I remembered that. My first thought had been that something had to be really wrong, because they were together, so close to each other. And that never happened.
"My father took me to the emergency room, where the bone was reset. When we got home, the party was almost over, presents unwrapped, the cake just being served. In the pictures taken that day, I am holding my arm over my cast, as if I don't trust it to keep me together. My older sister is on one side, the hero; my younger, the birthday girl, on the other."
I knew that picture. In it, I am wearing my bathing suit, a piece of cake in my hand; Kirsten is grinning, one hand on her hip, which is jutting out.
"For years, when I looked at the snapshot, all I could see was my broken arm. It was only later that I began to make out other things. Like how my sisters are both smiling and leaning in toward me, while I am, as always, between them."
She took a breath, looking down at her papers.
"It was not the last time I would run away from my sisters. Not the last time I thought being alone was preferable. I am still the center sister. But I see it differently now. There has to be a middle. Without it, nothing can ever truly be whole. Because it is not just the space between, but also what holds everything together. Thank you."
I just sat there, a lump rising in my throat, as applause began all around me, first here and there, and then everywhere, filling the room. Whitney flushed, pressing a hand to her chest, then smiled as she stepped out from behind the microphone. Beside me, Kirsten had tears in her eyes.
As Whitney made her way toward our table, people nodding at her as she passed, I was so proud of her, because I could only imagine how hard it must have been to read this piece aloud. Not just for strangers, but us, as well. But she'd done it. Sitting there, watching my sister, I wondered which was harder, in the end. The act of telling, or who you told it to. Or maybe if, when you finally got it out, the story was really all that mattered.
The clock beside my bed, glowing red, said 12:15. Which meant that, by my count, I'd been trying to fall asleep for three hours and eight minutes.
Ever since Whitney's reading the previous night, all the things I'd been trying to push away—my falling-out with Owen, Emily giving me the detective's card, Clarke talking to me again—were suddenly haunting me. The house felt full and busy, my parents were more relaxed than they'd been in months, and my sisters were not only talking to each other but actually getting along. This sudden harmony was so unexpected, it just made me seem that much more out of sorts.
The night before, on the way home from the coffee shop, Kirsten had told Whitney about her film, and how it was similar to the piece she'd read. Whitney wanted to see it, so tonight before dinner, Kirsten had set up her laptop on the coffee table and we all assembled to watch.
My parents sat on the couch with Whitney perched on the arm beside them. Kirsten took a seat at an angle, motioning for me to sit closer, but I'd just shook my head, hanging back. "I've already seen it," I told her. "You sit there."
"I've seen it a million times," she replied, but took the spot anyway.
"This is so exciting!" my mother said, looking around at all of us, and I didn't know if she meant that we were all there together, or the film itself.
Kirsten took in a breath, then reached forward to push a button. "Okay," she said. "Here it is."
As the first shot of that green, green grass, came up, I tried to keep my eyes on it. But slowly, I found myself looking instead at my family. My father's face was serious, studying the screen; my mom, beside him, had her hands curled in her lap. Whitney, on my dad's other side, had pulled a leg to her chest, and I watched the light flicker across her face as the piece continued.
"Why, Whitney," my mother said as the girls pedaled down the street, "this is kind of like that essay you let us read a while back, isn't it?"
"It is," Kirsten said softly. "Weird, right? We just figured it out last night."
Whitney didn't say anything, her eyes on the screen as, in the distance, the camera showed the smaller girl, now off her bike, the wheel spinning. Then there were the scarier images of the neighborhood: the lunging dog, the old man getting his paper. When it finally ended with that last flash of green, we were all quiet for a moment.
"Kirsten, my goodness," my mother finally said. "That was incredible."
"Hardly incredible," Kirsten replied, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. But she did look pleased. "It's just a beginning."
"Who knew you had such an eye?" my father said, reaching across to squeeze her leg. "All that TV-watching finally paid off."
Kirsten smiled at him, but her real attention was on Whitney, who hadn't said anything yet. "So," she asked, "what did you think?"
"I liked it," Whitney told her. "Although I never thought you'd left me behind."
"And I never would have guessed you turned back," Kirsten replied. "It's so funny."
Whitney nodded, not saying anything. Then my mother sighed and said, "Well, I never realized that day was such a big deal for either of you!"
"What, you don't remember Whitney breaking her arm?" Kirsten asked.
"Your mother has a selective memory," my dad told her. "I, however, have distinct recollection of the collective trauma."
"Of course I remember it," my mom said. "I just… had no idea it had resonated with you both so much." She turned, glancing around behind her until her eyes found me. "What about you, Annabel? What do you remember about that day?"
"Turning nine," my father said. "Right?"
I nodded, because they were all watching me. In truth, though, I wasn't sure what I recalled most about that day, as so much of it had been retold now, through other eyes. It had been my birthday, I'd had a cake, I'd run to tell my mom Whitney was hurt. But the rest, I wasn't sure of.
All through dinner I watched my family: Kirsten telling stories about the intense people in her filmmaking class,
Whitney explaining the details of the sushi rolls she'd been working on all afternoon, my mother's cheeks, pink and flushed, as she laughed. Even my father was relaxed, clearly happy to have everyone together, under such better circumstances. It was a good thing, and yet I felt strangely disconnected. As if I were now a car on the street outside, slowing down to stare, with nothing in common at all but proximity, and barely that.
Now, I pushed back the covers, getting up, then went to my door, easing it open. The hallway was silent and dark, but as I suspected, there was a light visible from the stairs. My dad was still up.