I sighed. “Sorry about this. I had to move when—”
“—when we thought you were dead,” she said. “By the time they’d tracked me down to give me the news, your friends already knew you were all right and let me know, thank God, or I’d have just gone crazy.”
Which gave me a little bit of a warm, sisterly glow, until she continued.
“After all, I’d just found out about Chrêtien and Heather. I swear, if I’d had one more thing to think about, I don’t think even the therapy would have helped.”
I stopped feeling bad about the furniture. “Glad I didn’t set you back on the road to recovery.”
“Oh! No, I didn’t mean—”
I sat down on the bed next to her suitcase. The frame creaked and groaned like an exasperated geezer. “Look, Sarah, let’s not kid each other, okay? We’re not best buddies; we never were. I’m not judging you, I’m just saying you’re here because I’m all you’ve got. Right? So you don’t have to pretend to like me.”
She looked just like me, in that second—wide-eyed with surprise, and a little frown crinkling her forehead. Except for the hair. Even my current poodle-hair curls were better than the badly grown-out shag she was sporting.
She said, slowly, “All right, I admit it. I didn’t like you when you were younger. You were a bratty kid, and then you grew up into somebody I barely even know. And you’re weird, you know. And Mom liked you best.”
No arguing with that one. Mom really had.
But Sarah kept going. “That doesn’t mean I don’t love you, Jo. I always have loved you. I hope you still love me. I know I’m a bitch, and I’m shallow, but we’re still, you know, sisters.”
It would have been a warm, tender moment if I’d jumped up and thrown my arms around her and burst into tears. We weren’t that kind of Hallmark Card family.
I thought it over and said, “I don’t really know you, Sarah. But I’m willing to get to know you.”
She smiled. Slow, but real.
“That sounds… fair.”
We shook hands on it. I stood up and watched as Sarah unzipped the suitcase and started unpacking. It was a pitifully short affair. She’d left most of the good stuff behind, and what good stuff she had left was horribly wrinkled. We made a dry-clean pile, a “burn this” pile, a Goodwill pile, and a keeper stack. That one was short. It filled exactly one drawer of the dresser.
“Makeup?” I asked. She pointed to a tiny plastic case that couldn’t have held more than lipstick, mascara, and maybe an eyebrow pencil. “Shoes?”
She pointed to the battered running shoes and held up a pair of black, squarish pumps, something suitable for a grandmother, so long as Grandma didn’t care much about appearances. I winced. “The bastard didn’t even let you keep your shoes?”
“He cleaned out the house and gave everything to the Salvation Army,” she said. “All my clothes. Everything.”
“Jesus.” I had a sudden flare of suspicion. “Um, look, Sarah, not that I’m doubting you or anything, but wasn’t Chrêtien the, um, guilty party… ?”
She had the good grace to look just a little ashamed. “He found out about Carl.”
“Nope. Really don’t.”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine, if you’re going to force me to say it… I wasn’t exactly guiltless. There. I admit it. I was having an affair with his business partner.”
“And the donkey he rode in on,” she finished, just the way she’d always done it when we’d been in school. “But he didn’t have to get so personal about all of it. He cheated on me, after all. You’d think he’d at least understand that it was… well…”
“Recreational?” I supplied dryly.
“Should have joined the bridge club, Sarah.”
She gave me a helpless, angry look. “I’m not saying I was guiltless, but… he gave me a couple of hundred dollars and told me to buy replacements. In my new price range. God, Jo, I didn’t even know where to shop!”
I took a deep breath and said, “Tell you what? I was going to the mall anyway with a friend, so if you want to get ready—”
“I’m ready,” my sister said instantly.
I picked up the phone and called Cherise.
Cherise had, of course, changed clothes in the interim. She’d gone to a magenta see-through mesh shirt with lime green tie-dyed patterns, over a lime green camisole. It all matched the lime glitter toenail polish, which evidently she liked enough to accessorize to.
“Ten,” I said instantly when she got out of her red convertible. “Maybe a ten point five. You blind me with your magnificence.”
“But of course. Man, Jo, I knew you were a saint, but you gave up your hottie for your sister? Damn. I’d have blown off taking my grandma to dialysis for that man!”
Sarah came out of the apartment behind me, wearing her wrinkled khaki walking shorts and badly fitting button-down shirt. Cherise’s perfectly made-up eyes widened into something usually seen only in Japanese animation.
“Oh my God,” she said, and looked at me in horror. “You told me it was bad, but damn, this is a seven point five on the fashion disaster scale. And what’s with her hair?”
“Cherise,” I said. “I know it’s hard for you, but please. Sarah’s had a bad time. Be kind.”
“I was being kind. That is way worse than a seven point five.”
Sarah said, “Jo? Did she just say you have a boyfriend?”
Trust Sarah, of course, to blow past Cherise’s fluff to get to the potentially disastrous part of the conversation.
“Not just a boyfriend,” Cherise said. “Boyfriends are Ken dolls. Boyfriends are safe. Her guy is the kind of hottie who needs to keep a fire extinguisher around, just to hose down any passing women who spontaneously combust.”
I stared at her, amazed. For Cherise, this was, well, poetic.
Sarah was, meanwhile, frowning at me. “And you didn’t tell me about him?”
I didn’t want to bring up David yet. That was going to be a strange and difficult conversation, with somebody as earthbound-normal as Sarah, and I couldn’t really mislead her too far. Trying to keep him secret would only lead to low comedy and farce. Not to mention put a serious cramp in my love life.
“He had to leave,” I said. Not a lie. “I’ll see him later.”
“I should have known you’d have a boyfriend,” Sarah said. She sounded bitter. “What was I thinking? When do you not?”
“Kind of a ’ho, isn’t she?” Cherise asked. Sarah nodded wisely.
“Hey!” I said sharply. “Watch it!”
“Oh, come on, Jo. Your libido isn’t exactly on the low end of the curve. I’ve seen you checking out the boys at work,” Cherise said. “Even, you know, Kurt. The anchor.”
“I would never! That man is made of plastic!”
“Oh, the plastic ones are the best,” she said, and gave me a wicked look. “They come with D-cell batteries, off switches, and you never have to meet their folks.”
Cherise worried me sometimes. “Please tell me you haven’t—not with Kurt—”
“Please. I have standards,” she said. “He may be an anchor, but he’s a morning anchor. Hardly worth the investment.”
“Now who’s your boyfriend?” Sarah began again. I hustled her toward the car.
Cherise broke ranks, rushed back, and flipped switches in her convertible. The canvas top whirred up and locked in place.
“Marvin says it’s going to rain,” she said.
“Marvin doesn’t know his—” I bit my tongue to keep from saying something that might get back to him. “His meteorology from a rain dance.”
Cherise looked up at the cloudless blue sky, shrugged, and slid on her dark glasses. “Yeah, well, easy for you to say. You don’t have to wet-vac. And you know all about the Percentage.”
Yes. They liked to use that in advertising: Trust the Percentage. Because Marvelous Marvin really did have the best percentage of forecast accuracy in our area. Not that it was anything but blind luck. I’d asked him to walk me through the calculations for his rainy-day forecast two days ago, and he’d happily brought out the charts, the National Weather Service models, the radar images, all the good stuff… and proceeded to come to exactly the wrong conclusion.