Sharak knew that Daddy wasn’t her real daddy. She knew that instead of finding a Nice Woman to Settle Down With, Daddy went to the house with lots of kids that nobody wanted and decided that he wanted her to be his kid.
At first she was worried that she might do something wrong and that Daddy would decide that he didn’t want to be a daddy anymore and just go back to being Mr. Sanzo, so Sharak always made sure to Be Quiet and Behave Properly and not do anything that would make Daddy mad.
It didn’t take long before Sharak realized that Daddy was a cool grown-up, not like the other grown-ups. He never got mad when she had to ask for help with her math homework, or when she accidentally spilled her juice, or when she didn’t smile when other grown-ups told her to “Turn that frown upside down!” and she wasn’t feeling well. So Sharak stopped trying to be a Nice Little Girl and Daddy started looking happier, and everything was perfect.
Sharak had had two birthdays since she started living with Daddy. She wasn’t scared anymore that Daddy would take her back to the house full of kids that nobody wanted, but Daddy had just done something even worse than that.
Daddy told her that he was thinking about bringing home another kid.
Did that mean that Sharak wasn’t enough? Didn’t she make Daddy happy enough?
“Doesn’t it already have a mommy and daddy?” Sharak asked. “Why is it coming home with you?”
Daddy stopped combing her hair for five whole seconds. “It’s complicated, sweetheart.”
Sharak made a face because when Daddy said that something was complicated, it meant that he thought she wasn’t smart or big enough for him to explain. But before she could make him tell her, Daddy started talking again.
“The mommy is too young to be a mommy. And the daddy—well,” Daddy sighed. “But I thought that since we’re such a small family, we could use one more member. We’d be helping the mommy and we’d become a bigger and happier family, too.”
That made Sharak think for a bit while Daddy tucked her into bed. She didn’t want a new baby brother or sister, but she also knew it was important to help Others In Need like Daddy always said. She thought about it so much that her head began to hurt and she ended up dreaming about Daddy helping the baby with its homework and ignoring Sharak when she asked for help, too.
“You’re going to be a big sister in a few days,” Daddy said, smiling at Sharak like he hadn’t just ruined everything, forever. “Your baby brother is coming home this weekend. Aren’t you excited?”
No, Sharak thought. But instead of saying anything, she just looked up at Daddy. “Will I have to give it my room?”
“Him, sweetheart,” Daddy said. “And don’t worry, he’ll be staying with me in my room. Auntie Kanzeon helped me set up the crib the other day, remember?”
The only thing Sharak remembered was Auntie’s assistant Mr. Jiroushin setting up the crib while Auntie drank tea with Daddy. She nodded anyway. What was important was that she got to keep her room to herself and didn’t have to share it with a gross baby.
Sharak spent the rest of the day and most of the following days busy with her target practice. She lined up old cans along the wall separating their yard from their neighbor’s and shot them with her toy gun. It only fired foam darts with suction cups on the ends because Daddy thought she was still too small for the real guns that she saw on TV.
She was getting better at hitting more of the cans, but Sharak still needed to practice until she was the best. Mr. Jiroushin once told her that “If you’re going to do something, you might as well do your best,” so Sharak decided that she was going to be the best shooter ever.
She was in the middle of aiming at an old can of peas when Daddy said it was time to get ready so they could go to the hospital to pick up her new baby brother. Sharak thought that target practice was way more important than a stinky baby, but Daddy wouldn’t let her not come.
“Sharak! Come give your auntie a hug!”
Auntie Kanzeon was a cool grown-up like Daddy, so Sharak didn’t mind giving her a hug when she asked for one. Plus, Auntie was wearing her awesome doctor coat.
“Ready to see your new little brother?” Auntie asked her. “You might not like him now, but you can boss him around when he’s a little bigger.”
“Don’t give her ideas,” Daddy laughed.
Sharak followed Daddy and Auntie as they walked, trying to move as slowly as she could without ending up too far away from them. She didn’t want to see her new baby brother, but she also didn’t want to get lost.
They stopped outside a really big window, and Daddy picked her up so she could see into the room. Sharak saw a bunch of babies all lined up and wrapped in fuzzy blankets. “There he is,” Daddy said, pointing to a baby near them. “His name is Genjo.”
Genjo had really fat cheeks and a tiny lock of hair on top of his head and he looked like he was frowning. Sharak wanted to not like him but he was really cute and she wanted to poke his face. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad being a big sister after all, as long as Genjo stayed cute and fat and small.
Sharak changed her mind. Babies were awful.
She covered her ears as Daddy rocked Genjo back and forth. Genjo was crying so hard his face was all red and scrunched up. Sharak didn’t know why he was so mad, but Daddy was too busy trying to make him stop crying to tell Sharak what was going on.
“It’s okay,” Daddy said, using that soft voice he used whenever Sharak got hurt and was trying to be brave and not cry, not like little babies. “Daddy’s got you. And big sister Sharak is right over there, see?”
Genjo actually stopped crying and started making whiny noises instead. Daddy moved closer to Sharak and knelt on the floor, turning a bit so Genjo could blink at Sharak. “Your big sister is going to help Daddy make sure you’re always safe,” Daddy said. “So there’s no need for you to cry.”
Genjo was still making whiny noises. Sharak made a face at him, her Scary Face that she always made whenever the bullies at school tried to tell her that guns were only for boys and girls should only play with dolls. Instead of being scared, Genjo made a face like he was going to poop.
Daddy laughed and gave Sharak a pat on the head. “I think he’s trying to copy you.” He smiled at her. “Remember what I said, okay? You’re my right-hand woman; you need to keep Genjo safe when I’m not around.”
It was silly to tell Sharak that because Daddy would always be around, and even if Sharak liked being Right-Hand Woman, she didn’t like having to look after crybabies. But she nodded anyway because Daddy depended on her. “I promise.”
Sharak changed her mind again. Being a big sister wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Genjo didn’t cry as much as other babies, and when he did, it was pretty easy to figure out what he wanted after the first week. All she had to do was run up to Daddy and tell him what she needed to make Genjo shut up. And he was still fat and cute, way cuter than all the other baby brothers she’d seen so far.
Sharak was out in the yard, watching a line of ants marching into their tiny anthill. Genjo was strapped into his stroller a few feet away, closer to the terrace doors that opened up into the yard. Daddy was inside the house, making lemonade for them. He told Sharak that he’d keep the doors open so she could yell for him if she needed anything and made her promise that she’d make sure Genjo didn’t hurt himself while he was inside.
At first Sharak had amused herself by making faces at Genjo and watching him try to copy them, but then she’d gotten bored and decided to watch ants instead. But she was a Responsible Big Sister and she’d double-checked Genjo’s straps to make sure he wouldn’t roll out of his stroller. He rolled off of things sometimes because he was so fat and round.
Sharak was thinking about burying the anthill in more dirt when Genjo started crying. She turned around so fast that she almost fell over.
There was a cat balanced on Genjo’s stroller. It was one of those stray cats that Daddy always told her not to feed because then they’d never leave their yard. It was looking at Genjo and Sharak didn’t know what the cat wanted, but she knew two things: it was making her baby brother cry and she needed to make sure Genjo was alright.
She picked up her gun and aimed at the cat’s butt. The foam darts wouldn’t hurt it, but they’d make it go away. Sharak was scared—the cat was one of the big mean ones that always got into fights with the other stray cats, and she’d heard about that kid from next door that got all scratched up when he’d tried to pull a cat’s tail. But then she saw the way that Genjo was wriggling around in his stroller and decided that it didn’t matter if she was scared—she was his Big Sister and she’d save him.
Koumyou was about to pour the lemonade into two glasses when he heard Genjo start crying, followed a few seconds later by what Sharak called her “battle cry.”
He ran out into the yard in time to see a cat go out through the gate and into the street, Sharak chasing it while waving her favorite toy gun and shooting wildly. Koumyou quickly unstrapped and scooped up a crying Genjo, bouncing him gently. “What happened?”
“I think the cat scared Poopy Pants,” Sharak said. “But I made it go away.” Koumyou took one look at her overly determined expression and felt ridiculously proud.
To be quite honest, he had been worried about how Sharak would react to having a new addition to their household. He’d been determined to push through with the adoption, but he didn’t want his baby girl to feel like he was replacing her.
Koumyou knelt down in front of Sharak, shifting Genjo to one arm so he could give Sharak a hug. “I’m very proud of you,” he said, making her smile up at him.
The moment was broken when Genjo stretched out his chubby arms towards Sharak, almost falling out of Koumyou’s hold. “Awa,” he whined.
It was the first time Genjo had ever tried to get Sharak to carry him, and she didn’t look like she was ready, but Sharak took a step forward so that Genjo could reach her. But instead of touching Sharak, Genjo wriggled even more and tried to grab her gun.
Sharak immediately frowned. “No! It’s mine.” She hid the gun behind her back and bit her lip. “I’ll show you how to use it when you’re bigger. Maybe.”
Koumyou laughed. They were going to be just fine.