Lynn felt better.
After two agonizing days, she had finally got the anger of losing that cursed baseball game out of her system. She knew it was just a regular round and the playoffs were right around the corner, but when it came to sports, any loss (no matter how small) got her in a funk. Lynn hated the nasty, crunching feeling she got from it and she had ways of dealing with it, most of them involving her body. Sometimes, she went out on a sprint, desperately trying to convince herself that she could've won if she had run just a little faster. Other times, she turned the backyard into her personal gym where the tools in the garage were her dumbbells, the tree was her punching bag, the ground was her mat.
This loss was largely similar to the others. Indeed, she did exercise most of the fumes out of her bones, leaving them to evaporate with the air. But not all of her venting utilized her athleticism. In the heat of the moment, before any physical exertion could be done, she let her mouth slip. She darted up to her little brother and denounced him as 'bad luck'. His reaction wasn't so much of offense but rather of cool skepticism.
Over the next two days, she went around 'warning' her other sisters about the matter. As she expected, they believed her. And although she didn't anticipate it, it didn't shock her that Lincoln helped her, claiming himself to be bad luck. Although each delivery of her rumor helped, her anger lingered during that time.
As she exercised to blow off steam, she repeated the precise words she had told her brother on that day. No matter what she was doing (running, lifting, stretching), that notion pushed her to go further. And she admired the tremendous results she yielded, feeling a little better about herself.
"There's nothing wrong with me. It was just that stupid bad luck!"
Following her workout, Lynn passed by Lincoln on her way to the shower. He looked perfectly normal, content even. And that observation made her feel even more assured, as she felt those little critical whispers evaporate. What did those little things know? They weren't gonna win her the championship.
After the shower, she slipped herself into a comfortable set of loose clothes before settling down in her room, where her little sister Lucy was writing in her journal. Lynn plopped herself face down on the bed, allowing her toned muscles to relax. The sudden release of tension made the girl moan into the mattress. It felt wonderful.
"Don't get too comfortable. Mom and Dad are taking us to the movies tonight," Lucy said, her eyes never leaving the pages of her precious poetry.
Lynn lifted her head to face her sister.
"Really? What are we seeing?"
"The Lover's Caper," Lucy replied as she found a rhyme to finish a verse.
Lynn's head perked. She was all to familiar with that title. She saw the commercials playing for it, the strong female alongside her male detective lover solving a mystery together. Two different mechanisms suddenly started working in tandem.
"Lincoln's not coming. Right?" she asked, concerned.
"They said he wasn't."
And then, a third function joins the mix.
"You didn't tell them he's bad luck, right?" she asked, once again evoking a similar tone.
"I didn't say a word to them. And I didn't see anyone else coming to them either," Lucy said. She then halted her pencil strokes and turned to her sister, "Did you tell them?"
Lynn started hearing some louder voices, ones that resonated with her all too well (at least before her workout). They bounced within a subset of her mind, threatening to break free from their tight confines. Did she dare to liberate them in front of her sister, her ally? With a moment of contemplation, she sighed.
"No, but I'm gonna tell them after we leave," she said. She then yawned (although a bit more than she needed), "For now, I'm gonna crash for a little, fuel back up," she then dropped her face back into the moderately lumpy bed.
Lynn closed her eyes, yet she found herself unable to fall asleep. All she could think about was Lincoln and the rumor she had spread about him. She felt the remaining strands of anger that slithered about her mutate into worry. Even with exhausted muscles, these vipers were enough to keep her awake.
All the while, she tried shifting her focus to her slow breathing, trying to channel the energy circulating in her.
"I must have seen that thing a thousand times by now," she thought as she recalled herself 'warning' her sisters, her sisters warning their other sisters, Lincoln telling himself it, and her mind hammering it in. Was it true that if you told yourself a lie enough times, it would be believed? No matter how absurd it was?
"The more you think about him, the more his bad luck is gonna rub off on you. You can't let your mind get thrown in a funk!"
Her body continued to ache, though. And she had a bad feeling that it wasn't due to the workout. She lied there for about a couple minutes under the hope that she could clear her mind just enough to lose consciousness. But she couldn't stop thinking about the 'bad luck'. Those two words hung around as unwanted company. Not helping matters was the image of a certain white-haired boy.
Eventually, she exhaled into her mattress before throwing herself up. She sat on her bed and observed her sister. Lucy was scribbling her artistic vision in her journal, too invested to notice the loud creek Lynn's mattress made when she moved around on it. Lynn was glad her sister wasn't paying attention; she wasn't willing to get thrust herself into an awkward exchange right then. She felt the uneasiness persist, worsen even as she looked at her roommate. Even if they didn't talk very often and even if they didn't have the same interests, Lynn loved having Lucy by her side. And that made her feel terrible.
Before she could contemplate further, she heard muffled sobbing vibrate through her walls. And that was the perfect excuse to get up and leave. She hoped that would get that tension dissipate.
Out in the hallway, she saw the door to Lisa and Lily's room wide open. Peering in, she saw Lily crying her eyes out and Lisa writing furiously at her desk. It was a typical scene, none of them seemed to be out of character. Yet, Lynn barged in and grabbed the whimpering Lily.
"Lisa," she exclaimed as she started cradling her, "You're supposed to be keeping an eye on your baby sister!"
Lisa jolted upwards. For about two seconds, the four-year-old was paralyzed, shooting Lynn's eyebrow upward. And then, she rotated from her chair. Slowly. Yet, when it was revealed, Lisa maintained a poker face, the one Lynn was used to seeing.
"My apologies," she said, readjusting her thick glasses, "I've been quite busy all day on a series of calculations. If I may, I would like to report to you my findings at this moment."
Lynn patted Lily's back, resulting in several gentle burps.
"Okay?...What is it?"
"Ever since yesterday, I have been running some statistical analysis and multi variable calculus. I have also been applying various models of chaos theory after a series of happenings led to the development of my curiosity on the matter. Although I still need to fulfill several other procedures, the current findings suggest that your hypothesis regarding our male sibling unit is highly plausible."
Lynn mere stood there. She hated when Lisa talked like that. Clearly her face must have been telling, as Lisa quickly sighed.
"I'm trying to prove that Lincoln really is bad luck."
Although her face moderated itself, her mind was set ablaze. She simply couldn't believe that Lisa would take time out of her day to prove some notion that was born out of her recklessness.
"How do you even work that out with science and stuff?"
"Once I confirm this hypothesis, which appears likely, I will forward the results to our parental units. From there, I will leave them to take appropriate precautions."
In an effort to cool the swirling passions, Lynn gazed at Lily, who was nestled in her chest. Even with her despise of mushy fuzzy flourishes, she had a soft spot for her little sisters, especially Lily. She gave a small smile before looking back up to face Lisa, who stared at her through her cold-rimmed glasses.
"I-um...thanks Lisa," Lynn said weakly, "once our parents know the truth, I-we...will never lose again."
Lisa's face was unmoved, thankfully.
"Indeed, you are dismissed," she said as she turned back to her desk.
Upon hearing that piercing word, Lisa swiveled back around to see her sister place Lily back down in her crib.
"Uh..." Lynn said. She internally scolded herself for being slow with words; she was bound to raise suspicion at this rate, "Could you...by chance, wait until tonight to tell them. We're going to the movies in an hour and, uh, there may not be enough time before that for you to finish everything a-"
"Please don't patronize me," Lisa said, rubbing the bridge of her nose, "My mental capacities can yield tremendous output in short time allotments. Even with the time deducted from my interaction with you, I can get this report done within the hour and still have time for reading."
Lynn felt a series of tinges, most notably the charge of her wasting her sister's time. While she would have normally shot back for that, there were other priorities to attend to.
"Still...could you do it for me-us? Come on, we could relax a little. Your parents could relax and be ignorant...uh..."
She struggled to find a decent excuse. She had dealt with Lisa enough to know that she demanded better if she would be convinced. But in the midst of her thought, she heard a nasally sigh.
"If you'll let me get back to work, then I'll do it. I'll wait until after we get home," she said impatiently.
"Thank you," was Lynn could muster before exiting. She then headed back to her room and lied back down on her familiar bed.
"Wow. I can't believe it's real. And there's science to back it up."
She faced her sister, who continued to write. It was as if she never noticed she stepped out for a minute.
"Lucy," she said, somewhat groggily.
"What?" Lucy replied dryly.
Well, that was all Lynn wanted. Sure it was awkward on the outside, but she felt a little better, a little more secure.
"Uh nothing. Go back to your journal," she said, although softer than before. But Lucy took notice.
"Did you want me to read you a poem?"
Lynn was challenged. On one hand, she was in a funk. A terrible one that only manifested whenever she had done or was about to do something she would regret. She was all too familiar with the mental battle she got propelled into when she and her sisters accused their only brother of making their own problems worse.
"But he's a good sport. He should expect stuff like that!"
Was he, though? That's usually how these bouts got started. She never dared tell Lucy (or anyone) about these episodes. Lynn hoped that others would just pass off any external expression as the result of a lost game or a coerced helping of humble pie.
"Your silence says it all," Lucy said. She then flipped through some past pages of her black journal, "Oh yes. Who could forget this classic," she said in her monotonous tone.
We all wish everything would go as we want;
We all yearn that it'll all work out in the end.
We wake up in the morning with these hopes
And yet, we remained baffled when we fail..."
As Lucy recited, Lynn checked out. It was times like those where she was glad that Lucy got too invested in her own writing to see if others were listening. And as she thought that, the pit in her stomach deepened.
She hated times like these. Nothing seemed to make sense. Any emotion she felt was tinged with this terrible sense of wrongness. Being in this room with Lucy for company, having the privilege to tune her out (or back in).
Once again, Lynn sighed.
Her mind then shifted to her other sisters. Though their relationships were imperfect, everyone in the House understood that each pair of roommates was its special, harmonious, beautiful unit with its own set of quirks. Lynn saw it all over the place. Lana and Lola were often seen playing together in the yard. Luna and Luan loved talking about the entertainment industry and used that interest as a means to bond; depending on the gif, Luan even brought Luna along to provide musical accompaniment, much to the kids' delight. Lori and Leni, even with their disagreements, were stitched at the hip, always talking about mushy high school stuff. Lisa and Lily had the mutual struggle of being the youngest, yet they did things together; it was Lisa that changed Lily's diaper and read her stories at night. Then there was herself and Lucy. They may have had little in common, but one thing they both shared was each other. Although she wasn't willing to harp on it too much, she really loves having a roommate, someone to talk to about virtually anything, someone to support her if things turned sour, even if it popped up in the middle of the night.
And then there was Lincoln.
What did he have in the House? His walkie talkie, Bun-Bun. Can family really fall in that column? That question seared in Lynn's head and once again kept her awake.
She remembered all the good times she has had with him, along with the wonderful things he has done for her and her fellow sisters. These voices and images looped endlessly as she tried to convince herself that she was doing the right. Peppered in that were all the times Lincoln made sacrifices. Like that time he took the brunt of the downsides of the camp so that she and her fellow sisters could get along and have a good time. When she found out about that, Lynn stopped by his room and thanked him. He smiled and he appeared to take the whole matter in stride.
"I knew it. He doesn't mind taking stuff like this. He'll be fine...right?"
"Come on, kids! The movie starts in half an hour!"
Lynn lifted her head, astonished that all that time had gone by that quickly. She reluctantly got up and walked out alongside Lucy. Once in all the hallway, she saw the flood of sisters emerge, most of them head deep in their various conversations. Lynn, however, shuffled through the traffic to find Lisa, who was carrying Lily.
"Lisa," she said, sheepishly, "Remember your promise?"
The little genius sighed.
"Yes. Lynn," she replied, clearly annoyed, "The parental units are ignorant."
Before she could thank her, she was tugged by Lola.
"Hurry up, Lynn! The stairs are that way!" the six-year-old 'princess' exclaimed. She dragged her all the way down. Lynn was too wound up in thought to protest. Besides, she was in the foyer before she knew it. She looked around and saw her nine sisters clumped together. Now that she thought about it, they had a tendency of doing that a lot. And it was especially noticeable as she saw Lincoln bolting down the stairs.
"Dibs on holding the popcorn!"
Lynn was stunned. She thought she heard that Lincoln wasn't joining them for whatever reason Mom and Dad could find. Wouldn't they have told him ahead of time? But what struck at her more was Lincoln's smile, clearly showing up his chipped front teeth. And the life that lifted his voice. All it did was make her sink.
To know that spirit was about to be crushed ate at her. She wanted to say something, beg her parents to take him along.
"Are you crazy?! And make yourself an outcast too!"
She needed an excuse, a distraction. Thinking of him was one thing, but seeing him was hollowing her out. She was being crushed in every direction. It was too much.
She screamed at the top of her lungs, making sure her eyes were directed at Lincoln, and then bolted out towards Vanzilla. Her legs were moving so forcefully, she had to extend her to keep herself from crashing full on into the metal side. As she recalibrated her muscles, her focus then shifted to catching her breath. The inhales and exhales were noisy, shallow, and desperate. She noted how she was usually more controlled when she engaged in physical activity.
"That should keep my cover safe."
But then the aching multiplied and Lynn knew it didn't come from running. Her scream wiped Lincoln's smile clean off, though she could at least conclude that was due to surprise than genuine disappointment.
She then heard the front door close. Lynn jerked back to see the herd approaching her. She scanned the crowd of familiar faces. There were a lot of females and one man, her Dad. Her eyes repeated the search, but no Lincoln was seen.
"Okay then, let's go," her Dad said as he mounted the driver seat.
Lynn reluctantly opened the door. She was silent and allowed her other sisters to get in. Through their 'thank you's, she paid attention to the clumps entering the family car. And as her worried confirmed, Lincoln wasn't there. She faced the House and thought about her brother, who was most certainly inside. She wondered how he felt to learn the truth, how he plans to spend the afternoon alone.
"Hurry up Lynn! We're gonna be late!" Lola shouted from the backseat.
She shook her head and climbed aboard. The only remaining seat was the so-called Sweet Spot. And to her right was Lucy, her roommate.
"Maybe I'm the one with bad luck."
She clumsily grasped the safety belt and secured herself. She then stared at her father's reflection in the rear-view mirror. He looked normal, as if nothing were wrong. She yearned to speak up, to tell him how she felt. To her, nothing felt right anymore. Why were her parents doing this to Lincoln? To her? What message were they sending with this?
And yet, her throat was clamped shut. The nine g irls surrounding her thickened the air until it was a solid. It was a crippling sensation she was sadly acquainted with.
"I guess I can't complain. At least I know I have them."
And thus Vanzilla roared to life. And the family left to have a bonding experience at the movie. A fun time. A good, hearty affair.
The following half hour of driving, waiting in line, and finding seats was a blur for the young teen. Her mind was on a repeating loop of lamentation and cowardice merged in a messy dysfunction. Usually Lynn was quite talktative with her sisters when they went on family outings. Yet this nonstop storm that only seemed to get worse destroyed any chance of having a conversation (or even paying attention in general).
"Lynn!" Lola shouted, along with a push against her right shoulder.
Dazed, she turned to her little sister.
"Are you deaf?! That's the fifth time I called you!"
"Sorry," she replied softly, "what is it?"
"Lana thinks that this is a spy movie, when it's actually a romance. And since you're dirty, I need you to say it's a romance movie so that this one will shut up," Lola said, pointing her thumb at her twin, who was sitting next to her.
Her mind was at a blank. She was never good at these type of literary or art questions. That usually went to
"This movie is supposed to be both genres at the same time. It has spy elements in it but it also has romance so that it makes both of you two happy," Lucy interjected. It was easy for the goth to convey her message, given how she sat to Lynn's left.
"Yeah, what she said," Lynn replied. She then mechanically leaned into Lola and furrowed her brows as much as her (limited) energy could provide," and if you ever shove me again, I'll shove you back...Twice as hard. Got it?"
Though she admitted her own tone was far from convincing, Lola still gave a rather smug smile.
And with that, she returned to her exchange with her twin sister. Relieved, Lynn reclined in her seat.
"Come closer," she heard Lucy say.
She sighed and accordingly leaned herself to the left, so that her body was pressed against the armrest.
"I know you've fallen into the darkness," she whispered, "Want to share your suffering with someone who's in touch with the black realm?"
Internally, Lynn regretted how she presented herself. Did she make it that obvious? Do the others know?
While the allure was tempting, she hesitated. Would her little sister really understand or would she turn on her by confessing her reservations? She was in a tight spot. And there appeared to only be one answer for those type of situations.
"No thanks," Lynn replied.
"Suffering shouldn't be feared. It should be embraced by us mortals. Thousands of poems have been windows into the souls of those who write them. You should write some of you don't want to talk."
She had to squeeze every part of her body to keep from snickering. She found it funny how her little sister was less 'aware' of the social order than the other nine members. Sure she followed the rules as anyone else, but she was more prone to being off-putting.
"Look at yourself! How could you say that about family?!" she thought as she contemplated her sister's offer, "Don't you know that she'll be there for you? And that you have to be there for her?"
Thankfully, the conversation was cut short by the lights. The giant screen illuminated and the coming attractions began.
The ninety minute run time was ninety minutes too long for her. She tried to get invested in the action; with the number of explosions that filled the screen, she felt she should have succeeded. But every scene, whether it was a chase or a date, only made her think of the boy not in the audience.
"He would have loved this."
She recalled being excited herself to seeing this movie. What's not to love about an action-packed thriller? Maybe this was all just karma. Her turmoil soured over the course of the feature; the lack of an outlet (verbal or physical) made it possible for the frustration and pain to fester like mold. Even though they could hear and feel any disturbance, Lynn was grateful that her sisters all had their eyes glued to the screen; if her earlier demeanor was detected by Lucy, who knew what other types of expressions she was unconsciously making. Maybe she and Lucy had more in common than she thought.
After an eternity, the credits rolled and the herd shuffled out. Most of them burst into conversation, recalling their favorite scenes, characters, and what not. Lynn, though, thought it was the worst movie she ever saw.
The ride home wasn't much better. The sun was gone by this point, allowing the night to obscure whatever horror her face reflected. Luckily, no one bothered to speak to her. And before she could linger for too long, they were home.
As they got out, Lynn's legs were heavy and she wanted to fall behind the others. But she pressed on, trying her best to make sure that a certain little sister didn't get ahead of her. Yet, when she entered the House, she couldn't have even begun to prepare herself for what she saw next.
Lincoln was plopped down on the couch, wearing nothing but his underwear. His eyes were lifeless, his face was pale, his mouth had at least a ton acting down on it.
Something clicked in Lynn. The arguments she had with herself all day were starting to seem like a waste of time. Suddenly, the order appeared crooked.
"Mother, Father," a nasally voice made out. Soon enough, Lisa emerged, holding a packet of paper stapled together, "after a day's work and some...uh-hum...delays, I have an important report to sha-"
"No she doesn't," Lynn blurted as she marched to her little sister. She felt her system revive in a heartbeat.
"I have fulfilled my promise in full faith. And now that the time parameter of it has expired, I am free to submit my scientific findings," Lisa said boldly.
"I don't care!"
"As I was saying before I was rude-ya"
Lynn grabbed Lisa by the armpits and brought her up to eye-level. The little genius fidgeted and her legs ran wild, but years of conditioning had awarded the athlete a phenomenal grip.
"Put me down this instant!" Lisa protested. Lynn, though, glared at her.
"Not before we have a little chat!"
Grabbing her sister like a football, Lynn carried her up the stairs.
"Lynn Jr! Put your sister down now!" her father asserted. He was further accompanied by the banter and audio clatter of her sisters. She turned around on one of the steps to gaze at the herd. She recollected her days among it. All those times of her joining in the chorus. Yet their jeers rang hollow in her ears.
Not speaking, she continued to ascend the stairs. Lynn ignored the jerky punches she felt as she stormed to her room. Once in there, she slammed Lisa on Lucy's bed and knelt down.
"What in the name of psychology are you doing?!" Lisa demanded. Her mouth moved so intensely, that droplets of spit spewed onto Lynn's face.
"What about you?!" Lynn yelled, "Out of all the dumb science-y things you could have done, you decided to use that big brain of yours to kick Lincoln out of this family?!"
"For your information, I was only trying to confirm the presence of a danger that could have posed serious harm to my sibling and parent units. And if that meant removing the male sibling unit from the premises, then it had to have been done. I have scientific evidence to prove it."
Lisa held up her paper, which was now somewhat crumpled from her struggle to break from her sister's grip. Lynn ripped it from her hand and scanned it. It was full of big numbers and weird symbols, mixed in with handwriting that was too sloppy for her to make out. She didn't mind the fact that she wasn't mathematically inclined, but this was incensed that it had to do with her brother.
"Who cares about science?! The outside world is full of terrible dangers! Didn't you think about what could happen to Lincoln out there all by himself?"
She swore she could see tiny twitches surfacing on Lisa's face, but generally she maintained her stance. It infuriated her how stoic Lisa was at times, especially in cases like this.
"If you don't let me go this instant, then I'll make sure that Lincoln won't be alone when he departs," Lisa replied, allowing more spit to eject.
"What?!" Lynn exclaimed, "You're not making sense! And I don't think it's because of those big words."
She was baffled that her own family member would make that type of threat. And besides, she couldn't imagine how Lisa could ever convince her parents that she was also bad luck. But then it hit her. Deep down, Lynn did understand that sentiment. She herself harbored it at one point. And she didn't think it was limited to the ones currently in this room.
"I am thinking quite rationally," Lisa said, although with more twitching, "Keeping this family safe, peaceful, and satisfied is in my self-interest. I seek to use science to determine what's best for fulfilling that self-interest. And sometimes, science overrides petty human emotion...and we must take bold actions to insure that the family remains in tact."
At first she wanted to keep yelling, to keep opposing her in the effort of eventually coercing an honest answer. But then she took another look at Lisa's face. Even in the silence, her eyes were widening and her mouth was making all sorts of awkward motions. It was then that Lynn was starting to understand the truth. What was really going on. Lynn took several deep breaths through the nose, even closing her eyes to cool her passions. It wasn't easy; she had to muster of her energy to keep her voice level.
"Lisa," she said, rougher than she would have liked, "do you even care about Lincoln's feelings?"
She opened her eyes to see Lisa darting her eyes around the room. It was as if she was trying to look at anything but Lynn.
"Well...of course I do. Isn't that what family is all about?" she responded. Shakily.
"Let me ask you this," Lynn said as she started leaning into her sister, "If science says that Lincoln is bad luck," she paused, "why don't you use that mind of yours to make some wacky gizmo or something to cure him?"
The ten seconds of silence said it all. Yet Lisa still managed to cobble some words together.
"You're acting like bad luck is some disease that you can treat," she said as bullets of sweat began emerging on her forehead, "but it's not like that. You can't just undo bad luck like that. Once you have it, it's there."
Lynn felt she was starting to make at least some progress. And so she continued.
"Very well, then. What if Lily turned out to be the one with bad luck?" she advanced closer until her head came in contact with Lisa's, "Would you have advised Mom and Dad to kick her out?"
At this point, the athlete's eyes were like lasers trying to drill into that labryinth known as Lisa Loud's brain. It was determined to slice through all those numbers, obscure people, esoteric scientific principles. And it showed; that poker face that Lisa was well-known for was crumbling. But for some reason that Lynn knew, it tried resisting (like it was trying to hold on to life).
"No, uh," she bit her lip,"Well obviously, Lily is a baby and how c-"
"What if I were the one with bad luck?" Lynn interjected, "Would you kick me out?!"
"Well..." she started. Lynn's vocal chords were ready to barge back in, but she yielded. She wanted to hear this rich nugget, "Lucy, you know, is a darling. I would hate to see her go too...but..."
"Just stop," Lynn said, almost in a whisper. Lisa was absolutely petrified by this point, save for the sweat droplets that rolled over her pores. Seeing that was enough to loosen Lynn's throat (and her whole body for that matter). She briefly gazed at the floor, examined the carpet, and returned to her little sister.
"Lisa, let's stop pretending," she said calmly. It took her a moment to continue, to think that this wasn't just some fantasy, "Admit it...we, all of us, have pitted Lincoln into a corner."
The four-year-old puckered her lips. Once again, her eyes went wild. This time, though, the to und a home on the crumpled packet of papers. She desperately grasped them and held it up.
"B-but the science...it says right here..." Lisa said, unusually timidly.
Lynn, though, shook her head.
"No...this isn't about science, or sports," she said slowly, "or anything any of our sisters do," she then eyed the paper Lisa was clumsily gripping, "I mean, come on. Even you said there was no such thing as bad luck when I told you about it. And here you are, about to give Mom and Dad some math you did. How did you get from there to here in less than two days?"
Once more, hesitation. Lynn expected that. Then, her little sister curled her arm in and allowed her work to be her direct eye sight. It didn't look like she was reading it, her eyes weren't scanning it. She merely looked at it, eyes widened and face an indecipherable mess. Lynn stayed there and allowed the prodigy to process whatever it was she was going through. And then, she heard a sigh.
"It's true," she said, defeated, "There is no solid scientific evidence that superstition exists," she then presented her packet once more, "This document is a deliberate fabrication, an incoherent synthesis of arbitrarily selected numbers and haphazard applications of irrelevant concepts. I intended to exploit the parental units' ignorance of scientific principles to pass this disatorous compilation of falsehoods as true."
Although she recognized some of those words, Lynn was confused. Rather than yelling, though, she opted for a blank stare, an expression Lisa was all too familiar with.
"I fudged the numbers. I made it all up. I know Lincoln is not bad luck. I know that bad luck isn't real," she said choppily.
And so the truth was out. Lynn wasn't sure what to say. She just stared at her sister, whose face now clearly exposed her guilt and anxiety.
Deep down, though, Lynn understood why. It was unspoken, yet mutually understood among the sisters. She herself had supported more than the others, but they had other ways of making their obedience known. As for their awareness, however, Lynn began to run through her own behavior once more as Lisa began speaking.
"I know that I was partaking in some irrational behavior," she said. She stopped to readjust her glasses, "and I know that it's wrong. And I know I'm not naturally inclined for friendship with children of equivalent physical development, but...I love having company sometimes," she then jerked out a crooked smile, "I appreciate having Lily in my study; her body proportions, consistent with other specimens her age, do trigger oxytocin-err, uh, "happiness"-in my brain...and"
Lisa dropped off and faced the wall. She felt her facial muscles form a resistance against turning towards Lynn.
"And I don't like making you or any of my sisters mad. When something, anything becomes a pariah among us, you all mutate into a terrible monster. Everyone just...forgets the notions and traits that makes them individuals and just," she coughed, "attack it. And I never want to be on the receiving end of such barbarianism."
A thud was heard, most likely from the other side of the wall.
Lynn's eyes widened. Only her genius sister could have translated that base mentality into tangible words. She poured through all those moments and episodes. All those times she found herself lost in a cluster girls. All those times she forgot her 'own girl' stance in favor of blind obedience. All those times she blamed others for her shortcomings, her losses. And the swiftness and smoothness of scapegoating the boy.
Sure, he wasn't a saint. He and his wild eleven-year-old mind was filled with petty ambitions and wishes. Sure, every once in a while, he acted upon those childish instincts and it all ended in defeat. He had lessons to learn, he had values to protect from the terrible realm of forgetfulness, he had passions to divert from the feelings of others (usually his classmates). He wasn't perfect.
"But am I any better?"
Lynn Loud Junior. About two years older than Lincoln; about two additional years of experience and learning. And what did she have to show for it? Prone to anger, violence, excessive pride, peer pressure. What she had in muscle she made up for in responsibility. The good old blame game. As Lynn Jr. likes to say, true winners never admit to weakness.
"Well, no more."
"Lisa," she said. To her surprise, the little girl's head snapped back in the proper direction, "how do you think Lincoln feels when we gang up on him?"
Silence. So the rule of thumb went.
"Solitary, hurt," she then frowned and her eyebrows then took a nasty shape , "And what about yourself? Were you thinking about how he would have felt by transmitting that misinformation just because you couldn't accept the result of a meaningless baseball game?"
"No, and it's been eating me alive all afternoon. Heck, even those explosions couldn't take my mind off it!"
Lisa was astonished (and a little relieved) that her proud big sister didn't fire back for that attack. Come to think of it, she too started feeling that burning sensation in her chest.
"Why did I have to be sound so accusatory?" the four-year-old thought. Perhaps it was simply honesty, an effort to make sure that no one's actions went ignored.
"Hmm...," Lisa murmured, "Perhaps you are feeling this regret because you have been thinking about the flaws of your worldview. Have you ever experienced this before?"
On cue, several reconciled incidents flooded the teen's mind. Now that she thought about it, she had wronged Lincoln quite a bit. And the burden she felt that led to an apology was no stranger. There was no questioning that it was the same culprit. And it was that very thought that made her want to vomit.
"Yes..." she sheepishly admitted.
Lisa simply readjusted her glasses.
"And you've never done anything to fix it?"
Even with all that has happened in these brief minutes, this was what made Lynn flinch.
"Now hold on. I'm not heartless!" Lynn protested, although by now she was not willing to lose it completely, "Whenever I felt that way from Lincoln, I went to him! I said sorry and he forgave me! And then everything was cool!"
Her sister, though, was like a monument, unmoved.
"And then what?" Lisa said, "You just went back to doing your own activities. You forgot all about the mishap until you hurt him again. And only then did you remember you even cared about him to begin with."
Role reversal was a funny matter. Lynn was just as horrified as Lisa looked just recently. And now she was truly walking in her sister's shoes.
"That's not true! I think about Lincoln a lot! We do things together! And now that I think about it, he didn't look that sad about not going to that dumb movie!"
But she knew it was. The nasty demon was clawing it's way from the darkness. The truth could really be an ugly thing. Feeling is a whole different world than imagination.
Resigned, she took a deep breath.
"Yes. It's my fault for ditching Lincoln...again," she said. And then, her head dropped to the floor, "And it's my fault for not being a better sister."
Lynn stared at the individual fibers that made up the carpet. Her head throbbed and she was close to...no, she wouldn't dare conceive the thought.
"It's my fault too."
She rubbed her eyes and looked up at her little sister.
"For all I am aware of the frivolity of mob mentality and mindless ostracization, even I am not above it. And admittedly, I too need to improve."
The two of them stared at each other for a minute. At one point, their ears captured a thud, probably from the same place as before. Through their gazes, they came to several agreements, or so they thought. And then, Lynn stood up and headed out the door. Lisa got up and followed her. Lynn went out into the hallway and saw the other eight sisters hugging the wall beside her door. She silently passed them and headed for the stairs. The herd merely looked on.
Lynn slowly, yet firmly strode down each step. As she got closer to the bottom, her ears started to vibrate.
"Now, Lincoln. We really want you to know that we did this because we love you. I hope this afternoon has taught you about the value of family time and to never lie to get out of it," she heard her Mom say.
"Do you understand, son?" Dad added.
By then, Lynn was at the bottom of the stairs. She turned right to see both of her parents sitting on each end of the couch. And in the middle was her brother.
"I guess I brought this upon myself."
His voice was beyond broken. He sounded complacent. Lynn was paralyzed to hear it, to once again experience the outcomes of her actions. Was she gonna stay on the path and drag him along? Is she gonna slide by and avoid responsibility? Again.
Immediately, both her parents turned back to see their fifth daughter. Upon noting this, Lincoln ascended the couch's upholstery to view the sight. Even from ten feet away, she saw the lighting's reflection on her brother's glassy eyes. She winced a little, but she stomped one foot forward. And then another.
She approached the three, each step making Lincoln's shattered window more and more visible.
"Lynn Jr, what are you doing down here?" her Dad asked.
She stopped right before the couch's back. Here they were. The parents' watchful eyes and Lincoln's attention. Those recollections and deceptively reassuring thoughts flurried before her. For a flash of time, she thought she was gonna succumb to them once more; their deafening screaming and blinding brightness were all the more convincing.
"Am I gonna forget about this when this is all done? Am I just gonna go back to my selfish old self?"
But even with the storm brewing inside, she blocked them out. She closed her eyes and inhaled several times.
"Please," she said, finally opening her eyes, "Lincoln is innocent. All this stuff about bad luck...that was me. I put those words in his mouth. I was so mad after losing the baseball game that I just, lashed out at him. And then I spread the rumor. I started it. And it's because of my actions that you guys almost kicked Lincoln out of the house!"
Lincoln's lower lip gradually dropped, which gave Lynn a strand of encouragement. Meanwhile, both the parents had their eyes widened and jaws dropped.
"Lynn Jr," her Dad said, horrified, "What on Earth made you think that we would ever disown one of our children?"
Suddenly, Lynn felt awkward, unusually cramped.
"Well...that thing that Lisa was gonna show you is 'scientific' proof that my brother really was bad luck," she then saw Lincoln's own eyes widen in fear, "Don't worry, it's not true. Lisa told me there is no such thing as bad luck."
"Well," her Dad said, "even if that science thing was true, we wouldn't ever think of kicking out precious Lincoln," he then looked down and smiled at his son, "he's family and no superstition or whatever is ever gonna change that."
"And I think you owe someone an apology," Rita added.
The girl nodded and gracefully made her way to the front of the couch, where he could see his brother in whole. He stared at her longingly, yet also confused.
"Get used to that look."
"Lincoln..." she started, "I...wanted to apologize for a few things actually."
He and both the parents raised their eyebrows.
"Of course, I'm sorry for calling you bad luck. I should have been big enough to accept the fact that I can't win every game but, uh..."
Her voice dropped off as she continued gazing into his eyes. Was she prepared for this? She said sorry for what she did, she should stop then. Right? Oh, how that thought tempted her mental homeostasis.
"But, I wanted to make amends with you," Lynn said. She bit her tongue, startled that those words actually left her mouth.
"What is it, Lynn?" he asked gently.
She stared at him for a couple seconds, fighting off the final inhibitions her silly brain could conjur up.
"Well...," she said. She briefly darted her eyes from him, but just as quickly jerked them back, to see his ever patient gaze. She took a breath, "For a while now, I-at least-have found it easy to blame you for all sorts of things. I've been doing some thinking today and I realized that for too long..." She paused. Did she dare say this?, "I have seen you as an easy target. I'm afraid to be alone, to be without companions...but I them far too easily in this place. When you have nine other sisters, company is lot," she then hacked out a chuckle.
"What was that?!"
"But with a lot of company comes trouble. And for too long now...I have turned to you to be that target because you...don't have what I have. When you're by yourself, it's easy to hurt you because I figured that no one would fight back for you..." she then paused once more, this time clearing her throat, "I know it's wrong to do that, especially knowing you did none of the things you were accused of. But I kept doing it because I was afraid of what the other sisters would do to me if I ever came to your side. I feared they would outcast me too and that I would be alone...much like how you are a lot of the time."
She took several more breaths. As she stood there, though, her eyes grew unusually heavy.
"But now...I don't care about that. Because you are my brother. My only brother. And from the bottom of my heart...I'm sorry for having been a terrible big sister to you. I'm sorry I couldn't be there for you during those times when you needed someone. I'm sorry I let my own selfishness get in the way of your happiness," she paused am once more. Her eyes only got heavier.
"And..." she added, "if it'll make up for all the pain, I'll...quit the baseball team."
Lincoln's lip remained lowered. Throughout his sister's confession, his eyes remained glued on her. And now with this, he wasn't sure what to do. At least at first. With the silence firmly established, Lynn turned to both her parents.
"Mom, Dad," she said firmly, "I want to be grounded."
Both parents gave each other yet another look.
"Lynn," Rita started, "What you have done is bad, but I think your apology shows quite clearly that you have learned your lesson. As for your sisters, we are more than"
"Mom!" Lynn exclaimed. The mother was startled by the outburst, "I'm not asking you. I want you to punish me. Give me something worse than what you gave Lincoln."
The two parents turned to each other once again, desperate to view the other's opinion. The two of them displayed a comparable amount of uncertainty.
"Lynn, please don't."
Everyone in the living room turned to the couch's center. Lincoln, now with his eyes clear, began speaking.
"You love baseball and you love winning. I would feel horrible if you couldn't play in the championship because of me," he said, sharply pointing his finger at his own chest. His sister, though, chuckled.
"Oh Lincoln," she said in between her giggles, "You're way too forgiving. You know that, right?"
"What do you mean?" Lincoln replied, flustered, "I love you and all of my sisters. And now that I know the value of family time, I will be the loudest voice in the stands!"
Lynn tried to calm herself down, however her stoicism was undermined by the smile that was painted on her face.
"Come on, Lincoln. You do so much for me and I love that. Now I want to give back and what better way than to quit the team and spend all that free time with you?"
Lincoln looked down at his naked legs and groaned.
"I mean it, dude!" Lynn exclaimed, "I want to hit the reset button on our relationship. I want to focus more on you," shethen recollected all the fond memories she had with him before, the ones that weren't tainted by petty divides, "You're a wonderful boy and I don't think you realize that. You take so much time to make me happy and to learn about me. And now it's time for me to start paying it back."
By then, Lincoln was giggling.
"What's so funny, hotshot," Lynn asked with a smug smile.
"You're starting to sound all mushy and lovey-dovey. I thought you hated that stuff!"
"Come here, you!"
But before Lincoln could even get up, she charged over to him. She pulled him into a headlock and gave him a playful noogy. Both of them were laughing and the overseeing parents smiled.
"Well I think your mother and I have reached a decision," her Dad said lightly, "Lynn Jr, you are grounded from playing baseball and I don't care what the coach thinks."
"Aw shucks," Lynn said in a faux-disappointed tone, "Well I guess I'll go to my room now."
Suddenly, a racket of thuds could be heard from above.
"Hey wait up, Lynn!" Lincoln said eagerly as he jumped from his seat. The parents watched as the two siblings headed up the stairs.
"You know, you look pretty cool in your undies," Lynn said as she walked alongside him.
"Uh, thanks," he replied.
Once they reached the top of the stairs, he positioned himself towards his room. Lynn noted how they were about to part...until the next time they saw each other.
"Is it really gonna last?"
Right before they could break apart, though, they heard a door slam shut.
"There you two are!" Lola exclaimed. The two of them turned to see their princess smiling. Was this a dream? "We need you two right now!"
The pageant grabbed both of their arms and dragged them down the hall to Lincoln's door. The two looked at each other, somewhat surprised.
At the end of the hall, Lola grasped the door and opened it. She then parted the path for the two to look in.
Just as they were relieved of Lola's iron grip, Lincoln and Lynn were both wrapped into something even tighter, one of Leni's hugs. The teenage blonde's smile was dangerously wide and her embrace nearly suffocated the two. On top of that, they were surrounded by a chorus of cheers. Lori tapped Leni on the shoulder, cueing her to break away.
Lincoln turned to Lynn, however the young teen appeared just as confused as him. Everyone else, though, was confidently beaming. Furthermore, Lincoln saw how every direction was occupied by at least one of his sisters. He and Lynn were in the center of this crowd.
"What's going on?" the brother asked.
"Yeah! What is all this?" Lynn added.
Emerging from the crowd was Lori, who knelt down to both of their levels.
"Lynn, we heard everything you said, both in your room and downstairs."
Of course. Lynn should have knew better than assume that either of those exchanges would have been private, especially given all the snooping she herself had done.
"You're right," Luna said, "we do treat our little bro unfairly. And I have had that feeling that says 'do what the sheep' do rather than stand by my special little guy. So Leni came up with the idea of hosting a big slumber party in Lincoln's room."
"I'm so sorry! I'll never hurt Linky again," Leni lamented.
The rest of the room erupted into confessions and apologies. Lynn turned to see Lincoln's reaction. He simply stood there, trying to find a place to insert himself. But the whole atmosphere was nothing but a wall of sound, filled with pure regret.
"When are you gonna drop this whole act, anyway?"
"Guys!" Lynn shouted. Immediately, the entire room went quiet, "Let him speak."
And with that, their eyes were fixed on their one brother. His posture was tense. He took his hand and ran it through his white hair.
"I'm really glad that you all love me," he said, "Please don't be sad. All I ever want is for you all to be happy. And even if I mess up from time to time, it fills my heart with joy to know that you will be there for me."
As if the apologies weren't enough, the cacophony of aww's was deafening and Lynn herself wasn't prepared for the giant group hug that broke out in the middle of her brother's room. But even if she never said and even if she denied it to herself most of the time, she really liked being in one of those hugs. There was a sense of security to the embrace. And with the inclusion of Lincoln, it was complete. In that moment, she thought only of Lincoln and all the fantastic things that embodied him. Taking advantage of the fact that she was clumped next to him, she tugged him tighter and had (what she could only imagine) was the biggest, goofiest smile of the bunch.
"Maybe this won't be a one-night act. Maybe this'll mean something."