We’re all chickenshits about something, Laura. The real plight of characters in books, though, is that our authors feel compelled to strew our secrets all over the frickin’ place, and readers feel compelled to read it. We deserve compensation! I’ll talk to our author. Maybe she can write in some extra occasions of king-sized beds. Being skin-on-skin with Claudia can make the most dastardly things somehow livable. Any remote possibility being with Holly does the same for you? 😉
In the meantime…
Sunday night found McCallister on Granger Bridge with Holly’s head resting in her lap. Gently, she stroked her forehead to bring sleep, but as her breathing slowed, she sensed a clock ticking faster.
For seemingly endless hours that weekend, she reclined on the chaise lounge in Holly’s studio, feeling her eyes on her naked back, hearing her pencil give it form. A thousand times she tried to evoke enough courage to call her name, to roll over, face her, and just say it. And a thousand times, she failed. Monday would come, and they would be swept into routine. Time was running out.
Softly, she moaned but barely stirred.
“Hol, are you still awake?” She knew she wasn’t, but it was more a plea for her to return. “Hol?”
She mumbled, “Please tell me it’s not a jumper.”
“No. All’s quiet.”
“That’s good,” she said and snuggled into her.
“Hol, I need to tell you something.”
“Go ahead, babe.”
She stroked her head a moment longer and then said, “Hol, the woman who had the accident, the woman who can’t remember…” She found herself unable to utter the words. But, she knew she had to, even though she feared Holly’s reaction. Would telling her make it real—blow a hole clean through her reality—or would Holly see right through it and tell her it was all in her head? Either way, though, she knew she needed it to end: an agony that catapulted her between the extremes of hope and despair.
She thought Holly had drifted back to sleep so her sudden voice startled her.
“Finish your thought, babe. What about her?”
“Hol, I think the woman… Hol… Holly, I think she’s my sister.”
A strange silence ensued that confused her. Again, she thought she had fallen back asleep, but then suddenly she rocketed to a seated position.
“Jaye? You think she’s Jaye?” When she nodded, she simply stared at her—speechless, stupefied—and McCallister recognized that she had blown a hole through her reality. “Jaye?”
Again, she nodded and resisted the urge to wince in fear of her reaction.
“Jaye? Your sister? My God! … Laura, that’s what’s been on your mind? Laura!” She swatted her. “I knew there was something besides the kids! Why the hell didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure I’m sure. But…”
She shook her head, trying to think, maybe trying to stop what was happening.
“But what, babe? Talk to me. Please.”
“Holly, I really liked the idea that it was her,” she said, and her eyes spilled tears. “But I thought if I said it out loud…”
“That it’d make it not true?”
“Something like that.”
“Then if you’re ready to say it, you must be convinced.”
“She’s convincing me. She just doesn’t know it.”
“What does that mean? She’s trying to convince you? Laura—”
“No, not like that,” she said as she shook her head. “She’s starting to remember, and everything she remembers, I already know. She’s remembering my life, not just her own. Friday— What she said Friday— Hol, it’s beyond coincidence. Way beyond coincidence. It’s not just my wishful thinking anymore.”
“What did she say Friday?”
“They did hypnosis on her for the first time. Hol, she said…” But she balked. She was so close to saying it, presenting the evidence, and the thought of seeing it as a whole terrified her. Was there more than enough or just enough to support wishful thinking?
“Laura, what did she say?”
She drew a deep breath. “Her mother’s name is Lenore, and she had a chocolate Lab named Pickle.”
“Okay, her mom’s name could be a coincidence. Lots of people have moms named Lenore. But the Pickle thing…”
“That’s not all, though. That’s just what pushed it beyond coincidence.”
“Tell me what else.” She clutched her hand and leaned to kiss it. “This is big, Laura. Tell me everything.”
She knew she’d say that. She feared she’d say that. She knew it would herald a turning point, and she feared the turn would upend everything. She squeezed her hand. “Hol, all along she thought her name started with a J. She even found a keychain at the crash scene with a J on it. But, she thought the J was a sound, not her name.” Her mind drifted for a moment. “Then, one of the first times I saw her, she asked me if the word ‘scoop’ meant anything to me.”
Holly’s face lit up, and tears filled her eyes. “Your nickname for her. My God, Laura!”
“Why the hell else would anybody be plagued by that word?”
She took her own turn to get lost in thought, and then she asked, “The age is right? What about what she looks like?”
“She doesn’t know her age, but she’s definitely in the ballpark. And what she looks like— Hol, I haven’t seen her in 15 years. She was a scrawny ten-year-old. I don’t know what she’s supposed to look like.”
“I know that, babe, but it would probably be obvious if she wasn’t your sister. What does she look like?”
“Dark blond hair, blue eyes, a little shorter than me. She’s pretty, very pretty.” She quietly laughed. “And strange, and feisty—just like I remember her.”
“Babe, if she’s your sister, she would have to be strange and feisty.” Again, she kissed her hand. “So she looks like you. … But she doesn’t know … and she doesn’t know you know. Is that what you’re telling me?”
“Yes, and that’s where I’m screwed up. I don’t know what to do. No, that’s not true. I know what to do. I don’t know how to do it.” She paused for a moment and then asked, “Do I have a right to say this to her? If it’s not her, I could make things worse. I could put things in her head that aren’t really hers.”
“And if she is Jaye and you don’t tell her?”
“I’ve thought of that, too, and that seems just as cruel. She’s frustrated and scared, and I’m letting her sit in it. That’s hardly what a big sister would—or should—do. But then…”
“But then what?”
“Well… What if she had my card because she was on her way here to tell me off for leaving her 15 years ago? What if she doesn’t want me to be her sister? What if she’s pissed?”
“Then you let her be pissed. You tell her the position your mother put you in, but you let her be pissed, babe. And you tell her you love her. You tell her how hard you tried to find her after she turned 18.”
“How hard I tried?” She ripped her hand from Holly’s and hit the steering wheel. “A goddamn detective who couldn’t find her own sister! That’ll convince her, I’m sure. Christ, I’m a moron.”
“Well, Hol, I sure as hell feel like one! I should know who the hell my sister is! I should have been a part of her life for the past 15 years!”
“It’s not your fault. It’s your mother’s. You know that.”
“I was an adult, Holly.”
“Barely, and your mother still had the upper hand. She had the legal right to make decisions for Jaye. You know the law. The bitch wouldn’t let you see her.”
“I should have tried harder.”
“Laura, have you lost your memory? You told me she had the cops called on you when you tried to see Jaye at her school. Right? Didn’t she?” After receiving a reluctant nod, she challenged, “Would they have let you stay in the academy if she had pressed charges? What would the charge have been? Stalking a child? You would never have become a cop.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but Holly warned, “Don’t you even dare tell me you shouldn’t have become a cop!”
Having been put in her place, she bowed her head.
“But, babe, that’s all pretty much beside the point at the moment, isn’t it?” She took her hand again and held it tightly, overruling McCallister’s attempt to pull away. “She might be right in front of you—right across town, right now. Are you going to let what happened with your mother keep you away from her one minute longer? If it’s her, Laura, you have choices this time.”
She nodded very timidly. Holly was right, but it was hard to discern choices when everything felt so confusing. Tell her? Not tell her? Let her figure it out on her own? Frustrated, she shook her head. “I still don’t think it’s right just to lay this on her—at least not yet. The doc says it’s traumatic amnesia. I can’t risk adding another one. Plus, we’re assuming the trauma that made her forget was the accident, but maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was something that happened before that. Maybe that’s why she was coming to see me.”
“Laura, maybe you should talk to her doctor, the one who’s doing the hypnosis. Let him or her figure out how best to handle this.”
“I am not telling a shrink I think this woman’s my sister. If I’m wrong, they’ll lock me up, and besides, it’s nobody’s f-ing business but mine.”
“Yes … and hers.”
“I know you’re hurt and confused, babe, but she’s the most vulnerable one in this situation. You have to do what’s best for her and trust that whatever that is will end up being what’s best for both of you.”
Again, she knew she was right, but the thought of baring that part of her soul to some stranger… It proved hard enough to tell Holly, the one who loved her implicitly. With someone she didn’t trust, she knew she couldn’t. She knew she wouldn’t. At least not yet. Seeing only one other option, she said, “Then I’ll give her some more time to remember on her own … but I’ll act more like her sister. I’ll quit avoiding her. I’ll quit being scared of her. I’ll be there for her without her having to call me and beg for a moment of my time. I just don’t want to…”
“Be wrong? Get hurt?”
“Something like that.”
“You’re already hurting, babe. Whether it turns out to be her or not, this dredged up all the crap with your mother.”
“It has to be her, Hol. It just has to be. … I want it to be her so bad— I’m worried that’s all I see. Every time I see her, I cross another line, like I have to look very far behind me to see myself—if that even makes sense.”
“Then you need your Watson on this one.” When she received a skeptical glance, she said, “You be her sister and just worry about making sure you’re both okay. I’ll write down everything, gather the evidence from what you tell me. When we have enough to satisfy the pickiest detective in the world—who just happens to live in Granton, you’ll know what to do. It’s that whole ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ thing.”
“A preponderance of the evidence, damn, I could sure use that about now.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do.” She said very seriously and then laughed. “But there are two conditions.”
Impulsively, she laughed but said, “You can’t put conditions on something like this, Hol.”
“Just watch me. Ready?”
“Christ, go ahead.” She briskly rubbed her forehead and braced herself.
“Number one, if I’m your Watson on this one, you have to give me the facts, babe. You can’t shut me out of this again.”
“Fine. It feels better with you inside it anyway. … Dare I ask what number two is?”
After a dramatically deep breath, she said, “Number two, you look for a way to let yourself off the hook for what you think you did 15 years ago. You put the blame where it belongs, and you leave it there.”
She paused in thought for a moment. The idea of not being tormented by that seemed glorious, and yet, she always figured the torment was penance for her choices, for not seeing alternatives, for failing her sister. Finally, she said, “Hol, I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever be able to pull that one off. Maybe if I get her back, maybe if she forgives me… I just don’t know. Those 15 years will always be gone.”
“But you’ve got 15 in front of you—with her, if this all works out like we’re hoping. It’s time to find a way to let go of it, Laura. If you were an artist… It’s like you’ve got one really ugly color on your palette that somebody else put there, but you just won’t or can’t get rid of it. It ends up in every painting you create. The paintings are beautiful but nowhere near how beautiful they could be without that ugly color. Does that makes sense?”
Oddly, it did make sense, perfect sense. It made her think of the change in Holly’s demeanor when she cleaned other people’s brushes and not her own. One was hers; the others were not. One held the colors she had blended; the others contained visions not her own. They weren’t pure. They were contaminated. It did make sense. She said, “So condition number two, I need to get my mother’s ugly color off my palette.”
“Or at least dilute it or mix it with something so it’s not ugly, so it doesn’t clash with what you paint of your life, so it’s yours.”
She nodded in recognition of the need to do so, but still, she said, “I’m really not sure I can, but I will try. I promise.”
“That’s what the condition was, babe. Just look. See if you can.” She kissed her on the cheek. “And what are your conditions?”
“Mine? I don’t think I have any.” She thought for a second and changed her mind, saying, “I do have one, just one.”
“And that would be?”
She reached for her arm and gently tugged. “Lie back down on my lap. Get some sleep.”
“That’s it? Sleep? I can’t sleep!”
“Then just lay here.” She tugged harder. “Come on, Watson.”
“Babe, there’s no way I can sleep. I’m too hyped now.”
“Quit arguing.” She pulled. “I just want you close. I want to look at you, touch you.”
“Fine,” she said and returned to her lap.
“Thanks for not thinking I’m crazy,” she whispered.
“Babe, I figure as long as we stay crazy about each other, we can deal with just about anything.”
“I am crazy about you, Hol. So crazy about you, I’m a full-blown lunatic. Now, go to sleep.”
She laughed and then closed her eyes. She remained quiet for nearly a full moment before she roared, “Your sister, Laura! She could be your sister! Just think!”
Smiling, she shushed her and returned to where this moment had begun: stroking her head, coaxing sleep to find her. Having her there grounded her, and yet, seeing her excitement allowed her to feel her own. She felt better, alive in ways she had not allowed. But still, her fear had not eased. In some ways, it was stronger than ever. She vowed to put that energy into being a sister, and she’d put her trust in Holly, her Watson, to help her keep her eyes open to the truth.