02 | duo

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"You need to stand up to her," Angie says, spooning a large amount of strawberry ice cream into her mouth.

I grumble. "I know, but I can never find the strength to," I reply. I take another bite of my vanilla ice cream. I've always been a purist, never having any topping and always getting vanilla - though I have been persuaded to try chocolate a few times. Angie, on the other hand, has a ritual of ordering the most expensive and exotic flavor, and then adding as many toppings as possible.

Today, she had ordered strawberry balsamic flavored ice cream with chocolate shavings, sprinkles, whipped cream, fudge sauce, and almonds. Fortunately, the woman confused her order and just gave her regular strawberry instead. Well, fortunately for me, because I don't think I could stand watching her eat that.

Angie sets her bowl down the table ad leans forward to stare into my face. She does this whenever she's about to give me a big pep talk. I try not to shy away, but it's instinct.

"Waverly Esther Skovgaard. You need to get your shit together."

I laugh. "Thanks, Angie. Very inspiring."

"See, now you're happy. It helped," she says, beaming. "But seriously, Wave, you can't just let Isla bully you around for your whole high school career."

"Good thing it's almost over," I interject.

Angie rolls her eyes. "It's only November. You still have a whole year ahead of you."

I lean back in my chair and look at the time on my phone. "I should probably go back soon," I say, hoping to change the subject. "It's almost 6."

Angie nods, standing up from her chair. She walks over to the trash can and deposits her empty ice cream bowl into it. Then she helps me up and together we walk back down the street to my house.

When I get home, it's 6:10 and the house is tense, like the electricity right before a thunderstorm. I contemplate going to get my dinner from the dining table, but then I realize that would be like seppuku. Penny cooks on Mondays. Instead, I open the pantry and pull down a Costco-sized bag of Cheez-Its. Then I go up the stairs to my room.

The hallway outside it is plastered with family photos, though you couldn't really call them "family". Penny is 80% of what makes the pictures look nice, 15% is Pheobe, my half-sister, and the remaining 5% is me and my dad's overwhelming chemistry. Which is practically non-existent, since the natural relationship that we had developed dissipated when my mom left and Penny replaced her.

Penny is what you call a trophy wife. She is extremely gorgeous with blonde hair and bright gray eyes. She has a sweet air and charm that makes her the object of most people's eyes. Penny is 26, I am 18 - that's an 8-year difference. My father is 46, and that is a 20-year. Last year at one of my basketball games, someone asked who my hot older sister was. 

I open the door to my room to see Pheobe sitting on my bed. She had tears streaming down her 4-year-old face, and the collar of her pink dress is already wet.

I close my door and rush across the room to wrap her in a hug. "What happened, Pheobe?" I ask, stroking her back. She cries into my shoulder.

"Mommy...mommy doesn't love me anymore," she says through sobs.

I release her and grab a tissue, dabbing at her cheeks to dry them. She looks up at me with her blue eyes and tries to smile. "I'm sorry about that, Pheobe. I'm sure she does love you, even if it doesn't seem like it."

I stop cold at my own words. They were the exact thing I had told myself three years ago. Forget it, Waverly. You need to get over it.

"OK, Wavey," Pheobe replies. She sniffles, then sits up and hops off the bed. Her fluffy blue slippers make almost no sound as she crosses the room. Opening the door, she pauses just outside the room. "I love you, Wavey," she says.

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