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Been Here All Along
Author: Sandy Hall


 

PROLOGUE

Twelve Years Earlier

Ezra

Like a hundred years ago my mom asked me to watch my five-year-old brother Gideon while he played in the backyard. But then I got bored, because he’s a boring kid, and now I realize he’s not actually in the backyard anymore.

I need to find that little a-hole before my mom notices and I get in trouble for him going missing or whatever.

I can’t yell for him, though, and I can’t let my mom notice that I can’t find him, so I need to be super stealth about it. Like a ninja. On the other hand, if she comes outside and doesn’t see him, I can just say that we’re playing hide-and-seek. It’s good to have a plan.

I tiptoe around the yard, whispering his name.

I finally find him, all the way behind the garage, where he’s not supposed to play because it’s so close to the woods and the highway behind the woods. Our dad says they need to build a wall by the highway, but they haven’t yet. That’s why Gideon isn’t allowed back there. I’m technically not allowed back there either. But I’m almost eleven, and I make my own decisions.

“You’re not supposed to be back here,” I say when I find him. He’s playing in the dirt with some tiny little blond kid who looks at me like I’m trying to kidnap him or something.

“I made a friend,” Gideon says, pointing at the blond kid.

The kid stands up and stares at me.

“What’s his name?” I ask. Maybe Gideon found a runaway. Maybe there’s a huge reward for this kid. Gideon’s young and dumb and I could keep most of the money and just buy him some toys. He’d never know the difference.

“He didn’t tell me,” Gideon says as he stands up. He takes the other boy’s hand protectively.

“Are you lost?” I ask him.

He squeezes Gideon’s hand and shakes his head. He points toward the house next door.

“Did you just move here?” I ask.

He nods a whole bunch of times in a row.

“You should go home,” I tell him.

His eyes go wide and he runs in the direction of his house, which probably seems a lot farther away than it really is, since the kid’s so tiny.

“Good-bye, new friend!” Gideon yells after him, waving.

“I’m gonna tell Mom that you were behind the garage and she’s gonna be so pissed at you!” I tell Gideon as we walk toward the house.

“I’m gonna tell Mom you said a bad word,” Gideon answers.

He’s too smart for a five-year-old.

 

 

one

Gideon

Football players.

Cheerleaders.

Basketball players, when they make the state championships.

Maybe people in the marching band?

I’m trying to make a list of people who actually enjoy pep rallies while I’m getting ready for school. It seems like a limited portion of the population. Because let me tell you, as someone who’s always sitting in the bleachers during pep rallies, they are probably the most boring things on the face of the planet. I’d rather watch golf.

I definitely never feel the proper level of pep while I sit there. It’s just people hopping around on the gym floor. I don’t even know what they’re doing, or what it’s supposed to look like. It really just seems like everyone is bouncing up and down and trying to get me to bounce up and down.

I have zero desire to bounce.

I also dislike clapping. What are we, trained seals?

I have far better things to do with my life than deal with any of this. But apparently having certain aspirations does not preclude me from having to attend another pep rally. My request to use the wasteful pep rally time to study SAT vocabulary was quickly shot down by the vice principal. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to have a pile of flash cards in my pocket. The administration can’t stop me from becoming more than my monosyllabic classmates could ever imagine.

For the record, I’m self-aware enough to realize my biggest issue with pep rallies is that they bring into harsh focus what a complete nerd I am. But I don’t need to spread that around to anyone.

As I walk into the kitchen, my mother’s pouring herself a cup of coffee.

“Pour me one, too,” I say.

“For starters, please or thank you goes a long way. And since when do you drink coffee?” She continues preparing her own cup with plenty of cream and sugar.

“Since forever,” I say, getting out my own mug, since she’s obviously not going to be any help in this matter.

She leans a hip on the counter and stares me down. “You need a haircut.”

“My hair is fine, Ma.” I put a piece of bread in the toaster.

“And coffee stunts your growth.”

“Thank you for bringing the topic of my height up at 7:07 in the morning. It’s never too early to remind me that I’m Lilliputian.” I pour some coffee from the carafe and drink it black, as if trying to prove my virility and manliness via coffee preferences.

“I’m not trying to make you feel bad!” she insists. “I’m your mother. I know you want to be tall. You want to be at least as tall as Ezra.”

“Ezra’s only five-ten,” I point out, gesturing toward her with my mug and then taking a sip, wincing a bit and giving in to the call of cream and sugar.

“And how tall are you these days?” she asks, eyeing me up.

“Five-seven,” I say. “Almost.”

“Just think how much taller you would be if you didn’t drink coffee.”

“I really don’t think it works like that.”

“But what if it does, Gideon? What if it really does and you’re harming yourself?”

I roll my eyes and sigh deeply. I chug the rest of my coffee and shove toast in my mouth while she nags me for a few more minutes, then put my mug in the dishwasher and run back upstairs to brush my teeth.

“Gideon,” she calls after me.

“Can’t now, Ma, Kyle’s gonna be ready to go any second.”

As soon as I say his name, I start thinking again about the pep rally. I need to find out if he actually likes them. Maybe Kyle is the key to the mystery of pep rallies.

He plays center for the varsity basketball team. My mom always says that Kyle’s like a puppy that’s still growing into his paws. Which is probably true but a weird thing to agree with your mom about in terms of your best friend.

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