were just two years apart, and we couldn’t have been more different, yet we spent our entire lives being compared to one another. I had dark brown hair, blue eyes, and a healthy, average build. Alexa had ashy blonde hair, big, brown eyes, and a good four inches of height on me. Hardly an ounce of fat on her lithe frame meant she could wear a paper bag and still look like a million bucks. Dancing came naturally to her, as did making friends, dating, and being popular. Alexa relied heavily on her charm and good looks to get whatever she wanted in life, and she always did. Still, I loved her more than anything.
“This is, what, boyfriend number five since last fall?” I huffed. “But who’s counting, right?”
One jumbo, homemade cinnamon roll later and I was slipping into some church clothes, much to my dismay. My mother was so excited to have me home that I couldn’t stand to disappoint her again. I knew it mean the world to her to have me join them that morning.
As soon as we entered the musty, aging First Presbyterian church, all eyes were on me. The faces that were all so familiar to me were all looking at me like I was that new person in church, the foreign face, the guest who had to stand and introduce themselves during announcements.
“That’s what you get for never coming,” my father joked as he elbowed me in the ribs. “People are just happy you’re here. They haven’t seen much of you since you were in Sunday school.”
The organ began to play, which cued everyone to stop visiting and take their places in the pews. I snuggled in between my parents and silenced my phone. I stood up with the congregation for prayers and hymns and sang along like a good girl. It was amazing how the song lyrics came back to me as if they’d never left my memory.
Halfway through the sermon, I grew bored and my eyes began to wander around the room in search of familiar faces. I recognized a few people from school and parents of old friends, as well as a few out-of-town church boys who grew up to be sort of good-looking.
Not bad, not bad, I thought as I scanned the room.
“Pay attention,” my mother leaned over and whispered. “I know what you’re doing.”
I tried to focus on the preacher’s words for a few more minutes, but it wasn’t long before my mind had wandered again and I lost track of his message altogether. I turned my gaze toward the opposite side of the church, and it was in that moment that I spotted Arthur and Caroline, sitting just two rows from the back. I whipped my head back around, growing infuriated, and took a deep breath to try to calm myself down.
“What’s wrong now?” my mother whispered.
“The Garner-Willoughbys are here,” I whispered back.
“Yes, they’re here every Sunday,” my mom replied.
“Julian went into the hospital a couple days ago,” I whispered. “They told me to go home for the weekend. Someone should be there with him.”
“Shh,” my mother shushed me. “We’ll talk about this after church.”
“I have to get out of here,” I said, collecting my bag and scooting out of the pew.
I walked right past Arthur and Caroline, diverting my eyes so as not to meet theirs. I ran-walked the mile back to my house, all the while having an internal conversation with Caroline about what a shitty mother she was. In my mind, I chided her for only caring about her public image and herself, and for being a worthless human being who didn’t know the definition of sacrifice.
By the time I arrived home I’d calmed down, but only slightly. I jerked open my car door and threw myself inside. I tore out of the driveway and headed downtown to the wireless store to get Julian a cell phone. I wanted him to have a direct line of contact with me at all times. As long as Caroline didn’t find out about it, she wouldn’t be able to take it away from him.
I returned home an hour later to see Alexa’s car parked out in the street.
“Alexa?” I called as I walked in the front