Last thing on earth I ever wanted to do.
That’s what I told Shaneesha.
“It’s the last thing on earth I ever wanted to do. You think I forgot all about what happened between you and Darrell? Well, bingo! Guess what? I haven’t.”
She sighed like she was aiming for Overly Patient Martyr of the Year Award. “Anne, please. Not that old business all over again.”
“Old business? Is that what it all is to you? Old business?”
“Darrell and I aren’t even together anymore. So, what’s the big deal?”
“Well, he sure isn’t with me!”
“Well, maybe you should have fought harder for him.”
My mouth dropped open. I trembled with rage. “Fought harder. How? How was I supposed to fight against someone like you? Shaneesha the prettier daughter. Shaneesha the smarter daughter. Shaneesha the more attractive daughter. Shaneesha the wonderful daughter who wasn’t trying to pass herself off as white.”
“None of those things are my fault. Don’t go blaming me for things you don’t got.”
My rage churned. “Like heck I’ll pose with you for that blamed portrait! You hear me fine? Like freaking HECK!”
“Oh, calm down. It’s just one picture and then we can retreat to our separate worlds.”
I ended the call.
I considered throwing the phone into the garbage and setting it aflame. That was something Shaneesha would never do. Only Anne the white girl imposter would do something that stupid.
I set the phone on the cushion next to me on the couch and folded my arms across my chest. I slumped down into a disgraceful slouch.
I fell into a daydream of slipping through the couch’s cushions and falling into a world of misplaced silverware, cookie crumbs, AA batteries, AAA batteries, and the occasional non-working flashlight. What would it smell like? Probably heavy with stench. How far down would it go? All the way to the floor. Maybe even lower than that. What would live in there? Ants, no doubt about it. Spiders. Small spiders. Little nameless beady bugs. Silverfish. Would I shrink as I fell or would I stay my full size?
My phone rang again. Whitney Houston belting out “I’m Every Woman”. Shaneesha again.
“I could ignore it. I probably should ignore it.” But I picked up the phone and answered it. “What do you want? Did you not—-”
She wasn’t crying, but something was heavy and wrong with her voice. “Neesh?” I sat up. “What? What’s—”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to react. So, I numbly said the only thing I could, “Darrell? My Darrell?” It was too surreal. It couldn’t be true. Not him. He couldn’t be dead. “If this is some sick trick of yours—”
“Anne.” Her voice sounded like it was being squeezed by channellock pliers. And that’s when I knew that it wasn’t some trick. It was true. It was real.
My stupid, wayward Darrell was dead.
“I’m coming over.” I ended the call, ran upstairs, changed into something clean and presentable, straightened my hair, and hurried out the door.
I made it to her house as fast as I could without hitting any illegal numbers or cheating my way through traffic.
I got out of my car, ran up to her front door. It was unlocked. I went inside.
I didn’t have to go looking for her. I knew where she’d be – the living room. It was her favorite room in the whole house. It was her den. Her sanctuary. She always went in there to have her cries.
I entered the living room and found her right away. Shaneesha was sitting on the couch with her face buried in her hands. “Neesh?”
She uncovered her face, but she didn’t look up at me. So, I went over to her. I sat beside her.
Shaneesha was as beautiful as anything. Her long, long hair was bound up in perfect, tight braids. They were tight enough that you couldn’t push a pin through them, but not tight enough to go full Pippi Longstocking. They were so perfect. Just like her.
She wore a black leather jacket with sharp zipper accents, clean blue jeans, and matte black boots. She looked fantastic, minus the fact that she was clearly crying.
“Neesh, I’m here. What happened? How did…” I couldn’t say his name. I couldn’t ask that question with his name tucked in there. “How did he die?”
My head swam. My entire world snapped in half. Each half spun in the wrong direction. “Suicide?”
Her chin wobbled as she struggled to keep herself in one piece. “I don’t know.” Her voice wobbled as bad as her chin. Maybe worse.
“This is real, right? This isn’t a ploy to force me into posing with you, right?”
She wordlessly shook her head.
“Then.” I felt like I was going to tip over. My world was too broken. It was spinning too far out of order. “He really is dead. Darrell is dead for real.”
I tried to make sense of it. But how can anyone make sense of a senseless death.
Darrell, my Darrell overdosed. I didn’t need to know what kind of junk did him in. I didn’t want to know. Just like I didn’t really want to know if it were intentional or not. It was hurtful enough to know that he was dead.
He would never get a chance to be mine again.
I looked at my older sister as she tried to keep herself all together. She tried and failed so hard. “Fine. You win. I’ll pose with you for the stupid portrait.”
She looked up at me. I could count the fractures and shatter liness in her heart. “Thank you.”
We sat in the photographer’s study. It was a nice place — all lush and deluxe and expensive. Lots of fancy wood. TONS of leather. Oriental carpets and fancy feet tapestries.
The photographer had Shaneesha sit in a deliberately weathered leather chair. Probably cost an easy twelve thousand dollars, if I had to put an actual price tag on it. He had me semi-perch on the arm rest.
We were a fine study in contrasts – my sister and I. She was all dressed in her casual fines and I was wearing my yellow jumpsuit with my big ol’ hoop earrings and that shiny gold necklace Mom got me for my 16th birthday. It was so yellow and so shiny. I had always wondered if it were really gold.
Shaneesha wore very natural, very neutral makeup. I wore my favorite liquid eyeliner. It was a bright yellow that almost matched my jumpsuit. It perfectly matched the painted tips of my fingernails. Her nails were natural length and shape with a minimal layer of nail varnish on them to make ’em shine.
The photographer gave us all sorts of directions. How to sit. How to look. How to smile with our eyes. And for goodness sake sit closer together.
I couldn’t possibly sit closer to Shaneesha without plain jumping into her lap.
“Anne.” she said softly. She raised her hand and unfurled her index finger.
I understood. It was our old hand signal. I put my arm around her back and our index fingers entwined.
She looked straight ahead at the photographer and tried to find a reason to smile.
I looked towards the big bay window and thought about Darrell.
Maybe some day I would want to know all of the details. Maybe some day I would ask all of those questions that hurt so bad.
But that day would not be any time soon.
I held onto my older sister’s finger and she held onto mine.