I walk out of my bedroom, my hands lightly brushing the peeling wallpapered walls. I stop at the end of the hall, at the spot where there are pen marks and small dates scribbled in messy handwriting. Tears come to my eyes as memories overtake me.
“Stand up” I giggle.
“Stand up straight, for goodness sake Paige!” I giggle again but oblige, straightening my back against the wall and standing on tip-toes.
“No tiptoes!”I grumpily stand normally until Mommy comes with the ruler and puts it atop my head, marking the section my head meets the wall. She writes the date on top of the line.
“There, finally, you’re good until next year, go get your brother.”
I close my eyes and shake my head. There won’t be any marks in my section of the wall for a while now. Tears fall silently down my cheeks as I continue toward the staircase, where my feet waver as I’m right next to the family photo frames.
Like my mom likes to remind every family friend that comes over, the pictures in the large photo frames are changed once a month, and the old ones moved to photo albums that are kept in the basement and looked through on new year. I guess there’ll be a whole album where I’m not in it. Months where I won’t be in the wooden frames, smiling at passersby. One of the current frames has a picture of me and my brothers at the beach. I’m in my yellow one-piece, splashing water at my brothers. We went last week, I don’t know how my mom prints the pictures so fast. Oh well. I wipe the tears from my face with my sleeve.
I continue down the stairs, trying not to think about how I’ll always remember which steps creak and that I won’t be softly jumping in the early morning to avoid waking my family up anymore.
Once I’m at the bottom, I curl my toes into the fluffy rug that was added because my rowdy brothers and I kept sliding down the banister onto the hardwood flooring and getting bumps and bruises. I sigh and continue towards the kitchen where my brother Matteo is filling himself a bowl of cereal.
“Hiya Sis!” he greets me cheerfully, and I try not to think about how much I’ll miss my youngest brother’s morning greetings.
“Hey bro. Need some help with the milk?”
“Nope, I can do it myself.” he declares proudly, uncapping the gallon and pouring milk into his bowl. He then twists the cap and puts the gallon back in the fridge, carefully carrying his bowl to the dining room. I smile and open the fridge myself. As soon as the door opens, a small bin of Philadelphia cream cheese tumbles out, missing my toes by centimeters. I reach down to pick it up, trying not to think about the fact that every time this happens, I always think someone pranked me. Trying not to think about how my brother probably did prank me, and how, soon, the only food I’ll eat will probably be pre-packaged and not from a fridge adorned in magnets and drawings. Sighing, I grab bread and jam and close the fridge.
I take my bread and pop two pieces in our cute little toaster. I then walk over to the dining room to sit with my brother while I wait for my toast to heat.
He’s already finished half his bowl and is tapping the table with the hand that isn’t holding a spoon.
“What’s the rush?”I ask him, pulling a chair out of the table and plopping down.
“I need to-Waaaaaiiiiiiiit, I can’t tell you because it’s a surprise! For you!” he says, then continues to shove spoonful after spoonful of cocoa puffs in his mouth. I laugh and roll my eyes, but don’t press on. A minute later, I hear a familiar creak of the stairs and turn to find my brother Ryder standing there, stretching and still in his pajamas.
“Morning,” he says, walking into the kitchen.
“I put you a toast in the toaster if you want it,” I say, getting up and walking in behind him.
“Oh. Thanks,” he says, getting the peanut butter from the pantry. Though they obviously aren’t done, he takes one of the slices of bread out of the toaster and begins spreading peanut butter on it.
“Hey, I know you like them perfectly toasted. What’s the hurry? Has this got something to do with the surprise Matteo was talking about?”
He groans. “Mateoooo, you weren’t supposed to say anything!” I laugh. Matteo is 8 years old, and Ryder is 12.
“It’s fine, I don’t know much, just that there’s a surprise that’s coming my way soon. No details, promise.”I say, my hands in the air in surrender. He grumpily starts eating his toast on his way to the dining room, mumbling something about younger brothers ruining surprises. I try not to think about how I’ll miss Ryder’s annoying tween mumbling and talking back. Matteo gulps the last of his milk and runs off up the stairs.
“Hey! Matteo! Bowl!”I yell.
“Oh yeah!” he yells back, briefly coming back to put his bowl and spoon in the sink before running off again.
“Matteo, don’t you start without me! I swear I will-” Ryder shoves his toast in his mouth and runs up the stairs right after Matteo. So much for spending time with them.
My final, oldest younger brother Liam, finally comes down the stairs, phone in hand. He’s fifteen.
“Good morning!”I say as he walks into the kitchen and shuts his phone off. I think he’ll miss me least of all, but I’m going to miss him as much as everyone else.
“Morning” he grumbles, probably still tired.
“Sleep well?” my other brothers were in a huge rush, and I’m still itching for a conversation. I hear him slam the fridge door and the pantry one before coming over to the dining table and slamming a bowl of cereal down.
“Guess,” he says. I don’t know how he does it, but he manages to slam every spoonful down into the cereal and appear angry even while eating cocoa puffs.
“Whoah….Anything you want to talk about?”I say, hoping he’ll spill.
“It’s none of your business Paige. Don’t you have packing to do?” I try not to let the hurt show on my face. The toaster dings in the kitchen and I quickly go and spread some jam on the slice of bread.
“I suppose I do. Have fun eating on your own.” I say, running up the stairs with my toast in hand.
I manage to hold back the tears until I’m safely in my room, the door slammed.
I get it, he won’t miss me. Can’t he just wait and celebrate once I’m gone? I close my eyes and try not to think about how Liam and I would always team up on Ryder and Matteo in every prank war. How he sometimes came to my room for advice. None of that will probably ever happen again. I blink away tears and get up, finishing up my toast. He’s right I suppose. I do have packing to do. My clothes are strewn rather un-neatly on my floor, and multiple other belongings are jumbled in countless boxes sitting at the foot of my bed.
I start by emptying the boxes then sorting everything into piles.
A couple of minutes later, I hear the stairs creak again. Look who finally finished their cereal. I then hear some giggling coming from one of my brother’s rooms.
“Don’t be so loud!”
“Okay, okay, come on we have to finish.”Liam. Don’t tell me he’s in on their little surprise. Whatever, they probably forced him. I sniffle and continue packing, trying not to think about how I’ll ever be able to sleep in a room other than this one.
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I shove my last perfume bottle into a bag and attempt to zip it up. Success! I’m officially almost done. The only things left out of the multiple bags and boxes on my floor are two outfits, completed with hair accessories, a bottle of lotion, and my blanket/pillow. After all, I’m not leaving today. I take a scrunchie from my bed and tie my hair up in a high ponytail, walking out of my room. Strangely, all the lights are off. Huh. We were never the type of family to really care about saving energy. I hear soft whispering as I walk down the stars. The noise abruptly stops as I step on the creaking steps and make my way to the living room to turn on the light. Right as I get there, squinting in the lack of light, I’m pleasantly surprised.
The lights flicker on and standing in front of me is Liam, hand on the light switch.
‘Surprise!” everyone says at once. And by everyone, I mean Matteo, goofy grinned standing by Liam, Ryder standing with his arms crossed and a proud smile on his face, and my mom and dad standing by the couches. The living room is decorated in streamers of my favorite color, baby blue, and there’s a huge banner hung up that says “Congrats Paige!”. Tears come to my eyes for the 3rd time today, but this time, it’s happy tears.
“Oh, guys……”I run-up to my parents and give them a hug.”I’m gonna miss you…”
“We’re going to miss you too.” my brother Ryder clears his throat. “But we had nothing to do with this. It was all your brothers.” he clears his throat again. “Mostly planned out by Ryder.” my mom finally finishes, and Ryder looks satisfied.
I walk over to my brothers and ruffle Mateo’s hair, bending down to hug him, trying not to think about how when I come back, he might think he’s too old to hug me. I then stand and look at Ryder, who looks happy his plan worked, but his eyes are watering.
“You too old to hug me, middle schooler?”I ask him. He shakes his head and squeezes me. I smile and hug him back. “Bro...I’m going to miss you a lot…” he buries his face into my stomach.
“Me too…” he finally let’s go, sniffling.
“Ohhh, don’t cry!”I say, but tears are running down my face fast and I can feel my voice choking up too. “Finally, I turn to Liam, still a tiny bit sour at him from what he said before. “What about you? Too old?”
“Maybe….But there’s an exception in the rules of teenage boys somewhere that says older sisters are allowed,” he says, coming over to me and giving me a hug. When we part, I can see his eyes starting to water too. He looks away fast.
“Hey, it’s okay to admit you’re going to miss me, Liam,” I tell him. The tears finally fall down his face.
“Promise you’ll call?”
“I promise,” I say and look into the faces of my family.
I know that, no matter what, even if I’m not in one album, even if I won’t be walking down the creaky staircase every morning, even if I won’t be here, they’ll always be with me.