Chapter 18: Welcome to the Real World
Welcome to the Real World
Waking up back at home comes with its own surprise; Josie is sat on the edge of the dining room table, her hand poised over my forehead.
"Jos?" I murmur, eyes half-open, "what are you-?"
That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is when I see the Sharpie marker between her fingers. She stares at me, mortified, and I snatch the black biro away from her.
"I'm sorry," she says before I even fully register what she has been occupying her time with, "I was really bored, there was nothing good on TV and you two were still asleep so-"
"I am going to kill you," I tell her, standing quickly and heading for the bathroom. I stare at myself in the mirror and shriek aloud. She has blocked in my usually light eyebrows, now thick and black, into a grotesque monobrow.
"Josephine Jade Maddox!" I scream, staring at my distorted face in the looking glass, "you better run for the hills, you little psychopath, because I am going to tear your throat out with a cheese grater-!"
"That doesn't even make any sense!" Josie screams, and I can already hear her hunting for a hiding place. "I was just having a laugh-!"
"'Having a laugh?'" I shriek, "having a laugh is filling someone's toothpaste tube with olive oil or leaving a bag of flaming dog shite on their doorstep, this is just pure evil-!"
"I did it to Kili, too!" she squeals, as though that makes it somehow better.
"Oh, brilliant!" I roar sarcastically, scrumming my face with a wet flannel, "so now there's two of us looking like rejected members of the Bee Jees-!"
Kili's voice comes through from the living room. "What's going on?"
"Oh, Jesus," I moan, scowling as I re-enter the room- Kili stares at me, face blank with shock a moment before he beams into a wide grin.
"Don't you dare," I growl at him, observing the curled Victorian-style moustache that Josie has etched onto his visage, "besides, you won't be laughing when you see what she's done to you- come here, Ki."
"Ki?" he muses, "I'm not sure if I like that; does this mean I can call you Lav-?"
"No, it does not," I say before I show him his ink-smothered face in the mirror. He knots his eyebrows in horror.
"That looks terrible-"
"It does not!" Josie demands, poking her head up from behind the sofa where she is hiding herself from my wrath, "you look beautiful, both of you do- stunning, even!"
"Flattery will get you nowhere," I warn her, "it's best if you shut your face now, Josie my dear, before I grab that cheese grater." I continue scrubbing at my face with water from the bathroom sink, adding heaps of soap, but it is to barely any avail; after ten minutes of scrubbing away the best I've managed is to get my eyebrows looking a sort of greyish colour. Thanks for that, Jos.
"It was just a joke," Josie says, making us all a cup of tea out in the kitchen, "besides, most of it will come off... I'm sure no one will notice when we go shopping."
"Shopping?!" I say to her, "I'm not leaving the house looking like this, and neither is Kili." I scrub at his face with a wet cloth much in the way a mother might clean her child's face after a bowl of spaghetti Bolognese. "You'll have to go and get clothes and stuff for him."
"No way, I'm not going on my own!" Jos shrieks, "there are weirdos up town-"
"Yeah, and we'll be the bloody weirdos if we go looking like this."
"You promised you would take me out," Kili says with a smile, stretching his lips as I scrub hard at his cupid's bow, "a promise should always be honored-"
"Shut up, you. You're not going anywhere with this felt-tip moustache on your face."
"I cannot take you seriously with your face in such a state," he says and I kick him, scratching the remnants of the ink from his upper lip.
"...There. That should do it. Now go on, go and get in the shower."
The shower scares Kili. He does not understand how it works, what it is for, or why on Earth he would be in need of a bath when he only bathed two months ago. Josie and I manage to convince him to try it, the two of us giving a hand in removing his buckled scabbards, gauntlets and bracers. I show him the use for the shampoo, soap and conditioner, but he eyes it suspiciously- I doubt he'll end up using it. I rub some shampoo into the roots of his hair without his consent as Josie helps him out of his over-coat and grabs hold on the rim of his shirt.
"I think I can do the rest myself," he says a little uncomfortably, shooing us away and locking himself in the bathroom; the pair of us sit facing each other on the sofa and I stare her down. Josie is only able to mutter a single word;
"Yes," I glower, flicking her hard against her forehead, "eyebrows... I'll get you back for this, Josephine Maddox, if it's the last thing I ever do."
"I'm sorry, babe. I thought it would be funny."
I give her a small smile. "...It is a little funny."
"I like your dress," she points out, and I look down at the teal garment. My sword is sheathed at my side, I realise; I hand it to her and she marvels at it before taking a look at Kili's sword, lying across the kitchen table. She picks it up, unsheathes it, and pokes her finger at the end of the blade. "This is awesome," she says, and gives it a swing.
"If you accidently kill me with it, I will come back and haunt your ass," I warn her, unsheathing one of the daggers from his gauntlets and inspecting the blade. "They're gorgeous."
"We could flog them at the pawn shop," Josie suggests, "we'd get loads for them, wouldn't we?"
"'This time next year, we'll be millionaires,'" I quote in my best cockney accent. "We can't flog them, you plonker. These are the family heirlooms of the line of Durin."
"Look at you," Josie grins, "down with the lingo now, aren't we?"
"Indeed I am. Once we're in town I'll get some money out of the bank. I've got some savings from all that babysitting I did last summer; we'll get him some normal clothes, I'll get some cookery DVD's, and we can show Kili around. Deal?"
"Sounds like a plan, Stan."
Kili comes out of the shower a few minutes later, exposed skin glistening with water droplets and geared back up in his layers and layers of clothing.
"We'll have none of that," Josie tells him, "we can't walk down the road with you looking like... well, like you've just come out of Middle-Earth. I've got a plain black tracksuit we can shove you in until we get you some real clothes." Josie goes off to find the tracksuit, and I grab the hairbrush we were using as a microphone the other day.
"Sit," I instruct Kili; he doesn't, so I grab his arm and pull him down onto the floor in front of me. I tease out the ornate silver grip in the back of his hair and run the comb through his dark, tangled tresses. Like a six-year-old girl getting ready for school, he whines consistently.
"Just keep still!" I tell him, holding him by the shoulder as he tries to pull away, "it won't take long-"
"But it hurts-"
"There, it's done. That wasn't all that bad, was it? ...Jos, have you got any hair bobbles?" She throws one through from her bedroom- it is neon pink. "Oh. Anything a little more... manly?"
"You just asked me for a hair band," she muses, "how manly can it get?"
I pull the band through his hair, gathering the loose wet threads back over his shoulders. Josie calls him to her room to put on his tracksuit, and the two of us get dressed in the bathroom, hair straighteners beeping and taps running.
"Are you two ready?" Kili calls, rearing to go- I tell him to hold his horses as I scrape my hair back into two ponies, rub some makeup on my face with all the skill of Dame Edna Everage and spring back through to the living room, fighting to pull on my boots.
"Kili," I say as he sits on the sofa, looking utterly peculiar and just... just wrong in the dark tracksuit. "What's that in your pocket?"
He reaches down into it and pulls out one of the daggers that was hidden in his vambracers.
"No," I tell him, pulling it from his hand, "no, no... you can't walk the streets with daggers here, It's just not done. You'll get yourself arrested."
"But what if we run into any wild beasts, how am I to protect you and Josie-?"
"I promise we won't run into any wild beasts... besides, Jos and I are perfectly capable of looking after ourselves."
"I don't believe that for a second," he grins, standing and heading for the door. Josie prances from the bathroom, hair primed with bright blue (yes, bright blue) hair extensions and wearing a puffball pink skirt covered in fluorescent-lime zombie unicorns. To me this is just every-day Jos, but Kili freezes a moment in surprise. I usher him out of the door, and our trio head for the town centre, bus fair and dread lining my pockets.
A Dwarf, a blue-haired zombie-unicorn-covered Josie, and me, with my rag-tag hair and faded sharpie marker eyebrows, which I have tried my best to cover by changing the parting in my hair so that I can barely see through my fringe. This is going to be... interesting.
"Kili tried to kill a car when we walked here from your house," Josie informs me as we descend the stairs, "he stabbed one of the tires. We had to run away- it was pretty awesome."
I shake my head, not at all surprised. "We'll have to pay for that. Kili, promise you won't freak out when we get on the bus."
"It's like a car, but bigger. Buses won't try to eat you, either."
"Where are we going, exactly?"
"Shopping," I tell him. "Like going to the market, but with fluorescent lights and chavs and street performers and tourists. You're going to love it."
I'm right; Kili is enchanted by the whole experience, from his fervent giggles caused by the thrill of the bus ride to his astonishment at the people dressed as moving statues; it takes Josie and I a solid twenty minutes to get him past the various attractions and distractions and inside the discount clothing store where we plan to find him something a little more fitting to wear.
"We should get him some razors," Josie suggests as she peruses the rows and rows of t-shirts and jeans, "get rid of that awful stubble thing he's got going on."
"To shave one's beard would be an insult to Durin himself," Kili defends, and Josie scoffs aloud.
"'Beard?' That's wishful thinking, mate. You've got facial fuzz at best."
"This is nice," I say as the pair continue to bicker over the correct categorization for Kili's facial hair, plucking a dark plaid lumberjack shirt from one of the clothing racks. "What do you think, Kili?"
"It's not very practical," he says, "what about when winter comes-?"
"Winter is coming!'" Josie yells in her best imitation-Ned Stark voice, "brace yourselves-!"
"Just try it on," I say to Kili with a smile, "It'll look great, we'll get you some jeans, too- light or dark?"
"Dark," Josie offers, pretending to slay her imaginary foes with a make-believe sword in the isle behind us; I agree and push Kili through to the changing rooms with the clothes, waiting outside for him.
"Let's put him in a suit," Josie whispers, "just make him try one on. He'll look super-hot."
Shamelessly, we do, forcing Kili to change his outfit a grand total of seven times for our own amusement, and Josie is right. The dress suit suits him very well; unfortunately we can't afford to don our Dwarf in top-and-tails with our minimal clothes budget, so settle for the lumberjack shirt, dark jeans and a pair of black shoes, all of which suit him rather well (and all of which are on sale). Josie demands to see Kili wearing a fedora for some unknown reason, so marches us into the nearest hat shop; I grab a plain black beanie hat with the aim of hiding away Kili's unusually long flowing locks and head to the counter whilst Josie snaps pictures on her mobile phone of Kili in various headgear, everything from a studded Stetson to a Victorian-style top hat. By the look on the shop assistant's face when I reach the counter, it is clear we have outstayed our welcome. I turn back to my companions, and stop dead in my tracks as I do.
Standing between myself and my friends are the two people I am repelled by most in this world; Jacob Maloney and Katie Johnson, the 'it' couple from back in my high school days. Shudder. They are the picture of pretentiousness, all matching button-down shirts and designer sunglasses, mascara and fake tan (on both of them, that is). Another shudder runs through me, and I act upon my first instinct: hide.
I dive behind the nearest shelf, and have the sudden shock-horror feeling that Josie, my beautiful, terrifying Josephine, is still within their sights; before I can do anything to stop the inevitable, I hear her tinkling voice sweep over my head. She yells across the store,
Oh, Lord. Josie, why do you do this?!
The pretentious couple look up from choosing whether to by stuffed or non-stuffed olives from the unnecessarily placed salad bar in the hat store (yes, that is the level of absurdity and stuck-upness this shop has attained) and stare in Josie's direction, faces blurred with shock.
"Oh," Katie says, clearly feigning being pleased to see Josie with her blue extensions, too-bright makeup and chubby grin, "do we know each other-?"
"We went to school together, don't you remember me?" Josie beams, practically skipping across the store with Kili behind her; the couple exchange a look, and something clicks within Jacob's mind.
"Yes, I remember you," he says in his too-clear voice, "yes, you were the girl who used to mix her apple juice with her milkshake at lunch."
"That's me," Josie says with a wink. "Hey, do you remember Alice?"
Oh, Jos. Please, don't do it.
"She's in here, too- Al, where are you hiding?"
You've been caught out, Alice. Admit defeat... style it out.
I spring to my feet and throw the group a beaming grin.
"Alice," Jacob says mock-fondly, "...what were you doing down there?"
"Oh, you know, just... uh... checking for... mice? Can't be too careful in a place like this- well, we've gotta go, things to do, people to see, it's been great meeting up with you guys-"
"Wait up a minute," Jacob says with another fake smile, "we've barely had time to catch up- say, why don't you guys come and have lunch with us? We were going to try the Vin Palace-"
"That's really nice of you, but we really have to be going," I say, almost shuddering with anxiety in my attempt to escape before one of the three of us do or say something incredibly strange.
"If money's the issue, we can cover that," Katie offers sweetly but with poison on her tongue, "we've got plenty to go around." The tinkling bell laugh she adds at the end makes me want to punch her in her stupid plastic face. Yes, we are poor. Please, rub the salt of how rich you are and have always been a little further into our peasant wounds. Much appreciated, Barbie.
"Look at this!" Josie sings, quickly distracted. She pulls Kili away to one of the hat stands to shove a sombrero on his head. I stand awkwardly, wanting nothing more than to leave the presence of these people.
"Who is that?" Jacob says, gesturing to Kili as he peruses through the shelves with Josie. She sticks the hat on his head so hard that it comes past his eye-line, and he struggles to prise it off his head as Josie proceeds to put another on top of it. I smile broadly at the pair, wishing more than anything that I was over there with them as opposed to being stuck here with this horrid pair.
"Who is that?" Jacob repeats, "standing with Josephine."
"It's Josie," I remind him- Josie hates her full name and would go bonkers if she heard anyone other than my mother or myself call her by it, and even then she'll only deal with it if she's in trouble. "And that," I continue, staring at Kili- ooh, he is attractive. Even with the badly drawn on sharpie 'tache and the less-than-fitting garb.
...Meh, I can lie to these people. What I'm about to tell them will traumatize them, and I will relish the look on his face.
"That's my boyfriend," I say, giving him a nod. Jacob frowns, brows raised.
"Isn't he a little... old?"
I grin. "...You have no idea. See you some other time then, I suppose... really, really lovely seeing the two of you. Happy shopping; Jos, Kili, let's jump this joint. I doubt we could afford anything from here, anyways."
I snuggle the fitted hat we brought for Kili (once again, on sale) onto his head and lead our trio into the street, leaving the befuddled pair in the store to ponder their choice of olives.
"McDonalds or KFC?"
"The Colonel, of course," Josie says, tugging at the hem of her skirt and giving a mock salute, "Kili needs to learn the joys of eleven secret herbs and spices."
We make our way into the fast food restaurant, order a bucket and dive face-first into a mountain of chicken, sweet-corn and oh-so salty fries. Kili is utterly engrossed by the Colonel's spicy secrets, and is practically unreachable as he sucks the meat from the bones in full-Dwarf style.
"No table manners," Josie grins, slurping her coke; Kili winces as he sucks down his own, and I have the sudden fear that the influx of sugar- a food which seems to be almost completely scarce from the Dwarven diet- might just kill him stone dead.
"My head is pounding," I whine to my pals, groaning as a sudden pulsating pain begins to shimmy at the back of my skull. There is a mild electric buzzing, and for a moment I can hear nothing; then, without warning, a sound fills my mind.
The Lord of silver fountains,
The Prince of carven stone.
The King beneath the mountain,
Shall come into his hold.
"What was that?!" I say quickly, looking around the dining hall; Kili and Josie both look alarmed.
"What was what?"
"That voice," I say, "that singing. Didn't you guys hear it? It was... It was really loud, a woman's voice-"
And the bells will ring in gladness,
At the mountain Lord's return.
"There it is again," I say, "that song Fili was singing earlier. Where is it coming from?"
"Lavender, there was no sound-"
But all shall fail in sadness,
And the lake will shine and burn.
"Oh, God," I say, suddenly unable to cope with the dizzy feeling, "It's... it's hot in here. I... I don't feel good... I don't feel good at all..."
Kili grabs my wrist, and I feel my eyes rolling in my skull.
"Al-?! Babe, what's wrong-?!"
...I'm going to pass out.
A plonker is an idiot, basically, and feel free to insult people with it! I doubt that Only Fools and Horses is popular in America... it's very British humor. I implore you all to look it up, it's comedy gold!