Chapter 35: The Sidekick and These Sparks (Part 2)
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“Now that you’re done with volleyball, what’re you going to be up to?” my mom asked, clearing away the remainder of the dishes from dinner.

Nora had offered to assist her, but my mom politely declined. Our family changed the chores assigned to us daily, and my mom held steadfast to the schedule. God forbid anyone, including herself, were to shrink their duty then a horrible punishment awaited those poor souls. It was also the reason Bonnie and me hadn’t bothered to ask her and headed straight over to the couch to relax.

Our guest must have realized she would only be standing around idle in the kitchen if she stayed, so she plopped on the middle cushion of the couch. Bonnie latched onto her arm, securing herself the prize of the sister she never had. I could only shake my head in amusement and scoot over a little to give Nora some extra room. That turned out to be pointless since anytime Nora took a little more room for herself, Bonnie pushed further into her side. It was ridiculous and eventually, their little routine shoved me into the armrest while the two of them were practically laying on top of me. 

Bonnie was one thing, but Nora was an entirely different concern. One that my body was entirely too aware of. Flushing a bright shade of red, I took an evasive maneuver and rolled off the couch. Doing so caused everyone to tumble to the wooden floor, but I managed to rise to my feet without much suspicion.

“My darling children”–I smiled innocently at her, hoping she knew Bonnie was the real culprit here–“leave poor Nora alone. She’s our guest, and I can’t even ask her something without both of you causing trouble. Really, I might have to trade the two of you for her.”

It was another one of my mom’s poorly delivered jokes, but her searing comment still kind of stung. And Nora would be just as much of a handful as we were if not more.

Rubbing at her lower backside, she grimaced in my mom’s general direction. “Since volleyball’s over, I’m going to be trying out for the school play.”

“How fun! Is this your first time acting?”

I held out my hand to Nora and she accepted it. Pulling her back to her feet, I also proceeded to pick up my sister as well. Not because I wanted to, but because I believed it to be my duty as her big brother. She rewarded me with a flick to my shoulder, and I decided it was about time to remind her of her place in the family hierarchy. I wrapped my arms around her and began tickling her until she squealed and tried to slip away. As she gasped for breath and begged for mercy, my mom looked on in disappointment.

Nora sat on the couch again, happy to be removed from our fight. “No, I auditioned last year too, but I didn’t get a very big part. I’m hoping this year to get something a little more impressive.”

My mom clapped her hands together. “I’m sure you will, dear. You’re so pretty, and your acting must be superb. You’ll be certain to invite us, won’t you?”

“For sure. I’d love for you all to come.”

She beamed at her. “And don’t forget us little guys when you make it big now.”

“Thank you, but I’m nowhere near that level, Miss–”

My mom loudly cleared her throat, and Bonnie and me halted our play fight. Although it wasn’t directed at us, it was an instinct at this point to knock off whatever we were doing when she made that sound.

“I’m nowhere near that level, mom.”

How she said the word was beyond awkward, yet it satisfied my mom, who went back to beaming. “Great, and now that my kids got their nonsense all out of the way, would you like to join us for some fireworks?”

Fireworks this year, huh? I had lost track of the date, so caught up in my own issues. Though I tried to maintain a cool facade, I must have pulled a weird face because Nora looked at me oddly.

“I’m not sure I can. It’s getting late, and I should get home soon.”

“Why don’t you stay the night? You could sleep in Bonnie’s room. I’m sure she’d be thrilled.”

Thrilled was an understatement. She was bouncing off the walls, exclaiming to any discarded stuffed animal how Nora would be having a sleepover with her. Nora seemed doubtful, a passing glance spared in my direction. “I’m not sure they’d allow it. They’re pretty strict about where I spend the night.”

“Why don’t you call them and let me have a crack at it. I can be pretty persuasive when I need to be.”

Shrugging her shoulders, Nora called her parents and handed the phone to her. She had been quick on the uptake that my mom’s word tended to be law. There was not much use opposing it unless you were a fool. I always thought my mom and Ethan’s would be better suited if they swamped appearances. His mom was intimidating on the outside, but sweeter than any cotton candy on the inside. My mom was the opposite; unassuming on the outside, but scary as hell on the inside.

The phone stopped ringing and my mom greeted the person on the other line in a chipper tone. “Hi, is this Nora’s mom?” Releasing a slew of high-pitch giggles in response to whatever her mom said. “No, she’s not in trouble at all. She’s a delight to have over.”

She ascended the stairs, out of earshot. Yet, the damage was already done.

“You hear that? I’m a delight.”

A delightful pain in the ass. I was smart enough to keep such a thought to myself. “Yeah, it’s crazy. I never knew my mom was such a liar.”

Nora, lacking in humor as refined as mine, retaliated to the comment with a swift punch to my shoulder. It was the same one that my sister had flicked earlier. Guess I knew where Bonnie was picking her bad habits up from.

“How come you guys are setting off fireworks today? It’s still a little early for New Year's.”

“This was the day that our dad passed away. We always do something he enjoyed, and fireworks were one of his favorite things,” I replied.

Nora suddenly found the floor to be intriguing. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to–”

“Don’t worry about it.” I talked over her, wanting to prevent this conversation from becoming any more stilted. “Neither of us can really remember him since we were so young when he passed away.”

“But, I’m intruding on something so private. It’d be best if I left.”

Bonnie grabbed her hand, forcing her to glance up. “Don’t go. You’re helping keep mom’s mind off of it. Usually, she’s not nearly as cheery.”

Sometimes that sister of mine was surprisingly perceptive. I hadn’t even noticed it myself, but Nora was likely the reason that mom was in a better mood than usual. Even if that was in part due to wanting to leave a good impression on Nora, it was preferable to how she usually handled herself. Barely restrained tears and a watery smile were not a good look on her. It hurt me to see mom like that.

I grabbed Nora’s sleeve and stared at her. She shifted her gaze from Bonnie to me, staring through me. She might have been wondering why each of us siblings were suddenly so touchy-feely and persistent in preventing her from leaving. “Nora, even if it costs me another favor, please stay.”

Bonnie wrapped her arms around her, dropping to her knees. “Please! I’ll do whatever it takes too.”

The tips of her ears darkened and she glanced away with a huff. “You both don’t need to go that far. I’ll stay if you think it’ll help.”

Bonnie squealed and snaked her arms tighter around the older girl’s waist. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Nora rubbed the top of her head, earning another delighted squeak from my sister. “Don’t forget that you actually do owe me a favor though.”

“Of course. I wouldn’t dream of it.”

Just wanted to thank everyone for the continued support! Xyleroth's comment last chapter also reminded me that there was a fun fact that I wanted to share at the end of volume 1. So, when I was originally writing this, I wanted to have Chloe be the other main character. As I was writing the fair arc (and some of the VR arc), I had so much fun writing Nora's interactions with the MC that I decided right there she was going to be a main character. This changed the course of the entire novel, which is something I'm grateful for because otherwise I feared it was going to end up a little too generic. Although I suppose a lot of the characters have changed and underwent revision since then, so maybe I was worried about nothing. I'll see you all on Wednesday!