Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star
Sisters One, Two, Three
Ginger Tangle had nothing against nature. She often stopped to notice the sky, clouds particularly, but also hawks circling and the dissipating puffy trails of planes. But today was different. Today, in the parking lot at the summit of Mount Washington, as she gazed at the granite ledges perched over sheer drops only inches from where her disgruntled teenage daughter stood, what she felt was hypertension. She could hear it, her heartbeat pulsing in her ears.
Yes, she had noticed the rough-hewn scenic overlook arrows, so quaint and welcoming as they pointed toward views that, yes, were expansive. But what held her gaze were the chasms. Had no one stopped to consider the possible outcomes of placing photo-op elevation markers and telescopes lined up like promises on top of boulders where the wind often turned hurricane force without warning?
Was Ginger worried Julia might get blown off by a sudden gale, or, worse, impulsively leap? No, it wasn’t like that. But an overly bold and defiant skip to the edge? An eyes-on-the-phone clumsy stumble and fall? Accidents happened. Ginger knew this better than most.
The Mount Washington trip had been a last-minute addition to their New England college tour itinerary. An opportunity for family bonding, after what Ginger had predicted would be a long and difficult week.
Second thoughts had set in at once. Her research confirmed her gut. Her wilderness side-trip idea had possibly fatal flaws. She ticked them off for her husband, Richard. Moose on the roads, bear in the woods, and in the air, according to an alert on the CDC site bookmarked on her computer, mosquito-borne Eastern Equine Encephalitis. As if that wasn’t enough, the weather on the summit was notoriously unpredictable. Snow squalls happened in July.
Richard saw it a different way. “A moose sighting would be awesome. You already packed bug spray. I checked the weather. It’s going to be hot.”
Day one of the college tour, Julia, tall and bony, all elbows and knees, exited their car like an awkward shorebird and announced, “No way.” The sun peeking out from between the rolling mountains of Vermont made her red hair look on fire but her mood remained morose. “Middle of nowhere,” she said, from a spot so beautifully landscaped it felt more park than parking lot. “Not going here.”
Dumbstruck by the way the pink light hit the stone buildings, Ginger had pressed on. “Why don’t you poke around a little before you decide? You never know. Worst-case scenario, you tell your friends at home I was mean to make you look.” Ginger had realized her mistake immediately. Of course Julia would not be sharing this with her friends at home. This was the summer she’d dumped her friends in a trade-down for a boy named Nick.
Day two, on line at the snack bar of a large university in the middle of Boston, Ginger lost in thought wondering why the frozen yogurt machine was placed alongside the lunch offerings instead of the desserts, Julia had announced college wasn’t for everyone. “Some people do better just being out in the world.”
“You mean no college ever?” Ginger asked. “Or a gap year?”
Julia stepped off the yogurt line. “Just because you don’t go to college doesn’t mean you don’t have a life.” She headed toward the exit sign.
Ginger grabbed two bananas, paid for them, and followed her family out.
That night in their Boston chain hotel, Richard went to the front desk to track down the hypoallergenic pillows the room brochure advertised as available upon request, while Ginger lay in bed staring at the ceiling, a greatest-hits reel featuring Julia’s boyfriend running in a loop through her brain.
Nick in high school: one year older than Julia. A senior. Did tech for the drama club. Also did music. Sound collage, Julia said, whatever that was. First choice for college, Ringling Brothers Clown School. Plan B if that didn’t work out? There was none. Result of neglecting to find out in a timely way that the clown school no longer existed? A gap year.
Nick after high school: job right after graduation. Starbucks. Duration of employment, half a day. Reason for termination, according to Julia? Refusal to be fake cheerful. Other refusal, coming to the door to pick Julia up. Preferred parental avoidance technique, texting from the car.
Ginger’s first sighting of Nick was on a stealth visit to his next job, at an independent coffee shop where fake cheer was not required. She assessed his appeal while on line. Tall, rangy, kind of good-looking, acne that might clear up if he’d keep his hair off his forehead, furniture tack–style earrings creeping up his cartilage—too unpleasant to look at.
When it was her turn to order, she asked for coffee with room for milk. Her generous interpretation of why Nick overfilled her cup so much that black liquid sloshed on the counter? The place was noisy and the boy couldn’t hear. The time it took for Ginger to figure out what Nick meant, in dollars, when he rang her up and said, “That will be three hundred and fourteen cents”? Just under a minute. Duration of Nick’s independent-coffee-shop job? Four days. Reason for termination, according to Julia? Owner had no sense of humor.
The hotel room door opened, startling her. Richard was back. No pillow. “Turns out they only have one kind.”
“Thanks for checking.” She reached for her eyedrops.
Richard sat down on the chair next to the bed. “Listen, I was thinking. About you and Julia. Maybe it would help if you backed off a little. Not saying it’s your fault. Just—maybe if you back off, she’ll back off.” He shrugged and smiled. “Worth a try?”
She softened. This was how it went with them. Richard was a congenital optimist who got over things faster than anyone she’d ever known. She was a worrier with a dedicated pitfall-first view of the world. Most of the time, the combination made for good balance. But all the sparring with Julia was starting to wear her down. The balance was not holding.
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|Epub||December 9, 2016|
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