Watch for me by moonligh.., p.13
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       Watch for Me by Moonlight, p.13

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
 
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  Victory!

  We have the goal and we have the soul

  And we’re on a roll for ...

  Victory!

  It was when Merry was perfectly balanced in her Lib on top of the pyramid that she looked into the audience and zeroed in on Ben.

  She didn’t lose her composure—which could have led to a broken vertebra—but she made a soft kissing motion that no one except Mallory saw. He grinned. And when Meredith and Neely hit the floor, while Sasha whirled past them in a flurry of green and white, Merry whispered, “Tenth row up, twelve from the left. That’s him! That’s him!”

  “The guy?” Neely asked, as they rushed off the floor to the crowd’s applause.

  “What guy?” Kim asked. “Oh, that guy! Where?”

  “Right there in front of your face!” Merry said. “The guy wearing the white T-shirt and the beat-up leather jacket.” Covertly, she waved to Ben, who lifted his palm.

  Behind her back, Kim and Neely exchanged looks.

  There was no one in the seat tenth row up, twelfth from the left.

  The only people in that row were old people, no cute boys.

  When Mallory saw her sister’s intense gaze, she, too, glanced over at the spot. For an instant, she believed she saw something, a shimmer in the air. But then nothing. Her head dropped forward and she leaned against Drew.

  Hands held Owen over the kitchen sink as he choked, then wiped and rinsed his mouth. Owen tried to smile. It wasn’t like before. He seemed to be okay except for the throw up. He clung to the arm that held him and gently began to pull off his onesie.

  “We have to go home,” Mallory said. “Owen’s going to get sick again.”

  Both of them ran for the gym doors, and Drew set the land speed record on the back roads getting back to Pilgrim Street.

  Just as they walked into the kitchen, Big Carla was lifting Owen out of his high chair as he began to gag. Carla looked all concerned, even frightened, and when Mallory and Drew burst into the door, she seemed to try to hide Owen behind her.

  “It’s not how it looks,” she said.

  “It doesn’t look any way,” Mallory said. “Why do you say that?”

  “I mean,” Carla said, her face cast down with shame, “I wasn’t just letting him lie there and throw up. I wouldn’t neglect him.” Mallory didn’t answer. Carla held Owen over the sink and gently wiped his lips with a little cloth, just as Merry had seen. Then she drew herself up and glared at Mallory. “What are you staring at? Why’d you come sneaking in here? You come running in here like you think I’m sticking him with pins. It’s not my fault. I can’t help it he’s sickly!” She set Owen in his play yard and he began to cry. When he did, Carla took a deep breath. She seemed to get a grip on herself. Her face changed and Mally could see traces of the loving mother her daughter saw and the young woman she might have been before the tragedy. “He’s okay, I think,” Carla said. “He’s sure not dehydrated, and it was only this one incident of nausea. I’m going to let your mom know, but I call it okay. I’m sorry I yelled at you. I guess I just got scared. There you go, big boy. That’s a big boy.” Carla sat down in the big rocker and held Owen against her chest, softly rocking him back and forth, back and forth, stroking his hair as Owen’s tense little body first wriggled and fought, then finally relaxed. Carla held him closer, and the look she gave Mallory was one of pure sadness.

  Mallory thought Owen probably reminded Carla of her own baby.

  Later that night, when Owen was peacefully asleep in bed with their father, Mallory said to her twin, “It’s frustrating. I don’t know why I can’t see who’s with Owen when he gets sick. I see him. I see hands. That’s it! At least it wasn’t bad this time. I was the last one who fed him. Maybe he’s allergic to something in our house.”

  “That would be awful,” Merry said, yawning.

  “Why aren’t you over at Neely’s?” Mally asked.

  “Tired,” Merry said.

  “Why don’t you have your night shirt on?”

  “Too tired.”

  “Who were you making kissy faces at while you were cheering?” Meredith didn’t answer. “We have to go to that service tomorrow.” Merry said nothing. “Dad gave me this whole talk about Vietnam and how the brothers both went, both of old Mr. and Mrs. Highland’s sons, and one died.” She waited for Meredith to react. “One part, you were right about. The older brother did name one of his kids Ben after his brother.” Mallory paused. “Merry! Answer me. I’m the one who ignores you!”

  “I’m not ignoring you.”

  “You’re not telling me something.”

  There’s a reason she’s not at Neely’s, thought Mallory, and it isn’t because it’s a school night. Meredith stayed over at Neely’s and got the limo ride to school a couple of times a month. How unlike Meredith to keep anything from her twin—to be able to keep anything from her twin, who was trying to pick the lock on her thoughts and getting nowhere with it. Because of the deliberate muddle of multiplication tables and lines of poetry that she could “hear” in Merry’s head, all Mallory knew was that Merry was hiding something.

  Suddenly, her sister’s thoughts came through to her loud and clear—the way they hardly ever did since the twins were in the fire, the way they had when the girls were little.

  And Mallory knew what the something was.

  TO BE? OR NOT TO BE?

  “You’re meeting Ben tonight,” Mallory said. Merry didn’t confirm or deny. “You’re sneaking out! Mer, be careful.”

  “There’s nothing to be careful of! We’re just going to a movie on the kitty bus.” They both laughed at Owen’s words. “I just have to sneak out because it’s the eleven o’clock show. We’re even going to the Belles Artes Theatre for a cultural experience.”

  Mallory had to smile. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

  “Nothing I do would be stupid,” Merry said softly.

  “You know what I mean.”

  “I know what you mean, and nothing we do would be stupid.”

  “Look, what I think about Ben ... you know,” Mally said again. “And we’ll find out tomorrow.”

  “He is someone I already know that I care about, Mal,” Merry said. “Nothing about tomorrow will change that.”

  “I’ll be awake when you get back,” Mallory said. “So no funny stuff.” She sounded like her mother. Later that night, she fell asleep instantly.

  Mallory dreamed of Sasha, her hair pulled back severely and pinned, an old-fashioned nurse’s cap on her head above a starched white uniform—the kind of thing that even Campbell’s professors didn’t wear anymore when they were in college, the kind of thing you saw in museum cases. She was filling little cups with liquid and, into the last cup, injecting a syringe of something she kept capped in her pocket. Owen, Mallory thought! But Sasha knelt and offered each of the three doses to a lady with a sweet, unlined face, who smiled briefly before turning her face to the wall. It was the lady with the hippie jeans from so long ago. Her long blond hair was now almost entirely gray, but she was still beautiful. The woman held a book in veined hands. As Mallory watched, the book slid off the comforter and hit the floor. Sasha picked it up and quickly stacked the three plastic cups, one inside the other. Reaching up, she touched the lady’s neck, then with her index and middle fingers, she closed her eyes. The boy Mallory now knew was Ben came into the room. He shouted at Sasha, who turned her back on him. Still wearing the brown leather jacket, he kneeled at the foot of the lady’s bed and clutched the comforter to his face, crying. But though he held the quilt tightly in his hands, his hands made no wrinkle in it. It lay flat, tucked firmly under the mattress.

  Mally woke, hungry and nauseated at the same time.

  A pool of moonlight centered on the floor between the beds like a gigantic coin.

  Slowly, she got out of bed to creep downstairs for something to eat and to try to think. She didn’t want to wake Meredith.

  But Meredith’s bed was still empty.

  On impulse,
Mallory got out her cell phone and jammed in a text message.

  “I’m not a detective,” Drew said, his hair sticking up. He wouldn’t admit to having been asleep, but he had, for hours. “I don’t even want to be. I’m happy you wanted to go out and drive down to cemetery grove with me.”

  “We’re not going for that. And I don’t care what you did there with anyone else. All I want to know is, you saw Sasha coming out of a house when you went out with your beer buddies. Was it the Highlands’ house? Did you see her go back in?”

  “No. She got into a car with somebody.”

  “Sawyer Brownlee?”

  “I didn’t see. It was a truck. Big new black truck.”

  “Be quiet now. We’re going to have to find a place to park where she won’t see us but we can see her,” Mallory said.

  “Why should we be quiet? It’s winter. It’s March. Do you think they’ll have all their windows open? We’ll pull into the excavated place. Back behind where we go.”

  “Okay,” Mally said.

  They drove past Sasha’s beat-up Malibu. It was the Highlands’ house. Mally was pretty sure that it was the Highlands’ house, anyway. Why did she even have to do this tonight? Tomorrow, she could ask her parents. It was also really wicked cold.

  “How long are we going to sit here?” Drew whispered. The house was two hundred feet away. “Can’t we warm up a little?” He reached for Mallory. “I mean, since we can’t run the engine?”

  “Number one, no we can’t, and number two, I don’t know,” Mally said. “Not long. This is one of my stupider ideas. We know where she lives now. I just want to see. I don’t even know why I care. It’s mixed up in my head with something else. I’m sorry.”

  Just then, Sasha came out of the house.

  And she was wearing the nurse’s uniform Mallory had seen in her vision, including white tights and nurse’s white clogs. Carrying a brown bag with handles. She jumped into her car. But then she got out again and took out a cell phone. Mallory rolled the window down, over Drew’s whispered protests, motioning for him to be silent.

  Sasha said into the phone, “Honey, I can’t even hear you! Keep your pants on. I’ll be there in two shakes. Well, she has that damn funeral tomorrow so she’s all crazy. They’ve had to put it off twice ‘cause she just can’t bear it. Yeah. Poor old thing. I gave her something to make her sleep good. Real good.” Sasha leaned against the hood of the truck and examined her nails. She seemed to be listening to a long recitation on the phone. Occasionally, she threw back her head and laughed. The light went on briefly inside the truck’s cab as Sasha reached inside and popped open a can of beer. “One beer honey! Don’t y’all start being an old lady on me now. I got enough of that right here.” She laughed again and took a long pull on the can of beer. “I’ll never be too tired for that,” she said, snapping the phone shut. Then, humming an old song, she finished the beer, stepped hard on the can and kicked it across the street into the verge of the cemetery.

  It was Drew who, when Sasha’s taillights disappeared, said, “That didn’t sound like Sasha at all.”

  Mallory said, “Maybe it does and we don’t know all the ways she sounds. Why’s she wearing an old-fashioned nurse’s uniform?”

  “Why am I out in the middle of the night spying on a girl who only wants to help out an old lady because my girlfriend is paranoid? So what if she had a beer? So what if she littered? And, might I add, why am I out with my girl on the same night her sister slid down the maple tree too? Sasha’s wearing an old-fashioned nurse’s uniform because it probably comforts old Mrs. Highland to think Sasha Avery is a real nurse instead of a kid. Everybody has an off day. What’s so bad about that?”

  “What if she says she’s a real nurse? That’s not true.”

  “What’s it to you? If it makes Mrs. Highland happy? Brynn, frankly, I usually go along with crazy stuff because of affection, but this is a little off the tracks even for you.”

  “Fine, Drew. Be that way. But first, pull closer to that mailbox and make sure it really says ‘Highland.’”

  It really did.

  All the way home, they didn’t say anything.

  When Mally crept back into her room, Merry was still missing.

  When she opened her eyes again, Meredith was back—fully dressed, lying on top of the quilt in her best dark skirt and sweater, asleep. But the sun was up and the sounds of breakfast were going on in the kitchen.

  When had Merry come home?

  IN THINGS UNSEEN

  There had been nowhere for Meredith and Ben to go after the movie—no car, no house, no place to be alone. They walked up and down the block of shops outside the Belle Artes, stopping for a coffee so Meredith could warm her hands and feet. But finally, even the coffee shop closed.

  Then Meredith remembered that Father Gahagan still held on to the old Catholic tradition of leaving the church doors open twenty-four hours a day. He was public about it—that the church should remain a haven to the weary and the lonely, as it had been since medieval times. People in Ridgeline held their breaths, thinking that there would be spray paint all over the ancient stained glass and the rich carvings in arms of the cherry-wood pew, each depicting an individual saint. But to everyone’s surprise, there had been remarkably few incidents of vandalism, and those few had been minor, one of them an attack of Silly String draped on the priests’ entrance to the church, which caught Father Gahagan in the face like a spider web when he entered to say early Mass. Later in the day, he revealed the incident and said that if it were a message from Sunday-school students, he had actually rather enjoyed it and that it had gotten his heart rate up.

  Like thieves feeling that they’d be observed, Merry and Ben walked the block from the theater to the church and skipped up the steps. Inside, they felt the hush of the sacred space close around them and were comforted by the warmth of the flickering candles and the gentle glow of the Madonna’s lit-up face.

  Together, they sat down in a middle aisle.

  “Should I sit on the groom’s side?” Ben asked. “No, I’ll stand up here. And you walk toward me.”

  Laughing, Merry ran up the aisle and out into the vestibule. She fluffed her hair and tweaked her lip gloss.

  “Okay, your father is offering you his arm,” Ben said. Slowly, Merry glided down the aisle, the low lights shining on her black hair.

  “It will by my mother and my father,” said Merry. “One on each side. And my twin sister.”

  “And now here you are,” Ben said, as she turned to face him across the flickering of the votive candles. “Do girls think about their wedding day?”

  “I do. Yeah, we all do. Not my sister Mallory but everyone else does. We know all the words.”

  “So?” Ben said.

  “Well, I, Meredith, take you, Benjamin, to be my husband, to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, for as long as we both shall live.”

  “Not to obey?”

  “Not me,” Merry laughed.

  “You’ll be a beautiful bride. I wish I could see you.” His smile leaked away from his face, and the mournful look replaced it.

  So here it was, between them, the thing that had to be talked about. They could no longer put it off with old movies or by playing pretend or telling each other how wonderful it felt to be together. The funeral was in the morning. Merry had to ask the questions she dreaded about Ben—the Ben beside her, real and warm. The Ben in her dreams. The Ben who wasn’t the same but had to be.

  If only there was a chance, still a chance, that there was some confusion.

  “Why won’t you be here?” she asked. “When I’m a bride?”

  Ben sat down beside Mallory, his arms along the back of the pew. “I just know I won’t. I’m confused. I’m really tormented, to tell you the truth. I know that this funeral is tomorrow.”

  “Are you sad because you never met him?” Merry asked. “The Ben in your family who served in Vietnam? The one who’s being buried tomorrow.”
<
br />   “Never met who? What do you mean, baby?”

  “The boy who died. That was your uncle, right?” Please, she thought. Please say yes; you’re here for the funeral, but you have to go back and finish a job or enroll in school. I can wait for you.... Ben dropped his head between his knees and held on to the back of his skull, as if trying to squeeze something in or out.

  “Merry, you don’t get it. And I don’t entirely get it either.” Meredith began to cry, which only increased Ben’s obvious pain. “It’s ... it’s a family problem. I ... I’ll stay as long as I can.”

  “Stay as long as you can? Ben, tell me everything. Now. Were you going to leave without telling me? But would you come back? Ever?” Ben gave Merry the look she had begun to think of as belonging to her, the lovely heartbroken sideways smile. “That’s my answer! If you knew you would be back, you’d say so!”

  “I know I’ll see you again,” Ben said, and he lifted his hand gently, sending a shiver down Meredith’s spine, like a tiny electrical shock. “Do you know how much you look like your mom?” Mallory shook her head.

  “I look like my aunt Karin and my grandma, not my mom.”

  “Oh, maybe that is who I’m thinking of. The Brynn girls and women I used to know. Older than me.”

  “Ben is your ... uncle, right? The one who’s being buried.”

  “No, I’m the only Ben.”

  “I don’t know what we’re talking about anymore,” Meredith said dully.

  “Baby, cut it out,” Ben said. “Let’s just stop talking. It’s making you crazy.”

  You’re the one who’s crazy! How can this be happening to me? I’m the only one who can see you. And yet, you’re not a ghost, not like the others. Why?

  Why?

  “If you were a little older, we could go on this road together,” Ben said.

  “Not this road,” Merry said and began to cry harder. “Ben, I don’t understand why this is happening to us. When I saw you, I felt instantly like I knew you.”

 
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