They were both looking at me. My bad. I needed to be more alert.
“Dinner,” Jolene said. “It’s ready.”
I followed them into the kitchen.
Tessa arrived with swollen eyes and a hopeful smile plastered to her face. It hurt my heart to know what he’d done to her. And for what? Some slut who hadn’t weathered the storms of life with him like Tessa had? Where was the loyalty? Where were the vows? We’d stalked the little slut online, traded pictures back and forth saying the things that always came with cheating: How could he? And, she’s not even as pretty as you. Do you think he’s bored with me? No, he’s just a pig. Men do these things because it makes them feel big.
I hated him, but I couldn’t say too much. I was careful.
“You’ve lost so much weight!” she said, once we were in the car. “You look great, Figgy.”
I wanted to tell her that she had too, but it seemed more like a reminder than a compliment, so I kept my mouth shut.
“Will I get to meet your new friends? The neighbors you keep talking about?”
“Yes! They want to meet you too,” I told her. I reached out and squeezed her knee. “Whatever you want to do. I want you to see my city. I thought maybe dinner in the Space Needle.”
She nodded. “I’d love that.”
Despite our plans for fun, Tessa spent most of the next three days on the phone with Mike, the big, fat cheater. On the first night I think she woke up half the neighborhood with her screaming. I stumbled out of bed, glancing at the clock. It was three AM. I found her in the living room, pacing around like a wild woman, a bottle of vodka in her hand. I spent the next two hours consoling her on the couch, while she cried into my lap saying how much she loved him. The future was sealed: my sister would return to the cheater. A woman’s heart was an awful curse. She’d take him back, but probably remind him of his failure for the rest of his life. That was the nature of forgiveness. It came with a price.
“I know how you feel about George,” she said softly, as I stroked her hair. “I’ve felt it myself with Mike—the frustration and desperation. But, it’s not that easy to leave. You can’t judge me. George may not have cheated, but you know it’s hard to leave, no matter what.”
I nodded and squeezed her harder, but I didn’t agree. George had felt like prison right from the start. I made the best of it, but desperately wanted a way out. Tessa had a clear-cut path to freedom. People would judge her less harshly if she left her cheating husband. It was never that easy for me. The situation with George had been—was—different. He was dead inside, but he’d never really done anything wrong.
On her last night I kept my promise and took her to the Space Needle for dinner. For once her phone was away and she was smiling. Mike had sent flowers to the house that morning, two-dozen red roses. Once she saw them, the watery look in her eyes disappeared and she had a new resolve about her. We wandered around the large gift shop before it was our time to ride the elevator upstairs, touching sweatshirts, and shaking snow globes, laughing and being sisters. Tessa saw me eyeing the metal replica of the Space Needle that I’d seen in Jolene’s house.
“You should get it,” she said. “It would look good in your new, fabulous house.”
I bit my lip, undecided. It was pricey. But, I wanted it.
“I can’t,” I said. “New house responsibilities.”
Before I could protest, she snatched it from the shelf.
“I want to get it for you,” she said. “For hosting your annoying little sister.”
“Okay.” I smiled, excited. I knew exactly where I’d put it.
When Tessa and I got home after dinner, there were at least a dozen boxes waiting on my doorstep.
“I went a little overboard,” I said, guiltily.
“Nonsense,” she said. “You went a little Tessa.”
We laughed and carried them inside. I unwrapped my Space Needle first, setting it on the mantel above the fireplace. Then together we unpacked my new teal living room on my kitchen floor, passing a bottle of Prosecco back and forth. Yes, this was me. This was who I was now.
She was sitting on the back stairs smoking a cigarette, elbows on knees, and her hair in disarray. I didn’t know she smoked and I’d never smelled it on her. Mercy was nowhere to be seen—in bed probably. The house was mostly dark except for the pantry light, which I could see was on through the kitchen window. I debated walking around the front of the house and knocking on the door, but chances were she wouldn’t hear the knock, and I didn’t want to wake Mercy with the doorbell. I decided to try the garden gate. Blackberry vines covered it. The thorns stung my hand as I pushed them aside to reach the latch. I knew she saw me when I shoved it open and walked through to their yard, but she didn’t smile or acknowledge I was there. A chill ran through me.
“Jolene?” I said, tentatively. “Are you all right?”’
No response. I took a few more steps forward. I could smell her cigarette now, stale and strong. Cigarettes gave me terrible headaches.
“Jolene…” I said again, now a mere three steps away. Her eyes moved from the ground to my face where she suddenly looked surprised to see me.
“Fig, you scared the living shit out of me,” she said, rubbing her fingers across her forehead.
“Why are you back here?” I asked. “Where’s Mercy and Darius?”