The Strength We Come By (part 3)

She found Jane sitting hunched over at the dining room table, head in her hands, shoulders shaking with sobbing. Her reading glasses lay on top of the tear spattered newspaper. A broken plate lay on the hardwood floor, pieces of egg and toast among the thick yellow and ivory shards. Jane had not displayed this much emotion since she was seven and their father had directed her to stop being a baby about her skinned knee and set a good example for her sisters.

Elena turned her head away, putting a hand to her temple. She didn’t want to witness this breakdown. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled, “I didn’t mean to bother you.” Elena started towards the kitchen where the flowers waited patiently by the sink.

“She called me that night.” Jane’s voice was strained, thick with tears, “I was going to bring her home.”

Elena’s breath caught in her throat. “What?” she whispered, slowly turning to face her sister. They’d never spoken to each other about the night of their younger sister’s murder. It was one of many topics in their wordless pact of things not to be mentioned. The agreement had worked to keep the peace between them since childhood.

“She called you?” Why did Natalie call Jane instead of me? Elena’s mind screamed. Natalie and I were always closer than she and Jane.

“You were busy that night.”

There was no hint of accusation in Jane’s voice, it was a statement of fact, yet Elena felt as if she’d just been convicted of a crime. “Busy?” It was hard to think. Elena let out her breath slowly, dizzy with this information and the too-fast changing rules between them. She squinted with concentration, tapped her forehead. “Oh,” her eyes widened with the memory. “Bill and I were watching some awful movie.” She remembered her first ex-husband clumsily pulling her closer with the instruction to ignore ‘that damn phone’ as it rang for the third time in five minutes. She’d had enough wine that night, and wanted his attention badly enough, that she complied.

Tears of fear and regret and humiliation rose with the gorge in Elena’s throat. “No one left a message. I thought they were wrong numbers. Why didn’t you leave a message? I could’ve done something.” Her voice was shrill. She sounded like a petulant child. She knew it, and hated it, but could not help herself. “Why didn’t you try harder to get a hold of me?”

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