An excerpt from Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott
— 1 —
Antoinette watches her sister swing the suitcase from the back seat, almost expecting that slim, white wrist to flex and snap beneath the weight. Two Minute Passenger Drop Off Zone, the sign beside them declares, and even this early in the morning there’s a line of cars impatient for their turn.
‘He knows how to pick his moments,’ Jacqueline mutters, smoothing her skirt as she straightens. Then, almost an afterthought, ‘Bastard.’
Antoinette smiles, or tries to, tries to force the corners of her mouth to lift despite the grief still lodged in her throat. Because if she doesn’t smile, she’s going to cry, and she’s done far too much of that already. No, she needs to keep it together. The drive back from the airport will be long and lonely enough; if the tears start again now they might never stop.
‘Ant, I’m sorry about this.’ Jacqueline pushes a stray curl back behind Antoinette’s ear. ‘If I could cancel the trip, even delay it a week or two . . .’
‘No, it’s okay, I’ll be okay.’ But it isn’t, and she won’t be.
‘Tell me,’ Jacqueline says. ‘Tell me what you need.’
What she needs? What she needs is for her sister to stay right here in Melbourne. To sit with her and rub her back in slow, soothing circles. To tell her not only that everything will be fine, but exactly how it will be so, and when. Just like she always has, since forever. No matter the crisis – broken doll or skinned knee, failed exam or disastrous haircut – Jacqueline always knows how to fix it, always knows exactly what to say to make Antoinette feel better.
Except this time she’s leaving.
Off to Brisbane to mollycoddle some artist on behalf of the stupid gallery she works for – on a Saturday for crying out loud – and god knows how long she’ll be away. Antoinette has known about it for days, of course she has, but with everything that happened last night, with Paul’s final words looping on constant rotation through her head–
And here it is again, the bitter-sharp edge of tears.
‘Well.’ Jacqueline smiles, brief and sardonic. ‘If it gets too lonely at my place, you can always go stay with our mother for a while.’
‘Yeah, there’s always that.’ Antoinette smiles too, because it really is laughable, the idea of running back home to their mother with her unvoiced I-told-you-so’s and weak herbal teas, her pity-soaked looks and the inevitable list of chores and time-sapping suggestions which would be drawn up and stuck to the fridge. Stay busy, their mother’s timeworn motto. Keep your hands working and your mind distracted and soon you won’t even remember why you were so upset in the first place.
Self-imposed amnesia – Sally Paige’s solution to all manner of ills.
‘It’ll be okay,’ Antoinette says again. ‘I should probably start looking for some place to live, anyway.’
Jacqueline frowns. ‘Don’t feel rushed into anything; you know you’re welcome to stay as long as you need. You still have the spare key?’
Antoinette nods. ‘Don’t worry about me.’
Please worry about me.
Behind them, a car horn bleats and Jacqueline glances at her watch, sunlight glinting off classic marquisette, and she’s really sorry, she says, but she can’t miss her plane. Time for one last hug, and Antoinette holds on tight, presses her face into the thick, silk-dark swathe of her sister’s hair, not wanting to ever let go, to ever be let go. But Jacqueline’s already pulling away, walking away, navy blue trolley case nipping at her heels, and just as those huge glass doors slide open to swallow her, she turns, one hand lifting.
‘Call me if you need anything, Ant.’
I need you to stay.