Chapter 1: The Afternoon Bunch
"Although I can't stop all cruelty to living creatures on the planet, I can be kinder to every living creature in my life."
- River Phoenix
If you want a book that has a female narrator refusing to acknowledge her beauty, a young boy becoming the "Chosen One," or complicated love triangles then close this novel and pretend that you never saw its contents.
Although it's tempting to add a cliche here and there, the story I am about to tell you will make you feel nostalgic, guilty, happy, and sad at the same time.
This story takes place either in the late 1980s or mid-90s. However, due to my old age, I cannot recall every event that occurred in this time period.
I can only tell you the story about a looted school vending machine, four starving teenagers, and a bizarre road trip.
Now, the children's plan was supposed to be simple: fit in with the high school kids, loot the snack machines, and leave before someone notices them.
But unfortunately for Brooke King's friends, stealing was never easy.
Using a long crowbar she had found in a crappy junkyard, fifteen-year-old Nessa Phoenix raided the vending machine whereas her older brother Johnny tilted the appliance.
"Are you guys finished?" Brooke asks Johnny for the umpteenth time.
While the siblings were taking care of the snacks, Caleb Wolfe and his girlfriend Brooke King were on the lookout, canvassing the passageways for any sign of a teacher, janitor, or high school student lurking by.
But as much as Brooke wants to be patient, she couldn't help but feel as though we were being watched by something or someone.
Just then, an irritated Nessa noticed the trepidation written on Brooke's face.
"Brooke," she grunted, "I love you like a sister and all, but robbing a vending machine is not as easy as it looks."
Brooke rolls her eyes as Nessa shoves the bags of sugary goods inside her bright red backpack.
Her chestnut brown hair dances past her hazel-colored eyes as Nessa peeked through the bag. She wears a white crop-top with bright red stripes, ripped denim jeans, and black Doctor Martens.
In contrast, her eldest sibling Johnny Phoenix's outfit looked as if he had stolen it from the cast of The Outsiders.
He is a lean, but muscular five-foot-six guy whose skin is as warm as caramel. Somehow it compliments Johnny's deep blue flannel shirt, shredded jeans, and black leather combat boots.
But unlike most rebellious teens, Johnny is sweet, silent, and a kind of goofball who cares for others more than his looks.
Before Caleb, Johnny and Brooke were the high school couple everyone envied.
They went on dates, ate junk food in Burger Chef, and attended school dances until their precious spark begin to wane.
So, Johnny and Brooke became best friends.
After Nessa crammed the last bag of Cheetos into her pack, she zips hers up and moves towards Johnny's.
His black backpack was adorned with colorful pins-Pac-Man, a bold red Anarchy symbol, New Kids On the Block, and The Goonies.
Unzipping the empty bag, Nessa stuffed the snacks when a boisterous fart noise made her jump.
"What the hell was that?" Johnny scowls, shriveling his nose.
Caleb blushed immensely, bowing his head.
"Sorry," he mutters. "That was probably my stomach."
Johnny, Nessa, and Brooke all gazed at him in total shock.
"Can you make your stomach not sound like a farting whale, Caleb?" growled Nessa.
"Sorry, Ness," he mumbles softly.
Caleb has olive-brown skin and wears dark tinted glasses that shrouded his ambiguous eyes. Mint green polish coated his fingernails as his hands glide across the light blue walls.
For today, Caleb wears a black Run-DMC hoodie, a pair of faded jeans, and pitch-black Vans sneakers. To shroud his short, gangly dreadlocks, Caleb wore a red snapback hat.
God, Brooke thinks dreamily. He looks so hot with dreadlocks.
And the fact that Caleb is wearing his favorite snapback hat made her heart accelerate even more.
But even so, Brooke has to be meticulous around Caleb, because he has the ability to read minds.
Speaking of Caleb, his smile begins to turn sour as milk when the Phoenix siblings ignite their fiery remarks.
"Jesus Christ, are you guys actually done or not?"
Nessa nods as she pulls the zipper along the silver bumpy edges of her red backpack and tells Johnny to drop the machine.
A delighted Johnny breathes in relief as he sets the machine down on the tiled floors. He then massages his worn hands and sighed.
"Next time, why don't you lift the machine, Vanessa?" he grumbled. "Saves me the trouble of lifting this piece of shit."
Setting down her backpack, Nessa glares at Johnny.
"Maybe if you hadn't sucked at 'Rock, Paper, Scissors,' I would have given you the job."
Johnny circles his eyes in animosity. "Okay, Nessa Now. Are you almost done, yet?"
She wiggled the crowbar inside the vending machine, knocking a packet of chocolate M&M's from the rack.
"No," Nessa answers, quickly dropping the candy inside Johnny's backpack.
"And stop calling me Nessa Now."
Sweat dribbled down his jawline as Johnny faked an innocent smile.
"Of course, Nessa Now," he teased.
His smug grin grew wider. "Well, you did ask me to call you Nessa Now."
An annoyed Brooke tells the Phoenix siblings once more to stop quarreling.
"Yeah Johnny," agreed Caleb, lowering his voice. "Stop pissing off Nessa Now and get everything ready: the science teacher is still in his office."
Nessa groaned, lifting her backpack with her left hand.
It's surprising that everyone-including the janitor-left school for winter break except our old science teacher, Professor Stockley.
On the one hand, Brooke felt sorry for the guy. He used to give them endless piles of homework; but even so, his heart is in the right place.
However, Brooke had a hunch that his wife caught him cheating with the principal. In fact, the entire school knows about the affair.
Their former classmates talked about the illicit affair during lunch, classrooms, and P.E-the only subject she sucked terribly in.
As the accusations begin to boil, the principal accepts her resignation and left the school campus for good.
This change affected Professor Stockley so much that he did not come out of his classroom or confront his now ex-wife.
Stockley only sat in his chair, savored his concealed whiskey, and sobbed until he couldn't breathe.
But today, the disgraced teacher broke free of his tedious routine by getting up from his chair and find the men's bathroom.
However, just as he was about to enter the left corridor, the professor's sharp brown eyes gawk at four teenage misfits raiding the vending machines.
"What the hell?" he takes a step forward, half-expecting that his mind wasn't muddled from the alcohol.
Looking up from her bag once more, Nessa opened her mouth in horror.
"Oh, shit!" she cussed. "We have to go!"
After the siblings acquired their backpacks, Brooke grasped Caleb's hands and pulled him away.
"Hey! Stop!" the unpleasant science teacher transformed into a raging bull, scampering after them.
Sweat puddles appeared underneath the guy's drab brown coat sleeves; his khaki pants and plain brown men's shoes couldn't keep up with him.
Brooke is afraid that if he continues hunting them down, the teacher might have an asthma attack or something.
"Stop right there, you juvenile delinquents!"
They continued running down the corridors until Johnny found an entrance that leads them outside.
"Come on, guys!" he urges. "Keep going!"
Johnny pushed the exit door when all of a sudden, the professor broke into a slow trot. His face changed from an unruly beast to a sluggish insomniac.
At first, Brooke didn't know what was going on. But the minute she saw Caleb stand behind the teacher, she wanted to kiss him.
His eyes were closed. His hands were raised as though he was a reanimated mummy.
"Whoa," Nessa takes a careful step back.
She and Caleb were close friends; but even so, Nessa isn't comfortable watching the boy use his powers.
Turning his heel away from the children, the manipulated science professor calmly walked back to his classroom.
After he left, Caleb woke up to find Nessa, Johnny, and Brooke stares at him.
"What's up?" he asked strangely.
"How did you do that?" a speechless Johnny breathed.
Caleb dips his head in embarrassment.
"Uh, talent?" he answers with a smirk.
Nessa gives him a look. "Couldn't you have done that before we were chased around?"
"Well, Professor Blockhead didn't give me enough time!" Caleb grunts.
Interrupting their bickering, Johnny and Brooke unfastened the doors.
"Come on guys," Johnny says impatiently.
"Now is not the time to argue."
As he pushes open one of the doors, brilliant rays of insufferable heat dominated not just the kids but California as well.
What Brooke hates about running in the sun is that its malicious rays often compelled her to believe that her dreadlocks are on fire.
The luminous daylight altered Brooke's skin color to the shade of burnt sugar-hot yet sweet to the touch.
Rifling inside his pockets, Caleb hurled the keys to a prized red Ford Mustang over to Johnny so he can unlock the stationed car standing in front of the concrete staircase.
Panting like a dehydrated dog, Johnny grabs the keys in midair and thanked Caleb dearly.
As soon as he pressed the button with his left thumb, the car's headlights blinked bright yellow.
"We are never doing this shit again," Caleb vowed to Johnny as they crawl into the car.
The unpleasant smell of lukewarm French fries greeted them with open arms, but at least the car seats were comfortable.
Stored in the back of the trunk where their belongings, supplies, and their weapons-in case the children run into trouble.
While the boys sit in the front, Nessa and Brooke were in the back, gasping like dead fishes searching for cold water.
The air conditioner was broken, but it produced enough cool breeze to help the children listen to New Kids On The Block's new song.
Brooke lowered the window down, stick out her left hand, and feel the breeze cooling fingertips.
Meanwhile, as Johnny steered the car, he glanced at his driver mirror and asked Nessa: "Remind me why we can't get snacks at a local grocery store?"
She did a casual shrug, popping open a bold yellow bag of salty potato chips.
"Because vending machines are easy to steal," Nessa answers with a smirk. "And besides, that school deserved getting its snack machine robbed."
Believe it or not, Johnny, Nessa, Caleb, and Brooke used to attend Grant Well High School last year until the school principal kicked them out for "harassing" his homophobic son.
Johnny shoots his eyes at the rearview mirror hanging above his head. "Look, Nessa Now-"
"It's Nessa, you idiot!" she bellowed.
"Whatever," Johnny grumbled. "Just because we don't have money to eat doesn't mean we have to rob our old school's vending machine."
Caleb crossed his arms, staring through the clear windshield glass. "Maybe if you didn't spend all our money on this stupid car, we could have bought some food."
Johnny clamped his mouth shut, steering past Tower Records.
An exhausted Caleb shoves his hand into Johnny's backpack, takes out a small, blue package of chocolate Oreo cookies, and tear it open.
Chocolate crumbs sprinkle on the leather gray seats as Caleb happily munched his snack. Nessa, on the other hand, is crumbling her now-empty potato chip bag and tucks it in a white plastic bag near her feet.
Stunned, Brooke turns her head casting a rebellious Nessa a strange look.
"Didn't you just eat breakfast?" Brooke reminds her.
"I did," Nessa grumbled, returning back to her chair. "But I am sick of eating hamburgers out of a trash can."
Kicking off her shoes, Nessa brushes her sore bare feet up against the comfortable car seats.
Reaching into her backpack again, Nessa offers Brooke a bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos, but she politely declines.
Instead, Brooke studies the teal blue jewelry around her fingers.
Her dark brown locks pranced in the breeze as fresh folds appeared on her pumpkin orange halter top and high-waisted jeans.
A thick layer of mud transformed her black sneakers into rotting chunks of fruit. The soft brown shearling jacket is tied around her thin waist, resting comfortably on her lap.
"Where are we going?" Brooke asks a serious Johnny.
"No idea," he answers with a sigh. "I was thinking we crash in an old movie theater for the night."
"Look, I get we're homeless," she starts to say. "But do we have to sleep in another abandoned movie theater again?"
"Look, I know how difficult it is, moving from one place to another," Johnny said, signaling his left turn. "But the truth is, no one wants to take four mutants into their homes, Brooke."
His words hit Brooke like a slap across the face.
Static grew into an enormous wave crashing over the latest New Kids On the Block's song.
A disgusted Caleb switched off the station and switches his gaze back to the fleeing cars.
I can't believe I am saying this, but Johnny is right: white, black, young, and old suffered bigotry in the past; but even so, they manage to get on with their lives.
Not people like Brooke, Caleb, Johnny, and Nessa.
Even though they have feelings, interests, and desires of a human being, the young quartet was blessed with supernatural abilities.
Caleb has the power to read minds, Brooke can see the future, and Johnny can teleport his way through tricky situations.
But unlike her companions and older brother, Nessa does not have any powers; but she is an experienced archer, fighter, and a hunter.
And because the United States knew that the supernatural exists, they had to take extra precautions.
So the government established laws that separate the gifted from the humans.
Those who have special gifts cannot attend work, theme parks, restaurants, movie theaters, or concerts without carrying an identification passport.
It tells the person your name, age, race, and species. If you don't have it with you, then you will be arrested for disturbing the peace.
And while most humans have decent jobs, the gifted become farmers, maids, cooks, and school janitors.
For many years, a wealthy man named Headmaster Prometheus built a boarding school. It was supposed to be a sanctuary for young children who had supernatural abilities.
But when Headmaster Prometheus died of AIDS, the U.S. government shut down the school and sent the kids back to their homes.
And while most kids are accepted by their families, others spent their childhood in the streets.
As for our main heroes Brooke, Johnny, Caleb, and Nessa, they have compassionate parents who loved their jobs and their children as well.
Although they travel around the world, their parents would bestow them with gifts, undivided attention, and acceptance.
In their endearing letters, their loving parents begged the kids to look out for one another-become the tight-knit family that no one can separate.
Sadly for the children, the unexpected awaits.