JS ARE US
We'd always been the two Js, me and Jamie. Dad started that, ages ago when we were all together. 'How's my two Js?' he used to say, when he got in from work. But then Mum married Mike, and soon there was the new baby, making us the three Js - Josh, Jamie and Jennie.
Jamie and I were at the hospital, and we saw Jennie when she was about ten minutes old.
'Come and meet Jennie,' said Mike, all proud and beaming. Mum had done this before, but he hadn't. He was being a dad for the very first time.
Mum was sitting up in bed, holding this tiny pink thing with a screwed-up face. We both peered at it. At her. She looked too little to have a name at all. I didn't know how to behave. Jamie went, 'Uhhhh,' and when I tried to speak, what came out was - 'Whooowhh!' We just knew we had to whisper. It seemed wrong to talk loudly near such a small new thing. It seemed amazing that she even knew how to breathe.
'Your brand new sister,' Mike said, reaching out to touch her hand with one finger. 'Jennie. Little J.' Against the miniature baby hand, Mike's finger looked as big as a tree-trunk, and a bit grimy. He wasn't really grimy because he always showers as soon as he gets home, and comes out smelling like a peppermint, but doing all that outdoor work makes his hands rough.
'But I'm Little J,' said Jamie.
'Middle J now, Jamie,' Mum told him. 'You've been promoted.'
'The Three Js,' I said, quite liking it - it reminded me of the Three Musketeers, or the Three Amigos. But Jamie made a sulky face, pushing out his bottom lip.
Jennie was three days early. She was supposed to be born on December 25th. It'd be bad luck to have your birthday on Christmas Day, if you ask me - I bet you'd only get one lot of presents. But, as it turned out, Mum brought her home the day before Christmas Eve. Jamie and I decorated the tree, and Mum said it was the best ever. Nan stayed with us, to help Mum and Mike, even though Mike loves cooking and made Christmas dinner all by himself: turkey, gravy, pudding, the lot, and all Nan needed to do was set the table and put out the crackers and candles and holly decorations, and I helped with that.
Usually at Christmas we went to stay with Gran and Grandad Bryce in Bedford, but it was different this year because of Jennie. Lots of things were different.
We'd opened our presents as soon as we got up, but at tea-time we had little extra things from the tree - chocolate oranges or chocolate snails or chocolate money. Mum used to pretend it was the tree itself that had chosen these things and wrapped them up with our names on, and I think Jamie had only just stopped believing it. With my mouth full, I said, 'We haven't got Jennie a present! None of us did.'
'We didn't know she'd be here,' said Mum. 'And she's given us a present, a special one. Herself.'
'Littlest J,' Nan said. 'Our little treasure. Our best Christmas present ever.' She lifted Jennie out of Mum's arms and started talking to her in a funny cooing voice.
'You shouldn't have done it,' Jamie said. He'd twisted his shiny green chocolate wrapper into a snake, and twined it round his little finger. Everyone looked at him, and he stared back, startled, as if he'd surprised himself. 'Given her a name that starts with J,' he said.
'Why not, Jamie?' asked Mum.
‘Cos Js are us,' said Jamie. 'Me and Josh.'
'Js are us?' Mike repeated. 'Sounds like a shop - Jays-R-Us!'
I laughed, but Jamie wouldn't. 'It's what Dad calls us,' he said. 'His two Js. Jennie isn't Dad's. She belongs to Mike.'
For the first time, I realised that Mike will be Dad to Jennie, when she learns to talk. Jamie and I don't call him that, because we've got a dad of our own. Dad's Dad, and Mike's Mike.
'She belongs to herself, Jamie,' Mum said. 'Or perhaps to all of us.'
Jamie gazed at her, then at the baby. 'Does she belong to me?' he asked.
'We belong to ourselves, and we belong to each other,' Mum said. 'All of us. That's a nice way of thinking about it.'
Mike's good at drawing, specially cartoons. Mum had tacked some of his pictures on the cork-board in the kitchen. He'd done Jamie eating porridge, going at it like a JCB digger, elbows out, sploshing gloop everywhere. He'd done Mum watering her potted plants, and he drew the kitchen windowsill to look like an Amazon rainforest. He'd done me reading a book, leaning over it as if I wanted to dive right in. And he'd done Splodge, our cat, sitting up to wash his tummy, like a big fat panda.
By bedtime on Christmas Day, Mike had done two new sketches. One was called Jays-R-Us, and it showed a shop-front, with two big birds perched on top. They were meant to be jays, Mike explained, with their beady eyes and strong beaks and claws. Course, I knew that, only he hadn't coloured them pink, but used ordinary pencil. In the shop window there were all sorts of things a bird might want - peanut feeders, and nesting boxes, and a dish full of wriggling worms.
The other one was called Js are Us. He'd drawn the three Js going up in height, like a graph. First the baby, on the ground, wrapped up in a cloth with only her face showing, like baby Jesus in a nativity play. Next came Jamie, standing proudly with his chest pushed out. Then me, tall and lanky in my Chelsea shirt. Underneath us, Mike had written Littlest J, Middle J, and Biggest J.
So I'd been promoted, too - from Big J to Biggest J. I liked it, and I didn't like it. Liked it, because it made me feel grown-up and important. Didn't like it, because it made me feel responsible. That was all right, if it was only when I wanted. I didn't think I could be responsible all the time.
Mum liked the two cartoons. Next morning they were pinned up on the kitchen cork-board.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Catcall by Linda Newbery. Copyright © 2008 by Linda Newbery. Excerpted by permission of David Fickling Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.