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Mallory can’t stand how hot it is today. She’d wanted to read on her back porch, but she’s about to give up. She sighs angrily and pulls her hair into an even higher ponytail, takes another sip of lemonade. Even with three fans going, she’s still sweaty.
Sweaty and annoyed, she thinks grimly. She’s been home from Riverbend for a week, and nothing’s the same. Everyone’s still at school and her parents are at work, so she’s been stuck at home. For the first couple days, she’d loved being able to blast the stereo and read for pleasure but now, all she wants is to be back in Massachusetts.
At least she’s somebody there, she thinks. People value her ideas. Her siblings had been excited to see her at first, but now the excitement’s worn off, they’ve been ignoring her, even whispering behind their hands. Worse still, Byron’s is the one that they look up to now, go for advice. In a weird way, her brother seems to like it more than her. She’d always slightly resented it when her mother had asked her to keep an eye on Claire. Byron on the other hand, colors with her and helps with homework.
Mallory shakes her head, thinking of her brother. Superboy, she thinks grimly. Who would think that Byron, the one who cries at movies and still sleeps with a light on would usurp her role so easily? It’s not even fair, she thinks. She especially hates the way that he’s been helping their mom with dinner every night. They’re always laughing. She never tells him he’s being too melodramatic either.
When she’d asked if she could help a couple nights ago, her mom had told her that she shouldn’t worry about it.
She sighs again, tries to concentrate on her book, but all she can think about is her stupid brother, and how--
“Hey Mal.”
Speak of the devil. Byron is standing there, with a book in his hand.
“Want company?” He asks. His voice is slightly shy, and suddenly, Mallory feels guilty. He looks almost anxious, staring at her with those huge blue, earnest eyes. Maybe she’s being too resentful, and somehow, he knows it.
“Sure.” She says. “It’s hot out here though.”
“I don’t mind.” He smiles at her. “I haven’t really gotten to talk to you much since you got back.”
Damn it. Why does he have to be so sweet? It makes her feel all the more like a bitter, jealous jerk.
“What are you reading?” She asks him.
He grins. “A Wrinkle in Time. It’s so good.”
She laughs. “That’s funny. I’m reading A Swiftly Tilting Planet right now. You should read it next.”
“I will. You always have good book recommendations.”
She smirks. “Nice to know I’m good for something.”
There is a long pause. Byron stares down at the ground.
“I can go back in if you want to be alone.” He says, in a small voice.
“No!” Mallory says sharply. “You don’t have to.” She sighs. “I don’t mean to sound harsh. It’s just that being home is well, different.”
He nods. “I know. I’m glad you’re back though, even though everyone else is acting weird.”
“I don’t blame them.” She says. “I did sort of just leave.” She smiles slightly. “It’s natural that things would become odd.”
“You really like Riverbend though, right?”
She grins. “I love it so much. You wouldn’t believe what we get to read in English.”
“I bet it’s awesome.” Byron sighs. “I mean, I understand why you had to leave, Mal. Stoneybrook’s not the greatest place, and school is kind of...hard.” His voice trails off.
Mallory sits up, puts a hand on her brother’s shoulder. “Are you okay?” She asks, slightly anxiously. “I mean, people haven’t been teasing you, right?”
“It helps that I’m Adam and Jordan’s brother.” He smirks. “They’re definitely in the popular circle, so people sort of lump me in there too. Even so, I still get grief for liking the books in English.” He grimaces. “Scott Danby called me teacher’s pet the other day when I he saw I’d gotten straight A’s this term.”
Mallory groans. “This is why I hate this town.”
“It’s fine.” He says, quietly. “I just try to be as nice as I can, and laugh at the idiots. That’s all I can do, really.”
“That still doesn’t make it okay.”
He shrugs. “They’re morons, Mallory. That’s the bottom line.”
He says it so calmly, so matter of factly. Mallory shakes her head, feeling both jealousy and awe. Byron’s always been insightful for his age, much more than his brothers. It’s more that though. He’s better at discerning than she’ll ever be. She approaches situations with too much emotion, too much fervor. Take Stoneybrook. The rudeness of most people makes her blood boil. Byron on the other hand, deems them as idiots, and then moves on with his life. He’s got the things that make him happy, and the things that don’t fit are just...forgotten. At least that’s how it seems to her. She thinks of the story about the room wars her mom had told her, how he’d read in the den while her siblings had practically killed each other over who’s bedroom belonged to who.
“Do you think I’m a coward?” She asks, softly.
“No!” He looks at his sister, eyes aghast. “Why would you even ask that?”
“Because I went to Riverbend, instead of just sticking it out.”
“Mallory, don’t be dumb.” He rolls his eyes, suddenly looking much more like Adam and Jordan. “You did what you had to do. You were miserable. Everyone saw it.”
“I could have--”
“No.” Byron says, firmly. “You couldn’t have. Besides, you’re happy, and that’s what matters. You know what Claire said today? She said that she loves that you’re smiling again.”
Mallory can’t help but smile. “Really?”
“That’s what she said.” He smiles back at her. “Besides, I wouldn’t call the person I look up to the most a coward.”
She looks up at her brother. “Seriously? You look up too”--she wiggles her fingers in dramatic quotations. “Spazz Girl?”
“Well yeah. You’re my big sister. You do well in school, you look out for all of us, and you’re kind. What’s there not to look up to?”
She lunges over and hugs him. He hugs her back, and then they both start laughing, for reasons they don’t fully know, but it feels good.
“It means a lot that you said that.” She says.
“I meant it. That and I thought you needed to hear it, because I caught you glaring at me when I was helping Claire with her homework.”
“Oh God.” She buries her face in her hands. “Byron, I’m so sorry--”
“Don’t worry about it.” He smiles at her. “I mean, you are the oldest, but there’s no way I could replace you. Claire whined for two months after you’d left about how much she missed you.” He sighs. “I’m just trying to be as good as you.”
She grins and gives him another hug. “I think you’re doing a pretty good job.”
“Aw, thanks.” He blushes, then quietly says--”
“I really have missed you, Mal. It hasn’t been the same.”
“I missed you too.” She smiles at him.
“I missed walking to the library with you on the weekends, and picking out books together.”
“I did too, actually.”
“Do you want to go this weekend?”
She grins. “I’d like that very much, actually.”
“Good. It will be nerdy and fantastic.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Byron laughs. “Me neither. It’s better than acting like the dumb clones at school.”
“Exactly. So, should we start being nerds now, and read?”
Byron pauses. “Well, it is really hot, and everyone is home from school now.” He looks at his sister. “If you’re up for it, do you want to see if some of the others want to walk to the pool?”
“That sounds amazing, because I was going to go insane if I had stay in the house for another hour.”
“Yes! I’ve been dying to go swimming!”
Mallory grins, and follows her brother to get the others.
Maybe, just maybe, things will re-arrange themselves to fit her once more.