Amelia yanked her older brother back to the curb as an ambulance wailed through the intersection. He shrieked, “Naa! Naa!” and put his hands over his ears, elbowing her phone into the street. It skidded under a parked silver sedan.
“Teddy, are you all right?” asked Amelia, scanning him for injuries. Finding none, she sat him on a wrought-iron bench before crouching in the gutter to retrieve her cell. She smelled exhaust and felt wet leaves as she groped under the car. “Don’t be broken,” she muttered. “Please please please.” She breathed a silent thank you for her phone’s — and her brother’s— safety as she glanced at the text still shining on the screen.
Walking back to the bench, Amelia tripped on the uneven sidewalk and almost crashed into a sporting goods store. She put her hands on the window to break her fall and looked up to see a flyer framed between them. In bright red letters the poster shouted, “DO YOU LOVE TO SKI?” Yeah, Amelia thought, straightening up, I’ve been doing it since I was two. “PANTHER’S PEAK IS LOOKING FOR INSTRUCTORS FOR THE UPCOMING SEASON!”
I would love to do that, thought Amelia. I just got my license, so I could even drive myself up there. If only I wasn’t stuck with my brothers all the time. She slipped her phone into her jacket pocket and sat down beside Teddy. “You’re okay,” she said, squeezing his shoulder, “the siren’s gone.” Amelia pulled his hands away from his ears and looked up the street for her younger brother. “David, where are you? David?” She spied the eight-year-old down the block in his black fireman’s suit and hat getting candy from a woman in front of a clothing boutique. She waved for him to join them.
“I got some great stuff,” David said as he slumped onto the bench. “But I’m exbusted.”
“Exhausted, maybe?” said Amelia. “Here, I’ll help you.” She reached into his bright orange pumpkin and pulled out some chocolate. She opened a bag of M&M’s and poured them into Teddy’s hand before unwrapping and biting into a Snickers.
“Stop eating my candy!” David exclaimed, sitting up quickly. “You’ve been stealing it all night.”
“It’s just a little,” said Amelia. “Besides, I just saved Teddy’s life. For, I don’t know, the zillionth time. Don’t I deserve a little chocolate?”
“Choco choco choco waHAA,” said Teddy.
“See, he thinks so too,” said Amelia, stretching toward the pumpkin again. David pulled it close to his chest and hunched his shoulders over the opening. Amelia laughed. “We’d better hurry,” she said, eying the grey clouds overhead. “It looks like rain. Let’s grab the pizzas and get to Mom’s office before it starts.” She looked over David’s head at the poster again. “Can you watch Teddy for two seconds? I’m going to run in and grab a flyer. Just stay right here and don’t move.”
David nodded, reaching into his pumpkin again. Teddy stared into the distance, muttering “waHA waHA!” to himself. Amelia paused for a moment, with her hand on the door, before opening it and going inside. A bell tinkled as she entered the store. She passed tennis racquets and fishing rods on her way toward the counter. Swerving to avoid a kayak, Amelia bumped into a clerk. He lowered his snowboarding magazine and asked if she needed any help.
“I’d love new ski boots,” said Amelia, “but not today. I was wondering if you had any more of the flyers like the one in the front window?”
“The Panther’s Peak one?”
“Yeah, about looking for new instructors.”
“Sure, we keep them by the register. Let me get one for you.” Amelia followed him to the front counter where he handed her the paper. “I work there in the winter and it’s a lot of fun. You can fill out an application online and print the forms for your parents to sign if you’re under 18.”
“Thanks,” said Amelia, exiting the store. She glanced back to see the clerk watching her, the magazine forgotten by his side. She lingered until the door closed and then turned to see her little brother standing alone.
“Where is he?” demanded Amelia, stuffing the flyer into her pocket as she approached David. She felt a familiar dread in her stomach.
“I don’t know. I was petting a puppy and he disappeared.”
“You know he’s afraid of dogs,” she snapped. David’s lip quivered and he wiped a knuckle across his eye. Amelia added hastily, “It’s okay. He couldn’t have gone far.” She scanned the street and heard a screech of brakes behind her and a horn honking angrily. She touched David on the shoulder. “That way,” she gestured as they turned the corner.
Teddy was in the middle of an alley, spinning around with his arms extended and his eyes tightly shut. His long fingers touched the sides of two cars that had stopped for him. Amelia felt her heart rate return to normal as she waved apologies to the drivers and pulled her brother back to the curb. “Naa! Naa!” he shouted as Amelia glanced at the darkening sky again.
“That’s twice today,” she muttered and then said to her brothers, “let's get dinner and get to Mom before something else happens.”
“Choco choco choco waHAA,” said Teddy, reaching for David’s pumpkin. David gave Teddy a piece and, after hesitating a moment, apologetically offered Amelia his pumpkin. She smirked and pushed his fireman’s hat down over his eyes as she popped a lollypop into her mouth.
A few minutes later, balancing two pizza boxes and four bottles of lemonade, Amelia buzzed the intercom at the law firm of Robbins, Daniels, and Kraft. “It’s Amelia. Can you buzz us in?”
“Sure thing.” The door clicked and they entered the building. They walked up the four flights of stairs into a small lobby. A blonde woman in a tight leopard costume and impossibly high heels was waiting for them. She opened the door and took the pizza boxes.
“Hi, Claudia,” said Amelia to her mother’s assistant as they walked into the conference room just off the lobby. Amelia put the drinks on the large oak table that dominated the space.
“Hi, Amelia, hi boys. Did you take the stairs?”
“Yes,” said Amelia. “Teddy hates the elevator. You know that unhappy noise he makes?”
“That ‘wa HA’ thing?”
“No, that’s his happy sound. The ‘Naa Naa' one. It gets loud in an elevator.”
Claudia grimaced. “I can see why you take the stairs.” She smiled. “But he does have great legs! Let me get your mom.” She walked to the back door of the room. “Stephanie,” she called, “your kids are here and I’m heading out. I’m glad you brought food,” she said to Amelia as they walked across the lobby. “Your mom hasn’t eaten all day.” She checked her hair and straightened her spotted headband in a mirror before opening the door.
“See you later,” said Amelia. “Have fun at your party.”
“What makes you think I’m going to a party?” said Claudia as she winked and waved good-bye.
“She is going to a party, isn’t she?” Amelia asked when her mother entered the conference room. She was wearing a beautifully tailored gray suit from several seasons ago. It was unwrinkled and her hair was perfectly in place, but Amelia noticed the dark circles under her eyes.
“Yes, I think so,” her mother answered, as she gathered plates and napkins from the cabinet on the side wall. Amelia helped while David dumped his pumpkin on the table and started sorting his candy.
Teddy sat in a chair and started rocking back and forth. “Choco choco choco waHAA,” he said as he reached for a bag of M&M’s.
His mother stopped him and handed him a slice of pizza instead. Amelia sat down and took a bite of hers, asking her mother about her day.
Amelia listened half-heartedly, letting her mind wander. She heard the expected rain and looked to see it beating against the oversized front window. When her mother finished by saying she would be working a lot more in the upcoming months, Amelia snapped to attention.
“I was hoping to get a job this winter.” She pulled the crumpled flyer out of her pocket. “Teaching skiing at Panther’s Peak. Can I?”
“May I?” corrected her mother.
“May I?” said Amelia. “It sounds like so much fun! It would be great for college applications, too, and to make a little money.” She handed the paper to her mother, who smoothed it out before picking up her reading glasses to look at it.
“Choco choco choco waHAA,” said Teddy.
“Not yet,” said his mother. “Eat more pizza.” She looked up from the paper. “Oh honey,” she said. “I’d love for you to do this, but…”
“Don’t say no,” interrupted Amelia. “You always say not to make decisions when you’re tired. Think about it.”
“Is it that obvious?” asked her mother, with a wan smile. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have to think about it. I’m going to be needing your help with the boys more over the next few months. The answer is no.”
“Help more?!” exclaimed Amelia, jumping up. Her empty plate flew across the table, toward her brothers. David looked up from his pile of candy, but Teddy ignored it and kept rocking, muttering, and eating his pizza. “I already baby-sit them almost every single day! You don’t let me do anything!” She ticked items off her fingers. “Can, sorry, may I do the tennis team? No. May I do ski racing? No. May I do the drama club? No.”
“I think there’s enough drama,” murmured her mother, as she put down the flyer and took a sip of lemonade. She gathered several empty candy wrappers and flattened them. “You’re in the French club.”
“Yeah, one thing.” Amelia spread her fingers on the table and took a deep breath, trying to be reasonable. “Couldn’t we hire someone to help with the boys?”
“I would, but money is tight right now and I can’t afford it.”
“Dad could help.”
“Da da da da,” said Teddy.
“Hush, sweetheart,” said his mother. She snorted and crushed the wrappers in her fist. “He could. But he won’t. He’s too busy snorkeling or sky-diving or whatever.”
Amelia ignored her mother’s comment. She had heard it too many times before. “I could help. I’d be making money. And I can drive now too. Dad gave me his old Jetta.”
“Yes, when he bought himself that Lexus he can’t afford. His midlife crisis wasn't cheap.”
“You don’t mind me having a car when I’m driving the boys around,” muttered Amelia as she grabbed her plate and walked across the room to put it in the trash. She took an Almond Joy and M&M’s from David’s candy as she sat back down and picked up the flyer. A snowboarder and a skier both had bright red jackets and big toothy smiles and looked like they didn’t have a care in the world. I really want to do this, thought Amelia. “I need to do this,” she said out loud. “Not just for college applications. I need to get out of the house.” And away from autism, she thought. “I love Teddy, but he’s exhausting,” she said, unwrapping the candy. “He’s always moving. Spinning. Jumping. Running around. He’s never still! And he always wants me to do something. Draw. Cut. Color. It’s not what I want to do all day, every day. But if I’m not watching him every second, he’ll cut up my stuff. I have to hide all the scissors.”
“Is that why I can never find any?”
“He’s always making noises, too,” continued Amelia. “Singing, mumbling, whatever. Do you have any idea what it’s like to have to play the Rubber Duckie song a million times a day for your twenty-year-old brother? It drives me crazy!” She put the candy in her mouth and folded her arms across her chest.
“Duck, duck, choco waHAA,” said Teddy.
“See?” said Amelia. “Here you go.” She opened the M&M’s and handed them to her brother. “Please, Mom!”
“I know it’s hard, honey.” Her mother took her glasses off and rubbed her eyes. “Believe me, I know.”
“Jody comes over some days to work with him,” said Amelia. “Can’t he just stay with her?”
“We’ve talked about this. Her agency requires someone to be there with them. You know the person has to be a family member or over eighteen,” said her mother. She held out her hands, palms facing Amelia. “That’s their rule, not mine. I’m sorry, honey, I really am. But I just don’t see how it could work.”
“You just see me as a babysitter and I’ll be stuck caring for Teddy my whole life!”
“Amelia Alison Anderson! You know that’s not true.”
Yeah, right, thought Amelia. She pushed back her chair and walked over to the window. She watched a few last trick-or-treaters hurrying by on the sidewalk below. She could see a family in matching costumes rushing to get out of the rain. The father, dressed as Captain Hook, held an umbrella over a pint-sized Peter Pan, who was dancing to make an even smaller Tinkerbell laugh. She threw a stuffed crocodile out of her stroller and he picked it up and handed it to her. The mother, a nightgown-clad Wendy, kissed a baby pirate as she settled him into his car seat. That’s how a family should be, thought Amelia. The older brother is helping his sister and the dad’s protecting them all. Nothing like us. She sighed and put her forehead on the glass. She could see a watery version of her mother in its reflection. You may not see how it could work, thought Amelia, but I can. She looked at the father again, who was shaking his umbrella and getting into the minivan. And I do have another parent who can sign a form.