Ten year old Jaffri stared at the wiggling blob, not sure what to make of her.
“She’s small,” he said, not overly impressed. As a boy, Jaffri knew that he was bigger than average. But this…blob…it was even smaller than he would have expected. He’d been excited about getting a sister. But…not anymore. A sister seemed so…pointless now.
“She’s only a few hours old,” his father explained, understanding his son’s disappointed expression.
Jaffri stared up at his dad, not sure what to say. “Girls are small.”
The deep, rumbling laughter of his father made him feel better.
“All babies are small.”
Jaffri shrugged, dismissing his father’s comment. “Mom says I wasn’t small.”
Talal put his newborn daughter back into the bassinet, then put a heavy hand on his son’s shoulder. “You were bigger than most babies, but still a pretty small guy, compared to now.”
Jaffri sighed, trying to figure out what was so special about the blob. She had pretty eyes. They were blue, just like his. But the rest of her face was still red and…well, kinda splotchy.
“Girls are ugly.”
Another laugh and Jaffri looked up at his father. “I guarantee that you will find girls to be very pretty and very interesting in the future, son.”
Jaffri wasn’t sure what to believe. His father was big and tough and…a hero in Jaffri’s eyes. But…his eyes moved to the wiggly thing once again. “But she’s my sister. So I’m not supposed to think she’s pretty.”
“What’s not pretty?” Tavon, his younger brother, demanded, rushing into the room after racing ahead of his nanny.
“Girls,” Jaffri announced. “They’re red and blotchy.”
Tavon wasn’t overly impressed with their sister either. They both stared into the lacy bassinet, trying to understand. Finally, they pulled away and looked at each other. “Yeah, well, Momma’s pretty,” Tavon announced as if that justified their efforts to see their new sister’s beauty.
Jaffri rolled his eyes at his younger brother. “Yeah, she’s nice. But…” his eyes moved back to the lace lined bassinett, shaking his head. “I guess Mom is the only one.”
With that, Jaffri walked out of the nursery and back into the room where his mother was moving slowly around the area. His dad had explained that she’d just given birth but…well, she looked fine now. “Are you okay?” he asked, walking over to where she was leaning against the marble column. “Dad says you’re sore.”
His mother looked down into his eyes, the same color blue as his own. “I’m fine, dear. After giving birth to you and your brother, Sada was pretty easy.”
Jaffri took her hand anyway and walked with her. “Why did you have a girl?” he asked, still confused. “I mean, I like brothers. Girls just…they’re weird,” he announced with a firm nod of his head.
“Oh honey,” his mother said softly as she ran her fingers through his thick, dark hair. “Some day, you’ll find girls to be very interesting. But the ‘weird’ description might last a bit longer.”
“Why?” he asked, always curious.
His mother laughed again and he leaned into her. He felt her trembling and tried to take some of her weight himself, leading her back to the big chair she’d been sitting in earlier.
“Well, because…” she looked down at him and he wasn’t sure what she was trying to say. “Well, suffice it to say, that men and women are generally mysteries to one another. No matter how much you figure out, the opposite gender will always surprise you.”
She sat down in the chair with a sigh and he could feel her fatigue. “I thought I wasn’t supposed to let anything surprise me,” he replied. “Father says I shouldn’t let anything surprise me. I have to be aware of everything, anticipate the worst and make sure that it doesn’t happen.”
He felt her fingers in his hair again and leaned his head into her touch.
“Yes. That’s true when it comes to ruling Altair, which you will do in the future. But with girls and women, I suspect that you won’t fall in love until you are surprised.”
Jaffri squinched up his nose at the idea of falling in love. “I have to go,” he told her, remembering his father’s advice about a strategic retreat when needed.
A moment later, he raced down the palace hallways until he reached the schoolroom where his tutor was sitting behind the desk. Jaffri and Tavon had been given the day off from studying in celebration of their sister’s birth, but now he stood there in front of his tutor, determination in his stance. “I need to know everything there is about girls,” he announced.
The tutor smiled even as he adjusted the glasses on his nose. “Why is that, young prince?”
Jaffri’s hands fisted on his hips. “My mother says that I will fall in love when a woman surprises me. I’m not falling in love,” he announced. “So tell me everything about women so I’m never surprised.”
“What in the world are you doing?” her older brother, Reid, demanded as he glowered through the doorway of her bedroom. Reid and her brothers rarely entered her room, too afraid of all the lacy stuff.
Giselle turned away from the stuffed animals and dolls that were sitting around her small table and happily grinned up at her brother. “We’re having a tea party!” she announced.
Reid huffed a bit but Giselle stepped in front of her doorway, ready to stop her brother if he took anything away from her tea party. “Don’t even think about it,” she warned, glaring up at him. He might be big, but she was determined!
Reid laughed, shaking his head and moving closer, towering over his baby sister by at least a foot. “Think you’re big enough to stop me?”
She shifted slightly, not intimidated even a little. “You’re not taking your GI Joe doll! He’s having tea with Ms. Peakcock and he likes it!”
Giselle was only six years old while her oldest brother, Reid, was ten. She didn’t care. Reid was predictable and Giselle had no problem defending her “friends” from being taken.
Reid continued to stare down at her and Giselle squared off in front of him. “They are having a tea party. Tea has just been served,” she explained carefully. He was a boy after all. They learned everything at a much slower rate than girls. “I’ve put up balloons and fancy decorations and they are having a good time.”
Reid looked behind her and he had that look in his eyes that told her he was about to pounce. “GI Joe doesn’t like tea parties or balloons.”
And then he did something that really caught here attention. “Hey Brant! Mack!”
Giselle swallowed painfully. She looked nervously at the doorway, then back at her brother. When her two other brothers stepped into the hallway, directly behind Reid, she knew she was in trouble. She could take Reid. Perhaps. She might come out bruised and…well…maybe tied up, but her stuffed animals and his GI Joe doll would still be around in the end. But with the addition of her other brothers, only slightly smaller and one or two years younger that Reid, she was in trouble. Big trouble!
Time to do some fancy foot work, she thought.
“Okay, what about this? Let GI Joe stay for tea, and then I’ll let him catch one of the balloons. He’ll fly away and then can repel down the stairs where the three of you can then take him outside to blow stuff up. Deal?”
As soon as Giselle offered up the option of a “manly” balloon ride, Reid’s expression changed from determined to interested. Same with her other brothers, Brant and Mack. All three of them were on board by the time she used the term “repel” and she knew that her tea party was safe. For now.
“Let us light the tea on fire afterwards, and you’ve got a deal,” Brant offered up.
Giselle refrained from rolling her eyes. How her brother was going to light “tea” on fire, she had no idea. But she shrugged. “Sure. Whatever.”
A moment later, all three boys high-fived each other and walked out of her pretty, pink bedroom. With a sigh of relief, she turned back to her dolls and stuffed animals that were all sitting at the small table in the corner of her room. “Silly boys,” she said, straightening GI Joe’s body so that the tea cup could rest more easily on his plastic legs.
For the next twenty minutes, she poured tea for her “guests” and had an ongoing conversation with them, ignoring her brothers calls of “Are you done yet?!” and simply enjoyed her tea party.
When Mack started shooting nerf bullets into her room, she finally gave up. “Fine! Here’s your stupid GI Joe doll!” she announced and picked him up, tossing him to a waiting Reid. “My dolls don’t like him anyway!”
There was a thundering of boy’s feet as they all raced down the stairs with their GI Joe doll. A moment later, Reid was back. “You promised the balloon and the tea,” he told her. Before she could stop him, he’d grabbed her coordinating pink and white balloons as well as her pretty, flowered plastic tea cup. Then he was gone, the front door slamming behind him.
“Silly boys,” she grumbled as she flopped onto her bed and grabbed a book.
An hour later, her mother called everyone to dinner and Giselle jumped off of her bed, eager to help set the table. She’d noticed that the daisies were blooming outside. Maybe her mother would let her cut some of the daisies to put in the center of the table. Not that her icky brothers would care, she thought
“Here!” Mack said a moment before he dumped a melted plastic clump into her hands.
“Thanks!” Reid called out, running up the stairs with his GI Joe doll under one arm as he chuckled.
Brant was a bit slower, but he followed behind the others, a huge grin on his features. “I can’t believe you let us light your tea on fire,” he said, shaking his head as he jogged up the stairs.
Stunned and confused, Giselle stared down at the brownish-black lump in her hands, then back up at the stairs. Slowly, her six year old mind connected the dots. Her brothers…tea…fire…!
“Mom!” she yelled out and walked towards the kitchen. “They lit my tea cup on fire!”