Jostein would never forget the time he discovered the joy of teasing his sister. They picnicked on the patio. Sonja was five, and he’d just turned seven. Every time she’d get down from the picnic table, his pal, Lars would say, “Don’t step on a crack. You’ll break your mother’s back.” Sonja would then carefully pick her way past the crumbled sections of concrete, only to step on clean surfaces. The effect on her behavior churned through Jostein’s brain.
“Don’t swallow a seed,” he said. “It will sprout in your tummy and grow out your belly button.”
Watermelon dripped down Sonja’s chin and soaked her yellow Powder Puff Girls shirt. “Nuhuuuh.”
His pal, Lars, chomped through his, seeds and all.
Jostein spit his into the grass. “Of course it will. Everybody knows that.”
Sonja meticulously picked out every seed and chewed long and carefully.
A soft sprinkle came down, gradually turning to rain, so Jostein’s mother, Anne, packed up all the food and they took everything inside.
Sonja tore off three paper towels, balled them up, and wiped them against her face and shirt. “Poor Marion won’t be able to try her new swing set.”
Lars laughed. “Marion’s in Pennsylvania. We’re in North Carolina.”
Jostein grabbed a leg of chicken from the bucket. “What’s your point?” He winked at Lars. “It’s raining. If it’s raining here, it’s raining everywhere, right? It only makes sense.”
Lars rolled his eyes.
“Too bad for Marion.” He bit most of the meat off the bone. Through his mouthful he said, “She’ll have to try it another time.”
Anne poured Sonja a glass of chocolate milk and set out some cupcakes. Sonja picked one and set it in front of her, then drank her milk.
“Don’t drink too fast,” said Jostein. “Only brown cows can make chocolate milk, and there aren’t many of them left. Drink slow so we don’t run out.”
Sonja sipped a little at a time as she ate her cupcake.
Later that evening, Jostein went to Lars’s house and played ‘Carcassonne’ with him while Lars’s parents watched the news. The weatherman was particularly animated, talking a lot longer than usual and interviewing guests.
Lars rubbed his tummy. “What’s the big deal with the weather?”
His father, Ole, waved them over. “You should come watch. This has never happened before.”
They discovered that earlier that day, every weather station—not just in North Carolina and Pennsylvania—but everywhere in the world reported rain at the same time.
Jostein looked at Lars, his eyes questioning if he remembered the earlier conversation with Sonja, but Lars just stared and chewed his lower lip.
Jostein and Lars decided to go to the Pengly Wengly dairy down the street for some malts. Farmer Olsen unloaded some milk cans at the front door.
Lars scratched his belly. “Why you so late, Mr. Olsen?”
“Special delivery,” he said. “Don’t want this to sour—I have a brown cow putting out chocolate milk now. Strangest thing.”
Jostein and Lars shook their heads at each other, and decided such strange events deserved extra large malts.
On the way home, Lars scratched at his middle. “Dang it, something is irritating the heck out of my belly button.” He stopped and pulled up his sweatshirt. A vine grew about four inches out of his naval.
“This is crazy,” said Jostein.
“Insane,” said Lars.
Jostein’s body went cold with fear. “Lars. Whatever you do, don’t step on a crack.”
“Jostein.” Lars’s voice was a faint rasp. He pointed to Jostein’s feet.
Jostein looked down. One of his shoes lay well over a crack that had broken into the square of sidewalk and allowed a few strands of grass through.
“Nooo!” screamed Jostein. He jumped onto the grass and sprinted home, taking special care to avoid all cracks, no matter how fast he wanted to go. He busted into his front door and raced to the kitchen, where his mother lifted a stewpot off the oven and set it onto two divots on the kitchen table.
Sonja sat at the table drawing on blank paper with crayons.
“Mom!” He ran to her and squeezed her tight. “You didn’t break your back,” he croaked.
“Jostein! What’s the matter with you?”
He released her and stepped back bashfully, lower lip aquiver. “I stepped on a crack.”
Sonja set aside her drawing and took a fresh sheet. “Don’t be silly, Jostein.” Nothing hurts like a little sister’s condescension. “Nobody believes that.”
At that tender age, Jostein learned to be careful about razzing Sonja. He still liked to tease her—she was his sister, after all. But he took great care in how he did it.