Everything was spinning out of control.
The only reason I had been able to handle the demeaning make-over and the mortifying ‘accidents’ in the car was because it had all happened in isolation. True, my sister was witness to my ultimate shame and humiliation, but that had been it. One person. Now our two cousins were involved in Kate’s little game, and I actually found myself caught between a rock and a hard place. If I blurted out my real age and put a stop to my sister’s lies, my childish appearance was going to raise some eyebrows and make this first impression go from bad to worse. But if I kept quiet, then what would happen when the twins eventually found out the truth?
That was bound to happen sooner rather than later. Luna and Lilah might have been easily tricked, as cousins that don’t see each other very often are bound to forget a couple important details about their extended family members. But our aunt and uncle? They would know my age for sure.
“Let’s go, Annie,” Kate said, “Don’t you know that it’s rude to linger in doorways?”
A small push on my back was enough to make the decision for me as a single step forward caused the mess between my legs to shift. That’s right. One word from Kate, one tug on my skirt, and then pigtails and freckles would be the least of my worries. She promised the pull-ups would stay between us, but I wasn’t in the most trusting mood now that she was passing me off as a twelve year old. Still. Until I was out of the sagging underwear, I would play along.
Lilah announced that she was going to the basement to see if she could find the box she was thinking about, while the other two girls took me upstairs. It wasn’t until we were halfway down the second floor hallway that I realized that perhaps it would have been better to greet the twins’ parents first. While I was nervous about spoiling Kate’s fun and suffering the consequences, they would have no such problem setting things straight.
But it was too late. With Luna leading the way, and Kate staying behind me to give me a ‘helpful’ nudge or two to keep me moving, we were led into what I assumed was the guest bedroom. There were two twin beds, and a notable lack of personal flair that I’m sure our teenage cousins had in their own rooms. Apparently, I wasn’t going to get a break from my sister at night, either. For the first time in years, we were going to be sleeping in the same room.
Gesturing to the room and sharing what I had already guessed, Luna gave me a warm smile. “Want first choice of the beds?”
Considering my real age, it wasn’t difficult to pick up on the not so subtle patronizing attitude. From my perspective, I was awkwardly coming to terms with Kate’s fantasy and how easy and insulting it was for our cousins to assume I was so young. From Luna’s perspective, however, she must have viewed my outward demeanor as shy or nervous. Looking back, it made sense. I had been stuck in my thoughts, and Kate had done most of the talking as the ‘older sister.’
Unable to hide my annoyance and frustration, I sighed. “I really don’t care.” Belatedly, it hit me that an attitude like that was pretty typical for a tween.
Ugh, there was no winning, was there?
And, of course, Kate jumped right on it. “Manners, Annie. How about you apologize to your older cousin for being rude?”
Luna just giggled. “It’s fine. I’m used to it. When you babysit long enough, it’s all just white noise after a while.”
As in, my pissed off adult attitude was being taken as that of a moody teenager. Even worse, Luna was saying something like that right in front of my face. I was almost provoked into verbally snapping back, but managed to catch myself. If everything I said had the potential to be taken in an immature way thanks to my appearance and Kate’s fiction, then I would only be adding fuel to the fire by letting my emotions get the better of me.
Instead, I took a breath and tried to pivot to the route I should have taken from the moment we stepped foot into the house. “Sorry, Luna.” Mature, and responsible. “I’d love to see Uncle Rob and Aunt Miranda. Are they here?”
It was Kate’s turn to sigh. Maybe I was imagining things, but it sounded an awful lot like she was mocking mine. “Patience, little sis. Let’s wait for Lilah, then we can all go down together. Although, I might find a restroom real quick. That was a long drive. Annie, do you need to go?”
Feeling another blush coming on, I shook my head. So much for looking mature.
“Luna, do you mind helping Annie get unpacked in the meantime?
“Of course not! The bathroom’s right down the hall.”
“Thanks!” My sister unceremoniously dropped her stuff onto the nearest bed. Claiming it, in a way, even though Luna said I could have first pick. It’s not that I particularly cared, as both beds looked exactly the same, but it still bothered me that Kate didn’t give me the option. She was the younger sister, even though we were both too old to be quibbling over stuff like sleeping arrangements.
For the first time all day, I got some breathing room from my sister. She disappeared around the corner, but it wasn’t exactly the peace and quiet I would have preferred. My teenage cousin was still in the room with me, and she thought I was younger than her. “Mind if I sort out your clothes?” she asked. Luna dropped my duffel bag on the other bed, and clearly assumed that my answer was going to be ‘yes.’ Without any hesitation, she unzipped the bag. “Umm, Annie?”
I didn’t know what to make of her tone until I saw what was sitting on top of all my packed outfits. Pull-ups. From what it looked like, ALL the pull-ups from the pack at the rest stop, save for the two that I was currently wearing. “That’s-” I stuttered, no doubt blushing as pink as the padded underwear stuffed into my duffel bag. ‘That’s not what it looks like.’ But what did it look like?
God, I was going to kill my sister. It had dawned on me earlier that she probably transferred the babyish underwear from her big purse into my bag when she was moving things around in the trunk, and this just confirmed my suspicion. Then, I had been worried about our parents seeing it as a confirmation of Kate’s story. The idea she had teased me with so I would get in the car while wearing the pull-ups that had been soaked by her yellow sports drink. Now? I had completely forgotten about my bag amidst everything that had happened over the last hour. And now, Luna was seeing what I had been trying to keep a secret all day long.
What should I do? I had to say something, and my flustered expression was no doubt betraying any options to play it off like a joke or a prank. “They’re- they’re for babysitting!!” I blurted out. Grasping for straws, and latching onto the job Luna mentioned a minute ago, I racked my brain for a connection to our vacation. It would be one thing to forget underwear like that in my backpack if I was a babysitter, but the pull-ups were literally sitting at the top of my duffel bag. Obviously I would have noticed them while packing. Except, of course, I wasn’t the one who put them in there. That was all Kate.
The look on Luna’s face said everything. She didn’t believe my paper thin excuse for a second, not when it was paired with the surprise and embarrassment of seeing fresh pairs of the underwear that had been an ever growing problem for me since I first put the current ones on. “Do you wet the bed, Annie?” she asked, point blank.
It was like rubbing salt into the wound, though how would Luna know? For a fleeting second, she and her twin had referred to me by ‘Annelise’ when we arrived, but that seemed to be over and done with. Kate had used the nickname enough times recently that it was already sticking. The whole reason I had put on the padded underwear in the first place was to prevent my sister from doing exactly what she was doing.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Thanks to stupidly playing my sister’s games, I wound up in pull-ups AND the childish version of my name.
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