I slept in this morning, missing my usual routine of munching on Reese Puffs and catching Pokémon on the Saturday morning cartoons line up. My phone rang a few times, waking me up every half hour from 10 until noon. I never had a reason to turn off my phone before I slept until now and sandwiching my head between my pillow didn’t solve anything.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Oh my God, please tell me you’re washing your face.” The sarcastic and slightly angry voice was Britney on the line. “There is no other reason why you should miss my calls.”
“S-sorry,” I yawned and grabbed my glasses from the dresser.
I should have freshened up first and called her back. I probably sounded so stupid because I was dead tired. I knew I shouldn’t have played Mario Kart DS online way past midnight. Ryan and his stupid new friends weren’t challenging enough for me.
“Get up, sleepy head.” Britney said. “Wanna hang out at my house?”
I had to press mute on my phone so she couldn’t hear me stomping my feet and squealing.
“Sure,” I said. “Let me ask my parents first.”
With my phone still to my ear, I rushed downstairs to ask my parents if I can go to Britney’s house. They were eating lunch at opposite ends of the kitchen table, both playing separate games on their new “smart” phones. What did they distract themselves from each other with before all this advanced technology was developed? Crossword puzzles?
“Yeah sure, why not?” Dad said, eyes glued to his touchscreen. “I’ll drive you there whenever you’re ready.”
“Wait a minute!” Mom said, which really meant wait a half hour while I ask you a million questions. “Will her parents be home?”
With Britney eavesdropping on the other line, I parroted her responses.
“Yes, they’ll be home,” I said.
“Does she have any older brothers?”
I sighed. “One in university, but he lives downtown.”
“What time will you be home?”
“She can call when she needs a ride.” Dad said, frantically thumbing over his touchscreen.
“Be quiet!” Mom said, finally peeling her eyes off her screen to glare at Dad across the table. “I’m trying to talk to Johanna.”
It was too embarassing for Britney to hear this. I tried to interject and said, “listen, you guys—”
“And so am I, so don’t interrupt me,” Dad continued and put his phone down next to his plate.
“You interrupted me first.”
“You’re asking her too many questions again.”
“So? I just want to make sure she’ll be safe.”
“She’s not going to a boy’s house, of course she’ll be safe.”
“Don’t you undermine me in front of our daughter.”
“Undermine? I’m just telling you the truth.”
“My dad says it’s okay!” I said loud enough to make them stop and turn to me for a second.
“See you soon.” Britney sang as she hung up.
“She’ll text me her address,” I said, averting their dual gaze.
My parents then frowned at each other and if they were anime characters, you would see an electric line sparking between them, and exaggerated veins pulsating at their temples.
Without breaking eye contact, Dad told me to go and get ready.
I rushed upstairs to scour through my closet for something decent to wear. Obviously Hello Kitty and Sailor Moon t-shirts weren’t going to fly by Britney—she would think I was childish—so I had to settle for a plain white t-shirt and some faded blue jeans. My hairbrush often got stuck when I tried to comb through my thick and frizzy hair, but after a little TLC, I managed to get rid of a few cow licks and stray strands. The remaining ones were for fashion, I swear.
Dad was no longer in the kitchen by the time I went back downstairs. Mom had cleared the table and was now washing the dishes with the Filipino TV on in the background. It was some obnoxious game show where a bunch of half naked girls are always dancing in the background, and the camera zooms in and out of focus on the hosts and contestants. It made me dizzy watching it for even a second.
I would have said goodbye to her, but not while she was muttering angrily to herself as she aggressively scrubbed a plate.
Opening the front door, I could immediately hear the car engine being drowned out by the bass thumping from the old people music my dad blasted on the sound system. Meanwhile, from the inside of the house, the Filipino game show’s cheesy upbeat music washed out the flow of the faucet. Two sources of noise sandwiched my ears as I stood between the door frame.
I sure had more appreciation for my Sailor Moon ringtone now.
Shutting the door behind me, I was left with my dad’s music, which filled with more melody to accompany the bass as I hopped into the passenger seat.
Dad lowered the volume momentarily to ask me for Britney’s address. I read it to him, and he amped the volume right back up once we exited the driveway. He would normally be singing along with The Beatles by the time we got onto the main roads, but he kept quiet. The most he did was tap a beat on the steering wheel, otherwise, he didn’t say anything either.
“What is Mom’s problem?” I asked, unheard as he took a left turn. I repeated myself louder the second time. “Why is she so uptight?”
Dad looked at me for a second, then back at the road and sighed. “That’s just the way she is.”
“Oh, come on,” I said, looking out the window to hide my scowl from him.
“Johanna?” He actually put the volume down on the car stereo. “What’s wrong?”
I shifted in my seat and crossed my arms. “She never wants me to have any fun, or at least when she does, it’s either her idea of fun or I have to ask for permission.”
“She’s just looking out for you. If we just gave you everything you wanted, you’d be spoiled and have no respect for us.” Dad drove into a neighbourhood with big houses, some of which had front gates, and all of which had big enough driveways for four cars.
He asked me which house was Britney’s and I gave him her house number before continuing to press him. “Why are you defending her? She’s such a big meanie, I hate her so much.”
“Don’t say that about your mother, you’re supposed to love her.” Dad drove up on to Britney’s driveway and parked the car.
“How about you then?” I turned the stereo off completely. “Do you actually love her, or only try to because you’re supposed to love your wife?”
“Johanna!” Dad whipped a glance toward me.
“What?” I snapped. “She’s not even nice to you. Why do you put up with her like that?”
“Why are you being so difficult right now?”
“Difficult? I’m just telling you the truth.” I held my gaze and then raised my eyebrows at him as if to say yeah, I’m using your own tactics against you.
He sighed and sank back into his seat, and looked up at the car ceiling. “I drove you to your friend’s house, what more do you want?”
A pang of guilt ran through me. He had a good point. But I was only looking out for him too. I hated seeing him get chewed up by Mom like that, but at least he argued back so I could go out at all today. Then I had to go and make him feel worse by picking a fight with him. I wanted to apologize, but he cut me off.
“Call me when you’re ready to get picked up.” He looked at me, and the stern confrontational gaze I had earlier had weakened into one of sympathy. I pursed my lips, preventing myself from saying anything further, and got out of the car. I looked back at him to wave goodbye, but he was too focussed on backing out and driving away to notice me.
When I got to Britney’s front door, she pinned my arms to my sides with a rib crushing hug. Why do girls hug each other so much? Was that another secret to staying thin? Not that I would need any secrets to remain a natural skeleton, but ouch. Why did affection have to hurt?
“I ordered a pizza for us,” Britney said taking me to her kitchen. She took out a bag of chips, a two litre bottle of orange soda from her pantry, and set them on the marble breakfast counter in front of me.
“Pizza and chips?” I said taking a seat on a stool. “Aren’t those acne activators?”
Britney flicked her wrist and let out a tiny giggle. “It’s gonna take more than a bag of chips and a box of pizza to ruin my complexion.”
Her kitchen was almost as big as my entire main floor and they had a microwave and fridge built into the wall. Fancy shmancy Schumers. Everything was so bright in her house that it was almost blinding compared to mine, from the sun peaking through her wide unshuttered windows, to the squeaky clean white floor.
“While we wait, we should totally paint your nails.” Britney hopped on the seat next to me. She looked at my hands resting on the counter and her eyes went wide. She returned my raised eyebrow with one of her own. “Jo, you’ve got my work cut out for me this afternoon.”
She smiled, grabbed my hand, and brought me to her living room. The Schumers already had a big house, but they sure knew how to save space, like getting a flat screen TV and pinning it to the wall. Oh, and their white suede couches were actually couches, and not plastic covered slides like at my house. To sit down on them without an embarrassing fart noise or the need to shift your butt about was comfy beyond words.
On the coffee table, Britney had already laid out her manicure stuff before I came. Tiny bottles of polish, a pair of clippers, and a filer all stared back at me. If Ryan ever found out I was about to do this, he’d have a field day. Johanna, easy on your button mashing, he would say, you don’t want to chip a nail.
Britney pulled a foot rest out from a reclining sofa and set it in front of me. She sat down on it and took my hands in hers. “Your cuticles are such a mess,” she said flipping out the pick blade from the clippers in her other hand. Her smooth palm rubbed against mine and it tickled a bit. “Oh my God, why are your fingers so calloused? Especially your thumbs!”
I shrugged and relaxed when Britney started lathering my hands with a moisturizer. It tickled some more, and I tried hard not to giggle about it. I didn’t even know what cuticles were and how bad mine were until she started picking away at them. When she cut my nails she made the clippers take tiny chomps, carefully following around the line, instead of rushing to cut them ridiculously short like I usually would in three straight lines.
While Britney filed the rough edges left on my fresh cut nails, she let out a sigh.
“Are my hands and fingers that bad?” I asked.
“It’s not you,” she said stopping for a second. “It’s Gregory. I don’t know if he really likes me for me or if he’s just using me.”
“Using you for what?” I said and she wiggled her eyebrows at me. “Oh!” I let a few moments pass before I spoke again. “Is there a litmus test to figure that kind of thing out?” I couldn’t believe I blurted out some lame school stuff outside of school. I thought Britney was going to make fun of me for it, but instead she laughed.
“Mr. Clause’s class?” She said and I nodded. “Yeah, I have him for third period, we did litmus tests this week, too. People say he looks like a thinner Santa Claus.”
“Maybe—” I pulled the collar of my shirt to let some hot air escape. “Maybe he really is Santa Claus, and he had to slim down so he can fit down chimneys.”
“Yeah right,” Britney said. “That grumpy geezer? I don’t think so. Did you know he snapped a meter stick in half to get the class to stop talking? Total psycho.”
“That must have been scary.”
“Not really. There’s more of us than him,” she said. “Plus I’ve had worse.”
“No. People screaming at me.”
I couldn’t imagine who would want to scream at Britney, they would be out of their minds. She sure had a way of destroying someone with just her words without even having to raise her voice. If she did though, it would be a deadly combo.
“My mom screams at me sometimes.” I said.
Britney looked up at me for a second, but didn’t say anything. Instead, she put the filer away and looked at the bottles of nail polish on the coffee table. She tapped her bottom lip a few times before flicking a pointing finger at the colour she wanted to use.
“You should do what I do,” she said when she sat back on the foot rest. “And tell her to shut the hell up.”
“No way,” I giggled. “I can’t do that.”
Britney stared at me with her hypnotic sky blue eyes, and I started sweating. I had to bite down on my lip to stop it from quivering. I must have looked like such a scaredy cat and I definitely didn’t want to give her that impression. Thankfully, the doorbell rang and she went to answer it. I wanted to bite my nails, but they were trimmed and smoothed to perfection that I’d end up chewing off my fingers instead.
“Pizza’s here,” Britney said. I joined her at the kitchen table where she set the pizza box, along with the bag of chips and orange soda from the breakfast counter.
Before she opened the box, I was expecting the pizza to have a bunch of vegetable toppings, or at least plain cheese. But instead, it was a meat lover’s pizza, with the bits of sausage, bacon, and pepperoni shining in all their greasy glory.
For every tiny bite I took, Britney took three large ones and while chewing, stuffed her mouth with chips. She pointed the opening of the bag toward me and I shook my head. Britney pigged out, finishing two slices while my first one was still half eaten.
“Don’t be shy,” Britney said motioning for me to pick up my slice I left lying on my plate. Clearly, she took her own advice as she took her crusts and dipped them deep into the garlic sauce before taking beastly bites out of them. “You’re lucky. I bet you can eat this whole box and not gain an ounce.”
I couldn’t believe she was saying I was the lucky one, when she was the one with any actual meat on her bones. She was so curvy, almost like an hour glass, and I was just a stick.
“But the grease—” I said.
“Make it your last pizza ever then.”
I took a big bite, wobbling my head in exagerrated satisfaction. “But I really hope that pimple stuff you gave me starts working soon. I don’t feel pretty enough for Ryan yet, and I think he likes someone else, and I just don’t want him to forget about me while my skin’s clearing up—”
“Jo.” Britney put her hand on my wrist to stop me. “Don’t worry about it. I can help you with that. By the time I’m done with you, he won’t be able to keep his hands off you.”
I gave her a wry smile and she let go of my hand.
When our meal went silent, we were able to hear the front door unlock. “Mom?” Britney said when the door opened.
From the main hallway, I heard Mrs. Schumer sigh and say, “yup.”
Her shoes click clacked closer towards us as Britney got up to greet her. She rushed to the entrance of the kitchen and her mom appeared in front of her. “You’re home early. Where’s dad?”
Mrs. Schumer had tanned skin and too much unnecessary blush on, along with a heavy amount of blue eye shadow. The gold bracelets on her wrists jingled as she raised her hands to rub her temples. “That bozo can flirt with all the waitresses he wants, but he’s not going to pull that crap in front of me.”
I managed to finish my one and only slice of pizza while Britney’s mom continued to rant. I savoured the saltiness of the meat, the tanginess of the tomato sauce, and the gooey creamy cheese if this were to be last my pizza ever. Eventually, Mrs. Schumer looked over Britney’s shoulder to look at me.
“Oh you have company, this one’s new,” Mrs. Schumer said. “Who is she?”
Britney giggled then said, “I want you to meet Jo—”
“Oh my God, Britney!” Mrs. Schumer said when she noticed me reaching into the pizza box for another slice. She shoved past Britney and stomped over to the table and almost closed the box over my hand before I moved it out of the way. “What the hell is this?”
“It’s just pizza, Mom…”
“You know you shouldn’t be eating all these fatty foods.”
“It’s my cheat day today—”
“Two cheat days in a row?” Mrs. Schumer took the box to the counter and opened it. “I don’t think you understand how a cheat day works, Little Miss Piggy.” One by one, she took the remaining slices and tossed them in the garbage.
“Hey! You can’t do that, I paid for that with my own hard earned money.” Britney said grabbing her mom’s wrist as she was about to throw away one last slice. It was useless. Mrs. Schumer just opened her hand and let the slice drop into the garbage bin. “Mom!”
Mrs. Schumer rolled up the chip bag and threw it in the trash as well. “You mean your dinky little paper route? Oh please, I know you made the Larson boy do it for you all summer long.”
“He offered to help, but that’s not important,” Britney said, trying to reach for chip bag that, but her mom held the lid down. “Ugh, I hate you so much!” Britney stormed out of the kitchen while giving her mom the middle finger behind her.
“You know where you can shove that finger,” she called out before turning to me. “I’m really sorry you had to see that. But she knows better than to go against her dietician’s orders—”
I ran past Mrs. Schumer to chase after Britney. She headed to the washroom, and slammed the door in front of me. I knocked and called her name, but all I could hear was a ton of hacking and coughing. For the next 10 minutes, I sat against the door and waited for her to finish whatever she was doing in there. Whatever it was, it sounded gross.
What happened to Britney telling her mom to shut the hell up? She made me believe that she could stand up for herself. If that’s what it looked like to stand up against her mom, I had to forget about trying her method out any time soon. Britney was lucky her mom only used words to hurt her…