Excerpt: Living in Sin
Audra slides her hand over my collarbone, slipping the satin pink bra strap over my shoulder. I bat her hand away and adjust my bra.
“Ouch,” she says, withdrawing to her end of the couch. “I did take a shower this morning.” She picks up her neon pink coffee mug and takes a sip.
“I love you.” I scan my pile of papers, frantic to finish my report before the deadline. “I’m just…”
“Busy,” Audra offers. She takes another sip, watching me.
“I’ve got to finish before Grandma’s birthday party.”
At the silence, I realize my mistake. “Look, I’m sorry. I know you want to go, but it’ll be tapioca pudding and cake with dull conversation.”
Two patches of pink appear on Audra’s cheeks, and she clinks her cup onto the ceramic mosaic coaster. We chose the set together when she first moved in. “You act like you’re ashamed of me.”
I groan. “We’ve gone through this a thousand times. That’s not how my family works.”
“Huh.” Audra stands up and carries her mug to the kitchen sink. “Thought I was part of your family.” She returns to the living room and sits in the chair furthest away from me.
I pound away for five full minutes until I give in. Audra has silent treatment down to a science. I can apologize, but it won’t change anything. “I need some space,” I plead.
“That can be arranged.” She stalks out of the room and slams our bedroom door.
“Sorry I’m late.” An hour later, I lay my silver-wrapped package on the divider next to my parents’ entryway. “I had to finish some work.”
Dad gives a grunt as he carries an enormous box fan to set up in the hallway. Company means more body heat, and this spring is warmer than usual. “Everyone else is in Grandma’s room.”
My aunt and uncle must have arrived earlier than usual. I wonder if Mom is upset at my tardiness, but I head down the hallway before I can think.
“Ciara!” My mom senses my entrance even though she seems preoccupied with helping Grandma sit up. Grandma’s white hair waves around her face, a testament to Mom’s skill in rolling the multicolored curlers. Pink for smaller curls on the top, blue for larger ones toward the back, and green at the bottom for a hint of curl.
“Hi, Grandma,” I say, and I hug her in between her oxygen tubes. I’m glad they keep her alive, but I hate how they’ve turned my grandmother into a frail old woman. “Happy birthday.”
“Adele,” she replies, and everyone avoids looking at my mother. I’m her twin, everyone says, and Grandma gets confused. Today must be one of her bad days. “What are you doing out of school? Tell Dad to come home early.”
“Okay,” I answer, and I kiss her cheek. What good would it do to correct her? I’d only make her upset, and she wouldn’t believe me. I turn to hug the others. “How’re you, Uncle Ted? Auntie Marge, how’s your knee?”
Auntie Marge smells like lilacs, the way she always does, but she has a new cane. “Can’t complain,” she says, tapping the four-pronged tips against the floor. “You missed church last week. Pastor Janice gave a good sermon, too. She set all the biddies abuzz by talking about that so-called homosexual marriage. Such a shock to everyone. Evelyn gave her pacemaker a workout. You’re looking tired. Don’t you get any rest?”
Not much, but I don’t say the words aloud. Today’s fatigue reflects conflict with Audra rather than lack of sleep. “My roommate kept me up.” It’s a handy tactic, telling the truth in order to deceive.
“You should bring her over,” Uncle Ted says, leaning back in his upholstered armchair and folding his hands across his ample stomach. “Nice girl.”
I made the mistake of bringing Audra to a family picnic when we first met, and everyone loved her. She hates the same football team as Uncle Ted, which made her a favorite for life. Then Audra and I became more than friends, and everything changed. I couldn’t risk having her in the same room as my family.
“Don’t bother her poor roommate. If Ciara brings anyone over, it should be a nice young man. You never called the last one back, did you? You should give Scott a call,” Auntie Marge scolds. “He’s got a co-worker who would be perfect for you. If you’re too picky, you’ll find yourself an old maid. Don’t laugh at me! You’d think I don’t know anything about life.” She tugs at the lightweight shawl she insists on wearing no matter how hot the weather.
Maybe I should mind her words more, but I grin. Auntie Marge means, I badgered my son until he picked a random person for a blind date. I probably would care if Scott and I didn’t have an understanding. I go on the “dates” he sets up, to make his mom happy, but he warns the guys I only want a friendly, one-time outing. In exchange for keeping his mom off his back, Scott drops by now and then to help with maintenance tasks around the house. Come to think of it, the air conditioner has been wheezing lately. It could use some of Scott’s tender loving care.
Before I can ask about Scott’s absence, Mom fusses with Grandma’s oxygen tube. “You can wear my good necklace if you want.”
“No!” I exclaim, before I can stop myself. With Mom’s pearls and their gold clasp, Scott’s co-worker will wonder whether I’m fifty years old. If I don’t stop her now, she’ll insist on styling my hair as well. “They’re worth a fortune.” The truth does come in handy, doesn’t it? “I’d never forgive myself if something happened to them.” Such as taking off the necklace, stowing it underneath the table in the restaurant, and forgetting it there.