It’s a Summer sister tradition that on the first Saturday of each month, the six of us get together. We take turns picking the location or activity, anything from margaritas and a movie to wine and painting classes at the small gallery uptown. One thing, though, is as certain as the sun rising over the Chesapeake Bay every morning: there will be alcohol involved.
Well, except tonight.
See? I’m already a liar and I’ve only barely begun my story.
Tonight, we’re doing string art in the back room of Lucky’s Bar, and even though we’re spending a sisters’ night at a bar, no one is partaking in alcoholic beverages. Not because we don’t want to, but because one-third of our group is very pregnant, and while both Lexi and Jaime have continuously proclaimed to be fine with watching everyone else drink, we’ve decided to stand united and go alcohol-free.
It’s actually not the first time. In fact, a few months ago, when we were making chocolates for Valentine’s Day, we didn’t drink. It just depends on who’s organizing our group activity and where it’s located.
This month was my turn. It’s hard to find activities that aren’t repeated too often, but also find something that we can all agree on. Me? I prefer the crafty, creative nights, which is why we’re tapping tiny nails into a piece of treated wood so we can run string from nail to nail, displaying the design of a colorful flower.
And that’s why Lexi is grumbling on the opposite side of the table. She doesn’t have the patience for crafts. Actually, she doesn’t have much patience for anything.
“I’ve hit my fingers at least four times already. My fingers were already fat and swollen,” our youngest sister complains as she gently taps the nail with her small hammer.
“We need to get that baby out of you. You’re so moody,” AJ says as she gingerly taps her final tiny nail into her board.
“I know,” Lexi agrees. “I still have just over two months to go. I’m just so exhausted all the time.”
“It’s probably because you’re chasing twins around the house,” Abby adds, referring to Lexi’s seven-month-old twin sons.
“Well, only one is actually mobile. Hudson army crawls all over the house like no one’s business, and little Hemi is content just sitting and watching him go. He doesn’t actually have to do much of anything because Hudson gets everything for him.”
“Sounds like you and Abby,” Payton, our oldest sister, chimes in.
“Truth. Lexi didn’t walk until she was well over a year old because Abby ran around and did everything for her,” Jaime adds.
“Didn’t Lexi not walk until closer to a year and a half?” I ask, knowing that it’s a sore spot with our youngest sister. She hates to be reminded that she was lacking in something, even if that something took place while she was still pooping her diaper and drooling down her chin.
“Zip it! Why do we always bring this up? It’s not like I could change it. I was a late bloomer!” Lexi proclaims, her pregnant belly bouncing as she tries not to laugh.
“Almost as late as Abby. When did you finally get boobs?” AJ asks Lexi’s twin without looking up from her art.
“Shut up!” Abby screeches, drawing the attention of the table beside us. “It’s not my fault my boobs didn’t come until I was twenty!”
We all laugh at her exasperation, while she grumbles under her breath about mean and disrespectful sisters.
We should probably go over my family tree, right? Hang on tight. It’s a doozy.
First, there’s Payton. She’s the oldest Summer sister and proud owner of Blossoms and Blooms, the local floral and gift shop in downtown Jupiter Bay. Payton is married to Dean McIntire, an accountant–her accountant, actually. Long, dirty story there. Dean has a daughter, Brielle, from a previous relationship and was a single dad and sole provider until his relationship with my sister. Payton was diagnosed with PCOS years ago and has been struggling with infertility issues. She completed her sixth and final month of Clomid, and has yet to announce what steps they’ll take next, if any, to conceive.
Jaime is next in line as second oldest. She works at Addie’s Place, a local not-for-profit that helps provide afterschool care and assistance for those families who may not be able to afford it. She helps with homework, organizes movies and playtime, and just hangs out with young kids in a mentor kinda way. It’s a wonderful program, one she’s helping grow to include more services. She’s married to Ryan Elson, a local contractor, and together, they’re expecting their first baby mid-June.
AJ, or Alison Jane, is third, and is getting married at the end of July. She’s a math teacher at the grade school and met her fiancé when they almost slept together one night before realizing they were actually coworkers. Funny story; I’ll tell you about it sometime. Sawyer Randall is a former Major League Baseball third baseman, who played ten years for the Rangers, which only elevates his hotness factor with the locals.
I’m next in the order of Summer girls, but we’ll skip me for now.
Finally, rounding out our group at number five and six are the twins, Abigail and Alexis.
Abby is our closet sex-fanatic, working as an editor for a large publisher from New York. She reads smutty, dirty books all day before welcoming home her firefighter and EMT boyfriend, Levi Morgan. They live together (with their supposed “unused” sex swing) and have been hinting about buying a house. I foresee a ring on her finger and another wedding on the horizon very soon.
Finishing off the six Summer sisters is Lexi. By day, she’s a beautician in one of the most popular hair salons in town, with a clientele list longer than my arm. By night, she’s chasing babies around her cute little house with her eight-pack of abs husband, Linkin. He’s a mechanic at a restoration shop and dotes on her so much that it’s almost sickening. They welcomed their twin sons, Hudson and Hemi last September, and quickly learned how fertile a woman can be after being deprived of sex post-delivery. Their third child is due mid-July. Yep, three babies ten-months apart.
Should be fun.
The six of us live in Jupiter Bay, Virginia, a small coastal town along the Chesapeake Bay that fills with tourists during the summer months. Our father, Brian, still lives in the home we all grew up in, but one person has been noticeably absent since I was eleven years old. Our mom, Trisha, passed away from ovarian cancer, leaving behind her husband and six young daughters. It was a difficult time, but not the most heartbreaking I’ve endured, unfortunately.
As horrific as it was to have a parent die at such a young age, we were never alone. Our mom’s parents, Emma and Orval, moved in to help. Dad is a pilot and would often work long hours, which left six girls in need of care. That’s why our grandparents stepped up and played a pivotal role in our lives. They were there when we all needed them most, which was a huge relief to our dad. Of course, what he couldn’t have been prepared for was the inappropriate amount of groping and PDA that was to follow their arrival in our home.
And age hasn’t slowed them down one bit.
Well into their eighties, and they’re still as frisky and ornery as ever.
We’re a close family who has shared our fair share of heartache; something I know all too well, but also something I’m not going to dwell on tonight. I’m actually having a good night, laughing and joking with my sisters. The last thing I need is to feel the return of the heavy weight settling into my chest.
“I don’t understand this,” Payton whispers as she tries to wind her turquoise string around her nails in the pattern displayed on the paper in front of her.
“Your string is knotting,” I instruct, reaching across the table and taking her balled-up mess. “You need to keep it wound around the cardboard so it doesn’t tangle,” I add, rewrapping it around the small piece of cardboard.
“Any name ideas, Jaime?” Abby asks as she continues to wrap her string, a bright pink flower taking shape.
“We can’t agree on anything for a girl. I really like Faith,” she says with a wide smile as she rubs her belly.
“That’s adorable,” I reply, handing back the straightened out string to my oldest sister.
“I love it. He doesn’t like the name?” Payton asks, jumping right back in to stringing her flower.
“He likes Jasmine. Jasmine! She’ll either be a Disney Princess or a stripper!” Jaime proclaims loudly, making us all giggle. “I can’t name my daughter Jasmine, guys. Everywhere she goes I’ll hear the Aladdin soundtrack.”
“Well, that’s better than the soundtrack to Independence Day,” AJ offers with a laugh, referring to Will Smith’s girlfriend in the movie, who was a stripper named Jasmine.
“Seriously. Who names their daughter Jasmine?” Jaime huffs.
“It’s not a bad name,” I insist, finishing up my flower in record time.
Jaime exhales and winces. “This baby uses my kidneys as punching bags. And no, it’s not a bad name. I suppose it could even be a perfectly acceptable name, you know, if you were a burlesque dancer.”
“What about boy names?” Abby asks, completing her flower as well.
“Actually, that’s the one name we’ve settled on.”
“Oh? Spill!” AJ insists.
“What? No! You can’t name your baby Henry. We’re using Henry!” Lexi declares, her string art all but forgotten.
“You know you’re having a boy?” I ask, quickly loving the idea of having another nephew.
Lexi stumbles. “Well, no, actually, we don’t know, but we decided on Henry. We have H names.”
“You’re calling dibs on the name because it begins with an H?” Jaime asks, exasperated.
“Yes. Pick a new name,” Lexi insists.
“No. You pick a new name,” Jaime argues.
“Why are you being so difficult?” Lexi inquires, glaring at our sister.
“I’m being difficult? Why don’t you just pick a new name? There are dozens of other H names to choose from. Why not Herbert or…Harry?”
“We like Henry,” Lexi growls.
“Well, so do we.” Jaime sits back and crosses her arms over her chest. “I guess whoever has their baby first will get the name.” To settle her point, she arches her eyebrows and gives Lexi a victorious smirk.
Lexi gasps. “You wouldn’t!”
“Not my fault I’m due before you.”
“Ladies, ladies, ladies, do we have to argue over a name? I mean, what if you both have girls? Then this dispute is a moot point,” Payton reasons.
“This is just like when we were little,” AJ whispers to me. “Only this time, I hope someone’s underwear doesn’t end up on the front lawn.” We both giggle as memories flood my mind. Back when we were in junior high, Jaime and Lexi got into a fight over God knows what, which resulted in Lexi throwing all of Jaime’s underwear on the front lawn moments before a bunch of her classmates were due to come over. Little did they know they were going to see a fireworks show (which may have involved Jaime’s panties hanging from the tree like party lights).
“Or hanging from the chandelier?” I tease AJ, referring to the time her thong ended up hanging from the light fixture at Sawyer’s house. It was there for weeks.
“Bitch,” she teases, feigns indignity, which makes me laugh because I know she really doesn’t mean to call me the name.
It feels damn good to laugh and carry on with my sisters. Like the days, some nights are better than others, and I’m thankful that tonight is a good one.
It’s been more than two years since my life changed forever.
Pushing invading thoughts of Josh and the night he was taken from me out of my mind, I turn back to my project. I’ve become a master at distraction, and tonight is no different. I’ve learned that if you keep yourself busy, you have less of a chance of those pesky little what ifs creeping into your mind.
What ifs that I won’t allow to ruin another night with my sisters.
So I take a page from my own playbook, push it all to the back of my mind, plaster on my smile, and pretend like I’m fine and didn’t die alongside my fiancé that cold and rainy night more than two years ago.
It’s worked for me for this long.
It’ll work for me tonight.
At least until I go home.
* * *
Ryan and Jaime drop me off on their way to grab French fries. When Jaime has a craving, it’s always salty. Honestly, I think it’s just an excuse to try road-head. Those two get busy in vehicles more than anyone I know. And considering who my grandparents are, that’s saying something.
I chickened out on telling them my news.
As I make my way into the cute little house that was once so full of life and love, I wonder (for the ten millionth time) if I’m making a mistake. Am I ready for this? My heart starts to gallop in my chest at the thought. A date. But it doesn’t have to be a big deal. I mean, we’re just two former classmates enjoying a meal together, right?
This is so much bigger than that.
It’s acknowledgment that Josh isn’t coming back.
It’s my first real taste of acceptance that he’s gone.
I twist the ring on my left ring finger, the one I can’t seem to take off, and take a deep breath. As I glance around the house we used to share, I spy so much of him still in the place. His worn pair of tennis shoes are still on the floor by the front closet. The throw he bought as one of our first purchases for the new house is on the couch. His favorite coffee mug is still in the cabinet, as if waiting for him to wake up, fill it, and enjoy that first cup of coffee of the day.
But none of that is going to happen again.
That’s why I need this date.
It’s been two years.
As scary as it is, and believe me, it’s terrifying, I need this. I may not be completely ready, but there’s only one way to find out, right? So next Saturday, I’ll meet Adam Sullivan at the Mexican restaurant uptown, catch up on the last ten years of our lives, and see where it goes. I’m not anticipating it going much further, honestly, and the thought of a goodnight kiss makes me want to hurl. Not because kissing Adam wouldn’t be nice. I’m sure it would be.
Because it’s not Josh.
And I swore I’d never kiss another.
Never love another.
The familiar anger sweeps through my blood. Anger at a young driver who decided to drink and get behind the wheel. Anger at the weather that made it difficult to drive safely. Anger at time I can’t have back. Anger at the man I loved with my entire being for leaving me alone and afraid.
And I am.
Completely alone and wholly afraid.
Resentment and fear seem to be all I have anymore, and as the all too familiar sensations slam into my body, I do what I do best: hide it. Push it aside. Sweep it under the rug. Grab my cleaning supplies and scrub the bathroom until you could eat filet mignon off my floor with a freaking plastic fork.
By the time I’m finished, my bathroom is spotless and I’m completely exhausted. But do you know what I’m not doing? Thinking about Josh. I’m not lost in the sea of despair, being pulled under by powerful and unforgiving memories.
I’m too tired to think, and that’s when I know it’s finally time for bed. I may not get much sleep before his memory visits me, but at least I know I’ll be able to steal a few hours before he arrives.
And he will.
Like clockwork most night, I’ll be seeing Josh Harrison in my dreams.