“That’s four feet - my baby is getting so tall!” her mother cried as she stepped back from the doorframe. Today was Evelyn’s fifth birthday, and she had been feeling rather grown-up until this moment.
“I’m not a baby,” she declared, her head craned back to meet her mother’s gaze.
“You’ll always be my baby,” she responded, trying her best to restrain from smiling. Apparently, she had been unsuccessful because the little girl’s frown deepened even further.
“Don’t laugh at me,” Evelyn declared through the angry tears welling in her eyes. She never heard her mother say these things to Aurelie, and she was only six years younger. It was probably because her older sister could do anything - tie her hair in a ponytail, ride a bike without training wheels, swim without floaties - you name it.
Once, Evelyn had asked Aurelie when she would catch up to her.
“That’s not how growing up works, Evie,” she had said. Her sister had then gone on to explain that Evelyn would always be younger than her, no matter how many vegetables she ate.
“But mom says they help you grow!” Evelyn had retorted, refusing to believe her sister even though she knew she was probably right - she was already learning fractions, after all.
“Well, if you don’t believe me, you can go ask mom.”
She didn’t. If Aurelie was willing to bring mom into this, Evelyn was sure she had no chance.
“Is Aurelie your baby, too?” she asked.
“Of course!” her mother responded, kneeling to meet her daughter’s watery gaze.
“Then why do you call her a big girl and not me?” Evelyn turned her back to her mother and crossed her arms across her chest.
“Oh sweetie, you’re my youngest, and you’ll always have a special place in my heart because of it.” Evelyn lifted her chin from where she had tucked it against the neckline of her special birthday dress. A plan was brewing - and her once tearful eyes were now filled with nothing but determination.
Just yesterday, Sammie, her best friend since all the way back in preschool, had entered their kindergarten classroom wailing about her new baby brother. Something about a doll head - it was difficult to understand the words she managed to choke out between chest-rattling sobs. In any case, both Sammie and her little brother would arrive at her party just moments from now, and Evelyn intended to strike a deal.
A ring echoed throughout the house. Showtime.
“Cheer up, Evie, your friend is here! I have to go, but I don’t want you greeting our guests looking like a grump monster. Chin up,” her mother said as she closed the girls’ bedroom door behind her. Evelyn glanced in the little white mirror above her and her sister’s dresser. Her eyes were slightly red, but no one would notice unless they were looking for it. Her mother had tied her hair up in a flawless high ponytail with pink ribbon to match her dress. That was nearly half an hour ago, so naturally, it was now a wind-blown mess of flyaways and stray curls. Evelyn decided that whatever state she may be in, the time had come to consult her trade partner. She drew a deep breath, grabbed the stuffed bunny from its spot on Aurelie’s pillow, and marched straight to the front door.
Sure enough, there Sammie stood - playing with her brother in his carrier.
“There’s the birthday girl! I love your dress, Evelyn,” Mrs. Fischer cooed as soon as she caught sight of the girl. Evelyn blushed so that her face became the same shade as her outfit.
“Say thank you to Mrs. Fischer, Evie,” her mother said after a few seconds of silence. Evelyn complied, taking a keen interest in her toes the entire time. Eventually - thankfully - the grown-ups started talking amongst themselves, allowing Evelyn to rush over to her best friend and whisper in her ear.
“Bring your brother to my room,” she muttered, “If she asks, tell your mom we need him so we can play house.” Evelyn didn’t wait to see the perplexed expression that had spread across Sammie’s face. Instead, she ran as fast as her little legs could carry her until she disappeared behind her bedroom door.
“Why do you have Floppy? And why are you breathing so hard?” Aurelie asked from across the room. Evelyn was too scared to speak. Either that or the sprint had rendered her physically unable. She had been caught. If Aurelie knew her little sister intended to exchange her most treasured stuffed animal for a baby, Evelyn would never hear the end of it.
“I…I just wanted to show Floppy to Sammie.”
“But you have plenty of your own toys you can do that with. You’re lying.”
“Nuh-uh! How do you know?”
Aurelie sighed, “I just do.” She lowered her voice, saying, “Evie, I promise I won’t be mad. Just tell me what you’re up to.”
Evelyn’s eyes started to water for the second time within the hour, and she was beginning to open her mouth when Sammie walked in with the carrier.
“Did you still want to play doctor?” she asked, her gaze jumping between the two sisters.
“Do you love your little brother?” Aurelie asked bluntly.
“Of course she does!” Aurelie chimed in. Evelyn shot her a death stare before turning back to her friend.
“Well…yes! I love him very much,” she responded, her confusion slowly turning into concern. She unknowingly tightened her grip on the carrier’s handle.
“But you said he ate your doll!”
“Yeah, but he just chewed on the head a little. Luckily, my mom is a doll doctor and not just a people doctor, so she could put her back together. Her hair’s a little wet, but it’s because she just went to the salon.”
“But I need a little sibling, or I’m gonna be a baby forever!” Evelyn cried, flopping face-first onto her bed.
Aurelie crossed the room to sit on the edge of her sister’s bed. “What do you mean, Evie? You’re already five years old,” she said softly.
“Mom said I would be her baby forever because I’m the youngest.” Her voice was just barely audible through the pillow.
Sammie perked up at this. “My mom still calls me ‘little one,’ and I’m the oldest now.”
Aurelie gave her sister’s friend a smile. “Don’t you see what that means?”
“It means that you have someone who will love you forever - no matter what - just because she’s your mom. All three of us do. Aren’t we lucky?”
“Yeah, I guess….” Evelyn said warily as she lifted her head from the tear-stained pillowcase.
“You know what’ll make me feel even luckier?” Aurelie asked once her sister was sitting upright.