"It's going to be weird having a big sister, though not as weird as..."
Double Dog Dare
Mom decided she felt well enough to go get a few things at K-Mart. We had passed one coming into town, just after getting off the freeway so she knew where it was and how to get back to the motel once she got there. She washed her face and changed clothes and redid her makeup, partly to cover her black eye, I guess. The makeup also did a good job of disguising the fact that she still had a monster cold that had only partly been tamed and probably wouldn't eat anyone who didn't tease it.
"You want to come along," she said before she headed out the door. "I'm going to get a few things for our disguises." She grinned at me.
I wanted to squirm at the thought. "Uh," I said.
"You don't have to, but we should be back before four. That's when your game starts again, isn't it?"
"Well, okay, then. C'mon. We'll get you a cute little cap to keep the sun out of your eyes and dirt out of your hair." She kept grinning. "Or do you think you can't do this?"
"Mom!" I protested. "That's like daring me to do it!"
"Yeah," she said. "I double-dog-dare you. What's a big sister for?"
I didn't need to washup again or put on makeup so I thought about what she said while following her out to the Cherokee. Getting into the tall Jeep was always a hassle for Mom and I because of being short. Mom had picked it to run away in instead of her own little car because it would hold so much stuff and it had a good air conditioner for crossing the deserts in the summer but the tires were nearly armpit height on me.
She'd already said something about getting rid of it and that made me a little sad; I'd always liked the pretty Jeep even if I felt like I needed a stepladder to get into it. We clambered in and shut the doors, another hassle because the handles were far away and the door heavy.
After belting in, I told her, "Big sisters are for little sisters to be annoying to." I blushed when I said it, though.
She grinned at me. "Bring it on," she said which was something Dad said when he wanted me to throw harder.
I didn't say anyhing else until we were out on the street, heading in the right direction. "It's going to be weird having a big sister, though I guess not as weird as ... well, um...."
She laughed. "I can give you lessons in being the annoying kid sister, but I don't think it's in my best interests. I had years to perfect my technique." She glanced at me. "You really think you can do this?"
I shrugged. "One way to find out, huh?" The cold spot in the middle of my chest didn't seem to have anything to do with the hundred-plus weather outside.
We drove north, I think it was north, back up through the town. Motels and restaurants and shops lined one side of the street for most of the way but there were also houses and apartment buildings. On the other side, a wide green park separated the street from a set of railroad tracks. Off that way, I could see the freeway sticking up above the roofs of houses on the other side of the tracks, probably a half a mile away.
The park was weird, so green, like a golf course. The rest of the town had a dry look like an old piece of bread that no one wants except here and there, someone would have a green lawn or some fruit trees growing in their yard. Like mold, maybe, though why I thought of that, I don't know.
"Age," said Mom as we neared the left hand turn into the K-Mart lot. "One thing that might help our disguises, well, sixth graders in a lot of places are expected to change clothes for P.E., I don't think you're going to want to do that."
"Uh, no," I said.
"So maybe it's not just me that should appear younger," she said.
I thought about that while Mom cruised the lot. There was no shade but she wanted to park where the sun wouldn't shine directly in the front windows. As she pulled into a space, I said, "Last year, I had an argument at lunch with a substitute teacher who thought I was one of her second-graders."
Mom laughed. "You never told me about that."
"Yeah, well, it was embarrassing. It was near Halloween and we wore parts of our costumes to school. One of her kids had the same baseball cap I did and a similar glove."
Mom turned off the engine and pulled up the parking brake. "How old do you think you look?"
I mumbled something. "Most people think I'm only eight or nine."
She frowned. "You're short and you've got chubby cheeks, but wouldn't you be kind of tall for an eight-year-old?"
I shook my head. "Uh, no, Mom. I'm about the size of the average kid starting third grade this fall." I know I blushed but the heat from opening the car door hit me at about the same time so it probably didn't show.
"Wow," she said. "I was tiny, too. We need to talk to Martha."
"She's a doctor. I'll tell you more later."
When I caught up with her on the way to the front door of K-Mart, she held her hand out. "Sisters hold hands a lot," she said. "Especially if one of them is only eight." She grinned at me.
I took her hand. It made me want to squirm a little bit but it had been a long time since I had held Mom's hand in public. I kind of liked it as long as I didn't think of her wiping her nose with that hand.
"We won't buy much here, we don't want to be too memorable. We'll stop somewhere else and buy more tomorrow or later tonight." She laughed. "This is sort of exciting."
"Scary," I said. She squeezed my hand and I squeezed back.
"Uh-huh," she agreed. "But now I feel like we might actually be able to hide long enough to drive your dad into giving up his evil schemes."
I looked at her and she giggled, knowing she had said something silly. I just smiled and shook my head.
"Have you ever been to Martha's?" I asked her.
"Uh, huh," she said. "Years and years ago, when I was in junior high. Spent a Christmas vacation there. Rode horses, branded pigs, all that farm stuff."
"You don't brand pigs," I protested.
"How do you know?"
"They cut notches in their ears instead," I told her. "I read it somewhere."
She laughed. "Yeah, they do. Gross. They squeal like anything, too, fershure."
I looked up at her as we went into the store. She must be practicing trying to sound like a teenager, I decided. A brown-skinned old man held the door and smiled at us.
"Thank you," we both said. Then Mom poked me in the shoulder, "Jinx, you owe me a Coke."
"Ow!" I said, though it hadn't hurt. Mom grinned at me and I grinned back. I pointed at the snack bar, "We can get cokes with ice."
"On the way out," she said. She headed immediately toward the health and beauty stuff. For some reason, I had thought we were clothes shopping which was straight ahead from the entrance and we almost got tangled up as she crossed in front of me. "Hey?" I said.
"Hair dye," she said and continued moving so I followed.
Catching up with her, I put my hand back in hers. "Are we going to be brunettes?" I said. A little shiver went through me for some reason. Then I realized it was because of how the word is spelled and that seemed very strange to think about.
"I'm thinking about it," she said. She glanced at me, "And you're right, we're going to have to cover up your hair color too. It's just too distinctive." We turned down a row that seemed to be nothing but hair dye on one side. "Your hair is so fine, though, we'll have to be careful. Maybe a rinse for you."
"What's a rinse?" I asked.
"Temporary hair dye," she said. "It comes out a little each time you shampoo."
"Oh," I said. I resisted squirming until I just had to say. "I thought -- uh? Maybe?"
She looked up from reading a box and raised an eyebrow.
"You can't turn brown hair blond with a rinse, can you?" I managed to ask.
She shook her head. "Not really. But we're both blondes now."
I blinked. "We are?"
She nodded. "Dark blond but blond." She grinned. "On a guy, this hair color would be called light brown, but on a girl, it's blond." She pointed at her head then wagged it back and forth and grinned goofily, "I'm so-o blonde!"
I laughed. Or maybe giggled.
"It's a shame really," Mom said. "People pay lots of money to get highlights put in their hair and you and I have got that naturally. And we're going to dye it and cover that up. Oh, well." She looked at another box. "My brothers all claimed I had tabby cat genes."
I giggled again. Tabby woould be a cute nickname for a girl with streaks in her hair, I thought.
Mom held up three boxes, one red, one blonde, one black. "Maybe I'll go calico this time?" she said.
We both laughed. She looked at more boxes then handed one to me. "What do you think?" she asked.
It said something about gentle hair-color creme and no ammonia and the color was described as light chestnut brown but looked red to me. "For you?" I asked.
"For both of us," she said. "I'm thinking, that's our 'natural' hair color now, we've got the complexion for it, then I dye mine mostly black with red bangs."
I shivered. "Bangs," I said.
"Yeah, the hair that hangs down almost in your eyes, you know. You okay?"
I nodded, looking at the long red hair on the model pictured on the box, trying to imagine having hair that long.
"What do you think?" she asked again.
"Is this a rinse?" I asked.
"No," she said. "Rinses are no good, they come off on your clothes. I remembered that, I'm so sure!" She giggled; practicing, I guess.
"So, it's a permanent change?"
"Uh, huh." She pointed on the box where it said 'permanent hair color'. Reading the box made me feel like I had swallowed something I shouldn't have.
I handed it back to her. I didn't think I could say anything so I just nodded.
"Okay with you?" she asked.
I nodded again.
She stood, sort of half bent over, looking me in the face. "You sure?"
"Yeah," I whispered. "Being a redhead will be okay."
She grinned, straightening up. "You're really something, punkin."
"You shouldn't call me that," I said.
"Why not?" She had three boxes in her hands, one blonde, one black, and the red one.
"Because that's what you call me."
"Hmm," she said. "Rats. You're right." She found a red shopping basket, the kind with handles that go over your arm, at the end of the aisle and put our hairdye in it. Then she took the blonde and the black out and put them back. "We'll get those somewhere else." She grinned at me. "You're not paranoid if someone's really out to get you."
I nodded. She put her purse in the basket too and took my hand again. "Let's go see if they have a pink Diamondbacks cap."
"We're going to Arizona, remember? Maybe we'll even live there a while. Can you learn to root for the D'backs?"
"I guess," I said. They weren't in the same league with the team back home so I didn't know much about them. "But will pink go with red hair?" I asked.
She laughed. "We'll see."
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