Saturday, October 25, 2008
The screech of sibling rivalry and teen angst pierced the opulent Manhattan apartment. Barely past six, the sun hadn't even tossed aside the blanket of night to drive cold winter clouds from the sky, and already the TV crawled with gun-toting mercenaries hell-bent on killing Nicolette Tao — and suffering for their efforts. The sudden sisterly squall on the couch granted them a momentary reprieve, and with pixel perfect coordination, the unit broke cover and painted the screen red.
With her purple-streaked hair bound up in her older sister's hand, Nicolette didn't even notice the loss of a half hour's cautious advance through the shooter. "MooOOoom!" she squealed, writhing to free dyed hair from painful inspection.
"Mmf. Stop squirming. What did you do to your hair?!"
"Let go of me!" Nicolette answered the claws tangled into her hair with a fist. Swinging viciously at the more elegant and domineering of the Tao girls, the younger was rewarded with a curt shriek. Fingers that were in one moment dragging her head around with a callous handful of hair at the base of her neck had released and streaked across the girl's face in the next, painting a bright red palm print on her cheek.
"You bitch!" the elder cried, clutching the claws of purple hair-pulling doom protectively and delicately over her chest. "You hit me in my boob!"
Cocked and loaded like shotguns ready to rip the other's face off, the sisters stilled as their mother walked into the room. "Nicolette, why —
"Mo-oom... it's Nicky!"
"Well, I named you, I think I should know your name," she chastened, rolling her eyes. "Fine. Nicky, why are you hitting your sister?"
"She started it!" Nicky whined. "She's pulling my hair!"
"Jennifer, why — Nicolette!" their mother gasped in astonishment, prematurely ending her investigation of the morning's commotion. She had expected it to be no different from any Saturday morning. She had not expected to see her younger daughter's fine midnight locks run through with ribbons of purple. "What did you do to your hair?!" It was the same disapproving tone, but with less sibling hate and more maternal disappointment.
"It's called dye, mom," Nicky sassed, wincing at her mother's own inspection of hair already pulled and strained, gentler, but still insistent. The smugly victorious sneer lighting her sister's face stained the younger girl's eyes with damp humiliation, cracking her voice into a whine when she pulled away and complained again. "Mo-oom! I'm sixteen, I can dye my hair if I want to."
"Mm," her mom grunted noncommittally. "You're not sixteen, yet. Jenny, go put a cold cloth on that. You don't want to bruise."
"Mom..." It was the older sister's turn to protest, though she carefully measured her voice, determined not to sound as whiny as her little sister. "Please call me Jennifer."
"I think I know what I named my own children," she repeated.
"It's just that... Jenny is so common. I mean... and Jennifer isn't that much better. You know how many Jennifers there are in the agency? Why'd she get the fancy name, anyways?" she questioned, glaring at her sister. "She doesn't even like it."
"Fine, Jennifer, fine... And that's why you're using the name Amber Rose, dear, I know."
"What a ho," Nicky scoffed under her breath after Jennifer slipped away to tend her injury.
"What?! Amber Rose is such a porn name."
"At least I have the tits for it!" Jennifer snapped from the bathroom.
"Not if I punch them flat!"
"They'll still be bigger than yours!"
"Mo-oom," Nicky whined, biting back another onslaught of tears collected and hidden away over the years of teasing at home and at school.
"Oh, Jennifer, will you leave your sister alone? She's just a late bloomer, like your mother was."
Nicky grabbed her PS3 controller from the floor and sulked into the couch. "She got me killed."
"Are you sure you won't come with us, dear?" her mom asked, ignoring the violence and bloodshed her daughter was producing on the screen.
"You're a beautiful girl - ignore your sister - and there will be a lot of scouts at the show... some will even overlook... this," she encouraged, gesturing carefully to the disarrayed purple streaks.
"I don't wanna be anywhere near her, no way. I hate her," Nicky spat sullenly.
"Oh, stop it, you do not. She's just trying to get at you, Nicky." Her mom sighed. Then changed tack, hoping futilely to play on any admiration she might have for her sister's youthful success. "You're so sensitive, dear. Why can't you be more like your sister? She knows mere words can't hurt her."
"Yeah, and she also takes her clothes off for the camera. You want me to be a slut?"
"Nicky, you know it's just a swimsuit show."
"Yeah. A Halloween swimsuit dressed like devil with those stupid fat-pillows squeezed into a tiny net."
"Forget it, mom. She's just jealous," goaded Jennifer as she dragged her suitcase to the door. "She couldn't even be a Suicide Girl and they take any flat, ugly skank with dye or piercings or —
"Jennifer Tao! Both of you, just shut up. Oh... you're giving me a headache!" The girls fell silent as their mother demonstrated her strain with a hand delicately probing her own forehead. Nicky, sullen and fighting another crisis of tears at Jennifer's accusations and Jennifer, cautiously smug at the wrecking ball she'd crashed into her little sister's esteem. "Now. If you two can stop fighting. For ten minutes. I can still. Get you. A ticket. Nicolette?"
She refused to look at them, to empower her sister's smug triumph with the deep, wet shadows ringing her eyes. Nicky paused her game long enough to answer with her middle finger, then turned the TV up and tossed a grenade across the screen, finalizing her answer with its thundering boom. She was done talking.
Nicky couldn't have known her silence would be the last thing her mother and sister ever heard from her.