Growing Pains

Growing Pains

My little brother Bobby is obsessed with Anthony Michael Hall. The nerd he can see himself in. Too much brain, not enough brawn. He’s the geek in Sixteen Candles, Gary in Weird Science. Mom keeps buying tapes, hoping to give him someone to bond with since he doesn’t have friends. I keep telling him, You know you can’t treat girls like that, right? He nods, eyes taped to the screen, hand reaching for another Cheeto, orange dust clumping into plates on his finger pads.

Then he catches Edward Scissorhands on TV. There’s five years between the nerd Bobby’s used to and the bully of Scissorhands. Five years and enough muscle to make him nearly unrecognizable. And one of the worst parts of Breakfast Club slices itself into Bobby’s psyche. The criminal gets the princess. The athlete gets the basketcase. But the brain. The brain ends up alone. He’s always alone. The asshole in Scissorhands at least gets the girl for a while.

Bobby drops the Cheetos. Washes his hands. Starts lifting Mom’s hot pink weights. While Mom picks up his inhaler in CVS, Bobby reads Men’s Health and Real Fitness Magazine. He stops eating junk food.

The baby fat leaves him first. Then his sweetness. He’s growing up without Dad and somehow he’s still becoming this person. He smiles less. Stops wearing bright colors. He’s becoming someone I don’t recognize. That’s the idea, he says.

But I like you, I tell him.

Bobby won’t look at me. A big sister isn’t enough. I tell him there’s no wrong way to be a boy.

All I want is a chance, he says. A chance at being someone else. A chance at not being alone.

I stroke the port wine stain on his temple. I remember the day our parents brought him bundled home during a historic cold snap. He was shriveled and small like the sundried tomatoes Mom snuck into all our food. I promised to look after him.

He shakes off my touch. I want to believe him.


About the Author

Chelsea Stickle is the author of the flash fiction chapbooks Everything’s Changing (Thirty West Publishing, 2023) and Breaking Points (Black Lawrence Press, 2021). Her stories appear in CHEAP POP, CRAFT, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and others. Her micros have been selected for Best Microfiction 2021 and the Wigleaf Top 50 in 2022. She lives in Annapolis, MD with her black rabbit George and a forest of houseplants. Read more at and find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.


Image by Vidmir Raic from Pixabay