Authors: Pam Withers
“This is it,” I shout, and up a muddy hill we charge on our last dregs of adrenaline, taking short steps and staying off the balls of our feet, just as Dad has trained us to do on steep slopes. Sunrise is finally dispersing the fog with a tangerine glow.
Ay yi yi!
” Raul shrieks in what he has decided is an Inca warrior cry. We grab hold of tree roots to pull ourselves over the top of the ridge and all but tumble down to the finish line. Breaking through the finish line's thin strip of orange tape feels utterly blissful. Seeing Dad leaping about and surging forward to bear-hug us both is cool. Then I spot the still figure behind him. Resentment replaces my euphoria.
“David,” I say tonelessly.
“Congratulations, Andreo. First place.” The voice is equally flat, almost sarcastic; the eyes narrowed. I smell jealousy and find it nourishing. I notice he has put on a slight paunch since leaving six weeks ago. Boarding-school food must be good. But before I can say anything, a burly reporter steps between us and his cameraman
aims a television news camera at Raul and me. “Team Inca. How does it feel to clinch first place?”
“Awesome,” I say, my legs suddenly threatening to buckle.
“And what's the secret of your success?”
“Hard training, good coaching,” Dad says proudly, forgetting for a moment that it's not all about him.
“Our Inca genes,” Raul says a little louder than necessary, throwing an arm around my shoulder and grinning into the camera. I watch Dad and David stiffen.
“Your Inca genes?” The newsman looks curious.
“Andreo and I are Quechua Indians, descended from the mighty Incas. We were born in Bolivia and adopted and raised by Canadian parents,” Raul proclaims. “That means our lungs are descended from generations of high-mountain warriors. That's why locals here have no chance against us.”
I'm too tired to roll my eyes, let alone wince on behalf of Dad, his face frozen in shock, or David, whose raised eyebrows reek of ridicule. There are two unspoken rules in our household: Never mention the
word and always pretend that David and I are natural brothers.
“I see,” the reporter says politely.
“And you must be Nick Wilson,” he says, swinging toward my dad, “a well-known adventure racer yourself. How does it feel to have your,
, son and his friend here place first?”
“I'm proud as hell,” Dad says, averting his eyes from
Raul. “And this is my other son, David, also sixteen.â¦Â ”
But the reporter and his cameraman have swung back to capture the Adventure Aces sprinting for the finish line.
“Your friend Raul could do with a little more restraint,” Dad says in a friendly but measured tone from where he sits, muscle-toned and hairy-chested, across from me in the Canmore Country Club whirlpool. I look out of the tall window behind him, the one that frames a panorama of rose-colored, snowcapped peaks. I've slept all day and hauled myself out of bed just in time for this “spa and dinner night out” celebration of my adventure-race win.
“Yeah, like he's the least classy guy at Canmore High you could possibly choose to hang out with,” says David as he lowers his pasty white self in baggy swim shorts into the pool in a squeeze between Mother and Dad.
Sitting across from their tight arc of three, I feel for a moment like someone being interrogated rather than celebrated.
“Raul is Raul,” I state.
“Raul is a nice boy,” my mother speaks up, patting
the bun into which she has wound her long dark hair to keep it dry. Her black one-piece glistens as she rises to press the power button for more Jacuzzi action. “He does well considering he's from a disadvantaged family.”
“Disadvantaged?” My father scoffs as bubbles surge about us. “His folks used to be pretty well off.”
Dad should know. My parents referred Raul's parents to the adoption agency that handled us both.
“Don't know how they manage to keep their jobs, though,” Dad adds. “Their employer must turn a blind eye.”
“Working drunks,” David inserts helpfully. I feel like shoving a wall of water at him.
“Money doesn't buy happiness,” my mother points out. “Anyway, Raul means well. He just has a lot ofÂ â¦,” she pauses, “spark.”
“Anyone up for the steam room?” Dad asks. One by one we step out of the whirlpool, file through cold showers and enter the steam room. For an instant, I'm transported back to the early-morning fog of my race. But my sore muscles are happy for the room's searing heat.
“David, tell us more about how school is going,” my mother says, her voice all but gushing. “He was placed on the honor roll already,” she informs me.
I feel my jaw tighten. That would be in contrast to my all-Cs report card, with the exception of Spanish, where I managed an A minus. Truth is, like Raul, I'd way rather be outside doing something fun than inside doing homework.
“School's awesome,” David says. “Teachers are way better than at Canmore High, and there are lots of clubs: Math Club, Chess Club, Current Events Club, Science Club.â¦Â ”
“But you've left plenty of time for sports, too?” Dad asks as he stretches his body full-length on the top bench, metallic blue swim trunks sparkling in the steam. Beneath him is a fluffy white towel with a gold-threaded Canmore Country Club monogram on its corner.
, I signed up for track, but missed the deadline, so I'll get on the team next round,” David replies.
“Missed the deadline?” Dad says, rising on one elbow. He quickly lowers his voice at a signal from Mother. “Want me to talk to someone there? That was silly to get a date wrong, son, but surely they'll make an exception for you.”
Missed the deadline?
I wonder. He was probably too busy getting on the honor roll and beating everyone at chess. But it's true that David is a decent runner when he's training.
“And have you made friends, darling?” Mother asks.
“Yeah, I got elected student government leader,” David says, his chest puffing out a little as he sits swinging his legs through the hot mist.
Power doesn't buy happiness or friends
, I am tempted to say. But Mother is all smiles and pride.
“I joined the Spanish Club,” I hear myself say, even though I usually avoid competing with David on anything academic.
“Yes, your Spanish is getting very good,” Mother says, a little too hurriedly.
“Well,” David says, standing to stretch his tall frame and tracing a line in the steam on the glass door, “people kind of expect Andreo to speak Spanish, don't they?”
I bite my lip. It's as close as David will ever come in front of Mother to referring to the difference in our skin color.
“You haven't told me yet why you're home this weekend,” I address him, moving up to plop down beside Dad.
Like why you've shown up unannounced to spoil what should have been my weekend
. He has no idea how six weeks of his being at boarding schoolâand me having Mother and Dad to myself for the first time in my lifeâhas given me a real taste for being an only child.
“Dad told me to come. Said he'd explain it tonight. And Mom drove all the way to the train station to pick me up.” David slips his arm around her; she responds by giving him a firm hug and a peck on his cheek. I have no idea why David calls her Mom while I've always called her Mother.
Dad stands up with a grin and wraps his towel around his waist. Streamlets of hot water run down his six-pack abs. “Indeed. I have an exciting announcement to make over dinner. Shall we move to the dining room, everyone?”
Fifteen minutes later, we're seated at a table draped in white linen, intently studying oversize menus.
“I could eat a grizzly bear,” I say, fully awake and ravenous now.
“And you certainly deserve anything you want on the menu, son,” Dad replies.
“Including wine?” I joke.
“A sip of mine,” Mother teases.
We order, clink glasses and settle back, all eyes on Dad.
“The announcement,” David reminds him.
, yes. I have some terrific news. A brand-new international adventure race has been announced. And now that both of you have turned sixteen, I think our family is ready to do it.”
“Yes!” I shout, half-jumping up from my chair. “We've done most of the U.S. and Canadian ones. About time we get to join you on a biggie.”
“When? Where? What kind?” David asks.
“Yes, where?” Mother joins in. “Your father has been keeping that bit secret from me.”
“It's seven-day, four-sport stage race in Januaryâand yes, we'll arrange permission for you to miss a week and a half of school,” Dad says, locking his hands behind his head and tilting back in his chair with a self-satisfied grin.
A stage race is good
, I reason: mandatory breaks at intervals. Seven days flat out would be too brutal for a first international, even if David and I are way more experienced than most kids our age. And missed school time sounds like an excellent idea.
“Mountain biking, trekking, canoeing and caving,” Dad elaborates.
“Caving?” David and I echo in surprise.
“Yes, that one's a bit unusualâone of those âspecial feature' challenges that serves as a break from the timed portions. A Fear Factor/Wipeout sort of thing. And that's why David is home for the weekendâto do a caving certification course. He has to pass one to enter. I know yours is up-to-date, Andreo.”
“Hey, Raul could coach him,” I say. “Everyone knows Raul is one of the best teen cavers around.” My friend is like a boa constrictor when it comes to slithering through impossibly small, dark spaces. His house just happens to be on a cave-riddled hill, and it's his other way of escaping his mom and dad.
“When I want Raul's help, I'll ask for it,” David informs me.
“I've arranged some private lessons with an adult instructor before the course,” Dad tells us. “But speaking of Raul, there's another issue.”
I wait, hoping against hope he'll say what I want to hear.
“This race calls for teams of five, not four, including one female.”
Mother smiles. She is used to being our token female, and where there's a canoeing leg, she's a female competitor most teams would kill for.
“Yes, yes, yes!” I say, jumping up again. “Raul will do it. I know he will. And he'll rock in the caving section!”
Given that adventure races can specify any number of people, I always feel lucky when they require five, allowing Raul to join us.
“I could maybe find someone from my school,” David offers.
One of his many “friends” in student government?
Or from the track team he hasn't even joined yet?
Nope, from the look on Dad's face, I know that Raul's in.
“As you know, David,” Dad says, “we've run into the five-person rule twice before, and Raul has turned in impressive performances. Also, like Andreo, he speaks Spanish well, and that will be an advantage on this one.”
“Spanish?” Mother says, her eyes widening. “So when are you going to tell us
this new race is?”
Dad's front chair legs return slowly to the floor, and he studies his table setting for a moment. Then he reaches for Mother's hand, squeezes it and says in a placid voice, almost too quietly for the rest of us to hear, “Bolivia.”
I feel my heartbeat do double time, and I sit bolt upright. David shoots one narrowed-eyed glance my way and then, like Dad, studies Mother's face, which has formed a careful mask.
You see, the
word, being connected with the
word, is also banned in our household. We all pretend that I popped out of Mother here in Canada, not Bolivia, a mere six months before Davidâwith more of a suntan, so to speak. Mother even used to call us her
“twins” before she noticed that it prompted us to pummel each other.
Sure, Mother and Dad dutifully gave me the “you were adopted” talk when I was littleâonly after too many people had pointed out to me (meanly) that David and I couldn't possibly be “real” brothers. But, even then, I got the clear message that this information was the beginning, middle and end of the discussion.
Now, suddenly, Bolivia is real and alive and calling me. Here is a possibility I'd never even dreamed of: I can visit the land where I was born, see faces like my ownâand with Raul at my side! All the while competing in our very first international race.
“Whether we go depends completely on whether you're okay with it,” Dad is saying to Mother.
“But, of course,” she says after a moment of studying their hands entwined in her lap. She lifts her face bravely. “It's time we did an international race together. I know you've been waiting for this for a long time, dear.” She turns to meet our eyes. “And our boys are ready, aren't you, David and Andreo? Sixteen. I'm so proud of you both.”