When Dexter talks, all the adults listen.
‘Gee, he’s so smart our boy’, whispers May, just loud enough to make sure us kids will hear. He hovers by her side, all polished white teeth and retainer smile.
‘Emily, why don’t you take your cousin outside so you two can get some fresh air’, says Mum, nodding at her new nephew. I know there’s no chance of me outrunning Dexter; I’ve already heard what an athlete he is.
‘He was the youngest County Champion in his school’s history’, says Uncle Frank, who’s been calling himself Frankie since he went to America.
‘The boy’s on course for an Athletics scholarship at college, at this rate,’ he bellows, his words louder and longer than they were before.
‘Oh, Frankie, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Lots can happen in eight years’, says May. Her voice is high and squeaky like she’s just breathed in a balloon, or the hot air that Dad says comes out of Uncle Frankie’s mouth.
‘Lots can happen in eight months’, is what I want to say, but I know better than to be cheeky to my new auntie and her darling Dexter. Uncle Frankie is staring like he’s never seen anyone like them. I try to see what he sees. May is pretty in a beauty pageant way. Big hair, boobs almost as big, short skirt and the whitest teeth I have ever seen. Dexter has the coolest pair of Nike trainers and a shirt buttoned up to his neck that makes him look quite handsome, even if it’s a bit posh for this occasion. Minus the train tracks on his teeth, he has a mouth like his Mum’s, wide and white and I look at him wishing my smile was like that. If the adults all love him, he can’t be that bad surely? Maybe I am just being jealous. I mean I know it’s nice to finally have a cousin my age and one who lives in somewhere as cool as Florida of all places. And even if he doesn’t seem to want to play with me right now, he did at least give me that NASA baseball cap and the pack of freeze-dried ice cream just like astronauts eat.
I hear Mum say something about ‘love at first sight’ and Frankie nods and I try to feel happy for my uncle and my Mum who almost exploded with excitement when Frank FaceTimed her to say he’d got married to a woman he’d met online eight months ago and he was bringing her and her son home to meet the family, and by the way he’d adopted the son who was just the coolest kid and he was sure that he and me would just hit it off.
I stand still at the bottom of the steps to the garden watching Dexter grow taller with every nice thing they say about him. I wish they would say something nice about me too.
When I run my face goes beetroot and I get all out of breath, but I know all my times tables and I’ve read all of the Harry Potter books. I want my Mum to say something about how well I’m doing, about how I want to be an astronaut when I grow up, about how she reckons I could be the first woman on Mars. But all I can hear is ‘Dexter this and Dexter that.’ I want to ask Dexter what he likes to play, but he seems quite happy just as he is.
A ladybird lands on my arm and I turn my head to count its spots. Its red is the exact same shade as the dress I chose to wear in honour of my new family. I raise my finger to my mouth and motion for Dexter to creep closer, wanting to show him this tiny fragile creature and ask him if they have them in Florida too. Dexter lunges towards me, snatches the insect and flicks it onto its back: black instead of red. He tears off a leg laughs, moves towards me and lowers his voice.
‘Back home, we call them lady bugs. Bugs are meant to be crushed.’ The adults smile, but I know they don’t hear.
Hannah Storm has been a journalist for 20 years, but has recently started writing flash fiction, CNF and short stories as a way of paying tribute to some of the extraordinary people she has met and the places she has been as well as processing her own experiences. Nowadays, she lives on the south coast of England, where she juggles writing with motherhood, work and marathon running.