"No, Barbie, you're too close! Don't, you're gonna fall off the cliff! Oh nooo, she's falling and I can't catch her, she's gonna faaaall! Uh-oh, she's all dead, and she's broken up into a thousand pieces!" cried the excited little voice of the five-year-old girl as she threw her Barbie off the couch. She scrambled off of it exuberantly, snatching the doll back up and climbing back onto the couch. Her long dark hair was straggling out of its loose ponytail, hanging in messy strands around her round face.
"Oh look, she's not dead, she's okay, and Ken is so happy! But uh-oh, she's walking on the cliff again, she's getting too close…"
"Emmy, quit," Shea said, his eyes flickering away from the video game he was currently playing on the living room TV to scowl at his little sister. "Go play in your room."
"No one's in my room!" Emmelyn announced, barely glancing at her brother. "I want to stay here with you!"
"Well be quiet then. I'm trying to beat this and you keep blabbing all over the place- hey! Emmelyn, get off the back of the couch, you're gonna fall!"
"No I'm not-"
Throwing his game controller down with a mixture of disgust and alarm, Shea hurried over to the couch, grabbing Emmelyn around the waist and setting her on her feet. She scowled at him, indignant.
"I wasn't gonna fall, Shea, I can do it-"
"You know Mom doesn't let you climb on the furniture. Now go play!" he said, giving her a fierce stare that always failed to faze his not-too-easily-intimidated little sister.
"Can I play video games with you? Pleeeease, Shea?"
"Are you kidding? You'll mess it all up, I'll never get past the first level!"
"That's not fair, Shea!" Emmelyn stamped her foot emphatically. "You never let me play, you never let me do nothing! You-"
She yelped when Shea took her by the shoulders, propelling her into the kitchen, where their mother was seated at the table, surrounded by papers that looked to him like bills. Shea shoved his sister toward her, glowering.
"Mom, Emmy won't leave me alone. She keeps making noise, and she was climbing on the couch."
"Shea won't let me play video games! He's mean! He never lets me play!" Emmelyn chimed in, glaring at him.
Rachel sighed, fixing them both with a weary, exasperated stare. "Not now- I do not want to hear you two bickering right now. Shea, please just take her outside to play for a while, all right? You don't have to play with her, just watch her."
Shea's mouth dropped in protest. "It's raining! And I want to play my game, she keeps making me mess up-"
"Put on your bathing suits," Rachel said without looking at him, her attention returning to the papers before her. "Just please, go outside just for half an hour. Make sure she doesn't run into the road. And if it starts lightening, take her inside. Other than that, don't come back for at least another half hour."
"Shea, please, just do it!"
Scowling, coming up with more than a few angry retorts in his head, Shea turned, muttering, "Go change, Emmy," over his shoulder. He could see Emmelyn bouncing behind him from the corner of his eye, disappearing into her room. She returned at a lengthy interval in her little blue tankini, beaming.
"Hurry up, Shea, let's go before it stops raining!"
No such luck was likely, Shea thought cynically; it had been pouring for hours now. He followed his sister out the front door, having changed into swim trunks himself. He was eleven years old, and playing with his sister in the rain was not something that appealed to him. But knowing Emmy, she would give him some reason to run after her and get wet. He might as well be prepared
He stood on the porch steps, watching as Emmelyn ran around wildly, shouting without words and giggling as she splashed barefoot through the mud puddles forming in the yard. It wasn't long before she was soaked, her hair now completely loosed from its ponytail and sodden around her bare shoulders. She seemed not to notice as she scurried about, mud and water splashing up her legs and arms.
"Come play with me, Shea!"
Shea shook his head. "No, I'm staying here, Emmy," he called back, but in spite of his irritation, he found himself wanting to smile. Somehow it was hard to stay mad at Emmelyn, no matter how annoying she was, when she was this happy.
He stood back, watching, occasionally calling for her to stay away from the road, to not run by the rocky areas in her bare feet, and when Emmelyn finally came back to the porch, panting, wet, filthy, yet beaming, he went inside and got a towel to dry her off with.
He remembered when she was first born, when she was nothing more than a scrunched-up, red-faced baby who reminded him a little bit of ET. His father had told him, when he first saw Emmelyn after her birth, that as her big brother, it was his job to watch out for her. It had been a lot easier back then, back when she was too little to do much more than lay back and cry when she wanted something. Now that she was all over the place, getting into his things and generally being a pain in the neck, it was a different story.
It wasn't really that he minded watching her so much… sometimes he just wished she'd be quiet and let him play his video games in peace, that was all. Was that really so much to ask for?