“Who’s that?” I asked catching a glimpse of a girl with long, thick, black hair running across the hallway into one of the five bedrooms in the home of my best friend.
“The reason we are moving my stuff into my brother Ben’s room,” Charlie drawled sarcastically. “The little runt.”
“A new little sister?” I asked not realizing until then that Charlie and his four brothers were getting a little sister. I had naturally assumed the Sullivan’s were adopting a boy.
“Yeah,” Charlie chafed. “She gets my room and I, as the next youngest, get to bunk with Ben, the oldest, until he graduates this summer and goes off into the army.”
I placed the record collection Charlie had been gathering for the last five years on the floor next to the bookcase in his big brother Ben’s room. Charlie carried the soundboard and turntable. He never let anyone touch his precious turntable. The boy had dreams of being an old school DJ. He had all the equipment to do it digitally but preferred the traditional sound of records and scratching.
“I didn’t know having a little runt would be such an ordeal,” he continued complaining.
“What’s her name?” I asked curious about this thorn in my best friend’s side.
“Colette. She’s French I think.”
“Yeah. She isn’t as dark as me but she isn’t as white as you either. So she’s something in between, French.”
“Ohhh. Ok. How old is she?”
“She’s ten but she’s in our grade. She’s a brainiac.”
“Oh yeah? Is she is any of your classes?”
“No of course not. She might be in some of yours though, seeing how you are so smart and all.”
“I’m not smart,” I disagreed, not wanting this to be an issue between us. “Just bored.”
“Whatever. Anyway she starts school next week so you’ll see her then.”
“Yeah I guess.”
“Help me with my clothes now.”
“Where are we going to put them?” I asked looking around the room for another dresser that wasn’t overflowing with clothes.
“Ben said he cleared out the closet for me.”
Walking over to the closet Charlie opened it and saw that his brother had pretty much just smooshed his clothes closer together giving his baby brother about six inches of bar space to hang things on.
Charlie sighed in disgust and then turned, head low, defeated from this upheaval in his life. As he stomped to his old room I followed smirking slightly at how dramatic my friend was being. Charlie had always been a bit of a drama queen, being the youngest boy in a five pack of boys made one act out quite a bit for attention. But now Charlie wasn’t the newest one in the house. Colette was.
Colette, I said in my head. I thought it was a right pretty name. It sounded foreign but still pretty. I had only gotten a quick glance of her thick, black hair. I knew she stood a lot shorter than the two of us, which wasn’t saying much since the both of us were really tall for our age. It came from having tall parents on all sides. So everyone in our grade was shorter than us. Everyone was shorter than the Sullivan boys and me, William, only child of Harry and Betty Winchester.
I loved coming over to the Sullivan house. It was always so boisterous and fun. The boys were becoming men but that didn’t stop the horseplay and hilarious pranks they constantly pulled on one another. I wondered how the Sullivan boys would treat their little sister, their first one ever.
“Hey,” Charlie greeted Colette glumly when he entered his old room. He didn’t stop to talk but continued to his dresser and began to pull out his clothes, dumping them into a plastic laundry hamper.
I stopped cold when I came around the open bedroom door and finally got a glimpse of her. She stood by the bed, Charlie’s old bed, looking first at him and then at me. Her eyes were round and wide, much too big for her delicate face, but somehow it worked for her. They were the color of chocolate, my favorite. Her nose was dainty and her cheekbones high and her hair hung loosely all around her, straight and thick, to the middle of her chest.
Charlie had said she was the same age as we were but there were no girls in our class that looked like Colette. She looked like a small woman. Her body was – curvy. She had breasts and hips. Her sundress skimmed over her softness.
For once I really saw how opposite the other sex was compared to me. Where I was lanky and tall but still a child, she was like a miniature grown woman. She was gorgeous, the first girl I ever thought that about.
It was all there, what she would like in five years physically but the look in her eyes was even older. She was wide-eyed terrified. Also there was – a darkness in her that I had never seen in any kid before. It made me realize that she was different not just in looks but also deep inside. And that intrigued me. I wanted to know more about her. I wanted to know why she looked so – afraid at that moment.
“H – hi,” I managed to stutter out, waving my hand sheepishly.
She stared at me intermittently. Her eyes roved back and forth between the two of us, as if she didn’t want to miss anything in our movements that would betray our intentions toward her.
“My name’s Will,” I told her speaking softly without any thought, only knowing that she was a nervous little thing that needed to be handled gently.
When Charlie left the room with his piled high laundry hamper, she only stared at me with fear. I took a step toward her and she backed up until she hit the bed. I didn’t think it was possible for her eyes to grow wider but they did. Her hands jerked up as if to ward me off but she lowered them quickly and fisted her hands against her hips.
“You’re Colette?” I asked hoping to get her to speak to me.
She slowly nodded her head but remained tense. I couldn’t figure out how to get her to relax. This was something I wanted to do for her. Show her that I wasn’t someone to be terrified of. I don’t know why it was so important to me to do so but I needed her to know I was a good guy.
Her fear made me uneasy. Something was wrong but I didn’t know what. I should have fled from her but I was already lost in those eyes. Every protective instinct in my young male psyche rose to consciousness and I knew there was no going back from this moment.
“Are you French?” I blurted out without thinking.
Her hand went up to cover her mouth. I thought she might be getting sick but then I heard it and I was forever lost to her.
She was laughing!
I grinned goofily at the delightful sound. She tried to stop herself by stifling the sound with her hand but it wouldn’t be stopped. I wished she would allow herself to laugh out loud. Why didn’t she?
“I’m sorry,” she finally said in between giggles, her hand still over her mouth. “I don’t mean to laugh. I’m sorry.”
Her voice was husky and low. I could listen to her laugh, giggle and talk all day long. Never would I tire of her presence.
I continued to smile at her. Before long she lowered her hand and the most brilliant smile appeared on her face. For the first time in my life I felt … contentment. It was an odd feeling but not unpleasant. Actually it felt kind of nice despite its newness. Everything I needed was right there in front of me.
“Why are you laughing?” I asked cocking my head at her still grinning.
Soon the corner of my lips drooped and concern furrowed my young face way before its time. She had stopped smiling and now stared at me fearfully. Her hands gripped one another tightly.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, her voice quavering with terror, real terror. “I didn’t mean to laugh at you. I’m sorry. Please don’t be mad.”
“It’s ok that you were laughing,” I reassured her quickly. “I’m not mad.”
“No one ever asked me if I was French,” she went on, her voice going high with anxiety. “I’m not French. I’m – I’m – a …”
“What?” I prompted innocently taking a step closer to her, trying to be supportive.
“Please don’t,” she rasped holding her hands out to me. That was when the tears began to fall and I felt helpless in my youth, not able to figure out what I had done to make her cry.
“Colette?” I said confused.
It was Mrs. Sullivan. She had come to check up on our moving Charlie’s stuff into his new room. Before I knew what was happening, she had Colette in her arms as she sat down on the bed. She rocked the little girl as she murmured soothing words to her.
“You’re ok Colette,” she said tenderly. “You’re safe here. William is a good boy. He would never hurt you baby. Isn’t that right William?”
“Yes ma’am,” I answered without hesitation. “I would never hurt you Colette. I’m sorry I scared you. I didn’t mean to.”
“See Colette,” Mrs. Sullivan began again. “We would never risk your safety by letting someone who could hurt you into this house. You’re safe here. I promise.”
“I don’t know the rules,” I heard her whisper.
“Only one rule,” Mrs. Sullivan said in a clear voice so both Colette and I heard her. “Be kind to one another.”
“That’s it?” she asked her voice growing stronger.
“Yes Colette. That’s it. Right William?”
“Yes ma’am,” I answered.
“See. William knows the rule. He can help you if you get confused, right William?”
“Yes Mrs. Sullivan. I can do that.”
“Is that ok Colette?” Mrs. Sullivan probed.
The little girl sat up on Mrs. Sullivan’s lap and looked over at me, her eyes still shiny with unshed tears but they had stopped falling and for that I was very grateful. She stared at me for a long moment before finally nodding her head.
I let go of a breath I hadn’t been aware of holding and smiled at her. She returned a small smile to me, barely an inching up of her lips.
“I’m sorry for crying,” she apologized.
“No need to be sorry,” Mrs. Sullivan admonished gently. “It’s good to cry but next time you come get me or Mr. Sullivan if you need some reassurance sweetheart.”
“I promise not to bother you,” Colette offered instead, looking back at the woman who had taken her in. “I won’t be a bother I promise.”
“I know you won’t be but it is ok if you are,” Mrs. Sullivan encouraged with a smile of her own. “That’s what parents are here for, to be bothered. To help you grow up.”
She stared at the women with what looked like wonder at her words. She slowly nodded her head up and down but didn’t seem to believe the older woman’s sentiment.
“Now when Charlie finishes moving all his clothes I want you to hang up the new clothes I bought for you.”
“Yes ma’am,” Colette said politely. She crawled onto the bed and sat stiffly by the older woman’s side. She looked from me to Mrs. Sullivan, keeping an eye on both of us.
“William why don’t you go help Charlie with his records since you’re the only one he trusts with them.”
“I will ma’am.”
I turned to Colette and smiled softly. “See you around,” I told her. “I’m over here a lot.”
“Yes you are Mr. William,” Mrs. Sullivan agreed teasingly. “I should charge you room and board.”
“I can afford five bucks a week,” I offered up fully intent upon paying it if it allowed me to keep coming over here to be with Charlie and his brothers and now his new sister.
Mrs. Sullivan chuckled and told me to put away my money. I was welcome any time.
“We always have plenty,” she reminded me. They always did. Even my parents could drop by unexpectedly and there would be enough food to feed them heartily as well.
“Thanks Mrs. Sullivan. Nice to meet you Colette,” I said before heading across and down the hallway to help Charlie out.
I smiled when I heard a faint “You too.”