The Loud House and all associated characters are owned by Nickelodeon. I make neither profit from this work of fiction nor claims of ownership over the show.
Lips pursed and dangerously close to his face. Lincoln had a sneaking suspicion that the girl was trying to intimidate him as she sized him up through her tinted shades, looking for any kind of weakness to exploit.
And if she had been, she definitely found it.
Lincoln buckled against the intensity of her eyes and dropped his gaze to the floor, electing to keep it that way for now. Only to find more than the floor as a wave confusion hit him like one of Lynn's fastball specials.
When did Lori get shorter?
Why is her hairstyle different?
Why wasn't she wearing the usual makeup she had on?
Come to think of it… did she look younger?
Did she get hit by one of Lisa's weird experiments or something?
Lincoln gulped as he steeled his nerves. Morbid curiosity ate at him. He really had to ask what he missed while he was gone. "L-Lor-"
"Save it, Rookie." Lincoln felt his head propped up under his chin, leveling his gaze back to her intense eyes. To her credit, the girl knew how to use that swagger stick to great effect. Because he was definitely terrified by its presence right now. "Not until everyone is present and accounted for."
The girl suddenly turned around sharply, and he felt her hair slap him on the face. She grabbed the whistle that was hanging from her neck with one hand and picked up a megaphone that was haphazardly left on the floor. She puffed her chest up and blew on the whistle so hard, Lincoln thought he had lost his hearing for a second.
The high-pitched sound enveloped the house for five-seconds. Only to be promptly replaced by the clicking sound of a switch, as she turned the megaphone on and brought it to her lips. Thankfully, Lincoln was able to spare his ears from further punishment that time, as he covered his ears.
"ALL HANDS ON DECK, PEOPLE! REMEMBER YOUR TRAINING! TO YOUR BATTLE STATIONS! WE GOT A BOGEY UP FRONT! MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!"
Lincoln was shocked to hear a collection of loud groans and sighs in response. Were they not scared of her? Lincoln heard the slow trudging and shuffling of a lot of feet from upstairs soon after. Clearly the people she was giving direct orders to were not enthused.
A minute passed and there was still no one in sight.
Lincoln risked a quick glance at the intimidating girl. Her face was red-faced and her brow furrowed. She brought the megaphone back to her lips. "DOUBLE TIME! DOUBLE TIME!"
But there was still no indication of people picking up the pace.
The sound of footsteps got closer to the flight of stairs. And Lincoln paled at the realization. He knew the sound of ten footsteps walking sounded like... This cacophony of feet hitting the floor made ten footsteps sound like a quiet evening! How many people were living in this house!? Can the stairs even support all of the combined weight of the people going down?!
A collection of voices talking over each other made themselves known as they got closer. It reminded him of the mall when it had a sale on a weekend. Lincoln struggled to hear any intelligible sentence he could decipher.
"Yeah. Yeah. Don't get your knickers in a twist. We 'eard your first go at it!" shouted a voice from upstairs.
"Yeah! And I told you to inform me beforehand if you were gonna do one of these again. It's seriously pushing back my schedule!" Complained another one.
"Uggh! I hate it when people talk to each other from long distances! That goes for all of you. Especially you, Betty!" growled yet another one.
Betty? Lincoln thought to himself. Lincoln turned his attention back to the fuming girl in front of him. She was about the same height as him, maybe an inch shorter?
Maybe he just imagined it, but was she trying to make herself look taller a second ago? After all, she was standing ramrod straight with her shoulders pulled back, while he had been trying to make himself look smaller by instinct.
Was it because of her clothes? The army green jacket and a moss green tank top did make her look very assertive. Coupled with the combat boots and brown cargo shorts, not to mention the shades and the riding crop. All these combined brought back intense memories of many a date night, when Lori took charge of him and his siblings. Only her height, voice, and the ponytail that she was sporting were the only things that kept her from looking very much like his oldest sister.
Lincoln was torn from his musings, when the girl named Betty suddenly stomped her foot on the ground.
"TWENTY-THREE!?" Shouted Betty. "WHO'S NOT PRESENT AND ACCOUNTED FOR!?"
Wait. Twenty-three!? Lincoln echoed the sentiment in his head in panic. One missing, plus Betty, then that makes them… Lincoln gulped, he paled and felt his knees weaken at the thought. He turned his head to the direction betty was shouting at and noticed the now present and intimidating crowd of girls in front of him.
"Like, You really need to calm down, Betty. All this negativity your generating is really disrupting the energies inside this house," Explained a girl wearing a tie-dyed dress the color of sunbeams and a garland around her head. She had her eyes closed, and her arms and fingers in a position that Lincoln could only describe as guru-like.
"You don't give the orders around here, Bodhi!" said Betty impatiently. "Who's. Not. Here."
"It's probably Beth again," Said a girl that reminded him so much of a younger Luan. And if she had mixed together her mime and clown outfits. Her face sported mime make-up. She wore a long sleeved white ruffled shirt with black pom-poms where her buttons should be, and a ruffled collar on her neck. She wore black shorts, and black and white leggings. And for some reason, an out of place pink flower on her chest, most likely a squirting one, he wouldn't be surprised. The girl continued talking. "You know how she is… She's the Beth there is at what she does. He-he! Am I right?"
A collection of boos and groans was her response. And the Luan look-alike did something Lincoln has never seen the real Luan do for a very long time. She frowned, lips quivering as she looked at the floor. Clearly embarrassed as she rubbed her left hand against her right arm awkwardly.
It took Lincoln all he could do to stop his instincts from intervening and reassuring the girl that the joke wasn't that bad.
"Not the time, Bebe!" scolded Betty as she pinched her temple. "Someone bring her down here. Now."
"Ooh! Ooh! I'll do it!" volunteered a girl. The way she acted and dressed reminded him of Lynn. But with her clothing color scheme inverted. Red unzipped athletic jacket, and a white top emblazoned with a red number '1' at the center. A whistle around her neck and white track shorts trimmed with red. On her head was a red ball cap with a yellow crest on it. "I've been training!"
She may not look like Lynn, but the way she acted and dressed was close enough.
"Pfft. Yeah right, Bailey!" said a voice from the crowd. "You could barely carry a single dumbbell, even with two hands!"
Lincoln's mouth dropped in shock. He could hardly believe that someone that acted so much like Lynn, could be anything other than a well-built athlete. Lincoln searched for the source of the criticism and found it.
He rescinded his earlier statement. This one definitely reminded him of Lynn. She even looked the part. But dressed in an orange-yellow tank top, and orange gym shorts. The girl even looked just as fit as Lynn, and just as sweaty. The girl was currently downing a sports drink as she used the orange sweat band she was wearing to wipe her face.
The girl named Bailey took offense to the notion. As she all but lunged to the girl with the sweatband. Bailey stopped in front of her and puffed her chest up. "Yeah, I can, Bertha! I've been watching the weightlifting world championships videos on MeTube."
Bertha looked unconvinced. "Nu-uh. They're not the same as doing it in real life, Bailey."
A war of attrition started to take place as neither party was willing to back down. The spectators could only watch the back and forth helplessly, while their own heads ping ponged between the two.
"Shut it! Both of you!" Betty shouted, startling all of them and interrupting the verbal spar. "You want to prove each other wrong so badly?! Then prove it by bringing Beth down here this instant!"
Both Bailey and Bertha looked at each other for a moment, then back at Betty. A second passed and the two of them bolted off. Unfortunately, the race ended as soon as it had started. If one could even call it that. Bailey may have Lynn's character, but Bertha was where all Lynn's looks, talent and fitness went to.
Bailey looked crestfallen, but she kept a strong-willed front against her competitor. "Good game, Bertha. I'll beat you next time."
Well, she's got Lynn's drive and good sportsmanship at least...
"Pffft. Wasn't even a contest. And No, you won't, Bailey. Not in a million years," claimed Bertha dismissively.
Lincoln gaped, scandalized at the scene. But the bluntness and pride went to Bertha?
Bailey's front caved at the statement as she stayed silent and kept her eyes to the floor. Winner gets bragging rights after all. Something he was all too familiar with. Lincoln took one glance back again at Bailey and felt his instincts to comfort kicked up again, this time he was barely able to control himself and took one half-step forward.
But stopped himself as he remembered why the contest even started.
So, this was Beth, huh? How the girl managed to sleep through all that was beyond him. Or how she even managed to stay upright while sleeping!? The girl had drool flowing down her cheek, her head laxed to one side. Beth wore a baby blue night gown that matched the nightcap adorned with yellow stars on her head. An account that Lincoln would've passed by him…
If not for the fact that it was well-into the afternoon!
Hasn't she left her bed the entire morning?! Did she manage to skip BOTH breakfast and lunch?! Had she been doing the same routine everyday?!
Lincoln's musing was brusquely interrupted by the sound of a familiar whistle and so did Beth's sleep, apparently, as she received a literal rude awakening.
Startled and droopy eyed. Beth looked around at everyone around her in confusion, as she smacked her lips. "When did I get to the living room? Did I sleepwalk again? Oh, G-good Morning, Betty – uh oh."
All of them seemed to know what would happen next as they all placed their hands over their ears. Lincoln opted to do the same. He took a glance back at Betty and grimaced.
Fists clenched and trembling in what Lincoln could only assume was a deep feeling of indignation, Betty had finally reached the limits of her patience it seemed. Like the calm before a storm or plumes of smoke before a volcano erupted, she took a deep breath of air - filling her lungs to its very limits.
And like a mint dropped into a tall glass of diet cola.
"DIS-GRACE-FUL! HAVE ALL OF YOU FORGOTTEN YOUR TRAINING?! I HAVE NEVER SEEN A SLOPPIER PERFORMANCE IN MY ENTIRE LIFE! HAD IT BEEN A REAL HOME INVASION ALL OF US WOULD HAVE BEEN DEAD BY NOW!"
"Need I remind you that we are not yet of eligible age to- "
"DON'T GIVE ME LIP, SOLDIER!" Betty glared at the bespectacled girl, who met it with her own look of indifference. Followed by an intense one-over at the twenty-four of them, before growling. "JUST FOR THAT. I WANT ALL OF YOU ON THE GROUND. RIGHT NOW. AND GIVE ME TWENTY PUSH-UPS! NOW! NOW! NOW!"
Betty blew on her whistle again, loud and sharp.
And his body moved on its own. Lincoln assumed the position hard and fast and in the span of ten seconds, had managed to complete the order without breaking a sweat. Lincoln quickly got up on his feet. Straightened his form and assumed the compulsory gesture with a sharp and tense salute.
"MA'AM, THE ORDER HAS BEEN COMPLIED with… ma'am?
As if waking up from a trance, Lincoln looked on in confusion as he was met with the shocked faces of twenty five girls… all of which he had just realized were in the exact same position… as if they didn't even think about obeying Betty's command in the first place.
Dang it, Lori! What have you conditioned me into!?
Even Betty was shocked it seemed. Her intimidating presence gone for the moment, replaced with widened eyes and a slacked jaw. As if she, herself, never expected anyone to follow through with her orders.
It was so awkward and quiet; you could've heard a pin drop.
Lincoln suddenly wished that the ground below him would swallow him up. His face started heating up. He would've slapped himself on the face if it weren't for his right hand, which, bear in mind was still keeping up the salute.
Too late to back up now, he thought. Just commit to it, maybe that'll make him less stupid-looking.
Betty seemed to have recovered first as she strode hard and fast towards him, stopping dangerously close to his face and obscuring his view of the others completely. Lincoln tried his best to focus on maintaining his salute, but the girl breathing heavily in front of him was making it very hard to do so. In an uncharacteristic follow up from her shocked expression, Betty now sported a smile as she locked her eyes on his.
Lincoln resisted the urge to gulp.
Betty lowered her tinted sunglasses and scanned him from head to toe, before doing a complete hundred-and-eighty degree turn and hitting him in the face with her ponytail in the process…again. The girl side-stepped and once again he was in full view of the others. Betty cleared her throat grabbing the twenty-four's attention, before she pointed the riding crop at him.
"You see that? That's what I'd like to see. Now that's a soldier that knows his stuff. Obey orders first. Asks questions later. See his feet? Perfect forty-five-degree angle. See his right arm? Perfect ninety-degree angle - Straight and firm. See the absolute concentration on his face– "
An onslaught of sharp squeals rivalling Betty's whistle, interrupted the mock presentation.
Betty looked at the crowd of girls in confusion. "What are you – "
"Oh, you should've told us earlier, Betty!" said a girl wearing a yellow checkered dress with a pink trim, and a white waist apron. She dressed like a vintage housewife from the nineteen-forties. "We didn't know this was going to be an important moment for you!"
"Beverly! What are you - "
"Oooh! I gotta capture this moment in oils." Said a girl wearing a purple beret, and a white smock, splattered with different colors of paint. She scrambled away from the crowd. "Everybody stay right where you are."
Betty seemed to have sensed that she was losing control of the situation by the second, as she could only gape at the beret wearing girl as she scampered away. "No! stay in formation, Bianca, or I will – "
Betty started, But the attempt was futile as the girl got out of out of hearing distance.
"Aww. You guys look so cute together! I can't believe you managed to find someone without my help!" squealed a girl wearing a magenta skirt and pink shirt that had an unhealthy amount of hearts on it. And if that wasn't enough, the girl also had heart shaped earrings and a headband with a – you guessed it – a larger heart with a golden arrow going through it. "So, tell us the deets, Betty. When did you guys meet? How did you know he was the one? And when's the weddin - "
"Belinda! I haven't given you clearance to speak yet! What are you – "
"I must confess, Betty," said a girl that looked like what he imagined Lisa would resemble in a few years. Thick-rimmed glasses on a face that had a look of both disbelief and awe. Green turtleneck sweater and blue skirt combo, and a Lab coat to top it all off. "I sincerely doubted your ability to attract a mate that you'd be compatible with, what with your lifestyle and general demeanor. But I guess even a very low probability, is still a probability."
"Beatrice! I told you to stop giving me lip! And what did you mean by that - ?"
"A union forged against the universes wishes, fighting against all odds to survive... That makes it even more romantic ~" a monotonous voice that sounded suspiciously, like his sister Lucy, swooned.
All of the girls suddenly adopted looks of disbelief in their faces as they turned to the direction of the voice. A pale girl with black hair framing an emotionless face, shifted where she was standing. She wore a long black dress, with a white collar and white cuffs. And black stockings on her legs. An image of Lucy's future came to mind as he looked at her. And found a shiver going through his body as he looked at her face, more specifically, her uncovered eyes.
Her unblinking eyes revealed nothing. They were almost harder to read than Lucy's... And hers were obscured by her bangs!
"What did you say, Bella?"
"Uh… I didn't say anything," said the girl named Bella. Her tone at odds with her emotionless face. "I think that was…Bridget."
Bella thumbed at the girl beside her. All of the girls suddenly turned their attention to the girl named Bridget. She had gray headphones resting on her neck. And wore a teal-green shirt and a gray skirt, the striking part of her outfit were the designs on the shirt. It reminded Lincoln of some retro hand-held video-game console.
Bridget was tapping on her bright pink cellphone at a breakneck pace. She wasn't even looking at it and yet she seemed to have been able to follow the conversation flawlessly. Seemed to. As the girl had a blank look on her face for a moment, followed by a look of shock as the realization of Bella's statement registered. She widened her eyes and looked incredulously back and forth between the girl named Bella and the rest of them. Suddenly, Bridget shook her head furiously and flailed her hands in the air.
Can she not talk?
She suddenly placed her attention to her phone, a second later a sound of a phone vibrating was heard. Bridget pointed at Bella's pocket animatedly as Bella took her phone from out from her pocket and… read the message?
It was hard to tell when her pupils barely moved.
"Bridget wants everyone to know that... she definitely said that." Bella nodded stiffly at the message and at Bridget, who could only respond with a look of open mouth disbelief. "… And that she was so excited for Betty, that she couldn't contain herself. Hehe," Bella continued, she forced an awkward grin and hid her hands behind her as she finished.
Another round of squeals was set off at the statement, as the crowd around them twirled in excitement. Lincoln looked closer at the two girls and saw Bridget with her hands on her hips as she pursed her lips pointedly at Bella, who rubbed the back of her head apologetically as she continued awkwardly smiling at the perturbed Bridget.
The merriment had been cut short however, as another piercing whistle filled the room.
All of them looked at the source. Betty had her arms crossed as she impatiently tapped her foot on the ground.
"ALRIGHT. This has gone on long enough. What. In the. Gosh-Darned HECK. Are all of you on about?"
And in perfect synch, the crowd only shot sly grins and suggestive looks at Betty. Before different voices in the crowd began to answer.
"isn't it obvious?"
"Why you got so upset…"
"Why you were being so extra bossy today…"
"Why it was the first time we ever heard you compliment someone…"
"It all makes logical sense, really, considering the evidence presented so far…"
"It's because you wanted to impress your Boyfriend!" finished an excited girl wearing a pink dress, and white tights. And pink striped socks. But the most distinct feature of the girl was her eyes! They were the largest dreamily-looking pair of eyes Lincoln had ever seen.
A moment passed and a deep foreboding silence filled the atmosphere. Lincoln could see the crowd of girls in front of him and still sporting smug grins on their faces. But he couldn't see Betty's. She was still facing them, unmoving.
Wait a second…Boyfriend?! Lincoln had been so distracted by all the fuss that he barely even registered what all of them were hinting at earlier. Lincoln felt his face heating up again. He opted to hide his face in his hands in embarrassment but remembered that he was still maintaining a salute.
Lincoln could do nothing to hide his embarrassment as he stood there for all to see.
Another second passed and like a slingshot's rubber drawn to its very limits, ready to sling a stone to its unfortunate destination – time loosed.
Betty was still unmoving; he saw from the corner of his eye. He noticed the striking color of red started creeping up to her ears. Suddenly, she turned hard and fast to his direction and locked eyes with him. Lincoln was met with an impressive shade of red. Betty had all but lost her composure.
With wide eyes and quivering lips, Lincoln might've mistaken her for another girl for a moment there. But all his suspicions were ultimately laid to rest as soon as they appeared. Because the girl had once again opened her mouth.
And for some reason... Lincoln had a sneaking suspicion that this was going to be a looong day.