Her peals of hysterical sobs bounced down the hallway. We rushed after their sister, trying to catch her and calm her down, but Veronica had slammed the door to her bedroom and clicked the lock into place before we could reach her.
Ross rattled the handle, and pounded on the door, muttering under his breath. I reached down and picked the lost shoe off the floor. I stayed a good distance away from the door, and let Ross try to coax Veronica out.
“You can’t just lose it like that in front of our guests, Veronica. It looks bad,” Ross said.
“They’re not ‘our’ guests! They are my guests, and I can – and I will – act any way I wish to act around them.” Her voice was muffled by the thick door. I could picture her, back against the door, legs akimbo, her remaining shoe tossed into the far reaches of the bedroom. She would be mocking Ross — which, had he been able to see her, would have made him turn red.
But Veronica was right: they were her guests. And Ross and I, even though we stood in the hallway where, as children, we would slide around in our stockings for hours on end, were her guests too.
Ross turned to me and frowned. The skin between his eyebrows creased into a deep canyon. He beckoned me over — silently asking me to fulfill the duty of middle child. I shook my head, objecting as vigorously as possible. I had no desire to go down the rabbit hole that coaxing Veronica out of one of her moods was. I felt some sort of responsibility to be the voice of reason, the moderator, and the negotiator when it came to Veronica. I was the voice of reason, who meant every word that she said. But the impossibility of moderating Veronica was too much for me to handle at this moment.
Veronica was overbearing, dramatic … petty beyond belief. She had never just clashed with Ross, four years her junior, or I, but with everyone she came in contact with. Our parents had never explicitly encouraged Veronica’s awful behavior – but then, they had never tried to curb it.
“Addy, just … please,” Ross whispered down the hallway. He was at a loss for words, too tired from the weeks of party planning to muster up his loquacious pleas for backup. He had all but given up the fight with Veronica.
I hesitated, and he raked his hands through his hair and loosened his tie. With a deep breath to steady myself I stepped up to the door. I rested my head against the frame.
“Veronica,” I said calmly, clearly, moderately. “Do you want you other shoe?” It was a trick made of chiffon, and even though Ross smiled widely at me, proud of the first ruse I had made in my life, Veronica could see right through it.
Veronica was vain, but she was not stupid. She gave a short laugh, mocking me now. We could hear stand up, her back sliding against the bedroom door. With uneven footsteps she went to her vanity – her safe spot.
The vanity had been given to Veronica for her sixteenth birthday. She had envied it when our mother had it as her own dressing table. It was the only thing that gave her no sentimental feelings for our parents, who had died two years before. We never knew what made Veronica think about our parents, and start the grieving process all over again. One day it could be the china we ate off of, the next Ross’s car, which had replaced the one our parents had been killed in.
Tonight it was Veronica’s fiancé.
Harland Pierson had been a student of our father’s. He was, for lack of any better description, perfect. A terrible sister would say that Veronica didn’t deserve him – but I knew that, despite their ultimate differences, they belonged together.
Lights from a car flashed through the window on the far side of the hallway. Ross drew a deep, frustrated breath.
“Veronica, what are you doing?” He said, his voice tense.
“Nothing! Go away. Tell everyone to go away!”
“I can’t tell everyone to go away!” He yelled back. I tried to calm him down, but he continued to yell at the closed door. “This is your goddamn engagement party, you need to be downstairs greeting people, before they start to talk.”
“Oh, they’re going to start to ‘talk’. I could not care less what they said about me. The only people that really matter aren’t here.” Ross and I could hear the sobs well up in Veronica’s throat again.
I interjected before Ross could start yelling at Veronica again.
“We know they’re not here, but doesn’t Harland matter? And Ross and I?”
“Of course, Adelaide, the optimist, thinks that there is a bright side to this story,” Veronica mocked. “But Addy is rational; a mathematician. So of course she doesn’t care that our parents aren’t here –”
“—that’s not true,” I said. My face was growing warm. Veronica continued, and I could feel tears prick my eyes like sewing pins.
“It is! You’re just blissful little Addy. You don’t comprehend emotions – you didn’t even cry at their funeral.”
“That doesn’t mean I wasn’t distraught!” My voice rose and cracked. “Not everyone can, or should, offer all their emotions on a silver platter for the whole world like you do.”
“But you’re just unnatural about restraining your feelings. You are a machine that –” I turned around quickly and nearly ran down the hall. Ross called after me, and I stopped for a moment.
“She can just wallow in her self-pity, Ross. She has the whole world at her feet – we do all that we can for her, and this is how she treats us. Well I’m sorry I don’t have the emotion that she has!” I threw the lost shoe at the bedroom door and stormed down the staircase.
Harland and his parents had been in the car that had pulled up. They stared at me as I burst into the front room and past them.
“Addy, where’s Veronica and Ross?” Harland asked innocently. I turned around a paused only long enough for a few short words:
“If you knew what was good for you, Harland, you would run away as fast as possible from Veronica,” I said, storming past him.
It was the first time I had said something I didn’t mean.