“Okay, Nick, you have to be careful,” the nurse said. Nick grumbled, but nodded. “She’s still very little and fragile.”
Nick nodded again. He already knew all this stuff. Mom had gone over it a hundred times, and the only reason she wasn’t repeating everything the nurse said or cooing over Ariana was because she and Dad had paperwork to take care of. They were keeping an eye on him of course, as well as taking a bunch of precautions.
Currently, Nick was sitting on the floor, surrounded by the fluffiest and most supporting pillows the hospital could find. After a miscarriage, his mother wasn’t taking any chances. The hospital easily agreed, so Nick, despite being twelve, hadn’t been allowed to hold Ariana without having at least two people ‘supervising’ a.k.a. hovering over his shoulder.
He didn’t mind being careful; he preferred it actually. Nick just wanted to be able to hold his baby sister without feeling like animals in a zoo. Finally though, he convinced his parents to allow him to watch Ariana while they finalized some paperwork. Nick reasoned since that they would be waiting anyway, if he was watching Ariana he could keep her calm (Ariana was a fussy baby) and then they could do paperwork without interruptions.
“Now, hold your arms like this,” the nurse positioned his arms in a very uncomfortable manner, so that his elbows were up and his arms were crossed but they weren’t resting on anything. The nurse handed him Ariana, and as soon as she turned away, Nick moved Ariana so he could still support her but a bit more conventionally, and so she could practice sitting up.
Nick looked at Ariana. She had wispy black curls and pale blue eyes that were so different from her pink face, wrinkled from crying. Ariana clenched and unclenched her tiny fists.
“Hey there, Ari.” Nick said softly, glancing around to see if anyone was watching him. His mother hated when he used the nickname, so he only called her by it when she wasn’t around. Which was pretty much never. Ariana whimpered, and tried to reach up.
Nick pushed her hand back down. “I’m Nick, which is short for Nicholas. We’re family, you know.”
He paused, thinking. “But we’re also strangers. Isn’t that crazy?”
Ariana gurgled and smiled.
“I suppose we shouldn’t be. But I’ll tell you about myself anyway. I’m twelve years old, like you’re a couple months old.
“I used to be an only child, before you came along, but I’m promise I’m not stuck up. Dad’s always busy with work, and Mom, well, I’m not sure what to say about Mom. I suppose you quite like her, huh?”
“Abba gagas! Boo,” Ariana told him. Nick nodded thoughtfully.
“Very interesting. I never thought about it that way.” Nick put his finger in Ariana’s hand. “I also like painting and running, although I’m not very good at either. I get good grades, and I’m a middle-class student. That means I’m not shy or bullied, but I’m also not popular. I have a couple of friends, but you haven’t met them yet.”
“UH!” Ariana screeched and put Nick’s finger in her mouth. Nick laughed.
“I know, I know. It’s an outrage. But Mom hasn’t let anyone not in the family come to see you.”
Ariana puckered her lips out and blew a raspberry. Nick quickly assured her that he would tell them about her and vice versa, and that they would visit as soon as they were allowed. Ariana nodded in satisfaction, lowering Nick’s finger from her mouth.
“Okay. So, there’s Brenda, she’s really pretty. She has green eyes and has such blonde hair it’s practically white. There’s Hunter, and he is a hundred times more athletic than me, but still super nice. I’ve known him since second grade, I think. Finally, there’s Lissy, and she hates me, I dunno why. But she and Brenda are best friends, so yeah.”
Ariana crossed her eyes in apparent confusion. She giggled, then frowned angrily, then giggled again. “Ala sogo ba?”
Nick tapped Ariana’s nose, and said, “Yes, it’s very confusing. What’s even more confusing is that I have eight classes. Did you know that?”
Ariana shook her head, babbling. “Um ga whoser, hem gugga baba. Eh Awi.”
“Oh?” Nick asked. “Tell me about yourself.”
“Emma sush goo, meh caw caw, liga haws’s ga.” Ariana told him. She babbled on like this for several minutes, and Nick nodded and occasionally asked clarifying questions.
At one point, Nick asked her if she had any hobbies. Ariana blinked her eyes twice. She clenched her fists, and launched one upwards, hitting Nick in the face.
“OW!” Nick yelped. Ariana started to bawl. Nick cradled her and rocked her back and forth.
“Shh, shh. It’s okay. I’m okay.” Nick touched his nose. “See? There’s no reason to cry.”
Ariana cried for a few more minutes, and their mother came over and offered to take her, but Ariana screamed louder.
“It’s okay, Mom. Go finish your paperwork and then when can have lunch!” Nick grinned at her, and his mother walked away nervously, biting her lip. Nick called after her. “Seriously, Mom. We’re good. See, she’s already calming down.”
He lifted Ariana’s head a little bit, and she was calming down. She reached up to touch Nick’s nose. “See, it’s okay. It didn’t even bleed.”
Ariana smiled and allowed her face to smooth out.
“Let me tell you about the time I did get a bloody nose. It’s the only time I’ve ever been bullied. Lucky Hunter was there, or else maybe Calvin would still be bothering me.”
As Nick recounted the story, Ariana made a series of facial expressions, sometimes appropriate for the scene he was telling, and other times, not so much. Either way, Ariana seemed to like the tale, and Nick enjoyed telling it.
“Maybe,” he said when the story was over. “I could tell you more stories. You were a good listener.”
Ariana nodded happily. Their parents came over, having finished the paperwork.
“Okay, kiddos, let’s go.” their father said, scooping up Ariana. She giggled and screeched. Their mom rolled her eyes and held up the baby carrier.
“Careful, Gerald.” she said. Nick rolled his eyes, but she was too occupied with buckling in Ariana to notice and scold him.
“Mom, can you relax?” he asked. “Ariana was really good for me, which might’ve been a fluke, but still. And all I did was relax a little. I was careful and things, too, but look at her. She obviously had a good time.”
Nick motioned at Ariana, who was focusing on grabbing the bumble bee hanging on the carrier. She was talking to herself, and her forehead wrinkled in concentration.
His mother wagged her finger over the carrier. “Ariana, be good.”
Nick came over and tapped Ariana’s nose. She sneezed, and his mom began telling him off. Ariana giggled from the tickle, and she tried to make herself sneeze again.
“That’s pretty funny, Ari.” Nick told her. He got a tissue and tickled his nose so he would sneeze. When he did, Ariana laughed.
“Ick! Ick!” she said, reaching up to grab not the bumble bee, but Nick’s finger.
“Nick, you shouldn’t encourage stuff like that. Ariana could get sick. And call her by her proper name please.”
“Eh Awi, Mama! Eh Awi!”
“Aww, Gerald, did you hear her? She said ‘mama’! Ariana’s first word!”
“EH AWI! ICK! ICK! EH AWI!” Ariana’s face scrunched up, and turned bright red. Ariana clenched her fists, and screamed over and over “AWI! AWI! AWI! ICK! ICK, MAMA, EH AWI!”
“Hush, Ari. I promise I’ll sneeze just for you.” Nick said.
“ICK! MAMA! EH AWI!”
“Ariana, you need to calm down.”
His mother tried giving her a pacifier, but Ariana only spit it out and kept screaming ‘awi.’
“Wait, Mom, Awi kinda sounds like Ari. Maybe that’s what she wants to be called.”
His mother shook her head doubtfully. “I don’t know, where would she have learned that? Besides, everything else was nonsense, except ‘mama’.”
“No, it wasn’t. ‘Ick’ could be Nick, and I’m pretty sure she was telling us that she was Ari. Right, Ari?”
Ariana had calmed down during Nick’s explanation. Her face was still red, but now she was nodding. “Awi. Ick, eh Awi. Mama, Awi.”
“See, Mom? Call her by her full name I bet she’ll cry again. I’ll do the dishes by myself for a month if I’m wrong.”
His dad nodded at the plan. “I’m down for that.” he said. Nick and his father usually did the dishes together.
“Fine.” she said reluctantly. She handed Ariana her pacifier again. “Ariana, here’s your paci.”
“AWI!” Ariana cried. Her fists clenched again.
“Damn it.” Nick’s father said. His mother scowled. “I guess that settles it. Ari it is.”
Nick grinned at Ari. “I can’t wait to tell you this story when you’re older.”
“Awi.” Ari said in satisfaction. “Ick a Awi.”
“Yes,” Nick replied. “Nick and Ari.”