Authors: Karen Kingsbury
Alicia’s bed was up against the other side of the wall, and each night whichever of them got in bed first would thud twice.
. When the other sister responded with two thuds of her own, the first would thud three times.
I love you
. And the other would respond similarly.
The day before the trip, Jenny and Alicia had been in their separate rooms, packing their bags; Amy Grant’s “Hearts in Motion” had been blaring from Alicia’s tape player. A single thud sounded in Jenny’s room. She had dropped her thermal underwear and skittered out the door, around the corner into Alicia’s room, where she flopped onto her sister’s bed.
“What?” Jenny nosed around inside Alicia’s duffel bag, checking the things her sister had packed.
“You bringing your tape player?” Alicia held a fistful of cassette tapes. Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith, Jars of Clay.
“My batteries are dead.”
“Mine, too. Can you ask Dad if we can stop and get some on the way out of town?”
Jenny had bounced up. “Sure. Be right back.” She bounded down the stairs and in a minute returned and threw herself again on Alicia’s bed. “Done.”
Amy Grant’s voice filled the room, and Jenny watched Alicia dance around, snagging a shirt from her closet and jeans from her dresser drawer. Jenny had wondered if one day she might be as pretty and popular as Alicia. Her older sister’s cheerleading uniform lay on the floor near her bed, and Jenny bent down to pick it up.
Alicia was involved in everything. Cheerleading, student council, drama. She had so many friends, and she was good at whatever she tried.
“My room’s such a mess.” Alicia used her foot to move a pile of clothes against her bed. “I never have enough time.”
Jenny considered the floor. “Pretty bad.”
“Uuugh. It’s a total mess.” She stopped for a moment and raised an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me
“Yep. Wasn’t much. I mean, what can you take on the old, annual camping trip? You know Dad. We’ll spend half the time on the lake catching fish.”
Alicia froze and glanced back at her duffel bag. “True—” She turned abruptly and began digging in her drawer again. “But I have to have the right shorts … and then if it gets cold, I need my woolly sweatshirt … and at night, you know, around the campfire I like my old jeans …” Her voice drifted as she rummaged through a series of drawers. “If I could just find them.”
Jenny stood and stretched. She picked up a shirt from Alicia’s floor, turned it right-side out, folded it in half, and set it on her sister’s bed. “I hate it when that happens.”
She made no mention of the fact that she was cleaning Alicia’s mess as she bent down and picked up a rumpled pair of shorts. When the pile of clothes was neatly folded on her sister’s bed, Jenny headed for the door. “I just remembered something. My Christy Miller book. I have to bring it.”
Alicia straightened and looked around her room. “Jenny! Hey, thanks. You’re so nice. You didn’t have to clean my room.”
Jenny shrugged. “No big deal. That way you’ll be done faster. Maybe we can play horse out in the driveway with Dad after dinner.”
“You’re the best sister in the world.” Alicia left the tangled web of clothing spilling from her bottom drawer and came to hug Jenny. Then she grinned. “But I’ll still beat you at horse.”
Jenny had laughed and returned to her room. A moment passed while she searched for the book, and then she’d heard it. Three soft thuds on the bedroom wall.
Was that just a few weeks ago? It seems like years … like it had happened to someone else
Jenny’s lips trembled and she closed her eyes against the tears. At the sound of footsteps on the stairs she wiped her eyes quickly, then turned to watch her mother enter the room. Mom looked angry again, disappointed.
Is it because I’m the one who lived?
Anxiety threatened to strangle Jenny, as it did every time she asked herself these questions.
Would Mom be so angry all the time if Alicia were still here instead of me?
Alicia had had so much going for her.
If one of us was going to live, it should have been Alicia
. Jenny swallowed and blinked twice as her mother crossed the room and sat on the edge of her bed.
“I’ve been looking all over for you.” Her mother sounded tired, robotic. Jenny tried to remember the last time she’d looked or sounded tender.
She couldn’t remember one time since the accident.
She turned away and stared at the wall. “I’ve been here.”
Her mother sighed. “You’re always here. Can’t you come downstairs and spend some time with—”
Jenny turned back toward her mother. “The family? We don’t
a family anymore, Mom, remember? You keep telling everyone how that drunk driver killed your
. So who cares if I stay up here? I’m not your family.”
Her mother shrank back, a pinched look around her eyes.
Jenny sat up and forced her face closer to her mother’s. “I guess you’re right, Mom. Our family is dead. Now there’s just you and me, and that’s not enough, is it? We’ll never be a family by ourselves.”
She threw herself back down on the bed and rolled onto her side. She couldn’t stand looking at her mother for another second.
She flinched at her mother’s tentative touch on her shoulder. There was a pause, and when her mom went on, her voice was cold.
“I’m sorry I said what I did about my family being killed. Of course we’re a family. But there’s a lot to do now, and I can’t spend my time sitting up here rubbing your back and helping you get over this. That man, that
, is about to be charged for what he did to your dad and Alicia. When he is, I want to be there. I want to make sure he’s locked up for a long, long time. I’m sorry, honey … but I’ll probably be very busy these next few months.”
Jenny remained silent, unmoving, studying her fingers as they moved slightly, back and forth, across the wall near her bed.
“Honey, what I’m trying to say is I’d like your help in this. We owe it to Daddy and Alicia to make sure that man doesn’t ever kill anyone again. It won’t help for us to hide away in bed and miss them. Not now, anyway. There’s too much to do.”
Jenny felt tears burn her eyes and couldn’t keep her shoulders
from trembling. What was her mother talking about?
I’m just a kid!
she wanted to scream.
How can I possibly do anything that would help send that drunk driver to prison?
For that matter, what difference could her mother really make? None at all. Besides, who cared, anyway? Alicia and Daddy were gone. Nothing could bring them back now.
“Jenny.” Her mother’s voice was flat. “Are you listening?”
Jenny rolled over and faced her mother. “If you’re asking me to get up, put a smile on, and help you make some kind of plan to lock up drunk drivers, I won’t do it.”
Her mother’s face grew a shade paler. “Why are you lashing out at me?”
Because I hate you. Because you hate me for being alive
. “Because. You think you have to get back at that guy. Seek revenge or something.”
“Well, Jenny, what do
want to do?” Her mother sounded exasperated. “Ask the judge to let him go?”
Jenny’s whole body shook, and she couldn’t make it stop. “The Bible says to forgive, and you always taught us we should live our lives by what the Bible says, right?” She watched her mother closely.
Please, please, be my mom again. You believed in God … in the Bible.… You used to smile and hold me and tell me he would always protect us.
But there was no smile on her mother’s face. She stiffened, and she wouldn’t meet Jenny’s eyes. “That’s different. The man who did this needs to be punished. Don’t you think so?”
“I think we should
about him!” Jenny clenched her fists. “Going to court and fighting him won’t bring back Daddy and Alicia. I think we should stay home and remember the happy times.”
Her mother stood up abruptly, and Jenny suddenly felt so cold she thought she’d shatter into a million pieces. “That won’t bring them back either.” Her mother’s words were like pieces of ice. “Forget I said anything, Jenny. Stay up here as long as you like. And when you’re ready to deal with what
happened, I’ll be downstairs trying to get on with life.”
Her mother walked out of the room, and Jenny turned once more toward the wall. Hot tears filled her eyes, and she sobbed softly into her pillow. “Alicia, where are you? I need you so badly.”
Through her tears she remembered how they had dressed alike as little girls, walking hand-in-hand to their Sunday school class each week.
“Yes, Jesus loves me,” they would sing as they skipped along. “The Bible tells me so.”
Oh, Jesus, please help me. I don’t want to live without Alicia and Daddy. Mom doesn’t understand. She doesn’t care about me
A scene from the funeral flashed in Jenny’s mind. A great aunt had come up to her and squeezed her hard, suffocating her in a fog of strong perfume. “Now listen, dear,” the fleshy woman had said. “Be a good girl and don’t make things harder for your mother than they have to be.”
Jenny remembered looking up at the woman, confused.
The great aunt continued. “You must understand she’s suffered a great loss here. Now it’s up to you to be strong for her.”
Jenny had nodded uncertainly. “I’ll try.”
“You try hard, now, you hear. Your mother needs you.”
The woman’s words had haunted Jenny several times since then. She squeezed her eyes shut, and another wave of sadness washed over her.
It’s my loss, too. Who’ll be strong for me?
“Alicia, come home,” she cried softly. “Pleeease, Alicia. I miss you.”
Then she raised her hand toward the wall and thudded softly. Three times. And three more.
Over and over and over again.
In the days of her affliction and wandering
Jerusalem remembers all the treasures that were hers in days of old
In the haze of grief and anger and bitter rage that consumed her, Hannah realized she was neglecting Jenny. But she felt helpless to do anything about it. She simply did not have the strength to do more than provide for the girl’s most basic necessities.
It took all her energy to remember her life as it had been … to remember Tom. She always started back as far as she could remember. That was how it was with Tom. Her catalogue of memories simply did not contain a single day without him.
There had been very few rainy days in Hannah’s childhood. An only child, she’d been doted on by both parents. Her grade school years were spent at Cornerstone Christian School where she generally excelled, and each week there was church and Sunday school and dozens of playmates and an entire church family who knew and loved her. What Hannah wanted, she got—and usually with little effort.
She’d grown up surrounded by children from similarly privileged families, where parents stayed together, went to church together, and seldom faced anything more serious than a bad case of tonsillitis or a flat tire on the family van.
Back then it only made sense, though. Hannah was a good girl, and in return, the Lord gave her a life free of speed bumps or bends in the road.
Hannah had many playmates, but her best friend in the
whole world was a boy one year older than she, who lived across the street, three houses down. His parents attended the same church as Hannah’s, and the two grew up swinging side by side on the church playground.
His name was Tom Ryan.
On a warm summer day sometime after Hannah’s eighth birthday, she rode her bike past Tom’s house and skidded on loose gravel. She tumbled over the handlebars and came to a stop on her knees and elbows. Tom, almost ten at the time, dropped his basketball and came running.
“Hannah, are you hurt?” Tom had stooped down and lifted her gently to her feet. He dusted the gravel off her arms and legs and dashed into the house for a wet rag, which he gently swiped over her road burns. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah … thanks.” A strange sensation was making its way across Hannah’s suddenly flushing cheeks.
Tom found a bandage and carefully applied it to the worst of her cuts. “There, that should do it.”
Hannah watched him wide-eyed and knew from that moment on she would marry Tom Ryan one day. She didn’t talk about it with Tom, or anyone else for that matter. It was something she took for granted, like the passing of the seasons.
They became even better friends, shooting baskets in his driveway and talking about plans for the future. He wanted to be a doctor; she wanted to have a big family to make up for the siblings she never had. During the school year they did homework together, and in summer they walked to the neighborhood pool and lazed away the afternoons holding diving competitions from the pool’s high dive or racing underwater to see who could hold their breath the longest. Hannah hated to lose.
In fact, the only flaw in Hannah’s life was her temper. One summer when Hannah was ten, she and Tom were playing basketball when they were joined by a boy who lived two streets down.
After the game, the boy looked at Hannah disdainfully. “You
shoot baskets like a wimpy girl.”
Furious, she worked on her shot for weeks after that and refused to speak to the boy again. In her freshman year, Hannah shared a class with the boy and ignored him mercilessly.
“What’s with you?” the boy asked her one day.
Hannah sneered at him. “I shoot baskets like a wimpy girl, remember?”
The boy clearly had no idea what she was talking about, but even after he’d apologized, she made a point to avoid him.
“Sure hope you never get mad at
, Hannah,” Tom had told her once that year. “When you get mad, you don’t stop. Ever.”