When I awoke the next morning, I wasn’t engulfed by flames. The tree was still standing tall; the storm had passed over peacefully, if not ruffling our feathers a bit.
And I had a baby sister.
She was named Umala, both for the safe passage of the thunderhead and for her beauty. It was undeniable; she was one of the most gorgeous babies I had ever seen. She had a full head of shiny black hair and paralyzing blue eyes, like the sea after a passing storm. Mom and Dad couldn’t take their eyes off her. Neither could I that first week. I was jealous and, though I know it was foolish now, I believed Umala was going to be the perfect child. She would be their favorite from then on. Me and Ashlee, pff, we were just “the first two kids.” After all, I was known very well for odd ideas and an upside-down sort of perspective, and Ashlee pretty much didn’t say anything to anyone.
So all their hopes and dreams were then laid on Umala, the perfect child, the last chance, the one who would finally fit in, be normal, and live a happy life with lots of friends and have a nice job cleaning clothes or mending curtains or gardening. Forget all the “Hey, Mom, I want to be an engineer and make the world better,” or “Daddy, I want to be a novelist and a poet.” No, they would have the child that nobody asked questions about, or got teased, or got left alone at recess. I thought sarcastically (and selfishly) that Umala would be so happy to be average in a family of whacked-out kids.
Boy, I should’ve known. Three, after all, is a magic number, not a normal one.
A month and a half after Umala was born, I was about to walk into my room to hang up my newly arrived “Scroll of Graduation from Basic Education” from the school I would no longer have to attend, and hadn’t for thirteen magical days, when I heard a peculiar noise coming from her room. I paused, recognizing that this wasn’t just a bunch of baby gurgling like I normally heard, and carefully set my graduation scroll on my desk. I stepped gingerly over to the doorway, which faced mine, and saw through the crack in the door that she was floating above her crib with Ashlee standing on a chair next to her.
“So, this is how you do it?” Ashlee asked and promptly jumped. She hovered for a second and then fell down, toppling on her perch by the crib. Suddenly Umala exploded in a garble of baby goo-goo, still turning slowly in the air. Ashlee paid great attention to her nonsense as I tried not to freak out or bust up laughing at the irony of my long-forgotten jealousy for my baby sister. So comes the most talented of three, I thought, and discovered, she has yet to be.
Ashlee tried again, but still didn’t get it, and asked what she was doing wrong. Umala said something again in baby talk, and I swore then that she was taking the tone of “focus, and stop trying.” Ashlee closed her eyes, so dark and deep, and gently pushed off the chair.
She drifted up to the ceiling but didn’t touch it. Umala erupted in laughter and clapped her hands. Ashlee smiled as she turned upside-down, and I tripped and blew my cover. On what, I haven’t a clue, because I wasn’t even moving my feet, so I thought. When I looked up from the floor, they were both sitting calmly, one in the crib and one on the floor, pretending like nothing peculiar had happened at all, besides the way their mouths were twitching in a feeble attempt to not smile, like they were passing secrets to each other. My mouth made weird shapes on my face as I searched for something to say. It finally broke into a wry sort of smile.
“Can you teach me?”
And that was how the O’Meern girls found a loophole in the obey-to-the-letter Code of Flight: it was now possible to fly without ever moving your wings and, therefore, untraceable if you were under the free-flying limit of eighteen. It was rebellious and it was scary and fun and crazy and dangerous all at the same time. But we were good at keeping it secret. Umala was an expert at playing “dumb newborn,” and we played along with it, although the screaming-in-the-middle-of-the-night-for-no-apparent-reason routine was a bit hard to deal with. Oh well, that’s what it costs to have a baby with a huge secret, or any baby, for that matter.
I, of course, had finished school forever with, literally, flying colors and was enjoying my summer off with my sisters and parents. I got to be with my friends, and I went on adventures, like everyone should. We dinked around as kids are supposed to do, but every once in a while we’d talk about stuff, usually just the three of us, in the warmth of the sun and the cool damp of the grass. I couldn’t directly understand Umala, so Ashlee translated. Ashlee was a short-term telepathic, and Umala “said” she was something like an atmospheric manipulator or telekinetic thingy, capable of changing the effects of the air around her and the granting the knowledge to help others access it. I told them about my terrors, or what I felt they ought to know, and made some use of my time writing stories and drawing pictures. We often wondered how our abilities would be useful, but we knew God had made us to be part of His plan, so we trusted in Him and prayed together.
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