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It was a stupid thing to be upset over, really. The more Toby thought about it, the angrier he became. After all, it was only a letter. One singular U in a line of S's shouldn't have made an astounding difference to the outcome of his night, let alone the entirety of mid-winter vacation and inevitably the basis of his entire spectrum of happiness.

Perhaps that was a bit much.

Either way, it wasn't as if science was that important anyway. So it was responsible for technology and, by extension, the PS2. So what? That also meant it was responsible for the nuclear bomb, and who would want that on their hands? Really, he was doing society a favor by failing the class, and who was to say he was failing, anyway? The school certainly couldn't come out and say it. It was just unsatisfactory. The letters U and F were two completely different things.

He had tried to explain this to his parents, but the brilliance of his logic was obviously lost on them. Naturally, he'd rearranged the letters to F and U to better suit them.

Unfortunately, the vulgarity of that little nudge in addition to the U-branded report card had been enough to push Karen and Robert over the edge.

Oh, yes. Karen and Robert would be sharing no familiarity of familial relation in the boy's mind.

Sarah had been telephoned and sent to retrieve him accordingly, so that Karen and Robert could enjoy their vacation in Florida as planned. Of course, if Toby was denied access to Disney World he would suddenly gain a passion for science unmatched by even Einstein himself, the report card would magically right itself, and butterflies and bunnies would populate the world with happiness. Yes, of course, that was a completely logical plan.

A fairly loud snort punctuated the cynicism of the thought, and Sarah heaved a sigh at the sound of it. He wasn't quite sure why. He'd been making progressively more enthusiastic sounds of disgust and torment at various intervals during the now three and a half hour drive. You'd think she would've been used to it by now.

"Listen, Tobe." Her eyes flicked over to him for a brief instant before returning to the monotonous highway. "I know you're not too thrilled about spending the next two weeks with me, but it won't be so bad. We don't have a Disney World, but I'm sure we can find something fun to do."

Because Ohio was the capital of joy and wonderment, yes. Another disgruntled noise emitted from the boy.

Sarah's mouth opened but abruptly closed again. The age old resentment bubbled out of her in the form of another haggard sigh. She could understand her brother was upset about the situation, but that didn't mean he needed to take it out on her. She liked to think she understood the domestic horrors Karen could accomplish for the betterment of her children's perspective of life, but still, she couldn't quite recall being that snappish at thirteen.

She spared one last wistful glance at Toby, before pulling onto exit 534, destination Suburbia.

It was rather peculiar how even the trees seemed to look identical, placed in similar positions on lawns the belonged to houses of varying shades of off-white. Walls that appeared to have been made from the same cookie-cutter design could be placed together in three different styles of home. It must've been a monstrous task to organize the neighborhood so that no two likes ever met one another, but some horribly underpaid individual had obviously managed.

Sarah's car pulled up to one of these abominations ashamedly. The truth was she'd always envisioned herself living in a bustling New York apartment, or maybe a California beach house, or even a cabin tucked carefully away into a mountain-side. When she'd allowed herself to slip into something so blissfully boring was beyond her.

It was no use worrying about it now, though. It really wasn't too shabby of a house, and it was rather cruel of her to think so harshly of it when it'd done nothing but shelter her for the past two years. Brushing the thoughts aside, she moved to the trunk to retrieve one of Toby's bags while he snatched the other from the back seat.

She hadn't thought it'd be quite so late when they finally got back home, so the porch light wasn't on to guide their way, but with such a multitude of neighbors it wasn't really much of a probability equation that someone else had left on theirs, leaving it dim enough to make approaching the front door dismal, yet bright enough to block a clear view of the stars overhead.

A jingle of keys persuaded the door to swing open, and the pair entered the house without speech, each allowing their cargo to drop to the floor in an identical display of indifference. Sarah headed first to the flashing beacon of the answering machine, while Toby made a b-line for the television.

"Hi, Sarah?" the machine projected. "It's Dave. I just wanted to a--"

"You don't even have cable?" Toby's interruption was made in an incredulous tone. "What's wrong with you?"

"Shh! I'm trying to listen!"

"--and that I really thought that maybe we could--"

"But this is important. What am I supposed to do the whole time I'm her--"

"Toby, QUIET!"

"--so give me a call--"


Sarah sighed again, her hands seeking out her temples, trying to push her headache back in place. "Toby, please, will you just go upstairs for a minute!"

They stared at each other for a brief moment, each assessing the other, but the woman's authority eventually became clear, and Toby was forced to throw the remote angrily upon the couch and trudge upstairs.

Another sigh. It seemed that exasperation was becoming a way of breathing for her. That certainly couldn't proceed. Her finger stabbed at the "stop" button before she followed the invisible tracks angry footsteps had made only moments before. She found the hallway empty, along with the guestroom. An undeniable grimace claimed her face as she realized where her little brother must've been.

It had been nine years since she had moved out of her father's house, and while the event was now much rarer, it still gnawed at her nerves to know someone had just barged into her room.

She didn't stomp through the hallway as she might've had she been fifteen again, and her voice held quite a great deal more weariness than it would have when she called out, "Toby?"

"--the goblins would take her away." But the horror that toned her gasp, and the emotion that matched the binding of the worn old book, which was dangling from Toby's careless fingers, was exactly the same as it might've been the first time she'd heard thunder crash like that. "Right now."

The last thing Sarah heard was a white owl, gracefully perched on the windowsill, give a hoot of sheer delight.