The semi rural landscape was partitioned into tracts of vineyards with the occasional manufactured rustic manor accompanied by the occasional winery serving as a monument to the family proudly displaying how they accomplish tax evasion. Though both women were hungry, it would be a while before they found an eatery that was open to the public.
“You haven’t called me that in years.” Jean spoke quietly as she continued driving back to lesser modernity, as if by speaking at her normal volume she would shatter the moment. “I’ll be honest, Lisa, these recent changes of yours is scaring me, but at the same time, I like where they seem to be taking you.”
Lisa leaned her head against the window. “To be honest, Jeannie, you haven’t been here for years. You’ve been my handler, my enabler, my excuse not to try harder, but you haven’t been my sister for a while.” She glanced across to Jean before looking down at her wringing hands. “But, if these changes mean I get my sister back, I like where they’re taking me too.”
Both women nodded in mutual silence. The car passed a property line marked out with perfectly identical cypress trees. The scent snuck past the air filter to tickle their noses. The sight of the manicured trees reminded Lisa of a heavy question.
“Jean? Did you…” Lisa had to think through her wording. “Did you become Aunt Helen’s protégé with the idea that she would hate us less if you were more like her?”
The line of cypress trees ended and so did Jean’s stalling. “At first, I did. You know that she hated Dad and after Mom left, she blamed him for everything, even stuff he didn’t do. So, yea, after Dad died, I thought that if I could show her that I could be what Dad isn’t, that she’d lay off us. Off you. And, well, I thought I was doing good, but after today, I don’t know.”
Lisa looked out the window again. “You thought you were doing good except I kept fucking up your plan by being a fuck up myself and if only I did what you told me to do all the time, that everything would be okay.”
Jean’s whispered “Yes” was barely heard over the sound of the road in the compartment. When she spoke again, she was not soft about it. “But to be sure, you were fucking up severely and there were too many times when I barely kept her from having you institutionalized or some shit! Like this bullshit with Ricardo! What the hell were you thinking?!”
Lisa kept facing out of the window. “I dunno, Jean. I guess when everyone tells you that you’re a rat, you just do ratty things, huh.”
Jean bit her lip and gripped the steering wheel a little tighter.
“Do you remember who called me a rat, first? It was Dad. I was his precious little rat because I had no hair when I was born. It wasn’t mean then, Jeannie. Remember the stories he’d tell us about the pet rats he had when he was a boy? He would call me his little rat, all squirmy and impatient, and needing lots of kisses and hugs to make me feel better. It was okay to be a rat of a child then, Jeannie, because that’s how Dad said ‘I love you’.”
She looked away from the window to Jean who was pretending not to see Lisa’s tear streaked face. “Why did you let Aunt Helen take that away from me! Why didn’t you tell her what Dad meant when he called me a rat of a child! She has taken so much of him away from me and you just fucking let her because WHY!”
Lisa looked back out of the window. When Jean didn’t answer, she continued. “Why did you let her remake you? And why are you trying to be my sister now? Did you notice the maid in the house trying to talk info out of me? Everyone connected to Aunt Helen is another set of ears for her to listen through. I want to trust you, I really do, but I don’t know if you’re just going to use me to make yourself look better to her, or if you are really trying to keep me away from her because when she told me to sign the fake papers, you said nothing. You did nothing. You just stood there like all of her other…” Lisa almost said the word “slaves”, but thought that might be going too far. “servants.” There, close enough.
Jean understood the intent of Lisa’s meaning. She kept her voice calm and steady when she replied. “I didn’t know about the fake papers. I really didn’t. Maybe she was testing you…”
“THAT’S BULLSHIT AND YOU FUCKING KNOW IT!” The seatbelt kept Lisa from getting close to Jean. “Not when you and her and the lawyers were hanging on every text and screenshot I sent from Ricky’s attempt to do the same. It’s like he and her were racing to see who could own my ass first and sell my soul second! She saw a chance to remove me from the family and by God, she was going to take it! AND YOU DID NOTHING!”
Lisa gripped and pulled on the seatbelt in fury and frustration. “You stood there, like a fucking statue, and looked at me, without offering me anything. Not an angry look. Not a dirty look. Not a surprised look. Not even–”
“I was surprised!” Jean found her voice and croaked out a few words to stop Lisa’s momentum.
“YOU WERE SURPRISED THAT I FUCKING SAID NO, BITCH!” Lisa shook the seatbelt to keep from shaking the driver of the car. “Everyone was surprised I said no. Hell, even I was surprised I said no.” Lisa’s voice cracked as well, as the swallowed sorrow came back to the surface. “It would have been so easy to say yes, and just let her put me away. But… I can’t do that now. I’m not who I was before. I don’t care what she thinks of me anymore, or what you think of me anymore.”
None of the feelings that Jean was willing to acknowledge had words attached to them, so she just quietly drove the car and let Lisa continue on.
“If I’m a rat of a child and a rat’s nest of an adult, then I’m going to be Papá’s preciosa rata again. And what you and Aunt Helen have to say about that doesn’t mean jack shit to me.”
Lisa’s sudden silence was more unbearable than listening to her righteously angry screaming, Jean thought. A week ago, this would have been the prompt to a shouting match between them. Jean realized that a week ago, Lisa would not have done or said any of the things she did do and say today.
“That’s not fair. Not fair of you at all, to accuse me of being Aunt Helen’s toy.” Jean tried to sound authoritative and to take on the same tone of voice that their mother would take when their father did something that got on her last nerve.
“I didn’t say ‘toy’, Jean. I said ‘servant‘, and to be honest, I meant ‘slave‘!”
“Same difference, Lisa. You’ve only seen one side to Aunt Helen. You have no idea how well she controls every aspect of the family brand. There are many family members with political goals, and we have to be unified in the public eye to support them. Mom… and Dad… broke that. We’re lucky that Aunt Helen took us in at all after…”
They were driving through the desolation that is encouraged between the manicured enclaves of the rich and the outer industrial areas of the city. Being in this inbetween area prompted Jean to change the topic, though not by much.
“You said you knew why Mom left. Spill.”
Lisa knew that Jean was avoiding saying something painful and likely, revealing. She allowed it, for now. “Mom wanted a life away from Aunt Helen. And Aunt Helen has never left the United States in her life. Mom was looking for someplace to move us to and still continue her work, but it would have to be out of the country. Do you think I really believe that bullshit that Mom abandoned us? Not when she was asking us about having an extra long vacation in Europe that year? You don’t say that shit when you’re walking away. You say that when you want your kids to get excited about something different happening in their life.”
“Mom left because she saw a chance to get away from the family, from her, and I can’t prove it, but Aunt Helen had her killed for it!”
The road came to a split and instead of taking the direct route into downtown, Jean turned to take the truck friendly route instead. She still needed to find someplace to eat, and going to the usual places meant being overheard by the usual people. As she committed to the turn, she replied.
“That’s one hell of a supposition and you have no evidence to show for it. Besides, we don’t know if Mom is dead. She’s officially ‘disappeared’, and it won’t be for another year when she’s declared… gone. We just have to hold out for that year, Lisa, and then we’ll be free.”
Lisa had pulled her blouse out of the waist of her skirt so she could wipe her eyes on the hem. Jean noticed and was bittersweet about one of Lisa’s childhood habits creeping up on them.
“Once we get the death certificate, then we get our inheritance, right? Do you believe that? If there was any money at all, then why am I working three… uh… two jobs just to hold an apartment? I’m older than twenty-one. Why is my money still sitting in Aunt Helen’s hands?”
Jean slowed down to coast in the far right lane to scan upcoming diners. Most of the trucker stops she saw made her very uncomfortable. She knew there were other dangers than just someone reporting to Aunt Helen.
“Because that’s how the trust was set up.”
“Because Aunt Helen.”
“Jeannie, do you really believe that Aunt Helen will see us as her family one day? Or will be just be a greaser’s rat babies forever?”
“Hey, that’s a slur! And don’t you dare say that about Dad again!”
“Tell that to Aunt Helen, Jeanette.”
Jean pulled off the side of the road immediately and put the gear shift in park. Her face flushed red with anger. She turned as much of herself to the side with every intention of slapping the shit out of the impious and impertinent shit that her sister always becomes when these topics come up. “How many times have I told you to call me ‘Jean’ and not…”
Lisa was sitting quietly with her hands in her lap. She was facing her sister with her jaw slightly raised and poised to receive the promised physical assault. Her eyes were red from all the crying but there was a silent acceptance of the inevitable that broke Jean.
“And not your legal name? And who named you? Mom? Dad? Or Aunt Helen to keep with some bullshit tradition that we are locked out of because of our dirty mixed blood? You and Aunt Helen have told everyone that I’m dumb, stupid, a bimbo, a whore, and whatever else the fuck knows. Why do you hate your legal name so much?” Lisa smiled with sorrow and looked down.
“Do you remember how Dad would say my name? My legal name? The name that Aunt Helen hates so much? He named me before she could and he loved saying it at every opportunity. And now here, in this car, between us, I’m terrified to whisper it because Aunt Helen and you have nearly burned even the memory of it out of me.” She wrung her hands. “To see it on the legal forms… the one time that the truth had to come out and she was trying to fuck it with that bullshit of lie… That was the last straw for me, Jean… Jeannie. I’m done with her, money or not.”
Lisa looked up with the intention of looking at Jean’s trembling and pinched face. A movement outside caught her eye and unwittingly she turned to look at that instead. Lisa’s face paled and she forgot she was crying as her eyes opened wide in surprise at the recognition of something behind Jeans’ point of view.
“Hey. That place is open. Let’s go eat there. Try something different.”
Jean could not follow Lisa’s sudden change in topic and demeanor. She quickly turned around to look out the window glass for something unusual. On the other side of both the street and the intersection was a truckstop diner. Bougainvilleas were trained along the front of the old building. The flowers were a brilliant red that reminded Jean of fresh blood. She shuddered in sudden fear.
Lisa regarded the same scene and found comfort. “Yea, let’s go there, right now. Get off the side of the road anyway. At the very least, having a public audience means I’ll be on better behavior, right? There’s other shit we’re going to talk about I’m sure, but we’ll both be a lot less bitchy to each other if we’ve had something to eat.”
“Okay. Fine. Only because I don’t know of any clinics near here that I can get you screened. That was one hell of an emotional flip.” Jean put the car in gear and waited for a gap in traffic to take advantage of.
“Yea. I suppose that’s going to be a topic too.” Lisa said nothing else as she watched what looked like the semi-transparent figure of a little girl holding a massive teddy bear. The girl was going from flowering vine to flowering vine, obviously enjoying the blooms pouring over the face of the diner. When the car started to move towards the diner, the girl turned to face Lisa directly. She waved and ran into the diner through the front door.
Lisa left her blouse untucked after she got out of the car. Jean refreshed her face as best as she could under the circumstances. “I dunno…”
“Come on. Live a little.” Lisa laughed at her own reply as if it was the best joke ever. She went to the front door of the diner without waiting for Jean to catch up though the elder sister did by the time Lisa was opening said door.
“Look at all the flowers!” The interior of the diner was blooming. Every table had a small arrangement of fresh flowers. The cash register had a flower crown hanging off the display. The counter was adorned with flowering garlands. In the far corner of the diner, next to the restrooms, was a tabletop memorial display for someone who was dearly loved and had passed. The photo was completely obscured for all the flowers and wreaths that had been hung over it.
“Oh shit, it’s a funeral? Let’s go, Lisa.” Jean reached for Lisa’s arm but Lisa pulled away.
“No. We stay. Maybe. Lemme check.” She turned to a silently weeping waitress. “Excuse me, we’ve been on one helluva road trip and need a bite to eat, but if you’re doing something…”
“Oh no, sweet! We’re open! Most of the regulars already came in to pay their respects. Would you like a menu or would you like to know about the memorial?” The waitress wiped the counter for the millionth time that day and gestured for the sisters to take a seat.
Jean sat cautiously and watched Lisa nervously as the younger not only sat quickly but asked for both a menu and the story.
The waitress brought them both glasses of water and menus. “Well.” She wiped her face for the millionth and one time. “We buried Barbara yesterday. She’s… she was… the owner of this diner. Which I know doesn’t mean anything to you, two. It’s just… she always prided herself on never missing a day and always having the diner open twenty-four seven, ya know? This was her life goal, to be here. And she was happy here.”
Jean’s nerves became a little more undone as the few working staff came out from the back room to hear the story again. Everyone’s eyes were red from their grieving. Lisa leaned forward to give the waitress her full attention.
“She always said that the diner would be closed over… ” The waitress closed her eyes and choked back a sob. “And that’s what happened yesterday because everyone was there to put her to rest. But… now that it’s done… Did you know she left it to all her employees? All of us got an equal share! She had no kids, no family, just this place and… She always said that she would look out for us if we were honest with her… and she made good on her word.”
The waitress dabbed at her eyes again. One of the cooks patted her on the shoulder. The familial touch gave the waitress strength to continue. “So, we’re open today, because Barbara would not hear of us being closed for no good reason. We’ve had customers come in, and many of the flowers on her portrait were left by the regulars paying her respects. I completely get if this is all too uncomfortable to sit with, and y’all won’t be hurting anyone’s feelings if you decide to leave. It’s just… she always said there should be a place for the lonely to go to so they’re aren’t so lonely, and this was where she came to do just that and we’re going to continue to extend the courtesy.”
“Okay. Thank you.” Jean answered quickly as she stood from the counter bar stool. Lisa took the waitress’s hands and squeezed them gently as she stood as well. But as Jean stepped impolitely quickly to the door, Lisa took the menus and water and moved to a side booth in the middle of the wall.
“Give us a few minutes to decide please? I really don’t know what you have and, well, it’s going to be a while.” Lisa placed one menu in front of her and another menu across the booth table for Jean. She ignored Jean’s frantic staring and gestures from the diner’s front door.
“I believe you owe me an explanation for why we left Aunt Helen’s house so fast. And I probably owe you some explanations as well. Well, I think this is a good place to have those conversations while we can still have them. Because tomorrow we’ll both have our asses kicked by Aunt Helen’s fury, and right now, we can still be sisters. If you want to go, go. But delete my number because I will not bend to you again.”
Before Jean could reply, the waitress had placed two dessert cups filled with something that smelled like coffee and dark chocolate and topped with as fancy a whipped cream swirl as one can get from a can. “There seems to be some friction here, ladies. Two strong mochas, on the house, because Barbara always said that you can’t be bitter in the presence of something sweet.”
Lisa thanked her. “Did Barbara do that a lot?”
“Oh, child, that was her thing. Always trying to use food to make things better. And it usually worked, as long as there was something on the plate anyway.”
“Well, I appreciate it. Thank you,” Lisa tried to sip the mocha and was rewarded for her efforts with a dab of whipped cream on her nose. She raised her head, made a great show of trying to look at the dab before breaking out into sorrow-tinged laughter.
The sight softened Jean’s fear. “That’s a good way to wreck your profit margins. But might as well, or it will go to waste.” Jean came over to the table. “Switch seats, I don’t want to be looking at…”
Lisa moved without complaining. The trick had worked, just as the apparition of Death had said. “Sometimes you have to do something silly before you can do something serious.”
When the waitress came back to take their order, Jean waved her away after declaring that she would pay for the mochas. Lisa asked for a burger plate with fries. The waitress nodded as she took their order and left the sisters in peace.
The mocha was better than Jean had expected and she took a few minutes to savor it. Lisa took advantage of that to be the first to speak.
“You said to get in the car while we could and you would explain later. Well, it’s later. What happened after I left?”
Jean raised her face and found her nose marked as well. She chuckled as she wiped it away. “Question for a question. When I left you to talk to Aunt Helen, did you talk to anyone? Like, say, a guy or something?”
Lisa loudly slurped her drink to get on her sister’s nerves. “Like, talk to a guy, or talk talk to a guy. Come on. Stop it. I’m not in high school anymore. Fucking talk to me like an adult, dammit.”
“Alright. Did you talk to anyone before coming in to sign the papers?”
“Yea. The guy from the interview I fucked up last week, why?”
Jean splurted mocha and barely kept from making a mess on herself. “Really?! You spoke to him at the house?”
Lisa handed Jean more napkins. “Yea, really. We talked about the interview and why I fucked it up and… And the type of decisions I need to start making about myself. Or rather, he did all the talking anyway. Why?”
Jean held her dessert cup with both hands. Her excuse was that her hands were cold and the dessert cup was warm. When really it was to keep wringing her hands in unladylike ways.
“Dammit, Jeannie, you’re doing it again. Holding shit back like I’m an imbecile. If there is something coming that is going to affect my life, then fucking tell me!” She mirrored Jean’s gesture. “You can’t save me forever.”
Jean looked up at Lisa just in time for her line of sight to be interrupted by the descending plate. “One burger plate, dill pickle on the side, dear. It comes with an extra large serving of fries, so that’s this plate. Sorry I didn’t tell you about the serving sizes beforehand. But at least now you two can share!”
Lisa barely stifled a giggle as Jean stared at the plate accusingly. The waitress, seemingly unobservant of the two sisters’ reaction, left a fresh bottle of ketchup, mustard, and hot sauce before wishing them both a good conversation and a good meal.
Lisa picked up a fry from Jean’s side of the plate. Jean immediately snatched it and stuffed it in her mouth. “My side. You have your own!” Lisa smiled and nodded as Jean’s appetite was activated.
After a few good mouthfuls of diner fries later, Jean’s temperament had cooled enough to speak. “He wants to give you another chance at the interview. He came in to tell Aunt Helen as a ‘courtesy’. He said some information came to light and that maybe that day was just unpleasant for everyone involved, him included. So he’s going to contact you for another shot at it.”
It was Lisa’s intent to pick up the greasy burger and begin shoving it into her mouth, but her hands refused to work so she gripped the table instead. “Wut?”
“Aunt Helen was so pissed. She was so fucking pissed!” Jean laughed and ate a few more french fries. “Another interview attempt would ruin her plans for you, she said. He fulfilled the terms of their agreement by giving you that first chance and you fucked it up so he’s in the clear, she said. And this guy… I don’t know what she was referring to, but it made him mad. Like, red face mad. And he stands up, straightens his tie, and says, ‘I wasn’t asking permission. Miss Arroyo is going to get a second chance from me, and whether she passes or fails will be entirely on her, and on no one else in this room.’ And he leaves. Just like that. Walks away.”
Jean pointed and gestured with another french fry. “Well, Aunt Helen was so pissed, she went into an episode. When her medical assistance came in, I went out. I got you, and here we are. So I don’t know what you said to that guy, but… you’re going to get a second chance at the job. I just don’t know what will be the cost of it, but somehow I think you really don’t care about your ties to Aunt Helen, now.”
“Wow. Fortune must be pissed.” Lisa broke off a piece of the massive burger and chewed on it. She then focused on the burger, looked at how much Jean had eaten of the french fries already, then picked up the knife and cut the burger in half. “Here. This is way too much for me and all those fries will give you a stomach ache without something else to go with it.”
Jean complained but Lisa dumped the cut burger onto the cleared area of the french fry plate. “Fortune?” Jean asked as she contemplated how to attach the large serving without getting her hands even more greasy.
“Ah, uh, just an obscure reference. Club kid thing.”
“Oh, cuz I thought you were referring to the Wheel of Fortune. You know. A tarot card.”
Lisa threw her just plucked french fry back on the plate. “Just fucking ask, okay? Cuz, yea, I’m into tarot cards right now, and probably will be for the rest of my life. And there’s shit I can explain and shit I can’t explain and if you’re going to use that as justification to get me locked up, I will take you with me.”
Jean nodded and took a large drink of lukewarm mocha. She grimaced and took a large drink of chilled water. “Okay. We’re both adults so all cards on the table, so to speak. I know about the card reader you’ve been hanging out with. Rebecca is her name, right? She’s clean. Good background once you overlook some of her hobbies. But at least she’s discreet with her hobbies. The advice she’s been giving you is actually pretty good. But you’ve been ignoring it for the past six months. What did she say to you that got your attention and are you into any of her other hobbies?”
Lisa took a long time to chew on a short french fry. “Are you asking for yourself, for me, or for Aunt Helen?”
“That’s not… no… yea… that’s a very fair question. For us, Lisa. For you and me, because I don’t want you involved in something that could hurt you.”
“Hurt me, or hurt your political connections?”
“Goddammit, Lisa! Why does everything swing back to your hatred of Aunt Helen!”
“Because she is at the center of our lives, right now. And I’m making the decision to leave her world, and you keep talking as if you are going to not only stay in her world, but make sure that I never leave it as well. And that’s not going to work.”
Jean didn’t recognize the woman sitting across the table. She had never seen Lisa with any kind of determination before. it was clear that Lisa had given her future prospects a lot of thought for a long time and had come to a private decision. It scared Jean how much Lisa’s facial expression so closely matched their mother’s before she left.
“I want you to be happy, Lisa.”
“Then don’t get in my way, Jean.”
“That’s fair. So. Let’s be clean with each other then, tell me what happened after the interview last week, because that is when you stopped being the Lisa I knew and started… changing.”
Lisa wondered where did all the french fries go as she first sought to avoid the question entirely before picking up her own challenge about honesty. “I asked Rebecca to teach me how to read tarot cards.” Jean’s eyebrow raised in mocking disbelief. “And she refused.” Jean nodded. “And when I insisted, she gave me a tarot deck and a list of meanings and told me to fuck off and teach myself.”
Jean’s other eyebrow joined the first. “In those words, or?”
“Heh. No. Not in those words, but that was the meaning of it. She said if I was serious about learning how to read tarot cards, that I would find the meanings of the cards myself. Reading cards the way she read cards was not something that she could teach me.”
Jean plucked on of the remaining french fries. “And then what else?”
Lisa looked up with an open expression. “Nothing else. That’s it. I asked Rebecca to teach me, she said no, she gave me a deck, and I can’t believe it’s only been eight days since but here we are.”
“No. Seriously. And what else?”
Lisa was suddenly uncomfortable. “I’ve been having weird dreams… like really weird… like this should be on some show weird. But that’s it. I don’t know what Rebecca’s hobbies are. I know she doesn’t talk about herself much, and she plays her cards close really well.” She laughed at her unintentional pun. “But, that’s it. Honest.”
Jean reached for french fries that weren’t there. Had the two of them really eaten the entire plate? “Well, her hobbies include the occult and alternative religions. Like I said, she’s presentable, but Aunt Helen would have some things to say about your involvement with her.”
“Yea, I bet that bitch woul–” Lisa looked at Jean as the realization settled in. “She doesn’t know.”
“If she does, it’s not because of me. I’ll tell you why I never said anything. Aunt Helen has a diviner on retainer. From what I can tell, he specializes in tarot cards. She consults with him at least once a day by phone and a personal meeting at least once a week. Everyone knows. No one says anything. We all figure it’s a harmless outlet that takes the microscope off us, right?”
Jean glanced around the room. The scent of flowers had suddenly become almost too heavy to bear. “Except when he tells her something, she follows it, religiously. If Aunt Helen thought that you had access to some superpower like he supposedly does, she’s going to assume that you’re going to use it against her. Even if you’re not. Especially if you’re not. She’s edgy that way.”
Lisa thought of yesterday’s conversation with Rebecca and the girl child’s confirmation of why Fortune didn’t like her. If Aunt Helen had a card reader on hire who could control the card spirits then the deck was literally stacked against her and Jean from the start.
Lisa stared at the empty plate. “Wow. Rebecca made the tarot out to be a tool for personal work. See where my weaknesses are and correct them and shit. Are you saying that Aunt Helen’s card reader can use the cards against other people, like some sort of spirit gun?”
“I’m saying that I’m not telling Aunt Helen anything about your hobby. And I thank you for not bringing any decks with you. But, I have to ask to be sure… All that’s happened since the interview last week… was just from your study of tarot cards?”
Lisa nodded. “Yea. Wild as fuck, isn’t it. I saw what I needed to see at the time I needed to see it, and here we are.”
Jean nodded with her. “So. Can I see the deck? Do you know how many tarot decks there are out there?! Jesus, there’s more decks than there are people to read them, I think!”
“No.” Lisa’s soft answer initially alarmed Jean. “I haven’t even finished my first study run of the cards, and right now, they feel very… personal. Shit, I don’t even know what card I’m supposed to be watching out for today. I know the last one was Strength so…” Lisa tried to remember the order of the cards.
“So, depending on which deck, the next card is either the Hermit or the Hanged Man.” Jean was already reading a list on her phone.
Lisa tapped Jean’s hand. “No, but I’m studying them in reverse and I remember that it’s card number seven.”
Jean scrolled. She stopped and stared at the screen. She looked up at Lisa with a greatly annoyed look on her face. “The Chariot. Really?”
Lisa did not hide her amusement. “The card of decisions, consequences, and road trips! Oh look, just what we’ve been talking about for the past hour!” She laughed with joy while Jean glowered. “Excuse me, miss? We’ll take the check, please!”
“Sure thing, sweet! Be there in a bit!” The two sisters were not sure where the waitress had been all this time, but they were both thankful for the space they were given.
Jean reached across the table to take Lisa’s hand. “Listen, sis. I know everything is changing and I don’t know what’s going to happen now that Aunt Helen has gone ballistic. But please be honest with me. Please be open with me. And I promise I’ll do the same for you. And if you do leave, stay in contact with me.”
Lisa closed her hand around Jean’s. “I am leaving. I just don’t know what that leaving will look like. I want to take you with me, but if I have to leave you to save myself, I will. And I will be open with you. And I will be honest with you. But something has got to change, and I am the one making that change.”
“Damn right, it is.”
The waitress took the plates away but did not leave a check. As Jean started to complain, one of the cooks came out with two boxes. He took the vase and flower centerpiece from the table the sisters were sitting at and the centerpiece from the neighboring table and began to package them along with some of the garlands.
The two sisters sat quiet in surprise.
The waitress came back with the check and two mints. The check was handwritten with large loops and a finishing flourish. “Thank you for stopping by! No charge for peace and quiet!”
When the sisters started to complain, the waitress raised her hand. “Listen. Barbara was always big about taking care of family, whether it’s the family you’re born with or the family you collect. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but it sounds like you two are the only family each one really has left. You’re both crying, but happy tears, so I guess something got worked out. Don’t tell me!”
The cook finished boxing the centerpieces and drew large smiling faces on both boxes. “Barbara was always big about momentos and keepsakes. The flowers will fade over time, of course, but you’ll always have the vases. They aren’t anything fancy, just from the dollar store, but you two will always have something from today when you made the decision to be sisters again.”
The waitress looked at Barbara’s memorial in the far corner. “If Barbara was here, she would be stuffing you both full of cheesecake and strawberries. But we actually got cleaned out of all that at the morning memorial! Please. No charge. I don’t want any money from you. You two don’t know how much it means to us that you picked this place for your reconciliation. Barbara would be crying in the back room and now I get why. You two, go home, go in peace, and go with each other.”
Jean finally allowed herself to turn around and look at Barbara’s memorial. Some of the flowers had fallen off the portrait and she could see the figure clearly. The elderly woman was no one she recognized, and Jean felt robbed somehow by knowing that.
Lisa looked at the same memorial and saw the childish figure of Death moving to smell each flower in turn. The child complimented every bloom no matter how big or how small and told it that it did its best and all was well for it. She understood how the seed planted by Barbara had grown into one of the few spaces Lisa had felt safe in since her father died.
Lisa stood and bowed towards the memorial. “Thank you, Barbara, for the best diner ever. And the best staff. You did your best and all is well for it.” She picked up her boxed centerpiece and left for the front door.
Her words raised a new round of sobbing from the waitress which was muffled by a hug from the cook who just nodded in Lisa’s general direction as an acknowledgement. Jean stood and faced the memorial as well, but lost her voice in the contemplation of death. She curtsied to be formal and followed Lisa in leaving the diner. Before she got to the door, she turned back and picked up her boxed centerpiece as well.
“Well, I feel better after eating. How about you?” Lisa’s cheer as she buckled her seatbelt was not shared by Jean.
“No. I do not! There’s a lot going on that I don’t understand and I need answers.”
Lisa was reminded of how she felt she was going insane when the tarot cycle started. “Yea, I get that. But I won’t have any kind of answer until I’m done going through the cards. So let’s end this roadtrip by taking me home before something else happens! I have to find a replacement job tomorrow. But right now, I need to sleep off that burger… damn that was good.”
“I agree. We both need to get some answers, but my questions are going to be different from yours. I refuse to indulge you with a card pun, so I’m taking you home before you get creative.”
The peace lasted for all of five miles before Lisa began making puns about their trip and the Chariot card. She took great delight in torturing her older sister and encouraging her to speed back to the apartment complex to end the indulgence.
Once home, Lisa filled the vase with fresh water and moved the flowers from the mug into the vase. Their deep red color was suddenly accompanied by a sweet scent.
“Um… Death? I don’t know how this goes, but make it easy for Barbara to get some rest, okay?”
The scent faded and Lisa realized how exhausted she was. She made the adult decision to take a nap, and as she crawled into bed, she declared that this was the best decision she has made all month.
Missed a chapter? Go to the Sounding The Current Masterpost or use the navigation links to read chapter by chapter.