Ella grabs an extra granola bar out of the pantry before she runs out of the house and to the drive way. She quickly opens up the passenger door of her mom’s red Dodge Neon and slides inside.
“You’re going to be late,” her mother says.
“Sowwy, mom,” Ella manages to say around her mouth full of granola and chocolate chips. Rachel lets out a sigh as she pushes the gas pedal, and Ella’s fairly certain that she’s going to speed significantly to get Ella to class on time. She probably shouldn’t have procrastinated asking her mom for advice until she was annoyed with her. The sugary pop song plays, and Ella turns the volume knob until it’s muted. She procrastinated all of the last night because she was nervous, so she supposes she should just get it over with.
It’s now or never.
Ella asks, “Have you ever asked a girl out?”
“No,” Rachel says, sending her daughter a perplexed look before looking back at the road, “I haven’t. Why are you asking?”
“Well there’s this girl at school,” Ella says, “and she’s really cute and sweet, and she makes me feel nervous. And I want to ask her to go see a movie with me-”
“Not just as friends,” her mother says with a knowing sort of smile.
“Yeah,” Ella says, “as girlfriends.”
“Well,” her mom says, “I’m not sure I’m really the best person to ask about this-”
“Mom, you said that you like girls,” Ella says.
“Yes,” she says, “I’m bi, but honey that doesn’t mean I’ve ever dated one of the girls I’ve liked.”
Ella puts on her puppy dog eyes, the sort that can get both her mom and her Aunt Liv to do whatever she asks, and says, “Can’t you help at least a little?”
“Alright, alright,” her mother says, “First I think that you’ve got to find out if she likes girls.”
“And then?” Ella asks. She needs to know what do next. She’s never done anything like this before.
“That’s all that I’ve got Ells,” her mom says. They pull up in front of the elementary school, and Ella opens up the passenger door to get out.
“Don’t forget Aunt Liv’s picking you up today,” her mother says. Ella rolls her eyes. Aunt Liv almost always picks both her and Etta up on Wednesdays.
“And don’t ask Walter for help on any homework that’s not science or math!” Her mother says as Ella closes the door. Her mom’s still not over the time that Walter got her to write her Charlie and the Chocolate Factory report over the effects of lsd on an author’s writing.
Ella only sits two desks down from Grace, but she isn’t able to work up the courage to talk to her during science or math or recess. It’s not until language arts, when they’re discussing “Old Yeller” that Ella finally finds the courage to talk to her.
“Hey, Grace?” she whispers. The other girl turns to her and sends her a winning smile that sends butterflies through her tummy.
“Yeah Ella?” she asks, and all Ella can think of is the fact that Grace knows her name.
“Ella?” Grace asks again, with a little bit of confusion.
“Um, yeah,” Ella says awkwardly, “can I borrow a pencil?” Grace smiles at her, and then asks Drew to pass the pencil to Ella. It’s a pink, mechanical pencil with a brand new eraser and Ella lets out a nervous breath. Grace gave her a nice pencil, and she knows her name and she’s adorable and she doesn’t know what to say around her.
She’s definitely going to need more advice.
At the end of the day, Ella and Etta sit down at the wooden park bench in front of the school. Aunt Liv will be there, she always is, but she’ll probably be about ten minutes late. Ella thinks it must just be one of those things that happens when you work for the FBI.
Ever since she and her mom moved back to Boston to help Aunt Liv and Uncle Peter with Etta, their lives have been hectic. They’ve spent a lot of time at the lab, and different members of the family have picked them up and watched either or both of them at weird times. Ella’s just gotten out her book, The Lightning Thief, when her aunt gets there to pick them both up.
Ella shoves it into her backpack, but Etta’s already right beside her mother. By the time that they get into the backseat of Olivia’s black Ford Explorer, Etta’s already complained about her homework, explained the entire plot of the book that she’s reading, and told them that she’s decided to become President of the United States.
Her aunt starts up the car, and then says, “Alright, Etta. I think that you should give Ella a chance to talk.”
“But mom,” Etta groans.
“Ella,” her aunt says, and Etta frowns but she knows that she’s lost the argument.
“Um, school was good, I guess,” Ella says.
“Are you alright?” her aunt asks. Aunt Liv’s always been good at reading her emotions, and Ella decides that she might as well tell her. She might even have some good advice.
“Yeah,” Ella says, “There’s just this girl I like and I don’t know how to talk to her.”
“That’s not hard,” Etta says, rolling her all knowing, seven-year old eyes, “you just talk to her. You talk to people all the time.”
“This is different,” Ella hisses.
“Ella,” her aunt says, “I’m sorry, it’s never easy to talk to a crush.”
“Do you know how to ask people out?” Ella asks, “like to the movies or something?”
“Not really,” her aunt says.
“Or find out if a girl likes girl?” Ella asks. She’s grasping at straws here, but her aunt’s one of the most awesome and smart people that she knows. She has to have some idea.
“Ella I’m sorry,” she says, “I have no idea.”
“Well how did Uncle Peter ask you out?” Ella asks.
“Ella that’s classified,” her aunt says, looking highly uncomfortable with the situation.
Olivia’s face lights up, and she suggests, “Why don’t you talk to Walter about this!”
“Um,” Ella says, “are you sure that’s a good idea?” Her Uncle Walter’s a genius but he’s… highly unconventional, to put it lightly.
“Sometimes Walter can surprise you,” her aunt says, but she says it with a grin. Her aunt pulls up to the lab, and she and Etta get out of the vehicle. Aunt Liv's needed on a crime scene, and
She and Etta’s goodbyes mingle together, and they walk into the lab carrying their backpacks. Etta drops hers by the door the moment that they get in. She opens up the front pocket and digs out her Nintendo DS.
Walter looks up from the corpse he’s examining and says, “Girls!”
“Hey grandpa,” Etta mumbles as she makes her way off to the office to play her game in peace.
“Hey Uncle Walter,” Ella says, a little bit awkwardly.
“And how is Miss Ella doing?” he asks. He sends her a big smile, and Ella decides that she might as well ask. His advice can’t be any more fruitless than the advice that she’s already gotten.
“Pretty good,” she says, and then she pauses a moment, trying to decide how to phrase it.
“There’s this girl that I like,” she says, “and I don’t know what to do.” She doesn’t know how to find out if Grace likes girls, or if Grace likes her. And she certainly doesn’t know how to ask Grace on a date.
“Bring her to the lab,” Walter says with gusto.
“The lab?” Ella asks.
“The lab,” he repeats, as if it’s the most obvious solution in the world, “it’s very romantic.”
“There are corpses here,” Ella says, pointing to the woman’s body that her uncle is currently cutting open with a tool. Ella happens to kinda like corpses; she finds them cool, but she doubts if Grace would feel the same way.
“The corpses are what make it romantic,” he says, “like a cemetery. Or the morgue.”
“Okay,” Ella says sarcastically, “I’ll definitely take her on a date to the morgue.”
“See,” Walter says, looking up from the corpse with his signature grin, “It will be perfect.” Ella decides that she was wrong; Walter’s advice was certainly worse than any of the rest she’s already gotten. She sighs, and walks into the office area where Etta’s playing her Nintendo DS.
Before she Ella can say anything, her cousin says, “You should ask dad about girls.”
“Aunt Liv said that was classified,” Ella says seriously.
“That’s what they both say when they don’t want to tell you something,” Etta says, rolling her eyes. Ella knows other kids Etta’s age, but none of them are as precocious as Etta is. Half of the twelve year olds in her own class aren’t as smart as her six year old cousin.
“If you like a girl,” Etta says reasonably, “then dad would be a pretty good person to ask. He got mom to like him.” Ella remembers the beginning of Aunt Liv and Uncle Peter’s relationship, and she’s fairly sure that it was more complicated than her cousin thinks it is.
“I don’t think that I need any more Bishop advice,” Ella says.
“I guess I won’t tell you how to get to Kanto in Heart Gold then,” her cousin says with a devious grin, “if you don’t need any more advice from Bishops.” Ella groans. She remembers when they both got their first Pokemon games about a year ago.
Ella had been trying to force her way through the Rock Tunnel in Fire Red through sheer will power, when Etta had looked over her shoulder and said, “Why don’t you just you use flash?” And that’s when Ella decided that banging her head against a wall might be the best way to make herself feel better about her abysmal gaming skills.
“Male Bishop advice,” Ella clarifies, and Etta giggles.
“I knew what you meant,” she says with a devious little smirk, and Ella groans. Sometimes she hates Etta a little bit. Ella slings her backpack over her shoulder, and walks out into the large expanse of the lab, sitting down in one of the chairs near Gene. She grabs her own white DS out of her bag and starts up her copy of Heart Gold. She battles a few bug catchers that she missed her first time in this area, and slaughters all of their Pokemon with one move from her Typhlosion.
Astrid comes in bearing chocolate, red vines, and a vial of something that looks like eyes. Astrid’s not a Bishop, or even a Dunham, and Ella likes her. Maybe she’s got some good quality advice about girls.
“Astrid!” Ella says excitedly.
“Ella?” Astrid asks, “what is it?”
“Can you give me girl advice?” she asks. Astrid looks shell-shocked.
“Please, please, please,” Ella begs, “I’m running out of people to ask. Can you give me girl advice?”
“Um, well, yes,” Astrid says.
“Do you like girls?” Ella asks, realizes a little too late that it might not be an appropriate question to ask.
“Yes, Ella,” Astrid says, sounding a little flustered.
“How do you ask a girl out?” Ella asks, leaning forward intently in her chair.
“Well,” Astrid says, “first you need to know if she likes girls.”
“How do you find that out?” Ella asks, because she’s heard this before. But she doesn’t know how or when to ask.
“It’s not always easy,” Astrid says, “you could wait to see if she comes out, or if she gets a girlfriend or-”
“Those would take a really long time,” Ella says.
“Yes,” Astrid says with a little smile, “they do. If you’re brave, you could ask her. But if she doesn’t, it might end up going badly.” Ella knows a little bit of what Astrid means by badly. Some of the girls have called her awful names and screamed when she came into the locker room, but Grace never did any of that. She doesn’t think that Grace would do any of that, even if she didn’t like Ella back.
“Do you think that she’d want to go to a movie with me?” Ella asks. She considers saying “be girlfriends” but she remembers that she needs to take baby steps.
“Yeah,” Astrid says, “if she likes you too, then I’m sure that she’ll want to go to a movie with you.”
“Thanks Astrid,” Ella says with a grin.
“Ella,” Astrid says, her look darkening a little, “Just- just don’t get your hopes too high. There are other girls out there.” Ella’s heartbeat drops a little, and she feels a hint of fear creeping in.
“But you’ll be fine,” Astrid promises her with a little smile.
“I’m gonna ask her,” Ella promises her. Astrid smiles again.
“You’ll do great, Ella,” she says. Ella runs across the lab,back to the corner by Gene where she left her backpack and takes out her spelling homework. She frowns at it in the hopes that the words will write themselves out, but they don’t. Ella groans as she starts to copy them down. By the time she finally finishes her spelling, social studies and math homework Astrid has left to run more errands and Peter’s bounding in through the doors of the lab. The moment Etta hears the sound of the door closing, she’s running out of the office with her DS. Etta’s always ready to go home at the end of the day.
“Dad!” she says.
“Heya Etta,” he says, grinning as he scoops her into a hug, “what did you learn at school today.”
“That I’m going to be the president of the United States,” she says, looking very regal and presidential as she tries not to giggle in her dad’s arms.
“Well you’ve got my vote,” he says, and Etta does giggle then. Peter sets Etta down then, and turns to look at Ella.
“Your mom’s shift’s running a bit late,” Peter says, “so I’m just dropping you by your house, Ella.”
“Sounds fine,” Ella says. It won’t be the first time that she’s home alone for thirty minutes or so. Ella’s twelve and a certified babysitter. She honestly doesn’t know why she can’t go home instead of to the lab. Even though she does enjoy examining the corpses with Walter.
Etta grabs her backpack, and yells, “Bye grandpa!”
“See you next Wednesday!” Ella calls back as she exits the lab. The walk to her uncle’s car isn’t too long, and the sun has only started to set. They get into Peter’s reddish brown Toyota and he doesn’t even have to turn on his headlights. He starts the car, and starts tracing the short route to Ella’s house.
Etta, being the super helpful cousin that she is, says, “Ella likes a girl.” Ella can feel her face turn red. It’s alright when she brings it up herself, but having Etta do it just isn’t alright.
“Etta!” Ella snaps.
“And maybe you could give her some advice,” Etta says, sending Ella a winning smile. Her uncle doesn’t look away from the road, but seems to grip the wheel a little bit tighter.
"I’m not sure that you’d want my advice on this one, kiddo,” her uncle says, “most of my experiences are specific to your aunt.” And Grace is cute and sweet and wonderful, but not very much like her Aunt Liv.
“It’s alright,” Ella says, “really. I’ve already got some good advice.”
“Okay,” Peter says, “that’s great. That’s wonderful-” And he turns up the music a little bit louder so that he doesn’t have to keep talking about it. Etta talks at Ella about Pokemon for the rest of the drive, and by the time that they get to her house, Ella’s very ready to get out of the car.
“Thanks Uncle Peter!” Ella says as she quickly opens the door and vacates the vehicle.
“Good luck with the girl!” Etta shouts at an obscenely loud volume, and Ella’s face turns red again. She plucks a dandelion out of the front lawn, and walks towards her red front door. As she opens the door, Ella realizes that she’ll have luck, courage, and a large amount of semi-sound advice on her side.
Ella thinks she’ll be fine.