Things I Never Told You(5)

By: Beth Vogt


“Pepper was your twin sister, Payton. She was closer to you than anyone else.”

“Mom, please!” I shoved my chair back, stumbling to my feet, almost stepping on my phone.

“Honey, it’s been ten years since Pepper died—”

“I know how long it’s been, Mom. That doesn’t mean I want to talk about Pepper in front of a bunch of people I don’t know or haven’t seen in years.”

“What is wrong with you?” And now Johanna had to join the conversation. “This is a chance to honor Pepper’s memory. Why don’t you want to be a part of it? Everyone else is on board.”

“Am I the last one to know about this?” I forced myself to face my family instead of walking out of the room. Out of the house.

“Well, you don’t visit that often, do you?” Johanna managed to twist the conversation away from honoring Pepper to skewering me. “Or call. This is the first chance we’ve had to talk with you about the ceremony.”

I’d deal with today’s unexpected issue and ignore Johanna’s typical attack. “And you’re all okay with this idea?”

“Payton, we’re talking about one evening. A couple of hours at most.” Dad’s words were low. Steady. Ever the voice of reason. “We’ll all be there together. Have a chance to remember Pepper and something that was important to her. And you, too. So yes, we all think this is a good idea.”

“I don’t have a choice?” Did anyone else think I sounded like a sulky adolescent?

“Of course you have a choice.” Mom’s smile held the hint of an apology. “We’re not going to force you to participate—”

“But think of how it would look if we all attended and you didn’t.”

“Thank you so much for not forcing me, Johanna.”

“Be an adult, Payton. Stop making this about you.”

“But I’m the one expected to be up front, talking . . . about Pepper.” I swallowed a sudden tightness in my throat.

I should have skipped breakfast and driven straight home. Coming home was like trying to step into a faded family photograph—one that had been partially torn so that the image was incomplete. “When is this event taking place?”

“Sydney said it was scheduled for the middle of September.” Mom twisted her napkin. “I have her phone number if you want to talk to her . . .”

Maybe surrender was my best option for dealing with this ambush—at least for now.

“Fine. I’ll call her and get the details.”

“You’ll do it?”

I bent to retrieve my phone, trying to ignore the hope in Mom’s voice. At least my overnight bag and purse were already by the front door. “I said I’d talk to her. I need to think about this more before I say yes. If I say yes. I need to make sure Kimberlee and I don’t have a competing commitment.” Maybe, just maybe, I’d get that lucky. “Text me her number, please. I need to head home. Nash is hoping to spend part of the day together—maybe catch a movie.”

“Tell him we missed seeing him.” Dad half rose from his chair.

“Of course.” I came close enough for a quick hug, following that up with a similar duck and hug with Mom. “No need to walk me out. We’ll talk soon.”

As I backed up, I nodded to everyone else at the table, hoping a smile would suffice for a good-bye. “Have fun getting all that loot back to your apartment, Jillian.”

“We will, but it’s going to Geoff’s house. He’s got more room.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Johanna didn’t even look up from her iPad. “I’ll be e-mailing you about the bridal shower, Payton.”

“Fine.” Another nod and then more distance.

Welcomed distance.





2


SHE’D GIVEN UP being particular about her clothes a long time ago, but a thin pink paper top was the worst excuse for a cover-up she’d ever seen. Or worn.

Sweat formed along the waistband of Jillian’s navy-blue pants. The astringent scent of alcohol lingered in the room. How long had she been waiting for Dr. Sartwell? She eyed her large teal purse sitting on top of her neatly folded blazer, blouse, and bra in the chair against the wall. Should she hop down and retrieve her cell phone? Scan her e-mails while she waited? Maybe pull up the e-book she was reading?

Jillian shifted on the edge of the exam table, causing the strip of protective paper to crinkle beneath her legs at the same time the top threatened to slip off her left shoulder.

No. She would not be traipsing around in this one-size-doesn’t-fit-all medical fashion statement.

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