MY SISTER’S KEEPER
By Mavis Applewater
For disclaimers: If you feel you still need one after the last installment, feel free to backpedal to Part One.
A special thank you goes out to my beta reader, Joanne.
As always, this is for Heather.
“It’s my mother,” Lizzie gasped again as she leaned against the door. Jenny’s chest tightened.
“I’ll get my gun,” Jenny offered coldly.
“That’s not funny,” Lizzie snapped.
“Who said I was joking?” Jenny responded dryly as her face and body tensed. She could see the fear and confusion marring Lizzie’s angelic features. Jenny stood and crossed the room, her only focus and goal was to offer comfort to her friend. As Jenny wrapped the trembling smaller woman up in her arms, the brunette felt a strange wave of déjà vu gnawing at her. “If you don’t want to see her then we can just wait here quietly until she goes away,” Jenny whispered tenderly in Lizzie’s ear as the blonde clung to her.
“Mary Elizabeth Francis Carrington, I know you’re in there,” the overbearing matron bellowed. “Now open the door this instant.”
Jenny’s heart constricted as Lizzie slipped from her grasp. “What are you doing?” Jenny asked her in a horrified voice.
“She’s my mother,” Lizzie explained in a defeated tone.
“And?” Jenny flared.
“And I’m going to talk to her,” Lizzie continued, a slight tremor slipping through the confident façade.
“Fine,” Jenny responded, not happy with Lizzie’s decision. “I’ll be right here.”
“No,” Lizzie stammered. “Seeing you, or rather seeing us together, could set her off.”
“I’m not leaving your side,” Jenny responded sternly.
They stood there locked in an intense stare, each fighting their own inner demons. Jenny couldn’t walk away again. “Not this time,” Jenny choked out in a voice that resembled a pleading whimper. “I won’t abandon you a second time. I can’t.”
“You didn’t abandon me,” Lizzie reassured her as she reached up and cupped Jenny’s face tenderly. Jenny leaned into her touch and caressed Lizzie’s hand. “I was the one who told you to leave.”
“Mary Elizabeth Frances Carrington,” the shrilling voice from Jenny’s past repeated.
“Why does she do that?” Jenny asked as she gave the door an incredulous look. “Oh well, it did give us an extra few moments to discuss the merits of letting her in or not.” Lizzie snorted in amusement at Jenny’s strange sense of logic. “I’m not hiding in the other room. There is no way I’m leaving you alone with that woman.”
“I’ve been alone with my Mother before,” Lizzie reasoned as the pounding continued. “I’m not looking forward to seeing her. In fact I’ve been trying to delay it as long as possible. But I can handle this.”
“Fine,” Jenny responded with a shrug. “Open the door,” she instructed her former lover as she folded her arms tightly across her chest, adding to her defiant stance.
“Could you at least wait over there?” Lizzie pleaded.
Jenny nodded in agreement as she started to cross the room. She thought for a moment about pulling the futon up so Mrs. Carrington couldn’t see that it was set up for sleeping. Lizzie was smoothing out her sweats and taking calming breaths. As Jenny reclined her long body across the futon in a casual manner, she knew what she was doing would only anger Mrs. Carrington even further, but she couldn’t stop herself. She leaned up on her elbow and smiled sheepishly at Lizzie who was giving her a very harsh look. Lizzie was infuriated as she turned to open the door.
Feeling a pang of guilt, Jenny pulled herself up into a more respectable position. Lizzie had barely opened the door when the short stodgy woman pushed her way into the apartment. Mrs. Carrington had gained more weight; considering that she was shorter than Lizzie, it must be affecting her health. Her hair was almost pure white and her once vibrant eyes had dimmed. Her face was bright red and the veins in her neck were bulging as she started to back Lizzie into a corner. “How dare you leave me standing in the hallway!” she growled at the truly frightened blonde.
Jenny leapt from the futon and crossed the room as Mrs. Carrington continued to berate her child in a demoralizing fashion. “Back off,” Jenny hissed as she approached the irate woman who had been unaware of her presence. Mrs. Carrington turned and stared up at the fuming policewoman.
“What are you doing here?” Mrs. Carrington spat out as her face grew redder with each passing moment. Jenny briefly wondered if she was about to have a stroke. “Mary Elizabeth, what is this person doing here?” she demanded in an accusing tone as she turned back to Lizzie.
Jenny clenched her fist as she tried to calm herself. It wasn’t easy with so many memories screaming through her mind. She had to try and defuse the situation before history repeated its self. “Mrs. Carrington?” Jenny began in a controlled tone.
“I said answer me, Mary Elizabeth,” the woman flared, ignoring Jenny’s presence.
Jenny watched in horror as Lizzie, the woman who had recently stood up to a drug lord, cowered in the corner. Jenny reached around the older woman and pulled Lizzie away from the corner and wrapped her arms around her trembling body. “Stay out of this,” Mrs. Carrington hissed as she wagged her finger at Jenny. The policewoman wanted to laugh at the woman’s theatrics.
“Mrs. Carrington, I’m a guest in your daughter’s home,” she explained as she fought the urge to simply haul off and slap the woman. “Lizzie is very upset. If you want to talk to her, I suggest you lower your voice or leave.” Jenny gently guided Lizzie away from her mother as she spoke.
“I told you to stay away from her,” the older woman said bitterly to Lizzie in a slightly lower tone. “You remember what the judge said.”
Lizzie’s body tensed before she pulled herself from Jenny’s grasp. “Mother, you need help,” Lizzie offered in a soft pleading voice as she slowly approached her.
“I need help?” Mrs. Carrington laughed in response. “You are sick. How dare you tell me I need help.”
The slap happened so suddenly Jenny could do nothing to prevent it. Jenny wasn’t certain what was tearing at her insides more - the fact that Mrs. Carrington hit her daughter or the way Lizzie didn’t even flinch from the hard slap. Jenny quickly maneuvered herself between the two women. “Go before I arrest you,” Jenny informed the woman she hated most in the world. The sight of her was making her stomach turn, but she had to maintain her focus. Years of training were paying off as she kept a towering stance over the woman.
“You are not leaving the church, young lady,” Mrs. Carrington informed her daughter who was still standing numbly behind Jenny’s protective stance. “You will not bring shame to this family again.”
“I said that it was time for you to leave,” Jenny repeated authoritatively. “I’m not kidding. Unless you want to spend the night in jail, you will leave now.”
“You think you can come between me and my family?” the short robust woman challenged her.
“Your family doesn’t want anything to do with you,” Jenny responded, finding the woman’s challenge completely absurd.
“If you think for one moment I’m going to leave my child alone with a depraved pervert, you are sadly mistaken,” Mrs. Carrington challenged her once again with a cold stare and a fierce growl.
“Now you’re concerned about your children’s well being?” Jenny choked out in disbelief.
“I will not allow you to corrupt her again,” Mrs. Carrington asserted.
“You can’t be serious,” Lizzie muttered in disbelief as she moved to Jenny’s side. “I think you should leave,” she told her mother who looked at her in disgust. “Jenny is a guest in Katie’s home and I doubt that she would appreciate you treating her friends in such a manner.”
Jenny watched as the woman’s face exploded in beads of perspiration as her hand started to rise. “You raise that meat hook again and I will lock you up,” Jenny informed her as she cast an icy gaze down at the smaller woman. She pinned the woman with her glare as Lizzie once again stood there without flinching. Jenny almost wished that the older woman would try something so she could arrest her. She knew the look on Lizzie’s face; she’d seen it many times before. It was the look of a battered child, cowering when her mother screamed at her yet standing idly by while her mother beat her.
They stood there in an eerie silence as Lizzie’s eyes turned blank and distant. Mrs. Carrington and Jenny held each other’s gaze, waiting for the other to blink. “Fine,” Mrs. Carrington conceded with a callous smirk. “Mary Elizabeth, I want you to gather your things.”
“It seems I miss all the fun,” a cold voice announced, ending the standoff.
Jenny lifted her gaze to find Katie standing in the doorway. “Jenny, would you please put some clothes on and take my sister for a walk?” Katie instructed her sternly. Jenny knew it wasn’t a request. She didn’t care; getting Lizzie out of there was something she looked forward to doing. “Liz, are you all right?” Katie asked as Jenny pulled her jeans up over her shorts and grabbed a jacket. Lizzie simply nodded mutely with a vacant look. “Put something warm on and go with Jenny.” Lizzie moved like a zombie into the bedroom. “Not a word from you, old woman,” Katie cautioned her mother who was staring at her in disbelief. “I told you before that if you ever laid another hand on her, I’d lock you up.”
Jenny put on her shoes; Lizzie reappeared, having found a jacket and shoes. The brunette silently prayed that Katie would make good on her threat. She placed a comforting arm around Lizzie’s shoulders. It broke her heart when the blonde flinched at her touch. She took a deep breath and walked the dazed woman out of the apartment. She didn’t miss the fierce scowl Mrs. Carrington cast upon her.
They walked in the cool night air without speaking. Jenny simply allowed Lizzie to be alone with her thoughts, praying that she would see the spark return to her eyes as they walked along the Charles River. Finally she could see a glimmer of life returning to the normally vibrant eyes of her former lover. She guided Lizzie to a bench and they sat in silence.
When she saw Lizzie starting to shiver from the cold, she pulled her closer and wrapped her arms around her. Lizzie blew out a heavy breath. “Better?” Jenny inquired carefully.
“A little,” Lizzie responded wearily.
“Was she violent before that night?” Jenny asked softly.
“No,” Lizzie responded flatly.
“Has she hurt you since then?” Jenny inquired as her throat constricted, already knowing the answer.
“Yes,” Lizzie answered her weakly. “Please don’t tell Katie.”
“I can’t promise you that,” Jenny responded as she pulled the shivering blonde closer.
Lizzie snuggled closer, seeming to accept Jenny’s choice. “What did she mean when she mentioned the judge?” Jenny asked as she comforted the smaller woman by making soothing circles across her back. Lizzie’s body tensed as she pulled slightly away from Jenny’s touch. Her eyes were puffy and she had tears running down her face.
“Oh, Jenny Jacobs, it seems the past has caught up with us.” Lizzie sniffed as she wiped away the tears. “We need to talk.”
‘Now that is the understatement of the century,’ Jenny thought as she looked deep into Lizzie’s saddened eyes. “Whatever you want to talk about is okay,” Jenny offered, letting her old friend know that she could share her deepest secrets with her or tell her nothing at all. Jenny was going to be there. “But remember, I already know that it was you who let the snake loose in Principal Skinner’s office,” Jenny added playfully.
“That’s because you were with me,” Lizzie noted with a hint of a smile. “Who knew that big man could scream like a girl?”
They both fell into light chuckles as Jenny wrapped her arm around Lizzie’s shoulder and the blonde leaned into her. As the light laughter faded, Lizzie snuggled deeper into the warmth of Jenny’s body. There wasn’t anything sexual about the way they were holding one another. Jenny had a sense that her friend had returned to her; that one person from her youth whom she had shared all of her secrets, dreams, and fears with, not to mention the blood oath to stay best friends forever that they’d made when they were seven. “This reminds me of when we were kids,” Jenny murmured absently as she pulled Lizzie closer.
“I know,” Lizzie agreed with a relieved sigh. “You didn’t abandon me that night,” Lizzie assured her. “There was nothing either of us could have done.”
“I could have . . . ,” Jenny began to protest.
“Nothing,” Lizzie cut her off. “We were seventeen years old; we had no options. Other than running away, and trust me, that is no option.”
“What are you saying?” Jenny asked fearfully. “What happened, Lizzie?”
“My mother flew me out to St. Paul and took me directly to the school,” Lizzie explained softly. Despite her outwardly calm demeanor, Jenny could hear the raw pain hiding behind the words. “Dad didn’t come. I don’t think he fully understood what was happening. I wasn’t allowed to bring anything with me, just the clothes on my back. My Mother didn’t speak to me the entire time; she didn’t even look at me. She just dumped me off and left. That night I did the only thing I could think of doing. I ran.”
“You ran away?” Jenny blurted out.
“Yes. I didn’t think about what I was doing; I just took off,” Lizzie explained in a distant tone. “I had no money and no real idea of where I was. I just wanted to go home and be with you. Seeing you again was my only goal. I was stupid.”
“Really?” Jenny grumbled, thinking that Lizzie was talking about her.
“Yes,” Lizzie explained softly. “A kid on the streets of St. Paul with no money and no one to turn to. Autumn nights in Minnesota are cold.” Jenny felt Lizzie shiver from her memories.
“How did you survive?” Jenny asked as the fear that was welling up inside of her threatened to choke her.
“I slept in abandoned warehouses and stole food from the local supermarket,” Lizzie explained. “I kept trying to figure out how I was going to get back home. Without money, it was impossible. I tried hiding on a train but got caught. I ran before the cops showed up. I’d been on the streets for almost two months before I was finally arrested for shoplifting. Since I wasn’t forthcoming with any information, it took them over a week to track down my family. I spent the entire time locked up in a juvenile detention home. I don’t have to tell you what that’s like. When my mother finally showed up, she used my lawyer to arrange a deal with the judge - twenty-four months of probation.”
“For a first time shoplifting offense?” Jenny shouted bitterly. “How much did your dear sweet mother have to do with the harshness of your sentence?”
“Everything,” Lizzie confessed shyly. “I think she embellished a few things to get the judge on her side. While I was on probation she was in complete control. And she held it against me. She sent me back to the convent school. I wasn’t allowed to go home and I was shipped off to a convent to begin my training as a novice while I attended a Catholic college. I figured I would just get my degree and bide my time.”
“What happened to change that?” Jenny asked, unable to believe everything Lizzie had been forced to endure. The thought of the sweet young girl she knew trying to survive on the streets was making her sick.
“Life,” Lizzie explained flatly.
“And?” Jenny pressed, wanting to know what had happened and why Lizzie had betrayed her trust in her. If she had loved her enough to live on the streets facing unspeakable danger, what had made her turn her back on the love that they’d shared?
“And nothing.” Lizzie shrugged. “I jumped from one rash decision to the next and now I have no idea who I am. The only good thing that happened was when a local school needed more teachers. The order I had joined was a cloistered sect. Which meant that I was almost completely cut off from the outside world.”
“Let me guess who chose that,” Jenny grumbled.
“My Mother,” Lizzie conceded. “But when this other order needed teachers for their school, I used my education and joined it. That order was a lot more in touch with the real world. Unfortunately I got into trouble again. That was the first time I got shipped up to Saskatchewan. I hated it. All the nuns looked like lumberjacks and it was cold. I hate the cold.”
“I can imagine you would after sleeping on the streets,” Jenny said in concern as she pulled Lizzie closer to her in an effort to keep her safe and shield her from the night air. “Wait! The first time they sent you to Saskatchewan? How often were you in trouble?”
Lizzie chuckled lightly. “On and off. I taught at a series of parochial schools in St. Paul and then Chicago. Not all of my troubles were caused by my sexuality. I had allied myself with a movement in the church known for its untraditional beliefs. We believe that women need more of a say in what is happening in the church and that the Holy Father needs to realize what century we’re living in. I also made a shift in my assignments from the more prestigious schools to the inner city where I felt I was more needed. For the first time in my life, I was good at something that I really enjoyed doing. I was sent to Los Angeles then back to Chicago. They began to send me all over the country, each time to a school that was poorer than the last. The funny thing was they thought they were punishing me. In reality they were doing me a favor.”
“And just what were you being punished for?” Jenny pried.
“Let’s just say I had a knack for finding kindred spirits,” Lizzie explained sheepishly as Jenny chuckled. “Every time I got busted they’d ship me up to Saskatchewan so I could see the error of my ways. The Mother Superior there is really strict and worked us to the point of exhaustion. She also enjoyed lecturing me daily on the evils of homosexuality. She made a point of reminding me that I wasn’t the first to turn to the church because of sexual confusion.”
“How did you put up with that?” Jenny asked in disgust.
“I held my tongue,” Lizzie explained seriously. “Of course the whole time I was thinking, ‘No kidding! I’m not the only one. Where do you think I keep meeting these women?’ It was all really silly when you think about it,” Lizzie added with a light laugh.
“So all your girlfriends were other nuns?” Jenny asked with a hint of jealousy clouding her words.
“Well, I wouldn’t call them girlfriends,” Lizzie explained thoughtfully. “They were more like special friends and there weren’t that many of them. Each time I broke my vows, I just couldn’t stop myself. What’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing,” Jenny admonished her. “You’re human.”
“I think that I was trying to get caught,” Lizzie continued, lost in her own thoughts. “That somehow it would be easier if I was asked to leave. I ended up being sent to New York. That’s when things really hit the fan, so to speak. I was teaching at a school in Harlem during the day and at night I was taking classes at NYU. I wanted to get my Master’s degree. When I wasn’t teaching or going to school, I did some volunteer work at this clinic. I didn’t go there as Sister Rachel. The clinic wasn’t the type that the archdiocese would have approved of since they taught family planning and gave counseling to gay teens. I got involved after one of my students committed suicide. I had to keep my work there a secret; it seemed like the right thing to do. I met this other volunteer there. She was a lawyer and married and I should have known better. She didn’t know I was a nun until we already felt an attraction to one another. My superiors discovered my visits to the clinic and my relationship with her. I was off to South America by way of Saskatchewan. Biggest mistake of my life.”
“Did you love her?” Jenny asked, certain that she really didn’t want to know.
“No,” Lizzie confessed with a heavy sigh. “That’s why it was a mistake. If I had been, my actions would have made some sense. I didn’t sleep with her either. Yet there was something between us. In the end I ruined both of our lives.”
Hey,” Jenny cut her off. “You’re acting like this woman didn’t have a mind of her own. What did she have to say about all this?”
“She said that I helped her realize who she was,” Lizzie admitted.
“I thought so,” Jenny said with a heavy sigh. “Stop blaming yourself.”
“I will if you will,” Lizzie offered hopefully.
Jenny’s lips curled as she tried to reconcile everything she and Lizzie had said since being reunited. It was true that they both needed to stop blaming themselves. It wasn’t easy. Jenny also felt that there was still a major piece missing. Then she found herself smiling and released a light laugh.
“What?” Lizzie inquired curiously.
“Special friends?” Jenny offered in a droll tone. “In the outside world we have quite a different term for that.”
“Really? What is it?” Lizzie asked with a wide-eyed innocence.
“Never mind.” Jenny cringed. There was no way she was going to explain to her high school sweetheart, the nun, about fuck buddies.
“So, Jenny, tell me about your life,” Lizzie encouraged her.
“Maybe tomorrow.” Jenny yawned as once again the events of the past few days overwhelmed her. “It’s late. We should start heading back before Katie begins to worry.” Jenny found herself wrapped up in a soft hug.
“Thank you,” Lizzie whispered softly before releasing her.
Jenny shrugged off her friend’s gratitude as she stood and helped Lizzie to her feet. Lizzie looked out over the flowing water of the Charles River. “It’s beautiful here,” she said with a sense of serenity.
“Yes, it is,” Jenny agreed as she looked out over the calm waters and the lights of the University gleaming across river. She smiled at the sight of Lizzie looking out at the water. Jenny realized that it was one of those moments when you look around and realize you are home.
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