The doorbell rang. Bree’s head snapped up as she was momentarily distracted from finger painting on the large canvas her grandmother had set down on the kitchen floor. “Is that my cousin, Grandma?”
Her grandmother dried her hands on a towel. “Probably. I’ll get the door. You stay here; I don’t want paint in the living room.”
“Okay,” Bree said, going back to smearing fresh red paint over the large brownish blob in the corner of the canvas. Her grandmother rushed from the kitchen, leaving Bree alone with her paint. Bree sat with her back against the stained and magnet-covered refrigerator. Sunlight streamed through the windows, bathing the tiled floor in a cheerful glow and making Bree’s paint appear even more colorful.
From the front of the house came a murmur of voices—her grandmother’s and another, unfamiliar, one. Was that her cousin? Would she like art too? Could she climb trees? Had she seen the new Land Before Time movie yet? Would she play with Bree on the T-ball team? Would she…?
Bree stuck her still red fingers in the yellow paint and then made several yellow-to-orange streaks across the canvas. Her glasses slipped down the bridge of her freckled nose and she pushed them back up, leaving a smudge on the lens. She blinked several times in quick succession, and when the smudge did not magically evaporate, she squinched up her nose and shouted, “Grandma!”
She listened and then turned to the kitchen door. “Grandma! Is she here?”
“Just a minute, Bree! Please be patient!” Grandma’s voice called back.
Pigtails swinging, Bree turned back to her artwork. She placed the pads of her fingers in a circle of thick blue paint on a paper plate and then thrust her hand against the canvas and smeared the paint around. She wondered what her cousin’s favorite color was. “Grandma!”
Bree scowled and sat back off her knees and onto her rear end. She frowned as she noticed a patch of green paint on the knee of her jeans. Her sneakers were already covered in paint. She grinned, revealing a large hole in her smile from where she had lost her first tooth just yesterday. The dollar from the tooth fairy was in her back pocket.
She heard the kitchen door swing open as her grandmother walked in and she turned.
“Oh, Bree!” Grandma said. “What did you do to your glasses?”
Bree didn’t answer, but leapt to her feet. “Hi!” she squealed excitedly and raced toward the small figure at her grandmother’s side. The girl was about the size of Bree with blond curls, blue eyes, and rosy cheeks. She wore a skirt and white panty hose. There was not a freckle in sight, but there was a charm bracelet hanging from her wrist, as well as a necklace and even stud earrings.
The girl took one look at Bree and took several steps back. Bree skidded to a halt on the threshold of the kitchen, tottering precariously and looking curiously at the girl. “Don’t touch me,” the girl said, and her voice was odd and snobby sounding. “You’ve got paint all over you.”
There was a pause as Bree blinked at her cousin and Grandma looked from the petite blond to the paint-splattered tomboy.
“Um, Bree, this is your cousin, Katie,” Grandma said, gesturing for Katie to come closer. “She just moved back to Florida. The last time you two met you were both babies.” She smiled down at Katie. “Katie, do you want to finger paint? As you can see, Bree’s having a blast.”
Katie wrinkled her nose prettily. “I don’t like paint. It’s sticky.”
Grandma cleared her throat, but Bree ignored her. She tilted her head “Why do you sound funny?” she asked Katie.
The girl’s mouth dropped open. “I don’t sound funny! You sound funny!”
“I do not!”
“Girls, girls!” said Grandma, quickly hopping between them. “Katie, Bree didn’t mean to be mean. Bree, Katie has a British accent. She’s been living in London. That’s in England, like all the fairy tales you like.”
“Wow!” Bree gasped. “Do you live in a castle?”
“No, of course not!”
“Oh.” Bree frowned, a little disappointed. She’d always wanted to meet a princess. “My mommy’s sister lives in England, but Mommy says that she’s a – well, Daddy said I can’t say the word, but it rhymes with “witch” and it means a really mean lady.” She beamed proudly.
Katie glared at her. “That’s my mother.”
Bree shuffled her feet, and Grandma picked this moment to jump in again. “Bree, why don’t you go back to finger painting?”
Feeling that her first meeting with her cousin had not gone as well as she wanted, Bree trudged dejectedly back to her spot on the floor. Grandma turned to Katie.
“Uh, Katie, I’m making meat loaf for lunch. Do you like meatloaf?”
“No,” said Katie.
“Grandma, can you get the paint off my glasses?” asked Bree.
“Sure, honey. No, don’t touch –I’ll get them. Hang on! Don’t touch anything!” Grandma stepped carefully around the paint and papers on the floor before reaching Bree, bending down and plucking her glasses off her face. As she turned her back and washed them off at the sink, Bree stuck her tongue out at the blond blur that was her cousin. No one badtalked her grandma’s meatloaf.
“Grandmother! She stuck her tongue out at me!” Katie declared.
“Did not!” said Bree, wishing she could see. It was hard to win an argument when half-blind.
“Bree!” Grandma said. “Be nice. Tell Katie you’re sorry.”
“Sorry,” Bree muttered.
“Look at her when you say it.”
“I can’t! I can’t see her!”
A large blur appeared in front of her and she nearly went cross-eyed as her grandmother slid her glasses onto her nose. “Now say sorry.”
“I’m sorry, Katie.”
“Grandmother, do you have anything else to do here?” asked Katie.
“I’ll get you some crayons and you can color at the kitchen table. How about that?”
Katie’s eyes widened and she pointed. “That kitchen table?”
The kitchen table in question was round and wooden, and crumbs from Bree’s Strawberry pop tart stuck to the plastic placemats. A half-full glass of milk sat on the edge, yellow fingerprints smeared across the glass.
“Er, well, maybe I should clean it up first,” said Grandma, “but I would like you to stay in the kitchen while I make lunch.”
“You make lunch in here?”
“Well, yes, dear. Doesn’t your mother make lunch in your kitchen?”
“No, my nanny does. But never when there’s paint on the floor. It’s unsanitary.”
“Grandma, what’s unsanery mean?” asked Bree.
“It’s unsanitary and it means dirty and unhealthy,” Katie said. Bree scowled.
“I’m five. I’m not stupid. You don’t have to talk to me like I’m a baby.”
“Well, I’m six.”
Bree opened her mouth, then closed it. Katie smiled.
“Girls,” their grandmother said in the voice grown-ups used when they wanted you to be happy even though they weren’t. “Please don’t fight. You’re cousins, and you get to play together all afternoon. This is exciting, isn’t it? Now Katie, sit down at the kitchen table and I’ll clean it for you and then bring you some crayons and a coloring book.” She turned on the sink and soaked a paper towel under the running water. Stepping around paint, she got to the kitchen table and wiped the crumbs away, tossing the paper towel in the trash can when done. Then she grabbed the glass of milk and dumped it in the sink.
Katie daintily lifted part of her skirt and stepped carefully through the kitchen as if making her way through a mine field. Bree waited until she was almost to the table and then…
Grandma jumped. Katie shrieked and leapt up on a chair as if avoiding a poisonous snake. Bree let out a cackle of triumph. “Ha ha! You got blown up!”
“Grandmother, she scared me!” Katie cried as Bree toppled over onto her back with her feet in the air, clutching her sides.
“For heaven’s sake, Bree! Do not antagonize your cousin! You two are supposed to be best friends!”
“I will never be friends with her!” declared Katie. “She’s stupid and disgusting and a baby!”
“I am not either a baby!”
“Katie, sit on that chair before you fall and break your neck!” Her grandmother sighed as Katie lowered herself gently down. “I’ll go get you a coloring book if the two of you can call a cease fire for five minutes. Please don’t kill each other while I’m gone. You’re as bad as your mothers.” She left the kitchen, shaking her head.
Bree sat up and cocked her head at her cousin. “You have a nanny?”
“No. I just have a mommy and a daddy and two baby brothers. They’re twins.” A wonderful idea occurred to her. “And they make unsanery messes all the time, so you better not come over to my house ever!”
“I don’t want to come over to your house.”
Bree raked her fingers through the pool of green paint and then slung her hands so that flecks of green rained down over her art. “They look like boogers!”
“Eew!” Katie scooted her chair away. “Don’t get it on me!”
“I won’t. You have enough boogers. You probably eat them for breakfast.”
Before Katie could reply, their grandmother came back in. “Here’s some crayons and a coloring book, sweetie.”
“Thank you, Grandmother.”
Bree’s eyes narrowed. That wasn’t her Disney Princesses coloring book, was it? Her grandma would never do that to her, would she?
Grandma went back to mixing the meat loaf as Katie began to color Princess Jasmine. Bree stared. That wasn’t even the right color. Jasmine wore green not pink.
The minutes passed in a strained silence. Bree continued to finger paint, but her eyes kept flicking over to the kitchen table where Katie was destroying the princesses. She gave them all pink or white dresses and even made Pocahontas blond.
The phone rang upstairs. Their grandmother glanced at the two girls and, seeing both engaged in their own activities, bustled out of the kitchen to answer it.
The moment she was gone, Bree stood up and inched her way over to the table. Katie glared at her. “What?”
Bree pointed. “That’s my coloring book.”
“My favorite coloring book.”
“You don’t even color in the lines.”
“You don’t even color them right! Belle’s dress isn’t pink, it’s yellow! Give me that book!”
“No!” Katie pulled the coloring book away. “Pink is prettier!”
“And the rose is supposed to be red not pink!”
“I hate red!”
“Well, I love red, and I hate pink, and I don’t want pink in my coloring book! And besides, Belle has brown hair.” Bree tugged one of her pigtails, gluing the strands together with the paint from her fingers. “Like me.”
“Well, your hair is ugly.” Katie went back to coloring.
“That’s my coloring book.”
“Grandmother gave it to me not you.”
“But she got it out of my Dora the Explorer backpack.” Bree frowned. “Which I’ll give you if you give me back my coloring book.”
“I have a Hello Kitty backpack.”
“I’ll let you finger paint with me.”
“I already told you, I hate paint.”
“I’ll let you have my Care Bear.”
Katie looked up. “What color is it?”
Katie went back to coloring. “I have that one already.”
Bree blinked. “How many Care Bears do you have?”
Bree’s mouth fell open. Eight was a big number. She had always wanted to be eight. “I didn’t know there were that many Care Bears in the whole wide world!”
“There are hundreds of Care Bears in the whole wide world.”
“You can have my Nutcracker Barbie DVD.”
“We have Blu-Ray.”
“You can have my baby brothers.”
“Come on! Please? They’re really cute!”
“I don’t need any of your old stuff. Anything I want my daddy will get me.”
“Then make him get you your own coloring book and give me back mine!”
“Pretty please with some sugar on top?”
“No, no, no!”
“How about I give you my dollar that the tooth fairy left me last night?”
Katie’s head snapped up. “You have it with you?”
“Yeah.” She pulled the bill out of her pocket and laid it on the table. “There you go.”
Katie stared at it a moment and then grabbed it up like she thought a bird might swoop down, snatch it, and fly off with it. Then she went back to coloring.
Bree’s hands balled into fists. “Hey! You said I could have my coloring book back!”
“No, I didn’t. But you can. When I’m through with it.”
“That’s not fair!” Bree reached across the table, wrapped her sticky fingers around Katie’s curls and yanked as hard as she could. Katie screamed and fell out of her chair as their grandmother ran back in, the phone clutched in her hand.
“What is going on? Bree! Stop that right this minute, young lady!” She grabbed Bree’s arm and dragged her away from where Katie lay whimpering on the floor. “I cannot believe this! I’ve never seen you behave this way! You know better than that! I am very disappointed in you!”
“But Grandma, she—“
“I don’t care what she did, young lady, that kind of behavior is inexcusable. Now sit down and don’t move from that side of the kitchen! I am calling your mother!” She turned away and dialed a number on the phone. Katie stood up, smoothed her skirt, patted her hair, sat back down and continued coloring.
“Hi, Teresa, it’s Mom,” Grandma said as she turned back to the meatloaf. Bree glowered as her grandmother launched into the story of Bree’s misbehavior over the phone. Katie continued humiliating Disney princesses, a smirk on her face.
Bree stood up and walked as quietly as she could to the paint. She picked up the paper plate with red paint on it and moved silently toward the table.
Katie looked up. Bree lifted the plate, tipped it over, and dropped red paint all over Katie’s perfect curls.
Ten minutes later, on the other side of town, Teresa hung up the phone, a grin on her face. She sauntered over to her own kitchen table and wrapped her arms around her bespectacled husband as he typed away on his laptop. “Hey, James, guess what,” she said.
“We won the lottery.”
“You know how Marianne and her snobby British barrister husband have moved back to the states?”
“Yes,” said James looking at her warily.
“Well, Mom arranged a play date between their daughter and Bree.”
James closed his eyes. “Do I want to hear the end of this story?”
“Bree poured red paint all over that brat.” Teresa planted a firm kiss on her husband’s temple as he pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
“That dinner party with them is not going to go well on Friday,” he groaned.
Teresa stood up and practically skipped out of the kitchen. “I have the best daughter ever.”