“It’s not ready,” Jackson said, mimicking the authority his mother used. It was instinctual for him to speak with a parental tone to his younger brother, being four years older. His mom hated it when she caught him doing it, but she wasn’t around at the moment.
Jackson stepped back and peered at his younger brother’s front tooth like a mechanic looking into a broken engine. “Maybe tomorrow,” he diagnosed with eleven-year-old wisdom.
“Aww,” Bear whined, kicking the snow. His real name was Logan, but as a baby, he’d growled when he ate, so his parents began calling him Bear.
Bear’s bright eyes grew round and filled with sadness. “But I need the dollar,” he mumbled in sorrow, debating whether or not this was an occasion for tears. It was a question his father asked him every time he cried. “Logan,” his father would say as Bear sobbed, “is this an occasion for tears?” Logan wiped his nose with his glove and decided that no, this was not an occasion for tears.
“What do you need a dollar for?” Jackson said as he forced his hand back into his puffy black glove. He dropped to his snow-pant covered knees and returned to pushing and packing snow into a large pile.
“Gum,” Logan Bear said. “Sissy said she won’t share her gum with me any more. So I want to buy some, so then I can have gum and not share it with her.”
“Where are you going to buy gum from?” Jackson said pushing more snow into the pile.
“I don’t know. Maybe Daddy will take me to the store?” Bear said, realizing he hadn’t thought his no-sharing-with-Sissy plan through to completion.
Jackson looked up from his snow pile and asked with a mixture of curiosity and condescension only an eleven-year-old older brother can muster, “Why don’t you forget about getting the dollar and just ask Daddy for some gum?” In general, Jackson was a kind and compassionate boy, but in conversations with his siblings, he did his best to suppress his natural sweetness. Like speaking with authority, this was an instinctual aspect of being a big brother. At least he hadn’t let slip that the tooth fairy wasn’t real. He was proud of himself for that.
“No, that won’t work,” Bear said glumly. He didn’t know why it wouldn’t work, but he was sure there were flaws in his brother’s plan.
“Go get the sled,” Jackson said, returning to his snow construction.
Using his hand and feet to climb, Bear scampered up the hill to the top where they had left their sleds. Once there, he took a moment to look down the massive slope. The sight made his tummy rumble. The hill went down like a roller-coaster for forty yards. Then it flattened out for five yards where a sidewalk was — that was the spot where Jackson had decided to erect his masterpiece. Then the roller-coaster slope resumed for another fifty yards. The hill bottomed out at a bunch of bushes and brush.
“Whach’a doin’?” asked a scratchy voice from behind Bear.
Bear recognized the voice as his ten-year-old cousin Zach. “Hey,” Bear said without turning around.
“What’s he doin’?” Zach said again, nodding toward Jackson. Zach too was dressed from head to toe in snow gear. Only his eyes, nose, cheeks, and mouth were visible through the padding.
“We’re building a jump,” Bear said proudly.
“Cool,” Zach exclaimed looking down the hill with fear and amazement. “Can I try it?”
“Yeah,” Bear confirmed. “When we’re done.”
“Hey Zach,” Jackson called from mid-section of the hill. Zach and Bear both scooted down the hill feet first, controlling their speed by digging their snow boots into the white, icy powder. Zach pulled his sled behind him. He’d thought about riding it down, but he was worried he wouldn’t be able to stop at Jackson.
“Wow,” Zach said with awe and respect at Jackson’s creation.
“Yeah,” Jackson said. “It’s gonna be awesome. Can I use your sled?”
Zach’s mouth hung open wide with wonder. As he passed his round, plastic, orange sled to his older cousin, he imagined hitting the mound Jackson had created and taking flight. He dreamed of soaring through the air, of the wind pushing his face, of the rush of adventure filling his gut. He imagined landing at the bottom of the hill and standing victorious, his arms raised in triumph after conquering the giant mountain.
Jackson used both hands to dig the sled into the snow, creating a sled-sized divot in the mound. After fifteen long, hard minutes of work, the ramp was beginning to take shape. The eleven-year-old mastermind stepped back to inspect his work.
“I call second!” Zach proclaimed enthusiastically as the boys began scrambling up the hill together with the sled in tow. At the top, they stopped to inspect the path. The ramp looked much smaller from so far away.
“You don’t have to go second,” Jackson said with fear inspired generosity. “You can go first if you want to.”
“No, no,” Zach protested. “I mean, it’s your ramp. You should go first.”
“Oh yeah,” Jackson replied, hoping no one heard the fear in his voice. “But if you want to go first, I can after you.”
“I mean, your heavier,” Zach said. “So you’re gonna go faster, so you should really go first.”
“Yeah, but you’re lighter, so you should really be the first one to test it. So I don’t break it,” Jackson countered.
“I’ll do it,” Bear said plainly, staring at the slope. His determined eyes revealed he had a plan. His tongue twisted and turned in his mouth as he thought everything through.
Both the older boys looked at Bear with surprise. Then they looked at each other for confirmation. Normally, they’d never give a younger cousin the privilege of trying something new first, but wisdom comes with age, and they both felt it would be in their best interests to see if landing the sled post-ramp was even possible. Zach shrugged at Jackson. Jackson shrugged back at Zach. Neither could find a reason to protest the idea, but both felt the need to have one.
Bear, becoming exhausted by their hesitation, snatched the sled from his older brother. He bent low. Looking down from the sled to ramp, back to the sled, then to the ramp again, he tried to find the perfect launch point. Finally satisfied, he sat on the round, plastic disk and gripped the sides with both hands. “Give me a push,” he commanded the older two without fear.
Zach and Jackson snapped into action at the command and moved behind Bear. They gripped him by the shoulders. Rocking Bear back and forth with each number, Jackson counted down, “Three. Two. One!” On “one” the two older boys threw Logan forward with all their might.
The sled sped down the hill, out of control. It traveled much faster than the boys had imagined, but Bear didn’t holler. He didn’t whoop. He didn’t wail. He flew down the hill in focused silence.
Zach and Jackson stood like statues, watching the younger boy race toward the ramp. A lump of worry formed in Jackson’s throat. His brother was zipping down the hill so fast, what if he got hurt? Jackson hadn’t consider that when he gave Bear the push. He swallowed and thought about how his mom would respond if Bear came home with a broken arm. “If he get’s hurt I’m so dead,” he said softly.
“Yeah,” Zach confirmed. “You’re totally dead. D-E-A-D. Dead.”
For a moment, Jackson felt relief when the sled veered to the right. It looked as if his little brother might miss the ramp altogether. But then Logan tugged up on the left side of the circle and leaned right toward the ramp. He hit the mound on the sweet spot. It was a perfect shot.
Jackson and Zach gasped in unison as the sled flew through the air to the right, while Logan, arms and legs spread wide like the blades of a helicopter, shot off to the left.
“Oh crap!” Zach exclaimed. The boys panicked together and slid down the hill screaming Logan’s name.
Logan crashed into the ground face first, and then skidded the remaining fifteen yards of the hill. Jackson screamed his name again, but the seven-year-old didn’t move. Jackson could hear his brother whimpering quietly. Finally, the slope of the hill began to give way, and Jackson was able to run. He sprinted to his brother’s side. In terror, he shook his brother, “Logan! Logan!” he yelled.
Zach arrived next to Jackson’s side. He pushed passed his older cousin, grabbed Bear’s shoulder, and rolled him over. Jackson sat down, afraid of what he might see. What if Logan’s face was broken? Tears welled up in Jackson’s eyes and the knot in his throat began to sting.
Upon seeing Logan’s face, Zach fell down in the snow next to Jackson. Logan’s nose wasn’t broken. He wasn’t whimpering at all. Rather there was a giant smile across the younger boy’s lips.
Logan sat up and looked at the other two boys. “That was awesome!” he said full of joy, and the three boys laughed together.
“I want to try,” Zach said standing.
“Oh wait!” Bear exclaimed. With intense fury, he began patting the ground all around him.
“What is it?” Jackson said looking at his brother nervously.
Logan stopped patting, and looked up to his older brother triumphantly. In his right hand was a white, front tooth. He held it out in victory. Jackson looked at Bear’s smile and noticed the new black hole where the tooth had rested only minutes before.
“I’m gonna get a dollar and buy me some gum,” Logan said with a grin.