Chapter 24: Mother & Father - Broods
My trip to Listonenia made me crave attending school in London more than ever. My parents called to check in, but they were physically unable to shield my eyes from the things they didn’t want me to see and make everything better when things went south. From Boston, all they could do was hear about my life, not arrange everything to their liking. College has always been viewed as an identifying experience. Boarding school was actually supposed to do it in my case. It was supposed to be an opportunity to be independent and create my own image of my own image of myself. Instead, they pulled the strings via constant phone calls and a surprise visits to campus. I reached the end of my rope. I didn’t want to be their little girl forever. I needed to find a way to make that transition possible for all of us. I didn’t feel like having my own life was an unreasonable request.
After showering, Sami suspiciously returned to our room wearing a bra, jean shorts, and a towel bundled around her head. I noticed it from the corner of my eye. I tore them away from my sketchbook to study her as she walked over to her bag.
“I’m afraid to ask.” I thought aloud.
“Then I’ll just tell you: I dyed my hair.” She knelt down.
“Just now?” I cried in shock.
“I even cleaned up after the fact. It was more premeditated than my usual hair changes. I had to pack everything I needed.” She dug through her duffle bag.
“What color did you venture to this time?”
“Colors, actually. My hair transitions from blonde to the dark blue at my ends. It came out pretty sweet.” She removed her handheld blow dryer and hairbrush.
“Do you need help?”
“I don’t need it, but I’ll certainly take it.” She rose to her feet.
I put down my pencil and sketchbook and stood up from the couch. I joined her in the bathroom. She lowered the toilet seat cover and sat down. I plugged in her blow dryer.
“How do you get permission to do this?” I asked as she towel dried her hair.
She laughed in response. When my expression remained serious, she stopped. “You’re serious?” She raised an eyebrow.
“Well, yeah, I mean – I know your grandparents are really traditional. You have to answer to them most of the time. So, how do you get them to let you do what you want with yourself?” I restated, meddling with my glasses.
“Pull a Nike.” She shrugged.
“Pull a Nike?”
“Yes, pull a Nike.” She tousled her hair.
“I need an explanation. Reiterating it with different inflections won’t get me where I wanna go.” I finally admitted.
“Their slogan is ‘just do it’. I feel like people are allowed to be self-centered on matters that effect no one other than them. Personal style falls under that umbrella.” She draped her towel across her shoulders.
“What’s this about?” She asked as she started brushing her hair.
She smirked. “Pull a Nike.”
“But I –“
“Didn’t your grandpa leave you and your brother money when he passed away?”
“Well, yes and I’ve saved it, but –“
“Your sole excuse is out of play. Pull a Nike.” She kept her eyes locked on mine.
“Just do it?”
“Just do it.” She reiterated.
“What is ‘it’, exactly?” I diverted my eyes.
“For now, applying. We’ll tackle the rest once you get in.”
“Don’t you mean ‘if’?” I returned my eyes to hers.
“I said exactly what I meant to say.”
I smiled. “You’re really going to help me, right? I’ve never even talked back.”
“Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll teach you the proper way to revolt. It’s about time I carried my own weight around here.”
“I help you because I want to.” I approached her with the blow dryer.
“I make sure no one takes advantage of how sweet you are. We’re a team too.”
My smile widened. “Really?”
“You need to stop underestimating how great you are. I couldn’t replace you if I tried. A sane person would’ve given up on this by now.” She pointed to herself.
“It has its perks. I get tastes of the chaos without the commitment.” I joked.
I switched on the dryer and started running the comb nozzle through her damp hair.
“It looks like a watercolor painting.” I ogled it when I was finished.
She walked over to the mirror. “I know. I love it.” She beamed as she ran her fingers through it.
“Is this your official look from now on?”
“I don’t change it all the time in hopes of finding what suits me the best. It’s fun to see how drastically I can change it and still feel like myself.”
I thought to myself for a moment. “Can I try it?”
She looked at me through the mirror. “I’m not going to let you dive into the deep end. If you really want to do this, I’ll bleach a small section underneath. It’ll be visible when you put your hair up. No one will be able to tell when it’s down. You will hate me when you come to your senses otherwise.”
“Let’s do it.” I replied without hesitation.
She turned around to face me, crossing her arms. “I’ll give you 24 hours to mull it over. If you still want it done tomorrow, I’ll do it.”
“I won’t change my mind.”
She placed her hand on my shoulder. “You’re the reason I’m not full-throttle impulsive at all times. Don’t tempt me. I want to make you proud by being responsible.” She picked up her brush and dryer and left the bathroom.
I waited in there, knowing she’d return soon. I sat down on the toilet seat cover. She with her makeup bag in her hand.
Somewhat surprisingly, she wore as much, if not more makeup than Elle on a daily basis. They went about it in different ways. Elle looked like the model for a magazine makeup tutorial. It wasn’t as if she simply copied them either. She was always several months ahead, like they mimicked her. Sami played around in wide variety of vibrant colors and experimented with different techniques on a daily basis. I always enjoyed seeing what they would do next.
“Do you know what we’re doing today?” She inquired as she closed one of her eyes to smooth on eyeshadow.
“No, but I’m sure we’ll find out at brunch.”
“Do you consult with anyone before you do your hair, like your parents or Finn?” I shifted towards her as I remained seated.
“Geoffrey and Delia are the king and queen of hippies. Free expression is a major component of their shtick. Watson’s been aware of this from day one. I don’t feel like significant others should be allowed to dictate their partner’s appearance.” She smoothed excess powder off of her eyelid with her index finger.
“I haven’t kept in touch with Jeremy this summer. I can’t tell whether or not we’re dating. I’m scared to ask.” I admitted.
She snickered. “You better figure it out before school starts.” She coated the other eyelid with pigment.
“I know. This is the first time I’ve even thought about him. I feel awful.”
She started laughing harder. “Please, PLEASE let me be around when you have your first conversation. You’ll tiptoe around asking him point-blank. He’ll smile and answer politely to all of your questions because outrageously happy is his only setting. I will laugh my ass off.”
“Thanks for the warning. Now I won’t do it. I’m sending out a feeler text right now.” I removed my phone from my pocket.
“Awww, but Moooom!” She whined as she opened both of her eyes to see if they were even.
I giggled. “You will not get to laugh at my pain.”
“You’re not going to be able to tell from a text. I still have hope.” She shrugged as she picked up her eyeliner.
I kept my eyes on the blank text message box for a few minutes. “What should I say?” I looked to her when I came up short for words.
“Are you my boyfriend?” She retorted as she smoothed on tinted lip balm.
I sighed. “I’ll ask Elle.” I stood up.
“If you wait five seconds, I can go with you. I kinda need to hear what she says about this.” She quickly made the finally corrections. She placed her sunglasses on the top of her head we walked back into our room. The two of us left when she was done. Elle and Izzie’s room was right next door to ours. Elle opened the door after I knocked.
“It came out great.” She told Sami.
“You knew she was dyeing it?” I asked.
“Yes, she looked like she was up to something.” She stepped aside to let us inside.
“I need help with something I feel like you’d be good at.” I started to propose as we walked in.
“Sure. What’s the issue?” She sat down on the couch beside me.
“I can’t remember if Jeremy’s my boyfriend.” I admitted sheepishly.
Sami busted out laughing as she sat down on the coffee table, facing us.
“How did you forget?” Elle struggled not to laugh by smiling.
“We went to prom. We had a couple of dates after that, but we haven’t talked in months.”
“Did you ever use pet names – honey, sweetheart, baby – anything beyond a friendship level of affection?” She asked in response.
“Watson and I don’t do that.” Sami pointed out.
“Special case. You and Finn won’t stand for lovey dovey behavior.”
“He called me ‘Hon’ once, I think.”
“Not good enough. Have you texted him a simple ‘hello’? The way he responds will say a lot.”
“Just ‘hello’?” I verified as I removed my phone from my pocket.
“Yes. If he apologizes for not contacting you sooner and creates an excuse for why he didn’t, you’re together. If you’re friends, he’ll say something simple in response and ask how you’ve been in a polite, but disinterested manner.”
I typed what she advised and sent the text.
“Where’s Iz?” Sami asked.
“Shower.” Elle answered.
She nodded in understanding.
When my phone vibrated in my hand, returned my eyes to the screen.
“He said ‘Hey! I’ve been thinking about you. I’ve been at band camp at Camp Artsy for the past couple of weeks. Cell reception was terrible. I got home yesterday. How are you?’ He sorta did both.” I looked over at Elle.
“You’re together. The real question is: do you want to be?”
“I mean, he’s nice…”
“No.” Sami and Elle stated in unison.
I sighed. “I don’t know how to break up with someone.”
“Keep it simple and honest, but kind. Stay far away from ‘it’s not you, it’s me’. There’s nothing wrong with either of you; your relationship’s simply run its course. We’re young. Our relationship desires evolve as we do. It’s all a part of growing up.” She placed her hand on my back.
“I’d call him now. To keep him from getting super excited to see you, only to find out you’re ending things.”
“I guess you’re right. Neither of you are allowed to talk –“
I looked over at Sami. “—or laugh.” I stated firmly.
She mimed zipping her lips and locking them.
“Wait, question: why weren’t you and Nicky at band camp?” Elle asked Sami.
“Neither of us are in marching band. I’m in the orchestra with my cello. He’s in jazz band with his bass. They are the only ones that go to Camp Artsy during the summer.”
There was a knock at the door.
“Open!” Elle called to it.
Ryan poked his head in. “Brunch is ready.”
“YES!” Sami hopped up and made her way to the door.
“We can do this later.” I slid my phone into my pocket.
“Okay, it’s up to you. I don’t mind staying here while you do it.” Elle offered with a smile.
“I want to stall for a little while longer.”
“I understand.” She gave me a quick side hug.
I waved at Ry on my way out the door. I followed Sami downstairs. We saw that Nick and Finn were seated on the outside patio. Sams slid her sunglasses onto her eyes as we walked out there.
“How’s it going, fellas?” Sami greeted as she sat down in the empty seat beside Finn.
“Can’t complain. You’ve had a productive morning.” Finn replied, looking over at her.
“Yep. It was a good time.”
“I bet. Sweet color combo.” He casually commented.
“I’m pleased with it.”
“I talked to Jeremy today.” I told Nick after I sat down beside him.
“Did he say how band camp was? I heard from Drew and Frank that it was really intense this year.”
“Not specifics, just that he returned to Florida yesterday. What made it intense?”
“Long practice hours – 5 AM to 6PM every day. Limited free time. Drilling routines until everyone grasped it. Things like that. Mr. Sinclair’s determined to take home the national trophy this year.” He drank a bit of his water after answering.
“Tell me about it. I really lucked out. Jeremy plays tenor sax for both the marching and jazz bands. I play with them at school concerts, but they can’t compete with my instrument, so I don’t have to attend camp.”
“Why can’t they compete with yours?”
“It can’t be played acoustically. Someone would trip if I marched with an amp.” He replied lightly.
“Right.” I blushed slightly.
We were soon joined by Elle, Ryan, Izzie, and Milo. Brunch was served immediately after their arrival.
“Announcement – Elle and I have a very important announcement.” Ryan hit his glass with a fork to get all of our attention.
“Camp Artsy, Ladies and Gentlemen.”
“fifty percent of use are ineligible to compete together, Elle and I have come up with the idea to do boys vs. girls. The team that earns the most wins at camp gets to submit the losers to the agreed upon punishment. Are you guys in?” He concluded.
Nick raised his hand.
“Yes?” Elle called on him with a smile.
“We still need eight teammates. If we do this, who will be the other four members?”
“Great question. As seniors, we’re allowed to handpick our teams. To prevent loaded teams from being built, we must approve the opposite team’s selections. For example, Iz, Sami, and Morgan will all be on my team. We have to approve the four girls the boys try to put on theirs. They will do the same to the four boys we choose.” She answered.
“To add to that, the point in the approval process isn’t to make sure the other team doesn’t have good players. It’s to ensure we have a level playing field. Our wins will be achieved through strategy, not raw talent.” Ryan tacked on.
“What do the losers have to do?” Sami asked.
“That’s open for discussion. I have the contracts started. As soon as that’s decided, I’ll print them and present them to you to sign.” Elle replied.
“If we win, I vote that the boys have to buy tampons in outfits of our choosing. We are allowed to record it to review your pain later on.” Sami proposed.
Elle, Iz, and I started laughing hysterically at the mental imagery.
“Yes, that’s our agreed upon punishment.” Elle agreed.
“That’s diabolical!” Finn cried in outrage.
Sami looked over at him. “Exactly.”
“Do we get a say in this?” Nick turned to Ryan.
“It doesn’t matter. We won’t be doing it. What would you like them to do?”
“You’re that confident in our ability to win?” Milo questioned in response.
“We won together last year. I know The Ry Guys 2.0 will carry on that tradition.”
“Really, again?” Finn retorted incredulously.
“They’re The Elle-Stars!” He pointed to Elle.
“Because he challenged me to do it!” She blurted.
“That’s kinda cute, actually.” Iz mused.
“Thanks, Babydoll.” Elle beamed in her direction.
“What will we have to do if they win?” I reminded them of what we were talking about.
“I say we have them clean our suite for a month.” Nick suggested.
“You’ll trash it on purpose.” Elle argued.
“We can do that, but it’s still not as bad as what you’re having us do.” Ryan replied.
“We issue uniforms. That makes it even.” Finn answered.
“Fine, but I want to put an asterisk on that. The areas enclosed in a swimsuit must be covered by our uniforms. You can’t get gross.” Sami finalized.
“What kind of swimsuit are we talking?” Ryan pressed.
“Tankini.” Elle answered almost immediately.
“A what?” Finn raised an eyebrow.
“It’s a tank top, sometimes a halter, with a little midriff showing and bikini bottoms that cover everything down below. It’s a real thing. Look it up.” She elaborated.
“I was actually going to clear a bikini, but I like that much better.” Sami chimed in.
“What do think, guys?” Ryan asked for their input before agreeing.
“The swimsuit rule applies to us too. I’m not wearing short shorts.” Finn stated firmly.
“Not comfortable with your legs, Watson?” Sami teased with a small smirk.
“I never want to see what they look like in shorts shorter than my boxers.”
“If that is instated, I’ll agree to it.” Milo pointed to Finn.
“You can’t post the videos online either.” Nick added.
“I forgot at about that. Yes, that too. I really do not feel like disputing that headline.” Milo contributed lastly.
Sami snickered at the thought of that. “I’m not that mean. Private viewings only.”
“So, we’ve all come to an agreement?” Ryan attempted to confirm.
“Great. I’ll finalize the contracts and present them to you when we return to school.” Elle concluded.
We shifted our attention to our food for a little while, carrying on much less formal side conversations.
“This just came to me. Group Halloween costume idea – DC comic book characters.” Sami looked up from her meal to announce.
“A group costume coordination would be fun.” Elle mused.
“I get Marvel and DC mixed up all the time. What characters would that be?” Nick inquired.
“Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, all of the Justice League and hundreds more.” I answered.
“Let me guess: Batman and Robin?” Elle pointed to Finn and Sami.
“You know it.” She smirked.
“Dibs on Wonder Woman!” Iz blurted quickly.
“That’s the only girl I can think of. Are there any princess?” Elle looked to me.
“Yes, Starfire. She’s a princess from a distant planet. “
“Love the name. I’m totally her.”
“I want Superman.” Milo declared.
“That’s very fitting, actually. Superman and Wonder Woman are really close, at least best friends every time they are featured together. They’ve been paired romantically on and off for decades. They’re similar in a number of ways, but different enough to gain something from their pairing. In one universe, they even get married and have a kid.” I piped up, meddling with my glasses.
“I did not know you were into superheroes.” Iz noted with a smile.
I nodded. “That’s how Sami and I became friends.”
“She had on a sweet Avengers shirt the first day of freshman year. She was sitting alone at dinner. Not really knowing anyone else, I sat down at her table. We talked about our favorite heroes and comics the whole time.” She contributed.
I smiled at the memory. “My first friend at SMA.”
“With all of your knowledge in mind, what hero are you going to be?” Elle asked.
“In terms of the one I’m the most like?” I asked in response.
I thought to myself for a moment. “Batgirl. Her dad’s the police commissioner. She wants to join the force, but he’s overprotective and won’t let her. Batman teaches how to rebel and she’s able to fight crime the way she’s always dreamed of.”
“Yup. We’re happy to have you here in Gotham.” Sami raised her glass of orange juice to me.
My smile widened.
“If you had to give a hero to Ryan, which one would it be?” Elle asked next.
“Um, Booster Gold, maybe.”
Finn and Sami started laughing.
“What’s so funny?” Iz requested.
“He was a pro-football player that got banned for betting on his own games. Addicted to the fame that came with his pro-athlete status, he stole a power suit and time traveled back to the past. Knowing the future, he branded himself as Booster Gold and paraded around as a superhero for attention. Everyone thinks he can see the future, but he’s just cheating. He accidentally learns a lesson when his foreshadowing changes the future.” Finn explained.
“Hey! I wouldn’t – yeah, okay, I’d probably do that if I could, but I’m not going to be him for Halloween because most people don’t know him. I’m taking Green Lantern. He’s an intergalactic police officer with a ring that can produce any weapon he can think of.” Ryan stated over our laughter.
“I need help. I don’t know who to be.” Nick said to no one in particular.
“You can be Aquaman. He’s really underrated, even though he’s part of The Justice League and has been around as long as Superman and Wonder Woman. He’s the peacekeeper between the surface world polluting the ocean and the people of Atlantis, who want to revolt against them for destroying their home.” I suggested.
“Sounds good. I’ll be him.” He agreed with a smile.