Byron pouted. His mom still wouldn't let him go on a play date with Andy and Cylde even though it was many days since the meeting the strangers in the park. He lost count after ten days-it wasn't because he didn't know what came after ten; he knew how to count to 100-but he was certain it was a lot. She wouldn't let him look at the calendar, and he was so busy that he lost track.
Every time he asked if the punishment was over yet, she just said he was still grounded. It wasn't fair. He knew he shouldn't have gone deeper into the woods, but still. Last time, he had only been grounded for a day when Andy thought it was a great idea to see if he could petrify people like a gorgon or a basilisk. When it didn't work in his half human, half snake form, Andy had turned completely into a snake. There was a lot of screaming and running that day.
He laid face down on the floor, kicking his legs up. He was so bored. His mom had left to go to the store to buy dinner and wasn't back yet. She told him to do his homework or read a book, but they were boring. He wanted to do something fun. He couldn't even watch the TV because she put the remote on the top of the book shelf. Even if he got a chair, he still wouldn't reach the top. His games were hidden away too.
Rolling onto his back, he stared at the clock. The long stick was pointing at twelve while the smaller stick was pointing at seven. It hadn't changed since the last time he checked which was a few seconds ago. His mom left when the long stick had been pointing at the six and the smaller stick was pointing between five and six, and he was getting hungry.
Sitting up, he decided to see if he could find any snacks in the kitchen. He made sure to drag a chair along with him. His face scrunched up as he focused on pulling the heavy object with him. As soon as it touched the tiled floor of the kitchen, it screeched, and he winced. It was so loud. Doing his best to ignore the horrible noise, he pushed it up against the counter.
Using it as a stepping stool, he scrambled onto the counter top. Getting off his knees, he stood up and reached for the cabinet's knob. Inside, he found a jar of cookies and candy, boxes of cereals and crackers, and cans of soup and beans. Ignoring the later, he glanced through the selection available. His mouth watered at the thought of the cookies and sweets, but his mom would be anger when she found out he had them before dinner.
That left the cereals and crackers. Cereal was for breakfast, and he needed milk. He had only one option. Grabbing a box of crackers, he shut the cabinet door. What he didn't expect to see was Andy and Cylde waving from the kitchen window. He stumbled back, forgetting he was standing on the kitchen counter. His foot slipped on the edge, and gravity pulled him back. The box of crackers fell from his grip as his arms flailed.
He barely had time to register what was happening when something wrapped around one of his feet. His eyes widened at the sight of Andy's tail. It tugged him upward, and he winced when his head bumped into the handle of one of the lower cabinets. Rubbing the injured spot, he was soon helped up by Cylde who had entered through the open window.
Once he had both feet safely planted on the counter, he asked, "Andy, Cylde, what are you doing here?"
"We came to see you idiot," said Andy as he thumped his tail against the counter, "It's a good thing too. You would have cracked your head wide open like a balloon. How stupid can you be?"
Cylde turned to stare at Andy. "That would be entirely your fault if he did."
"What was that?"
"The only reason he slipped was because you surprised him."
"If I scared him, then you would have scared him too."
"He saw you first."
"You were right next to me."
It was nice to see them get along so well. Not that they didn't before, but they only met once before while he had met Cylde twice. He was so happy to have his friends there with him. A smile stretched across his face as the two of them argued over whose fault it was for scaring him. They were wrong that he had been scared. He was just surprised to see them. He hadn't expected them to see them so soon especially outside the kitchen window.
"What have you guys been doing?" he asked.
Andy said, "Ever since those weirdos pissed off mom, she's been training me."
Byron and Cylde blinked. "Training?"
"Yup. She kept mumbling something about strangers and fighting. I didn't really pay attention."
That was typical of Andy. Of course he didn't listen to his mom unless it was something cool like learning to transform into his serpent form. The first time he attempted it he had apparently only stretched out his face and had been stuck for a couple of hours. Byron only knew about it became Aunt Mandy was laughing about it when she told his mom. Andy had cursed up a storm, screaming at Aunt Mandy to stop telling everyone about it.
"What about you shark teeth?"
"...I don't have shark teeth," said Cylde.
"Don't ignore the question."
"I went hunting with dad."
This time it was Andy's and Byron's turn to blink. "Hunting?"
"Dad says it's important to learn to hone my instincts. It's useful for his hero work, and he said it would help make sure I don't end up attacking random people."
"So it's basically training," said Andy.
Andy and Cylde turned to Byron, and he knew what they were about to ask. "I just did my homework."
They stared him. Neither of them said a single thing. As the silence stretched on, Byron felt himself fidget at their unrelenting stares. Why were they staring at him like that? Sure it wasn't cool as getting trained by their parents, but it wasn't like his mom could teach him super strength. He couldn't even carry one of those large bottles of water not that he would know. His mom wouldn't let him carry anything she thought was too much for him which was apparently a lot of things.
Finally, Cylde was the first to break the silence. "That's it?"
"That's it," he confirmed.
It was silent again as Andy and Cylde gave each other a look. Byron pouted. He knew what they were thinking. They were probably thinking how he had the worst punishment. While they were out learning from their parents, he was stuck doing homework at home. His mom didn't even let him go to the library if he claimed to be stuck. She would either go over the homework while they ate snacks or give him a disappointed look if she thought the homework was too easy for him.
In fact, it looked like he was the only one who got punished in the end. It really wasn't fair. He bet that their parents actually let them hang out and train while he was stuck doing boring stuff. When his mom got back, he was going to complain about how Andy and Cylde were no longer grounded, and how it wasn't fair that he was still grounded. She would have to unground him then.
Speaking of their parents, he didn't see Aunt Mandy or Cylde's mom. Did they come over to see him without telling them? If that was the case and their parents caught them, they would be in so much trouble. The thought of getting them grounded came to mind, but it was quickly pushed aside. That would be mean, and he knew Andy would do everything to get back at him. Not only that, but then he would have no one to play with either. It would be a punishment for all three of them.
Andy's question brought him out of his musings. "Where's Aunt Reba, Byron?"
"She went to the store to shop for dinner."
"How long ago was that?"
"We better get going then," said Cylde. "We don't want Byron's mom to catch us."
"Why do you have to go?"
"Ma was busy talking to his mom, and we decided to sneak out," Andy said as he pointed at Cylde. "We decided to see what you were up to."
Byron pouted. So he was right. They got to see each other when his mom said they couldn't see each other or play together. How long had they been seeing each other? Was it the day after or a couple days later? It didn't matter. All he knew was that it was so unfair. They didn't have to rub it in his face that he was the only one grounded for so long. Once his mom got back, he was going to complain.
"Let's g-" Andy paled.
Cylde did the same. Why happened? One moment they were getting up to go back out the window, and now they were looking at him as if it was the end of the world. He didn't even do anything. He had been sitting there, listening to how much fun he didn't have. That's when he realized that they weren't actually looking at him. They were looking behind him.
"Byron, dear, why are you, Andy, and Cylde doing on the counter?"
Despite how normal his mom sounded, he could hear the edge in her voice that was the signal before she erupted. Knowing it was better to face his mother head on instead of trying to avoid getting punished, he turned around to face her. She wasn't the only one there. Behind her was Aunt Mandy and Cylde's mom. None of them looked happy. At least he wasn't going to get in trouble alone.
Actually, why was he getting in trouble? He didn't do anything wrong. He had only been trying to find something to eat because his mom was taking so long to get home. Andy and Cylde were the ones to sneak off and get into his house without permission. They should be the only ones to get punished not him. He didn't even get the chance to explain himself when his mom continued.
"Get down right now. It's far too dangerous for you to be playing up on there."
"You heard her boys," said Mandy. "Off the counter. We don't want anyone cracking the head open."
It was scary how similar Aunt Mandy and Andy were. They both had said the same thing about falling off the counter. They even flailed their tail as they said it. The only difference was Andy was the one to compare cracking their heads open to balloons. He still didn't get that. How did hitting your head against the floor the same as popping a balloon? He would have to ask Andy later.
Byron was the first to head for the stepping stool, but Cylde was the first one down. Cylde had moved so fast and so gracefully that Byron blinked at the sight. Andy looked just as surprised as he was. How did he do that? He didn't even need the stepping stool to get down. He had to show them how to do it too. Their moms had a different idea.
"Cylde," said Ethel. "You need to be careful. You can't just jump down."
"Mom, it wasn't even that high. Dad taught me how to jump from even taller."
"Well, that's something I will need to talk to him about."
Reba saw the considering look on the other two boys' faces and said, "Byron, if you jump, you're going to be grounded until next year."
"The same goes for you, Andy."
While neither of them thought it was fair, they didn't want to make their moms angry. Besides, they both had doubts about being able to jump down without getting hurt. After nearly falling off earlier, Byron didn't want to try his luck and crack his head like a balloon just as Andy said. Andy, on the other hand, didn't have legs like the other two and was a little unsure what would happen if he tried.
Once both of them were on the ground, they were ushered into the living room. As the three of them were lined up, they tensed, waiting for the expected scolding. Their moms would undoubtedly chewed them out before grounding them again. Byron just hoped it was shorter than the last grounding. He would be able to stand it if it was more than a day.
"Boys, we have something important we wanted to talk to you about," said Reba.
Confused, the three of them looked at each other before returning their attention back to their moms. Mandy continued, "After what happened in the park, we've been talking about how you need to learn how to defend yourself when we're not around."
Andy and Cylde didn't seem surprised to hear this. Their moms must have talked to them about it. That had to be the reason why they were training. Byron didn't get why he was the only left out. He wanted to learn how to defend himself too. He didn't want to be stuck waiting for his mom or Andy to come help him if he was in any trouble. Not that he would go looking for trouble in the first place.
"We were going to have you form your own group like we did when we were your age and show everyone that you aren't to be messed with, but Reba here didn't agree."
At first, the boys were excited at the idea of having their own group and also hearing more about their mothers' group. All they knew was it was called AWG. They didn't even know what it stood for, but it had to be something cool. When they heard Reba didn't like that idea, Andy and Cylde turned to Byron who looked devastated. Why didn't his mom want to be part of the group? Did she think he wasn't good enough for it because he wasn't a ghoul like Cylde or naga like Andy?
Seeing his hurt expression, Reba bent down and said, "Oh Byron, it's not that I didn't think you should be part of the group. I just don't like the idea of my young man growing up. You'll go off beating up people and you won't need me anymore."
The idea of not having his mom there terrified him. "That's not true. I always need you mommy."
Reba and Byron sniffled as they shared a hug. The others joined in on the hug and the six of them remained stuck together for a few minutes. Suddenly, growling could be heard and the group broke apart. Byron gave a sheepish grin as he realized it was his own stomach that was making that sound.
"Looks like someone's hungry. Who wants dinner?" asked Reba.
The boys instantly clamored in and their mothers laughed.