“What do you want? I thought I told you to stop calling me. Next time, I’ll get a restraining order!”
“You know what I want. I want to wish my son a happy birthday.” I hated absolutely every call I made to Nikki, but that didn’t stop me from calling, anyway. Even if I never got to see Leander again, I wanted to at least make sure Leander knew that his dad wasn’t just some deadbeat who didn’t care about him; that his dad at least tried and tried and tried to be a part of his life. That was why I kept calling, even though I hated having to talk to Nikki. There was always that chance that maybe one day… just maybe, I’d hear my son’s voice instead.
“Give it up, Seb! I told you to back off! You want to help him? Keep writing your child support cheques and leave us both the hell alone!”
“That’s not how it works, Nikki!” I snapped. “If I’m paying child support for him, I have a right to be in his life! I don’t want to take him away from you. I’d rather he have both his mom and dad, but I will fight for full custody if I have to, so if you don’t want that, I’d like to wish my son a happy birthday, please.”
“Are you threatening me?!”
“I’m being honest with you. Are you going to let me wish Leander a happy birthday or not?” I had no patience with Nikki anymore. Part of me would always care about her because she’s my son’s mother, but there was no way I could ever let go of all the stress and pain she put me through over the last couple years and be with her again. That was over. It was sad for me, but really the only part about it that killed me inside was knowing that Leander would never know what it was like to have a proper family with a mom and dad who loved each other and raised him together. Then again, I didn’t exactly have that growing up, either, but at least I had the comfort of knowing that Dad loved Mom and it was a tragic death that tore them apart, not a bitter breakup. Then Monica came into our lives when we were still pretty young. It took me a long time to accept her, but she’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a mother and I do love her now. Leander did nothing wrong. He didn’t ask to be born into this situation and he’s the one who’s suffering because his parents can’t get along. That’s what hurts me the most.
“No. Get lost.”
“Then I’ll see you in court,” I retorted, angrily pressing the End Call button and tossing the phone on the table… which of course caused the screen to shatter. I cursed under my breath and rubbed my face.
“Hey, Seb? You’d better come quick,” Ariel’s voice pulled me out of my own little world. I looked up.
“Why? What’s wrong?” I asked.
I bolted after Ariel as soon as those words were out of her mouth. I always feared the worst when it came to my sisters and when I saw Rayne crying her eyes out, my medical training kicked in out of nowhere. I was kneeling next to her, checking her pulse and feeling for signs of a high temperature or trauma. “Rayne, talk to me. What’s wrong? What happened?” I asked urgently, trying to keep myself calm for her sake while I pressed two fingers against the side of her neck to check for a regular pulse there.
“It’s fine, Seb, no need to go all doctor on her, she’s not hurt. Just upset,” Ariel told me. I scowled at her.
“Well why didn’t you just tell me that? You gave me a heart attack over nothing,” I grumbled. Between fighting with Nikki, not being able to talk to Leander on his birthday and now this false alarm with Rayne, I wasn’t in a very good mood.
“Well gee, sorry for thinking her big brother might want to cheer her up!”
I just ignored Ariel and rolled my eyes, returning my attention to Rayne. “So what’s up? Why are you crying?” I asked her. I found some tissues lying on a table nearby and handed her some.
“I’m failing… my professor just told me today that unless I manage a 98% on my exam, I have no hope of passing this semester…” she sobbed miserably. I had to take a few seconds to let that sink in, because frankly, I had a hard time getting the concept through my head. Rayne? Rayne Sword? My baby sister who’s so smart, she could probably join MENSA if she wanted to, was failing school?! How in the world could that possibly happen?! What was going on?
“You? Failing?” I stammered, flabbergasted. “But… Rayne, you’re a genius!” Rayne just shook her head while her tears streaked down her face, taking most of her makeup along with them.
“With reading and writing and math and stuff… not art,” she sniffed. “My drawings suck and I hate all my classes. I just want to go home, but Dad’s going to kill me as soon as I walk in the door and tell him I flunked out, anyway, so what’s the point?” Well, I wasn’t about to let that happen. Rayne wasn’t the only genius in this family. I might not be much of an artist, but if a genius couldn’t tutor another genius to get a 98% on an exam, then I wouldn’t be much of a genius, would I? I’d have to squeeze some time to tutor my sister into my schedule. There was no way I was just going to shrug my shoulders and let her flunk out.
“No he’s not, because you’re not flunking out,” I told her matter-of-factly, crossing my arms with a smirk that hopefully said I was ready to take on this seemingly impossible challenge. “Because you’re going to get that 98% and I’m going to help you. Study sessions with me every night from now until the exam and if you don’t get 98% after that, I’ll… I don’t know, shave my head or something,” I told her. That got a giggle out of her, at least. She lifted her eyebrows disbelievingly.
“Your whole head, huh? Alright, let’s do it. I really don’t want to deal with Dad if I have to tell him I failed.”
And I really didn’t want to have to shave my head if she didn’t get 98% on that exam. Extra motivation for both of us.
Study sessions with Rayne were hellish. I could tutor her until I was blue in the face… er… well, bluer than I already am, anyway, and to her credit, she did try really hard, but when you just don’t care about what you’re studying, it’s even harder to focus and do well. I wouldn’t give up, though. If Dad taught me anything during my childhood, it was that you never give up on your family, no matter what. I wouldn’t give up on Leander or Rayne or Ariel, ever… even if the latter two liked to test my patience…
“What’s with the club dress?” I asked Ariel with raised eyebrows when she walked into the dining hall and sat down one afternoon.
“Party tonight at the bowling alley,” she told me, grabbing some toast off my plate for herself without asking, as per usual. “All the jocks’ll be there. You should come with me. There’s a girl going that you might like. Well… mostly, anyway,” she confessed.
“What do you mean, mostly?” I asked skeptically. I wasn’t really much of a party guy and I was still pretty hung up on Nikki, even if I knew we weren’t ever getting back together. Girls and dating hadn’t really been on my mind lately.
“Her name’s Nicole,” Ariel admitted.
“What?! You’re going to reject every single girl you meet for the rest of your life with the same name as your ex? That’s a really dumb reason not to give someone a chance. Not every Nicole on the planet is a bitch, you know,” my sister argued.
“I know that, I just…” I trailed off, realising I really didn’t have any kind of good argument against that. I sighed and shook my head. “Okay, fine. I’ll come with you. I’ll at least talk to her. I guess that can’t hurt.”