Tea Parties and Football
It wasn't easy being the only girl in a family of boys. Wrestling, cars, football. Those were the only things Emily's brothers were interested in. It was difficult to connect with them, especially when Emily liked pink, dolls, and diaries. When the boys would roughhouse and play ball, little sister was often excluded. They tried to involve her in their games once in a while, but became frustrated easily. Jason, the second oldest, was the first to give up on her, and grew irritated if she dropped the ball. Mark, just three years older than Emily, played with her a few times, but always got bored and walked away from her tea parties. Travis, the oldest at eighteen, claimed to be too old for such childish games, but could be seen sitting at the too small plastic table sipping water and eating invisible cookies at least once a week.
"More tea, Prince Travis?" chimed the eight year old. Emily shifted her plastic diamond tiara and raised the miniature teapot.
Travis sighed and nodded. "Sure, Em."
His sister pouted. "Princess Emily."
Sigh again. His legs were starting to cramp, squatting in the little pink chair. "Sure, Princess Emily." Jason and Mark were coming back from afternoon practice soon and they had plans for football in the backyard. He wanted to wrap this tea party up.
Emily grinned and poured her brother some "tea" in his pink cup. Travis sipped it gingerly. "Hey, Em, I think I hear the others coming home. Why don't we go outside and play a game?"
Emily's face scrunched. "But we're having fun."
Travis scooted his little chair back, stood up and stretched, shaking his legs to get the blood flowing properly again. Satisfied now that the tingling in his feet was gone, he reached down and gently tugged the tiara from his sister's straw colored hair and set it on the table. "It'll do us some good to move around after sitting down for so long."
Emily frowned up at her brother. "I don't know. They don't like playing with me. Jason teases me."
Travis ruffled her hair and grabbed her hand. "Come on, Em, you always say you want us to spend more time with you. Come join us for a game outside. It'll be fun."
Emily followed reluctantly. If she wanted her brothers to like her, especially Jason, she would have to play too.
Out in the backyard, Jason and Mark were already warming up, tossing the old pigskin back and forth. Upon spotting Travis with younger sister in tow, Jason groaned. "Aw, Travis, does she have to play? She's such a crybaby."
"That's enough, guys," said Travis, recognizing that such witty verbal play could go on for hours. "She can play. Besides, we need even teams, right?"
Mark rolled his eyes. "Fine, but she's on your team, Travis. Now let's get going." He grabbed the ball and trotted to the designated starting line.
The teams faced off at the line as they had so many times before. At the signal, they broke away, Mark throwing a long pass to Jason, who dodged around Travis and continued forward to score. Sides switched after each play. Travis's attempt to run the ball failed when Mark tackled him, and Jason's bulky body allowed him to blow right through his lankier older brother and through the end zone. Possession of the ball changed again to Emily's team, but when Travis tried to throw her a pass, the football slipped through her fingers and fumbled to the ground. A few more plays like this, and Emily was on the verge of tears. She was not big enough to keep up with her brothers, and Jason's mocking laugh was infuriating.
"What's the matter, Emily? You aren't gonna cry, are you?" he laughed.
Emily wiped at her eyes with dirty hands. "I'm not crying! I will show you!" Stupid Jason. She was not going to cry! She pushed herself off the ground and lined up again. She glared at Jason, who smirked back. Jerk. She would show him.
They faced off one more time. Jason gave the signal, and the siblings scattered. Emily and Travis separated, eyeing the opposing team. Jason faked a pass to Mark, and then surprised everyone by running the ball himself. Emily watched Travis dive for him and miss. This was her chance; she had to prove herself, to her brothers and to Jason especially.
As Jason drew closer, football in hand, Emily reached out and caught his legs. His speed and weight threw her forward, twisting his legs and pulling him down on top of her. Jason's eyes widened in fear when he heard the sickening crack beneath him, and he rolled off as fast as he could.
Emily lay frozen in place, pale and trembling. She cradled her right arm, left hand hovering, afraid to touch. Her breath drew rapid as she struggled to stay still. Her entire focus, her entire world and universe had crumbled down to the frightening pain in her arm.
Her brothers were at her side in a heartbeat. "Emily?" Mark whispered.
Emily did not answer. "I think it's broken," said Travis, lifting her gently. A noise caught in the back of her throat, and for a moment Travis thought she was going to start screaming, but she swallowed it down and trembled. They piled into the family sedan and took off to the hospital.
Travis held Emily's uninjured hand in the backseat, encouraging her and smoothing her hair. Mark kept turning around in the passenger seat to check on her. Jason drove as fast as he dared, expertly dodging every pothole and crack in the road to avoid jostling his little sister. He watched her guiltily in the rear view mirror. When Mark mentioned how Emily's pale and clammy skin might mean shock, Jason told him to shut up and he drove faster. They reached the hospital in record time.
Rather than feeling relief when reaching the emergency room, the brothers groaned at crowd. Mark found Emily a seat near the corner between a woman with two screaming children and a man bleeding from the shoulder. He pulled out his cell phone and tried dialing his parents, hoping to catch them between meetings. Travis went to the front desk to sign in with the nurse, and Jason felt stuck between them, settling for pacing around the room and looking over his brother's shoulder as he filled out the paperwork.
Travis hit a snag with the insurance; in the rush to the car, he forgot to grab his card. He glanced back at Jason. "Do you have yours?"
Jason shrugged. "Never got one."
Travis looked back to the nurse pleadingly. "Can't you look it up on your computer?"
The nurse didn't seem to have time for him. "Not unless you are the primary cardholder. I need your parents' signatures."
"What! My parents are in the next state over at a conference. They won't be back until later this evening."
"I'm sorry, sir, but unless you are the primary cardholder or have the insurance card with you then you will be charged the full amount."
Travis gritted his teeth and gestured behind to his sister huddled in the corner. She looked so small. "My sister just broke her arm! She is in pain! You want me to drive all the way home and back just to find a stupid card before you'll treat her?"
Mark appeared at his shoulder and handed him a cell phone. "It's Dad. He wants to talk to you."
Travis treated the phone as if it was going to explode. "Hey, Dad. Look, I- Jason fell- She's fi- But the insurance-" He handed the phone to the nurse. "He wants to talk to you." His voice was strained.
The nurse propped the phone between her ear and her shoulder. "Hello, this is Sheryl at Community Hospital. If I could just get your information…" Her fingers clicked away at the keyboard as she listened. "Okay, alright, thank you. We'll take good care of them. Buh-bye." She hung up and handed the phone back to Travis. "Looks like that's all we needed. A nurse will call for you when we are ready."
"Do you know about how long that will be?" Travis asked.
Sheryl scanned her ongoing list of patients. "Given your sister's non-life threatening condition and the number of patients ahead of her, hopefully no more than an hour."
Jason was appalled by the estimate. "An hour? Are you kidding me?"
"Enough, Jason." Travis grabbed his brother by the elbow and dragged him to the back where Emily was waiting. Mark followed, taking the seat vacated by the bleeding man. "Pissing off the nurse isn't going to help us."
"Hypocrite. You were about to jump down her throat earlier when she wouldn't take the insurance," Jason accused. "Besides, you just want us to wait here while Emily here suffers? You can see the swelling for Christ's sake!" he cried, pointing at Emily's forearm, which had acquired a lump the size of a kiwi.
Travis automatically stepped between them, unconsciously shielding Emily from Jason. "Maybe if you had been more careful and not broken it then we wouldn't be here," he said in a low voice.
Jason jerked back as if struck. "Hey, I didn't want her playing in the first place! You're the one who insisted on her joining in!"
Travis's voice rose to match his brother's. "Just because she gets on your nerves once in a while doesn't mean you can get rough with her! She's just a little girl!"
Jason was an inch from Travis's face. "That was an accident and you know it! I never wanted her to get hurt!"
"Both of you, shut the hell up!" Mark shouted over them. Jason and Travis stopped yelling to find the entire room's attention on their quarrel, leaving the room in silence except for the small television. They turned back to see Emily staring at them, wide-eyed and fearful.
Jason groaned inwardly. First, her arm gets broken, now they fight in front of her and scare her. What next?
Travis made a face and knelt next to Emily. "Sorry about that, Em. I know we aren't supposed to fight like that." He stood and waved to the waiting room. "Sorry about that everyone."
"Emily? Emily Pattons?" called a nurse by the front desk.
Mark grabbed Emily's hand and stood up. "Guys, that's us. Here, Ma'am!" He led the way to the front desk. "I thought it was going to be another forty-five minutes."
The new nurse tapped a long green fingernail on her clipboard. "Looks like you're being moved to pediatrics. You will be seeing Doctor Steinberg. It's just past this way." She helped Emily into a wheelchair and led them down a few halls and into a brightly colored wing.
"Here we are," announced the nurse, rolling Emily into an examination room decorated in bright blue and purple flowers. "Doctor Steinberg should be here in just a few minutes." She closed the door behind her when she left.
Jason immediately took the stool and sat down. Travis leaned against the doorway, his older brother protectiveness putting him near the only entrance and exit. Mark crawled up onto the examination table, wincing as the paper crunched beneath him.
"So how's your arm, Emily?" Mark asked, paper crinkling with every movement.
Emily looked at the swollen area on her arm. Her left hand hovered over it, instinctively wanting to grasp it and rub it, but even her featheriest touch sent spikes up and down her arm. Her arm throbbed with every heartbeat and she wished she could hold her heartbeat like she could hold her breath, even if only for a few seconds of relief. She felt her brothers watching her, and she let out a deep breath to get rid of the lump in her throat. "I-it hurts. A lot."
A knock at the door brought Doctor Steinberg, a friendly woman with a messy bun. After asking Emily a few questions, she pushed the wheelchair down to the x-ray lab, leaving the brothers behind.
The silence was awkward. Mark shivered. He hated hospitals. It was like a freezer in there. It made him want some ice cream. Maybe Emily would want some ice cream. They could stop for some on the way home. He liked chocolate chi-
"I never wanted her to get hurt," Jason said suddenly, jolting Mark from his train of thought. Travis and Mark stared at him curiously, but Jason's focus was on his older brother. "I know she's a kid. That's why I didn't want to play with her. We play rough. It was only a matter of time before one of us screwed up and took a hit. I just figured it would be one of us and not her." He crossed his arms and dropped his gaze, choosing a tile off to his left to concentrate on. "I never wanted her to get hurt," he muttered.
Travis looked at his brother intently then dropped his own gaze. "Yeah, well it was my idea in the first place. It's just that she gets upset that we don't spend any time with her. And I know you guys don't like doing the stuff she likes. But I hate seeing her unhappy. So I've tried to make her a part of our stuff, you know, so she's not left out. It's not her fault she's the only girl." He kicked at an invisible piece of dirt. "Besides, she is left in my care while our parents are gone. I'm the one that screwed up, not you."
Mark looked from one guilty and depressed brother to the other and sighed. "Not to interrupt your brooding, but it's not like Emily died or anything. It's just her arm; she will be fine in a few weeks. She's tougher than she looks; she'll bounce back." He threw them an encouraging smile.
Travis and Jason traded glances. Since when was the youngest brother supposed to be the mature and responsible one? Being reprimanded forced them out of their funks.
The door opened and Emily was wheeled in, her arm wrapped in a bright pink cast. She clutched a red sucker in her left hand and wore a tired smile. After the doctor gave Travis final instructions, they were allowed to leave. The relief was tangible when the sedan pulled into the driveway and Emily was carried into the house.
Emily stared at her new cast quietly. "You okay, Em?" asked Jason after they set her on the couch.
She looked up at him with a smile playing on her lips. "I didn't cry."
Jason laughed in surprise and ruffled her hair, shaking his head. "Yeah. You did great, kid."
When Emily's parents came home, their worry turned to surprise at the sight of three brothers huddled around a tiny plastic table drinking "tea" with Princess Emily in a cast, which had already been signed with black permanent marker in large scrawling letters by the princes. "To the bravest little sister in the world."