"Ellie, honey!" my dad called from the bottom of the stairs. "We've got to go now! I have a meeting before school!"
My sister was sitting at my feet, her little pink dress ruffled about her knees. My fingers were twisted around her gold locks as I brushed her hair back into a braid. I glanced at the clock and began to frantically twist her hair together as neatly as I could.
"We're coming," I yelled back. "I just need to finish Natalie's hair."
"You've got exactly two minutes," he yelled back. "Starting…now!"
I began to scramble to finish her hair. I had yet to brush my teeth and apply my eye shadow. I decided to wait to dazzle up my eyes until I got in the car.
"Justin Taylor says his mommy bought him a puppy,"Natalie muttered quietly, pulling on the bows detailing her dress.
"Really now?" I replied, twisting the final lock into place and wrapping a rubber band around the end of her hair.
She nodded, "He says his puppy can talk."
I chuckled, "Puppies can't talk. You know that Nat."
"He swears by it."
"All right then, what does his dog say?"
"He tells Justin when he's hungry and when he wants to play."
I giggled and tugged on her braid affectionately. "Well unless that speaking is nothing but barking, I'm guessing your friend is lying to you."
I got to my feet and stepped over my sister.
"Eww," she snapped. "He's not my friend. He's mean to me."
"How so?" I pulled my brush and toothpaste from the shelf and waited for her to continue.
"He pulls my hair sometimes."
I turned to look at her. "What? That's not nice!"
"Well, Natty, girl, you listen to me. The next time Justin Taylor pulls your hair, I want you to kick him in the knee as hard as you can, all right? Maybe then he'll think twice before laying a hand on you again."
"Ellie! Now!" my father shouted from the living room.
"Coming!" I replied, quickly spreading a fair amount of paste onto my brush and scrubbing my teeth vigorously. I scrubbed only until I had covered all of my teeth and my gums ached from my neglecting to wet the brush before I put it in my mouth.
"Coming, coming, coming," I stammered as I ushered my little sister out of the bathroom door and to the stairs. Once I saw her making her way down, I ran to my room and grabbed my bag, my eye shadow and a jacket. I stumbled down the stairs to find my family was already making their way to the van. I clicked off the lights, locked the front door and chased after them.
"Damn it," my dad muttered once we were in the car. "I'm going to be late."
I flipped down the visor and began to brush silver powder onto my eyelids.
"I'm sorry, Dad," I said. "I'll get better about it."
He took a deep breath and squeezed the steering wheel tightly, until his knuckles were white. "It's all right."
I turned away from the mirror a moment to study him. "Are you mad at me?"
"No. Of course not."
He glanced in the rear view mirror at my brother and sister in the backseat. "Jordan, son. Did you tell Ellie what you get to do at daycare today?"
"Yes," Jordan's little voice squeaked.
I turned around in my seat and smiled at him. He was shaking his spill-proof sippy cup up and down, listening to the juice inside slosh around.
"I don't remember you telling me," I said.
The car began to slow and once we rested at a stop light, my dad turned around quickly to talk to him.
"Why don't you tell her again, son?" he chuckled, reaching back to pinch my brother's foot playfully. They both giggled.
"We get to…" Jordan said slowly. His face twisted in thought and my dad turned back to watch the light. "We get to schwim."
"Swim? Wow, that sounds like so much fun!" I chuckled. "Did you bring your swimsuit?"
He nodded. "Yes."
"Wow, buddy! You're pretty lucky!"
I looked to Natalie. She was happily watching out of the side window, studying the dresses in the bridal shop beside us. I turned back around to speak to my father.
"Nat says that Justin Taylor's been pulling her hair," I tell him.
The light changed and his foot lightly tapped the gas. He studied her in the rear view mirror.
"Baby, is this true?" he asked her.
She nodded meekly.
"Honey," he searched for the right words. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"I can take care of myself," she muttered. "Ellie says I should kick him hard the next time he tries it."
I could see my dad whip and evil and angry glare at me from the corner of my eye. I calmly applied the powder to my eyelid, doing my best to pretend I didn't notice.
"Although I understand you are mad at him, Nat, don't hurt him back."
"You're a better person than that. I know your sister told you to kick him, but don't. I'll call your teacher this afternoon and talk to her, all right?"
We pulled up to Natalie's school and I climbed out to open the door for her. She leaned forward to kiss my dad goodbye, and was more than happy to get out of the car. Even a seven year old could sense the tension between my father and I.