Juniper Castel Breaks The Rules
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It wasn't until her thirteenth birthday that Juniper Castel learned that you don't have to follow the rules. Until that fateful day she was a veritable beacon of virtue. She only very broke very small rules, and always stood up for her little brother Liam (even when he was making a nuisance of himself). She never pretended to be sick, she never picked on the other kids, she always did her best to pay attention in school. She didn't always turn in her homework on time, but that wasn't her fault because Grade 8 math was just too hard for her sometimes.

Juniper's parents were a little on the neglectful side. They weren't bad people by any means, they just weren't up quite up to the daunting task of raising children. Her mother was a dutiful office worker who had troubles saying no and came home late most days. Her father was an easygoing man who played bass guitar and sometimes did puppetry for children's TV. He was often out of work, and drank a little more than a man ought to.

Little Juniper grew up with a strong sense of responsibility. She woke up early to make school lunches for Liam and for herself every day. She made sure the dishes were done after meals. She knew, in her heart, that you had to follow the rules, or things would start to fall apart.

She was about twelve and a half years old when things started to fall apart anyway. Her parents started fighting all the time, about stupid little things. Her father spent more time away from home. Her mother didn't like how much time he was spending with that man he worked with on the puppet show. It wasn't fair. Juniper hadn't done anything wrong.

Only three other people came to Juniper's thirteenth birthday party. Liam was one, her father was another. The third was her best friend Sammy. She used to have more friends in school, but most people thought she was too stuck-up to hang out with these days.

Her mother was not present, as an urgent meeting at the company had demanded her attention. Juniper thought this wasn't very fair, but she understood that her mother had to follow the rules as well.

The cake was okay. The party was okay. Juniper got a new bicycle, because her growth spurt had started and her old one was getting a little too small. Juniper was okay.

The first big rule that Juniper broke was after the party, when she punched Sammy really hard in the stomach. She knew that was extra bad because, even though they were the same age, Sammy was still a lot smaller than her. She did that because Sammy had said something mean about Juniper's mother for not coming to the party. Sammy puked up the birthday cake she'd just eaten, and she cried a lot, and Juniper felt really bad. But she cleaned up the puke and Sammy stopped crying, and when they talked about it afterwards Sammy forgave her and apologized for what she had said.

The second big rule that Juniper broke was when her father asked about what happened, and she lied. She knew that was bad because lying about breaking a big rule is almost as bad as breaking it in the first place. She did that because Sammy lied first. Sammy said she'd just thrown up because she ate too much cake. Juniper didn't want Sammy to get in trouble for lying, so she lied too.

The third big rule that Juniper broke was when she turned her little brother into a doll. She knew this was a bad thing to do, because she'd seen a bad guy do it in a cartoon one time. She did that because she knew he was about to snitch on her for lying. She felt bad, because she'd always told him it was important to tell on people if you know they're lying about something big, but she really didn't want Sammy to get in trouble. She turned him back after Sammy left and apologized for being mean. He promised he wouldn't tell on her. He seemed really scared, for some reason.

Even though she'd broken the big rules, things didn't fall apart. Actually, Sammy and Juniper became even closer friends, and Juniper started spending more time at her house because Sammy's parents didn't argue all the time. Juniper started breaking more rules, mostly little ones but occasionally big ones. She lied to her teachers about why her homework wasn't done to get more time. She took Sammy and Liam flying sometimes, even though people aren't supposed to be able to fly on their own. One time, when she forgot where the Statue of Liberty was made on a history test, she changed it so her answer (France) would be right. It turned out she could break all kinds of rules, and if there were problems she could just fix them by cheating a little.

When she found out her parents were going to break up, she decided they shouldn't be her parents anymore. She talked about it with Liam and Sammy, and they thought it would be better if they were all siblings and Sammy's parents were their parents. Sammy never liked being an only child.

Sammy and Juniper were born less than a month apart, so their birthdays would have to be changed a little so they could be twins. There were some other things that wouldn't really make sense, but Juniper was sure she could smooth over anything strange that happened.

It turned out this was a really big rule, and breaking it was kind of hard. She had to change the birthdays first, then make herself and Sammy twins, then bring Liam over a week or so later. Juniper's old parents found it much easier to break up once they'd forgotten about her. Her father moved in with his boyfriend who worked at the puppet show, and her mother got promoted at her company. Juniper and Liam missed them a little, but Sammy's parents were very nice to them so it wasn't too bad. Everyone seemed happier. Juniper was very pleased with herself.

Sammy's (and now Juniper's) father's job was teaching about robots or something at the local college, and her mother stayed at home to take care of Sammy. They didn't really have enough money to take care of two extra children. Juniper wasn't really sure how to fix this. She tried giving her new dad a better job, but he didn't seem like quite the same person after that and she didn't like that. She tried just making it so he earned more money at the same job, but that kept changing back for some reason whenever she stopped concentrating on it. Eventually she thought of inventing a rich, elderly relative to have him die and leave all his money to their family. That seemed to work, and afterward they moved to a bigger house and didn't have to worry about money as much. It was really weird having to go to the funeral of a man she'd made up a week ago.

Six months after her thirteenth birthday (her original birthday, that is) Juniper realized something was wrong. She'd made lots of new friends at school and her family was well-off and her parents loved one another, but it all felt terribly thin. People were too nice to her. Their eyes were empty. Only Liam and Sammy knew the truth about what she'd done, and even they seemed to have changed somehow. Liam hardly ever annoyed her anymore, and Sammy never argued or said anything insensitive.

On that day, just after dinner, six months after she started breaking the rules, Juniper decided she'd done enough. Things were okay now. The problems that made her start cheating were all resolved. She'd miss the little stuff like flying around and moving things without touching them, but not too much really. It was time to stop cheating.

Her family collapsed on the spot like puppets with their strings cut. She stared, stunned, shaking, unable to move. They lay still for minutes, twitching a little, before Sammy managed to struggle to a sitting position and open her eyes. She looked at Juniper, let out a horrified, inarticulate scream, and scrambled out of the kitchen clumsily on her hands and knees. Liam started to cry quietly.

Something deep inside Juniper pulled taunt and frayed dangerously. This wasn't fair. How could she have known? How could anyone have known? What was she supposed to do? Liam cried for her to stop, please, no more. Her new parents were still twitching. She wanted to fix them, but she understood, now, that she couldn't. She wasn't a miracle worker, only a puppeteer. Like her father.

She felt cracks forming in herself, in reality all around her. She whispered, I'm sorry, but she knew she won't be forgiven. She'd gone too far, broken too many rules. She couldn't tell the difference between things that happen and things she made happen anymore. The last clear thought she had was that she was about to break, and if she broke there, her family won't make it. On the ground, Sammy's mother called her real daughter's name in a slurred and uncertain voice.

Juniper Castel stopped being where she was and started being somewhere else, out in the woods, far away from other people. There, finally, she let herself snap, and the world around her twisted beyond recognition.

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