The sound of an airplane whizzing above the roof in the sky was her alarm clock.
Yawning, she blearily blinked her eyes open, stretching her body and rolling around on the bed. As she started to be aware of everything around her, the sound of birds chirping outside became clearer and she caught a faint whiff of morning breakfast. Ah, this is so comfortable. Nothing beats my personal space, after all.
December thought it was a good night's sleep, despite the slight meltdown last night.
She sighed when last night's memories flitted across her mind and groaned to herself. I can't keep letting this get to me.
Staring at the ceiling, she thought of what to do today. Most importantly, she needed to know if her parents were going to stay here for good or if this was just a short homecoming. After what seemed like a long time lying on the bed, she begrudgingly got up to make her bed when a knock sounded on her door.
"Come in." December said mindlessly as she tried to tuck the sheets back in its place.
"Morning, love." Her mother said before she looked around. "Do you like your room? I told Ursula to leave most of your things be, in case you want them just the way they are."
December took a quick look around her bedroom; everything was neat and clean, just the way she left it a couple of years ago. She smiled. "I like it, mum. Thanks."
Her mother smiled. "It's the least I could do for you." A pause. Then, her mother asked, "Did you sleep well last night, darling?"
Thinking it was an innocent question all parents asked, she smiled and nodded, "Yes, I did."
Her mother stared at her for a moment, eyes roving to take in her features and December started to feel as though something was wrong.
"Mum, is something wrong?"
Her mother shook her head and gave her a soft smile. "You must have been tired yesterday." Then, she said, "Well, come on now. I've made some breakfast." before closing the door.
December shrugged to herself and quickly made her bed, tossing a couple of pillows that was on the floor on the bed. She went out to the hallway and headed towards the bathroom, and stopped short when she saw her face.
It was very pale and…was her eyes red and puffy?
Was that why her mum asked her if she had slept well?
Or did she found out about yesterday –
December shook her head. There was no way anyone knew about the hostile relationship between her brother and her. Besides, her parents were just too busy about other things to even notice that. And why would they? They had always put up the 'get-along-well' sibling act around their parents.
At least mum was right about something; I was exhausted.
Fifteen minutes later, she walked into the dining room and sat beside her father, while her mother loaded more pancakes on to the plate. She greeted her parents, and received a warm greeting on the cheek by her father, and the whole thing seemed like a family advertisement to her. She giggled quietly, which got her father's attention.
"Want to share the joke?" Her father asked with a smile, putting down the newspaper he was reading aside, and took a sip of his coffee.
December giggled and shook her head. "Nothing." She took a couple of pancakes and drizzled maple syrup on it. She started casually though hopeful. "So, are you going to be staying here for long?"
December didn't miss the subtle glances her parents sent each other. They looked hesitant, as though they were keeping something from her and December felt anxiety gnawing at her.
"You see, darling," her mum started with a smile before pausing, shaking her head then continued, "Well, we had planned to but we got a call yesterday from a client."
Her stomach dropped. December's expression changed from being slightly hopeful at first before it became indifferent. It didn't help when her father added his two cents.
"And it's in Norway." He added awkwardly. Seeing the look on his daughter's face made him feel at a loss. He exchanged looks with his wife and she interjected quickly.
"But it won't be for another two more days. Until then we can still…"
December tuned out the rest. She blinked and composed herself as though she was listening to them, nodding mindlessly while shoveling bits of pancakes into her mouth automatically. She didn't think she was aware that she was eating.
She should have anticipated this, shouldn't she? After all, she was used to it. But she had hoped, damn it, she had bloody well hoped that this time they were going to stay with her for good.
"…We'll make sure to call you and see you at every chance we get, okay? Besides, you won't be alone anymore. Michael's staying here for his break."
It wasn't until she had downed her glass of juice that her mother's words registered in her mind. Rather, the latter parts of the words.
She froze. If she were drinking, December had no doubt she would have spluttered her drink.
"What?" She yelled.
Taken aback by their daughter's outburst, they could only stare at her in bewilderment; her mother raised an eyebrow at her.
Feeling her cheeks getting heated, she stuttered, "S-sorry. I was just..." Then, she cleared her throat and continued with a forced but casual tone, "Did you say that Michael will be staying here?"
Please. Say no. Say that he isn't.
"Yes." Her father smiled.
Her face must have looked pale because her mother looked at her in concern and went to her side. "Darling, are you alright?"
December felt her surroundings closed in on her and found herself unable to catch a breath. She tried to focus on her now alarmed parents' face but she couldn't do anything to assure them that she's fine.
Because that's the thing; she wasn't fine.
The room started to spin and the words she heard sounded slow. She blinked furiously and tried to keep her breathing even. She couldn't let herself be disoriented because of her devil of a brother.
Taking a deep breath and exhaling it, she murmured, "I see."
Her father then asked, "You're okay, sweetheart? You scared us there."
December forced a smile. "Sorry. I think I was still tired." She lied.
December then said, "Doesn't he have that thesis or something? Maybe he needs to go back."
None of them heard the front door opening nor did they heard his footsteps approaching them, until he said, "I'm on my break now. Besides, this looks like an interesting place and I wouldn't mind going on a tour. Who better to show me than my own little sister?"
All of them turned to Michael who was leaning against the dining room's entrance wall with different reactions; their parents smiled in delight whereas December looked like she wanted to throw up.
"That settles it, then!" Her mother clasped her hands in utter delight.
She couldn't stand being there with all of them in her brother's presence so she excused herself.
It was a pointless thing to do because her parents didn't seem to listen since they were busy talking to Michael and asking him how his morning jog went and plans for the rest of his break.
Disappointed, wounded, and frustrated, she stomped up the stairs to her room, feeling a bit of satisfaction at that rebel act despite being ignored.
December screamed into her pillow in frustration. Usually when she did that, she was able to let off the steam but it didn't work this time.
Like a tigress pacing in her cage, she felt restless and bored. On the other hand, she was very relieved and excited that her parents were home with her, but it would have been better if her brother weren't in the picture.
On the contrary, it seemed now that she wasn't in the picture of this family considering how she was completely disregard earlier.
She sighed. I need to take my mind off of these!
She reached her phone and called her friends first, but none of them answered. Not even Raven. She then went to dial her newly made friends but stopped. Even though they were dorm mates and had a great time hanging out one night, she suddenly felt unsure if she wanted to ask them to hang out with her; they could all have gone back home for all she knew.
No, as far as I know, only the guys, Ramona, and Piper went back home, or are preparing to.
She felt sick. Sick of feeling helpless, sick of feeling friendless even when she's surrounded by her friends, and sick of not being able to say what she want whenever she wants!
And she had to deal with her Satan brother!
The sound of bullets hitting the roof jolted her from her thoughts. Looking out, she realized that it was raining heavily and smiled in bittersweet content.
Well, at least the weather seemed to agree with me.
The moment she knew it, it had been three days since she left her dorm and stayed at her family's residence.
And the first day she would be living with Michael as her guardian since her parents were going away.
Despite the news during breakfast on Sunday morning about them flying to another country for work, her parents had cajoled her into spending the day with them, visiting some of the places they went to when they first came to San Francisco, watched a movie and even had dinner outside. It was pleasant and fun because fortunately her brother had to attend to some things, but her mood soured when he showed up for dinner that night. For the next couple of days, she tried to steer away from him and was successful at it since he wasn't at home most of the time. But apparently that would change now that he was appointed as her guardian.
Her mother and father were busying themselves with their suitcases, rushing around to get their things before they forgot about it, and December watched them, like an unannounced visitor.
She decided she'd announced herself to them just when her parents simultaneously nodded at themselves as they checked everything.
"So today's the day, huh."
Okay, so she was still bitter that they're going away, but December couldn't help it.
Startled, December's mother flashed a small smile at her daughter. "Darling, try to understand. If we could stay, we would have."
Try to understand? I have always done that, she scoffed mentally.
Her father came over and put a hand on her shoulder. "Don't be so sad, sweetheart, you know this will be a short trip. It's not like we'll be there for long," He joked before kissing her head. "We'll be back by then."
December had many thoughts racing in her mind, so much that she ached to just say what she wanted to say. But she couldn't. Especially not when they were going to leave for the airport any minute now.
Besides, it wouldn't make a difference; she tried before but it never had.
So, like a routine she had perfected long ago, she raised her chin and forced a happy smile, enough to ease the worried look on her parents face and enough to hold herself together. And it had always worked.
Though her smile seemed to wobble a bit, she shook head and flashed a wide grin. "You know what, it's alright. Just be careful and call me once you get there, yeah."
Her mother smiled gratefully and pulled her into her arms, whispering into her ear. "You're such a good daughter for understanding. I'm proud of you, darling." She kissed December's temple.
She hugged both her parents tightly and watched them entered the cab, waving at them until they were out from her view.
Desperately seeking her room now, she turned back and let out a short scream.
"Why do you always creep behind me?" Sadness forgotten, her anger and wariness resurfaced at the sight of Michael.
Wearing a light orange button up shirt and khakis, December thought he was going to go out and desperately hoped that was the case. The lesser she had to see him, the better.
Michael smiled his usual devilish grin. "I wasn't."
She narrowed her eyes at him in wary disbelief then shook her head. She just didn't have the time or energy to argue with him.
"Are you going out?"
"Do you want me to?"
"Very much, yes." She couldn't help but retort heatedly with a glare. Sometimes, she was amazed at herself that despite being afraid and wary towards him, her mouth managed to come up with snappy comebacks which would have made at least one of Karen Joyce's crony speechless.
But there was always a price to pay when it seemed that she had gone too far with him.
His face was a dark expression before he had a menacing grin plastered on his face. "You can't avoid me forever, December. I'm afraid you'll just have to…grovel in my presence."
She took a deep breath. December thought this could not go on any longer. She simply couldn't stand for it.
Clenching her shaky fists tightly, she took another deep breath and looked him in the eye.
Michael raised his eyebrow challengingly at her, pushing the door shut behind December with his hand. She gulped inaudibly.
"What did you say again?" He asked quietly. A quiet rage brewed in his stormy eyes.
No backing away now. What else can he – yeah, okay better not push my luck. Still, I need to woman up.
"I said no." She replied quietly, and damned if her voice didn't have that slight quiver to it.
Michael seemed to have noticed that and his evil grin grew wider. He looked at her mockingly now. "December, December, December…do you honestly think," this time there wasn't any trace of amusement on his face as he looked at her in contempt. "that by saying no, you'll get your way? Haven't you learned your lesson, dear sister?" He spat out the last word.
"Wh-what do you want from me?" She dared to ask. She had come this far to standing up against him and there was simply no backing away now, or so she told herself. "Why do you hate me so much?" December hated the tremor and begging tone in her voice but her mouth ran like motor.
Michael was taken aback for a brief moment, because they had never ventured more in a conversation than the usual cowering, which was done by her since she rarely spoke against him. He slowly composed himself then smirked.
"Huh. You've been living away for far too long. The American culture has rubbed off on you."
December found herself feeling dumbfounded. Now what bull is this?
"You were such a timid girl then…" he continued in a trail before saying, "Talking back against me and even showing mum and dad your displeasure? I don't think I trained you this way. Guess you've found some backbone, didn't you?
That ticked her off, especially since he mentioned the word 'trained'. In a way, it was true. He had been 'training' her to be timid, repressive, insecure, and the list could go on which was beginning to make her hate herself more for letting it happened. Even admitting that was painful and disgusting. Though that had worked when she was in Bristol, she had learned to unwind that when she was here, with the help of her friends.
December didn't want to think of the possibility of having her freedom to express herself being stripped away from her again.
"Enough." She gritted her teeth.
"What?" he taunted. "Can't face the music? Are you going to tell mum and dad? You know they don't really care about you."
Liar. "That's not true!" She protested. "I'll…I'll tell them." Her voice was beginning to quaver but she held herself.
This time, he laughed out loud. A harsh, mocking laugh that knew no warmth. "Really? And what, dear sister, do you think they can do about it? We had always been the perfect children to them. I've always been the smartest, confident, and political one between us. Do you think they'd believe you? One word from me, and I can even have them move you back to London...or Bristol." His grin was downright sinister that December suddenly felt the full threat in those words and her environment.
Tears pricked in her eyes and she struggled to hold herself together. But she was so frustrated, so angry, and so insecure that she hated herself more for not being strong enough to not crumble before him.
It was like she was letting him win again, and she knew he had.
"I hate you." She seethed at him, a tear slipped on her cheek but she was too distraught to even care.
Michael raised an eyebrow at her, and without warning, she didn't have time to flinch or move away from him when he brushed the tear on her cheek with his thumb none too gently. "You're crying? Ah, how I missed this sight. Still pathetic as ever, huh?"
He wiped his thumb on his shirt multiple times, as if to get rid of something disgusting and said to her in that mocking voice of his, "See December, this is why you're always going to be weak. An unlikable, friendless, pathetic girl like you do not deserve to be treated equally by me. You're worthless and it seemed like I'll have to drill that into your thick skull since you haven't learned your lesson yet. Maybe I have been lenient all these years." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"You're mental!" She yelled, not caring if she looked like a blubbering mess.
Michael had a dark scowl as he closed in on her and slammed a hand against the door, caging her in the process. Instinctively, she held up her arms as a shield to protect her from him. When she didn't feel any pain on her, she blinked and looked up only to see him struggling to control his laughter, before it broke out.
"A priceless expression! This will be fun." He laughed at her stricken and bewildered look. His face then contorted into a menacing scowl. "I am in charge now, December. I always have so don't you dare forget that."
After he left the house, she immediately ran to her room and crashed on her bed, wailing and sobbing into the pillow and cursing him to hell for treating her this way.
She hated him, truly, utterly hated him.
December stayed in her room the entire day. She didn't have the energy to connect with others nor go outside. There was no point since she would still have to come home to the presence of her maniac of a brother.
After spending hours trying to stop his words from getting to her but failing, her tears were spent and her throat became raw from all the wailing and sobbing. She wanted to blame everyone; her parents for abandoning her again, her devil of a brother for doing this to her, and the rest of her friends for not even checking up on her.
But she realized she was also to blame.
If only she had been strong enough to not let him get to her…
…it seemed impossible for a weakling her, but she was determined.
December was determined to make a change, because she was exhausted of being pathetic.
Somehow, she just had to, even if it would kill her.
That night, she decided to come out of her room and face the demon.
She heard him come home and from the sound of the television downstairs, was sure he was lounging in the living room.
Composing a neutral, unaffected look, she glanced at him as she came down stairs before heading towards the kitchen.
Michael only glanced at her smugly before he focused on whatever was on the television. December was heating up the lasagna that her mum had made earlier. As she waited for it to heat, she heard Michael called out.
"Is that lasagna I smell? Get one for me too!"
She rolled her eyes and muttered vehemently to herself, "How about no?"
She didn't fail to notice that there were four lasagna earlier but two were missing before she heated hers. She cast an accusing look at where he was.
She had decided that she would try not to invoke his wrath, but also not be subservient to him either. Begrudgingly, she heated up his portion too and brought it to him.
"Here." She said indifferently.
He glanced at it before taking it and resumed watching the TV. Glad that he wasn't talking to her much, she took her lasagna and water with her to her room, when he stopped her.
"Where are you going?"
"Upstairs?" She answered casually with a hint of sassy. He didn't seemed to take notice of that.
Suddenly, he got up from the couch and December's shackles of caution were raised. Wordlessly, he walked over to the dining room and sat down. Michael looked at her in question before gesturing her with his eyes to take a seat.
He seemed agreeable to her a little bit, and so she aimed to keep it like that. Moving to take her seat across from him, she sat down and started to take a bite.
They ate in silence; she wouldn't say it was a peaceful silence because there was still some palpable sensation in the air, but she enjoyed her food quietly. Mum's lasagna is the best.
December looked at her food, not even wanting to steal a brief look at him in case he was watching her with that stupid evil face of his. It was when she was almost done with her food that Michael suddenly spoke.
"From now on, it's best that you stay at home and go to school from here."
She froze. Rather, her fingers stilled. Despite the composed look she had on her face, there was a small, quiet storm of anger in her eyes.
"It's one hour away from here."
"Then, wake up early."
"The point of staying in a dorm is to get to school on time without causing me any trouble. Why would I need to wake up early and commute for an hour to school when I have everything that's convenient for me on campus?" Even more, it enables me to get away from you. She made sure her tone didn't have a sense of sarcasm, but unfortunately her brother didn't get that.
He narrowed his eyes at her and said quietly. "Are you talking back against me?"
She sighed inwardly but replied with a small shake of head and looked at him tiredly. "I'm just making a point." Somehow she knew what he was going to say next and she counteract that. "If you discuss it with mum and dad, it would be pointless. We've already had this discussion and they agree with me."
"Huh." He slowly put his cutleries down and stared at her. If she didn't know any better, she would have thought he was amazed. But December knew that was never the case. Michael seemed affronted that she had one upped him this time.
She wondered what he was going to do and was mentally preparing herself to face it when he nodded and resume eating. "So they agree. Good for you." He said it nonchalantly. "Maybe you should move to London. You're too Americanised, although thank God you haven't forgotten your roots in your accent. I'm sure there's a good school for you. I'm also sure they would agree with me."
What is with him and Americans?
December's indifferent expression almost cracked but with a practice that she had done so many times, she managed to school her expression to one of faint interest. "That would be a waste. I'm already in my last year of high school. Besides, I don't think it's wise to trouble our parents right now."
He chuckled mockingly. "What's this? You're concerned about money?"
"I just don't want to bother them."
"Then let me do the bothering."
Let me? Was he actually asking me for permission?
"As a matter of fact, I'm going to do just that. Just thought I'd tell you." He grinned, an evil glint in his eyes that December did not fail to notice.
There was no way she was going to leave for London or anywhere else when she's finally found a place to belong here. But things weren't getting better with the way they are right now. At this rate, Michael just might do what he planned to do. December needed to think of something, and fast. While there were times when he just liked to aggravate her for the fun of it, there were also times when he would go with the threat.
She didn't know any more if this was just for kicks but she wasn't up to take the risk.
Beating down her panic, she said with a hint of forcefulness, "I prefer studying here. And there's only a few months left before I graduate."
He tilted his head as if studying a rare species. Maybe she was one to go against someone like him. "Now why would I listen to you?"
She blurted out without thinking any further. "Because I love it here. And you said it yourself, too. It's interesting. See for yourself and you'll know why." It wasn't until she said those words that she realized she could use that for her defense.
"I could have lied when I said it earlier." He raised an eyebrow mockingly.
She stared at him in the eye. "Maybe but you have to admit there's a part of you that's also curious. As to why we haven't gone back to Bristol or London for years and stayed here."
There it is. I've used that card. She didn't know if it'll work or not, though she hoped it will. He had to at least be a bit curious as to why they stayed here long, longer than they've stayed in Bristol, London, the initial place she had known called home or other places they've lived in. Besides, even though he's heartless, he couldn't possibly resist the charms of San Francisco, it bore some resemblance to their old home and he hadn't even been here before.
December pondered in anxiousness as Michael stared at her, long and hard – as if searching for any malice or manipulation that he thought only he was entitled to use towards other people – when he blinked and smiled, a hollow one regardless.
"Alright. We'll see if your words have any worth to it."
It wasn't until she went to her room after her late dinner that she exhaled a long sigh of relief.
Agreeing to seeing San Francisco means he agree to me staying here and not bothering our parents, right?
Or so she kept telling herself. But December was quite certain that wouldn't be an issue – at the moment, at least. She was glad that card worked against him.
Opening the window and letting the cold night air enter her room, she hugged her pillow on the bed. Her parents are probably flying to Norway now, and she was left here with her brother. I wonder how mum and dad are doing now. Norway, huh? Must be nice...
Nicer than staying with Michael here, was what she thought bitterly.
Even though he was quite agreeable tonight with her, she couldn't let down her guard. He could be unpredictable.
She rolled over on her bed, hugging the pillow to her chest closer and looked at the ceiling. Despite only being three days, she was glad her parents were home with her. "Too bad, it came with a baggage named August Michael." She scoffed to herself.
Since she had a guardian to look out for her now, she mentioned to him after dinner that she was going out tomorrow for something. He didn't seemed particularly interested because he was busy typing something on his laptop – and December was grateful for that. The lesser he was interested in her business, the better it was for her.
As evil as he was, at least he had some normal moments like this. Still, she couldn't count on that – he was still a stranger to her, and the last time they met he was distant though he wouldn't pass up on the opportunity to verbally abuse her whenever he could. He hadn't changed now, but he wasn't as pestering as he was then.
She scoffed. Having this newfound realization does not excuse him for what he did to me then, nor does it justify his actions. I still hate him, she told herself vehemently.
December only hoped that things would get better from here onwards.ns 18.104.22.168da2