Party of Five Ch. 04

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Josh experienced a rather turbulent night’s sleep that evening. He was incurably restless, tossing and turning, then turning and tossing, then falling out of bed completely. One moment he was freezing cold, the next he was burning beneath his blankets. He was exceedingly relieved in the morning when he woke up without a fever.

Sunday, he thought, plodding into the bathroom and taking a long shower. He let the water run over his face and shoulders, soaped his body and then shampooed and conditioned his hair. He always omitted the last fact when he spoke to other people about his bathroom activities, which wasn’t very often really. Even his mother and sister’s had no idea he not only used their shampoo, but their conditioner also. He figured, what was the point of living in a house full of women if you didn’t pick up a few beauty tips. Plus his hair always felt so soft afterwards; he was sure some girl would appreciate that one day.

When Josh stepped out of the shower, he threw a towel over his head and dried off his hair. He moved on to his face, then his chest and legs, and finally his back. That was when he caught sight of his face in the mirror and dropped the towel. He leaned closer, wiped away some of the steam that had condensed on the surface of the mirror and stared at himself and his own flabbergasted expression.

It was almost all gone! His acne, which had tormented him for close to four years now, was finally vanishing. The front of his face was entirely clear, and only a few red bumps remained along his jaw line. He smiled at himself, then grinned at himself, then told himself he was a “sexy beast”. He wrapped his towel hurriedly around his waist and ran down the hall to his room. Once there, he threw open his closet doors and donned his best pair of jeans and a long-sleeved charcoal-coloured top. He was ecstatic – close to bouncing off the walls and shooting through the neighbour’s attic window. It took him a while to compose himself before he was ready to go downstairs.

He took the stairs three at a time, landed deftly at the bottom and then strolled to the laundry and slam-dunked his towel and pyjamas into the hamper. After that, he made his way into the kitchen and paused in the doorway, flashing Alice, Dawn and his mother a winning smile.

“Good morning,” he said cheerfully.

Dawn looked up from her grapefruit. “What are you so happy about?”

Josh shrugged. “Just a beautiful morning, isn’t it?”

Dawn wrinkled her nose at him and returned to peeling her grapefruit. Josh’s mother returned his smile. “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you say good morning without grunting it.”

Josh had an inkling that Alice alone knew what he was so happy about. She was beaming him a warm smile that seemed to be saying “Congratulations.” Josh sat himself around the circular kitchen table, facing both of his sisters.

He quickly remembered, however, that he didn’t have any breakfast, and so returned to the table a minute later with a bowl overflowing with cereal. He took big mouthfuls and thought it tasted a lot better than it usually did.

Dawn looked up at him again. “I think I preferred it when you were moody and depressed.”

“Dawn,” Josh said, flashing a genuine smile at her, “not even you can upset me today.”

Alice muffled a giggle and went back to her toast. Josh looked at her surreptitiously and thought that she looked positively divine this morning. Her hair, arranged into pigtails, looked particularly adorable. Normally, he would have said nothing, but today was such a fine day.

“I like your hair,” he said between mouthfuls.

Alice looked up, beaming. “Thanks,” she said.

Josh noticed Dawn’s eyes flicking back and forth between himself and Alice; she wore an expression of revulsion.

“I like yours, too,” Alice said to Josh. Lately he had been growing it longer, letting it hang as it would rather than saturating it with gel and trying to get it to stick up in the air. The colour was a mixture between the three girls – light like Alice’s, and yet darker like Dawn’s and Jacquie’s. He warmed with the compliment.

“Would you two get a room,” said Dawn.

“Don’t,” Alice said, nudging her sister. “Leave him alone.”

Dawn pursed her lips at Josh. “I think his hair looks messy.”

“It’s the ‘in’ look,” said Alice. “I think kartal escort it looks cute.”

Josh grinned at her. Dawn rolled her eyes. “You would.”

Both Alice and Josh chose to ignore this, and continued eating their breakfast. When Josh was finished, he took his bowl to the sink and added it to the pile of dishes his mother was washing.

“Where’s Jacquie?” he asked her.

“Still sleeping,” she answered. “Must be tired; it’s not like her to sleep in.”

Josh was instantly and guiltily reminded of the previous day’s events. Surely she hadn’t been kept up half the night, too. And even so, if Josh had managed to wake up after so little sleep, certainly Jacquie could. She had always been an early riser; it came with the job of looking after the house.

Josh thought for a moment. “I’ll go and see if she’s up,” he said, and started up the stairs.

“Don’t wake her if she is,” his mother called up after him. “And don’t shoot her in the face with the hairdryer like you did last time.”

Josh smiled to himself, remembering the memory fondly. Josh, you fucking little shit, I’m gonna rip your nuts off. Good times.

Jacquie’s bedroom door was ajar, which in itself was strange. She usually shut it while she slept. During the day though, she had an open-door policy, especially for Josh, who used to come to her with his homework problems.

Josh pushed the door open and stepped inside. Jacquie was, in fact, still in bed. She was buried beneath her rather thick coverlet, with only a tangle of dark hair and a thin, bare arm protruding. Josh knew from experience than Jacquie wore singlets to bed, along with a pair of shorts or pants, depending on the weather. He also knew from experience that her singlets did little to contain her bust, and, given recent circumstances, was not the kind of sight Josh should be seeing right now. Her bare arm, however, was enough to make the back of his neck prickle. She slept inelegantly, unlike Alice and Dawn, but in Josh’s eyes it was far more endearing.

He turned slowly and reached for the door.

“Good morning to you too,” said a muffled voice. Josh jumped.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Jacquie sat up and ran the back of her hand across her eyes. “It’s OK,” she mumbled, “I was awake anyway.”

Josh nodded, stupidly, and wrung his hands together behind his back. He felt strangely out of place. He looked down at the floor, at his feet, at the foot of the bed – anywhere but at his sister and her voluptuous bosom.

“So you’re not looking at me again?” Jacquie inquired.

Josh looked up, and wished that he hadn’t. “I am,” he said clumsily, as though his words had tripped over Jacquie’s breasts on their way to her ears. “I am looking at you,” he repeated.

“Right,” Jacquie replied dubiously. She pulled the covers off herself and swung her legs out of bed. Shorts, Josh realised with a wince. He looked up, saw her breasts, looked down again, saw her legs, then tried to do both at once and ended up looking at her crotch.

“I’m just gonna take a shower,” Jacquie said. “Would you like to join me?”

“Mm-hmm,” Josh said distractedly.

Jacquie smiled a sympathetic smile. “Go downstairs, Josh,” she suggested.

“Yeah,” Josh said, nodding far more vigorously than was necessary. “I think I will.” He turned and walked downstairs like a zombie. Only Dawn was left in the kitchen, sitting at the table peeling another grapefruit. She looked up when Josh entered.

“Wake up your bosom buddy?” she asked. Josh almost lost his footing. He straightened up and was about to unload a torrent of explanations and/or excuses when he realised that Dawn was simply referring to how much time Jacquie and he usually spent together. After all, she had called Jacquie that before. Jacquie herself had used the nickname a few times, though usually in a more benevolent context, as in “Me and my bosom buddy are staying home today,” which would usually be followed by Jacquie putting her arm around Josh’s shoulders and giving him a sisterly shake. He cooled his nerves and reassembled the scattered threads of his dignity – he usually needed it when facing Dawn.

“She was already awake,” Josh replied, unable to think of a witty answer, though he did say it nastily.

“Aw, so you didn’t get to kiss sleeping beauty maltepe escort bayan awake?”

Calm down, Josh told himself, this is still traditional Dawn territory. Don’t panic; she doesn’t know a thing.

“As opposed to what you do,” Josh replied, “which is have sex with any sleeping guy you come across?”

“Josh,” Dawn said with a mock sigh, “you’ve called me a slut so many times it’s lost all meaning.”

“Maybe you should look it up then,” Josh retorted. “Finally figure out what it means.”

Dawn assumed one of her many tactical looks, each of which was sexy and alluring. She pursed her lips, creased her brow and tilted her head to the side.

“There’s no need to be jealous, Joshy,” she said simply. Her expression negated the need for clever banter.

“Jealous?” Josh coughed. “Why the hell would I be jealous of you? I mean, let’s face it, you’re an STD breeding ground.”

“Ooh, that’s cold,” said Dawn, unfazed.

“Not as cold as your love life, I bet,” Josh returned. “And, just to clarify, that’s a different thing to a sex life.”

To Josh’s surprise, Dawn actually looked wounded. It was only a brief moment, but he had caught it, and it startled him. So that’s her weak point, he thought, mentally pocketing the information for later use.

Immediately, Dawn’s gaze darkened, and Josh could tell she was about to get serious, rather than coy.

“What about you?” she asked. “You have neither!” She laughed hollowly. “Not only is it impossible for you to get laid, but you spend all your time fawning over your sweet little Valerie while she doesn’t even know you exist. That is pathetic.”

Josh bristled, staring at Dawn in disbelief.

“That’s right,” she said, wearing a superior smirk, “I read your little diary, all of that crap about how,” she assumed a mocking voice, “she doesn’t even notice me, and I’m hurting so much inside. I just wish I could get her alone so I could tell her how I feel and then maybe we could be happy together.” She laughed again, mirthlessly.

Josh was too angry for words. He felt his blood coursing through his veins like lava, his heart thumping a painful tattoo against his rib cage. The kitchen seemed to have dissolved around him, omitting from sight everything except Dawn, who he saw with perfect clarity.

Aside from Jacquie, Josh had never told anyone else how he felt about Valerie. And he had really only told Jacquie a few fleeting remarks; she had no idea what he really felt – all of that was inside his diary, which he had never shown a soul. The idea that Dawn, of all people, was the very first person to find out, and that she had read his diary…it infuriated him beyond reason. He would get her this time.

Slowly, Josh turned on his heel, and started to walk casually up the stairs.

“Where are you going, Joshy?” Dawn laughed after him. There was another moment of silence, followed by the unmistakable sound of Dawn leaving her chair and running up the stairs.

Josh quickened his pace and reached her room before she reached him. He ducked inside then shut and locked the door behind him with a satisfied and slightly sadistic smile. A second later, a heavy weight hit the door, followed by an incessant pounding.

“Josh, you little fucker,” Dawn screamed, “open the door right now. Don’t you dare touch any of my stuff! I’ll kill you if you do.”

She continued in this vein for some time, so Josh blocked out the sound of her voice and began rummaging around in her draws and closet until he found what he had been searching for. It had been hidden in a box in her closet, sandwiched between stacks of old school textbooks, looking very inconspicuous. It couldn’t avoid his prying eyes though, and soon it was in his hands. He sat down on the bed and opened it up.

Dawn’s scandalised cries finally subsided, after she mentioned something about chilli powder, a funnel and Josh’s anus. Josh, however, was too busy scanning Dawn’s diary to hear. At length, he located a suitably humiliating passage; he stood, crossed the room and leant against the door.

“Hey Dawn,” he said maliciously, “have a listen to this…

“Sometimes I wonder if I really am ugly. Josh says it so often I wonder whether it might be true. I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but he can be so serious when he says it. I say awful escort pendik things to him as well, I know, but I usually don’t mean them. Sometimes I even feel bad after saying them; but I’d rather be dead than apologise to him. And this one, too…

“I asked Mitch out yesterday, but he said he wasn’t really looking for a relationship at the moment. Then, today, I saw him kissing Claire in the park. Why do guys only like me if sex is involved? I’ve never even had a real boyfriend before – someone that actually cares about me and likes me for who I am. I wonder if I’ll ever find someone like that.”

Josh was laughing hard now, thinking that this was all far too good. This was gold! Why hadn’t he ever thought of this before? He scanned the most recent pages and found another passage with his name in it. He began reading.

“I found out today that Josh hasn’t had sex yet, or even had a girlfriend before. Of course, I teased him about it, which I know I shouldn’t have done. I remember my first time, when I was 16, and how I regretted it – and still do. I wish I could have waited like Josh is. And after finding out he’s never had a girlfriend before, it made me think about how many boyfriends I’ve had – heaps. Then I thought about how many stayed with me longer than a few months – none. It really hurts to think that what Josh says is right – that I’m just a slut.”

Josh was rather touched by the sentimental words Dawn had written about him, but he was still far too angry to appreciate this fact. He was much more interested in the lies Dawn’s diary had exposed.

“Not such a happy camper are you, Dawn?” he called through the door.

He stopped and listened, and thought he heard sobbing sounds coming through the door. He put his ear against the door and listened harder. Oh God, he thought, she’s crying. Josh dropped the diary and opened the door. Dawn was sitting on the floor, her back leaning against the wall opposite her bedroom door. She was indeed crying, her face buried in her hands.

Josh felt terrible – worse than terrible. He felt as if someone had crept up behind him with a giant meat hook and fished out his intestines. Only he felt worse than that. He knelt down on the floor and put an arm on Dawn’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” he said gently.

Dawn shrugged his hand away violently. “Just fuck off, Josh,” she wept, her voice lacking all of its usual strength and confidence. Josh thought dimly that in two days he had seen two of his sisters stripped of their stoic composure and laid bare for him to see – quite literally in Jacquie’s case.

Dawn’s body shook with every sob. She was no longer weeping softly, but was overcome by an extremely wretched bout of guttural sobs, the kind that little children made on their first day of school. Josh now wished someone had crept up behind him with a giant meat hook and fished out his intestines; that would be paradise compared to how he felt now.

Regardless of how much she would undoubtedly protest, Josh sat down beside his sister and put an arm around her shoulders. “I’m sorry,” he repeated. Dawn said nothing, just continued crying.

“Please, Dawn,” Josh implored her, “say something. I feel awful.”

Dawn lifted her head up slightly and wiped her nose with her hand. “Me too,” she said.

Josh smiled, relieved to see that her sense of humour was intact. He ran his thumb up and down her shoulder and rubbed her shin with his other hand. “I never meant to hurt you,” he said. “I just got carried away.”

Dawn waved his explanations away with a hand gesture. “I shouldn’t have read your diary,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Josh said. “I’m sure it was a really boring read – so you’ve already been punished enough.”

Dawn’s soft laughter broke through her tears. She finally lifted her head and looked at her brother. Josh noted the smudged mascara, the moist tear streaks and the puffy red eyes and thought she had never looked more beautiful.

“Friends again?” said Dawn.

“Well…technically,” Josh replied, “I don’t think we’ve ever been friends. So…I guess it’s back to being mortal enemies.”

Dawn smiled. “I want to be friends.”

“Me too,” said Josh. Then added, “That doesn’t mean you’re going to get all sentimental though does it? Because I don’t think I could handle that.”

Dawn chuckled. “No, I’m still going to tease the hell out of you, but now you know I don’t mean most of it.”

“Most of it?” Josh inquired, raising his eyebrows.

“Well, I still don’t like your hair,” Dawn replied.

Josh laughed and rubbed her leg more vigorously.

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