So this is the secret sister I’m hearing so much about now that the cat’s finally out of the bag. Let me size you up. Brown eyes with tawny hazel specks fanning their centers. Like looking in a mirror. Round head, puffy face. Large, flat nose. I posed for a caricature. The mouth of a cherub, pink enough to be fitting for a baby girl. And oh my god- that facial expression isn’t real. Mom ran my baby albums through a 3D printer. So, secret sister, I might as well call you Stephanie II; welcome home. This is my house. Seventeen years and 363 days until it’s time for you to evacuate.
I only get to hold my sister- I still shudder at the phrase- for a minute or two before Mom rips her from my arms and charges to finish setting up the nursery. I’m alone with my father, his eye contact like steel.
“I’m glad you drove out from Berkeley when I called you,” he offers softly. He’s always been good at a kind opening in situations like this.
“Well, if you told me Mom was pregnant again, I may have just hopped a flight.”
“Steph, when you moved out, it hit your mom harder than we ever could’ve predicted it would,” he continues, as if an explanation will heal the cut made by a secret child invading.
“First of all, you could have told me. And second, there are activities other than reproduction for empty nesters.”
“It’s not like we were trying to replace you. And for the record, I realize it seems cruel that we didn’t tell you about your sister until the eleventh hour, but we meant to share the news with you first. It’s just that we could never get you on a video chat for more than ten minutes once the semester was in full swing.”
“So you decided to call me for the birth and give me a heads up that you were rushing Mom to the hospital and couldn’t explain the details but I should come quick. What is that, Dad?”
“Something I can’t reason with you about. I’m ashamed of keeping our family’s miracle away from our greatest gift.”
“So I am still your greatest gift? I was wondering if I was just someone you used to know now that I’m at school and you have a new baby.”
“God, Stephanie, is this just jealousy that we’ll stop loving you now that you’re the middle child? No, marshmallow, you’re still the best thing that’s ever happened to me. You’re my pride and joy. I tell everyone my daughter’s majoring in Electrical Engineering & Computer Science. And speaking of Berkeley… you brought bags.”
“I didn’t know how long I’d be home, so yeah, I packed some stuff.”
“Now I’m even less sure. Where’s Jackson?” THUD THUD THUD.
“Directly overhead, I presume,” my dad replies calmly. By now he knows to expect chaos from my big brother. Jackson comes thumping down the stairs post haste after the noise ceases.
“Steph!” he cries out to me. “Happy twentieth!”
“My birthday was three months ago,” I answer.
“So you’re one pregnancy away from legally immune from underage drinking charges.” He hugs me. “How are ya?”
“I think I’d rather be twenty than twenty-four right now,” I tell him. He smiles.
“My apartment’s bigger than yours,” he gloats. “Not as big as that baby’s condo, though. Want to see?” He leads me and Dad up to the hallway of the house and I see what he means when he says our parents have remodeled in anticipation of the baby.
“Mom, the marshmallow finally showed her face,” Jackson announces, using my old nickname.
“Yeah, I know. Good to have you home, by the way, baby. You must be exhausted,” Mom says (somehow looking better than I do) when she eyes me up and down. “Go take a nap, if you can.”
“If I can? What would hold me back from my napping potential?” The three of them laugh.
“Clearly someone’s never encountered a child before,” Jackson jabs, elbowing me so he can add injury to insult.
“I’m an engineer, I think I can master taking a nap.”
“Have fun engineering a twenty-four-hour noise machine.” I can tell he’s thrilled with himself for coming up with that remark, so I let him have his moment.
It’s only when I’m sitting in my old room that I begin to process how different everything is. I’m not in Berkeley anymore; I’m back in Reno, Nevada. A very long four-hour drive from one life to another. One brother, older; one sister, younger. This is a lot, I remember thinking before I really knew what it was.
The baby will grow up in my house with my face, my life. But that’s up to me- it’s my job to look after this kid or something. I don’t know how to be a big sister, I’ve only ever had Jackson. Where are you going with this, Stephanie? No one knows anything in life, but the whole point is to figure it out as you go.
And then I wake up. To the unmistakable sound of crying.
Thank you for reading my new short story. Please feel free to leave feedback, I always love receiving it. I might not post another short story for some time, but there’s a great series of them on my profile and you can find my most recent one right here if you’d like to check out more:
The waiter retreated to go place the final order of the evening and the two young men from the corner booth walked out…