Click here to read “Aquapleat and the Shredder Squad: Expel the Justice Pleats”
1 – Hey! This is Casey. 🙂
Hey, Matt. This story/essay/journal entry is for your eyes only. Originally, this was just meant to catch you up on what’s been going on at school while you’ve been away, but it ended up going a bit off the rails. I’ve tried my best to keep everything in line, but it’s hard to do it without you with me.
First and foremost, I really hope your family is doing alright! Getting to visit your grandparents in China is such an incredible opportunity. I am a little jealous – well, a lot jealous – that you get to have this trip. I hope that you bring me back some souvenirs!
Second, I don’t really know how you do it – keeping the peace, I mean. I never realized how big of a role you had as The Fold here at Lampert. People look up to you and respect you in really unique ways. And when you’re gone…
Since school had just started, we were all settling into our routines. It was pretty wild, especially after how weird last semester was. Nobody really knew their schedules, they forgot where their classrooms were, yada yada yada. Well, nobody, except, for some reason, Percy.
Kids kept swarming me and Percy wherever we walked. Percy might act like he’s done with all the ‘Favor’ stuff, but he definitely enjoyed the attention. “Yes, Mrs. Jackson is upstairs.” “Yes, Mr. Luceno is in room 1C.” Clearly, he still had to uphold his reputation as the info broker.
Percy’s doing well, by the way. Since the summer he and Mandy have gotten very close, and people don’t act terrified whenever they see him coming down the hall. He and his friend Rosie have pretty much split duties on being the resident know-it-alls so that he can relax a bit more. It’s really funny to watch.
All good things must come to an end, though. And so, the first week, which had very few problems of any kind, ended, and the second week began.
It was lunchtime on Monday. The cafeteria was full. I was sitting next to Percy and Mandy, trying to ignore their constant doting, snacking on some baby carrots. That’s when I saw a kid get up out of his seat, climb up onto the table, and clear his throat very loudly.
“Wha- oh, no,” I said to myself.
“Who is that?” Mandy asked, instinctively pulling out a pad of paper in case anything scoop-worthy happened.
“That,” I said, gesturing to the kid who seemed to be preparing a speech, “is Jonathan Yen, Matt’s cousin.”
That’s right, Matt. Jonathan was planning something.
“Lampert High!” he announced, proudly. “As you’ve probably noticed, Matthew Yen, the heroic ‘Fold’, is currently absent. It’s certainly left a large power vaccuum in his absence. Some of those attempting a power play may be in this cafeteria right now.”
I glanced around the room. Not a single person seemed bothered by your absence at all, let alone trying to control the school.
“Matt is like a brother to me-”
“He’s like a cousin to you,” Percy shouted, helpfully. “Because he is your cousin.”
Jonathan rolled his eyes. “Matt is like a brother to me, and I know that he would want someone he could trust to be in charge in his place.” Jonathan reached into pocket and produced two finger puppets. He held one up – it was mostly yellow and really crinkled. “For a long time, I have served you all as Kid Fold, and I have really enjoyed that position.”
He grinned, widely. He held up the second puppet, red with silver highlights. “But now, I will be your new Fold! Flash…Fold, character! The Fold!”
The cafeteria was silent for a moment, before everyone went back to their food. Jonathan, pleased with himself, sat down. Me and Percy looked at each other while Mandy jotted down this new information.
“That might be an issue,” Percy commented.
“You’re right,” I agreed. “Jonathan can be a handful.”
If you remember, I texted you immediately after and told you everything that happened. Your exact response was ‘lol, that’s nuts. could you watch out for him for me?’
I said yes, because I wanted to make sure you didn’t have to worry about stuff while you were gone. And that ended up causing me a lot more grief than I could’ve expected.
2 – I’m not having a good time.
This is where the stuff you don’t really know about started, and this is why it was such a hard time.
It was fine for the first couple days – no problems at all. Well, that’s not totally true – Johnathan was taking his role as ‘The New Fold’ incredibly seriously. He doesn’t seem to get that, like, all that puppet stuff? It’s kind of dumb. I don’t think I’ve seen him once without the Flash puppet on his finger.
He makes sure that everyone is on their best behavior, according to his standard, whenever he’s walking down the halls, and you can imagine that he’s not super popular. Just yesterday, he bumped into that weird astrology kid, Vaughn Dunst, I think. (You know him; he’s the guy that always calls for awful weather before baseball games because the stars weren’t aligned or whatever.) Vaughn dropped his tarot cards and cursed. Johnathan, instead of apologizing, planted his feet and held The Fold forward. I had been following Jonathan around, just to make sure he stayed out of trouble, but here was trouble nonetheless.
“No swearing in the halls, man,” Jonathan ordered. He leaned forward, and said quietly, “There’s kids around.”
Vaughn cursed at him again. His long, greasy hair covered both of his eyes as he surveyed his cards. “What sign are you, you idiot?”
Johnathan shrugged. “Uh, Pisces, I think.” His eyes narrowed. “Wait a second, my mom doesn’t believe in that horoscope stuff.”
Vaughn held out a card importantly. “The lightning-struck tower, Johnathan Yen! Your doom will come and your pride will be shaken to its very bones!”
“Cool!” Jonathan said, smiling innocently. “If I get struck by lightning, maybe I can become the actual Flash! Thanks, man. Remember, no swearing!”
The astrology kid just looked confused as Jonathan wondered off, looking for another villain to defeat. I caught Vaughn’s eyes, mouthed a quick ‘sorry’, and went off in the same direction.
It went like that for most of the day; Jonathan messed with a kid, the kid got ticked off, and your cousin’s list of enemies was mounting. He was gonna get himself hurt, eventually, unless I stepped in.
We shared one class together: Biology with Mr. Waid. I can send you my notes a bit later, just so you can stay caught up. But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that, while we waited for Mr. Waid to show up, I reached out to Johnathan myself.
“Hey, Yen?” I said. He was seated in the row ahead of me, so I tapped his shoulder. He turned around, and seemed happy to me.
“Oh, hey!” he said. “You’re Casey, right? Matt’s friend?”
I nodded. “That’s me, yeah.”
“So, how I am I doing?” he asked.
He looked at everybody around us. “This whole Flash, Fold stuff. You’re a pretty good person to ask. You know Matt better than anybody. He talks about you all the time, so I know you gotta have some idea.”
Matt, I’m honored that you tell your younger cousin about me. “That’s, well, what I wanted to talk about.”
“Okay, great!” Johnathan said. “I’m doing great, aren’t I? I mean, I’ve stopped like ten bad guys in two days. That’s gotta be a record.”
I sighed. “You might want to back off a bit, actually. Are you sure the bad guys you’re stopping are actually bad guys?”
Johnathan raised an eyebrow. “Not sure I follow. I only stop guys that are being irritating, that are picking on other people, or just being a general nuisance.”
“Yeah, but, why are you the one who decides who’s being a nuisance?”
“‘Cause, I’m the Fold. Duh.”
I hope you can see why he was getting on my nerves so badly. “Alright. But Matt…Matt never went after random people for no reason. You might need to think about who it is you’re going after before, like, being the hero.”
It didn’t seem to sink in at all. In fact, Johnathan seemed totally lost on this entire concept. “Well, maybe Matt just wasn’t looking hard enough. I’ll be sure to fix that problem, now that I’m the one in charge.”
Before I could say anything else, Mr. Waid walked in, and class started. Johnathan seems to be avoiding me now, which is great. And with Percy away with Mandy, I suddenly didn’t have anybody I could hang out with. I was really missing you.
It got worse that night. You know a little bit, I think, but this is the whole story.
I got home, and tried to do some homework while the rest of my family was chilling out from their own huge days. Mom and Dad were doing the bills in the kitchen; Calum was on the phone with his girlfriend on the porch; Callie and Carter were arguing about video games in the living room; and Cleo was playing dress-up with her dolls all along the hallway. You know, the usual madhouse I have to live with. All was right with the world.
It was the middle of the night. I was asleep, dreaming about…I don’t know, it’s not important.
Carter was the one to wake me up, actually, which is how I knew something was up; Carter is the deepest sleeper of all of us. He threw the door to my room open, dashed to my bed and shook me awake. He had a super worried expression on his face. Instead of fighting with him, which was my first instinct, I rubbed my eyes and climbed out of bed.
I went to the living room, where Mom was sitting at the dining room table with Callie next to her and Cleo on her lap. It looked like she’d been crying, which was how I knew something was really wrong. I was all of a sudden very, very worried.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Mom sighed – you know, one of those super deep sighs where your parents aren’t exactly sure how to talk to you. “I was just telling the others, but…Dad is at the hospital with Calum right now. He was in a car accident.”
All of a sudden, I felt a light-headed. Calum’s my older brother, and really, he felt kind of untouchable when it came to danger. Remember when he rigged that bike ramp in the back- Nevermind. But I just felt sick.
“W-what?” I asked, shaky.
Mom rubbed her eyes and Cleo whimpered. “He was coming home from his friend’s house – I think Trey’s – and he was hit by a drunk driver.” Mom could see that I was about to implode, so she immediately set Cleo down and wrapped me up in a hug. “Don’t worry, don’t worry. It’s not serious, but he was banged-up pretty good. Last I heard, he’s awake and talking. So you don’t need to worry about that.”
Well, that was relieving. If she tells you that your brother was in an accident, it would be nice to follow it up immediately with that reassurance.
“But…we were supposed to go to the movies tomorrow,” Carter murmured. He was starting to cry himself, but I could tell he was holding it in the best he could.
“You’ll have to put that off,” Mom said, smiling. She turned to me. “I stayed here until you woke up, just to let you know. Me and your father will be staying at the hospital for the next few days, just to make sure Calum is alright.” She held my shoulders in her hands. “Can I count on you to watch out for everyone while we’re gone?”
What was I supposed to say? No? Our grandparents lived on the other side of the country, you guys were gone and we didn’t really have anybody else my younger siblings would be comfortable with.
“Yeah,” I said, sniffling.
She hugged me tightly again. “Mmm, thank you so much, Casey. I love you.” She looked around at the others. “I love you all. Me, your father and your brother will be back before you know it.”
And, in just about an hour, Mom had packed up all of the essentials for the hospital stay. We said a quick prayer for Calum, and she was off. And suddenly, I was being relied on for much more than just an annoying cousin. I was in charge of my entire family.
3 – This is harder than I thought. 😦
I didn’t go to school the next day, or the next. I can’t really help you with those class notes.
My biggest concern was making sure my younger siblings were getting everywhere they needed to go. And let me tell you, it is so much to harder wake those three kids up than you would think.
Carter refused to get out of bed. “I’m not going to school, you jerk,” he grumbled, shoving the pillow over his head to try to block me out. “Let me sleep.”
“You pulled me out of bed last night, so I’m just returning the favor,” I said, grabbing him by his feet (which stunk like nobody’s business) and pulling him onto his bedroom floor. He landed with a thud, and just lay on the floor groaning.
“The bus is going to be here in twenty minutes, Carter. Mom left me in charge, so that means when I tell you get out of bed, you have to get out of bed. Capiche?”
“Uuuuugh,” he groaned, before finally rolling over and climbing up to his dresser drawer.
I visited Callie and Cleo’s room next. I felt sad as soon as I walked in, because Cleo had slept with Callie on the bottom bunk of their bunk bed. Callie was awake, staring at the top bunk above her.
“I heard you pulling Carter out of his bed. If you do that to me I’ll bite you,” Callie murmured.
“Fair enough,” I replied. I knelt down and gently shook Cleo until she woke up.
“Is mom back yet?” she asked.
“No, sweetie. You gotta get up and go to school!”
“Uuuuuugh,” they both groaned.
Thankfully we had frozen waffles in the freezer and about half a bottle of syrup in the cabinet. I microwaved the waffles and made the others scarf them down. Carter and Callie, glaring at me all the way through breakfast, were able to get ready in time. They climbed on the bus and headed off to Ward Middle.
I had to drive Cleo to Jutefruce Elementary. It was another weird challenge. I’ve driven before, but I’m still not super confident, especially in my family’s big minivan; my parents had taken the smaller, and more manageable, Honda Civic. I was tense, gripping the wheel until both of my knuckles were white while Cleo sniffled in the back seat.
“When’s mom coming back?” She asked that over and over. I felt mad at myself for getting annoyed; she’s only 8, of course that’s gonna be on her mind the whole time.
“I’m not sure, Cleo, but soon.”
“How soon is soon?”
“How soon is soon?”
“Soon, I promise.”
It went like that pretty much the whole time.
When I got home, I was exhausted. I hadn’t slept very well, and because of that, almost as soon as my butt hit the living room couch I was fast asleep.
I woke up about two hours later and decided to do some cleaning to keep myself busy. I couldn’t help worrying about Calum, Mom and Dad, even though I knew it would be alright sooner or later. I wanted to call you really badly, but since you were on the other side of the world there was no hope that you would pick up.
I swept the kitchen, washed up the breakfast dishes, and what the heck, dusted everything in sight. My parents deserved to come home to a clean house after all that. Just so I wasn’t falling behind on my own school I did all of the homework I had been assigned. And then I cleaned up the windows, which Cleo had smudged up a lot. And then I noticed that the minivan was covered in mud, so I went outside and sprayed it down with the hose, and…
I went kind of nuts with all of that, didn’t I?
I made myself some lunch, sat down and cried, and then took another nap.
I drove back to the elementary school to pick up Cleo around 2 o’clock (her teacher told me she had sobbed most of the day) and Carter and Callie’s bus dropped them off around 3:15. They were grumpy.
“Why’d you get to stay home all day?” Callie asked, completely offended. “We had to do quizzes today, Casey! Quizzes!” As overdramatic as ever, she acted like she was about to pull her hair out before flopping onto the couch.
To Carter’s credit, he seemed concerned. “Callie, shut up. I mean, look, she cleaned everything up.” He caught my eye and shrugged, before sitting down next to the prostrate Callie.
Cleo refused to say much, preferring to sit on the floor in front of the TV with a Barbie in each hand. I felt so bad for her.
After a moment, I clapped my hands. “Okay, guys, we’re gonna have fun this afternoon. Do you guys wanna play a game?”
“Oooh!” Carter bounced off the couch, bolted down the hallway to his room, and shot right back with the Nintendo Switch and a video game in his hand. “Mariokart!”
“No, come on,” I whined. “I’m so bad at that game.” And you know I’m bad, Matt. I can barely stay on the track. The amount of times you’ve forced me to play that game…mmm. I still haven’t forgiven you.
It was a losing battle at that point, though. Callie and Cleo immediately helped Carter set up the console and grabbed their controllers. I couldn’t back out from a Mariokart session at that point, so I sat down, chose my standby character of Koopa Troopa, and prepared to lose for the millionth time.
We ended up playing Mariokart for way longer than I intended, and before long it was dinner time. Dad called to let us know we could order a pizza. He said to hold him back some slices of sausage and pineapple. I think he was joking, because he hates pineapple, but I was gonna hold him to it. It was money
I don’t remember much after that point, I was so tired. I remember helping Cleo into bed, and I remember yelling at Callie and Carter to turn off the TV and finally go to sleep. I set my alarm, dived under my bed’s covers, and slept fitfully. I realized I’d have to do all again tomorrow.
But I can do it. I told my Mom I’d take care of it, and that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.
4 – Matt, I swear, I’m gonna kill Percy. 😡
The weekend went by incredibly slow. We ate junk food, watched awful kids movies to appease Cleo, and argued about anything in sight. Callie was particularly belligerent throughout the next couple days, refusing to accept the fact that I was in charge. I think it was just her 11-year-old way of dealing with the fear and worry, by planting her feet and ignoring all authority. More than once I caught her trying to watch Riverdale on the family computer. Obviously, I had to put a stop to that.
There was just this…aura, I guess, of sadness. Mom and Dad had said Calum was gonna be totally okay, but we didn’t hear much from them while they were gone. That didn’t help the fears we were all feeling, and the ways they showed themselves – Callie got mean, Carter went inward, Cleo just sobbed, and I tried to distract myself. All incredibly healthy coping mechanisms.
At long last, Mom, Dad and Calum came back from the hospital on Saturday afternoon. For the first time in three days, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
Mom and Dad were exhausted, but somehow, Calum didn’t seem any worse for wear, aside from the cast covering his left arm. (He’d fractured it in three places during the crash, and would have the cast for two months.)
“It’s good to see you guys!” he said, giving the younger girls a high-five with the broken arm, wincing theatrically with every hit. “Ugh, ugh, man, you guys have gotten way too strong.”
“Good to see your sense of humor wasn’t broken beyond repair,” I commented.
“Case, it’s been broken for years,” he said, smirking. “‘Least my important arm wasn’t broken. I can still steer my bike like a champ, even with this stupid cast.”
“Calum, you will not be riding that death trap until you’re healed,” Dad interrupted.
“You’re infringing on my God-given rights, Dad.”
“The Constitution does not include by-laws to support your idiotic stunts.”
“Thomas Jefferson would have loved dirt bikes, I’m sure of it.”
He was such an idiot, but I was glad to have him back.
Mom thanked me for all of my help, but she did say that I may have to help out more and more in the future. I don’t know why, really, because Calum could clearly take care of himself from this point on, but I agreed, again. I could take on the responsibility.
That’s when I remembered I hadn’t been at school for two days. I wondered if Johnathan had become a problem in that absence.
Spoiler alert? He had.
After sleeping most of Sunday, I returned to school on Monday still exhausted and still irritable. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but Johnathan marching through the halls with entire crowds of disgruntled goons following him was not it.
From what I could gather, Johnathan did pretty much the exact opposite of everything I’d told him last week. Anyone who had ever done anything a little against the rules? Johnathan Yen, the Fold, was on their tail. Sometimes, he got actual villains in his rampages – turning in a group of cheerleaders for harassing Olivia Mackintosh, the bug girl, being a good example – but more often than not, he was just supremely annoying.
He was the exact opposite of your laidback attitude.
Several of the kids were targeting Johnathan with dumb pranks. Disrupting his test-taking during classes, messing with his meals at lunch, etc. None of this deterred Johnathan’s overwhelming zeal, unfortunately. But guess who was the ringleader of this entire operation?
“I can’t stop it now, Casey,” Percival freaking Miller told me after I confronted him at lunch. “It’s not like I want to, either. Johnathan Yen needs to learn that he can’t push everyone he doesn’t like around. I see this as a public service.”
A few of Johnathan’s targets had been people that Percy owed, from way back when he still called himself the Favor. Instead of helping them directly, Percy directed them to work together with harmless pranks that Percy had devised. The system spiraled from there, and now Percy was pretty much in charge of an entire gang devoted to making Johnathan’s life miserable.
“We’re calling them the New Rogues,” Mandy added. She was documenting the entire endeavor, trying to put together a new story for the school paper, all while snacking on some floppy cafeteria chicken. “We already had the Rogues awhile ago. You remember, Casey?”
“To help Matt win the race, yeah,” I said.
“Well, the New Rogues are here to battle the Fold – or, as I like to call him, the Reverse-Fold. Because he’s the opposite of Matt!”
“Casey, you could help us out,” Percy offered. “You don’t have to do all of the puppet stuff if you don’t want to, but you’re really creative. I’m sure you could think up some great weapons we could use against this threat.”
I threw my hands up, exasperated. “Percy, he’s one guy! This is incredibly excessive. Matt’s gonna be home in a couple days. I’m sure the problem will be fixed before then.” I picked at the dinner roll on my tray. I wasn’t super hungry, all of a sudden.
“He’s picked a fight with nearly every person in the school,” Percy said, resolutely. “Matt would want us to make sure that the school is safe, of course. The New Rogues are the best way to do it.”
“Percy, you’re a madman.”
Percy shook his head. “No, Casey.” From underneath the table, he produced a pair of blue-tinted goggles and a small blue finger puppet wearing a parka. He put the goggles over his eyes and the puppet on finger, keeping his stern expression the entire time. “I’m Captain Cold.”
“I made the goggles myself,” Mandy said, giggling. “Doesn’t he look cool?”
5 – Johnathan has gone too far. X(
You were coming back to school on Thursday, and frankly, you couldn’t get back here soon enough. There was a war going on at the school, and I was caught in the middle of it.
On one side, Johnathan, who everybody had accepted to be the Reverse-Fold. You know Reverse-Flash? The yellow Flash bad guy, the one that everybody hates? That’s exactly who Johnathan had become.
As dramatic as ever, Johnathan had made a proclamation on the front lawn on Tuesday afternoon. “Alright, everybody. If you all think I’m the bad guy, then I’ll be the bad guy.” He threw his red and silver Flash puppet on the ground and stomped on it. With a new, yellow puppet, he made his ultimatum. “Until you all shape up and become a school worthy of the Scarlet Speedster again, you’ve all unleashed a far greater threat than you could ever imagine!”
Not a single person took him seriously.
On the other side was Percy and the New Rogues, growing increasingly militant by the hour. Their reach within the school was now absolute, including members from all walks of life; athletes, cheerleaders, theater kids, science nuts, everyone. It turns out, the best way to unite a group of teenagers is to have a natural enemy that everyone despises.
Percy now had designated lieutenants. Obviously Mandy was his second-in-command and helped him keep track of recruiting. Among the athletes, Percy installed old ally Richard Stewart. Richard was hesitant about joining another ‘evil’ group, but relented when Percy reminded him that Johnathan had gotten multiple star runners suspended after provoking them into a fight. Geoff Bean, of the theater program, had no reservations about beating Reverse-Fold into the ground. Even Vaughn Dunst, the horoscope kid, proved a rallying point for the emo kids of Lampert.
I was rapidly losing control. I was doing my best, Matt, I really was. I was committed to being as neutral as possible in the conflict. If I saw Johnathan about to punch a kid who’d done nothing wrong, I stepped in and talked your cousin down. If I saw some Rogues attempting to break into Johnathan’s locker to destroy his homework, I’d shoo them away and stand guard for much longer than necessary.
All of a sudden, I was the only thing standing in the way of the unstoppable Reverse-Flash moving towards the immovable Captain Cold. Something had to give.
Wednesday afternoon. The day before you got back. I felt completely frazzled – homework was piling up, and I’d spent the night listening to Cleo crying loudly down the hall because she never wanted Mom to leave again. I felt completely alone and ignored. All that to say, I wasn’t in the best head-space.
I’d gone back to following Johnathan around the school to make sure he didn’t fall into any more trouble. Johnathan ignored me the whole time. The yellow puppet, invariably propped up on his index finger, looked particularly pompous today.
We were going down the second hallway on the second floor, passing the lockers across from Ms. Rani’s English room. Calvin Moody – you remember him, it’s the wrestler guy who helped break your leg – had his back to us, fishing around for something in his locker.
Just as Johnathan passed by, Calvin dropped the thing he had been reaching for: a water bottle, full to the brim.
Deja vu, right?
The bottle opened midair, drenching Johnathan and the puppet on his finger.
Johnathan was furious, while Calvin looked miserable. I was just stunned. “I’m sorry,” Calvin murmured. “They made me do it.”
Suddenly, I blanched. “Who made you do it?”
Ms. Rani’s classroom door opened and a small army flooded out into the hallway, surrounding the three of us. Calvin melted into the group, which kept Johnathan in the center at all times. The poor kid couldn’t believe what was happening. He sputtered and spat, but he couldn’t really formulate any words.
There were about fifteen kids in all surrounding us. I recognized most of them. They were all the ‘troublemakers’ who had been harassed the most. Just as I was putting the pieces together, the leaders of the New Rogues strode out of the classroom to take their positions around the circle – Vaughn, Geoff, Richard, Mandy, and of course, Percy.
“Johnathan Yen,” Percy said, slowly. He was still wearing the goggles. I think he liked them. “You’ve been a problem, lately, and we all think you need to chill out.”
Oh, brother. He really was going full supervillain.
“Percival Miller,” Johnathan shot back. “I never believed it when Matt told me you’d changed your ways. Just like a criminal, returning to a life of crime as soon as the opportunity presents itself.”
“Guys, you’re being ridiculous.” I tried to speak, but they completely ignored me.
“It’s funny you mention Matt,” Percy said, sneering. “We’ve actually formed in his memory. He was a great hero, Johnathan, and he really is my best friend. You’re completely stomping on his legacy. Isn’t that right, guys?”
“It is,” Richard Stewart added. “When I hurt Matt in the past, he completely forgave me, and personally helped me improve my running. He cares about treating his ‘villains’ like real people. You see someone do a single bad thing and act like they’re a mass murderer.”
Johnathan glowered. “If I don’t make you guys see what you’re doing is wrong, I’m not much of a hero, am I?”
“Guys, calm down, please,” I said, louder. Again, everyone ignored me.
“I just think you’re a piece of crap,” Geoff Bean butted in. Many in the group muttered their agreement.
Percy held up his hand to quiet everybody down. “Now, Johnathan. We wanted to ask you to slow down. Let everybody just live their lives, and we’ll be good to go. How does that sound?”
Johnathan’s face was contorted in anger. It was then that I realized something.
I think, just like my siblings, this was a coping mechanism. He wanted to feel important. He wanted to feel like what he did mattered. That was hard to do when he went to same school as, well, the star athlete, liked-by-everyone, incredibly-perfect Matthew Yen.
Obviously I know you’re far from perfect, so don’t go getting a big head. But Johnathan was trying to be like you. He just didn’t know how. He thought being a hero was about punching people until they listened to you, not listening to them first. He needed someone to show him the difference, and that it was alright to be different than his much cooler cousin.
Unfortunately, he was too busy about to punch someone until they listened to him.
He held his fists out and planted his feet, staring into the tinted lenses of Percy’s goggles. He was ready to go down punching and kicking.
“If that’s the way it’s gonna be…” Percy muttered. He rolled up his sleeves, and stepped into the ring, holding his own fists out.
As Johnathan threw the first punch, I stepped in between him and Percy.
I tried to block it, but it pains me to admit that Johnathan was stronger than me. His punch hit my arm hard, and it knocked me backwards into Percy. He awkwardly tried to help me stand up as the crowd gasped.
I stared at Johnathan, as angry as I have ever been. All of the pressures of the week had piled on top of me and this was my breaking point. I was so mad that I started to cry. Percy removed his goggles, worried, and put a hand on my shoulder trying to calm me down, but I shrugged him off.
“Stop it, you- you ##### idiots!”
I ended up swearing a lot. I cut that out.
“You all need to calm down! This isn’t a war, it’s a school hallway! You’re all acting like whiny kids, picking fights for no reason at all.” I pointed directly at Percy. “You most of all! Matt trusts you, Percival Miller. How do you think he’s gonna react when he hears you almost decked his cousin?!”
Percy opened his mouth to respond, but he thought better of it, and simply nodded.
I rounded on Johnathan, who was standing completely still, staring at the water-logged puppet on his finger. I ripped it off, balled it up and threw it down the hall. “You’re the worst hero I have ever met, Yen,” I growled. “But you’re one of the greatest villains this school has ever seen.”
With that, I stormed out of the circle of New Rogues, stormed down the hall and stormed into my next class.
As soon as I got home, I broke down. It was all so stupid looking back, but why should I care? I felt like a complete failure. You relied on me, and I let you down.
This week sucks.
6 – Hey. 😐
I mostly kept to myself the rest of the night, though I was visited in my room by Calum.
He knocked on my door. “Hey, Case? You doing alright?”
I didn’t answer. I was happy to lay on my bed and ignore the rest of the world for a bit.
“I’ll come in,” he said, cheerfully. I mean, I didn’t stop him.
Calum saw me on the bed and smirked. He sat down at the foot, being careful not to disturb his arm. He didn’t say much for a long time.
Finally, he sighed, loudly. “You know, Case, you were a lifesaver this week.”
I shook my head.
“You were, though. Mom didn’t know what she was going to do about the younger guys, but you stepped up.”
“Whatever,” I said. “It was just two days, though. And all we did was eat junk food and watch movies.”
“And that’s a bad thing? You got them to school, you got them to eat, and you kept them alive. But I think the thing that Mom and Dad appreciate the most is that you kept them calm.” He thought back. “I don’t think Cleo has ever had to be away from Mom for that long. And she was upset, sure, but she knew you would take care of her. That’s not nothing.”
I snorted. “Maybe. I’m still a total screw-up.”
“That’s subjective.” Calum smirked again. “I know Matt isn’t going to think so.”
I glared. “What?”
“I’m guessing he’s involved somehow. He won’t mind.”
I sat up and threw my pillow at him. “Shut up.” He had no idea what he was talking about, obviously, and I’m sure you’ll agree.
He laughed and caught it with his right hand. “Now, that’s more like it. Aim for the right one next time so I can break both of them!”
Thursday morning came, meaning you’d be back in classes! Gosh, finally.
I saw you first on the lawn as I was walking into the school. We hugged.
“It’s so good to see you, Casey!” you said. “You’re never gonna believe all the stuff I saw.” Immediately you pulled out your phone to share pictures of goshdang China.
You were super cheerful. I should have expected it. I mean, why wouldn’t you be? You got to visit your family, see all these incredible sights, eat great food, and all the while I was stuck here.
“I’m sure it was awesome,” I accidentally said through gritted teeth. This resentment was stupid. It wasn’t your fault by any means. I’m the one who hadn’t told you much, I’m the one who hadn’t explained everything that I was feeling and-
“How was Johnathan this whole time?” you asked, with a grin. Forgive me, but I wanted to punch you so hard. “I hope you were able to get through to him. I was counting on-”
This is the part that I’m not proud of.
“No, Matt!” I shouted. You took a step back, alarmed, and that hurt really bad. “I wasn’t able to get through to Johnathan. I didn’t even try! I haven’t had the time, or the energy, because I’ve been stuck for two weeks taking care of my family and trying to make sure those idiots don’t kill each other! I’m sorry I broke my promise, but there was a lot going on, okay?!”
The silence was deafening. I was breathing heavily; I put my finger to my cheek and felt tears running down. You still looked terrified…but a second later, you dropped your phone and backpack and wrapped me up in a warm hug.
“Casey.” Your voice was steady, but I could tell you were holding back your own emotions for my sake. “I’m sorry.”
It didn’t matter what you was sorry for. For not being here? For not knowing everything going on? For smelling like dried seaweed? I don’t know. I hugged you back and all of the tension I’d held inside myself for weeks exploded out for the second time in 12 hours.
“You’ve done so much, Casey,” you said, quietly. “It’s not your job to hold up the entire world.”
“I thought I’d be able to, though,” I sighed. Through staggered breaths, I weakly laughed. “But I don’t want to anymore. Can you help me?”
You laughed as the hug broke. “Anytime, anyplace, Casey. I’m here for you.” I remember you struck a dumb hero pose. “Now, where’s my stupid cousin?”
7 – Maybe it’s not so bad. 🙂
The showdown of a century.
The Fold vs. the Reverse-Fold.
And this is the part where you were around for everything going on. I’m not sure you’ll read this part, but I’ve gotten this far with the story, so why stop now?
You and Johnathan stared at each other, like two desperados staking their claim in a saloon. You were reserved, confident, yet your eyes were still warm and kind as they sized your younger cousin up. Johnathan was defiant, irascible, and refused to back down from the challenge he was expecting.
I held my breath. You had been so nice to me since you had gotten back. I really appreciated it, but I silently hoped you didn’t think less of me for needing you to fix this problem. I know now that it was a really stupid worry.
Percy, next to me, had his arms crossed, his eyebrow raised. My words had really gotten through to him, and apparently as soon as I left he had disbanded the New Rogues. When you walked in, he had apologized profusely, feeling like he’d betrayed his best friend’s trust. I was a little surprised by how quickly you brushed it off, even though I could tell it disappointed you. Percy was done with all the villain stuff from now on, but I noticed he had kept the goggles around his neck.
The hallway around us was silent as people watched this confrontation. You could hear a pen drop.
“Johnny, I know you’ve been doing your own thing around here, but it needs to stop.” Your posture was easygoing, but we got the sense that you could break into a full sprint if it was needed. “You’re not being a very good hero.”
Johnathan balled his fists at his sides. He’s not that much shorter than you, but it’s enough of a difference to be pretty pronounced. It was nice to see him looking up at someone for once. “It’s not my fault nobody listens to me. I’m helping people and taking down all the villains that you refused to.”
A gasp rippled through the hallway. I caught the eyes of a few of our old enemies-turned-friends in the crowd – Olivia and Calvin were both glaring at Johnathan. I could tell some people were upset that the New Rogues were gone.
“They’re not villains, man,” You said with a sigh. “In fact, most of my old ‘bad guys’ are really good friends of mine now. You just gotta hear ‘em out.”
“And sometimes, you have to resort to other methods.”
You slowly nodded. I could see the wheels turning in your head. “I see that now.” With a dramatic pause, you squared his shoulders and planted your feet. “Johnathan Yen, meet me at my house tonight. We’re settling this, once and for all.”
Another gasp rippled through the crowd. Johnathan, sensing the mood, squared his own shoulders and held up his fists in a fighting stance. “Any time, any place.”
Percy leaned next to me. “He’s not…fighting him, is he?” he whispered, concerned. “We already tried that.”
I glared. “If there’s no other way…”
You grinned. “We’re settling this…in Mariokart.”
Someone in the crowd coughed. Me and Percy looked at each other, and I rolled my eyes. Anything but Mariokart.
Johnathan’s stance fumbled a bit. “W-what?”
“Mariokart! You know, with Super Mario and Bowser and-”
“I know what Mariokart is, Matt!” Johnathan shouted. “I just…I thought you wanted to, like, fight it out?”
Someone from the crowd – probably Geoff – shouted, “Yeah, punch his face in!”
It was your turn to look confused. “What? No, I’m not fighting you. That’s stupid.”
“But, we’re heroes. We fight the bad guys.”
You shook your head, and I remembered why I’d missed you so much. “Johnny, you can’t solve all of your problems with punching and kicking. That just makes more enemies. A hero looks out for people, not looks for people to knock out. Quit it.” He shrugged. “And, well, Mariokart is a racing game, and we’re both, you know, the Flash, so it fits.”
Johnathan finally lowered his fists, looking significantly less confident. “Um. Okay. I’ll, uh, be there for Mariokart.” He slowly backed away, feeling the awkwardness of the situation coming down on top of him.
The crowd parted, with a few people discussing how much they would rather Johnathan had gotten beat up.
“Mariokart, huh?” Percy asked, walking up to you. “Quite a…unique confrontation.”
“You guys are both invited.” There was something going on in your head, because you kept grinning mischievously whenever you looked at me. “I’ll be right back.”
You raced down the hall until you caught up to Johnathan, and I could see you were talking to him quietly. You pointed in our direction at one point – I couldn’t tell if you were gesturing to me or Percy. But I could see Johnathan’s expression change from confusion to realization over whatever you were saying. Finally, he nodded, and you both shook hands.
Somehow, I felt that the Fold had beaten the Reverse-Fold already. The Mariokart finale was just a formality. You waved back at me, smiled, and disappeared down the hallway.
8 – Goshdangit, Matthew. 😡
I didn’t understand why you wanted me and Percy to be at the ‘battle’. I thought we’d already completely screwed up and that you wouldn’t want us around Johnathan anymore.
When I got home from school, I laid down on the couch once again and tried to nap until I went over to your house. Mom and Dad were worrying about the hospital bills in the kitchen; Calum was on the phone with his girlfriend on the porch, telling her how his arm was doing; Callie and Carter were arguing about video games right in front of me; and Cleo was playing dress-up with her dolls all along the hallway. You know, the usual madhouse I have to live with. All was right with the world.
I ended up sleeping much longer than I intended. I woke up around 5:30, and for some reason, everybody was gone. It was super quiet, and a little eerie. Noticing the minivan was gone, I just shrugged and guessed they were off catching the movie Calum and Carter were supposed to see last week. I took a shower, made a sandwich in the kitchen, hopped on my bike and headed to your house for the actual showdown of a century.
To my surprise, the minivan was in your driveway. Something was up. I parked my bike on the lawn, quickly hopped up the porch and opened the door to see an entire party going on inside.
“Oh, hey Casey!” you said as soon as I walked in, giving me a hug. “Great atmosphere for a battle, don’t you think?”
“What’s going on, Matt?” I asked, skeptically. Our parents were in the kitchen making dinner, and I think your mom was sharing recipes she’d learned in China. My mom is an awful cook, so this was just going to end badly for us, specifically.
Johnathan and Percy were at the counter, watching people cook, and obviously feeling a bit awkward next to each other. Calum talked with your dad, and Carter, Callie and Cleo were, once again, playing Mariokart all together on the TV.
“This is a set up,” I said.
“Scared of a little video game?” You grinned, and for the second time, I wanted to punch you. “Obviously, this is the only way to put Johnathan in his place. Unless you’re scared…”
I did punch you in the shoulder. “You’re the one who’s scared, wimp.”
You called Percy and Johnathan over. “It’s time for the showdown!”
There was something different about Johnathan. When he saw me, he seemed to relax his shoulders and calm down a bit. Whatever you’d told him had clearly been affective. “Hey, Casey.”
“You, uh, ready to race?”
I nodded, smiling. “I am. Let’s do it.”
The four of us sat down on your couch, grabbed our controllers, and prepared to race. I chose Koopa; Percy chose Donkey Kong (“Don’t judge me, DK is cool.”); You chose Mario and Johnathan chose Bowser.
Some kind of switch seemed to flip in both of you, because immediately your voice dropped into a heroic baritone. “You can’t defeat me, Reverse-Flash!”
In answer, Johnathan adopted a ridiculous villain voice. “You’re dead, Flash! I am the true fastest man alive. I will destroy you!”
I smiled. Suddenly, I could see what this battle was really about. I remember catching your eye, and the look you gave me confirmed everything. This wasn’t supposed to be a way to beat Johnathan – it was a way to make me smile.
Surprise, surprise: I was still terrible at Mariokart. I didn’t place above tenth the entire set. But that didn’t matter; I was having the most fun I’d had in ages. You and Johnathan kept up the ridiculous hero-villain rapport through every match, with your threats getting more ridiculous with each race.
Somehow, Percy was the best of all of us – he knew every single shortcut and trick to do to get ahead of the pack. He got first every single time.
Even after we were done, the rest of the impromptu party went off without a hitch. It was nice, it was fun, the food was delicious, it was all great.
After dinner, Johnathan stopped me in the hallway, with a remorseful look on his face.
“Casey…Matt told me what you’ve had to deal with lately,” he said, shuffling his feet. “I, uh, didn’t realize. I’m sorry.”
“You’re alright, Johnathan,” I replied.
He shook his head. “I was obnoxious, I know. I don’t deserve the mantle of the Fold. I realize that now. You, Casey, you were the real hero this week.” Johnathan once again produced a puppet from his pocket, and gave it to me. “Hope you don’t mind. I knew you didn’t have one, and think this fits you.”
The puppet was based on Supergirl. I silently told myself I’d never carry it around with me, but the sentiment was really sweet. “Thanks, man.” I thought for a moment. “I’ll call myself, um…Super…paperfoldgirl. Is that how you do it?”
His face fell. “You’re awful at puns.”
The night went on, and we ended up staying much later than my parents probably intended.
Before we left, me and you went outside to sit on the porch, same as we always have. This time, though, I think we held hands. I couldn’t be totally sure, though, as tired as I was.
“I’m really glad you’re back. I missed you. A lot more than I was expecting to, actually.”
“I missed you too. China’s cool, but you’re cooler.”
“Do you think Johnathan is gonna chill out a bit, now?”
“Who cares. We can deal with him if he gets to be a problem.”
“That’s a good point. We can worry about it later.”
There was a pause. A really long one.
“Do you want to…um…stick together, I guess? More than, like, usual?”
I smiled. “Yeah, um, totally. But with everything that’s happened…I’m not sure if I’m ready to dive in, you know?”
I think that disappointed you a bit, but you bounced back quickly. “Uh, yeah, totally.”
“Why don’t we take it slow?”
“You know what? Sure.” You grinned. “I appreciate the irony there.”
“Together, though, right?”
“Absolutely. Together. Dynamic duo, coming at you.”
I laughed, finally feeling relaxed.
And…well, that’s about it. I hope you do get the chance to read this. For your eyes only, of course. I’ve learned a lot these two weeks, and the biggest thing that it’s easier to hold the world up when there’s someone holding it with you. Thank you for being there for me. And as the new Superpaperfoldgirl, it’s great to have a sidekick as good as you.
Click here to read “Batfold: The Three OriJokers War”
This was great Noah!