Chapter 11 – Julia

Hello Beautiful

auGust 1983–october 1983

Whe the pho e ra G o that hot August morning, William had been gone for a day and a half. Julia was sitting on the couch

with Alice in her lap. She was tickling the baby’s stomach. Alice gurgled when she laughed, and it was the best sound Julia had ever heard. It made Julia laugh too, every time. Julia carried Alice to the colorful blanket on the floor and laid the baby down. Then she picked up the phone next to the armchair, and everything changed.

Something inside Julia froze while she listened to Sylvie talk. The news that William had tried to kill himself was so enormous, she couldn’t take it in. Her hands went cold, and when she hung up the phone, she blew on them as if it were the middle of winter. She carried Alice from room to room, even though the baby hadn’t asked to be picked up. She visited each of the four windows in the apartment; she appeared to be looking for something, and yet she wouldn’t have been able to relay the weather outside or the time of day.

Cecelia and Emeline came to her apartment, and Julia told them that she needed time alone to think. They nodded, their faces grave. They’d all been shaken by the idea that William had wanted to leave them, to leave everything. His choice made them feel vulnerable; they’d never considered anything other than a natural death, and he’d pointed out another exit. The world felt scarier in the wake of what had almost happened.

The three women stood by Julia’s door for several minutes. “How could he have done that?” Cecelia’s voice was hard.

Emeline rubbed her sister’s arm. “I don’t think it makes sense to be angry at him.”

“But,” Cecelia said, “I literally don’t understand how he could give all of this up. He was going to abandon Alice? There’s nothing more wrong in the universe.”

Julia listened to the twins talk the same way she’d listened to Sylvie on the phone. Everything was new to her now; it felt like her prior understanding of the world had been wiped away. She considered each sentence as if she were hearing words for the first time.

She said, “How could I not have known William was so unhappy?” Her husband’s lack of ambition, his unreliability, had turned out to be small symptoms in an ocean of darkness. Julia remained cold with fear. She had scared herself—how clueless she’d been—and William’s darkness terrified her. She had lain in bed, night after night, beside a man who didn’t want to live. Now, when she looked back at even the recent past, the memories were covered by shadows. Her own experience was a lie.

“He’s sick.” Emeline looked miserable. “Sylvie said he’ll probably need to be in the hospital for a long time.”

“Still,” Cecelia said. “No one should give up. It’s so selfish to do that. So wrong.”

Julia found herself nodding in agreement.

When the twins were gone, Julia became aware of her own anger. She felt like she’d caught it from Cecelia, as if the emotion were a cold. She walked from window to window again, her heart beating out questions:

How could William have done something as embarrassing as trying to drown himself in Lake Michigan?

Was life with me so unbearable that he had to not only leave me but kill himself?

Why didn’t he tell me how he felt?

Even though Julia had sworn off solving problems for the people around her, she still had all her skills at her disposal and could have helped. She could have at least stopped him from doing something so dramatic, so hopeless, so humiliating.

When Sylvie appeared later that night, Julia let her sister into the apartment but stayed by the front door again. She couldn’t bear long visits. She needed her home to be occupied by just her and her daughter.

Sylvie apologized. “I don’t know why I went with Kent,” she said. “I’m so sorry. I should have stayed with you.”

She wrapped her arms around Julia and Julia did the same, and the two sisters held tight for a long time, each leaning into the other’s body like buildings that required support.

“What do I do? Do I have to do something?” Julia said into her sister’s hair.

Sylvie had suggested, when she’d called from the hospital, that a mental breakdown erased the note William had written and the check he’d signed over to her. Was that true? Did Julia still have to be a wife, in a worst-case scenario, to a man she no longer recognized?

“I don’t know,” Sylvie said. “But I’ll find out.”

the ext mor i G, julia decided to deep-clean the apartment. She needed movement. She pushed the coffee table to the side and rolled up the thin living room rug. Wearing Alice in a baby carrier, she dragged the rug down to a massive laundry machine in the basement of the building and wrestled it into the drum. When the rug was clean, Julia pulled a small ladder out of the hall closet and used it to take down the curtains from the living room window. They’d used these curtains in the smaller Northwestern apartment too. They were

magenta, made of a thick weave Julia had chosen in the early days of their marriage because the fabric felt grown-up to her. I was an idiot, she thought. A young idiot. She carried Alice and the curtains down to the basement and set the washer to an extra-long soaking time.

She had a hard time sleeping. When she tried to rest, she worried. Anything seemed possible after William had tried to drown himself in the lake she swam in as a child. She thought in if…then scenarios. If William’s hospitalization did somehow nullify the note he’d given her, then Julia would have to go to the hospital eventually and stay married. If she and William divorced—a preferable scenario

—then he would still be Alice’s father. He would still want a role in their child’s life. Julia would have to find a way to protect Alice from whatever had sent William into that lake. If William spent time with Alice, then their daughter might find his depression contagious. Julia kept returning to the idea that it couldn’t be good for Alice’s happiness to spend time with someone who saw life as disposable. Life was opportunity, a chest of drawers to open, one after the other, and William had tried to hurl the chest out the window.

At three o’clock in the morning, Julia used the ladder to empty the top shelves of the kitchen cupboards. These shelves were filled with wedding gifts, items too impractical for regular use. A crystal bowl that was absurdly heavy. A set of china teacups, much too delicate to use in a house with a child. Miniature wineglasses, which were intended for some kind of old-fashioned after-dinner alcohol. Brandy or sherry—Julia couldn’t remember which. She filled the sink with soapy water and carefully cleaned each breakable piece, until the sun began to rise in the sky and Alice woke up.

Julia felt trapped: in her apartment, in the strange limbo of her marriage, in her own skin. She was waiting for William to call her, perhaps, and tell her he wanted her back and needed her now. Or for Sylvie to return with the same answer. She was waiting for some clarity on whether she had to be a wife or not. When Sylvie came to

the apartment again, a little over a week after William had tried to kill himself, Julia’s younger sister looked so tired she seemed to have aged five years. Her hair was in a ponytail. The skin under her eyes looked bruised.

“Sit down,” Julia said, worried. “You look like you might faint.”

Sylvie shook her head. “William told me to tell you that he doesn’t want you to visit.”

Relief soaked through Julia, and she sank down into the armchair.

“He also said”—Sylvie’s voice was flat, like a correspondent reporting the news—“that he’s giving Alice up.”

“Giving her up?” This term didn’t make sense to Julia, and she thought she might have misheard. “What does that mean?”

“I think it means he won’t be her parent anymore. You’d be her only parent.”

Julia turned her head slowly and looked at Alice lying on her baby blanket. She was wearing a pink onesie and kicking her bare feet in the air like she was riding an upside-down bicycle. Her round cheeks were flushed with effort. Julia held the words in her mouth: give her up.

“He seemed to mean it,” Sylvie said. “He used the word ‘forever.’ ”

Another word, held inside Julia: forever. She thought, Oh, thank God, though she hadn’t prayed since her father died. But still, the relief was so enormous that she thought again, Thank God.

Sylvie put her hand against the wall as if to steady herself. She looked like she’d been sleeping as little as Julia had.

“You should lie down on the couch in the nursery.” Julia found she didn’t mind the idea of her sister staying in her space now. She no longer needed to hole up with Alice. Julia had felt free after William left her, then trapped when he’d tried to die, and now she was free again. This freedom felt like falling backward onto a plush bed; it was decadent, delicious. “Please rest for a little while, at least,” she said,

glad to have the chance to worry about someone other than herself. “You look like a ghost.”

Sylvie offered a thin smile. “I’m okay. I have to work at the library.

I just wanted to tell you first.” “Thank you for telling me.”

“I wanted everything to be clear for you,” Sylvie said. “It was too confusing as it was, too unresolved, and I know you hate that. I wanted to know if he really wanted your marriage to be over.”

Julia considered her sister before her, who seemed to have unraveled with Julia’s marriage, with the almost-end of William. Sylvie was suffering in front of Julia now, as if she’d been caught in the gravity field of William’s depression and was unable to fully break free. It seemed to Julia that Sylvie was suffering on her behalf, in an effort to deliver clarity to her sister as a gift. Julia appreciated this. She loved Sylvie for this. But she wanted to make the suffering stop, before her sister was permanently changed: permanently sad and weary. “I need to help you,” she said. “I’ll make you eggs the way you like, before you go.” She took Sylvie’s hand and walked her into the kitchen.

After Sylvie left for the library with slightly more color in her cheeks, Julia put Alice in her stroller and went outside to run two errands. She found herself smiling while she walked, and her face felt oddly stretched, because it had been a long time since she’d smiled this fully. Julia was loose with relief that William wanted nothing to do with her. She hadn’t damaged him, and she wasn’t required to fix him. And, most important, he wanted nothing to do with their daughter. This was unfathomable to Julia—she could barely stand to be out of the baby’s sight—but it eliminated her biggest concern. William had chosen to give Alice up.

Julia decided she would speak to a lawyer as soon as possible, to make everything William had said legal before he could change his mind. She walked to the bank and deposited the check William had given her. Then she bought an answering machine for her

apartment so she could manufacture some control over her life. She never again wanted to answer the phone not knowing what terrible news might lie at the other end of the line.

julia spe t her days packing the contents of the apartment into boxes. This apartment had been intended for a different future, one that would no longer happen, and she needed to move. Julia had imagined a happy family here: a successful professor and a career woman with a perfect daughter. But that future had been doomed, without Julia’s knowledge. Now she felt embarrassed by her own foolishness, while she emptied closets. A new home was imperative so that she and Alice could start over.

One early October morning, the phone rang while Julia was pulling a sweatshirt over her head. It had gotten chilly overnight. She felt irrationally pleased by the drop in temperature, because it indicated a new season, and that meant a small step into her future and away from her disastrous past. When the answering machine clicked on, the caller hung up. The phone rang again immediately, though, and after the beep Rose’s voice said, “Julia Celeste Padavano, you better pick the phone up this instant. How dare you ask your mother to speak—”

Julia sprinted across the apartment, tripping over a box, righting herself, and climbing over a chair that was trapped between two boxes. Alice watched her from her spot on a blanket. First she was wide-eyed, and then she chortled, apparently thinking her mother was putting on a show for her amusement.

Julia was breathless by the time she picked up the phone. “Yes, Mama, I’m here!”

“Julia?” Rose sounded distrusting, as if perhaps the technology was imitating her daughter’s voice.

“It’s me.”

Julia could almost hear her mother nod and resettle into her chair on the narrow balcony. “Is it really you? I would have thought that my daughter would have called me if her husband walked into the lake.”

Julia had asked her sisters not to tell Rose what had happened, and they’d agreed. Julia had called her mother once since William had left, but she’d kept the conversation short and busy with questions about Rose’s life in Florida. Julia had wanted to buy time until the chaos settled, until she knew how to frame what had happened, until she had the strength to absorb her mother’s reaction. But a story this dramatic couldn’t be muffled for long, and the gossip Julia had feared must have ignited in Pilsen and spread all the way to Florida. “Well, obviously I’ve been upset, Mama. And busy—”

“You haven’t been busy. Don’t lie to me, young lady. Emeline tells Grace Ceccione everything, and Grace told me that you’ve barely left your apartment and you haven’t set foot in the hospital. And that you put Sylvie”—Rose said Sylvie’s name with the same incredulity with which she might have said Santa Claus—“in charge of dealing with William’s doctors. I couldn’t believe my ears.”

“Sylvie’s not in charge. You don’t under—”

Rose interrupted her. “You refused to go to the hospital. What was she going to do, leave him there alone, almost dead? William’s an orphan; you know that. He has no other family.”

Julia glanced down at Alice, who was lying on a blanket on the floor. The baby looked drowsy now, which pleased Julia. That meant her child wasn’t hooked up to her mother’s adrenal system. If she was, Alice would be crying right now. Julia wanted to cry.

“William left me, Mama, before he ended up in the hospital. We’re getting divorced. This has been a very hard time.”

“Don’t use that ugly, ugly word. I heard that William left you a note.” Rose said note in a dismissive tone. “Your husband is in the hospital because he’s sick, Julia. Have you spoken to him?”

“No,” Julia said. “He said he didn’t want me to visit. And, Mama, you won’t believe this, but he doesn’t want Alice to be his daughter anymore. He’s giving up his rights to her.”

She expected her mother to be horrified by this statement, but Rose sighed, a noise that sounded exactly like the sighs of Julia’s sisters. The blurring of the sound and the women made Julia rub her forehead. Her mother and sisters were all tied together in her mind and heart, but no one could make Julia trip over the cords that bound them like Rose.

“William’s not well,” Rose said. “No person in their right mind would say that about their child. It’s blasphemy.”

Julia wanted to say, You gave up a child. You gave up Cecelia. But she didn’t want to hurt her mother, and she knew Rose would say that was completely different because Cecelia was already grown. When Julia played this argument out in her head, at the end, she and her mother both lost. She sighed and said, “William meant it.”

“He’s upset, and you’re upset too. Listen to me. Your husband is a nice man. He doesn’t drink, and he doesn’t play around. Maybe graduate school didn’t work out, but he can get a job. You have a baby, for heaven’s sake. You have to think clearly. It’s a horrible thing to be a divorced woman. Men can recover from a marriage ending, but women don’t. Do you really want to throw your life away? You’re only twenty-three.”

Julia shook her head. “More people get divorced now than they did in your day, Mama. It’s not that big a deal.”

Rose blew air into the phone. “Not a big deal! It’s a big deal in the church, I can tell you that. And we’re the talk of the neighborhood,” she said. “Everyone loves a disaster. Father Cole baptized and married you—imagine how heartbroken he’ll be if you go through with this. Remember how Mrs. Callahan stopped combing her hair after her husband left and no one else wanted her?”

“I would never be like that,” Julia said, offended.

“William is going through a rough time, but we all do. Nothing as flashy as trying to drown in Lake Michigan, hopefully, but we all run into a wall at full speed at one point or another. A wife’s role is to stand by her husband when that happens. Twenty years from now, you’ll look back together on this time and it’ll look like a small blip in your marriage. You’ll be glad you stuck it out.”

Julia surveyed the boxes that surrounded her. She thought of the broken expression on Rose’s face in the garden after Cecelia announced she was pregnant. Rose had run into a wall. And William had too, of course. But Julia hadn’t. She was healthy, and whole, and full of capacity. She had watched her mother stick out her own marriage, and that path wasn’t for Julia. She was her father’s rocket. She and Alice would be better on their own. “I’m going to move,” she said. “I’m waiting to hear about work from Professor Cooper, and I have to leave this apartment, because William is no longer enrolled at Northwestern.”

“Right now you have to move? Those people won’t give you an extra month, after what happened?”

“No, they won’t.” This wasn’t true, or at least it wasn’t true as far as Julia knew. She didn’t know when she had to move out by. She had a stack of mail to go through, and perhaps some of it was from Northwestern, but she’d already put the mail, unopened, into a box labeled Julia. Almost all the boxes were labeled Julia or Alice. Her husband seemed to own only clothes, a few basketballs, and his manuscript, which was still wrapped in its paper bag.

“That’s ridiculous,” Rose said, and Julia could tell she didn’t believe her. “You want me to help you find an apartment in Pilsen? The ladies I’m friends with here have real estate connections everywhere. Let’s take care of this. I can make some calls in the neighborhood. We can get you moved, and when your head’s clear, you’ll reconsider things with William.”

“You’re too far away to help with moving,” Julia said. “Thank you, though.”

“Don’t be a fool. And don’t use me as an excuse for bad behavior, Julia. You were raised better than that. How’s my grandbaby?”

Julia looked over and smiled, because Alice had fallen asleep on the blanket. In the middle of stacks of boxes; in front of her mother, who was wearing jeans and an old sweatshirt; despite her grandmother hollering through the phone into Julia’s soul.

“She’s perfect,” Julia said. “I’m going to make sure she stays perfect.”

proFessor cooper had told her that he was waiting for a particular project to come together so he would know which positions he might need filled. He called one afternoon and left a brief message on the machine. Julia knew he was too intelligent not to have realized that she wasn’t answering her phone at all, since she always called him back directly after he left a message. She didn’t mind if he suspected something was going on in her life, though. Suspecting was fine. Julia didn’t know anything about Professor Cooper’s personal life either. She liked that their relationship was purely professional.

When she phoned him back, Professor Cooper said, “Julia, I’m sorry to say that I won’t be able to use your services right now. Probably not until next May, to be honest. I’m sorry, as I know that’s not what you hoped to hear.”

“But it’s”—Julia searched her mind for the date—“October twelfth.”

“I know. You see, I’ve been offered a large six-month project in New York, so I’ll be out of town until it’s finished. My work here will pick back up in the late spring, and at that point I’d be very pleased to have you work with me.”

Julia tried to process this information. What would she do for the entire winter and spring? Besides babysitting and the kinds of jobs

you did as a teenager, she’d never worked for anyone other than Professor Cooper. And he paid her enough that she could afford a good daycare for Alice. She’d planned to put the baby in Emeline’s daycare when she started working so the baby could be doted on by her aunt and play with Izzy, who was there most days.

Julia considered herself very lucky to have taken a class with Professor Cooper; she’d signed up for the organizational-psychology course out of curiosity, not understanding the nature of the subject. Cooper was a reserved man; he’d appeared flustered when she approached him as a student and asked if she could help him during the summer break. She’d offered to run errands, fetch coffee, whatever he wanted. And she had done some of that, but the professor seemed to realize that having her with him when he went on location to meet clients made the clients happy. Julia was smart, with insightful ideas. “I value your beginner’s mind,” Professor Cooper would say, and then tell her the complicated workflow problem he was struggling to solve. Sometimes she didn’t understand well enough to help, but several times she had suggestions or ideas that sent him off in a new direction.

“I’ll come with you,” Julia heard herself say now. “I can help you with the big project.”

“Come with me to New York?” The man sounded shocked. Julia was shocked by the suggestion too.

“Forgive me”—Professor Cooper hesitated—“but don’t you have a husband and a child?”

“I’ll bring the baby,” Julia said. “They must have good daycares in New York. And it’s only six months.”

A plan formed in Julia’s mind. This could solve, or at least delay, several of her problems. She could store all of her furniture and belongings and put off finding a new apartment until she’d returned from New York. She would be far away from William while the divorce and his revocation of parental rights took place, which she thought might help keep the process businesslike. If William

changed his mind and Julia lived in Chicago, he could argue with her in person. But if she was in New York, he would have to resort to a phone call or write a letter. The dust and drama would have settled in half a year’s time. Perhaps when Julia returned, she would be able to live in Pilsen, near her sisters. Rose’s friends would be less likely to chase her down the street asking why her marriage had ended and what she’d done wrong. Six months would offer a very different terrain from the hot coals her family was currently standing on.

“That’s an interesting proposal,” Professor Cooper said. “Hypothetically, I would pay for your plane ticket, of course, but everything else…I was planning to hire someone local.”

“I’ll cover the move,” she said. “I can afford to do that.” She almost said, I’ve never been to New York, so seeing it would be exciting, but she feared that would make her sound unserious about the work and also less helpful than a local hire, who would almost certainly know where to eat and how the subway system worked.

“I have a rule about not making decisions on the phone,” Professor Cooper said.

“Of course,” Julia said. Professor Cooper had many rules, most of them having to do with sound decision-making and efficiency. He bought one suit a year and no more, so that he stayed with the styles but also got good use out of his clothes. He kept trim by eating six large salads a week. It didn’t matter when he ate them or what else he ate besides the salads; eating six large salads was the rule.

“But if you think you can handle the move, Julia, I accept your offer. You’re the best assistant I’ve ever had. I’ll get back to you with the details shortly.”

When Julia hung up, she was flooded with a ticklish energy that made her do a frenzied dance in the middle of the boxes. She knew she should be scared, having made this wild decision, but she wasn’t. She was excited. She thought about telling Rose and grinned; it would be fun to shock her mother with this news. Rose had run away, and there were consequences to that. One was that

Julia had every right to run away too, if only for a little while. In fact, it occurred to Julia—in the middle of her dance—that her mother might be able to help her find an apartment in New York. Rose had said that her Miami friends had real estate connections everywhere; surely one of them would know of an available apartment in New York City. Perhaps one of the old ladies had a place sitting empty right there that Julia and Alice could simply occupy.

Julia pulled a bound atlas out of one of William’s boxes; it was one of his few non-clothing belongings. She found New York State and then a close-up page of New York City. She traced the island of Manhattan with her finger. She had grown up in a city; how different could big cities be from one another? She looked around at the stacks of boxes, at the sleeping baby. She had figured out her next step, and neither her mother nor her sisters could stop her.

julia put oFF telli G her sisters the news until the details had been confirmed with Professor Cooper and until Julia and Alice had plane tickets to leave for New York in two weeks’ time. One or more of her sisters came over most nights for dinner, but Julia didn’t want to tell them in person. She was scared that if her sisters became upset in front of her, she might lose her bravery and change her mind about the move. After all, the sisters had never been apart like this, never lived more than twenty minutes from one another, never not seen one another at least once a week and often every day. Julia decided the best plan was to tell one of them over the phone and then let that sister tell everyone else. She hoped she would be on the plane before they were able to hurl their collective emotions at her.

When she contemplated which sister to tell, she thought of Sylvie first, but Sylvie felt like a complicated choice. Sylvie visited Julia as often as the twins did, but she was quieter when she was in the apartment. She and Julia hugged more than they used to, and after

dinner they sat side by side on the couch watching television with one sister resting her head on the other sister’s shoulder. They held hands occasionally, reaching out to squeeze each other’s fingers. Their bodies pulled together as if magnetized, as if their bodies were communicating during a period when the two oldest Padavano sisters both seemed hesitant to speak. Julia had never asked why, in the twenty-four hours after William walked out, Sylvie had been more concerned about William than her own sister. She’d never asked to hear the story of the search. She assumed Sylvie had stopped going to the hospital after William told her he wanted nothing to do with Julia and Alice, but something William’s doctor said made Julia wonder if that was true.

Dr. Dembia had left a message on the answering machine, asking for ten minutes of Julia’s time. The doctor was hoping Julia might provide some insight into what she referred to as William’s “crash.” But Julia hadn’t known he was depressed; she hadn’t seen this coming; she had been shocked by everything. When the doctor asked her for information, she realized she didn’t even know much about his childhood. William had never talked about it.

Julia said, “I think our marriage would have ended no matter what.”

There was a pause and then the doctor said, “I know this must have been very upsetting for you, even if your marriage was already in trouble.”

For a moment, Julia couldn’t speak. There was a lump in her throat, and she thought she might cry. She’d expected the doctor to chastise her for not knowing her husband. She’d expected the doctor to judge her for never coming to the hospital, even though she’d been told to stay away. She hadn’t expected kindness. And the doctor had diagnosed her correctly: What had happened had upset Julia. She’d been knocked over like a tower of children’s blocks, and even when she’d had a chance to gather herself back up, she felt like she’d lost part of her heart for good.

“I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful,” Julia said, when she could trust her voice.

“Thank you for your time, Sylvie.” Julia blinked. “Sylvie?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I misspoke. Julia. I really do appreciate your speaking with me.”

After she hung up, Julia wondered why Sylvie’s name had been on the doctor’s mind. Had Dr. Dembia seen Sylvie recently? Had her sister been standing in front of her during the conversation? The doctor’s verbal slip may have meant nothing, but now Julia had questions, and those questions put Sylvie at a distance from her. She decided to call Emeline to tell her about moving to New York. Emeline had a kind voice and was almost always holding a baby, so she never shouted. Cecelia was prone to anger when she was surprised with what she might consider bad news. So on a Wednesday in the last week of October, Julia called Emeline at the daycare.

“It’s the busiest time of the day,” Emeline said. “The babies are losing their minds. Can I call you back when I get home later?”

“I need to tell you that I took a job with Professor Cooper.” “Oh, congratulations! That’s wonderful.”

“The first six months will be in New York City, and then I’ll be back working here.”

There was a silence, and Julia heard Emeline say, away from the phone, “Josie, can you cover for me? I need to take this call in the kitchen.” There was a pause, presumably while Josie held the phone until Emeline picked up the line in the kitchen. “Thanks, Josie,” Emeline said, and the other extension clicked off.

“New York City?” Emeline said.

“Just for six months. It’s a great opportunity, and I need the job.” “You can’t do that,” Emeline said, and her voice sounded sharp,

like Cecelia’s. Emeline was a butter knife; Cecelia, a steak knife.

“You can’t leave now. In the middle of everything. That’s a mistake, Julia. You can’t run away.”

“It’s short term. I’m not running away.” This frustrated Julia, though, because she knew Emeline meant running away from her marriage, and as far as Julia was concerned, that wasn’t even possible. William had been perfectly clear. Their marriage was over. There was nothing to run away from.

“You need us with you,” Emeline said. “You might not realize that, but you do. We need each other right now.”

“You can come visit me in New York, Emmie. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

“I’m disappointed,” Emeline said, and Julia realized that she’d had her calculus all wrong. She’d called the wrong sister. Emeline was their conscience. Julia should have called Cecelia and they could have shouted at each other. She could have even called Sylvie and listened to the news bounce off her sister’s silence. Emeline was operating from a place of right and wrong. She wasn’t trying to win an argument. Cecelia and Sylvie would have been trying to win. Julia would have been better able to find a foothold in those contests.

“Alice is crying,” Julia said. “I love you. I have to go.”

When she hung up, she knew she’d failed even in ending the conversation. Crying babies were life to Emeline. Five or six were probably crying their way to nap time in her presence right now. Julia could picture her sister making her way back to her responsibilities, picking up babies and perching them on her hips, pushing pacifiers into mouths, cooing love at infants she had no relation to, simply because it was the right thing to do.

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