It was so late that it was almost tomorrow. Gabe had been awake later than this once before. That was New Year’s Eve, and his mom had let him have some of his math team friends sleep over. Rather than just counting down to the new year from ten seconds before it started, like most people, at 8:00 p.m. they figured out how many seconds there were until the ball dropped at and then counted down occasionally throughout the night (at 8:32 they counted down from 12,480 to 12,470). He thought now of figuring out how many seconds there were until his train tomorrow, but that would probably just make him more excited and anxious, and he needed to stop thinking about tomorrow so he could sleep.
Determined not to think of the future—the future with my new brother! he thought and then silently scolded himself—he remembered back to first grade, when his friend Eric’s little sister was born, and how jealous he was. “Can you please have a baby?” he’d asked his mom again and again.
“You need a mom and a dad to have a baby,” his mom had said. “And they have to want to have a baby together.”
Gabe had known even then that that wasn’t going to happen. His mom and dad were divorced—they had been divorced from the time he was a baby himself—and they wouldn’t want to have another baby together, since they didn’t even talk to each other except for a few words when one of them dropped him off with the other. He had had another idea, then, one that he kept returning to even now. “How about we adopt a baby,” he had suggested to his mom. “A girl in my class has a new adopted brother from Russia. And you know Jenny Bennett? She’s adopted from Korea.”
“You’re enough for me, Gabe,” his mother always told him. “I know you’d like a brother or sister, but I’m sorry. It’s going to be just us.” Sometimes she gave his head a squeeze and added, “You’ve got enough brains for two kids anyway.”
But Gabe kept hoping that his mom would surprise him one day. One time, last year, he noticed that his mom’s belly had gotten a little bigger, and Gabe made the grave mistake of asking her, excitedly, if she was going to have a baby. Her face took on a look of horror and she said sharply, “Don’t ever ask a woman that, Gabriel. Not unless you know for an absolute fact that she is.” That night, she took a big black garbage bag and cleared out the pantry of everything that tasted good, and Gabe had to rely on hanging out at friends’ houses if he wanted to eat anything but leafy greens.
For some reason it never even occurred to him that his dad could be the one to get him his much-desired sibling, but that’s what was happening. And the best part was that his new brother was already his age, because his dad was marrying a woman named Carla who also had a son who was ten, Zack. They lived 2,825 miles away in Los Angeles, California (a 6-hour plane ride or 43-hour drive or an 706-hour walk!). They were visiting New York now, and Gabe was going to meet them for the first time—tomorrow! But after they got married at the end of August, Carla and Zack were going to live in New York City with Gabe’s dad, which meant whenever Gabe went to visit his dad he’d also be visiting his brother.
Manhattan was close enough that Gabe could go visit on weekends, and he and Zack could do all the fun city stuff like go to the Natural History Museum, but he could also go home before he had to deal with what he imagined would be annoying things about having a brother one hundred percent of the time, like fighting over using the computer or both needing the “P” volume of the encyclopedia at the same time. Everything about it was perfect, perfect, perfect.
As he lay in bed—his homework done and on his desk even though he wasn’t going to school tomorrow, and his duffel bag packed not with his swim stuff but with clothes to spend two nights in the city—he thought about his new stepbrother, Zack. Would he look different in person than he did in pictures? Would he be taller or shorter than Gabe? (Gabe hoped they’d be the same.) Would he wear glasses for reading or distance? (Gabe’s were for both.) Would he prefer chocolate or vanilla (Gabe liked vanilla), fiction or non-fiction (Gabe liked both equally), multiplication or division (Gabe preferred division, the longer the better)? It doesn’t matter, Gabe decided. I’ll like him no matter what, because we’re going to be brothers.
Gabe fell asleep smiling. He was going to love his new brother. They were going to become best friends.