Sara frowned at Alex. She asked, "Did your port break?"
Alex frowned and splashed at the water. "Yah." He lied. They stared at each for a moment, before Alex laughed and shouted, "Wanna see who can swim furthest underwater?"
"Yeah!" Sara shouted and splashed at Alex. "I'm gonna beat you, I've got huge lungs!"
Alex stopped himself from laughing and said, "Sure! Let's go! Race you to the wall!"
"And after, we'll fix your port!" Sara said and dove toward the wall. She squealed, then laughed, then gurgled and as Alex grabbed her ankles and pulled her back, propelled himself to the wall.
* * *
"Sir," the M'aitre D said. "Your allotment for the evening. Welcome to the casino."
* * *
The bright white stage always hurt Addie's eyes. She couldn't see the audience, but she knew that every family from L-Tier was there, watching, waiting in anticipation. She smiled so big her cheeks hurt, and she ignored the mumbled insults from the Stein son standing next to her. Her mom had told her: don't stop smiling! So, Addie didn't.
The announcer (an impossibly tall man dressed all in white, with impossibly blonde, impossibly big hair and an impossibly long microphone) paused in his speech. He checked his six suit pockets, before pantomiming "Ahah!" and pulled a thick black envelope from a rear pocket.
Standing on her right side, Addie's sister Kye snacked Addie's hand. "Cross your damn fingers, or ELSE." Kye hissed, "This is IMPORTANT."
Addie closed her eyes and crossed her fingers. Addie bounced under the lights, her tight pig tails whisking her cheeks. She heard the impossibly loud tear of the impossibly black envelope and then the impossibly tall announcer said, "It's a tie!"
The sighs and boos of the crowd knocked into Addie so hard she grabbed Kye's hand to steady herself against the wash of emotion. She squeezed her eyes tighter closed and felt Kye's hand, sweaty, and squeeze rhythmically
"Now, now!" The impossibly tall announcer boomed, impossibly loud, audible over the roar of the patrons. "Now, now!" No one listened. The boo's and hisses continued. "Hush!" The impossibly tall announcer shouted, and, impossibly, instantly, there was silence.
"Wish I had a pin," Addie's Brother, Alex, stage whispered. "Ow!" he said.
"Hush." Their mother, Marie, hissed.
The impossibly tall announcer boomed, "And, reclaiming their title as the most recycling family in all of L-Tier this year. . ."
Music, huge bass drums swelled in the theater, Addie felt her chest getting ready to explode. She peaked an eye open and watched the impossibly tall announcer turn and wink at the Stein family. "Oh." Addie thought, "Maybe next year, then."
The announcer boomed, "The Hacksons!"
And then Addie was spinning, fast and giddy on the stage. The roar was like her heart in her ears, when she ran down the side streets to make it to class on time, after a long morning of searching for recyclables. Addie opened her eyes and her brother Alex's gigantic, crooked, grin greeted her.
"We did it!" He shouted. "We did it, we did it, we did it!" They fell over, laughing, dizzy.
"Yes folks! That's right! The Hacksons have taken the title of Most Recycling Family back from the Steins! After their upset last year, we weren't so sure, were we? But they've pulled together an amazing amount of recycling from their own homes, and from all around the community, marking their --"
The impossibly tall announcer was cut off as Addie's Dad, Michael Hackson, snatched the microphone from his hand. "I'd just like to thank --" He started, but just as quick, the impossibly tall announcer snatched the microphone back.
"Time enough for that!" The impossibly tall announcer strained through a tight smile. "First, thank-you Steins, hopefully we will see you back here next year!"
Three very wide, very short men with very nice tuxedos and with no noticeable necks gently but firmly escorted the Steins from the stage.
"Garbage pickers!" the Stein boy, Gabby, shouted as he was pushed stage right. He punched ineffectually at his handler. "Garbage Pickers!" His voice was very loud.
Part of the crowd took up the call, booed, and chanted over and over and over and over: Gar! Bage! Pee! Kurrs!"
Addie looked at the rest of her family. Her mom and dad looked back and forth, first at each other then at the crowd. Brittle, toothy smiles sat, crooked on their faces. Her brother Alex was turned away from the audience, hugging their other sister, Molly, who was crying into his shoulder. Her oldest sister, Kye looked at Addie, then her parents, then the audience. She held her hand out to Addie, who took it. Kye strutted to the very edge of the stage, and dragged Addie with her. Kye stared out into the blinding light. Imperiously, she swept the crowd with her gaze, a dramatic frown slapped on her face.
The jeering came mainly from the right side, and that is where Kye's gaze came to rest. She crossed her arms. The the jeering quieted, but Kye's frown only deepened.
The impossibly tall announcer bent and held the microphone to Kye's mouth.
"Well?" She said, "Come on! Gar bage pee kurrs! Gar Bage Pee Kurrs!" Kye rattled her sister's hand and thrust their clasped hands into the air. "Gar bage pee kurrs!" She roared into the microphone.
Sheepishly, Addie smiled into the spotlights. She shouted along, too, "Gar! Bage! Pee! Kurrs!"
There was a moment of confused shuffling, then the whole antechamber thrummed with the chant. Gar Bage! Pee! Kurrs! Gar! Bage! Pee Kurrs! And on, and on.
Even the impossibly loud, impossibly tall announcer couldn't drown the chanting out.
Eventually, it quieted, and the impossibly tall announcer took his impossibly long microphone and into it said, "Well all right then." He took a single step most of the way across the stage and asked, "So, Mr. Hackson, are you going to buy your family any gifts this year?"
"Thank-you Sam. I am, actually, yes. I'm going to buy them the best gift they'll ever get. And thank-you to--"
The last of his words were drowned out by the thunderous screaming and applauses from the audience. And then Mrs. Hackson, normally a very composed young woman, fainted.
* * *
Back in their tiny home, huddled around their ramshackle dinner table, the four children begged and poked and prodded their father about the gifts they were going to get.
No matter how much they poked and prodded and pleaded and praised, Michael kept silent. He sat, grinning. The gleam in his eyes was the only hint anything was different.
Marie asked, "That is the third time in four years we've won a lot of money and not used a drop of it for anything. You're not paying for another of your father's cock-eyed schemes, are you?"
Michael Hackson kissed his wife's cheek. He said, "You'll see tomorrow. I'll be home a bit later, so you'll have to wait, but then you'll see." And that was all he would say.
They sipped their water and finally the excitement wore off. They all hugged and saluted and prepared for the early morning and nodded to each other and hugged again and said the well dones and the children went to bed. The adults stayed up and talked, but Michael rebuffed from even Marie's most convincing connivings.
"You'll see!" Was all Michael Hackson said.
* * *
The day was interminable. But finally, they had to buzz their father onto their floor. Michael's walk from the elevator seemed to take ages longer than usual, and he fumbled with his keys, unlocking the door.
Finally, the door opened, and in he stumbled, the right side of his face was bloody. Michael Hackson cradled his right arm at a strange angle. Marie gasped and pressed the emergency services button, which pulsed calmly. "I'm fine. I will be fine! You'll see, I've got them!" Michael said.
"Dear! Your arm!" Marie said, stepping from foot to foot.
Addie ran in and tried to hug her father, but he yelped and went pale under the dirt and blood, when she tugged his right arm. The five other Hacksons stood around their father, who leaned his head back and splayed out in his chair. "This is going to be awesome!" he said, triumphantly. Then, Michael Hackson passed out.
* * *