February (2014): Calvin
When Calvin Nichols got home from school, all he ever wanted to do was nap. Luckily enough, the only ones home at that time of day were Calvin, his older brother Arjay, and their younger sister, Jadyn, who had joined Calvin in middle school this year. Even though she was annoying -- she had been her whole life -- Calvin was discovering that she wasn’t as bad without Ariana, their ten year-old sister, around.
As soon as they walked in the front door of their house, Calvin parted ways with Ariana. He had just sighed with relief, ready to head upstairs and take his nap, when Arjay called, “Cal?”
Calvin went into the game room, which their younger siblings called the playroom, where Arjay sat back in his gaming chair with his headphones on.
“What?” Calvin asked, looking at the screen, where Arjay was playing Halo.
“Can you get me some chips? I forgot to grab them.”
“Sounds like a you problem,” Calvin said, walking away. He was not his brother’s slave. He passed through the kitchen and headed upstairs to the bedroom that he shared with Arjay. Even though there were six bedrooms in the house, none of Calvin’s siblings had their own room. He and Arjay had begged their parents for years to finish the basement so that they would both have their own rooms down there, but their parents insisted that the basement was for storage and that sharing a room had never hurt anyone.
It may not have been a problem for the little kids, but it was a problem for Arjay and Calvin. Arjay’s dirty clothes always made their way onto Calvin’s side of the bedroom, and even though their parents’ rules included “no eating in your bedroom,” there were always wrappers, plates, and bowls that ended up on the desks and dressers in their bedroom, and Calvin knew that he hadn’t been the one to put them there.
Calvin shut the bedroom door behind him, threw down his backpack, and flopped into bed. He knew his mom would lecture him later for not getting his homework done after school, which was another one of his parents’ rules, but Calvin could handle it. After school was for napping.
Calvin woke up to the screeching of bus brakes, which meant that his younger siblings were home. Calvin groaned as he sat up, then reached down to his backpack, searching blindly for his phone. When he closed his fingers around it, he pulled it up closer to his face and found a text from his mom waiting in the groupchat with Calvin and Arjay.
Put 15 chicken breasts out to thaw please!
Calvin dropped his phone on the bed beside him and lay back down. Arjay was already downstairs, so he could do it.
Suddenly, the noise level from downstairs rose. Calvin pulled himself out of bed to make sure that his bedroom door was locked, then lay back down, grabbed his Nintendo DS from his nightstand, and started playing Pokémon. He had beaten this game once already, but playing it again was better than playing Halo with Arjay or talking to his younger siblings. Right as he entered a battle with a wild Pokémon that he wanted to catch, someone jiggled his doorknob from the outside, then knocked.
“What?’ Calvin asked.
“Sam wants to know if we can sleepover on Friday,” his seven year-old brother, Arten, said.
“I’m down, but you need to ask Mom and Dad, not me.”
“I know,” Arten said.
Calvin rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to his game, not able to keep the smile from spreading across his face. He hadn’t hung out with his friend Britton, Sam’s older brother, outside of school for a couple of weeks now. They had all been too busy. Luckily, even if Calvin’s mom got mad at him about his homework, he was sure that she would let them go over because they knew Britton’s family well and a sleepover with them meant that Arjay, Calvin, Arten, Bailey, and Rosie would be out of the house for the night, giving Calvin’s parents just 6 kids to look after.
Besides, Calvin really liked Britton and his family, even if Britton was a little bit of a goody-two-shoes. He knew what it was like to have a lot of siblings, even if not all of Britton’s siblings were from the same parents. Britton’s complicated family situation made Calvin feel like his family was less weird.
When Calvin heard the garage door open, he saved his game and closed his DS, sighing. He left the shelter of his bedroom and headed downstairs where Jadyn, Ariana, and José were watching TV, Arjay was yelling at his game, and the door going out to the garage was wide open.
Calvin headed out to the garage where his mom was being hugged by Arten and Bailey. Calvin waved at his mom then went around to the other side of the van, where his favorite sibling, his little brother Evan, was waiting to be unbuckled.
“Hi buddy,” Calvin said, smiling as he opened the door.
“Cally!” Evan squealed, kicking his feet against the back of the passenger seat. He held up a sloppy red paper heart. “For Mommy!”
“Did you make that at daycare?” Calvin asked, unbuckling him from his carseat and pulling him out of the car. Evan wrapped his arms around Calvin’s neck as his twin brother, Matthew, began to scream.
“I’ll get you, Matt,” Calvin said over the screams, setting Evan down on the garage floor. “Stay there, okay?”
Evan put his hand in a pocket on Calvin’s cargo pants, and Calvin turned back to the car to get Matthew.
“Me too,” Sophia, who was older than the twins, begged.
Just as Calvin was about to respond, Bailey opened the door on Sophia’s side and helped her get out.
When Calvin pulled Matthew out of his seat, he stopped screaming, opting instead to suck on his fingers. Calvin nudged Evan out of the way with his leg and closed the sliding door on the van. “Ready to go inside?”
Matthew nodded, still sucking on his fingers, but Evan ran out into the driveway.
“Mom, Evan’s not coming inside,” Bailey yelled, holding Sophia’s hand and helping her into the house.
“It’s fine,” Calvin said, putting Matthew down. “Just get Matt inside, okay?”
Bailey came to get him, and Calvin spotted Evan back in the garage, pulling at his tricycle. Calvin helped him pull it out. Evan climbed onto it and pedaled around the driveway, laughing gleefully.
Calvin smiled, watching him. Evan and Matthew were just two and a half, and though they were nearly identical in appearance, save a birthmark on Matthew’s neck, Evan was way cooler. Even though it was technically the twins’ fault that Arjay and Calvin now had to share a room, Calvin preferred to blame it on José and Sophia or Jadyn and Ariana, depending on who was more annoying that day.
He chased Evan around the driveway, making him laugh even harder, which made his steering suffer. When Calvin caught him and had just begun tickling him, the door in the garage swung open and their mom yelled, “Calvin!”
“What?” he asked, setting Evan down.
“Why didn’t you put out the chicken breasts like I asked you to?”
“I thought Arjay did it. He was downstairs.”
“Well he told me that he thought you did it. I am sick and tired of you two showing no sense of responsibility whatsoever. How hard is it to communicate, even if it was a text? You picked up your cellphone to see my message, for God’s sake.”
“Sorry,” Calvin said, shrugging.
His mom muttered something and went back inside. Calvin looked down at Evan, who grinned and said. “Again!”
During dinner, which began after Calvin’s dad got home, Arten asked, “Can we sleep over at Sam and Mason’s on Friday?” “Art, you know good and well that Bailey’s birthday party is on Saturday,” Dad responded.
“But the sleepover would be a good present,” Bailey said hopefully. “We’re not even going anywhere for my party, so can’t I go to Rava’s house for one night? And everyone else too, ’cause it’s more fun that way.”
“We’ll be good,” Arjay said, but he wasn’t able to hold a straight face for very long and he laughed into his plate.
Mom and Dad looked at each other, and then Dad nodded. “All right. But for those of you going, there will be a checklist of chores that you will need to complete before you are allowed to leave.”
Calvin held in a groan while Bailey, Arten, and Rosie cheered. He didn’t understand why it even mattered if they cleaned, because the house was always messy no matter what.
When everyone except Sophia, who only ate chicken if it was in nugget form, had finished dinner, Calvin, Arjay, and José headed for the stairs.
“Where do you three think you’re going?” Mom asked, standing next to Sophia with her hands on her hips.
“Homework,” Arjay and Calvin said at the same time. Calvin rolled his eyes. Arjay always stole his excuses.
“You know good and well that that should be done already.”
“But Mom,” Arjay protested. “I have so much more homework than Cal, and you know how long reading takes me.”
“You always pull the ‘dyslexia’ card,” Calvin complained. “I really do have homework, Mom. I’m sorry I couldn’t finish it earlier.”
“Me too,” José added. “Really hard math. I’m, like, math dyslexic, I think.”
“Shut up,” Arjay and Calvin snapped at the same time. Arjay punched Calvin in the shoulder, and Calvin punched him back before his arm could even hit his side.
“Boys,” Mom said in a warning tone. “You really have me on my last straw today. Arjay, get upstairs. Calvin and José, when you’ve finished washing dishes, you will be sent to your rooms until I see your completed homework, okay?”
“I call drying,” Calvin said immediately, and José groaned and slumped. “No fair, you always get drying.”
The next couple of days were more of the same, always seeming to end with Calvin’s Mom or Dad sending him to his room. On Thursday, he sat at his desk, tapping his pencil. It wasn’t fair that his mom made him spend so much time on his homework. It was all useless junk that he would never use, and he knew that no one was ever going to ask him what grades he had gotten in middle school when he was trying to get a job, anyway.
Instead of working, Calvin always played video games until 8:30 when Mom put Sophia, Evan, and Matthew to bed. Then he started his work, and he was usually at least halfway done by the time Mom knocked on their door to check on his and Arjay’s progress.
Tonight, the knock came just as a rubber band smacked into the back of Calvin’s head. He flipped Arjay off as he said, “Come in.”
“Hey boys,” Mom said, coming into their room. She looked around, frowning. “This place could use some cleaning. We may not be able to let you go to Britton’s if it still looks like this tomorrow.”
Calvin rolled his eyes, but Mom was too busy staring at Arjay’s dirty underwear to notice. “Really, son,” she said, “we bought you a nice hamper for your dirty clothes, and you don’t even use it.”
Calvin laughed silently. Arjay did use the hamper, for all of his clean laundry that he never bothered to fold or hang up.
“Trying to focus, Mom,” Arjay grunted, staring at his textbook.
“Sorry, sorry,” Mom said. “Both of you come down and show me your work when you’re done, okay? I want you in bed by ten, which means you better hurry up with that work so that you have time to clean your room.” She left, closing the door behind her.
“‘Trying to focus’ my ass,” Calvin said, picking up a dirty sock and chucking it at Arjay’s head. It missed and landed on his textbook.
“You better get cleaning, Cal, ’cause this stuff is not my mess.”
“It’s all your mess.”
“You’re the one throwing socks.”
Calvin rolled his eyes and turned back to his homework.
The next day, Calvin rode the bus with his friend Britton so that they could start the sleepover fun as soon as possible.
“It’s been awhile,” Britton said as they got off the bus.
“Yeah, sure has,” Calvin agreed. Britton had been busy every weekend for a month, but Calvin didn’t know why. They walked up to the garage, where Britton entered the garage code and the door began to rise. “Want to play Horse?”
“Sure,” Calvin said. They set their backpacks down on the steps that led inside.
Britton grabbed the basketball and they headed back out to the driveway. “When is Arjay coming?”
“He said he’d drive himself here around the time that the little kids get here.”
“He has to finish cleaning his side of the room before he’s allowed to leave,” Calvin explained. “He didn’t last night so Mom and Dad were really mad.”
Britton smiled and shook his head. “Your parents are always mad at you guys.”
“They’re just strict. It’s impossible to keep up with everything they’re always telling us to do.”
“They’re really not that strict,” Britton said. He passed the ball to Calvin. “You can go first.”
“What do you mean they’re not strict? They totally are.”
“About as strict as mine,” Britton said, shrugging. “I mean, don’t look at me like that. I’ve been there when you got in trouble and it’s usually just because you didn’t do one simple thing that your parents reminded you to do about twenty times.”
Calvin shrugged. What did Britton know from only seeing him get in trouble once or twice, anyway? “Half the stuff they tell me to do isn’t important.”
Britton shrugged, and Calvin took his first shot to start the game.
By the time the bus from the elementary school came, Calvin and Britton had switched to playing one-on-one, so they were sweating and breathing heavily. Calvin saw the bus as an excuse to take a breather even before Britton said, “Let’s go say hi.”
Calvin nodded, wiping his forehead. He wanted hugs from Cole and Cooper, Britton’s youngest brothers, anyway. They approached the bus as the doors opened and kids, Britton and Calvin’s siblings, poured out.
“Calvin!” Cooper exclaimed, barreling into him and wrapping his little arms around his waist.
“Hey Coop,” Calvin said, laughing and patting Cooper’s back.
“I made a valentine for my mom and dad at school,” Cooper said, taking his backpack off and busying himself with the zipper.
“I bet it’s very cool,” Calvin said, keeping an eye out for Cole as some of his own siblings and some of Britton’s siblings waved at him and called out greetings. Calvin waved back just as Cole jumped off the bus and ran to hug Britton.
“See, Cal, they have my pictures,” Cooper said, holding up a sloppy red heart for Calvin to see.
“Wow, I bet your parents are going to love it, Coop,” Calvin said, grinning as Cole spotted him and ran over.
“We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Bailey on the bus,” Cole said as he hugged Calvin.
Calvin tousled his hair. “How loud?”
“So loud that she had to cover her ears,” Cole said, beaming as Cooper stuffed his valentine back into his backpack.
“Do you guys want to go in for a snack?” Britton asked, one hand holding two backpacks and the other holding his sister Rava’s hand. Jason, Sam, Mason, Arten, and Bailey knelt near him looking at something in Arten’s hands.
“Yeah,” everyone agreed. Rava tugged Britton towards the house as Mason asked, “Brit, can we bring the beetle inside?”
“Ew, I don’t want it in the house,” Jason said, standing up and walking towards Britton and his twin sister.
“Leave it outside, guys,” Britton said, laughing. Calvin caught his eye and laughed too, and then they led the kids inside.
“My mom and Amber should be home soon,” Britton told him as the kids put away their shoes and backpacks. “Amber had to take the dog to the vet, and my mom is grocery shopping.”
“So snack time is up to us?” Calvin asked, groaning internally.
“Yep,” Britton said, grinning. “I thought Arjay would be here by now. He’d be a big help.”
Calvin resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Me too.” He pulled out his phone as Britton headed for the fridge, where he pulled out some yogurts. Calvin dialed Arjay’s number and put the phone up to his ear.
“Huh?” his brother said when he answered.
“Where are you?” Calvin hissed.
“Well hurry up and get your ass--” Calvin glanced behind him to make sure none of the kids had heard him. “--out of bed and clean up before Mom gets home so you can actually come over here.”
“Whatever,” Arjay groaned.
Calvin was about to say something, but he glanced at his phone and realized that Arjay had hung up on him. Typical.
“He’s going to be late,” Calvin told Britton as he worked on handing spoons and yogurts to the kids.
“In true Nichols fashion,” Britton said, unfazed.
Calvin smiled to himself. It was true that they were always late.
When the kids were all settled with their snack and Britton had finally handed Calvin a yogurt, which Calvin had been hoping for because basketball had really taken it out of him, Britton’s ex-step-mom, Amber, came in from the garage with their dog, a husky named Nala, on a leash.
“It’s a full house tonight, huh?” she asked, smiling and kneeling down to take Nala’s leash off. When she was free, she ran over to the kids, wagging her whole body. Rava got up from the table and hugged her mom.
Amber hugged her close and kissed her head before looking up and smiling at Calvin. “How are you? I feel like it’s been so long since I’ve seen you all.”
Calvin blushed, and then blushed harder because he knew he was blushing. Amber was just so beautiful. “I’m good.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Amber said, flashing him another smile. She turned to Britton. “Do you mind if I go shower? Nala climbed all over me in the car.”
“That’s totally fine,” Britton promised. Calvin went back to his yogurt, frowning. He hoped that Amber would shower fast, because he had come over here to play video games, not to babysit.
Britton’s mom arrived at the same time as Arjay, just a few minutes after Amber had gone to shower. Calvin practically sighed in relief, wanting to hug Michelle for showing up at the perfect time. After Arjay waved at all the kids, Britton and Calvin led the way down to the basement so they could finally play Xbox.
“Just remember that we can’t play down here at night anymore, since Amber, Rava, and Jason’s rooms are down here now,” Britton said.
“I thought Rava and Jason would sleep upstairs with the other kids tonight,” Arjay said.
“Well yeah, but Amber still needs sleep.”
“We know how to be quiet, Britton,” Calvin said, and Arjay snickered. Calvin looked at him out of the corner of his eye, smiling. Britton could be such a goody-two-shoes that it was nice to have Arjay around to help balance him out.
After dinner, Britton’s mom and step-dad, John, pulled some ice cream out of the freezer and started filling bowls for everyone.
“We thought we’d help Bailey celebrate her birthday,” Michelle explained, smiling.
“That’s so nice, thank you,” Bailey said from the table, where Rava hugged her.
Though Michelle and John made them sing to Bailey even though they all knew that the kids had sang on the bus and they’d be singing again tomorrow, it was worth it for the ice cream.
“Xbox time?” Arjay asked once they had all been served, shoveling the ice cream into his mouth.
“I thought we could hang out for a bit,” Britton said, nodding towards the kids.
“We could play Pokémon next,” Calvin said. “Not everyone lives on Xbox like you, Arjay.”
Arjya rolled his eyes but stayed at the table with Calvin and Britton as the kids began telling knock-knock jokes and laughing as if they were having the time of their lives.
In the morning, Michelle and Amber were home to make pancakes and eggs for everyone. Calvin ate so much that he made his stomach hurt because his mom never made pancakes and they were definitely his favorite breakfast food.
Right after breakfast, Calvin and Arjay busied themselves playing Sorry! With Britton’s brothers Sam and Jason while Britton, Cole, Arten, and Bailey helped Michelle and Amber clean up the kitchen. Just as Calvin was sending Sam’s piece back to its starting place, Arjay’s cell phone rang.
He pulled it out of his pocket and groaned. “It’s Mom.”
Calvin rolled his eyes. “Figures.”
Arjay accepted the call and put the phone up to his ear. “Hey Mom. Yeah, we’re good. Well, I don’t know about that. Don’t you think it would be better if we all came home when the decorations were up? Then it would be a bigger surprise for Bailey. No, she can’t hear me.”
Calvin watched Arjay, praying that his brother could get both of them out of cleaning and decorating.
“I know, Mom, but it would be rude to ask Michelle to drive us back, then come here again, and then just come back to our house later, don’t you think? Yeah, I do have my car, but the middle seat in the back doesn’t have a seatbelt, remember? So if something happened, you wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt.”
“What’s he talking about?” Jason whispered to Calvin.
Calvin shrugged. “He’s talking to our mom. Something about Bailey’s party.”
“Oh, okay,” Jason said.
“Okay, awesome, thanks Mom,” Arjay said. “Okay, okay, I know. See you in a few hours. Bye.” Arjay hung up and put his phone back in his pocket.
“We get to stay here?” Calvin asked.
“Yep,” Arjay said, grinning, and Calvin gave him a high five.
Half an hour before Bailey’s party was set to start, Michelle and Amber had everyone gather up their stuff, get their shoes and jackets on, and load up into the cars. Michelle took her boys — Britton, Sam, Mason, Cole, and Cooper — while Amber took her twins and Calvin’s younger siblings. Calvin climbed into the passenger seat of Arjay’s car as Arjay climbed into the driver’s seat.
“I’m so glad we don’t have to ride with all the kids,” Arjay said.
“Yeah,” Calvin agreed, though he wouldn’t have minded Britton’s siblings so much. “I wish Britton would have come with us, though.”
“He’s too obsessed with his brothers,” Arjay said. “I don’t get it, they’re annoying.”
Calvin shrugged, not in the mood to argue.
After both Amber and Michelle pulled out of the driveway, Arjay backed his car into the street. Calvin plugged the aux cord into his phone and put on his best playlist. Fifteen minutes later, Arjay turned the car into their driveway behind Michelle’s van.
“I don’t see any other cars,” Calvin said, searching the driveway and then turning to search the street in front of their house.
“So? We’re still early.”
“Two minutes,” Calvin said, rolling his eyes. Arjay never cared about their siblings. “I just want Bailey to have a good birthday. She invited her entire class and no one’s even here.”
“It’s not her actual birthday,” Arjay said, parking the car.
Calvin unbuckled and got out of the car, not hesitating to slam the door.
Besides Britton’s family, only five of Bailey’s classmates showed up, but she didn’t seem to notice. Every time Calvin saw her, she was smiling.
“Hey,” José whispered to Calvin when the adults had all busied themselves in the kitchen and the kids had all run upstairs. “Want to hide Bailey’s presents?”
“Definitely,” Calvin said, getting up off the couch and following his brother to the pile of gifts. They only had a few minutes to hide them so most of Calvin’s spots sucked, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t like he didn’t want Bailey to find them.
“Present time,” Mom declared soon after Calvin had claimed his spot on the couch in front of the TV again.
All the kids came racing into the living room, and when they realized that all of the presents had moved, Bailey said, “The game is afoot!” and led the charge around the house to find the presents. The kids had a great time finding them, shouting with glee every time they discovered one, and José sat down next to Calvin, his arms crossed. “Nothing ever goes right when I try to mess with Bailey.”
“That’s ’cause she’s a whole lot smarter than you,” Calvin said, laughing.
“Oh, shut up, Cal,” José said, getting up off the couch and storming away.
Once all of the presents had been found, Bailey opened all of them and then Mom brought out the cake. Calvin made sure to position himself behind Bailey as they sang so that as soon as the candles had been pulled out, he pushed her head into her cake.
“Calvin!” Mom yelled, her hands going to her forehead.
Bailey sat up and laughed. She looked back at Calvin, and he took some icing off her face and rubbed it on Cooper’s cheek, which made both Cooper and Bailey laugh.
“Calvin, get over here,” Mom said sternly. Calvin rolled his eyes and left Bailey and her friends to have a good time.
When the party was over and everyone had left, Calvin couldn’t find a way to get out of cleaning up, so he ended up sweeping the kitchen floor and vacuuming the playroom and the living room, which had seen a lot of foot traffic during the party. Arjay and their sister Jadyn were supposed to be washing the dishes, but every time Calvin looked, Arjay was splashing Jadyn or blowing bubbles with the soap.
Right as Calvin finished vacuuming, yelling erupted upstairs. “José, get downstairs right now!” Dad yelled.
Jadyn and Arjay began washing dishes, keeping their eyes on the sink, and Calvin busied himself wrapping up the vacuum cord.
José came down the stairs and sat down at the kitchen table. Calvin snuck a look to find that José seemed to be covered in white stuff. Calvin wanted to ask what it was so badly, but he could hear his dad’s footsteps on the stairs, so he focused back on the vacuum cord.
“No, stay sitting,” Dad said gruffly.
“But I—” José said.
“Stop. Sit down right now and listen to me. I don’t care what excuses you’ve thought up, because I don’t want to hear them. Your behavior has been steadily going downhill for the past year, young man, and I’ve tried to understand, but I don’t.”
“No. It is my turn to talk. Once your mom gets the twins cleaned up, we are going to have a long talk, young man. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” José mumbled.
“How did the twins get the baby powder?”
Ah, Calvin thought, so that’s what it was.
“Matthew just—” José started.
“Please, son, think very long and hard about your answer.”
José began talking again immediately. “Matthew found it in the cabinet under the changing table.”
“But it’s true!” José insisted.
“It’s not, because we never put the baby powder there for the exact reason that the twins could get into it.”
“That’s where Arjay puts it.”
Calvin looked up. José was always such a little snitch.
“Don’t bring me into this,” Arjay said from the sink.
“Arjay,” Dad said, staring at him.
Arjay shut his mouth and plunged his hands back into the dish water.
“One more time, José,” Dad said. “Please tell me the truth.”
“Matthew started it,” José said. “He took the lid off and started dumping it, I swear!”
Calvin risked another look up to see Dad pinching the bridge of his nose, which was never a good sign.
José continued to lie and Dad continued to lose his patience until Mom came down the stairs, a twin wrapped in a towel in each of her arms.
“I can’t get him to tell me the truth,” Dad said, gesturing at José and looking to Mom for help.
Mom smiled at José and then at Evan. “Evy, who gave you the baby powder?”
“Bubby!” Evan said gleefully, pointing at José.
Calvin slapped his hand over his mouth to cover his laugh. Dad spent a few minutes yelling at José while Mom took the twins back upstairs. Calvin stayed quiet and didn’t dare to move, lest Dad’s temper turn on him.
Finally, Dad told José to get cleaned up, and José took his opportunity to sprint up the stairs. Calvin figured it was safe now, so he stood up and took the vacuum to the closet. Just as he was closing the door and thinking that it would be nice to go upstairs and play Pokémon, Dad said, “Calvin?”
“Were you the one who swept the kitchen?”
“Well, I think you should try again.”
Calvin rolled his eyes and grabbed the broom out of the closet. He walked to the kitchen, dragging his feet. “Where?”
“Everywhere,” Dad said, gesturing to the whole kitchen. “I mean, look at this, son!” He pointed under the table, where there were some Cheerios, sprinkles, and maybe a couple other crumbs.
“Okay,” Calvin said, extending the broom under the table to reach the crumbs. Once he had those in the dust pan, Dad said, “And over here.”
Calvin rolled his eyes and went to where Dad was pointing. Every time, after he swept the spot and expected to be done, Dad pointed out another spot.
“Look, Dad,” Calvin said, frustrated. “If you want it to be so perfect, why don’t you just do it yourself?”
Dad moved his hands to his hips and pressed his mouth into a line.
“Sorry,” Calvin mumbled. He started sweeping the spot Dad had pointed out, but Dad grabbed the broom from him and pointed to the table. “Sit there and don’t say a word, got it?”
Calvin nodded and slumped over to the table. He watched Dad sweep and Arjay and Jadyn dry the dishes. Meanwhile, he heard the occasional shouting or laughing from his siblings upstairs. For once, he wished he could join them. After a few minutes, Dad finished sweeping, dumped the contents of the dustpan into the trash, and returned the broom to the closet. While he was turned away, Arjay stuck his tongue out at Calvin, and Jadyn stifled a laugh. Calvin flipped them both off, scowling.
Dad walked back through the kitchen and went upstairs.
“You and José are dead to him,” Arjay said matter-of-factly.
“You’ll have to live on the streets and eat from our trash cans,” Jadyn added, and Arjay laughed.
“It’s not my fault he wanted me to sweep stuff only he could see,” Calvin hissed, glancing towards the stairs. He put his arms onto the table and let his head drop onto them. None of this was his fault. Dad just had leftover anger from José’s problems.
Calvin was nearly asleep at the table when he heard Dad’s voice again. “Jadyn, get upstairs.”
Calvin sat up quickly, his head spinning, as Arjay followed Jadyn upstairs, where Mom was coming down with José trailing behind her.
“Not you, Arjay,” Dad said, gesturing to the table.
“What?” Arjay groaned, turning and heading to the table. “What’d I do?” He slumped down into the chair two away from Calvin, and José sat down between them. Mom and Dad settled on the other side of the table.
“What even is this?” Arjay asked, leaning his head on his hand. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Stop talking and listen, okay?” Dad said.
“We have something that we need to tell you, boys,” Mom said, folding her hands on the table. “Your dad and I have decided that it’s in all of your best interests if we send you to a sort of boarding school.”
Arjay, Calvin, and José all protested at once, but Dad shushed them. Calvin leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. No way he was going to boarding school.
“We’ve tried everything with you boys,” Dad said, removing his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose. “We’ve tried rules and routines, we’ve tried punishing you. We’ve tried attempting to get you to work together, and we’ve tried trusting you with simple responsibilities so that you feel more involved. But nothing has worked. You all remain irresponsible, impolite. You’re all failing in school—”
“I’m not failing,” Calvin protested. “I have all C’s and B’s!” He was proud of it, too.
“But you have the potential to do so much better, Calvin. That’s why we’re so frustrated.”
“This isn’t fair,” Arjay said. “It’s not my fault that I’m dyslexic.”
“Of course not, Arjay,” Mom said. “But I’m dyslexic, and so are Ariana and Rosie, but what makes us different from you is our work ethic. You would be so much better off if you learned responsibility, and that is what Dad and I want for you.”
“I am responsible,” Arjay insisted, but Dad shut him up with a withering look.
“School just isn’t my thing,” José said.
Calvin rolled his eyes. Nothing was José’s thing, except maybe being an asshole.
Mom sighed. “We’ve found a place that we think will really help all three of you learn to manage your time and take responsibility. They even teach boys like you to work together and—”
“If this is a ‘boys’ thing, how come Art and the twins aren’t down here?” José asked.
“They’re too young — the youngest boys allowed at the boarding school are nine — and we all know that Art is different.”
“I just don’t get why we have to go,” Arjay said irritably.
“What’s the school called?” Calvin asked.
“East Ridge Academy,” Dad said.
“And it’s a fancy sleep-away private school?”
“It’s not a private school. They call it a ‘boot camp.’ But yes, you sleep there.”
“A boot camp? Like the army or something?” Arjay asked, his eyes popping. “No way.”
“It is not affiliated with the military in any way,” Mom said. “But you are going. We’ve already registered all three of you.”
Arjay and José continued to protest, but Calvin didn’t bother. Dad would never change his mind, because he never cared what they had to say about anything.
Calvin’s last week at his normal school was pretty good, all things considered. He didn’t do any of his homework, and he goofed off in class. None of it mattered, since he was leaving for the dumb bootcamp that Saturday, anyway.
When he told Britton what was happening, his friend could barely believe it. “You’ll be gone for an entire year?” he asked.
“Maybe longer, Mom said,” Calvin told him. “She said that if we get good grades and other good feedback or whatever — I don’t know on what — then maybe we can come home.”
“What do you know about East whatever? Do you know much?”
“I looked it up,” Calvin said. “Mom and Dad were right, it’s not a military school, thankfully, but we have to run and lift weights and stuff. And we live in these cabins with other guys our age. Their whole website is filled with pictures of guys playing baseball and running or playing tug of war or whatever.”
“So it could be kind of fun, then,” Britton said.
“What? No way,” Calvin said. “All the pictures on websites for something called a ‘boot camp’ are staged. No way I’m going there hoping it’ll be fun. I’ll just be even more miserable when it sucks, then.”
Britton shrugged. “I just think it’s better to be positive.”
Saturday morning, Calvin awoke to a knock on his bedroom door. Arjay didn’t move, so Calvin got out of bed, grabbed his plastic grocery bag full of clothes, and whacked Arjay with it.
“Hey,” Arjay yelled, thrashing to get out from underneath his covers.
“Shhh,” Calvin said, grinning. “Everyone else is still sleeping.”
“I fucking hate you.”
Calvin got dressed in the outfit that Mom had forced him to lay out the night before and headed downstairs with both of his grocery bags of boot camp stuff. He couldn’t help but thinking that, even if he had to go to East Ridge for an entire year and it was probably going to be horrible, he had at least gotten new shoes, socks, and underwear out of it.
He was the first of his brothers downstairs, so Calvin grabbed a bowl of cereal and sat down at the table as far away from Dad as he could be and started eating. Dad didn’t say anything to him, so Calvin ate slowly until Arjay came down, still in his pajamas. By the time he sat down at the table with two pieces of peanut butter toast, Calvin was done eating. He headed to the game room, where he had left his DS the night before, and enjoyed his last time playing Pokémon for a whole year.
About ten minutes after he had started playing, someone stomped down the stairs. Calvin rolled his eyes. José could be so dramatic.
By the time Arjay and José were ready to go, Michelle, Britton’s mom, was at the house, sipping tea and reading a magazine at the table. Calvin waved to her as they left and she smiled and waved back.
“Dad, this is some big joke, right?” Arjay asked as they headed out to the car. “Like an intervention to scare us into being good, right?
“You could not be further from the truth,” Dad assured him.
“Do we have to take the van?” José complained as Mom and Dad climbed into the front seats and Calvin pulled open the back door.
“Would you rather be squished between Arjay and Calvin for the whole drive?” Mom asked.
“Get it,” Dad said. “You’ve already made us late.”
“It was Arjay’s fault, not mine,” José muttered. Calvin smacked his head as he climbed into the van.
“Calvin,” Mom scolded him.
The drive was extremely boring. Calvin only had his phone for entertainment because he hadn’t thought to bring his DS, so he texted Britton.
Y u up?
Cole always gets up early
Sharing rooms sux like that
I like the extra time with just him
Are you scared?
Nah. Annoyed tho
We’re close now I think. GPS got us off the highway. I’ll have to say bye soon
I’m going to miss you guys. Really
Yeah u to. And Cole and Cooper
We’ll all still be here when you get back :)
Good luck. I hope it’s as fun as the website made it look
Thx. C u
Have fun! Bye
Calvin looked up and put his phone in the pocket on the back of the seat in front of him. They approached a gate where two men in black clothing stood.
“Looks like a prison,” Arjay muttered from the very back of the car, where he and José sat. Calvin nodded in agreement.
Dad stopped the car and rolled down the window, handing the guard some papers. The guard looked through them before giving them back. Then he and the second guard opened the gate so that Dad could drive the car through. The cereal Calvin had eaten for breakfast suddenly wasn’t sitting so well in his stomach.
“What’s that say?” Arjay asked, pointing to the letters on the building in front of them that seemed to get bigger every second.
“East Ridge Academy Visitation Center,” Calvin told him.
“Visitation?” José asked, sitting up straighter. “Does that mean you guys will come to see us?”
Mom turned to look at them. “Once a month we get to come and see how you’re all doing.”
Calvin smiled to himself. Maybe, if he was lucky, he wouldn’t have to wait a whole year to see Britton.
“Only once a month?” José whined.
“We can write letters in the meantime,” Mom said. “You can all tell us all about everything.”
“Can you give me Britton’s address?’ Calvin asked. “Since we won’t have phones.”
“Sure, I think that’s a good idea. I don’t know it off the top of my head, but I’ll text Michelle and see if I can get if before we have to leave.”
Dad parked the car and got out. Calvin and his brothers grabbed their bags and unbuckled as Mom texted Michelle. Calvin opened the door and joined Dad on the gravel parking lot. Arjya got out behind him and looked around. “I wish we could see past those buildings.”
“Yeah, me too,” Calvin agreed. He hoped that the view on the other side was more friendly than this parking lot with a bunch of dusty cars.
“Let’s head in, boys,” Dad said. “Hurry it up, José.” Dad led the way into the building, and Calvin followed obediently, ending up walking next to Mom while his brothers trailed behind them.
“Hello,” the lady at the front desk said when they stepped into the building. Calvin looked around at the plain, clean lobby. It smelled like lemon cleaner, which made his nose tingle.
“We’re here to drop our boys off,” Mom said, looking around.
“Can I have your paperwork?” the lady at the desk asked. Dad stepped forward and handed it to her.
“Thank you,” the lady said with a smile. She shuffled through the papers and typed for a minute before looking back up at Calvin’s family. “So we have Arjay, José, and Calvin Nichols, correct?”
“Correct,” Dad said. “Arjay and Calvin should be in the same group, and José in the younger one.”
“Right,” the lady said, without a smile this time. “I’m going to buzz Headmaster Dawson down, and he’ll be able to take the boys and begin the orientation process.”
“We won’t be able to go with them?” Mom asked, clutching her phone tighter.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the lady said sympathetically,” but the headmaster prefers the parents to say their goodbyes here. It makes the orientation process smoother.”
“Okay,” Mom said, frowning. “Can I borrow a pen and a sticky note, by chance?”
The lady handed her both things, and Mom looked at her phone and scribbled something down. She gave the pen back to the lady before turning to Calvin. “Britton’s address.”
“Thanks,” Calvin said, taking the note and shoving it into his pocket. Mom looked at him, tears in her eyes. “I’m going to miss you boys so much.”
Calvin hugged her quickly, knowing there was no way to get out of it. She moved on to José, who protested but hugged her back.
“Come here, boys,” Dad said, holding an arm out to Calvin and the other out to Arjay. Calvin obeyed, and Dad put an arm around each of their shoulders. Calvin avoided Dad’s eyes, afraid of what he would find there.
“We’re doing this for your own good,” Dad said, shaking Calvin a little. “Remember that.”
Calvin nodded and glanced at Arjay, who scowled.
“I love you both so much.”
“Love you too, Dad,” Calvin said,
“Yeah,” Arjay said unenthusiastically.
When Mom let go of José, she moved on to Arjay, who seemed only too glad to get away from Dad. “Oh, I’m going to miss you boys so much. My babies.”
“Mom,” Arjay groaned, pulling out of the hug. She rose up on her tiptoes and barely reached his cheek to give it a kiss. Arjay scowled and wiped his cheek. Mom gave Arjay one more squeeze as Calvin heard footsteps coming down the hall. Calvin looked to see a man, who was probably about six feet tall with a clean shaven face and a huge smile, walking towards them. “The Nichols brothers,” the man said, rubbing his hands together. “It’s so nice to meet you. What are your first impressions of East Ridge?”
Neither Arjay nor José said anything, so Calvin said, “It’s clean.”
The man laughed. “We do try to keep it that way.”
“You’re the headmaster, I assume?” Dad asked.
The man nodded. “I am.”
“Then I suppose we should go,” Dad said, looking at Mom.
“Unfortunately, it does seem to work best if you do. Thanks for entrusting us with your sons.”
Mom and Dad waved before walking out of the door. Calvin and José waved back.
“Shall we head to my office?” the headmaster asked. He didn’t give any of them a chance to answer before he turned and headed back down the hallway that he had come from. Calvin and his brothers followed him.
“So you’re the principal or something?” José asked.
“I’m Headmaster Dawson,” the man said. “So yes, I am something of a ‘principal’ here.”
“Then where are we going?”
“To my office,” Headmaster Dawson said patiently.
Calvin resisted the urge to smack José in the head.
“I need to get you boys your orientation packets, schedule meetings with your counselors, and call up some of our current students to show you around.”
“Counselors, like therapists?” Arjay asked.
Arjay sighed, muttering something to himself that Calvin didn’t catch. As much as Calvin hated the idea of seeing a therapist — he definitely didn’t need one — he wasn’t about to complain in front of the headmaster.
When they got to his office, Headmaster Dawson handed each of them a packet that he said had everything they needed to know about East Ridge within it. Calvin rolled it up and put it in one of his grocery bags.
“You’ll be spending your first week here at the visitation center in your own rooms,” Headmaster Dawson explained. “During your second week, you’ll live with boys at the top of your age groups in their cabin. They’ll help you adjust to life here, and if you’re really lucky, they’ll want to keep you in their cabin. If not, you can still make friends with more of your peers and ask them to request that you bunk with them. Otherwise, you’ll be moved into a cabin with boys your age.”
“But what if we hate it there?” Arjay asked.
“It’s important for you to learn to work with people that you don’t necessarily like. It’s an important life skill. However, if there is a serious problem, a cabin switch can be arranged.”
Calvin nodded, hoping that he would find people that he actually liked. He prided himself in being able to get along with all kinds of people, but if he was going to live with someone for a whole year, he definitely wanted to be able to be good friends with them.
Arjay and José asked a few more questions before Headmaster Dawson showed them to their rooms. Calvin was put in room one, where he dropped off his bags, glad that his room number would be easy to remember. Arjay was put in room 18 and José in room 22, which Calvin doubted he would remember by the next day. Mostly, he was just glad that their rooms were so far away from his. He wouldn’t put it past either Arjay or José to pound on the wall just to be annoying.
After they had all had a chance to drop off their bags, Headmaster Dawson took them to meet a man named Mr. Chance, who Calvin figured was a security guard or something. Mr. Chance took them through a big laundry room, which was basically an entire laundromat, and down into a storeroom where they stocked up on school supplies and toiletries. Then a woman named Linda helped them find all of their clothes, including their school uniform, which she adjusted to fit them each. Calvin couldn’t imagine himself wearing it everyday, but he couldn’t help but think that he looked pretty great in a suit.
Once they had been fitted and were weighed down with their new bags of clothes and supplies, Mr. Chance took them back up to the laundry room and taught them how to use the machines properly. Calvin yawned through his lecture, the early morning really catching up to him. To make matters worse, his stomach began rumbling. He needed food, not lectures about the amount of soap to use in washing machines.
Finally, Mr. Chance led Calvin and his brothers to the mess hall, where other boys flooded in from a door that Calvin hadn’t been through before. Mr. Chance led Calvin and his brothers through the food line, reminding them repeatedly to thank the women that spooned food onto their trays. Then he showed them a table and told them to sit down and eat before he disappeared.
“Why do we have to sit in the corner?” Arjay complained. “And why does this food taste like shit?”
José grinned. “No swear jar here. This food is shit.”
Calvin rolled his eyes and spooned some mushy corn into his mouth. The room was so loud that his ears hurt by the time Mr. Chance reappeared and showed them how to return their trays and cups to the window that looked into the kitchen.
“Is the food always so gross?” Arjay asked, but Mr. Chance ignored him and led them out the door that Calvin had seen all the other boys come through. The cool, fresh air that hit him came as a relief after the stuffy air of the cafeteria, and Calvin took a deep breath, smiling. Some boys stood around or played catch on the blacktop. Despite Mr. Chance’s glares when they ran in front of him, the boys didn’t seem to notice Mr. Chance or Calvin and his brothers.
Mr. Chance led them to the brick building to their right, where he opened the door for them and gestured for them to walk in. “This will be José’s school.”
“It’s Saturday, though,” José complained.
“We have to find out who your teacher is so that I can show you where you’ll be going on Monday,” Mr. Chance explained. He led them to an office, where he pulled out a key and led them inside. On the desk inside the door, he grabbed a sticky note off of the computer. “Looks like you have Mr. Thomason for third grade, José.”
“I don’t want to be in a school on Saturday,” José mumbled.
Mr. Chance led them to José’s classroom, then led them back down the hall and out of the school.
“What happens if we fail a class here?” Arjay asked.
“I’m not a teacher. Look in your orientation packet.”
Arjay rolled his eyes. When they stepped back outside of the school, Mr. Chance stopped and checked his watch.
“Aren’t we going to see me and Arjay’s classrooms?”
“No,” Mr. Chance said. “Your tour guide will do that. We just don’t allow José’s age group to do that on their own.”
They stood in the cold, waiting for what seemed like ages until someone who looked about Arjay’s age and someone who was younger than Calvin but older than José walked up to them.
“Thank you for being on time,” Mr. Chance told them.
“No problem,” the older one, who had close-cropped brown hair and an exceptionally large nose, said.
“You’ll be taking these two,” Mr. Chance said, gesturing to Arjay and Calvin. He turned to the younger boy. “You’ll be taking José.”
“Okay,” the younger boy said, nodding at José. “Let’s go.”
“Have them back in half an hour,” Mr. Chance called as the boy led José away.
“Will do,” the older boy said, smiling at Arjay and Calvin. He beckoned for them to follow him as he turned and began walking away from the school. Once they were out of Mr. Chance’s earshot, heading to the building on the other side of the visitation center, the boy said, “I’m Corey Ryan, by the way.”
“Calvin,” Calvin said.
“What’s that stand for?” Corey asked.
Calvin laughed, and Arjay rolled his eyes. “Nothing. It’s just my name. A-R-J-A-Y. My parents are idiots.”
“Calvin really seemed to have won the name lottery,” Corey joked, smiling.
“I always win,” Calvin said, smiling back.
Corey led them into another school, where he took them to the office and told them to grab the schedule off the door that had their name on it. Calvin and Arjay did as he said.
“You guys don’t need me to show you around like you’re five, do you?”
“Definitely not,” Arjay said, folding the schedule and putting it in his pocket. Calvin agreed and did the same with his own schedule.
“Anything that you really want to see?” Corey asked, leading them back out of the school.
“I heard the showers are, um, open?” Calvin asked.
Corey smiled and led them straight out of the school to the smaller building on the edge of the blacktop. “Everyone worries about it at first, but you get used to it pretty quick.”
He opened the door to the building and let Arjay and Calvin peek inside. Calvin was pleasantly surprised by the showers and sinks, which looked pretty clean, which he hoped meant that they worked well.
“I heard that there’s a lot of baseball?” Arjay asked when he and Calvin came out of the building and stood next to Corey.
“Oh yeah,” Corey said, grinning. “You guys want to go see if there’s a scrimmage going on? The season doesn’t officially start until March, but everyone’s trying out their new teams right now.”
“Sure,” Calvin agreed, and Corey led them across the blacktop and onto the grass between the cabins. “Are the teams by grade?”
“Not quite,” Corey said. “There are three main age groups for basically everything here. Nines through twelves, so they have six baseball teams, thirteens through sixteens, another six, and then seventeens through eighteens. That’s also why you guys are touring with me, since I’m sixteen, and your brother is touring with that kid who’s twelve.”
“I hope those older kids put José in his place,” Arjay said, and Calvin nodded in agreement. José could use a lesson or two.
“Do you play baseball?” Calvin asked Corey as he looked around at the cabins that they walked between. They seemed to range in appearance from cute cottage to drug house.
“Sure do,” Corey said. “It’s really fun, so I definitely recommend it if you’re ready to dedicate a lot of time to it.”
They ended up watching part of a scrimmage at one of the two baseball fields, where Calvin spotted José and his own tour guide watching from the bleachers. When it came time to leave, Calvin waved José and his tour guide over so that they could walk back together.
“I hope I get one of the good cabins, not the beat up ones,” José said as they walked.
“Me too,” Calvin agreed.
“If you break a window or something it takes for-ev-er to get replaced,” the twelve year-old said. “One of my cabinmates pushed a guy into the wall so hard that it made this dent. Then it started cracking up the wall, too. That was, like, a year ago and it’s still there. We call it our ‘Kent Dent’ and we shove little things in there. The guy who got pushed and made the dent was named Kent, get it?”
“Are there a lot of cool fights?” José asked, grinning.
The twelve year-old nodded, smiling. “Funny yelling, too, if you have cool people in your class at school. Some of the teachers really lose it if you bug ’em enough.”
“Not that making your teachers angry should be a goal,” Corey said.
“Why not?” the twelve year old asked. “It’s not like anything else, except baseball, is any fun in this dump.”
Calvin wasn’t sure what to think of the kid, so he stayed quiet until they met up with Mr. Chance and both Corey and the twelve year old left. Mr. Chance took Calvin, Arjay, and José back to their rooms, which they were only supposed to leave to go to the bathroom. Calvin sat down at the desk and read the orientation packet, genuinely curious about what he would be facing in the next year. He wasn’t sure whether or not he wanted to commit to trying to make a baseball team or not because, like Corey had said, it seemed like a big time commitment.
Calvin put down the packet and looked out the window at the parking lot. He sighed contentedly, enjoying having his own room for the first time in years.