"All done," she said.
"With?" I asked.
"All done with school shopping."
"Cool." I sounded subdued, but a part of me hoped a bottle of Cristal was somewhere among pencils and safety scissors on the list because I imagined dowsing myself in it at the bus stop as soon as they drove off. (Hey, give me a break here, people. It's been nothing but unstructured nuttiness, bored shenanigans, and pointless bickering around here while trying to run meetings and deal with clients. Think of it as Bring-Your-Child-To-Work Day but 3 months long.)
It was right about then that Allie appeared in the sliding glass door. There was an excited eagerness in her face that soon sagged into disappointment upon noticing my presence. This has been an increasingly common reaction from Allie who, in recent months, has been quietly challenging Galileo's notions as to what the Universe actually orbits around.
But no matter. Rather than, say, waiting for her obtrusive stepfather to leave, Allie launches into a series of spastic hand and facial movements. I've seen this before. It's a Spanglish-like hybrid dialect combining sign language with classic mother-daughter co-dependency--think Helen Keller meets Gilmore Girls.
Since it's used quite regularly when I'm around, I've managed to pick up on a few words and phrases. For example, widened eyes, three finger stabs to the opposite palm, followed by one long lip bite and two blinks means, "I need to talk to you right now." Another that gets used often is, furrowed brow, sigh, point, point, point, pressed lips, fist pound, fist pound, which roughly translates to, "Get rid of him."
This was exactly what Allie started off with as she stood in the doorway. I can't say as I appreciated such rudeness, but I managed to hold my tongue as mother and daughter proceeded to engage in a mad series of hand gestures and frequent eye rolls which concluded with Allie stomping off.
My curiosity got the best of me. "What was that all about?" I wanted to know.
Ashley, however, waved me off. "Oh, it's nothing," she replied, taking a sip from her Diet Coke.
"No, seriously. What's up with her?" I asked. Why it is after all these years with the girls I haven't learned to abandon my quest for details in such situations beats me, but I was about to be reminded yet again of my repeated folly.
Ashley shrugged in that okay-you-asked-for-it sort of way. "I told the girls they could spend some of their birthday money today," she started. "So Allie wanted to buy a bra."
Just had to pry, didn't you, Ron?
My reaction, or course, was predictable. "What?! A bra? To hold in what exactly? She's ten for friggn' sake." Granted, there are girls who fill out early in life, but chopsticks have more form than Allie who, based on her family's genetic history, has a lengthy wait before needing to worry about reigning things in.
Well used to such outbursts from me, Ashley downplayed the whole things. "It's no big deal. It was just a sports bra."
I failed to see the logic in how this additional detail was supposed to quell my concerns, namely, why do little girls feel the high need to grow up faster than they should?
In the case of my stepdaughter's gateway drug to premature womanhood, I wanted to know which corrupted institution was at fault this time--Teen Nick? Katie Perry? Those stupid Twilight movies?
"Where in the world can you find sports bras for the under-aged?" I asked.
"At Justice," Ashley answered.
Justice. I should've known.
Justice is a chain of retail stores geared toward the tween demographic. A better way of putting it is that it's a sparkly, pink mushroom cloud explosion of trendiness and cheap plastic crap that's continually on sale for 40% off. This, I suppose, wouldn't be so bad until you consider what it is they are selling. Filling their racks and shelves is a bipolar array of merchandise ranging from cutesy dolls and fruity candies to flirty clothes and border-line naughty undergarments.
To a ten-year-old girl the message is that it's okay still play with toys as long as you're wearing the Party Dots Romper when you do. To me, however, it screams, "We are the official supplier of cherry lollipops to strippers and porn stars dressed as naughty school girls."
What ensued was a rant against the evils of Justice, in the middle of which Ashley got up to leave.
"Hey, where you going?" I asked, surprised she wasn't sticking around to hear more of my argument defending her own daughter's innocence from culture's depravity.
"Uh, I think I'm gonna go help Allie try on her stuff." And like so many other discussions, she was gone and it was over. Only it wasn't. Not quite anyway.
Later, over dinner, as soon as Allie had excused herself from the table, Ashley slapped me on the arm.
"Guess what Allie said this afternoon?" she asked looking past me to ensure her daughter was beyond earshot.
I took a bite of food. "What?" I replied unsuspectingly.
A grin spread across Ashley's face, one I've seen before, and all at once I knew I wanted nothing to do with whatever it was Allie had uttered. You see, my wife takes cruel pleasure in watching me squirm, and things were about to get uncomfortable for me.
"So, along with her sports bra I let Allie buy a pair of panties--"
I tried to say, "No, stop," but instead choked on a piece of half-chewed fish. Why Justice has to sell them as panties when Walmart refers to the same thing as underwear further underscored my disdain for the place. Either way, I had no desire to hear any more details, and I had to prevent Ashley from telling me anymore of the story. Too late.
"Yeah, so when Allie put them on I asked her how they fit, and she said." Ashley started to crack up. "She said they were like heaven... for her hooha!"
O.M.G! Justice, I hate you.