The Pillow Fight Professional

by Angela Ruth Strong

I, Joey Michaels, am the Pillow Fight Professional. Basically this means I’m training a bunch of my sister’s friends to hold their own against older siblings. Unfortunately, when the girls win a pillow fight at an overnighter, those older siblings aren’t very happy with me. I’m forced to plan a pillow fight to end all pillow fights. Me and the girls against a bunch of bigger boys.

Winning the pillow fight would be a lot easier without the following three problems:

1) Brock, the bully, who has never lost a pillow fight—or any fight for that matter
2) Isabelle, my partner, who may quit if she figures out that I’m using a bunch of girls to fight my battle for me
3) My team of little girls, who want to wear footie pajamas as our uniform

If we win, I’ll get to keep the new bike I worked so hard for. If we lose, well … I won’t let us lose. I can do this all on my own if I have to. Because I got da moves.

Chapter 1

Forrest Gump was known for saying that life was like a box of chocolates. You never knew what you were going to get.

I rammed my fist into a punching bag hanging from the ceiling. My knuckles ignited with what felt like fire. I shook my hand out to get rid of the burn.

Dad carried a box of electronic equipment past me to the corner of Mom’s new aerobics studio in the fitness center my parents had decided to build. Grand opening this weekend. Which meant Dad would finally get to run his own company with all the business lessons he’d been giving me, and Mom would make money teaching other women how to dance in a Zumba class. They also hired other trainers who would teach the awesome classes like kickboxing and boot camp.

“Joe, you probably want to wait to punch the bag until the boxing gloves I ordered arrive.”

Oh. Yeah. That would help.

I lifted a leg instead and whipped the top of my foot around, planting shoelaces in the middle of the bag like I was a karate champion. Then I spun and rammed my other foot straight behind me into the pretend opponent. “Take that,” I said.

Because pretend fighting isn’t as fun without a little smack talk.

The bag swung away.

Imagining it to be the bad guy retreating, I lifted my arms overhead in victory and faced my make-believe crowd of adoring fans.

I could almost hear them whistling and clapping.

“I got da moves!”

Oof. What felt like a brick wall slammed into my back. Revenge of the punching bag.

I stumbled forward, tripped on my own foot, and did the only thing I could think of to keep from crashing to the ground. I screamed.

It didn’t work. The shiny, new wood floor rushed up to greet me.

I reached my hands out and tried to stop my fall, but gravity won, and I slammed my face against the slick, wooden planks.

A stabbing pain ricocheted through my skull. I rolled onto my back to ease the pressure, but little birdies flew around my head anyway. I closed my eyes to block the dizziness I’d feel if I watched their circular flight pattern.

“You certainly got da moved by the punching bag.” Dad said. He didn’t seem too worried. He probably figured a little concussion was nothing compared to my past accidents of breaking ribs, breaking my nose, and slicing a thumb open.

I opened my eyes. “Sure.”

No reason to interrupt him from work. I’d just check myself out.

I reached for my face to see if fire crackers had really been shoved up my nostrils or if it just felt like an explosion.

Huh. Still in one piece.

I gingerly swiped the tingling skin underneath my nose to test for blood, and my hand came away clean.

Another good sign.

I’d be able to stand up in a few minutes when the ceiling stopped spinning.

Sneakers squeaked against hardwood. Isabelle’s multiple heads appeared above me. Gradually they merged into one face as my vision focused. “What happened to you?”

Lying on the floor after getting beat up by gym equipment was not a good way to impress the girl. “I’m taking a break from my workout.”

She smiled. “You got your caboodle kicked by a punching bag, didn’t you?”

I pushed myself up, acting as if I was okay, but my super loud grunt of pain might have given me away. “Maybe.”

“Well, your eyes are turning black like your sister’s, but at least she was beat up by a real person just now.”

All the words from Isabelle’s sentence faded away except for the part about black eyes. I’d never had a black eye before, but even if I had, that wasn’t nearly as cool as having two black eyes. I cranked my head toward the wall of mirrors to admire the beautiful battle wounds.

Wowza. I crawled closer to my reflection to get a better look at the dark purple rings forming.

Isabelle’s image frowned above me. She crossed her arms and tapped her foot.

Why? She had to be a little fascinated with my injury. What had she said about it? Something about how I looked like … oops … my little sister. I gritted my teeth as I stood. And not just because standing made my forehead throb. “What happened to Christine?”

Dad looked up from the stereo. “Something happened to Christine?”

I could be annoyed that Dad seemed more concerned with my sister’s injury than mine, but she probably wouldn’t be as proud of her black eyes as I was. She might even cry about it. So, considering the drama Dad was about to face, I forgave him in advance.

Isabelle nodded her head toward the door leading to the weight room floor and lobby. “She’s putting ice on her eye, because she got knocked over in a pillow fight at a slumber party this morning. I followed her on my little brother’s bike to make sure she was okay.”

Dad pushed to his feet. “Thanks, Isabelle,” he said, though he didn’t even look at her on his way out the door.

I trailed after him, then stopped and turned back to Isabelle. “Wait, who knocked her over?”

“Hannah’s big brother, Brock.”

I squinted and shook my head. Had I gotten brain damage from my fall? Because I couldn’t have heard that right. “Did you say Brock hit Christine with a pillow?” Brock was taller than I was. He should have been outside shooting hoops or rescuing kittens from trees or doing other tall-kid things, not picking on little girls at a slumber party.

Isabelle lifted a shoulder like she was just as baffled. “Yep.”

“That makes me want to whack him with a pillow.”

“Like you whacked that punching bag?”

“Hush.” I wouldn’t have turned my back on Brock the way I had the punching bag. But I wasn’t going to try to explain that to Isabelle. Justifications couldn’t change the fact that she’d seen me lying on the floor. So I’d simply ignore her to go check on Christine.

Isabelle followed me past the front desk into a small break room/storage room with a mini fridge and a bunch of big stability balls.

Christine lay backward over a couple of balls with an ice pack to her face.

Dad passed us on his way out. “Watch her for a moment, Joe. I’m going to go call your mother.”

Mom would be sure to freak out, being dramatic that way.

“Can I see, sis?” If the rings under her eyes were darker than mine, that would detract completely from any coming attention my accident might get. Everybody would look at me and be like, Yeah, but have you seen Christine? Rather than, Oh, my dear Josiah, how did you survive such horrendous adversity? Pray, tell me every alarming detail.

Hmm. Now that I thought about it, maybe it was a good thing Christine had a black eye. Then I wouldn’t be forced to tell my embarrassing story. Though I bet I could come up with a vague way to make the punching bag attack sound dark and ominous, like a figure dressed all in black who jumped out at me from an alley when I was in the middle of doing a good deed.

Christine removed the bag of ice and angled her head toward me—

I gasped. Yikes. Her right eye had swollen up to the size of a golf ball. It wasn’t black so much as puffy.

“Don’t laugh. I might have to go to my first day of sixth grade like this if the swelling doesn’t go down.”

I covered my mouth to hide a smile. Laughing would just make her mad, because she was at the age where she’d started taking her appearance seriously. But wasn’t laughter supposed to be the best medicine? Besides, she really did look funny.

Isabelle nudged me with her shoulder. “If he laughs, Christine, just ask him what happened to his face.”

My chuckles melted away.

Christine’s good eye studied me. “Did you get in a pillow fight too?”

“Uh …” What if I had used a pillow on the sneaky punching bag earlier? That would actually be good practice for a real pillow fight. Maybe I could give Christine some lessons for the next time a friend’s older brother attacked.

Christine’s good eye widened. “Did you get into a fight with Brock? Were you standing up for me?”

Fight Brock? No way! “Actually, I was coming up with a way to help you fight back.”

Isabelle stuck a hand on her hip. I knew I had to talk fast before she interrupted me with her version of my TKO—Technical Knock Out.

“Mom and Dad hung some punching bags in the aerobics room.” I explained my side of the story. “Through hands-on training, I discovered that if you kick the bags, they swing away. But then they swing back, and you have to defend yourself or duck if you don’t want to get hit. It would be the perfect way for you to improve as a pillow fighter.”

Christine groaned and dropped her head back down, reapplying the ice.

Isabelle rolled her eyes my way. “Hands-on training? Don’t you mean—?”

“Are there any more slumber parties coming up?” If I could divert her attention, I might be able to avoid a pointless argument with Isabelle.

“Tristan’s little sister, Molly, has a back-to-school slumber party on Friday.”

Ah yeah. I’d love to see Tristan get beat up by girls.

Christine sighed. “But I don’t know if I want to go now.”

“What?” I threw my arms out wide. “Are you going to avoid slumber parties for the rest of your life? Or are you going to stand up for yourself and learn to pillow fight like a pro?”

Isabelle blinked, and her mouth fell open.

Sure, the only pillow fight I’d ever been involved in centered around a pillow shaped like a light saber. (Mom was scared I’d break stuff if I had the hard plastic toy weapon). But that didn’t mean I couldn’t coach my sister to overnight success.

“I don’t want to give up slumber parties forever.” The whine in Christine’s voice meant she had taken the bait.

“And what about your first youth group lock-in at church?” I demanded. “You’ve waited your whole life to attend. Are you going to stay home rather than risk the chance of a pillow flying through the room toward you? Because it happens.”

Isabelle closed her eyes and massaged her temples as if she were the one with a headache from head-butting the floor. “Joe, the only pillow that flew through the air at the last lock-in was yours.”

“Exactly.” I’d thrown the pillow to claim my sleeping spot on the floor nearest the kitchen, so I could be first in line for breakfast in the morning. But that wasn’t the point. “Who better than me to teach my dear little sis the tricks of the trade?”

The front door whooshed open, allowing the roar of car engines and lawnmowers to grow louder. Flip-flops slapped the cement floor of the entryway.

Mom’s form appeared in the doorway, her hair shiny wet from a recent shower, and wearing some crazy outfit that made her look like a clown. She must have thrown on the outfit in a rush. “Christine!” Mom leaped across the room and stooped down next to my sister in one smooth motion.

“Hi, Mom,” I said, in case she hadn’t seen me.

Mom caressed Christine’s face and gently pulled the ice away. She didn’t smile at the sight of Christine’s puffy eye the way I had. “Did you do this, Joey?”

I leaned back and wrinkled my forehead, though I really shouldn’t be surprised at the question. “What? No. I did this.” I pointed to my own face.

Mom glanced up. “At least your eyes aren’t swelling. But you should probably put ice on them too.”

I trudged over to the mini fridge to humor her, so she could go back to taking care of my sister. I can never keep ice packs on as long as I’m supposed to. Too cold. Plus, it requires staying still.

Christine rolled up to sit on the big, bouncy ball. She must also get tired from staying still for too long.

Mom angled my sister’s face this way and that. “Baby, what happened?”

“Pillow fight at Hannah’s slumber party.”

“Pillow fight?” Mom said, like it was a dirty word. “Does Hannah’s dad know?”

Christine shook her head. “I left on my bike as soon as it happened, because I didn’t want anybody to see me cry. But Isabelle saw me from across the street and followed to make sure I would be all right.”

Are you all right? Do you have a headache? Are you nauseated or dizzy? Do we need to take you to the doctor?” Mom rambled off questions at a pace too quick for Christine to answer. “I should call Hannah’s dad. He needs to be aware of any injuries that happen at his house. Maybe you shouldn’t go over there for slumber parties. Maybe we shouldn’t do slumber parties anymore. Maybe—”

Maybe Mom should take a moment to breathe.

Christine held up a hand. “I’m fine, Mom. Accidents happen. You don’t have to ban all slumber parties because of one little pillow fight.”

Hey. Christine wasn’t wimping out after all. I rubbed my hands together in expectation of the lessons to come.

Mom stood. “Keep the ice on it, baby. I’m going to go see what your dad found out online. I’ll call Ask-a-Nurse too and see if we need to make a doctor’s appointment.”

Christine nodded, and Mom rushed out with her usual flair. I tossed my ice back in the mini fridge. Then Isabelle and I watched Christine test the puffiness around her eye with her fingers.

“I’m scared to look in the mirror,” she said.

Isabelle sank down on a ball next to her. “It doesn’t look that bad.”

I covered my smile again.

“Joe!” Isabelle kicked a ball at me.

I held up my hands in surrender. We didn’t need to add any more injuries to our day. Especially since Mom was there to overreact to everything.

The rubber ball bounced harmlessly off my shins.

“Don’t get angry at me,” I said. “I’m not the one who hurt Christine. I’m the one offering to help her fight back.”

Isabelle shook her head and looked to heaven, but Christine placed a hand on our friend’s shoulder to calm her.

Then my sister stood, lifted her chin, tossed her shoulders back, and narrowed her good eye in determination. “I want your pillow fight lessons, Joe. No, I need your pillow fight lessons. Because if this ever happens again, I know Mom will ban me from slumber parties, and that would ruin my life. I am the slumber party queen!”

I don’t know about being a queen, but she was definitely my little sister, and it was up to me to take care of her. Time to turn Christine into a lean, mean, pillow fight machine.

Artwork

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