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Family Drama

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tagged: family, saga, comedy, drama
If you're missing your family right now, or looking for a great excuse to get away from them, we suggest these enveloping family tales.
We're All in This Together

We're All in This Together

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback

Winner of Northern Lit Award
Finalist for the Leacock Medal for Humour
Quill & Quire "Books of the Year 2016"
Globe & Mail "Best Canadian Fiction of 2016"
A Penguin Book Club Pick
A woman goes over a waterfall, a video goes viral, a family goes into meltdown -- life is about to get a lot more complicated for the Parker family.

Like all families, the Parkers of Thunder Bay have had their share of complications. But when matriarch Kate Parker miraculously survives plummeting over a waterfall in a b …

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Excerpt

The first call had come at ten that morning, while Finn was sitting outside with her coffee on the back steps of her townhouse, watching Max the golden retriever run around in the yard.
     “Ms. Parker?” a husky female voice asked. “I’m glad I caught you at home.”
Finn sighed. One of the perils of working from home is that you’re always at home. “Who is this?” she asked.
     “My name is Cassandra Coelho. I’m a reporter with Thunder Bay News. I was wondering if I could ask you some questions about your mother.”
Finn felt something like an electric shock spark in her brain. “My mother? Why?”
There was the sound of paper rustling. “You are Serafina Parker, right? From Thunder Bay?” Cassandra Coelho paused. “Your mother is Katherine Parker? The Conqueror of Kakabeka?”
     “My . . . The what?”
     “How is she doing? Is there any word on her condition? We’d love to talk to her when she comes out of the coma.”
     Panic crashed over Finn as she tried to process what she was hearing. Her mother, in a coma. This much Finn could understand, the words lining up with their proper meaning, an entire library of reference points tumbling out of her mental archive. Coma, noun: A state of deep unconsciousness that lasts for an indefinite period, from the Greek koma, meaning “deep sleep.” The rest, she had no idea. She hadn’t been home to Thunder Bay in over three years, hadn’t spoken to her mother in probably six months, with the exception of a few brief emails, which meant months and months of blanks she couldn’t fill in. It had been working for her. As long as she filled her days with the present, then the past didn’t exist – she could pretend she just sprang fully formed from the earth, or just willed herself into being all on her own. But now it was cracking open, this entire potential world of things Finn didn’t know. On the other side of the yard, Max chased his tail, and Finn watched him, mesmerized, as he turned around and around, her own brain spinning along with him.
    “Ms. Parker?”
    “No comment,” Finn mumbled and hung up. There were choices to make now, courses of action to decide on – it was almost as though she could see them all, playing out in front of her like movies over­lapping on a screen. She picked the only one she could handle.
     Her brother, Shawn, answered on the seventh ring, out of breath and annoyed.
     “What the hell is going on?” she asked.
     “Oh. Finn.” Shawn said her name as though he’d just remem­bered her existence. When was the last time she’d talked to him? Two weeks ago? Eight? “Can I call you back? It’s not a good time.”
     Finn made a fist and jammed it into her thigh to keep from screaming. “Not a good time? I just found out my mother is in a coma from a fucking reporter.”
     “I was going to call you.”
     “Of course you were,” said Finn. “I’m sure I was at the very top of your list of priorities.”
     Shawn sighed. “I just got to the hospital. I have to find some­one to cover for me at the restaurant. And I still have to figure out who’s going to pick up the kids.” Shawn’s boys were named Tommy and Petey. That way, Shawn always said, when they were grown-ups they could be Thomas and Peter. And then when they were old men, they could be Tom and Pete. Their names could be modi­fied to fit any stage of life. Finn imagines Shawn likes this because Shawn was just Shawn, you couldn’t even make a nickname out of it except for maybe Shawny, which sounded less like a person and more like a town or a piece of farm equipment.
     Shawn’s wife’s name was Katriina. No one ever called her any­thing but Katriina.
     “First you need to tell me what’s going on,” Finn said. She started pacing the yard, the too-long grass prickling her bare feet. “The reporter said something about Kakabeka Falls?”
     “Yeah.” In the background, she could hear a tinny voice dron­ing over a loudspeaker, an unintelligible din that Shawn practically had to yell over. “She went over.”
     “She . . . went over?”
     “The falls, Finn. She went over the fucking falls.”
     “Oh my god. When?” asked Finn, hoping to hell it wasn’t two days ago, two weeks ago, two months ago.
     “This morning.”
     The droning stopped. In the resulting quiet, Finn could hear her own heart firing off in her chest.        “She got caught in the cur­rent?” she asked hopefully. But somewhere inside her, she knew what the answer was.
     “No.” Finn heard the sound of a door closing. “Kate went over the falls on purpose,” Shawn said, his voice low.
     And there it was. “How do you know?”
     There was a long pause. “She was in a barrel,” Shawn said. “One of Hamish’s,” he added, as if it made any difference whose barrel it was.
     Finn sat back down on the step. She had a sudden, sharp memory of her mother, years ago, standing in her kitchen on Victor Street, talking about something she had seen on television. Annie Edson Taylor, that was it, a sixty-three-year-old woman who was the first person to go over Niagara Falls and survive. Finn remembered Kate sighing, gazing out the window at a far-off place in history that seemed so much prettier from a distance, saying, “I don’t know. Doesn’t it just seem like there’s nothing left to be first at these days?”
     “Finn?” said Shawn. “Are you still there?”
     How would a normal person react to this news? What would someone else’s daughter say? Finn took a sip of coffee and swal­lowed it before she realized it had gone cold. On the other side of the yard, Max was having a stand-off with a squirrel in a pine tree. She couldn’t see the squirrel but she could hear it chattering away, taunting him. “Well, is she going to be okay?” Finn asked finally.
     “No, she’s not going to be okay, Finn. She’s in a coma.” Shawn paused. “You need to come back to Thunder Bay. You need to come home.”
     Finn closed her eyes. “I don’t think I can.”
     “Why?”
     “You know why.”
     Shawn sighed. “Come on, Finn, it’s been three years. Grow up.”
     She wished she was on a cell phone and not the cordless, so she could pretend that the call had been dropped. Shawn still talked to her as if she were a teenager, even though he was only four years older. He wasn’t even her real brother. He was just some street kid who hopped trains and sold drugs and lived in a tent in the woods behind the house where she grew up – until the day he stopped the family car from crushing Kate after she forgot to put on the emergency brake and it started rolling down the driveway towards her. After that, he started sleeping in their basement. “We could use a man around the house while your father’s away,” Kate had said to Finn and her twin sister, Nicki, winking at the scrawny kid with a forehead full of pimples and the ratty beginnings of a moustache, as though he could actually be mistaken for a man. “You know, someone to look after us girls.” Her mother’s idea of irony, Finn supposed. None of them had ever needed looking after. Not then.
     “You need to look after us girls,” Finn said under her breath.
     “What?” Shawn said.
     “Nothing.” Years later, she found out that the only reason Shawn had been there to save Kate is because he was trying to steal propane from their barbecue so he could do hot knives with a blowtorch. “How’s Dad taking it?” she asked.
     “Walter’s out on the lake with a research team. He won’t be back for a couple of days.” Shawn paused again. “Nicki’s pretty upset, though, in case you wanted to know.”
     “Right,” said Finn, rolling her eyes. “She still in rehab for that toe?”
     “Oh my god, get over yourself, Finnie.”
     In the background, Finn suddenly heard Katriina, clear as her own thoughts, say, “Who’s Finnie?” Katriina was from Finland – which Finn used to think of as her land until she met Katriina and realized it would never be anything but Katriina’s land, even though Katriina has lived in Canada for most of her life. Sometimes Finn suspects Katriina just pretends to not understand what people are saying in order to seem more exotic.
     “Serafina,” said Shawn, muffling the phone to keep Finn from hearing Katriina’s response.
     Finn tucked the phone between her ear and her shoulder and walked across the yard to clip the leash to Max’s collar. The back­yard was fenced, but Max, while in a particularly focused state, had been known to fly right over it. “I can’t just drop everything and come back,” she said to the muffled phone. “I have stuff going on.”
     “What stuff?” Shawn asked.
     “Stuff.” She had no stuff, of course. She worked from home. She didn’t have a boyfriend, a sex life, or even a social life. Max wasn’t even her dog – she just took care of him for her neighbour, Dave, a divorced plumber with every-second-weekend kids and a Charger up on blocks in his backyard. She didn’t even have any plants to water.
     “You are coming home, Finn,” Shawn said. She could hear the Shawn-ness in his voice. He might as well have called her “young lady.” “Kate will wake up, and she will need you. She’s not doing good, Finnie.”
     Finn shaded her eyes, searching the tree’s branches for the squirrel. She finally spotted it, halfway up, nibbling delicately on a pine cone, which it promptly hurled in Max’s general direc­tion. “Superman does good,” Finn said. It was one of her favourite expressions, which also might explain why she had no friends.
     Max took off towards the squirrel like a sprinter at the starting gun, so fast that he ripped the leash from her hands. The phone tumbled to the ground. The squirrel tore farther up the tree and bounded lightly to a power line, and then was gone. When Finn picked up the phone again, Shawn was gone, too. Max trotted over to her, tongue hanging out, unfazed by his defeat, and licked her hand.
     “Mom does well,” Finn said to him. Although even Max knew it wasn’t true.
     She led Max into her townhouse instead of taking him back over to Dave’s, and because she didn’t know what else to do, she decided to try to get some work done. Finn was a technical writer, writing warning labels for small appliances made by a division of some multinational conglomerate called UniTech. They sent her the raw data and she translated them into plain English, something that people like her neighbour Dave or her sister, Nicki, would be able to understand. Well, Dave, anyway. The people at UniTech barely knew her name – most of the time they just referred to her as “the warning girl” – something she is sure her family has been calling her behind her back for years. But before she could even open a document, the phone rang again.
     “Ms. Parker,” a man said. “This is Lance Goodman from Citytv. Would you be interested in talking to someone on camera about the Conqueror of Kakabeka?” Finn hung up and then unplugged her phone. After three more voicemails were left on her cell, she turned that off, too.
     She stared blankly at her computer screen for half an hour before realizing she was not going to get any work done. And so she opened her email. The only message in her inbox was from a co-worker whose emails were almost exclusively forwards of stupid jokes, “inspirational” quotes, chain letters, and panicked warnings about lottery scams and chloroform-wielding rapists in parking garages. Finn was about to delete the email when she noticed that the subject line, buried beside a long line of fw:fw:fw:, read “The Conqueror of Kakabeka: must watch!”
     Oh god, she thought. No. I can’t. And yet her finger travelled over the touchpad, scrolled past the lines of addresses to find a small blue link buried at the bottom. Don’t do this. You don’t want to do this. Slowly, she brought the cursor over the link and clicked.
     She immediately recognized Kakabeka Falls, the “Niagara of the North” and one of northwestern Ontario’s most recognizable landmarks. The video was shot from the first viewing platform, where she had stood countless times, posing for family photos with the water crashing over the precipice behind them. The video panned across the top of the falls, and in the background she could hear the oohs and aahs of tourists. Suddenly the camera jerked back towards the centre. “What’s that?” a voice asked.
     The camera zoomed in, and Finn could clearly see a barrel hur­tling down the river towards the edge of the falls. She could also see a face peering over the rim. Her mother’s face. Then the barrel dropped off the edge, crashed with a loud bang against something jutting out from the centre of the falls, flipped in midair, and dis­appeared into the frothy pool below.
     “Holy shit,” the voice said. “That was a lady in a motherfuck­ing barrel!”
     When Finn and Nicki were young, their mother used to tell them the story of Green Mantle, an Ojibwe princess who saved her father’s tribe from certain destruction by leading their Sioux attackers down the Kaministiquia River and over Kakabeka Falls to their deaths, including her own. If you look closely enough, Kate would say, you can see the image of Green Mantle in the mist at the bottom of the falls. From then on, every time they vis­ited the falls, the girls would climb down to the lowest platform built into the escarpment and stare hard into the mist, waiting for Green Mantle to appear. It never happened, but they waited anyway, until their father started complaining their parking pass was about to expire, or Kate’s camera ran out of film. Why couldn’t they see her? Finn wondered. What were they being punished for? Did they not believe hard enough? Were they not true-hearted enough? The failure of magic can be tough on little girls.
     Now, watching her mother’s own epic plunge, Finn couldn’t help but think of Green Mantle. Thankfully Kate, unlike Green Mantle, did not die. According to the news reports, her barrel – white oak with a steel rim, which Finn knew was used by her brother-in-law, Hamish, to make bootleg whisky in the back shed – was carried on the Kaministiquia River to the precipice of the falls, then plunged forty catastrophic metres over the edge. The barrel hit the shale cliff face halfway down the falls with a sound like a gunshot, then flipped into the air before disappearing into the mist gathered in the gorge, carved twenty thousand years ago into the Precambrian Shield by meltwater from the last gla­cial maximum. The barrel stayed submerged for another twenty metres before bobbing to the surface of the Kam and beaching itself on the western bank.
     The rescue team called the coroner. Radio stations cut into Rush and Nickleback to report the death of a woman at Kakabeka Falls. No one was making a joke of it yet, but they would – it’s natural selection, they said, modern-day Darwinism, where the stupid will fail to survive. But in the end it was Kate who had the last laugh – Kate with her two broken ribs, a fractured pelvis, two chipped front teeth, a ripped-off pinky nail, and a severe concus­sion. The barrel, the reports said, was actually what saved her life – hitting the rock face directly on one of the steel rings, which kept it from shattering, then trapping her in an air bubble when it flipped over, which saved her from drowning. No one could figure out how she didn’t get pulled down into the whirlpool. A one-in-a-million chance. Survival of the blind-luckiest. The giant pain in Darwin’s ass, smiling meekly on the homepage of the local news site, waving a trembling hand to the camera from the back of an ambulance before slipping into a coma on her way to the hospital.
     “I’m not going home,” Finn said to Max, who just stared at her. “I’m not.”
     Max spun around once and thumped down on the floor with a sigh, resting his chin on his paws.
     She knew Max was right. If she didn’t go home now, she would never be able to go home again.
 

Excerpted from We're All in This Together by Amy Jones. Copyright © 2016 by Amy Jones. Excerpted by permission of McClelland and Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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edition:eBook
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Excerpt

Two
August 2015, New York City

While I scan the sale racks, Zee bumps around the nearby plus-size section yelling, “Mom — this one!” every minute or so. I suppose little kids think all ladies’ sizes are the same. I yell back, “Thanks, but no!” The two of us are probably driving the saleswoman crazy with our bellowing.

I show her a polka-dotted dress with cap sleeves, the sort of thing I might have worn in the classroom on a hot September day. Its asymmetrical hem is whimsical, yet age-appropriate. Most years, I’ve done this shopping while in countdown-to-Labour-Day mode, both anticipating and dreading my return to work at Morrison High School. But I gave my resignation two weeks ago, and the year stretches ahead like a flat and deserted highway.

Last year, when Murtuza and I first considered spending his academic sabbatical in India, I applied for a much-needed unpaid leave while he investigated Mumbai teaching gigs. The same week my request was declined, he received an opportunity to teach the graduate course he’s been designing in his mind for years. Lenore, my vice-principal and mentor, suggested I quit, recover from my burnout, and work for her educational consulting business after Murtuza’s sabbatical. So here we are — Zee and I — searching for a dress I can take on our trip to India.

“Pretty,” Zee assesses, pushing a strand of her short hair behind her ear. Recently she’s begun to have opinions about the clothing I set out for her each day. Last week she rejected half of my choices, so today I’ve encouraged her to make her own selections. She’s wearing a yellow top with an emerald skirt and aquamarine socks, which doesn’t look as bad as it sounds. Me, I’ve matched my beige blouse to a pair of brown shorts. My sandals are a shade in between.

I try on the dress, Zee’s appraising eyes upon me. She cocks her head, her bangs falling into her face. “Mom, it fits, it looks good. But buy it in red, not black.” Her tone is slightly mocking, like a makeover show host’s. The sales clerk rushes to fetch one, taking orders from a girl just turned seven.

Later, on our way to the food court to share an order of Wong’s lemon chicken, Zee stops me at Forever 21. I protest but change my mind when I notice one of my students, Farah, behind the register. She just graduated, and used to walk the hallways like a fashion model. A few months ago, Principal Pereira stopped to scold her for showing too much cleavage. I’d disagreed with the judgment but couldn’t contradict Pereira. Farah reached into her backpack to layer a sweater over her blouse, but it was off again by the time she reached my classroom.

“Mom, look at these!” Zee points out a ten-dollar rack of frilly skirts. “Can I get one? You can get one, too, and we can match!” I call Farah over and she helps us find a size zero that fits loosely over Zee’s straight hips. Not even their largest size, a fourteen, can pass over mine.

“I just bought a size twelve dress at JC Penney,” I complain.

“Yeah, our sizes are super small. Sorry.” Farah shrugs.

“You can still get yours, Zee. It’s a good price.”

“No,” she pouts, “not if you can’t wear a matching one.”

“We’ll look for something while we’re in India,” I console, glad that my daughter still wants to look like me, at least sometimes.

* * *
In the evening, Murtuza and I meet on the couch for the married person’s evening ritual: TV. Along with a nightly bowl of microwave popcorn, we’ve been putting away two episodes of The Mindy Project after Zee is in bed. We guffaw and cringe in the same places; we are diasporic South Asian children of immigrants communing over the embarrassing life of a diasporic South Asian child of immigrants.

While the credits roll, Murtuza leans over, kisses my neck, and says, “Shall we turn it off now, or watch another episode?”

“Sure, Murti, we can turn it off,” I say, sensing his preference. After all, it is Saturday and 9:00 p.m. I’d prefer to hit play, to be distracted by someone else’s awkward world, but I appreciate my husband’s good-natured and consistent initiative-taking. My friends and I talk about our lacklustre sex lives and waning libidos, and I feel like I’m the lucky one amongst us. At least we can say we are still doing it, rather than being in couples’ therapy because we aren’t. Or breaking up because we aren’t. Or having extra-marital affairs because we aren’t.

* * *
I’d never cheated in my life, neither on a test nor a time sheet. When my naturopath directed me to eliminate sugar, dairy, wheat, and caffeine last year to improve my immune system’s functioning, I followed her instructions, to the letter, for sixty days.

How to make sense of the affair, then? It was just over four years ago, when Zee was three. Ian, a guy I once slept with, friend-requested me on Facebook. I recall experiencing a twinge of something, a flutter in my belly I could have interpreted as a prescient warning. I brushed away the sensation and thought, Nah, it’s just Facebook, and it’s been ages since we last saw each other. Plus, I’d heard from a friend in common that he’d moved to England. I thought we’d share a few likes, perhaps a little lurking. No problem.

At the time, I couldn’t admit to myself that it was cheating. There were no secret liaisons in two-and-half-star motels we’d paid for in cash. No late-night phone calls. No sexy photos. Leave it me to have an affair without ever really having an affair.

I layered on a thick foundation of denial until Murtuza found out. On a cool autumn evening, I returned home from Fresh Food Mart, lugging two heavy totes. When I saw his pained expression, I dropped the groceries, my fingers refusing to pretend that things were normal. Oranges rolled across the floor and I scrambled to collect them, glad for the small diversion of runaway citrus.

I’d left my computer on, my account open. Normally he wouldn’t have used my laptop, but he’d forgotten his at his office and needed to order a book online. That’s what he told me, anyway. I hope it was nothing more than that. I heard somewhere that eighty percent of betrayed spouses know when something is amiss and ambivalently search for evidence to the contrary. I don’t like to think about Murtuza being a part of that statistical majority. A part of me was self-righteous and indignant about the breach of privacy (“What were you doing snooping around on my Facebook account, anyway?”), but that fell flat when he looked at me beseechingly. “Why?” he asked, tears streaming down his cheeks. I wanted to dry his tears before they dripped off his chin onto the floor.

I sputtered a denial, “Nothing happened!”

He picked up my laptop and read aloud the latest message I’d sent to Ian. I went silent, and Murtuza continued reading, his voice growing louder, my indiscreet sentences to Ian booming and echoing off the kitchen tiles. I still said nothing, couldn’t form words, imagined Murtuza leaving me, our marriage ending over something so stupid. I felt like a failure, to both my husband and daughter.

He stomped down to the basement, and I crept upstairs to check on three-year-old Zee, who was fast asleep despite all the yelling. I watched her breathe and wept for the end of my good life. Then I headed to the kitchen, unfriended Ian, and turned off the laptop. I considered padding down the stairs to talk to Murtuza, but I knew it would be pointless. His questions and thoughts and feelings would swarm around me like angry wasps and I’d be unable to do anything but bat them away.

Murtuza slept on the basement pullout for three days. Each time he emerged to look after Zee or make himself a snack, I attempted impromptu explanations, wishing I was more articulate, had rehearsed a few repentant lines. I’ve never been good at communicating my feelings when overwhelmed. He moved back to our bedroom but wouldn’t talk to or touch me for another three days, despite my pleas and cajoling. Then, at last, on the seventh day, he threatened to end the marriage unless we saw a professional. He quoted facts and figures about infidelity and the importance of seeking immediate help. It was probably Murtuza who told me the statistic about cheated-on partners looking for clues.

Dr. Stanley met us together for the first session, during which Murtuza did most of the talking. I scanned the spacious office, which was mostly outfitted with Ikea furniture. Between nodding at Murtuza’s statements of why we were there, I mentally listed: Malm, Hemnes, Ektorp, Flöng, some of the items that fill our home. For years after we bought our bed, we referred to it as our Brimnes, our private joke. When had we stopped doing that?

During the following week’s one-on-one session that she called an “assessment,” Dr. Stanley wore her steel-grey hair in a single braid down her back, instead of loose, as she’d done during the couples’ session. She recommended that I break off contact with Ian, and I pouted and told her I’d already completed that act of contrition. She might have misinterpreted my stiff embarrassment as lack of guilt because she leaned forward in her seat and spoke loudly, perhaps thinking that her increased volume would help me comprehend the gravity of my situation. She insisted that I commit to owning the cheating, and I imagined it was like an expensive, later regretted, purchase. I understood what she was getting at but couldn’t help protesting, “But I didn’t even kiss him! I didn’t get to do anything! Nothing actually happened between us during those two months of messaging each other!” I was like a snot-nosed kid who’d been caught before tasting a shoplifted candy bar.

“Do you wish you had?” She puckered her lips and nodded, perhaps in an effort to look sympathetic. Had she ever cheated on the bald guy in the portrait on her desk? Maybe she understood my longing?

“Yes and no. I never wanted to hurt Murtuza.” I didn’t meet her gaze and instead focused on the hypnotic blue lines winding their way through her area rug. I wondered what its Ikea name might be. Then my hour was up.

Murtuza had his own individual session that week. I asked him how it went and he said, “Fine. You?” I said my session went fine, too.

A week later, Dr. Stanley began our session with a monologue mostly addressed to my side of the room. She suggested that I was seeking something lost, something left behind that wasn’t literally Ian, but a part of myself that I’d once expressed with Ian. I didn’t know what she was talking about, but my eyes welled up in response.

Murtuza took my hand, and his own eyes moistened, his black lashes made even prettier by his tears. I hated myself for hurting this man with pretty eyelashes. I hated myself for almost sabotaging my marriage to this man with pretty eyelashes.

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edition:Hardcover

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These days, when I tell this story to friends, it’s always the moment Trevor lets himself in with his key the next day — a Sunday — that makes them kind of whoop in their seats. Or flop backward in a gesture of full-bodied incredulity. Or just stare at me like I’m an idiot. But, I explain, Trevor had a key, and that was what he was used to doing. Apparently my mother had given it to him for both of their convenience. The key was sanctioned. She hadn’t given it to any of the other care workers, but that was because, I assumed, they were on a rotation — you never knew who would be coming to bathe Kelli from week to week. Trevor, however, only covered walks, and he turned up like clockwork every Tuesday and Friday morning at ten on the dot.

But this was Sunday, some of my friends argue, and he wasn’t working, he was visiting. Yes, I say, but why would he deviate from habit? This was a house he had a key for, and whenever he came over, he would open the door and come in. That was his routine. So it’s understandable he’d do the same thing on Sunday he would’ve done on a Tuesday or Friday. Isn’t it?

At the time, I thought nothing of it. Trevor said he’d come at ten on Sunday, just as he did on Tuesdays and Fridays, and it was ten on the dot when he inserted his key in the door. Kelli and I had our jackets on, ready to go.

I have to admit, everything about that day was off. It started with Trevor’s insistence we all cram into the cab of his pickup truck when there was a perfectly comfortable two-door sedan parked in the driveway.

“No,” said Trevor. “I’m more comfortable driving the truck.” As if the question of who would drive had already been discussed and dispensed with.

So Kelli got in the middle, which she was not too happy about, especially when I had to root around beneath her thighs and buttocks to find the middle safety belt, which it turned out had been used so rarely it had been all but consumed by the tuck of the seat. Then I stuffed myself in beside her, which I was not happy about because being crammed against my sister was a lot like cuddling up against a lavishly padded space heater. And then, of course, there was Trevor, squeezing in behind the wheel, calling, “Suck in your guts, girls!” before he closed the door.

“Knee,” said Kelli a moment after we pulled out of the driveway. Which meant her right knee was cramping up, as it often did when she sat in close quarters.

“Your knee sore, Kelli?” I asked.

“Knee sore.”

“She’s got arthritis,” I explained to Trevor. “We should maybe get the sedan …”

Trevor glanced down at Kelli’s thighs, like two massive, sweatpants-clad loaves of bread squashed together.

“Ah, you’re good, darlin.’”

“Knee sore.”

“It’s a short trip.”

It was a thirty-minute trip out of town, the last five minutes of which took place along a winding dirt road that grew darker the deeper it took us into the woods.

This is like a fairy tale, I remember thinking. But the cautionary, old-world kind, the kind that never bothered with happy endings. Where parents take their innocent and trusting children to the forest and abandon them for hungry old ladies to entice into their ovens, for talking wolves to swallow whole.

“Kelli’s knee,” said Kelli.

“Almost there, Beaner.”

And it was true. All at once the woods opened up — also like a fairy tale, but this time of the Disney variety. Because what stood before us was a mansion. An honest-to-god Regency-style mansion like something out of Masterpiece Theatre. Where was the horse and carriage? Where were Mr. Darcy and the Bennett sisters? It had a Doric portico and French windows and buttresses and balustrades.

“This is it,” said Trevor. “Barnbarroch Manor.”

I burst out laughing. The angry kind.

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