“I’m… not sure what to say…”
“You don’t… like it?” Dawn asked, staring at me intensely.
“I mean… it’s a picture… of food, and places.”
“What did you think I would take pictures of?” Dawn asked.
“Uh… nothing!” I coughed. “This suits you.”
“Is that so…” Dawn asked, cocking her head curiously.
Dawn had brought me back to her room. In this world, it was the first time I could recall having ever stepped into this room. With the door closed twenty-four-seven, it had felt like an indomitable barrier, but I crossed into her domain within hours of returning home all because Dawn had heard me teasing Abigail about her previous world’s photography habits.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to see when I entered her room. It wasn’t dark, dirty, or dreary like the room from my coma world. She had the curtains open and light poured in. Her bed was clean and tidy. It didn’t smell of sex and stale Doritos. I kind of missed that smell. This was a cleaner Dawn. She didn’t play video games, but she was still obsessed with the internet and she was still into photography.
Her otherworld counterpart had taken her photography skills and started an underground site taking risqué images of boys. Even after going legit, she still favored the erotic images and candid shots, especially of her dear brother. How did that manifest in this world? Dawn was the proud owner of a social media account where she posted life photos. Most of the time, they were based on places she visited or meals she ate.
“How did you afford to go out to these restaurants?”
Dawn’s face turned slightly pink. “Sp-”
“Sponsors!” She cried out with an embarrassed look. “Sponsors send me money and locations, and I go out and visit places and talk about my experience.”
I frowned thoughtfully. “You mean… like a vacation and lifestyle blog?”
“Ah! That…” She shook her head. “This is just local. Some of my fans have been encouraging me to branch out more, but with college coming soon, I won’t be able to do that.”
“College…” I couldn’t help but let out a short laugh of disbelief.
“Mom worked so hard for us. London didn’t go to college, and mom was so disappointed in that. It’s my responsibility to lead the way for my sisters… and you.”
She looked away, hiding her red cheeks. I could only shake my head. The situation was different, but it echoed her problems from the other world so much. They both loved different careers involving photography but felt like they had to go to college or would be a failure in their family’s eyes. It wasn’t identical. The other world’s Dawn was a bit of a pervert who liked photographing male models, and she had felt pressured because London was a doctor to be just as successful. It was funny that even when London was in the exact opposite place, the pressure was the same.
“You don’t need to worry about Mackenzie or me,” I stated. “We’re going to be fine. Rather, you always keep your door shut and avoid us, neither of us thought you cared much about us.”
She turned back, a look of shock on her face. “I do care! I-I’m the oldest still home… so… I have…”
“A responsibility?” I finished, causing her to nod, and for me to sigh and sit next to her on her bed. “Look, Dawn, your sister and I don’t need you to lead by example. We just want you to be there. Through our successes… and our failures, we just want you to be crowd-watching. Maybe, if you took time taking pictures at one of Kelsey’s track meets, or Mackenzie’s new hairstyle… you’d be able to relate with them easier.”
“It’s not that easy…” She responded.
“Family never is…” I responded, staring out her window as I thought about my past experiences. “However, I know that if you don’t try to play an active part in the lives of your family, then it’s hard to even say you are family. You’re just people stuck living together. To be family, it takes effort.”
“You… seem different.”
“Do I?” I asked, looking over at her. “Maybe, you never tried to talk to me before.”
She winced, looking down at the camera in her hand. “Noah, what do you think I should do?”
“I think you should follow your heart,” I responded. “I don’t understand travel blogs, but if you’re making money and can keep making money, and more than that, travel the world… then you owe it to yourself to at least think about whether college is really what you want to do with your life. Whether you go to college or not won’t mean nearly as much to your younger siblings as whether you’re happy and doing what you love.”
“I see…” She spoke quietly. “I do want to see the world though.”
“Then, you have your answer. Your family and I will be waiting.”
She gave me a side look. “You keep speaking like we’re not related. You’re my family too.”
“Am I?” I asked mischievously. “Nuts, and I finally got myself into a cute girl’s room.”
“Cute!” She jerked at that word, and then her cheeks go red. “Y-you’re a pervert!”
“Hehe… you caught me.” I leaned toward her. “My only interest in photography is to take sexy images of cute girls. I just wanted you to be my model!”
Dawn flinched back, and I was expecting her to kick me out of the room now. That’s why I was floored when, after a few moments of hesitation, she pushed her camera toward me.
“J-just one or two… with clothes on!” Dawn declared, and as my mouth fell open, she sniffed. “Do I smell something burning?”
“My casserole!” I cried out.
I jumped and fled from her bedroom. Racing to the oven where there was just the start of smoke, I quickly got things under control. A few minutes later, the kitchen door opened and Mackenzie returned home.
“N-noah!” She seemed like a frightened mouse the second she laid eyes on me, looking like she wanted to fly out the entrance she had come in.
“Mackenzie.” Dawn’s voice caused us both to turn. “Noah, how is it?”
I let out a sigh. “I managed to save it just in time. It’s finished if you want some.”
“Huh?” Mackenzie blinked, looking at the item in my hands. “Noah is cooking?”
I had put two oven mitts on and was holding the casserole in both hands. The cheese had only started browning and none of it had burned yet, so the casserole was good. The burning smell had just been some cheese that fell off the edge and landed on the bottom of the oven.
“I figured you’d all be hungry, so I made something.” I put it down in the oven. “It’s one of your favorites, try some.”
“Favorite, I’ve never had it before.” Mackenzie made a weird face.
“Hah… I mean, it will be. Here, bite.” I took out a fork full and then lifted it toward her, catching anything under it with a glove and blowing on it gently.
Mackenzie stared suspiciously at me for a moment, but then moved her head forward and took a small bite. “Mmm!”
Her eyes widened, and then when she looked at how close her face had gotten to mine, she retreated several steps, her face red.
“What do you think?” I asked, pulling out the plates and utensils and cutting our pieces for everyone.
“I-it’s good,” Mackenzie responded, looking away awkwardly.
“I guess that’s a good enough recommendation for me, I’ll have a plate.” Dawn was watching this, a smirk on her face.
I handed her a plate and instead of heading to the table, she started heading back to her room.
“H-hey!” I cried out. “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to eat in my room,” Dawn responded sheepishly.
“What? After what we just talked about?” I gasped. “Unless… are you going to get ready so I can take those pictures?”
“What pictures?” Mackenzie asked.
Dawn froze, her face looking mortified.
“Th-that… was a one-time offer!” She cried out, and then spun and fled back to her room with the plate.
The door slammed a moment later, and I let out a sigh, turning back to my casserole. “Jeez, no appreciation.”
“What happened to Dawn today?” Mackenzie asked.
“Something good must have happened. I’ve never seen her so happy. I can’t remember the last time she smiled.”
“Oh!” I hadn’t noticed, but she had been smiling.
I had seen her smile many times in my coma world, so I hadn’t even thought about it much. Before I could say anything else to Mackenzie though, the door burst open again and Kristy and Kelsey walked in.
“I smell something good!” Kelsey began sniffing, her eyes jumped to the food in the oven. “Ah! Mom cooked?”
The two twins descended on the casserole in an instant. Without even using a utensil, she grabbed scooped up a piece into her hands, and dancing it back and force between her hands while making noises, she shoved it in her mouth.
“Use a plate, you pig!” Kristy made a face, taking one of the plates and picking out her piece of casserole. “Hey, mom, thanks for the casserole!”
She was looking over my shoulder, and we ended up turning to reveal mom. She was dressed up in her work attire. I was a bit stunned to see her dressed up this nicely. In the coma world, women still dressed up, but they were just a bit sloppier. Mom didn’t wear as much makeup or put her up as nicely as she did in this world. Along with her business suit, she looked nice.
“Huh? Casserole?” Mom gave a confused look.
“Mom didn’t make it. Noah did.” Mackenzie declared, taking her slice before it was gone.
Had they been themselves from the old world, the casserole already would have been gone and I’d have had to make more for Bethany, but now they were far more conservative, which seemed to have its advantages. After Mackenzie’s words, everyone turned a stunned look at me.
“Noah made dwis!” Kelsey spoke with her mouth full.
“He didn’t do anything to it, did he?” Kristy wore a look of disgust on her face, poking it with a fork.
“Don’t be like that!” Mom chastised her. “Noah did his best… you should all feel blessed.”
She walked over and deliberately took a fork full of casserole, but when she tasted it, her eyes lit up. “Mm!”
“It’s really good, right?” Mackenzie gave her mom a look.
“It’s really good?” Kristy looked doubtful.
“It is, Twinsy!” Kelsey nodded. “If I knew Noah could cook like this, I’d put more of his things in my mouth.”
“What?” Kristy asked, and every other eye turned to Kelsey.
“I mean, the food he cooked!” She cried out, her face turning red.
“Honey, where did you learn to cook like this?” Mom asked, a bit curious.
I let out a little laugh. “Ah, I just was watching a cooking show and I thought I might try something out. I knew mom needed some rest and you’d all come home early, so I just threw something together. I’m glad you all like it.”
“Mom, why are you crying?” I took a step back, completely off guard. “Ow! Kelsey, don’t pinch.”
“Are you our brother?” Kristy demanded.
“What are you talking about? Of course, I’m your brother.”
“Twinsy has a point.” Kelsey nodded enthusiastically. “Our brother must have been replaced. He was gross and perverted. This sort of cool guy is an imposter.”
“You think I’m not gross and perverted?” I lifted my hands menacingly while making groping gestures, my cheek twitching. “Maybe I should give you something really tasty and you can see how perverted I can be.”
“Ahhh! It’s a trap!”
“I knew it!”
The two girls fled the kitchen, but they were giggling as they screamed and ran into their room, slamming the door.
“Don’t slam the door!” I shouted at the same time mom shouted the same thing.
The two of us looked at each other, and then mom looked away, blushing. I let out a laugh, but when I turned, I nearly jumped. Mackenzie was staring at me, her hands on her hips. She was staring at me intensely.
“You have changed.” She responded. “Did the coma break your brain or something?”
“What if it did?” I asked, meeting her gaze with a smile.
She glanced away first. “Why would it matter to me?”
I leaned toward her ear, whispering so only she could hear. “Isn’t it because you love your gross, perverted brother?”
She jerked as if she had just been shocked. “Wh-what?”
“It’s okay.” I grinned. “I’ll save all my grossest perversions for you.”
Her face turned red, and then she glared at me. “Y-you… you’re the worst!”
She ran to her room.
“Don’t slam the-”