My brother, Mr. Oblivious himself, had been on the phone nonstop for a few hours now. I woke up before the crack of dawn and there he was, Phineas Flynn, sitting on the kitchen counter with the phone dangling on his right shoulder. Mum wouldn't approve of such childish behavior, specially for a seventh grader, a pre-teen boy. He acted more like a boy these days than the first time I met him. Of course, I can never forget: my best friend, my (step) brother, half of my own soul, he was the first to shake hands with yours truly, then unimaginably introverted and afraid of human contact. He had this huge grin pasted on his triangular face, which so easily melted my English heart. I had learned to smile more ever since.
So this time, I grinned evenly and proceeded to the backyard where a pile of blueprints were waiting to be finished.
I was beginning to miss Isabella's usual entry, her all-too-endearing "Whatcha doin'?" every single day. But alas, we had school. School was nowhere in my vocabulary, only defined as a place to "augment" my mechanical expertise. But Phineas enjoyed every second that had to do with meeting new people and learning new things, and by consequence I learned to enjoy it too. Right now I found myself smiling foolishly. How many things had Phineas taught me? I shook the thought bubble away. A few angular velocities needed triple-checking. The coefficient of skewness looked erroneous, and if the probability of interstellar communication was in order, this value must be positive. Where was Phineas? That redhead was missing all the fun.
I peeked through the sliding glass doors and found him still nonchalantly chatting away.
"That's it, Flynn, who are you talking to?" I called, pushing the door sideways as I poked my head through.
Phineas lowered the receiver and replied, "Isabella. She's been sick a couple of days, remember? Her mom's going to take her to the doctor, but she's finishing up some algebra exercises before leaving. You know she always likes being ready." He finished with a wink before resuming his conversation, "I'm sorry, Isabella, it's just Ferb... Oh, bless you." He chuckled. "No worries, the voice gets like that after a few days of sneezing. I think you still sound good."
I crossed my arms playfully. I had assumed Isabella was doing schoolwork to miss out on the conception of today's project. School was, like I said, a rather welcome break from physical work, which however demanded time to comply with medial requirements. Regardless, there was still the faintest glimmer of hope that Mr. Oblivious would soon notice dear Isabella's effort to speak on the phone for hours while doing homework and nursing a fever.
I started to grow concerned when lunchtime arrived and Dad couldn't wrench Phineas away from the counter. He tried verbally, with "You could just go to her house, Phin. How long have you been on the phone? What if someone was trying to call?"
"No! I'm just keeping her company!" yelled Phineas, hiding the receiver under his clothes.
"And I thought she was supposed to go to the doctor?"
"I know, I just"
Then Candace stepped in, her hands on her waist. "Come on, Phineas! My social life is decaying."
"You have a cellphone!"
"My phone plan isn't made of gold."
"That's it, enough!" Mum said above the squabbling. She carried a platter of steak past the three of them and set it on the table. "We have dinner now, as a family, understand? And you, Phineas, no telephone for the rest of the weekend."
"But mom!" he cried, but even as he said it, everyone knew Linda had won. Phineas produced the telephone with a trembling hand; raising it to his lips, he turned red and whispered, "I'm sorry. I gotta go, Isabella."
He hung his head, jumped off the counter, and retreated to his sanctuary without a word.
The bedroom was dark with the curtains pulled across the large windows.
"Phineas," I called as my eyes adjusted.
His lively attitude was reduced to cinders. "So, whatcha doin'?" he croaked, curled in fetal position under his blankets. Only his dejected face was visible. He looked up at me. His dark blue eyes were too moist.
I wasn't sure I completely understood what was going on. "You tell me. What's up with you and Isabella today?"
"I don't know. I've been...very happy whenever I talk to her."
I smiled. I didn't need to say anything for him to go on.
"She's been very happy too. H-haven't you noticed? It's weird. I mean, she's...she's Isabella. She's always smiling and..." he cleared his throat, "cute. I mean, you know, she's Isabella. But...."
Phineas seemed lost for a moment. He sat up and deliberated. Something was wrong. Something neither of them had decided to manifest, or in the least, explain. I realized this quickly, and though it hurt me to think that I was considering this person as half of my very soul, he was keeping a secret.
But my word! He was aware of Isabella's blooming charm!
"...But these days," he went on, "I'm starting to think she's...becoming distant."
"Distant? You just said she's been happy."
"Yes! And no. I mean...I...I can't explain it, Ferb. I don't really know. That's why I want to talk to her. You know? Make her feel we're always here for her. Specially now, she's sick and all."
I thought over this. What was different now from last year? Or the first time we met Isabella? Nothing. If not her unwavering, one-sided love for Phineas only grew. Outside, the cloudy sky allowed a drizzle, which muffled a passing firetruck's sirens.
"I...I care a lot about her," Phineas added in a low voice.
I made a mental facepalm and wished he just told Isabella and not me. But this was progress, so I sat by his side and fished out a makeshift cellphone from my pocket.
"Here. Just keep it down," I said, handing it to him.
We weren't classmates with Isabella in too many subjects this year. Maybe that was why we felt a little dissociated from her. It used to be the five of us: Phineas and I, Buford, Baljeet, and Isabella. Eating in the noisy cafeteria every weekday, rushing Buford to write his sometimes copied answers from Baljeet's homework. Isabella sat next to Phineas, both quietly sipping milk from small white cartons. I sat across them, waiting for a sign that they were getting together.
I found my pale-yellow umbrella and marched out into the swelling rain. The sirens I heard earlier were still blaring down the street, but I saw that they weren't firetrucks at all. They were ambulances.
Something heavy dropped down my gut. I dumped my umbrella, raced for Isabella's house, but a pair of men in nurse's uniforms stopped me at the front door.
"Are you family?" the older man asked.
"Husband's brother! What happened?!" I elbowed past them, but they pulled me by my collar and threw me down the porch. "For heaven's sake, what's going on here?!"
"Aren't you a little young to be someone's husband's brother?" pressed the other.
"Is Isabella Garcia-Shapiro alright?!"
They exchanged wary glances.
"Is she alright?!" I repeated.
The older man straightened himself. By the looks of it, he was used to such statements as, "She was...very happy."
I raced back to our bedroom, ignoring the wet tracks I left on Mum's newly vacuumed carpets. They were all hooked to the TV anyway as I entered, and Dad was frantically dialling a number.
"The line is busy!" Dad whined.
"Try again. We need to talk to Vivian," Mum ordered.
Candace's face was a shade of gray. She turned up the volume, so I heard the newscaster before I closed the bedroom door behind me, "New flu type kills local resident! Isabella Garcia-Shapiro, chief of the Fireside Girls, active member of the city's PETA chapter, active member of...."
"What kind of sickness is a heart flu?" Phineas said. It was very dark now, with the rain escalating into a full-blown storm. I switched on the light, and to my surprise, my brother was still using the cellphone I made him.
"Phineas, listen," I said, conscious that my daily word limit had been crossed, "Isabella...."
"Oh, hi, Ferb," he greeted in a by-the-way manner, then slumped back under the covers. "Yeah, sorry, it's Ferb again." He chuckled. Chuckled. "Don't joke around like that. No? Really? It's real? You never even showed symptoms. You're amazing, Isabella. I'm so proud of you. Of course I was scared. I'm worried about you. When was your mom going to take you to the hospital again? Oh, still later? Well, are you sure you're okay? Good, good. Yeah, I'll stay on the line for you...."
My mouth hung open for a long while. I swear, for all the things I learned from Phineas Flynn, I'll never understand why he was gifted with an unshakable obliviousness. It's a strange gift.