Authors: Joss Stirling
Yves Benedict bent his head over the sink, taking deep breaths. His pale-blue graduation robes flopped around his wrists, mortar board slipping over his eyes. ‘I can do this.’
‘Bro, you wanted to be valedictorian.’ His elder brother, Xav, turned on the water, waiting for it to run cold. He took off Yves’ cap and put it to one side.
is putting it too strongly. Elected, then pressured to go through with it is more like it.’
‘I mean, what were you thinking?’ Xav rested a cool palm on the back of his brother’s neck and let a little of his calming energy run into Yves. ‘The rest of us avoided it.’
‘Apart from Uriel.’ Yves splashed his face.
‘Yeah, but he doesn’t count. Golden boy was destined from the cradle to make the leavers’ speech at High School, the forgivable exception that proves the rule for the Benedict brothers. You, however, have flaws.’
‘You’re way too clever for a mere mortal.’
Yves was already feeling less sick thanks to his brother’s healing touch. The shuddering in his stomach had quietened to a tremor. ‘Good to know.’
‘You could’ve done the decent thing, just flunked a few classes, ended up somewhere in the middle like us, but did you? Hell no. You had to go graduate with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Hang your head in shame.’
Yves knew his brother’s teasing was all to make him feel better about the speech he had to give in front of the whole of Wrickenridge High, parents and teachers. And do you know what? It was working. ‘I suppose I could just go mess up that image now. Blurt out something really inappropriate. Set fire to the principal’s robes.’
‘That’s more like it.’ Xav patted him on the back. ‘As long as it’s not a lame rap like that guy tried last year when I graduated.’
‘The thought hadn’t crossed my mind.’
‘You get up there and tell us how you’re going to shake the dust off your feet as you leave this two-bit town in the Rockies. San Francisco here you come. No looking back as you make your technology fortune. Oh, but wait: you’ve already done that.’ Xav’s eyes twinkled with amusement, his long legs crossed at the ankle as he leant against the sink.
Yves cleaned his glasses on the hem of his robe and resettled them on his nose. He didn’t know why anyone was impressed by his security app for the iPhone that Apple had bought. The money had come too easily for something that was to him a bit of fun. He had a knack for thinking up these things.
The door banged open and another student came into the boys’ restroom. Fate wasn’t being kind: it was Brendan Watts, Yves’ main academic rival, seeing him at this low point. In any other school, Brendan would be a shoo-in for doing the valedictory and had made it clear he resented being passed over. The student body and teachers, however, had been unanimous in their choice.
‘’S’up, Yves?’ Brendan said casually.
‘Oh, hi.’ Yves straightened his tie.
‘All ready for your big moment? Gonna hit this one out of the park?’ If Yves had one weak spot, it was ball sports.
Xav stood up. ‘Of course he is. He’s a Benedict. Come on, Yves.’
‘Jerk,’ Xav muttered as he marched Yves out into the corridor where the rest of the family were waiting. Trace and Uriel, the two oldest Benedicts, were talking to old teachers. Victor was hanging back, brow furrowed as he texted on his phone, acting as if he couldn’t take a break from work even for his kid brother’s graduation. The FBI had absorbed all his attention since he joined, but the family felt it was a good way of channelling his more dangerous energies. Victor could manipulate minds, a gift it would be tempting to misuse. Middle brother, Will, was throwing a football to amuse some of the younger children who were bored waiting for the ceremony to start. He was Yves’ definition of a solid, decent guy. And his younger brother, Zed? Yves didn’t even have to look for him. He would be with his soulfinder, Sky. And yes, there they were, huddled together in a corner, Zed’s arm looped quite naturally round her waist as if it had always been waiting to occupy that spot, her pale-blonde head resting on his chest.
A pang of envy shot through Yves. Savants like him and his brothers had to search for the corresponding savant conceived at the same time as them—their soulfinder—who held the other half of their gifts. Zed, the most powerful of the Benedicts as the seventh son of a seventh child, had been born lucky because Sky, a transfer student from England, had turned up in the same school. He hadn’t even had to start looking. What were the chances? Yves had begun to think that Hamlet had it right: “there’s a divinity that shapes our end, rough-hew them how we will.” Problem was, while Yves could believe that might be the case for Zed, he couldn’t see how it would work for him. He was locked onto a path of study that led to an elite academic career. The chances of meeting his own soulfinder in such a specialized field were remote, but he didn’t feel he could take the risk of dropping out now to go on what might be a fruitless search among other savant communities. He could do the research into likely candidates, but not everyone was known to the Savant Net and even with a shortlist you still had to meet the girl and connect telepathically before you could be sure. How long could he wait? He knew from his older brothers it got harder with every passing year.
His mother bustled over to him having just ended her conversation with the principal. A little rocket of energy and curiosity, Karla made a difference to any room she entered. ‘Yves, are you feeling better?’ Bangles clinking, she reached up to smooth back his black fringe. Even though she was almost a foot smaller than her sons she had never surrendered the parental right to fuss over them.
‘I’m fine, Mom.’ Yves understood her better than the rest of his brothers and let her settle his cap straight. She needed to do it.
Her dark eyes gleamed at him, shining with tears of joy. ‘Of course you are. This is a proud day for your father and me. You’ve never given us a moment’s anxiety the last few years and just because we don’t have to say much to you, doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate you.’ She pressed his hand then stepped back. ‘But you don’t need your old mother bothering you now. Go.’ She gestured to the open doors of the hall. ‘You’d better take your place on the platform.’
Yves’ father stepped forward and gave him a man-hug—a one-armed squeeze. His long dark hair was tied back for the ceremony but his face never lost its wildness. Not that Saul was in any way uncivilized, more that he was better suited to being outside in the mountains where his ancestors had once lived, rather than bound up in a suit and made to sit on a hard chair for an hour. He was the wisest man Yves knew, his slow and steady approach to life a good foil to his mother’s erratic brilliance. Yves liked that he looked most like his father out of all his brothers; he made an exceptional role model.
Saul dropped something into his son’s hand. ‘I’d like it if you would wear this to honour our people.’
Yves recognized the beaded bracelet as one his father usually wore, the mark of a mature man in the Ute tribe. He knew the honour was all his. ‘Thanks, Dad.’ He slipped it on his wrist. The warm brown beads were a comfort against his skin, rubbed smooth by generations of wearers. Uriel, who had the ability to read the past of objects he touched, had said it contained so many memories it would take a lifetime to explore them all.
‘I have no fears that you will not do this very well, Yves. Have faith in yourself.’
With a nod that tried to be thanks and a promise at the same time, Yves braced himself and followed the line of teachers and VIP guests filing into the auditorium.
Yves discovered about a third of the way into his speech that delivering it wasn’t as bad as thinking about it. The audience had laughed in the right places and cheered some of his comments in praise of their much-loved town. So far so good, but he wanted them all to leave just a little better than they had come in, himself included.
‘Do you know something, my friends?’ His eyes scanned the room. These were the people who had known him since his birth: family, classmates, neighbours, teachers. He felt a keen love for all of them in their amazing, sometimes annoying, often inspiring, variety. ‘To borrow words from Kirk Schneider, “We’re not just gathered here on a lovely May day in an ordinary auditorium. We’re all strapped in, seated together on a gigantic ball whirling around the sun at sixty-seven thousand miles per hour, nested in a galaxy hurtling through the depths of space and time at one point three million miles per hour.” That should make you feel special because the chances of you existing are so microscopically small, you must never forget you are a miracle. Let’s not waste our miracle. This is what I tell myself so now I’m passing it on to you: when you leave here, look after this planet. Make interesting failures, enjoy successes, but most of all, never forget that the person next to you is also strapped in on this journey through the stars. She or he is your teammate. Be kind. Forgive them their mistakes. But most of all, enjoy the ride together.’
His speech ended in applause, swiftly converted to a standing ovation. His year were yelling the loudest, waving their hats at him. Yves felt the blood rush to his cheeks. He was surprised to feel that his outpouring of love for them was coming back to him tenfold. He hadn’t realized that he was so popular in his class.
‘Thank you, Mr Benedict, for those wise words,’ said Principal Dawes. ‘I couldn’t have said it better myself. I have no fears for this graduation class: you are a special year group, multi-talented but also distinguished by your thoughtfulness and sense of responsibility, all of which, I’m sure you’ll agree, are exemplified by your valedictorian. Well done.’
Yves returned to his seat and was able to relax for the first time since he had been given the task. The rest of the ceremony passed quickly: the receiving of the diplomas, the tossing of hats and group photos outside. He was hugged and kissed by more girls than ever before in his life and found himself asked to be in pictures with people he barely knew. His closest friends, Kazu and Rohan, of course teased him for this. Yves made sure Will got a photo of the three of them. This was the last time they’d be together for some time: Kazu was off to visit family in Japan, then Harvard; Rohan had a summer job in Boston at a medical lab, then was going to Princeton; and Yves was jetting off to England on a conference he had won as part of a science prize.
‘I can’t bear to be pictured with him, can you?’ said Kazu to Rohan, pretending to pull away during the photo. ‘Looks, brains, charm, the undying love of the principal and all the girls in our year—he makes me want to puke.’
‘It’s OK, Kaz, we’ll keep him humble,’ promised Will.
Rohan grinned. ‘Yeah, it must be tough being the runt of the Benedict litter.’
Ouch. Though a joke, it hit hard as Yves had often thought the same. He’d spent his middle-grade years being the slight, bespectacled one in the Benedict family games, the one who always dropped the ball and missed the joke as his thoughts were elsewhere. It was only in the last few years he had caught up, reached six feet and filled out a little so that he didn’t feel a complete weed next to his sports-mad brothers. It had taken him a while to work out that even the smallest in a family of lions was still a lion to the savannah animals outside the pack.