[Georgia Lee Day continued from Is This It]
"Hey, Georgie, pass the lamb?" Virginia clicked at her, gesturing towards the dish of roast lamb in the centre of the table.
It was wholly unnecessary to point at it, as it was the only lamb dish on the table. It was also unnecessary to ask Georgia Lee to pass it, as Virginia herself was sitting just as close to it.
It wasn't even a large table, it wasn't like there was any point on it that any of them couldn't reach. Georgia Lee could have reached out and put the lamb onto Virginia's plate, had she wanted. Or, she thought, she could put her fingers on the rim of it, and tip the plate's contents onto her sister's lap. The longer this interminable meal went on, the greater the likelihood of that happening became.
No, Virginia didn't need Georgia Lee's help at all to reach the lamb. Georgia Lee knew her sister like a Hawaiian knew volcanoes, or a fox knew hounds. Virginia was asking for one reason and one reason only, and that was to push Georgia Lee's buttons.
For the most part the sisters saw little of each other. Virginia was due to move out in the new year, and already spent much of her time at what she swore was a boyfriend's house. Georgia Lee had never in her life known her sister to have a boyfriend, and envisioned instead a constant rotation of houses, and that was if her sister was doing well for herself. Hotels was more likely, or seedy motels even, from what Georgia Lee knew of the thing, which admittedly was precious little.
Georgia Lee, for her own part, was rarely home. She maintained a punishing schedule, and what little time she was home she tended to keep to herself. She studied in her room, alone, and took her meals in there too. This was a room that Virginia shared too, of course, but for the most part the older girl was content to stay out of it. Whatever joy Virginia had gained in her youth from tormenting Georgia Lee seemed to have disappeared, and instead the girls now simply avoided each other.
There were certain occasions when interaction simply couldn't be avoided however, and this was one of them. The occasion was Georgia Lee's 17th Birthday, and Day family tradition dictated that the family take a meal together.
Their other sisters lived out of town and were able to formulate convincing excuses well in advance, but Virginia lived, at least nominally, in the same house. Unable to avoid her sister however, Virginia seemed to have decided to make the best of the situation by being as horrible as possible, and so at every possible opportunity called her "Georgia", "Georgie" or worst of all, simply "George".
Robert and Maria Day, meanwhile, had decided to be utterly oblivious to this behaviour. They were entering their 18th year of doing this, and had gotten extremely good at it. The glares Georgia Lee shot at her sister and the poisonous saccharine smiles those glares were answered with received only beatific smiles from the girls' parents.
Georgia Lee remained steadfastly uncaring. She had no need for her parents help, nor had she a desire for it. She could handle her sister herself.
Virginia Day was objectively beautiful. Her face was warm and lovely, and her bright blue eyes were striking. All the Day women had bright blue eyes, with the exception of Georgia Lee. Hers, Virginia had informed her as they grew up together, were the colour of the Swamp Thing, of rotten meat, of dog vomit. Georgia Lee had covered her hateful green eyes with her hands and cried and cried and cried. Where Georgia Lee's hair was a dull auburn, Virginia's was a tumbling wave of fire, and where Georgia Lee's body was a constant battlefield, Virginia was effortlessly slender.
Georgia Lee regarded her sister's slim arm as she passed her the lamb. Virginia's nails were long, and looked expensive. The skin on her hands looked soft. Virginia wore a loose white tank top, and Georgia Lee noted that her sister's biceps were the size of Georgia Lee's wrists. She could fit her whole hand around that bicep, there was no doubt in Georgia Lee's mind. She could fit another hand around the girl's forearm, and she could snap that slim, lovely arm in two, as easy as splitting kindling.
It was hard to imagine now, as Georgia Lee looked at the girl who sat opposite her, just how terrifying she'd been, in their youth. She'd cried herself to sleep too many times to count over things that Virginia had said or done, and woken up morning after morning dreading what new torments her sister would inflict that day. Georgia Lee hadn't been a fearful child, either. She'd never been afraid of the monster in the closet, or under her bed. They'd had bunkbeds in those days, and the monster that scared her most had been the one in the bed above hers.
She'd been scared of Virginia, but Georgia Lee didn't think she'd hated her at that age; if anything she'd loved her sister, and she'd looked up to her in awe. The esteem that she'd held Virginia in had only made her sisters taunts more painful. Georgia Lee didn't think she'd understood her sister, not really. She hadn't been able to comprehend how someone who seemed so perfect could be so willfully cruel, and Georgia Lee had instead convinced herself that her sister only acted for her benefit, and that every taunt and criticism was just her sister's way of trying to make her a better person. She'd told herself that all the hurt that her sister caused her was her own fault, that she'd brought it on herself somehow.
It had never been physical, that was the worst thing. Had Virginia punched her or scratched her or pushed her down, Georgia Lee would have seen the bullying for what it was,s he was sure of it. Instead it was just words, and not just from Virginia either, though she was by far the worst one. There was nothing that Georgia Lee could do that wouldn't be criticized, nothing that she could say that wouldn't be twisted and turned against her, and whenever any of her sisters achieved anything, no matter how minor, there was no way that achievement wouldn't be rubbed in Georgia Lee's face.
Back then, Virginia had seemed untouchable. She'd been perfect and pretty and popular, but now Georgia Lee saw her for what she was. Everyone else just saw a perfect face, but Georgia Lee saw that face before makeup had been put on it, and it was far from flawless. Virginia's makeup routine was legendary, and could last hours - how she was allowed to get away with this in a house with only a single bathroom, Georgia Lee had no idea.
She'd been teased about being the baby of the family, about being coddled and spoilt, but Georgia Lee and the other girls had all known that Virginia was their parents favourite.
Virginia finished transferring lamb from the dish to her plate, and held it out for Georgia Lee to take back. Georgia Lee pretended not to see. On the TV in the corner the Cardinals played, and the girls' parents were watching the game rapt, forking spinach and rocket into their mouths robotically.
"Georgie, I'm done"
Virginia's voice was singsong, like a little girl's. Georgia Lee found it revolting. What self respecting adult would choose to talk like that? Then again, it would shock her if Virginia was a self respecting adult. Georgia Lee knew that, had she been in her sister's position, she certainly wouldn't have been able to respect herself. The girl was in her 20s and she cut hair for a living, it was pathetic.
"Oh I know you're done, Virginia." Georgia Lee's voice was equally sweet. "The walls are pretty thin, so I get to hear you being done four, five times a week."
Georgia Lee gave her older sister a smile, and made no move to take the lamb. Virginia made a sneering gesture, curling her top lip upwards and to the right. It was marvellous, Georgia Lee thought, just how ugly the expression rendered that pretty face.
Tiny flies swarmed in the Days' back garden. Georgia Lee waved a hand at them in a gesture of dismissal, but the flies seemed unphased.
The sun was just above the neighbouring houses, and the sky was darkening. From inside came the clink of dishes, as Robert and Maria cleaned away the remnants of the meal. Georgia Lee sat on the steps leading down to their yard, her hands on her knees, looking out at the overgrowth.
"You know you're just gonna get bitten out here, right?"
Virginia was leaning against the wall of the house, in the yard. She'd been inside when Georgia Lee had come out, so must have exited through the front door and then walked round to the back.
"Go away, Virginia."
Georgia Lee didn't look at her. There was a scratching click, and then the smell of tobacco.
"Oh gross, Virginia! Don't smoke around me. You may be comfortable with your lungs looking like charcoal, but I'm not. I cannot believe Robert and Maria let you do that."
"I cannot believe you call them that. God, do you have any idea how affected it seems?"
"I know how hard you find it to call people by their names, but you might be surprised to learn that most of us actually manage it without that much trouble."
"Christ, would you actually get the fuck over yourself? You used to like being called Georgie. Now suddenly you get all anal about it, and you've decided that we're all out to get you whenever we don't call you by your full imperial title."
Georgia Lee turned then, to look at her sister.
"I never liked it, Virginia. I just didn't complain."
"Oh you are so full of shit. Why do you even care? You're named after a slave state, for Christ's sake."
"It's just a state."
"Every single one of us is named for a state in the confederacy, and you think that's coincidence? I mean really, grow up."
"Oh you're right Virginia, you are so right. There's no possible explanation for us not being named Pennsylvania and New Mexico other than racism. Wow, you just..." She applauded, mockingly "you really cracked that case, Olivia Benson"
"And the fact that you're named for a confederate general, that doesn't bother you at all? That's the name you wanna be forcing everyone to say?"
"You know there's a union General Lee too, right Virginia? Or the Lee who proposed independence to the Continental Congress, or Harper Lee, or..."
"Can you fucking..." Virginia paused, then exhaled slowly, her hands on her hips.
"Look, I didn't... God, why do you have to always be like this? I didn't come out here to argue, okay? I just... look, I'm taking off, I just came out to say Happy Birthday."
Georgia Lee folded her arms, her face radiating skepticism.
"So you couldn't stick around even for five minutes after dinner?"
"What, now you want me around? You were staring at me like I had horns and cloven hooves all meal."
"And that was so unwarranted, was it Virginia? Because you were being just such an angel."
"You just are not gonna make this easy, are you?"
Virginia ran a hand through her hair. It caught the setting sunlight and shimmered, beautiful. Georgia Lee had hated her own hair, growing up, and had wanted nothing more than for it to look like Virginia's. In every way, really, she had wanted to be like Virginia, and in every way Virginia had made sure to remind her that she wasn't, that she couldn't be, and that she never would be. Georgia Lee didn't respond to her sister, and turned her gaze back to the garden.
"Look, Georgi- look, Georgia Lee. I know this whole thing..." She waved a hand towards the house. "This birthday bullshit, I know you think it's just as dumb as me-"
"Oh I don't think it's nearly as dumb as you, Virginia." Georgia Lee mumbled, mostly to herself. If her sister heard, she pretended not to.
"I don't wanna be here any more than you, and I'm sorry if I... y'know, if I took that out on you in there. I didn't... look I know you don't really give a shit about your birthday or whatever, but I still feel like a bitch if I... if I ruined it, y'know?"
Georgia Lee snorted and shook her head, but continued to gaze steadfastly at the grass.
"You don't have to go along with this shit if you don't want to, y'know? They can't make you, I mean."
"It's a tradition, Virginia."
"Oh, and you give a shit about that, do you? God, what are you trying to prove? I mean, seriously..." Virginia laughed. Her laugh was high and trilling, like a bird call. Georgia Lee found it sickening. "You know this is the most twisted rebellion ever, right? Like, you're trying to get back at mom and dad by... by what? Becoming the perfect kid? Yeah, sure, that'll show 'em."
Georgia Lee looked towards her sister, trying to determine if the older girl was joking. Those bright, blue eyes were unreadable.
"Not that I have to explain myself to you, but it's not about that."
"Oh bull fucking shit it isn't. You know that I've lived in the same house as you for 17 years, right? You think I don't know what you're about? You've got some whole little teenage twist in your panties, and somehow you decided the way to unbunch it was to, what? Prove to them you could be perfect without their help? I mean, do you really think they care? They're just patting themselves on their backs and saying they did such a good job when you were younger."
"This isn't a rebellion, Virginia, and it's not about them. I just..." Georgia Lee cut herself off. She didn't owe her sister any sort of explanation.
"You just...?" Virginia raised an eyebrow, perfectly arched, and Georgia Lee wondered how long her sister spent on those each morning. Her sister stubbed her cigarette on the wall behind her, then tossed it into the wild tangle of bushes in the garden. She pulled another from her pack with her teeth, then lit it.
"Jesus Virginia, you know how many fires there are in Arizona from exactly that kind of thing?" Georgia Lee bit her lip, embarrassed at the blasphemy, but her sister seemed not to have noticed it. Virginia took a long drag on her cigarette, then tilted her head back and blew a smoke ring. Like everything else about Georgia Lee's sister it was flawless.
"You just don't stop, do you? It was out, it's not an iss-"
"It wasn't out."
"Well the garden's not on fire right now so I guess it wasn't such a big deal after all, was it?"
"That's not how it works, Virginia. They're not gasoline plants, it takes them time to catch."
"Look, just... I do this all the time, okay? It's fine, I promise you."
"Well if it's never gone wrong before, that means it'll never go wrong ever, ri-"
"Oh. My. God. Are you fucking serious? I come out here to, y'know, to offer an olive branch and and say I'm sorry, and you are just being..." She sighed, in a way that Georgia Lee thought was extremely thatrical. "You're not an easy person to love, Georgia Lee."
Georgia Lee stood. Her sister had 3 inches on her at the best of times and another 3 from the heels she was in, but Georgia Lee was standing atop the house steps, and she towered over her older sibling.
"Oh you wanted to say sorry for the dinner, is that it Virginia? Well, I guess everything's fine then! One awkward meal was the only thing between us after all, so now you've said you're sorry, I guess we're the best of pals? What, are you gonna invite me out with you, next? You want us to double date or something? Watch movies together? Braid each other's hair?"
"Look, I thought maybe we could not hate each other, okay? There's no need to be a bitch about it. I'll be heading out of here pretty soon, y'know? I had this crazy thought that we could make the last little time we cohabitated not fucking suck, okay?"
Georgia Lee stepped down onto the lowest step, so that her grass eyes were level with her sister's sky ones. Virginia looked sincere, though under all that makeup her face could have been doing anything.
"No," Georgia Lee said simply.
"No? What do you mean, no?"
"I mean no. God, no! You want us to stop hating each others? Do you know how late you are, Virginia? 10 years ago that would have... I can't even imagine a better birthday present, than hearing you say that. I was so sure you hated me, and I was convinced, convinced that it was my fault, and suddenly now you come up and say you want us to be friends?"
Georgia Lee could feel her face grow hot, and her voice starting to rise. She continued.
"I was just a kid, Virginia, and you were my big sister, you and Louise, and you were meant to be looking out for me and you made me miserable and terrified. You made me hate myself! You! You did that! And now you're apologizing for one meal, like that's the only thing you ever did wrong? No. No is my answer. No, I don't want to stop hating you. Why should I? You'll be gone, soon. No, you don't get to be my friend, Virginia. You don't deserve to be my friend. You know, despite everything you said I realized I'm not worthless. I realized I can work hard, and I'm good at things, and I'm smart, and I don't deserve people treating me like I'm not."
Inside the house, the volume of the Cardinals' game went up. Georgia Lee lent towards her sister.
"But what, I'm supposed to be grateful because you decided, now that you don't have to actually be around me, that I'm suddenly worthy of your friendship? Like you're doing me some kind of favour?"
There was a thumping sound in Georgia Lee's ears, and she realized it was her heart. She took a long, deep breath in through her nose and held it a second, before releasing it out her mouth. She did this again, then again, feeling herself grow calmer and her heart stop pounding.
Virginia was smiling, and Georgia Lee wondered what would happen if she punched her sister in the face. Would their parents intervene, or would they simply turn the TV up louder? If she decided, right now, just to start hitting her sister, she was pretty sure there was nobody who would stop her. Certainly not Virginia, whose limbs were by and large basically ornamental. The older girl had one of them crossed over her stomach, where her hand cradled the elbow of the other, which held her cigarette. After a silence that seemed to stretch on forever, she spoke.
"Georgie, God, you..."
She looked down at Georgia Lee's feet for a moment, then returned her gaze to her sister's face.
"I mean you're so fucking pathetic, you know that, right? We were kids, for God's sake! I mean, I'm sorry you were sad, like, 10 years ago, okay, but you're a big girl now, so maybe build a bridge and get over it, yeah? You think Carolina never gave me a hard time? It's what sisters do, Georgie, but you know what I did? I got the fuck over it, because I'm a goddamn adult."
"And what, I should be more like you, that's what you're saying? That my rolemodel in life should be a 20 year old hairdresser who lives with her parents and has slept in every other bed in town, is that it?"
"You just cannot pass up a chance to be superior, can you? Newsflash, okay! There's nothing special or impressive about not getting laid, alright? Every pimple face dweeb doesn't get laid, you're hardly in exulted company, and it certainly doesn't make you better than me."
"I kind of think having standards does make me better than you, to be honest," Georgia Lee spat back.
Virginia paused for a moment, looking thoughtful.
"You do, don't you? You actually do, God!" She laughed her tinkling, fairy laugh again. "You know, you should call me when you get some, okay? You might actually be bearable, then. I mean it doesn't have to be a boy, either! I know how much you like softball, have you looked that way? Shit, just take care of yourself, even. I presume you're not too good for a long shower? Go on, give yourself a birthday treat."
"I'm a grownup, Georgia Lee. You should try being one sometime."
"Hey Virginia, can you do me a favour?"
Virginia didn't reply.
"Just try to make it a year and a half before you move back in here, okay? I'll be gone by then, and it'll be a whole lot nicer for both of us, I think."
Virginia took a final puff of her cigarette, then tossed it with two elegant fingers towards her sister's feet. Georgia Lee stepped on it. The other girl sighed.
"I tried, y'know? I mean I did, really. I didn't... Look, you're gonna do amazing things one day, Georgia Lee. I know that, everyone knows that. I mean there's no doubt in my mind that you'll be an incredible person when you're older. I just..." She picked up her purse, which Georgia Lee hadn't noticed, and slung it over her shoulder. The bag was large, and Virginia fished through it for her keys as she talked. "Y'know, I just hope some day you'll be a pleasant one, too."
Georgia Lee didn't respond. She stood on the step and watched, while her sister found her keys, then watched as the older girl walked away. From inside the house came the sound of her parents cheering: ; the Cardinals had scored, it seemed.
Georgia Lee stood on the steps for a moment before heading back inside.
[Georgia Lee Day continued in Growing Flowers in the Desert]