"I think I love J.J."

We were sitting at the old water stained dining room table that night, my friend and I having a staring contest with the dead eyes of the fishy mass on our plates, when he announced this realization. My parents' and older sister's head snapped up like said fish on a line.

"Do you now?" My mom's eyes shifted toward Dad's, whose eyes in turn shifted towards my sister.

"Yeah."

Dad cleared his throat. Amber eyed the two of us warily, her breath quickening. Finally Mom spoke again in a shaky voice.

"Why do you say that, honey?"

I didn't mind that she called my friend "honey", even though he wasn't actually a part of our family. He pretty much spent every night with us. He and I walked to the bus stop together every morning, and partnered up for all our activities throughout the day. We fed him, bathed him, clothed him. But sometimes misunderstandings arose regardless of our connection. This was one of those times.

"Well," his voice cut through the tension in the air. "She's pretty, and smart. She likes to run and play. She's good at science projects and helping people, and I like her hair!"

"I like her hair, too," I spoke up, and Mom gave me a stern look, shaking her head.

"Maybe you could find a different girl with fire truck hair," my sister blurted out.

"Amber Elizabeth!" Dad snapped, then turned back to my friend. "Perhaps we could go see her sometime and you can let her know that, hm?"

"Sure, I'd like that," his face lit up suddenly and a rare grin stretched across his face, but Mama scooted closer and cupped her hand over her mouth, whispering something indistinguishable to my father and sister. Caleb's face fell almost as fast as theirs did.

"I can't go see her, can I?" he mumbled, shrinking back into his chair.

"What do you boys think about playing some Madden after dinner?" Dad quickly suggested instead, his smile tight and forced.

"I'll clear the table," Amber said sullenly, standing up.

"Caleb, go wash your face, baby," Mom gestured to the sink.

The conversation was all but forgotten.

Three years earlier

"Dad, Dad, hold on, I don't have the camera on yet! Wait for it..wait for it..." my bubbly 12-year-old sister bounced up the steps to our house, where something groundbreaking awaited us.

"Okay, now you hold the camera, Auggy-Doggy," she shoved said camera into my nearly six-year-old hands, then backed up and gestured dramatically to the front door.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Dads and annoying little brothers-"

"Hey!" I scrunched my face at her.

"-in this house, you are about to witness something truly amazing! The likes of which have never before been seen! This awe-inspiring, genuine, breathtaking wonder of the world has already attracted millions, and millions more still to come! It is a miracle of science, a defiance of all medical and natural odds-"

"Maybe if you count how much it poops," Caleb whispered.

"No comments from the peanut gallery!" Amber snapped.

"Okay, let's speed things up, Robert Ripley," Dad chuckled.

"Ahem. I give you….Allison Kristina Lantz!" And with a swing of the door, we entered a world of pink frills, pink streamers, pink balloons, pink food, even a pink rocking chair, as well as mountains of stuffed animals, presents, colorful toys, and lots and lots and lots of pink diapers.

"Hello, hello!" we heard my grandma call from the kitchen, a strange scent of lotion and freshly baked cookies wafting through the house.

"Hi Grandma!" the three of us kids called out, while Dad set down our groceries and went back outside to get the stroller. We scampered into the living room to find Mama reclining comfortably on the new sofa, chatting with our Grandpa, and Grandma in the adjacent dining room setting down some hot bowls of pudding. Mama looked up and beamed, motioning us over. We didn't need to be told twice.

"Mama, I want to see her! Please please!" I begged.

"No, me first!" Caleb insisted, his attitude about the new baby all but gone.

"No, I get to hold her first, you two will drop her on her head and make her stupid," Amber declared, holding her arms out.

"Wash your hands first, dear," Mama reminded her cheerfully, and my sister hurried off.

"How's the supermama holding up?" Dad came into the room and kissed Mama on the cheek. "Well, isn't this baby just the definition of gorgeous, she must take after her parents. Lucky them," he teased her, and they kissed again.

"Mom, Dad, so embarrassing!" Amber yelled as she rushed back into the room, then sat down on the sofa and put her head on Mama's shoulder.

"Be very gentle, and remember she can't hold her neck up," Mama reminded my sister before handing the baby off.

"She's so beautiful," Amber crooned. "She looks like you, Mom."

I may have been young, but even I noticed the strong resemblance. Amber and I took after Dad, with fair hair, blue eyes, and a slender build. Allison, however, had deep brown eyes and a mop of dark wavy hair, with a dip in her upper lip like Mama had.

Dad sat down on the other side. "Then she'll be the talk of the town in a few years time. Don't worry, I'll keep 'em in check," he winked and Mama smiled, taking the baby back and kissing her forehead.

"Can...can I hold her next?" Caleb's voice was barely above a whisper.

"Of course. Come sit down." Mama patted a space between her and Amber. Caleb sat and she slowly handed Allison to my friend, who immediately nestled her head in the crook of his arm, wrapping his arm under her back and around her body and using the other to support her legs and bottom. Mama nodded in approval.

"You're very good with her."

"I hold Lydia a lot."

We all looked at eachother, startled and suddenly feeling very awkward. We'd forgotten Caleb's mom had also recently given birth to a baby. Lydia Camille. She was about two months already.

"It's okay, a lot of people forget," he shrugged as if he'd read our minds.

I hadn't forgotten. Exactly. It had just sort of slipped my mind? There was no way I could forget how we made bets over which baby would come first, how we argued over whether they would be named Catwoman or Wonder Woman, which one would kick more butts, run the fastest, yell the loudest, climb the tallest tower, count the highest, kick a ball the farthest, swim the deepest, you get the idea. Caleb had been ecstatic to finally have a younger sibling, worried sick to the point of vomiting when she was born early and had to spend time in the "special hospital room for tiny babies", and later bringing a small lock of her hair to class and bragging about all she could already do, such as fly and shoot lasers. This sounded strangely suspicious to my five-year-old mind, although I couldn't put my finger on why. But at that moment, I suddenly realized I had never actually seen her.

"Here," my friend suddenly handed Allison back. "August's Grandma, can I have some of that pudding?"

The coming days were a blur of visitors, sleepless nights for all of us, poop and powder smells in the air, and more pink. But I didn't care, not in the least. I was absolutely in love with this little human who had invaded our house, pink and all. I insisted on carrying her everywhere, called her "my baby" and "my Allie" and insisted I bring her to show-and-tell one Friday in April. I stole Amber's old baby doll cradle to rock her, falling asleep on the floor beside her in the process, and insisted she could only drink the bottles I made her, which I had to be convinced otherwise of eventually, as I learned the milk bottles kept in the fridge on a regular basis didn't just appear there by chance when Allison was hungry.

I was smitten.

One day in early summer, the five of us packed up some sandwiches, a blanket, a couple soccer balls, and lots of baby items, and headed to the nearby park for an afternoon picnic. I was told we were meeting Caleb's family there, but they were late so we spent the hour laughing, joking, racing eachother around, and showing off Allison. Finally, around the time we were about to leave, Caleb showed up carrying his baby sister in his arms, no carrier or stroller or anything. All she had on was a diaper. Mama quickly put a halt to our game of frisbee and ran over.

"Caleb, honey, where are your parents?"

"In the car."

"Aren't they worried about you being alone with the baby?"

"No."

"Well I'm going to go talk to them."

"No! They're fine with it, I swear. They don't want people 'pestering' them."

"Pestering? Your baby looks sick," Amber commented.

Mama sighed and shook her head, retrieving Allison's large baby bag and digging through it. She pulled out a couple outfits, a bottle, and some unmade formula, handing them over to Caleb who looked worried but quietly murmured his thanks.

"Why don't you sit for a minute?" Dad offered.

"Well...okay, but just for a minute," my friend replied.

We got Lydia cleaned up and dressed, gave her a bottle, and laid her down gently beside Allison. The two of them babbled and smiled at eachother, Lydia rolling over several times to touch her new friend. Amber took a picture of them and told Caleb she'd give it to him when we got it developed. Soon both babies fell asleep and we gave Lydia back to her brother, who thanked us again and looked back and forth between his sister and mine, maybe wishing he could stay longer.

"Do you need me to walk you back to your car?" Mama asked.

"No, that's okay...well…" he hesitated. "...maybe just far enough so I can make sure they didn't drive off."

We walked with him to the parking lot until he spotted a black car parked near the trees and stopped us.

"Yeah, they're still here. I'll see you guys tomorrow or something."

Mama laid a hand on my friend's shoulder and said gently, "Caleb, if you ever need to talk about anything, you know we're here."

"I know."

"I just want you to know I'm very proud of the way you've been taking care of your sister. She's lucky to have you."

He smiled slightly at this. "I think I love her."