Everyone has something that brings them comfort. A place, a book, a song, a smell. For Louise Belcher that thing was her hat. The hat had been with her forever. She had never willingly taken it off, even wearing it through laundry days. There were entire months where save for a quick shower and dry off, it never left her head. Her family learned through trial and error within their first years with her to never touch this.
To remove Louise's hat was to rob her of this comfort. She was an anxious person, someone who was unstable. A high aggression ran through the Belcher family's second daughter. It was unbridled and surfaced to scare others at random.
But no matter what, there was a worse side of Louise, a side that was desperate, mad. A side they'd seen in glimpses and thought would fade, but it did not fade, it loomed beneath everything.
Each Halloween the outfit was not removed, only built upon. Each summer the pink ears upon her head remained in place. When Easters came, she blended in, just another preteen-to-teenage child wearing rabbit ears. No one ever looked at Louise weird all April, only the rest of the year, if they were fools.
Bob and Linda loved their kids, each had quirks. Everyone did in the area. They felt to pry at Louise over her hat would be cruel, so they never did. Louise was, however, bought many other hats, all of which she stored away 'for later'.
It had been another five years, and nothing had changed. The hat still fit upon her head, it looked new still.(Some days they asked themselves “did she buy replacements” because the hat didn't fade) Both ears, starched and firm with stuffing raising them upward and a firmer fabric lining the inside stood upward just as they always had. Louise watched her parents cook burgers, not for customers, but for herself, Gene, and Tina.
She'd gotten in a lot of trouble over the years at school, that was how you kept things like rabbit ear hats and no one open their mouth. She was devious, a troublemaker, and so smart the teachers even knew now to warn new students – and forgetful ones – not to mess with her lest they bring a year, or more, of sheer agony.
Days became routine, Louise found security in her hat. Everything was changing or not changing, but one stable thing was her hat. The very hat she washed with the secret tenderness she had while she admired animals and showed so rarely no one would believe she had. For her hat, the tenderness was never a secret. It was washed by hand, with special detergent. It was hand wrung, then blow dried. No one ever came inside to witness this.
No one needed to. No one would believe it, even if they beheld it. This hat had become something special to Louise, to the point nothing scared her more than losing it. In fact, her nightmares often involved her losing the hat.
Cleaned, the hat returned to it's one true place. Louise rested at a bench, alongside her siblings, and waited on her parents to make them burgers before school. They regarded her in silence before Gene said something that brought his identity into question. Her brother was somewhere between always talking like a sassy woman, and admiring everyone without a boundary. While Tina was still all about boys, but also acknowledged some girls looked good. Louise meanwhile... didn't get the appeal. Boo Boo had been a crush, but the boy was basically a dainty little girl who later grew into a man.
Plus, when she thought about him, she also thought about sharp objects, stealing his money, and slapping him. It wasn't quite love, it was more she disliked him so much his suffering made her elated. She ran a finger over her hat, straightening it as Jimmy Junior was talked about by her eldest sibling.
Louise stared at her burger and fries in silence, neither sibling caught this. Dating was hard, dating was annoying.
Dating was a mess, she'd watched Tina do it a hundred times, or count things that weren't dates as dates. Louise liked villains. Louise liked bad boys. Louise liked to deconstruct people. People liked heroes. People liked good guys. People hated being pulled apart at the seams. Gene seemed to never date, flirt at a distance or be loud around people, but never straight up ask others out. At least his attempts were funny or unique. She drank her water and popped the lid off to stir the ice.
Well, at least among everything everyone had last, herself included, she had her hat.
She still had her identity.
She was still herself.
A lot of people lost themselves as they grew, forgot their childhood, the crazy things that built them. A lot of the time her siblings seemed to be shedding those memories. There were things she spoke of that no one remembered. Moments that mattered so much to her, that her own siblings had lost to time. They had been held tightly by her brain, stored for later. Crisp as the lettuce her father was cutting now. Neither Tina nor Gene had them anymore, but Louise did.
She used her free hand to touch each ear of her hat, finding the motion comforting.
Not me, she nibbled on some fries, I'm never forgetting who I was, who I am. Louise Belcher was not in this world to mellow with time, to calm down, to 'grow into a lady'. She was here to be Louise Belcher, hat and all. If that meant in another few years, when she was in college, she was still getting in trouble, so be it. She'd be herself, consequences be damned.
Not for the first time at breakfast, nor for the first time among her siblings, Louise smiled to herself at a simple thought.
The world is never going to be ready for me.