Sisters

This is the first story inspired by the Jesus bracelet. See this earlier post for the picture and explanation.

I twisted the key in the ignition, killing the hatchback’s engine, and took a deep breath.  It was just a grocery store. I could do this.
I yanked on the door handle and levered myself out of the car.  My eyes stayed glued to the pavement all the way to the automatic doors.  If I kept my head down, maybe I’d get through this unnoticed.
It was the middle of the day, so chances were slim that anyone here would recognize me.  Still, I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone, so I erred on the side of paranoid and made a beeline for the TV dinners.  No one ever stuck around in that aisle.
I sighed in relief when I got there without making eye contact with anyone.  Safe from pitying smiles and painful condolences, I stared at the colorful array of single serving boxes.  She’d always teased me about eating so many of these things, claiming I’d wake up one day made of cardboard.  My eyelids fell shut and I dragged a calloused hand down my face.  My sister would be handling this so much better.
Yeah, I probably would be, and you know why.
I whipped around so fast my foot slipped.  Elbows went flying, along with half the chip bags on the snack shelf behind me.  I leaned back against the chilly, glass doors of the refrigerator.  A groan slipped out of my mouth while a tear dripped down my cheek.  Of course it wasn’t her.  She was gone.
She was … d-
Well, she wasn’t ever coming back.
“I can’t do church, sis,” I whispered.  “That was always your thing.”  I pulled in a deep breath and started picking up bags.
“Oh, let me help.”
I spun toward the unfamiliar voice, latching onto the distraction.  She was pretty, in a nondescript way.  Not exactly worth a double take, but something in her smile made my gaze linger anyway.  Somehow it reminded me of my sister, though they shared none of the same features.  Then she began grabbing bags and I blinked myself back into the moment.
“Thanks,” I said.
We replaced bags in silence while I tried to get my head back on straight.  Our hands bumped when we both reached for the last bag at the same time.
“Oh, sorry.”  We spoke over each other.  There was that smile again.
I watched as she lifted the bag to the shelf.  A colorful bracelet made of an eclectic assortment of beads dangled from her wrist.  The crafty looking jewelry brought back long buried memories, and for the first time in several weeks, a smile crept onto my face.
“I like your bracelet.”  Wait, did I say that out loud?
She turned back toward me.  What was it about that smile?
“Thanks. I made it.”
“I wondered.”  I bit my lip.  Oh, what the heck.  “I used to make things like that a lot.”
“Really?  That’s awesome.  But you know, this isn’t just a pretty piece of jewelry.  It tells the life story of Jesus.”
My chest tightened and I began to get a hint of why her smile seemed so familiar.
“Would you like to hear the story?”
I barely held back a cringe.  How many times had my sister tried to tell me about her faith?  I could feel the automatic refusal click into place.  The same words I’d repeated to her over and over.
Then her face drifted up in my memory.  The way her brows wrinkled with hurt every time I’d declined to hear her.  The way her shoulders slumped, as if I wasn’t just rejecting her words, but rejecting her.  The refusal lodged in my throat before it could leave my mouth.
If I’d only known how little time I would have with her.  If I could just go back and listen for once.
My surroundings snapped back into place and I was again staring at the woman in the store.  She was still waiting for my answer, that smile brushing her lips again.  I took a deep breath.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’d like to hear the story.”

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