essica, at 96, ranks highest in the family. She puts those 2 PhDs to work at the National Institute of Health, researching cancer cures. Mom and Dad are so proud. Andrea is second with 93. She's a trauma surgeon at the hospital in our home town, saving lives every night. Anthony comes in third at a close 92 (something that Andrea never lets him forget). Not surprising that the twins are closest in rank. He does something with aerospace engineering that will probably launch humanity into space someday. Next up is Sam, with 90. He's a successful entrepreneur, though most of his high score likely comes from the work of his charitable foundation.
And then there's the youngest, with the eye-popping score of 4: me. When I was first born, no one could believe that it was true. Mom had a score of 75, Dad had an 82, and with all of my siblings... well, everyone just thought I'd be higher. Mom checked with the nurses twice make sure that there hadn't been some mix-up in the nursery. The government even revoked the high-potential stipend that Mom and Dad had been promised, which was given under the assumption that they'd create another 90+ kid who would change the world. Needless to say, my parents were disappointed. And they stayed that way for the next 18 years.
Nothing changed when we were kids; I always got the short end of the stick. If anything went wrong around the house, my brothers and sisters had an easy scapegoat. Who was Mom going to believe: one of the perfect little 90+ angels, or the 4? If there was a chore that needed to be done, it was mine. "I can't live up to my full potential if I don't get all my homework done," Jessica would whine to get out of the dishes even as she was planning to sneak out for the night with her boyfriend. Mom and Dad fell for it hook, line, and sinker. And so everything got passed on to the one kid who had no potential to live up to.
All of my siblings went to the prestigious Morton Academy (which only allows pupils with a score of 80 or higher), while I went to the local public school. Even there, I was put into the "skills workshop," for my future life. It was the nicest possible way of telling me and the other 'under-10s' to accept our fate as a plumber or some shit, whose only purpose in life will be to clean up after the people like my brothers and sisters. We learned woodshop and metalworking and whatever other arts and crafts the administration could think of to take up our time. The consensus seemed to be that we'd all end up as drug addicts anyway so why bother spending money on any of our programs? Unsurprisingly, that's what ended up happening. Those of my classmates who didn't drop out ended up exactly where everyone thought they would be. Janitors, construction workers, welfare queens, burnout druggies... the dregs of society.
And as for me... well, I'm not any of those things. I just left town, and society, altogether. Moved up to the mountains on my own and got myself a nice little patch of land as far away from everyone else as I could find. My woodworking skills ended up coming in handy after all: I built myself a nice cozy cabin on the edge of a quiet lake. There's no one else for miles around. It's just me and my dog, Buck.
In the spring, I plant vegetables while Buck chases bees. We fish in the summers, with Buck lazing in the front of the canoe until he gets too hot and dives in to scare off all the fish. In the fall, we go hunting, though he's a pretty bad tracker. And a bad retriever too. Luckily the deer around here are so plentiful that it's hard to take a shot and not hit one. And in the winters, we curl up by the fire and read. That's the one thing that I've kept from the outside world: a well stocked library.
I read everything. All the classics, of course. Philosophy, history, politics, scientific journals... everything I can get my hands on. Buck and I make a weekly trip down to the nearest town, and we raid the library with as many books as they'll let us check out. I've always been a voracious reader, even if my parents never encouraged it in me.
It's snowing outside. I set my book down and turn slightly, trying not to disturb the dog in my lap, with little success. Buck stirs from his nap, stretches his legs out, and gives a big yawn. I glance out the window to check whether the lake outside has completely frozen over. But in the firelight reflecting off the window pane, I catch a glance of the '4' still floating over my forehead. For just a moment, I wonder where I'd be if that said '94' instead. Then Buck lays his head back down on my thigh, and I rub his belly. I don't care where I'd be; I'm happy here.