Nothing can prepare you for the unexpected.
A handsome young man performed a perfect service ace on the TV screen. Tich swallowed, admiring his form in a moment of undisguised infatuation before she remembered where she was. She sat up straighter on the sofa, and glanced quickly at Sylvia to check whether her best friend had noticed. Fortunately she was distractedly rubbing her temples.
“Honestly, I fail to see the family resemblance,” Tich concluded, as if it was something Sylvia hadn’t heard a million times before. She squinted at her beautiful blonde friend, with her freckles and dimples and the baby fat in her chin, then made a show of looking back at Sylvia’s brother - the famous Alan Holmes, a muscular Adonis, powerful and strong. The most powerful Sylvia had ever been was pushing Tich off the sofa in order to wrestle for the last chocolate bar. “How is he your brother? How is he such a superstar, when you’re like me? Positively normal?”
Sylvia laughed and threw a small cushion at Tich.
“Don’t you ever get tired of asking that?”
Tich hugged the cushion tighter.
“Maybe I’ll believe it if I ever meet him - I’m still not convinced those family photos aren’t fake!” Sylvia shook her head, half way between exasperation and amusement. Tich was glad to have distracted her from the headache.
“Why would anyone fake that?” she snorted. “Trust me, he’s a lot more annoying in person.” But even though she said that, she beamed with pride at her brother on the TV.
Alan had been scouted when he was thirteen. He’d been given all the best training and every opportunity to succeed. Everyone knew he was going to make it big some day. Maybe he’d even manage to win Wimbledon! Sylvia couldn’t help but brag about him. Maybe that was part of why Tich had such a crush on him - because anyone Sylvia admired couldn’t be anything less than extraordinarily amazing.
“There are some real weirdos in the world,” Tich said seriously. “I wouldn’t put it past someone, somewhere to have done so.”
“Is this your way of confessing it to me?” Sylvia asked, suddenly aghast.
“What?” Tich blinked at her. Her best friend was crouched on the sofa staring at her suspiciously. “What?! No! I do not have any weird photos of your brother.”
“What about normal ones?” Sylvia checked, narrowing her eyes. Tich flushed a deep pink.
“Oh my God, Sylvie. No!” She buried her head in the cushion, as her friend cackled hysterically.
“Don’t pretend I didn’t see you with that magazine article about him last week!”
“Oh, really?” Tich threw the cushion to the side and jumped to her feet. Then wished she hadn’t. Sometimes she forgot how small she was. Even with Sylvia sat down, she was barely a foot higher than her. “Well, you’re one to talk, Sylvie. You’ve practically got a shrine to Mark Layton on your bedroom wall.”
“So what if I do? Mark’s not related to me,” Sylvia said, grinning mischievously up at Tich. “But I’m joking, Tich. Chill.” She waved Tich back down onto the sofa. “You know I think it’s cute you like him.”
Tich flopped back down, puffing out her cheeks childishly.
“Don’t patronise me,” she grumbled, aware that she was being petulant. They watched the match for a few more points. “So, when do you think he’ll come home?”
“Honestly, Tich, I don’t know. His trainer keeps them on a pretty strict schedule. And he doesn’t like it when the team aren’t spending quality time together.”
“So he gets to go gallivanting around the world while you’re stuck here with me?” She grinned at her friend, but when she looked over at Sylvia her best friend was oddly serious.
“You know, I was jealous when he got scouted. Initially. But when I realised how hard he had to train I realised I was the lucky one. Besides,” she paused and then shot Tich a cheesy grin. “There are worst places than being stuck here with you.”
Tich laughed. Then whistled when Alan pulled up his shirt slightly to mop up the sweat from his brow, revealing toned abs beneath.
“Oh, gross.” Sylvia pushed her when she realised what Tich was doing. “You’re such a perv! Honestly, it’s bad enough when Marilyn does it.” Tich cackled. It was really for show. Sylvia always go so wound up over it.
“Only because Marilyn does it to every guy on the planet. She sets the bar low.” That was why she stepped right over it.
“So you’re saying you have better taste?” Sylvia asked, wrinkling up her nose. “Why is it that of everyone on the planet, you had to choose Alan to find attractive?” Tich pushed Sylvia’s arm off her with a laugh.
“Hey, I like lots of people.”
“Name one other person,” Sylvia said, sceptically.
“Well, I wouldn’t say Mark was unattractive,” she said, waggling her eyebrows at Sylvia suggestively. Sylvia rolled her eyes.
“You and Marilyn should set up a club.”
“Who says we haven’t?”
“Tich, the idea of you actually having a fan club for anyone, even Al, is about as likely as you turning up at my door in a frilly pink dress and heels because to hell with gender stereotypes, you just want a guy to say you’re pretty.” Tich grinned.
Of course, that kind of feminism was really more Sylvia’s thing. Tich wasn’t trying to make a point with her clothing choices. She just liked to be comfortable. She’d been running on the school athletics team for as long as she could remember. The idea of high heels, and what those could do to her feet was horrifying. She could fall and break something. She might never run again.
The dress was laughable for other, less flattering reasons. Tich wouldn’t be able to fill out a bodice. People could complain about their weight all they liked, but Tich wished they’d have a little more compassion for the forever flat chested. She was aptly named. Skinny and no taller than the average twelve-year-old. That was what happened when your mother refused to believe being gluten intolerant was a thing. Between her physical stature and the crew cut, any kind of dress just didn’t suit her.
“Hey, I like pink,” she protested. Sylvia snorted.
“Well, on that note, I’m getting a refill.” Sylvia stretched and grabbed her glass off of the table before leaping to her feet. “Do you want anything?”
“Only for these ads to be over!” Tich exclaimed, snatching up the remote an flicking through the channels.
“You goose,” Sylvia laughed, shaking her head. Tich heard her footsteps going down the hall to the kitchen and flicked through the channels, trying to find something more interesting. News. An expose on chimpanzees. Soaps. A cooking show. A documentary about China. She heard a glass smash and shook her head. Sylvia was so clumsy.
“Are you alright?” she yelled. Sylvia didn’t reply. Tich sighed and reluctantly got to her feet, pocketing the remote out of habit. She might as well help clean up. That was when she heard Sylvia’s mother yelling for help.