“Talk to me,” Rose begged. “I need to hear you speak.”
“Uh . . . you look great, Rose. You really do. You haven’t changed a bit.” It was true. Rose’s face was unlined and still shone with the peaceful quality Mercy had envied as a teen. Her sister was a few inches shorter than she and looked fit and happy. “I’m working with the FBI now, and I live in Portland.”
Rose’s fingers stilled as she touched the wetness on Mercy’s cheeks.
“I’ve missed you, Rose.”
Rose hugged her. “Oh my God,” she said. She inhaled deeply through her nose. “You still smell the same, Mercy.”
Mercy laughed, starting a new round of tears. “I don’t know how that’s possible.”
“It is. Trust me. But your hair is longer and you feel thinner.”
“Those are true,” Mercy agreed.
Rose tugged her into the house. “Come in, come in! Mom and Dad aren’t here. They had their meeting tonight.”
“I know,” Mercy confessed.
Rose turned an inquisitive face toward her sister, her sightless eyes rolling slightly under her lids. She’d never really opened her eyes. Some people who were blind from birth never did. “You purposefully chose this time to come?” she asked softly.
“I did.” Mercy studied her sister’s beautiful face.
“You don’t want to see them.”
“I do. But I think they don’t want to see me.”
Rose grabbed both of Mercy’s hands. “You don’t know that. We can’t let this come between our family any longer. We need to tell them the truth.”
Mercy froze. “No. They chose to shut me down. There’s no point in digging it back up. Can you imagine how it would affect our lives if it came out? Levi and I could go to prison!”
“I’m sure the police would understand—”
“After we hid it for fifteen years?” Mercy struggled to keep her voice steady. “Every year we’ve let it go by has only made it worse.” Panic surged and sweat started under her arms.
I shouldn’t have come.
Rose’s nostrils widened the slightest bit. “Calm down. I won’t do anything you don’t want me to.”
Mercy sucked in several deep breaths. This wasn’t how she’d pictured their reunion.
“Come in,” Rose begged. “I need to hear your voice some more.” Mercy followed her to the small eat-in kitchen at the rear of the house. Rose guided her to a chair at the familiar oak table. Mercy blinked rapidly as she saw the curtains were still the same—but faded. Rose hustled about the kitchen, her sure hands finding exactly what she needed to brew a pot of tea. Mercy’s insides slowly unwound and she leaned her spine into the back of the chair.
A familiar colander and wood pestle stood on the counter, and the faint, sweet odor of cooked apples and cinnamon reached Mercy’s nose. Her gaze automatically went to the stove, where the canning pot still sat. She closed her eyes and inhaled, remembering . . .
“It’s your turn to press the apples,” twelve-year-old Mercy snapped at her sister. “I’ve done the last two batches.”
Rose took the pestle and calmly circled it around the colander, smashing the pulp of the boiled apples out through the holes, leaving the slick skins and woody seeds behind. Mercy ladled more scoops of the hot apple pieces into the colander, avoiding her sister’s hands. They’d both had their fair share of burns from canning applesauce.
“That batch of jars is done,” Rose said as Mercy glanced at the clock. Her sister’s mental timer was nearly perfect, as usual. Mercy levered the glass jars out of the boiling water in the canning pot and carefully moved each one to the counter to cool. That made four dozen. And they had three more buckets of apples to go.
The occasional plinking sound told her a cooling jar’s seal had formed.
She stood back for a moment to admire the pretty rows of yellow-pink jars. Her mother would be pleased. They went through applesauce quicker than any other canned fruit. It was her brothers’ and father’s favorite. But gosh darn, she hated the long, hot, sticky process.
“Cut up the next batch of apples,” Rose ordered.
Grabbing the big knife, Mercy waved it defiantly at the back of her sister’s head.
“Accidentally cut me and you’ll be pressing all the apples.”
Mercy silently stuck out her tongue at her blind sister.
She opened her eyes. “You’ve been canning.”
“As always,” Rose replied. Her sister was as graceful as a dancer. She knew how many steps there were from the faucet to the stove and exactly where to set the old kettle without feeling for the burner. As a child, Mercy had tried the same with her eyes shut. She was pretty good, but Rose was the master.
“Milk in your tea?”
“No, thank you,” said Mercy. She paused for a long moment, studying her sister. Her long, dark hair was the same, but her face had lost the fresh plumpness. Now Rose looked . . . mature. Her smile was still stunning; her lips were slightly lopsided, which gave it a perky appeal that Mercy had envied. She still did. “How is your life, Rose?”
She immediately regretted her phrasing. “I mean, what has been going on for the last fifteen years?”
Rose smiled. “I knew what you meant. I’m happy. I hold a preschool at the church three days a week for the little kids. Mom helps out a bit with it, but I do most of it on my own.”
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