By Ashwin Rajan
The blinding rays streamed through his half-closed blinds. Rubbing his eyes, Chris scrolled through Instagram for a few minutes, which quickly turned into 30—after all, he could do whatever he wanted, since his parents were out of town for the weekend. When he finally got up, he blasted Metallica while he brushed his teeth, washed his face, and got ready. He yelled over to Emily and Jordan, “get your lazy selves outta bed!” Groggy, Emily yelled back, “Why’d you wake me up?! It’s summer break!” But when she looked over at her clock, she saw that it was the 31st. She knew. Walking over to Jordan, she shook him awake: “Don’t you remember, Jordan? It’s the 31st!” Though still tired from staying up playing games, Jordan got up too, thinking through his strategy once again. After freshening up, they went to their backyard, squinting at the bright sun and shocking blue sky. Each walked over to their respective tree. They had been practicing for years… waiting for this day. They had studied the sturdy branches and frail twigs, each gnarly nook and twist, every in and out of their specific trees.
Reaching about 100 feet high, each of the trees was imposing. But they were ready. They knew what they had to do. Jordan went up to his tree and hugged it. Chris stared at him like he was crazy, and Emily yelled out, “Quit being a softie!” Jordan ignored them, pulling out his phone and starting the stopwatch. Ready, set, go! They raced to the top. By their predetermined rules, they could only attempt the final 10 feet on the day of the competition; the last part was a mystery to them all. Emily had a quick start, taking a shortcut she found on her tree that she hadn’t revealed to the others. Chris called out, “Hey, that’s unfair! You have a shortcut,” but Emily coolly responded, “Do you wanna switch trees? Mine’s 10 feet taller.” As they were bickering, Jordan climbed up higher. He was suddenly in the lead, already halfway there.
Emily moved fast, trying to catch up, but her slightly damp shoes slipped on the branch. Luckily, she grabbed onto another branch and regained her balance. She knew she couldn’t afford another slip, so she got to a sturdy branch, and dropped her shoes. That move cost her. Jordan and Chris were now farther ahead of her. But after a much-practiced quick vault upward, Emily caught up with them. Quickly approaching the last 10 feet, the siblings were neck and neck. Chris paused, analyzing the possible pathways and strategizing where he’d go. Emily nimbly raced upward, eyes locked on her goal. Jordan slowed down, pausing to catch his breath before racing upward. Emily, however, had already reached the top. Chris’ view was blocked by the foliage, but Jordan could see her triumphantly raising her fist in the air. He knew exactly what he had to do. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Jordan raced to the top, triumphantly bellowing that he had won for real! He stood on a sturdy branch grinning widely. Chris looked over, smirking. He climbed to a thin branch close to Jordan’s, ready to execute his backup plan. “You think you won, don’t you Jordan?” Snap! “Looks like I did, Chris,” Jordan smugly responded, looking below. Jordan, ecstatic at his now clear win, quickly climbed down, nimbly moving down the tree he knew so well. Crack!
When Mr. and Mrs. Franklin came back at night, the house was silent. “Wow, the kids are asleep on time for once!” Mr. Franklin whispered to his wife. They checked on their children, but they weren’t in their rooms. “Of course, Linda, as soon as we think they’re being good, they sneak out!” Mr. and Mrs. Franklin went to their backyard to check whether their children were out there. A small white object sitting underneath the trees caught their eyes. Walking over, they saw that it was simply Emily’s white Vans. “Where could they be?” Mrs. Franklin asked, “Let’s call their friends.” As they turned to go indoors, Mrs. Franklin felt a drop of rain on her arm. A steady drip, drip, drip. “That’s odd, it isn’t supposed to rain today,” she said as she wiped away the raindrops with her manicured fingers. “It’s just like them to stay out late when they think we’re gone! Honey, where’s the phone?” asked Mr. Franklin grumpily as they stepped into the house. He turned to Mrs. Franklin who was staring at her fingers. They were stained red.