Her brothers have been caught, as early as this morning, hiding in her closet to jump out and scare her wearing last years’ ghoulish Halloween masks. The week before they took one of the dolls from her bookcase leading Callie on a chase to find it either buried in the backyard, hanging from a floss noose from the ceiling fan, or floating in the toilet. “Her very own spa,” they said.
The story her brothers like to tell is of throwing her in a pool when she was just a babe. Her mother interrupts as the boys hoot and holler speaking over each other attempting to tell the tale accurately. Her mother tries to comfort Callie by saying the whole time she was in the water the boys held onto her not letting her top half go under. That her parents could see her through the window a cute, fleshy baby covered in droplets.
“You cried a lot,” Evan says before burping out of the side of his mouth then tossing a soda can in the bin.
Callie doesn’t doubt she cried. To this day pools and baths are out of the question, though showers are acceptable.
Nigel gnaws on some jerky with vigor. He narrows his brows to scare her.
“Cut it out,” their mother warns at the table and so the two boys shush.
Callie starts middle school at the same place her brothers attend. All her friends went to Harrison Middle School. She tugs then fingers her ponytail as she often does in times of crisis. She doesn’t want to be the baby who hates water and things that move fast in her general direction with the bulky brothers who excel at every sport and make friends, or enemies, pretty quickly.
“Do I have to go to the same school?” she asks for the third time that morning.
“It’s not a bad school. Besides, it’s easier for your dad and I to have you all in the same place.” Her mother kisses her on the cheek as though that should settle the matter.
“Why so scared, Cal?” Evan asks. Even Nigel looks intrigued to hear her answer.
“I’m not scared,” Callie insists but the way her heart beats and her hands shake say otherwise.
Both boys shrug, finish their breakfast of sausage and eggs, and mumble a ‘thanks’ to their mom. Their feet pound against the floor noting their location in the house.
Callie’s mom rests a hand on her back. “Your brothers will look after you, they always do,” she says.
Callie leans out from her chair, sees them pushing and bear hugging each other, one tripping up the other and slipping away so he can take hold. Sighing Callie responds, “Doubt it.”
Callie’s knapsack outweighs her by a good thirty pounds. She hunches over as she exits the bus, almost tripping over the steps onto the concrete.
She huffs with each step. Her mother gave her notebooks, pens, pencils (colored and regular), markers, binder clips, paper clips, snacks, an emergency mobile, along with one of her favorite books and her teddy bear.
“Just in case you feel like you need something familiar.” Her mother looked Callie over, keeping her upright every time it seemed Callie was about to tilt over and wondered out loud if she may have missed anything.
Callie shifts her knapsack and makes the trek towards the room she sees a bunch of others her age walking to. She smiles at people as she walks by. Some smile back, some don’t. Many take a gander at her backpack.
Another kid with a huge pack, another tortoise in the race, shuffles at a slightly faster pace than Callie, his face already red with effort.
Callie suddenly feels herself going forward the force and weight of her knapsack leading her to the floor like a magnet. Bracing herself with her arms a sting ripples through her body at the contact with the linoleum. Callie swishes back and forth to get on her back. Above her stands a girl with Pippi Longstocking hair, a braid on each side going up and down.
“Watch it, pipsqueak,” the girl says, her voice gruff.
Callie stares wide-eyed at the girl unable to speak.
“What’s up, Callie? Getting to know the floor?” Nigel asks smacking his lips. She stares up to see her brother snap off a piece of SlimJim.
“Hey Lore. This is our little sis, Callie. You wouldn’t be making trouble for her, eh?” he says.
The Amazon girl blushes, her hands go behind her back and she seems to hide a grin when she looks away from Nigel.
“My fault, Callie.” She offers a sweaty hand that Callie’s unable to grab.
Nigel and Evan lift her up. Evan places a hand on Callie’s shoulder and Nigel places one on the other.
“Make sure she’s taken care of, yeah? We don’t want anyone messing with her. At all,” Evan says loud enough that the group of students around them can hear.
“We don’t hit girls or nothing, but we gotta defend our sister's honor. Bro code and all,” Nigel adds with a shrug.
Lore backs away uttering more apologies. “Yeah, yeah, sure. Sorry, Callie. Nice bag.” She waves but looks back at Nigel, “You gonna be on the court later at lunch?”
“Sure,” Nigel says and waves at her with his SlimJim hand.
The bell rings and the kids disperse. Evan takes the knapsack off of Callie relieving her of so much pressure, more than she thought possible.
They escort her, a brother on each side, to class.
“Tell you this,” Nigel says finishing off his jerky, “the food is all kinds of crap.”