Gillian brings forth a silver bracelet that she picked up in a pawnshop east of Tucson for only twelve bucks, in spite of the impressive chunk of turquoise in its center. Someone must have been down-and-out to give this up so easily. She must have had no luck left at all.
“Oh, my gosh,” Kylie says when Gillian hands her the bracelet. “It’s totally fabulous. I’ll never take it off.”
“I need to see you outside,” Sally informs Gillian.
Sally’s face is flushed to the hairline, and she’s twisted into jealous knots, but Gillian doesn’t notice anything is wrong. She slowly refills her coffee cup, adds half-and-half, then ambles into the yard after Sally.
“I want you to butt out,” Sally says. “Do you understand what I’m saying? Is it getting through to you?”
It rained last night and the grass is squishy and filled with worms. Neither of the sisters is wearing shoes, but it’s too late to turn back and go into the house.
“Don’t yell at me,” Gillian says. “I can’t take it. I’ll flip out, Sally. I’m way too fragile for this.”
“I’m not yelling. All right? I’m just simply stating that Kylie is my daughter.”
“Do you think I’m not aware of that?” Gillian sounds icy now, except for the tremble in her voice, which gives her away.
In Sally’s opinion, Gillian really is fragile, that’s the awful part. Or at least she thinks she is, and that’s pretty much the same damn thing.
“Maybe you think I’m a bad influence,” Gillian says now. “Maybe that’s what this is all about.”
The tremble is getting worse. Gillian sounds the way she used to when they had to walk home from school late in November. It would already be dark and Sally would wait for her, so she wouldn’t get lost, the way she did once in kindergarten. That time she wandered off and the aunts didn’t find her until past midnight, sitting on a bench outside the shuttered library, crying so hard she couldn’t catch her breath.
“Look,” Sally says. “I don’t want to fight with you.”
“Yes, you do.” Gillian is gulping her coffee. Sally is only now noticing how thin her sister is. “Everything I do is wrong. You think I don’t know that? I’ve screwed up my entire existence, and everyone who’s close to me gets screwed right along with me.”
“Oh, come on. Don’t.”
Sally means to say something about culpability, as well as all the men Gillian has screwed throughout the years, but she shuts up when Gillian sinks to the grass and begins to cry. Gillian’s eyelids always turn blue when she cries, which makes her seem breakable and lost and even more beautiful than usual. Sally crouches down beside her.
“I don’t think you’re screwed up,” Sally tells her sister. A white lie doesn’t count if you cross your fingers behind your back, or if you tell it so that someone you love will stop crying.
“Ha.” Gillian’s voice breaks in two, like a hard piece of sugar.
“I’m really happy that you’re here.” This is not an outright lie. No one knows you like a person with whom you’ve shared a childhood. No one will ever understand you in quite the same way.
“Oh, yeah, right.” Gillian blows her nose on the sleeve of her white blouse. Antonia’s blouse, actually, which she borrowed yesterday, and which, because it fits her so well, Gillian has already begun to consider her own.
“Seriously,” Sally insists. “I want you to be here. I want you to stay. Only, from now on, think before you act.”
“Understood,” Gillian says.
The sisters embrace and get up off the grass. They mean to go inside the house, but their gaze is caught by the hedge of lilacs.
“That’s one thing I don’t want to think about,” Gillian whispers.
“We just have to put it out of our minds,” Sally says. “Right,” Gillian agrees, as if she could stop thinking about him.
The lilacs have grown as high as the telephone wires, with blooms so abundant some of the branches have begun to bow toward the ground.
“He was never even here,” Sally says. She would probably sound more sure of herself if it weren’t for all those bad dreams she keeps having and the line of earth beneath her fingernails that refuses to come clean. This, plus the fact that she can’t stop thinking about the way he stared up at her from that hole in the ground.
“Jimmy who?” Gillian says brightly, even though the bruises he left on her arms are still there, like little shadows.