My Sister's Keeper
My story starts with a birth, and will end with a death. It's not my birth, and it won't be my death. Though I sometimes wonder if it really wasn't.
On a cold November night, in my family's house- a large, ancient farmhouse that was falling apart- my mother gave birth to a little girl with curly, black hair. She fell in love with her immediately, and named her Harmony.
Unfortunately, that was also my name. My mother seemed to have forgotten about her other daughter. Me. The moment I saw that baby for the first time, I knew that it was either her, or me. There would not be enough love or affection for both of us. At just shy of five years old, I had discovered that which many children fear at some point in their life: my parents didn't love me.
For the next three years of my life, our lives, the two girls called Harmony, I would be referred to by my middle name, Anne, while my little sister, my mother's perfect child, would be referred to by our shared first name.
“But Mama, I'm Harmony, I don't want to be called Anne,” I whined at breakfast one morning. It was the middle of summer, I had just turned seven years old, and I had my hair in pigtails. My father intervened on my behalf.
“Yes, Rachel, there must be some other name we can call Harmony Jane,” he called from the breakfast table. In her high chair, my little sister cooed and made a mess of her baby food. I scowled at her from across the table. My mother came out of the kitchen with a displeased look on her face.
“Her name is Harmony Jane,” she replied, serving my father with a heaping plate of bacon and eggs, “and that is what she will be called.” She disappeared back into the kitchen.
“You know how I feel about that, Rachel,” my father said, “We already had Harmony Anne, how do you think she feels about having to share her name?”
“Anne should be glad that I didn't send her to live with your sister when Harmony Jane was born, James,” my mother said, giving my father a stern look as she emerged from the kitchen yet again and placed a plate of food in front of me. She sat down across from me, next to my little sister, and scolded, “eat your food, Anne.”
“Annannannanna,” said my sister through a full mouth of food, and my mother smiled adoringly down at her.
“See? Even your sister knows you're called Anne,” she said in a most patronizing tone. I shoved my chair back, denting the wall where the chair hit, and ran out of the dining room. My mother was furious, and spanked my bare bottom so hard I feared I would never be able to sit again.
Two days after this incident, my aunt, Jeanne, came to claim me.
My father hugged me and kissed my forehead and gave me his old fedora hat- it smelled exactly like the farm, with hints of his favorite cologne- and a small bouquet of flowers that I had helped to grow.
My mother gave me a stiff, one-armed hug, sniffing, haughty, keeping Harmony Jane glued to her hip. My two-and-a-half-year-old sister saw me wearing my father's hat and immediately began fussing, reaching out to grab this one thing that was mine and mine alone.
“I'll take good care of Harmony for you, James,” Jeanne told my father, helping me to load my belongings into the trunk of her car: Two dolls, one small suitcase full of plain dresses, an extra pair of shoes, a down pillow, a half-finished crocheted scarf. Before I got in the car, I latched myself to my father's leg, begging not to be sent away.
“Please Daddy, I don't want to go away. I'll be a good girl, I'll be good.” My father didn't say anything, but picked me up, all 58 pounds of me, and gently carried me to the passenger door of Auntie Jeanne's car. He was a big man, tall, and made of all lean muscle. He had rough, leathery hands from working on this farm for the majority of his life. But when he held me or my sister, he was amazingly gentle.
I cried as I rode away from home in that car, and didn't stop crying for nearly a week.
The soul makes a terrible sound when ripped from its human body. A scream, a whisper, the last gasp of a good cry, followed by silence: this is the closest approximation I can give you to its exact sound. After life has ended, it is all you ever hear. For all the worry one could give about what happens just after death, it is really quite simple, even if I was an anomaly.
I came upon that which could only be described as “God” shortly after death, as most people are wont to do. I was floating, or maybe simply existing, in a black void for what seemed to be an eternity before I happened to spot a shapeless figure that seemed to be made from light. It came closer, or I floated to it, and I could suddenly understand what had happened to me. However, it seemed confused by my complete lack of memories of a life as it probed deep into my being.
The being consumed me, and I could feel it trying to figure out what to do with me. As I waited for a second, or a millennium, my every sense was overloaded with pain, pleasure, suffering, anger, and just about every other human emotion. Thoughts took on words as hundreds of millions of voices filled me with what I could only describe as prayers. Please bless Mommy and Daddy and Kitty-poo and… No, please, please no, don’t take her, oh God why… Thank You, Lord, for the little girl You’ve blessed us with… God, grant me the serenity…
I didn’t want anything more than for the voices to stop, but would have gladly kept them had I known that I would be reduced to only hearing souls escape their hosts.
I wouldn’t learn my fate until long after I had begun to think that I would go mad for hearing so many people die. The God creature spit me out, and I woke up to see blue skies and countless faces staring back at me. I realized, quite abruptly, that I was no longer floating in a void. Faces veered dangerously close and then veered away from me. The numbness of floating was slowly replaced with pain. The pain became more and more unbearable as I realized that I was human again.
“Hold on, paramedics are on their way,” I heard someone shout. Other voices overlapped it, and for a moment, I remembered the anxiety that had engulfed me when I had been able to hear all that praying. That was when it occurred to me that I could remember the afterlife. It also occurred to me that I didn’t know anything about my life up until this point.
A young woman’s face came into view, very close to mine. “Robert, Rob, can you hear me?” she asked. I realized she was speaking to me. I blinked, unable to control my mouth enough to reply. Her face was familiar and warm, and I knew that her name was Cassandra. “Oh, Robert, please be all right!” I felt a warm hand against my face, and it was stunningly obvious to me that she was my girlfriend. The knowledge that hit me was sudden. My name was Robert Marcus Sanders; I owned a chain of convenience stores that my father had gifted me. I was 27 years old and had been dating Cassandra Vera Carter for more than two years.
Chapter 1 – 1864
She lived on a large tobacco plantation in the Deep South with her parents, older brother, and three sisters. She was, in his opinion, absolutely perfect. He had watched her grow from a small girl with unruly blond curls, into a beautiful, pale young woman. He waited, biding his time, hiding in the shadows, occasionally offering to help as an overseer on her family’s plantation just to get closer to her, using assumed names and taking great care to change his appearance as best he could each time. Her name was Elizabeth, and she had just turned seventeen.
The Civil War raged on, far north from the plantation and the girl. Elizabeth’s father was a firm supporter of the Confederacy, and the stranger knew it was the perfect opportunity. In the beginning of summer, just four short weeks after Elizabeth’s seventeenth birthday, he came wandering up to the main house of the plantation, dressed in standard military fashion.
A house slave greeted him at the door and quickly shuffled off to find the man of the house, Thomas Hayes. “What can I do for you,” Thomas asked as he approached the young man, his voice trailing off, fishing for a name. The young man offered his hand.
“Franklin’s my name, Jonathan Franklin,” he said quickly, shaking Thomas’ hand firmly, “I’m on my way up to join the fight, but I’m weary, and I’ve a long walk ahead of me. Would you be so kind as to allow me to rest here a night?” The younger man, the wolf in soldier’s clothing, was ruggedly handsome, with a nose that had obviously been broken a few times, stubble that could use a good shave, and piercing blue eyes. He was almost as pale as the girl he sought at this plantation, but there was a hint of a tan to his skin.
Thomas looked him over carefully, a plan coming together in his mind. “Jonathan Franklin, hmm?”
“Yes, Sir,” Jonathan replied eagerly.
“How old are you, son?” Thomas asked.
“Eighteen,” Thomas echoed. He motioned for Jonathan to come into the parlor, and called up the stairs, “Elizabeth, would you come down here, please?”
“Coming, Papa!” Elizabeth replied as she closed her diary. Since turning seventeen, she had kept a very careful record of everything she did, as she felt that to be a very ladylike thing to do. She placed the diary beneath her pillow, and raced out of her bedroom to the main landing above the front entryway of the house. Looking down, she saw her father walking into the parlor, followed by a man she had never seen before. As she watched, he suddenly looked up and made fierce eye contact. She flushed bright red and quickly averted her gaze as she started down the stairs.
Before she followed the men into the parlor, she quickly smoothed her dress and ran her hands over her hair to quickly fix a few tangles. “You called for me, Papa?” she asked from the doorway. She curtsied when both men turned to greet her, and Jonathan Franklin bowed his head.
“Yes, Elizabeth, I would like you to give Mr. Franklin a tour of our home. He will be spending the evening here before continuing north to help defend our rights,” Thomas said, and Elizabeth felt her skin flush again. She took a step forward.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Franklin,” she said shyly. Jonathan gently took her hand and kissed the back of it.
“The pleasure is all mine, Elizabeth,” he said, looking into her eyes. “You have a lovely daughter, Sir.” He turned his attention back to Thomas.
“Please, call me Thomas.”
There was a short, awkward silence before Elizabeth spoke, “Shall we start our tour?” Thomas nodded encouragingly, and Jonathan smiled warmly.
“Certainly. Lead the way, Miss Elizabeth,” Jonathan said, his voice low and seductive. Thomas watched as Jonathan took Elizabeth’s arm and escorted her out of the room.
“Well, this is the foyer, as you may have guessed,” Elizabeth giggled, “through that door back there,” she pointed behind the staircase, “is the kitchen. Up here,” they began walking up the stairs to the second floor of the three-story house, “is where my sisters and I have our bedrooms.” She led Jonathan along through the hallway to the room at the end, and she opened the door very slightly. “This is my room,” she said, squeezing his arm. His smile turned to a devious smirk. His plan was working; the girl was already showing interest in him, as was her father. It would not take much to get his way.
He peered into the room, wrapping his hand around Elizabeth’s, causing her to blush once more. Her bedroom was painted a pale pink, with linens dyed to match. She had a small writing desk and a simple wooden chair in one corner, and a huge armoire to the side of the door. “Beautiful,” he murmured. They wandered along back to the staircase and ascended to the third floor.
“My parents’ bedroom is up here, as is our attic,” Elizabeth continued to give her little narrative of the tour.
“Has this house been in your family long?” Jonathan asked, feigning interest in the tour. He couldn’t have cared less about the house; it was the girl that he was unable to take his eyes off of.
“My Grandfather built it when my Papa was a little boy,” Elizabeth replied, smiling a shy little smile. She was having a difficult time keeping her focus off the gentleman she was with. “Are you really going off to fight in the war? Aren’t you afraid of getting killed?”
The innocence in her question took Jonathan by surprise. He let go of her arm, gently pulling away from her grip, and turned to face her. Lost for a moment in her big doe eyes, he carefully thought out the next words he would say. He carefully reached forward and brushed a thick tangle of curls out of her face, allowing his hand to linger against her cheek. Elizabeth should have pulled away, this was not very well-mannered behavior for a young man who was alone with a lady, but she couldn’t seem to find the strength to move.
“So innocent,” Jonathan whispered, his voice barely audible. Elizabeth couldn’t look away from his eyes, astounded at how blue they were. They were almost hypnotic. He stepped closer, their faces were only inches apart. “The only thing I fear, right now, is this moment ending, Elizabeth,” he murmured. The girl wanted nothing more than for their lips to meet, and it shocked her to realize this. She found her feet again and inched closer, slowly closing her eyes.
Thomas Hayes came to the third story landing just as the two teenagers kissed, and ripped Elizabeth from the man’s grasp.
“I see you’ve gotten more than just a tour of my home. I suggest you leave, Mr. Franklin.”
As you can plainly see, I have been a very busy woman. Lots and lots of writing done, lots and lots more to go.