When she got home later that afternoon, Mattie was exhausted. She had spent the remainder of her day finishing pieces of the Morrison cake for their anniversary celebration and got wrapped up helping Selene with an afternoon rush of customers before she felt comfortable calling it quits. Her feet ached, despite her bright green crocs that kept her feeling cozy in the kitchen. The pants she wore were stained with food dye and covered in flour. This was something Mattie was notorious for: keeping her kitchen as clean as possible and ending up with most of the mess on herself. She looked around her apartment and saw that it seemed to be the same way here. Everything had its place.
Her blue faux-suede couch that she found at a thrift store--marked half off--was decorated with couple of white throw pillows and a fluffy gray blanket. Her coffee table boasted a small vase of flowers in one corner and coasters waiting patiently to catch condensation from her cup or keep a steaming mug of coffee from leaving a ring on the dark wood below. She had a television in the corner, used mostly for watching movies. Besides an additional side table and lamp, the room was full of bookshelves stuffed with her books from childhood through adulthood. She didn’t know why she had kept all of them. Most of them she had only read once; but there was a feeling that they were her friends and Mattie kept them close believing that you don’t just throw friends out--especially ones that don’t let you down.
Mattie moved into the bathroom and drew a bath. Normally, this was not a practice she made a habit of indulging. Baths took time and she didn’t always have that. Her schedule was often one that prevented her from being impulsive and baths were for impulsive people who had time to slow down and take a break. Mattie would rather save her break time for reading. But every once in a while, things aligned so that she didn’t feel guilty taking a bath and reading at the same time. Even more seldom than that, Mattie was put into a position where she felt that everything was confusing and screwed up and a bath was the only thing that would keep her from falling apart. Today, the latter of those scenarios was true.
The bathroom filled with the scents of lavender and vanilla and Mattie inhaled deeply. She felt her shoulders relax a bit and as she climbed in, she felt tension leave her body. Warmth spread from the tips of her toes and coaxed its way up her legs and back. She ducked under the water for a few seconds and enjoyed the sound of water around her. It sloshed and made it seem like she could hear each part of her body moving. She counted her heart beat and wiggled her fingers and for just a moment savored that she was blissfully alone.
She sat up out of the water and looked around. Her clothes were discarded in the corner of the room and she let out a single loud laugh when she realized just how messy she must have looked when Ian came into the bakery earlier that morning. Two times now, he had seen her looking sloppy and even still, decided that he would give her a note with his phone number. She wondered if she would ever get the courage to reach out to him.
Enjoying her soak, Mattie took time to consider the past 36 hours. In that time, a lot had happened outside of meeting Ian. What surprised her the most was the revelation that her little sister was getting married. She was still processing this, but kept coming back to an overwhelming feeling of betrayal. She wondered what, if anything, would have prompted her sister to keep quiet. She desperately wanted to give Anna the benefit of the doubt, but couldn’t bring herself to understand this level of disloyalty. They had grown to be so close and now, when it might matter most, Anna actively chose to keep her sister out of the loop. It was a blow to their sisterhood and Mattie felt like it might have set them back to their college years after their mom died. Mattie had thrown herself into her work and Anna had thrown herself into guys. Two years ahead and getting ready to graduate, Mattie had watched her sister drink and get into one reckless relationship after another.
The night that they had started to repair things, Mattie’s cell phone had rang. Seeing it was her sister she ignored it, deciding that she didn’t want to chance a fight when she was working on homework. It was Friday night and she had a paper due the following Monday for one of her last business classes of her scholastic career. It was her full intention to impress her teacher and get a good grade and nothing was going to stand in her way. She quickly glanced at her phone when it stopped ringing and watched the screen dim to black. It vibrated once, letting her know that she had a missed call. She went back to writing her paper and a few minutes later was surprised when her phone lit up again and her sister’s name flashed across the screen. Mattie counted to ten in case she had to worry about an argument and then answered.
“Mattie, can you come get me?” Her sister sounded like she had been crying.
“Can you please just come get me?”
“Where are you?”
“At The Red Mitten.”
“What are you doing at there? It closed hours ago,” Mattie said glancing at her clock while she pulled on some sneakers and a hoodie. The Red Mitten was a cafe in town that many of the students frequented between classes and on the weekends. It was the kind of place where you would find people sitting for hours writing what they believed to be the next big novel. The mustard yellow walls were covered with local art that sold anywhere from one hundred dollars to five hundred dollars. Mattie knew it because it was a comfort to her and she had spent many hours lounging in front of the fireplace in the cafe reading when she didn’t have homework to finish. What she knew best about the cafe were its hours of operation and it certainly wasn’t open at 12:30 am on a Saturday morning.
“Mattie, please,” Anna begged.
“I’m walking out the door now. Stay where you are.”
She drove there in record time, reducing the ten minute drive to about five. When she pulled up, she saw Anna sitting on the curb wearing a short dress and torn nylons. She had taken off her shoes and was holding them in her hand. Mattie pulled the car over and got out. Walking up to Anna she could see that her sister’s hair was messy and her makeup had been smudged. She sat on the curb next to her and they were silent for a few minutes. Then without warning, Anna’s head dropped to her sister’s shoulder. She cried lightly and whispered something.
“What did you say?” Mattie asked. A few minutes passed before Anna spoke again.
“I miss Mom.”
That had been enough for Mattie. She took off her hoodie and got her sister into it and into the car. They drove back to Mattie’s apartment on campus and got changed into pajamas. Anna fell asleep in Mattie’s bed long before her older sister was able to drift off on the couch. In the morning, the girls woke and shared a pot of coffee and a bagel in the kitchen. They decided to go to dinner together on Sunday. It was the first Sunday dinner they shared together as part of their weekly tradition.
* * *
The water in the tub had started to lose its warmth and Mattie found herself staring at the edge of the tub where her fingers tapped out a rhythm. It was something that drove her mom crazy when she was alive and Mattie would often tap her finger on something solid when her mom was in the room, watching out of the corner of her eye until she was asked to stop. That was something that kids did to their parents sometimes. They frustrated them on purpose to see how far they could push before their mom or dad would push back. It felt like a game to Mattie and it was one that she missed dearly.
Sometimes Mattie felt like Anna frustrated her on purpose with her own form of tapping and clicking. They were both old enough that Mattie did not feel as though she became a parent to her younger sister, but she did feel a sense of obligation toward her. There existed a strong sense to make sure that she was taken care of and okay. That’s why it pissed Mattie off when Anna did things like sleep with random people, drink excessively, party to no end, and now, get engaged to a man named Chris.
Mattie stood in the tub and reached for her towel, trying not to get a lot of water on the floor. She wrapped herself up and watched as the water drained from the tub. Once it was gone, she wiped her feet off before stepping out of the tub and into her bedroom. She got changed into cozy pants and a long sleeved t-shirt and braided her hair. Padding into the kitchen, she decided that she would be ordering dinner and called up her favorite Greek restaurant for a gyro and a salad, extra tzatziki.
She cuddled up on her couch and popped in a movie to watch while she waited for her meal. Will Ferrell had always made her laugh so she decided on Anchorman. She had seen the movie for the first time years ago with Jeff, her first boyfriend. It came out when she was a freshman in highschool and they had been dating for three and a half weeks. It felt like a lifetime ago, but she remembered all of the details. His curly hair was covered by a grimy old hat and when he held her hand it had been sweaty. They shared popcorn with Bunch a Crunch mixed in so that the chocolate had melted slightly and held the popped kernels together. It was a typical high school date that ended in a kiss with far too much teeth at her front door. Regardless, she had enjoyed the movie and continued to be a fan over ten years later.
About forty minutes into the film, she heard a knock on her door and she got her wallet to pay for the food delivery. However, it was Anna who greeted her when she opened the door holding a bag of food.
“Anyone order Greek takeout?” she asked with a coy smile.
“Why are you here?”
“I came by to talk and I paid for your food. Can I come in?” Mattie stared back at her sister trying to decide if her food was worth the inevitable talk that would come from letting her in the apartment.
“Mattie, you’re not going to eat if you don’t let me in,” Anna pointed out. Resigned, Mattie moved to the side and held the door open. Her sister walked in and went to the kitchen, depositing the bag of food on the table. She began to unpack it and place items on the table.
“Gyro? Good choice,” she appraised, “my favorite is pastitio, though.”
“Good thing I didn’t order for you.” Maggie shouldered her sister out of the way and went to the table. “Why are you here?”
“I told you. I want to talk.”
“About?” Mattie moved to the cabinet and grabbed a bowl to mix her salad in. She never liked to eat it straight out of the aluminum pan it came in. When she ate it that way, the dressing never spread evenly and she didn’t get a good taste in every bite.
“Last night. Chris. Me.”
“So, talk.” Mattie grabbed her food and moved to the living room. Normally, she would eat in the kitchen, but it felt small with two people in it. In the living room she would have more space and be able to open the door for her sister if she felt she needed to kick her out.
“Will you slow down and look at me?” Anna asked. “You haven’t looked at me since you let me in the house.” Pointedly, Mattie looked at her sister.
“There. I looked at you.” She smiled and took a big bite out of her salad. The feta cheese crumbled in her mouth and the tangy flavor of the olive coated her tongue. She continued to stare at her sister who sat across the room in an armchair with her mouth slightly agape.
“Mattie, Chris and I are--”
“Engaged. Yes, I know. You told me last night.”
“Could you stop being so immature and let me finish?” Mattie set down her fork and crossed her legs. She gestured to her sister to continue and raised her eyebrows to convey her interest.
“Chris and I are in love.”
“That’s it? Just ‘okay’?” Her sister added air quotes around Mattie’s response.
“God, Mattie. I thought you would give me more than that.”
“Why? You certainly didn’t.”
“It was a mistake coming here,” Anna said while she stood, “I’m sorry I tried to explain this to you.” She moved to the door and then turned and said, “you don’t even want to try to understand.” Mattie stood up quickly and knocked her gyro onto the floor.
“Anna, you never even gave me the opportunity to meet this man. It’s clear that for some reason, you didn’t want me to be a part of this.”
“You’re wrong,” Anna replied, “of course I want you to be a part of this. Mattie, we only have each other.”
“And that’s where you’re wrong,” Mattie pointed at her little sister, “you have Chris.”
Anna’s mouth opened and closed a few times like a goldfish. Finally, her face settled and her eyes watered before she turned and walked out the front door. She didn’t slam it behind her and Mattie almost wished that she had. She looked down at the carpet and saw her spilled food through watery eyes.
“Fuck.” Not one to leave a mess behind, she went to the kitchen and got some cleaning supplies out from under the sink. She successfully removed all of the food from her carpet and scrubbed up every bit of the tzatziki sauce that had spilled. Unfortunately, the smell of garlic and dill still permeated the air. She looked down at her clothes and realized that she looked just like she had when she returned home from work: messy and alone.