Affection's Framing

When I’m supposed to be sleeping, I often find myself lying wide-awake staring at my ceiling. It was taking its toll, too, affecting my work along with everything else in my life. Considering how hard I’ve worked in the past, my boss let me take a well-needed week off. In the mean-time my boyfriend busied himself with taking care of my happiness at his own expense. Tonight he has taken me out to dinner at Little Gustavo’s Italian Restaurant. It was a splendid dinner, it was the closest I've come to being myself in this whole month. Still ,though, I'd catch myself floating away in my memories.
We were born a year apart, but no two sisters could be closer. We were in perfect sync with on another, and I trusted her with every secret I had. It was no surprise Lilly went to the same college as me and we both graduated; I had a degree in business and she had a degree in art. Soon after college, Lilly found "the man of her dreams.” She'd met him during college, and I saw him a few time, but I was under the impression he wasn't serious. She hadn't told me he was, until she told me they were engaged. I felt numb at first, in denial that she'd left me out of something so important. In attempt to find approval from me, she repeatedly told me that he was perfect and that I'll think so too, once I get to know him. During the various events before the wedding, I did get to know him, and something seemed wrong about him. I kept my feelings to myself, because Lilly was so happy and I was unsure whether it was jealousy moving me to feel that way. Though I tried, Lilly could see right through me, and resented me for it.

Things didn't stay secret for long. At her bachelorette party I lost my control and exploded. When I had finished ranting about her fiance, I instanly regretted it, but I couldn't take it back because I knew what I had said was the truth. I had never hurt Lilly so badly, that look she gave me right befor she ran off in tears still makes my heart twist in anguish. During the final days of planning, I helped her, since that was my job, but we never spoke casually. The wedding went accordingly, but after that, we never saw or spoke to each other.

That is, until five years later. Then Lilly called me in the middle of the night, sobbing miserably into the phone that she needed me to pick her up from a nearby art gallery where they were presenting her work. Although hesitantly, I went. Lilly was my little sister and I would always be there when she needed me.
When I got there, the gallery was empty. I walked around and found her staring at a painting. I almost didn't recognize her because she had become very frail and lifeless since I'd last seen her. She was only the ghost of the loving and happy Lilly I knew. I stood next to her, unsure what to say but, thankfully, I didn't need to. "Kate?" Lilly whispered.

"Yes," I answered.

"You know every painting I paint is inspired by something in my life,” she croaked. She paused as she swallowed back a sob. I waited patiently until she was able to begin again. “You inspired this one," she said. I turned to the painting she was looking at. It was the face of a woman who wore a tired smile. The painting wasn’t realistic enough to look like me, but it was pretty. The face was shaped like a heart with two large and narrow eyes set into the pale skin. Colorful hair flowed from her head to her shoulders. The shoulders were joined to the head by a long, graceful neck.

“Funny, she doesn’t look like me,” I teased.

Lilly grinned faintly at my joke, but when she turned to look at me, she erupted into tears. I stared at her, alarmed. Unsure what I did to upset her. She took a few shuffled steps toward me, embraced me around the waist, and buried her face into my coat. Between sobs I thought I heard her whimper, “I’m sorry.” I embraced her back, at the time not sure what was going on. All I knew was she needed me there to support her crumbling composure. From there I drove her to my house, since she’s refused to go to her house. The rest of the night she briefed me on the years of her life I’d missed.

Their marriage began to suffer within a year. He’d taken to drinking and inevitably getting drunk. When he was sober, he was angry, for no reason it would seem. He and Lilly would fight verbally and physically. At first, the physical harassment was limited to pushing and shoving. It soon morphed into punching and kicking. Lilly never told anyone and tried to hide the bruises. If I had been around, I know I would’ve noticed.

To Lilly the night at the art gallery was unforgivable. She had been struggling in a career in art and finally made her big debut. It was night of victory, a time to celebrate.  However, her husband made an unsuspected appearance, while drunk.  He began trashing the place and harassing the people. When Lilly had enough and began screaming at him, he slammed her against the wall. That’s when the police came and hauled him off. It was after that she called me.

She’d finished explaining by the time the morning sun was creeping through the shades of my window. She left my house on foot, though I offered her a ride, I didn't try to force her because the way she looked that morning, with such renewed energy and confidence, it would make anyone let her do what ever she needed to do. Within that month she filed for divorce. Within the following year, she was in an accident. It was a small car crash. A car from behind slammed into hers. She seemed fine, and she insisted she was. “ Just a small bump on the head,” she’d said lightly. It wasn’t; she’d had a full on concussion in that crash. She didn’t realize until the next day, when it was to late.
“Kate?” I looked up to meet Jake’s gaze. I blinked a couple times, pulling myself back into the present. “Are you ready to go?” he asked. I nodded silently and stood up to leave. From the restaurant, he drove me home. Jake pulled up into my driveway and turned the key in the ignition so the hum of the engine was silenced. He swiveled to me and said, “ I hope you had a good time.”

“I did,” I said, adding a reassuring smile. He grinned back.

“Good.” He paused to take my hand and his cheerful demeanor slipped into something serious. “I know you’re having a hard time dealing with Lilly being gone and I want you to know I’ll always be there for you."I held his gaze for a moment then leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
“You’re too sweet for your own good,” I whispered in his ear. I leaned back into my seat and opened the door, got out, then closed it. I watched as the headlights brightened and he backed out of my driveway. I gave him a short wave, then made my way to the front door. It was dark, so finding my keys in my mammoth purse took a while. Finally, I fished them out and opened the door. The light from inside spilled onto the front porch, making visible a package leaning against the wall. The package was fairly large but thin. Curious, I brought it in with me.
Sitting down on my couch, I laid it on the carpet in front of me. There were no stickers on it, so the mailman hadn’t delivered it, plus I would’ve seen it before I left the house for dinner if he had. A little suspicious of this privately-delivered package, I carefully opened it. The box was filled to the brim with packing peanuts, hiding the item. I fingered my way through the packing until I touched something hard. It was too flat to pull out, so I went to the edge. I wedged my fingers between the box and the item’s edge and brought it to the surface of the peanuts, spilling some onto the floor as I did. Only half of the picture was visible before I could recognize the heart-shaped face and colorful hair. I held the frame in my lap, staring at those tired-happy eyes of Lilly’s me.

Then I cried, like Lilly had the night in the art gallery. I sat, the painting beside me, and bent over so my elbows rested on my knees. The tears streamed down my face and dropped to the floor. I turned my tear-soaked face so I could look at the painting again. Rubbing my eyes dry, I smiled back at the lady in the painting.

No comments: