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“Friends, right?” Zaboo grinned at Codex in the hotel bathroom. Codex smiled back.
That was years ago, before- before everything had changed
Cyd Sherman sat on the bus seat, thumbed through the latest Lisa Shearin novel, and stared out the window absent mindedly. It had seemed like years since she’d played The Game, instead of just worked at it. Sad to say, but her dream job had become just that, a job. That would change tonight. Definitely tonight.
As soon as she reached home, she logged onto her desktop computer and headed straight to The Game’s site.
“User name, Codex” she started typing, and then hit backspace several times, “Not today” she grinned. “Create new avatar” she spoke as she clicked the icon. “User name, Tallis” she smiled. “Let’s see, blonde hair, blue eyes” As the avatar came together, Codex smiled. This was far more fun than being a boring redhead, or so she thought.
She navigated Tallis through The Game, finding nothing that a starting character could do, but met other players. So much had changed with the Knights of Good. Clara’s blog had taken off, as had Bladezz’s new class at school, business management; Wiggley, Clara’s husband, had gotten back into physical fitness and had opened a modest gym that catered to the Dad Bod.
Codex moved the avatar around the game level, and looked around. As a starting character, she lacked weaponry, armor, or even special clothes. With her avatar dressed in rags, she moved Tallis forward until she came to an unsuspecting guard, with his back towards her. She picked up a piece of debris that lay on the ground and struck the man across his head. The other avatar crumpled and Tallis stole the uniform.
“Nice” a text bubble popped up next to her avatar. She wasn’t speaking. Tallis turned around in game and looked at a blue colored elf. He stared at her from under a archer’s cap and was dressed in a black tunic
“Hi” the pop up bubble appeared
“Hi” Codex typed and extended Tallis’ hand. It still held the pipe that she’d picked up earlier
“I’m looking for some guild members” the other avatar “spoke” via another typed message
“I’m working solo” Codex typed. She’d found real life friends, and the idea of dealing with other players wasn’t what she was looking for right now
“Oh” the elf said in game
Codex configured her avatar to adhere her new vestments into the proper slots. “I wouldn’t mind some company, though” she typed
“I’m a starting character” the other avatar typed
“Ditto” she replied, “I’m Tallis”
“I’m GoldBurger”
“What does that even mean?” she typed
“I like gold. I like burgers” the other avatar responded.
“I have next to nothing right now” Tallis held out the pipe, “I need to get some gold” the avatar gestured to the side with her head
“You have that armor. What about selling it for gold?”
“Forget it” she wrote quickly
GoldBurger took out a bow and arrow and typed, “There’s supposed to be a way around that. Hang on” he flickered onscreen and typed “I’m trying something”
Then he disappeared.
Codex sat back on her chair and wondered what was going on.
Five minutes later, GoldBurger reappeared and the message came onscreen, “I’m in”
“What?” she typed
“I added a guild master to my friends list. Then, when they weren’t online, I sent a message to another member that I was the guild master and that I wanted to drop something into the guild bank, so they should invite me to the guild, then I got in and took everything they had”
“That’s underhanded of you” Codex typed
“Hey, you learn as you go”
“I thought you were a starting character?” she questioned him
“I am, I’m just smarter now” he replied
“I can’t take that gold. You stole it”
“Wow, aren’t you an angel” his reply sounded snarky
“Maybe I have some values”
“Values don’t get you anywhere” he shot back
“I believe they do”
“I used to believe that” GoldBurger wrote
“What changed?” she found herself engrossed in the conversation
“You don’t want to know”
“Do you want to try talking about this?” she wrote
“Not really”
“Alright” Codex was sad. Tallis just stood there and showed no emotion.
The two walked around, quested some more, and finally Tallis found gold that GoldBurger hadn’t stolen from another guild.
“You have a girlfriend?” Tallis asked GoldBurger
“Where did that come from?” Codex said to herself, “Am I that hard up?”
“No” the reply was fast
“Oh” Tallis nodded
Codex smiled quietly. Alone in her room, nobody could see it
“So, single huh?” Tallis’ word bubble appeared
“Yep” the reply shot back
“Maybe you want to the undersea world for a flagon of ale?” she typed
“Never again” he shook his head
“How about we just get somewhere more private” she typed, as a horde of Hungarian barbarians made their way across the screen
“Hang on” GoldBurger shot forward and lunged against the oncoming onslaught of characters.
The commands flew as GoldBurger fought off the group. Tallis stood there momentarily. She wielded her pipe and struck the first character she saw with it, then another, and another, again, and again until the two avatars were fighting off the mass onslaught together.
Soon none were left standing. Only the two characters remained.
“Wow” Tallis extended her hand
“Thanks. You’re pretty good yourself” GoldBurger shook her hand
“Want to keep questing?” Tallis asked
GoldBurger stood there, motionless
Codex sat at the keyboard for several more minutes, and then logged off.
“I wonder what happened?” she sighed. The gaming world was as strange as the real world.
In the months that had passed, the Knights of Good hadn’t disbanded, but had just moved along with their real lives while keeping in contact with each other.
As if on cue, the phone rang
“Codex, this is an emergency”
“Vork, what’s going on? Is everything ok?”
“Negative” he sounded grim, “I’m calling an urgent meeting of the Knights of Good”
“Um, ok”
“Be at my domicile in approximately a quarter of an hour”
“Fifteen minutes? That’s insane”
Codex hung up, grabbed her purse and was out the door. She ran down the hallway of the apartment complex and nearly slammed into Riley
“Hey sweet thing” she sneered at Codex
“I – I’ve got to go”
“I bet you do” she winked
“Uh – ok” Codex sprinted down the staircase and reached the bus stop in record time

At Vork’s house, the other members of the Knights of Good gathered around his computer console
“Guild, we have an emergency” he began, “Madeline has been under attack”
“What are you talking about? She’s some old lady from a dumb sci fi show” Tink sneered
“Bite your tongue, woman” Vork glared at her, “Regardless, my lady has been harassed by unscrupulous beings”
“So what are we here for?” Bladezz shrugged, “I’ve got a term paper due next week”
“Why doesn’t your stepfather help you?” Tink practically stuck out her tongue at him
“Get off my case!” Bladezz shot back, “Bruiser and my Mom are really --- yech --- in love” he nearly retched out the sentence’s last words.
“Enough” Vork stood, “We are here to discuss a real problem”
“We get it” Zaboo sighed, “She’s getting spammed or cyber bullied or something”
“Precisely” he nodded, “Someone is flaming the Charity Maddox page that I created”
“The Time Rings fan page?” Bladezz stared at him, “That’s for --- for people before my time”
“Exactly” Vork replied matter of factly, “but we gladly accept new fans”
“But these guys posting sure aren’t fans” Zaboo exclaimed, “Look at these comments”
Codex swiveled the laptop from Zaboo and caught sight of the photo he’d affixed to the lid. Gone was the poorly photoshopped picture of the two of them together. Instead, was a shot of the entire Guild, taken at Blizzard the previous year
“She should have died on the show, and IRL” Codex read, “Charity Maddox is a whore”, “The captain lucked out when she left. He’d have gotten space scurvy from her ---“ she broke off abruptly, “This is disgusting” she reacted, “If they don’t like her, why are they on this site?”
“He” Zaboo informed, “or she – it’s all from one user”
“That is inconsequential” Vork fumed, “We have to stop whoever it is, now”
“How are we going to do that?” Clara spoke up. The group turned to see her at the door of Vork’s shed
“Did you just get here?” Tink raised an eyebrow
“I was doing a little – weight lifting” she glanced down at her leg. A little boy clung to her right calf
“Mommy, I’m hungry”
“In a minute Blakey, Mommy has to do some real life work now”
“I want peanut butter!” Blake cried
“You are in luck, young man” Vork went to the refrigerator, “I have in my possession, a perfectly good-”
“No!” the others cried in unison. Everyone removed some loose change and thrust it at Clara,
“Here” Codex spoke for the group, “Go down to the Seven Eleven and buy him something
“Nonsense” Vork turned around, holding a plastic jar of peanut butter and a spoon, “While the oils in the substance may have separated, a simple stirring motion will rectify that perceived problem”
“Eh, he already eats stuff off the floor” Clara took the bottle and handed it to her son”
“Don’t you have three kids?” Bladezz raised an eyebrow
“Oh, the girls are in preschool”
“Alright” he didn’t quite believe her
“Hang on; I’m trying to track the ISP that these comments are coming from” Zaboo typed furiously on his laptop, “But it keeps jumping around. This is crazy”
“I saw something like that on a cop show” Bladezz spoke up,
“I know that show.” Clara interrupted, “the cop was so hot looking. Wiggly hated it when I’d get all excited about-”
“Can you locate the ISP origin?” Vork stopped her and spoke to Zaboo
“I’m working on it”
“Wait” Codex realized, “There’s a word for it”
“Yeah, it’s called masking” Zaboo didn’t take his eyes off the screen
“How do they do it?” Clara looked up from her son
““I can't remember the technical specifics anymore” Codex confessed,
“The original ISP is routed multiple times.” Zaboo explained
“I bet it’s that jerk Fawkes” Tink fumed
“Or Bruiser” Bladezz nodded
“Or that awful teacher” Vork surmised, referring to the Axis of Anarchy member who was disabled and in a wheelchair
“It’s none of them” Zaboo finished
“What?” everyone else said in unison
“The ISP is coming from somewhere else, at none of their locations”
“What about a cyber café?” Vork wondered aloud
“Maybe something like that” Zaboo mumbled, and kept typing away, “Look guys” he glanced at the group, “This isn’t going to be solved tonight”
“What?” Vork was incredulous
“Why don’t we all just go home” Zaboo suggested
“Well, I do need to get Blake down for his nap” Clara smiled. The toddler was already asleep in her arms, peanut butter smeared on his face
The rest of the Knights of Good agreed and made their separate ways home

That night, Codex logged on. The day had been stressful, both from work as well as the problems with the hacking situation. She needed to unwind.
At first, she typed in her old avatar name in the login bar, but then changed to Tallis at the last minute.
She didn’t see her guild members, but walked along, aimlessly
“Hey” the text bubble popped up
Tallis turned around and saw GoldBurger
“Hi” she typed, “Do you have a microphone, we could talk?”
“Nah” he wrote back, “Not feeling like it. Friend’s going through problems”
“Oh” she replied, “My friend is having some trouble, too”
“What’s going on?” he seemed eager to know
“Oh—“ Codex typed. She didn’t know if she should bring up Vork’s problems with a complete stranger
“A friend is having problems with internet trolls. Their comments are coming from one user, but many ISPs”
There was a pause. GoldBurger stood on the screen, then sat down. Then his avatar fell asleep
“Um” Codex said aloud
“Hello?” she typed
After several minutes of waiting impatiently, Codex logged off the computer and finally went to bed

At work, Floyd had Codex working on some game logistics
“Does this make sense?” he tossed the papers down on her desk
“I – uh” she faltered
“Get back to me in time for the staff meeting this afternoon” he left the cubicle abruptly
“Um” she sifted through the papers. Terms like “ice cave”, “planetoid”, and “inhabitants” jumped out at her
She began pouring over the material
After what seemed like eons, Codex looked up from the paperwork. It made even less sense now.
“How can players access the Cavern of Solitude if they can’t break though the Ice Plate in order to get there?” she wondered, “There’s no gateway, no secret code, nothing” she fumed silently
“How’s it going?” Floyd poked his bald head around the cubicle wall
“Its going” she forced a smile
“If you’re having problems, go see Donavan, I’m sure he can explain a thing or two” and with that, he was gone
“See Donavan” she smirked, “he was the one who caused that whole leak in the first place” she remembered the riot that had transpired over Vork’s protests and the leak in gaming information. “I don’t need to go to anyone, I’ll just look it up” she logged onto her work computer and pulled up a search engine
“That’s it!” she realized, “How would ISPs change even though one person was commenting?” she typed into the search bar.
Hundreds of possible matches appeared on the screen. She stared at the information overload, and methodically began weeding through the onslaught

Finally, she came upon the definition she’d been looking for, “Web Proxy” she read, “A web proxy is basically a computer (often in another country) that copies your request and sends it to your requested website as if it, and not you, created it” she read the message board reply, “Thank you SpectraCe” she grinned
Work could wait. This was far more important.
She picked up her phone and dialed her Guild members

At Vork’s house, the group stood around the computer console. The outdated cathode ray monitor hummed as Vork typed in commands, directed not by Zaboo, but by Codex
“This” she pointed at the myriad of symbols, letters and numbers, on the screen, is how they did it”
“They?” Clara seemed unsure of what was happening
“Him or her” Bladezz explained, “they don’t know of its dude or a chick”
“Chick this” Tink elbowed him in the ribs
“Hey!” Go take your monthly pill or whatever” he glared at her
“Go take your own meds, you must be off”
“Children, please!” Zaboo held up his hands
“Pipe down” Bladezz shot back
“Yeah, keep out of it” Tink chimed in
“I—wait,” Vork had trouble keeping up
“One second” Codex pushed Vork’s hands away for a moment, and struck a succession of keys
“Now one minute!” Vork fumed
“Sorry” Codex’s eyes didn’t leave the screen, “Just have to” she entered a code and suddenly the screen changed drastically
“How did you figure that out?” Zaboo leaned over, astonished
“Education” she smiled briefly
“Amazing’d” he was stunned
“Whoa” Bladezz raised an eyebrow
“This is like at the LAN party” Tink uttered
“No shit’d” Zaboo blurted
“There, found you” Codex was triumphant
Everyone crowded around Codex, “Who is it?” Vork frowned
“I just have an address” she sighed
“Got it’d!” Zaboo was already typing into his laptop
“What are you doing, stalking them?” Tink scowled at him
“Kind of” Zaboo grinned, “They live at this address, which Codex found, but the house belongs to a Mr. and Mrs. Keith Overton. They make thirty two thousand a year, go to Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and have a ten year old enrolled at an elementary school in the Los Angeles Unified School District”
“Dude, you got to quit doing that” Bladezz shook his head
“No” Vork grimaced at Zaboo; apparently, it was a smile, “He’s given us exactly what we need”
“Ahem” Codex coughed loudly
“You both have”, Vork grimaced at her as well. He looked around at the people in his garage, “Guild members, it’s time for a road trip”

Everyone piled into Vork’s creepy van, Vork driving of course, Zaboo riding shotgun, Tink, Bladezz, Clara and Codex thrown around in the rear of the vehicle
“You know” Codex began, “I’ve been playing around on The Game”
“Really?” Clara looked at her quizzically, “I hadn’t seen you there”
“Well, I was using another avatar, and I-“
“Hang on, another avatar” Bladezz cut in
“Yes, but-“ Codex tried to gain control of the conversation
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but forget about The Game for a moment” Tink derailed Codex’s sentence, “Not only have my parents been thrilled about my fashion designing, but I need help with getting my name out there. Everyone asked my sister where she got her wedding dress from, and when she said my real name, nobody believed her”
“Nobody believed that that was your name?” Bladezz laughed
“No, ass face, that I had made her dress” she threw him a withering look
“Hey, for what it’s worth, I can help you with that” he genuinely smiled at her, “We’ve been going over that in marketing”
“They teach marketing in your school?” Codex left her conversation aside and jumped onto this new one
“It’s kind of like AP, or something. Who knew, huh?” his smile revealed all his teeth
“Geez, close that mouth, nobody wants to die of mold” Tink frowned

The van slowed down outside the house.
“It’s six in the evening, they’re home” Vork saw that the lights were on
“Let’s go. Time to be found’d” Zaboo opened the passenger door
Everyone else tumbled out the back of the van. Together they made their way to the door. Vork pushed his way ahead of the others and rang the bell.
A tall, blonde man in a plaid shirt and jeans opened the door
“Hello, sir” Vork began, “Why have you been harassing my lady?” he shouted
“Your lady? Look mister, I’m married” he held up his left hand
“I have proof that you have been bullying Madeline, from this domicile”
“Bullying? I haven’t done anything” he turned back towards the interior of the house, “Jack! Get over here!”
A ten year old boy ran forward, “Yeah Dad”
“Where’s your computer?”
“In my room” he shrugged
“Go get it, now”
“Alright” he rushed off and returned minutes later
“Do you know anything about what this man is saying?”
“Stop harassing my Madeline!” Vork shouted at the boy
“Who?” he looked blankly at Vork
“Someone ruined his Charity Maddox fan page” Zaboo chimed in from behind Vork
“Oh” he realized. Then he turned back into the house, “Grandma!” he shouted
“Jack, go get her, and don’t shout”
“Ok Dad” he handed the laptop to his father and ran off
Soon, he came to the door, pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair
“Mum, what did you do?”
“Nothing” she frowned at her son
“Grandma, that’s that page you found”
“Mum” the man furrowed his eyebrows
“Why?” Vork glared at her, “Why?”
“She beat me out for it”
“What?” Everyone looked at her
“I was an actress. She was an actress. Look who won”
“Who won? Mum, that show was years ago”
“It was your fault, you little bastard”
“No, I just wanted to say that” she smiled for a moment, and then stared at Vork, “Your girlfriend won that role, but I was the better actress”
“How did you manage to change the ISPs like that?” Codex leaned over Vork’s arm
“Jack helped me” she flashed a brief smile
“Well take it down!” Vork finally shouted, “Take down your comments”
“Why can’t you?” she countered
“I—“ he froze
“Not so smart, are you?” she slammed the door in the Knights of Good’s faces
“Letdown’d” Zaboo shrugged
“This is garbage, let’s go home” Tink turned around and headed for the car
“Yeah, I probably better get the kids into bed” Clara followed her
“Well that blew chunks” Bladezz pulled open the passenger door
“Get in the back” Vork pointed to the rear doors
“Let’s go” Codex helped Tink and Clara in the back of the van

“It’s late” Vork dropped Tink back at the dormitory. They’d already dropped Clara off at home, with an angry Wiggly waiting at the front door, after dropping Bladezz back home, where his sister Dena promptly ratted him out to their mother.
Zaboo was in the rear of the van with Codex
“I know it’s been a long day” she started, “but could I borrow your laptop; I need to check something”
“Sure” he passed it over, “Consider it done’d” he crawled forward and climbed into the passenger seat
“Hmm” she logged into her email. Nothing. Then she headed over to The Game. She was just about to log into that as well, when she noticed that Zaboo’s avatar was already logged in. The message flashed at the top of the screen,
“Welcome GoldBurger”
Codex looked up, stunned. “Oh dear”

Part 28

Syed Residence

“I’m glad that you could meet with us” Raya opened the door. Ryan, Jetta and young Diana stood by
“Here, go ahead” Jetta guided Diana through the front door. Ryan gave their daughter a little nudge
“This is for you” Diana held out a folded piece of construction paper. The word “Sorry” was scrawled in glitter glue. Raya opened the handmade card, “Is sorry I caled the polis” had been painstakingly written in crayon
“How sweet” Raya smiled. It was a kind gesture
“Daddy scolded me” Diana piped up, “Mummy, too”
“Oh” Raya nodded, “Well, come in, please”
“Hi” Omar shook hands with Ryan, “It’s been a long time, bro”
“A long time” Ryan agreed
The couples sat down, Omar and Raya gave Ryan and Jetta first pick. They took the couch, Raya sat on the recliner while Omar took a chair from the dining table that he’d hauled over.
“Niños!” Raya shouted
Diana shuddered from the sound
After a few moments, Carlos and Oded came in. Diana stared at Oded’s wheelchair. He noticed her gaze, “Shiny, huh?” he grinned
The little girl just nodded solemnly
“Carlos” Raya didn’t skip a beat, “Go get your sister, now”
“Sure thing” he shrugged and left
“Hey, chica, get in here” he rapped on her door
“Go away” her voice wafted through the closed door
“Fine, whatever” he stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked back to the living room
“She’s not coming” he mumbled
Meanwhile, Diana was now engrossed in Oded’s wheelchair. Bordering on an obsessive fascination, the little girl ran her index finger up and down the several spokes on one wheel and then walked around the chair to do the same to the other wheel
“Oy” Jetta frowned at her daughter, “leave that be and stop bothering the nice boy”
“But Mummy” Diana began
“It’s ok” Omar interjected, “Why don’t I find you something to play with, huh?”
Diana’s eyes lit up like twin sparklers
“I had a feeling” he grinned and ambled off. He soon returned with some fashion dolls
“Nice” Ryan laughed
“It helps to be weird, right?” Omar joined in the laughter
“What do you say?” Jetta glared at the young girl
“Thank you” Diana smiled as she took the dolls in her hands
“You’re welcome” Omar reciprocated her smile. He glanced at the two women, who hadn’t spoken a word to each other but had already admonished their respective children enough in the last few minutes
“Bro” Ryan spoke up, “how about you show me where you keep the good stuff” he cupped his hand
“Sure” Omar got up and the two men went into the kitchen
Diana sat on the floor and played with the dolls. Carlos and Oded hung back in a corner of the room, unsure of what to do.
“Can I go play outside?” Diana asked Jetta
Jetta glanced at Raya, who reciprocated the gaze and nodded
“Sure, why don’t Oded and Carlos go take you to the backyard” Raya replied
“Ok” Diana smiled widely and skipped off while Oded and Carlos trailed behind and gave each other sour looks. Babysitting wasn’t their idea of fun
Finally alone in the room, the two women nearly stared each other down with no words between them. It was clear that neither of them knew how to begin the conversation
After what seemed like hours, but was really only mere moments, Raya cleared her throat, “Your daughter is very polite”
“Ryan and I made sure that she wouldn’t end up” her words trailed off
“Like you?” Raya was firm
“Yes” Jetta agreed after a pause
“What changed?” Raya asked
“I – don’t understand” Jetta seemed confused
“I had my first child and suddenly we went from finally being friends to – simply nothing” she struggled for the right words to express her feelings
Jetta opened her mouth, but nothing tumbled forth
Raya continued, “you mentioned it in your letter, and let’s not keep the sleepy dogs between us” she sighed
“Right, no sense letting sleeping dogs lie” Jetta agreed, “You must be wondering why I’m the daughter of a KG child and you, and everyone one else seem to be parents of teenagers”
“I assumed that she was your youngest”
“In a way, I suppose she is” Jetta held her hands together, interlaced her fingers, “I’d had a miscarriage, years ago, back when Ryan and I were doing better, were more financially well off”
“Oh” the words were full of emotion
“Yes” Jetta replied quietly
The women simply stared at each other, not out of anger, or pity, but simply because there was nothing more that could be said.

Starlight Mansion

“Grounded?” Jericho frowned, “For how long?”
“Indefinitely” Jerrica shot back
“Consider yourself lucky, son” Rio agreed, “Who knows what could’ve happened to you, or your cousins, not to mention Jessica or Passion”
“Nothing happened!” Jericho threw his hands up in exasperation
“Nothing happened?” Jerrica’s eyes grew big, “Falling out of a multi story building is nothing? Nearly being killed is nothing?”
“We were alright” Jericho’s voice quieted
“Sure you were” Rio was sarcastic, “A stolen car means you were alright”
“The point is, you’re grounded until we can figure out an appropriate punishment” Jerrica was firm, “I’m just glad nobody was killed”

Syed Residence

It seemed like hours had passed when Jetta finally spoke up, “It wasn’t easy, you know”
Raya wasn’t sure how to respond
Jetta continued, “It was so hard to watch all of you, talking about nappies and feedings and all that baby –“ her voice cut off
“I’m sure it was” Raya nodded, “still, I wish you’d talked. I would’ve been there for you”
“I know you would’ve, even after everything that happened between us”
“Just as you would’ve been there for me”
Jetta nodded
“Between the miscarriage, and my brother taking Roxy all over the world, I wasn’t sure who to turn to”
“You never mentioned him, not even when we were in Great Britain”
“He’s a bit of odd duck”
“Even your parents never said anything about him”
“I guess they were embarrassed with him, after all, they probably write off his behavior as nothing short of my fault”
“He went into music because of you?”
“My family seems to think so. We were dirt poor, as the Americans call it, and so music lessons and instruments were practically out of the question. Seeing my desire for rock and roll, they set their foot down when Shawn – Jett wanted to also pursue a career in music”
“It must’ve been so hard” Raya sympathized
“After my stunt with Sir Trevor, my parents wanted nothing to do with me, let alone my brother”
“And then—this – that is,” Raya sighed
“Yes, this seemed to be the final nail in the coffin, as it were. Ryan’s business went downhill soon afterwards” Jetta looked despondent, “but our little miracle” she glanced out the window at Diana playing with Oded and Carlos, “made any future hardships more than worthwhile” she smiled

Starlight Mansion

“It was really nice of my parents to at least let us study together” Jericho grinned from his desk chair. The appropriate punishment had been not to allow friends over at all, for a month, but with the upcoming History exam, Jerrica and Rio had relented, just this once.
“Yeah” Jessie smiled from her perch on the edge of Jericho’s bed
“I want to hear less talking and more studying!” Rio’s voice boomed from across the hall
“Yes, of couse Dad” Jericho mumbled hastily
“After everything that happened to you and your cousins, I’m not surprised” Jessie looked at her boyfriend, “I wish I could’ve talked more to Jemini before he had to leave”
“Come on, you talked to him at his farewell concert”
“You were barely there, how do you know that?”
“He told me” Jericho was quick with an answer
“So you two tell each other things like that?” Jessie stared at him
“Yeah, we do, sometimes”
“Did he tell you where he was going?”
“Nah, but he probably went to spend time with his family”
“And how would you know that?”
“It’s what I would do” Jericho was honest
“What you would do? Come on, you two are nothing alike”
“Good” Jericho smiled
“Good?” Jessie looked confused
“I mean big deal. It doesn’t matter” Jericho backtracked

Syed Residence

Raya smiled, “It does make it worthwhile” she glanced through the window and caught sight of Diana playing with her sons
There was an unnatural pause as the conversation lapsed into silence.
“It still hurts” Jetta finally spoke, “losing a child”
“Of course” Raya empathized, “I know how you feel”
Color flashed through Jetta’s face, “How could you possibly know how I feel?” she snapped, the old Jetta arriving in a split second
“Why not?” Raya countered, and leaned forward on the recliner
“Please” Jetta waved off the question, “You ‘ve got three beautiful children that you’ve seen grow up”
“You have Diana” Raya gestured to the little girl, who was now ordering the two teenage boys around the yard, as some sort of game played out
“But I lost a child!” Jetta fumed
Raya inhaled and knitted her eyebrows, “I nearly lost a child myself” she shot back
Jetta looked stunned, or as she might’ve said, gobsmacked. Raya continued,
“Oded was so sick when he was a baby” she sighed
“I thought – Omar, and” Jetta faltered for words
“It’s not hereditary” Raya explained, “Cerebral Palsy doesn’t work like that. This was just one of those fluke things”
Jetta was beside herself with a flurry of emotions, but couldn’t find the words to express herself. Raya went on,
“We were so happy when we found out. Omar came with me for many of the checkups, and when he couldn’t, his mother, or my parents, were there. I wish you’d been there”
“I, I do, too” Jetta finally smiled and agreed
“We were finally going to have a child” Raya explained, “Omar was thrilled” she smiled as she thought back, “he went a little overboard, buying nearly every baby outfit that he saw”
Jetta waited for the punch line in the story, with an emphasis on punch.
“I was three months along, and Omar and I were in a restaurant, having dinner. It was the first time out in a while, and things were going fine, but then suddenly, I felt something wet on my legs”
“Oh dear” Jetta involuntarily uttered
“I picked up the cloth napkin, and then the tablecloth from my lap, and nearly fainted from what I saw”
She stopped and sighed, as she remembered the horror
“There was so much blood, you couldn’t see the pattern on my dress. Omar was a real hero, and he called 911, and managed to get an ambulance there in record time”
“Was Oded alright?” Jetta sat on the edge of the couch
“He was” Raya nodded, “If you can call it alright. I’d lost a lot of blood, and the doctors were all rightfully worried about my health. Oded was born three months later, and that’s where the story really starts”
Jetta sat there, stupefied from Raya’s account
“Oh, he was so ill” Raya sighed, “the delivery was surprisingly easy, I was so – so”
“High?” Jetta suggested
“You could say that” Raya smiled momentarily, “I didn’t feel anything, but then they whisked him away” her face was awash with remembered fear, “Oh Jetta, I was so afraid that we’d lost him. It wasn’t until later, when I’d mustered the courage to ask the doctors what happened, that they brought me to him, and that alone was a journey in itself”
Jetta looked at Raya with a quizzical expression
“The doctors walked me down a hallway, and then we saw the regular nursery, with all the babies. Then we walked farther down, and then we saw the NICU”
“The--”Jetta hesitated
“Neonatal Intensive Care Unit” Raya explained, “and there were a few babies there, but they had various problems, and many were on ventilators or some other types of apparatuses to breathe”
“Shouldn’t it be apparati?” Jetta inquired
“It’s not” Raya shook her head, “and trust me, my husband’s a grammar ninja”
“Don’t you mean grammar nazi?” Jetta asked
Raya shrugged, “Omar doesn’t care for that term. He finds it racist”
“Do go on, about the story” Jetta urged Raya
“So we walked down, past the nursery, and past the NICU, and then, we walked into a room, where there was just one baby lying there, surrounded by tubes coming out of nearly every orifice, enclosed on a clear plastic cube.”
Jetta sat there, her mouth hung open
“I was beside myself” Raya went on, “I couldn’t believe that this was my baby. There were so many other, healthy babies out there, and this one, this sickly, weak, emaciated baby, this was mine”
“Oh, you poor dear” Jetta was genuinely empathetic
“Thankfully, Omar was a rock. He was with me whenever he could, but after a week and a half, I couldn’t take staying home anymore. I had to get out, had to go places, do work, just do something, anything to keep from thinking only about Oded. Of course, we both went to the hospital as much as possible”
“He didn’t come home?” she referred to Oded
“He stayed in the ICU for nine months” Raya was matter of fact

Syed Residence

While the mothers were talking downstairs, and her brothers were outside, forced into babysitting, Anissa was in her room, sprawled on her bed, texting to glory.
“Where you @” she wrote
“Cant get owt” he texted back
“Y NO?”
“rants” Apparently, it was his parents
“K” she acknowledged
“Got to C U” he seemed ardent
“Me 2”
“Can U get owt?”
“Not now”
“Then when?”
“Later” she wrote back, “Soon I hope” she sent another message right after the first one

Syed Residence

“Hard as it was having Oded, hearing what the doctors had to say was worse” Raya continued
Jetta sat on the edge of her seat, both literally and figuratively
“He’ll be a vegetable” the doctors had told her, “He’ll never walk or talk” they waved a collective hand at baby Oded, lying amongst a myriad of tubes in his NICU bed
Raya frowned, both in her story and while retelling it to Jetta, “No” she was firm, “That’ll never happen. Never”
They made sure of it, Omar and Raya. While days turned to weeks, turned to months, they waited for news, any news. Daily trips to and from the hospital wore them both out, physically, mentally and emotionally, but they were each other’s rocks, and helped the other cope with what fate had brought them.
“Omar’s mother, and my parents wanted to come down to Texas” Raya went on, “But there was nothing anyone could do while Oded was in the hospital.”
“Often times, we wondered why new parents were brought to see Oded, and then brought to see their own baby in the NICU” she went on, “Finally, we asked one of the nurses, who replied that other parents were distraught over their children’s plight, but then they came and saw Oded, who was the sickliest baby in the NICU, and then, those parents felt better about their own baby”
“Did it get easier once he was home?” Jetta sat, enraptured
“I wish I could say yes” Raya replied, “He wasn’t home until he was nine months old”

While the women were talking and Carlos and Oded were busy wrangling little Diana, Anissa stealthily creeped down the hallway. She inched closer and closer to the front door. Just as she had placed her hand on the doorknob, she thought, “Darn, where’s Dad? All I need is for him to show up with another lecture” She wasn’t sure if he was lurking around, waiting to catch her for disobeying him. “Oh, forget it” she yanked open the front door, and was out of the house.
Max Gets Ready

“Max, get up” Ruby opened the curtains, “It’s time for school”
Max frowned, “No”
“Come on Max” she shook her head, “You don’t want to be late do you?”
Max stared at her
“Let’s get you out of bed” she pulled back his blanket
“Go take a bath and I’ll get breakfast ready” she called from the other room
“No” Max frowned and hopped back into bed
“Uh uh Max” Ruby sighed and pushed him towards the bathroom. She turned on the hot water and picked him up. Then, she put him into the bath and left him alone.
“Are you done yet?” She called
“No” Max smiled from the tub
“Hurry up Max” she pulled him from the tub and the pair walked back to Max’s room.
“Here’s your uniform” Ruby had laid out Max’s school shirt and pants out. “Put it on while I make breakfast for you”
Max stared at the clothes, “No”
Moments turned to minutes, and Ruby shouted from downstairs, “Hurry Max”
Max grinned, and put on the shirt and pants. He pulled the pants on his head, so his ears stuck through the pant legs, and pulled the shirt on over his legs, so his feet stuck through the shirt sleeves. Then he walked downstairs
In the kitchen, Ruby saw what her brother had done, “Oh, Max” she shook her head. She undressed Max and dressed him up properly. “There you go”
Ruby sat Max at the table and placed an egg in front of him, “Come on Max, eat your breakfast”
Max frowned
“It’s an egg, you like eggs, don’t you?”
Max looked at her, “No”
“Fine, you can have strawberries, just for today” she sighed
Max grinned and ate his breakfast
“Now” Ruby pulled Max’s chair away from the table, “Get your backpack and hurry so you won’t miss the school bus”
She pushed him towards the door, but stopped when she saw the calendar that hung on the wall
“Oh, Max” she sighed, “Today is Sunday. You don’t have school today, do you?”
Max smiled broadly, “No!”
Max Gets Ready
Ruby gets her brother Max ready for school, but she gets a surprise at every turn.


United States


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AVasquezArt Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2012  Professional Filmographer
thanks for the :+fav:
SteveRoman Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2012
Thanks for the fav!
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Thank you for the :+fav:
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Thank you for the faves!! :boogie:
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You're welcome. I don't want to make Tet Chan feel bad, but Satin's been my favorite for quite awhile. :)
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Thanks for faving "Janine Melnitz : Ghostbuster" [link] Much appreciated :D
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Thanks for faving Rapture & Minx :)
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Thanks for faving Riot :)
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