By J. M. Kessler
The eleven-year-old boy with roughed-up clothes and hair looked doubtful.
“So, a fellowship. With wizards and hobbits and dwarves and things?”
The understanding eleven-year-old boy smiled patiently.
“Perhaps you meant rings? And no, not that fellowship. Ours is a fellowship of like-minded young ladies and gentlemen,” he said, looking across the park at the picnic table where some boys and girls were gathered. “It was my sister’s idea to refer to ourselves that way. It helps keep up morale.”
“And what do you talk about?”
“Oh, lots of things, from the correct way to use the contraction there’s, to the appalling way kids wear trousers below the hips – it is trousers, by the way, not pants – to interesting programs on PBS, to new books in the library. Mostly, we share personal experiences.”
“You mean, complain about our parents,” the roughed-up boy smirked.
“We may have legitimate complaints, but it serves no one to just sit around complaining. We have a plan. And once we come into our own, we can take matters into our own hands. In the meantime, we support one another in doing what’s necessary to make our lives tolerable.”
“And behaving like perfect gentlemen is supposed to make people treat us better?” the roughed-up boy asked, looking down at his backpack, which had been trampled in the dirt.
“Listen, Jack. People see us as different because of something that happened to us at birth. We didn’t ask for it. It’s not our fault. But how we live with it is our choice.” He helped Jack with his backpack. “No one is going to treat you like royalty if you think of yourself as a gutter rat. That’s the first step. The next step is to act on the first. The world respects people who respect themselves.”
“But I thought respect was something you had to earn. Like that hobbit. No one just gives it to you.”
“That’s right,” replied the understanding boy. He led Jack across the grass to the picnic table. “And you will earn it, every day, by insisting on it from yourself. That takes work, Jack, commitment. And support. We have seven years before we come into our power as individuals. Until then, we are powerful in a group.”
They were at the table now where some of Jack’s classmates were gathered. The understanding boy placed a comforting hand on Jack’s back.
“You’re not alone. We are in this together, and we will come through it together.” He brushed some dirt off the boy’s shoulder. “No matter what it costs.”
Jane Griffin placed a mug on the kitchen bar and poured herself a cup of coffee.
“I’m telling you, there’s something strange about them. They’re…” she paused, grabbed a donut from the box on the kitchen bar, and tried to think of the right word. But when she saw that her husband was still looking at his laptop screen, she no longer cared about the word being right. “Roger!”
“Hmm?” He inclined his head just slightly to the left.
“Don’t you think there’s something odd about them?” she said through a mouth-full of donut.
Roger took a sip of his coffee, swallowed, and continued reading. “Wrong with who?”
Jane rolled her eyes, swallowed the donut, and slouched over the bar. “The kids. They’re, strange.”
She took a sip of coffee and then grunted disagreeably. “Sugar,” she said firmly.
Roger lifted his eyebrows a fraction higher. “Hmm? Uh, no, I’m fine,” he mumbled.
Jane glared. “I want it.”
Roger, never lifting his gaze from the computer screen, reached out, found the sugar bowl, and slid it across the bar to Jane.
“It’s just weird, that’s all,” she said, stirring a heaping teaspoon of sugar into her coffee. “The way they act, and talk. They make me feel so,” she paused. No, she wouldn’t admit feeling stupid and inadequate to Roger. “And now this club thing. You know what they said when I asked them about it? They said, ‘It’s for kids who are like we are, and who are intelligent and well-mannered.’ You don’t think that’s weird?”
“So, they started a club. I wouldn’t worry about it.” Roger looked up now and took a donut from the box. “There’s kids everywhere that act different just to get attention. It’s fine.”
“It’s not. It’s creepy. Something’s going on.”
Roger eyed his wife with interest for a moment, then shook his head.
“They’re just playing around. There’s nothing wrong with them,” he said.
“Roger,” Jane insisted, “they’re not like us. They’re… different. The way they look at me. There’s something in their eyes, like, like they’re always forgiving me for something. It’s creepy. And they’re always so damned polite. I mean, sometimes it’s like they’re from another country, or -” she stopped short.
“Another planet? Really, Jane. Our smart, polite kids start a club with other smart, polite kids and suddenly it’s the village of the damned.”
Jane looked hard at Roger, but he turned his attention back to his computer screen. She grabbed another donut.
Well, maybe she was taking it too seriously. It was strange, though, that they always kept their rooms clean, they didn’t spend hours playing video games, they ate vegetables, they liked to read books, and they were polite. Too polite.
And it didn’t help that they were twins.
“They’re up to something,” she mumbled to herself. “I just know it.”
Jane drew her shoulders tight and wrapped her hand around her coffee mug, her diamond ring clinking against it. She remembered twelve years earlier. She and Roger had been walking downtown when he stopped unexpectedly, the way people do when they suddenly wonder if they’ve brought the grocery list or left it on the counter, and asked if she wanted to get married. They were standing outside Tiffany’s. And because that’s where they became engaged, they named their daughter after the jeweler. And because they honeymooned in Paris, they named their son after the city. They were sentimental that way.
Jane looked at the photographs of their children that were on the refrigerator. They had been given everything, every advantage. They should be happy, normal kids. What was wrong with them? She knit her brow suspiciously and looked away.
A notebook was placed before the roughed-up boy, and a girl indicated the appropriate space.
“So, what am I signing?” Jack asked as he smoothed out his hair.
“I’ll let my sister explain.”
The girl with the notebook smiled. “It’s the Fellowship Eighteen club book. In it, you will write your name, birthday, and contact information, which you will promise to keep updated over the next seven years, in case there are any changes. Then, after everyone has had their eighteenth birthday and completed their mission, I will contact everyone in this book, we will meet, and we will celebrate. Sign here, please.” She held out a pen.
“I’m sorry about those boys roughing you up like that,” said one of the girls at the table.
Jack grinned. “Thanks, Tadasha. I’m all right,” he said, shrugging off the incident.
He looked at the page in the club book. Under the heading “Fellowship 18” were the names of its founders: Tiphaknee (usually mispronounced as ti-fack-nee) Griffin, and her brother, Parass (also mispronounced, usually by kids with an affinity for jokes about posterior anatomy) Griffin. Their names were followed by Ta-ah Bracket, Seazur Santiago, Seeairah Schaeffer, Janeva Lake, Darrwyn Lewis, Kuper Mann, Danyull Hoffman, and Mikenzy Elliott. The roughed-up boy added his name to the list: Éjacks Eaves.
“Welcome to Fellowship Eighteen,” Parass said, as Éjacks filled in his personal information. “Of course, once we get to high school and have email accounts, we’ll add those to the book, and Tiphaknee will keep contact with everyone online. Right, then. Let’s get started. This meeting of Fellowship Eighteen, the Society for the Right to be Well-Named, will now begin.”
© 2017 J. M. Kessler