My iPod was tucked into my dad’s Bose SoundDock on the patio table next to me, bopping cheerily through a playlist I’d put together specifically for poolside sunning, composed of the top one hundred one-hit wonders from the past few decades, plus a few others that make me smile—happy mindless music to pass happy mindless time. It was currently playing an old Louis Armstrong song—“What a Wonderful World.” Born in a generation that thinks cynical and disenchanted is cool, sometimes I’m a little off the beaten track. Oh well.
A tall glass of chilled sweet tea was at hand, and the phone was nearby in case Mom and Dad made ground sooner than expected. They weren’t due ashore the next island until tomorrow, but twice now they’d landed sooner than scheduled. Since I’d accidentally dropped my cell phone in the pool a few days ago, I’d been toting the cordless around so I wouldn’t miss a call.
Fact was, I missed my parents like crazy.
At first, when they left, I’d been elated by the prospect of time alone. I live at home and when my parents are there the house sometimes feels annoyingly like Grand Central Station, with Mom’s friends, Dad’s golf buddies, and ladies from the church popping in, punctuated by neighborhood kids stopping over with one excuse or another, conveniently clad in their swim trunks—gee, could they be angling for an invitation?
But after two weeks of much longed for solitude, I’d begun choking on it. The rambling house seemed achingly quiet, especially in the evenings. Around supper time I’d been feeling downright lost. Hungry, too. Mom’s an amazing cook and I’d burned out fast on pizza, potato chips, and mac-’n’-cheese. I couldn’t wait for one of her fried chicken, mashed potatoes, fresh turnip greens, and peach pie with homemade whipped-cream dinners. I’d even done the grocery shopping in anticipation, stocking up on everything she needed.
I love to eat. Fortunately, it doesn’t show. I’m healthy through the bust and bottom, but slim through the waist and thighs. I have good metabolism, though Mom says, Ha, wait until you’re thirty. Then forty, then fifty. Dad says, More to love, Rainey and gives Mom a look that makes me concentrate really hard on something else. Anything else. I adore my parents, but there’s such a thing as TMI. Too much information.
All in all, I have a great life, short of missing my parents and counting the days until Alina gets home from Ireland, but both of those are temporary, soon to be rectified. My life will go back to being perfect again before much longer.
Is there such a thing as tempting the Fates to slice one of the most important threads that holds your life together simply by being too happy?
When the phone rang, I thought it was my parents.
It’s funny how such a tiny, insignificant, dozen-times-a-day action can become a line of demarcation.
The picking up of a phone. The pressing of an on button.
Before I pressed it—as far as I knew—my sister Alina was alive. At the moment of pressing, my life split into two distinct epochs: Before the call and After.
Before the call, I had no use for a word like “demarcation,” one of those fifty-cent words I knew only because I was an avid reader. Before, I floated through life from one happy moment to the next. Before, I thought I knew everything. I thought I knew who I was, where I fit, and exactly what my future would bring.
Before, I thought I knew I had a future.
After, I began to discover that I’d never really known anything at all.
I waited two weeks from the day that I learned my sister had been murdered for somebody to do something—anything—besides plant her in the ground after a closed-casket funeral, cover her with roses, and grieve.
Grieving wasn’t going to bring her back, and it sure wasn’t going to make me feel better about whoever’d killed her walking around alive out there somewhere, happy in their sick little psychotic way, while my sister lay icy and white beneath six feet of dirt.
Those weeks will remain forever foggy to me. I wept the entire time, vision and memory blurred by tears. My tears were involuntary. My soul was leaking. Alina wasn’t just my sister; she was my best friend. Though she’d been away studying at Trinity College in Dublin for the past eight months, we’d e-mailed incessantly and spoken weekly, sharing everything, keeping no secrets.
Or so I thought. Boy was I ever wrong.
We’d been planning to get an apartment together when she came home. We’d been planning to move to the city, where I was finally going to get serious about college, and Alina was going to work on her Ph.D. at the same Atlanta university. It was no secret that my sister had gotten all the ambition in the family. Since graduating high school, I’d been perfectly content bartending at The Brickyard four or five nights a week, living at home, saving most of my money, and taking just enough college courses at the local Podunk university (one or two a semester, and classes like How to Use the Internet and Travel Etiquette didn’t cut it with my folks) to keep Mom and Dad reasonably hopeful that I might one day graduate and get a Real Job in the Real World. Still, ambition or no, I’d been planning to really buckle down and make some big changes in my life when Alina returned.