Her screams echo down the hall, like too many kids crammed into a jumping castle. Except we are just two kids, crammed into a bathroom. Just me and Evie. And the frog.
I grin, and thrust the little green frog further into my sister’s face. Her face that is mine if I’d been a girl. Or my face that is her’s if she’d been a boy. But she wasn’t a boy and I wasn’t a girl, so my face is mine, and her face is hers.
‘Freddie!’ she shrieks, loud in that way that girls do when they’re being silly about stuff they think is gross.
She can’t get away though. She’s trapped, wedged into the corner behind the door. The only way out is through me and the frog. I poke it at her again and muster up my most bestest evil laugh. She cringes away, whining again and I grin.
The little frog wriggles, protesting my evil laugh. My hands are too small and I can’t keep hold of it. It springs free, bounding away. I curse my hands. Why was I so small? I’m seven now, I should be bigger. I should be able to hold a little frog. Besides, it’s my birthday. Doesn’t that silly slimy frog realise?
Evie squeals, covering her face with her hands as the poor little frog falls to the floor. I step back, trying not to squish it as it hops around.
‘Don’t tread on it!’ Evie calls, even though I’m already trying not to.
Girls can be so silly sometimes, even Evie. Though she’s not so bad as the other girls. After all, she’s got me.
I jump back again, only I don’t see the empty ice-cream container I forgot was on the floor. My foot hits it, getting stuck on the inside, and I slip.
I crash down, making lots of noise! But of course none that comes out of my mouth.
The toilet brush clangs as I land, getting stuck between the wall and the toilet. I reach out to try and catch myself, and my hand goes in the toilet! Gross!
Oh well, least I didn’t break anything.
Evie has her nose wrinkled, and she’s half laughing half shrieking. It’s loud.
The little frog makes it’s escape, diving for the narrow gap of the half open door. I point after it.
I want to say the words, but they stick in my throat, unwilling to get out. My arm is stuck behind me, so I can’t sign to her. Instead, I throw the words at her as hard as I can, trying to tell her to go after it.
She’s dancing away from the door, but she see’s me pointing. I don’t know if she gets what I’m trying to tell her, but she edges away from the door so she can swing it open properly.
‘It’s gone down the hall,’ she says and spins around. ‘It’s going towards James’ room!’
I stick my hand out and she only makes a little face when she grabs it. See? She’s not so bad. Other girls would still be all grossed out that my hand had been in the toilet. It wasn’t like it was dirty water anyway.
Besides, she’s not silly, she can see I can’t get up without her and, like always, she’s there when I need her to be.
She grabs my hand and pulls. She’s only small, and ‘cause I’m a boy I’m bigger. Her feet slip as she tries to pull me up, and I kick at the ground, trying to help.
We get it right and then it’s time to hunt. This time I remember to get the ice-cream container.
‘You know Grandma will be mad if we don’t get it,’ Evie whispers as we creep down the hall. ‘We’re s’posed to be putting it outside.’
I shake my head at her. If Grandma didn’t want us to have fun, she shoulda got the frog herself. Besides, it’s our birthday, and the rules are you don’t have to do chores on your birthday.
Grandma knows that. Which means we get to have fun on the frog hunt.
‘There!’ Evie cries.
I dive after the frog, except we both jump at the same time. Evie trips, and next thing I’m falling.
‘Oof!’ All the air comes out of my lungs.
Evie is squishing me, like I’m the frog, and I wriggle, trying to get her off me.
‘Sorry!’ she says, kinda like she wants to cry, but doesn’t.
She pushes off—using me to get up—but the frog makes a dive for her!
‘Ah!’ she screams, and whoosh—there goes all my air again.
I turn and glare at her. She winces. I want to tell her not to be such a girl, but instead I just sigh.
‘Oh no!’ she says.
There goes the little green frog, leaving a path of slime prints as it hops straight into our big brother’s room. Uh oh.
Evie and me share a look. We creep forward. Evie looks worried, so I take her hand. It’ll be alright. So long as we catch the frog.
We creep into the room. It’s dark and it smells musty. I wrinkle my nose. What does he do in here? There’s a pile of homework on his desk and I shake my head. Who does homework on the weekend?
Anyway, we need to find the frog.
I think it might be under the bed. I tell Evie as best I can manage. I point, and with some thinking, I make the word for “frog” with my hands. I have to take a moment to remember how it goes. Then I remember—some frogs have big throats when they make noises, and so I tap under my chin with the back of my hand.
She blinks at me, and nods. She doesn’t say anything, but I know she understands. She always does. Then I grab my nose, grinning.
‘I smell it,’ I try to tell her.
She giggles. ‘You’re the one who smells,’ she whispers, and giggles again.
I dive for the bed, expecting to catch the frog. I shake my head. Slippery prisoner. I want to tell her that—it’s a good joke—but I can’t think of how to say it without spelling it all out. I don’t know any hand-words for “slippery” or “prisoner”.
‘He’s a tricky frog, isn’t he?’ she says, and I grin.
She get’s it.
I see it come out from under the desk, making a break for it, and I dive. Just in time! I catch it! Evie has to help me up while I keep hold of the struggling little frog. I almost let it go again, so we can chase it some more, but then I hear Grandma calling out.
I wince. If she catches us, we’ll be in trouble.
‘Evie! Are you almost ready?’
Rats. I forgot. We have to go to a party. Evie’s face lights up, sort of excited but nervous too. I scrunch my nose. What do we need a party for?
‘Tim will be there,’ Evie tells me, trying to cheer me up. ‘It’ll be okay.’
‘You might like the other kids.’
I roll my eyes.
‘I know,’ she says. ‘I’m worried too.’
I say, ‘It’s our birthday.’ as best I can manage.
She gets it.
‘Come on, let’s get the-Oh’
It’s like the room gets even darker when he comes in. He’s staring down at Evie with that frown of his. His eyes are like Mum’s, except that they’re not. Mum’s eyes were never so mean looking.
I take a step forward, pulling at Evie’s arm so she’s next to me. We have to be together, or James’ll gang up on us. Big brothers are like that.
‘What’re you doing in my room?’ he says in that voice that means we’re in big trouble.
I try to hide the frog behind my back, but it’s hard with one hand. He’s wriggling again, trying to get free. It lets out a victorious croak and slips free, making for the door.
‘Is that a frog?’ James yelps, darting out of the way and bashing his elbow on the edge of the door.
He starts swearing—Wow I didn’t know that word!—and I grab Evie. Time to go!
‘Sorry!’ Evie says, but I pull her away, knowing that it’s too late.
James gets cranky bad these days, and it’s best just to stay out of the way.
‘Get out of my room!’ he screams after us.
He slams the door in Evie’s face. James is fourteen and much too old for frog chasing. Still, Evie gets sad that he’s mad at us. Again.
I nudge her shoulder. ‘Let’s go catch more frogs!’
The words don’t come out, and I feel frustrated at myself. Why can’t I get my voice to work like everyone else’s?
‘We have to get ready for the party,’ she says, staring at the ground with sad eyes.
They look like the sky does whenever it wants to rain, but doesn’t, so it just stays grey all day. I sigh again. I take her hand and lead her back to our bedroom. We can catch frogs after the party.
‘We didn’t catch him,’ she says, glancing back down the hall.
I wave a hand at her. ‘Later.’
‘He’s so gross and slimy.’
I glance back at her, raising my eyebrows like James does when he thinks we’ve said something stupid. ‘Frogs are awesome.’
She grins, like she can read my thoughts. Maybe she can? Maybe my pushing the words at her is actually working, and she can hear what I’m thinking.
But probably not.
She still seems down, so I try to cheer her up. I think about the words first and I tell her with my hands, ‘Time. Make. Friends.’
She perks up a little, but she starts to play with the ends of her hair. She’s nervous. I shake my head and sigh. Why did Grandma invite so many kids?
Right then, Grandma appears in our room, like I summoned her. I’m a magician!
‘You’re not ready,’ she sighs, looking between us.
She’s got that tone she uses a lot with us. Like we’ve done something sorta bad, but not really bad.
‘I know you don’t like the idea of a party, but you need to make new friends,’ she says, using her “I’m in charge” voice.
I make the letters for TIM with my hands.
‘You need more friends than just Tim.’
I point at Evie. ‘I got Evie! I don’t need more friends.’
Grandma pauses, looking between us, and I think maybe she understands what I’m trying to say. It’s harder with Grandma, ‘cause she’s not like Evie. Her face changes and her eyes water up like she’s going to cry.
‘Well,’ says Grandma briskly, turning to clean up some of the clothes in our wash basket. ‘Evie might like some friends.’
I clap my hands together, making her look at me. Then I make the hand words again. ‘No girls. You said.’
‘Can’t Evie make friends with boys?’ Grandma asks, raising her eyebrow at me again.
I glance sideways at Evie. I look up at the roof. I sorta shrug. She can make friends with boys. I guess.
I shrug again. ‘Boys. Mean. Play.’
‘You’re not mean,’ Evie says, nudging my shoulder. Then she grins a little and adds, ‘Most the time.’
Grandma laughs and I huff. Then I scratch the back of my neck. Okay. Sometimes I can be mean.
Grandma pulls out some clothes and hands them to Evie. I wrinkle my nose and shake my head. No way. Evie pauses, holding the yellow dress, but looking at me.
I give Grandma a look. Honestly, doesn’t she know? Evie can’t wear that. Grandma raises an eyebrow.
‘Well, you pick, if you can do better.’
I can, so I go and investigate Evie’s drawer. I get a pair of shorts and throw them to Evie. Without a word she pulls them on, discarding the dress on the bed. I pull out some more clothes, but throw them on the ground after a closer look. Not right.
‘You’re making a mess,’ Grandma says in that same tone.
I shrug. I find a pink shirt. It’s got a cute dog on it and I stare at it. It’s just about right. I hold it out to Evie. Her and Grandma stare at it in surprise.
‘Isn’t that one girly too?’ Grandma asks, raising her eyebrows.
I shrug, and point at Evie. She is a girl.
‘Why not the dress then?’ asks Grandma.
‘Boys,’ I say with my hands.
Grandma shakes her head. ‘I don’t understand.’
I chew on the inside of my mouth. How can I tell her when I don’t have any words. Not real ones anyway. Hand words always take so long and I don’t always know the right ones to explain. I sigh.
‘I am a girl,’ says Evie slowly. She’s already got the shirt on, but she’s staring the dress now, trying to figure out what I mean. ‘So I should be a girl. But we’re playing with boys, so not too much of a girl.’
I nod, shaking my head up and down a lot so she knows she got it right. Then I motion running, and laugh as I point at the dress. You can’t run in a dress.
‘I see,’ says Grandma, but I don’t think she does.
At the park there are five other boys. Tim isn’t even here yet. Grandma says he’s going to be late. Stupid Tim. All these boy look boring and Evie is doing that nervous thing and playing with her hair again.
I smile at her, nodding. ‘It’s alright.’
‘James says boys don’t like playing with girls,’ she says softly.
I consider this. We don’t really play with anyone else except Tim, and Tim’s never not played with Evie. So either James is wrong, or boys are stupid. There’s nothing wrong with playing with Evie. So I take her hand and squeeze.
I want to tell her it’s okay. I want to tell her that even if the other boys make fun, I will play with her. Who wants to play with stinky town boys over her anyway? Not Tim or me.
I want to tell her that they’ll miss out. That they’ll be lonely, because we’ll be having fun without them.
But I can’t. The words won’t come, won’t even try to come. So I try to find the hand-words to tell her. It’s not the same, and all I can manage is, ‘We have us.’
Somehow it’s enough.
Her nervous fiddling goes away. Her shoulders straighten. A determined smile makes her face bright and she nods at me.
‘We have us,’ she repeats.
She gets it, and that’s enough.