"As soon as I finished mopping," Kaitlin says, "my brother chooses that opportunity to come in wearing his dirty boots."
"You didn't have to chase after me with the mop," Patrick says.
"Yes I did!"
"You didn't have to corner me in the garage."
"Yes I did! I spent two and a half hours mopping and you messed it all up," she says. "Mom said to clean and you ran off to ride your dirt bike. You came back right when I was finished."
Patrick walks over to Kaitlin and puts his arms around her. "I love you, Kaitlin."
"Don't touch me!"
She looks at us and says, "You should try sharing a bathroom with him."
Patrick smiles, like he's proud of himself.
"He's in there for an hour, at least. He's in there so long he could be reading the whole Harry Potter series. You try getting ready for school sharing a bathroom with him."
We're visiting my sister Joy and these are her kids. Joy, I have heard, has some issues because we teased and played jokes on her. She deserves having issues, come to think of it, but as I recall we never cornered her into the garage or told other people about her bathroom habits.
"You came after me with a knife," Patrick says.
"I had a knife in my hand," Kaitlin says. "You started pushing me. Did you really think that was the best time to start messing with me, with a knife in my hand?"
Patrick smiles. He is really, really cute when he smiles. He smiles like he knows that's all he has to do to get away with bothering his sister.
Joy doesn't even bring up the teasing we used to do to her. My parents took night classes and we babysat. As soon as my parents left, even if it was as early as 5:30 pm, we'd put on Led Zeppelin. That was her cue to go to bed. She'd do it, even if she could still hear kids in the neighborhood playing outside her bedroom window.
We didn't even have to tell her it was bedtime. She'd say, "I know, I know. I'm going to bed right now." As soon as she was out of the way, we'd call up our friends and boyfriends and tell them to come over. Joy never told on us, not once. She was the perfect little sister. Did we reward her? Of course not.
Her first word was "horse." She loved horses so much she worked cleaning out the stalls at the local stable, as soon as she was old enough, in exchange for riding lessons. She has three now, running around on her property. It's like meditation to watch them roam around. It's like watching her life-long dream come true.
When we were little, she'd bring her Breyer horses with her on road trips. She'd be playing with them in the car seat in the back, oblivious to whatever else was going on in life or in the car. My other sister and I would say, "Horses! Look at the horses!"
She'd look up, saying, "Horses? Where?"
"Too late," we'd say. "You just missed them."
This was endlessly funny to my other sister and me. We'd do it so much my mom caught on and told us to stop. Joy didn't hear this, of course, as she was in the back of the car pretending to feed her Breyer horses or lining them up to put them down for a nap.
"Horses, Joy! Look at the horses!"
"Oh, back there. You must have missed them."
"Stop it!" my mom would say.
This continued for the whole road trip, for every road trip. She kept looking, every time.
When she got older, my parents took my other sister and me to Europe. Joy didn't get to go. Instead she got the opportunity to get to know our bipolar alcoholic newly-widowed step-grandmother. Dolores, the intolerable woman my grandfather was married to for only six months before he died to get some relief, came to stay with Joy.
Dolores, we heard later, yelled at Joy and called her the devil because she had a messy room. There was more to the story as you'd imagine, crazy stuff about Joy being a whore or something, which seems weird as she was about twelve and obsessed with horses, not boys. She was the most low-maintenance kid I knew. You stick her in front of a horse and she's happy. You put some Led Zeppelin on and she'll go to sleep, even if she can hear other kids playing outside before dark.
I heard Joy never wanted to have an odd number of kids. My other sister and I were older and very similar. We were pretty close and she was the odd one, the baby. I heard she felt like the odd one and didn't want another kid to feel left out like that. Unlike my other sister and me, she's the only one who ended up having an odd number of kids. She had two girls, close in age, just like my other sister and me, and then she had Patrick. Not only was he the odd one, the baby, but he's a boy. He's really reliving my sister's childhood.
"Mom, Patrick's outside shooting the horses with the Air Soft rifle," Kaitlin says.
The horses run as far away from Patrick as possible, up the hill. They stand there looking at him like they've done this before and they know they have to stay up here until he gets in trouble and stops.
Kaitlin looks at me and says, "those horses are going to need therapy."
Joy yells outside for Patrick to stop. He stops shooting and it's quiet until he gets on his dirtbike and starts riding. He rides around the hills on the property, right toward the sheep. The sheep run straight toward the cars in the driveway, hiding for protection like they've done this before, too.
"Mom!" Kaitlin says. "Patrick's chasing the sheep!"
Patrick rides by where we're standing, notices we're watching him, and smiles. He seems like he's getting a lot of mileage from being the odd man out.