The walk-through of the house went well. Thankfully for me, Ezra knew a little more about home improvement than I did and could help me figure out just what I would need. Then it was off to the supply store for me and Toni. We worked our way through the supply list—only occasionally asking a store clerk for help—and made it back to the house just after seven. Fangs, Ezra, Jesse, Toni, Betty, Kevin, Cash, and I were the only ones at the house at the time.
So the seven us older kids worked to unload the truck. Then, the next step was to figure out what to have people do and in what order. Ezra was a big help in that department. I was completely out of my element with all of it. The house wasn't as bad as it could've been, but it still needed a lot of touch-ups and general maintenance. Though, it was only day one—so my main task was just getting all the planning and arranging done.
Cash was determined to spend her time before school planning out her room. It was only a two bedroom house, with one on the ground level and one upstairs. The bedroom and a half-bath were the only things upstairs. Everything else was on the ground level—which wasn't much. A living, dining, and kitchen area that all blended together, a bathroom next to that, and the master bedroom below the wooden stairs.
The 'laundry room' was a designated spot by the living room where dad had renovated to put in an old, clunky washer and dryer set. Thankfully for me, the set still worked, so I didn't need to replace it just yet—aka, I didn't need to fork over extra funds I didn't have. The flooring needed a deep scrub and there were some squeaky boards, but it was overall still use-able. All the old furniture was just that. Old. It could still be used, though.
Maybe down the road I would want to replace some items, but they were alright where they were for now. The old wallpaper mom had put up in the kitchen, around the tile, was peeling severely and slightly molded. It was on my list, so I got paint for the walls after removing the paper. Cash was upstairs in her room, occupying Betty and Kevin, when Toni and I carried the paint cans and the bag of rollers to the kitchen.
I hefted the can for the kitchen up onto the dirty counter, huffing out a breath. "Eggplant will look fine in here, right? I mean, there's so much light from the windows, you need something a little darker-" Toni's suppressed cackling cut me off, and I gave her a questioning look. "What?"
"That's the hundredth time you've asked me that since leaving the store," she answered, turning to face me from where she put the brushes on the dining table a couple of feet away.
I sighed, "I just want to put something I like in here so I don't feel guilty for taking down the paper."
"Diana, I'm confident your mom would be okay with this."
"She didn't even like purple," I scrunched up my nose in an expression.
Now Toni sighed, "It's gonna look great. We just have to hurry up and get it on the walls before you explode."
"Well, I have to work at the comic store until three, but I can do it after?"
"Perfect," Toni nodded once.
Voices from upstairs echoed into the ground level, mingling with the voices already present. Toni and I both paused to listen with curious expressions. I could just barely make out Cash's agitated voice, arguing that pink and green went together better than pink and purple. Then Betty sounded like the mediator, trying to diffuse the situation, before Kevin's voice overshadowed her attempt to calm things down. He argued the opposite of Cash, even offered a different color combination.
Cash wasn't having any of it. "That sounds intense," Toni cringed. I nodded in agreement, making a face with briefly widened eyes. It didn't take me but a moment to think of a way to permanently diffuse the bomb upstairs. I turned, angling myself a little more toward the living room, and whistled. All the boys in the room looked in my general direction almost instantly, out of pure surprise.
"Hey, Fangs," I said. "Can you please go upstairs and reel Cash back in? She's losing it."
Fangs nodded, putting down the tape measure he was holding for Ezra by the front door, "I'm on it, D."
He hurried up the stairs to the second level, and I listened closely. Cash and Kevin both explained their sides—Kevin a little more calm about it than Cash. Then Fangs said something I couldn't quite make out. Betty seemed to agree with whatever he'd said. Either way, the tones were calmer and the voices were quieter. There was peace. A moment later, Kevin came down the stairs. He was exhaling heavily, with widened eyes.
He walked around the corner and into the kitchen. "You know, I'd secretly always wondered what being on her bad side was like..." he paused mid-kitchen, shaking his head in an expression. "Never doing that one again. Mm mm. Nope."
Toni chuckled and began unloading the shopping bags previously set on the table. I almost couldn't hear it over Toni's laugh, but there was another voice in the room. A new one. A familiar one. I looked to the front door just as Jughead was introducing himself to Jesse. At first, I stared at him with saddened and sunken features. Feeling nothing but guilt and the ache in my chest. But, the more I stared, the more I felt differently.
My blood began to boil upon seeing his face, long before he ever noticed me looking. But when he did, he wore a cautionary expression—and his body language said that he was ready to run, if that's what it came to. He cleared his throat, "I, uh, thought you could use an extra hand."
It didn't matter to me that everyone in the room was watching, waiting for something to go wrong. All that mattered was my anger. "Get out," I all but growled the words, glaring at him with eyes filled with anger and sadness. For a moment, no one moved. Jughead stared at me with a surprised look—unsuspecting of just how angry I was. Seeing him not going anywhere, I spoke up, reiterating the phrase, "I said, get out!"
I took a step forward, throwing a finger in the air to point in the general direction of the door. Jughead's expression sunk from surprised to saddened in a matter of seconds. He nodded, holding up his hands in surrender as he took a slow step back. "Okay, okay...I'm leaving," he conceded defeat.
Jughead turned and made his way through the open front door, and I immediately headed for the downstairs bathroom. I went inside, let the door slam shut behind me, and turned the lock. No matter what I did for the people closest to me, it was never enough. It wasn't enough for them to return the favor. I did whatever I had to do to keep Jughead safe and out of Penny's warpath. Then, when I needed someone more than I need air, Jughead didn't even say a peep until hours later.
Hours later when I was already on the other side of town—literally—and completely done with him. Sure, maybe he didn't call or stand up for me because he was trying to make things right with FP. But that didn't make it hurt any less. It didn't matter why it happened. It just mattered that it happened. That's what it was like going through something emotionally traumatic—all you can do is feel it. And, boy, did I feel it.
I was sat on the toilet lid, my elbows on my knees and my face in my hands, trying not to completely unravel from one microscopic incident. It was ridiculous, how fast I could fall apart. A soft knock at the door didn't interrupt my sadness and self-loathing much—if at all. "Diana, are you okay in there?" It was Kevin. Just after saying that, I could hear him whispering to himself, "Why would I say that? that's a stupid question- of course she's not okay."
He sighed heavily. Then, at normal volume, he spoke to me again, "Do you want to talk about it?"
"I'm fine, I just...need a minute," I replied, lifting my head enough to do so.
"Okay. That's understandable. But- I'm here if you need anything."
The sound of his footsteps as he walked away from the door came too soon to reply even if was going to. I took a few deep breaths and tried to calm down. There wasn't time for this. I had to be at MLJ Comics probably right now. So I got up and exited the bathroom through some foreign willpower I didn't claim to possess. "I've gotta get to work, but I'll be back to work on the kitchen at three-thirty," I said, as I walked quickly to the kitchen counter to retrieve my bag.
"Alright. We'll work on whatever we can while you're gone," Toni replied, eyeing me closely as I zipped by.
"Thank you so much, Toni. I owe you guys. Maybe I'll bring coffee with me."
Toni spoke louder as I headed for the door, loud enough to be heard, "Don't play with a girl's emotions, Diana!"
It was odd being back at the comic book store. Usually, MLJ Comics was just a summer job. Working it early was throwing off my sense of time. Then again, I didn't need some schedule-altering task to do that. Regardless, it was easy to slide back into the routine. One of the other employees came in at three o'clock to relieve me, and I was free to go for the rest of the day—though it wasn't much in regards to sunlight.
I knew if I showed up without coffee, I would never hear the end of it. So I stopped by Starbucks and got burgers from Pop's on my way back to the house. When I pulled up on the street in front of my family home, I expected to see what I saw when I left—ratty curtains drawn, front steps covered in dirt and moss, the door swung open to allow for ventilation. Instead, I saw something else entirely.
The front steps and small porch was clean, the door off its hinges and laying in the grass, no drapes in the windows, with Fangs and Betty standing over the door in the front yard talking. Jesse was using some small, roundish power tool to what looked like sand the front porch. If that was the outside, I could only imagine what the inside looked like. I pushed open my door and slid out, then grabbed the tray of coffees in one hand and the bags from Pop's in the other, before kicking the door shut with my boot.
As I walked through the open front gate, my eyebrows drew together. "What have you Hufflepuffs done to my front door?" I questioned, approaching Betty and Fangs. The pair instantly looked up, their eyes finding me quickly. Fangs looked to Betty with slightly panicked eyes—obviously asking her what to say. Betty looked just as nervously clueless, but it was most likely just from surprise.
"We took it off so we could paint it," Betty answered me, rubbing her hands together in front of her with a please don't be mad expression.
My eyebrows popped, "Paint it? With what?"
"This," Fangs finally spoke, holding up a color card.
I came to stand just in front of the two, and I squinted at the color Fangs held up to my face. It was a mixture of sky and robin egg shades of blue. It wasn't a bad color, but I was confused as to why it was chosen and just who chose it—because it sure wasn't me. "Who told you to make it that color?" I asked, calmly, as I glanced between the two of them.
Fangs sucked in his lips nervously, "Cash."
I nodded, having figured as much. There was no way Toni would make such a decision without consulting me. "Carry on, then, Huffles," I told them, as I began to walk past them to the porch. "I need to have a strongly-worded discussion with a Ravenclaw."
Jesse was, in fact, sanding the porch when I arrived. In need of safe passage into the house, I reached out with my foot and nudged the side of his leg that was propped against a step. He took a quick glance over his shoulder and, upon seeing me, immediately shut off the power tool. He pulled off his protective glasses as he sat back on the corner of the porch. "It's three o'clock already?" he asked, in disbelief.
I nodded, "Three forty-five, give or take. Coffee?"
I lowered the coffee tray toward him in a gesture and he gladly took one of the to-go cups. I proceeded into the house and, thankfully—for Cash's sake, mostly—not much had changed on the inside. The furniture was all slightly moved to the left side of the house, as if moved out of the way for some purpose, and the kitchen was void of wallpaper. I sighed, "Cash? Get your four-foot body down here, right now!"
Her footsteps pattered down the stairs as I made it to the kitchen. I set the bags and the coffee tray on the table, then turned to face her as she made her way across the room to me. My arms flew out at my sides in a what gives? way. "You're not the one making renovation decisions here, Cashmere. Anything and everything goes through me," I said, sternly.
She dropped her shoulders, "I know that's what you said, but-"
"There are no buts! What did you tell them to do? I need to know what to reverse as quickly as possible."
Cash's overall demeanor changed. Looking back on it, it was evidently clear that she was really only trying to help. Trying to lighten the load while simultaneously being apart of it all. After all, this was her childhood home, too. With more saddened features, she answered, "Just colors. The door, the porch, and the outside."
An eyebrows rose on my forehead, "The outside?"
"Yeah...Veronica asked me what color scheme we were using for the outside of the house, so I told her which one. I didn't get a chance to show you beforehand—but it's not bad! It looks natural, I promise!" she was quick to smooth it over, desperately trying to make it okay. "She left to get the rest of the paint we would need. I...could show you what I planned? If you want?"
The last few words she spoke were slow, cautious. I'd felt bad for getting angry. It wasn't for a stupid reason, considering I genuinely thought we were going to end up with a unicorn castle for a house. But it wasn't as necessary as I'd originally estimated. So I exhaled a deep breath and nodded, "Okay, show me."
Her eyes lit up and she bolted to the staircase. Knowing how Cash thought, it was hard not to instantly picture bright pinks all over the house. But Cash came back down the stairs a moment later and sat on the old, rickety couch. She'd brought back with her a handful of color cards. "This is for the downstairs, to contrast the eggplant in the kitchen and keep the room bright," she explained, giving me a pale but rich, blue-gray color. "And this is for the outside of the house. With white trim to match the porch, of course."
"Of course," I nodded slowly, playing along with her all-business attitude.
The color for the outside was a pale but vibrant lime green. It would look good with the door and the porch, in theory. I would have to actually see it on the house to know for sure. "My bedroom is going to be a surprise—but follow me!"
She instantly leapt up from the couch, tossing her color cards onto the cushion to grab my hands instead. Her small arms pulled at me with an intensity fueled by excitement. I pushed myself up off the couch and ruefully followed her to the master bedroom. It was nerve wracking—finding out your ten year old sister painted your room without consulting you. For all I knew, it could've been a color I didn't like.
Take red for example. It looks great on lips, but I absolutely loathe it on walls. But, when Cash pulled me into the bedroom, I was pleasantly surprised. There was an accent wall—the back wall right across from the door—painted with the same eggplant from the kitchen. The rest of the walls were the same shade of duller purple I'd had in my old room at Ben's. It was a color I enjoyed, but I didn't get to enjoy it very long.
"What do you think?" she asked, excitedly bouncing out in front of me to see my face.
"I think it's crazy you guys painted this already," I said, in a bout of shock from the color reveal. "But...I love it, Cash."
She gasped, her eyes like two stars sitting on her face, "Really?!"
"Yes, I really like it," I nodded adamantly.
Cash did her own version of a happy dance on the still plastic-covered floor. Then suddenly, from the kitchen, Toni's voice echoed throughout the house. "YOU BROUGHT COFFEE?" she asked, rhetorically, in a loud voice of joy. She found the coffee, something I knew would happen eventually. I smiled a little at the thought and Cash followed me out to the kitchen.
Toni was sitting up on the counter by the sink, clutching a to-go cup in her hands. As we walked in, she stopped gulping down the hot caffeine long enough to say, in a melodic voice, "This is why I love you."
"I also brought lunch," I leaned into the kitchen table to bring her attention toward the Chock'lit Shoppe bags, grinning.
Never once would I ever expect Toni Topaz could physically make her eyes that big. "I would call you a teacher's pet, but you're the teacher in this scenario, so," Fangs said, appearing at my left, digging into the food bags. "What's the reverse of that, anyway?"
"It's called being a kiss-up, Fangs," Toni replied, refraining from rolling her eyes.
Not a second later, Betty arrived at the kitchen. Fangs handed her a silver-wrapped burger and she gratefully took it, before turning and going to find a place to sit in the living room. Fangs grabbed himself a burger and did the same, going to find a place to sit. "You guys pork out, I'm gonna paint the kitchen," I said, pushing off the side of the table.
"Okay," Toni said, swallowing down another gulp of coffee before sliding off the counter. "Need some help?"
I shook my head, reaching for the eggplant paint's can, "Thanks, but I've got this."
Toni nodded, grabbed a burger from the bag, and then went to the living room. Cash followed along behind her. She had a habit of needing to be where the people are. Kevin and Ezra floated through separately in the following fifteen minutes, each grabbing something from the bags. I got the can of paint open and started my paint job on the wall shared with my bedroom. Painting wasn't something I was well versed in.
But I wanted to be the one to redecorate this area of the house. Mom spent a lot of time in the kitchen—cooking, cleaning, helping me with homework at the table. That's why she picked the wallpaper she did. Because she knew she'd be in there a lot and she wanted it to be something she enjoyed looking at. I wasn't too sure she would approve of this new color, but I knew she would understand why it had to be changed.
The whole of this project didn't leave me with warm feelings. This was my childhood home. No, the memories made here were not all good. But the majority of memories I had left of my parents were in this house. And everything I remember about those times was being changed and altered to be something different. Smearing the purple paint on the wall with a roller felt a little less like a fresh start and little more like covering up the past. I never was good with change.