Every Friday, The Gloss is publishing a chapter of Andrea Dunlop’s novel, The Summer of Small Accidents. Catch up with Chapter 1 and if you decide you simply can’t wait for next week’s installment, you can buy the ebook here. Happy reading!

On the Sunday after the roof-deck party Leigh met her friend Lulu for drinks at the Cornelia Street Cafe. Someone named Samuel whom Lulu had gone to college with was reading his poetry as part of a showcase. Leigh had met him once or twice and instinctively disliked him. He was a skinny, angry, overgrown boy whose face was always pulled tightly into a kind of glower, ready to go on the defensive at any second. He was snarling and abrasively political about issues that she knew nothing about but wasn’t convinced that he did either. He was the kind of person who would spit out statistics like the gross national product of Azerbaijan or the infant mortality rate of Namibia with the fervor of the devoted and she would find herself just dying to be able to triumphantly correct him, but he seemed to stick to obscure enough factoids to negate the possibility of this. Leigh didn’t want to endure this kind of assault in the form of poetry and thus, agreed to meet Lulu only afterwards.

Lulu and Leigh had lunch most days at Heighton House but still seemed to find plenty to talk outside of that. It was the kind of friendship Leigh had not had since she was much younger and something she had never expected to find in New York. When Leigh arrived Lulu was already sitting at a table in the window with a glass of white wine in front of her. One of Leigh’s favorite things about summer was the way that the restaurants opened their walls like flower petals, suddenly taking over the sidewalk with chairs and tables and displaying their attractive patrons in their sundresses and linen pants. It made her constantly envious of people in restaurants, even if she had just come from one.

“Hello,” Lulu said.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Leigh said squeezing into the chair next to her. She indicated to the hovering waiter that she would like a glass of whatever white wine Lulu was drinking. Lulu’s hair was wet and pulled back away from her face, her eyes were an unusual shade of light chestnut brown that gave her face a slightly exotic look and in the waning sunlight they seemed to almost glow. Lulu was very slender in a way that women were very envious of but, as she was quick to point out, was not the thing that really got the boys drooling. It was true that she was not everyone’s cup of tea and somehow Leigh thought that men must expect when they saw her coming that she would be a little quiet and unassuming, which predisposed them for a shock the first time she opened her mouth. The men who liked her however, were completely crazy for her which Leigh thought was actually preferable to having a more universal appeal.

Leigh had first met Lulu at a special breakfast meeting with Randal Pierce that all new hires were invited to at some point or another during their first six months at Heighton House. A pack of mostly twenty-somethings, all over-dressed with the exception of Lulu, who was wore jeans and fitted blazer with leather patches on the elbows, had been seated around the large conference table on the top floor. They had grazed on fresh fruit and a mediocre selection of pastries, taking surreptitious looks at the company’s legendary CEO who was chatting amiably with the person to his left, waiting until everyone was settled in to address the group. Leigh had been seated to the left of Lulu but hadn’t particularly taken notice of her. She was anxiously rearranging her skirt under her haunches where it was sticking to her skin in a maddening and uncomfortable way when Lulu startled her by suddenly leaning over to say something.

“I like the vest,” Lulu had whispered to Leigh in a way that made it seem like they’d already met, that is to say without an ounce of the reticence with which strangers usually address each other.

“Do you think he always wears a three piece suit?” she’d asked. Lulu had chin length dark hair and a pleasant face, made more interesting by its expression, a slightly mischievous but welcoming smile. It was the face of a person who is up to something, but probably nothing bad.

Leigh had shrugged, “Every time I’ve seen him.”

“That’s nice,” Lulu had said, “handsome older man in a bespoke suit. I like that, it’s…dapper. Not enough men can really pull off dapper.”

Lulu had peered at the nametag that was propped up in front of Leigh.

“Leigh,” she’d said, “spelled the long way, I like that. I’m a big fan of having a few unnecessary letters in names; it’s so boring when they’re purely phonetic.”

Leigh thought for a moment that she was being sarcastic but then decided she wasn’t. She didn’t seem that way which Leigh was glad about; too often people used badly thought-out sarcasm as an excuse for humor.

“Mine doesn’t have any extras, just the ‘E’ but like, everybody has a useless ‘e’ in their name. Fucking ubiquitous E right?”

Leigh peered at her name tag which plainly said Lulu, no e.

“Oh yeah sorry, my full name is Luanne, with an ‘e’. I know, it’s awful right? It’s all ‘Luanne you got a hitch in your giddalong? Baby needs feedin’!’ or something, so I go by Lulu though my mother won’t call me by that since I’m named after some really mean dead relative who I think everyone is still afraid of,” she’d paused thoughtfully, “The superfluous ‘igh’ –that’s awesome, that’s special. Except when it’s used instead of a ‘y’, like Ashleigh? That’s just retarded.”

Leigh had laughed though she wasn’t sure she understood the exact distinction. “You’re very particular about it, huh?” she’d asked. Lulu had grinned at her.

The girls had had lunch together in the cafeteria later that day and almost every day after that for the past two years. Lulu lived in an apartment with two roommates in the far reaches of Harlem, one of the only neighborhoods anyone living on an assistant’s salary could afford. She was from Illinois and she had the occasional charming flourish of a Midwestern accent, particularly when incensed- which never made it a good time to point it out or, as Leigh was always tempted to do, just go ahead and laugh out loud.

Today she looked serene, perhaps the beautiful June evening was lifting her spirits.

“It’s okay,” she said to Leigh’s apologies as she settled in across from her, “I’ve been keeping myself entertained watching the passersby. You know I love that word passersby? That s is so subtle and well placed. They could have done something awful to that word like make it passerbyers but instead you get passersby, like Mesdames.”

“How’s that?”

“M-e-s-d-a-m-e-s as a plural from Madame. Sorry I’ll stop now. How was your night?”

Leigh shrugged. The waiter thankfully appeared with her wine which was nicely chilled, probably even a little colder then it should have been. Leigh took a big sip, taking care not to actually gulp.

She had been to Cornelia Street café the first time she had ever visited New York. It was a popular and moderately prestigious place for literary readings. She remembered how giddy she had been when that the waiter had welcomed her and her sister to New York. She’d come to the city for the first time right after her junior year of college. She had begged Barbara to come with her and organized a packed itinerary. After she moved to the city, she slowly- usually by accident- found herself at each of the places she had been to when she was there as a tourist. The feeling was always bittersweet because it highlighted in such a fundamental way the difference between her then and her now. Most days she was glad to be rid of the tourist, sometimes she wished for nothing so much as to see New York through the same eyes she saw it then.

“How was your date?” Leigh asked.

“Oh God!” Lulu said rolling her eyes.

“That good?”

She shook her head and tucked her free arm under the one that was holding her wine glass.

“I just don’t understand how someone can play the trumpet for a living and be such a sloppy kisser. I mean, he’s a good trumpet player, I’ve heard him so it’s not that he couldn’t control his lips if he wanted to. That makes it even worse I think, he’s willfully a bad kisser.”

When Leigh met her Lulu had still been with her college boyfriend Frank who had originally convinced her to relocate from the Midwest. He had only intended for them to live in New York for a year and he purposefully took a job with a firm that would enable him to easily transfer from New York back to Chicago. But a lot can happen in a year, and Lulu fell in love with New York and out of love with Frank. When he left she stayed. That was the ways things went, there were plenty of people who ended up in New York this way, as refugees of relationships gone wrong. They were an entire subset in fact. Lulu liked to say that she would have moved here anyway because she wanted to be an editor. Since Frank, Lulu had been single and made a point of being happy about it.

“How was the reading?”

“Samuel was okay, the rest of them were garbage, I think the program coordinator fell asleep at the wheel. I felt like I was in my freshman poetry seminar. I mean, I’m shit at poetry but at least I’m self aware enough to know that I’m shit and not inflict it on others.”

“Speaking of writing, not specifically shitty writing obviously, but how is your novel coming?” Leigh asked cautiously.

Lulu grimaced slightly and reached for her drink as she nodded emphatically. “Good, good. I mean it’s going well, it’s going okay. You know how it is.”

Leigh nodded.

“Sometimes I wonder if you can actually die from reading your own bad prose. You laugh but I’m serious. I don’t even want to talk about it, but trust me when I say there are metaphors in there that could make your synapses rebel for sure.”

Lulu’s real ambition, like so many of the junior employees at Heighton House was to become a novelist. She adamantly refused to let Leigh or anyone else near the novel she had furtively been working on for years. Leigh had secretly wondered at first if it really existed but became convinced that it did after seeing Lulu’s continuous angst over the matter. In real life, as she liked to say, she was an editorial assistant for an imprint of Heighton that did Sci-Fi and Fantasy series fiction.

“So what’s going on with the apartment stuff?” Lulu asked.

“Nothing yet. I’m still feeling a little shell-shocked from the whole thing, you know? At least I can stay with Shaun in the meantime; she’s being pretty cool about it.”

“I think that was the hardest thing about Frank leaving, finding a new place. That sounds cold but God I loved that apartment. He offered to sign the lease over but unless I was able to find a roommate who would pay two thirds of the rent there was just no way. I wish you’d seen it, then you could know my agony. I mean it had a washer/dryer in the apartment! No one who just had their heartbroken should have to deal with a sudden transition to using a New York Laundromat, it’s just too cruel. Anyway, don’t worry you’ll find somewhere great. How is living with Shaun?”

“It’s fine,” Leigh said, “it really is nice of her to let me stay there, plus she’s almost never around in the summer so it sort of feels like I have the place to myself most of the time.”

Lulu raised her eyebrows and nodded. It was to both of their credit that they neither ever said anything about it but Leigh knew that Shaun and Lulu didn’t care for each other. The only time they ever really saw each other was during mandatory gatherings like Leigh’s birthday dinner and on these occasions there was a kind of strained civility between them as though they were grudge-holding family members at a holiday. Leigh didn’t press the issue; she saw no reason, other than their shared friendship with her, that the two should be friends. What she would never tell either of them was that they had more in common than they would ever have admitted. In their way, both were drawn to New York because it was the place they thought they would be the most rewarded for their natural abilities. There was a life they felt they were entitled to and thus far for both of them, things had fallen a little short of their expectations.  Leigh, on the other hand, felt that the city had freed her from her expectations and therefore provided her with ample opportunities for reinvention if nothing else.

“Yeah,” Lulu said, “I’m glad you’re out of your old place anyway. There’s nothing worse than a bad roommate situation in this city.”

“I know. I just stopped feeling like I had any place to go.”

“And you need that here,” Lulu said. Both of their eyes trailed the same attractive dark haired man walking a corgi.

“Excuse me,” Leigh posed to the unknown man when he was safely out of earshot, “where are you going sir?”

“Right?” Lulu said. “God what a beautiful evening. I wish it could be like this all summer. I could sit here for hours just drinking and watching men like that walk by.”

“You have anything else to do tonight?”

“Well there is a special report on the dangers of summer travel on 60 minutes tonight but since my ass is stuck in the concrete jungle all summer I think I can probably skip it.”

They ordered another glass of wine and after that, another until they lost count.

The hunt for a new apartment was not going well. Leigh had been at it for two weeks now and it had been hideous. The worst had been a beautiful building on Bleecker Street. The ad had sounded so promising. 1200 dollars a month, one bedroom, one bathroom on the 11th floor of the building. Leigh had arrived early been told to wait outside the door. As she had waited, the elevator doors had opened periodically and each time another young woman got out, peered at the number on the door and then gotten in line behind Leigh. She’d realized with dismay that they were all here to look at the same apartment. They’d spread throughout the hallway, ignoring each other. A girl in a fedora leaned up against the wall with her eyes closed, tiny white earbuds shielding her from the unpleasant situation. An Asian girl who looked like a teenager sat on the floor against the walls, taking a binder and a notebook out of her bag.

Leigh had felt her nerves stretching even thinner than they’d already been; looking for an apartment was, like everything in New York, a competition. Finally the door had opened partially and Leigh was met by the gaze of a small, wild haired woman who glowered at her with the expression of someone who has just been interrupted by a sales call in the midst of watching their favorite television show. She had a gnarled face that must have looked years older than it was. She bore such a strong resemblance to a misanthropic villain from a Roald Dahl book that Leigh found she could hardly keep herself from staring.

“Hi,” she’d say. “Um, I’m here about the apartment…”

“I know that,” the woman said and opened the door further, gesturing for Leigh to come in.

The apartment had been unremarkable but seemed clean enough, which was always a good start. There was no real living room: simply a bedroom and bathroom with only a small galley kitchen in between that had a rusty makeshift stove that looked twice as likely to burn down the apartment as to actually cook anything. The bed was bunked above a plain wooden desk giving the bedroom a slightly institutional feel to it but Leigh, ever hopeful, was all the while making small revisions in her head, reconfiguring the space to make it more livable. The neighborhood, said the optimistic voice in her head. Doorman building. The bathroom was a good size; oddly big, in fact, considering how small the bedroom was. Leigh tried to evaluate the apartment calmly and to disregard the creepy presence of the owner, whose eyes she noticed were abnormally wide, as if she had been up all night for several nights in a row. Her hair was a curiosity, sticking straight out in a triangle from her ears to her shoulders.

Leigh half listened as the owner listed the things that were verboten: cigarettes, parties, pets, even goldfish. ‘I used to live with one and it was such a burden,’ explained the owner ‘I was constantly concerned for its happiness.’ Leigh nodded earnestly, wondering how on earth the owner would be affected by the mere thought of a goldfish and its happiness. She figured she must have very strong feelings on the matter for some reason. Leigh didn’t have or want a goldfish anyway.

Leigh’s main concern was the tiny amount of storage space in the bedroom but noticed that there was another area just off the kitchen that was separated by what appeared to be a shower curtain. A closet space perhaps?

“What’s behind the curtain?” she asked.

“That’s where I work,” the woman said as if this question were completely idiotic, “I’m a sports nutritionist.” Leigh tried her best not to make a face, regarding the woman’s flabby physique which indicated knowledge of neither sports nor nutrition.

“So, I’m sorry,” Leigh had said, “you come here every day to work?”

The woman had regarded her as if she had three heads and no brains, “I work from home.”

“You live here?”

“Ye-es,” the woman had said, making no attempt to hide her contempt. “So do you want the place or not?”

Leigh was still trying to recover. The woman had advertised a one bedroom apartment not one bedroom in an apartment where the tenant would be living with her as a roommate: tiny, menacing pet-hater that she was. The voice in her head extolling the neighborhood and building was getting quieter but still she contended with the panic of thinking of the line of girls outside. If she didn’t take it, one of them surely would. And if they all wanted it, it must be worth wanting. She looked back at the owner and considered very seriously the likelihood of this woman killing her in her sleep.

“Can I think about it?” she’d finally asked.

The owner had let out an exasperated sigh, “I can’t guarantee that it will still be available,” she said.

“Okay, I’ll call you.” Leigh had said making her way hastily to the door.

As she’d passed the long row of perspective tenants in the hallway she’d felt a twinge of solidarity with them and was half tempted to warn them. But then she’d thought of the fact that at least some of them would probably show up at the next apartment she was seeing that afternoon and the spirit of competition won out over the spirit of sisterhood.

The following Saturday, Leigh sat in front of her computer wanting to be outside but not wanting to have to bother with it. She had to find an apartment so she had to stay in, she told herself. She longed for good weather all year and then always found she resented it a little when it got there, perversely longing for the five o’clock cloaks of darkness that fell in the winter. She had grown up in a place that was never accused of being too sunny, so maybe the endless sunshine of the summer months would never feel quite normal. Perhaps it would be different if she’d been raised in California like her laid-back blonde cousins. Or perhaps not, who can ever say how they would be if they were not themselves.

The phone rang; Leigh somehow knew it was going to. It felt like a good moment for the phone to ring. It was Barbara. She pushed her laptop to the side, grateful for the distraction.

“Hello eldest,” she said, flipping her cell phone open.

“Hello youngest, what are you doing?”

“Looking at apartment listings.”

“Fun.”

“It absolutely isn’t. It’s like shopping for a used car. You have to try to interpret the language…Listen to this one: Looking for laid back female roommate. 420 friendly, comfortable with alternative lifestyles. Pot smoking S & M aficionados would be my best guess there.”

“Wow. Glamorous New York City.”

Leigh laughed half heartedly in response. She knew how much her sister hated her living there, and that beneath it all she saw it as a betrayal. There had always been an unspoken agreement that the one would never abandon the other. But hadn’t Barbara violated that first by getting married, by becoming consumed with a family that didn’t include Leigh?

Neither girl’s grievance could be voiced, neither could accuse the other. They’d both committed that age old insult to family: they’d grown up. Leigh wished silently that Barbara would simply acknowledge the fact that Leigh had to move on at some point and it wasn’t fair to ask her to stay in a place where she had to walk around with such a heavy history. They went for long enough stretches now without seeing each other that they changed in the interims: hair grew or was chopped off, pounds were gained or lost (mostly gained) their faces got wearier and infinitesimally older.

“Wait,” Leigh said, “This one doesn’t sound so bad. East village studio for sublet, until the end of Summer, maybe longer. 1500 a month utilities included. 53 Stuyvesant Street with a nice view of St Mark’s Church. Please non-smoker, no pets.”

“1,500 for a studio? That’s outrageous! That’s more than we pay for the house!”

“Actually,” Leigh said, “it’s pretty reasonable. I’m going to have to check this one out…”

“Unbelievable,” Barbara said with a bemused tone, “Heighton House must be paying you more than I thought.”

Both girls knew that this was bait, a comment designed to either incense or induce shame—or both. Barbara knew that the publishing house was paying Leigh barely enough to cover half that rent and that the rest was being covered by the inheritance that the girls’ parents had left them. It wasn’t fair because Barbara had never subsisted without that money either; the difference was Barbara considered her lifestyle to be worthy of the posthumous parental support.

“I’ll call you back in a bit okay?” Her sister’s voice was suddenly the last she wanted to hear.

“Sure, good luck.” The line went dead abruptly. This was the upside of living far away from home, family is a phone call away, and it takes but one click to keep them away.

Leigh shot off an e-mail to the owner of the apartment, identified only by a number. Dear Sir…she started over…Hi There- Hoping the apartment is still available, if so I’m very interested. I am 25, non-smoker, female, work in book publishing, clean and quiet. I have no pets or loud obnoxious boyfriends. She thought for a moment and deleted the last part, better not to ever try to be funny over e-mail. Particularly with a stranger. She left her phone number at the bottom of the e-mail and hit send. She looked out the window—it was raining, suddenly and intensely the way it does in the summer. Barbara had told her before she’d moved that the annual rainfall in New York was actually more than that of the Seattle area. She’d always remembered this. The rain in New York was different though, usually a quickly passing downpour that got it all out of the way at once. In Seattle it could rain lightly for days, slowly saturating the land.

She closed her laptop and let herself collapse on the couch. When she opened her eyes a few minutes later, the rain had stopped and she suddenly felt like going for a walk. She cut through Union Square which was unusually empty because of the rain and made her way up to Grammercy where she took a slow lap around the locked garden, the oasis free from the slumbering or worse, conscious and rambling, homeless people that inhabited the public parks. She looked through the iron gates at two elderly women in light windbreakers taking impossibly slow and tiny steps across the impeccable gravel and wondered why the best moments in the city always seemed to be the ones where you forgot, just for a moment, where you were. It was strange levity that settled on you and released you from the confines of your circumstances, if only for a few minutes. She had relied on this feeling to get through her first year in New York.

Most of the flowers in the park were in full bloom; watching the rain drip off them was comforting. It was true that rain made Leigh feel at home. She always downplayed it when people commented on how much it rained in Washington but only because of the way they said it, with a curled lip: you’re from Seattle, doesn’t it rain a lot there? As if she’d said she’d grown up in Chernobyl. She remembered a time, some rainy night not too long after she’d moved to the city when she looked up a dark street downtown and seeing the headlights through the raindrops had almost made her cry because it make her miss her home so much. She felt a wrinkle of renewed irritation pass through her at Barbara’s attitude on the phone with her earlier. This kind of covert warfare had been waged against her every time she had stepped out of Barbara’s life plan for her. Barbara was what people called a tough cookie. She seemed fueled by some mysterious source and was nothing but bolstered from adversity. She always got good grades, was good at every sport she ever tried, and always had a devoted clique of friends and hopelessly besotted boyfriend following in her wake. Leigh had been, if not on the other side of the spectrum, then pretty far from Barbara’s shining example.

Leigh did reasonably well in school, getting good grades in the subjects that came easy to her like English and Biology, squeaking by in those that didn’t, like Physics. She had had a series of friendships, most of which burned out rather quickly and dramatically and while there were no boyfriends there were a lot of boys.  It was perhaps the dangerous streak of promiscuity she’d experimented with that left her feeling so bereft by the time college came around, and what lead her to go to the same state college as Barbara did, and even to join the same sorority. Barbara was pleased and not a little bit smug. For a while she’d become more like Barbara, confident and no nonsense. She had mimicked Barbara’s civic-minded get up and go, getting involved in various clubs and committees, but her heart was never in it. She was never sure if she’d really fooled anyone with this behavior and she always had the feeling that she was the same churning mess underneath, only now covered with a thin facsimile of her sister. She supposed Barbara was always afraid that she would lose control again, but that seemed unfair, to hold someone’s adolescence against them. Older sisters were like totalitarian governments in that every restriction and punishment passed down could be included under the wide umbrellas of being for the oppressed’s “protection.”

Leigh laughed half heartedly in response. She knew how much her sister hated her living there, and that beneath it all she saw it as a betrayal. There had always been an unspoken agreement that the one would never abandon the other. But hadn’t Barbara violated that first by getting married, by becoming consumed with a family that didn’t include Leigh?

Neither girl’s grievance could be voiced, neither could accuse the other. They’d both committed that age old insult to family: they’d grown up. Leigh wished silently that Barbara would simply acknowledge the fact that Leigh had to move on at some point and it wasn’t fair to ask her to stay in a place where she had to walk around with such a heavy history. They went for long enough stretches now without seeing each other that they changed in the interims: hair grew or was chopped off, pounds were gained or lost (mostly gained) their faces got wearier and infinitesimally older.

“Wait,” Leigh said, “This one doesn’t sound so bad. East village studio for sublet, until the end of Summer, maybe longer. 1500 a month utilities included. 53 Stuyvesant Street with a nice view of St Mark’s Church. Please non-smoker, no pets.”

“1,500 for a studio? That’s outrageous! That’s more than we pay for the house!”

“Actually,” Leigh said, “it’s pretty reasonable. I’m going to have to check this one out…”

“Unbelievable,” Barbara said with a bemused tone, “Heighton House must be paying you more than I thought.”

Both girls knew that this was bait, a comment designed to either incense or induce shame—or both. Barbara knew that the publishing house was paying Leigh barely enough to cover half that rent and that the rest was being covered by the inheritance that the girls’ parents had left them. It wasn’t fair because Barbara had never subsisted without that money either; the difference was Barbara considered her lifestyle to be worthy of the posthumous parental support.

“I’ll call you back in a bit okay?” Her sister’s voice was suddenly the last she wanted to hear.

“Sure, good luck.” The line went dead abruptly. This was the upside of living far away from home, family is a phone call away, and it takes but one click to keep them away.

Leigh shot off an e-mail to the owner of the apartment, identified only by a number. Dear Sir…she started over…Hi There- Hoping the apartment is still available, if so I’m very interested. I am 25, non-smoker, female, work in book publishing, clean and quiet. I have no pets or loud obnoxious boyfriends. She thought for a moment and deleted the last part, better not to ever try to be funny over e-mail. Particularly with a stranger. She left her phone number at the bottom of the e-mail and hit send. She looked out the window—it was raining, suddenly and intensely the way it does in the summer. Barbara had told her before she’d moved that the annual rainfall in New York was actually more than that of the Seattle area. She’d always remembered this. The rain in New York was different though, usually a quickly passing downpour that got it all out of the way at once. In Seattle it could rain lightly for days, slowly saturating the land.

She closed her laptop and let herself collapse on the couch. When she opened her eyes a few minutes later, the rain had stopped and she suddenly felt like going for a walk. She cut through Union Square which was unusually empty because of the rain and made her way up to Grammercy where she took a slow lap around the locked garden, the oasis free from the slumbering or worse, conscious and rambling, homeless people that inhabited the public parks. She looked through the iron gates at two elderly women in light windbreakers taking impossibly slow and tiny steps across the impeccable gravel and wondered why the best moments in the city always seemed to be the ones where you forgot, just for a moment, where you were. It was strange levity that settled on you and released you from the confines of your circumstances, if only for a few minutes. She had relied on this feeling to get through her first year in New York.

Most of the flowers in the park were in full bloom; watching the rain drip off them was comforting. It was true that rain made Leigh feel at home. She always downplayed it when people commented on how much it rained in Washington but only because of the way they said it, with a curled lip: you’re from Seattle, doesn’t it rain a lot there? As if she’d said she’d grown up in Chernobyl. She remembered a time, some rainy night not too long after she’d moved to the city when she looked up a dark street downtown and seeing the headlights through the raindrops had almost made her cry because it make her miss her home so much. She felt a wrinkle of renewed irritation pass through her at Barbara’s attitude on the phone with her earlier. This kind of covert warfare had been waged against her every time she had stepped out of Barbara’s life plan for her. Barbara was what people called a tough cookie. She seemed fueled by some mysterious source and was nothing but bolstered from adversity. She always got good grades, was good at every sport she ever tried, and always had a devoted clique of friends and hopelessly besotted boyfriend following in her wake. Leigh had been, if not on the other side of the spectrum, then pretty far from Barbara’s shining example.

Leigh did reasonably well in school, getting good grades in the subjects that came easy to her like English and Biology, squeaking by in those that didn’t, like Physics. She had had a series of friendships, most of which burned out rather quickly and dramatically and while there were no boyfriends there were a lot of boys.  It was perhaps the dangerous streak of promiscuity she’d experimented with that left her feeling so bereft by the time college came around, and what lead her to go to the same state college as Barbara did, and even to join the same sorority. Barbara was pleased and not a little bit smug. For a while she’d become more like Barbara, confident and no nonsense. She had mimicked Barbara’s civic-minded get up and go, getting involved in various clubs and committees, but her heart was never in it. She was never sure if she’d really fooled anyone with this behavior and she always had the feeling that she was the same churning mess underneath, only now covered with a thin facsimile of her sister. She supposed Barbara was always afraid that she would lose control again, but that seemed unfair, to hold someone’s adolescence against them. Older sisters were like totalitarian governments in that every restriction and punishment passed down could be included under the wide umbrellas of being for the oppressed’s “protection.”