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“They’ll be proud.” She takes off her blazer, hangs it carefully. She’s right; that’s how our parents will say they feel.
“Jana … you realize that Kyle will see you?”
She shrugs, her back to me. She unzips her suitcase and begins unfolding the clothes I just packed. Jana’s being on TV will be big news back home. Kyle’s parents will be sure to tell him. From there, no doubt he’ll find Jana’s blog, her zealous condemnations of Caitlin.
“That boy with the clipboard called you Mrs. Sheehan.”
She reaches again for her phone. “It’s my name,” she texts.
“But when Kyle sees that on TV, what does it say? It says you’re still his.”
“That’s your opinion.”
“Don’t you think he’ll get in touch with you?” He’ll be upset that she’s suffered without him. He won’t be able to handle her not needing him. “Jana—you’re not doing this to get him back—are you?”
She turns to face me, shaking her head. “Go to hell,” she rasps.
“Why, then? Why would you want to be a lackey for some über-conservative witch?”
“That’s your opinion,” she says, then types: “34. Divorced. Cancer. Not going to waste more time.”
“I can understand wanting a change; that’s natural after trauma. But this?”
“A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A chance to make a difference.”
Clichés—but to point that out would be pointless. “You could do that in so many ways. With your skill set, if we moved out East, you could do anything you wanted.”
“Your world, not mine.”
“So Seattle, then, San Francisco. We’ll go together, start over.”
“Start. Over.” she types. “Get it?”
“Why would you want to add to this spectacle? It’s gross, Jana, it’s not you. We could go anywhere, do anything. ”
“No,” Jana says aloud, “we can’t.” Her weakened voice is almost a sigh. “Irene—how can I start over if you’re with me?”
Suddenly she appears beside herself on the muted TV. That other Jana smiles at the camera, tilting her head toward Gold’s foam-tipped microphone. What’s she saying?
“I need space,” Jana texts. “I need to do my own thing.” She clears her throat. “I’m sorry,” she says.
“It’s not you, it’s me,” I say. “Didn’t you forget that one?”
“Irene—stop. I want this. They want me. Why can’t you ever be happy for me?” The living Jana frowns beside her doppelgänger.
“I can’t be happy when you’re making a terrible decision.”
She opens her mouth, then winces, texts. “I’m staying until the trial’s over. After that, we’ll see.”
“Jana, I—” What? I don’t want you to treat me like this? I moved to Michigan for you, so you can’t do this to me? I try again: “You’re better than this.”
“This is a good thing,” she texts. “An opportunity. You & I will be happier living our own lives again.”
I think of what my résumé will look like, the cover letter that will be necessary to explain my choices. What’s left of my own life?
“You could move in with Mom & Dad,” she types. “Until you figure out what you want.”
She’s serious, and I feel my throat closing as it does when I’m angry. I’ve always cried when I want to scream, always looked weaker than I am. I walked willingly into all of this—sacrificing my life and career to “save” my sister, who maybe only needed a scapegoat. Someone to seem like the instigator, the villain, the author of restraining orders. Someone to take care of her until she was recovered. If she ever needed me at all.
“I could slap you.” I know full well what I’m saying.
Her dark eyes widen. “No,” she says. “You could not.”
I shake my head to push back the pain in my throat; I can barely speak. I take up my phone: “I love you,” I text her. “I’m here if you need me.”
“Oh, Reny,” Jana’s sharp features go soft. She crosses the room, hugs me—so close that I can feel her scarf against my neck. “I know. And I couldn’t have done this without you. I really couldn’t.”
* * *
The Martin trial will go for weeks and weeks, and my sister will weigh in on each day’s proceedings. On air, her hair will grow higher and glossier, her outfits a succession of primary colors. Always, her blouses will fall open at the throat, displaying a scar lightened by makeup but still insistent. Jana will smile silently as Tamara Gold inveighs against “the new Delilah,” then she’ll offer a more restrained version of the same sentiment: “Caitlin simply doesn’t value human life.” When her voice is up to it, Jana will call on the weekends. I won’t know, I won’t ask, what her life in Florida consists of, besides The Gold Standard. I won’t follow the trial itself anymore, though I’ll know where it’s heading. Instead I’ll send out job applications, make amends with my parents, focus on my new beginning. Eventually, late some night, I’ll seek out Jana’s first interview with Tamara Gold. I know that in it, Jana will still look like herself, with her braided crown of hair and a creamy scarf to hide her scar. She’ll press her palms to her neck, then lower her hands before leaning close to the microphone. “This case has inspired a passion in me,” she’ll say. Her voice will sound clear and strong, with what effort only I know. “I hope to draw attention to it through my blog; I hope I can be a small part of justice for Brian and others like him.” And Tamara Gold, hugging my sister with one arm, will say “You are so brave, to come down here in your condition. To sacrifice so much, for a total stranger.”