Better Than by Tommy Dean

You think about all the things your sister has stolen from you: the knee-high My Little Pony socks, the necklace with the interlocking swan charms, Gavin Darling right before semi-formal, your car which she totaled driving drunk the night before your college orientation. Your mother always defending her. Emily doesn’t know how to make friends, Emily is dealing with her issues, Emily is just looking for love. Wasn’t everyone searching for something?

Now you’re the one that’s alone, thirty years old and unmarried, with one broken engagement. Sometimes you still put on the ring, wear it to bars and poetry readings, lie to your Home Ec students, lecture them about the evils of gluten and preservatives while they hold hands behind your back, gossiping in the halls about your lack of marriage, your need to mother them. Even they know time is running out.

And your sister comes to you with her wedding dress, wrapped in plastic, the crinkling sound like static electricity that drowns out most of her airy concerns. Her eyes are bright, fully adjusted to her latest medication, the one that makes her seem to float, a joyful balloon bobbing on a string. You regret letting her in, but you promised your mother that you’d try to let it all go. The theft, the hard feelings, the jabbing anger of being the oldest, yet unmarried. At least it’s not Gavin Darling, though you say his name anyway, while your sister lays the dress on your couch as if you plan on avoiding sitting there until the day of the wedding.

“I heard he’s gotten so fat. A drug problem maybe or just swollen glands? I did you a favor on that one,” she says.

“I cried for a month, Emily.”

Your sister plucks something from your hair, near your ear, drops it to the ground.

“Better a month of tears than a divorce, kids from a broken home.”

“Speaking of weight,” you say, smoothing your own shirt.

“I told mom you’d notice. She said to blame it on eating too much ice cream, but I knew I couldn’t fool you,” your sister says, but she doesn’t sound disappointed.

“Let’s talk in the kitchen. Have some tea.” She holds out her hand and you take it quickly feeling the knotty ridges of your sister’s swollen knuckles.

In the kitchen, your sister takes out the teapot and turns on the faucet. She motions for you to sit, so you move a stack of papers that need grading, the newest issue of Good Housekeeping buried at the bottom of the stack. You don’t want to be the first one to say it, afraid the envy will come out of your mouth. Your sister fusses with her tea, eyes darting from cup to your face.

“You’re pregnant,” you say, wanting to get it over with.

“Isn’t it awful?” your sister says, her voice so earnest you have to look away. Emily shakes her head, and you can see it now, the slender ridge of fat that puffs up her face along her jawline, how rounded her face will grow in the coming months. If you were someone else, you’d take a vacation, somewhere warm, where pregnancies are the last thing on anyone’s mind.

You pick up the stack of papers, students names bubbled across the top, and you can’t picture any of them, though you spend hours wondering about their futures, the ways they’ll succeed, and so often fail, caught in the snare of poverty and abuse, over-confidence and entitlement, drugs and accidents.

“Here, Emily,” you say, holding out the worksheets.

Your sister sits across from you, flipping through the pages. “What could I possibly do with these?”

You hand her a pen. “Sometimes it helps to live in some else’s life,” you say.

Tommy Dean lives in Indiana with his wife and two children. He has been previously published in the BULL Magazine, The Citron Review, The Lascaux Review, New World Writing, Pithead Chapel, and New Flash Fiction Review.  Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter.