Can you come home?” my sister asked when I answered the phone.
As the oldest child, it has always fallen to me to take care of my brother and sisters. My favorite chore was watching Tracy. She was a bright, inquisitive child full of laughter and love.
When she was a teenager she came to me for advice about boys and sex. Sitting on a cushion to see over the steering wheel and dash of my car, we drove the back roads and side streets near Mom and Dad’s house when she was practicing driving to get her license. We went to rock concerts together and sat up long into the night when she had a problem or needed to talk. She watched my boys when I worked a second job or on rare nights when I went out with friends. When she got married she asked me to do her makeup and hair and help her find the right dress. I even made the bouquet she carried and the bouquets for her bridesmaids. We were inseparable even when my husband was stationed far away from home and kept in close contact.
When Brandon was born, I lived in Louisiana, but I was the first person she called with the news. My baby sister had a baby boy and I saw him for the first time at Thanksgiving when he was still a sweetly scented, tiny, wide-eyed bundle of waving arms and kicking legs. He was just as precious and bright-eyed as Tracy had been when I saw her for the first time.
My short vacation was just long enough to catch up on all the news and get to hold my nephew with a little time for my sister and me to get away for a few hours for a good long chat. She glowed with happiness and contentment.
Two months later I got another phone call. Brandon was dead.
It was late when I finally pulled into my parent’s driveway. I pulled off into the yard, slammed the gear shift into Park, got out of the car and ran across the yard and through the door my mother held for me. My snow-covered shoes slid across the tile entry and I stumbled across the carpet toward my little sister. She looked up. “Oh,” she said, “you made it. I’ll bet you’re tired.” Taking my coat she brushed away the melting snowflakes and laid it carefully across the arm of the sofa, smoothing the folds, flicking away a splash of dried mud. “Did you stop and get something to eat? Are you hungry?” I shook my head.
Cold wind slashed through the space between us as my father kicked the snow from his shoes against the door frame and clattered into the house. He stood in the doorway. “Didn’t you bring any bags?”
“I’ll get them later,” I told him, watching Tracy poke up the fire in the stove, knock off the ashes and place the iron back into the holder. She rubbed her arms and stared into the fire for a moment oblivious to the rest of us.
“Would you like some cake or pie and some coffee?” My mother took my arm and led me through the dining room and into the kitchen.
“I don’t drink coffee, Mom.”
“There’s plenty.” She turned on the coffee maker. “And lots of pie. Sister Friend brought apple pie and I don’t remember who brought the peach pie or the chocolate cake.” She turned to the refrigerator and looked into the freezer. “There’s ice cream if you want it.” She put a gallon of vanilla on the counter. “You can heat the pie in the microwave.”
Mom wandered past me, into the foyer and up the stairs. Dad followed. “Don’t forget to put away the ice cream,” he said.
I went back into the family room. Tracy had fallen asleep in a chair facing the stove. Taking an afghan from my mother’s lounger, I draped it around her, carefully tucking in the edges and smoothing the warm hand crocheted wool over her tightly clenched fists.
Dark circles hung like old drapes beneath her honey brown lashes. Feathery lines spread out from the corners of her eyes and a knife-edge line creased the smooth skin between her eyebrows. I laid down on the sofa and pulled another afghan over me, as I watched my little sister shift and mumble in her sleep through the night while the logs shifted and fell in a spray of sparks that woke the ash-covered embers into a brief comforting life.
The next morning the snow was gone and a light drizzle dampened the frost rimed ground as we left the house.
As the minister spoke, Tracy took my hand, curling her fingers tightly around mine, her nails digging into my skin. She nodded as the minister spoke, her face calm and still. Her grip tightened on my hand as she looked up and past the black suited minister to the tiny white coffin behind him.
When the service was over Tracy held my hand as she sat there looking at the empty stand. “I gave him CPR. His lips were so blue and cold and stiff. I still feel them,” she said as tears slipped down her cheeks. “I still feel them.”
I followed the long procession out onto the highway south to the little country graveyard where Brandon would be buried. As they lowered his coffin into the ground at my sister’s feet, the icy drizzle turned to snow. Tracy dropped a rose into the gaping hole while everyone drifted silently away. I walked back toward the cars, said goodbye to my family and a couple friends and turned for one last look at Tracy before I got in the car and drove back to Tennessee.
“I’m pregnant,” Tracy said when she called a month later. “Brandon sent him.”