â€œOkay,â€ she says. We pretend to eat the dirt we rolled into balls and decorated with acorns and bits of stick. Weâ€™re playing castle in the tarp-fort that Daddy made.
â€œNate!â€ I call to my little brother, who is eating the dirt cake for real. â€œStop eating the dirt. Just pretend.â€ I show him how. He pretends for a second, then runs out of the castle over to Daddy. Daddy is chopping wood by the fire.
â€œDonâ€™t eat my cake!â€ Anna screams at me. I wasnâ€™t, but I donâ€™t bother telling her. She never listens to me.
â€œNate, no!â€ Mommy yells, so loud that I jump. I run out of the castle. Daddy is holding Nate and screaming. Mommy and Daddy are yelling for us to get into the car.
â€œLetâ€™s go! We have to go to the hospital!â€ Mommy tells me. â€œNate burned his hand!â€
Iâ€™m scared. Then I look at Nate. Skin is falling off of his hand. Heâ€™s screaming and crying. I start to cry, too.
â€œCome on, Gabe. We have to get into the car. Go get into your seat,â€ Daddy says. I hear him, but I canâ€™t move. Iâ€™m too scared. Mommy pulls my hand and we go towards the car.
Nate is already buckled in by the time I get into my seat. Heâ€™s holding his hand out and crying. â€œMy and urts,â€ he cries. â€œMommy, my and urts!â€
â€œI know it does,â€ Mommy says, holding his arm tightly. â€œIâ€™m sorry, Natey-boo,â€ she says. She sounds sad.
I sneak a look at Nateâ€™s hand. The skin is gray and falling off. Heâ€™s screaming.
â€œI donâ€™t want to look at his hand!â€ Anna says. â€œItâ€™s terrible!â€ Sheâ€™s almost crying too.
Iâ€™m so scared.
We drive super slow by the lake, past our ice cream shop. I had a cotton-candy ice cream cone, but I couldnâ€™t finish it all. Daddy is angry. Heâ€™s yelling and saying words that I donâ€™t understand. He goes fast around a car and then honks the horn.
â€œMy and urts!â€ Nate cries. â€œIt urts!â€ he says.
â€œI know, baby boy,â€ Mommy says. â€œWe are going to the doctor to make it all better.â€
Iâ€™m not so sure. It looks like it wonâ€™t ever be better. Iâ€™m so scared. â€œMommy,â€ I ask, â€œis Nate going to die?â€
â€œNo, heâ€™s not, sweetie,â€ Mommy says. But Iâ€™m not sure. Maybe he will. The skin is falling off his hand. Underneath there is red stuff.
â€œMy and urts!â€ Nate screams. Why wonâ€™t he be quiet?
Anna covers her ears. â€œI donâ€™t want to hear him!â€ she yells.
Everyone is talking and yelling. I am so scared, so I cover my ears too. I donâ€™t yell. I just stay inside. If Nate dies, I will miss him. Maybe he will go to heaven to be with Mom-Mom. Mom-Mom will take care of him there, and maybe his hand will be all better in heaven. But I will miss him. I donâ€™t want him to die. If he stays alive, I will teach him to be careful by the fire. When we go camping, I will follow him around and keep him safe. I promise. Mom-Mom, please donâ€™t let Nate die. I love him and I like having him for a little brother.
â€œIt urts!â€ Nate cries. I can still hear him through my hands.
â€œI know, sweet boy,â€ Mommy says. â€œIt will be okay.â€ She turns all the way around and looks at me. She looks worried. â€œGabe, weâ€™re almost there. I promise.â€
That makes me feel better.