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Authors: Eliza Lentzski

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BOOK: Bittersweet Homecoming
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He’s in that rainbow.

And in that moment I realize that my sister has many more storms to weather. But at the end of the rain, there’s always a rainbow.













I’ve been knocking on Emily’s bedroom door for the past few minutes with no response from the other side. Ever since Adam’s burial, my sister has cloistered herself away in her childhood bedroom, only emerging when she needs food. I suppose I should be encouraged that she’s eating at all, but when she does momentarily resurface, she barely acknowledges my dad or me. She moves from one room to the next like a zombie or as if in a deep trance.

I try the doorknob and, finding it unlocked, I cautiously push open the bedroom door. The door opens only partially when it hits against a barricade on the other side.

“Em?” I call into the dark room.

When there’s still no response, I shove a little harder with my shoulder pressed against the door until I’m able to gain entrance; directly behind the door is a giant pile of dirty laundry that’s impeding my progress. I maneuver around the discarded pizza and take-out boxes strewn on the floor. It looks messier than a college dorm room.

I pad over to the window and yank open the curtains to allow streams of brilliant sunlight to pour into the stale bedroom for the first time in days. The flower arrangements Emily brought home from the funeral are beginning to wither. They perfume the air with a sweet, slightly rotting scent.

“Are you ever going to get up?” Annoyance creeps into my tone. “I’m going over to Grandma’s in a little bit. You should come.”

I place my hands on my hips, awaiting some kind of reaction from my sister, but Emily merely mumbles indistinguishably from underneath the covers.

“At least let me do your laundry,” I insist. I nudge the pile of dirty clothes with my big toe. “I’m sure your sheets could use a good washing, too.” I wrinkle my nose for effect. “Or thirty.”

Emily suddenly sits up in bed, a look of panic in her eyes. “No!” she rasps. Her voice sounds tired and worn and her hair sticks up in places. “You can’t take him away from me,” she begs. “It’s all I have left.” She clings desperately to the cotton bedding, wrapping the sheets around her thin wrists.

I hold up my hands in retreat. “It’s okay, Em. I’m not going to take him from you.” I have no idea what she’s talking about, but I’m not about to disturb her more than I already have. “I’m sorry. I’m-I’m just trying to help.”

Emily rolls onto her side, facing away from me, and pulls the duvet over her head again. I stare at the Emily-sized lump under the comforter and sigh in defeat. After a long moment, I tiptoe back over to the window and pull the drapes closed again. I creep out of the bedroom and close the door behind me with a soft clicking noise. My sister is clearly not ready to emerge.



Downstairs, my dad is sitting at the kitchen counter with a cup of coffee and the local newspaper open in front of him.

“Good morning,” I greet as I enter the room.

“Morning,” he returns.

Behind him on the countertop, next to the refrigerator, is a pile of nuts and bolts and springs and other various mechanical parts.

“What happened in here?” I ask.

“Apparently the garbage disposal broke,” he tells me in his even, unaffected tone. “Your sister took it upon herself to fix it while everyone was sleeping.”

I pick up a piece of metal whose function is a mystery to me and inspect it. “This is what
looks like?”

“I was told I’m not to touch it. She wants to figure it out herself.”

“Does Emily know how to fix garbage disposals?”

“I guess we’ll wait and see,” he remarks. “What are you up to today?”

I put the metal gear back on the kitchen countertop. “I thought I’d go over and say hi to Grandma.”

“You’re a better person than me,” he says before going back to his newspaper and coffee.


+ + +


The rhythmic ticking of a grandfather clock fills the heavy silence in my grandmother’s living room. Family pictures crowd the wooden mantle above the fireplace. There’s Emily and my senior portraits, Emily and Adam’s junior prom picture, and a framed newspaper clipping from when the local newspaper reported on me selling my first play. The bookcases are filled with condensed
Reader’s Digest
versions of classic literature, a set of encyclopedias probably older than me, and a scattering of knick-knacks. There’s a thin layer of dust on everything, which is a sure sign that my grandmother is getting older. She’s always been a meticulous housekeeper.

“Are you sure you don’t need any help?” I call towards the closed kitchen door.

“I’m fine,” comes my grandmother’s voice. “You just make yourself at home.”

My grandmother lives alone in a house on top of a limestone bluff that overlooks the city harbor and Lake Superior. Growing up, Emily and I had spent innumerable hours on that grassy bluff, staring up at puffy clouds and making stories about the shapes we saw in the sky. It was probably my first foray into storytelling.

Unusual for her generation, my grandmother had only had one child—my father. She and my grandfather had tried to have additional children, but it wasn’t meant to be. She compensated by throwing all of her love onto my father to the point of suffocation. I only had good memories of her, however. With my dad working long, unconventional hours, our grandparents had babysat us a lot. My grandmother had become a kind of surrogate mother to Emily and me after our mother took off.

My mom left town when I was five and Emily was three. I don’t remember much about her, and nearly every photograph with her in it has long since disappeared. My dad did the best he could bringing up two girls while still building his business, but it hadn’t been easy for any of us. My friend and literary agent, Claire, tells me I don’t tell my girlfriends I’m in love with them because of my mom. I tell Claire she needs to get a degree in psychology before she starts dishing out observations like that.

The door that separates the kitchen from the rest of the house swings open, and my grandmother emerges carrying a silver serving platter upon which I see two teacups and saucers and a plate of windmill cookies. She walks toward me with a strange gait, nearly hunchback, and with a pronounced limp.

“Let me help you with that,” I immediately offer.

She makes a dismissive noise as she passes me. “I’ve got it. The moment I stop doing things for myself is the moment my heart stops working.”

She sets the platter on a coffee table that’s crowded with magazines and cookbooks. I hold my breath, expecting the precariously balanced tray to tip over, but it never does.

“Do you like this china set?” she asks as she sits down in a straight-backed chair.

“It’s pretty.” I bend and reach for the cup closest to me and inspect the delicate pattern of pink roses and a silver thorny vine etched across its borders. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before.”

“That’s because you were too young to use it. It was my mother’s, and I was afraid someone would break it. Might as well get some use out of it now though before I die.”

I sit down on the couch and nearly lose my balance when I sink into the deep cushions.

“Need a new couch,” she observes as I struggle to sit up straight. “But the moment I spend the money, I’ll probably die.”

I remember this about her. She talks about death and dying a lot, yet she’ll probably outlive us all. My grandmother is old, but unlike the other people in this town who look subtly different than I remember, she appears frozen in time. Maybe once you reach a certain advanced age, your body simply refuses to acknowledge the passage of time.

“If you like the tea set you should put a Post-It note on it. That way when I die, the lawyers know it goes to you.”

There’s really no talking to her, no way to get her to stop talking about her imminent death. She’s an old woman who has earned the right to speak her mind.

She sets down her teacup with amazingly steady hands. “Now what are we going to do about your sister?” she asks.

“What do you mean?”

“She’ll be a dried-up old maid if she doesn’t find someone new.”

“You didn’t remarry after Grandpa died, and you turned out alright,” I point out, taking a careful sip of the hot herbal tea.

“I was in my seventies when Casmir died, Abigail.”

My grandpa passed away when I was in middle school. It was the first funeral I’d ever been to. He had been a man of few words—silent but stable. I’d always found him to be a little intimidating, but it was largely unfounded. He spent most of the day in his work shed tinkering. It was probably the biggest reason why my dad had gone into the handyman business himself.

“I’m sure Emily will figure it out,” I remark. “She’s got time.”

My grandmother isn’t listening. “Don’t you know any nice boys in Hollywood? Maybe someone in the movies? That would be nice.”

“I’ll keep working on it, Grandma,” I promise.

“Good.” She smiles serenely. “Now eat those cookies, Abigail,” she urges. “You’re too skinny.”


+ + +


After spending time with my grandmother, I head downtown instead of driving back out to my dad’s house. I know I should stick close to home and continue to harass my sister until she emerges from her bedroom, but I need a break from the sadness. My stomach also reminds me that cookies don’t make for a satisfactory lunch, and there’s hardly any food at my dad’s house. He apparently lives on ham sandwiches and breakfast cereal.

Restaurant choices in Grand Marais are limited outside of fast food, so I go downtown to Roundtree’s Bar & Grill. The Roundtree family and their bar has been a staple in Grand Marais for as long as I can remember. It’s one of the only places that stays open year-round in the tourist-driven town, and it’s become an institution, popular with locals, but not so intimidating as to scare off out-of-towners. The Roundtrees are also one of the most philanthropic families in the area. When the football field needed new stadium lights or the track needed resurfacing, it was the Roundtree family who’d been the most generous sports boosters.

The bar itself is testament to the family’s support for the community. The tables are covered in old newspaper coverage of past high school team successes, and behind the bar where the high-end liquor should be displayed is a hall of fame wall—a collage of newspaper clippings about local kids’ achievements. They’re mostly headlines about former residents who’ve gone off to be sports stars at their respective colleges, but even I managed to make the wall when my first play won a newcomer playwright award. Local girl makes good and all that.

I sit at the bar by myself; it’s the awkward hours between breakfast for the early risers and lunch for the working crowd. The laminated menu has the usual bar food: Burgers, deep fried pickles, chili, and beer-battered whitefish. Conspicuously absent is quinoa, tofu, or anything soy or gluten free. I love it.

A feminine voice addresses me as I inspect the menu’s offerings: “What can I get you, hun?”

My lip inadvertently curls. I hate when restaurant staff calls you pet names. I hate it even more when they sit down at the table with you to take your order. I’ve never worked in the food industry, and I’d never want to. I loathe the idea of having to smile and flirt for your tips. I suppose I’d make a killing at those places where the waitstaff is rude to the customers on purpose.

When I look up from my laminated menu, my throat tightens and I find myself getting lost in smoky, hazel eyes. The waitress’s makeup is perfect, and I’m envious of her skill with eyeliner and eye shadow. But mostly I’m just lost. Hazel-green eyes are kind of my Kryptonite.

The woman’s skin is flawless, with high cheekbones and a pouty, pink mouth. Her nose is slightly crooked, which I find unspeakably adorable, and her light blonde hair is pulled up in a messy bun. She’s wearing a v-neck t-shirt with the bar’s name and logo scrawled across the front. The hint of modest breasts and the twin bones that connect to construct her clavicle peek out above the top of her shirt.

I clear my throat when I realize she’s waiting on me. “Uh, beer?”

An amused smile falls to her lips, causing my stomach to flutter. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to card you since you ordered that with such familiarity.”

I’m sure we went to high school together, but she’s a few years younger than me, maybe Emily’s age. We hadn’t been friends, but in a school and a town so small, everyone knows everyone. I flip through my mental Rolodex to see what I can remember about her. Her name is Charlotte. Charlotte Something. I think I remember hearing that she’d gone to school at the local state university and had worked at Roundtree’s during school vacations. I don’t know if she graduated, but it’s over a decade later and she’s still working at the bar, so I make an unfair assumption that she dropped out.

“Wait.” Her eyes narrow, and I can tell she might recognize me, too. “You’re Emily Harvester’s sister, aren’t you?”

“I usually go by Abby, not ‘Emily’s sister,’ but yeah.”

“I was sorry to hear about Adam,” she says. The teasing glint is now gone from her eyes. “I always thought they made a sweet couple.”

My mouth twitches. “Thank you.”

“How’s she doing?”

“As well as can be expected, I suppose.” I never know what to do with condolences except behave awkwardly. “Do you still want to card me?”

“Would you be flattered or offended if I did?”

I reach for my purse and pull my drivers license out of my wallet.

“Abigail Henry,” she reads off the plastic card. “Los Angeles, California.”

I love the sound of her voice—it’s a lower register that’s soft, not graveled, like you might expect from someone who bartends at a working-class bar.

She slides my license back across the bar top, and I slip the card back into my wallet. “You’re a writer or something, right?”

BOOK: Bittersweet Homecoming
8.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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