A/N: This chapter is a conglomerate of attempts to complete the Tumulus monthly writing challenges on time, which is why unusual words like 'brindled' and 'bobblehead' are thrown in there. I didn't make the deadlines with this chapter, but I have finished it, so here it is!
I felt a small smile tug its way onto my lips as I looked into the bedroom. Cal, all of fourteen years old today, was sprawled across the mattress, snoring in contentment.
"Cal," I said, an exercise in futility.
"Ca—al," I drew the words out, moving toward the bed. I sat beside my little brother, who was getting to be not so little anymore, and grasped his shoulder. "Time to wake up, birthday boy."
Without looking up or opening his eyes, Cal's head shook back and forth, the perfect imitation of a still sleepy bobblehead.
Narrowing my eyes, I shook him again, once more to no avail. On most mornings I wasted little time in getting him up, but today I took the opportunity to get a good look at him. I knew that he wasn't my son, and I didn't think of him that way, but I did feel some pride in the way he was growing up. I'd watched him take his first steps, ride his first (borrowed) bike, attend his first day of kindergarten, and today I'd watch him meet another rite of passage. I moved my hand from his shoulder to his cheek to feel if there was anything more than peach fuzz for me to teach him to shave off. There was, a little, or at least enough of a hint of something that he probably wouldn't laugh at me for suggesting it.
Cal's hand reached up to slap mine away. "Are you petting me?" he asked, his voice muffled a little by the pillow it was half-burrowed in. "I know you're sentimental, Nik, but I'm not a damned Labrador." He extended the effort to lift his head to look up at me.
I suppressed the amusement I felt at the sight of his face, flushed from sleep with lines from the blanket imprinted across his chin and forehead. "No, of course not. You're more of the brindled bulldog type."
Cal scowled and opened his mouth to reply, but then stopped, remembering something. His face lit up. "Hey—it's my birthday today."
"Is it? I'd forgotten."
A grin that was becoming rarer and rarer these days spread across his face. "No, you didn't. That was why you were petting me."
I raised an eyebrow. "Is that some sort of birthday tradition that I'm unaware of?"
Cal just grinned wider and threw off his blankets. He jumped out of bed with more enthusiasm than he usually had in the mornings and made his way to the bathroom. I followed him and leaned against the doorway as he stood before the mirror.
"Do I look older?" he asked, turning his gaze from the glass to me.
I nodded. "Definitely. We'll have to invest in some cold cream to keep you from getting wrinkles."
Cal rolled his eyes. "Nik, what if I have to take a piss or something? You just feel like watching me today?"
Oh, yes. Now that he was awake, the snark was definitely setting in. Well, that could be taken care of. I moved into the bathroom, swatting the back of the birthday boy's head as I passed him.
"Hey! That's illegal on my birthday," Cal complained, rubbing the spot.
I ignored him, opening the cabinet above the sink to pull out my razor and shaving cream. The variety of things sold at dollar stores always did surprise me. "Here," I said, handing him both items.
Cal took them and considered them for a moment before looking up at me. "I'm not really sure how," he said.
He'd seen me shave dozens of times, so I suspected that his ignorance was purely for my benefit. After all, if he didn't need help, then I didn't have an excuse for watching him, and, for reasons that I'd stopped wondering about long ago, I felt a need to witness every milestone in Cal's life.
"Fill the sink with water," I instructed, "and then spread the shaving cream from about here," I indicated a spot on my face, "to here."
Cal did so, careful to get the cream evenly spread across his face. Picking up my blue, four blade, dollar store razor, he sent me a look that said, 'I know you want to take a picture, but try to control your estrogen for about two seconds here and just let me do this'. Satisfied that I'd received his message, he brought the razor to his face and pulled it slowly down his cheek. I pulled myself onto the bathroom counter beside the sink and tried not to think about how this meant that Cal would be finished with puberty soon and would grow into his body and, before I knew it, he wouldn't be a kid anymore and wouldn't need me to tell him what to do.
Cal had been staring intently into the mirror, determined not to cut himself, but he felt my gaze on him and he met my eyes. He opened his mouth to make what, I'm sure, would have been a smart ass comment, so I spoke instead to cut him off.
"We can buy you your own next week," I said.
Cal's eyes narrowed at my evasion, but he nodded. "Okay. Can I use yours until then?"
I smiled at that. "You probably won't need to shave again for a month, but sure, in the event of steroid use or some other sudden burst of testosterone, you can use mine."
Cal scowled. "You just wait. I'm going to have a full beard by next week."
I nodded. "I'm sure you will."
I should have moved the instant I saw his eyes light up in idea, but I really didn't think that he would dare to dip his hand into the shaving cream and water mixture and splash it at me. Of course, I was both bigger and faster than Cal, and I was quick to retaliate.
In the end, Cal ended up with more shaving cream on him than shaved off of him, and I made him take a shower before giving him the single chocolate cupcake I'd bought from the bakery across town. We spent the rest of the day out of the house, away from Sophia, and every time Cal rubbed a hand across his now-smooth jaw, I smiled. It was summer, and it was warm, but windy enough to not be hot, and the sun seemed to chase away all fears of Cal growing up, and me leaving him for college, which would have to happen all too soon. I didn't think about that, though. Not today.