They thought they were beautiful because of their plastic basket full of makeup tricks. This observation was the usual scene I saw at every family reunion.
Their ranks grew by one after every single reunion. I never could quite make out what it was that Cousin Jess was doing to them. They’d go from being fun and tomboyish, to overnight covergirl.
I envied them.
Granted, I had been asked to join their group at least twice, but the single ounce of pride to my name sought the satisfaction of observing their confusion at my refusal. They were disappointed afterwards, but confused first.
I never saw Jess and Angela when they snuck up on me. By the time I did get my wits somewhat together, they’d dragged me to the living room and wrestled me to a chair.
“Hush up!” Jess snapped when I began to shriek at the unexpected ambush. “Chi-Chi!” She hissed, waving one hand wildly. “Over here, Aunty! We got her!”
In the time it took for that little bit of information to register, I tried to make another escape. Angela muscled me back down. “Sit!” Her eyes seared straight through the invisible target sign on my forehead. “And don’t you dare make her feel bad!”
“What’s going on? What are you guys tryin-!”
“We asked you nicely, but you refused to cooperate.” Lisa preened her fingernails. “So, we had to…be a little more proactive.”
“You’re eighteen, Riza, get over it.” Jess patted my shoulder. “Don’t worry, we’ll take pics. Lisa?” The girls crowded around me and the camera flashes started up. Breathing was now difficult. The girls’ constant jabbering and giggles added to the droning noise I could no longer ignore. Everything was winding down to slow-motion.
I only grasped the barest tendrils of what was really happening, because it all blurred by in a mixture of words and actions I couldn’t understand, well, except for Jess holding my hand. That was the only familiar thing and I knew enough to relax, because she’d been the one to hold my hand when I’d had my ears pierced for my eleventh birthday. She’d always been a sisterchick kind of friend.
“Eyebrow?” Chi-Chi squinted at my face over her glasses. “You want eyebrow done?” My Vietnamese aunt was one of the new additions to the family, who spoke little on account of the language barrier, but knew enough to handle herself. She was sensitive to everything…and her eyebrows appeared to be penciled in with permanent marker.
There was no way I wanted her anywhere near my nice, full, perfectly-fine eyebrows.
“Yes.” Jess grabbed my wrist. “She’s long overdue. Eyebrow.”
“Eyebrow.” Chi-Chi hummed cheerfully. Her English was accented and careful, but her hands were expert in their work. A tweezers was produced from a glitzy cosmetic bag and the chair was tilted back, while a flashlight added to the torture aspect.
After the first few mumbles of ‘ow!’ my fellow cousins in crime began to make bets in chocolate over my reaction when the operation was over. That was enough for me to keep my mouth shut until Chi-Chi finished.
The entire ordeal was great for thinking—in between the horrible pin-pricks of pain, that is. I thought of a hundred different ways to get back at Jess, until the collective gasp went up from the group.
A mirror was produced.
I stared at the reflection until my mouth went dry. “Ohhh! Jess…that’s not me-”
Another round of giggles rippled through.
“That is you, silly.” Jess leaned in close to rest her chin on my shoulder. “Like ‘em?”
“Ohh.” The face in the mirror nodded slowly. “Oh my…I look…pretty.”
“Tell her thank you.” Angela elbowed my stomach. “And you always looked fine.”
“T-thanks, Aunty Chi.” I managed, still awestruck by my own reflection. “Is this what you guys were always…?”
“When you’re past sixteen, it’s time to grow up.” Lisa grinned. “That’s what the group’s for. It’s like having a ton of big sisters. You can ask them anything and we’re here for each other.” She winked. “And I’ll teach ya how to show off those spiffy brows too.”
“Eyebrows are the initiation factor.” Sophie tugged the mirror away. “Yours were way overdue. Sorry. They were bugging me, so I made Jess agree…” She shrugged. “Are you in?”
“Y-yeah. I guess.”
“Good. We’ve got Cynthia on the list next.”
“Next time wax.” Chi-Chi nodded, knowingly. “Wax.” She patted my hand.
I smiled…and fainted.
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