One, two, one, two. In, out, in, out. My feet were aching, my throat dry. I pushed myself on further. One, two, one, two. In, out, in, out. I finally reached the top of the hill. But I didn’t slow. I still had to get to the park. I found my iPod in my shorts and clicked to the next song. Breath, by Breaking Benjamin. I looked up into the grey sky, and felt rain spitting on my head and shoulders. I reached the park. I slowed to a walk and rolled my shoulders, stretching out. In ten minutes, I’d reached the house. I unlocked the door and let myself in. I took the device that was strapped onto my arm off, glancing at the small screen. Two and a half miles, it read. I turned it off and tossed it onto the stairs – I’d pick it up later.
“Noah? Is that you?” Mum called from the kitchen. I went in and saw her making lunch while Felix was on his laptop and Michelle watched TV – some stupid programme about fat people losing weight and dieting.
“How was your run?” Mum asked.
She turned around and raised her eyebrows at me.
“You’re sopping. I hope you haven’t dripped through the house.”
I looked down at myself. I suppose I was a little wet.
“Good. Dinner will be ready in ten minutes. Go and get showered and then come down to eat.”
“I’m just gonna grab something for now,” I mumbled in reply. I wandered over to the fridge, and while I was browsing I could feel Michelle staring at me. I turned around, annoyed.
“What?” I hissed. She snorted and rolled her eyes, looking me up and down in a disgusted manner.
“I can’t believe the skinny-long-legged gene was wasted on you.”
She scowled and turned back to the TV.
“Why didn’t you give it to me, Mum?” she whined. I grabbed a carton of apple juice, feeling my temper rise.
“I could have done so much more with a pair of legs like that. It’s not fair!”
“Ah, shut up,” I muttered under my breath. All she ever did these days was moan and complain about this and that and to be honest it was driving my head in.
“What’d you say?” she shot at me, narrowing her eyes.
“I said shut up.”
“Noah, don’t talk to your sister like that,” Mum said. It was my turn to scowl and roll my eyes.
“Yeah Noah, don’t talk to me like that,” Michelle echoed, smirking in my face. I ground my teeth in frustration. Just leave it, I told myself. You’re better than her. Leave it. I sighed, letting the tension go out of my body. I turned around and headed for the stairs.
“Yeah, you’d better run away,” Michelle murmured under her breath. And that was it – I couldn’t just leave it. I marched right back and shouted into her face.
“Will you stop being such a rotten bitch!”
“Noah!” Mum exclaimed. I wasn’t listening. I was angry now.
“How dare you call me that!” Michelle shouted back, standing up and spitting into my face.
“Well that’s all you’ve ever been to me! Why the unnecessary remarks about every little thing I do or say? Huh?”
I stood a little taller, and was thankful for my recent growth spurt. I was almost six foot now, and even though Michelle was a year older than me she had to tilt her head back to look at me.
“I haven’t been picking on you! All I was saying was that it wasn’t fair that–”
“Well stop saying that it isn’t fair! Life isn’t fair – deal with it!”
Michelle’s mouth dropped open and looked like I’d just slapped her.
“How dare you speak to me like that! You’re a nasty piece of work, you are!”
“Oh, is that all you’ve got?” I spat back, egging her on.
“Believe me, Noah. You do not want to hear what I have to say about you,” she hissed.
“Oh, sorry, what was that? You criticise me all the time, so why hold back now? You were on a roll. Go on, tell me what I am.”
I felt a hand on my heaving chest and I looked away from Michelle’s seething face to see Mum. Her face was red and her lips were pressed together so that they were white.
“I said stop! Who do you think you are? Talking like that in my house?”
She shoved me and I stumbled back, my fists clenched at my side.
“You’re a disgrace to this family! And you!” she whipped around to face Michelle. She pointed her finger and jabbed it into her shoulder. “I am sick and tired of you and your bloody rude comments! If you have a problem with something you say it nicely or you don’t say it at all! You hear me?!”
Michelle nodded quickly and submissively, like a dog being locked in its cage. I knew she got scared and sorry when Mum shouted at her. But Mum shouting at me just made me madder. I turned on my heel and headed for the front door.
“Noah! Where do you think you’re going? I’m talking to you!”
I kept my mouth firmly shut, not trusting myself to speak. I was so angry right now I could even have had a go at Mum. I stepped outside and slammed the front door. It was raining heavily now, but I didn’t care. I took off on another run.
I didn’t get home until an hour later, at eight o’clock. It had taken me a long time to cool off, but I felt much better afterwards.
“Mum says you owe me an apology.”
Not better enough, however, to say sorry to Michelle. I stepped around her and headed up the stairs to my room.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Michelle shouted after me, hands on hips. “Come back here!”
I shook her off as I ran a shower, locking the door behind me. God, she was so bloody annoying! After my shower I chilled out in my room until I heard Mum and Michelle go to bed which was just before eleven. I slipped out of my room and went downstairs to the kitchen. I was starving, so I heated up the leftovers of dinner and ate it on the sofa, watching the highlights of the football match on low volume. I looked up as I heard someone come in. I sat up, ready to defend myself. But it was only Felix.
“What you doing down here?” I asked. He saw me and shrugged. He got a glass out and poured himself some milk. He sat down next to me.
“You alright?” I said. He nodded. “Not tired?” He shook his head. Felix was my younger brother, eleven years old and the youngest in the family. He was rather shy, even around us, and he was a boy of few words – if any words at all.
“Sorry about that fighting earlier. Michelle was treading on my nerves.”
Felix shrugged again.
“Mum didn’t have a go at you, did she?”
He shook his head. Good. We sat in silence for a while. Then Felix spoke, which surprised me. But I wasn’t surprised after he said what he said.
“Mum said Carmen’s coming home tomorrow, for the weekend.”
Carmen was our eldest sister, she was nineteen and she’d just left to university. She and Felix got on like a house on fire, and I knew that he liked her best out of our family.
Felix nodded, smiling. I couldn’t help but smile myself at him. We finished watching the football, then I glanced at my watch.
“It’s quarter to midnight. You should really be in bed now.”
Felix looked at me. I took in the light brown, short cut hair, the pale skin and the large, blue eyes, reflecting the light of the TV. He nodded and muttered a goodnight, then left to go upstairs. I washed up my plate and leaned back against the counter. I sighed. Why did Michelle have to make everything so difficult? We used to get on just fine when we were kids. We’d play together nicely, and say please and thank you to each other. It was only really when she’d turned into a teenager that she moaned and complained and picked on me in particular and I didn’t have the nicest temper in the world so of course I got angry at her. I shook my head. I was thinking too much and it was giving me a headache. I went upstairs to my room and went to bed.