Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day! This year I’m presenting Chapter 54,” Irene and Amelia Redecorate Their Room,” from my long-hiatused WIP Justine Grown Up. It’s a modern retelling of sorts of Phronsie Pepper, set from 1979–84. Enjoy!
Though visits home have long since become a necessary, irregular evil, Justine and David can’t totally brush off their family. Besides, it almost seems like a mini-vacation from the stress of grad school, and Justine can hardly refuse when her dearest nieces have asked her to come. She and David are staying with Adicia as usual, but Justine quickly goes next door after arriving and depositing her things in their guest room.
“Dad is hopeless,” Irene says, brushing her raven hair out of her green eyes. “He’s begun treating us almost like he treats you. It never occurred to him that we’re old enough to have celebrity crushes.”
Lenore smiles. “You haven’t been here in awhile, Justine. Maybe Irene and Amelia should give you a tour of their room. They recently redecorated, and now it looks like the room of two teen girls. You might not recognize it.”
“Is that good or bad?” Justine asks.
“Just let them show you. You’ll see what it’s all about soon enough.”
Irene and Amelia lead Justine upstairs to their room, where Justine is greeted by the sight of walls almost completely plastered in posters and magazine pictures of men. Gone are the posters of cute animals and stuffed animals that used to dominate their room.
“I take it these guys are famous?”
“Don’t you have MTV or follow entertainment news?” Irene asks.
“David and I only have a few cable channels, and we’re too busy with grad school to watch much TV or even read the newspaper. It’s been awhile since we last saw a movie, and I don’t go to discos anymore.”
Amelia giggles. “You’ve really fallen behind the times. This is Duran Duran, from Birmingham, England. We just got into them a few months ago, but they’ve been around for a few years. All the girls at school like them too. Even little Simone likes them, though not for the mature reasons we do.”
Justine smiles and nods politely as the girls take turns telling her about each member of the band in minute detail, along with a recitation of song titles, chart positions, magazine articles, and media appearances. This kind of thing seems so unlike her nonconformist nieces, but even the most unconventional teen girl has to have a celebrity crush sometime.
“You were right when you said the right first fantasy crush doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone,” Irene goes on. “But for Amelia, Nessa, and I, it’s about a lot more than looks. Only stupid teenyboppers like a band for such a shallow reason. The music has to be good too, and the people in the band have to be intelligent and artistic.”
“I hope you don’t go around talking like that to the other girls at school,” Justine says. “No one appreciates being told she’s immature or silly for only liking a band for their looks. They probably think you’re the nerdy losers for having the exact opposite attraction.”
Amelia smiles. “It does help that they’re handsome. I don’t like ugly people, no matter how talented or nice they are.”
Justine surveys the room, a small lump in her throat. She and her four closest sisters never had the luxury of having teen crushes on celebrities, let alone papering their tiny shared rooms in posters and magazine pin-ups. They always had more important priorities, like where their next meal was coming from or if a utility might get shut off due to their derelict parents. Even Ernestine’s Beatlemania was tempered by the reality of growing up poor. Now there’s finally a generation who takes for granted being able to be normal teen girls. Even if Irene and Amelia were only attracted by looks, it wouldn’t matter. They’ve earned the right to be normal and carefree.
“Would you like to hear some of their music?” Irene asks. “You might like it. We’d never make fun of you as too old to like them. A lot of older people today like The Beatles, and twenty years ago they were written off as only for young people.”
“Maybe you can play it for me later this weekend. I’d like to relax a bit after the long drive. We could go out for sundaes or something tomorrow, or maybe the movies and dinner too.” Justine looks around at the pictures for the umpteenth time. “I don’t think you told me if you’ve got favorites. Even girls who like a band for serious reasons usually have favorites.”
“It worked out perfectly for us. We all have a different favorite, each matching our personality. Nessa, Amelia, and I based our choices on serious reasons. Only little girls and teenyboppers who like whatever’s popular pick a favorite for only looks. That’s as stupid as only dating for looks. A pretty face doesn’t mean anything if the guy is stupid or mean.”
“I feel kind of bad for you that you never got to have a favorite band or celebrity crushes,” Amelia says. “I guess it’s not the same to do that at your age. It probably doesn’t feel as special as when you’re young.”
Irene indicates a somewhat androgynous-looking member of the quintet. “I chose Nick as my favorite. God forgive me, but I wasn’t entirely sure what he was the first time I saw him. Then I realized that’s a normal look for a New Romantic, and that I was pretty ignorant for assuming a man in makeup with a pretty look has to be a cross-dresser. I like how he’s not afraid to be himself, no matter what people might assume. My parents always taught me how important it is to beat to your own drummer. Different is good.”
Justine takes in Irene’s favorite. “I kind of agree with you, but I’m not sure I’d know what to think if David came home one day wearing eye makeup, styled hair, and feminine shirts.”
“I like that look on the right man. A man who’s not afraid to look pretty in public is really sure of his masculinity. He doesn’t need silly things like leather jackets or a motorcycle to prove his manhood.”
“Yeah, but there’s a lot of ground between wearing mascara and being a Hell’s Angel!”
“I was never interested in jocks. I always liked artistic types, like the guys in art, film, dance, or music clubs. I don’t know how girls in the old days could be attracted to things like crew cuts, letter jackets, and square jaws.”
Amelia points to one of the brunets. “My favorite is Roger, the drummer. Most of the girls at school have other favorites, but I don’t care. I guess I just like that he’s quiet like I am. My favorite guys at school are the quiet, shy ones.”
“You can never go wrong with a quiet one,” Justine agrees. “I think it’s safe to say that the average introvert isn’t using that as a façade for a jerkish personality. What you see is what you get.”
“And it adds mystery. Plus when a quiet person does speak, it’s usually pretty deep and profound. Everyone always underestimates us, but you know what they say about the quiet ones.”
Justine smiles at her. “Yes, I sure do, even though I’ve never been guilty of being too quiet and shy. Is he one of the brothers?”
Irene vigorously shakes her head. “None of them are related, though a lot of people assume that at first. It’s just one of life’s funny coincidences that three out of five share the same last name. I’m glad we’re Troys and don’t have that problem of an overly common name. Well, you’re a Ryan now, but Ryan isn’t overly popular.”
Amelia continues pointing. “Nessa chose Simon as her favorite. She likes his poetic lyrics, and you know how much she loves books and poetry. It’s kind of unusual that she likes him best, since normally she doesn’t like blondes all that much. Did we tell you he’s part Huguenot just like us?”
“No, you didn’t,” Justine says, starting to feel like a fish out of water with her teenage nieces. She’s not even a generation away from them, but suddenly they seem like they have less in common. They have mainstream teen girls interests now, as opposed to how they often used to talk about deep things like indie films, current events, and classic literature.
“Little Simone likes John best,” Irene concludes. “She thinks he’s the best-looking. No deeper reasons. What else can you expect from a ten-year-old? She’ll learn when she’s a little older.”
“You and Nessa are only five years older, and Amelia is only three years older. Not so long ago, you were ten and had a similar childish mindset.”
“Are we really that close in age? It seems like a lot bigger gap at our age.”
“It always does. Things level out once you’re both adults. David only started to see me as more than a friend when I was twenty and he was twenty-five.”
Amelia puts on a begging look. “If they’re ever nearby, could you please drive us to the concert? We’ve never been to a real concert before, and we’d spend our own money and everything. We’d be so thankful to you forever.”
“Yes.” Justine doesn’t even take time to think about it. “You girls deserve all the best things in life after everything our family went through to get out of poverty. But you’d have to let me know well in advance so I can arrange my schedule. It’s asking a lot for a grad student to take off personal time to chauffeur her nieces to a concert.”
“They’re not touring in the area now,” Irene reassures her. “We just wanted to know for in the future, and we wouldn’t make you take us if someone else could do it. Our dad probably wouldn’t hear of it, since he thinks we’re too young and innocent for musician crushes, but our mom might. It’s not like we’d be going there as groupies. We’re good girls.”
Irene and Amelia lead their aunt to their desks and show her the scrapbooks they’ve begun compiling. Each girl has nearly an identical scrapbook, though there are a few minor differences in layout, order, and focus. Justine thinks back to the bulging scrapbook of The Four Seasons Betsy probably still has in storage somewhere. This pursuit must be taking quite a bit of time away from more constructive things like homework and studying, but her nieces will only be young once.
“Would it be stupid if we reorganized the walls every so often?” Irene asks. “We plan on getting a lot of new posters and pinning up new magazine pictures, and it might be nice to change which goes where. It could get boring if they stay in exactly the same place for the next few years.”
“Years?” Justine teases. “Why don’t you wait more than a few months and see if you still like them so much? Or you might still like them but no longer want to have them all over your walls.”
Irene considers this. “Yeah, we probably will organize our walls a bit differently when we’re a little older. We’d never want anyone to think we’re not maturing past teen crushes. But when you first really like a band, you want everyone to know it. And we need time to develop our fandom.”
“Are you sure you’re only fifteen? You don’t sound like any other teen girl I’ve ever known outside of our family.”
“Amelia and I aren’t teenyboppers. We were never part of the crowd falling for whatever teen idols we were told to scream for. If we’re lucky enough to go to a concert and you’re taking us, we promise we won’t scream like maniacs. Sure we’d be excited, but we wouldn’t act like animals. We’d want to hear the show. It’s about the music for us, more than looks.”
“You don’t need to keep telling me that. I believed you the first time. But remember, you might like other bands too, later on. Most people don’t have the same favorite band forever.”
“We know. We don’t expect to. But right now, we just want to have some fun. This is probably the closest we’ll ever get to being like the other girls our age.”
Justine has one final look around the newly-redecorated room before heading back next door to Adicia’s house. As she settles into the guest room, with David in the shower, a funny feeling takes hold of her. She doesn’t know what to make of it, or what it means, but she can’t help thinking that Irene and Amelia’s sudden move into young womanhood may have just helped to pave the way for her to finally prove once and for all to their family that she’s an independent, capable adult woman and not an overgrown Phronsie Pepper. But only time will tell how this might unfold. All that matters is that the three of them demonstrate they’re not the cute little kids everyone remembers them as.
With her nieces’ status as real young women at stake, suddenly her long-simmering cold war with their family just got a whole lot more serious and significant.