“Tucker, stop it.” Third request, this time an angry, sharp command.
Four-year-old Tucker pays no attention, his stubby little fingers probe all over the delicate model. “Plane,” he says, pushing it across the bamboo kitchen floor.
“It’s not a plane. It’s a Hawk Cruiser . . . and you’re going to break it!”
This last as the crawling younger boy clutches at the tail section.
Kev swats and Tucker jerks his hand up, away and across the edge of the model, sending it skittering across the floor. The delicate antenna snaps off, spins into a nearby cupboard and drops to the linoleum with a feeble tap.
Kev fist-smacks the floor. “Crap!” The resulting pain brings tears to his eyes. Tucker runs out of the kitchen screaming.
There he goes again, crying to Mom. I can’t stand his blubbering and screaming. I can’t stand it, the big cry baby. Holding his burning hand to his stomach, Kev growls. Why do I have to have a little brother. I hate him, I hate him.
He crawls across the floor to retrieve the pieces. It took him days to put together all the tiny parts of his new Interplanetary Hawk Cruiser. He did it all himself, with no help from anyone. Now a broken piece of antenna lies in the palm of his hand. Gasping an enormous sigh, he throws the tiny piece across the room. It’s no use. Tucker gets into everything and ruins it.
He can hear Mom coming—he’s really going to get it.
“You hit him!” She grabs him by the wrist and jerks him up, only he can’t get to his feet because she’s pulled him off balance, twisting his arm.
“I didn’t. I . . .”
“Don’t talk back to me. Go to your room.” He’s made her mad. Again.
He reaches for the scattered parts.
“Leave it.” A swat to his backside thrusts him in the right direction.
He runs past his snotty and bleary-eyed brother huddled by the kitchen door, stumbles up the stairs into his room and heaves himself face down onto his pillow. He will not cry, not, not, not! Will not be like Tucker, never. She is always on Tucker’s side because he’s smaller, her baby, her sweet little boy.
Never me. I never do anything right. Why was I even born. Always Tucker. Tucker never does anything wrong. I wish . . . I wish . . . . He’s not sure what he wishes, but pictures fill his head—pictures of blue skies and climbing and jumping from trees and flying with birds and he’s not aware of drifting off to sleep.
He wakes up groggy, face in a puddle of drool, and by there’s low, golden light throwing a long rectangle across the floor to his bed. Pushing off the damp pillow, he wipes the back of his forearm across his mouth and dangles his legs over the side of the bed. Is the model okay—besides the antenna? His belly gurgles. He missed lunch. He slides off the bed and shuffles across the carpet to the window. The sun is dipping below the trees beyond his father’s Lazer in the driveway. Uh oh. No sooner realized than he hears footsteps outside the door, but not the heavier ones of his father. The Major has never been to his room.
It’s his mother in the doorway, and she’s not mad at him now. Just tired. He can tell by the way her shoulders slump and her eyes have become dull. She usually gets tired after being mad. One of his wishes is that he could stop making her mad or tired. She’s so pretty. Everyone says so. But she only looks pretty when she’s not looking at him.
“Your father wants you in his office,” she says.
Her familiar lavender scent wafts around him as he walks by, and seems to cling to his shoulders. His father makes sure her hand-blown perfume bottle is always full, even though lavender is expensive because it was brought all the way from Earth on the First Ship and has to be grown in special soil here on Gaia.
It is such a long journey to the Major’s office, those steps across the hall, down the stairs, through the front room, down the lower hall and up to that dark-stained door. It hurts his knuckles to knock hard, but his father doesn’t like tentative taps.
A gruff, “Enter.”
Because he is small for seven years, the brass knob is at his chin and takes two hands to turn. The heavy door needs a good push.
The glowing lamp on the wood desk gives an amber glow to the dim room, which smells like wood polish and old paper. A year ago he and his father had played ships on the red and blue patterned rug in front of the big, dark desk. Kev makes his feet take six steps across that same rug now. The Major is sitting behind the desk in dark blue fatigues and Kev knows he hasn’t showered yet because he can smell his father’s sweat mixed with the wonderful pungent odor from the cockpit of his father’s X2. Each of his father’s shirt sleeves are creased and folded up exactly four times to above his elbows, exposing his muscular arms on the desk before him, one in front of the other. An X2 pilot has to have muscles to be able to control his bird. The Allied Fleet triangle enclosing its three planets winks at Kev from the silver button on the Major’s shirt pocket.
Kev must stand as straight as he can, two feet in front of the desk, hands at his sides as he has been taught.
“You know why you are here.”
“Yes, sir.” He blinks at the button.
“I did wrong, sir.”
“I . . .” He didn’t hit Tucker, exactly. He sure scared him, though.
“. . . I lost my temper, sir.”
“Correct. And more. What else?”
Kev bites his lower lip, thinking hard, fisting his hands, raising his head to look into his father’s eyes—deep blue in this light, like his own. “I lost it with Tucker, who is smaller than me, and not as smart. I’m older and should know better.”
“Yes. Can you imagine how bad it would be if I lost my temper with an enlisted man?”
“It would be terrible, sir.” He can’t imagine such a thing. His father has never lost his temper.
“I would lose respect, Kevlan. I would lose respect for myself, as well.”
“Yes, sir.” His father was a hero in the Lux War. How could he lose respect?
“You won’t forget what happened today, will you?”
“No, sir.” Never, never, never.
“To make sure, you will go to bed without dinner tonight.”
He feels small. He is such a disappointment. He will never lose his temper again.
He is almost to the door when–
He turns. His father has folded his hands, says, “I’m sorry if this is hard for you. But you are my eldest son and I expect more from you than other boys. It isn’t easy to be special.”
Kev feels something rise in his chest as his father’s eyes look into his own. He wants to say something but he doesn’t know what, so he stands, waiting, hearing himself breathe. His father gives him the slightest nod, and he knows he can leave the room. Though he feels he might float right up off the floor and up the stairs.
Much later he is buried in Hal’s Space Tales and trying to ignore the hunger chewing at his ribs when the door to his bedroom creeps open. Tucker, in PJs whose hems cluster around his feet like bird nests, tiptoes carefully across the darkened room and halts under the light of the bedside lamp. He reaches into a pocket and pulls out a squished plastiseal bag.
“I snuck this,” he says. Inside is a chicken leg surrounded by mashed chocolate cake and smeared icing.
“Gee, thanks Tucker.” Kev takes the bag and Tucker grins.
“I got your plane outa the trash, too. It’s in my room.”
“Hey.” Kev reaches around his brother with his free arm and Tucker grabs him with both of arms and nestles his head into Kev’s ribs. He smells like chicken and chocolate and soap.
“You’re okay, Tuck.”
After Tucker sneaks back out the door, Kev opens the bag. Brothers aren’t so bad, and it’s amazing how good chicken is with chocolate icing.
“Tucker, stop it.” Third request, this time an angry, sharp command.