Chapter One: Summer CHAPTER ONE SUMMER
Becca sat in the backyard, trying to meditate. She had decided that meditation would be her thing, the thing she was better at than everybody else—if it was even possible to be a “better” meditator. Like wasn’t meditation kind of the same as doing nothing, and how could you get better at that than other people? Regardless, she was going to get very good at it.
It was a little noisy to be meditating, though.
One problem was that every few seconds Jammer whacked one of his one hundred hockey pucks into the goal. Becca didn’t understand how he could be interested in doing the exact same thing, over and over. Like if you did it perfectly one time, why did you need to keep doing it?
Bailey was drumming his fingers on the arm of his wheelchair, mouthing words and nodding to an imaginary song playing in his head. Bailey could turn on music in his mind just like other people could turn on music on their phones. He also wrote songs, and you weren’t allowed to say anything at all to him while he was writing or singing. Like now.
K.C., sitting right next to Becca, was reading a book about physics. Becca supposed that he was a math and science genius. Everybody said so, anyway. Even though to her he just seemed like K.C. She didn’t understand half of what he said. Nobody did. Becca could feel his arm against hers. Even when he was reading something and completely in his own world, he always did this thing of sitting close to somebody else—he didn’t really care who.
Mom had bought Becca a special meditation cushion called a zafu that was soft but not too soft. It was really pretty, with a picture of the moon and stars, but since her butt was on it, she wasn’t sure why it mattered how pretty it was. Still, she closed her eyes and tried to focus. But the only thing she could think about was the little ache in her heart that seemed to be there, like all the time.
Becca and her brothers were quadruplets. She was born first, on December 26, at 12:01 a.m. Then came Jammer. He was supposedly the quietest baby. Even today, he hardly talked to anyone, because they were all so boring. If you didn’t play hockey like he did, then you were boring. He was born at 12:03. Then K.C. at 12:05. That was when Dad passed out, so he didn’t see Bailey get born at 12:06. Becca had heard the story of Dad passing out at least a million times. Who wouldn’t pass out? he liked to say.
But ugh. Becca couldn’t concentrate! She opened her left eye. Bailey was dancing in his wheelchair, a new dance she hadn’t seen before. It must have been a good song he was hearing in his head, because the dance was really cool.
“That dance is dope,” K.C. said, looking up now. “It’s so perfect, it reminds me of a robot.” That was a compliment, because K.C. thought robots were the greatest thing ever, or would be someday. Becca closed her eye again and tried to concentrate but still couldn’t.
She hummed her mantra, which was a word or phrase to help you meditate. Hers was simply “Ommmm.” She’d chosen this one because it was simple and because it supposedly was the vibration of the universe… whatever that meant—she couldn’t quite remember at the moment. But anyway, the definition of “om” was “it is.”
“I can’t concentrate when you’re doing that,” Jammer snapped.
“I can’t concentrate when you’re doing that,” she snapped back.
Then they both returned to what they’d been doing.
Eleven and a half years ago, Becca, Bailey, Jammer, and K.C. had been in the intensive care unit for a month. Either Mom, Dad, Grandma, or Grandpa was at the hospital every second. Dad said it might sound weird, but even though he and Mom weren’t allowed to even pick up their “quads” for the first few days, that was the most magical time of his life. He and Mom hadn’t thought they could have kids at all, and being able to go to the hospital and see those “four tiny, precious creatures” was like “a new lease on life” and “being on cloud nine.” That was the way Dad talked sometimes. He said the reason clichés like “a new lease on life” and “being on cloud nine” existed was because they were so often the exact right words to say. That wasn’t what Becca’s last teacher believed, though. If you used a cliché in your stories, she would slash through it and write CLICHÉ ALERT in the margin. Which was really annoying, to be honest.
And suddenly Becca was thinking about how annoying that was, and she absolutely couldn’t meditate even slightly.
“I can’t focus,” she announced. “K.C., how do I empty my head?” Even though K.C. thought about the world a lot, he could also empty his head whenever he wanted. He said so, anyway.
“Maybe somebody is stopping you from focusing, just for fun,” he explained patiently.
That made no sense, but Becca asked, “Like who?”
He shrugged. “It could be anybody.”
K.C. believed that they might all be living in a simulation, being controlled by someone or something. He had read how some techie recently said that when he worked on artificial intelligence, he felt like he was operating on alien—not human—technology. Even though humans had invented AI. In short, this simulation on earth was possibly being run by an extremely advanced AI program that was invented by a flesh-and-blood alien a billion years ago, and the inventor had already died. According to K.C.
Whatever, K.C. That was what Becca thought when he talked about that kind of stuff. She tried to listen politely, except when it was late and he wouldn’t shut up and let her or Jammer or Bailey sleep. Then she would actually say “shut up” out loud. It was okay to tell K.C. “shut up” because he never got offended and would just say “shut up yourself.” But you could never, ever tell Bailey to shut up, because he would cry. And you didn’t usually have to tell Jammer to shut up, because people didn’t talk to him much, on account of they didn’t want to bore him, and he didn’t talk to them, on account of they were boring. She had to admit he was a really, really good hockey player, though. It was almost as cool as Bailey’s dancing. Actually, maybe just as cool.
Still, she suddenly felt annoyed again. Trying to meditate was annoying. So she called out, “Jammer, would you please mind being quiet for a few minutes so I can meditate?”
“It’s a free world,” he said, whacking a new puck.
“You’re so annoying!” she said. But he didn’t answer. Naturally.
She pulled her pillow out from under her butt. It wasn’t helping her meditate at all. She wondered if Mom could get her money back for it. Then, as soon as she thought that, she felt calm, like maybe she could meditate now. So she sat on her zafu again and tried to empty her head. But she couldn’t.
It was all right, though. In fact, she would never admit it to Jammer, but she kind of liked hearing the pucks whack. She liked hearing Bailey sing. She liked K.C.’s arm bumping hers.
They all spent a lot of time together. She knew other multiples who were like, meh, being a multiple is no big deal. But sometimes, at least when nobody was fighting, Becca felt she and her brothers were as connected now as when they were still in their mom’s stomach. Being a multiple was probably the thing in the world she was secretly most grateful for.
But she had questions. Like why were her brothers all so focused? They were nice enough people, but they were like sharks for what they liked. She was more like a jellyfish. Just floating around here and there.
Trying to meditate.