|I awoke with a start as cold water splashed in my face. My younger brother stood there grinning at me.
“Mom told me to wake you up,” he said. “We’re leaving in half-an-hour.”
Had it not been my last day at home, I would have murdered him. Instead I fixed him with a seething glare and said, “Buzz off, Dmitri.”
“Get up, Katie.” He stuck his tongue out at me.
Dmitri was at the delicate age of thirteen where he loved to drive everyone nuts, but the least little thing you did to him crushed his fragile ego.
“Katinka! Dmitri! Natassia!” Dad yelled. “I’d better hear you guys getting ready to go.”
I hated my name. No one but my dad called me Katinka, and he made it sound even worse because he said it with a Russian accent. Most people just called me Katie. Matt and Michael, my cousins, called me Tink.
My friends always said that my dad sounded like Count Dracula, and I guessed he did. Although I didn’t know why—he hadn’t been to Russia since years before I was born. He should have lost his accent long ago. He came to America to go to college, met Mom, fell in love, and had no desire to return to his home country. That’s the story he always told us.
Mom was all-round American, but she loved the thought of her children being half-Russian. That is how we got saddled with such yucky names.
I literally kicked Dmitri out of my room and dressed in the only clothes I hadn’t packed—my swimming suit, shorts, and a t-shirt. My room, empty except for the furniture, looked different. A hint of sadness made my eyes wet; I had lived in this room all my life. I’d shared it with Dmitri when he was born, and then with Natassia. Matthew and Michael had camped in here many a time when they’d “run away from home.” I’d camped out in their rooms plenty too. I blinked back the would-be tears as I remembered Matt and Michael—the people I loved the most—were going with me.
As soon as the July Fourth festivities ended, my cousins and I would become independent adults. The three of us had recently acquired an apartment in Chicago, a five-hour drive from where our parents lived. We were moving there this summer in preparation for attending college in the fall. I’d radiated excitement ever since our plans had been settled.
My mom was a triplet, and she and her sisters always stayed close. They went to college together, had a triple wedding, and then built houses next door to each other. Matthew, Michael, and I, the oldest kids in the three of our families, were born days apart—we were said to be the next generation of triplets.
Every July Fourth our three families drove to this huge park where we spent all day playing every sport imaginable, eating tons and tons of food, swimming, and finally, at night, setting off fireworks.
“Can I ride with you, Katie?” Natassia asked as I headed out to my car.
Since Matt, Michael, and I planned to leave straight from the park, all three of us were taking our separate cars loaded down with all our junk.
“I suppose,” I sighed.
“I want to too!” Dmitri cried.
“Too bad you poured water over my head this morning or I might’ve let you,” I told him, rather cruelly I guess.
“Katie,” Mom said.
“Well, he did pour water over my head.”
“Fine,” Dmitri scowled. “I don’t wanna ride with girls anyway, I’ll ride with Matt.”
“Don’t think you’ll fit,” I pointed out. “Matt does have three brothers of his own, you know, plus his car is full of all his junk. And Michael has his brothers and sisters, so you’ve got no hope there. Yep, Dmitri, your best bet is Aunt Mickie.”
“Katinka,” Mom said more forcefully this time.
“Just get in the car, you little worm,” I said.
He grinned, thinking he’d won. Whatever. Let the little idiot be happy.
“I wish you didn’t have to leave.” Natassia took my hand as we walked outside together.
Natassia was little for a seven-year-old, and her soft voice held a hint of a Russian accent. I’d always gotten along with her, but then everyone always got along with her. If I missed anyone, I’d miss her.
“You can visit me,” I said. I climbed into my bursting-at-the-seams VW Jetta. Since my junk took up all of the backseat, Dmitri and Natassia squeezed in the front passenger seat together.
I spotted Michael pulling out of his driveway, his two brothers and two sisters smooshed into the front seat with him. I giggled, thankful once again that my family was the smallest of the three.
I beeped at him; and he beeped back, revving his engine, challenging me to a race.
“Michael! Don’t you dare drive crazy with my babies in that car!” Aunt Kathy yelled from the driveway.
I could almost see Michael rolling his eyes. I did see him yell at his siblings to shut up when they all shouted that they did, indeed, want him to drive crazy.
“I wish I was riding with Michael,” Dmitri said.
“Buddy,” I said. “I wish you were too.”
Three hours later I lay beside the lake, relishing the feel of the sun on my face, listening to my younger cousins and siblings splashing in the water.
“July Fourth is cool,” Matt said from where he lay on my left side.
“Word,” Michael agreed from his patch of sand on my right.
“My favorite holiday,” I said.
“So when are we blowing this Popsicle stand?” Michael questioned.
“After the fireworks, genius,” Matt said.
All of a sudden, sand skittered across me, going everywhere—including my eyes and mouth.
“Blech!” I spit sand out and rubbed my eyes.
I heard Dmitri laugh and run back into the water.
“That kid is an idiot!” I frowned. “I’ll be so glad to get away from him.”
“Maybe so,” Michael said. “But Adam told me to tell you not to be too hard on him. Dmitri told him he wishes you weren’t leaving.”
Michael’s younger brother was the same age as Dmitri, but amazingly he was a cool kid.
“I find that hard to believe,” I said. I sat up to watch Dmitri put Matt’s little brother in a headlock and dunk him.
“Dmitri!” Dad yelled. “Out of the water now!”
Dmitri plopped down in front of me, scowling. I resisted the urge to laugh. Maybe Adam was right. Dmitri had never annoyed me quite this much before.
I flicked sand on his back. “What’s up with you?”
“What do you care?” He didn’t turn around.
“I think it’s the Russian in him,” Matt said.
“Shut up, snothead,” Dmitri growled.
“Who you callin’ snothead?” Matt cried.
Quick as lightening Matt had Dmitri’s hands, Michael had his feet, and I tickled his bare tummy. We’d done this so many times; we did it faster than anyone.
“Stop! Stop!” Dmitri laughed uncontrollably.
“Then tell us what’s wrong,” I said, pausing in my tickling. But he didn’t get a chance because Aunt Mickie called us to dinner.
Although we’d all snacked all morning, we managed to find space for the delicious barbeque chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, rice salad, fruit salad, and various deserts that completely covered two picnic tables.
“You guys’d better hurry and eat so you can get on your way,” Aunt Kathy said to Matt as he piled food high on his plate.
“Huh?” He said. “I thought we wouldn’t leave until after the fireworks.”
“After the fireworks?” Mom cried. “It’ll be nearly ten before the fireworks are over, and you have a five hour drive. You can’t drive that late.”
I stopped pouring ketchup over my hot dog and stared at my mother. We couldn’t miss the fireworks!
“C’mon, Mom,” Michael said. “We don’t wanna miss the fireworks.”
“You’re the ones who wanted to leave today,” Aunt Kathy said. “And you aren’t gonna drive that late, like Mattie said.”
“There’ll be other July Fourths when you can see fireworks,” Dad said.
I looked from my father to my mother to my aunt as tears blurred my vision. Before I could start crying, a crash made me jump. I turned to see Dmitri’s full plate scattered over the ground. All eyes focused on him; and he stared back, his eyes wide. Then he turned and ran.
“Go, Katie,” Mom said softly.
I blinked back my tears and ran after my brother.
“Dmitri! Wait! Talk to me!”
He kept running. We both knew I could run faster than he, but he did have a head start.
“Go away!” He yelled, his voice breaking.
“No!” I pushed myself harder to catch up with him.
“Leave me alone!” His sobs slowed him down.
I managed to get close enough to tackle him—as gently as possible.
“Go away!” He struggled against my grasp, but I held on tightly.
“Not until you talk to me,” I said. Tucked so tightly in my arms, he realized he had no hope of escape. He went limp and cried, his face turned away from me.
My heart broke. My brother loved me. He looked up to me more than I’d ever imagined. Why was I only just noticing? I’d never treated him with anything other than disdain, anger, and—at best—tolerance.
Tears streamed down my own cheeks as I clung to my baby brother. Dmitri never cried, but he was crying over me. I cried not only because I was leaving, but also because I’d missed out on my brother—my brother who wanted my love.
“You don’t care.” His voice was so soft I could barely hear him despite our closeness.
“Yes, I do.”
”Then why are you leaving? You only care about Michael and Matt. You wish they were your brothers.”
I thought Dmitri wished Michael and Matt were his brothers. I thought he’d always felt like he’d been missing out because he’d gotten stuck with an older sister while our cousins got to have older brothers.
I let go of him and sat up. He didn’t run, but he continued to look away from me.
“No way,” I said. “They’re my cousins, but you’re my brother. And I’m glad you’re my brother. I’m sorry I haven’t acted like it.”
He finally turned to look at me. Tears had reddened his big, dark eyes; and red blotches decorated his fair complexion. I’d never seen that look on Dmitri’s face before—I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen him cry. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. I could tell he was trying to stop crying, but his lower lip still trembled.
“Katie, don’t go.”
And for the first time, I wished I didn’t have to.
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