Peggy Hill could tell that her niece Luanne Platter was excited about something by the way the young woman fairly bounced through the screen door. Rather, she came very close to colliding with the glass separating the Hill house dining room from the yard, caught herself, and flung open the offending door with gusto. "Aunt Peggy! You'll never guess what happened at school today!" she gasped. She stumbled a little over the threshold, and then looked up through her bangs, grinning sheepishly.
Peggy raised an eyebrow. A couple of years ago, Luanne's excitement over academics was hardly commonplace; even her commitment to beauty school seemed to be mostly for show - Luanne had been a very mediocre hairstylist. Smiling a little, Peggy set down the meal list she had been half-engrossed in prior to Luanne's arrival. "Well, since I'm not yet psychic, I suppose you'll have to just tell me," she replied cheerfully.
Luanne blinked. "Uh ..." she trailed off. Eventually, she seemed to decide that a lack of complete comprehension was not enough to spoil her good mood. "So like, in my College 101 class today," she began, "The teacher told us to write an essay about someone who has inspired us in our lives. And you'll never guess what happened next!" she squeaked.
"No, I guess I won't," Peggy responded, a tad less kindly.
If Luanne noticed the slight, she did not acknowledge it, however. "I decided ... to write my essay on Cynthia Sparks!" she screeched.
It was Peggy's turn to blink. "Oh," she finally offered. "Well. Um." She looked down at the meal list, her bifocaled vision fixating momentarily on the addition of "Meat loaf w/ mashed potatoes" towards the bottom of the page. "I'm afraid I don't know who Cynthia Sparks is," she finally admitted. Inwardly, she tried not to feel too slighted that Luanne's first inclination hadn't been to write an essay about her favorite aunt.
Luanne began digging around inside of her book bag; Peggy eyed the amassment of crinkled papers, resisting the urge to offer organization tips. Eventually, a magazine was tugged out of the depths and thrust in front of Peggy's face; a pert, blonde girl who looked to be in her mid-twenties smiled back. She was pretty, but in a manufactured way, Peggy thought. On the other hand, the girl had the whitest teeth she'd ever seen.
"Cynthia Sparks is a four-time Grammy winner and one of the top-selling female vocalists in the world," Luanne explained as Peggy stared, still fairly non-plussed at the glossy cover photo. "She also has her own perfume, a line of handbags, and she's dating her childhood friend and fellow pop star, Joey Timberville. Plus," Luanne added, her hands clasped together, a dreamy smile on her face, "She's a country girl at heart. Just like me!" At this, she grabbed up the magazine anew and flipped to an obviously oft-read page. On it, Cynthia Sparks was surrounded by several colorful 'thought bubbles' with things one might expect a country-girl-cum-pop-singer to say. Sure enough: "'I'm just a total country girl at heart'", one of the bubbles read.
"Ah," Peggy offered, resisting the urge to roll her eyes a little. "I'm glad you're excited, Luanne," she said honestly. Then she held up the meal list with similar emphasis. "Okay," she offered, "So which one do you think makes a better side for pork chops: Au gratins, or baked potatoes?"
Bobby Hill tugged a magazine out of its holster by the cash register at the Arlen Mall. "Hey, a new interview with Cynthia Sparks," he enthused. He held it up for approval.
Joseph Gribble, his partner-in-crime, grinned enthusiastically. "I wonder what kind of shampoo she uses," he said dreamily.
Beside him, Connie Souphanousinphone glanced at the picture disdainfully. "I bet it's something pink," she muttered. "She does have really ... white teeth, though," she shrugged.
"Yeah," Joseph said, still smiling goofily. "I'd like to whiten her teeth."
The three friends meandered through the department store closest to where they'd locked up their bikes. It was a Saturday afternoon, and they had come to enjoy the sights and sounds of anywhere that wasn't school. "Smell that fresh Arlen air," Bobby enticed, inhaling deeply as they passed an aisle of cosmetics.
"I think that's the perfume section, actually," Connie said, crinkling her nose. Sure enough, as they rounded the corner, several small, sophisticated-looking containers came into view.
Immediately, Bobby and Joseph started spraying samples on themselves. Connie hung back, watching her friends douse themselves in fragrance. "Hey, smell this one," Bobby enthused. Suddenly, an arm was thrust underneath Connie's nose. Unprepared, she backed away from it, and then cautiously leaned forward and sniffed.
Bobby beamed. "It's called 'Wyld Rose'. With a 'y'. It's Cynthia Sparks' new perfume. You know, it goes with her latest single: 'Wallflower'."
Joseph grabbed Bobby's arm and took a large whiff of his wrist. "It's been on MTV non-stop for the past month," he informed her.
"You know my dad doesn't let me watch MTV," Connie frowned. Secretly, though, she had little interest in popular music. Kind-of-dating Bobby meant that she was introduced to what her mom called "bubble gum fluff" with a fair amount of regularity, but it did not enthuse her the way it seemed to excite Bobby. As for Joseph, she suspected Cynthia Sparks' being, well, a live female had the most to do with his fascination.
Bobby sniffed at his wrist again, and then began wiping it along his neck, apparently hoping to coat himself in the scent. "I'm gonna buy this," he announced. He picked up an opened box (pink) of the perfume and grinned.
"What for?" Connie asked. "Your mom's birthday?"
"For me," Bobby answered promptly. He headed off towards the registers in a flourish of laboratory-enhanced rose fragrance.
Connie sighed. "I'll never understand boys," she muttered. "It's probably a good thing that I'm not planning to marry one until I'm at least thi- Joseph!" she exclaimed.
Joseph unlooped his arm from around the neck of the Cynthia Sparks cardboard cut-out that he'd been trying to tongue-kiss. "Yeah, boys," he shrugged sheepishly.
They ate lunch in the food court amidst other Saturday shoppers. Bobby and Joseph chomped on hamburgers and fries, while Connie opted for a soup-and-sandwich place. Politely, Connie made sure to stock up on extra napkins because she knew neither of her friends would.
"So what are you guys doing your science projects on?" Connie asked. Dual groans rose from the other side of the table.
"We have a science project?" Joseph asked.
Connie couldn't help rolling her eyes this time. "I'll take that as an 'I don't know'." She turned to Bobby. "How about you?"
To his credit, Bobby appeared to take the question seriously. Either that, or he was mimicking Michelangelo's the Thinker. "When you say, 'science project'," he said finally, "Are you talking about the school science variety?"
Connie sighed. "It's due next week," she told them. "Remember? You're supposed to locate and research the dangers of an every day household product on the environment?"
Bobby and Joseph continued to stare at her dubiously. "So you've already finished, right?" Joseph asked pointedly.
Connie shrugged, secretly pleased with the opportunity to talk about her academic prowess, even if only to a couple of nominally apathetic teenagers. "I researched the dangers of my mom's favorite hair spray," she explained. "And then I showed her comparative statistics between her brand and some more environmentally friendly ones." She paused. "I mean, aerosol sprays in and of themselves aren't really environmentally friendly," she allowed, "but now she's using one that isn't tested on animals."
She suddenly had Bobby's rapt attention. "Wait," he asked, eyes wide. "Hair spray is tested on animals?"
Connie paused, a spoonful of soup halfway to her mouth. "Lots of cosmetics are," she explained. "Thousands of animals every year are harmed by big businesses testing out hair and skin products on them."
Joseph looked thoughtful. "Do you think male rabbits think female rabbits look better when they wear eye shadow and mascara?" he asked.
Bobby seemed more concerned about this new information, however. "So when you say skin products," he said slowly, "Do you mean like, lotions and stuff?"
"Lotions, lipsticks, blushes, concealers ..." Connie ticked each item off on her fingers. Her and Bobby seemed to arrive at the same conclusion simultaneously. "... Perfume." Bobby rustled the plastic bag containing his newly acquired bottle of Wyld Rose. He handed it to Connie, and then wrung his hands like an expectant parent as she peered at the small text on the box.
"Well?" Bobby asked, his face set in a worried grimace. Even Joseph seemed to have recognized the severity of the situation as he stared wordlessly back and forth between them.
Connie sighed. "Sorry, Bobby," she said, and held her finger underneath a bit of small print on the back of the box: "'Safely tested on animals'."
Seated at the head of the dinner table, Hank Hill cast a glance at his collective family and wrinkled his nose. "Someone, uh, wearin' some kind o' perfume?" he queried.
"I am," Bobby and Luanne chorused together. They stared at one another in surprise.
"Well, mine is Cynthia Sparks' latest fragrance," Luanne offered. She joined Hank and Peggy in looking expectantly at Bobby for his own clarification.
Bobby blinked. "Uh ... mine is also a fragrance by Cynthia Sparks."
Hank sighed. "Please tell me it was some kind of accident," he bemoaned.
Bobby didn't seem to understand the undercurrent of his father's plea. "I liked it at first," he offered, "But then Connie found out that the company that makes it tests on animals."
"That's unfortunate, honey," Peggy piped up.
Bobby nodded. "Yeah. I'm gonna do my report for science class on it." He looked down at the half-eaten pork chops in his plate. "Poor bunnies," he murmured.
"Ah, science," Hank segued. "I guess I should just be relieved that you're not making perfume or something."
"Nope," Bobby said, still looking a bit dejected. "I'm just supposed to try to convince someone not to use it." His eyes settled on his cousin across the table. "He~ey, Luanne! You're a 'someone'."
Luanne sniffed. "Yes, that's right," she said self-importantly.
"Well, okay," Bobby offered. "So do you pledge to boycott Cynthia Sparks' perfume until she stops testing on animals?"
Luanne frowned. "I'm sure Cynthia Sparks doesn't hate animals," she said unhappily. "In an interview with Teen Beat Box, she said she grew up with bunnies and horses."
"Well, the perfume is tested on bunnies," Bobby affirmed. "And probably horses, too. I mean, I don't see why it wouldn't be. It's probably best to boycott them, too, just to be on the safe side." Bobby's eyes lit up. "I bet what would get even more attention is if people boycotted Cynthia Sparks' music, though!" His eyes were alight now with well-meaning activism. "Mom, will you drive me to Kinko's after dinner?"
"If you can hold off until tomorrow afternoon, I'll take you," Peggy responded swiftly.
"Great!" Bobby looked at Luanne again. "Can I take a picture of you dumping your bottle of Wyld Rose down the drain?" he asked excitedly. "You'd be a great poster child."
Luanne sniffled theatrically and threw her napkin down. "No," she said, shaking her head. "No, Bobby. I won't let you smear Cynthia Sparks' name through the mud. She's just a good country girl. Do you hear me?! A good country girl!" She tossed her fork into her plate and stomped out of the dining room.
"Don't run from the truth!" Bobby called after her. Hank and Peggy exchanged worried glances.
The next few weeks held an undercurrent of chaotic energy in the Hill household. Bobby, Connie, and an always loyal Joseph worked with their science teacher to get the Cynthia Sparks boycott off the ground. A letter was sent to the mayor of Arlen explaining the reason for the action, and an eventual town-wide CD burning took place. Posters were hung around town besmirching the pop singer, her pearly-white teeth taunting passerby in store windows. Buck Strickland liked Bobby, and had been all too happy to get in on the action by allowing him to hang a poster on the outermost-facing window of Strickland Propane. Hank, who wasn't particularly passionate one way or the other, was nonetheless forced to look at it several times a day.
On a late afternoon, Hank came into the kitchen to grab up some meat to take out to the barbecue grill. He couldn't help glance at Luanne, hunched over a notepad at the table. Every now and then, her pen would move listlessly across the paper. "Writin' a letter?" Hank asked, trying to be polite. He had watched Luanne skulk around the house ever since Bobby's anti-Cynthia Sparks proclamation had wounded what he ascertained was generally blind celebrity worship. At one point, Bobby had complained that some of his posters had come up missing, and others were 'defiled' with pro-Sparks messages. Ever since then, all talk of the singer had been banned from the Hill household.
Luanne sighed. "Trying to write my essay for school. It was supposed to be on ... well, someone I thought I admired," she said glumly.
"Ah." Hank balanced a stack of raw meat on a plate. He sensed Luanne needed to be assuaged somehow. "Well, uh," he said, feeling awkward. "What is it you admire about this person?"
"I dunno, Uncle Hank." When Luanne looked up, her eyes were misty with unshed tears. "Have you ever had someone you really admired?" she prompted. "Someone who you were just really glad was part of your life, however like, small a role they actually had? And then have you ever had that same person let you down?"
"Yup. Chuck Mangione," Hank sighed. Luanne raised an eyebrow. "Uh, anyways. Go on."
Luanne shrugged. "What if I admired someone for the wrong reasons? What if I liked someone for who she is, but just kind of ignore the stuff that I don't like? Does that make me a hippo ... hyper ... Am I a bad person, Uncle Hank?"
Hank set the plate down. "Look, Luanne," he said. "People are complex. They aren't going to fit into the hole you've made for them in your mind all of the time. But it doesn't make you a hypocrite just because you might not share all of their interests or beliefs."
"Then how am I supposed to figure out if I can still like that person or not?"
Hank sighed. "You've just got to decide if the things you like about them outweigh the things you don't." He gingerly picked up the plate anew, balancing it expertly in one hand. "For the record, I don't think it's worth losing any friends or family over." He was almost out the screen door when Luanne smiled.
"Thanks, Uncle Hank." Then she twirled a lock of blonde hair around her finger and cocked her head. "So, what happened with Chuck Mangio-"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"And tonight is the thirteen-and-up benefit concert by pop singer, Cynthia Sparks, in what her agent says is an on-going commitment to the safety and comfort of all animal life. Ms. Sparks has recently announced a recall of her perfume, Wyld Rose, citing potential harm via animal testing. The fragrance will be re-issued at an undisclosed later date. This is Nancy Gribble. Time is five PM."
Luanne hummed happily along to 'Wallflower', piping loudly and ever-presently from the radio in the bathroom. She glanced at herself in the mirror and smiled, then tripped out to the main area of the house, wobbling a little on her new heels.
Peggy gave her a once-over, her gaze lingering briefly with concern on the low-cut portion of Luanne's top (also new). "You look nice tonight," she nodded, and then elbowed her husband. "Hank, doesn't Luanne look nice tonight?"
Hank glanced up from the Sports section briefly, wincing at Luanne's cleavage. "Uh, yeah. Sure."
Unphased, Luanne bounced in place a little. "Do you like it? It's from Cynthia Sparks' latest clothing line. I'm also wearing some lipstick that's NOT tested on any animals." She rummaged around in her purse for it, and then tugged out a small sheaf of folded paper. "Oh! I almost forgot. I finished my College 101 essay. My teacher said it was very 'heartfelt'." She handed the papers to Peggy, and then glanced at the clock on the living room VCR. "We're gonna be late," she fretted. "Where's Bobby?"
"Right here!" Bobby exclaimed, fairly running out of his room. He was dressed in his usual short pants and a t-shirt that was a couple of sizes two small that was nonetheless emblazoned with Cynthia Sparks' visage. (Joseph, for some reason, had three Cynthia Sparks shirts.) "Let's get this show on the road!"
Hank eyed his son dubiously. He looked as if he wanted to make a comment about Bobby's clothing choice, but seemed to decide against it. "Okay, you two," he proferred instead. "No drinking. No drugs. And most importantly: No giving rides to strangers."
"We know, Uncle Hank," Luanne smiled. She waved her fingers. "See you later!" Bobby trotted ahead of her to head out the door, where he knew Connie and Joseph were waiting. When the door closed, Hank shook his head.
Smiling, Peggy unfolded the papers that Luanne had handed her. "I think this is something you should read, Hank," she said after she skimmed it.
"What is it?" Hank asked. He took them, made a miniscule adjustment of his glasses, and began to read it aloud. "'When I first got this assignment, I knew without a doubt that the person who has most inspired me in my life is Cynthia Sparks. Ms. Sparks has been an inspiration to me ever since she burst onto the music scene with her smash hit, 'Punch it, Baby'." Hank looked up. "Oh, God."
"Just keep going," Peggy urged.
He did. "'I still admire Cynthia Sparks for her fashion sense, her country roots, and her music. However, after some recent events, I am forced to re-evaluate what 'inspiration' means to me. Though listening to Cynthia Sparks' music can make me feel good after a bad day, it isn't what keeps a roof over my head. Cynthia Sparks is pretty and an animal-lover, but I'm starting to think maybe that's not all there is to life.
"My uncle, Hank Hill is a workaholic. Not a day goes by when he isn't one-hundred percent committed to his job as a propane salesman. Uncle Hank is committed to his work, his family, his favorite football team, and his friends. He commits to them in spite of their flaws, their quirks, and in spite of whether or not he agrees with or believes absolutely everything that they do.
"Uncle Hank takes care of the things he loves. He's not the most popular person in Arlen, or the prettiest-" Peggy tittered at the 'harrumph' that followed from her husband - "'but he's always there for you when you need him, even if you don't know that you do. Sometimes the advice he gives isn't what you want to hear, but it comes from the heart, and there's always a ring of truth around it. The world will always have its pop princesses and movie stars. It will always have flashy people to idolize. But behind all that flash are simple, down-to-earth people like my Uncle Hank. He may not have his own perfume brand or line of handbags, but he's a good friend, a good husband, a good father, and the best uncle I could ask for. He is my inspiration.'"
Hank set the page down. He blinked at Peggy, who looked at him, expectantly beaming. "Well?" she asked. "Isn't it sweet?"
Finally, Hank nodded. "It's pretty nice," he offered, "But it smells like that gosh-danged perfume."