When Brooke dived from the waterfall’s highest ledge, her body became a spirit in mid-air. A lesser yet still irresistible transformation occurred when she bicycled down the mountain, flying over crevasses and bouncing off rocks. After her despair in Jasper’s meadow reached its peak, she sprang up and pedaled furiously away. A few seconds of relief and then she crashed headlong into a car stopped at the light. The driver hadn’t anticipated the blur of her hurdling out of nowhere and the awful sound of her bike breaking as she catapulted into a field.
A person, anxious even in shadow, got out of the car. Brooke leaped to her feet and waved. She cupped her mouth and called, “Is your car okay?”
Back in the SUV, the shadow-person sped away, leaving Brooke’s ruined bicycle in the street. She hauled it into a ditch and walked the remaining mile home. Tara heard her, staggering up the rickety outside stairs, because of course she was crying again.
The door swung open and Tara pulled her into the living room. Unable to suppress an air of triumph, her sister clapped a hand over Brooke’s mouth. “You want the whole world to know?”
Brooke didn’t care and collapsed on the floor. The room had a low ceiling and one rectangular window behind the couch. Sitting on it, holding a pillow, Tara said, “Told you,” and turned up the volume on a little boy screaming at his parents. Brooke, rolling up and hiccupping, watched a creepy TV kid supposedly making a documentary about his overweight parents. The mother and father sat catatonic in lounge chairs while he yelled. “More venom! More menace!”
Just stupid. Brooke jumped up. Her voice raw from crying, she asked, “Did anyone call the house?”
“Guess not.” She paced the room and tugged her hair.
The creepy kid was saying, “Great! We’re golden!” and Tara turned him off.
Brooke’s arms swung. She circled the room in long, loopy strides. And Tara tossed the pillow aside and closed in on herself. She averted her chin.
“Don’t do that.” Brooke knew the gesture, thanks to small-minded people who said, and very well might say again, that Brooked was beautiful, not to mention sexy. Tara was either “pretty” or “looked just like their mother.” Sometimes they said this to the girls’ faces! Brooke hated it that Tara took this shit to heart. But why now? When Brooke was a teary mess?
“Stop performing in all your ravishing pain, okay?”
Brooke stopped to stare at the ceiling. “Did anyone come over while I was gone?”
“Did anyone ring the doorbell?”
Brooke sank to the floor. “You’re right. Why did I think he liked me?” She hiccupped and rocked, about to get up.
But Tara finally pitied her enough to get off the couch and sit beside her. “So I guess the movie star stood you up.”
Hiccupping, tears pouring, Brooke said, “Yep. He…did…He stood me up.”
Tara said, “But it’s one night, one disappointment.”
Brooke stared at her fingers crisscrossing the carpet. “It feels like a lot.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Stay there.” Tara went upstairs to her bedroom and returned with a bottle of Maker’s Mark. “Stole it from Pop.” Their father worked in a bar forty miles away. Tara still visited him the way they both had until Brooke was 10 and he had slammed her head against the wall. She didn’t know if she passed out. Tara said she did and Pop acted scared and sorry.
Swinging her legs in front of her, Brooke arched her neck and took a big swig. She had never drunk whiskey before and shuddered, but it cured her hiccups. She stood up and drank some more. “Okay if I take this to bed with me?”
“Drink it in here. We’ll watch anything you want.”
“I need to lie down.”
“All right. But don’t spill it.”
In her narrow, little bed, Brooke drank, woke, drank, and then—the stench of puke forced her up and out of there. She fell in the hall and crawled down the three steps into the living room where Tara was watching her favorite show Children’s Minds, in which Jasper King played a clairvoyant child pschiatrist.
Brooke tried to stand and fell.
“Dammit,” Tara grabbed her sister’s hair, dragging her into the bathroom. She shoved Brooke into a freezing cold shower and yanked her out again to peel off the smelly T-shirt.
“Take your underpants off.” Brooke tried but Tara had to crouch down and lift her feet. Then Tara stood in shower, adding hot water, and rubbing Brooke all over with a soapy wash cloth. Brooke giggled and gagged and Tara pulled her hair hard. “Shut up!” She shampooed Brooke’s hair, cursing at how long and thick it was.
Later, Brooke woke in Tara’s bed, wearing Tara’s nightgown. She got up and leaned against the warm washing machine full of towels, and then jumped back from her own stinky sheets piled on top. It was still dark. Their mother was still meditating with her group.
In the TV room, Tara was snoring in front of an early episode of Children’s Minds. Brooke turned it off and nudged her. Tara’s eyes opened. “Looks like you’re still staggering.”
“I’m okay. And really sorry. But, Tara, you’ve no idea what you did for me. ’Cause getting drunk like that helped.”
“Did you have sex with him or something?”
“God, no! Making people think he likes them is his job.”
“Not exactly. It could’ve been anyone, Brooke. And next time? You’re not supposed to care about a no-show.”
“Maybe he was worried. Like I’d ruin his reputation.”
Tara laughed. “You couldn’t ruin Jasper King in a million years. He left because he wanted to—the real reason for everything.”
(To read the previous and intervening episodes, go here, here, and here. Don’t worry, I won’t be listing every link. A few to start and an occasional two or three you might want to read, if you happened to wonder what else occurred.)