Steve knew he wasn’t like most other boys his age growing up. He played sports with his friends, and even occasionally played pretty well in pickup basketball, but his heart really wasn’t in it.
He did better than average in school; just enough A’s and B’s so people knew he was smart, but the occasional C thrown in, so people knew he didn’t try too hard.
He had a few “good” friends, but no one he hung out with every day. He was the type of guy who always seemed to show up at big parties, though no one in particular remembered inviting him, and he never made a big impression. That was the way he liked it. Being at the periphery of the fold rather than right under the bright light focus of his classmates’ lives.
What Steve really loved to do, was to go home after a long day of school, and hang out with his six little sisters.
Most days were sort of a blur of distracted daydreams; cascading fragmented blurs of people and events moving through his conscious thoughts. But at home, after school, he came alive when he saw his little sisters.
Steve didn’t always feel this way. If he was being honest, he’d spent long months being annoyed with his little sisters. When his mom brought them home, he’d first thought they were like ugly, misshapen, little raisin-people. Never doing anything helpful and always taking everyone’s attention.
But, of course, eventually they’d grown on him. Big brothers always come around, at least a little bit. So, eventually he looked forward to it, going home after school and talking to them, hearing their adorable little views on the world, watching TV (not too much, though), playing games, reading books… Mostly Steve read to them, of course, but occasionally he waited patiently as they worked their way through their favorite little girl books. He didn’t care. It was just so nice to spend time with them.
Stella was always talking about some little boy she clearly fancied, and Steve would tease her about it. Sarah was always running around yelling and screaming about God knows what, and loved to play tag. Sam wanted to play sports outside every day her favorite was playing soccer with Steve and her sisters. Sophie liked to sit down and have tea parties. Scout would never stop reading and loved to prove she could read chapter books even though most girls her age could barely read. And Summer was too small to do a lot of things, but mostly she loved walking around in her big brother’s footsteps, whenever he was at home, giggling at his jokes even when she didn’t get them, and screaming with joy when Steve chased her down and tickled her stomach and armpits.
17 years after high school ended, Steve was 35, and considered himself a bit old-fashioned. He wasn’t going to bars every weekend, or trying to flirt with all of his co-workers. If he was being honest, he didn’t really care much for romantic entanglements, female or otherwise. He’d had a few dates over the years, but it never lasted long; certainly not after any more than a few visits to his house. Steve guessed it was probably because he still lived in his parent’s house. Which wasn’t fair really.They didn’t still live there, and it wasn’t his fault he’d been left the property in the will with the market bottomed out. It was insensible to sell it for those prices.
Anyway, it didn’t really matter. Steve would still rather hang out with his sisters almost every day of the week. Just he and his sisters, who were all still as blissfully unattached as Steve was. Except Stella. Occasionally Stella got a little whiny about her lack of prospects, but once Steve reminded her that he was there for her, she usually calmed down.
So, this is still what Steve most looked forward to, almost every day after work. It was his tradition. Just him and his sisters. Against the world. And all of these thoughts were in his head Friday afternoon, as he walked home after another long week. He walked up to his parents’ old squat brick mid-century ranch house, cracked open the glossy brown front door, and tossed his satchel on top of his loafers just inside the door.
Grabbing a Coke from the fridge, he wandered down the hallway to his bedroom and shut the door. Stella was on the shelf over his desk where he’d left her. Frowning, Steve walked over, picked her up, and brushed her sweatshirt back up onto her shoulder. She wasn’t going to be naughty on his watch. He looked down at Sophie, with her tiny tea set, and thought, “this is probably going to be a tea party kind of day.” It was a long week of ponderous meetings at work, and he wasn’t sure he had the energy to keep up with Sam’s games or Sarah’s antics. Scout would probably just sit with her nose in a book no matter what everyone else did, and Summer would do whatever Steve said. So, tea party, it was. Steve picked up Summer, and, after parting her blonde hair just the way he liked it, set her down next to Sophie at the tiny set. Steve walked to the windowsill and changed Sam into her tennis outfit. Then, after handing Scout the next Boxcar Children book, and tucking her into bed next to the lamp, he sat down next to Sophie and Summer at the table.
“Time for gossip,” he said, picking up his pink plastic teacup. “Who’s been bad today?”