“I'm not reading it to you again,” I said, glancing up from my cell to look at my kid sister, Faith.
She looked back at me, her eyes scrunching along with her forehead. “You never even read it to me the first time.”
“Yeah, well, I don't want to poison your mind.”
“How could you think princesses are bad?” she asked, lifting her popup book in the air. “And fairies? And love? And happily ever--”
My eyes rolled fast enough to pop out of my skull, so I dropped my phone onto my lap. Time to slap some sense into her. “What do you think happens after the end of the book?” I asked.
“What do you mean? The end is the end.”
“Does the princess die on the last page?”
“Then it's not the end.”
She sat up a little straighter, her back against the headboard. I could see her legs fold beneath her purple-hearted blankets. “Well then what happens after?”
I leaned forward, elbows on my knees, and the words flowed freely, like an actress delivering prepared lines. “The princess gets pregnant. She pops out two little babies, even though she can barely afford one. She stays up late and gets up early, feeding the kids and changing their diapers and doing everything else moms do until her prince gets home. Except one time, he doesn't come home. He's not dead or anything. Just deadbeat and drugged up.” I sat back, clicking my tongue. “And then the princess kills herself.”
She looked down, licked her lips, doing whatever she could to extend the silence. Then she asked, “Isn't that what happened to mom?”
A nod. “That's what happened to mom.” I grabbed her book and tucked it under my armpit as I got up. “And it's what'll happen to you too if you keep reading this trash.”
I placed a light kiss on her forehead, turned off the lights, and walked into the hall. The house had three bathrooms, three bedrooms, and extra rooms for exercise equipment and art projects, but I could still hear the springs of my aunt's mattress from the floor below.
At least, I usually could. On any other night, I'd hear phantom moans, and I'd try to guess whether the man was another stranger from the bar, or her office, or her spin class. Even if she picked him up off the side of the street, I wouldn't judge. In fact, I wanted to be like her. A new guy every night with no chance for heartbreak? Bloody fantastic.
But tonight was different. Tonight, she was waiting for me outside of my sister's room, fidgeting with her necklace. She must've been listening through the door.
"Honey, we need to talk," she said.
"Are you breaking up with me?" I asked, trying to get a laugh.
It didn't work. She just took my hand in hers (Odd. My sister and I were lucky if we could get a hug out of her, or even a "good job" after we came home with all A's. She never expressed emotion.), and led me to the living room.
After I sat on the couch, she opened up the top of our coffee table and pulled out a book. A scrapbook.
She tossed it onto my lap, on top of the popup book I was still holding. "Go on. Open it."
I flipped it to the first page. It was a picture of her, at least twenty years earlier, kissing a redheaded man on the cheek. "What?" I asked, intrigued. "Do you actually keep pictures of all the guys you've banged?"
The next page held pictures of her and the same man. So did the page after that. And the page after that.
"Did you actually have a boyfriend back then?" I asked. I'd just assumed she'd always been a party girl.
"I did," she said.
"Let me guess. You loved him, but he cheated on you? Or maybe slapped you around?"
She grabbed the book from me. "You see, that's exactly why I'm showing you this." She sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "The answer is no. No, he didn't cheat on me or hit me. He loved me. He treated me right. But I was the one who got scared and I left. I broke his heart."
I shrugged. "It's better to break his heart than to wait for him to break yours."
She sighed again. "Honey. I know you've never seen a relationship work out, but some of them do. I could've stayed with him. I could've been happy."
"You're happy now. I mean, you bring home a new hot guy every night."
"It doesn't matter how many people you sleep with. It matters who you sleep with." She brushed her fingertips over the cover of the scrapbook. "I wanted a marriage. But I let my fear keep me away from one, and I never want you girls to do that. I never want you to be scared to date. Not all men are your father, and I don't want you to be me."
The last time she had sat me down to chat was when my mother had died. She never made conversation unless it was important. Never uttered a word without significance.
That's why I got up, popup book in hand, and said, "Maybe I'll go read this to Faith, then."
** That's the end of the story! Hope you liked it! **
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