Bethany frowned hard at that, her hand frozen over the slice of garlic bread on the side of her plate. She had classmates who had one day gone from only children to kids with brothers or sisters, and it sounded absolutely awful. She had always said she wanted a baby sister, but now she was six, and she was practically grown. She was too old for a baby brother or sister! Her parents had had their chance, and they'd lost it.
She shook her head emphatically before taking a giant bite out of her garlic bread. "No thank you, daddy," she said through a mouthful, spraying a delicate shower of crumbs across the table. "I'm too old now, I am an only child." Satisfied in her response, Bethany began to twist spaghetti around her fork, tongue poking out of the side of her mouth in thought. On the other side of the room where she was pouring water into her cup, her mother ran her hand over her decidedly swollen belly and frowned in a way eerily similar to her daughter.
One day, when Bethany got off the school bus, her father wasn't there waiting for her, but someone else was.
"Grammy!" she shrieked, pinwheeling her arms and legs and launching herself into her grandmother's arms, clinging to her, a barnacle that had finally found a place to call home. Her grandmother patted her hair and back, grinning into her granddaughter's hair and waited.
"Let's go inside, Bethie - it sure is hot!" her grandmother said. Bethany nodded emphatically and grabbed for her grandmother's hand, leading her to the house. She twisted a lock of hair around her finger, lost in thought.
"Grammy, where's daddy?" she asked, sticking the tip of her hair into her mouth.
"Well, Bethie, he's at the hospital with your mommy. She just had your baby brother." Grammy seemed unsure about how Bethany would take this, and apparently it was as her entire family had feared: not well.
"She had a baby anyway? I told her not to!" The smile on Bethany's face absolutely shattered, and her grandmother could feel her granddaughter's heart break. "It's just supposed to be me, only me!" She stomped her foot on the pavement, cheeks reddening.
"Let's go inside and talk about it, okay?" Her grandmother fumbled with the front door key while Bethany stood on the porch, gleefully scuffing up her Mary Janes and trying not to cry because only babies cried.
"There's nothing to talk about." Bethany said simply, having swallowed her disappointment and anger. "The baby will be gone soon. Want some lemonade?" she shuffled through the front door and down the hall, depositing her backpack on the steps upstairs and trying (badly) to whistle. Her grandmother swallowed - it was like she'd already forgotten about the baby. Was it too good to be true?
"This is Bo," Daddy said, taking Bethany's wrist and offering her finger to the infant who clung to it like a limpet. "and he's your baby brother." Bethany squinted down at the baby, perched precariously on her lap in a Boppy pillow and swinging his fists at the air, a miniature pugilist.
"No thank you." Bethany said softly, turning to look at her father. "You can take him back. I don't want him." Her father's lips fit into a grim line.
"Well, baby, I can't just take him back. He is part of our family now."
"Can't we just return him? The hospital gave you a receipt, right? Like Target? We just take him back to the hospital. Let's go." she jostled the baby in her lap and peered up at her father through a curtain of hair.
"I'm afraid there's not a return policy on babies, Bethie."
Bethany ripped her finger out of the baby's fist, and Bo started to squall in protest. Bethany threw the Boppy pillow to the side and her father barely managed to catch it in time as Bethany stormed upstairs.
"You'll be sorry!" she called over her shoulder before she slammed the door to her bedroom. Her father cuddled Bo close to his chest and closed his eyes: just once couldn't Bethany make things easy?
The next morning, her father went to get baby Bo from his crib, but upon peering inside found his son to be gone. Nowhere to be seen. He ran downstairs, sure Bethany was the culprit, but she was sitting calmly at the kitchen table, legs swinging as she watched TV from her perch and ate a cereal bar.
"Where is the baby?" her father asked her, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. Bethany shrugged.
"I don't know, Daddy." She turned back around to face the television. Her father was beginning to think maybe Bo had been in the crib the whole time and he was just losing it when he thought he heard a baby's cry. He turned back around.
"Bethie?" he called. No answer, his daughter was engrossed in Yo Gabba Gabba. Walking into the kitchen, the cries grew louder. He stopped in front of the refrigerator and opened it with trepidation, but thankfully his son was not in the crisper drawer. He took a step deeper into the kitchen, and had a sudden revelation as to where Bo might be.
His infant son was lying in the bottom rack of the dishwasher, blue in the face and screaming so loudly he'd gone hoarse. He scooped up the baby and wheeled around to confront Bethany, but discovered she'd soundlessly made her way into the kitchen and stood next to him, hands clasped behind her back.
"I told you you'd be sorry." she said simply, turning and skipping off. Her father was unsure if either Bo or Bethany would live to see their next birthday, and he clutched his heaving son to his chest and went to find his wife.