The only person you love more than Madonna is your sister. Lauren Elizabeth Light—that’s who you want to be when you grow up. Lauren washes her hair with a shampoo that smells like coconuts and she spends an hour a day doing cartwheels and backhand springs on the mat your father keeps for her in the garage. Lauren is ten, only three years older than you, but she’s “mature beyond her years” according to June, the old woman who lives next door. It’s totally true what June says. When your mother and father fight, it’s Lauren who goes into the kitchen and makes them sit down at the table to talk it out. She says things she’s heard on Oprah, like “Mom, you are totally having an aha moment right now,” and she takes your father by the hand and instructs him to take your mother by the hand and tell her how much he loves her right down to the little mole on her upper lip.
How did Lauren get so smart? Maybe it’s because she lived so long in your mother’s womb. “An extra three weeks,” Mom says. “I thought you were never going to come out.” Meanwhile you “shot out like a cannon” eight weeks early, making you stay in the hospital for an extra month because your bones weren’t developed enough, and your breath sounded like an “old wheezing woman.” You got your nickname, Bean, because of your size, because for a little while it looked like you might not make it.
Unfortunately your sister is really only nice to you when your parents are fighting. Mostly she slams the door in your face and tells you she wishes you had never been born. The only time she lets you sleep in bed with her is on Halloween and even then she is a little mean. She rolls her eyeballs back in her head and moans and pretends to be inhabited by the dead spirit of a woman named Violet who died a hundred years ago. Violet whispers: “Give your sister your Snickers bars or she will die” and you do it because you think maybe this will be the year that Lauren finally invites you into her babysitting club or lets you dance with her friends down in the den during her slumber parties.
This never happens. This will never happen and today, on your seventh birthday, you take a deep breath and march right up to Lauren’s door. Knock, knock, knock. You can hear her in there talking on the phone, laughing hard. You knock again and again. All you want is for Lauren to please come to the skating rink for your party. Lauren is the best skater in the world. Someday she wants to be a professional dancer and you know she will do it, too. Because Lauren does everything she puts her mind to. She even learned to read when she was two.
Finally you do the only thing you can. You twist the doorknob and to your surprise—click, turn, it opens. Suddenly you’re met with the smell of Lauren’s perfume—a scent by her idol Debbie Gibson that smells like the drugstore it came from. Lauren invites you in, something she’s never done before.
“Perfect timing, Bean,” she says. Her lips are coated in shiny gloss and her permed hair bounces above her shoulders. She takes your hand and leads you to her huge walk-in closet. You’ve never been inside, but you’ve imagined many times the toys and treats she’s got tucked away in there.
“Your present’s on the bottom shelf.” You stand there, gaping, because this is truly the most shocking thing that’s ever happened. You have to be pushed to go in and before you can start your search for the present, the door is shut behind you. And then it’s locked.
Lauren laughs for a long time and you scream, but it’s really for no reason because your parents are out getting the cake. Lauren’s in charge.
You scream until you’re sweaty, until you collapse on a pile of Lauren’s clothes. She knows you’re scared of the dark, that some nights you sleep on blankets on your parents’ floor and even then, with the sound of their breathing beside you, you are terrified. Freddy Krueger’s the reason you got kicked out of Mallory Simmons’s group, because you woke her parents up because you were scared after you watched the movie. “Freddy’s not real,” Mallory and Shannon laughed but that striped sweater and those long nails haunt you.
By the time the music starts, you’re crying. It doesn’t take long to realize it’s “Thriller” by Michael Jackson and when the man with the creaky voice starts going on about the dead, you whisper what your mother said last night when she burnt the brisket: “Damn, damn, damn.” You cover your ears, but you can still hear the man talking and Lauren plays the song again and again. When the door finally opens, Lauren stands above you, her arms crossed.
“I’d rather die than go to your stupid shitty party,” she says and walks out. You’ve never been in her room alone before and you take it all in: the poster of shirtless Patrick Swayze on the ceiling over her bed, the glow in the dark stars that cover the walls. And then you see it—the picture of her with Debbie Gibson, taken last year when Debbie came to the mall. Your sister’s cheeks are tear-streaked and red, the same way yours look now and you take the picture out of the frame and rip it into pieces. AHA you write on Lauren’s satin pillowcase and then you sprinkle the pieces of Debbie and Lauren over the duvet the way you sprinkled the rose petals down the aisle last summer when you were the flower girl at your cousin’s wedding.
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