“Mom, she’ll be here any minute. The blinds are going to have a permanent dent in them if you keep bending them like that,” stated Star.
Mom, who preferred her children to call her by her middle name, Allie, let go of the blind and wiped her finger on her apron. Dust particles floated in the sunlight piercing through the kitchen window. Allie turned towards Star, who sat at the brand-new kitchen table reading a People magazine.
“When did Wendy say she’d get here again?” questioned Mom, who was nervously wringing her hands, a sign of anxiety. Mom had a thing for fidgeting in times of stress and kept smoothing down the periwinkle blouse and matching skirt even though they had been pressed to perfection.
“For the thousandth time, Mom, Wendy only estimated. She said the flight landed at one o’clock. Considering that it only takes an hour and a half from Freud International to here, I’m guessing between two and three,” answered Star. Her long blonde curls fell over her face as she looked back down to continue reading about the most recent divorce between two movie stars.
Hearing the sound of a car engine, Allie twirled around, once again bending the blinds to try and catch a glimpse of her eldest daughter coming down the street. She had no idea what kind of car Wendy drove. Oh, if she had only bought her a car on her 16th birthday, just like all the other high-school girls got for their birthdays. Allie sighed. She had only wanted what was best for her child; Wendy was special, no one could’ve predicted that treating her different than the other girls would cause such a rift between mother and daughter. She blamed herself.
The problem not only lied with Allie, but with Star as well. Star didn’t show her emotions very much, but Allie knew Wendy’s leaving troubled her very much. Allie didn’t know the extent of the hurt because Star wouldn’t let her in, but just by observing Star’s withdrawing over the years knew there was a great deal of pain beneath the surface of her youngest.
The car zoomed past the driveway. Wendy wasn’t driving the blue Neon. Allie kept the blind bent, admiring her beautifully manicured lawn with the stone bird bath in the midst of gorgeous yellow sunflowers, violet petunias, and pink tulips. Before her beloved husband, Matt, tragically died three years ago, he wanted her to have the best looking yard in the neighborhood. He researched the best landscaping companies around, paying an individual contractor double to recreate the exact design Allie’s grandmother had in her front yard. Allie’s grandmother had been very special to the family, but had passed away from lung cancer a year ago. Every time she drove home from work, or just looked out the front window, Allie thought of her grandmother. She wished her grandmother would’ve stayed alive to be there for the reunion of mother and daughter.
Another car engine drew Allie out of her sadness. This time, the green Honda coming down the street slowed as if it was looking for a specific house number. Allie caught her breath, widening the blind further, and pressed her face to the glass.
“Star, this car’s slowing down!” exclaimed Allie.
Star jumped up, flinging the magazine across the kitchen, eager for her sister’s arrival more than she let on. Sliding across the floor in her pink Victoria’s Secret slippers, she huddled next to Allie at the window.
“I called Janice’s mom and found out their rental car was a green Toyota Camry,” said Star. “She is going to meet them after they stop by here.”
The blinds were now permanently bent. Two heads couldn’t fit in between the blinds any more than one could. Allie pulled the string, and they shot upward, exposing the whole window, providing a clearer view of the front yard, street and driveway.
As the green Honda cruised past the house without stopping, Star’s mind went back to a day just like this one, one month into freshman year at Westfield High, when she and Wendy, a sophomore at the time, were waiting at the window for Star’s new upperclassman boyfriend, Luke.
“Move over, I can’t see!” Star pushed Wendy out of her spot by the window because she was antsy and squirreling around and wanted to be the first to see the blue pickup when it turned the corner. Luke was supposed to pick her up at nine. The basketball game, which she missed because of a science project meeting, had ended at eight-thirty. Luke said he’d leave right away to come and get her so they could go to Harry’s together with the rest of the gang.
Wendy didn’t complain at being pushed, and casually walked to the then ten year old kitchen table with its scratches and dents made by none other than Wendy herself. She smirked to herself, knowing that Luke wasn’t going to show up. Luke was an upperclassman, and couldn’t be bothered with little freshman girls dying to go out with the good-looking popular senior. Wendy had been disappointed and hurt too many times by Luke and his kind, and was shocked and mad when he started giving attention to her little sister. Star had lapped it up like a love-struck puppy. Fortunately, this was the first time they had planned to actually go out somewhere, and if he didn’t show up, hopefully Star could learn her lesson the first time, instead of being hurt continuously.
The clock ticked five past nine. Star turned to Wendy with a pout.
“He specifically said nine o’clock sharp. Why would he be late? Where could he be?” The disappointment in Star’s voice tore at Wendy. Those big brown eyes looked at Wendy, desperate for an answer. Wendy hated it that Star had gone to the mall and bought a brand-new outfit, shoes included, just for her date with Luke.
“Star, come sit by me. I need to tell you something,” Wendy set her psychology book down and waved Star over.
“Star, when I was a freshman last year, Luke was a junior. He was just as popular then as he is now. I was excited when he started whispering in my ear in the hallways, holding doors open for me, giving me little notes; just like he has been doing to you.” Wendy took Star’s hands in her own, and looked her straight in the eyes. “You need to watch out. People like him who have rich parents and an endless trust fund think they’re invincible and treat everyone like scum. They need to be in control over everyone around them or they feel weak. He took me down the waterfront at Jackson Lake. You know where all the couples go to make out?”
Star nodded. Her friends had been taken down there by some of Luke’s friends, and come back with stories that would have made her mother furious had she known.
Wendy continued, “Well, we parked down there in his red beat-up Ford. Without talking and before I had my jacket off, he grabbed my head and smashed his mouth against mine. It hurt when our teeth banged against each other. I tried to pull back, but his hand kept pushing my head against his. With his other hand, he-”
Star interrupted and angrily stood up.
“I don’t believe you! He is too nice to take advantage of someone like that. You’re just jealous!” Star stomped back to the window. It was now half past nine. The last thread of hope, that Luke might still show up and had just gotten held up somewhere, broke when Wendy murmured under her breath, “I heard he got Janice pregnant.”
Janice had been Star’s best friend since kindergarten. They had gone through elementary squabbles and junior high awkwardness together. Star had always wondered what had happened when Janice didn’t show up for an end-of-summer party at Harrys, the party that you just did not miss. She didn’t even call. Her mom told everyone she had left town to live with some distant aunt in California. Star knew something drastic had to have happened because Janice’s mom never let her out of her sight even for a second. Letting her live on the other side of the country was very suspicious.
Thinking back, Star never did ask Wendy if she and Luke had done the deed. It had always been strange the rest of her high-school years that whenever Luke and Wendy came in contact with each other, Wendy would cower like a dog. Star knew they had never gone out again because no one had ever mentioned it. Kids knew who went out with whom in those days because Westfield High was known for its gossip and juicy news. Rumors would be started by someone in homeroom, and by lunch, every single person, whether outcast, jock or teach, knew the story and more details than ever needed to be shared. Star wondered what had happened between her sister and Luke all those years ago. The two sisters were never quite the same after that blow up over Star going out with Luke.
Maybe she should’ve asked her sister about it. After that disappointing night when Luke never did show up, Star started noticing her sister withdraw. She always hung out in her room, rarely ever coming down for dinner or family time. Star never saw her in school, except once when she spotted her across the courtyard smoking with some girls dressed all in black. Those girls had the reputation of being outcasts; no one dared talk to them because they seemed so weird.
Star was brought back to the present when her mom grabbed her arm and shrieked, “It’s a green Toyota! It’s a green Toyota!”
Star shaded her eyes; the sun was bearing down on them now that the window shades were up. The green car was meandering down the street, even slower than the last one.
“Could this be Wendy?” Star thought. Glancing up at the clock, it read three-thirty on the dot.
Like the last green car, this one passed by the driveway. Allie’s shoulders sank. Her face took on a forlorn look, and she crossed the kitchen, slumping into a chair.
“I really hope Wendy shows up. I don’t know why she wouldn’t. She knows we are dying to see her, and I’m sure in my heart of hearts she’s dying to see us as well, especially you, Star.” Allie muttered, covering her face with her hands.
Star went to sit with her mom, patting her on the back, comforting her. Time stood still once again, back to the day Wendy left, two weeks after graduation.
Star was trying to silence the moans of her mom, but it was hard because her own heart was breaking. The clock read three-thirty; exactly two weeks to the day of her high-school graduation. Allie and Star had come home from the salon to find a scrawled post-it attached to the fridge with only a few words.
Star, I didn’t want to hurt you. I couldn’t stop myself. I’m sorry.
For four long years, Star and her mom tried to decipher the short message. They had no idea where to start hunting for Wendy. They called all her friends, but not a one had heard anything. After four months of fruitless searching, they gave up looking, but not giving up the hope that maybe one day Wendy would find her way home. Not a phone call or letter from Wendy with an explanation as to why she cleaned out her room, leaving nothing but the bed and dresser and disappearing into thin air. Star had too many emotions swirling inside her to try and concentrate on college so she let her dreams of college dwindle away. Her family was too important, and caring for herself and her mom’s hurt took first place. A job at the local grocery store gave a reprieve.
Star remembers the evening had been warm, summer peeking around the corner. Mom left the screen open, letting in the cool breeze and the sound of crickets in the backyard. Star couldn’t let her emotions show because she needed to be strong for her mom. The excitement of her youngest graduating and then having that joy turn into sadness was a lot to bear, especially without a husband to lean on. Star had held her mom for hours, sobbing in each others arms.
The years went by, until four years and one month to the day of Wendy’s departure; a letter arrived in the mail from some city in California. No return address. The handwriting was unfamiliar. Star had gotten the mail that day. Since it was addressed to her, she opened it. It was from Janice. According to the letter, Wendy had contacted Janice, tracked her down, and they made the best for themselves, living in a small town in southern California. In the letter, Janice described how through the years, Wendy had kept up with what was happening Star and Allie’s lives through phone conversations with Janice’s mom, who lived only two doors down.
In recent months, Wendy had become homesick and desperately wanted to see her mom and Star. She persuaded Janice to write them and wanted to tell her family in person why she left. At the bottom of the letter was a flight date and time. Today was that day; the day Wendy was coming home.
A car door slammed, startling the two women out of their memories. Another car door opened and closed. Star and Allie rushed to the window. In the driveway, stood a bright green Toyota, the one they had been anticipating since early that morning. A slender woman with shiny blonde hair wearing a pastel suit held the hand of a little four-year old boy who was clutching an Elmo blanket and backpack. She was adjusting her own backpack, hiding her face. Another woman, slightly younger, with chestnut hair and a tan suit, was hoisting a large blue duffle bag out of the trunk. A girl, around the age of seven, hopped out of the backseat.
Allie and Star gasped. The girl was a spitting image of Janice! Could the story about Luke getting her pregnant have been true? Star couldn’t believe it.
Both women outside, busy with their children and bags, didn’t notice the two shocked pairs of eyes staring at them as they walked up the sidewalk. They rang the doorbell, jaunting Star and Allie out of their state of shock. The house had no entryway, so the front door opened into the kitchen.
Star and Allie came to a halt in front of the door. They couldn’t decide who was going to open it. Another chime rang through the house. Allie’s swift hand swung open the door.
Immediately, a little voice peeped, “Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom.”
Allie stuck out her hand to the little boy, “Here, take my hand. Follow me. Your mommy will come in a minute.”
The cautious little boy, who had been taught not to interact with strangers, cowered behind the blonde woman’s legs.
The younger woman spoke up, “I’d like to take Hudson to the bathroom; he can’t hold it very long.”
Allie and Star stepped back, letting the women and their children inside. They still couldn’t speak, so shocked by recognizing Janice and Wendy, and the fact they both had children.
Wendy waltzed Hudson to the back of the house, remembering where the bathroom was. In the meantime, the other woman, Janice, appeared unfazed by the whole situation. She hadn’t seen Star or her mother in over six years, but couldn’t bring herself to show any emotion. Star, on the other hand, wrapped her arms around Janice, hugging tight and letting the tears come.
Wendy came back, a few minutes later, with a timid Hudson trailing behind. Allie, not wanting Wendy to feel overwhelmed, pronounced she was getting coffee and snacks and promptly left the room, leaving Star to face her sister and Janice alone.
“Star, this is Hudson, my precious son, Hudson. And that is Kiendra, Janice’s daughter. I’d like to situate ourselves and get the children occupied before we discuss things,” said Wendy.
Janice bent down and gave Kiendra a flowered tote bag and told her to take Hudson up the stairs and to the right. The room with the bright yellow wallpaper had been the girls’ playroom when they were little.
After Hudson and Kiendra left the room, Allie came back with four cups of coffee, one for each of them. She ushered the group into the living room. Janice and Wendy sat on the raggedy plaid couch, while Star and her mom sat in the two matching high back chairs.
“Mom,” said Wendy, holding up her hand. “I know this has been the day you’ve been waiting for since I left. First off, I want to apologize for leaving you and Star. My note, which I’m sure you still have, didn’t say much, and I apologize for that as well. Remember Luke? Well he’s been behind this whole mess. I don’t know if you’ve heard about his whereabouts or what he’s doing, but I can tell you he’s not where we all thought he’d end up, that’s for sure. His parents divorced, and his dad left him and his mother penniless, without a house even. They had no other choice but shelters and living on the streets. Last I heard, Luke was in jail for beating up a banker for money, and his mother was a prostitute.”
Star and her mom exchanged bewildered looks. Luke, the richest, most popular guy in school, was in jail? And his mom, who never wore anything besides designer clothing and snubbed all those who didn’t, was now a prostitute? Surely Wendy was making that up.
Wendy, taking a sip of coffee, continued. “Remember that fight, Star, the night Luke was supposed to pick you up after the basketball game? After you and Mom had gone to bed, I snuck out; I wanted to confront Luke and tell him how much he hurt you. I knew he meant a lot to you, even though he was shallow. Well, I followed him in Mom’s old Sunfire and met up with him in the parking lot at Stui’s International Grocery, down by where all the jocks hung out. My confrontation didn’t go down as I expected it to. He grabbed me and forced me into his car. He was too strong for me, and I couldn’t hold him off. He tore my clothes off, tearing my favorite Math Club t-shirt. Before I had time to breathe, he hurt me. Luke laughed at my pain, buckled his pants, and dumped me on the ground.”
At this point, tears were rolling down all four women’s cheeks. Each was dealing with their own set of emotions.
“That night was the worst night of my life. What made it worse is that Luke had left his mark in me. I made a decision to get rid of everything that reminded me of that horrible event. Jennifer, Janice’s older sister, played hooky with me and drove me to the family clinic on First Street. I will forever regret that decision. I knew it was wrong, and I withdrew after that, not telling a soul what had happened, even you and Mom, because I thought everyone would be ashamed of me. Unfortunately, seeing him was unavoidable. You remember Luke and I both worked at Mazi’s Pets. The night of your graduation, the owners had a graduation/completing sales goals party. Luke was there. He was wasted, drunk and high on coke. The minute I left, after drinking a few beers myself, I was once again assaulted by Luke. This time, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake as before. I heard rumors about Janice’s pregnancy and decided to find her, wanting to get away from everyone and everything. I thought maybe we could help each other, if we had both gone through the same ordeal.”
Star couldn’t hold her emotions in any longer. She launched herself at Wendy, knocking her almost off the couch, and squeezed for all she was worth. Wendy rejoiced in the love radiating from her sister and squeezed back. The two sisters rocked back and forth, crying, letting loose years of pain and shame that never had to be there if they had only to strength to talk through their problems years ago.