The true source of Melinda’s cringe was the fact that her parents had not yet arrived. Melinda had cut her departure time as closely as possible in the hopes that her parents would beat her to Susan’s. However, she had begun to grow anxious and had decided that she’d best set off or risk Susan’s extreme displeasure by arriving late. Now she wished she’d arrived late instead.
You’re being ridiculous, she told herself. She’s your own sister, for God’s sake. What on Earth do you think she can possibly do to you?
Ignoring the responses that instantly sprang to mind, Melinda parked her car at Susan’s curb and then hurried through the chill autumn air up to her sister’s porch. She had just lifted her hand to knock when the door opened, startling Melinda.
“Susan,” she said, staring at her sister in confusion. It was almost as though her sister had been standing right next to the door, peering out the sidelight and looking for her family’s arrival. Melinda quickly dismissed the thought as ludicrous and brushed it aside.
“Hello, Melinda,” Susan said, her mouth slightly down turned in the expression of mild distaste she always seemed to wear around her sister.
“Um, hi,” Melinda said, feeling awkward and peeved. Why the hell should she always feel so on edge around Susan?
“Come in. You’re letting all the heat out,” Susan said petulantly. She opened the door wider and Melinda stepped inside.
“Sorry,” she murmured as she shrugged out of her coat.
Susan let out a martyred sigh. “Don’t worry about it. Here, give me your coat. Why don’t you go ahead and have a seat while I put this away?”
“Okay.” Melinda moved into her sister’s living room and perched uncomfortably on the edge of the couch while Susan hung her coat. Susan’s furniture was unnaturally clean and perfect, as if no human rear end had ever besmirched its surface. She had a couch and two armchairs, all done in a tasteful top-grain, taupe Italian leather, along with a coffee table and end tables made of mahogany that had been polished until it gleamed. The room fairly reeked of money.
“Would you like something to drink?” Susan asked. If she hadn’t spoken the words as stiffly as a board, Melinda might have thought she was actually being hospitable.
“What would you like? Water? Brandy? Wine?”
“Wine. Wine would be great, thanks.”
“White or red?”
“Whatever you think would be nice,” Melinda said hastily, before her sister could start naming vintages.
A look of exasperation came into Susan’s eyes before she turned away and disappeared into the kitchen. Melinda strained to hear everything that was going on outside in the hopes of catching the sound of the engine of her parents’ car.
Susan came back into the room and handed Melinda a chilled cut crystal glass of white wine. Melinda forced herself to take small, delicate sips, fighting hard to resist the temptation to knock back the whole glass back at once. She usually felt as if she needed a drink to calm her nerves when she was around her sister, but she refused to give Susan the satisfaction of having one more thing about which to criticize her.
“So…how’s work?” Melinda asked, when she could stand the silence no longer.
“Fine,” Susan said, her mouth barely moving.
Holy shit, Susan, don’t be so talkative. She had to duck her head to hide her smile from her sister.
“Glad to hear it,” Melinda told her.
There was another awkward silence and then Susan asked, “How are you doing at work?”
“Fine.” Melinda wanted to laugh at the farce going on, but she was afraid she would dissolve into a hysterical fit if she did. Susan was hardly the person Melinda would have chosen were she looking for someone in whom to confide.
“I’m glad you were able to make it.” Susan didn’t sound the least bit sincere.
“So am I,” said Melinda, in a sugary voice.
Fortunately, at that moment, they heard the sound of their parents pulling into Susan’s driveway. As her sister got up to answer the door, Melinda felt her spine slump in relief. The meeting between them had had all the ease and casualness of a meeting between Emma Woodhouse and Augusta Elton.