July 30th, 2013
My last day at my mom’s house for the summer was my youngest brother’s 5th birthday. Predictably, he woke me up by running into my room and jumping on the bed yelling, “I’m fiiiiive!”
“Happy birthday, Cooper,” I said, my voice raspy from sleep. I needed water.
“I want my birthday hug,” Cooper said, jumping once more before plopping down on my stomach and grinning at me, his big brown eyes shining.
“Oh, c’mere,” I said, pulling him close and kissing his soft brown hair. “It’s so hard to believe that you’re already five.” Cooper had been born when I was nine years old, and even though I had just turned fourteen in June, Cooper’s birth seemed like a lifetime ago.
“No it’s not,” Cooper said, pulling out of my embrace and scrunching up his face. “It’s just that, that… I was four and now I’m five.”
I laughed. “You’re right, Coop. It’s just that simple.”
Cooper hopped up, narrowly missing my stomach as he landed on his feet. He started jumping once again, this time singing, “One little monkey, jumping on a bed —”
“He got off and ate some bread,” I sang, rolling out from under my covers, standing up, and barely turning around in time to catch Cooper as he jumped off my bed and into my arms. “You have to be careful, buddy,” I said, my heart pounding as I set him down on the ground. If it had been one of my other brothers jumping I wouldn’t have been so worried, but Cooper was what Mom liked to call “accident prone.”
“Race!” Cooper declared, taking off and running out of my room. I chased him down the stairs, through the kitchen, and into the living room, where our brothers Sam and Mason were building forts for their toy soldiers and Pokémon action figures with wooden blocks.
“Hey Birthday Boy,” Sam said cheerfully as Cooper grabbed Sam’s Pikachu toy without asking.
I smiled as Sam, like the good brother he was even at just 7 years old, let Cooper keep Pikachu instead of grabbing it back and making a big fuss about it.
“Time for your birthday spankings!” Mason said, jumping to his feet and tackling Cooper, wrestling him until he was able to hit him — not hard, but not softly, either — on the butt five times.
“Owww,” Cooper said, crawling away from Mason and huddling next to Sam.
“Baby,” Mason mumbled as he walked past me, and I kicked him in the butt softly. He whipped around and rolled his eyes at me like the super sassy 6 year old he was.
I got up off the couch and headed to the kitchen, where Mom was flipping pancakes, stirring grits, and cooking bacon.
“Anything I can do?” I asked, leaning on the counter beside her. Mom was always busy. As a stay at home mom, she did almost all of the cooking — I helped sometimes — and almost all of the cleaning — Sam, Mason, and I helped with that as chores. She also homeschooled me, Sam, and Mason and would also homeschool Cooper once he was done with preschool. When I was my brothers’ age I went to public school, but ever since Sam had started kindergarten, Mom had homeschooled us.
“Take these to the table,” Mom said, gesturing to the plate full of golden brown pancakes. “Make sure everyone gets one and make sure you all drink your milk, okay? Even Mason.”
“Okay,” I said, picking up the plate of pancakes. I stopped by the fridge to grab the milk before heading over to set both things down on the kitchen table. Then I got plates and silverware for everyone, grabbing six of everything before stopping. “John isn’t going to be here, is he?”
Mom sighed. “No. He has a meeting this morning, but he’ll be at the party.”
“Okay,” I sighed. John, my step-dad, was a project manager for a construction company, which seemed to mean that he was always needed at work. I had always wished that he would get a different job so that he could spend more time with us, but whenever I brought it up Mom always shut me down by saying that we were very fortunate that he had the job that he had.
Once there was a pancake on every plate and a glass of milk next to every plate except Mom’s, I called my brothers over to the table.
“I get first pick,” Mason called. He came sprinting into the kitchen, Sam close behind. Sam grabbed Mason’s shirt, causing Mason to trip. Then Sam tripped over Mason as he fell and they both ended up on the floor.
Sam got up quickly and was about to head to the table when Mason began crying. He knelt down to comfort him. “Hey, you’re fine.”
Mason held his knee, still crying, so I headed over to check on him. “Is it just your knee that hurts, Mase?”
He nodded, his lip trembling. Sam kissed Mason’s head and said, “Sorry I hurt you. You can choose first.”
At that, Mason seemed to overcome all of his pain. He got up and chose his pancake — luckily not wanting the one that Cooper had chosen during all the commotion — and sat down, smiling smugly.
“You got played,” I teased Sam.
Sam got up and chose a spot at the table, whispering, “Faker,” as he passed by Mason. Mason ignored him and I sat down at the table at the last pancake with a glass of milk next to it.
“Don’t think I didn’t see that whole thing, Samuel,” Mom said as she brought the grits and bacon over to the table.
“He wasn’t even hurt,” Sam protested.
“I’ve told you both not to roughhouse so many times,” Mom said sternly. “If you can’t listen, there are going to be consequences.”
“I already said ‘sorry,’” Sam said as he spooned some grits onto his plate. “What do you want me to do, build a time machine?”
I snorted and earned a stink eye from Mom, who began to lecture Sam about respect and warn him that, if he sassed her one more time today, he wouldn’t get to eat any cake and ice cream at Cooper’s party.
Just when I thought I was in the clear, Mom turned to me. “They learned that sass from you, Britton John. I had four sweet boys until one of them decided to become a teenager.”
“Hey,” I said, pretending to be more offended than I was. Because I was, a little bit. “I didn’t decide to become a teenager. And I don’t even think I’m that bad.”
“Oh yeah?” Mom asked, but her smile gave away that she was teasing.
We all got down to eating, but once we had all eaten a few bites, the chatter at the table started up again.
“Cooper, are you excited for your party?” Mom asked.
Cooper nodded so exaggeratedly that he alternated looking at the ceiling and touching his chin to his chest.
“It will be good to see your preschool friends, won’t it?”
Cooper’s eyes widened. “I get to see Joey? And Rosie and Alexia?”
The rest of us laughed, and I reminded him that he had helped Mom and I fill out the invitations by signing his name at the bottom of all of them.
“Do we get to play for a long time?” Cooper asked.
Mom laughed. “Of course, honey. We’re all going to play at the waterpark.”
“Yes!” Cooper said, jumping out of his chair. We all flinched as he landed hard on his feet, rocked forward, and caught his balance with his hands.
Once everyone was done eating, I played with my brothers while Mom cleaned up the breakfast mess. A few minutes into playing in the living room, Mom called me into the kitchen, where she was washing dishes in the sink.
“I totally forgot that I have to pick up Cooper’s cake in twenty minutes, and I’m still in my pajamas. I haven’t even done my hair or brushed my teeth.”
“I can finish cleaning up,” I offered. “No big deal.” I grabbed the rag from the side of the sink and started wiping off the stove.
“I can take Sam and Mason with me so that you’ll only have to watch Cooper,” Mom said.
“And be late because you’ll have to get them ready? Just leave them. We’ll go play outside when I’m done cleaning up.”
“Thank you,” Mom said, drying off her hands. She came over and pinched my cheek, which she knew I hated, before hurrying upstairs.
I cleaned the stove, the counter, the table, and the floor until Mom left. Then I shoved all of the stuff I hadn’t hand washed into the dishwasher, ran it, and then headed to the living room to get my brothers.
“What do you say we go outside and ride bikes?” I asked, leaning against the side of the couch.
“I hate bike rides,” Mason groaned, flopping onto the floor.
“I wanna go bike rides,” Cooper said, and Sam nodded in agreement.
“No,” Mason wailed. He stood up and grabbed Sam, trying to pull him to the ground. “Why do you always side with Cooper?”
“Get off,” Sam said, slapping at Mason until he let go.
“Hey, chill out,” I said in my brother-wrangling voice. They looked at me. “Sam and Cooper can ride in the cul-de-sac if they want and me and Mason can play basketball or something, all right?”
“Okay,” Mason agreed.
“But let’s pick up these toys before we go out, all right? We wouldn’t want Mom to be mad.”
I helped them pick up the toys but I didn’t want to go through the trouble of getting them dressed which is why, when Mom came home she stopped the car in the cul-de-sac, rolled down her window, and shouted, “Samuel, why are you riding a bike in your boxers?”
“It’s fine, Mom,” I said, throwing the basketball to Mason and running out to the car. “It just looks like he’s wearing shorts.”
“Very tight shorts with a Superman logo on the butt,” Mom said, tsking.
“And the crotch,” I said, laughing.
Mom refused to be amused. “Our neighbors already think we’re crazy enough, Britton John. Send them inside and I’ll get them dressed.”
I backed away from the car and she drove the rest of the way up the driveway and into the garage. I sent my brothers inside while Mom took the cake in, just glad she hadn’t noticed that Cooper wasn’t wearing shoes.
◊ ◊ ◊
We got to the waterpark early to set up the party room the way that Mom wanted it for Cooper’s party. John got there just in time to entertain his boys while Mom and I wiped off the tables, put down the plastic tablecloth, filled party bags for Cooper’s friends, and hung up Cooper’s birthday sign.
Cooper’s friend Joey was the first to show up, but Cooper didn’t even notice. He was too busy wrestling with Mason, so Mom greeted Joey and his dad while Sam, John, and I sat at the table and flicked a paper football back and forth. All I really wanted from Cooper’s party was for him to have lots of fun and to see my friends Arjay and Calvin, who were Cooper’s friend Rosie’s older brothers. I knew that Sam and Mason probably felt the same way, as their friends Bailey and Arten were also Rosie’s siblings. Unfortunately for us, the Nicholses were always late.
As more kids showed up, I sat down at the table and wondered what I was going to do for the next few hours. Mom had put me in charge of taking pictures when it came time for cake and presents, but otherwise, I had nothing to do. I had hoped to possibly hang out with Sam, who I never got to hang out with one-on-one, but he had made friends with a sibling of one of Cooper’s friends and didn’t want anything to do with me.
“Let’s move this party outside,” Mom finally said, and I got up, planning to head to the pool with the basketball hoops and shoot some hoops by myself. I had played for about five minutes when Sam and his newfound friend came over and challenged me to a game.
“You really think you can beat me?” I asked, throwing the ball to Sam.
He jumped in the pool, and his friend followed suit. “We’ll see,” he said, passing the ball to his friend.
Even though there were two of them, once I got the ball, they couldn’t get it away from me unless I shot it. A few times, I just hugged the ball and laughed as they pried, hit, and scratched at my arms, trying to get it away from me.
“Admit that I’m the winner,” I said, laughing.
“Never!” Sam shouted.
When they got tired of playing with me, they ran off to do the water slides. I was about to follow them when two guys who looked about my age jumped into the pool.
“Hey,” I said, spinning the basketball on top of the water.
“Hey,” the one with light brown hair said. “Wanna play?”
“Sure,” I said. “You guys here with your family?”
“Basically,” the older one, who had darker hair said. “We’re here for our sister’s best friend’s birthday party.”
I smiled. “Is your sister Rosie or Alexia?”
“Rosie,” the lighter haired one said. “Your brother’s the birthday boy?”
“Sure is,” I said, passing him the ball.
“I’m Calvin, by the way.”
“I’m Arjay,” the other one said.
“Britton,” I told them, and we started playing basketball.
I spent the rest of the party hanging out with Arjay and Calvin, who were a lot of fun. When it came time for cake and presents, they kept distracting me from taking pictures by making jokes, but I still managed to get some good pictures for my mom.
“See that idiot?” Arjay asked, pointing to the boy who kept dropping bits of cake in everyone’s punch. “That’s our brother, José. Drives us all up the wall.”
“Seems like a troublemaker,” I admitted, and Calvin laughed. “Nah, that’s me and Arjay. José’s just dumb and annoying.”
“Who says you aren’t that way too?” Arjay asked, and Calvin punched him.
“Who are you, my little brothers?” I joked, and Arjay and Calvin laughed.
When everyone was gone, Cooper fell asleep on the bench at the table while Mom, Sam, Mason, and I cleaned up.
“Did you make any friends?” I asked Mason as he threw paper cups and plates into the trash bag that I was holding.
“Yeah,” Mason said. “His name was Arten, and he’s Rosie’s brother.”
“Hey,” I said, laughing. “I made friends with some of Rosie’s brothers, too.”
“They’re a very nice family,” Mom said, joining our conversation. “Whenever Cooper and Rosie have playdates, Sarah and I just talk and talk. Sometimes you just find people you relate to so much, you know?”
I nodded, not knowing if I related to Arjay and Calvin as much as Mom related to their mom. They were cool and all, but we weren’t the same.
“Arten was way smarter than me,” Mason said. “He was using all the big words like… Like, um… Well, I can’t think of any.”
“Very clever, Mase,” I teased, and Mom smacked me lightly on the back of the head.
◊ ◊ ◊
When we got home, Cooper was still exhausted, so I brought him up to his room and lay him in his bed. He snuggled under the blankets gratefully, so I left him and went downstairs, where Mom was throwing together a salad and heating up leftover lasagna for all of us.
“I guess Cooper can eat later,” she said to herself. She brought the salad over to the table just as we heard a rumbling. Sam and Cooper jumped off the couch, forgetting about their TV show, and ran to the garage door. This was always one time of day when they were happy at the same time.
“Daddy!” they yelled, flinging open the door.
John got out of the car and hurried over so they could fall into his arms. “Where’s Cooper?”
“Asleep,” Mason said.
“Must’ve had a fun party.”
Sam and Mason both started talking about the party at the same time, and John put them down. “Sound like you guys had fun, too, huh? What’s for dinner?”
“Salad and lasagna,” I said from my seat at the table.
John smiled at me. “Hey B, how’s it going?”
“Good,” I said, smiling back.
John left Sam and Mason to help me set the table while he went upstairs. By the time we were all ready, we heard talking upstairs, and John came down with Cooper, who seemed newly energized after being woken up by his dad. We all sat down to eat together.
“Are you boys excited for school to start?” John asked.
Sam, Mason, and I groaned but Cooper, who was going into kindergarten, said, “Yeah!”
“Daddy, school isn’t fun,” Sam said. “You went there. You should know.”
“Sammy, did I ever tell you that I loved school?” John asked, smiling into his lasagna. “It was always so fun, seeing my friends and learning new things.”
“And meeting Mom,” I said.
“And meeting your mother. How could I forget?”
“I just don’t think it’s fun,” Mason said.
Sam agreed, and I agreed internally. I didn’t hate school, but I definitely preferred summer and weekends. I didn’t know anyone who didn’t.
Once we were done eating, Mason and John set up the TV to play Wii. I thought about joining them, but Sam and Cooper asked me to read to them, so I did that instead. I loved when they cuddled up next to me a lot more than I liked any video games.
We read for about fifteen minutes before Cooper started playing with his toys, so Sam and I put down the book and joined him in playing trains. In the middle of our game, Mom came upstairs and leaned against the doorframe. “I think it’s about bedtime, boys.”
“Aw Mom,” Sam complained. “Can’t we stay up?”
“It’s already nine-fifteen, Sam. You’ve already stayed up.”
Sam groaned and Mom came over to kiss his springy hair. “I could read to you a little if you want. After you brush your teeth.”
“Okay,” Sam agreed grudgingly.
I took Cooper to his room, which was on the other side of my own. He reached for his bed as we passed it, suddenly having trouble keeping his eyes open.
“You have to brush your teeth, Coop.”
“No,” Cooper wailed. “I don’t want to.”
“Mommy and Daddy will be upset if you don’t,” I said, tickling him a little.
He laughed, pushing my hands away. “You brush with me.”
“All right,” I agreed. We got his toothbrush ready, then headed to the bathroom that I shared with Mason and Sam so I could get my toothbrush.
“Get out, Cooper,” Mason said, pointing to my bedroom door.
“He can brush his teeth in here,” I said, putting my toothbrush in my mouth.
“It’s not his bathroom,” Mason insisted. “There’s already three of us who have to share it.”
“It’s fine. Just chill out, okay?”
Mason kept complaining, but Cooper and I finished brushing our teeth quickly. John swooped in to take Cooper to bed, leaving me to read alone in my room. I looked around at my desk and my bookshelf and the shelf with my LEGOs and Nerf guns on them. My room was so empty, and I wished I had a sibling to share it with. I thought of my dad’s house, where I shared a room with my other half-brother, Jason, and smiled.
“Hey,” John said, poking his head in the door. “Don’t stay up too late reading, okay?”
“Okay,” I said, giving him a smile.
“I hope you had a good day.”
“I did, thanks.”
◊ ◊ ◊
Cooper woke me up with the sunrise the next morning, asking to play Knights. I obliged, only because I knew there was no use in trying to get him back in bed, but I made sure we took our foam swords to the basement so that the noise didn’t bother anyone else.
After about an hour of playing, I heard footsteps upstairs. “Cooper,” I whispered, pointing to the ceiling. He stopped and cocked his head. “An enemy?”
I nodded. “We’ll attack.”
We snuck up the stairs, Cooper trying to quiet his own giggling with his hand. At the top of the stairs, I counted down from five on my fingers, then pushed the door open. Cooper let out a battle cry, holding up his sword, and Sam screamed.
Cooper and I laughed so hard that I cried, and Sam stood, glaring at us with his arms crossed. “You guys nearly gave me a heart attack, and all you can do is laugh.”
“Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” I said, and Cooper giggled more.
“Sure, wake me up and then make fun of me. What a great way to start the day.”
“Hey, lighten up, bro,” I said, managing to stop laughing. I put my arm around Sam. “Love you.”
He shook my arm off. “Don’t try to make me feel bad for getting upset.”
“I’m not,” I promised.
Cooper, bored of the talking, dropped his sword and ran to the living room. Sam watched him. “He’s going to put on some dumb baby show.”
“He can choose the show for one morning, can’t he?”
Sam sighed. “At least with him over there and Mason still asleep, I’ll get the last of the good cereal.”
“That’s the spirit,” I said, putting my arm around him again and leading him towards the pantry.
◊ ◊ ◊
Not long after Sam and I had finished eating, Mom came down the stairs and we heard stomping upstairs. “Fee Fi Fo Fum,” John said, his voice deeper than normal. “You can’t hide from the tickle monster.”
“Mommy!” Mason screamed from upstairs. There were another few stomps, and then Mason’s high pitched laughter rang through the house.
A few minutes later, John came downstairs with Mason in his arms and put him down on the couch between Sam and Cooper.
“I have some oatmeal for you, Mr. Tickle Monster,” Mom said from the kitchen. John went and put his arms around her, and I pretended to throw up.
“Boys,” Mom said as she and John headed to the table to eat. “Can you turn off the TV for a second so we can talk?”
Sam grabbed the remote and pressed the mute button, but Cooper kept watching.
“Your dad and I have decided to take you school--”
“Cooper, over here, buddy,” John interrupted.
Cooper turned around.
Mom continued. “We’re going to go school supply shopping today.”
Sam and Mason groaned. “I don’t wanna go to the stupid store for stupid pencils,” Mason pouted.
“Hey,” John said sternly.
“I guess I’d rather have the stuff I want instead of the leftovers,” Sam mumbled, and Mom smiled. “Way to have a positive attitude.”
“You’re all going to behave at the store, right?” John asked. Sam looked doubtfully at Mason.
“Right?” “Right,” Sam, Mason, and Cooper said.
“Britton?” John asked, the corner of his mouth twitching.
“I guess,” I said, smiling.
When Mom and John were done eating breakfast, they helped my brothers get ready while I picked my hair, brushed my teeth, and got dressed.
(Continues to see Britton go to his dad’s house and his relationship dynamics with his father, his father’s girlfriend Amber, and thei