After sternly reminding me to stay seated at the table, Noelle trusted me alone long enough to retrieve one of her bags from where she had left it in the foyer upon arrival. It was certainly a temptation to dart upstairs in the name of finding something to prove my identity before she could catch me, but my still throbbing backside was enough to give me pause. Not only was there the chance that Miley’s babysitter would catch me before I made it that far, but Paige could certainly slow me down if I ran into her. Especially if she was in my bedroom at the moment, invading my private space with the excuse of finding me an outfit as my ‘older sister.’
There was also the lingering idea of just darting out of the house and making a break for our next door neighbor’s place. While Noelle had said she would chase if that happened, I would have a decent head start. It’s not like it was that far. But no, I needed to bide my time. There would be a better moment to steal away, with less risk involved. For now, I was going to keep being a ‘reformed’ Miley.
Noelle returned with her bag. She sat down across from me, officially closing the potential window of escape I had just been given. Now she was directly watching me, and poised to shut down any attempts of mine to get up. She pulled out a slim binder and a 7th grade science textbook. I couldn’t remember if it was the same one that I used back in middle school. “Start with the first two handouts in the binder,” Noelle said, sliding the small stack of materials across the table, “You may use the book to find any answers you need.”
And that was that. I was working on Miley’s summer catch-up assignments. A quick skim of the two pages was enough to tell me that the ‘life science’ I would be focusing on was cell structure and function. The title of the handouts paralleled the second chapter of the book, which I ended up needing to open pretty quickly after starting. While I was able to answer maybe a fifth of the questions on sight, there were just too many little terms and details that I had forgotten over the years. Maybe I would have been fine with a multiple choice quiz, with selections that would spark my memory, but every part of the assignment Noelle had given to me required writing in the answers myself.
I must have been quite the sight to Paige as she strutted into the kitchen. Sitting at the table, poring over a middle school textbook to find the answers I needed to complete the worksheet sitting in front of me. “Here you go, Miles,” she said. Managing to keep a straight face for the most part, save for the same idle smile she had upstairs, she walked over and set down a stack of clothes on the edge of the table. To justify her amused expression, Paige turned to Noelle and said, “Honestly, I’m impressed. None of the other babysitters were able to get Miley to work on her homework.”
Noelle just shrugged. “Sometimes you just need a little negative reinforcement. What do you say to your sister, Miley?”
’Fuck this.’ Wanting nothing more than to stare down at the pages in front of me, or perhaps crawl into a hole to avoid the continuous embarrassment of being treated like this in my step-sister’s presence, I forced myself to get out the emotionless words. “Thanks, Paige.”
“You’re very welcome, sis!” Paige chirped. Pushing her luck by patting me on the head like she had gotten away with numerous times before all this whenever she could catch me off guard with it, she said, “Now behave for Ms. Noelle, brat. This has been fun, but I have a game to get back to.”
Fun? For a second, I was surprised she would say such a thing in Noelle’s presence. But then it dawned on me that Paige could very easily pull it off, considering she was my ‘older sister’ and finally seeing me disciplined properly after all the sitters failed to achieve something like this. Besides, our regular dynamic was evidence enough that sisters didn’t have to be particularly cordial to each other all the time.
“Just ‘Noelle’ is fine,” the brunette said. She didn’t seem bothered by Paige’s casual smugness, but she at least made the effort to correct the name, “Thanks for the clothes, Paige. We’ll be here for a while.”
“Sounds good,” Paige nodded, “Oh! I have a couple friends coming over in a bit. We’ll be in my room or the basement, so hopefully that won’t be an issue.”
“Not a problem. I’m only here to watch Miley. Someone could have mentioned the sister thing, but that’s not your fault.”
‘Because Miley DOESN’T HAVE A SISTER.’ I tried to tell her as much earlier.
“Sorry about that,” Paige replied, “Don’t worry, we’ll stay out of your way. We’ll probably order pizza or something, so the kitchen is all yours, too. I can order some for you and Miley, if you’d like.”
Of course she was being nice to Noelle. That’s how Paige operated with pretty much every adult, whether it was sucking up to a teacher or painting herself as the older sister to Miley’s college-aged babysitter. I was way more concerned, however, with the fact that Paige’s friends would apparently be here to witness this. We had graduated, so it’s not like this humiliation would affect my reputation or anything, but I still didn’t want her and her obnoxious gamer friends teasing me about this for the rest of summer break. Paige said they’d stay out of our way, but I knew she would somehow arrange for them to see me trapped as ‘Miley.’
“I’ll think about it,” Noelle said, “Maybe if she’s good until then. Otherwise we’ll stick with something healthier.”
I could feel another blush creeping up. They were back to talking about me while I was literally sitting right there, and Noelle was once again treating me like the difficult teenager she viewed me as. And, while I so badly wanted to speak up in my defense, it was yet another example of choosing my battles. For now, I’d have to suck it up and let Paige enjoy more of my situation.
“Sounds good. I’ll check in when we think about ordering, then. And I’ll make sure my friends know to head right upstairs when they get here. No need to distract Miley, right?”
“Right,” Noelle nodded.
Without another look towards me, Paige sauntered off. Her body language alone was enough to show how content she was with how this was all playing out.
To Noelle’s credit, she was a decent babysitter in terms of minimizing sister drama. She waited until Paige’s footsteps on the stairs and upstairs hallway had faded before speaking again. “Let’s take a small break,” she said. Gesturing towards the clothes I hadn’t had a chance to get a good look at aside from seeing a blue/white combo, Noelle told me, “You can get dressed now.”
I doubted Paige had picked anything pleasant, but anything would be better than being stuck in a leotard when her friends arrived. So with an awkward, “Okay,” I got up and collected the outfit.
Sure enough, Noelle felt the need to escort me to the bathroom. Apparently I had a long way to go before earning her trust.
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