Ashele had to talk to Katina before she talked to Mr. Ankay.
She wasn’t sure how to broach her question: “did you see someone sitting next to you?” didn’t seem to cover it.
Jacque solved that dilemma for her, at least. “Did you see that totally saturated boy? The one sitting next to your kid sister?”
Saturated was better even than in-depth. Ashele tried not to smile and pretended not to know what Jacque was talking about. “You mean Mr. Pierson, my piano teacher? He’s maybe a little in-depth…”
“Oh, come on, he must be your cousin or something. Doesn’t your mother at least have a big brother?”
“No. But my dad has three.” Could it have been a cousin? Mr. Ankay had acted like there was something to talk about, but maybe, maybe it was nothing at all, just an older cousin showing up for no reason at all.
“You’ve utts got to introduce me. Me, first, before Bradelli or Miko. Promise it, Ashele. Data port swear it.”
“I don’t know who he is, Jacque.”
“But your kid sister does. And if your kid sister does, eventually you will. It’s the big brother rule.”
“I hate it when you do that.”
“I know. But it’s true. She’s your kid sister. Thus, you will get to glare at the boy, and then you will introduce me. Ergo Sum.”
“Ergo sum yourself. What if he’s dating my kid sister?”
“…oh. Well, if he’s not? Then you’re data-port swearing.”
Ashele couldn’t argue with her logic. “If he’s not dating Katina, I will introduce you to him before I introduce Bradelli or Miko. Data-port swear.”
Jacque was satisfied. And Ashele was mostly-comfortable with it. Mostly. She was pretty sure that she could manage not introducing her imaginary brother to anyone else before Jacque, but data-port swears were nothing to mess with. Everyone knew you could get a nasty virus that way.
Her friends dealt with, or at least one friend, Ashele tracked down Katina. She, in turn, was talking to dad.
“I told you we needed a big brother.”
“And I told you that you had a perfectly serviceable big sister. You shouldn’t be so bound by societal trends, Kattie.”
“Easy for you to say!” Katina was working up a good head of steam.
“Woah, woah, cowgirl.” Ashele stepped in and took the irritation on herself. “You know you’re right. I know you’re right. Deep in his sandbit heart, Dad knows you’re right. He’s still Dad, though, and that means we gotta pretend to respect him, especially in public, where all his friends can see.”
“Thank you, Ashele… I think.” Her father frowned at her. “So. Do you want to talk about it?”
She held up her diploma. “I graduated. High honors and everything.”
“You did, and I’m very proud of you. But, Ashele, people noticed that manifestation. And if you don’t work on controlling that, you’re going to have created a Solid. And then what will you do?”
“We’ll have a big brother, that’s what! If you’d just done things right…”
Ashele couldn’t bring herself to argue with Katina’s logic.
Their father looked like he was having trouble with it, too. “Girls. You know why we chose to do things the way we did…”
“No, actually.” Ashele was getting too wound up to be polite. “No. We know you had some worry about ‘societal norms,’ but all that meant is that I had to be big brother to Katina and not have one of my own, when all my friends did.”
“I…” Their father sat down, hard. “I would ask if it really meant that much to you, but you manifested a solid creation in the middle of a crowded theater. It certainly mattered to you.”
“Yeah.” She wasn’t sure how to deal with him agreeing with her. He’d never done that before, at least not over the brother issue. “Yeah. Look at my friends. Their brothers are all here, cheering them on. Their brothers pulled them out of messes. Their brothers helped them out and tutored them in math.”
“And you got through math without a tutor, taught Katina, and bloodied enough noses that the teachers had us in their top emergency call file. You’re a strong, lovely young woman, and you did it without the help of a big brother.”
“Are you saying I wouldn’t have been strong with one? How would you know? Maybe I could have learned to hoverblade sooner. Maybe I could have passed that Ivy admittance exam.”
Their father sighed. “Well, what will you do with one now?”
“What will I… what?”
“You created him, Ashele. He exists now, even if he’s not solid at the moment. You’ve made the big brother you always wanted. So what are you going to do with him?”
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