Bound, Branded, & Brazen(9)

By: Jaci Burton

Valerie felt thoroughly chastised. “Would you like to stay and hang out with us?”

Lila shook her head. “Some things need to be shared privately among sisters.” With a wink, she turned and walked through the double doors leading out of the family room. “Night, girls.” She closed the doors behind her.

Valerie turned and stared at the dusty box, then up at her sisters. “What the hell is that?”

Jolene shrugged. “I have no idea. I’ll go open the wine.” She went behind the bar, opened a bottle of Chardonnay and poured three glasses, then brought the glasses to them.

They stood contemplating the box while they drank their wine.

“Are we just going to stare at it, or are we going to open it up and look inside?” Brea asked.

Valerie stared down at the box, then again up at her sisters, who looked back at her expectantly. “What?”

“You’re the oldest. You do it,” Brea said.

Valerie rolled her eyes. “What are you so afraid of? Do you think there might be live snakes in here?”

“Well, no,” Jolene said. “But I still think you should open it.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake.” She dropped to her knees in front of the box and laid her glass of wine on the floor, then tore open the strip of tape and pulled the flap, staring down into the darkness inside. She frowned, then reached into the box and pulled out a pile of . . . paper.

“What is that stuff?” Jolene asked, coming closer.

“I’m not sure.” She handed the first pile to Jolene, who sat crosslegged on the floor on the other side of the box. Then she dove in and grabbed another pile and handed it off to Brea, who had appeared on her other side. By the time she’d dug in and pulled a pile out for herself, Brea and Jolene were chattering among themselves.

“What?” Valerie asked.

“This must be our stuff Mom had kept,” Brea whispered, her voice reverent.

Jolene looked up at her, tears in her eyes. “These are our things. From when we were kids.”

“Really?” Valerie went through the pile in her lap, unfolding yellowed pages of drawings they’d made, school papers, report cards, notes they’d written to one another.

“It’s her box of memories,” Valerie said. “Memories of us.” Valerie’s heart squeezed as she gently unfolded every piece of paper, looking at Brea’s, Jolene’s and her own name scrawled in their childhood handwriting. The box was full of all these treasures.

“I never knew Mom kept these.” Jolene sniffed and held a piece of yellowed paper. “It’s a Mother’s Day picture I drew for her. I even wrote my age. It’s a backwards five.”

“I remember her telling me once that she saved everything we ever did. But I thought that was just her being kind. I guess she really meant it.” Valerie was elated to find the treasures of these memories, but ached at how bittersweet it was to know her mother had kept them all. It was times like these she missed her mother so much it hurt.

“What’s this?” Jolene pulled out a weathered black notebook and flipped through the pages, her wistful smile transforming into a wide grin. She lifted her head and looked at both of them. “It’s my M.A.S.H. notebook.”


“Are you kidding me?” Brea asked.

“I’m so not kidding. Look.” Jolene handed the notebook to Brea, who flipped through the pages and started laughing.

“It is M.A.S.H.” Brea handed the book to Valerie, who took it and flipped to the first page.

Sure enough, it was Jolene’s M.A.S.H. notebook. Valerie was stunned. “Mansion, apartment, shack, house. Oh, God, how many times—how many years—did we play this game?”

“Look at these pages. I remember so many of these,” Jolene said, flipping through the notebook. She glanced up at Valerie and Brea. “Are yours in there, too?”

“I don’t know.” Valerie rose and dug through the box, pulling out all the notebooks she could find. Six of them in total, two for each of the sisters. “They’re all here!” Her pulse raced with the thrill of discovering her old notebooks. She handed the others their books and sat down to page through hers, smiling at her childish handwriting and what she’d written there. They’d started these notebooks when Jolene was eight, Brea was ten and Valerie was twelve. And they’d kept them up until Valerie was—what?—seventeen?

“Dave Exton?” Valerie wrinkled her nose at the circled name under the “Guy I’ll Marry” category. “What was I thinking?”

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