Anyone could see that I was blameless, sitting there knees-to-chin on my own bed, painting my toenails alternately ‘pumpkin rind’ and ‘up-in-smoke’, when the door of my room whipped open and bashed against the wall. I botched more than one of my nails as my sister, Chloe, sprang in front of me, wild-faced and screaming, “How dare you take this from my closet!” She snatched her black-flowered halter from my desk chair and snapped it in my face. Her shimmering aqua eyes beaded out of her head like marbles. “You’re a thoughtless, horrid, flat-chested child,” she said.
“Go to hell,” I replied.
She skimmed the fabric. “You broke the zipper!” she shrieked. “I’ve never even worn this dress.”
“Neither have I.”
The landline rang, and we raced to answer it, shoving each other back and forth down the brown shag-carpeted stairs. Chloe grabbed the receiver and I yanked it from her.
“Hello?” I said.
“Rebecca? Is that you?”
I hesitated, not recognizing the voice. Then Chloe stomped on my bare foot and pulled the phone from my hand.
“It’s for me,” I said. “Are you deaf?”
Chloe pressed the phone hard to her right ear and stuck a finger in her left. “Who is this?” she asked politely. She listened expressionless, then dropped into the worn, overstuffed chair beside the table.
“Who is it?” I mouthed. “Whoisit?”
“Okay fine,” she told the caller. “We’ll look forward to it.” She hung up slowly. Her loose blonde hair swung across her chest as she turned to face me. “Auntie El,” she said hesitantly.
I bit my tongue.
“She’s visiting on Saturday.” Chloe’s spidery lashes brushed her cheek as she sighed. “She made me swear not to tell Mom.”
Footsteps resonated through the dining room, and our eyes locked in dread. Seconds later, Mom appeared, her full face and thin lips drawn down even more than usual. She folded her dimpled arms across her chest and blinked. “I was on the extension,” she said. “Imagine the nerve of that woman.”
Chloe shrunk silently into the chair, but I’d heard too much over the years to drop the subject now. “She’s your only sister,” I said. “Even if you can’t stand her, you should allow her to visit.”
“Don’t dive where you can’t swim,” said Mom. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me and Ellie, and you’re a little too young to grasp it.”
“I’m not a kid, dammit.”
Her eyes flared. “Don’t you dare speak to me like that. Apologize.”
I glimpsed my shoes. “Sorry.”
“When I was a teenager I earned my parents’ respect.”
“Did Ellie?” I asked. Chloe pinched me on the backside and I slapped her hard.
“Ellie had automatic privilege with everybody,” said Mom. “It was her undoing.”
I turned to glare at Chloe as if this proved something, but she was halfway down the hall. “A person can’t help what’s God’s given her,” she called behind her. “You can’t blame El for her looks.” Then she sashayed up the stairs on her Hollywood legs, her satin hair bouncing behind her like the mane of a thoroughbred. Mom and I just stood there like day-old bread, caught in her abundance, and it was then I knew I’d been drafted into a club I’d never meant to join.
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