Author’s Note: When I decided to write this story using the template I’d created for another one of my stories where there was so much past that had to go in for the “modern” plot to make sense, I also picked up on one habit from before: as much as the flashbacks went in a more or less chronological order, they also had a tie, if only in the warped definitions of my mind, to the modern scene before it. That is the case here, where I tied them together by Beacan getting teased.
The Joke’s on Beacan
“I don’t want you doing this again.”
Quinn grunted. Candelaria knew that expression. She hated it—that had to be one of the most frustrating things about him. He’d just asked how she thought she’d stop him, and she knew she couldn’t. She couldn’t convince him to change his mind, couldn’t make him hate himself or the world any less than he did, couldn’t make him see that he didn’t always have to fight or push people away.
“I mean it, Quinn. We discussed this last night. We had a plan about the food.”
“And it sucked. We all know that. Just shut up and eat,” he said, pushing the sandwich toward her. She wasn’t sure when he’d managed to steal them, but he’d waited until they were on the train and couldn’t do much about it to give them the sandwiches.
“Maybe you can send them some money later,” Leah said. She bit her lip, and Candelaria sighed, reaching over to help her with the package. Quinn reached into his pocket and pulled out his Swiss army knife, throwing it to Beacan. Her brother smiled, opening the knife and cutting the plastic.
“I didn’t want to steal anything.”
“And you didn’t. You need to eat.”
“What about you?” Candelaria almost cursed when she didn’t see a sandwich in front of him. “Don’t tell me that you stole sandwiches for us and didn’t bother to get one for yourself. I know you have a thing against food you didn’t make yourself, and I understand why, but you can’t starve yourself just because we don’t have a kitchen. The odds of someone having laced these things with anything is like millions to one.”
Quinn glared at her. Beacan distracted him by passing him the knife, and he frowned as he took it back, stashing it away again.
“Here,” Leah said, holding out her sandwich to Quinn. “I already took a bite of mine, and you can see I’m okay. You can eat that one.”
“If he really didn’t get one for himself, he’d better have some from each of ours,” Beacan said, shaking his head. “That way we all get something. You know you have to eat more than a bite, Leah.”
Quinn looked at the sandwiches being held out to him. “You are all nuts.”
“We ran away with you. You honestly think we wouldn’t share our food?”
“Then eat it.”
He shook his head, taking out a package of lunch meat. He settled back against the side of the car, opening it up. “I hate turkey, and that was all they had for the sandwiches. Besides, those ones have that nasty lettuce and stale mayonnaise. Oh, and Swiss cheese. That stuff is disgusting.”
Candelaria blinked. She didn’t know what to think of Quinn’s behavior, but she had a feeling he was lying about the turkey thing like he’d lied about the chocolate. He just wanted to avoid eating a sandwich someone else had made.
“You could just have said you had that,” Beacan said, sitting back with his sandwich, grumbling to himself. Leah just smiled, humming a bit as she returned to eating her sandwich.
Candelaria caught Quinn smiling, but when he saw her looking at him, he made a big deal of putting a slice of ham into his mouth. Times like this, she could see the boy Quinn should be, a playful one without all the hurt and pain and the unjust conviction. He should be able to be like that more often, but she didn’t think that he would.
“Do you think the train will stop again soon?”
Quinn shrugged. “I don’t know. Freight trains don’t have schedules posted for the public. I don’t know where we’re going to end up. We might want to start looking for a good place to get off.”
“It would have to be when it slowed down.”
“None of us here are suicidal.”
Quinn snorted. “You say that, but you’re here with me, so I think someone’s in denial.”
“This is about living,” Candelaria said. She looked down at her sandwich. “The food may not be the best or even legal, but it’s not about that. It’s not about having a fine house or even a bed to sleep in. It’s about being with the people we want to be with.”
Beacan smiled. “Well, not all of us are here for you, Quinn. Some of us would rather be here because of someone else.”
“It’ll be a few years before Leah’s legal, you know.”
Beacan choked on his sandwich, coughing. Leah turned red, and Quinn smirked, finishing off his ham. Candelaria shook her head. “Quinn, sometimes—”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Completely inappropriate.”
“Can I stay in here for a while?”
Quinn gave Beacan a look, and he figured he was out the door in another second, but he didn’t want to get kicked out. He didn’t know where else to go, and he knew that everyone would just laugh if they knew why he was trying to hide. Candelaria already did, and staying in her room wasn’t an option. He’d tried the Howells’ room, not thinking anyone would dare follow him in there, but he’d been wrong.
“Beacan, one of the things that has been clear from the beginning around here is that my room is off-limits to all of you. I don’t want you here. I don’t want the maid in here. You are not staying.”
“You know Leah’s friends are all here, right? Big huge slumber party—”
“I know. I already did the bogeyman act and made sure they were all going to stay far away from me and my room for the duration of the night. Then Mrs. Howell tried to ground me again, which was its usual stupidity. I considered leaving, but your sister was watching last I knew, so there’s not much point yet. I’ll go if I need to.”
“I need to.”
Quinn frowned. “Can’t stand the sight of a bunch of girls in pink running around giggling? Does that go against some secret Beacan code of ethics? They’re just girls. No cooties. Hmm. I wonder if cooties is like the child form of an STD—”
Quinn smiled, enjoying Beacan’s discomfort. He’d ruined that word for him now, and he was probably proud of it. “Go away, Beacan.”
“I can make you leave.”
Beacan let out a breath. “You don’t understand. They’re playing truth or dare. Apparently, no one is brave enough to take the dare to come close to you, but for me… I think every single one of those girls has tried to kiss me tonight. One of them even professed her ‘undying love’ for me. She used her tongue.”
Quinn burst out laughing, rolling back on his bed and thoroughly enjoying himself at Beacan’s expense. Beacan glared at the older boy, wanting to hate him, but if he got in a fight with Quinn, he’d have to go back out there and face the girls. He’d have to get lip gloss or maybe even lipstick on him, and he could still smell that cherry stuff. The glitter hadn’t come off when he washed his face, and he was going to be a laughingstock at school on Monday.
“It’s not that funny.”
“Oh, no, Beacan, it’s hilarious,” Quinn said, sitting up again. “You’re afraid of all the pretty little girls who are in love with you. I’d almost say something about your future there, but I’m not sure I want to know that about you.”
“Quinn, I like girls. I like them a lot. There’s this girl, Meghan, she’s in my math class and she has this habit of chewing on her pencil that always makes me stare at her lips and I think I’d like to kiss her, but Leah’s friends are… They’re younger than me, and I keep thinking one of them is going to remind her that we’re not related by blood and have her do that.”
“That could be awkward.”
“Awkward? She’s supposed to be my sister.”
“In case you haven’t realized it yet, supposed to doesn’t mean crap. Supposed to is a word you throw out there when you made some kind of mistake. ‘It was supposed to happen like this.’ ‘No one was supposed to get hurt.’ ‘We were supposed to be a family.’ It’s not about what you’re supposed to do. It’s about what you really think. I’ve told you—you’re not my brother. They’re not my sisters. Now, I wouldn’t want to kiss Leah, she’s way too young for me—”
“Don’t tell me you’d kiss Candelaria.”
Quinn laughed again. “There you go—reacting just like a brother. For the record, no. I don’t want to kiss your annoying sister. She just pisses me off, and I would sooner push her into oncoming traffic than make out with her. My point was that I don’t see either of them that way, so I wouldn’t have to trip over that thought if I did want to kiss them. Your problem isn’t that you’re afraid of kissing someone who’s your ‘sister.’ You’re afraid of it because she’s not your sister.”
“What?” Beacan’s head hurt, and he had a terrible feeling that all of Quinn’s logic worked this way, as screwed up as possible.
“I’m saying you don’t want to think about Leah or kissing her because you haven’t put her into the sister category. We may have been living in the same house for a while, but it hasn’t made it true, not for me and not for you. You haven’t accepted her as your sister or me as your brother. I don’t want you to bother seeing me that way, but what worries you so much about kissing Leah is that in the back of your head, you know she’s not blood. So you could do things with her that you’ve been told you’re too young to think of. You need to box her away as a sister and make her off-limits.”
Beacan sat down on the bed, looking over at him. “Can you be lying? I really want you to be lying.”
Quinn shrugged. “You don’t have to listen to me. I’m probably wrong. That’s the story of my life. Now, if you think you’re going to stay in here and hide from all the scary girls, you should know that there is a price to pay…”