“Hey, Jessie, want to play something?” Alice Dunwell offered. Her sister looked up from her phone briefly, rolled her eyes, and continued texting.
“Don’t call me Jessie, and what do you think?” she said, flopping down on the sofa. Alice sighed. Why was she always acting that way, ever since she turned thirteen?
There was a knock on the door, and Jessie swatted away her sister’s attempts at opening it.
“I’ll get it!” she said, and then opened the door. Waiting outside was a tall blond boy, wearing a loose jacket and leaning against the doorway.
“Hey, beautiful,” he said. Jessie giggled.
“Hi, Parker,” she replied.
“You ready?” Parker asked. “And who’s the redhead?”
“Yeah, I am, and she’s just my sister. Let’s go before she pulls me into some sort of preschool game,” Jessie said. Now it was Alice’s turn to roll her eyes—she was in fifth grade!
“Wait, where are you going? You’re not allowed to date!” Alice said, as the couple started to walk away.
“What are you going to do? Tell on us? Sheesh, Ally, nobody likes a snitch!” Jessie laughed, and she and Parker went on. Frustrated, Alice slammed the door shut and, cross-armed and fuming, sat down hard on an armchair. She’s only fourteen! She thought. Her baby brother, Finn, toddled up to her and patted her knee with a chubby little hand, as if to comfort her. She laughed, and picked him up. What’s it to me? Just forget it, Alice.
Two hours later, Jessie and Parker entered.
“Bye, Parker,” Jessie said, batting her eyelashes at him.
“Bye, Jessica,” he said, and then left.
“For one, your name doesn’t even stand for Jessica, it’s just Jessie, and two, where did you go? Neither of you can even drive!” Alice said, as Jessie started texting someone.
“Jessica is better, and who are you, Dad? We went to the park, it’s not like we took a plane to L.A.,” she said, not looking up from her sparkly cell phone.
Alice groaned, and then took her little brother to the next room. At least here I don’t have to witness all the giggling and holding hands, she thought.
* * *
A few hours later, their mother called for dinner.
“Eat now or forever hold your peace!” she said. Alice and Finn entered the kitchen and sat down at the table.
“Smells great, Mom!” Alice said. “Nothing like your homemade deep-dish pizza.” She had given up being angry about Jessie and Parker two hours ago, and she was determined to forget the whole thing and be sweet. A few minutes later, after her dad had entered and complimented the chef, Jessie stalked in, texting.
Mrs. Dunwell held out her hand.
“Phone,” she said. “No texting at the dinner table. Ever.”
Jessie rolled her eyes, groaned, and passed her phone into her mother’s hands.
“When did you get so strict?” she said.
“When did you get permission to act snotty? Fix your mood, young lady,” Mrs. Dunwell said, giving Jessie the you-better-do-what-I-say look. For a minute, the scowl on Jessie’s face disappeared, but then, upon seeing Alice, it returned.
“Hey, Dad Junior,” she said.
“Dad what now?” Mr. Dunwell said.
“She thinks I’m being too ‘nosy’ by wondering where she went on her date with a senior!” Alice blurted. Despite her determination to keep Jessie’s secret, she finally lost it.
“Date? Senior? What’s going on, Jessie?” Mrs. Dunwell exclaimed.
“Alice is overreacting, that’s all,” Jessie grumbled.
“Not true!” Alice protested.
“Jessssiiieee!” Mr. Dunwell roared. The commotion of voices stopped, and Jessie sighed.
“Fine, I went to the park with Parker Rogers, the cutest boy at Elk High. Yeah, he’s a senior, but he likes me and I like him. There, you happy now?”
There was a silence.
“You think you can just go on a date with a boy I don’t know and not expect to get in trouble?” Mr. Dunwell said, low and obviously angrily.
“Sorry,” Jessie mumbled.
“Let’s eat before the food gets cold,” Mrs. Dunwell mumbled back. The entire meal was silent except for the sound of forks scraping on plates.
* * *
That night, as Alice lay in bed, she heard muffled whimpering; it seemed to be coming from Jessie’s room. She sat up and leaned close to the wall.
Sure enough, it was her sister.
She slid out of bed and into her sockmonkey slippers, then crept out into the hallway. She leaned close to her sister’s door for a minute, wondering if she should enter, and then finally did.
Jessie was sprawled out on her bed, her abundance of long blond hair covering her head, shoulders, arms, and most of her back. She didn’t see Alice, and so one sister watched the other sobbing wretchedly.
After a few minutes, Alice approached the bed and gently patted Jessie’s back. Jessie gasped.
“Alice?” she sobbed. “What are you doing here?”
“I just heard you crying, and, well, why are you crying?” Alice sat down and Jessie sat up.
“Well, it’s that… Parker broke up with me,” she said, sniffling.
“But why?” Alice asked.
“He said I’m too young and immature,” she said. “And that I-I-I need to get a grip!” Jessie broke into a fresh batch of tears all over again. Alice hugged her, and Jessie continued crying.
“I just feel like I’m always disappointing you all!” Jessie said. Alice hugged her tighter, and then, to her own surprise, started sobbing as well.
“You don’t disappoint me, you’re just not the same anymore,” Alice said, amid sobs. The sisters held their embrace for a minute, and then Jessie pulled away.
“Well, I’ll try. But in high school, everybody is always acting perfect, with their cell phones and their boyfriends, and I guess I just feel like I need to rise up to their standards,” she said. Alice smiled.
“I know; elementary school is no picnic either.” They both laughed, and then hugged again.
* * *
The next day after church, Jessie and Alice lay sprawled out on the floor, Jessie doing Alice’s nails.
“This is an easy way to do little hearts on your nails. I really think pink is your color!”
“Well, it is my favorite. Hey, how do you do that fishtail braid?” Alice replied.
Mrs. Dunwell opened the door and peeked in and smiled.
“That’s my girls,” she said to herself, and then left.
“I’m so glad you’re back!” Alice said, and then gently hugged Jessie so she wouldn’t mudge her new manicure.