad,” the auburn-haired youth requested, brushing bits of grass off of his jeans. “I sort of promised them I’d keep the whole ‘climbing trees and sticking my hands into burrows’ thing to a minimum while I’m here.”
“At least you haven’t done the latter yet,” Augustus remarked encouragingly.
Glumly, Tobias held out his hand again and this time Gus noticed that his index and middle finger were marked by 4, scabbed-over puncture wounds. “Angry mama vole,” he explained with a squirm of embarrassment. “I could have sworn the nest was empty, but don’t worry, my tetanus shot is up to date.”
“Why on earth would I worry?” Augustus responded sourly and Tobias laughed, playfully bumping his shoulder into his brother’s.
“I’m fine,” he assured with some exasperation, the two beginning to walk toward the Fine Arts building. Or rather, Augustus beginning to walk toward the Fine Arts building and Tobias following him. “Oh, and that drawing you were working on was pretty cool! Or you know, the quick glimpse I got of it. Was that a rabbit/dragon hybrid? RAB-GON. DRA-BIT.” He burst into laughter at his own invented names.
“Rabgon,” Augustus repeated with a shake of his head, and Tobias laughed even more. This might have been annoying, but his younger brother was rarely like this and when he was, it only around his family. He typically kept to himself, more than content to spend the majority of his time alone, outdoors, and studying wildlife. Occasionally he’d be up for a talk though and he was always a goofball. He’d even been known to completely incapacitate their mother, her dark brown eyes shimmering with tears as she doubled-over laughing. Even though it was his third year, the memory made Augustus feel homesick. He was glad that winter break wasn’t all that far away.
“So how are you anyway?” he asked, purposefully shifting the conversation.
“Ah, you know, alright,” Tobias began, kicking at a pebble in their path and watching it skitter into the grass. “Struggling to keep up with my classes because I always seem to end up in a tree instead of writing research papers.” He smirked and then glanced briefly at his brother before looking away and awkwardly adding, “Truth be told it’s kind of bad. I’m…sort of in danger of failing one of my classes.”
Augustus drew in a sharp breath and Tobias hastily continued, “But I’m going to figure it out, okay? I promise. It’s just…I prefer hands-on stuff or, in general, I need to connect material to something tangible—something in real life and right now it’s all theories and…..And those are excuses I know,” he admitted with a sigh. “I’ll figure it out.” Tobias stuffed his hands into his pockets, his shoulders hunched as if bracing himself for his older brother’s response.
It made Augustus feel bad that he was expecting a harsh reprimand, so he took in a few quiet deep breaths before calmly asking, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Just send me the occasional guilt tripping text asking me if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” Tobias answered with a laugh, and then upon receiving no response added, “I’ll let you know if there is.”
“That’s all I ask.”
The two brothers continued walking for some time, until the massive clock tower in the center of campus chimed twice, signaling both the time of day and the changing of classes. Sure enough, the already busy sidewalks gradually became even more crowded, some students returning home while others went to meet up with friends or hurried to their next classes.
“Oh, I should go. I’ve got class in about five minutes,” Tobias said, glancing briefly at the clock tower.
“No problem. You really will let me know if you need anything?” Augustus asked seriously, adjusting his bag on his shoulders.
“I will—promise. See ya,” he chirped, and then smiled and waved at someone behind his older brother before racing off to the other side of campus. Augustus turned to see who Tobias had waved at and instantly found his attention caught by a mess of bright purple hair which looked even more brilliant in the glow of the afternoon sun.
“H-hey,” Patrick shyly greeted, and then flushed when, despite the many people currently in their vicinity, Augustus moved forward to embrace him tightly. It opened up the risk for uncomfortable stares or potentially even a rude comment if they were particularly unlucky, but the dark-haired young man found that he couldn’t quite bring himself to care as Patrick wrapped his arms around him too and buried his face into his shoulder.
It made the stress Gus hadn’t even realized he was feeling miraculously dissipate, but it returned all once when Patrick apprehensively asked, “Are y-y-you okay?”
Augustus internally winced, not having meant to worry him, so he pulled away and gave Patrick what he hoped was a reassuring smile as he told him that he was. Even as he said it he knew the words weren’t entirely truthful, but Gus had already inadvertently made him nervous and he didn’t care to add to that.
“Okay….” Patrick hesitantly replied, as if he were torn between doubting his boyfriend’s answer and trusting that he’d be truthful.
“So how was class?” Augustus asked in another attempt to divert a conversation in his favor.
Patrick cast him one last questioning glance, but then absently ruffled his hair as he mumbled, “It was awful. You w-w-were right. I m-m-mean not that—not that that’s a rare thing. I j-j-j-just mean he’s really b-boring. Like beyond what a-a-anyone would expect. Which is w-what you said and it’s not that I d-d-didn’t b-b-believe you I just—”
Augustus stepped forward and cut him off with an abrupt kiss, reaching up to gently hold the back of Patrick’s head as he drew him close. The taste of mint and apples flooded his senses as the purple-haired young man deepened the kiss far more than he’d intended, causing Augustus’ heartbeat to quicken.
Highly aware of their location, Augustus reluctantly broke the kiss, but still could not quite bring himself to take a step back. Patrick’s cheeks were once again a noticeable shade of pink, but it was difficult to discern whether this was because of the kiss or because he’d been stammering quite badly.
Patrick cleared his throat and then cast an uncertain glance up at Augustus before tentatively saying, “You know I n-n-never know if you do that to shut me up, or b-b-because you somehow find my r-rambling endearing.”
Augustus flushed, momentarily worried that he’d offended Patrick, but he couldn’t have that badly if he returned kiss like that, so he took a breath and then playfully joked, “Eh…primarily the latter.”
Patrick let out a light laugh. “F-f-fair enough,” he sheepishly replied.
Feeling relieved, Augustus smiled and ran his hand down Patrick’s forearm before taking his hand in his and stating seriously, “But no, truthfully? I find everything about you endearing.”
“Pfft,” Patrick said with a shake of his head, averting his eyes, and Augustus smiled even more as they started off to grab a late lunch as they usually did on days like this.
As they walked and continued to chat, the young man with the perpetually dyed purple hair became more and more relaxed, telling Augustus all about Professor Kettleton’s astonishingly dull class and then the one before it, in which someone (surprisingly not himself) had spilt paint all over a brand new set of canvases.
Augustus listened and he laughed, but there was still something off inside him and he knew it as keenly as he knew how uneasy it would make Patrick if he brought it up, so instead he made jokes about how the damaged canvases could be the start of some novel creative project and all the while the feeling that something was wrong within him, grew.
* * * *
Everything was fine. It was as it always was. Nothing essential had changed. This infatuation had always been illogical, unintelligent, unfounded, and yet seemingly impossible to give up. It only served Gemma right for the door to this childish idiocy to be shut even further. Perhaps now she could get over her abundantly pathetic obsession. Love was nothing but a falsity created by the firing of neurons and the subsequent release of neurotransmitters anyway. Not to mention the complete waste of time it was pursuing a long-term relationship—the majority ended in divorce. Everywhere one looked there were bitter people with bitter tastes in their mouths from learning the bitter reality of what “love” really was.
Gemma did not doubt that there existed exceptions to this in life (her own parents seeming to be one of them), but it seemed rather like playing the lottery. Sure, there were occasionally winners, but the odds were against you multiple millions to one.
“Where are you going?”
Gemma winced, nearly tripping over her heels at hearing her brother’s voice. She had not heard him come in and thus had been under the impression that he was still out with Patrick. As it was though, he’d evidently been sitting at the dining room table, sketching.
Her eyes automatically darted toward his drawing. “Interesting design,” she remarked, ignoring his question.
“It’s been coined a ‘rabgon.’”
“Nothing,” Augustus hastily dismissed. “Were you going to answer my question?”
“Just a lab get together at The Grotto,” Gemma calmly replied. “They do it every month and they’ve been on me about making an appearance so I figured I’d show up and mingle a little.”
“And your intention is to come back home afterward?”
“Yes,” she lied smoothly.
“Are you going to drink?”
“My god, what’s with the third degree?” Gemma finally snapped in annoyance, but Augustus appeared unperturbed, simply looking at her and waiting. She rolled her eyes. “I guess maybe a little? I’m not driving there anyway.”
The two looked at one another for a long unbroken moment, Gemma hastily putting up wall after wall and Augustus trying to see through them before her mental fortress had been completed. She thought she’d done an excellent job too until a crease of worry again appeared between his brows. “Did something happen?”
“Yes,” the eldest of the twins began caustically, “My little brother seems to have turned into my father, which I’m sure has placed me on the forefront of a life-shattering identity crisis.”
Augustus’ face darkened and he leaned back against his chair with his arms folded across his chest before he retorted quietly, “Fuck you, Gemma.”
Even on her best days, she would not have been able to hide the flash of hurt that swept across her face, but she tried not to let her brother see it. “I just fail to see why you’re getting on my case,” she defensively explained. “It’s as though you don’t trust me to look after myself or something.”
Augustus didn’t respond, returning to his sketch with his shoulders tensed and his jaw clenched. It irritated his sister to no end, but no matter—if he wanted to sit there and sulk now then fine.
Without another word Gemma walked out the door, but as soon it closed behind her something crumbled within her. The feeling was almost enough to compel her to turn around and apologize, but pride and remnant annoyance ultimately stopped her from doing so.
He shouldn’t have intruded on her business anyway.
* * * *
“And I said to them, ‘That’s not a ghost, it’s my lab coat!’”
Gemma gave a feeble chuckle as everyone else listening to the cheerful redhead’s story began rolling with laughter, leading her to wonder whether one drink could really impact a person’s cognitive functioning so profoundly or whether she was missing some integral part of the apparently hilarious tale. Not caring enough to deliberate on the question much, Gemma took the moment to bring her own drink to her lips, taking small sips and trying to pretend it didn’t taste like fruits marinated in bleach.
She’d never liked drinking much. Besides the fact that she found the majority of drinks foul-tasting she didn’t like the feeling it gave her—like thick churning clouds were gathering in her mind. It made her dizzy and unable to think as clearly as she was used to, and this she always found to be a frightening experience.
Still, in moderate doses she found that it at least made her fellow research team members more tolerable, and so it was that she listened to Kelsey begin yet another story, this time about a squirrel she once encountered that looked remarkably like a Chihuahua and her subsequent rabies scare. Gemma laughed lightly at the appropriate parts while both deciding that she was an idiot and surreptitiously scanning the room. There were a few people who she had caught stealing glances at her and one young man in particular was rather intriguing as he had looked in her direction multiple times and at one point had even looked like he was going to approach her, but upon seeing the large crowd she was in, evidently decided against it.
He was drinking a beer and playing pool with a few of his friends, his long black hair falling into his eyes as he kept a watchful eye on the game. Gemma couldn’t help but notice that he was quite attractive, and so it was that the next time she anticipated him to look her way, she briefly caught his eye and then shyly looked away, taking yet another sip of her drink. She made a charming comment (“What a nutty tale”) to her fellow colleagues, listened to them nearly die from lack of oxygen at laughing so hard, and then excused herself under the pretext of getting another drink.
There was every possibility of course that the young man would not take the opening, but not even a minute later Gemma caught a glimpse of him setting down his pool cue, saying a few quick words to his friends, and then making his way toward the bar. Gemma pretended to be debating on a drink, slightly tilting her head so as to look cutely puzzled. She wasn’t sure yet what most appealed to him, but he’d taken well to her pretending to be shy, so perhaps he would like this too.
“Hey,” he said as he came up beside her. Gemma pretended to be startled, looking at him in surprise and then smiling a little before looking away again.
“Hey.…” she said, feigning embarrassment, and glanced at him once more, taking note of the lopsided smirk that had appeared on his handsome face. Oh, he definitely found this enticing and she had no doubt that by the end of the night she could make it so that he’d be desperate to fuck her.
So Gemma hoped at least because there was nothing she wanted more than to chase away the deep-set ache that had settled in her chest, even if it wouldn’t last and even if it ultimately only made her situation worse.
The brief reprieve was worth it though and that probably meant something darkly significant, but Gemma couldn’t have brought herself to care if she tried.
It was all so very stupid and yet it clung to her like leeches.
* * * *
Augustus ran his hand roughly through his hair and heaved a heavy sigh. He should not have lost his temper with his sister—should not have given up on their conversation so easily. Something had happened to upset her, he knew that it had, and yet he’d allowed his frustration to get the better of him and let her walk right out that door. The result? He hadn’t heard from her since the brief text she’d sent him late last night stating she’d be staying out.
It shouldn’t have given him that much cause for concern, but it did because when Gemma sent such texts she usually came home before the sun rose and now it was approaching noon and Augustus still hadn’t heard from her. It flooded his body with dread, causing him to lose his appetite and his focus for anything other than glancing at his phone every few minutes in the hopes that he had somehow missed a text or a call. He had received a few texts from Patrick while he was at work and those at least had been momentarily distracting, but mostly every time he received one he couldn’t help but wish that they’d been from his unsettlingly silent sister instead.
Finally sick of being a slave to his cell phone, Augustus slipped on a pair of shoes and ventured outside. It was a chilly morning, the brisk air immediately causing him to stuff his hands into the pockets of his hoodie as he wandered off in the vague direction of campus. As it was Saturday there wouldn’t exactly be much going on, but it was more about him walking a familiar path rather than heading for any particular destination.
It was silly to worry anyway. Gemma could take care of herself and it wasn’t his business what she got up to as she was perfectly free to make her own choices—even if the choices weren’t ones that he personally agreed with. Then again, as her brother, wasn’t it his right to at least express his concerns if he had them? He had always been open and accepting of her choices up to this point, after all. He accepted the fact that they shared different views on some subjects and he rarely tried to stop her from acting on her decisions. Lately though, it all felt different. It didn’t feel like she was “having fun” and it didn’t feel like she was simply “acting on completely normal human impulses.” It felt wholly…off.
So yes Augustus was concerned and yes he was going to bring it up and fuck he shouldn’t have lost his goddamn motherfucking temper because now she was god knows where with god knows who and—
Augustus collided with something, or rather someone very solid and if he had been even a few pounds lighter he would have been knocked backward onto his ass. As it was, the person who he smacked into was the one to be sent reeling and loudly swearing in Spanish.
“Sorry,” Augustus gasped, instantly horrified. “I wasn’t watching where I was—” He stopped talking, his mouth slightly open in mixed surprise and something else he didn’t really care to place as he realized that he knew the person he’d nearly barreled over. “….Isaac?” he asked incredulously.
The tanned young man’s brow momentarily creased with confusion as he rubbed his likely aching head, but then his familiar hazel eyes widened with recognition. “Gus?” he asked, also in surprise and with that unsettling trace of something else and then, “Augustus!” boisterously before he broke into a warm laugh. “Holy shit! I didn’t recognize you at first. Your hair got long.”
“Oh…yeah. I uh, guess it did,” Gus confirmed, self-consciously reaching up to touch it.
“It suits you,” Isaac replied with a smirk, and then before Augustus could respond said, “I didn’t even know you went here, man. I mean I remember you saying you wanted to come here, I just didn’t know it’s where you ended up. HI. Damn.”
“Hey,” Augustus said, smiling weakly, and then cleared his throat before adding, “I uh—I didn’t know you went here either.”
“I don’t! Or well, didn’t,” he corrected with a shrug of his shoulders. “I’m transferring in next semester—just dropped off some paperwork today they said they never got. I guess I could have mailed it again, but since it got lost the first time….” Isaac rolled his eyes. “Anyway, so you’re still painting, yeah?”
“Yeah. And you’re still—?”
“Doing fuck all because I have no clue what I want in life?” Isaac interrupted with a knowing smirk. “Sort of—I spend pretty much all day on the computer designing and playing video games, only now I figure I may as well try and get paid for it, yeah? Damn! That reminds me of that stupid puzzle game I had you test! The one where like halfway through you called me up all pissed saying it was impossible to solve and even your sister couldn’t figure it out? Do you remember that?”
“How could I forget?” Augustus dryly remarked. “It turned out that you’d ‘accidently’ made it unsolvable.”
Isaac began cracking up and had to take a few breaths before he managed to say, “It WAS an accident! A programming error! And you were complaining like ‘I’ve been at this for three hours, Isaac!’ HAHAHAHA. Damn, let’s hope my games aren’t that shitty now, huh?”
“I’m sure they aren’t,” Augustus felt compelled to reassure him, and then feeling his face heat up haltingly added, “Well, you know, judging by the ones I played. Like even that one I mean, it wasn’t shitty up until that point.”
“Thanks,” Isaac said, and the same handsome grin spread across his face, his bright hazel eyes twinkling in amusement.
Augustus tensed and averted his gaze, firmly attributing the skipped beat of his heart to his continued surprise at seeing an old friend and not how well that lazy smile suited him. Of course, “old friend” wasn’t exactly the right term, but what else would you call a mutual crush that never went anywhere because you were both too hesitant and too afraid to pursue it seriously and by the time you’d mustered up the courage to take a chance it turned out maybe he wasn’t interested after all and then he literally moved the fuck away?
Deciding that “old friend” was as good a description as any, Augustus cleared his throat again and then conversationally asked, “So…you went to community college then?”
“Yup,” Isaac answered with a nod, slipping his hands into the pockets of his torn jeans and rocking back on his heels. “Went for two years and now I’m here—and lost as hell. Sorry about crashing into you like that. I was trying to figure out where I was and didn’t think to check what was in front of me,” he admitted with a short laugh at his expense.
“Oh, um, it’s okay.…Where are you headed?”
“Ah, the parking lot?” Isaac began uncertainly. “I mean there’s probably more than one, but I remember it was huge..…You can tell I’m real creative by my awesome description. I’m clearly going to make a great video game designer.”
Augustus smiled a bit. “It’s fine. There are many parking lots to be honest, but there’s only one that’s of any decent size and that’s literally straight across the other side of campus,” he said with a nod in the exact opposite direction Isaac had been walking.
“Awesome. You can tell I’d make a good navigator too. I’ll keep that in mind as a back-up career.”
“Then maybe a stand-up comedian as a third choice?”
“I mean I’d have at least one fan, wouldn’t I?” he asked with a wink, and Augustus bit his lip as he mentally debated whether this was or wasn’t solely a friendly remark. Before he could decide though Isaac energetically followed up with, “Hey, maybe at the start of the next semester you could show me around this place?”
The dark-haired young man hesitated in answering. His stomach felt like it was twisted up in even more knots than it had been this morning and though the sun was shining directly upon them he still felt cold.
It was only an informal tour of the campus to help someone out though, so why was he getting so uptight about it? In fact, he’d sound like a real dick if he didn’t agree to help, and anyway anything between them had been a whole five years ago, so finally he managed to reply, “Uhh, sure. No problem. We could find your classes and I could point out the main buildings and all. Like that—that’s the clock tower,” he stated inanely, gesturing toward the very prominent and very obvious campus structure.
Isaac turned look at it and then opened his eyes wide in apparent fascination as he exaggeratedly exclaimed, “Holy crap! What a clock! WOW. Yes. I can see why they call it that. Fucking genius.”
Augustus found himself laughing before he shook his head and commented, “Good to see you’re still an idiot.”
“I aim to please,” he said with a small, mischievous smirk, and Augustus found that he had to look away again, now definitely feeling uncomfortable.
Isaac seemed to notice this time though because he quickly cleared his throat and followed up with, “Ah…sorry. I didn’t mean to—”
“No, it’s fine. It’s just that I’m actually see—”
“It’s just so wild running into you, Gus. I mean, we were…good friends,” Isaac cut in haltingly, and then averted his gaze when Augustus looked up at him with his eyebrow raised. The brown-haired young man’s long bangs fell into his bright eyes and he reached up to absently toy with his ear piercing. “Sucks we fell out of contact…but things happen that aren’t always in our control, you know?”
Augustus frowned slightly, feeling somewhat puzzled as to what he was getting at so he carefully replied, “Actually, I’m not sure what you—”
“Shit!” Isaac abruptly hissed, smacking himself in the forehead. “I just remembered that it’s my day to pick up my brother and sister from school. I gotta get going. Your number’s still the same?”
“Huh? Oh, uh yes, you—?”
“Great. Take care, yeah? I’ll see you around!” he said with yet another grin, and then took off running in the opposite direction.
Augustus stared after him with his mouth slightly agape. He felt like Isaac hadn’t so much as had a conversation with him as smacked him upside the head and bolted. The odds of having bumped into him (literally) had to have been incredibly low and somehow Augustus couldn’t help but feel that the fact that he had wasn’t a lucky happenstance, but an unfortunate one. It stirred up too many memories—memories he had no desire to relive.
Firmly establishing that his attempt to clear his mind by taking a walk had failed spectacularly, the dark-haired young man slowly began to make his way back home. The wind picked up, a group of clouds covered the sun, and with a heavy heart, Augustus wondered not only how he could have been so unlucky, but also how such a simple conversation could have left him feeling so damn guilty.
* * * *
Gemma was awoken by a thin beam of sunlight casting a long stripe across her eyelids. She tried to turn away from it, but was startled when she bumped into another person. For a millisecond she panicked, but then the memories of the night before cascaded into her mind like marbles being poured across a hardwood floor—swiftly and jarringly. Gemma stifled a groan, covering her face with her arm as she lay against flat, faded gray pillows. A dull ache was throbbing in her head from having had one too many drinks and the presence of the relentless sun made her heart sink as she realized she’d accidently spent the entire night and it looked like, most of the morning.
Thinking she could still hopefully avoid any awkward conversations, Gemma slipped out of the young man’s bed as carefully and quietly as possible, bare feet padding across worn carpeting as she played an undesired game of hide and seek for her clothing. For a while it looked like she was going to be forced to leave her damn panties in some stranger’s apartment, but then she found them in the living room, lying abandoned by the front door. Oh, right….
Finally fully dressed, Gemma made to leave but then realized that though she had her clutch she didn’t have her cell phone.
Doubling back, she re-entered the bedroom and then winced as she found the dark-haired young man not only awake, but dressed in a pair of sweatpants that hung low on his hips and smoking a cigarette as he massaged his shoulder blade. He looked up when she entered and smirked in delight, causing Gemma to automatically steel herself for the worst.
“Thought you left,” he remarked.
Gemma gestured dumbly to her cellphone sitting on the nightstand. He looked over at where she pointed and then merely stated, “Ahh.”
Hoping that would be the end of it, the curly-haired brunette grabbed her cellphone and gripped it tightly in her hand, turning to go, but his voice stopped her in her tracks again, “Well, if you’re not in a rush I could make it worth your while to stay.”
Gemma raised her eyebrow inquiringly and he took a brief pull from his cigarette before adding, “I’m not a bad cook? Of course if you’re looking at me like that because you’ve got a different kind of hunger, I still say I could make staying worth your while.”
Resisting the urge to laugh, Gemma gave him an apologetic smile before saying, “I’m actually in a bit of rush. I was supposed to meet up with my friend a half an hour ago.”
“Liar,” the tall young man said quietly, but there was still a smirk on his lips as he once again brought his cigarette to them.
Gemma felt her heart rate increase, but besides having a vague sense of unease she didn’t quite get the feeling that he was going to do anything. Most likely, she rapidly deduced, he was behaving defensively because his masculinity had been injured by her rejection or something.
“I really am in a hurry,” she insisted. “My brother’s my roommate and he’s probably getting worried that I’m not home yet. He’s…a little overprotective, I suppose you could conclude.”
The young man, Takashi as she recalled now, narrowed his eyes, but gradually a tight-lipped smile appeared upon his face and he shrugged before lightly saying, “Suit yourself.”
It took a supreme effort not to sigh in relief. Not that she’d been lying at least this time—her brother was most likely worried and he was a little overprotective. In fact the only time Gemma could recall her twin ever getting in trouble was in the eleventh grade when he’d lost his temper after some idiot in the hallway thought it would be funny to smack her ass. Gemma had not shared his sense of humor, but before she could react her brother had shoved him into a locker. It’d been rather shocking actually and even the Dean must have thought so because Augustus had only received a one-day suspension out of it. He didn’t even get into much trouble with their parents because although Dad wasn’t happy and made it a strong point that it was an inappropriate way of reacting and that Gus should have known better, Mom, though also not thrilled, privately admitted to him later that she would have done the same. Augustus, meanwhile, had probably been harder on himself than anyone else—though he did admit, much to Gemma’s surprise, that he couldn’t quite bring himself to regret it.
Still feeling somewhat wary, Gemma sidled over to Takashi and tiptoed to press a tender kiss to his cheek and then the corner of his mouth. “Thank you for understanding,” she murmured in an effort to ensure that she didn’t leave him angry.
Takashi hesitated, seeming momentarily confused, as though he thought he’d figured her out and was now thoroughly doubting himself. He took a brief drag of his cigarette, exhaled, and then said, “Ah sure, no problem. Maybe we’ll even meet up again sometime?”
“Maybe,” Gemma replied with a shy smile, and then turned around to leave, honestly hoping that they never would.
* * * * *
When Gemma got home it was to find that the large house her parents had rented for them was completely empty. The silence pressed on her ears and brought the omnipresent ache in her chest back to the forefront of her mind. Taking in a shaky breath, the young brunette took out her phone, seeing the one brief message sent by her twin hours ago, “Please text me as soon as you can.”
“I’m so sorry, Gus—I slept in,” she hastily typed. “I’m safely at home now. Where are you?”
Gemma chewed on her thumbnail while she waited for a response, absently humming a fragmented tune in a half-hearted attempt to break up the quiet.
Finally feeling stupid, she gradually made her way up to the second floor. She wanted to take a long, hot shower to wash away the lingering scents of cigarettes, alcohol, and cheap cologne, but she suddenly felt so endlessly tired. Climbing onto her bed, Gemma kicked her heels onto the floor and grabbed the nearest pillow to her, hugging it very tightly.
It’s okay, she thought to herself as her eyes began to burn. It’s okay. You’re okay. All of this will pass.
If Gemma hadn’t known that she was a well-practiced liar, she might have believed the logical words to be true.
* * * *
When Augustus arrived back at the house his first feeling was of mild confusion because although he had received a text from his sister stating that she was safely at home, she was nowhere to be seen. He stood silently, listening for some sign that she might still be there, but the place was quiet and exactly as he had left it this morning.
Feeling a little worried now, Augustus made his way upstairs and then hesitated as he noted the door to Gemma’s bedroom was shut. It explained where she was as it had been opened when he left, but still the sight did little to steady his nerves. She had told him that she was safe, but what if something bad had happened after all?
Finding it stupid to simply stand there debating whether or not she was okay, Augustus walked right up to the door and knocked. The sound seemed to reverberate throughout the house, causing him to wince, but evidently it wasn’t loud enough because he heard no response in return.
“Gemma?” he called, moving closer to the door, and then froze as he thought he heard a sniffle. “Gem….?”
The door abruptly opened and the next thing he knew the breath had been knocked out of him and his eyesight had become obstructed by a mass of fluffy brown curls as his twin barreled into him and threw her arms around him. Augustus stumbled, but somehow managed to keep his balance as she held onto him tighter and began to let out these horrible, gut-wrenching sobs that made him feel as though someone was digging a knife into his ribs.
“Shhh,” he hastened to hush her as he enfolded her in his arms. “Shhh, Gemma, please. What happened? Are you hurt? Did someone—”
Augustus stopped as his sister let out another particularly painful cry. A lump rose in his throat, his fear rising exponentially, but it was no use trying to get answers when she was like this, so instead he continued to hold her, occasionally mumbling phrases like “I’m here” and “You’re okay” as he struggled to both soothe her and keep his mind from getting ahead of itself. He wished he knew what his parents would say to her, for unlike him they always seemed to have the right words. Unlike him, they weren’t utterly useless.
“Gemma,” he forced himself to try again. “What—”
“I’m sorry I was rude to you,” she sobbed into his shoulder, her body trembling. “I know you were just trying to help. I don’t know what’s wrong with me! I’m so stupid. I hate this. I hate me. I—”
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Augustus interrupted, unable to stand Gemma talking about herself like that. “I was rude too and there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not stupid and you’re not to be hated. You—”
“I am though! I’m so stupid! I can’t…I can’t get over this and I hate it and it’s so dumb and—”
Augustus cut in a second time as he realized what she was talking about. “You’re not stupid and it’s not dumb! Not if it means something to you,” he insisted fervently, taking a step back and firmly gripping her arms. “Look, I know not everyone would agree, but I really don’t give a single fuck. If it means something to you, and it’s hurting you, then it isn’t stupid regardless of whether anyone agrees or not.”
Gemma let out a sharp breath. She seemed quite taken aback, an observation that made Augustus’ stomach turn with guilt. “Sorry—”
“No, don’t be,” she whispered. “I needed that. You’re right. I know you’re right. I’m so sorry, I just—”
Her voice cracked and Augustus drew her into his arms once again. Whether it was for her benefit or his though, he couldn’t be sure. All he knew was that he held her closely, as if by doing so he could somehow keep her from falling apart.
“He’s seeing someone now,” she continued brokenly, her voice muffled by her hands. “It literally changes nothing, but it still….”
“Hurts…?” Augustus tentatively supplied. “And no, that’s not stupid either. I get it, Gem.”
He wanted to say more, but didn’t know what else he could. His throat felt uncomfortably tight. There was little worse than seeing his sister like this…except, of course, being unable to stop it.
It was unclear how much time passed before Gemma sniffled and let go of him, futilely wiping her eyes. “If I was…If I was offered some sort of spell or magic potion or…or experimental procedure to forget that he ever existed, I would accept it in a heartbeat,” she uttered quietly.
“If I knew how to, I would invent it.”
The eldest of the twins took a steadying breath and Augustus watched her uneasily, both afraid that she would breakdown again and afraid because he knew that eventually, she would. It all seemed to happen in predictable cycles, in which she could appear perfectly fine for months and then all of a sudden crash before picking herself back up and starting the whole process again. Augustus would have given anything to break this insidious pattern, but so far nothing that he had ever said, done, or suggested had seemed to help. It made him feel powerless, and even though his twin always insisted that he was nothing but helpful, he continued to feel as though he was failing. It didn’t matter if he knew it wasn’t his responsibility to figure everything out for her; what mattered was that he wanted to, and the fact that he couldn’t made him feel so damn awful.
“I doubt if it’s even him that this is all about,” Gemma mumbled, averting her gaze. “I mean, what do I even know about him? And yet….” She gestured vaguely, her voice trailing off.
“Maybe…if you tried…getting to know someone else….Just as a…a friend maybe even,” he began hesitantly, and then stopped when Gemma’s unsettling lavender-gray eyes rose to meet his. “I don’t mean that in a rude way,” he hastened to clarify.
“I know you don’t, Gus. And you’ve suggested this before, but….” She looked away, absently biting her thumbnail and then whispered, “People don’t tend to like me very much.”
“I think they would if they really got to know you,” Augustus expressed.
“Of course you would think that—you’re my brother…and my best friend.”
The two siblings fell quiet for a long expanse of time, Gemma occasionally wiping her eyes and Augustus feeling both helpless and a little foolish. He genuinely believed his words to be true, but he also knew that it wasn’t that simple. If it was, she wouldn’t be in this situation. If it was, he’d have been able to fix this. Augustus knew it wasn’t simple, but that didn’t stop him from wishing that it could be.
“I’m going to take a shower,” Gemma mumbled, taking a self-conscious step back. “I smell like a sweaty ashtray.”
“Well I wasn’t going to be the one to say it,” Augustus remarked in a half-hearted attempt at humor, and his twin inexplicably laughed a little.
“I’m so sorry, Gus,” his sister said, looking up at him guiltily. “I keep doing this to you and that’s completely unfair.”
“It’s okay….You don’t need to apologize,” Augustus insisted. I do, because I keep failing you.
Gemma briefly bit her lip and then took in a deep breath. “Regardless, I promise I’m going to figure everything out. I can’t let this continue happening over and over again.”
Augustus kept his gaze downcast, uncomfortably aware that similar words had already been spoken—uncomfortably aware of how this meant he kept falling short. He cleared his throat. “I’ll do whatever I can to help….Even if it means hunting down a genie or a witch or something for you.”
Gemma let out a slight laugh. “I know, Augustus,” she said, and then after a pause softly added, “Thank you…as always.”
He nodded a little and Gemma moved forward, leaning up to kiss his cheek and then disappearing back into her bedroom.
For what felt like the millionth time that day, Augustus heaved a heavy sigh. He was standing on ice rent by jagged cracks and there was no way to tell in which direction it’d be safest to step. Every path looked risky, and so he stood, aware that the ice had begun to splinter beneath his feet, but able only to stand very still and hope that somehow, it wouldn’t give way.
To be continued soon.