Talent Hall

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Summary

I'm not denying that Blake might be an all around nice guy because he might be. I don't know. The problem isn’t as much him as it is me. I just want to protect myself from getting hurt again. The year is 2095 and on the other side of the world is a government, known as The Elimination, that are keen on the destruction of children under the age of 18 who are not their own. Fourteen year old Daniel has experiences their wrath first hand. His mother was murdered, and Daniel, still grieving, is immediately sent to live with his wealthy aunt, her fiance, and his daughters in New Jersey. He's sent to a creative arts school known as Talent Hall. Daniel isn't sure he fits in there, but realizes this school isn't exactly what it seems to be with their auditions and talent show performances in other countries. The school helps him gain confidence, but that is slowly deteriorating as soon as Daniel's father comes back into the picture, the one that is in The Elimination, the one that watched his future stepmom rape him years earlier...

Genre:
Scifi / Romance
Author:
KreativeKitty101
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
29
Rating:
5.0 2 reviews
Age Rating:
16+

Chapter 1

A cheerleader shouts at me from across the room, talking about my bloody wrists. I ignore her, but take a peek at my covered wrists. One of the reasons I wear long sleeve shirts or jackets. The popular kids see me as a freak. Somebody told them that having black hair and blue eyes is a curse from God. All I can say to that is whatever. I have plenty of mean nicknames from people and each and every one of them sounds like a five year old come up with them. A five year old could probably do better than these empty minded jerks.

“Jennifer, you will be taking a test over this topic so pay attention!” my English teacher yells, and then clears her throat, using her sweet voice to tell a former cheerleader to continue with her PowerPoint on The Elimination.

Oh, that name. All too familiar. Especially around these parts.

They rose up from the ashes about fifteen years ago. The only organization on earth that is so keen about destroying lives of children to “purity” the earth. They think all children are a mistake. A disgrace upon humanity. They don’t talk about them much in school, which is weird. They find time to teach us about Nine Eleven, and the Holocaust. According to adults that live close by, The Elimination are just as awful. “If not worse”, an older lady has once told me. So the fact that our English teacher has allowed someone to discuss it is weird.

Their methods remind me of a tragedy that killed me years ago. Caused by the man who was supposed to raise and love me. Unfortunately, that job fell to my mom’s boyfriend, Caleb. A job that shouldn’t involve him, but does.

I remember like it was yesterday. Mom asked the very first question about my bruises.Out of fear, I denied the bruises were there. Of course, I was six and child logic doesn’t make much sense to adults. Especially to a motherwho sees her child with unexplained bruises at the moment. She couldn’t break me and told my father about the bruises. He seemed really concerned and angry that I was hurt and suggested they call the police about the matter.However, that didn’t go too far. Certain states had a law regarding children and what they say and Montana happened to be one of them. It’s called The Fabulist Act and I didn’t understand until the act was beginning to come to an end around my seventh birthday. It means children weren’t to be trusted with anything.

Years before, children my age were lying, stealing and getting involved with gangs. It got so bad to the point where the government brought upon the Fabulist Act, but was soon forced to an end by a new president, Michael Johnson. He happens to be a child psychologist as well and said it wasn’t fair to the children who are innocent and need to be trusted in what they say. All that act did was give everyone an excuse to not trust children about anything, and in my mind, it’s immoral. Although other government officials hated the idea, they saw his logicand respected his decision. We still have kids who are lying and getting into trouble, but it’s been said by Johnson that what children are doing is more of a family and psychological issue.

Eventually, Mom grew sick of not getting any type of help days after she found my bruises and tried to exercise her way to feeling better about the situation. She began going to the gym three times a week. More if she was under a lot of stress, which she often was.That’s how my dad and his assistant, I don’t know her name, but I refer to her as Maura, were caught. I was sitting on the swing when I watched her run down the street and mentally prepared myself for what was coming. His words always stuck with me from the moment he let that woman rape me for the first time. “You deserve it, Daniel.”

Getting caught by Mom wasn’t a part of the plan his plan. She came back earlier than we thought she would. She heard me crying, broke down the door, and it was an episode of Saturday Screams. As soon as Mom found out, Maura vanished. Literally. Without a trace. No one has ever seen her again. Frankly, I don’t care to, but I don’t blame her at all. Your whole life people will hurt you. Maybe kill you. If not physically, mentally, and I didn’t even know her, but… my father was the man who helped to bring me here. Made me. He was supposed to love and protect me. And he failed at both of those things.

In his mind, Mom could ruin everything by screaming and he was right because the cops were called and they had to arrest to him, but not before he beat the crap out of her as an attempt to shut her up. Didn’t work too well and It was my mother’s word, my bruises and cries against my father’s and the assistant’s word. I was hospitalized for a week and then was allowed to home. Mom had this idea of packing up and moving to Seattle the night he was arrested.

A month later, that’s exactly what happened. And here we are. Seattle, Washington. To forget the dreadful past. Except that’s all I can ever remember now and it’s all I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Back to The Elimination…

There are rebels and they slave away for a name called “The Revolution”, which is basically working in a big Siri talking building. Caleb works in there, doesn’t talk about it, but he doesn’t have to. For years, people have talked about The Revolution and Elimination and only those two topics.

“Thank you, Kiley. Great job. A round of applause. That’s a hard topic to cover and not pass out.”

Everyone applauds. Except for me. I roll my eyes. I can’t stand any of these people. I dread coming to school just because of these people. If I had to spend an hour with them or die in the most brutal way, bring it on, Death. Do your worst.

“Class, now for the rest of the period, I want you guys to write an essay about something that you hate dearly and why. Due tomorrow.”

Something I hate dearly… Let’s see. Everyone in this class, the man who was supposed to be my father, myself... This essay might be decent sized. Although I’m not about explaining why I can’t stand my father.

I pick up my pencil and start writing. As I’m writing, Miss Krink adds that we may listen to music with earbuds. No need to tell me twice.

Once the bell rings, I’m the first one out of the room, giving the teacher my paper and heading to AP Chemistry. It’s a difficult class to get a passing grade in, but seeing my mom and Caleb smile is worth the stress and migraines every other week. I always look forward to Chemistry because no one bullies me in that class, but I only have one friend here in Seattle aside from Caleb.

Ian sits next to me and smiles before placing his phone in front of me. After staring at it for a few seconds, I realize Ian got invited to a pool party. Staring back at him and his puppy dog face, I shake my head.

“Aw, come on! Don’t make me go alone!” he pleads.

I shrug. “Take your girlfriend. You need to spend time with her anyone. It’s probably why she’s crazy jealous.”

“We broke up last night. She was accusing me of cheating on her with a teacher and that was final straw. She’s been acting crazy lately.”

“You know parties aren’t my thing. And I’m really not about getting in a pool, surrounded by a bunch of kids who hate me. I’d rather play cards in the comfort of my living room with apple juice in a wineglass. I’m less likely to drown or be teased about my black hair and blue eyes.”

“Dude, the jocks and cheerleaders are going to Tacoma for the football game.” That’s like forty minutes away.”

“Thirty seven and that’s not enough distance between me and them. Still not going.”

“We’ll see about that, Colton,” he smirks. This can’t be good.

“Take your best shot, Larson.”

Ten forty-five hits and Ian’s still bugging me about the pool party tomorrow night. I think it took my words as they literally sound. He’s so determined to get me to say yes the party’s at least twenty four hours away if not longer. Ian wouldn’t drag me a wild party, but I’d rather go to a wild one than a pool party. Smaller chance of someone that hates me drowning me.

“Please, please, please, please…”

I deeply sigh and face palm myself. He knows he’s getting to me.

After ten to fifteen minutes of being asked over and over, I give in and agree to drown-I mean, go to the pool party. That’s a victory for Ian. How do people manage to get me to cave in so often? My mom, Caleb, Ian. And if Mom and Caleb find out, there’s no way of pretending to be sick because they like Ian and trust him with me. Ian gives me a ride home and lets Caleb and Mom in on what’s going on. Great. Now the only hope for getting out of it is if aliens attack the house that’s throwing the pool party.

“I know this isn’t necessary, but take care of him, Ian. Hate to have to track you down,” says Caleb.

“I’m pretty sure Danielle will beat you to that if anything happens to him,” Ian teases.

“I’d have to,” Mom laughs. “Caleb might show you a little mercy, and when something happens to my boy-”

“Sorry, we’re not all psycho like you, Danielle,” Caleb says to Mom. “So sometimes we can’t stomach the thought of killing someone.”

She punches Caleb in his shoulder and giggles, blush filling her cheeks. “You’re still learning, my student.”

I gag.

I love them dearly, but they make everything sound weird.

Eventually, Ian leaves to go to the store with his mom. That works out perfectly for Caleb because he made reservations for the three of us at the Italy Palace. It has the best Italian food in America. I’m not just saying that. We all order lasagna. I had planned to eat, but looking at it convinces me otherwise. The difference between Caleb and Mom and I is they eat their food. I play with mine. They notice that and stare with me with concern written on their faces.

“Danny, it’s almost two in the afternoon. You haven’t eaten since last night.”, says Caleb with a soft sigh.

I stare at my plate and take a sip of my water. “It’s a day, Caleb. I’m fine.”

“It started off as one day, sweetheart,” says Mom.

I’m in recovery for Anorexia. Mom constantly tells me that It’s okay to not be okay and that I’m not in this alone, but I have to meet them halfway. Eating is a lot harder than it looks for me. I eat, I feel guilty and Ana makes me feel worse. Ana is the voice that convinces me food is the enemy and she doesn’t really pop up until I’m alone. It’s hard to explain for people that don’t know what an eating disorder is like. I can only use one word to describe it:

Torture.

I deeply sigh before picking up my glass of water. Caleb and Mom share a glance and a sigh.

“At least take a few small bites.”

I shake my head.

Since I refuse to eat, Caleb gives up for now and takes us out to see a movie I’ve been wanting to see for a really long time. Running. It’s about a bunch of kids who are on the run from the government of China and go through deadly traps. A guy even falls in love with the girl who’s supposedly the villain. I’m so lost into the movie, I almost don’t notice how close Caleb and Mom are.

I’m really glad she found Caleb. She deserves to be happy. He’s her first boyfriend since the incident. Although I can’t stand Caleb at times, I love him too. I know he loves my mom and can’t stand to hurt her. even accidentally. They’ve still had their fights, but they always seem to get through them together. I’m really proud of them for coming as far as they did. They’ve been together for two and a half years. At first, I hated Caleb’s guts. I couldn’t stand him at all. All I could think was he’s going to hurt us too. It wasn’t long for him to prove me wrong. He’s shown both of us the love we never got from Dad; love I didn’t even know existed from a father figure. Yes, I think of him as a dad. He’s the only man I’ll ever trust as my dad. I really appreciate him. He and Mom both work incredibly hard to take care of me and even spoil me rotten. And it makes me feel bad sometimes. Especially when it’s something expensive. The phone I got a few weeks ago was really expensive. It came out two months ago. The newest iPhone to hit the Apple store.

Smiling at the inspiring and adorable love, I turn my attention back to the screen in time to see the main character kiss the villain girl.

Once we return home after the movie, I retreat to my room to charge my phone and tweet about the movie. I have some Twitter followers that actually like me, but live on the other side of the country and some who live on the other side of the world.They’reall awesome.Unfortunately, I also have some who hate my guts, like I’m not used to that already. I get caught up reading some fanfiction and before I know it, two hours pass and I’m done with an almost two hundred chapter fanfic and a couple oneshots. This is pretty normal too. I’m always on Wattpad.

I rub my eyes and walk down the stairs. Caleb and Mom both smile at me. “What’s up, guys?”

“You look like you just finished two dozen fanfics,” says Caleb with a soft smile.

“That’s for amateurs, Caleb.” I smile and clap. “Three dozen oneshots and a two hundred story fanfic.”

Mom chuckles. “Of course. Did you update anything recently?”

“No, I’ve been slacking lately.”

Caleb looks down and sighs before making eye contact with me again. “It’s that time of the month again, Danny?”

The time of the month refers to them checking my wrists for cuts. They’ve done it every two weeks in one month to make sure I’m not hurting myself. They’ve tried to take everything I could use to harm myself with, but I find ways around that so they decided to take a better approach. I hate this ‘time of the month’ more and more every two weeks, even if I have nothing to hide. That’s not the case this time though.

I deeply sigh and unzip my jacket and take it off, preparing myself for what’s coming. They both gasp softly. Mom covers her mouth. I look down. I lost track off when they would be checking next. Sometimes they mix it up too. Relapses aren’t fun and that’s exactly how these cuts happened. Two nights ago.

“Don’t look at me like that.”

“Danny, why didn’t you tell us you were feeling this way?” I ignore Caleb’s question. “You’re falling back to your old habits. You’ve worked so hard to give up now. You’ve gone back to cutting and starving every day…”

Who said I was giving up?

Although, it’s not a bad idea.

All I can do is take off running up the stairs and to my room. As soon as I get to my bedroom, I slam my door shut and lock it. The window shakes at the intensity of the door slam. I shrug it off and plop on my bed grabbing my pencil and pad of paper, and continue on my drawing of Ana and her half beautiful, half skeptical face. I started it late last night and got rather farther than I thought I would get.

My stomach growls, begging for food. It hits me that my last meal was yesterday afternoon. I groan and hold my stomach.

“Water,” Ana whispers. “Lots of water. Cold and Hot.”

“Why hot?” I ask.

“Fills you up faster. You’ll feel refreshed. Energetic. Pure.”

I stand up and walk to my bathroom with the glass cup that’s on my nightstand filled with water, and take it to the bathroom, filling it with hot water first. Hot water is to fill you up, so Ana says. I already knew that ice cold water burns calories depending on how cold it is and how much you drink.

I gulp down four cups of water, two hot, and two cold. My stomach’s whale noises decrease slowly and slightly die down, allowing me to draw Ana in peace until Caleb knocks on my door hours later and threatens to unlock it himself. I ignore it for the next hour while he frantically searches for the key, but he isn’t the one to come in my room that was locked for a reason. Mom is. I just stay in the position I’m in and continue to scribble Ana’s perfect hair on the page.

Mom invites herself to sit on my bed and peek at my drawing. “Is that the girl that’s telling my son to starve himself?”

I guess the name Ana at the top kind of gave it away.

“Deny!” Ana screams.

I put the picture in my backpack, ignoring my mom’s statement about the picture, hoping she’ll drop it. “Danny…?”

“No,” I say. “Now please leave. I had the door locked for a reason you know.”

“Not a chance. I am not going to leave you alone with Ana and Deb.”

I pause in my tracks.

Okay, it’s one thing to know about Ana because Mom and Caleb found out about Ana when I was twelve, but I never said a word about Deb who makes snarky remarks about me and constantly brings me down.

Mom raises an eyebrow. “Did you really think I didn’t know that you had more than one voice in your head that tells you to harm yourself?”

“What are you saying exactly?” I ask.

She pats my bed. I roll my eyes and sit next to her, crossing my legs. “Sweetheart, you know Schizophrenia can be genetic, right?”

I groan. “I am not Schizophrenic.”

“Baby, I can see the signs. I have it, so I know. We need to at least look for a test for you. Maybe at a doctor’s office.”

She wants to go to the doctor. The last two times I went for help for Anorexia and Depression, I was denied a simple diagnosis. I got nothing, but hurt again. That convinced me to never go for help again. Not even a trusted and licensed doctor.

“Oh, sure. Yes. Let’s go to the doctor just to be denied again,” I snap. “I’m sure that will work just fine.”

“Maybe in another city. I won’t take you just to let you be denied again, but we have to do something. You’re not eating. You’ve gone back to cutting. Why would I just ignore this?”

I grab my phone and shrug. That’s when she grabs my phone out of my hand, and she clearly isn’t happy or amused. Not even a little bit. “Look, we’re going to get some type of help for you. Whether you like it or not. I’m not going to let you do this to yourself.”

“What, my diet?” I respond and snatch my phone back.

She sighs. “Okay, fine. Ana wants you to lose weight. I understand that, but this ‘diet’ is out of control, honey. And what about what Deb is telling you? What about what Cat did to you?”

Cat is the voice that encourages me to cut when times get rough and it helps me cope. Is it the best way? No, but it’s all I’ve got right now, and sometimes all you have has to be enough.

“Cat is helping me.”

“By telling you to slice through your wrists and arms until the floor is flooded in your blood.”

She’s referring to last year when I was contemplating suicide. I was in my bathroom alone at two am and Cat started talking to me. She suggested I cut until I feel better, and better can’t describe how I felt before Mom and Caleb busted into the bathroom. Said something about smelling blood. Long story short, the blood was everywhere. Caleb describes it as a blood bath. When I tried to stand, I almost fainted and they forced me to eat soup and a cookie, and to drink a lot of juice and water. The next day, I wasn’t allowed out of bed for any reason.

“I’m going to bed,” I say and lay down in my bed.

She stands up and walks to the door, but turns around before she leaves. “We’re not done with this yet, Daniel Alexander.”

“Danielle, Danny! Can you guys come down stairs?” Caleb calls from the bottom of the staircase.Saved by the boyfriend. Anything to stop this conversation. Not too happy about having to get up when I just layed down, but if it stops Mom for now, I’ll run downstairs, waving a flag, dancing with a rose, and balancing a book on my head.

When I reach the bottom, Caleb’s friend and boss, Andy is talking to Caleb and flashes a smile at Mom and I with a man in a business suit and black briefcase standing behind him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him before, but we see Andy quite often.

Normally boss and friend don’t go hand and hand, but he’s not like other bosses. He’s understanding and pretty laid back as long as everything gets done, and because it always does, he’s happy. He’s actually known Caleb for years, so they have that with them too.

“My, Danielle, you become more beautiful every day.” I roll my eyes. “And Danny, it’s been a while. I think you grew an inch last time I saw you. I’m so sorry to come by without warning, but I’ll try to be brief.” His visits are never brief.

“Don’t worry about it,” Caleb says. “Is something wrong?”

I sit on the couch next to mom who embraces me and kisses my temple. Caleb sits next to Mom and Andy takes a seat across from us. Mom is the next person to speak.

“I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced, Mr…”

“Jones. Luke Jones. It’s great to meet you. We won’t take too much of your time, Mr. James.

“We got a report the branch in New York, regarding The Elimination, Caleb,” Andy says. Caleb glimpses at me and nods his head for Andy to continue, but instead Mr. “They’re attacking nations out of anger and resentment. We got a letter from Australia, asking for some assistance. They are still working on their SR building, but need help in that area and helping to keep their citizens safe in Sydney. My… secretary and her assistants recommended you and seven others to Mr. Jones, and he has seen your profile and the ratings I and other workers have given you.”

“Your record and profile has impressed me and I’m sure you’ll help us achieve what our goals. We want you to come to Sydney to help us, Mr. James. It would only be for three months.”

I like how blunt and straight to the point he is, but hate that he’s taking Caleb away from us.

Caleb squeezes Mom’s hand and sigh. “I’m very sorry things aren’t going smoothly for you, but I can’t just leave.”

“I understand why you feel that way. I have a daughter, two stepsons and a wife to support as well, but we need workers of your potential, and I’m willing to pay you and the other seven workers who have already accepted immensely.”

“So say I agree to this, what would you have in mind for me? As for work...”

“Well, we have two very important areas in which we need help. Protection and help for our building. You see, recently bombs have been dropped in Australia around our building.We have certain areas that are weaker than others. You could choose what you want to do. You could bea security guard while the construction workers do their part or join them in working on the building as well or both if you wish. They pay about the same, but I reward my workers well. Is there a specific request you have, Mr. James?”

Caleb looks at Mom and I as he sighs. “Um, I’m sorry. This is so sudden. I think the three of us need to discuss this and how we can work it out. If we can, then I will gladly help. Can I have a night to ponder it and I’ll contact you tomorrow?”

“Absolutely. Thank you for at least considering this, Mr. James. Have a good evening. It was nice to you meet you guys. I’m sorry, son, I didn’t catch your name?”

How could he? He barely looked at me.

I roll my eyes. “Danny,” I say.

“Have a good evening, Danny.”

As soon as they leave and close the door, Caleb and Mom both look at me with concern in their eyes. I stand up, announce I’m going for a run, and vanish up the stairs to change clothes before they can object. I change into some running shorts, a t-shirt and my running shoes. I’m out of the house in three minutes. They don’t like it when I run, but it clears my mind and they really don’t try to stop me. I’ve been running for as long as I can remember. Along with dancing. I’ve been dancing since infancy. I was involved with some dancing tournaments and won a few trophies when I was young. I was really good too. Mom said I could have gotten a career that involves dancing, but I couldn’t handle the pressure of dancing, the memories of my dad, and the depression. It was and still is too much, and I don’t dance anymore.

At the age of five, I was winning trophies in dance competitions in the state, but quit when I reached the age of ten. Not because of my father completely. He did play a huge role in why I quit through. I was depressed at a very young age. It started off as a way of coping, but it turned into stress I could handle for very long.

Plus, my Mom realized she had Schizophrenia and had no one else to be there for her. She didn’t meet Caleb yet, but she had known Schizophrenia for a while without knowing it’s name. Her disorder would consider her ‘an old friend’ from before Caleb came along.

Either way, Mom was upset because I quit right before the finals. She knows how much I loved dancing. Or love. I never really grew tired of dancing. If I can help it, when I’m cleaning in the kitchen or in my room, I still dance to some music. I don’t think that will ever change.

My run does clear my head, but that’s only because I’m making Ana not hate me a little less. Granted, she is helping me, but because I have “absolutely no willpower”, I’m easy to despise. I don’t blame her. I hate myself more than she ever could.

When I return, Caleb and Mom are cooking in the kitchen. I only peek from the doorway and spot Mom chopping vegetables and talking to Caleb as he pours salt in a pot of boiling hot water.

“Don’t worry about sending money,” Mom says. “I’ll work a double shift if it’s needed.”

“Danielle, you’ve been planning this vacation for months. Danny need us right now. Of course he can’t have me and you both if I choose to do this. He at least deserves to have you.”

I bite my tongue. I have this thing where I have to be the strong one and it kills me to let someone in on how I’m actually feeling, so to hear Caleb describe me as needy right now, well, I’m fantasizing about throwing myself down the stairs just to get back up and show I can handle myself.

Although, in a way, he is right. Without him and Mom guiding me and watching me close, I would have overdosed or cut my wrist enough to send me to the morgue. Even with that in mind, I still hate to let them in on how I’m feeling. They have too much on their plate already. They’re better off not knowing anything.

“You have to keep a close eye on Danny, baby,” Caleb whispers and holds her close. “If you need me here, I won’t go at all.”

“No. You want to do this. To help give children a safe haven. I can’t ask you to give up your dreams “

“Daniel is my priority. As long as you guys are safe, I’m happy. Plus, this could be good for you guys. You guys should bond and talk while I’m gone. Maybe he’ll open up more.”

She nods and pulls herself away from Caleb, returning her attention to the vegetables. I back away slowly and silently, and sneak upstairs to take a quick shower before they drag me into their conversation about Caleb going to Australia. He hasn’t left yet and I already resent the opportunity, but Caleb loves helping children. That’s his dream job. I love him and want him to have the best chance he could possibly have. Needless to say I may hate this, but I’ll definitely keep silent about my true feelings, just like I always do.

Caleb calls my name from the bottom of the the staircase. His favorite spot. At first, I don’t answer. Taking it for exactly what it is, a refusal, he marches upstairs, throws me over His shoulders, and carries me to the kitchen, not at all bothered by that fact that I probably weigh a ton and mydemands to be released. Mom places a plate in front of me with veggies. I stare at the broccoli, pick up my fork, and play with my food. Caleb sighs. “Danny, please eat something. This starving thing has to stop.”

I snap at his statement. “IT’S NOT THAT EASY!” They both flinch. I take a deep breath and sigh. “You don’t understand… If I could eat without getting fat, don’t you think I’d do it?”

“You are not fat. I don’t know what your eating disorder voice is thinking, but you’re underweight for your age. You need to eat something, Danny. At least a few bites. It would make us feel better.”

“I don’t want to lose you to your disorder, honey,” Mom says as she squeezes my hand, her voice cracking. “You’ve done so well this past week.”

“And by well, you mean one meal a day. If that’s all I can eat, I might as well not eat.”

Ana told me to start off with a five hundred calorie diet before we became...inseparable, but I couldn’t keep control of how much I ate. She became harsher and cruel to make sure I either eat no more than five hundred calories or don’t eat at all. I’m used to eating less that of are five hundred calories a day.

I remember the night I met Ana. Seemed like an angel. Very sweet, soft spoken. Like a five year old. She came to help me and she is still living up to her promise. But I have to cooperate.

That morning, a girl called me fat while I was eating a piece of cake. That was the day Ana changed my life. When I do eat, never anything high in sugar and fat, and I was already a vegetarian. Clean of animal flesh since I was ten. They showed us a video in school about What happens to animals in the slaughterhouse before we receive meat in the market. My mom was against that too, but let me make my own choice. Now she’s all for it If it means I’ll eat something.

“The one meal a day project we’ve been doing,” Caleb says. “Is what’s keeping your body going. If you were to stop eating completely, your body would shut down. You could get really sick. It’s better to eat one meal a day than to starve completely.”

“Vegetables are actually a negative calorie,” Mom says.

I squint my eyes. “No food has zero calories.”

She takes a bite of her carrot stick and continues after she chews and swallows. “Fruit and vegetables burn more calories than they contain. That’s why it’s called a negative calorie food. If nothing else, you will take a few bites of your veggies.”

I roll my eyes and continue to play with my food. Caleb blinks and takes a deep breath. It’s not often he gets angry with Mom or I, but he is getting frustrated with me not eating. I can see that. Even in frustration, he smiles and asks if I could try a five hundred calorie diet.

“If only you had the willpower to stop!” Ana hisses.

I sigh. “I can’t control myself.”

“A few bites and you can be done. Three bites of your veggies at the most, honey,” Mom says.

“Don’t you remember the last time, Daniel?” Ana asks mockingly.

“Remember what you said?” Caleb asks. “About wanting to make Ana go away. If you eat, you’re rebelling against her.”

As I take the first bite, I cringe. Mom and Caleb smile. Slowing chewing and trying to ignore the thought of the harsh things Ana will say to me later, I shrug and swallow. Mom pushes my bangs back and kisses my temple. I manage to get a little more food in me, and then push my plate away and bite my tongue so I don’t try to eat anymore. Caleb and Mom are overjoyed I ate something today and don’t even try to push me to eat more. To them, eating a few apple slices for dinner is an achievement. To Ana, if I overeat, I’m a lost cause. A kid who can’t be helped.

Caleb takes my plate and throws the rest of the food away. Mom lightly touches my hand. “So how do you feel about Caleb going to Australia?”

“It… sounds like a good opportunity,” I say with a smile. They don’t look very convinced. I sigh. “Fine, I hate it. I hate you’ll be gone for three months, but it is something you like. You like helping people. Children especially, and I won’t ask you to give that up because I have issues, and if you try to refuse to ‘monitor me’, I will drive your car into the lake and flood your bathroom.”

“Not the car again,” Caleb sighs.

“And you, mother, don’t even think about spending your vacation worrying about me all the time. It’s not often you get time off, so enjoy it. Try to worry about me and you’ll never see another lifetime movie again.”

Mom scratches her head and sighs, turning to make eye contact with Caleb who snickers. Do they think this is some type of joke? Am I not serious enough?

“What’s so funny?” I demand. “I’m dead serious.”

“It’s… cute,” Mom says. “And hilarious that I’m twenty seven years old and I’m being lectured by my fourteen year old son.”

“I don’t mean to lecture you, but you guys can’t spend every second of your lives worrying about me and my issues.”

“What if it’s our favorite thing to do?”

“Unless you want a flooded bathroom and car, I’d find a new hobby,” I say, warningly. “Do you not trust me?”

“Of course we trust you!” Caleb says. “It’s not you we don’t trust. It’s the thoughts that tell you what you’re not that we don’t trust.” What? “Like… Ana. We don’t trust her, but we do trust you. And if I’m going to do this, I need you to promise me something..”

“And what’s that?”

He reaches for something on the floor and places a journal on the table. I stare at the cover as he slides it over to me and scrunch my nose in disgust. “A diary?”

“A notebook. Either you are going to call me when you’re feeling depressed or suicidal or you’re going to write about it until you feel better. And if your mother and I find out you haven’t done either one of these things, oh, it’s not going to be pretty, and I’ll come straight back to Seattle before you can blink.”

I blink. He glares at me not taking this seriously. I sigh. “If do this, you both have to promise to not worry about me all the time.”

“We promise.”

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