This is the second installment of the short story, The Sisters. Read Part 1 first if you missed it last week.
“The relationship started off well enough,” Claire explained as she colored Leigh’s hair a dark crimson red. “And then one day, we came home drunk and I made fun of him and he hit me.”
Leigh could feel her face getting as red as the color on her scalp. “How could you-”
Claire cut her off with a dirty look and a raised hand. They had agreed before this conversation started that Claire would fill her sister in but there would be no explanation of why she didn’t leave sooner or dirty details. The relationship was over and Claire would never see him again. Period. The end.
“There is one more thing,” Claire said over her vintage cat eye glasses.
Leigh, blind without her glasses, squinted at her sister in the reflection of the mirror.
Claire casually went back to coloring Leigh’s hair and lightheartedly laughed, “But don’t worry. He smacked the hell out of me, told me he wanted nothing to do with me and my piece of shit baby and left!”
Leigh was furious at the breezy way Claire joked about being abused. She was speechless. Claire was always the smart sister. The one who stood up to people who were cruel to the little guy. Educated, intelligent and full of a stubbornness Leigh really loved about her, Claire was the last person Leigh would think would stand for being abused.
“How on earth are you going to get this salon up and running when you are pregnant?” Leigh asked, cringing at the stinging feeling of chemicals on her scalp. Her body was a little sensitive to it and she regretted putting her skin through this but once she saw the color, the pain was worth it.
“Well, I am certainly not getting an abortion, Leigh,” said Claire. “And stop looking at me like you are all disappointed. This is life and I absolutely refuse to let some man and the fact that I am pregnant destroy this salon. Do you know how hard I have worked to get here?”
Leigh did know. Claire had been saving her money and investing in a dream to open her own salon since she was 11. Yes, Claire had been an entrepreneur since she was 11-years-old. When other kids were playing on swings and off at summer camp, Claire was practicing on anyone who would let her touch their hair.
Claire stopped coloring Leigh’s hair and bent over her knees. She had been having small bouts of panic for the past year. Her chest tight and barely able to breathe, Claire walked around the corner to the makeshift kitchen the contractors had made for her in the back of the salon. Leigh followed her little sister and saying nothing, hugged Claire. It was one of Claire’s favorite things about Leigh. She knew just went to shut up, stop giving her opinion and offer a hug.
“You can do this,” said Leigh. “I don’t know why I doubted you.”
“I don’t know either,” Claire said smiling. “Sit down and let’s finish your hair.”
Claire’s plan was simple: carry on with her original plan. The rehab of the salon was well on its way, and all she needed to do was to get someone to help her with marketing the salon. In her infinite business savvy wisdom, Claire had put aside money to hire a freelance designer to create her brand; all she needed to do know was interview people. And hire the staff. And order product. And finish unpacking her apartment. And have this baby.
As Claire combed through her sister’s new rich red hair, Leigh could tell she was holding her breath.
“Breathe,” Leigh said. “Take it one step at a time.”
“I know I can do this, but it’s too much sometimes,” said Claire.
As she reached for her glasses, Leigh said, “You can do this. And I’ll help you.”
“Like it?” said Claire, rustling her chemical handiwork.
“Love it,” said Leigh, brushing her bangs from her eyes.
Claire got back to work on trimming Leigh’s hair. She had control over something when she worked which soothed and comforted her. Her salon catered to all kinds of beauty and specialized in period hairstyles, but 1940’s and pinup styling was her favorite. Victory rolls, pin curls, blunt bangs, middy cuts – all completely inspired by their Polish grandmother, Cicilia. Granny was a bombshell (minus the breasts) in her day and was an enchanting storyteller. Claire, Leigh and their middle sister, Ivy could sit and listen to Granny’s stories for hours.
As the girls got older, the jucier the stories became. Year after year, little details came out here and there about Cicilia Pennington’s life. Until one day, just before Leigh’s 18th birthday, the stories stopped. Granny died peacefully that summer afternoon, sitting in her yellow adirondack chair sipping iced tea. Claire found her and even before she got out of the house, she could smell her Granny in the Windy City breeze.
Lavender. Her scent. Not perfume-y, real lavender oil.
When Granny died, Claire needed more of her than ever before and for months poured over her grandmother’s books, old pictures and diaries. The more she dove into the history of Granny, the more Claire’s concept for the salon came to life.
Rolling the sides of Leigh’s hair into a very Katherine Hepburn-esqe ‘do, circa The Philadelphia Story, Claire fell into a very calm rhythm she loved about doing hair. She loved working in silence and appreciated the fact that Leigh was here now. Her sister knew her styling required stillness in Claire’s mind, so there they were, still and shushed and enjoying each other.
“Perfect,” said Leigh.
Claire grabbed her phone and sat on Leigh’s lap. Squeezing her big sister, her thumb pressed the camera app on her phone, the girls smiled and made youthful kissy lips at the lense.
Leigh went home around noon and Claire cleaned up the bowls at her station. As she swept her sister’s hair into the dustpan, a feeling of hopelessness washed over her. A nagging voice in her head told her this was too much for her to handle. You’re worthless, the voice said, and he left you because you are pathetic. You’re all alone – again.
Claire had never had a problem moving on before, but with this baby growing inside her, she felt like she could never move on from the horror of the last two years. Get rid of it, the voice told her. Claire sat down on the floor and rolled her head from side to side trying to relieve the pain shooting from her head down her neck. In silence she looked around her new building. A feeling of peace washed over her as she looked at the picture of Granny. You can do this, she could almost hear Granny say from the frame.
Confidence trickled back through her in the form of another deep breath, as she threw this temporary doubt in the trash with the leftover strands of Leigh’s hair.
She wasn’t alone. This baby was with her and she loved him. Or her.
Claire climbed the back stairs to the apartment flat above the salon. Two bedrooms, a small kitchen and front room that looked out over the park across from her building, the space was bursting with natural light. She felt like she was on the mend now and seeing Leigh helped her remember someone truly loved her. They were similar in so many ways, from style to their mother’s soft yet assertive mannerisms. They both had a little gypsy in them, not minding change. Hesitant at first, Claire and Leigh eventually embraced the unknown, and this sense of adventure seemed to be in their blood.
Claire flipped open her laptop with one hand and scrolled through her pictures on her phone with the other. Claire logged on to Facebook to post the picture she just took with Leigh. She was so excited that Leigh was back in town and posting the image, Claire had a moment of guilt as she made it known to the world that Leigh was with her. Although she was “friends” with her sister Ivy online, they never saw each other. Never spoke over the phone or met for coffee anymore either.
Within seconds, the chat popup appeared on Claire’s screen.
“I didn’t know Leigh was back in town.”
Ivy scrolled through her Facebook stream and stopped at the sight of her two sisters together. “Leigh’s back in town?” Ivy asked herself. “Thanks for telling me,” she grumbled. The middle sister, Ivy always felt out of place and not good enough for her family. She was the odd one out for some reason, but technically she should have been considered the “normal” one.
But no, normal in her family was wild hair and crazy glasses and tattoos. Ivy never liked that kind of expression and because of her more conservative nature, felt she continually got a cold shoulder from everyone in the family. Adventure was praised and a daily occurrence in their family, yet Ivy hated adventure. And she hated glasses. She liked her light blonde hair and felt pressured to change by her chemical loving sisters. And now, here they were again. The best friends, inked and bleached into whatever they want at the moment.
Ivy studied the picture, wondering where her sisters were sitting. Blurred in the background was an image Ivy would never forget. A large framed picture of Granny hung behind their fake hair.
“I didn’t know Leigh was back in town,” Ivy typed, hoping Claire was online.
“She moved back a couple of days ago,” Claire responded. “Gotta scoot! Talk to you later!”
Ivy rolled her eyes and angrily shut her computer. When will I learn to forget about them? she asked herself.
Stomping around her bedroom, Ivy threw a pair of shoes at the wall, which did not help get rid of the annoyance she had with her sisters. She wasn’t brave. She didn’t like travel or risk and while this flitting gene ran rampant in her family, Ivy wanted no part of it. She played it safe. Got a degree, a job, didn’t have sex before she got married, always obeyed the rules and never EVER wore shoes without nylons!
No one understood her except Granny. After years of being teased by her family for being too stuffy and serious, Ivy took off after high school graduation and moved to the North Side.
Nobody but Granny missed her.
Read Part 3 of The Sisters now.
xoxoxxoxo – Elizabeth