It Should Have Been You—Excerpt From Chapter Three
I yanked open the door of my battered bug. I was losing it, first driving to Jenny’s like a crazy woman and then not even following that Safety Precaution 101 rule—lock the damned car.
I banged my fist against the steering wheel. Martino was such a jackass. Why had I thought he’d be any help? Why couldn’t he feel any sympathy towards me?
It wasn’t just Moura’s death I grieved. It was the pitiful relationship we’d had while she was alive. We hadn’t even been close. Not really. Nope, no cozy late night sisterly chats for us. Every time I tried to talk to her, I got absolutely nowhere. My mind flashed back to the last time I’d tried, about a week before she died. She’d come into the kitchen to grab a drink after practice. I was munching on some crackers and poring over the handouts Mrs. Olivet had given out that day at the Psychology Club meeting.
“How did your practice go?” I asked.
She shrugged. “There’s always more, but the opening is getting a lot better.” She pointed to the papers I’d spread out all over the table. “What’s all that?”
“Handouts from this workshop Mrs. Olivet gave us on Myers Briggs. This is so cool!”
“What’s Myers Briggs? Sounds like a mouthwash.”
“It’s a type of personality assessment that helps people understand themselves and others better.”
“Well, for one thing, it measures how extroverted or introverted you are. Extroverts get energy from being around other people. Introverts need alone time to refuel and they can get super drained if they don’t have enough time to themselves.”
“Sounds like total crap. You can’t put people into boxes like that. I get energy from being with other people at rehearsals, and I also like being left alone, especially when I’m practicing.”
“Well, sure,” I said, feeling defensive. “We’re all a bit of both. It’s just that a lot of us really do have a tendency to be one way more than the other. Let’s say you’re an extrovert and you realize your friend’s an introvert, then you might take it a lot less personally that she doesn’t want to party with you a lot…So I was thinking, maybe we should take this quiz to help us understand each other better?”
She downed the rest of her drink and set it in the sink for someone else—me—to clean. “Thanks, but no thanks. We don’t need some stupid quiz to tell us we’re different. Total waste of time.”
Yup, that was my dear sister in all her glory—the ultimate Queen of the Putdown when it came to anything I was excited about. She was always telling me I needed to “do something meaningful” with my life. Of course, meaningful to Moura meant dedicating my every waking moment to music, which hadn’t been my thing since I’d unceremoniously quit piano lessons at age seven.
From the get go, music captured Moura and swept her away. Suddenly, she couldn’t care less about playing Chutes or Ladders or running under the sprinkler with me in the backyard on hot summer days. She preferred the company of our piano. Within six months, she had so many gold stars in her piano books and was so far ahead of me I knew I’d never catch up.
Truthfully, I didn’t want to. Why practice scales when I could be outside climbing trees? Or reading a good book?
I’d long since ceded both music and our parents’ attention to Moura. When she’d played, it was breathtaking, and even I, the musical Neanderthal in the family, had gotten chills. And while it sucked to be a blip on the familial radar screen, I could usually quiet the voices inside my head that said I was nothing special compared to Moura. Jenny let me know I wasn’t some expendable blob taking up space on the planet and Mr. B. thought I had a great shot at getting a scholarship to Ohio State where I could double-major in journalism and psychology.
But now it was like there was a tapeworm inside my gut—gnawing at my insides, eating me alive. I willed myself to stop the endless litany running through my brain—you didn’t even like your sister. But she was the winner, the shining star.
So why is she dead, while I’m alive?
Alive. Well, at least for the moment. I shivered. Sitting here alone in my car was not the brightest move. Would anyone really try something in the parking lot of the police station? I peered around. Nothing but a handful of parked cars. Still, my skin prickled like someone was watching me. I locked the doors.
An engine started up with a deep growl and headlights blared at the far end of the row in front of me. Instead of moving toward the exit, a dark van turned into the row of cars where I was parked.
It got closer and closer. My hands shook as I grabbed my backpack and dug down into a mass of paper and books to find my keys.
No go. The van had stopped with the engine running and the lights on just a few cars away from me. I gasped for breath as I reached for the switch on my overhead light and twisted it. Nothing.
In desperation, I overturned my backpack on the passenger seat and pawed through my stuff. Finally, my fingers connected with cool metal. I fumbled with the keys as I tried to fit them into the ignition.
Success on the third try. My bug roared to life.
When I looked up, the van was gone.
By the time I got home, my breathing was almost back to normal. If some creep was trying to send me into cardiac arrest, he was well on his way. All I wanted to do was slip upstairs and call Jenny for some tea and sympathy—minus the tea. But the minute I walked in the door, my dad’s deep music conductor’s voice boomed, “Clara, get in here. Now!”
Great. Reluctantly, I walked into the kitchen. Mom sat in her usual spot at the breakfast bar, nursing a vodka and tonic. As far as I could tell, she had substituted vodka for food since Moura’s death. She’d lost so much weight that her skin sagged around her bone-thin frame. She glanced up, lifted her hand in greeting, and then quickly lowered her gaze. It seemed pretty obvious that looking at me was painful for her—so basically, she didn’t.
Dad’s gray-eyed gaze, on the other hand, had no problem latching on to mine. “Detective Martino just called. How is it that I have to find out from the police that my own daughter reported getting a threatening e-mail?” The vein in his neck throbbed, as he slammed his coffee mug down on the counter.
I swallowed hard. “I’m sorry! I didn’t want to make things worse.”
“Worse would be having something happen to you. How can your mother and I protect you if we don’t know what’s going on?”
Wow? They wanted to protect me? Apparently, I’d moved higher up their priority list by default. “Dad, it’s probably just an empty threat. Some jerk trying to spook me. Moura had a lot of fans, and let’s face it. There was a lot of talk, a lot of rumors, that I had something to do with her… her death.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mom’s hand tremble as she took a big swallow of her drink.
“Rumors” was the understatement of the year. It went way beyond the threatening calls and all the social media crap. For the first two weeks, I couldn’t get out of the house without being bombarded by photographers and reporters shoving microphones in my face and asking me if I’d killed my sister.
Dad took off his glasses and shook his head wearily. “We live in a sick society, Clara. People think and say stupid things. Now tell me exactly what this message said.”
My stomach clenched, and I leaned against the counter for support. “It said, ‘It should have been you.”
“What? I don’t believe this! That’s disgusting.”
“Yeah. I’m pretty freaked. But maybe that’s the point—to get under my skin, engage in a little recreational cyber-bullying. Hopefully, nothing more.”
“Listen to me. If you get any more messages, or anything else happens, you tell us immediately. Understood?”
“Yes,” I said, even as I wondered how keeping anyone safe was possible. Moura had been the star of my parents’ universe, and they certainly hadn’t been able to keep her safe.
“Check the security alarm and the locks every time you enter the house. Be careful getting in and out of your car. Always lock the doors.”
“Dad, I know all that.” I tried not to sound impatient, even as a trickle of guilt worked its way down my spine about forgetting to lock my car at the police station.
“Text me every day when you get to school, when you’re leaving, and when you get home, so I know you’re okay. Are we clear?”
Excerpted from IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN YOU © Copyright 2018 by Lynn Slaughter. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
Read more excerpts from It Should Have Been You at following sites: