Her car’s in the driveway, though, so she can’t pretend to be out. And Janine’s likely to tear the door off its hinges if she doesn’t answer soon.
She draws a steadying breath, plasters on a smile, and turns the knob.
Her sister spills inside.
Janine looks worse than ever. She was pretty once, a glamorous brunette with sparkling green eyes and hair that seemed to dance. Now her hair falls in bedraggled strands and her eyes are rimmed with shadows. She’s only forty-four, but she looks ten years older. Her limp is especially pronounced today. For all that, there’s the ghost of something graceful in her movements, an elegance born of muscle memory, as she makes her way to Leah’s living room couch.
“Coffee?” Leah offers. Keep things light. Positive.
Janine shakes her head. “It’ll make me jittery.”
That ship’s sailed. Janine has two settings: riddled with anxiety and half-asleep. Leah’s not sure which version of her sister she prefers, but today it’s definitely the former.
Janine’s gaze flits here and there like a moth, alighting on the row of trophies on the mantle. Leah sometimes thinks she should take them down, pack them away, or at least hide them when her sister visits. Especially the one in the center: a lithe figure contorted in a Biellmann spin, arms extended over its head to grasp one skate, like a delicate silver flower. But Leah can’t bring herself to part with the trophies. They still make a warmth bloom in her chest, even as her skin prickles with the chill of the ice rink.
Janine is looking at her now. There’s no use stalling.
Leah goes to the bathroom and retrieves the little bottle from the cabinet. She hesitates in front of the mirror, shoring up her smile, then comes back to the living room and hands the bottle to her sister.
Janine shakes it, a light rattling sound. “Where’s the rest?”
Leah runs a hand through her graying hair. “It’s—half the amount this month. Thirty pills. My doctor…she’s been pushing me to cut down. Saying I don’t want to get—you know, dependent on them.”
There’s an edge of panic in Janine’s voice. “Can’t you ask her for more?”
“I don’t know if she’ll be okay with that.” Leah hates the way her own voice sounds. Mousy, meek.
“I need this, Leah. It’s been bad lately.”
Janine shifts, drawing Leah’s gaze to her right ankle. It was bad, Leah knows. A complex fracture. Leah can still hear the crunch, then the thud and scrape of her sister’s body colliding with the ice. But after three surgeries, and twenty years, the ankle looks normal now.
Leah steels herself, looking her sister in the eyes. “Neen, even if my doctor approved, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“You need to cut back. Taper off. I’ve been reading about oxycodone addiction, and—”
“Christ, Leah. I’m not an addict.”
“I’m in pain. I need relief now and then, and nothing else helps.”
Leah eyes the bottle; Janine has it in a white-knuckled grip. “Now and then?”
“It’s bad now. You know it’s always worse in cold weather.”
Leah settles on the couch beside her sister. “Why don’t you try cutting back just a little? You could take aspirin, something like that. Something safe. This stuff is serious, Neen. People overdose. Thousands of people die every year.”
“Thanks for the PSA.” Janine’s gaze softens. “I’ll be fine, Leah. Really. I know what I’m doing.”
“I—I called a hotline.”
“They told me about an outpatient treatment program over in Union City. It’s about ten miles away but if you need help getting there, Matt or I would be happy to drive you.”
The ice is back in Janine’s gaze. “I’ve got this under control.”
“You’ve said that before. I can’t keep doing this.”
“Lying to my doctor.”
“You’re not lying. You need it.”
Leah shakes her head. She does struggle with pain now and then—chronic pain in her knees, the legacy of the gravity-defying jumps she was known for—but she doesn’t need the oxycodone to manage it. She hasn’t really needed anything stronger than aspirin since her surgery last year. She feels a stab of guilt every time she tells Doctor Blackwell it’s worse than it is.
“Leah, I—” Janine wrings her hands. “Fine. I’ll cut down. Okay? But it’ll take time. I really need the full prescription now. Will you call your doctor?”
“I—can’t. I’m sorry, Neen.”
“Why can’t you?”
“I don’t feel right about it.”
Janine is fixing her with that penetrating look, that sister look. “What happened?”
“N-Nothing. I said I—”
She exhales. A long silence. “Matt found out, okay? He found the pills.”
When Janine chuckles, it sounds more like a cough. “And then what? He commanded you to stop being your junkie sister’s dealer?”
“That’s not what he said.”
“Are you ever going to stand up to him?”
An unpleasant warmth fills Leah’s cheeks. “What does that mean?”
“He controls your life. Acts like he’s still your coach. Does he still choose your outfits?”
“All that stuff about your doctor—that was bullshit, was it? She doesn’t want you to cut back. You’d have been just fine with our arrangement if your hubby hadn’t found out. It’s none of his business. Why don’t you tell him to go—”
“Shut up, Neen.”
Janine’s struck a nerve, and they both know it, and the silence roils with things unspoken and Leah wishes she would just leave.
“Where are the rest of the pills?”
“Down the drain.”
Leah whirls to face her. “Because you need to stop! It’s not just about Matt. I haven’t felt right about this for a long time. Hell, ever. I won’t be responsible for you ruining your life.”
“My life is ruined, in case you missed the memo. It was ruined when I broke my ankle. Scratch that—it was ruined when that asshole stole my skates the day before the biggest competition of my life. Do you have any idea how that felt?”
Images flash through Leah’s mind: Janine in tears, her car window smashed, shards of glass littering the back seat. Janine’s skates had been her signature, a pair of Riedells in a bright neon pink color that Leah had always found a bit garish. Janine had worn them with all of her skating outfits, no matter how much the colors clashed, and audiences had loved them. The police had never found the culprit. “I’m sure it was really shitty,” Leah says. “But you didn’t have to try that jump combo. Matt even told you not to. You made that choice.”
“I’d never have placed.”
“But you wouldn’t have broken your ankle. You could’ve come back next year.”
“I was twenty-four, Leah. I didn’t have that many more years left in me. That was my year. It was then or never. I needed that triple-triple. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have made the same choice.”
Leah opens her mouth to say no, but the voice in the back of her head butts in. Of course you would have. You’d have done anything to win, too.
They sit in silence. A cold rain patters against the window like the pills in the bottle.
“Remember how it used to feel?” Janine’s gaze is fixed on something far away. “That moment when you knew you’d landed it? That heartbeat before the crowd cheer came in? There’s no high like that.”
Leah can’t help smiling. “Yeah,” she mutters. “God, I miss it sometimes.”
There’s a flash of something between them that Leah hasn’t felt in twenty years. She remembers happy things. Sisterly things. Janine snapping a photo of the two of them at Leah’s first professional competition. Janine bringing ice for her knee after she’d fallen on a triple Lutz attempt. The too-brief comradeship they’d felt before everything went wrong.
Maybe it’s not too late to set things right. “You should come skating with us sometime.”
Janine raises an eyebrow.
“I mean it. Just for fun. Cara’s getting pretty good—you should see her. She’d rather play hockey, which is fine by me, as long as she’s out there. And who knows?” Leah motions to the pill bottle. “You might find out you don’t need these at all anymore.”
Janine stares at her for a long time, long enough for the silence to grow rigid, uncomfortable, like a too-tight skate. Then she smiles tautly and looks away. “You don’t get it.”
“I can’t, Leah, so just fucking drop it. My ankle hurts. Get that through your head. I’m not making this up. It hurts like hell, all the time, and I can’t just go out there and have fun. If you want to help me, get me more pills. I’m paying you for them. All I’m asking for is help getting them, because my doctor is full of shit and won’t believe me. Would you rather I get them on the street? And you act like it’s a huge imposition, like I’m asking you to do something hard. Try having your career stolen from you. That’s hard.”
In the hot silence that follows, Leah hears herself mutter, “You were always jealous of me.”
Janine’s bloodshot eyes widen. “What?”
She’s going too far, but Leah can’t stop herself. Something hot and ugly is building up inside her, and the words are pouring out, hissing like steam. “You were the best. You were winning all the time, Janine the Ice Queen, and everyone loved you. Mom. Dad. Coach. And then along came your little sister and she started landing jumps you couldn’t.”
“I pushed you out of the spotlight and you resent it, fine. But that doesn’t mean you get to guilt-trip me for the rest of our lives.”
“I wasn’t jealous. I was…proud of you.”
“Get real, Neen. That’s why you did it. You knew you were only landing that combo half the time in practice and you tried it anyway.”
“I would have landed it if I’d had my own skates.”
Her skates again, her goddamned skates—“Maybe you shouldn’t have kept your eight-hundred-dollar skates in your car.”
Janine’s tone sharpens like the edge of a blade. “So it’s my fault?”
“I just wish you’d take some responsibility for your own life.”
“Easy for you to say.” Janine jabs a finger in the direction of the trophies on the mantle. “You had a life.”
Leah stands. “Please go. Cara will be home from school any minute.”
“God forbid she catches sight of her addict aunt.” Janine trembles, glaring at the half-filled bottle in her hand, and for a moment Leah thinks she’s about to throw it. Then she stuffs it into her purse, stands, and leaves the house, closing the door hard behind her.
Leah stares after her for a long time.
Her gaze drifts to the trophies. A surge of white-hot emotion courses through her—anger, hurt, and guilt, so much guilt—and she sweeps them off the mantle. They clatter to the floor. She can’t stand looking at them anymore. All she can see is Janine.
She shrouds the trophies in bubble wrap and carries them to the attic. She packs them carefully away in the box in the very back, the one she never touches. The one for things meant to be forgotten.
She looks at the biggest trophy one last time, using her thumb to wipe the dust from the gilded letters on its base.
First Place - 2001 National Figure Skating Championship
Then she nestles the trophy in the box, next to a pair of neon pink ice skates.