I surfaced out of the water, gasping for air. When I rubbed my eyes, the first thing I saw was my hat with a white ribbon that was drifting away, pushed by the waves that were created after my fall. Then I looked down at my soaked dress.
Slowly, seething with anger, I turned around just to see a smirk on Tony's face being replaced with a fake terror.
"Oh fuck, are you ok?" he said, raising his eyebrows theatrically.
I pursed my lips, lowered my arms and tilted my head slightly, showing him that his terrible acting wasn't appreciated by me.
Amusement flashed in Tony's light eyes, but it was Dylan who had the best time. He roared with laughter, bent in half and clapped his hands. Shane leaned his head back and his shoulders vibrated, clearly indicating that he was also having quite good fun.
Furious, I headed for the ladder and climbed it with one hand supporting myself holding the rail, and with the other making sure that my dress didn't roll up too much. As soon as I stood on the wooden boards, I groaned and sat down.
"Get up and go change clothes. It's already late!" Dylan shouted at me, slowly calming down.
I ignored him, lowered my head and grabbed my ankle. I hissed when my fingers touched it.
"Hey, what's wrong?" Tony asked as he approached me. The rest of the damn laughs also died down.
"Go away from me," I grunted, grimacing at the attempt to move my foot.
Tony ignored my order and stood over me, staring down at me. He seemed irritated by my delicacy. He was just bending over me, sighing and rolling his eyes when I caught the perfect opportunity and suddenly, with my whole body, I went at his leg. Tony was a big guy, but the element of surprise was on my side and ultimately it helped me throw my brother into the water.
There was a huge splash. Of course, there had to be a sacrifice. I also landed in the pool for the second time. Dylan and Shane burst out laughing again. This time, as soon as I got to my feet, I immediately began to move in the opposite direction to Tony. I knew that running away from him would be the smartest action I could take at the moment.
Tony jumped out of the water like a fish and shook his head vigorously, spitting. Yuck.
He blinked and the first thing he did was to look at me. Almost immediately he began to move towards me. I didn't wait for him to catch me so I rushed towards the ladder and this time, being in a hurry, I didn't even care about keeping the dress in place.
I had no chance here, because by the time I was just leaving the pool, Tony had already got out of it. He just pulled himself up on the edge with his strong arms and in a blink of an eye, there he was, standing in front of me.
His gray shirt, faded camo shorts, and dirty-white trainers were now wet. At least he wasn't wearing any jewelry.
Although I knew I could pay for it, I couldn't help but smile. Ha, I threw him into the water. An eye for an eye.
However, it was quickly wiped out of my face when Tony, without taking his now indifferent blue eyes from me, reached into the pocket of his water-soaked pants and pulled the phone out of it.
I didn't say it out loud but immediately covered my mouth with my hand anyway.
I drowned his phone.
Tony raised his chin high and glared at me seriously.
"I-I didn't know, I'm sorry ..." I whispered, lowering my hand and swallowing.
Tony's phone is probably one of those most expensive, pro, super, extra (and so on) devices with millions of gigabytes and many other things that, with my technological knowledge equaling zero, I had no idea about. I didn't even want to know how much it could cost.
"Well done, Hailie, you've already managed to destroy the third phone in less than a year," Shane said teasingly, and Dylan snorted.
I ignored them, staring at Tony pleadingly.
"I didn't know you had it in your pocket..."
My mother instilled in me a strong sense of responsibility for my actions. Once in a kindergarten, I had a fight with one girl and destroyed her doll in anger. Consequently, I had to give her my own away.
"You can keep mine..." I suggested, knowing very well that it was no alternative for him. What's more, I had nothing to replace it with, so I would be left without a phone myself...
"Used for months, with a cracked screen? No thanks," Tony replied coldly.
I sighed resignedly.
"I will buy you the new one."
For the first time, the corners of his mouth raised a little. He was making fun of me because he knew that I didn't have this kind of money.
I swear if Dylan doesn't stop chuckling, I'll do something I will regret again.
"Good thing that we will be in a city today," Tony added, putting the phone back into his pocket.
My stomach curled up and I bit my lip.
"Tony, wait ... I don't have any money now ..." I mumbled. I was angry at myself for not thinking about my actions and getting into such a situation, but deep inside I was even more annoyed with my brother's behavior. I mean, come on. I was sure that if he wanted, he could buy a hundred of such phones just like that, drown them all and not even cry over them, and yet he preferred to bully me.
I was afraid to even ask how much his phone cost. Could I sell mine and ask Vince for the remaining amount? Would Vince give me such money or just lend it? Or maybe Will will have pity on me? Will they be mad at me?
Tony tilted his head.
"If you don't have it, how do you want to buy me a new phone?"
I looked down.
"I'll think of something ..." I mumbled.
"Ok. You will owe me fifty bucks extra for each day of delay."
My head shot up and I frowned at him.
"You heard me."
"Come on, Tony. It's not fair..." I sighed irritably.
I clenched my fists and barely managed to stop myself from stomping my foot.
"I'm your sister!" I called out reproachfully. How can he be so mean to me? Especially since his own wallet is stuffed with banknotes and credit cards. I saw it myself.
"Fine, then a hundred."
I fumed with anger. I don't know whether he was serious or not but you could never actually know with Tony. For some reason, I also remembered a scene from the school canteen when that big boy, I think his name was Andy, begged my brothers to postpone his payment day. Why did I feel like him now?
"Are you still here?" my father muttered, appearing on the terrace. He had the same book he had read before under his armpit and elegant sunglasses on his eyes.
Oh no, I wonder what he'll say about what I've done.
"Why are you wet?" he asked as soon as he saw me and Tony standing opposite each other.
"Because she fell into the pool, and I jumped after her to her rescue," said my brother nonchalantly.
"Aha, sure," father raised an eyebrow and looked at me, waiting for a better explanation.
I sighed. I should confess.
"I pushed Tony into the water, but he had his phone on him ..."
It didn't even seem important that he pushed me in first.
Father said nothing for a moment, and when I glanced at him shyly, he was raising his hand to slap the back of Shane's head, who was the one standing the closest to him and was laughing loudly together with Dylan. Well, it was not a strong blow, because none of them shut down, just the opposite, they laughed even more.
"Morons. Leave her alone," the man muttered. A small smile was wandering on his lips, then he gently turned to me, "Hailie, they're waterproof..."
"Huh?" I frowned.
"These phones of yours are waterproof," the father repeated calmly.
I looked at Tony, searching on his face for confirmation of our father's words. I found it right away when he burst into a laugh, which he apparently suppressed for a long time.
I blinked. Relief and anger took over my body at once.
"I hate you..." I finally whispered with disbelief.
Tony, still cackling stupidly, turned around and lazily walked inside the chalet while I was staring at his back.
"Hello, time!" Dylan urged me, tapping his finger at the dial of his hip watch.
"I'm not going anywhere with you," I growled out and only then escaped to my bedroom.
I was so angry that I couldn't even formulate one thought in my head. I changed into sweatpants and untangled my wet braid when my father knocked on my door.
"Can I come in?" he asked.
I didn't like his indulgent face.
I nodded, grabbing the brush and trying to deal with my messy hair.
"Are you all right? You just pretended to hurt yourself, right?" he asked, glancing at my ankle. He had to talk to the boys.
I nodded my head again.
"It was a good move. You managed to throw Tony in the pool. This is something," he said, winking, but I didn't smile, just dropped my hands, stopping my struggle for a moment.
"I'm not like them. It bothers me. I can't, I can't fight with them all the time. It's like a never-ending war and there are three of them and I am only one. I have no chance ..." I complained, and my lower lip began to tremble.
My father stood in front of me and grabbed my tiny shoulders. His embrace was strong but gentle. He lowered his head a little to make eye contact with me.
"My little one, you've won with them a long time ago. You don't even know that you have them wrapped around your finger. But you will see it soon."
I looked gloomily into my father's dark eyes. There were some cheerful flickers in them. It seemed to me that we lived on two different planets and talked about other brothers.
"Go to this city with them and enjoy your vacation, princess," he whispered to me, then pulled something out of his pocket and pressed it in my hand. I looked down. It was a fat bundle of banknotes.
My eyes widened. Probably, I have never held in my hand (nor even see) so much money at once.
"I-I can't accept that..."
"You don't have to reject it because of courtesy. I want to give my daughter some pocket money. Okay?"
I nodded shyly. He called me his daughter for the third time.
When he left, I counted the money out of curiosity and its amount was roughly equal to my mother's monthly salary. Pocket money, huh?
The only complication was the currency. In Thailand, US dollars aren't used, so, just like my father warned me, I had to get the boys to the exchange office before shopping. It made my job complex because asking my brothers for anything wasn't easy, but I wasn't going to complain. Money is money. I wasn't going to spend most of it here anyway. I wanted to take it home with me.
In the end, I changed into bright, high-waisted denim shorts and a short sleeveless pastel pink top. I put my sandals on my feet, praying that their belts wouldn't start bothering me later. This time I gathered my hair in a pony because unfortunately, I couldn't do much more with it. They were no longer as nice as before getting wet in chlorinated water.
I didn't feel like interacting with the boys, so I didn't talk to them. The motorboat trip was longer this time, but I appreciated it because it soothed my nerves and somehow made me want to smile.
However, what comforted me even more, was the first point of our trip. We got off at the port, which this time was enormous and there were a lot of different ships and boats here - from those luxurious like our motorboat or a huge cruise ship to those in a poor condition, looking like wrecks recently fished out from the bottom of the sea. There were already a lot of tourists here, and all those different languages they used merged into one, big, living buzz.
Although the main type of vehicles used as public transport in this place seemed to be those funny cars that looked like they were taken from Lego blocks (maybe because of these bright colors, or maybe because of strange, angular shapes) and enlarged. But for us, there was a fancy taxi already waiting. Air-conditioned and with leather seats - there were not many cars like that here. The driver spoke very basic English, but he probably knew in advance where to take us, because he did not exchange too many words with any of my brothers.
I landed, as usual, in the back, between the twins. The first thing that surprised me was the steering wheel on the right. I did not know that in Thailand there is left-side traffic and it was extremely interesting for me. Well, the ride itself was already interesting, because like if I was charmed, I was staring through the window at these low, colorful buildings, tangles of phone wires intersecting in different directions, uneven pavements and crowds of people. For me, isolated for so long on a private island with only my family, whose company was often doubtfully pleasant, it was quite a shock.
First thing, we got to the complex of temples and it was the stay in this place that caused me to relax and forget about anger. Apart from how beautiful this place was, the atmosphere that was prevailing here made me feel like I was intoxicated with some light drug. Everything was suddenly perfect.
The buildings were apparently old here, but their wear was masked by decorations - lots of gold pointed roofs with amazing details and engraved mantras everywhere. In fact, everything seemed a bit kitsch, but also beautiful at the same time. People wandered around the rooms and gardens, admiring their otherness, soaking up the charm and relaxing. Here there were red, inflated lanterns, a fountain lapped softly there, and a woman kneeled somewhere else with a stoic calmness on her face as she was sticking golden flowers to a huge monk figurine.
I imagined that my brothers would not be able to behave in this kind of place, but they turned out to be better mannered than me because Dylan pulled a white, sheer scarf out of his backpack and threw it at me as soon as we left the taxi. I caught it clumsily and at first, I did not understand, but then my gaze rested on a board with a polite announcement asking for showing respect and not entering the temples wearing not right clothes.
I glanced at my bare shoulders. I blushed and quickly wrapped myself with this scarf, feeling gratitude to Dylan.
"Thanks," I murmured, still unable to get out of the shock that he thought of me.
"We don't want you to embarrass us, do we?" he replied and all the charm was gone.
We spent a lot of time here, much more than I expected. The boys made some little jokes but I had to admit that some of these weird sculptures were indeed really funny. But they also showed off with the knowledge of having which I would never suspect them. Because of their mean and playful characters, I assumed that they had nothing to boast about but stupid talk, but they impressed me when they got into an (even though short) discussion about the history of Thailand, of which I had no idea. I shouldn't have been so surprised though. From what I know, my father took care of their education. At first, they studied at home with private teachers, and then went to one of the best schools in the country. Of course, they had knowledge about different topics.
Later, the same taxi driver drove us to the city center. I blushed every time people (young girls especially) shot curious, impressed or even lascivious looks at my brothers as their unusual way of being effectively distinguished them from the crowd. They behaved like lords of the world and as if they were better and could do anything. As a result, I got a lot of curious and even jealous (!) glances as well. I didn't bear up under it as freely as they did.
The city was wonderful, but the heat took its toll on me. I don't think there were even so many degrees but the humidity did its job and there was this kind of clamminess in the air here, which, combined with the crowds, became more and more unbearable. Especially for someone like me who has lately lived on a green island, where I could work out many ways to deal with the hotness, that were inaccessible here.
It happened quite suddenly and unexpectedly. I mean, I felt weak and tired, but it's probably normal after such a long walk? At one moment, I was laughing at the joke that Shane just said, at the other, my stomach rumbled a little, then a hot wave hit me and I started sweating. I took a shuddering breath and suddenly the sight in front of my eyes jumped and literally, one-second darkness took over.
I took another trembling gasp of air when I realized what was happening. I was laying there, supported by Tony, who stood closest to me and showed off his reflex, catching me as I fell. His tattooed arm wrapped around me and he spoke to me, but the moment of the daze I fell into stunned me a little. Dylan was leaning over me with Shane standing behind him.
I blinked and tried to get up, but I did it too fast as immediately my head spun and I groaned. Dylan said something and reached out his hand, stopping me from trying to get up so quickly again. I looked around. Many people stopped and stared at me. Oh great, I was a tourist attraction now.
A man from a nearby shop came to us and invited us inside, offering an air-conditioned room. The woman from the stall next door handed Shane one of the plastic fans she was selling. Completely dependent on Tony's strong embrace, I slowly let him lead me inside the shop. There, I was seated on the floor, told to pull my knees under my chin, put my head between my legs and breathe deeply. One of the boys fanned me and it gave me infinite relief.
"Why didn't you say you were feeling bad?" Dylan's voice asked somewhere next to me.
"I didn't feel bad ..." I replied weakly, head still lowered and eyes closed.
After a while, someone gave me a bottle of cold water.
"Drink it. A lot," Shane instructed, and I obediently carried out his order, still not opening my eyelids. My stomach rumbled again, and I felt like hitting it and snarling at it to shut up.
"Is it because of hunger?" Dylan snapped sharply. Great.
"No," I murmured. Maybe I didn't have a huge breakfast but I didn't think it was the reason of my collapse. I mean why would it be?
"Then why can I hear your stomach?!" he growled loudly and I winced.
"Do not yell at me," I muttered pathetically and it worked because Dylan got quiet.
An energy bar and two bottles of water later, I was able to fan myself on my own. I got up, leaning on Dylan this time, and we finally left the shop. The owner wished me health and warmed my heart with his selfless kindness. I was glad when with the corner of my eye I saw Tony leaving for him a few banknotes on the counter. He also gave a couple of them to a woman who gave us the fan.
I appreciated that we weren't walking too much anymore. The boys quickly chose a restaurant, quite exclusive, where I could sit again. Unfortunately, while waiting for food, my brothers found time to lecture me.
"If you are thirsty, then you say it. If you feel weak, you say it. If you are hungry, you say it. You're not such a small child that doesn't know such simple things, are you?" Dylan began, looking at me seriously. I looked down because this time he didn't sound malicious, only as if he was right, which was unbearable.
"I didn't feel so bad, I thought I was just tired. I felt weak so suddenly, sorry ..." I stammered, hating myself for even bringing this situation.
"Does something hurt you?" Shane asked. He sounded mild and worried.
"Head a bit, but it's better now," I said honestly.
"Damn it, Hailie, you have to inform us about such things," Dylan sighed.
"I'm sorry ..." I repeated again.
I opened my mouth to apologize for apologizing, but I bit my tongue in time.
"I thought you didn't have a problem with eating anymore," Shane started again.
"Apparently you do," Tony cut me off.
"I don't, it's because of the weather..." I insisted.
"Stop arguing. Your stomach is grumbling. If you had some imagination, you would eat a bigger breakfast knowing that we are going to the city today and we will walk a lot. Apparently, however, you still have to be watched. Like. A. Little. Child," Dylan growled.
"Dylan, I don't have to be watched, I'm s-..." I groaned, again getting quiet in time.
A bowl of steaming noodles, which was placed in front of me, proved that my brothers were at least slightly right because I could not resist and immediately began to eat, feeling as I regain strength with every single bite. Maybe I didn't really eat breakfast that would be nutritious enough, and then the heat and fatigue weakened my body.
This small incident spoiled our trip a bit but later, when I summed up today's day, I was surprised to find that I didn't regret a single thing that happened. Maybe my brothers were going to freak out about my meals again but they were so... kinder to me? If they want, they can.
Later, we ordered amazing desserts, that made me feel way better. We also walked a bit on the market, where we bought a few things. The boys didn't want to hear about looking for any exchange offices now. They happily paid for every item I chose.
"You know I was joking this morning, right?" Tony said to me out of nowhere when I offered Dylan that I would give him dollars back for the new hat I had just chosen and which he had bought for me. It was beautiful, also straw, but the blue ribbon was thicker and shorter than in the one I already had.
"Hm? Ah, well, I think so ..." I mumbled, blushing at the memory of the morning event.
"You wouldn't have to give me the money back. Which doesn't mean I wouldn't be pissed if you destroyed something that's mine."
I smiled uncertainly at those lovely words.
I was glad he told me that. So he wasn't a total jerk. As his younger sister, I could count on some special treatment from him. It was nice to know that.
It was getting dark when we got home. This time I didn't feel like riding a motorboat. I wanted to be in my bed now. For some reason, I immediately decided to take my place next to Dylan.
I yawned and he looked at me attentively.
"You all right?" he asked for the hundredth time today.
I hesitated, and then... I lied.
"My head is starting to ache again," I shrugged.
And then something happened that I hoped would happen and that was the reason for my little lie. Dylan put his arm around me and I leaned against his chest and closed my eyes. I expected the twins to make fun of me, but nothing happened, and somehow I almost managed to fall asleep on the jumping motorboat in the arms of my mean brother.