Come As You Are

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
16-year-old Tom Niles - unfortunately dubbed “Tommy” by his siblings and everyone he hates - could not be more opposite his rich parents and well-behaved siblings, especially with his cynical worldview and unappreciated sarcasm. He doesn’t exactly rub off the right way on his kid brothers and sisters.

This is just a short excerpt I wrote of my all time favorite character’s past. Even though I mainly just wrote it for fun, I would really appreciate any critiques or suggestions. Hope you enjoy!

Submitted: June 13, 2019

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Submitted: June 13, 2019

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Tom puffed out the smoke of his cigarette, the exhale relaxing his muscles. A breeze gently touched his pale white skin and dark hair. The tips of the leaves were only just starting to turn colors, but the gray sky was autumn in full force. He leaned back in his chair, the front legs coming off the ground. “So.” He glanced over at Christopher, his friend since the beginning of high school. Chris had grown up with two little sisters and a set of unbelievably average parents. It was always a relief to hang at his place.

“What?” 

Tom jerked back to a sitting position. He shook his head, realizing he hadn’t finished his sentence. “Sorry.” He pulled the cigarette out of his mouth. “Just thinking, I guess.” 

“You going to the game tonight?” Chris pursed his lips. 

Right. The baseball game. He’d forgotten that was tonight. He and Chris always went to the school’s baseball games if they could, but not out of likeness for the jocks and obnoxious cheer team. It was the only time Tom could ever find a good reason for getting out of the house, not to mention his father sponsored the team and liked it when Tom watched them. “Well, if my parents don’t have some stupid charity party to go to.”

“Just call me if you can’t make it,” Chris shrugged. 

“Sure,” Tom nodded, rubbing his eyes tiredly. Once again, he’d spent half the night awake. His second youngest siblings, the twins, had been his headache since his father had been out at some corporate party and his mother, tired from work and her nine billionth pregnancy, fell asleep right after supper. Then, after finally settling them down, he couldn’t sleep. Like always.

“Hey, did you ever talk to Michelle?” Chris asked suddenly.

“Nope.” Tom sighed, really not wanting to think about her right now. The last time he saw her...

“Why not?” He continued.

Tom sucked in his cigarette, then puffed it out hard. “Didn’t want to.”

“I thought you liked her.” Chris chewed his lips, pulling a pack and lighter out of his pocket.

“So did I,” he shrugged. “People aren’t reliable.”

“But-“

“Can we just not talk about this?” Tom interrupted, shoving his cigarette back in between his teeth.

“Sure, whatever.” Chris tapped the arm of his chair. 

Tom forced the thoughts of Michelle out of his mind, focusing instead on the cigarette. He slowly closed his eyes and leaned back into the chair again. “What girl are you sweet on now?”

Chris twisted his lips. “You don’t talk about you, I don’t talk about me.”

He opened his eyes. “That’s completely different Chris, and you know it.”

“You’re exasperating,” Chris exhaled loudly.

“Don’t care.” He closed his eyes again, inhaling and exhaling.

“I bet you don’t,” he replied. “But I’m sure you’d care that your parents just drove up.”

“What?” Tom flew up out of his seat. “Damn.” He spit out his cigarette, not bothering to stamp it out with his shoe as he jammed his hands into his pockets. Shoving the lighter and cigarette pack into Chris’ hands, Tom cleared his throat and walked over to his parents.

“Tom?” His father frowned, pinning him under a stare.

“Yes, sir.” Tom almost added a salute, but thought better of it at the last second.

“We were looking for you. You didn’t tell us you were leaving,” his mother interrupted before his father could say anything.

“Do I have to tell you everything?” As soon as it was out of his mouth, he regretted it.

“Don’t speak to your mother like that. And zip up your jacket. Your raggedy t-shirts aren’t exactly the best look for the family,” his father commanded.

“Yes, sir.” Tom nodded, zipping his black leather up to his shirt collar.

“And Tom?” 

“Sir.”

“I hope that wasn’t a cigarette. You’re too young for that.” He raised his eyebrows.

“No, sir,” he lied through his teeth and shook his head, avoiding eye contact.

“The reason we needed you is because Olivia’s going out with James and your father’s got a corporate party-,” his mother began.

Tom groaned. “Yeah, ‘cause I don’t have anything else to do with my life other than do your job for you.”

“Tom, I am this close!” His father stepped forward angrily, but his mother set a hand on his shoulder.

“It’s alright, Art.” She sighed. “We appreciate it. You know the drill.”

“Right on.” Tom ducked his head, trying to hide his rolling eyes.

“Get in the car,” Art grunted. The only reason he hadn’t completely lost it on him yet was thanks to his mother. Tom was sure he’d hear it later. 

“Yes, sir.” He could barely make out what was probably supposed to be a private conversation after he closed the door of the backseat.

“Elizabeth, please don’t interfere-.” His father exhaled visibly, pacing back and forth.

“He’s your son.  You can’t just...” She glanced at him, then turned away and lowered her voice. 

Tom leaned back in the car, straightening his jacket. Looks like I’ll be calling Chris then, he thought. If I really want to. How is it his business whether I’m speaking to Michelle or not? He shook his head frustratedly. 

Elizabeth and Art got into the car a second later. “Tom?” His mother turned around in the passenger seat as his father pulled out onto the street.

“Yeah.” He chewed his bottom lip absentmindedly, tucking his hands into his jacket pockets.

“Please try to get the kids in bed on time. Aspen had a long day, and Halley does not need to be going to bed at the same time as Baxter or Benjamin. Okay?” She stared expectantly at him.

“Yeah,” Tom nodded.

“That’s ‘yes, ma’am’ to you, Tom,” Art barked, obviously on edge. He knew it was all because of himself too. No wealthy man wanted a rebellious teen son, especially not when he was one of his first and oldest kids. He was no doubt worried about his reputation, and for probably good reason, Tom admitted. His mother would only be worried about what example he’d be setting for his little siblings, but while her talks were considerably less rigid and intolerant, her method was boring him to death with lawyer terms. Who could even be expected to follow that? He thought. Sometimes it was hard to tell which parent he’d rather get stuck with for behavioral talks. He shook his head, then grumbled a “yes, ma’am,” deciding it would be better not to add the “cool out, Dad,” on the end of that phrase.

Art’s eyebrows rose at his tone, but his eyes didn’t waver from the road. “Don’t wait up for us. We’ll probably be back late.”

Tom nodded, muttering a “yes, sir,” and then turned back to watching the passing landscape. The car pulled onto Gray Ridge Road, and the bumpiness of the ride immediately increased. Just as he got comfortable again, it seemed another jut in the irritating road rocked and bumped and jolted him. Who knows what it had been doing to his parents’ cars for the past billion years. Why couldn’t his parents just use all their money to fix the street? He rolled his eyes. They boasted about their wealth and accomplishments, yet they lacked the ability to do anything that would actually be useful. Eventually, they drove into an expansive driveway. It’s only the largest one on the block, Tom snorted. 

As soon as the car stopped, Tom darted into the house before his parents could start up the story they talked about literally every single time they arrived home. To add to the list of things his parents bragged about: the house. Tom tuned out the story mostly, but as far as he knew, Art had “built it himself” when they first moved here. More like hired someone, he found himself thinking internally. His father couldn’t wield a tool to save his life. Then his mother had added in about how they’d decided on building a bunch of bedrooms to “have all the space they needed for the future.” Number one: nobody even talks like that, unless they were trying to recreate a cliche movie where you can predict the ending from the first three scenes, which was definitely not below his parents. Two: it wasn’t even that hard of a decision. All they had to do was tell the architect what they wanted. It wasn’t like they had a budget. 

He unlocked the door with his key and stepped into the foyer. After hanging at Chris’ place all day, coming home was a rude awakening. For one thing, the ceiling was too high. For another thing, it was a foyer. And it was in a house. He kicked his boots off into the mud room, then walked to the back of the house, ran up the stairs, down another hall - where he got lost and had to backtrack - then finally located his bedroom at the beginning of a hall. Or was it the end? You’d think by now I’d be used to this house, he grunted. I’ve only lived in it since I was five. Only had the same room since I was five. He rolled his eyes. There were way too many stairs and back halls to this place. Tom had decided long ago that the architect had no idea what he was doing when he built it. 

He shoved his jacket under his bed. His parents already didn’t approve of his clothing - most likely because it was not a fancy suit, and also because literally every t-shirt he owned had a picture of an arcade, movie, rock band, or tv show: everything they believed was beneath them. He figured his parents would throw out his leather jacket if he left it on the coatrack. 

He’d just relaxed onto his bed with a magazine when his kid brother’s voice erupted from down the hall. “Tommy!” He groaned. Not only was a kid calling him, he was calling him by that darned nickname again. 

Benjamin appeared in the doorway. “Tommy!”

Tom refrained from grumbling again, instead setting his magazine on his nightstand and sitting back up. “What do you need?”

“Bax took my toy.” Ben crossed his arms.

Tom pursed his lips, trying to decide whether his five year old brother was lying or not. Benjamin and Baxter seemed to never get along. Unfortunately, that was yet another headache to deal with while babysitting. “Why is Olivia always going out with that blasted boyfriend?” He muttered.

Ben opened his mouth, but no sound came out. “Don’t tell anyone I said that, ‘kay?” Tom added quickly. “Don’t repeat that either.” Benjamin shrugged, and for the most part Tom figured he’d forget about it. 

“What time do you wanna go to bed, Ben?” Tom asked.

Benjamin bit his lip. “I always go to bed at 8.”

“But what time do you wanna go to bed?”

“I dunno.” He fidgeted with the hem of his shirt.

Tom squinted at the dumb outfit he was wearing. In most respects, he looked exactly like his father with the clean, white button down and black pants, thin, curly black-brown hair, and dull bluish gray eyes. He rolled off the bed and opened his closet door, picking out a t-shirt he figured Ben would like, as long as he didn’t get stuck on their parents’ rules. Besides, Tom had broken them all a long time ago, so it wasn’t like Ben would be the first. He unbuttoned Ben’s shirt, tossed it on the floor behind him somewhere, and stuck his t-shirt over the kid’s head. “Have fun.”

Ben peered down at the shirt. “What’s it say?”

“I can’t read.” Tom flipped through his magazine and sat back on his bed.

“You’re lying,” he accused.

Tom rolled his eyes and tossed the magazine on the other side of his bed between the wall, which was where all his junk went. “Am I?”

Ben frowned. “You were just reading that magazine.”

He snorted. “Smart.”

Ben just stared at him. After a moment, he said, “Can we get my toy back now?”

“No.” Tom chewed his bottom lip absentmindedly.

He crossed his arms. “Please, Tommy?”

“You know he could be anywhere right? It’d take forever to find him,” Tom replied.

“Just call him.”

“Alright.” He inhaled, then yelled as loud as he could, “Kids! Baxter! Get in here!”

A door slammed somewhere, feet pounded up the stairs, and finally, his bunch of little siblings fell into the room. Aspen, Alexander, and Halley stared mischievously up at him in a line.

Ben stood in a row with the others. He looked a lot more like Tom now than Alexander and Halley did. Aspen actually was dressed somewhat like Tom. She wore a green t-shirt with a picture of a bear on it, gray cargo pants, and her thick, curly, black-brown hair was swept back into a messy, tangled ponytail.

He rolled his eyes when Bax didn’t appear. The guilty never do, he figured. “Baxter Niles, get your darned ass in here!” Tom yelled.

Ben and Aspen sat there gaping, with Alex off in his own little world like a space cadet and Halley doing two-going-on-three years old things. “Don’t ever repeat that, you understand?” Tom added.

The four didn’t get a chance to respond because Bax burst into the room right after that awkward silence. Tom twisted his lips. “Baxter, did you take a toy from Ben?”

Baxter shrugged. “He wouldn’t leave me alone.”

“How do you think I feel, dealing with all your crap?” Tom raised his eyebrows. “Don’t repeat that either.” He nodded towards the younger kids.

“I’m gonna tell Mother,” Bax threatened.

“Uh-huh.” Tom folded his arms. “Just give it back.”

“Then make him leave me alone,” he replied.

“Ben, will you leave Bax alone?” Tom turned to the five year old.

“Yup.” Ben nodded eagerly. 

“See? Now go get the toy,” he said.

“Alright.” Baxter ducked out of Tom’s room. Another door slammed in the hallway, and he reappeared a second later with a stuffed teddy bear. “Here.” He gave it to Ben. “Can I go now?”

“No, we’re gonna have a pow-wow. Sit down on the floor,” Tom ordered, sinking to the rug and leaning against his bed. 

“Can we play cards?” Ben asked.

Tom grinned. “You’re my new favorite sibling, Ben.”

Baxter frowned. “They’re too little.” He motioned to Halley and the twins.

He shrugged. “We can play something easy. Like poker.”

“Poker?” Ben asked. “Isn’t that a gambling game?”

“Sure.” Tom reached under his bed for a deck of cards. “But we don’t have to bet money. We can bet like, food or something.”

“I don’t think poker is easy. Halley’s only one,” Bax said.

“We can team up then,” Tom answered. “You’ll be fine without me this time, Ben. Just ask me if you need help.”

“Yay.” Ben smiled. “Can Alexander be on my team?”

Alexander didn’t speak, but instead scooted next to him. The twins were about three years old, and while Aspen was a great talker, Alex still refused to say much. His father believed that there was something wrong with him, but Tom remembered being the same way as a kid. Sometimes it was just too much effort. 

Halley toddled over and placed himself in Tom’s lap. In his case, the first and only word he’d ever spoken was “Tommy.” If that wasn’t overjoying. The kid looked just like himself though. Halley had flat, black-brown curls on his head, the thick hair always an unfortunate thing to inherit. He was extremely pale, maybe even paler than Tom, and he had gray-blue eyes with his mother’s sparkle, the sparkle being the other thing Tom lacked besides his parents’ undying approval. Currently, he wore gray pants, white socks, and an old white t-shirt with paint on it. For an almost two year old, he was rather small and especially quiet. It was for that very reason that he always reigned as Tom’s favorite kid, not to mention that Tom was clearly Halley’s favorite too.

Aspen crawled over to Tom a split second later. “Can I be on your team too?” She asked.

Tom shrugged and tugged her ponytail. “Sure.” He shuffled the deck a couple times expertly and dealt out the cards. They’d played only a few weeks ago, so Tom figured he wouldn’t have to explain the rules in depth again. “What do you wanna bet?”

“How ‘bout candy?” Aspen suggested.

“There isn’t any,” Tom snorted. “Popcorn?”

“Ew.” Ben shook his head.

“You don’t like popcorn?” Tom gaped. “Alright, Halley’s my favorite again.” Halley’s mouth quirked up in a smile, but it dropped blank a second later.

“How about phone calls?” Bax said.

“Not a bad idea. What about beer?” Tom tilted his head.

Ben spoke up. “Isn’t that the stuff that Father drinks a lot?”

Tom chuckled. “Maybe.”

“We can’t drink beer!” Bax exclaimed.

“Yeah, yeah, take a chill pill.” He rolled his eyes, then muttered, “It’s not like I haven’t.”

Baxter narrowed his eyes, but didn’t say anything further. As their father’s reigning favorite son, Bax seemed like he had a lot more pressure to be “good.” Tom would rather be his least favorite than his favorite. It’s not like there was ever a flow of pride coming from him. The way he saw it, the more he got used to disappointment, the less he was actually disappointed. 

Tom lifted Halley off his lap. “Hang on.” Hopping over to the other side of his bed, he ruffled through the junk dump. At the top of one pile was a shoebox, barely covered by Ben’s white shirt and some old shoes. He snagged the shoebox and brought it back over. “Pennies.” Tom opened it so his siblings could see the dull, old, copper coins. 

“Isn’t that real betting, though?” Ben wrinkled his nose.

“I guess.” Tom handed every kid a couple pennies. “I get half the winner’s share since they’re actually mine.”

Bax shrugged. “I just wanna play.”

“Good,” he nodded. “Let’s go.”

Several rounds later, Ben and Alexander had a large share of the money. Part of it should’ve been accredited to Alex’s genius in gambling. For a young kid, he had a pretty good start on Las Vegas, as far as luck went. “Tom, it’s Halley’s bedtime,” Bax pointed out a fact that Tom already knew. It wasn’t hard to hear the clock chiming downstairs from his room. 

“I know,” he sighed. “Bax, would you mind picking up the cards and playing with Ben for a minute? I’ll take the twins with me.”

Alexander and Aspen hopped up and trailed after Tom as he walked down the hall. Halley’s room was closest to his, which was nice for him because he needed to be close by if he started crying. Walking halfway across the house to who knew where wouldn’t go over well. But then again, his youngest brother didn’t cry that much. 

The room was pretty large, but not larger than Tom’s certainly. It had an antique white-painted wall, hard wood floor, mahogany rug, and a bed that was way too large for little Halley. He set his little brother down on the bed. “So... go to sleep?” Tom tilted his head, Halley staring back at him. He sighed. “Pajamas, right? And then do you want a bedtime story?”

“I love bedtime stories,” Aspen grinned, hopping onto the bed next to Halley. Alexander followed hesitantly.

“I have to put Halley to bed, guys. Not all of you at the same time,” Tom grunted as he ruffled through the dresser. Pulling out some blue pjs with white stars, he hurriedly changed the kid’s clothes. I could be a full-on parent by now, he grumbled inwardly. It’s not like I haven’t had the practice or anything. He shook his head, tucking Halley under the covers and shooing the twins off the bed. 

“What’s the story gonna be about?” Aspen persisted. She hovered close by, apparently not wanting to let him get away without telling a story first.

Tom sighed and rolled his eyes. “Once upon a time, there was a fiery dragon. It was so stupid that it lit itself on fire and burned to death. The end. Now go on.”

Aspen’s jaw dropped. “That’s not very nice!”

“I’m not the one who made it up,” Tom shrugged, flipping out the light and closing the door behind him. Halley was probably the easiest kid out of the whole bunch. He never asked for anything, and when it was time for bed he never threw a fit. He just went to sleep.

“Yes, you were,” she argued, tossing her ponytail out of her face.

“No, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did,” Tom replied.

Aspen frowned and set her hands on her hips indignantly. “Stop lying to me.”

“You sure like to talk, don’t you?” He changed the subject easily, figuring she’d never outrightly agree that it wasn’t his story. Of course, it wasn’t. But where would the fun be in telling her the truth? He let a grin slip by his facade.

Aspen only squinted at him in exasperation, but she and Alexander followed him back down to his room anyway. Ben and Baxter had been staring off into space the whole time apparently, because neither kid had moved from their spot on the floor to find something else to do. 

Ben looked up as soon as Tom walked in. “Can we watch a movie?”

“Hey, the kid has great ideas,” he grinned. “Let’s watch Star Wars. That should be appropriate enough... I hope.” After Baxter had cooked the popcorn and Tom had ruffled through his heap of junk on the far side of his bed to find the movie, he settled up on his bed and turned the TV on. Aspen was quick to hop up and squirm her way under the covers next to him. “Nuh-uh.” He shoved her over, but she kept sinking back down. “Shoo, Aspie. It’s my bed.”

“You’re being shellfish!” She protested.

“Shellfish?” He snickered. “Yes, I’m a crustacean commonly eaten by humans, thank you.”

Unfortunately, the real meaning got to the rest of his siblings. “Yeah, shove over!” Benjamin climbed up onto the end of the bed and completely spread out his arms and legs. Alex and Baxter both joined him. 

“This is unfair! Now it’s all squished,” Tom complained, though there was no reversing this now. He reached over and turned off the lights with a resigned sigh. 

Eventually, one by one, the kids drifted off to sleep, despite the volume of the movie. At this point, he figured it was only a matter of time until Halley joined them. He almost always slept in Tom’s bed as of late, even after being tucked in his own room. About halfway through the movie, he felt Halley climb up on the bed, lay right in between him and Aspie, and simply sit up with Tom watching the movie. The remained that way until at least past midnight, pretending to be asleep when they heard Art and Elizabeth arrive home and peek in the door to check on them. That was the other reason Tom loved Halley. He was just like him: a night owl.

 

 


© Copyright 2019 Aspen M. Niles. All rights reserved.

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