Chapter 21:

Sisterly Love

Pigeon on a Power Line

It’s kinda hard to believe how smoothly things have gone the last couple of months. 

I mean, for one, the Northwest Elm Knickerbockers dominated the regional soccer finals, so I have another neat little trophy on my shelf. And though mathletes hasn’t been going so well—to say that we bombed the past few playoffs is like saying that Uncle Sam “tickled” Cambodia during ‘Nam—the last real quarter of senior year is now behind me, and I’m sitting pretty at a 98 average with spring break only a few weeks away.

Even my family has been doing well- Pops got promoted from county infrastructural supervisor to district overseer of civil engineering, Ma’ managed to lose thirty pounds on this ludicrous juice cleanse of hers, and Aiden’s shot up two inches in the past two weeks like a damn reed. At this rate, the smelly squirt is gonna be taller than me, which regrettably means that I’m gonna be the second to last in height in the family behind our stalwart matriarch. First place, of course, is my bitchy beanpole of a sister, who somehow managed to even outgrow dad on a steady diet of cramming nothing but espressos and her own fingers down her gullet.

But somehow, I can’t even be bothered to care about that. Not even about the fact that she landed a polytechnic scholarship for next semester that’s worth three times more than all the peanuts I’ve managed to scrape up from my solo-shift summers at the Ben and Jerry’s stand in the mall. Yeah, I’m not sure why, but I’ve even found myself tolerating—and even enjoying—spending time mindlessly talking about shows and social media fads with the girlies again. Although, if I had to guess the mysterious good luck factor making everything feel so surreally unshitty, my theories would probably start with the dumbass behind that creaky message ringtone that breaks through the monotonous rumble of the laundry machine.

“Mornin’, Morning.”

In two words, I go from feeling groggy as a faded marble statue worn down over millennia by the salty Mediterranean breeze to a lively, modernist portrait in bold strokes of neon. At a loss of something witty to reply with, I slap a heart react onto his message and ask:

“Sleep well?”

“Like a termite-infested log,” comes his response.

I wasn’t planning on putting effort into social interaction this early in the morning, but that dork makes it so easy.

I ask, “What, did the bedbugs bite?”

“Yes, actually. I’ve been telling my dad to call the fumigators, but he keeps telling me he’s qualified to do it himself. I’m chewed up over here from my dick to my balls!”

“So, what, like two inches then?”

He warns me with a skull emoji.

“Why can’t you do it?” I continue, “Aren’t you like 1/24th fumigator or something?”

“Remind me to pinch your :peach: extra hard next time.”

“Oh no~,” I reply, “My memory’s so bad these days. Are you sure you want to leave it to me?”

For a half second, I hold my breath, as if I’m honestly kind of hopeful that he actually might (on second thought, I really am). But, like every other time that things have gotten that kind of flirtatious since the day of the church fun-raiser, he doesn’t so much burst my bubble as gently deflate it:

“Who knows? Anyways, I hope you’ve been feeling better recently. Like, catching up on sleep and stuff.”

“Aww,” I type, unable to help but bite the corner of my lip. “Sweet of you to ask. I’ve been doing much better since midterm week.”

“Glad to hear it. See you in a bit?” he says, with a heart.

I thumbs up.

And that’s that.

“Shit,” I whisper, under my breath.

I mean, it’s one of the things that I really appreciate about him. But why does he have to be so damn sweet and respectful all the time? Like, he’s still the same classless jerk I started dating back in February, but it’s like there’s another invisible wall between us that’s stopping us from meeting halfway. It’s not like I want him to be rude or anything, but y’know- wouldn’t it be fine if he took just a little more initiative with his freakin’ girlfriend?

Impatient sighs are all I have.

I can’t exactly just ask around about this kind of thing. As far as the besties are aware, me and him are still just “really cool friends” and nothing more. And though I’m sure my sister has plenty of experience with men, I’d sooner pry my pedicure off with a toothpick than beg her for advice. So I’m stuck. Left with nothing but my own wits and a truly ego-traumatizing lack of experience with relationships.

I mean I’ve dated- or maybe more like associated with, like 4 (or technically 3?) guys before. But I hadn’t gotten to the point of calling any of them my boyfriend. Then again, none of them were built quite like him, though.

Between that moronically kissable bad attitude that passes for a personality and his ‘skater-boy but without any of the fashion sense’ aesthetic, something compels me towards him on an instinctual level. I’m not sure why I like that big, birdlike nose of his and his jutting, peach-fuzzed chin. Or why I was into his lanky build, which is now just a respectably toned build thanks to two months in Brian Boot-Camp (or BBC, as he so eloquently repeats between chuckles).

Maybe it’s his mop of messy brown hair. Or the way his grey-green eyes look at me when we’re holding hands and skipping stones at the Fairy Pit. Whatever it is, it has me whistling like the mouse-eared mascot of a silent-era cartoon short. And there’s nothing more that my sister can’t stand than my off-tune whistling.

“Could you like, not?” she remarks, from her vulture’s perch at the kitchen table.

I’m not a very violent person—although I’ve gotten into a couple of catfights here and there. Of course, there’s those times I throw stuff at people when I’m pissed off. And the time that I yelled at some loser dressed up as an assclown and got myself a boyfriend for the trouble. Okay. Fine, maybe I can get a little mad sometimes, but it’s never for no reason.

And seeing Stella’s smug, flawless face first thing in the morning is more than reason enough.

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” I ask. “It’s like 10 in the morning on a Saturday?”

She scoffs, and lays her phone down on the table. “Do you mind? I’m trying to get my slots for fall classes.”

“Yes,” I reply, walking out from under the laundry nook. “I actually do.”

Stella stares at the empty kitchen ranges, as if pretending like I’m not even here, and asks:

“What in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks has gotten into you?”

“I don’t know,” I reply, quirking my hands up onto my hips and marching forth. “It’s almost like you don’t like seeing me happy or something.”

“Now when did I say that?”

Stella gives me this vacuous, innocent look, as if she’s somehow both the knowing victim and the unknowing bystander. As usual, it makes me slip up for a second, giving her an opening to strike.

“I’m just doing the sisterly thing,” she says. “It’s sinful to be so prideful about worldly relations.”

I cock my head at her as my mouth forces itself open into a gaping pit of disgust.

Excuse me?”

“You know.” Stella shrugs, and looks at her nails. “Jesus said it’s improper to associate with boys before marriage.”

I look her up and down, the freudian ballerina that she is, and respond:

“Oh yeah? Well, what did Jesus say about wearing spandex with a cotton dress?”

“Don’t go quoting Leviticus at me!”

She raises her voice for the first time, and I see a brief flash of life in those empty, bovine eyes. Finally, I got to her.

“The devil can quote scripture too,” I reply, giving her the most saccharine smile of all time. Even the Cheerios bee would be proud of how disgustingly honeyed it is.

Stella’s impeccable, porcelain mug goes sour, and she hisses, “I’m just trying to protect you, sis.”

“From what? Becoming a worse version of you?” My accusatory finger is inches from her nose. “Well, newsflash. I’m not even sure if that’s physically possible!”

I know that’s harsh, but I just can’t stand her attitude anymore. She’s been silently superior for so freakin’ long that—don’tcha know—I have some built-up feelings on the matter. My sister’s three-layer-lashed eyes narrow, and she parts her glossy lips to speak:

“I’m simply worried that you’re going to become a lost soul.”

Oh, how fucking kind of you. How precious.

“I don’t need to take this from you-” I yell, running out of breath halfway. “You- you sloppy-joe rave slut!”

Stella goes paler than the time she came down with tuberculosis in 9th grade.

My sister shoots to her feet, screams, “It’s not like I had much of a choice!”

And she runs off, sobbing.

I’m struck by a bitter, sulfuric taste in the back of my throat, like reflux from the acid that I was spitting at my own flesh and blood.

“Wait!” I yell, and run after her.

Stella isn’t exactly a star athlete like me, so I catch up to her as she trips and collapses over the topmost stair onto the second floor.

“I’m sorry,” I say, to the tune of a thunder of sobs.

And the waterworks start, as she looks up at me from the ground.

“What do you want, you wolf in sheep’s clothes?” she asks.

As annoying as her fairy tale allegories are, I can recognize when I’ve messed up.

“Listen,” I plead. “I just want to try and understand you better.”

“Liar. I see the way you look at me.”

“What about the way you look at me?!”

I had raised my voice on instinct, and I immediately regret it.

I continue, “No- look. I-”

“Those that seek to tear you down,” Stella replies, picking herself up, “Should not be given the bricks to build their own home.”

“That’s not even a bible verse,” I reply, instinctively.

“You wouldn’t respect it if it was.”


I hate it when she’s right.

She sniffles. “If you wish to understand me, sister, then know this. I might not be perfect, but I am trying my best!”

I suppress a scoff. “Then what’s with the attitude? Why act as if you’re perfect?”

“I do not!” Stella hollers, before taking a breath. “I don’t mean to, at least.”

My clenched fists loosen.

“What’s with the constant stares and snide comments, then?”

Stella dusts her incongruous outfit off. “I don’t need to repeat myself. I’m just looking out for you.”

“You can do that without making it seem like you’re trying to dig at me just for existing, you know that?”

My sister bites her lip. And she sighs. “You’re right, sister.”


“Part of me does indulge in a bit of envy, seeing you gallivanting around with that new boy of yours and your harlot friends.”

I blink twice, as if to wipe my memory and pretend she didn’t slip an extra insult in there.

“You? Envious of me? Pardon my words, but what the hell?”

“Language!” she fumes, then relents, “But yes, I find myself in quite the rigid social predicament. One that you seem to have no problems skirting yourself.”

As much as I wished she didn’t speak like a sun belt pastor, I’m intrigued by her point. I wave my arms to emphasize my question:

“What do you mean? Why don’t you have a choice, Stella?”

“Because I’ve gone down the fraught path of sin before, sister. And I’ve been brought into it by the most well-intentioned of friends. I simply worry about you making the same mistakes.”

This time, I can believe her. There’s a fire in her eyes as she says this, the kind that really does make her sound like a pretentious preach, but also the kind that undeniably conveys that she gives a shit about me.

I frown. “What are you talking about? You’re the most successful person I know. It feels like there’s nothing I can ever do that measures up to you!”

“What nonsense!” she says. “I see the way that you laugh on the phone. The way your smile has been unburdened by dark thoughts as of late.”

“Yeah, but that’s-”

I pause, realizing what she really meant. That she’s stuck exactly because she’s part of the exact same cheerleading team between highschool and college. That her habit of praying and then dancing the night away has been unchanged since she was my age. That her paradoxically high grades are the result of just as many dozens of hours spent alone in her room as I’ve spent out of mine.

“Are you-” I ask. “Having dark thoughts?”

Stella’s eyes widen.

“I’m not doing anything special.” I add, feeling like I need to justify my happiness in the face of this revelation. “It just feels like I can be a little bit more of myself these days. That’s all.”

Her voice is hoarse. “Is that it?”

Stella was always a woman to me. This paragon of maturity and the latest in impressing all the adults in the room. The churchgoing socialite that I just happened to live with. It never felt like we were cut from the same cloth until five seconds ago—when I found out that she was just a girl just like me the whole time.

“Yeah,” I reply. “That’s it. That’s all it ever is, right?”

She looks at me like she’s found Jesus in my eyes. And then she hugs me. Mechanically, uncomfortably, and yet briefly. Stella whispers:

“Thank you, sister.”

And she disappears down the hall with the click of her room lock.

I’m left twiddling my thumbs as the laundry machine lets out its cheerful completion tune. The little ditty usually hits me with a sense of childlike joy, but this time it feels oddly pregnant with melancholy. I stuff my dried clothes in a bin, barely paying to color coordination as I throw on a fresh set. Then, I text Ogden that I’m on my way.

And I head out the door, hoping that I’ll somehow be able to throw free the bowling ball of guilt lodged in my stomach.

Kya Hon
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