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Big Sister, Big Help
She looks worse than she did the last time. She’s lost so much weight. It’s as if the fat in her face has literally been drained like a balloon deflating air. She has darker bags under her eyes than I have ever seen on her, and it’s those eyes that tell me she’s not ok before her mouth even opens. She is only seventeen, and the death of her boyfriend has had a large toll on her.
“Come here,” I say, arms extended for a hug. She literally jumps on me for a hug and holds me tightly. “It’s so good to see you, too, kid!” I exclaim. She keeps hugging me even after I let go.
“How are you?” she asks me, smiling through glazed eyes and pale cheeks. She can’t fool me.
I ignore her question and ask my own. “Is everything ok since…?”
“Oh. That.” Her face literally drops. Her smile slowly disintegrates. I know she doesn’t want to talk about it, but she should.
She shrugs. “It could be better. You know how it is.” She waves her hand and emptily laughs because maybe if she pretends she’s ok, she’ll convince herself that she is. But her lower lip starts to quiver, and although she bites it to stop, tears start rolling. She begins to wipe them away with the backs of her hands. I begin to search through my handbag for a tissue.
“It’s not fair,” she exclaims. Then after a moment she says a little more quietly, “It’s not fair.”
I should know what to say. I’m her big sister, but what do you say to a teenage girl whose “love of her life” has just died? And he was the first love of her life.
He was a red head. Michelle’s always been a sucker for red heads. Actually, that’s an understatement. She only falls for red heads. Paulie was a red headed, math geek, and Michelle knew the minute she saw him that she would have to ask him out by the end of senior year. Paulie, however, asked her out first. He wanted to take her to their senior year homecoming dance.
Of course I helped her get ready for the big night. It’s in my job description as a big sister. I decided to make a day of it. When she got home from school that Friday, a day I was home from college for the weekend, I told her to change into her pajamas.
“Why?” she asked. “I have to get ready, Rory.”
“Michelle, the dance doesn’t start for, like, four hours. She looked at me. I looked at her. “Go get your jimmies on,” I said. I used to say that to her when she was little.
She smiled and rolled her eyes. “Ok.”
About ten minutes later she came back down-stairs wearing her green plaid pajama pants that say Irish on the leg and an oversized, black t-shirt. Her hair was pulled back into a messy bun. She caught me as I was about to order a pizza.
“Pepperoni ok?” I asked. “I’ll get you your garlic bread, too. “
“Sounds good.” She walked to the kitchen table and sat down with a bottle of silver nail polish. “Do you think you could do my nails for me?”
I looked at her and smiled. “Of course.” I called the pizza place and made my order. Then I sat down at the table across from her. “Shall I do your toenails, too, darlin’?”
“I don’t know. What shoes should I wear?”
“Well, what outfit are you going to wear?”
“I think I’ll wear my black leggings with a jean mini skirt. And you know that
black dress shirt mom has? The one that does that weird flowy thing in front?”
“Mmhmm. That shirt looks cute on you.”
“Yeah. And I think I’ll wear that sheer, white scarf with the black music notes on it. The silver music note earrings would go well with it.”
“Look at you being all trendy.” My Shelly Belly is growing up!
“Well,” she began. “I’ve had a pretty decent big sister to look up to.”
“Yeah, I’m not bad. I wouldn’t recommend you wear heels. You’ll take them off after, like, five minutes. Do you want to borrow my silver flats? They’ll go with the nail polish, and it’ll save us time because then we won’t have to paint your toenails.”
“Yeah. That would be cool. Thanks, Rory.”
We sat in silence for a minute or two. She rested her chin in her hands and watched me paint nails. I occasionally glanced at her, noticing the small things about her. She’s pretty and doesn’t even know it. I always forget she has freckles, and her hair is so long, thick, and wavy. It’s shiny and dark brown. She has dimples whenever she smiles big, which is often. And her big, brown eyes tell the world the contents of her soul. She doesn’t like that, but I think it’s a pretty neat quality.
“So tell me about Paulie,” I said out of the blue. I did it mainly to watch her cheeks turn beet red and her mouth flare into a huge grin. “aaaawwwWWWW!” I exclaimed.
She shoved me. “Shut up. He’s smart.” She took the hand I wasn’t painting and used it to draw imaginary figure eights on the kitchen table. “He’s got red hair, you know.”
“Oh, God. There ya go.”
“His eyes are blue, and he’s funny. I really like him.”
“Well, obviously.” I took the hand that was drawing figure eights and squeezed it. “Just don’t fall too hard too soon, ok? I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Uh-huh.” But she was too busy gushing over Paulie to hear anything I had just said to her. Figures.
I finished painting her nails and she asked me if she could borrow my tweezers to pluck her eyebrows.
“I don’t think you need to,” I said. “I’m thinking I’ll just put some foundation on you, and some red eye shadow to highlight those brown eyes. Mascara and lip gloss will look good, too. I’ll probably use pink lip gloss.”
She shrugged, looking defeated for some reason. Then she got up and pushed in her chair.
“I’ll be right back. I have to use the bathroom.” She was gone for, like, ten minutes, so I decided to check on her.
“Michelle?” I asked, knocking on the door. “You ok?”
“I can’t go to the dance.”
What could possibly have gone wrong in ten minutes? Then I thought about it. When it comes to Michelle…ANYTHING could have gone wrong. She’s SUCH a drama queen!
“Michelle, what could possibly have happened in the last ten minutes?”
She dramatically opened the door and I could see that she’d been crying…and something looked different.
“What? What happened?” I asked.
She started blubbering. “Some b**** at school told me I have a uni-brow.”
“And that’s why you asked to pluck your eyebrows.”
“I didn’t want to tell you why because I was embarrassed. When you said no to using the tweezers, I just took a razor to shave between my eyebrows, and I accidentally shaved half of an eyebrow off.”
I leaned my back against the wall and closed my eyes. “Oh, Michelle…”
She was literally hysterical. “I’m such an idiot. Now this guy will think I’m a total dork and he won’t ask me out ever again…”
“Shelle,” I said, taking her hands. “It’s not the end of the world. I’ll just color the other half in with an eyebrow pencil. He won’t notice. Relax. Deep breaths. And anyway, if that’s cause for him to ditch you, it means he doesn’t deserve you anyway.”
“You promise he won’t notice?”
“If I thought he would notice, I would’ve said, ‘Wow. You’re screwed.’”
She laughed. “Yeah, you would’ve.”
“Go sit on my bed,” I said. “I’ll be right in with the pencil.”
When I walked into the bedroom with the tweezers, she was just sitting on my bed and sniffling a little. I began to color in the hairless part of her eyebrow.
“Only you would manage this,” I said, and then I started to laugh.
“Rory, it’s not funny,” she whimpered.
“Yeah, it is,” I said. “Sorry. You are a dork…but you’ll forever be my dork.” She hit me with a pillow and giggled. “Go look in the mirror. You’re good as new. Next time you want to pluck your eyebrows, please come to me first.”
She looked into the mirror and smiled. “Ok, fine. You were right.”
“Aren’t I always?” Then I heard a car door slam and looked out the window to see the pizza guy walking up the driveway. “Oh, he’s cute! I’m answering the door!” I ran out of my bedroom, heading for the stairs.
“No fair! You have college guys to flirt with!”
“You have a date!”
We raced to the front door and ran into each other in a giggling mess with the poor delivery boy looking scared to death from the opposite side of the glass. Michelle had the luxury of opening the door.
“Hi,” she said. Then she started to giggle like crazy. I rolled my eyes and pushed her out of the way.
“Hi,” I smiled. “How much do we owe you?”
“$12.50,” he answered. He was SO checking me out…and maybe I was checking him out, too.
I gave him a fifteen dollar bill. “Keep the change.”
He smiled, and oh, my God, he had dimples. I watched him slip back into his car and back out our long, difficult driveway. Then I heard Michele’s sing-song voice behind me. “Someone has a crush!”
I turned around and poked her in the sides where she’s DANGEROUSLY ticklish. She shrieked and ran into the kitchen. I turned back around and looked into the distance where his car had disappeared.
When I went into the kitchen, Michelle was already piling pizza slices and garlic bread onto her plate.
“Jeez,” I said. “I hope he doesn’t kiss you.” She looked at me and then looked at her plate. Panic overcame her face, and then anger.
“Good idea deciding to order garlic food,” she complained. She crossed her arms and tapped her foot. I laughed at how cute she looked.
“Because I was hoping to see a cute pizza guy.”
She tried to stay mad but smirked. “You’re MY dork.”
We watched a movie while we ate our dinner and then she rinsed her mouth out with mouthwash, like, five times. That looked painful. I mean, seriously. Just watching that hurt me. Then she got dressed and I did her hair and make-up. In the end she looked gorgeous.
“Awww, Michelle. You’re so pretty.”
She smiled big enough to see her perfectly straight and white teeth. “Thanks.”
Dad called her from downstairs and told her it was time to go. I put my hands on her shoulders and said, “Ok. No matter what happens, stand up straight, smile, and don’t do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing. And don’t be nervous. You’ll be fantastic.” I gave her a big hug, and off she went. My baby sister was going on her first date, and it felt like just yesterday that I’d been watching Blues Clues with her.
That night around 11:00 PM, I was curled up in bed and reading the book 1984 when Michelle walked in through the front door of our house. The screen door closed gently and she opened the closet door to put away the flats.
“Hey there, darling. How was the dance?”
She leaned into the doorway and sighed. “Hmm.” Her voice was high and light. “We didn’t go to the dance. We decided to go to the diner instead.” She ditched her last homecoming dance for a casual diner with screaming kids and overly loud jukeboxes. Yup. That’s definitely my Michelle.
I followed her down the hallway to her bedroom and made her bed while she changed into her pajamas. “You tired?” I asked.
She smiled. “Yeah. It’s been a long night.”
“Come here. Crawl into bed.” I took the covers that I’d neatly arranged and pulled them down off the bed so she could crawl in. Then I sat down next to her after she’d gotten into bed and tucked her in. “So how’d it go?”
“It was so amazing.” She was blushing. “I got to the dance, and as dad was pulling into the parking lot I was so scared Paulie wouldn’t show up, but there he was waiting on the front step. And when I got out of the car and started talking to him, I didn’t know what to say. So I was like, ‘I want some ice cream.’”
I chuckled and tucked a chunk of hair behind her ear. “That’s so you.”
“But that’s why he likes me. He likes me for all my little quirks, and that’s so cool of him.”
“A lot of people like your quirks. That’s why I love you.”
She laughed. “You’re so cheesy.”
“Um, excuse me. Who helped you get ready?”
“The best big sister ever.” Suddenly she started frantically looking around her bed. “Where’s Henry?” I saw him on the floor, the teddy bear I’d picked out for her the day she was born when I was three. I held him in my hands for a second, looking him over and finding all the maple syrup and drool stains. Michelle loves the little guy because I got him for her. She still sleeps with him.
“Alright,” she said. “I’m going to sleep. Goodnight. Thanks for helping me get ready for the best night of my life.” She extended her arms for a hug, and I gladly accepted.
“You’re welcome. Night, cutie.” I walked over to the light switch and flicked it off. Then I turned back around. “By the way, did he kiss you?” But there was no response. She was curled up in fetal position, her arms around Henry, and it reminded me of when she was little.