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We were living in a suburb of Waltham back then, a green, leafy new development, full of scrubby trees and mowed lawns and clapboard houses painted pastel, just a half hour bus ride away from Boston. We were a family of women, my father having died four years before. He had had a heart attack, falling in the very garden that had been a selling point when we had bought the house. He left my mother enough insurance so the house was hers, but not enough so that she didn't have to work long hours as a legal secretary, forcing my sister Rose and me to tend to ourselves, often well after dinner.
I didn't mind. There was no other company I wanted to be in than my sister's. She was beautiful back then, sixteen and reed slender, with my mother's same river of black hair, only hers wasn't tied up into a corporate bun, but skipped to her waist. She had luminous pale skin and eyes as blue and clear as chips of summer sky. I was almost everything Rose and my mother were not--studious and shy, shaped like a soda straw with frizzy hair the color of rust. Before Rose fell in love, she adored only me. We had grown up inseparable, a world unto ourselves simply because we didn't like anyone as much as we liked and needed each other. Tagging along with Rose, anything was possible. We roamed the woods behind our house looking for the secret landing places of flying saucers. We walked two miles to the Star Market just to steal fashion magazines and candy and cheap gold-tone jewelry we wouldn't be caught dead wearing, for the pure shocking thrill of doing something dangerous. We ate ice cream for dinner with my mother's wine poured over it as a sauce.We dialed stray numbers on the phone and talked enthusiastically to whomever picked up, pretending we were exchange students from France looking for a dangerous liaison or two.
"Adventure is the code we live by," Rose declared, hooking her little finger about mine to shake on it. We were always going to be together. We were both going to be famous writers, living in the same mansion in Paris, scandalizing everyone by the hard, fast way we lived. We plotted out our books together. They were always about young girls like us on some quest or another, for stolen diamonds or lost love, and the only difference between my books and Rose's was that Rose's heroines always ended up riding off on the backs of motorcycles with any boy she felt like kissing, and mine were always teaching school in some quaint little town in Vermont, with two Persian cats warming themselves at her feet.
And then Rose met Daniel, and everything changed for all three of us.
Daniel Richmond was a senior in Rose's high school, a science major who loved cells
and combustions, who said words like mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum as if they were poetry. Rose had met him the first day she started tenth grade, when she had wandered into the wrong room and found him there peering into a microscope. The first time Daniel saw her, he looked stunned. "I'll take you to the right room," he said, and by the time he got her there, going the longest way he could manage, he had her phone number, and a date for the following night.
He was Rose's first boyfriend. She was giddy with the incredulous joy of it. She walked with a new bounce. She brushed her hair a hundred times every night and stared dreamily at herself in the mirror. Daniel called her every night before their actual date. She curled protectively about the phone. She whispered into it and even after she had said goodbye to him, she held the phone receiver up against her cheek. "Wait until you meet him, Stella," she told me, out of breath. "You're going to die."
The first time he came over, I didn't know what to do. I wanted to dress up, to shine the same way my sister did. Both Rose and I tried on three different outfits. We both braided our hair and took it out again, put on perfume and washed it off, and when the doorbell finally rang, we both went to the front door together.
Rose was beaming. She seemed lit from within. "I told you about each other," she said to both of us, and pushed Daniel toward me. He was taller than she was and the handsomest boy I had ever seen, with shiny brown hair so long it fell into his collar, and lashes so lush, they seemed to leave shadows across his face.
"Stella, so you like science fiction," he said, and handed me a book, Brave New World. I had never read it, had never even heard of it back then, and I took it gratefully. "I'll be careful with it.
He shook his head. "No, it's yours."
Astonished, I turned the book over and over in my hands. It was brand new. The spine hadn't even been cracked and broken in the way I liked, the pages hadn't been stained with fruit juice or chocolate, torn by my own two careless hands. A virgin book, I thought, and blushed.
"See, Stella, I told you you'd like him," Rose said. Her hands reached out to touch
Daniel's shirt sleeve, his hand, the bare back of his neck, and could only let go to reach on for another part of him. My mother came in, still in her silvery corporate suit, her makeup, and Daniel handed her a bottle of wine. "Rose said you favor red."
My mother smiled. She undid her top button and gave Rose an approving glance. "You come for dinner tomorrow," she ordered. "Late dinner. The way they do in Europe. Say around nine."
He came for late dinner the next night, and almost every other night after. It became a sort of ritual. We'd all eat late dinner, huge lavish spreads my mother was delighted to cook for all of us. She loved the way Daniel would engage her in conversation, the way he'd sometimes bring her books he thought she'd like or flowers.
"You're over here so often, we ought to charge you rent," she said, but she smiled at him. She told him he'd have to taste the Beef Wellington she was planning to make the next night.
One day, though, I came home to find the house quiet. "Where's Rose and Daniel?” My mother shrugged, she put hamburgers into a pan. "They're out on their own tonight,” she said.
We sat down to dinner, to fries and burgers and a salad, and although my mother put on the radio to make the meal more festive, although she chattered brightly about her new boss, who had taken her out to lunch and flirted with her, who she was sure might not be married, something felt wrong. I kept looking at the two empty seats and I was suddenly not hungry anymore. My mother tapped her fork against the table. "It's not a tragedy, Stella" she said sternly. I put my burger down. "I had a big lunch."
Daniel and Rose began spending more and more time alone. I watched them walking away from our house, and away from me, their hands so tightly clasped, I was sure they must be leaving marks. They couldn't seem to be together without touching, hands or shoulders or heads. They couldn't seen to talk but instead were whispering, as if everything they shared were some great, perfect secret, as if they were in a foreign country where I didn't speak the language or know the customs.
© Caroline Leavitt, SheBooks