Lisa Robbins plastered a smile on her pouty lips and looked at the camera. Her stomach quivered and she silently pleaded with the photographer to hurry. The shoot was supposed to be a quick project. No more than an hour. Lisa had peeked a glance at the clock during the last makeup session, noting with disappointment that she had already been there for an hour and a half. She was ready for some rest. Lisa wished she could see the clock through the poles and lights that surrounded her like a cage. But it was impossible. She was sure at least another twenty minutes had passed by now.
Lisa turned her attention back to the camera man, trying to look like she was right where she wanted to be. The lights were bright, glaring off the panels to simulate sunlight. The background seemed to become more confining. With each passing minute she found it harder to act as though she wanted to be there. Her stomach heaved again and Lisa fought the wave of nausea that followed. She shifted slightly, and almost groaned out loud before she heard the photographer exclaim in delight.
“Finally, that was perfect. That is the shot we will make famous.”
Lisa smiled and sighed, resisting the urge to ask what he planned to do with the other 150 shots he had captured. In all honesty she didn’t care. Standing from her pose gingerly she stretched, attempting to hide the slight dizziness that washed over her. Looking around she nodded to the photographer who gave her the thumbs up sign before beginning to disassemble his tripod. Relief on her face she moved to her changing room slowly, her secret stash of crackers and some water sounding more and more like an escape. The room wasn’t much but the small square area, with little more than a vanity and a few chairs and tables, offered her the seclusion she desperately wanted now.
Lisa opened her door, dimly aware of a phone trilling somewhere behind her. The sound didn’t stop her. She just wanted to close the rest of the world away. It will be worth it, she told herself. The excitement in her sisters voice had made her smile that morning. That alone made every moment seem just a little easier. Lisa thought of her sister as she reached for the top pack of crackers nestled snugly in a drawer behind rows of hair product and makeup. She had been bubbly, giving every detail of the days events. She had gushed about the shopping trip with her husband. Lisa had pictured her sister shopping, making notes on how to decorate the entire nursery for her new baby.
A knock on the door pulled Lisa from her thoughts and she quickly finished her crackers and grabbed a drink of water. Moving to the door she fixed herself and grabbed one of the robes she kept handy for clothing changes. Gathering the front closed after slipping it over her shoulders she opened the door, hoping they weren’t going to ask for more pictures. Her body ached, and the past few weeks of illness were taking a toll on her. She didn’t think she could last through another session.
Phone in hand one of the assistants looked at her apologetically from the doorway. “Phone call, sounded important.” The boy shifted uncomfortably, looking unsure about bothering her.
Lisa thanked him and reluctantly took the phone, wondering who could possibly be calling. Only her agent knew where she was, and had the number. But surely he would have called her personal cell. She was sure a more experienced assistant would have screened the call better. But the kid that stood at her door looked new. He wouldn’t have known her agent from the average Joe. If it was Todd she would just have to refuse his next big job. She needed a break for the day. Forcing a smile she dismissed the assistant and closed the door to take the call.
“I’m on break Todd. I want a day off-” Lisa started before being cut off by a younger male voice.
“Ms. Robbins, I’m afraid you have me confused with someone else. My name is Officer Mitch Young. I’m calling about your sister.”
Lisa’s blood ran cold. “She’s out shopping. With her husband.”
“We gathered that from the items in the car. I’m sorry Ms. Robbins, but there was an accident. Your sister and her husband both were killed.”
Lisa’s hand flew to her mouth to stifle her gasp. She had heard wrong, she was sure. There was no way her sister could be dead. Not her vivacious, energetic sister. Lisa took a few deep breaths to steady herself, suddenly aware that the officer was too quiet. “Are you sure it was Becca? How did you identify her? There must be some mistake-”
“I am truly sorry ma’am. We are quite certain. Other than their identification, we ran the plates of the car. We would like for family to come and verify of course. Formality mostly, just to be certain. And to claim the bodies, after they’re released that is.”
Lisa shook her head, trying to make sense of everything. She had just spoken to her sister. They were supposed to get together in the next few days. Lisa rested her hand on her stomach, her eyes staring blindly at the wall while she worked to grasp everything she had heard. She would have to identify Becca, and possibly Jon. She was the only family left to Becca, other than Jon of course. Lisa bit back a sob as she realized how upset Jon’s parents must be. “Have Jon’s parents been informed?”
Officer Young sighed before answering. “They were contacted just before you. We had more trouble locating you. They will help with identification naturally. As well as handling the possessions left in the house.”
Lisa nodded, not sure why she was nodding since nobody could see her. “What ha-” she choked, then cleared her throat and tried again. “What happened? The accident I mean.” Lisa listened breathlessly to the few details she was allowed. Her eyes misted with the news and she fought hard not to cry.
Lisa hung up the phone, sitting it on the vanity next to her. Her lower lip quivered as she stifled more sobs. Her hands shook slightly at her sides, feeling suddenly heavy and useless. Her head throbbed, feeling as though someone was hitting a large drum over her shoulder. She collapsed into one of the pair of large overstuffed chairs against the opposite wall, her legs suddenly weak. Her sister dead, her only family gone. Not just Becca but Jon too. And with a baby to look forward to.
Lisa suddenly sat upright in the chair, her hands flying to her stomach. The baby. Lisa bit her lip, fresh tears gleaming in her eyes. She was suddenly expecting a child alone, the baby that was supposed to be her sister’s. The baby that would now be hers. Lisa hung her head, not sure how to feel. Caring for the child would be no issue, she had plenty of money. And she loved kids. But her job was hardly ideal for raising a child. Her agent kept her too busy to provide the proper time for a family.
Lisa stood and groaned, knowing that she now faced several challenges. Reaching to pick up the phone Lisa thought of Todd. He wouldn’t be pleased to hear that she wanted to take the next year off. He would be less pleased if he learned the reason for her decision. Wiping her eyes she straightened her back as if preparing to face Todd in person and began to dial the all to familiar number. She was going to take the time she needed, she had to. Counting the rings Lisa tapped her foot on the thick carpet, thankful for once that it was so lush as to hide the noise of her anxiety.
Lisa flinched at the gruff answer on the other end of the line. She hated these moods from him. She could feel her bravado slip and took a deep breath. She was suddenly glad he couldn’t see her. Trying to sound cheerful she quipped, “Long day Todd?”
“Lisa,” the voice softened slightly though didn’t lose the gruff undertones, “I didn’t mean to sound to rough.”
Lisa slumped slightly and sat back down. Maybe this call wouldn’t be so bad. Just tell him she urged herself. Aloud she forced a small laugh and answered. “Then you’ll be happy to know the shoot went well. Is my schedule clear for the next few days?”
The rustle of papers sounded in Lisa’s ear before Todd’s voice filled the line again. “I don’t have any regulars scheduled for you. I’ll track down a few new companies and we will have you back in front of the camera by the end of the week.”
“No.” Lisa silently groaned and forced herself to calm down. She closed her eyes, hoping that Todd hadn’t heard what must sound like panic in her voice. Talking in what she hoped was a tone closer to normal she went on slower. “I mean I need some time. I need a break. I don’t want another shoot. Not this week or next.”
Stunned silence met her declaration and Lisa crossed her fingers nervously. “You realize that through all the hard work of the last two months alone you are now the most in demand model for several large magazines. You can’t just wander off and disappear because you get bored. If you leave you become history. We can’t have that.”
Lisa heard the tight control in his voice and steeled herself before answering. “I realize that. And I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t for something important. But I need this time off.”
A thud on the other end startled Lisa. Momentarily stunned she nearly dropped the phone before regaining herself. Todd must have slammed his palm on his desk. A sure sign of his anger, though he would never admit it. And certainly not over the phone. “Lisa, I don’t have time for diva antics. I-”
Anger flared and Lisa huffed. Cutting him off she made a split decision. “My sister is dead and I’m taking a year to go through her things and handle her affairs.” And have a baby she silently added.
“I um, I’m sorry.” Todd paused briefly and cleared his throat. “I didn’t realize, I mean, I, I’m sorry. Take all the time you need. I’ll keep the press from hounding you as much as possible.”
“Thanks Todd. And don’t worry, I won’t just disappear. I plan to stay in touch. And I will leave emergency contact information.”
Lisa listened to Todd go through his routine worry mode about contacting him if she needed anything and said her goodbyes. Hanging up the phone she sighed with relief and grabbed her clothes from the hangers. Now that she had time off she wanted to get away from the shoot area. Not that she was in any rush to get to the police station. But that seemed the most reasonable step. Dressing and leaving all felt mechanical, the simple motions performed with no thought to what she was actually doing.
An hour later Lisa stood beside her car, staring at the station. It was a building, like any other. A large brick structure with a sign painted on the door. She couldn’t believe she was actually going to do this. It seemed like a bad dream. One she would wake from eventually. Lisa shook her head and began to climb the stairs. The burger she had ordered somewhere between the shoot location and town sat like a lump in her stomach. She had to take several deep breaths to fight back the knots in her stomach.
Lisa had placed a call to the station shortly before she had left. She knew they were expecting her. She just wasn’t ready for the task before her. And try as she might she couldn’t seem to move any faster. Her body felt numb. The door to the station opened just as Lisa reached it. The young officer held the door and Lisa ducked inside.
The world around her seemed to blur as she went through the motions of identifying her sister and brother in law. Time had seemed to stand still inside the building. She could barely remember what the officers had told her.
Lisa couldn’t be sure how much time had passed as she walked out the door, her head low. She hadn’t realized just how bad the accident had been. Her sister was almost beyond recognition. Jon had been just as bad. Lisa knew little more than she had before. Only that the driver of the other vehicle had passed out and Becca had tried to stop, but had been hit anyway. The road had a steep embankment. The other driver was laying in a hospital somewhere in town, barely alive. Lisa hadn’t wanted to know anymore.
Lisa started down the steps not sure if she was going to make it to her car on weak knees when a voice behind her stopped her in her tracks. “If the drive home is to much right now we have a nice place out of the way just down the road.”
Lisa turned and faced the man. She thought he was an officer but couldn’t remember. Smiling she shook her head. “Thanks but I really need to go to my sisters house. I had to take time off work and it will be gone all to soon.”
“I understand. I’m sorry for your loss.” The man nodded and ducked back inside. Lisa turned and hurried down the steps with more energy than she felt. She wanted to get away from the building, and the memories it had created. As soon as she had the door open Lisa dropped into the seat and leaned back. She felt completely drained and a throb at the back of her head hinted at an oncoming headache. Taking a deep breath she inserted the key into the ignition, fighting her tears as she pulled away.
The drive had been peaceful, though that did little to calm Lisa’s nerves. She looked out the window, blinking back a fresh wave of sadness. The house was quiet. Lisa wasn’t sure what she had expected as she pulled up. It didn’t feel right, pulling up to the house knowing her sister wasn’t inside. Lisa eased out of the car, her body beginning to ache from the events of the day. She stretched, hoping to loosen her tight muscles. As she did her eyes moved over the house, and finally landed on the little flower garden out front. The garden she had helped plant only two and a half months ago.
Lisa bit her lip, tears threatening to begin again. It had been a day she would remember the rest of her life. She had agreed to plant the flowers after hearing how her sister just couldn’t get used to boxes hanging on the windows. They had spent a full day just talking and planting everything from lilies to posies. Becca had always had dreams of a nice house with the white picket fence and flowers. It had also been the day Becca had asked her to be a surrogate.
Becca and Jon had wanted a baby so badly. Lisa had talked to her sister several times about that very topic. Lisa placed her hands on her stomach, as if to cradle the baby inside, and walked toward the house. It looked like the picture perfect home, a home ideal for a young family. Lisa stared at the door, her hands trembling. She knew she had to open it, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. She knew what the house would look like behind that door. Lisa could picture the large living room beyond the doorway, inviting and cozy. Beyond that would be the kitchen, Becca’s favorite room. A long hall was off the side of the living room, with a study and bedrooms.
Lisa took a deep breath hoping to calm her nerves. She knew she couldn’t bring Becca and Jon back by waiting at the door. They would never open that door again. And waiting on the doorstep as if they would was only putting off the inevitable task before her. Pushing the door open Lisa stepped inside. The house was just as she remembered. She felt the tears run down her cheeks as she looked around. She swiped at them absently. She could picture Jon outside, Becca in the kitchen baking. In her mind either one could walk out to greet her. But the house was completely silent, empty, reminding her that there would be nobody to greet her.
Lisa moved farther into the house. Each little decoration and picture sparked a memory as she moved room to room. Lisa smiled to herself, gingerly moving her fingers over glass roses from dates long past and lacy doilies bought with the promise of a long life together. The kitchen was bright with afternoon sun when Lisa walked in. The last time she had been in the spacious room she had helped Becca cook a large supper after a day of gardening. They had enjoyed a wonderful evening in the little breakfast nook chatting about the future. It had been a joyful time, full of promise and plans.
Lisa looked over the room with a sad smile. Not ready to start sorting everything in the house she sat down at the table. A fluttering of white caught her attention. A small note sat lodged under the salt shaker. Lisa moved the shaker and pulled the note free. Expecting a memo from Becca, Lisa glanced over the note. It wasn’t from Becca or Jon. The script was that of an older lady. Jon’s mother. The note was a quick condolence and explanation that they had already been in to collect Jon’s trophies and a few of his other things. Anything that was left was hers to do with as she saw fit.
Lisa stood up and left the kitchen. She peeked into the rooms she had passed by earlier. Down the hall off the living room was a cozy study, the room Jon had used for his office. Lisa had never really understood what Jon did for a living. It was something to do with real estate and investing. Becca always said she didn’t understand what he did but it paid the bills well. And it had. Just the other day Becca had gushed about how they only had the day to day bills of living that had to be paid and they could raise their child with no worries about money. Becca had even quit her job as a deli waitress.
Inside the room Lisa could see the spots where little trophies had sat. No doubt the sports trophies and such that Jon had earned though out his teen and early adult years. Lisa remembered him once talking about his days in baseball. He had been talented, an up and coming star according to some. Until he had twisted his knee, ripping the cartilage in the meniscus. While that had been bad enough the sudden pain that had taken place had caused Jon to stumble, colliding with one of the other players. He had hit his head pretty hard though not so much as to cause serious injury. But his chances at ever pursuing a career in baseball had ended that day. His knee had healed well enough to enjoy the occasional ball game with friends, and other less serious sports. But he had chosen not to pursue any more trophies or risk another injury.
Lisa walked around the room, looking at the shelves and desk. Several spots where books had once sat were now bare, Jon’s parents having taken some of his favorites. Pictures and other little mementos were also gone. Lisa couldn’t be sure what all had been taken. She had only been in the room a few times. She knew that most of the things that Jon had cherished from his days before his marriage to Becca had found a home in this room. It had been his little ‘man cave’ as Becca had dubbed it. A place for him to escape and work. The rest of the rooms, like most houses, seemed to pick up after the marriage.
Lisa left the room and moved down the hall to the end. It was the master bedroom, with a second smaller room connected to it. Lisa peeked into the little room, sure of what she would find. Inside was the beginning of the nursery. A white crib and matching rocking chair sat along one wall, while a bureau sat along another. There should have been a changing table, the one Becca had meant to pick up today. Lisa sighed. The day had seemed to last forever, and yet the death had numbed her to everything else.
Lisa turned from the room, leaving the nursery and the master bedroom for another day. She walked back through the house, suddenly exhausted, and sat down on the couch. She leaned back against the overstuffed throw pillows and closed her eyes. A few moments of rest sounded like paradise. She tried to tell herself that she could rest for a few minutes before she decided what to do.
It was late when Lisa opened her eyes wearily and yawned. She sat up slowly, wishing she could just lay back and rest longer. The room was dim and Lisa was suddenly aware that she had slept a lot longer than a few moments. With a groan Lisa stretched and looked around. It was early evening and she had to eat soon. As if to punctuate the realization her stomach gave a loud and long rumble. The kitchen was stocked well, Lisa knew, but she wasn’t ready to just start cooking meals. Take out was the next best thing.