Stereotypes, Suspicion, and Septuplets
A Carlson Septuplets Story
"Eeeeeeeeeeeeek!!!" A shrill shriek pierced the air; Melissa was screaming in the bathroom. Mary, Monica, Meredith, and Megan, who were in Mary's room across the hallway, all started laughing uncontrollably. A moment later, Michelle burst into the room and said, "Okay, what'd you do to her?"
"Nothing—nothing she didn't deserve or couldn't handle, that is," Mary said.
"Is this about those mean rumors going around the school about Mindy Thorne that Tanya and Melissa were spreading?" Michelle asked.
"You guessed it," Monica said. "And don't try to stick up for her because even you would have to admit that she was being pretty cruel."
"What did you do to her?" Michelle asked again.
"Let's go see, shall we?" Mary suggested. Molly was standing right outside the doorway to the bathroom, shaking her head in disgust.
"Isn't there a more mature way to handle this?" Molly asked, sounding like a scolding teacher.
"I'm sure there is," Mary replied, "but this way is much more entertaining. Besides, she deserves it. You know what she did; what would you suggest as an alternative way to deal with it?"
"I supposed you ruled out a calm discussion," Molly guessed.
"This is Melissa we're talking about," Mary said. "Calm discussion is eliminated immediately when you consider that minor detail."
Without even knocking, they opened the door to the bathroom to see Melissa, wearing a soaking wet bathrobe, staring at herself in the mirror. Her brown hair was now tinted green. When she saw her sisters, she turned red with rage. Meredith had a camera ready and snapped a picture of her as soon as she saw the green hair; luckily for her, Melissa didn't notice the camera.
"You did this, didn't you?!?!" she wailed. "You creeps! You are so completely idiotic! What in the world was this all about?"
"You know what it's about," Mary said. "Mindy was almost crying after school today because of those nasty rumors that you spread about her! Why do some kids do that sort of thing? Are you just so insecure about yourself that you have to pick on our friends?"
"What is this stuff?" Melissa asked, changing the subject.
"Green Kool-Aid, and some other various green dyes," Mary replied. "I thought Kool-Aid was popular to dye hair with! And green's your favorite color!" Meredith and Megan giggled. It had been Mary's idea to use the dye, but Meredith, Megan, and Monica, who were all mad at Melissa about the mean rumors too, had also played a large part in carrying out the plan.
"That's an old fad, stupid. I need to look normal today! I've got plans!" Melissa cried, and ran down the hallway to her bedroom, slamming the door. Michelle glared at Mary and went to join Melissa; Molly, disgusted with the whole situation, went downstairs to play with her chemistry set.
"You'd better be careful, Mary," Monica said. "She'll be determined to get you back now."
"Yeah, right, like I'm afraid of anything she would do. All she does is try to make me look bad at school. But I'm not insecure like she is, and I don't really care what she does. Besides, you guys helped out too. It was you who wanted me to use the Kool-Aid idea." Mary laughed because she knew that Melissa would be mad at her even if everyone else had been more important in carrying out the plot than she was. "In fact, it was you who actually put the dye in the shampoo bottle: all I did was give it to you!"
Meredith, Megan, and Monica shrugged. They also knew that Melissa would be angry at Mary, not at them. Then Mrs. Carlson called up to them, "Girls, come see this!" So everyone except for Melissa ran downstairs into the living room. "Look at this," Mrs. Carlson said, pointing to the television. The news—national, not local—was on. "Some group of kids just burnt down a building in downtown Westfield. It's right on Main Street: we go by there almost every day!"
"Westfield must be one of the most well-known suburbs in the country," Mr. Carlson said. "You kids are here, which put this little town on the map, and now there's more attention with the fire. Only this time, unfortunately, it's negative attention."
"That's awful," Molly said. "Who would have done that?"
"They just said they think it was caused by some 16-year-old Westfield High School students. These are kids who supposedly are very agressive and violent and fight a lot," Mrs. Carlson explained. "They're talking a lot about the kids who they think did it and what they're like."
"It's a good thing we've got you kids to set a good example for Westfield's young people," Mr. Carlson said. "Otherwise, what would people think of this town?"
The next day was a Saturday. Megan and Monica decided to walk down town with Megan's friend Angela Tompkins to get ice cream at a local store. This particular store was not somewhere that large groups of kids tended to congregate, but occasionally small bunches of kids dropped by to get ice cream cones, especially on warm May days, like this one. The people who worked there had always liked to see the neighborhood kids dropping by on weekends, so Megan, Monica, and Angela were totally unprepared for what was about to happen.
"Sorry," said one of the store's employees standing by the entrance. "No parties, gangs, or other groups of children allowed in the store without a responsible adult present."
"What???" the three girls cried, surprised.
"We always come here without our parents!" Angela explained.
"Do you even know who we are?" Monica demanded. "She and I are two of the Carlson Septuplets, and she's our good, trustworthy friend, and we're some of your best customers! Why can't we come in? Because we're not old enough? What is this, a night club or something? That's discrimination!"
"I'm sorry, but this is private property, and the owner has chosen not to allow unsupervised young people on the premises. It involves too much risk," the employee explained.
"That's not fair! We've come here for a long time, and we've never done anything bad! Not here, or anywhere else! Come on, you guys, let's get out of here," Monica said, storming off. Megan and Angela followed her.
Meanwhile, Melissa, Louise Martin, and four or five other popular group followers were strolling innocently through the mall when a security guard approached them. "Okay, kids, break it up," he ordered.
"Break it up?" Louise asked. "We're not fighting! What's the big deal?"
"Disperse. Vacate the premises. Leave," the guard ordered rudely. "You're bad for business. I have orders to forcefully remove any large groups of kids from the mall area if they will not disperse on their own. Now, do I have to make you?"
"What is going on?" one of the other kids questioned. "We always hang out here. You're losing some important customers!"
"Those are my orders, kid. And you," he pointed to Melissa, "take off that hat. No gang colors allowed in the mall area."
"Gang colors?" Melissa cried, "These are not gang colors! This is my sister's hat from some science fair at our school!" Melissa was wearing a hat that Molly had let her borrow to hide her green hair, which was stuffed up under the cap. She didn't want to wear a school-related hat because it wasn't considered "cool," but green hair was much worse. After washing her hair six times last night, the green was much less noticeable, but Melissa was paranoid that someone would notice the slight green tint. She did not want to take off the hat and let everyone see her colored hair.
"I don't care where it's from," the guard said. "Take it off, and leave the mall area immediately, or I'll call more security officers to escort you off the premises."
Having no choice, Melissa took off the hat.
"Cool hair, Mel," one of the kids said.
"What about the hair?" another kid asked. He didn't notice the very faint green color.
"It's this sort of image we are trying to remove," the guard said. "Now leave."
The kids walked off, glaring at the guard as they left. Melissa was in an especially bad mood because of the hair incident. Even though it was so faint that one of her friends hadn't even noticed, and another one thought it was cool looking, she still thought it was completely obvious and stupid looking. She was extremely angry at the guard and her sisters, especially Mary.
Later that day, the Septs were all sitting in the living room watching TV when Monica brought up the events of that afternoon. She and Megan told their story, and then Melissa remembered what had happened at the mall and told her story too.
"What's going on around here?" Meredith wondered. "It's like everyone's suddenly against all kids!"
"Hey, maybe it has something to do with that thing that happened yesterday," Molly suggested. "Could it be that since it was probably that sixteen-year-old from Westfield High School that burnt that building down, everyone's really suspiscious of kids?"
"I'm sure that's exactly what it is," Mary agreed. "It makes me so angry, all these awful stereotypes! It's not just this fire that caused it; last year, Mindy, two other kids, and I walked down to the gas station on the corner because they wanted to get some pop for something after school. We had our backpacks, and they made us leave them all by the door because they thought we'd steal stuff! And some adults walked in with briefcases, and they didn't have to leave them by the door! It's discrimination, and it's not fair!"
"I so completely agree," Meredith said. "That kind of stuff just makes me sick. Like with us being septs, you know how everyone treats us like we should be exactly the same and dress alike and talk alike and like the same things. It's so rude, and ignorant too!"
"Yeah," Michelle agreed. "And there's the awful stereotype that girls can't play sports. They almost wouldn't let me on the football team because I'm a girl! And that's just the beginning—"
"We know, Michelle," Monica said. "Don't get so angry over that now: everyone knows you could beat anyone, boy or girl, at just about any sport."
"Isn't there some constitutional amendment against discriminating like that?" Megan asked.
"Probably," Molly answered.
"But it's private property," Michelle noted. "They're allowed to kick whoever they want out of their store."
"Well, that's pretty stupid," Mary said. "If they kick people out like that, they won't come back, and their store will get a bad repuation."
"I don't think reputation is what they're worried about," Melissa said. "They think we'll burn down their stores!"
"It's so depressing," Monica said, "that people think all kids beat each other up and smoke and dye their hair crazy colors—"
At the mention of dyed hair, Melissa blew up at Mary. "Thanks to you, I got kicked out of the mall today because my hair is green! You made me look like a complete idiot! They probably think I'm one of the ones who burnt down that store!"
"Yeah, well, those people who burnt down the store were `popular' kids. Just like you and your friends. It's people like you who give us a bad name," Mary explained. "Sure, you didn't dye your hair on purpose, but a lot of your friends did! Isn't it true that Tanya Kalis hangs out with some of those scary kids who had to do community service work...."
"Yeah, so what? I didn't hang out with them!"
"But you hang out with Tanya, and she's just as bad as they are. It was some of her friends that were involved in the group that supposedly burnt the store down, wasn't it?"
"Just because we're not social outcasts doesn't mean we're violent and destructive!"
"Most of you are."
"No, we're not!"
"Yes, you are! Your friends are the ones who make us look bad!"
"Oh, like THAT isn't a stereotype, Miss Never-Discriminate-Against-ANYONE?!?!"
"Calm down, you two!!" Molly shouted over Mary and Melissa's arguement. "It doesn't matter if the ones who caused the fire were Melissa's friend's, or her friends' friends, or whatever. I think everyone's stereotyped a little bit some time or another," she said, glancing momentarily from Mary to Melissa. "Now, the thing is, what are we going to do about it?"
"What do you mean, what are we going to do about it? Who says we can do anything?" Michelle asked.
"I have an idea," Meredith said, "but I don't think Molly would like it."
"What is it?" all the others asked.
"Mr. Sanders is always so desperate to get us on TV, I'm sure he won't turn down an opportunity to interview us on the news!" Meredith said. Mr. Sanders was Molly's best friends' dad, and he also worked with one of Westfield's local news teams.
"What would that do?" Molly questioned skeptically.
"He can interview us to see what we think about this situation, since we're famous and we're going to Westfield High School next year, and we can tell what we think about all this discrimination!" Meredith said. "They're looking for anything remotely newsworthy to put on TV that relates to this fire, you know."
"No way," Molly said. "No, no, no. We're not just going to use our special situation of being septs to get them to put us on television. This doesn't have anything to do with us, so why would they want us on the news?"
"This is Mr. Sanders we're talking about," Melissa pointed out. "He doesn't need a reason for us to be on his news show. He'll put us on for anything!"
"No," Molly still insisted. The other Septs tried to convince her to go along with it; even Megan, the shy Sept who generally didn't like TV appearances either, wanted to do it. But they still couldn't convince Molly.
The next day, however, Molly and Ruby Sanders went to a local drug store to pick up some colored pencils and a roll of tape for a project they were doing in school. There was one other group of kids there, a little bit older than Molly and Ruby, who were buying candy. When the store's manager made all of them leave because there were, according to him, too many kids in the store, that changed Molly's mind. She went home and announced that she would do whatever she could to make sure no innocent kids were kicked out of stores again, and if that meant she had to be on television, then that was what she would do. Molly was even taking the situation a little bit too hard, according to all the other Septs, though that was okay with them. She was now on a crusade for kids' rights!
Ruby had come to the Carlson's house with Molly, and she agreed that it was a great plan. She was excited that the Septs were actually agreeing to be on her dad's news show; Mr. Sanders had always asked the Septs if they would do an interview with him sometime, as a sort of local celebrity update, and it looked like that time would be soon.
Molly called Mr. Sanders to see if he would be interested in interviewing them. He jumped at the chance, and that evening he invited the Septs to come to the news studio for the interview. "Which one of you is this?" Mr. Sanders asked while on the phone.
"It's Molly," she said.
"I thought it was you," he said. "I never expected to hear from you asking to be on the news!"
"These is a very extreme situtation," Molly explained.
The next day was a Monday. For sixth hour, Mary went to gym class. She opened the combination lock on her gym locker, which Michelle had let her borrow; to her surprise, her gym clothes were missing! "Someone broke into my locker!" she gasped.
"What?" Hannah Roscher, who had gym class with Mary, cried. "Was there anything valuable in there? Did they steal anything?"
"Nothing really valuable was in there, but my gym shorts and T-shirt are gone, and we've got to be out there in five minutes! I could just wear my normal shorts and T-shirt that I've got on now, but we're not allowed—"
"Hey, Mary," a girl named Elaine Loos said, "Are these your clothes?" She held up the missing outfit. "Someone who I thought was you was in here this morning taking them out of your locker and putting them in this locker over here. And you know what? I remember I was going to compliment her on the earrings she was wearing, but she left too quickly, and I see that you don't have pierced ears!"
"Thanks, Elaine," Mary said. "Yep, those are my clothes. I know who it was in here this morning. I only have one sister with pierced ears!" To herself, Mary though, Good try, Mel, but not good enough. You'd better be careful now, because I have a great idea for payback time. And you won't be able to get Michelle to help you out this time. She was nintey-nine percent sure that Michelle, who had let Mary borrow the combination lock, had given Melissa the combination. Michelle would do anything to help Melissa if she thought the other Septs were ganging up on her. Mary wasn't mad at Melissa: instead, she was excited because now she had a mischevious plan and a reason to use it!
After school, Mrs. Carlson drove the Septs to the news station, which was in Detroit, which Westfield was a suburb of. Someone who worked on the news crew lead them to a room with two couches and lots of red flowers and green plants, surrounded by lots of TV cameras. Everyone recognized the room as the one on the TV news where interviews always took place.
Mr. Sanders wasn't the one who would be interviewing them; instead, a young woman named Cheryl Rivers whom the Septs also recognized from television did it. "Hello, girls," she greeted them, "I'll be interviewing you, and we'll start in just a few minutes. It's going to be live, because the five o'clock news is on now, but we're going to repeat it later tonigh, too. Okay?" All the Septs nodded. After about fifteen minutes of sitting around waiting for the news people to be ready, the actual filming started.
On a monitor up in the corner of the room out of the cameras' views, they could see the main news desk where the two anchors were sitting. "In other news," one of the anchors began, "Three main suspects have been identified as the people who caused last week's fire in the Detroit suburb of Westfield. The three sixteen-year-olds were thought to have taken part in the fire from the very beginning; however, it was only this morning they were positively identified by eye-witnesses. We'll have more on that story later, but first we have an interview with Westfield's most famous citizens and their view on the effects of this tragedy. Cheryl Rivers is standing by to talk with the Carlson Septuplets about this event and the effect it has had on society. Cheryl?"
Now they were on the air, live. Molly, who the Septs had decided beforehand would be the first one to speak, wished they had rehersed, but it was too late now. "Good evening, everyone. I'm here in Detroit with the world's only set of septuplets, the seven Carlson sisters. These girls live in Westfield, Michigan, the scene of last Friday's fire. According to them, people are acting very different as a result of the calamity. Girls, why don't you tell us what's been going on in Westfield?"
"Since the fire, everyone has become super suspiscious of all kids, especially middle schoolers and high schoolers," Molly explained. "Just yesterday, my friend and I went to a store downtown to buy some supplies for a school project. We have always gone to that store, and we've never caused any problems, but the store manager had us and some other kids who were innocently buying candy kicked out just because we're kids!"
Next, Megan and Monica explained the scenario at the ice cream store, and after that Melissa told about the events at the mall.
"It is awful how a few misguided people can make a whole group look bad," Cheryl said. "Stereotypes are all too common in today's society. I've heard that even before last week's fire, you girls have had many stereotypes to deal with because of your age. Could you tell us about this?"
"We're really sick of that stereotypical view," Monica said. "Sometimes, especially in the last few days, people treat you like you're a troublemaker even if they've never met you before. We don't even like being called 'teenagers' because it's got sort of a negative connotation to it."
"That's true," Mary agreed. Now she saw a chance to annoy Melissa little bit, in return for the gym class incident. This wasn't the full-fledged payback she was planning, but she decided to get Melissa back a little bit earlier than expected. "Most people think all middle schoolers and high schoolers do nothing but talk on the phone and shop, and they think we all listen to weird, 'bad-influence' type music, or stuff like that. Some people think we all do crazy things like piercing our tounges and dying our hair green!"
Melissa's hair was no longer noticeably green; that was why Mary felt it was very safe to say this. She only meant it as a jab at Melissa, that her friends at school who were watching now would ask her about tomorrow. But Melissa was still paranoid and thought that her hair was obviously bright green under the TV lights, even though she had looked in the mirror and seen that it wasn't. So her reaction quite surprised Mary and the other Septs. "I did NOT dye my hair green! It was YOU—" Then Melissa realized that she was on live television and millions of people were watching her. That made her even more angry at Mary, whom she thought had purposely tricked her into saying that. But Mary hadn't expected Melissa to lose control: all she had meant to happen was that Melissa would get annoyed but stay calm and then yell at her later. Melissa was now so angry at Mary (besides, she had already made herself look stupid) that she just continued arguing with Mary on TV (although she did tone it down somewhat). "Not all of us are complete idiots who do nothing but play video games and rot our brains with that kind of stuff either, like some parents think," Melissa said.
"And not all of us are rude and obnoxious, like some—but very few—kids who make everyone else look bad," Mary replied calmly.
"And we're not all so stupid that—" Melissa began. Then Molly kicked both Melissa and Mary, out of sight of the camera, to get them to stop arguing.
"Um, okay," Meredith said, trying not to laugh at her sisters, "what they mean is that you can't lump everyone into one big group. Just like everyone else, we're all individuals!"
"That's another stereotype that the seven of us especially have to deal with," Megan said, trying to change the subject. "Just because we're identical septs, everyone expects us to be exactly the same, but we're definitely not."
"All of us like different things, have different friends, and we all act differently," Michelle added.
"That's all the time we have for now," Cheryl said to the camera. "Thank you, girls, for coming today," she said cheerfully. "And now we'll take a look at tomorrow's forecast."
That concluded the interview. As soon as the cameras were turned off, the Septs all started laughing hysterically, except for Melissa who sat there glaring at Mary.
"Why did you do that?" she demanded of Mary.
"Do what?" Mary replied innocently. I wasn't talking about you: your hair isn't even green anymore!" She continued laughing, and Melissa continued glaring.
"Good job, girls," Mrs. Carlson said. "Let's go home now and have dinner. That was good, Meredith, how you helped cover up Mary and Melissa's little feud!" Mrs. Carlson also seemed amused by it.
After the interview aired that day, many people started treating kids differently. No one else got kicked out of any stores, and some people who worked at stores in downtown Westfield were even nice to kids, especially to the Septs. (Maybe this was because they had seen how influential the Septs could be, and they didn't want to make them angry again!) No matter what the reason was, the Septs had succeeded in their crusade for equal rights for kids!
Oh, and one more thing: Mary never did pay Melissa back. She had a great plan—remember that picture Meredith took of Melissa right after her hair turned green? All Mary had to do was show the picture to Melissa and threaten to put a copy in the "funny pictures" section of the school's yearbook, and Melissa promised to end this Great Mary-Melissa fight.
Of course, after about a month or so they were fighting over something new.
"Stereotypes, Suspicion, and Septuplets" © 1997 by Jessie Mannisto.