From this list of one-word prompts, which I’m still taking. Feel free to send me one!
The seven-year-old groaned as she was gently shaken awake by her uncle. She rolled onto her back and sleepily blinked up at him from his lap. He smiled and brushed her tousled hair back. “It’s time, sweets,” he whispered.
Zepheera grumbled unintelligibly, covering her head with the blanket Boston had wrapped around her earlier in the night.
He chuckled and scooped up his small niece into his arms.
“C’mon, sleepyhead,” he grunted as he stood and headed out. “You wanna meet the baby, don’t you?”
Zepheera pouted and buried her face in his shoulder. She really didn’t, but she knew that was wrong to say so she held her tongue. She wasn’t sure how she should feel about the new baby. It wasn’t like she was worried about the baby stealing her love; her stepfather had no idea how to talk to her, and the attention she got from her mother was all bad. Zepheera had never seen a baby, but her uncle described them as small and chubby.
Then he had to explain to her what ‘chubby’ meant.
All Zepheera knew was that she had been sent away to her uncle’s home for what felt like days (even though Boston insisted the day hadn’t passed) while her stepfather and his sister took her mother away while she was in labor. No one would tell her what labor was. Clearly, it was time-consuming.
Boston put Zepheera down when they were outside her house. She gripped the leg of his trousers, almost hiding behind them as they stood in the doorway of her parents’ bedroom. She’d never been in there, and she’d learned to be wary of any room her mother was in.
Her mother was asleep in bed, her bright red hair pasted to her forehead with sweat. Zepheera frowned, staring for a moment to determine if that was even the same person. She looked so…relaxed. Peaceful.
And she’d never put much thought to it, but her mother was quite beautiful in such a natural state.
“How’d she do?” Boston asked, cutting off Zepheera’s thoughts. She realized that her stepfather was sitting beside the bed.
Baycliff smiled wearily at Boston, his golden eyes bright even in the late-night darkness. “Sis says she did great. Hardly screamed. Boy, did she want to, though.” He tilted his head when he saw Zepheera peering curiously at the bundle of fabric he was holding.
“Come see your little brother.”
It took an encouraging nudge from her uncle for Zepheera to pad carefully across the room. She gasped softly when she got close enough to see an itty-bitty head and pudgy little arms poking out of the bundle. Uncle Boston had said small, but she didn’t think it’d be that small.
“Do you want to hold him?” her stepfather asked Zepheera, to her unfiltered surprise. She glanced at her passed out mother, who would never entrust Zepheera with anything nearly as delicate as this baby seemed to be. Still, as long as it was being offered… She nodded.
Baycliff carefully passed the bundle to Zepheera, showing her how to properly support the head in a sturdy yet gentle grip. Even so, she froze once she had the baby all to herself. She could feel his little feet shifting in his sleep against her arm. He hardly weighed a thing, even to Zepheera who was small for her age.
‘Small and chubby’, though accurate, were hardly the tip of the iceberg of adjectives that flooded into Zepheera’s mind as she took in every detail of her brother. He was light, soft, warm, innocent, and so pale; even Zepheera’s very light brown skin seemed dark against his.
Her uncle’s even darker hand reached down to smooth down the baby’s unruly strawberry-blond hair. It was an innocent enough gesture, but it made Zepheera stiffen a little. Seeing how big Boston’s hand was in comparison expanded her list of words for the baby: weak, helpless, fragile. Something protective awoke inside her, and she held the bundle closer despite the fact that Uncle Boston was one of the only people in the world Zepheera loved and trusted.
Boston sat cross-legged on the floor and carefully pulled his niece in to sit in his lap, to help her relax.
“What’s his name?”
“Kernel,” Baycliff replied.
Somehow, having a name to match the face added a new layer to what Zepheera thought about the whole affair. This was a brand-new person in her arms. He would be a man one day, but for now Zepheera could hold him without issue.
“Kernel…” Zepheera echoed, barely a whisper. On an impulse, she leaned down to gingerly kiss his forehead. His little brow scrunched in spite of how soft Zepheera had tried to be, and his buttery-yellow eyes blinked sleepily open.
“Hi, Kernel,” said Zepheera fondly, unable to hold back a smile. “I’m your big sister. You’re safe with me, I promise.”