by Erin Halfelven
Harold Haight hated his name. For one thing, people weren’t sure of how to pronounce it. Not Harold, that was easy, but some people said Hate and some said Height for his last name. Hate was more correct but Harold preferred Height.
Not that he had any. A month past his sixteenth birthday and Harold stood a fraction under five feet one inch tall. “Soaking wet,” added his sister.
Harold made a face at her. Judith was home from college to torment him again and because she was still—in mid-July—trying to get over a disastrous spring break romance with some Ivy Leaguer she had met in Fort Lauderdale. Or “Lauder-fucking-dale” as she referred to it when their parents weren’t listening.
“That doesn’t make sense,” Harold complained.
“You’re telling me,” his sister agreed. “Neil was a dream, and I guess I just had to wake up sometime.”
“No, I mean, ‘soaking wet’ in reference to my height…”
“Lack of height,” she interrupted, smirking at him. At five feet seven, his sister would have towered over him (sort of) except for the fact that they were both lying sideways across the bed in her old room.
“Soaking wet is what you say about someone’s weight,” Harold continued with the doggedness that had never yet endeared him to anyone.
Judith picked up one of the pillows from the head of the bed and lay it on her chest. “How much do you weigh?”
Harold mumbled beside her.
“How much?” she insisted.
“I said, ‘eighty-nine pounds,'” Harold admitted.
“Flat-footed,” said his sister, achieving maximum irritation with minimum effort.
Harold squawked, so she hit him with the pillow.
After the requisite melee, they lay across the bed again, from opposite sides this time so that their heads were close together near the center.
“Puberty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” observed Judith.
“I wouldn’t know,” said Harold with some sourness.
Judith got up on her elbow and looked at him, upside down and sideways from her angle. “What do the doctors say?”
Harold shrugged. “That I’m just slow in developing. That there’s nothing really wrong with me that a few more years of growing won’t cure. That I’m just out there on the end of the curve as far as how fast I’m growing up. But I’m tired of getting handed the kid’s menu in restaurants.”
She frowned. “Does that still happen?”
“Only once since Christmas,” Harold told her.
They were both silent for a moment; then Judith spoke, “I didn’t, uh, have any periods until I was a sophomore.”
Harold snorted. “Not a big comfort to me, sis.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Judith turned over and took down one of the Barbies from the headboard. She adjusted the clothing on the doll with little tugs and pinches.
Harold kicked at the wall.
“Stop that,” Judith told him. “You got a summer job?” She rolled onto her back again, holding the Barbie above her face and inspecting it.
“No-oo,” said Harold, drawing the word out. “No one wants to hire someone who looks twelve, not even for fast food wages.”
She could read his pain in his voice. “Do you, uh, do you feel twelve?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
She shrugged. “Do you have a girlfriend?”
He snorted. “Lots,” he said sarcastically.
The July heat from the sun coming in the window above the headboard warmed the room, fighting with the air conditioning. Judith had never really appreciated Southern California weather until she spent a winter in New York. The heat felt good, the air conditioning felt good, lying on the bed talking to her brother felt good. She was glad to be home but Harold’s problem bugged her.
Teasing him was a joy and almost a duty as part of being a big sister, but his genuine depression nagged at her. And he was kicking the wall again. “Stop that,” she said, again.
He knew what she meant but kicked the wall one more time to prove she wasn’t really his boss.
“What about Marcy? Gillian? Annalisa?” Girls that had been in Harold’s grade back in middle school. “You used to hang with them?”
“Gillian moved across town; she doesn’t go to my high school anymore. Marcy is dating Thud Bridgeworth on the Varsity and Annalisa has gotten weird.”
“She’s into, I dunno, weird stuff. Maybe she’s doing drugs.”
“Her folks would kill her,” Judith noted. Annalisa’s very strict parents were immigrants from Croatia.
“Judy.” Harold stopped.
“Annalisa is over six feet tall now.”
“She doesn’t want to be seen with a boy who doesn’t come up to her elbow.”
Judith put the Barbie doll down beside her and rolled up onto her own elbow to look at Harold again. “That’s what you meant by weird. And you’re not that short.”
“Am too,” he said.
She looked him over. He wore a white t-shirt over baggy dark blue cotton shorts and gold and black trainers. She had on a similar get up except her shorts were red and her shirt yellow and fitted to her, showing off her slender curves.
“Why did you cut your hair all off?” she asked They both had blond curls, hers golden down to her shoulders, his platinum and not much more than two or three inches long.
“Summer,” he said.
She cocked her head and looked at him, knowing he was lying.
He glared at her, obviously not wanting to tell her the real reason.
He sat up, not looking at her and now with his back turned to her. “Mom says while you are here, we should switch rooms. Since you’re not home very much, you should get the smaller room in the house, and this would be my room over the garage.”
“With the separate entrance, uh, huh,” she nodded. “Would you like that?”
He nodded. In a quieter tone, he added, “Mom calls me Judith or Judy about half the time.”
“Is that why you cut your hair?”
He shook his head. “Moms do that shit all the time. It was when other people called me ‘miss’ and ‘young lady’ that I decided shaggy had to go.”
“I mean, if people can’t tell….”
Judith reached over and put a hand on his back. They sat that way for a while.
Finally, Harold stood up and moved toward the other window and stood looking down on their above-ground swimming pool, still under a blue tarp a week after Independence Day. “Dad promised he’d have the pool ready by the time you got home.”
Judith snorted. “We’ll do it tomorrow.” She stood beside him a moment, and they put arms around each other’s waist.
“You really want a job?” she asked.
“Getting the pool ready to use?”
“No, as a bookmark, you’re so skinny. Seriously, a real job paying real money?”
“Well, yeah? You always had work and money in the bank and bought your own car…. But no one is hiring and especially kids who look like me.” He frowned.
“We’ll change your looks a little bit,” she said, holding up her fingers just an inch or so apart. “Just enough to make you look your age.”
He turned the frown on her. “Uh huh. What kind of job is this?”
“Over in Riverside, a friend of a friend offered me some work.”
“Doesn’t mean they’ll hire me.”
“I think he will.”
Both of their phones began to ring; a beat apart. “Mom,” they both said, Harold digging his out of one of the deep pockets in his baggy shorts, Judith retrieving hers from the headboard. Mom had discovered how to use Skype to call several people at once, although sometimes she didn’t realize just who she was calling.
Mom’s voice came out of two phones at once. “Need you kids to run to the store for me,” she said.
“In this heat?” Harold said in mock protest.
“Silly,” said Mom. “Use your car, Judith. And take Harold with you, he needs to get out of the house.”
“Okay, mom,” said Judith. After finding out what Mom needed, they all hit hangup.
“I even sound like you on the phone,” said Harold.
“Boy soprano,” his sister said, nodding.
“Shut up,” said Harold. He sat down at the small desk and glared at one of his sister’s anime characters. Ranma-chan as it happened.
Judith grabbed her purse and keys and stowed her phone in the bag, starting for the door. “You coming?” she asked.
“Sure,” said Harold, following her out.
Judith paused at the top of the wooden staircase on the side of the garage, “Confidentially,” she said to him, “grocery stores are a great place to check out guys.” She started down, glancing back to see how he was taking the zing.
Harold stood for a moment, his face turning red. “Shut up,” he said before following his sister.
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