M couldn’t sleep.
Her body was exhausted, her spirit sapped, but her mind refused to hit the stop button. She’d have been happy with pause, but she was stuck in an endless cycle of rewind, play, fast forward. Rewind, play, fast forward.
A week ago she’d been so jazzed. So full of hope and an edgy sort of optimism. She’d really believed her time had come. That she was about to find her place in the grand scheme of things. Find the little niche that said, “This is where you belong. You’re home.”
But the building blocks had tumbled before she even began.
In some far reach of her mind, she’d subconsciously been hoping her sister would be part of the equation. That since they’d both be living in Toronto, they’d eventually find themselves back where they’d been when they were kids. The best of buds.
Given how different they were—had been—it was probably a foolish hope, but she’d so wanted to belong again. She hadn’t really belonged since she was twelve.
Oh, she’d had relationships, both platonic and romantic, but she hadn’t felt that special kind of connection since she and Summer drifted apart.
The connection of family.
She realized there were many kinds of family. The bonds that forge a family could be blood, could be love, could be one, could be both. And however pathetic, she knew she finally had to admit to herself that her constant roaming was actually a search. A search for home, a search for family.
M rolled over onto her side, curling into a fetal position around a spare pillow.
Tears began to flow, and before long she was sobbing desperately.
Summer was gone.
No more opportunities to make amends. She’d wasted so much time assuming there would be a tomorrow. Tomorrow was here, Summer wasn’t.
She should have tried harder. For the past eleven years she’d roamed the country looking for family, while resenting, denying, the family she had. Summer was her baby sister, but M really hadn’t tried that hard to bridge the distance between them.
How could she have been so selfish? Maybe if she’d been around, been some sort of guiding influence in her sister’s life, she’d still be alive.
She’d never know, would she?
M pulled herself up off the bed and stumbled to the bathroom. She grabbed a wad of tissues and blew her nose.
The face that looked back at her in the vanity mirror was red and puffy. Summer had been the beautiful one while M had often felt like the tacky knock-off. There was a time she’d resented it, but that was long ago. Now even the memory of it seemed foolish.
No matter how bad she looked, she could still see some of her sister in her reflection.
How do you deal with losing a part of yourself? A sibling is essentially made up of the same ingredients you are, just put together in a different fashion. There is an undeniable—perhaps spiritual—connection between you. No matter how far apart you drift, that connection remains.
She’d read about people who’d had limbs amputated and how they suffered from phantom pains afterward. As if the limb was still there. Would it be like that? How much time would pass before it really sunk in that Summer was gone?
Even though they’d never been close as adults, her sister always occupied a place in her heart. In her mind. She’d often see something in a store and think, Summer would like that. Or she’d read a book, and think, I wonder if Summer has read this? Would that just automatically stop now that Summer was dead? Somehow, she didn’t think so. It would probably be years before she stopped doing that.
She splashed her face with cold water, then headed back to bed.
* * * *
The next morning she walked into the kitchen in search of coffee. Even though her face resembled a blowfish, she’d left the sanctuary of her room to follow its aroma.
A woman of about sixty stood stooped over the open oven door. She had a muffin tray in one hand and with the other she rubbed her lower back.
Mrs. Brickman, she presumed.
“Here, let me help you.”
M walked across the kitchen, took the obviously cold tray from the woman’s bare hand, and put it in the oven.
With a slight groan, the woman straightened. “Thank you, dear. The older I get, the stiffer I get. But I’m not ready to be called a stiff yet. I’m Mrs. Brickman, but please call me Estelle. You must be Summer’s sister, Em.”
M bit her lip to stop the laughter threatening to spill out at the “stiff” comment. Although her parents had never taught her a thing about manners, she’d learned a thing or two along the way. One—laughing in someone’s face was rude, and two—treat your elders with respect.
She put her hand out. “Yes, I’m M. It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Brickman… um, Estelle. Is your back bothering you? Why don’t you sit down and let me finish whatever you’re doing.”
“Nonsense. I’m just fine.”
Watching her, M knew she wasn’t fine, but she understood pride.
“Was that coffee I could smell?”
“Yes. Let me get you a cup.”
M shook her head. “No. If you tell me where the cups are, I’ll get my own. But would you do me a favor? Will you sit and have a cup with me? Jonathan—Mr. Davenport—showed me around last night, but maybe you could fill me in little bit more. Like where everything is stored here in the kitchen.”
A grateful smile spread across Mrs. Brickman’s face as she replied. “I could do that. Coffee mugs are in the cupboard right above the coffee maker. On your right.”
“Thanks. How do you take yours?”
M assembled two cups of coffee, then went and sat down in one of the funky chairs at the granite slab table.
“Would you like me to make you some breakfast?” Mrs. Brickman asked.
“No thanks. Once you’ve told me where everything is, I’ll get something for myself. I’ll pick up some groceries later, as well.”
Thoughtful eyes rested on M long enough to make her want to squirm.
“I didn’t know Summer had a sister. Were the two of you close?”
M caught her breath as an echo of last night’s pain resounded through her. “No. Not since we were very young.”
“You’re nothing alike.”
M cocked her head in question.
Her first answer was a sigh. Then, “Summer lived here for more than two years. I met you when you walked into the kitchen a few minutes ago. You’ve helped me, offered further assistance, and with a degree of sneakiness I have to admire, got me to sit down when you noticed I was in pain. You’re sitting here sharing a coffee with an old woman. That’s all I’m saying.”
That was all she needed to say. Summer had obviously done none of those things and it hadn’t gone unnoticed.
“No. We aren’t alike. Weren’t. But I was older. I took off when I was eighteen. Maybe if I’d stuck around…”
Mrs. Brickman flashed up her palm, halting M. “None of that. Don’t you go blaming yourself. I’m guessing Summer started life with the same opportunities you did. She chose to be who she was. I’d say you’ve made different choices.”
M sighed. That was true.
“Was Summer the only family you had? Are you alone now?”
I’ve been alone most of my life. “Our parents are still alive. They live in Saskatoon.”
“Poor people. I’m sure they’re devastated.”
Not likely. “Um, well, I’m not sure they know. I just found out yesterday, myself.”
Mrs. Brickman shook her head, a sad expression on her face. “Well, if you need someone to talk to after you speak to them, I’m here all day.”
M mentally clapped a hand over her mouth. It was a miracle she’d been able to restrain herself from verbalizing her thoughts so far.
The last thing she wanted to do was speak to her parents, but Mrs. Brickman had a point. Her parents should be told.
“Thanks, Mrs. Brickman. It’s sweet of you to offer.”
“Call me Estelle, dear. I’m just doing what anyone else would do.”
Apparently Mrs.… Estelle—had managed to hold on to a rosy view of the world. Lucky her.
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