Filthy Foreign Exchange(5)

By: Angela Graham & S.E. Hall

My full name? Maybe I was wrong about the no-anger thing. My dad’s either furious, or being way too formal for Mr. Fancypants.

“Echo, can you say hello to our guest?”

Before my humiliation from being spoken to like a toddler causes my face to erupt in flames, a smooth, familiar accent floats on air and rescues me.

“We’ve met, sir,” Kingston says to my dad. “Last evening. We passed in the loo.” He pauses to add another quick lie. “While cleaning our teeth. Lovely to see you again, Echo.”

“What’s a loo?” my nine-year-old little brother Sammy cuts in, tapping his fork on his empty plate.

“He means the bathroom, Sammy.” The twist of confusion on his face remains with that explanation, so I elaborate further. “They call it a ‘loo’ where Kingston’s from.”

“Does that mean Sebastian is gonna have to say ‘loo’ now when he has to go pee?”

We all laugh at his innocent question, my father the loudest. He’s probably thinking along the same lines as me: No way is my big brother Sebastian going to suddenly start talking all proper. We only just broke him from burping at the table.

“Not at all,” Kingston answers Sammy, with an amused smile. “Your brother can speak any way he wishes. You see, this experience—or exchange, as you may say—isn’t to change your big brother, Sam. No, I believe my father hopes that I’ll be the one who changes.”

His fickle laugh is edged with something bitter…perhaps even pained?

“Sebastian is having a fine time, I assure you. No need to worry,” Kingston adds quickly before throwing back a mouthful of orange juice.

Little Sammy’s concerned face brightens immediately. “Okay! Can I eat now?”

“Dig in,” my mother says as she sets the last platter on the table and takes her seat. “I hope there’s something here you like, Kingston. And please, let me know if there’s anything special I can pick up for you the next time I’m at the store.”

“The spread looks and smells wonderful, Mrs. Kelly. Thank you.” He lays it on thick, and I duck my head to hide my rolling eyes.

“Please, call me Julie.”

I wasn’t aware she even knew how to make the sound I hear next: a slight giggle that catches in her throat.

Oh, this wanker (you bet I did my homework—mainly to make sure Sebastian would at least be able to ask for a toilet, a phone, and/or the police) is quite the schmoozer.

“Well, Miss Echo.” I raise my head when my father addresses me. “I assume you used the time you couldn’t spare to join us at the airport or dinner yesterday to practice?”

“Yes, sir. Savannah and I worked on our new routine—the idea I told you about.”

“And how’d it go?”

I don’t make a habit of lying to my parents—or anyone, for that matter. I never do anything that needs hiding. But I can’t very well admit that Savannah hasn’t been catching on and that my time may have been wasted, so I structure my answer accordingly.

“It went better than last time, so I’m hopeful that it’s coming along.”

“Glad to hear it. Now I know you can afford to skip a session today to clean the risers of all debris and give them a good scrubbing.”

And there’s my punishment: cleaning the bleachers in the pavilion all day. Disgusting, not to mention Clay’s job, but better than what I was expecting.

“Yes, sir,” I answer obediently before filling my mouth with food, hoping to end the conversation.

My mother jumps in to squash the awkward silence. “So, Kingston! Tell us a little more about yourself. We spoke so much about our kids last night, we barely heard from you.”

“What would you like to know, Mrs.—eh, excuse me—Julie?”

My gaze darts his way, and he catches it. A small, fleeting smirk plays on his lips.

“Anything, really. John?” she asks, enlisting my father’s help.

“Well, I still don’t understand why my boy would want to sign up for this switching thing, so maybe you can offer some insight on the appeal?” My father’s timbre takes on a rough, slightly hurt edge. “Why’d you want to change places, and with Sebastian?”

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