"Ben, you can't wear your swim trunks to a baseball game."
"But why not?" he questioned, tipping his head to the side and wrinkling his nose. "The sprinklers might come on and we could run through them."
"Ben, you have to wear underwear to a baseball game," Colton said, patting his shoulder. "You don't want your baseballs hanging out."
Ben looked at him confusedly while Lindsay buried her face in her hands.
"What baseballs? I don't got any! I got some ping-pong balls though! Should I bring 'em?"
Colton shrieked with laughter while Lindsay shook her head and handed Ben a more appropriate outfit.
"Why are you laughin' at me, Cole?"
"Someday when you're older, you'll understand."
"Colton, I don't think that was appropriate."
"Well maybe not, but it was funny!"
Lindsay rolled her eyes and fixed the collar on Ben's shirt.
"Look at me!" Avery said, dancing into the room. "I got new outfit!"
"Wow sissy, you're sure sparkly! Are you excited 'bout your tumblin' thing today?"
"Yes. I sad only daddy can go."
"How come mama can't go Aves?"
"Not 'nough room for most big people. We pick one."
"And since I take Avery to most of her classes, we thought it was fair that daddy got to take her today."
"Daddy say we have fancy lunch after! Where you boys go?"
"We're going to a baseball game and stuff with Danny and Junior," Colton answered, tying his shoes.
"Oh. Mama, you be with Austin?"
"No, she's taking Sarah to a recital today."
"Oh. Then… you be with Isa?"
"Yep, I guess it will be just me and Isa."
"What will you do?" Avery asked curiously, her forehead wrinkling as she tried to grab a loose thread on her leotard.
"I don't know. We'll figure something out. Are you guys all ready to go?"
"Yep! C'mon Cole, let's go wait on the porch!"
The boys thundered down the stairs and Avery followed them, singing shrilly at the top of her lungs and fluffing her hair with every step.
"Daddy, we go soon?" she asked, hitting the bottom step and crouching down to fix her shoe. "I ready."
"Yeah, it's about time. I'll get your jacket if you give mama a kiss goodbye."
"Okay. Mama c'mere!"
Lindsay laughed and crouched down to hug her daughter, kissing both of her cheeks a few times. Ever since their trip to Montana, being away from Avery had been a lot harder than normal.
"Have fun today okay honey?"
"I do. Daddy say he make video for you see."
"That's a good deal. I love you, sweetie."
"Love you too mama! See you later!"
She took Adam's hand and they left the house together while the boys ran excitedly around the living room, spinning their hats on their fingers.
"Are you guys going to be good for Danny?"
"Of course mama! We're always good."
"Just a little rowdy!" Ben added, running to the front door. "I think I seen them drive up!"
He flung the door open and Junior barreled into to him, knocking them both to the floor.
"Binyin! My dad said we get to run the bases after! It's my lifelong dream!"
"I can't wait to share that moment with you Dunner. But for now could you get off me? I can't breathe on account of you're a fatty."
"Ben, you're fatter than Junior," Colton laughed, helping the boys to their feet. "C'mon let's go get in the- Sarah? What's wrong? Why are you crying?"
"My ma can't do my hair right!" Sarah sniffled, hiccupping as she stood in the doorway. "And she tried and tried and now my head hurts and I don't want to dance today!"
Colton sighed and put his arm around her shoulders.
"It's okay Sarah. Maybe your ma just needs a short break from doing hair, and when you are both calm, it will be better."
"I think your hair looks pretty anyway."
"Thanks, Colton Matthew."
She walked over to the couch and sat down, pulling her legs up underneath her but making sure her Converse didn't get on the couch.
"Boys, you ready to go? We're takin' the train."
There were whoops and hollers from all three boys before they drug Danny back out the front door and towards their day of baseball.
"Okay, I brought brushes and clips and hairties and all the other crap we have in the drawer in the bathroom, and you are going to do Sarah's hair because I can just not handle it anymore," Austin announced handing an old grocery sack to Lindsay.
"I can try. Isa's hair looks good."
"I know, I did hers first. I really should have thought that through."
"I see. Sarah love, how would you like your hair?"
"Up," Sarah sniffled.
"Okay. Would you like it up in a braid or up in a bun, or combed to the front of your head like a unicorn?"
Sarah giggled at that and sat down on the coffee table, as that was where she usually sat when Lindsay performed emergency hair care.
"I'd like a bun, the one with the ribbon in it please."
Lindsay made quick work of Sarah's hair and soon Sarah and Austin were headed out the door to the recital.
"So, what would you like to do today gorgeous?"
Isa gave a little shrug and climbed onto the couch, inspecting the ends of her braided hair.
"All the other kids get to do something fun and special today."
"Hey now. Who is this magnificent creature sitting next to you?"
Isa snorted a little laugh and crawled into Lindsay's lap, sitting there for several minutes before she said anything.
"Indy, am I mean?"
"Mean? Who said you were mean?"
"Well… Colton. He wasn't saying it because he was mad, he was just telling me that sometimes other kids think I am mean. But I'm not a bully am I?"
"No honey. I think sometimes you say things before you think about them, that's all. I know in this family we all tease each other a lot and sometimes we say mean things in a teasing way. I think that a lot of people just don't get our sense of humor."
"I'm not mean?"
"No honey. We just need to work on your filter from your brain to your mouth."
"That's what my ma said too!"
"She's had experience. She and I both worked on our filters together."
"Can we do something fun today?"
"Sure. What do you have in mind?"
"I don't know. Just something that you didn't do with the other kids."
"Hmm. Well I need to go to the store to get stuff for when we all go camping."
"Like what kind of stuff?"
"I need a new lantern and some tent tarps."
"Okay. I've never gone to a place like that before."
"Then that's where we'll go. And maybe we'll just have to pick something up for a fancy lunch later too."
"You're gonna spoil me rotten because you feel bad that I got left out?"
"My dad is going to kill you," Isa giggled, looking at herself in the mirror. "He only lets me do this with Kool-aid."
"He won't kill me, it washes out."
Isa grinned widely at the random strands of bright purple hair that were the result of an impulse buy at the drugstore when they went in for candy bars. Isa had only remarked that she liked the bright purple color and before she knew it, Lindsay had tossed the box into the basket with a grin.
"I look awesome," Isa conceded, as Lindsay used hair spray to adhere the color to her hair. "Maybe when my ma sees how good this looks, she'll let me do it for real."
"There will be plenty of time for fake hair, darlin'."
"Indy! What are you doin'?"
"There was some leftover," Lindsay shrugged, starting the quick process on one strand of her own hair. "You've inspired me."
Isa laughed delightedly as Lindsay finished up her own hair and they both checked out their new but temporary looks in the mirror.
"None of the other kids have done this before. And none of them got to pick out their very first pocket knife either."
"Remember, that pocket knife is just for a keepsake."
"I know, Indy."
"Good. Now, dessert and a movie?"
"Okay! I'm still kind of full from lunch but when has that ever stopped us?"
"Oh Isa, we've trained you well."
"Yep. Can we have cake?"
"We'll have to make one, is that okay?"
"I think I have everything for it."
Isa grinned and led the way downstairs, humming happily to herself as she threw open cupboards and drawers. She couldn't remember the last time she'd gotten to cook with her Indy; it was something all the kids fought over doing, and Isa was the least likely to whine about it to have a turn.
"Let's see, I'm sure there's a recipe here somewhere," Lindsay said, flipping through her rarely used recipe box. "There we go. My grandmas chocolate cake."
"Ooh, yum. And it has fudge in the name!"
"Yep. Let's see, looks like you've gotten everything out that we need except for a couple things."
"Can we use the mixer? I like to watch it."
"Sure. You go ahead and do that and I'll make dinner."
"It's okay, just follow the recipe."
"But… Indy I've never made a cake before! The only ones my ma makes come in a box and I even screwed that one up once because I didn't know to crack the egg and… I can't cook a cake!"
"Sure you can. Just follow the directions."
"But… but… what if it tastes bad?"
"It won't taste bad if you follow the rules. Just read through them a time or two and let me know if you have questions. Should we put on some music?"
Isa sighed, resigned to her fate while Lindsay turned the music on and began to gather ingredients for dinner. She wasn't sure about this, she knew that wasting ingredients wouldn't be good and she'd heard from both her grandmas about their cakes falling in the oven and becoming as hard as a rock, and if they made mistakes when baking, certainly she would too.
Taking a deep breath, she started with the first instructions, carefully measuring the dry ingredients and mixing them together with a wooden spoon while Lindsay stood at the other end of the kitchen island, putting together a pan of lasagna for dinner.
"Indy, am I doing okay?"
"Yep, looks good to me. Let me know when it's time to use the mixer and I'll show you how."
"How do I whisk?"
"With this whisk. Make sure that you break the egg yolks."
"I haven't put the eggs in yet. I can't. I don't know how."
"Okay, I'll show you one and then you can do the next one."
"But what if I get shells in it?"
"We'll crack them over another bowl so any mistakes don't fall into the cake. How's that?"
"You're going to tap the egg gently against the bowl a couple times first. See how the shell is cracked but it's still held together by that thin film?"
"Yeah. What is that?"
"Egg parts," Lindsay answered simply with a shrug. "Now you carefully press your thumbs in and pull the shell apart. Ready to try?"
Isa held the egg and tapped it gently on the side of the bowl until it cracked just right. In her excitement she plunged her thumbs into the egg, almost scrambling it before cracking the shell all the way open.
"Well that's one way to do it," Lindsay chuckled. "And look, no shell pieces. Go ahead and do the third one and then wash your hands."
Isa obeyed, feeling a lot better about the whole thing as she dried her hands and went back to the cake.
"So now I have to mix the wet stuff and the dry stuff together."
"Okay. Did you stir the dry stuff already?"
"Yep. So do I pour the wet stuff in?"
"We're going to turn the mixer on and let the dry stuff mix for a minute and then we'll slowly mix in the wet stuff. Want me to do this part?"
"Okay, I'll watch."
Lindsay mixed everything together until they had a nice smooth cake batter, then poured it into the pan that was sitting in wait. Isa licked her lips absentmindedly, grinning when Lindsay handed her the spatula to enjoy.
"Mm, this is going to be really good cake Indy. Too bad my birthday already passed or we could do candles and frosting."
"We can still do frosting. It only takes a little while to make and the cake has to cook for an hour anyway."
"Why don't you go pick out a movie and I'll clean up in here."
"I can clean up! You can finish making dinner and I can clean up."
Isa set to work rinsing all the bowls and cups she'd used, humming along with the old Montgomery Gentry song on the radio and feeling quite accomplished and proud. The fact that Lindsay had trusted her to make a cake was a great boost to her ego and was especially helpful since she'd been feeling so unimportant lately. She and Sarah weren't getting along, Daniel didn't think she was a superhero anymore, and no matter how much she and Colton loved each other, they were growing up and didn't spend as much time together as they once had. There were some days that she went to bed feeling terrible, and some mornings when she woke up feeling worse. Austin had assured her that it was normal and temporary and she could feel however she felt and that was okay, but Isa didn't like change very much, and she often wished she could go back to being a little kid.
"Okay kiddo. I'm all set. Ready to watch a movie?"
"Yep! Do I get to pick?"
"Sweet! I know just which one."
A few minutes later they were curled up on the couch watching My Girl, yawning from their long day while Lindsay spun Isa's long and purple hair around her finger.
"I'm glad that I got left behind today."
With the late afternoon sun peeking in the windows, all six kids were happy to be reunited once again. There had been jealous proclamations and admirations about Isa's hair, especially from Avery who had requested green hair, very soon. The boys reenacted the entire baseball game, including their run around the bases and how Ben had gotten sick from the running and cotton candy and had thrown up right on home plate. Isa shook her head and put her arm around Ben's shoulders at this, telling him that she knew the feeling and it was nothing to be embarrassed about. He gave her a half smile and sat down on the couch while Avery took her turn, telling about her special tumbling class and how Adam had taken her out for lunch afterwards, and then to a movie. Sarah was a little quieter about her recital, reporting that everything had gone as expected and she'd been happy to dance.
"Well I made a cake all by myself," Isa said after a moment.
"Wow a cake? Really Isa? Could we eat it?" Ben asked hopefully, despite his earlier stomach problems.
"Indy said after dinner, but me and her already shared a piece and it was very good. And Indy got me such a cool thing today but it is just mine and no one is allowed to use it, not even ma and daddy, but I will show you guys okay?"
They all gathered around her tightly while she pulled the pocket knife out carefully.
"I'm not allowed to take it out of the house and I can't use it until Indy teaches me all the safety stuff, but isn't it pretty cool?"
They ooh'ed and ahh'ed for a few minutes, then went into the dining room where their parents were sitting around the table deep in discussion.
"This sure don't look good," Colton said, pulling up a chair next to Adam. "What's going on?"
"Isabeth, we need you to stay in here while the rest of the kids go play."
Colton started to stand up but Adam put a hand on his shoulder, keeping him in the chair.
"Are we in trouble?" Isa asked once the rest of the kids had filed out of the room. She'd backed up into the corner and crossed her arms over her chest, not in defiance, but as a stance of protection.
"Come sit down honey, you're not in trouble. There's just something that we need to talk to you kids about."
Isa sat down next to Colton and he reached under the table for her hand, lacing their fingers together.
"We just wanted to tell you guys that we've all decided that tonight's sleepover is going to be the last one," Danny said, unsure of how to start and just jumping in the middle.
"What?" Isa exploded, standing up from the table. "That's not fair!"
"Sweetie, sit down so we can talk about this."
Wrinkling her nose, Isa sat down again and Colton squeezed her hand.
"We know you guys love each other," Austin tried, taking a deep breath. "And we know that you're best friends and you have a special relationship and that's good. We want you two to always have that."
"But you're getting older now," Lindsay continued, making eye contact with Isa because she knew Colton was going to be a lot more apt to understand what they were saying. "And we just feel like it's not appropriate for you guys to keep having sleepovers anymore."
"But why? That's what best friends do!"
"We know that. What we're really saying is that when there are sleepovers from now on, girls need to sleep in one room and boys in another."
"Well that's not really a sleepover, is it?"
"But it's not fair! We always had sleepovers before! All our lives, since we were babies."
"Yes, that's true," Adam began gently. "But like we said, you're getting older. When you get older your bodies start changing and… well… it's just better to keep boys and girls separate sometimes."
Isa made a disgusted face.
"You mean because of kissing and stuff? Because at school one of the big girls told me about kissing and loving someone and… well she said somethin' about sex but she whispered that word so it must be bad, and is that what this is about? Because I don't wanna kiss Colt, that's disgusting. No offense, Colt. But I don't think you're hot."
"You don't even act like a girl so I don't think you're hot either."
There was silence from the adults as Isa sighed and raked her hair back from her face.
"So why do you think this all the sudden?"
"It's something we've been talking about for a long time, and we all agreed that it was probably time for you two to not sleep in the same bed anymore. It's something that you'll understand better when you're older, but for now we've decided that it's not appropriate. This doesn't mean you two can't be friends or anything like that. It just means that sleepovers will be different."
"Well fine. So we can still have our regular kind of sleepover tonight?"
"Yes, you can do that."
"Okay I guess. Can we go play now?"
"Sure, go ahead."
The kids left the room and Austin turned to Danny, holding her hand out.
"You owe me ten bucks. She didn't totally freak out."
"You two made a bet on your own kid? I'm appalled. You're terrible."
"We know, but now I have coffee money."
"Oh, you're my favorite again then."
"Do you guys think that was too early?" Adam asked, playing with the salt and pepper shakers.
"Honey, stop doing that, you're going to spill it. And no, it wasn't too early, we talked about it."
"I just don't want them to be upset."
"They'll get used to it," Danny decided with a shrug. "Besides, I don't think any of us have screwed up enough that this will make 'em hate us."
"Don't speak too soon. Repercussions always come late with those two."
"We'll see. Why don't you girls go relax for a bit and we'll set the table for dinner."
"Not gonna argue with that!" Austin exclaimed, jumping up from the table and heading to the couch with Lindsay hot on her heels.
"So was Isa good today?" Austin asked, pulling a throw pillow into her lap.
"Yeah. She's always good Austin, she's just a little crazy sometimes. Not unlike a certain redheaded child of mine who has taken up pounding on the piano and singing at the top of her lungs in gibberish every morning at seven."
Austin smiled and nodded quietly, keeping her eyes down as she ran a few things over in her mind.
"Linds, does Isa talk to you about things she doesn't talk to me about?"
"I know you guys have your talks sometimes and she tells you stuff and… I just feel like the girls like you more than they like me."
"What are you smoking?"
"Nothing. It's just… this morning Sarah was so sad and you just took two minutes to calm her down and fix her hair and I couldn't do that. When Isa is upset, she wants you. I just feel kind of inadequate sometimes."
"Let me ask you a question. When you were a kid, especially before everything started happening with your dad, did you share everything with your mom, or did you sometimes depend on Danny's mom?"
"I see what you're saying but it still makes me feel bad."
"It shouldn't. You've raised the girls to be independent enough that they feel okay relying on other people sometimes. What happened with Sarah this morning was just because you were both upset and it made things worse. And if you want to know the truth, everything Isa talks to me about, she's already talked to you about."
"Are you sure?"
"I just… Linds I love you but I don't want my kids to prefer you over me."
"They won't. You're so much cooler than I am. And if they ever do, I will owe you a million dollars."
"Can we shake on that so that the day Isa turns thirteen, I become very, very rich?"
"I'll take the risk."
"Good. Now, do I need to get any special shots before we all go camping?"
"I was actually being serious."
"Oh Aust, what would we ever do without each other?"