Justine strikes a pose before the full-length mirror hanging on her closet door. Chin up, hands by her sides. She draws a breath. “My dear. . .” she begins, and stops mid-sentence. Wrinkles her nose. She’s got it all wrong. She’s too—Too stiff. Too grownup. Too something.
She rakes her fingers over her short dark hair, sweeping the bangs out of her eyes, tugs at the hem of her pink baby-doll pajamas. She’s scheduled to deliver the candidates’ address at her Confirmation Mass this afternoon. When she learned, six months ago, that she had been selected speaker, Justine was ecstatic. Now, the very idea of standing in front of the whole congregation, telling hundreds, maybe thousands, of people how she’s learned from her own family what it means to be part of God’s larger family makes her sick to her stomach.
She has no choice. She made a commitment.
She folds her hands primly, setting them at chest height on her imaginary podium, glances at her cheat sheet, rolls her lower face into a smile, and begins again. “My fellow Confirmation candidates,” she says this time. Justine crumples the paper, tosses it onto her bed. My fellow Confirmation candidates. What a dork. She sounds about twenty, instead of thirteen.
She screws up her face. “I can’t do this,” she says, wagging a finger at the girl watching her from the mirror. She would feel like a hypocrite.
Justine plods to the bathroom, pees, pads back to her bedroom. The forecasters are predicting snow, starting later today. A dismal gray stratus hangs over her skylight. Her room is dark, the air raw. Her sister’s blue and gold Cortland High sweatshirt lies in a heap at the foot of her bed. Justine pulls the sweatshirt over her head, retrieves the balled-up paper. With the back of her hand, she flattens it out, and returns to the mirror to practice.
As always, on first glance, the girl in the mirror takes Justine by surprise. She’s grown two inches since Christmas, isn’t chubby anymore, her belly flat, the clavicle bones visible now at the base of her throat. She pushes her bangs out of her pale, darkly fringed eyes. With her fingertips, she touches her cheeks. Her features have matured, her nose long and straight, like her mother’s, her cheekbones defined. She curls and uncurls her toes. She wears a size six shoe, a size and a half smaller than Leah. Her toes are long and slim, the nails painted blue.
Justine crushes the sheet of paper, tosses it in the trash, strolls to her window, raises the honeycomb shade. Spring feels a long way away, the yard empty, the trees bare. A rush of cold air streams in, under the sash. The air smells of snow. Justine presses her hand against the cool glass, the way she and her sister used to do on the windshield of their father’s car, when they were small. Stop, their father would scold. You’re making a mess. She smiles, remembering how Leah loved egging him on. She pulls her hand away from the glass, watches her prints disappear.
Justine wishes, sometimes, that she could disappear, too. Poof, just like the handprint.
Poof, just like her sister.
PART ONE - JUST DO IT
Just Do It
Zoe and Will Tyler sat at the dining room table, playing poker. The table, a nineteenth-century, hand-carved mahogany, faced the bay window overlooking their sprawling front yard. Husband and wife sat facing one another, a bowl of Tostitos and a half-empty bottle of port positioned between them. Their favorite Van Morrison disc—Tupelo Honey—spun on the player in the family room, the music drifting out of speakers built into the dining room walls.
Dog, their old yellow Lab, lay on a ratty pink baby blanket, under the window.
Zoe plucked the Queen of Hearts from the outside of her hand, and tucked it center. She was holding a straight. If she laid it down, she would win the hand, third in a row, and her husband would quit. If she didn’t, she would be cheating herself.
The moon was full tonight, its light casting a ghostly shadow across the yard. The full moon made Zoe anxious. For one of her internships in grad school, she’d worked on the psych ward at City Hospital, in Boston. On nights when the moon was full, the floor erupted, the patients noisy, agitated. Zoe’s superiors had pooh-poohed the lunar effect, chalked it up to irrationality, superstition. But Zoe had witnessed the flaring tempers, seen the commotion with her own two eyes, and found the effect impossible to deny—and nearly all the nurses concurred.
“Full moon,” she said. “I hadn’t noticed. No wonder I had trouble sleeping last night.”
Will set his empty glass on the table. With his fingers, he drummed an impatient tattoo. “You planning to take your turn any time soon? Be nice if we ended this game before midnight.”
“For Pete’s sake, Will.” Her husband had the attention span of a titmouse. He reminded her of Mick, a six year-old ADD patient she counseled—sweet kid, when he wasn’t ransacking her office, tossing the sand out of the turtle-shaped box, tweaking her African violets.
“What’s so funny?” he asked, sulking.
She shook her head—nothing, Mick—and forced a straight face.
“You’re laughing at me.”
“Don’t be silly. Why would I be laughing at you?”
He peered at his reflection in the window. Smirking, he finger-combed his baby-fine hair, pale, graying at the temples, carving a mini-pyramid at his crown.
“Nice do. Could use a little more gel,” she said, feeling mean-spirited the instant the words slipped out of her mouth. The poor guy was exhausted. He’d spent the week in California, on business, had flown into Logan this morning, on the red-eye. Though he had yet to fill her in on the details, it was obvious to her that his trip had not gone well. “Sorry,” she said. “Just kidding.” She fanned out her cards, hesitated for an instant, and laid down the straight.
“Congratulations.” Scowling, he pushed away from the table. “You win again.”
“Way to go, grumpy. Quit.”
“I’m getting water,” he said, tamping his hair. “Want some?”
Dog lifted her head, her gaze following Will to the door, yawned, and settled back down.
Her husband stomped across the kitchen, his footfall moving in the direction of the family room. The music stopped abruptly, and the opening chords of a Robbie Robertson tune belted out of the speakers. Zoe loved Robbie Robertson, “Showdown at Big Sky” one of her favorite songs. That didn’t mean that the entire state of Massachusetts wanted to hear it.
“Will,” she said, gesturing from the kitchen. “Turn it down. You’ll wake Justine.”
She waited a few seconds, caught his eye, gestured again. The third time was the charm.
Exasperated, she returned to the dining room, bundled the cards, put them away in the sideboard, and gathered the dishes. The toilet flushed in the half-bath off the back hall. Seconds later, she heard her husband rattling around the kitchen, slamming the cabinet doors. Last spring, Will had won a major contract for his company, North American Construction. Since then, he’d been back and forth nonstop to the West Coast, spending two weeks a month in San Francisco, servicing the client. Zoe hadn’t minded his traveling, at first. Over the past two years, with the glut of office and manufacturing space in the northeast, construction starts had dropped, and his sales had taken a serious hit, his commissions steadily dwindling. To compensate, initially they’d relied on their savings. In January, they’d remortgaged the house. When the California job arose, Will had jumped on the opportunity. He had no choice, especially with Leah headed to college next year. But the situation, lately, was brutal. Will hated traveling, hated flying, hated living out of a suitcase. And he resented missing Leah’s soccer games. Last November, as a sophomore, their daughter had been named Player of the Year on the Boston Globe All-Scholastic team. A week later, in his year-end summary, the sports reporter from the Cortland Gazette had called Leah the “best soccer player in the state.” The head coaches from the top colleges in the area—Harvard, Dartmouth, Boston College, BU—had sent congratulatory letters, expressing their interest. Will wanted to be home to guide her, meet the prospective coaches, help her sort through her options. Zoe didn’t blame her husband a bit. But it didn’t seem to occur to Will that his traveling disrupted her life, too. Last year, she’d developed a motivational seminar, called “Success Skills for Women on the Move.” Now that the girls were practically grown, the workshops were her babies. The extra workload at home, added to the demands of her fulltime job at the counseling center, left her with no time for marketing or promotion, and the workshops had stagnated. Zoe understood her husband’s frustration. It irked her when he minimized hers.
Will appeared in the doorway, a few minutes later, empty-handed. Will was tall, a hair shy of six-one. He’d played football in college, and, at forty-five, still had the broad shoulders and narrow waist of an athlete. Amazing, really: after eighteen years of marriage, she still found him achingly sexy. Crow’s feet creased the corners of his intelligent blue eyes and fine lines etched his cheekbones, giving his boyish features a look of intensity and purpose, qualities Zoe had recognized from the start but that only now, as he was aging, showed on his face.
After work, he’d changed into a pair of stonewashed jeans and a gray sweatshirt, worn soft, the words “Harvard Soccer Camp” screened in maroon lettering across the chest. Absently, he pushed up his sleeves, and peered around the room as though looking for something. “Zoe—” Normally, he called her Honey or Zo.
“I put the cards away.” She thumbed the sideboard. “You quit, remember?”
“Do you have any idea what time it is?”
She glanced at the cuckoo clock on the far wall. “Ten past eleven. So?”
At the football game, with Cissy. “They’ve been going every week. Did you forget?”
“She ought to be home by now.”
“She’s only ten minutes late.” Their daughter was a junior in high school. They’d agreed, before school started this year, to extend her weekend curfew to eleven. “She’ll be here soon.”
Will stalked to the window, grumbling. Dog rose, and pressed her nose to the glass.
Their driveway, half the length of a soccer field, sloped down from the cul-de-sac, arced around the lawn, and straightened, ending in a turnaround at the foot of their three-car garage. In summer, the oak and birch trees bordering the property obscured their view. Now that most of the leaves had fallen, the headlights were visible as vehicles entered the circle.
“She has a game in the morning.” Will stretched his neck . His upper back had been bothering him lately, residual pain from an old football injury he’d suffered in college.
Zoe came up behind him, pushing Dog’s blanket aside with her foot, and squeezed his shoulders. “You’re tight.”
He dropped his chin. “From sleeping on the plane. Got to get one of those donut pillows.”
“You know Leah. She has no sense of time. I’ll bet they stopped for something to eat.”
“I can’t see why Hillary won’t set a curfew. Every other coach has one.”
“Relax, Will. It’s not that late. You’re blowing this out of proportion. Don’t you think?”
A flash of headlights caught their attention. An SUV entered the cul-de-sac, rounded the circle, its lights sweeping over the drive and across their lawn, and headed down the street.
Bending, Will ruffled Dog’s ears. “Reardon’s coming tomorrow, specifically to watch her. She plays like crap when she’s tired.”
The Harvard coach. She should have known. “So she doesn’t go to Harvard,” she said, a tired remark, fully aware of the comeback her words would elicit, “she’ll go someplace else.”
“There is no place else.”
No place that would give her the opportunities, the connections… blah, blah, blah. They’d been over this a million times. If their daughter had the slightest aspiration of going to Harvard, Zoe would do everything in her power to support her. As far as she could tell, the name Harvard had never graced Leah’s wish-list. It was a moot point, anyway. For the last two terms, Leah’s grades had been dropping. If she did apply for admission, she would probably be denied.
“Reardon has pull,” he offered, a weak rebuttal in Zoe’s opinion. “He’s been talking to Hillary about her. She can’t afford to blow this opportunity.”
Opportunity? What opportunity? “Face it, Will. She doesn’t want to go to Harvard.”
“If she plays her cards right, she can probably get a boat.”
Zoe opened her mouth, ready to blast him. He’d received a full football scholarship from Penn State, and dropped out of college. Was that what he wanted? A college drop-out in a couple years? Noticing the purple rings under his eyes, she held back. “You’re exhausted.” His plane had barely touched ground at Logan Airport when he was ordered to NAC’s corporate office in Waltham, for a marketing meeting. He hadn’t had time to stop home to change his clothes, never mind take a short nap. “Why don’t you go to bed? I’ll wait up.”
The look he returned implied that she’d lost it. “You think I could sleep?”
“For all we know, they had a flat.”
“She would have called.”
“So call her.” Duh.
“I did. I got voice mail.”
Shoot. “You know Leah. Her battery probably died.” She was grasping at straws. Leah was sixteen years old. That phone was her lifeline. Still, it could be true. It was possible. Right?
Leah had totally lost track of time. She and Todd had been hanging out at the water tower for hours, perched on the hood of Todd’s Jeep, drinking Vodka and OJ, admiring the beautiful night. This place was perfect, the most perfect place in the universe, maybe. Big sky, lots of trees. From here, they could see the whole town, just about—the river, the railroad tracks. An orchard. In the valley, lights began to blink out. Leaning back on her elbows, she gazed up at the heavens. “Look,” she said, mesmerized by the inky black sky, the billions and billions of stars. “The Big Dipper.” As she stared into space, time fell away, the past merging seamlessly with the future, this moment, up here, with Todd, the only reality there ever was or ever could be.
Todd took her hand, drawing her close, so close she could smell the spicy deodorant under his armpits. Just being with Todd Corbett made her feel dizzy all over. Todd was, by far, the most beautiful boy she had ever laid eyes on. His hair was long on top, short on the sides. He had full lips, and the most fabulous blue eyes, like, like crystals or something. A Romanesque nose, the exact nose she’d once told Cissy she’d die for, only now that she’d seen it on Todd, she realized that that particular nose was meant for a boy. Best of all, he had this incredible aura, all purple and blue, like James Dean or Curt Cobain.
She curled her legs under her, laid her head on Todd’s chest.
They met at a party, the Friday before school started. Todd had been on tour for the past two years, working as a roadie for a heavy metal band called “Cobra.” Leah knew he was back—that was all anybody was talking about—had recognized him instantly, from all the descriptions.
She couldn’t believe her luck. Todd Corbett! And alone! She’d heard he was hot. He was even better looking in person. Looking back, she couldn’t believe she’d been so brazen. She left Cissy in the lurch, sashayed right over to him, took a seat beside him, on the living room floor.
The movie he was watching was stupid. People clopping across a field like zombies, their arms outstretched. They reminded her of herself and Justine when they were little, playing blind. Even the makeup looked phony.
“What are you watching?” she asked.
“Night of the Living Dead. Flick’s a classic. Hey, haven’t I seen you someplace before?”
Maybe, though she couldn’t imagine where. Todd couldn’t possibly have remembered her from high school. She was only a freshman when he dropped out.
“Leah Tyler, right? You’re that soccer chick.”