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  • Chapter 14: Lexy and Becoming One

    Chapter 14 Lexy and Becoming One I awoke slowly. There was an ache that just filled my whole body, and I couldn’t help but feel an incredible need for water as my throat hurt a ridiculous amount. “She’s waking!” I heard someone whisper eagerly. “Shhh!” Someone else shushed. “Oh, for god’s sake,” A louder, harsher voice cut in. “Lexy, can you hear us?” “Yes.” I grumbled, feeling annoyed that I had to wake up. “How do you feel?” Annabeth asked eagerly. I opened my eyes, but the light was bright, and my eye lids were heavy, so I more so just squinted. “Can I have water?” I asked. I heard a scramble, but I couldn’t see who got up, they were out of my limited sight. “Here,” Seth’s deep voice registered in my head as an arm looped around my waste and helped me sit. I took a big sip, then sighed. “Much better.” I looked around at the anxious faces around me. “Oh good!” Annabeth breathed an excited sigh of relief before throwing her arms around me, uncharacteristically. “You scared me.” “Sorry,” I told her. “I didn’t know what else to do.” “You could have died!” She exclaimed. “But I didn’t,” I smiled. “It’s all fine.” “But it’s not all fine! Everything’s a mess.” I nodded. Simply put, everything was a mess. “Okay, how long was I out?” I asked. “A couple of hours.” Seth replied. There was something in his voice that upset me. I could tell he was upset, but why I wasn’t quite sure. “Okay, and has anyone come looking for us?” “Just once.” Jake answered tersely. “What did they want?” I asked, rubbing my head. “To know when we’d be ready.” Jake said again. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Do we have a plan already?” A look was exchanged between Seth and Jake, and Annabeth’s gaze immediately dropped to her hands. “Annie?” I interrogated. “What’s the plan that you all don’t want me to know?” “We’re sending you home.” She replied, still not looking at me. “To the base I mean.” “Like hell you are,” I argued, feeling angry that I had just taken on the challenge just to immediately lose my place. “Look, it’s safest for you there. Nobody here likes you, it’s just not safe. It’s the right thing to do.” “No.” I felt like a child. “No. I’m not leaving. If I leave, she’ll think she won. And she did not win.” “If she thinks she won, maybe it will help us more?” She offered, half-heartedly. “That’s a lie, and you know it. I’m not leaving.” “Lexy…” Seth tried. “Just think for a moment. Is this really worth dying for?” “YES!” I shouted. “YES! I can’t just stand by and watch everything I care about burn to the ground!” “Alexandra,” Seth raised his voice too. “Do you even hear yourself? You know next to nothing about Calina. You’re not in deep enough to be stuck yet. You have an out. Take it, for god’s sake take it!!!” “You think after you turn me loose that my Aunt won’t come for me? You think she’s happy that I chose my best friend over my family? Sure, okay, kick me out. I’ll go elsewhere to save my family.” I could hear the coldness in my voice, but I was angry. “Enough.” Jake interjected. “She said no, go on to plan b, already.” “What’s plan B?” “We go out and follow the plans like nothing happened,” Seth said quietly. “I stay?” I gave him a pleading look to try and understand what was going on, and that it was far more than what was on the surface. “You stay.” But he didn’t look at me. I squeezed Annie’s hand, and took a breath. “So where are we expected?” I asked. “The same meeting room as yesterday.” Jake answered. “And what’s happening there?” “Probably the Bwenzi Nkhondo ceremony,” Jake once again spoke instead of the two people I actually knew. The tension was obvious, and uncomfortable, and we had to figure it out fast. “Do we need to change or are our outfits sufficient?” “I would say they’re fine.” Jake answered easily, he put his hand on Annabeth’s shoulder, taking me by surprise. “Come on, Annabeth, let’s go check your room, and make sure it’s all good before we go.” She gave him a curious look but didn’t argue. She let go of my hand and left the room without another word. The door shut loudly behind them, and I couldn’t help but cringe at the sound. The door was barely shut before Seth started again. “If you’re doing this to torture me, please, you win. I’ll leave you alone. I’ll do fucking anything. Just stop whatever this is.” I frowned. “Torture you? I’m not doing this to hurt you, Seth. I’m doing this because I know I have a role in all of this, and I won’t be silenced and sit on the sidelines.” “Please… Lex… You have no idea what any of these people are capable of. We need to get you out of here. Hide you away somewhere.” I felt shaky, but I moved so I was kneeling right in front of the standing Seth, and I touched his face gently. I don’t know what I was trying to do exactly, but I was trying to ease his worry, at least a little bit. “I will not hide away, Seth,” I said gently. “I told you, you can stand with me or don’t. But if you stand with me, you can’t do this anymore.” “Can’t do what?” “Stand in my way. Stop me.” I twirled his hair in my fingers. “I need to do this, and I need to figure out my boundaries myself, and you have to let me.” “If anything happens to you, Lex,” He breathed. “I don’t think I’ll be able to live with myself.” “I’m going to be just fine,” I whispered, wrapping my arms around his neck. “Promise me you’ll be careful,” His forehead touched mine. “I promise I will be as careful as I can,” I told him earnestly. “You terrify me, you know that right?” He asked, with a slight laugh. “I terrify everybody, it’s kinda my thing,” I laughed, letting go of his neck, and moving off the bed. He rolled his eyes and gave me his hand as I climbed off the bed. “So, uh,” He cleared his throat. “Are we good, Lex? Are you still mad at me?” “What do you think?” I asked, feeling more myself, despite the shakiness, and very mischievous. “I think you can’t stay mad at me,” He smiled. I smirked, but I was glad my back was to him as I walked toward Annabeth’s room. “I think you’re on thin ice, Steele,” I teased. “Watch it, Marks,” He shot back. “I still know you’re secrets.” It was my turn to roll my eyes, but I didn’t reply simply because I was already at Annabeth’s door. But when I opened it, to my surprise, Annabeth had her lips locked with Jake. His hands were in her hair, and I realized I had just 100% walked in on something I had not been meant to see. And I could not help the “Oh,” that left my lips without permission or the slam of the door behind me, closing on Seth. I tried to turn out of the room, but the door had slammed closed in my surprise, and I heard an “Ow!” Come from the other side, meaning Seth had either run into it or I had hit him with it. Jake and Annabeth pulled away immediately at my abrupt entrance, and I could not help the 9 shades of red I was turning with embarrassment, so I turned away so I was staring at the door I had just walked through. “I’ll uh be outside waiting Princess,” Jake stuttered, and hurried out of the room. His usual cool attitude and nearly non-existent emotions seemed to be teetering off the edge, and he was as flustered as I’d ever seen him. “What the hell?!” Both Seth and I exclaimed at the same time. “What happened to you?” Annabeth looked at Seth in confusion as he clumsily shut the door behind him, rubbing his head. “Lexy hit me with the door!” He informed her, confused as to why Annabeth had no idea as to what had just happened. “Oh, well she walked in on me and Jake kissing, so I win,” Annabeth responded with a shaky laugh. “What?!” Seth’s eyes got wide and it was truly a comical sight between the two of them. “Oh please,” I rolled my eyes. “Don’t be less dramatic than it was, I caught them making out, and I hit you with a door, so I am the real winning right now.” Both of them shot me a glare, but it didn’t matter. All in the world felt right, despite the fact that I had nearly just died hours ago. And my epi pen wasn’t typically the end all solution, but it was gonna have to be for the time being. “Come on, we’ve kept everyone waiting long enough, let’s go.” I linked arms with Annabeth, and she gave me a small smile as we made our way out of her room. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay?” She asked in a low voice for just me to hear. “I’m sure, are you?” “I can literally feel you shaking right now,” She answered in exasperation. “I’m fine.” I told her easily, as if it was the truth, even though I was honestly trying not to throw up. “Promise.” “I don’t believe your promise.” She reproached. “I’m not great, but I’m not horrible. And I might throw up right on the Queen.” Annabeth let out a laugh that caused all the maids around to look at us. “I’d love to see that,” She said still laughing. “Oh trust me, it might happen.” Jake stopped abruptly in front of us causing us to nearly run into him, and to my surprise it was the Queen herself standing before us. Jake and Seth both bowed, but Annabeth and I stood straighter, our arms still linked. In everything that could or could not happen, we were stronger together. “Ah,” She sneered, looking down at us. “I was just coming to find you all. Did you decide to come to the meeting after all?” “Has Lexy been approved to be my Bwenzi Nkhondo?” Annabeth asked, sounding quite bold. “Not yet.” The Queen answered shortly. “Then no. Jake and Seth were just giving us a tour before we leave.” Annabeth stated firmly. “You do not have permission to leave child,” Her mother tried, but her own authority seemed to be wavering. “I don’t remember asking for permission,” Annabeth said coldly. “If this is the path you choose child, I can only help you so much.” “Should I make a speech to the country about how Lexy is not her aunt or will you stand by my choices,” Annabeth sounded angry. In all the time I had known her, she had never shown much anger or frustration ever, despite her constant array of complicated situations. But right now, she was angry. “This is my team, Mother,” She said again before the Queen could speak. “Lexy is my Bwenzi Nkhondo. And Seth and Jake are my guards and my counsels. And Matthew if he chooses as well, though I have not talked to him yet. It is not up for debate. It is not under questioning. The prophecy was clear that I am the answer to everything. So, you can not boss me around. You can not threaten my counsel. You may be the Queen, but they are under my protection, and my reign.” I did my best to hide my surprise. I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened while I had been out, but for the first time Annabeth seemed to be taking charge of what was happening. “Do you know what you are doing, Annabeth?” The Queen asked. “You already know the answer to that,” Annabeth said seriously. “Very well. And Miss. Marks isn’t coercing you into this?” “Again, you know the answer to that already,” Annabeth responded in irritation. “Very well then, head to the meeting room, and we will tell them the decisions have already been made. They had a few people in mind to be part of your counsel already. Perhaps you would be willing to add to it?” “Not at the moment,” Annabeth said coolly. “I have no trust for your people at the moment.” “I see,” The Queen narrowed her eyes, but simply turned away and gestured to follow. I could hear her thoughts moving a mile a minute and they had a similar feeling to Annabeth’s, but they were less clear. She was purposefully blocking important information from being able to be heard by people like me, however, it wasn’t quite good enough. I stole a look behind me to see Seth was less than a foot behind us, far closer than he had been before the Queen had showed up. And I knew it was because she scared him. She had already attempted to kill me, he was terrified that Annabeth’s word was not enough. And honestly, so was I. “So how exactly does the Bwenzi Nkhondo ceremony work?” I spoke up for the first time, but my voice didn’t sound as confident as I would have liked. I was fighting nerves that I didn’t know I had till I had spoken. “It’s quite invasive actually.” The Queen answered smugly. “The idea is that Princess Annabeth and yourself will become, let’s say, one. You will be able to feel what the other feels. Clearly hear the other’s thoughts. Have each other’s strengths and hopefully void each other’s weaknesses.” The Queen paused. “It is a beautiful ceremony, however, Miss. Marks, you are looking a little pale. Are you sure you want to continue?” There was a fake sweetness in her voice, and it made me angry. She was being manipulative, trying to see how I felt after she had tried to poison me. And god, that was irritating. “I’m sure, Your Majesty.” I answered, trying to keep the bitterness from my voice. “Very well. This is where it will happen.” She gestured to a room that neither Annabeth or I had been in yet, which shouldn’t have been surprising seeing how big the castle was, but I had been expecting to go back to the same meeting room as before. “Wait here, and I will summon everyone. Annabeth, dear, take your friends and go stand on the stage, please.” With Annabeth’s arm still linked tightly in mine, we approached the small platform. This seemed to be a theater of sorts, however, it was smaller than I might have imagined a theater in a castle to look. It could hold only maybe 100 people, which was wild because my high school had a bigger auditorium than this. “Lex,” Annabeth’s voice brought me out of my head. “Yea?” I asked. “Do you need to postpone this?” “No, why?” I asked, feeling confused. “You look like you’re going to pass out, and you are leaning into me a lot.” I shook my head and immediately let go of her arm, backing away. I hadn’t realized what I was doing. “Oh, sorry,” I apologized immediately, but I guess I couldn’t hide the total confusion on my face. “Are you okay?” She asked hesitantly. And I took another step back. There were so many voices in my head, and I couldn’t make sense of a single one of them. “I-“ I stepped right back into Seth feeling really unsteady. “Lex?” His deep voice rang out with concern. “I don’t know.” I said finally when I could make out at least my own thoughts. “I it’s so loud.” I knew Seth give Annie a worried look, but I could barely figure out what was going on. I wasn’t sure if this was still allergic reaction shit or if it was something else entirely. “Lexy,” It was Jake’s turn to try and pull me out of my head. “We need you to become Annabeth’s Bwenzi Nkhondo. And it needs to be today. The stronger you two are the better. The more protected she is. And the more protected you are. You are her protector. That is what you are choosing. So you need to block whatever’s going on in your head. Imagine a wall going up between you and the voices. It’ll help block them out a little. But you need to focus.” Despite his advice to focus, it wasn’t coming easily. I knew this was important, but I felt really weak for the first time since I got up. And I was not sure that I could do this.” “I bet she’s hearing the people starting to arrive for the ball,” Seth said quietly. “Yes!” I exclaimed breathlessly. “Yes that makes sense.” “That’s an annoying thing to hear,” Jake mumbled. “Yes, it is,” I agreed, still struggling to block it out, but I knew I was running out of time. The Queen was going to be back any moment with more people, and I was a mess, trying really hard not to just pass out. I stumbled slightly, and Seth pulled me into him, and started singing softly in my ear. At first I couldn’t even tell what he was singing, but after a minute it started getting clearer. It was blocking out the thoughts the way my headphones often did. When I finally could think straight again there were voices in the hall coming closer. “How did you know I usually use music to block out thoughts?” I asked him breathlessly. “I still know you, Lex. It’s been a long time, but I still know you.” I smiled and took a deep breath. I was exhausted which is why it was harder to fight the thoughts right now. “Can you get through the ceremony?” Jake questioned uneasily, refusing to look at anyone, especially not Annabeth. “Can you sing in your head?” I asked Seth as the voices drifted closer to our room. “Of course,” He nodded. “Then I can, but I still think I’m going to throw up.” I said honestly. “So after this, I need to just go do that.” “Probably your body just trying to get rid of the allergen,” Annabeth stated calmly. “I’m sorry, I’m ruining your moment.” I told her. “Are you kidding?” She looked aghast. “I just want you to be okay.” “I’m fine,” I told her with a smile. “Just casually taking a ride on the struggle bus.” She rolled her eyes at me. “You are impossible,” She teased, but her face was slightly serious. “Not changing your mind on me now, are you girls?” The Queen demanded as she walked through the double doors. I tried not to show my amusement as I came to the realization that nearly every door in the castle was a double door made purely for the purpose of dramatic entrances, and the Queen was the Queen of them. “I find you unamusing, Alexandra,” The Queen said in a bored tone as she took a seat in the center of the middle row. “You heard that did you?” I couldn’t help the heat the was rising to my cheeks, despite my comment. “As I said, I am unamused.” She berated. “Good thing it wasn’t for you then, isn’t it?” I smirked. “Leave it alone, Harriet,” The King who I hadn’t seen enter stated. I really wanted to say back ‘Yea, leave it alone, Harriet.’ But I already wasn’t a favorite here, so I didn’t want to push my luck anymore. Plus, she might have been able to hear the thought anyway. “Right, shall we get started?” I asked, knowing that if we didn’t get this show on the road I was going to pass out, and we would have some major problems on hands. The Queen, being a lovely, polite woman, did not roll her eyes at me, despite how much she wanted to. She did, however, signal to all those just coming in to take their seats, we were ready to begin. I did my best to focus on Seth’s singing, and I shot a smile in Annabeth’s direction as she seemed to be a little nervous. When everyone had taken their seats, I took initiative and started the damn meeting. “Hello!” I called out, placing myself in the center of the stage, giving my friends a smile because they were glad to not be in the spotlight just yet. “Some of you may know me, others may not, so let me introduce myself,” I stated confidently. If only I had felt this at ease during all my presentations in school, I would have done a hell of a lot better. I also knew there was a hell of a lot more at stake now than a bad grade so I had no choice but to pretend that I felt comfortable, and in a way, I kinda was. “My name is Alexandra Marks. You may call me Lexy. I am the niece of Viviana, however, I do not agree with her beliefs, hence why I am here. I have been chosen to the Princess’s Bwenzi Nkhondo, making me the Princess’s Protector. This is non-negotiable. The Princess has also chosen the first official members of her personal guard as well as who will be on her counsel. Her counsel will consist of myself, Alexandra Marks, her guard, Seth Steele, and her other guard, Jacob Graening. These are also non-debatable. Does anyone have any questions so far?” Nearly every hand in the room went up. I shook my head in disbelief, and then pointed to a woman who was wearing a grey suit jacket and matching skirt. “Yes?” “Why?” She asked. “Why those picks?” I looked at Annabeth to see if she wanted to answer, and she shook her head nervously, so I took the question. “The Princess trusts us. I have been friends with her for a long time. I’ve known Seth nearly my whole life, and Princess Annabeth trusts me, and I trust Seth, who has know Jacob much longer than both of us, however, he has proved himself to us in the short time we’ve known him.” “How do we know you aren’t lying? Why isn’t the Princess speaking about this?” Someone called out. “She’s the Princess, so she can choose when she wants to speak, and she has chosen not to at this moment. She can do as she pleases. As for if I’m lying, I’m well aware that I am in a room with people who have mastered their gifts, so bias getting in the way of the truth is the issue, not me.” “Was that an insult?” Someone shouted. “No, simply a statement,” I tried to focus on Seth still singing in his head, but it was getting harder to block, and I would have killed for my headphones right then. “We are ready to begin the ceremony.” “The Ceremony?” A man in a plaid shirt questioned. “Yes, the one where Annabeth and I become Bwenzi Nkhondos.” I replied patiently. “Today?” “Right now, actually.” “Did the Queen approve?” I motioned to the Queen for the answer. “The prophecy is thought to be about my daughter. I trust that she has the right amount of information to be successful.” I nodded in agreement. I had heard an awful lot about a prophecy I hadn’t heard yet, but I just added it to my mental list of things I needed to do. For a split second, I thought about how my sisters were also my responsibility and I had just left them in a house full of strangers. But as quick as it had come, I pushed it away. This was for them. This was how I could protect them, and I couldn’t feel guilty about that. “Alexandra Marks are you sure you are ready to become Princess Annabeth’s Protector and Bwenzi Nkhondo?” The King asked this time sounding far less confident than the Queen ever did. “I am.” I responded. I had been pairing the two things together all day, but the truth was, they weren’t the same. They weren’t even close really. But I needed Annabeth to think they were together. Alex had asked me to become her protector the first day I had arrived at the base. He had told me that it would give me a higher ranking than just Bwenzi Nkhondo and it would put Annabeth’s safety in my hands. It would be the most responsible thing to do for her. There were a few reasons to do it, even though I wasn’t trained yet. One was simply, as her Bwenzi Nkhondo, we’d be connected and in sync. We’d know each other’s feelings and thoughts which would keep both of us protected. Plus, adding the protector piece, they can’t kill one without serious complications. It isn’t exactly known what the implications are as there have been very few protectors throughout history, however, it is very well know that it is dangerous. So basically, it makes us both unkillable at least for now. And 2. I am related to Viviana. She was my aunt. My dad is with her and my mom. So maybe, they don’t want to kill me either. I think they would if they had too. But they don’t want to. And that’s kinda what were banking on. On the downside, they know what I’m capable of. They know my strengths and weaknesses. But they know that I am fiercely loyal and if they could get me to their side, they would destroy Annabeth, making her defeatable. So, me being the protector, is imperative. “Annabeth, come out to the center of the stage dear,” The Queen called out. Annabeth approached slowly, looking nervous, but there was also grave concern on her face telling me that I must be looking paler by the minute because I was feeling worse by the minute. “You are both lefties, am I correct?” The Queen asked. “Yes ma’am,” I answered for the both of us. “Wonderful. So take each other’s wrist, similar to how you would shake hands, but at the wrists. And hold it there.” We did as we were instructed, and a red string of light weaved around out wrists from about the mid-forearm. “As Bwenzi Nkhondos you will be able to feel each other. You will be each other’s strength when the world seems to be too much. You will be each other’s mind. You will be able to pull from one another more. You will be able to access each other’s gifts to a degree. You will protect each other from harm, and fight for one another when it is needed. You will work as one and maneuver as one when necessary. When you doubt your abilities, you will be able to see the other’s feelings through your wrists and communicate in ways that others cannot.” A woman spoke firmly, standing at the base of the stage. “Do you agree to these terms?” “I agree,” I responded. Annabeth looked slightly more hesitant, but I gave her a nod of encouragement and she also agreed. “Are you certain, Annabeth?” The Queen called out, she had read Annabeth’s hesitation like a book. Annabeth smiled back at her, though it was hard to see into the crowd now that there was a spotlight on us. “Of course, I’m sure,” Annabeth sounded fake, but I knew it was because she was irritated with her mom. “Lexy will be my one and only Bwenzi Nkhondo for life.” “Should I continue?” The woman in front asked nervously. “Please do,” Annabeth smiled, ignoring the nerves I know she was feeling. The woman cleared her throat nervously and continued, “With this bond that you have both accepted, you will always be linked to one another. When one is happy, the band will glow green. When one is down, it will burn pink. When you are warm it will be yellow, cold it will be blue. It will be tan if one is feeling neutral or indifferent, orange if one is confident, and teal if there is fear or anxiety. It will be purple when one is calm and burn red when there is pain either physically or emotionally. You two will be as one. This band will not be able to be removed until the bond between you two is broken. This band unites you, and will always remind you of the person you must protect. We are a country of constant war, but may you not be at war with each other. Let you be individuals who share a bond of care and power. Let the world not slow you down as for now you are both stronger than you ever were apart.” The rope like bracelet then solidified itself to our wrist – and for a brief moment I thought that we would be tied together forever – but then it snapped and secured itself on both of our wrists’. I realized then that I couldn’t see the band on Anna’s wrist anymore, I could only see mine. We let go of each other’s hand and I immediately felt the spot that the band had just been. It was now burned into my skin, and I realized only I could see it, which was probably a good thing because it was teal. “We did it,” I whispered, pulling her in to a hug. “We did,” She whispered shakily back into my ear. “Do you think we can leave now?” “I’m not sure,” I frowned. I had forgotten in those few moments that I wasn’t feeling great, but it was coming back, stronger than ever. We’d pulled a part, and Annabeth immediately grabbed my hand, and started pulling me off stage behind her. “Where are you going?” The Queen demanded, causing us to freeze. “We are done, are we not?” Annabeth questioned, sounding extremely confident that I almost believed it. “The ceremony is done, yes.” The Queen answered, but there were questions in her tone. “And were we not told to go back to our rooms at 3 to prepare for the ball?” “You were.” The Queen said, her voice harder this time. “And isn’t it after 3?” “Yes.” This time the Queen’s annoyance was very clear. “Then we must go get ready.” Annabeth held her head up, and started off the stage again. “Wait,” The Queen’s cold voice cut in again, making us stop. “I thought since you missed most of today’s meetings that you would attend some this afternoon.” “Whose fault is it that I missed those meetings?” Annabeth sounded cold. “We have no intention of going to anything else today other than the ball. Then we will be leaving.” Annabeth then practically dragged me the rest of the way, her anger evident. “Let’s go.” The anger still in her voice when she approached the guys, and she dropped my hand. “You look like hell,” Seth muttered to me, but he was looking at Annabeth. “I just need a nap.” I told him. And the world seemed to move in slow motion as we exited. Jake led the way, Annabeth, directly behind him, and Seth and I took up the rear walking slightly slower. I didn’t share Annabeth’s anger. I just felt exhausted. And it seemed like it was nothing that a nap couldn’t fix.

  • The Importance of My Family

    Growing up, I didn't realize the importance of family, or how it would shape my life and myself in general. I didn't realize that things that were normal for me, were not the norm for the average person. I grew up having two parents that were together still, my middle sister, Jillian is autistic, and I grew up incredibly close to both my sisters. I also have an extremely supportive extended family that I have come to realize not everybody has. and then there's the family you create. These are the people you pick up along the way and they never leave. All three pieces are important, and all have different aspects in how we become who we become. My Immediate family It was brought to my attention recently, that many siblings don't talk on a regular basis. This shouldn't have come as a surprise to me, but it did. A family friend was telling me that his kids don't talk, and the only way they ever know what's going on with one another is if he or his wife says something. In my family, that is not the case. From the time my sister Jillian was born, I was her biggest fan. I called her 'my baby' when my parents brought her home from the hospital, and she was. We are only a year and a half a part, and we did everything together. She has always been different, and at times that was really hard to understand, especially growing up, but she has always needed that extra support and love that I could give. Now, we live in the same house again, and it's been lovely because we rarely fight, and I know she's always there. My younger sister, Jenny, and I didn't have that same, right off the bat relationship. She and I grew close because we both understood what it was like to have a disabled sister, and we were really the only two in the world who could really get what it was like for the other person, even though we handled it very differently - I was more combative because I wanted to understand, but I couldn't, and she hated/hates conflict, and internalized everything. And I think it's because we all leaned on each other so much, that we are so close today. In fact, despite my sister, Jenny, living 8 hours away, I facetime with her at least once a week, depending on our weeks, and we never go more than 10 days without a facetime. We also text, send instagram posts and tik toks, nearly daily about things we think the other will like or will want to know about. And I am so incredibly lucky to have that. I am also lucky to have my parents. Growing up, my mom and I fought like cats and dogs. My mom likes things done her way, and I am a very 'why' oriented person, and if there's not a logical explanation for why it has to be done right then or a certain way, then I was going to fight it. My dad has always been my rock and the mediator between me and my mom, but as I've gotten older, the less combative I am. I also have realized that my parents weren't perfect, but they did the best they could with the cards they were dealt. They tried to be superheroes, and the fact that they tried means a hell of a lot to me, especially now as a grown up. Extended-Family My extended family is also pretty unique. You have never met a group of such extremely different people in the world, yet everyone loves and cares for each other, putting aside differences of belief and most judgement. Of course, there are some clicks. There's an obvious gravitational pull toward some people more than others, but you know if it's a hard time, anyone of them will have your back without a second thought. My Grandma has always been the most supportive person in my life. She always made sure that I had an outlet to vent, and gave me a safe space from an early age. Though she and I have never lived closer than 3 hours from each other, and for the majority of my life have lived over 7 hours, she has always had an uncanny understanding of what living in my household was like. She has been to this day, the only person who understood how hard it could be at times growing up with an autistic sister. She understood my frustrations over meltdowns and how my parents would 'cave'. She understood the burdens I felt as the oldest, and how it all always seemed to fall on me. She was always positive. She never made fun of the things I liked, and we often bonded over reading. I talk to her usually once a week to this day, and I always hang up the phone with a smile. She may live far away, but she has always been there for me, and I try never to take that for granted. Then there's the tradition on my dad's side of the family that has been happening since before I was born. Once a year, over July 4th week, we go to the Outer Banks. All 29 (give or take) of us, stay in one house, and it's a practically a week long party. My favorite tradition in recent years is the night we go out to the gazebo and we play music. Everyone puts in requests, though we try to pick ones most people will like. It's more fun if everyone knows it. There are classics like American Pie and Puff the Magic Dragon to newer things like Luke Combs and Olivia Rodrigo. It's hard to explain the bond that has formed between all of us, and that gazebo will probably always hold a special place in our heart. It's where we celebrated my Nana's life, and my Poppop's. It's where we've laughed till we cried on many occasions, and watched beautiful sunrises after staying up all night. I know very few people who have ever had the same opportunities with their extended family. I am honored to be in snapchat groups with them, and our random zoom calls when we miss each other just a little more than normal. None of us live near each other, but for one week a year, we all come together, and most of us will never miss it. We all know how lucky we are to have grown up together, and to continue to grow together with each passing year. And I am happy to know that we are so close, I mean just the other day my cousin called me, and it wasn't weird. I didn't think, 'why is he facetiming me? Is something wrong?' It really made me realize that my family is special like that. The Family You Make I realize that a lot of people don't have amazing families. And I hate that because I don't know where I'd be without mine. However, it's so important to realize that family isn't always blood. There's a family that I've known since I was born. They aren't related by blood, but if there was ever an emergency, they'd be the first people I call. I call them aunt and uncle because to me they are family. My uncle has known my dad since they were in 4th grade remedial reading together, and my mom met my aunt while working in the hotel industry and my parents introduced them, and they've pretty much been together since. I haven't seen them in a couple years now, but I know if I texted them today and said 'can I come stay at your house tomorrow?' There would be absolutely no doubt that if they were in town that answer would be yes. Then there's my best friend, Anna. We've been friends since 7th grade, now over ten years. She's the one person who knows probably every side of me. She's seen me at my best and at my worst. She knows my mental health nearly as well as I do. We've gone on a thousand adventures together, from abandoned houses, to Washington, DC to Disney World. She's the one person in the world that I trust the most, and in the past few years, she's gone from just a friend to family. She knows all my secrets, and I am incredibly lucky to have her in my life. And lastly, there's Ham. Ham started off as my youngest sister, Jenny's best friend. It started with soccer, then she was at our house nearly every day. She joined us for dinners, then traditions like getting pumpkins, and picking out our Christmas trees. To joining us for family game nights, bringing her mom along. To now where they usually spend holiday evenings with us, from Christmas Eve to Christmas day to New Years Eve and Thanksgiving. It now feels weird to have a holiday without our people anymore. We live so far away from blood relatives; the nearest is 6 hours away, so we created our own family. I am so privileged to have family from immediate family to extended to the ones we made family. I wouldn't be half the person I am today without them. Is you're family dynamic similar to mine? Are you close to your siblings? Do you have siblings? Or is your family more something you created? I'm interested to hear your thoughts, and how you feel your family has impacted your life. Let me know in the comments or comment on my instagram post!

  • Chapter 13: Annabeth and the Unexpected Challenge

    Chapter 13 Annabeth and the Unexpected Challenge I sighed in frustration as the door’s vibrations reverberated through the room hurt my ears. “What is her problem?” I mumbled more to myself than to anyone else. I turned and looked at Seth, who’s eyes were darting from the door to me, repetitively. “What do you know that I don’t?” I asked him, for the first time feeling out my rank. “I’m not sure,” He frowned, looking no less uneasy. “Did something happen last night that has her all weird?” “A lot has happened,” He mumbled under his breath, not realizing I could hear him. “Not helpful, Seth,” I grumbled back rolling my eyes. “Well, I don’t know what you want me to tell you,” He said defensively. “She doesn’t want to talk about what happened with her dad with me. So I know about as much as you.” I froze. “Her dad?” Seth froze too. “Maybe I do know more than you…” “What happened with her dad?” I asked slowly, dreading the answer. “What are you talking about?” “Listen,” He dropped his voice to a whisper as if he was afraid she was simply on the other side of the door listening to whatever was about to happen. “I know you’re the Princess and all, and if I thought telling you would help, I would. However, if she hasn’t mentioned it, then she’s probably simply not ready to.” “What happened with her Dad?” I commanded, ignoring everything else he had just said because I was in need of information. “If you tell her, I promise you, I will not speak to you again and everything that happened earlier will never happen again.” A voice rang through the closed door sounding slightly shaky. “Sorry Princess,” Seth said, giving me a slightly sheepish smile as his ears turned red, “I know you’re all powerful, however, I’m more afraid of her.” I glared at him and then at the closed door that I knew she was somewhere behind. “You’re being ridiculous,” I called back, knowing she was still listening whether with her mind reading abilities or her physical ears. There was no answer, so I looked at Seth pleadingly. “No,” He responded, putting his hands up in surrender. “She’ll tell you when she’s ready. A lot has happened. She’s processing these things herself. When she’s ready, she’ll tell you.” He then disappeared through the door leading to her room, and the barricades that had been in front of both of our doors this morning flashed through my mind. I moved to follow him, but Jake moved to block my way. “I don’t think you should go in there yet, Princess.” He said, his voice firm, taking me by surprise. I crossed my arms in irritation. “Why?” I asked. “Let him calm her down first,” He answered. “I should be the one helping her,” I retaliated bitterly. “Clearly that went so well the first time,” Jake muttered under his breath. “Excuse me?” I felt myself defending myself again. It was far too early for this. “I didn’t do anything wrong.” “You didn’t do anything right either, Princess,” Jake told me hotly. “She’s right. You were far too careless about your door. This is the castle. It’s a cutthroat place full of tests, and you are severely underprepared. And the quicker you realize that, the better off you’ll be.” I looked at him coldly as the door reopened and a blank looking Lexy reentered the room followed by Seth. “Don’t let anyone else hear you talking like that, Jacob,” She said quietly. “Or they’ll have your head.” She then proceeded to drag her finger across her neck, letting it go limp as if she had cut it off. “Very funny, Alexandra.” Jake responded looking slightly disgruntled that they had come back. Her serious face smirked slightly before she said, “Breakfast?” I nodded feeling out of place again. I didn’t feel like a princess going down to breakfast with her family. I felt like a stranger. An outsider. An intruder. My heels clicked softly on the carpeted floor of my hallway that lacked the grandeur of the rest of the castle. Perhaps it was simply to muffle the sounds that would surely echo throughout the hall every time someone would walk on it if it wasn’t there. Lexy must have sensed my uncertainty for she linked her arm with mine, and we continued on. There was something calming and unnerving about Lexy. There was no emotion showing itself despite her wishes. There was no glimmer of happiness or hurt. There was just nothing but this almost eerie calm that I had never seen before. “Are you okay?” I whispered. “Of course,” She gave me a tight smile, but it was not a believable one. She must have read my mind because she added, “We have more important matters at hand.” I shot her a look, but she wasn’t looking at me. She was looking ahead at the double doors that would lead to the dining room that were fast approaching. Was something waiting on the other side that we wouldn’t like? Would my family be less intimidating today or would they be worse? Would they have even noticed my absence, or did Lexy and Seth cover it up? A million questions pulsed through my mind, each leading to another question. I felt Lexy take in a deep breath beside me, and I did the same. Jake and Seth opened the double doors for us, and without hesitating we walked in. “Ah, look who finally arrived,” My mother, the Queen announced when we entered her field of vision. “Please, sit, sit.” Lexy reluctantly let go of my arm as we approached the table. A man I didn’t recognize pulled a chair out for me, and another moved one out for Lexy. I nodded my thanks as Lexy murmured a thank you and we both turned our attention to my mother. “Good morning,” I smiled, trying to hide my nerves. “I didn’t realize it was,” My mother said almost coldly. I looked at her in surprise. “Did something happen that made it not?” I asked trying to be polite. “You disappeared last night. Your friend here said you were angry at how you were treated. Is this true?” I did my best to hide the surprise I felt by Lexy’s cover. The truth was, I had absolutely no idea how I felt. “It was not a very welcoming first day with my long-lost family.” I said finally finding the right words to say. “Are you still considering leaving?” There’s was an uncertainty in my mother’s voice that I didn’t know what to do with, but I knew it was rare. “I have reached no conclusions,” I responded, trying my best to be the opposite of uncertain. “Then we will continue with today as planned.” My mother stated. “And the ball tonight.” “Ball?” I felt my confidence wavering. “Yes, the welcome ball. You may join whatever meetings you like today. But around 3 pm you will need to go, so you have enough time to get ready. I nodded and she continued. “I strongly encourage you to pick a new Bwenzi Nkhondo. One who is not so deeply enthralled in the other side. And who doesn’t make a spectacle of herself in the gym.” The last comment brought on some confusion however, I didn’t really have time to dwell on it since Lexy, whose face was slightly flushed, was already answering. “I have already proved that I am loyal to Annabeth.” Lexy said softly, but there was something in her tone that I almost didn’t recognize. “You did. However, you could easily change your mind once you start to miss your parents.” My mother brushed her aside. “I already miss my parents,” Lexy said in the same quiet voice with a darker undertone. “However, they have made their choice. And that isn’t something they can take back. And neither can I.” If my mother was surprised, she didn’t show it. She simply nodded and looked to me. “Lexy is my ride or die.” I said, but I cringed at my own word choice. “I mean, where I go, she goes. She saved my life twice when Vivian came looking for me. She even tried to pretend to be me when my life was in danger. She invited me to dinner nearly everyday for the last 2 years, and she had no idea who I was. Her parents might have, but it wasn’t their choice. It was Lexy who got me when no one else could even begin to understand what I was going through. It’s been Lexy for nearly as long as I’ve known her. And that’s not up for debate anymore, your majesty.” I felt bolder than I had ever been in my life, but I also had never really had trouble standing up to authority either. “Very well then. The ceremony will commence this afternoon. I suggest after breakfast you children go clean up in your rooms. You look like you haven’t slept in weeks, and I simply cannot have that.” It took everything in me to not just roll my eyes at her comment. However, I was trying my hardest to remain on her good side so that meant not doing anything ‘stupid’ or ‘unladylike’ to piss her off more. “Thank you for the understanding.” I replied. It sounded strange even to my own ears, but what else was I supposed to say to that? It was then I realized that my plate was full of waffles, fruit, and a sauce/syrup like thing that I didn’t recognize but looked exquisite. I dug right in after realizing how amazing it was and did my best not to just scarf it down. “Eat.” I heard someone mutter to my left. “You’ll feel better.” I looked slightly that direction, and saw Seth whispering into Lexy’s ear, and Lexy looking like her plate had a human head on it, her meal completely untouched. “I don’t remember inviting you to the table, Mr. Steele.” My mother said coldly. Seth bowed to her and backed away; however, his eyes were still trained on Lexy. “He is right though, dear,” My mother continued, putting her own fork to her mouth. “You should eat.” For some reason, Lexy looked incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of eating right now, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why or if she was just being dramatic. For a moment, she looked uneasy, but then she straightened up, and brought her fork to her mouth, all while looking straight at my mother. I then realized, stupidly, that there was clearly a reason for Lexy not eating, but even as I wracked my brain for an answer, I couldn’t figure out my best friend’s struggle right now. “It tastes lovely, doesn’t it?” My mother smiled, but an unsettling smile. “Lovely indeed,” Lexy responded, taking another bite. The meal then progressed in silence, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Lexy pick at her meal. Her eyes on my mother, and my mother’s on her. There were no questions about how I felt about all this change. No personal questions about what my life was like before. Or even what my favorite color was. No. It was just some ongoing battle between my mother and Lexy and I didn’t even seem to exist. “Are you happy?” Lexy finally asked when her plate was empty. I looked up in surprise. Lexy never talked to adults like that. I had rarely ever even heard her raise her voice like that to her parents. My mother simply shrugged, and Lexy stood up. “If you’ll excuse me, I think I’m done now.” There was an anger in her voice that I was not familiar with. “Me too,” I stated, trying to match whatever she was bringing to the table. “Annabeth!” My mother gasped. “Are you a leader or a follower?” Her question sent real anger through me this time. “Where she goes, I go.” I retaliated. “And if she chooses to jump off a bridge, I guess I choose it too.” “Why would she jump off a bridge?” My mother questioned, an edge in her voice. “It’s an expression,” I sighed, pushing Jake away and my own chair in. “I guess I’ll uh see you later.” I looked to Lexy, who hadn’t said anything at my defense of her. At first, I felt annoyed by the lack of a response, but when I looked at her, I noticed her face was incredibly pale, and she was leaning hard into Seth. The double doors swung open, and I marched out, pretending not to have noticed. It was too imperative that we seemed strong, so when one of us was failing, the other had to pick up the pieces. The doors closed behind us, but the hallway was filled with people. I could physically feel Lexy was struggling, so I picked up the pace, only to realize that Lexy was not able to keep up. I made eye contact with Seth and made a “what the hell is happening?” face. He just shook his head at me and shrugged. Suddenly Jake left my side and just swept her up, causing a bit of a spectacle. Everyone was staring, so Jake smiled and kissed her forehead. My stomach churned. What the hell was happening? Both Seth and Jake were suddenly back at my sides. “Come on, Princess,” He grumbled. “We’ll be late.” I didn’t know what he meant by that, but I picked up the pace. Jake was whispering something to Lexy who turned her head into him. I felt stupid. Lexy had liked Jake this whole time, and I was just standing in her way. A weird, strangled noise caused me look at them again, and I realized Jake was all but running. “Seth,” Jake said as we approached my room. “Get off your damn high horse and open the fucking door.” A disgruntled Seth took a couple steps ahead of us and swung open the door with a little more force than necessary. I was about to scold him however, Jake was already rushing into the room, leaving me little room to follow. To my surprise, he went immediately to Lexy’s side, and I felt my stomach do another flip. Wow. This was really happening. The first guy I like in forever, and all he wants is my best friend. Despite feeling as unwanted as Seth, I followed anyway. “Was I just a joke to the both of you?’ I asked, but Jake ignored me. “Where is it?” He demanded as he laid her on the bed. “Where is what?” I inquired feeling totally lost. “The Epi pen! Where the hell does she keep it?” He was rummaging through drawers and slamming them shut as he was running out of luck. I then looked at my best friend and felt sick to my stomach. Her face was pale and clammy, and her lips had a blueish hint to them. And her eyes were closed. “Shoe,” Lexy gasped. Jake frowned, pausing briefly before heading to the closet. “No.” Seth stated as he walked in, his own face also pale. “Not the ones in the closet. The ones she’s wearing. She keeps it in her shoes.” He immediately moved to her, gently taking off her shoes and revealing a small little injection. “Will this work here?” He asked Jake, looking uncertain. “Medicine is different here. It may not work.” “Dude, we can’t get out of here right now. So you better pray to god that this works.” Without any further hesitation, Seth lifted her dress and gave her the shot. “What now?” I whispered feeling scared. I had never seen her have an allergic reaction. I wasn’t even sure what she was allergic to. “We wait for it to kick in.” Jake said through gritted teeth. “How did you know?” I asked in a small voice. I felt small. “It was obvious.” Jake answered. “She was upset about her breakfast. She just stared at it. So whatever it was, the Queen knew. It was a purposeful thing.” “I know I don’t know my mother well… But do you really think she’d try to kill my best friend?” “Yes,” Both Jake and Seth answered simultaneously. “She hates her,” Seth added quietly when I looked at them in surprise. “The Queen thinks she’s scum. I just wanted her to eat because she hasn’t really been. I thought after her workout today that she needed food. I didn’t realize the syrup had a fruit that is similar to pomegranate. But she must have heard the thoughts of somebody. She knew what was happening. She always knows.” “Then why did she eat it?” I whispered. “Because if she didn’t, she’d have to accuse the Queen of knowing she was allergic to something and trying to use it against her. She didn’t want to start that yet, so she made a choice to challenge the Queen silently.” “That was so stupid.” I murmured as I climbed into bed next to her. “You haven’t been here long yet, Princess,” Jake said quietly. “But there’s a lot you don’t know yet, that you need to learn… Fast.” I felt beyond frustrated and as close to tears as I’d come so far. “Well everyone’s talking so freaking cryptic! Start telling me what I need to know before someone dies, and it’s my fault!” Jake gave me an awkward look. Like he didn’t know what to do either. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know how much to say. He was scared. As scared as I was. And in that moment, I was terrified. “Look,” Seth said quietly after a moment. “When she wakes up, we can come up with a plan. The 4 of us will be a team from here on out. It’s not a question anymore. It’s not a choice. We need to have each other’s backs, or we’ll all be dead.” “Who said I wanted to be on her team?” Jake sneered. I wasn’t sure which her he was referring to, Lexy or me, but either way, it was unacceptable. “Get the hell out.” I snapped. “What?” Jake looked taken aback. “If I can’t trust you 100%, then get out.” “It’s not that simple Annabeth…” Jake tried. “No. It is.” I stated angrily. “You are either with us, or you’re against us. And I would hate to find out what will happen if they find out you’re against me.” “Please stop yelling,” Lexy mumbled, her eyes still closed. My heart stopped for a moment. “How do you feel?” I breathed, uneasily. “Like hell.” She answered, still sounding raspy. “You knew that you were allergic, didn’t you?” I asked. “Yea.” She whispered. “Yea, I knew.” Her eyes were still closed, and it seemed to be taking a lot of energy for her to be talking to me. “Rest, okay?” Seth interjected before I could ask any more questions. “We can talk when you feel better.” “Just 5 more minutes, okay?” She mumbled. “Sure. I’ll wake you in 5 minutes.” Seth looked a wreck, but he seemed to be trying to hold it together for her, and she was back asleep before he had even finished his sentence. When he noticed that, he turned to me and said, “If you and Jake would like to keep fighting, please go do it in your room. Let her just rest. Please, just let her rest.” “We’re done fighting,” Jake grimaced. “I’m in.” I looked at him in surprise but didn’t say anything. From here on out, the 4 of us were a team. I knew things would be tough and challenging. But it was nice to know I had at least 3 people in my corner right now. Because 3 was better the 0 and 1 had nearly died for me tonight. I needed as many people as I could get because I had no idea what was going to come next.

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