Ingo closed one eye against the glaring light of his bedroom window when he held the small model train up against it.
It was the model of an old black locomotive. It barely fit in his hand. Not a speck of dust to be seen. Bravo!
His mother sighed from behind him. “Did you buy another model?”
Ingo half turned to her, keeping his eyes focused on the train while he fixed one of the wheels.
“You allowed us to expand our collection today. We’ve chosen this one.” He held it up at her, beaming proudly.
His mother smiled down at him and nodded.
“Remember the conversation we had about saving money, though?”
“Hmhm,” Ingo hummed in response, “we chose this big one instead of the three smaller ones we were originally going to buy."
“And did the big train cost less than the three small trains?”
Ingo stilled, eyeing the toy in his hand.
“A good observation mother, it appears we’ve made an error due to our excitement.”
The creaking of Emmet’s bed indicated his mother had sat down on it. Ingo turned fully to face her, frowning.
“Say, Ingo … Your birthday’s coming up soon.”
He nodded. He wished Emmet was with him right now. Instead he was downstairs, in the kitchen.
He’d wanted to eat a muffin before choosing a spot in their bedroom for the train, but Ingo had explained the crumbs would cause harm.
So instead he was eating it at the table. He did feel more secure with him by his side in situations like this. He felt more secure with him by his side in general, actually.
“Yes, we’re turning 12.”
“Wouldn’t you like it if you could choose a gift of your very own to give to your brother?”
Ingo’s eyebrows raised so high they might’ve disappeared behind his hair.
Of course he couldn’t be sure of this, he didn’t have a mirror at hand. But they must’ve been pretty close.
“A gift of my own?” His mom nodded. “That only says ‘From Ingo’ on it?” Another nod. “And I can choose whatever I want?”
He straightened his shoulders excitedly when his mother smiled at him again, her eyes having their trademark sparkles in them. “Isn’t that an amazing idea?”
He hurried over to her, their knees touching, his hands on her shoulders. He wiggled her softly in his excitement. “An absolutely amazing idea mother! Bravo!”
His mom huffed and stood up, petting his head while she moved towards the door.
“Better start saving up money then. Since you’ll be buying it all on your own.”
She left him, dumbfounded, behind in his room.
The train station 500 express.
Ingo stared down at the magazine while lying flat on his stomach on his bed. Emmet was on his own bed on the left, acting just as mysterious and secretive as his older brother.
Ingo figured his father must’ve had the same conversation with Emmet while they’d been separated. Curse that muffin.
Of course this would be the perfect gift. A mini train station, with functioning controls so that they could actually drive around the train on the tracks.
They would be their very own train conductors. How exciting!
His frown deepened a little when he glanced at the price. Ah… It seemed an obstacle was standing in his way of a safe arrival. He couldn’t afford this. At all.
But how could he give his brother a gift knowing it would never be as perfect as this one?
He deemed it simply unacceptable.
He raised himself from his bed and landed on his feet with a loud enough tap to get Emmet to glance over at him. An excited smile split his face in two as he covered the magazine he was reading with his pillow.
Ingo shook his head at him in reassurance.
“It seems I have halted at a terminal with no chance of departure, my dear little brother. It seems I have quite a bit of work to do before I can afford my perfect gift.”
Emmet raised his eyebrows at this, before lifting his pillow up slightly and peeking under. His eyes widened dramatically.
He made a small huffing sound before also jumping off the bed and grabbing Ingo’s hands.
“Disaster! A safe arrival is necessary!”
It seemed they’d found themselves in a two-car train.
Emmet hit Ingo’s shins with his for the fifth time that day. Ingo knew it was an accident, but he couldn’t help but whimper regardless.
“Sorry, sorry”, Emmet huffed in between breaths, holding onto the dog’s leash even tighter.
Ingo’s hand had become sore ten minutes ago, he stared at his red fingers in dismay.
“These dogs are verrry strong.”
Ingo hummed in affirmation at this while flexing his fingers.
“It’s because there are so many. A full train cart isn’t comfortable when there are too many people, either.”
This was the 20th day that they walked the neighbourhood’s dogs for money. Before this they’d washed multiple cars and cleaned multiple driveways.
He still didn’t have enough money for his gift. And with only 5 days remaining on the clock, his destination was travelling further and further out of reach.
He grinded down on his teeth in frustration.
“No, go a little bit to the left.” Ingo held onto his brother’s head (and hair) tightly, his heart racing in his ears. They couldn’t reach the top shelf, of course they couldn’t!
Sitting on top of your brother’s shoulders to reach a bag of pasta wasn’t how Ingo had imagined to spend the rest of his day, but here he was.
The nice lady from down the street sometimes would give them candy, so when she asked if they could do her groceries for her for a little bit of pocket money they’d agreed quickly.
This was a little embarrassing, though. He could see an adult from the corner of his eye watching them, a mocking smile plastered on their face.
Ingo didn’t care, he wanted to see Emmet smile when he opened his gift.
He would do anything.
“But mother, please! If I pay half, then you can pay the rest!”
Ingo’s hands were balled into fists beside him, he could feel his nails digging into his skin.
His mother crossed her arms, “If you’d listened to us from the get-go you would have plenty of money to buy this gift.”
Ingo turned to look at his father, his frown turned into a scowl when he also shook his head.
“You can buy something else and save up until next year.”
His father reached out his hand to grab onto Ingo’s shoulder, a pat of reassurance Ingo assumed, but he shifted away from him and his father grabbed onto air.
“I’ve worked so hard, I’ve done so many chores.” He held out his hands, which were covered in bandaids, to prove his point. “I’ve tried my best.”
He stared at the ground when his mother sighed, not wanting to meet her eyes.
“You’ve worked very well, with the money you have now you’ll make Emmet just as happy.”
He didn’t listen to the rest of her speech. The door slammed behind him as he scrambled up the stairs.
Ingo threw himself onto his bed, hiding his face in his pillow. He tried his best to stop his body from shaking, but it seemed futile.
He could hear somebody softly shuffling towards him; could feel the warmth of Emmet’s hand as he placed it in his hair.
“I’m sorry, Emmet.” His pillow stuck to his face when he lifted his head up slightly, wet from his tears. “It seems I’ve failed to buy you the ultimate gift, I a-apologise.” He sniffled once.
Emmet sighed beside him and rested his chin on the mattress. “Me too.”
Ingo startled upwards, resting on his elbows. “You don’t have enough money either?”
Emmet shot him a small smile before shaking his head. The corners of his mouth trembled slightly, but his smile didn’t falter.
Ingo’s heart ached.
“I found something cool. Really cool. Big brother deserved the best gift. But it’s too expensive.”
Emmet sighed before letting himself fall backwards onto the ground.
He lay there, defeated.
Ingo lowered himself from his bed and sat down next to him, cross-legged.
“What were you going to buy?”
Emmet’s smile widened, “A secret! It’s a secret, Ingo! I’ll buy it for you next year!”
Ingo leaned forward slightly, his hands resting on his knees.
“I want to know! It’s something to look forward to! If we have a shared goal we can save our money easier! We can buy it before our next birthday even arrives!”
Emmet’s eyes shined. He turned over onto his stomach and scrambled over to his bed, where the magazine was still hidden under his pillow.
He grabbed it and ran back, sitting down cross-legged next to his brother.
“Ok. Ok. See, my gift is verrry good! It’s amazing.”
Ingo’s eyes stilled on the page that Emmet had opened. His brow furrowed.
“Emmet.” he said without looking up, “how much money do you have?”
He counted diligently when Emmet put it out in front him, adding his own into the pile.
A chuckle grew in Ingo’s throat. He covered his face with his hands before exploding in laughter.
Emmet watched him, smiling but with his eyebrows drawn together in confusion.
Ingo hiccupped once before his giggled stilled. “Ah, we really are a perfect two-car train, aren’t we?”
Emmet hummed, still unsure of what was happening. He looked down at his magazine.
“My gift… Is it funny?” He pulled at the corners of the paper, chewing on the inside of his cheek.
“Emmet, it’s perfect.”
He looked up again, stars in his eyes as they met Ingo's. He drummed with his fingers excitedly on the hardwood floor, his smile growing wider again.
“It’s also the same gift I wanted to get you.” The drumming stopped.
Ingo reached backwards for his own magazine and opened it on the page that he’d marked.
The train station 500 express.
Emmet trailed his eyes from the first magazine to the second, realisation dawning on his face.
He looked over at the money, then back at Ingo, then back at the money.
“We have enough.” He hummed, pointing at the pile of cash. “Ingo, together we have enough!”
Emmet shot up to his feet, grabbed onto Ingo’s hands and spun him around.
Ingo’s feet skidded over the floor as they twirled around in circles.
When they sat down in front of the present filled table they visibly vibrated with excitement.
Emmet’s party hat sat on his head lopsided. Ingo leaned sideways for a second to fix it for him.
They opened their parents’ gift first.
Ingo felt a sharp gasp draw from his lungs. Conductor hats! The very same ones they’d begged for when they had visited the train museum but had gone home without.
Shining black, slightly too big. And identical. They matched!
Their party hats landed on the floors with two soft pangs. Emmet posed in front of his brother, pointing his finger towards him.
“All aboard!” His smile grew wider.
Ingo gave him a small applause before getting up himself and copying the pose.
Their parents giggled. When the camera flashed, Ingo was temporarily blinded.
He blinked the sparks away before settling in front of the table again, their eyes fixed on the biggest box of them all.
They looked at eachother, then at their gift. Ingo could feel the corners of his mouth tingle, he assumed he was smiling.
On the card attached to the box, it said
For the best brother ever.