The Bandbox Hat
Previously: SarahJane’s niece April is visiting. Jesse called and brought dinner over. After they ate, he told her it was time to tell her everything about why he left town after graduation and what’s going on with SarahJane’s sister Rachael.
Before Jesse could say another word, a soft knock sounded at my door.
“You’re not getting out of this.” I stepped to the door. “Who is it?”
“SarahJane?” The female voice sounded more familiar than my own.
I flung open the door. “Rachael?”
She shimmered under the porch light, blonde hair tumbling around her shoulders.
“Can I come in?”
“Oh, Rachael.” All the pent-up emotions of the last months spilled down my cheeks as I reached for my sister. My only sister. “Rachael.” I repeated her name as she hugged me with a fierceness that left me gasping.
“I’ve missed you so much.” She pulled away and searched my face, her gaze running up and down me. “You’ve changed.”
“So have you.” No wonder I didn’t recognize her at Daddy’s funeral until it was too late. The angles of her cheeks and chin had sharpened to a fine degree and her nose had a bit of a Bob Hope slope. “Did you get a nose job?” I clapped my hand over my mouth.
She burst into laughter. “Ten years and of course that’s the first thing you say to me.”
“Where have you been? What have you been doing? Did you have a nose job? How’s that?” I was mostly joking, but if pressed I would admit to also being frustrated with her. I guess some things never change.
She just smiled. “I missed you so.” She glanced past me, into the living room. “Hey, Jesse.”
He stood. “I should probably go. We can talk later SarahJane.”
“Wait.” My head cocked to the side. “You didn’t tell Rachael to come by? When you said you’d tell me everything and then Rachael knocked, I thought—”
He nodded and stuck his fists into his front pockets. “No. I think it’s better for you two to talk. I’ll call you tomorrow.” He slipped out the door.
I stared after him. “What’s going on?”
“He wanted to give us a moment to catch up. Like I’ve been catching up with Jake.”
“He told me.”
She pulled me to the couch and we sat, facing each other, arms along the back.
“Jesse told me you called Peter when you were in town. So you know he remarried.”
She nodded. “I shouldn’t have been surprised. I reacted badly. Running off again.”
“You think?” I tried to keep the judgment out of my voice but I don’t think I quite succeeded, given the flush that crept across her cheeks.
“I had that coming.”
“Ten years, Rachael. Mom…” My throat grew thick and I couldn’t get out the words of reproach.
Her eyes filled. “I know.”
“Then … why?”
“I was stupid. Immature. I thought she’d be angry and me visiting would be too emotional.”
“So you let your mother die without letting her tell you she loved you.” Frustration surged through me and made the hairs on my arm stand up.
“I know it doesn’t make sense. After I left, I was diagnosed with post-partum psychosis. I knew something was wrong with me and I knew I’d hurt the baby or myself if I stayed.”
I stared at her.
“I didn’t feel like I had a choice, SarahJane. Peter was working all the time. Mom wasn’t feeling well, so I didn’t have the usual support a new mom gets. All I could do all day was stare at this baby. Then I felt the neighbors staring at me, judging me. One of them dropped off a casserole one day and I knew when she got home she’d be calling CPS because of what a mess the apartment was in.”
“Oh, Rachael.” Sympathy welled inside me.
“I truly thought the best thing for to do was to leave. Daddy wouldn’t speak to me. I couldn’t count on anyone.”
I reached for her hand. “I’m so sorry, Rachael.”
“I came to L.A. Ran into Jesse the second week. That was a total God thing.”
“Wait.” I stood and looked at her. “Jesse knew where you were ten years ago? And he didn’t tell me?”
She nodded. “Don’t blame him. I made him promise. Actually, it’s a good thing. He said he wouldn’t tell the family if I would go get help. I might still be on the streets if he hadn’t made that deal with me.”
I sat again. “Jesse got you mental help?”
“He did. Then when we moved in together—”
“You what?” I shrieked a little at that.
“Auntie SJ?” April’s plaintive voice sounded from the next room.
“I’m okay, sweetie,” I called to her.
A shuffling noise preceded her entry into the living room. “Who are you?” She rubbed her eyes and stared at Rachael.