CONTACT to directly before the story title with this:
TB1'S LAUNCHPAD TB2'S HANGAR TB3'S SILO TB4'S POD TB5'S COMCENTER BRAINS' LAB MANSION NTBS NEWSROOM CONTACT
 
 
THE ASSIGNMENT
by KAEERA
RATED FR
PT

Twelve-year-old Scott struggles with a writing assignment. Honestly, when you have four younger brothers, it can be hard finding time for yourself!

Author's Notes: I wanted to write a humour story. Unfortunately, I failed. This is what came out instead. My Thanks go to Pen, who was nice enough to correct my (silly) mistakes. And to everybody else who reads my work and writes such wonderful reviews. They are much appreciated, and they always make me smile (but I still can't write humour! Darn!).


Scott Tracy tried his best to do his homework. Really.

He shut himself in his room, took a bottle of water with him, turned off the CD player, spread his books on the desk-he was ready to roll. The pen was new, the paper empty, and his head ready to start thinking. Even though it was his it was his least favourite subject-English Literature.

Science was easy for him, but when it came to Literature, the twelve year old found himself floundering, much to his discontent.

Scott stared at the blank sheet of paper in front of him. So far, he'd managed to write down the headline - 'My family' - and a first scribbled sentence: 'I have four brothers and one Dad.'

This certainly wasn't enough to qualify for the 'B' he was aiming for. Frowning, he pushed dark strands of hair out of his face-it was growing long again-and set down to write the next sentence. 'My brothers all younger than me, which means I often have to take care of them...'

A soft knock on the door interrupted him. "Yes?" Scott said rather curtly. The door opened and in peeked a blonde head. "Hey Scott." John smiled. "I wondered whether I could borrow your dictionary for a while."

"Sure, go ahead." Scott motioned towards the bookshelf. His blonde brother murmured a 'thanks' and then slid out again, leaving Scott to his gloomy thoughts.

He chewed the pen for a while, wishing that this could be as simple as math, and hesitantly wrote down a few more words. 'Their names are John, Virgil, Gordon and Alan. Alan is the youngest, he's six years old. My Dad used to be an astronaut'

Inspiration gone again, Scott cursed all English teachers. What was he supposed to write about his family, anyway-heck, they were his family! None of his classmates cared the least bit about Virgil's latest achievements in his piano classes, or Gordon's fixation with water.

Well, but obviously the teacher cared...why anyway? Didn't she have any TV at home?

She was an odd one, always looking for something 'special', a spark of inspiration Scott Tracy simply didn't possess.

Yuck. His teeth cracked the hull of the pen. Bitter tasting plastic filled his mouth.

Scott pulled a grimace. He probably had just poisoned himself, but who cared. He took a sip of the water bottle and set down to write another line.

'My brothers are all very diff-'

WHAM! The door banged open with a loud clang. A small, red-headed whirlwind stormed into the room. "SCOTT!"

"What!" Scott had halfway risen out of his chair. "For heaven's sake, Gordon, open the door like a normal person! You know what Dad says about door banging!"

The small redhead was unperturbed. "But I'm bored!" he whined.

"Well, then go and do something."

"But there's nothing to do!"

Scott closed his eyes. "Look, squirt, I have to do my homework, alright? I can't play with you right now. Maybe later. Go and bother someone else."

"But-"

"Gordon!"

Gordon glowered and stomped out of the room again. Scott sat back on his chair, cursed smaller brothers, and realized that he had forgotten what he had intended to write. "Thanks, Gordon." He erased the sentence he had just written and paused again. 'Brothers can be very annoying...' he began, his frustration carrying over to the paper.

The door opened again.

"What?"

It was Gordon again, his face hopeful and eager. "Scott? Is it later now?"

"Huh?"

"You said that you would play with me later."

Scott groaned. "It's later when I say so, get that squirt? No interruptions! Go and play with Alan."

"But Alan's boring."

Scott would never understand the logic of his youngest brothers. One day, they were the best of buddies and the next they would fight like cats and dogs. Apparently, today was one of the latter. "So am I." he reasoned. "I'm very boring. Look at me, how boring I am. I am writing an assignment! You don't want to play with a boring person, do you?"

His tactic didn't work. Gordon started to giggle. "Scott, you aren't boring!"

Great. He, for once, would have liked to be boring-it would have spared him a lot of pain; Gordon could be amazingly persistent.

"Gordon, don't you have any homework to do?" Scott tried another tactic.

"Nope."

"Oh. Well, then go and...clean your room!"

"But I don't want to clean my room!"

Reasoning with a seven year old was almost impossible Scott decided glumly and glared at his brother. "Look, you either go now and occupy yourself with something - play with your toys, draw, make something, I don't care what - or I'm going to throw you out of this room. Understood?"

Gordon nodded hesitantly. Scott had his don't-mess-with-me-face on and all the Tracys knew that it was better not to aggravate him in that mood. Still, the prospect of a boring afternoon didn't appeal to him at all and so he did his best to portray the utter picture of misery as he padded out of the room.

Scott didn't even notice. As soon as he saw that his message had gotten across, he turned back to his desk. The next sentence came with almost no effort. 'You never have a moment for yourself, even when you do your homework. With so many siblings, there's always something going on and they always want to involve me. Especially the two younger ones insist that I play with them. It gets so boring! All Alan ever does is throw his race cars across the room, and Gordon...'

"Scott?"

He actually growled. "Yes?"

Virgil drew back, sensing the mood of his brother. "Uh-nothing. Sorry for disturbing you."

Scott reigned in his impatience-it wasn't Virg's fault, after all-and laid down the pencil. "No, it's okay. What's the matter?"

"Can you help me with my homework?" Virgil said quickly.

Scott frowned. "Virg, you know that you're supposed to do it on your own."

"But I have to go outside to the park and I'm not allowed to go there on my own."

"Why do you need to go to the park?"

Virgil showed him the book he was holding. "We have to collect five different leaves and five flowers for our botanical lessons. I can't do that at home, Scott!"

Damn those elementary school teachers and their stupid homework projects. The park was over half a mile away, and only Scott and John were allowed to go their on their own-after they had asked for permission, of course. Disastrous things had happened; Jeff Tracy knew his boys and their affinity to get into troubles.

Unfortunately, it would take quite some time collect those leaves, since taking Virgil along meant taking Gordon and Alan as well, otherwise they would protest and wreak havoc...well, he could always ask John to look after them, but the blonde preferred to hide himself behind his books instead of dealing with the terrible two...something Scott would have loved to do himself...

Scott's mind was turning in circles. "Virg, I'm really busy right now-," he began, trying to think of a solution that was practical for each of them. He started wondering when his father might be home. Maybe he could help?

But a glance at the clock told him that it would be a while yet. Besides, it was one of those work-late nights-a conference, something-or-other that was very important, couldn't be delayed and took all the energy and concentration of his Dad.

Jeff had promised to make it up to them at the weekend, but that didn't help Scott right now. He was pretty sure that at the rate he was going, he would have grey hairs by the time the weekend arrived.

"Can't we go to the park later?"

Virgil's face fell. "But I need to get this done."

"Yeah, I know, but I gotta do my homework as well." Scott shook his head. "Look, let me finish this and then we can go to the park later, okay? We'll take Alan and Gordon and they can help you-I bet they'll love it."

"If you say so." Virgil didn't look too convinced. "How long?"

Scott looked at the few sparse lines he had written and winced. "Uh. A while, I think. I'll try my best to work quickly."

His younger brother made a non-committal sound and left. Scott looked after him, considering briefly whether it was worth it to lock the door. Would that stop his siblings from interrupting him?

Probably not. They would just pound on it instead, making a general ruckus and annoying him even more. Another sigh escaped his lips as he looked at the essay. So far, it sounded more like a report of a whiny child than one of those formidable essays Mrs. Hunkerford seemed to cherish so much.

Scott ploughed through the thoughts in his mind, trying to look for the spark of creativity that his teacher insisted had to be there. He couldn't find it. It was probably hidden under the spark for sciences, the spark for planes, and the spark for taking care of the flea-ridden pests that other people called his brothers.

No, that wasn't right. He liked his brothers...they were just suffocating him at the moment. And with Tracy Enterprises booming, their father was rarely at home, leaving Scott to take care of the family.

'...Gordon is too active for his own good. John, he's easy, because he reads all the time. He's pretty smart and gets good marks at school. I'm sure that one day he will be a great professor. He can sit down and think about things like one of those big thinkers...'

The thought about John took him off tangent and the sentences flew easier from his pen.

'Actually, I often wonder what will happen to my brothers when we grow up. John will be some kind of professor, I bet. And maybe Virgil will become a musician-he's already the best piano player in his class. Gordon will probably live on some tropical island and swim for the whole day. As for Alan, I can't imagine what he would do.'

He was so focused on his essay that he didn't even notice the next intruder. Small, chubby hands opened the door, and a blonde head slid through. Then the body followed, tip-toeing through the room until he stood right beside Scott.

"SCOTT!" Alan shouted gleefully.

"YARGH!" Scott almost jumped in the air and nearly fell from his chair. Alan broke out in a fit of giggles.

"Alan!" Fury tinted Scott's voice. "Why did you do that?"

Alan just grinned toothily. "What'cha doing?"

"Working. Homework." Scott grumbled, rubbing his eyes. Weren't there any gods who took mercy on him?

"Why?"

"Because I have to do it, dummy."

Alan's eyes got even rounder. "But why?"

"Because-", Scott started and hesitated. After all, this was a question he had been asking himself numerous times. But he'd never admit that. "I simply have to do it. For school. Don't you ever get homework?"

Alan had just started elementary school and was still mesmerized by it-unlike his disillusioned elder brothers.

"We do." Alan's blonde head bobbed up and down. "I already did mine. You're slow."

Scott's eyebrow twitched. "Well, I know the reason for that," he muttered under his breath and slapped another messy sentence on the paper. 'They are so annoying. Very often I wish that my brothers would simply shut up and leave me in peac-'

"What are you writing?" Alan peered over his arm, causing Scott to misspell the last word. It read now 'peach' instead of 'peace'. Scott suppressed a curse-knowing Alan, he would remember it and repeat it loudly at the dinner table in front of their father-and shoved his brother aside.

"I. Am. Writing. An. Essay." He pronounced dangerously slow and glowered at the blonde. "And you are disturbing me. Go and bother someone else."

"But I want to bother you!" Trust Alan to be completely and utterly honest.

Scott's patience was wearing thin. "I don't WANT to be bothered by you! Get out!"

Alan's lower lip started to quiver. Any second now and he would start wailing. Which meant that he wouldn't stop until you got him calmed down, preferably with a couple of sweets, and played one of his stupid, mind-numbing games.

Scott had no intention of doing so. "I didn't mean it like that," he continued hastily. "It's just well, I'm really, really busy right now."

The lip stopped quivering and Alan tilted his head. "Busy like Dad?"

"Eh?"

"Dad's always busy. He never comes and plays with us."

It was a constant sore point with the two younger ones that they didn't see their father as much as they'd like to (which was twenty-four hours a day).

Scott grimaced, finding himself in a dilemma. "I'm not as busy as Dad, but I'm still busy."

"Oh." Alan pondered this. "When will you be not-busy?"

"In a while."

"How long is that?"

"A while."

"Sco-oott!"

The boy sighed. Why did younger siblings have to be so insistent? Could they all take John's example? "Too long for you to wait here," he clarified. "Look, why don't you go and play with Gordon? He was bored before."

"Okay." Surprisingly agreeable, Alan nodded and glanced one last time at the desk. "That looks boring, too." he clarified.

Scott could only agree. "Come on, squirt. Time to go. The sooner you leave, the sooner I'll be done."

It took a couple of more minutes to persuade Alan, but finally he relented and left the room. Scott leant back in his chair, rubbed his eyes and thought wistfully of some of his classmates who were single children. It had to be great never to share, to pay attention, to be responsible.

His eyes wandered to the clock and widened in surprise. One hour had passed already! Damn, and the stuff he had written so far was very...chaotic. Scott chewed his lip unhappily. He really needed to get this done, and then there was the other homework and his promise to Virgil...which meant that he wouldn't be able to read the book he had been looking forward to.

Dull anger filled him and his fingers moved on their own.

Is that too much to wish for? Just a day where I can do what I want. Not that I don't like my brothers; but they tag along everywhere! Only because I'm the oldest, it is my job to look out for them? Not fair!

"SCOTT!" Another yell and the door banged open.

"WHAT!" Scott yelled, at the end of his patience.

Gordon waltzed into the room, unaware of Scott's mood. In his hands, he held something very...gross looking. It...dripped? With yucky, slimy stuff...and had all sorts of things stuck to it...Scott watched in horror as a big glob of slime formed and fell down to splatter all over his carpet.

"Look Scott! I made a fish!" Gordon showed him the monstrosity he was carrying, beaming with pride.

"That's great, Gordon." The weariness in Scott's voice escaped the youngster completely.

"It's a big sea fish!" beamed the redhead. Another glob splashed on the carpet. The nice, beautiful, almost new carpet.

"How did you make that?" Scott asked, fearing that Gordon had used something lethal. It certainly looked like it; nothing healthy could be that slimy. Though they kept all the medicine and cleaning cupboards locked-but this was Gordon, the same Gordon who had managed to open the attic door and climb onto the roof...

"I took some of Virgil's paste!" Gordon was immensely proud. "I made a fish mobile for you!" He held it up for Scott to admire.

All the dark-haired boy could see was a big clump of paste, stuck together with paper, already losing its form and running down Gordon's hand. Gordon himself didn't look better; he had the sticky glue everywhere, even in his hair. It was already drying, making his hair stand up like a punk-rocker.

Another glob splashed to the ground. Scott looked mournfully at his carpet, which was only two years old and which could now be considered as a disaster area.

"It's a present for my bestest older brother!" Gordon continued, still beaming. "You can hang it to the wall!"

Yeah, sure. The damn thing would stick on its own and wouldn't even need a nail.

"Gordon, you are a mess." Scott stated. "It's a nice idea...but please get cleaned up before you ruin anything else in my room." An idea struck him. "Why don't you take a bath? Take your rubber fish with you."

"Can I? Can I?" Gordon was very excited.

"Yep. Just don't make the water too deep. And leave the door open." Scott knew that the bathroom would be a mess later on, but he was willing to pay that price for some time of peace and quiet.

With a squeal, a small red-haired cannon shot out of the room, leaving behind a mess of paste, papers, and a very disgruntled older brother. Scott stood up, gathered some newspapers and wrapped the monstrous fish in them. Then he tried to wipe away the stains, but they had already been sucked up by the soft, fluffy carpet. Great. His father would have a fit.

Still, he couldn't bring it over him to throw the 'present' away, so he put it on the window sill instead.

"Whoever invented younger siblings," Scott grumbled to himself, "Obviously never had any himself."

And he got back to work again.


For the next twenty minutes, Scott was actually able to work in peace. He refined what he had already written, added some more stuff, and was nearly halfway done when the wailing started.

Scott's eyebrow twitched and he was tempted to climb out of the window. He was certain that he'd find more piece and solitude out there. Even the mall couldn't be as bad. At least then the wailing wouldn't be directed at him.

Come to think of it, it sounded very much like Alan. And it was getting louder.

Scott punched the button of his stereo. Loud rock music filled the room. He was determined to get this essay finished if it killed him!

For a few precious minutes, blaring guitars drowned out the crying. Then footsteps pounded-the door was ripped open-and John's head peeked in, blonde hair dripping with water.

"Scott, you've got to help me!" The blonde gesticulated wildly.

The mall-idea sounded better and better. Scott threw down the pen. "What happened this time?"

"Alan and Gordon." John motioned down the corridor as if this was explanation enough. Well, it probably was. "They're in the bathroom. Gordon splashed Alan and now he's all wet, and you know how much he hates water, and I can't calm him down, and Scott can you please come!"

A not-entirely-suitable word left Scott's lips and he glared at John, daring him to comment. He shoved his chair back and got up in a huff, taking long strides towards the bathroom. The door was wide open and inside he could see the mess that the terrible two had created. There was more water on the floor than in the tub; Gordon and Alan were both dripping. Gordon was in his swimming trunks, but Alan was fully clothed. They seemed to be wrestling, or fighting, or hugging each other...Scott didn't care.

"WILL YOU SHUT UP!" he roared, his eyes flashing as the final thread of patience snapped.

That stopped them in their tracks. Eyes huge, they turned around to stare at their furious older brother. John, who had followed him, made an involuntary step backwards, knowing that Scott in a temper was something to be avoided.

"I'VE HAD ENOUGH OF YOU TWO!" Scott pointed a finger at his brothers, trembling with rage. "All afternoon I have been trying to do my work! In PEACE! Is that too much to ask? Can't you just leave me ALONE? You keep pestering me! I'm not your personal slave!"

"But Scott-"

"-Scott"

"No buts!" he gesticulated to the ground. "I allowed Gordon to take a bath. I didn't allow you to drag Alan into it, Gordon. You know how much he hates water! And Alan, what were you doing in here? "

"I was-"

"I didn't-"

Scott shook his head. "I don't want to hear any excuses. For heaven's sake, this is one of the moments I wish I was an only child!"

At this exclamation, tears started gathering in Alan's eyes. Scott felt a pang of guilt, but it wasn't big enough to stop his raving. With the essay looming in his mind, he took a step into the bathroom, wincing as the water on the floor soaked through his socks.

"I'm going to say this only once," he gritted his teeth. "For the rest of the day, I don't want anyone to come into my room. No one. Not Alan, not Gordon, not John, not Virgil. I don't care whether the house is on fire or pink aliens have landed in our garden. You...stay...out...of...my... room. And no screaming, running around or making loud noises either. Did you get that?"

Alan sniffled. "But Scott..."

Scott's glare froze him mid-sentence. "I said...Did you get that?"

"Y-Yes."

"Good. And you, Gordon?"

Gordon, half naked and dripping all over, looked sullenly to the ground. "Yes."

Scott turned around. "The same goes for you and Virgil," he said to John, his eyes narrowed.

John crossed his arms, mumbling defiantly under his breath. "I didn't do anything."

"I don't care." Scott's voice was icy. On squishy socks, he walked through the corridor, head held high. "And I want you to clean up the mess you made!" he called back over his shoulders, just before he stomped into his room and smashed the door shut.

There are times when I really hate being the oldest.

He stood, chest heaving, fingers clenched into angry fists. Some rational part of his mind told him to calm down, that it wasn't really his brothers' fault, that they meant well, but he didn't listen. God, if only his Mom was here...but ever since she died, it had been Scott whom his brothers had looked up to, Scott who helped Alan get ready in the mornings, Scott who got Gordon to sit down and do his homework, Scott who made them sandwiches whenever their Dad would be home late-

And he was getting sick of it.

The familiar feeling of grief welled up again in his chest, but he pushed it down. Crying wouldn't bring his Mom back, either.

But he needed to get away from his brothers-they were threatening to suffocate him. Scott snatched his backpack, stuffed his books and the pad he'd been writing on in there and grabbed his sneakers. He would so get into trouble for this later-he wasn't supposed to leave his brothers unsupervised, not with Grandma out of town-but frankly, he didn't care. John and Virgil were old enough; they'd make sure that the house didn't burn down.

Scott didn't even bother with a jacket. As softly as he could, he left his room and sneaked down the stairs. He really didn't want to get caught by his brothers. But his outburst seemed to have worked; the house was eerily silent.

With a sigh of relief, he stepped out of the front door and walked out into the grey day, leaving his troubles behind.


When Jeff Tracy returned after seven that evening, running up the path to escape the pouring rain, he found the house strangely quiet. This was something new, he reflected, while taking off his dripping shoes. Normally, he was greeted by an enthusiastic herd of sons whenever he returned late. If the house was quiet, it could only mean one thing: something had happened.

Jeff sighed and ran a hand through his greying hair. Sometimes he wondered what had possessed him and his wife to have five children.

"Scott?" he called. Usually Scott was the first to greet him if something had happened, face too solemn for a twelve-year-old. But as he opened the door to his eldest's room, only emptiness greeted him.

"Dad?" A blonde head peeped out of the door further down the corridor.

"Hello, John." Jeff was relieved. "What's wrong with you boys? Why is it so quiet?"

John looked uncomfortable. "Well, we had an...argument earlier."

"Argument?" Jeff raised his eyebrow. Fights and quarrels were common occurrences in the Tracy household. "Was it that bad? Why didn't Scott break it up?"

John shifted. "Uh, because he was doing most of the arguing, Dad."

"Was he?" Now Jeff was surprised. "I see. And now the others are hiding."

"Ah. Well, Gordon and Alan are. Virgil is sulking-Scott promised to go to the park with him, but he hasn't returned yet and now it'll be too late."

"Scott's not here?"

"No, he left earlier-he was pretty angry."

Jeff closed his eyes in frustration. Now he regretted taking the latest job for Tracy Enterprises he had barely been at home, and with his mother away on a much-deserved trip to visit some friends, the task of taking care of the family had been mainly on Scott's shoulders. It seemed as if the eldest had finally snapped under the pressure. He never normally fought with his brothers-not like they did amongst themselves, anyway.

"Alan! Gordon! Get out here!" He called, voice leaving no room for argument.

Immediately the door to their room opened-they must have been listening in, those curious devils-and two solemn looking youngsters stepped out. Gordon's hair stood up straight and looked as if someone had poured glue into it. Attempts at washing it out had been made, but without much success.

Alan had been crying, judging from the red-rimmed eyes and the blotched face.

"Was Virgil involved in this as well?" Jeff wanted to know.

John shrugged. "I think we all were, to some part."

"Right. Then get him. We'll be down in the living room. I want to know what exactly happened-and where Scott has gone."


Scott sneezed. Damn, why did it have to rain? The weather had been fine earlier. But this was just his luck. Dismayed, he stared at his soaked shoes. Of course he had grabbed only his summer sneakers, with the effect that his socks were wet already.

He shouldered the backpack and trotted towards the bus stop. After escaping from home, he had snatched the next best bus towards the city centre. He had gone to the mall, but realized quickly that it was just as bad as four noisy brothers, so he soon had escaped to a nearby park. That had worked for half an hour or so, when suddenly the downpour started, leaving him running for cover.

"I hate this day," Scott muttered gloomily as he finally saw the bus station-only to realise that his bus was already there. "Damn!" he cursed, for once not caring what his Grandma would think if she heard him. He sprinted to the puddles, waving frantically to get the bus driver's attention-but to no avail. He was mere yards away when the bus left, not without driving through a huge puddle and splashing Scott's trousers in the process.

"Great." Scott gritted his teeth, and then, just because it wasn't enough, shouted, "GREAT!"

With an angry frown, he turned around to check the timetable. The next bus would come...in an hour. He blanched. Waiting that long in the pouring rain? No way.

"Well." Scott looked down himself. "Since I'm already soaked, I may as well walk."

Because there was really nothing that would make this day any worse.

About twenty minutes later, Scott realized he really hated cars.

No, that wasn't quite true. It wasn't really the car's fault-it was the driver's. Okay, so Scott hated the drivers, those people who didn't think and drove past him through the biggest puddles, splashing him with mud and water and god knew what else.

There, another one. Scott tried to jump out of the way, but was too late. "THANK YOU!" he shouted, but the car had already disappeared. That was the seventh one so far.


"So none of you has any idea where your brother might be?"

Four headshakes, four blank faces. Jeff Tracy rubbed his face and sighed. This wasn't what he had been looking forward to when he had left his office. No, he'd been mentally preparing to put his feet up and relax, have dinner with his sons and spend the rest of the evening in domestic surroundings.

Instead, a wars-zone greeted him and four sons-one of them brooding, one defiant, one hurt and one thoughtful. The explanation had been hurried and garbled, John being the only one who made halfway sense. But what he had heard had been enough to make him think.

Sometimes he forgot that his eldest was only twelve years old himself.

"Okay. You stay here," he pointed to the sofa, "And I'm going to take a look at Scott's room. Maybe he left a note. Don't move." He stressed the last two words, knowing his sons too well.

Scott's room was tidy as usual. Apart from John and Jeff himself, Scott seemed to be the only one who understood the merits of clean and organised surroundings. Virgil didn't care if things were messy, Gordon loved to make a mess and Alan...well, Alan was happiest when he was covered in grime.

His foot stepped into something soft and squishy. Looking down, he saw globs of sticky glue on the new carpet. His eyebrow twitched. Who the hell did that? Certainly not Scott...now he understood why the eldest had been angry.

Jeff tried to remove his foot, but it was stuck. Cursing angrily, he tugged at it. It slowly moved away, but only with a lot of coaxing and forcing on his part. This stuff looked like Virgil's art paste.

Shaking his head, Jeff made his way to the desk, careful to avoid any other traps that might befall him during the way. Military training came in handy.

The desk looked as if it had been deserted in a hurry. Scott's schoolbooks were missing, a sure sign that he had stormed off somewhere to finish his homework in peace. A significant amount of crumbled papers formed a pile at the end of the desk. He removed one and took a closer look at it.

Homework, it said in Scott's scrawly hand-writing. English Literature: An Essay.

'My Family'

That piqued Jeff's interest. He dimly remembered that he had to write those kinds of essays at school, too, though those mostly asked about his vacation. He had hated those kinds of homework, because with his Dad's farm, they had never been able to go abroad and he had never known what to write.

Jeff smiled as her read the first couple of sentences. Smart his first-born might be, but writing wasn't his forte. It sounded stiff and awkward. Then the smile slipped off his face as he read onwards. The light-hearted tone of the writing changed, became more and more angry.

"They are so annoying. Very often I wish that my brothers would simply shut up and leave me in peace. Is that too much to wish for? Just a day where I can do what I want."

Jeff sat down heavily in the desk chair. Thinking back, he realized that he had indeed relied a lot on Scott after his wife died. As a result, the younger ones looked up to him. With Jeff being barely at home, it was Scott who solved their problems; Scott who helped them with their homework; Scott who read the stories; Scott who tried to protect them.

He had always been proud of his son; how he handled everything, how reliable he had become. But with that he had also forgotten that Scott was a child himself. And a child wanted to play, to be free to fool around. Who solved Scott's problems? Who helped him with his homework?

It certainly wasn't Jeff.

Feeling much older than his years, Jeff got up and rubbed his eyes. "Oh Lucy," he sighed, "I thought we were doing okay, but it seems I'm not as good as this Dad-thing as I thought I'd be."

Schooling his expression, he went down to face the rest of his sons, the letter clutched tightly in his hand.


Scott was not only cold, he was shivering. The rain pelted against his unprotected skin, running down his clothes, sucking every ounce of warmth out of his body. It seemed as if he had been walking for hours already.

For heaven's sake, he had never noticed how far it was-the bus barely took twenty minutes! Sniffing miserably (because of the cold, not because he was crying), he wondered whether his brothers missed him. Probably not. Gordon and Alan were most likely still involved in their screaming match; Virgil practising his scales, and John was always on a mental cloud anyway.

And what about Dad? Was he home already? Wistfully Scott thought of the nice and cozy living room. No doubt that they were all curled up there, with his Dad telling stories of his day and asking them about theirs. If the weather was as bad as this, they'd sometimes make a hot chocolate, just because it tasted so good when it rained outside.

Scott would have given everything for a hot chocolate. Instead, he was walking through this god-damn thunderstorm, his sneakers already soaked through and his mood even more miserable than it had been when he had left.

Worst of all, his homework was still unfinished. Nor had he helped Virgil with his leaf collection, or played with Alan...they'd certainly trample him the moment he reached home, his father first of all, scolding him for being so irresponsible.

He stopped walking. Suddenly, home didn't seem all that cozy anymore.


Jeff turned to his second eldest, his gaze stern. "John, I trust you to look out for your brothers. I'm going to take the car and look around for Scott. He's been gone too long; he probably got caught by the rain." One glance out of the window told him exactly how much water was chucking down from the sky. He could only hope that Scott had found somewhere dry to stay.

John merely nodded, a worried expression on his face.

"What's wrong with Scott?" Alan chirped, eyes huge. "Is he angry with us?"

"Maybe a little." Jeff admitted. "You see, he just wanted to have some time for himself, but you kept bugging him."

"But Scott always helps us!" Gordon protested.

"Maybe he doesn't want to help us all the time." Virgil replied wisely. "And you have to admit, he was pretty angry earlier. You shouldn't have started that water fight!"

"I didn't start it! Alan, that's all your fault!"

"It's not!" was the indignant reply.

"Boys! Stop!" Jeff shouted, his patience wearing thin. "This is the kind of behaviour that drove Scott away. You'd better pay attention to it! I'm afraid you have been spoilt a little bit-during all that time, you seem to have forgotten that your brother is a human being as well. He wants to have time for himself as much as you need to be in the water, Gordon, or you need to play the piano, Virgil." He ran a hand through his greying hair. "And I'm afraid I have been the worst of all...burdening him with all that..." Jeff shook his head. "Anyway, I'm going now, and I want none of you to make any trouble while I'm gone. Is that understood?"

The four nodded meekly. Jeff, satisfied that he seemed to have gotten his message across, took his coat from the hanger and left the room. Briefly, the rain thundered into the house, then the door shut and left the four boys in silence.

Alan started crying. "Now Scott's gonna hate us!" he wailed.

The other three were silent.


Jeff drove in silence. He had no idea where he was supposed to start looking. Scott could have gone anywhere-hell, he could even be at a friend's house. But something told him that this wasn't the case. Scott had been angry, and he needed his space when he was in such a mood. So staying at a friend's house wasn't an option.

Frowning, Jeff turned the corner and took the road that led to the park.


Scott had found another bus stop and was sitting on the bench, feeling sorry for himself. There wasn't a part of him that wasn't wet. His jeans were clinging to his legs, his soaked shirt dripped on the floor and his hair was hanging limply into his face. Why did it have to cool off so much? It was positively freezing-or maybe he had just been out to long. Anyway, his teeth were chattering.

Scott curled up tighter in his shirt, not that it was of much help. But it did protect him from the biting wind, if only a little.

"I wonder what else's going to happen today," he muttered darkly, glaring at the black sky. Rain-clouds crashed into each other, thunder rumbling like a growling animal. Here and then a lightning strike flashed, illuminating the scene in an eerie, bright light.

Even the cars had stopped driving. During the last twenty minutes, Scott had seen none. It figured-he had been ready to wave for help, even though his father had told him that he should never go with strangers. But Scott wouldn't have cared; his frozen toes were a far more pressing matter than a dressing down from his Dad.

Right on cue, a set of headlights appeared at the other end of the street, barely visible through the rain. But it was going in the wrong direction, and Scott knew people well enough to know that they wouldn't stop.

So he trekked onwards, his mind as dark and clouded as the sky.

The screeching of brakes startled him out of his reverie. The car had pulled to a stop right beside him. Scott blinked through the water that was running down his face. Hang on-he knew that car!

"Scott?" an all-too-familiar deep voice asked.

"Dad!"

"Get in the car, son, quickly!"

Scott obliged only too gladly. He ducked into the passenger seat and slid the door shut.

The interior of the car was warm and comfy, a stark contrast to the cold and winy weather out there. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, as the warmth started to seep into his frozen fingers, then he realized that he was dripping and sat up with a start. Oh no! He was soaking his father's seats, in the business car no less! He'd be furious!

But a quick glance at his Dad told him that he wasn't furious at all. Instead he looked strangely contemplative and, well, sad.

"Why didn't you come back sooner?"

Scott tore his gaze away. "The bus didn't come."

"Why didn't you call?"

He shrugged. "Didn't think of it."

Jeff looked at his son, took in the shivering form, the soaked clothes, the blue tint on his lips. Without another word, he cracked the heating on full and drove off through the dark night.

"I heard what happened at the house," he said casually while driving.

Scott frowned. "Yeah. Well." He was torn. One part of him wanted to insist that he had been right-that the others had been out of line, that it had been perfectly acceptable to run away-but then there was another part, the guilty voice which whispered that he shouldn't have left his brothers alone, that he was supposed to care for them, that he was responsible and that he had behaved in a very childish, inappropriate manner.

"Scott." A warm, comforting hand landed on his shoulder. "I'm sorry."

He blinked, and blinked...and blinked again. "Huh?" Scott finally managed to produce, as his brain managed to catch up with the fact that yes, Jeff Tracy had indeed apologized to him.

Under different circumstances, Jeff would have been amused at the dumbstruck expression on Scott's face. As it was, he just felt sad. "Today I realized that I burden you with a lot of responsibility." He searched for the right words. "And it's not fair on you. Ever since your mother died, things have been...tough. You were so good at looking after your brothers that I kind of forgot that you're only a child as well."

The rain splattered against the car window. "Your brothers really got to you today, didn't they?"

Scott sniffed a bit (it was just because of the rain and not because he'd been crying). "I just wanted to do my homework. It's this stupid essay, and I don't like essays. But then Alan came...and Gordon...and darn, he made the most ugliest thing out of Virgil's paste, dripping all over the floor with it...and they started fighting...and I couldn't even find a minute of peace..." He turned tired eyes at his Dad. "Why do they always come to me?"

"Because they trust you." Jeff pulled into the road where they lived. "They really look up to you, Scott. They were really anxious because you got mad-Alan even started crying because he was afraid you wouldn't like him anymore."

"Really?" Scott's voice wobbled just a little bit. "I'm really sorry, Dad, I shouldn't have stormed out like that, I should have kept my temper..."

"Don't apologize." Jeff's voice was warm. "I understand. Sometimes, when things get too much, we have to lash out at somebody. Your brothers were wrong, bothering you the whole day. I had a talk with them. They didn't realize what they were doing."

"I know." And that made running away even worse.

The car pulled in the driveway. Scott shivered despite the warmth that was blasting out of the heater.

"Come on, let's get you inside. You're freezing." Jeff's voice was gentle and worried at the same time. Scott nodded numbly and opened the car door. The coldness that greeted him increased his shivers. What a stupid thing to do, walking out in all that rain. Now it was late and he was wet and he would never finish his homework. But he was too tired to care. He pushed himself out of the car, grimacing as the wet jeans clung to his small frame.

Then he wasn't in the rain anymore. His father swept him up in his arms despite Scott's protests that it wasn't necessary, that he was too old, that he could walk. Jeff Tracy could hear none of this. He just held his eldest close to him and made his way towards the front door. After struggling in vain, Scott finally succumbed and buried his face in his father's chest. Somehow it felt good to be comforted. It felt good not to take responsibility. And besides, his father was warm.

The front door shut with a resounding click, and then he was basked in warmth and light. A flurry of voices greeted their arrival; his brothers were dancing around them, worried and curious at the same time.

"Dad! What's wrong?"

"Scott?"

"Is he sick?"

"What happened?"

"Did he die?" That one was Alan, lower lip trembling while he asked. Ever since his mother had died, the six-year-old had been plagued my nightmares that other members of his family might meet a sudden and unfortunate death.

Scott lifted his head, unable to torture his brother in such a way. After all, he knew how much it hurt to lose a precious family member. "I'm not dead," he croaked, his voice sounding raw and scratchy.

There was a hand tugging his feet, another one patting his back, and then his father interjected, voice deep but strangely comforting. "Now boys, leave your brother in peace for a while. Can't you see he's soaking wet? I'm going to bring him up to his room and get rid of these clothes. John, can you heat some milk and prepare everything for a hot chocolate?"

"Of course."

"And Virgil, take a mop and clean away the water on the floor."

"Got it."

"Gordon and Alan, you go help John. But behave!" His father sounded stern. Feet moved and scurried. Scott had his face buried into his father's shoulder again, too tired to care. He just wanted this day to end. The prospect of a nice and warm bed sounded better and better.

When had been the last time he had been carried like this? Scott couldn't remember. When he was still Alan's age, his Mom would sometimes carry him from the car to the house if he had fallen asleep during the drive. The warm feeling was similar; the knowledge that one didn't have to walk and that nobody could hurt him here. He almost felt sad when they finally reached his room.

"I haven't finished my homework yet..." he began, but his father shushed him. "That's not important right now. First we have to get you out of these wet clothes. You don't want to be sick, do you?" Jeff sat him down, marveling at how tall his eldest was becoming.

Scott blinked weary eyes and started tugging at his shirt. Ugh, so wet and clingy. It made a slurping noise as he pulled it off his skin. His jeans were stiff and unmoving, but he got them off with a bit of wriggling.

His father threw him a pair of warm pajamas. "Here. Put these on. I'm going to look after your brothers and then we'll talk some more."

Scott blinked after him, too tired to understand or care. His backpack was lying on the floor and dripping on the carpet, right next to the stains Gordon had left. He looked at them sadly. Damn, he had been so happy to finally get a new carpet and now this. Well, he should have known better.

Chucking the wet clothes in a corner, he pulled on the pajamas and plopped down on his bed. It wasn't even nine in the evening, why did he feel so tired? Come to think of that, why were the little ones still awake? Weren't they supposed to be in bed by now?

"Whatever.", Scott murmured and rummaged through his backpack. There was his homework, dripping wet and ripped. Now he had to write it all over again. "You're really not worth all that hassle." He said to the piece of paper and shook his head.

Just then, a knock sounded from the door. Scott blinked. Nobody ever knocked with the exception of his Grandma, and she wasn't here. Oh, and John did it as well, but he was John.

"Yes?" He called softly.

The door opened a bit. A blonde head peeked in, followed closely by a copper-haired one.

"Scott? Can we...come in?" Alan asked, round face tight with worry.

"What do you want?" Scott wasn't in the mood to deal with any more brother problems. Then he realized that Gordon was holding a steaming cup.

"We brought your hot chocolate," the redhead announced.

"Uh...thanks..." Scott took the offered cup, sliding cold fingers against the warm porcelain. The two youngsters watched him tensely.

"Don't hate us!" Alan suddenly burst out. "We didn't mean to!"

Scott blinked...again. What was it with this day? "How did you get that idea...?"

"He's been like that ever since you left," another voice explained. John opened the door a bit wider and let himself into the room, followed by Virgil. "Somehow, he was convinced that you were going away and that it was all our fault."

Virgil nodded. "We were all pretty worried. It's not like you to storm off like that."

Scott scowled. "I just wanted some peace and quiet."

"I talked to them about that," Jeff's deep voice boomed from the doorway as he herded all of his sons into Scott's room. "And we came to a conclusion. From today on, there's going to be a new house rule. Virgil, show him the sign."

Virgil nodded and held out a piece of cardboard that he'd been hiding behind his back. The words 'Scott's room' were written on it in elaborate script, and under it, in bold letters, 'Stay out-I'm working'. The border was decorated with lots and lots of little drawings-apparently each of his brothers had felt the need to put something artistic on it. Scott recognized Virgil's skilled pencil strokes as well as the falling star (courtesy of John). There were some blobs of unidentifiable somethings (must have been Alan, his artistic talent was close to zero) and some grinning fish. At least he thought they were fish. Well, they did have fins...

"This is for you, son." His father startled him out of his reverie. "Whenever you feel the need to work in peace, you are to hang that sign on your door. Your brothers have promised to respect your wishes and will stay silent and not make any trouble while it is up." He smiled. "I think I can trust you not to abuse that privilege."

Suddenly, the simple cardboard held a whole new level of meaning. Scott stared down at it, trying to comprehend. His brothers had all worked together? And they had promised...? So that meant that he could actually finish his homework in peace for once, something he hadn't done for ages!

He looked up. There they were, all lined up, looking at him with eager faces. And behind them his father, looking apologetic and even a little proud. The smell of chocolate reached his nose mingled with the smell of fresh paint and wet clothes.

"Thank you." Scott said, a slight smile on his face. "This really means a lot."

Gordon bounced up and down. "Are you still mad?"

"Well...that's hard to say..."

"Please don't be mad!" Alan pleaded. "We don't want you to run away again!"

"I wasn't running away, I was just trying to find some time for myself." Scot ran a hand through his dark hair. This wasn't an outcome he had expected at all. "I just..." he looked at the cardboard, then at his desolated brothers. "I won't do it again."

He received four wide smiles in return. Those guys-as annoying as they might be, standing there in a row, beaming and smiling at him, Scott couldn't help but feel that this was his family-and that he wouldn't change it for anything in this world.

"Now boys, I think it's best if we leave your brother in peace now." Jeff's gruff voice interrupted his thoughts. "And Scott, drink your chocolate. You deserve it."

With those words, the small stampede left his room. The silence that followed was almost eerie and unheard of in the Tracy household. Scott sipped the hot drink, holding the cup with one hand while the other cradled the cardboard. He had a feeling that he was going to treasure this.


A couple of days later, Mrs. Hunkerford, respected teacher of grade six, read through a mound of essays she had collected from her students. Sipping her lukewarm coffee, she wondered what in the hell had possessed her to give such a stupid assignment; if she read one more sentence with words like 'we have a dog and he's so cute' she was going to vomit for sure.

With a groan, she grabbed the next paper and sank down in her chair. When she saw the name, her groan deepened. That boy - he had absolutely no literary talent! Correcting his essays was tedious work.

Sigh. There was nothing to be done about it. Being the hard-working person she was, she started reading anyway.

My family

by Scott Tracy

I have four brothers and one Dad. My brothers all younger than me, which means I often have to take care of them. Their names are John, Virgil, Gordon and Alan. Alan is the youngest, he's six years old. My Dad used to be an astronaut.

Brothers can be so annoying! You never have a moment for yourself, even when you do your homework. With so many siblings, there's always something going on and they always want to involve me. Especially the two younger ones insist that I play with them. It gets so boring! All Alan ever does is to throw his race cars across the room, and Gordon is too active for his own good. John, he's easy, because he reads all the time. He's pretty smart and gets good marks at school. I'm sure that one day he will be a great professor. He can sit down and think about things like one of those big thinkers.

Actually, I often wonder what will happen to my brothers when we grow up. John will be some kind of professor, I bet. And maybe Virgil will become a musician-he's already the best piano player in his class. Gordon will probably live on some tropical island and swim for the whole day. As for Alan, I can't imagine what he would do. Maybe blow himself up. He managed to do that once with John's chemistry set, even though it says it's safe for children.

But then, I don't care. Sometimes I can't wait for the day we are grown up. They are so annoying. Very often I wish that my brothers would simply shut up and leave me in peace. Is that too much to wish for? Just a day where I can do what I want. Not that I don't like my brothers; but they tag along everywhere! Only because I'm the oldest, it is my job to look out for them? Not fair!

There are times when I really hate being the oldest. What if I want to play? What if I want to blow myself up? But I never can, because I have to look out for them, care for them, set a good example. There are times when I want to leave them behind and run away. Everybody drives me so mad that I just want to scream and hit them!

But then something happens. I don't know how maybe it's magic-but whenever I feel like that, something unexpected happens. Last month I was really angry because of something so they all dressed up as raccoons and started singing this really bad tune. It was so funny that I forgot my anger. And then there are moments when I see that my brothers...they have their good sides, too, you know?

Virgil always plays for me if I ask him to-who else can say he's got live piano music at home? John always lends a listening ear, even though he is younger. He knows a lot of stuff. Gordon always makes me laugh, with his antics and his water obsession and his cheeky grin. And Alan, he has a habit of hugging you when you expect it the least and saying incredible things in such an honest fashion that you can't help being touched.

So I guess having brothers isn't all that bad.

So that's my family. We are neither exciting nor perfect; we don't get along very well. There are no special stories I can tell. If strangers come to visit us, they may have to duck because of the flying objects. Whenever Alan and Gordon start a war, it means serious business. Even Dad tries to avoid those.

Who else has a family like that? Who else has a brother who will paint you beautiful picture, one who will tell you abut the stars, one who will trust you to teach him how to swim, and one who will look up to you with star-struck eyes?

I'm sorry if this isn't the typical family essay. I honestly didn't know what to write. But then, what is family? I don't know. I just know the one I have. They're weird, they're annoying, they're loud, and they're many. But they're mine. I might gripe and complain, I might fight with them and hate the burden I bear, but I wouldn't exchange them for anything in the world.

Mrs. Hunkerford laid the paper down, stared out of the window and frowned. This was not only the longest essay she had seen so far, but the most unusual as well. She was surprised. As she remembered the dark-haired boy, she realized how little teachers knew about their students.

With a smile on her face, she took out her red pen. "Well done, Scott Tracy." the teacher whispered to herself and wrote a clear 'A+' under the scrawled lines. Then she stood up to let work be and join her family, because she, just as Scott, wouldn't exchange them for anything in the world.

And wasn't that the way it was supposed to be?

 
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