“Good,” Phillip said. “All right. Time for bed, then.”
“We haven’t done our study guides,” Gene said. The attempt was valiant, Phillip thought, but it was already late. “You said we need to do them every day.”
“But today’s a cheat day,” Phillip said, smiling. “We already put the stars up and everything. Don’t worry, you can catch up tomorrow.”
“All right,” Gene sighed. Jeanne giggled. “Aw, quiet you.”
“Hey!” Jeanne said. “I was just thinking, we did say it was a cheat day.”
“That’s enough,” Phillip said. “Come on, up we go.”
The children squabbled a little more as they climbed the stairs, with Phillip close behind them. It wasn’t any more malicious than the usual sibling banter found in any other family; some of the words were sharper, but they were delivered to each other in such a way that the cutting edges were well-protected, and the pain they brought was dulled by the affection applied immediately afterwards. Jeanne’s room was closest to the den stairs, so Gene went on ahead while Phillip double-checked the latch on the cage in the common area.
Jeanne’s room was quite androgynous. It was at first glance impossible to tell if a boy or a girl slept there; the bright primary colors selected were appropriate for any child, without leaning one way or the other over the gender line. In this regard the room could have been said to be ordinary, were it not for the fact that the bright colors selected were seemingly at total odds with each other. Jeanne’s eye for decoration was, to say the least, unique; orange crushed up against purple, with yellow and scarlet close at hand. The topmost blanket on her bed was patchwork, and scattered with splotches of colors just as vibrant as the ones around it. “Thanks for the extra blanket,” she said, crawling into bed. “I put it on already.”

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