I watched her walk down the aisle with another man. I’d always known it would happen someday, but I hadn’t expected tragedy to strike like lightning or, dear God, so soon. My Lily looked like an ice princess in her alabaster gown with its silver beads and pearls glittering in the mellow light of the church. In his tuxedo, he looked like the usurper he was.
Her smile glanced off me as she passed the family pew. Brief, oh, so brief that touch before she looked up at her future husband. She was radiant, but with each step she took another piece broke off my heart. Lily was a ballerina and, graceful as the dancer in Swan Lake, glided down her long walk to matrimony. Too soon, they reached the altar.
The man marrying my sister spoke his part, the words echoing hollowly in the expanse of the church. Then…
“Do you, Lily Jane Spears…”
I think while she said her vows I held my breath, perhaps, unable to breathe at all.
Then the breathless moment was over. He folded back the innocent veil and kissed my Lily. He probably thought she was a virgin. She should have been. She certainly looked virginal in her sacrificial robes. Head held high, a nineteen-year-old girl had bravely took that fatal walk, and now swept down the same aisle a married woman.
She was beautiful. She was his wife. She wasn’t mine anymore.
With the arrival of this moment, our secret was secured, but I was the one left behind. Lily had always feared that I’d go first, and in truth, I thought I’d be the initial victim of our mother’s marriage mill. Everything had happened quite differently than expected. Lily had been a better return on investment. Peter Fellows had more than two pennies to rub together.
One couldn’t really blame Mom. After Father’s death, we’d been forced to move from the land of milk and honey. Thomas Furman Spears had provided well for his family while he lived, but with his demise, he’d abandoned us to near poverty. A long-haul trucker cum potato farmer didn’t put us in the category of wealthy, but he’d spoiled both his children, though, in fact, I’d known Lily was his favorite.
After Father passed, we moved to the Lone Star State, and Mother returned to work as an admin for a scrooge of a boss. At fifteen, to help with expenses, I took a part-time job in the hardware store after school three days a week. At sixteen, Lily was suddenly thrust into the role of homemaker, welcoming us both home at night.
I felt isolated now. Cast away in an emotional storm. I grasped at my rigid control. My thoughts wandered from the floral-scented church and the tragedy playing out before me to the not-so-distant past. To other teenagers, three years was an eternity. To us, it was a time of learning and togetherness—and of startling revelations for me.
I’d preferred to think Lily felt as I did. That certain things were timeless. That belief betrayed me.
Prospector’s Rest, Six Months Earlier
The Meadow Valley High School was a stately structure resembling a classic English University, ivy crawling along the brick front and cement bay windows overlooking a parklike entryway. I often wondered how such a building had found its way to a small town in West Texas. The area wasn’t exactly known for its beauty and culture, but when Dad died, we’d left Idaho, returning to my mother’s hometown. I don’t think she even glanced over her shoulder as we passed over the Idaho state line. She did toot the car horn, but that was our way of marking progress wherever we went.
I awoke from the sudden flood of memories when another student bumped into me, spilling her books to the grass.
“Sorry!” Jane Perkins grimaced. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
I’d seen Jane around school. She was a pretty girl with long brown hair as straight as my own and eyes the color of a gray winter morning. She held my gaze for a long moment, then smiled before bending quickly to retrieve her books.
“Let me help.” I grabbed a volume from the grass and handed it to her.
“Thanks. Sorry again.” She turned to go, turned back. “Say, Asher, are you going to the Prom?”
“No plans yet,” I said.
Peter Fellows, a Senior this year, had asked Lily, and she’d accepted though he was a year older and a grade ahead of her.
“If you don’t have a date—I don’t have one—I mean would you like to go together.” The invitation came out on a rush, and Jane’s high cheekbones pinkened. A lot of people in the area had Native American blood. Jane’s features, including her cheeks, was classic.
“Sure.” I smiled, letting my hand come to rest on her elbow in an unassuming caress.
Her blush deepened, as enchanting as her smile. “Great. I’m late for class.” She shoved a folded piece of paper into my hand. “Call me. I’ll call you back. We’ll plan for the Prom. There’s your sister.”
Jane pointed to a cluster of students milling around, waiting for the school bus.
“Talk later then.” I smiled, and she hesitated a minute, staring at me.
“Later.” She waved.
As I drew nearer where my sister stood, the conversation within her little group came clear.
“Have you seen the new Star Wars movie yet?” The boy fiddled with car keys on a long chain, regarding my sister with big brown cow eyes.
She shook her head. Her hair captured the afternoon sun in a copper halo. In fact, in her long white dress—why were pretty dresses called Sunday clothes?—she looked like a fiery-haired angel. This morning as we dressed for school, she’d cursed that she hadn’t had time to do the laundry and was going to be overdressed.
She’d been concerned about the other girls' opinions. I’d laughed and said, ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it.’ Now, that wisdom and witticism had come back to bite my butt...hard.
If you have any comments or suggestions, please share. This is very much a work in progress! Happy 14th of May!