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    Lost & Found

    Outside the wind rustled through the trees and picked up speed. I could hear the whistling of the wind even from inside, buried deep under the covers. The sounds of the storm grew more intense, as thunder rumbled from far away, a lawn mower barreled through a neighbor’s yard. Who in the world would be cutting grass in the midst of a brewing storm? I shook my head as I pulled the covers even further over my head, if that were possible. As the TV played at a low hum in the background, somewhere outside escaped a longer and deeper rumble of thunder. The storm was definitely a lot closer now. I could only imagine how much hotter it would be after the storm had run it’s course. Florida storms tended to increase the heat and humidity, with daily temperatures at a blaze anyway. Even though people argued the rain was meant to cool the humidity, but I could never tell. Usually, I could hear birds chirping outside my window, but I guess they had taken cover from the approaching storm.

    I turned over under the solitude of my covers and let out another heavy sigh. I peeked out to glance at the red glowing numbers from my alarm clock, which I actually never used. 8:03 p.m. The sun had not even set yet and Im huddled under the covers like it’s past midnight. Not that there’s much to do anyway in a small town like Quinn. I flipped back over on my other side and felt my stomach turn in the opposite direction. I groaned and clasped my hand to my belly hoping that that would ease the pain and burning sensation from spreading, but it didnt. I turned on my stomach and held my breath waiting for the pain to subside. After what seemed like an eternity the pain finally disappeared. I breathed deeply as I heard the pinging sound of rain on my roof. It was slow and scattered and the sound of the lawn mower had faded.

    An annoying itch attacked my scalp and I thrust my fingernails into my hair to rake through it, until the itching eased up. My hair, if you could call it that, was knotty and twisted from the lack of attention. I hadnt gotten a relaxer in about four months or washed it in a couple of weeks, and I wasnt motivated to do either.

    All of a sudden, I heard a creaking noise from downstairs. I froze and popped my head out of the covers to listen. Thirty seconds went by and then a minute, but all I could hear was thunder and the rain against the roof. I shrugged and climbed back under the covers. This house was so old; it was always making weird noises.

    The rain turned into a heavy sloshing noise, interrupted only by loud claps of thunder. My eyes closed as the sounds of the noisy storm erupted outside. Slowly a wave of sleepiness washed over and my breathing slowed, until I finally dozed off.

    A few hours later, I was awakened by a loud crashing sound. I sat upright. My heart was pounding out of my chest. My thighs were stuck together from sweating during my sleep and a drizzle of water ran down my back. I tried to listen past my thumping heart and closed bedroom door, but I couldnt hear anything. Silence! The rain had stopped and the TV had turned itself off. “Maybe it was just a dream,” I mumbled. Then I heard muffled noises. Oh my God, somebody is in the house! What do I do? What do I do? Slowly I moved my legs over from the bed onto the floor and got to my feet, wearing an oversized t-shirt and panties. My damp t-shirt clung to the rolls on my waist and stomach. Ok, think! Think! My cell phone was charging downstairs and there wasn’t a house phone. At this point I was kicking myself for not having a home security system.

    I tiptoed over to my bathroom, put my robe on and began walking over to my bedroom door. If it was an intruder I needed something to defend myself. I thought for a second, then went back to the bathroom and grabbed a bottle of Clorox Cleaner from under the sink. What was a bottle of Clorox going to do? I guess its better than nothing. Slowly I made my way back to the bedroom door and silently turned the doorknob and opened it. I froze and tried to listen for any noise. Nothing. I stepped out into the darkness of the hallway and tried to walk as quietly as possible to the staircase. I crept down each stair and clung to the rail for support. The last stair erupted with a loud creak under my bare foot. My heart began to pound even louder in my chest. I listened, but still nothing. There was nobody here, I’m sure I was hearing things. In the kitchen as I looked for the light, my right foot landed on something sharp.

    “Ouch!” I bent down and picked up a tiny piece of glass. There were broken pieces from the set of blue plates scattered on the floor. “I havent broken a plate,” I mumbled. From around the corner a soft yellow light projected out of the den. I gasped and held the cleaner out in front of me like a gun. Slowly I tiptoed over to the Florida room, known as a sunroom in the rest of the country. My parents had it converted into a sort of sitting room years ago. The curtains that hung from the sliding door were partially opened. Slowly I slid the door all the way opened and was stunned at not what, but who I found. It took me a few seconds before I even recognized her. Immediately the fear in my body turned into anger. My hand with the cleaner dropped to my hip and a scowl took over my face. The burning pain in my stomach returned.

    “What-the-hell-are-you-doing-here?”

    “Wow, Hi Pammie. Thats how you greet your little sister after all these years?” Her face was scrunched up as if she were hurt. Anyone who didnt know her would probably begin to feel bad, thinking they hurt her feelings, but I knew Violet all too well. I knew she didnt have any feelings.

    “Dont call me that. And get out!” I nearly growled at her with my teeth gritted together.

    “Really, Pam? I mean I didnt think youd necessarily be jumping up and down with excitement, but I thought you might be a little glad to see me. Not even a hug?” She was standing there with both arms at her sides. Her face had softened and her eyes had grown big with a look of hopefulness. The black mascara was smudged around her eyes and it looked like shed been crying. She was wearing a short and tight pink dress. It clasped to her small frame. Her feet were bare and the pointed shimmery grey stilettos she probably wore with the outfit were kicked off to the side of the room next to an open piece of small luggage. I glanced at the coffee table where there was a half eaten sandwich sitting on a paper towel along with an opened can of Coke. I looked back up at her. Another blast of rage welled up inside me. I took a couple of steps closer to Violet and glared at her. Her eyes seemed to grow bigger with a tinge of fear and she stepped back a little fearfully.

    “I want your ass gone by the time I leave for work in the morning!” With that I whirled around and stomped out of the room.

    “But-but Pam. I just thought-,“ Violet stammered out.

    “And clean up that plate you broke in the kitchen!” I yelled back at her as I began to climb the stairway, made my way back to my room and slammed the door for effect.

    The next morning the sunlight greeted me as I opened my eyes and rolled over to check the time, 7:06 a.m. “Oh crap, Im going to be late!” I groaned and sighed, rolling over again. My mind was still cloudy from sleepiness. Suddenly I sat straight up, as the memory of discovering her last night invaded my mind. I threw the covers over, climbed out of bed and raced downstairs. There were still leftover shards from the blue plate scattered on the kitchen floor.

    “Typical,” I muttered. I walked into the Florida room to find it empty. Her stilettos were also gone, along with her bag. Not surprisingly she left behind the empty Coke bottle and paper towel with leftover crumbs from her sandwich sprinkled over it. I rolled my eyes and scooped the mess up from the coffee table and threw it in the trash on my way past the kitchen.

    What was she doing here anyway? She never called or anything just showed up after all this time. This was so typical of her, irresponsible, never thought of anyone but herself. Then she left her crap all over the place and expected me to clean up after her. She hasn’t changed since we were kids. I jerked open my bottom dresser drawer and found my work uniform and threw it on.

    “No time for a shower today,” I muttered to myself as I scurried into the bathroom to finish getting ready. As I stood in front of the mirror, my reflection caught my eye. My face and arms were pecan brown and my dark eyes glared back at me. There were a couple of blemishes on my face, but for the most part my skin was shiny and clear. The largest part of my face was definitely my nose. As I wrinkled my nose, it sort of reminded me of a rhinocerossnout. I looked up at my eyes again and couldnt help thinking of Violets large, doe like eyes looking back at me last night. For a second I thought I caught something behind her eyes. They looked fearful, perhaps pained. I shook my head as if to shake off that thought, the shock from even seeing her after all this time had engulfed me. I had begun to think she was dead. Even so, it was obvious she hadn’t changed, that girl was always crying for help. Help to get what she wanted from everybody and anybody around her. I sighed, pulled myself away from the mirror and glanced at the clock. Damn it, I was seriously late and I was definitely going to hear my supervisor, Tammies mouth today. In about two minutes I was out of the door and made sure to lock it behind me. I gave a wave to Ms. Henderson across the street. She was already out on the porch, enjoying her morning coffee.

    Mornin’ Pammie!” I sort of winced as I remembered Violet calling me that last night. Ms. Henderson had always been there for me so she had earned the right to call me that. Just like Violet who always used something she had no rights to. Ms. Hendersons grin was wide and bright even from across the street. My hand raised again to wave at her one more time before disappearing into my car. Some of my best memories as a child came from inside her home. Her house was always so cozy and filled with aromas from her sumptuous baked sweets, cookies and yummy elaborate southern meals that filled my senses and tummy. I never wanted to go back home when mom came to pick us up. Sometimes Violet and I were able to convince mom to let us spend the night. I grinned to myself. Those memories seemed so real, I wish I could close my eyes and be transported back there.

    But there was no time for reminiscing. Soon I was clocking in at Martha’s Diner and racing down the short hall that led to the dining area. I poked my head out of the door, looking for Tammie. She wasnt bad for a manager, but this was my third time being late this week, so I knew she wasnt going to let this one go. I made my way over to the entrance where Keisha was standing, behind the booth waiting to greet customers.

    “Hey girl,” she said, giving me her famous half smile, in between small pops of her chewing gum. Keisha looked at me and her eyes slowly moved up to my hair and they stayed there.

    “What are you looking at?” I questioned.

    “Girl, that hair of yours is definitely doing something.” She continued to stare at the top of my head, cracking her bubblegum.

    “Oh-uh-yeah,” On instinct my hand raised to touch my hair, which felt dry and wild to the touch. The last time I did anything to it was a few days ago. I put a black cotton headband on it and ran some moisturizer through it. The last time I attempted an actual style was a few weeks ago. I washed it and twisted it, then took it out the next morning. At the time it was fresh and crinkly. The waves covered up my new growth that was inching up from my scalp. My hair was a bit unsightly at this point; honestly it was a hot mess.

    “I kind of forgot about it this morning.”

    “Just this morning?” Keisha wondered still staring at my hair.

    “Keisha!” I quietly exclaimed.

    “Im just saying. Girl, why dont you just let me do your hair?”

    “Maybe,” Keisha was one of my good friends, really my only friend. She could be blunt, but not to the point where she hurt my feelings. At least that’s what I told myself. I trusted her, but Im not sure how I felt about her doing my hair. Sometimes the hairstyles she turned up with could be a little too creative, a tad on the ghetto side and not just her hair either. “Have you seen Tammie?” I asked trying to change the subject. Her eyes moved from my hair to connect again with my eyes.

    “Mmhmm, I see you changing the subject. She went into the kitchen though. But lover boy has been waiting for you the past 30 minutes,” she said this last part with a grin.

    “Oh no. Are you serious?”

    “Girl why you playing? This man has been coming to see you for the past month. Hes cute and he has a good job as a guard at the prison. Why dont you just go out with him?”

    “He does not come to see me, he comes to eat like everybody else.”

    “He comes because he likes you, the fact that this is a restaurant is just an excuse.” A family of four walked in the door and interrupted Keishas rant. I took that as my cue, grabbed my pad from behind the podium and walked around to my section and began serving my customers. I spotted “lover boy” almost immediately, sitting alone, with his prison guard uniform on. Avoiding him, I went about taking orders from the other tables, though I stole a couple of glances as I zipped around his table. Keisha was right, he was cute, with a smooth bald head and pretty dark skin. A big guy with just a little gut! Even if I wanted to go out with him, and I didn’t, hed never asked me out anyway. He just figured out where my section was in the restaurant and made sure he hung out there. With all my other tables served, I had no choice but to finally approach him.

    “Hey Shaun. You having the usual this morning?” He looked up from his phone that hed been focused on and flashed me a huge smile. I had to admit, that smile of his did kind of draw you in. Nervously, I tapped my pen against my thigh. 

    “Hi Pam. How are you?”

    “Im fine.

    “Good, good. Yea you know me, I just need my coffee.”

    “Ok.” I started to turn around.

    “Hey Pam.”

    “Yes.”

    “How do you feel about comedy?”

    “Well, uh, I guess everybody likes to laugh.”

    “True. Well, I have these tickets to an improv group thats coming to Jacksonville in a couple of weeks. I was wondering if you would be interested in checking it out with me? Have you been to an improv before?”

    “No, but-“

    “Itll be fun, I think youll enjoy it. Dont feel like you have to decide now, you can definitely think about it. Why dont you give me your number?” I guess he noticed my frown at that suggestion as he stopped, kind of laughed and started again. “Ok, if you dont like that idea, how about I give you mine instead and you can call me if you decide to go.”

    “Uhh- Ok, Ill take your number.” After letting Shaun borrow my pen and pad he wrote down his number for me. He flashed me a small, yet very cute grin before I walked away to pour his coffee. The familiar nervous sensation rose against the walls of my stomach like hot coals, as I let out the air, which had been trapped in my lungs.

    The rest of the workday was a bit of a fog, though I tried to push through it. I never thought I would react this way if Shaun asked me out. Honestly, I’d always tried my best to ignore him. It was so surprising that he hadn’t given up on me after at least a couple months of consistently coming in and speaking to me. Maybe he liked a challenge.

    I didnt have much time to think much about it, since it was a busy day. Tammie finally caught up with me halfway through the morning. She told me she would have to write me up the next time I was more than 15 minutes late. I promised to watch my time.

    After a long day on my feet I dealt with more than my fair share of picky, discourteous, and even a couple of disgruntled customers. At the end of my shift I was more than happy to get into my car and make the short drive home. There was a little more traffic this afternoon as there were more people on the road than normal. One of the perks of living in a small, quiet town, was there typically wasn’t much traffic. Although, over the years it seemed the population had grown. People who lived in the nearby major city, Jacksonville, and by nearby, I mean about an hour and half to two hours drive, seemed to want to capitalize on our small town life. They had begun fleeing the city for some solitude in our small, quaint town of Quinn. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what was so quaint about it, seeing our biggest attraction was the Quinn Correctional Facility and who could forget the various long stretches of fields overflowing with corn and grain. The influx of people didn’t really bother me, although some residents were really irritated. Mostly the old timers or the lifers, as the locals called them, were the ones who got bent out of shape about it. The lifers had been here 60 years plus, at least, had never been anywhere and weren’t planning on it anytime soon. Sometimes I felt like I was well on my way to joining that club. I had never really traveled, in my early forties and was waitressing, with no long term goals or prospects. I sighed heavily. You would think these types of thoughts would motivate me to make some type of a move or plans to loosen the shackles this small town seemed to have on me. But most days the fear seemed to haunt me, weighed me down almost, like a block of steel hanging around my neck.

    I tried to turn those thoughts off as I drove up to my driveway and walked up the steps of the front porch. I opened the screen door and stuck my key in the lock of the blonde oak front door and turned it, but didn’t hear a clicking noise. I frowned as I realized the door wasn’t locked.

    “I know I locked this door this morning,” I muttered to myself, as I pushed the door open a whiff of food cooking hit my nostrils. From the direction of the kitchen there was music playing and a sizzling noise, like something was frying on the stove. “Oh, I know she is not,” I dropped my purse on the couch and slowly walked around the corner to the kitchen. The smell of the food and the music both became more prominent as I got closer. As I entered the kitchen, I saw her standing there. Her back was to me as she was tending to the stove, singing along and dancing to the music, as if she didn’t have a care in the world. I stood there staring at her back for a few seconds, with my mouth slightly opened, I tried to get my bearings.

    “What are you doing back here Violet?” My voice didn’t seem to break through the thick barrier of Gwen Stefani coming from the radios speakers.

    “Violet!” I screamed. She whirled around.

    “Oh my goodness Pam, I didnt hear you come in, you scared me.” She stood there poised in skin-tight jeans, a striped skimpy tank top, with stripy pale tan wedges. Violet was always the stylish one. She was also wearing one of moms yellow aprons, which was huge on her and hung off her shoulder.

    “Turn it down!”

    Ok. Ok. Geez!” She turned down the dial and Gwen Stefani became a background noise along with the sizzling stove.

    I-I don’t even know what to say to you, Violet. I clearly told you to leave last night.” I stammered out angrily and confused.

    “I know Pammie-“ My eyes exploded with anger at her use of my nickname again. “I mean Pam. Sorry. Well, you know I figured that was last night and well you didnt say I couldnt come back. I thought maybe Id make it up to you, me breaking in last night, I mean, by cooking for you.”

    Look Violet,” I interrupted her babbling. I don’t know what you want-“

    “Who says I want something?”

    “Shut up and let me talk,” The anger in my voice seemed to force Violet to shrink backwards and cling to the kitchen cabinets. “You just pop up here after all these years, I dont even know how you keep getting in the house. I have no idea where youve been or what youve been doing. You didnt even come to mom and dads funerals or call or write. Im the one that looked after them all those years and dealt with all their bitching and complaining. When you left all I heard was Violet this and Violet that and how much they missed you. I had to leave college and come back home just to take care of mom because she was so depressed. You walk back in here after over twenty years like nothing happened! As far as Im concerned Violet, I dont have a sister anymore and I dont want nothing to do with you. I want you out for good and dont ever come back! Because if you do, I swear to God Ill call the cops on you! And how do you keep getting in anyway??”

    “Uh- the extra key mom and dad used to keep for us under the outside patio chair on the front porch.”

    “Give it.” I said as I held out one hand with the other perched on my hip. She reluctantly reached in her pocket, pulled the key out, and slowly walked it over to me like a child who had just been chastised. I immediately turned and walked away.

    “Where are you going?”

    “To take a shower and I want you gone when I come back! And turn the stove off and clean up the kitchen!” I yelled back at her without turning around as I began to climb the stairs.

    “Pam. Wait! Please!!” The desperation in her voice seemed to escalate with each stair that I climbed.

    “Im serious Violet, dont make me call the police!”

    “Pam! I-Im pregnant!” I paused for a second, but continued up the last few steps. “Pam, please! I dont know what else to do or where to go! I mean I dont have anywhere else to go- I dont have anyone.” Her voice had turned from desperation, to fear and now I could hear her crying. I stopped walking and looked longingly at my bedroom door. Only a few more feet until I reached freedom. The door handle was so close, yet something held me back from reaching out to turn it. I clutched my stomach as I felt a tingling feeling creep up my mid-section. I dropped my head and reluctantly turned around to walk back downstairs.

    As I faced Violet her head was down and she was wiping her face. I stood posed with my hand on my hip. There was an awkward silence, as I wasn’t moved enough to comfort her, yet felt just enough guilt to where I didn’t want to attack her verbally. Whoever said time healed all wounds clearly didn’t have any family. I looked away and shifted my weight onto my other leg. Why should I even care, I hadn’t seen Violet in years, I still couldn’t believe she was alive and standing in front of me. Now she’s telling me she’s pregnant, probably has no money and wants me to take care of her. She was barking up the wrong tree because I was not going to be the pushover big sister I was when we were kids. My mind was working on overdrive, but I managed to keep all my thoughts contained as we stood silently. It was Violet who eventually broke through the barrier of silence.

    “So you hungry?” I glanced up at her. She attempted a smile and pulled back her hair into a ponytail. She tucked her side bang behind an ear. She looked a lot like mom actually. The last time I saw her we were both teenagers and she had sort of an awkward prettiness then. Even then all the guys were drawn to her. Mom wasn’t exceptionally pretty, but there was a quiet attractiveness about her that made you wonder how she ended up with dad. Honestly he wasn’t the most attractive man, inside or out. Violet was thin, but with enough curves to catch a man’s attention. She definitely didn’t take after mom in that area, genetics left that for me. There were the fat rolls, which had settled on my tummy and the cellulite, which had invaded my thighs over the years. My body hadn’t always been like that. I once had a waistline before I guess I began to eat my way through it. Maybe the issue was less about genetics and more of too much fried chicken. I shifted my weight again and folded my hands over my chest, insecure now with my silent comparisons. As I somehow tried to hide my hulking figure, Violet seemed oblivious as always. She turned back around to tend to the hissing sounds on the stove. She began to move pots and pans and turned off the red eyes.

    “Food is pretty much ready, I know it’s a little early for dinner. Now I admit it’s been a while since I cooked, but I think it turned out ok. You want me to fix your plate?” She was chatting incessantly now as if this was going to be a normal meal and she had just shared the details of a mundane workday or something. She chatted around the twenty-year gap, which seemed to hold me hostage. It gripped me with anger and resentment towards her and this attempt at small talk.

    “Violet.”

    “Yes?” She said with her back still facing me, heaping what looked like mixed vegetables on my plate.

    “We have to talk, you can’t just act like nothing happened. Like we see each other everyday or something.” She turned around and placed my plate on the table, which she had apparently set before I got there. There was even a small bouquet of flowers in a vase, perched in the middle of the table.

    “I know. Look what’s to tell. Girl meets boy, girl doesn’t like boy at first. Boy grows on girl. Eventually boy and girl move into together. Girl falls in love with boy. Girl catches boy with some skeezer. Girl storms out and eventually finds out she’s pregnant.” As Violet was talking she’d made her plate and sat down opposite the table from where she had placed mine. I was still standing there, with my arms folded, reluctant to move.

    “Thats not exactly what I meant Violet.”

    “Come on Pam, sit down, eat.”  She gave me a warm, inviting smile. I refrained from rolling my eyes at her, but slowly moved from my stance and took a seat.

    “I don’t just mean that Violet, I mean we haven’t seen each other for 20 years, there’s a lot to talk about. You can’t just act like everything- Violet what is this?” I’d looked down at my plate mid-sentence to discover a white, brownish piece of chicken with no skin on it and a lot of vegetables.

    “What? It’s healthy. I got the recipe from a cooking show. It’s my first time making it, but you’ll like it.” I glanced up at her plate, which only had vegetables on it.

    “Where’s your chicken?”

    “I’m a vegetarian,” As if to prove it she stuck a forkful of broccoli in her mouth. “It’s good. Try it.” She flashed me that smile again and again I stopped myself from rolling my eyes.

    “You weren’t no vegetarian when we were kids. I remember you used to love burgers. How long have you been one?”

    “A few months, but I’m very committed. It cleans out your whole system.” On that comment I let my eyes loose, but picked up my fork.

    “Look Violet I don’t know what to make of this. It’s overwhelming. I mean do you know how long mom and dad looked for you? We would hear stories about you in different places, but we could never find you. I thought we were close and for you to cut off contact like that- I mean what happened, why did you leave? I know mom and dad weren’t the easiest to get along with, which I guess is putting it lightly. Dad was down right mean, but I feel like he was actually nicer to you. Then you just stuck me with them for all those years. You were sixteen; you only had two more years left to be free. Violet, do you know that we reported you missing to the police? We put up posters and traveled to various states to look for you. Where have you been?” The rage crept into my voice with each syllable. Too much time had passed and the resentment was deep and settled now. I don’t know how she could expect anything less. She turned her attention to her plate and pushed the food around with her fork. I stared at her and waited for her to offer something significant that could heal our relationship, something that would make everything okay. Anything that could bridge this chasm, which she created, that had formed a lifetime between us. Though I wanted answers, and especially an apology, deep down I knew there wasn’t anything that would make it like before; that could make us sisters again.

    “I- um- I don’t really know what to say, it was hard for me, I hated it here Pam. I just wanted out. I actually would call from time to time, to hear your voice, but I would hang up. I just needed more. I felt like they tolerated us and that’s it and I just wanted something real, something more than that. I never meant to hurt you.”

    “But you did,” I said with a fierceness. “Did you know when they died?” She nodded her head, still focused on moving the vegetables around her plate.

    “I was at mom’s funeral.” I frowned at this revelation. “Where? I didn’t see you in the church.”

    “No, at the burial sight. I just stayed at a distance.”

    “How did you even know?” I asked as confusion etched into my face.

    “I still had connections in town.”

    “Really? So you know how they died?” She shook her head.

    “Mom died in a car accident and dad a few years later from kidney failure. Basically, he drank himself to death.”

    “Yea and it got worse after you left.” She focused on the vegetables again. Another awkward silence… I waited.

    “Pam I’ve missed you. I just hope we can start over again. Didn’t you miss me?” She looked up at me with a half smile that reminded me of Keisha. I looked down and examined my chicken. Avoiding her question, I cut off a piece of meat. Before I could taste it, I looked closer and noticed a tinge of pink inside.

    “Uh, Violet. This chicken is not done. Girl, it’s pink!”

    “Really? Let me see! She reached across the table and pulled the plate to her side.” As she examined my chicken, she grimaced as she discovered the pink. “Oh Pam, I am so sorry! I was trying to help.”

    “You know there are easier ways to kill someone.” Another blank look at my attempt at a joke.

    “Look, I’m ordering a pizza. You want some?”

    “Thanks, but no, I’ll stick with the vegetables.”

    When the pizza arrived we moved to the couch and after a while Violet began to talk more. She told me more about her ex-boyfriend, now father of her unborn child. Apparently, it wasn’t the first time that she’d caught him with some skeezer. He sounded like a real catch. As I asked about how they met and what he did for a living, she was pretty evasive, but I could read between the lines. She mentioned his job was a salesman and he made his own hours. I knew what that meant.

    “So Violet how have you made money all these years? I mean did you ever graduate from high school?”

    “Well no, but I model, which has been fun. Had a couple of mall jobs.”

    “So does he know about the baby?”

    “No.”

    “You gonna tell him?”

    “Maybe,” she said with a shrug. Another silence. Not so awkward this time. I glanced at her face and was amazed at how much her features resembled mom. Her eyes were wide and a dark brown, almost black. Our noses were similar, though hers was more of a medium size. My nose was an exact replica of dad’s. Both of our skin tones were a pecan tan.

    We ended up talking a lot that evening. I mostly peppered her with questions and she responded. I tried to relax and enjoy our time, but for me there was such a huge cement wall up that was blocking us from connecting, physically, mentally and emotionally. I kept ramming up against it anytime I tried to relate to her or let my guard down. Honestly, I was still shocked that this moment was real. For years I use to dream about her coming back home, but now I just wanted to punish her, the way she had punished me with her absence and our parents had punished me all those years for not being Violet. I felt like I wanted to explode and was no longer willing to be the good daughter and sister while suffering in silence.

    I glanced up at her. Her face looked unusually hardened. As I looked into her eyes, for a second I saw that trace of pain again, but then her eyes lightened as she grinned at me. I could tell she was hiding something behind those eyes and that constant smile of hers. I could always tell when Violet wasn’t being honest with me. Although I wasnt too sure I wanted to know or even cared enough. Id killed every part of myself that felt connected to her as my sister. At least I thought I had.

    The next few weeks were like a haze. I kept waiting for Violet to disappear, but she didn’t. After work each day, she would have dinner waiting. Most nights I ended up ordering pizza. I guess this was her way of trying to make up for everything. It was a poor way, but I bore through it, since I could tell she was trying.

    Eventually, I noticed that cooking and hanging around the house was all that Violet was doing. My challenge to her was that if she wanted to stay here she’d have to help out with the bills and get a job.     

    One day I walked in from work and found Violet balancing upside down on her head, on a mat, with some very mellow music playing.

    “What are you doing?” I asked quizzically.

    “Yoga. You should try it. Its very therapeutic, come down and I’ll show you.”

    “Ah no. Who are you? Yoga, vegetarian and modeling. Youre so “bougie” and high class, now. I guess you always kinda were. I remember in middle school youd cry if your hair or clothes werent perfect for school.” Violet rolled over and sat up, huffing a little from being out of breath. Her workout outfit was well put together and as perfect as any of her other outfits. She sat and stared at me as she wiped a couple of beads of sweat from her face with her shirt.

    “You know Pam, it was more dancing than modeling. And when I say dancing-“

    “Yea, I know what you mean.” I cut her off before she could go into detail. As much as I resented her, I didnt want to stoop so low as to rub that in her face.

    “So-uh- come on and try.”

    “No thanks, Im going to my room.”

    “Youre always in your room.”

    “Well, you havent even been up to your old room since youve been back. Youre always sleeping in the Florida room.”

    “You aren’t sleeping in your old room either. You’re in one of the guest rooms. Anyway, I don’t like walking up the stairs.

    “Whatever.”

    “Well, at least Im not hiding out all the time. Are you hiding a man up there or something?”

    “Seriously? Ok Violet, fine. Ill stay and do yoga for a few minutes. Anything to shut you up.” She was looking up at me with a small grin. She always did know how to twist me around until she got what she wanted.

    “Alright girl, lets do this!” Ten minutes later I was sprawled out on the floor heaving and holding my right side, trying to ease the throbbing.

    “That looks a lot easier then it feels.”

    “Girl, you suck, you didnt even last that long! We didnt even finish.”

    Well, Im finished.” I managed to say in between sucking in air. I sat like that for a while watching Violet as she finished her routine. Eventually she popped up out of her last position to down a bottle of water.

    “You know Pam, you don’t laugh like you used to when we were kids.” Violet observed as she looked up from me with more of a serious face that I’d not seen since she’d been back.

    “Well, youre always smiling like you dont have a trouble in the world or something. And youve definitely got a lot going on. You look for a job today?”

    “Yes, I went to the library and found a couple of things. I will have a job by the end of the week.”

    “Dont get ahead of yourself,” I said with a snort. “And when are you going to the doctor?”

    “Soon.”

    “Youre going to be showing soon. Have you been throwing up and everything?”

    “What do you care, anyway, mom!”

    “Im nothing like her and as long as you start kicking in some money around here, I dont care.”

    “Mmm-hmm. What do you want for dinner?”

    “Ill call Papa Johns.” She squinted her eyes at me and made her way to the shower.

    By the end of the week Violet actually did have a job as a secretary, which was mind boggling to me since she didn’t even have a high school diploma. Once she told me her boss was some old rich married lawyer, who took her out for a long lunch alone on her first day and paid, it made perfect sense. When I tried to explain that her boss was more likely interested in getting in her panties than in her performance at work, hence the fact she didn’t have any secretarial skills, Violet balked at the idea. So, I decided to leave it alone. What did I care anyway, as long as she started contributing.

    ​As the weeks passed by Violets schedule became work and home, but she slowly started to stay out later and later. One night she came home and I thought I caught a whiff of alcohol on her, but I didnt want to say anything. It was as if she was slowly pulling me into caring about her again and worrying about her. Just like it was when we were kids. I was in the role of the older, responsible sister and she was reclaiming the irresponsible little sister role.

    Lately, I’d been filling Keisha in on Violet at work and she had come to the conclusion that my sister was the Black Cameron Diaz. “The what?” I asked with a chuckle.

    “She’s like the Black Cameron Diaz. Yea those stilettos and the little dresses you say she always wears, the weaves and ponytails. The loser guys that she messes with and uses for money. You said she’s perky and happy all the time like she’s in another world or something. She’s the Black Cameron Diaz. All she needs is the blonde hair and she’s good to go.”

    “Well, she wasn’t always like that, not really,” I said nostalgically as my voice drifted off. “You’ve never even met her. Anyway, you wear weaves.”

    “I’m not hating on the girl’s hair, her hair looks good. My weave is a normal length though, at least people think it’s my hair.” I looked at her curiously as she popped her gum, twirled around and walked back to the front of the restaurant.

                We were working the late shift that night and time seemed to crawl by before the clock finally freed me from another long day. I was halfway home when I heard my cell ringing. Who in the world is this calling so late? It was a number I didn’t recognize and almost didn’t pick it up, but I wondered if it could be an emergency.

    “You have a collect call from an inmate at Cook County Jail,” An automated voice greeted me. “If you would like to accept charges from- it’s me Violet- please, press 1.” The burst of Violet’s voice sounded small and like she was crying.

    “I do not believe this.” I said out loud to the empty car. Against my better judgment, I pressed one.

    “Pam, Pam. Ok don’t freak out, I- well as you can tell from the phone call, I’m in jail. But they say I can’t get bailed out until 9 a.m. and this place is dirty and gross and Pam, please help me!” She was yelling all this out in between sobs. Most of what she said was incoherent.

                “Violet, what did you do?”

    “I-I don’t know, nothing. I mean we were at this Waffle House and we were just having fun and maybe we got a little loud. Pam can you please help me. I- I can’t stay here, it’s dirty! I’ll pay you back.”

    “Ok, ok Violet, I’ll be there. Just hold on.” While talking I had pulled over to the side of the road. I sat there for a minute, frozen, not knowing what to do. Bubbles began popping up in the pit of my stomach. Suddenly, I remembered someone, found the wrinkled piece of paper with his number on it, buried in my purse and dialed.

    “Shaun, uh, hi it’s Pam.”

    “Pam? Uh, hi. Why are you calling me at 2am? I mean I’m glad you called, but it’s late, girl. Is everything ok?” His voice sounded groggy and heavy from sleep.

    “Yea, I’m sorry for waking you up. I know, I don’t know you well enough to be calling you in the middle of the night. I- uh, am having a problem with my sister, she just got arrested and I was just wondering if you know someone maybe that could help. They are saying she can’t be bailed out until the morning.”

    “She’s at the county jail?”

    “Yea.”

    “Ok what’s her name?”

    “Violet Simmons.”

    “Ok-uh, Let me call and see who`s there. I do know someone. I’ll call you back.”

    “Ok. Thank you.” I sat there in the car for twenty minutes waiting for Shaun to call back. It was the longest twenty minutes of my life. Despite all of my inward and outward protesting and putting up walls with Violet, she had gotten to me or maybe she had never left. I couldn’t help it; I guess I cared for her wellbeing. No matter how much I fought it, she was my sister and I couldn’t cut off this pesky allegiance.

    After Shaun called back, he explained to me a friend of his who worked in the jail fixed it so that I could bail Pam out immediately. She was charged with public intoxication and disorderly conduct and bail was set at $500.  

    “Thank you so much Shaun. Sorry again for waking you up.”

    “It’s ok. We can talk about it next Saturday.” His voice sounded more awake, but still a little sleepy.

    “Uh- what’s next Saturday?”                                                                                                                      

    “We’re going out on a date.”

    “We are?”

    “Yep.”

    “When did I agree to this?”

    “Just now, when I bailed your sister out.”

    “Ah-you did not bail my sister out, you just helped me out.” I was giggling at this point.

    “Girl, you better be glad I’m not making you pay for our date. Got me up in the middle of the night, I could be tryin’ to go to church in the morning.”

                “Shaun, I-“

    “What? You want me to call my friend back and tell him never mind about your sister?”

    “Is this blackmail?”

    “Yep. Whatever it takes.”

    “Fine.” I said it flatly, though my smile was wide on the other side of the phone. I was flattered.

    After I hung up, I found an ATM and then located the jail with GPS. One good thing about my reclusive lifestyle was since I never went anywhere or even shopped online, I didn’t spend that much money, so I just ended up saving it. Plus the house my parents left for me was already paid off. I’m not saying that I have much, but it’s a nice amount, by the standards of a waitress anyway.

    As I drove through the darkness of the night or early morning if you will, I could hear thunder cracking in the night air and saw a couple rods of lightning slice through the sky. It seemed the rainy season was never ending this year.

    After I filled out the paperwork to bail Violet out, I expected her to come right out. But it was still another 45 minutes before she appeared. She looked markedly different from the woman I was used to seeing. She looked disheveled to say the least. Her dress was torn and her eyes were black and streaked with mascara from crying. She was carrying her boots in her hands and had on beige footy socks that were separating her feet from the floor. Her curly ponytail had collapsed, it looked flat, tangled and distressed. The smile she usually wore was replaced with a frown and a look of confusion and sadness. She stumbled towards me and reached out her arms for me.

    “Pam. You came!” She slurred. Before I could say anything the officer behind the desk interrupted.

    “Ma’am, I need you to sign some papers before you are officially released and to receive your belongings.” Violet stumbled over to the desk, signed the papers and retrieved her purse and cell phone. Then she reached for my shoulder and leaned on me as we half walked and stumbled out of the building together.

                “Violet-“

    “I know, I know Pam, don’t even start! Do not even, mom. I know it. I know it already!” She stammered all this out in a confused tone. As we walked outside, the breeze had picked up and the smell of rain lingered in the night air. Immediately, I started in on her.

    “Violet what is wrong with you? Don’t yell at me, I just bailed your ass out of jail! You better be thankful and you’re going to pay me back. And stop calling me mom!” I felt a couple of raindrops on my face and reached up to wipe them off.

    “Geez, so touchy!” She broke down with a long giggle as if this was the funniest thing she’d ever heard.

    “Hell yea, I’m touchy, it’s two in the morning Violet!!” I broke away from her grip around my neck and turned to face her. Without me to balance against, she stumbled and almost fell.

    “You know- Pam. I, uh, not feeling- so hot.” She tried to stand still and placed her hand on her hip to steady herself.

    “Well, I guess not. Do you know you were charged with drunken disorderly conduct?? What are you doing drunk? Why are you drinking? You’re pregnant, Violet, or did you forget?” I vehemently whispered the last part. It didn’t really matter since there wasn’t anyone hanging around outside the local jail at 2 a.m., anyway. Suddenly, the skies opened up, letting out a monsoon of water and an ear-piercing thunderclap. In the same moment, Violet’s eyes grew wide and her hand clasped her mouth. She ran to a nearby tree, dropped her shoes and the disgusting noises of her regurgitating her stomach contents were overshadowed by the intensity of the storm. She balanced against the tree with one hand and with the other she held her hair. After she finished, I could hear her moaning as she leaned against the tree and tried to catch her breath.

    “Violet! Violet! Did you hear me?” You’re pregnant! You could hurt the baby!” I yelled at her above the rain and the thunder, not caring anymore who heard and not caring that she was sick and drunk. I was so angry with her and tired of her irresponsible and reckless behavior. This is why I didn’t want to pick up where we left off, because it was a place where Violet was always slacking off and I was left to pick up the pieces. The trustworthy, loyal one, always there to pick up her slack and even though she hadn’t been back that long, I was already tired of it. She continued to lean against the tree with her back towards me, ignoring my cries.

    “Violet!”

    “There is no baby!” I froze, stunned, not sure I heard what I thought I just did. I was hoping if I stood there long enough, her words would wash away with the monsoon and the winds. I pushed my hair back from my face, that was now drenched with rain.

    “What??” I screamed.

    “You heard me,” she said those words so calmly and quietly as if defeated. I could barely hear against the army of rain escaping from the skies. “I’m not pregnant- anymore.”

    “Wha- What do you mean? You lost it? Was it all the drinking??”

    “No. I mean, I was pregnant. A long- time- ago.” This last sentence escaped from her lips slowly and gurgled from the water that had found its way down her face and into her mouth. The tree she was leaning against was small and it wasn’t very helpful as a shelter. Even so, she was still leaning against it with her back towards me. My eyebrows scrunched up, marking my confusion.

    “Violet look, I don’t understand. Let’s talk about it in the car or at home. It’s pouring, we’re getting wet, and your hair is going to get messed up. You know water and the Black woman’s hair don’t mix.”

    “I don’t care, anymore! I don’t care!” She reached up to her hair, took out a few of the bobby pins and proceeded to twirl the ponytail around and throw it at me. It fell short in front of me in a puddle, now a mess of tangles and mud.

    “Uh, Violet, this is a serious situation and you are not helping the seriousness of it by throwing your hair at me,” I said, reaching down to pick up her ponytail. “You’ll want this back later. Come on Violet let’s go before they come back out and re-arrest you.”

                “I was pregnant Pam. Back then.”

    “What do you mean? Back when you left?”

    “Yea.” She slid down against the tree, sitting in what used to be grass, but was quickly turning to mud next to the spot of throw up.

    “Well- why didn’t you tell me? I could have helped. I’m sure mom and dad would’ve even helped. That’s not so terrible, that you had to leave. Who was the father?”

    “It was HIM! IT WAS HIM, PAM!” She turned over and threw up again. I stood there frozen again, disabled from the possibilities behind her words. My mind was clouded and confused. My heart was racing and it seemed as if the rain was beginning to seep into my brain.

    “Him?? Are you serious?? Do you uh- Are you-,” Each time I started a sentence it seemed as if my brain would shut down. I was too afraid to actually say it out loud. I walked over to her and stared. She was crumpled against the tree, wiping her mouth. I was unaware of the rain now and anything else in the world outside of us. I tried searching her face, looking for what, I wasn’t sure, but the storm blurred my vision. My mind and heart were whirling and everything seemed to stand still, time seemed to stop. She looked up at me. I could barely see her through the heavy gusts of rain. Suddenly a bolt of lightning lit up the sky, illuminating both of our faces. As I reached down and helped her up, she grabbed her shoes. With her ponytail in hand we hobbled over to the car and I opened the back door, where she collapsed on the seat. I slammed the door and ran around to the driver’s side, throwing the ponytail on the floor before locking us inside. From the rearview mirror I could see Violet moving around, visibly uncomfortable and moaning. I sighed and turned around to climb over the back seat. The rain was hitting the car so hard, it sounded as if we were engulfed in a torrential downpour. I sat next to Violet and pulled her head into my lap. The rain had soaked through my work uniform and her clothes as well. I could feel the water oozing into the car seats. I rubbed her drenched hair and suddenly Violet erupted in tears. The sobs came fast, hard and loud as if she had been holding them in for years. Eventually the tears slowed down and I reached over and rummaged through the armrest for a napkin.

    “He found me, you know.” Her voice still sounded so small against the rain beating down on my car. She was sniffling while wiping her face with the napkin.

    “He did?? He never told me and mom.”

    “He found me in Miami, when I first ran away, with a guy I’d met that summer. He begged me to come home at first. Then I told him I was pregnant and he just stared at me, looking confused. Then he asked, who was the father. I just laughed. He made me feel crazy for a while, a long time, like maybe I’d just imagined him coming into my room at night and-,” she stopped. She was quiet for so long I almost said something, but then the sniffles came again. I stroked her hair. After a while she picked up where she left off. Her voice was filled with bitterness that I’d never heard from her before. “I told him he knew who the father was and if I come back with him I was going to tell everyone. Everybody would know the truth, you and mom and the whole neighborhood. He just looked at me and left. I thought that was the last time I’d see him, but he came back the next day. This time he had a cashiers check. He handed it to me; it was for $3,000. I mean he barely bought us any new clothes; he was so cheap. But he said it was mine, to get rid of the baby and to start my life, somewhere else. And I-I took it Pam. I just took it. I hated him. I hated myself.” Then there was silence again, more tears and sniffling. She had definitely sobered up some. The storm continued to erupt outside. Confusion, anger, disbelief, and fear had become a whirlwind erupting in the car, inside both of us. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but then I was struck with a memory.

    “I-uh-I remember when uh, we were little and we shared a room. And-I always thought they were dreams, that I had dreamed it. But, I guess, well maybe I didn’t.”

    “What?”

    “I just seem to have dreamed, or I guess remember. I remember him- I think I saw dad in the room we shared as kids, sometimes at night?” The last part came out more like a question.

    “Yea. I always thought you were sleep.”

    “So, I wasn’t dreaming?”

    “No.”

    “So, well- Ok, don’t get mad, I mean, I’m just-ah in shock I guess. Are you sure? I mean, why you? I mean I was there too. I know that sounds weird, I’m sorry.”

    “I don’t know Pam,” her voice filled with exasperation. “I mean I know now I didn’t imagine it. I didn’t imagine being pregnant. I took a home pregnancy test and even got tested at the clinic.”

    “I’m sorry. I know. I-uh, I’m just in shock. Why didn’t you tell us? We could’ve helped you.”

    “Are you serious? I mean, I didn’t think anybody would believe me. And he would’ve just denied it anyway,” Her voice trailed off and we were left to the sounds of the storm again, which were beginning to surrender. I was surprised it lasted this long, Florida storms were typically over so quickly, unlike life, some storms seemed to never die. The silence lingered for a while.

    “Do you think mom knew?” I asked curiously.

    “I don’t know. You thought she was nicer to me, but it was like she’d do things to me when you guys weren’t paying attention or something. Like pull my hair or give me a hard spanking.”

    “Oh, wow. I don’t know, maybe I vaguely remember.” More silence. “So what’d you do after Miami?”

    “Well, I lived there a while, eventually I got tired of my boyfriend and met another guy. He introduced me to strip clubs, we went together for fun at first. Then I found out they were hiring for a hostess and the money was fading by then so I ended up working there. By the time I moved to Georgia, I had moved on to actual dancing- I mean stripping. It was good money.”

    “Violet, why didn’t you just tell me all this when you first got here?”

    “Would you have believed me?” I shrugged and silently pondered her question.

    “Pam?”

    “Yea.”

    “I’m tired. I can’t believe I haven’t passed out by now.”

                “Oh yea. Alright. Let’s go.” She moved her head so I could climb back over to the driver’s seat. I slid the key into the ignition and the engine started up. The rain had been reduced to a drizzle. I sat there for a minute and stared out into the night.

    “Violet,” I waited for her to respond, before I put the car in drive. “Violet?” I turned around to find her passed out. We drove home through fog, drizzle and rainy roads as a background to the whirlwind that continued in my head. Even though there were so many questions that swirled around in my mind, that night was the last time we really talked about it.

    The next day I woke up to find it was in fact in the afternoon. I was supposed to go to work, but called in sick. There was no way I was going to make it through a shift at work after last night. I made my way downstairs and found a fresh pot of coffee waiting for me in the kitchen. I poured a large cup as if it were 8a.m. instead of 2p.m. I peeked in the Florida room, which had become Violet’s room, but she wasn’t there. Then I checked the front porch. No Violet. As I turned around to face the glass sliding door, which led out to the lake in the back, I saw the back of her head. Sometimes I seemed to forget that lake was out there. I stared out at her. She hadn’t pinned her ponytail back in, instead she was wearing her real hair for the first time since she’d been back. It was short, combed back and pretty lifeless with no curl. It had even frizzed up from getting wet by the rain. It was unlike her to not fix herself up before leaving her room in the morning. She sat cross-legged in the patio chair, and sipped from a cup of something, probably coffee. She was wearing a loose fitted t-shirt and work out shorts that came mid-thigh. It was the most casual I’d seen her dress since her return. She must have sensed me, because she suddenly turned around. I flashed her a small smile. Even through the glass door, I could tell her eyes were sad and she wasn’t wearing any make-up. She looked tired. I slid the door open and took a seat next to her in the humid Florida sun. For a while we stared out at the lake, and sipped our coffee.

    As I looked out at the water it was a dark blue color, even a little murky. There was a small boat in the distance with a man who sat in it, holding a fishing pole that was dipped into the water. Somewhere not to far away I could hear the engine of a lawn mower chugging along. Somewhere further away I could hear a dog barking. A couple of birds in the nearby trees belted out a symphony of twerps, tweets and alluring melodies. These sounds would usually be restful, tranquil even, but today they all seemed like vibrations in my eardrums. 

    I glanced over at Violet. Her focus seemed lost inside her cup of coffee. My eyes lingered on her again and a few seconds later she glanced up at me with her sad eyes and knitted eyebrows, which was rare for her. I dropped my stare and unconsciously reached my hand out and offered it to her. She glanced up at me and then down at my hand. She stared at it for a while, before she reached out her hand to find mine. We stayed like that for a while, not speaking, just holding hands, sipping our coffee and staring out at the day, engulfed in the Florida heat. So many things that were lost, unsaid and unknown were stated in those moments. From that day forward we began calling each other the nicknames we used as kids, Vi and Pammie.

     

    About The Author

    quiana

    Quiana Katumu

    Quiana  graduated from North Carolina State University with a degree in Criminology. Afterwards, she worked with a ministry, The Impact Movement, before returning to graduate school at Reformed Theological Seminary for a Master of Arts in Counseling. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing poetry, watching movies and spending time with friends. She currently resides in Baltimore, MD with her husband, Josiah.

    Read publisher bill berry’s interview with Quiana: Conversation with Quiana