Oh great. Here we go again.
I pulled up to the school to pick up Sam and there he was, in the middle of parking lot, clearly unhappy as some nerd-jock-bully was standing two inches away from him, reading him the riot act about something. High school. I hated high school when I was in it. I hated it even now that I was out of it and Sammy was finally in his final year of it. I hated it.
Nerd-jock-bullies picking on my little brother being the biggest reason.
I pulled in and parked and walked over to Sam and his 'admirer'. As long as the idiot was only talking and not punching, I could walk and not run to them. When I got close enough, I heard him snarling to Sam,
"That award is mine. Y'get it? MINE. I don't care who you are or how smart you think you are, or if Miss Endres thinks you're hot stuff 'cause you know all the answers all the time. I'm gonna win that essay contest. You got that?"
I think Sam must've known I was there, but he didn't take his eyes off the idiot. And he had to be an idiot to be messing with Sam who was at least a couple inches taller than him and just as broad.
"First -." Sam started, patient but pissed. "I'm not even going to be here that long, so 'winner and still champion' is all yours. Second – how stupid are you that you think badgering me is gonna influence the people who are going to be judging the essays in another state. Third -."
As he said that, I inserted myself between them.
"Third – you get out of his face. Right. Now."
The genius took a few steps back – see, I knew he was smarter than he looked – and stared at me.
"You're protecting him?" He asked.
"Yeah – you got a problem with it?"
"No. I'm just wondering why he doesn't have a problem with it." He looked behind me when he said that – and his eyes went up. What was up that he was looking at? Sam was behind me and he sure wasn't up.
"If you want to start something," I told him. "I got the whole rest of the afternoon free."
He looked back at me, eye level. Then behind me, up. What was he looking at?
"Hey." I said to get his attention, and he brought his eyes down to look at me. Something started to click. Eye level with me, then up to something behind me. Only Sam was the only thing behind me. Up? Sammy's eye level was up from mine? That much? "We done here?"
"Yeah. We're done." The genius said and scuffed away. I turned to Sam.
And looked up.
At my little brother who was looking down at me.
"What?" He asked when I stared at him.
"Are you taller than me?"
"What? No. How could I be?"
I turned and Sam turned with me and we looked at our reflections in the dark glass-sided school. We were in the parking lot so Sam wasn't standing on a curb. I wasn't standing in a hole. But there was no mistaking it – Sam was a good two inches taller than me.
"Oh my God – when did that happen?" He asked.
"Overnight, I'm guessing."
"But, I – I'm not taller than you. That's not supposed to happen." He really sounded upset.
"Well, I hate to break it to you Sammy – it did and you are."
He was upset? I was the big brother who suddenly couldn't see over his little brother.
"I only ever wanted to be as tall as you. Not taller."
"Not much we can do about it now." I told him. "C'mon, let's get back. You can tower over Dad when he gets home tonight." That should've put a smile on Sam if nothing else did, but he only had that look of grim puzzlement on his face as we walked to the car.
"Guess that make me the Big brother now, hunh?"
"That's not even funny."
He laughed and we got in the car and then he got that puzzled look again.
"It's okay, isn't it? That I'm taller than you?"
"Why wouldn't it be?"
"I mean – I am still the little brother, right?" He asked with all seriousness and I looked at him, there next to me in the front seat. He had a few more inches tucked in awkwardly than he used to, and both arms wrapped all the way and then some around some his overloaded backpack. My little brother, my baby brother, my job and my responsibility to keep safe, to look out for, to protect him – was overnight a friggin' giant.
But even so, more than big, he looked young and worried, as though sudden height gave him sudden responsibility or sudden authority, or suddenly took away his right to be protected by me. Not in a million years.
"Damn straight. Sammy."
His smile of relief was worth the two inches I didn't have on him anymore.