By Darlene Guetrez
Andrea took a deep breath and pulled open the door of Wired Monk. She marched along the dim corridor into the humming cafe, heels tapping a sharp rhythm, short chestnut curls bouncing, determined to maintain control.
Earlier that morning, Debbie phoned imploring, "Andrea, I have to see you."
"I don't have time to waste rehashing twenty year old events." Andrea paced as she spat the words.
"Please. It's an emergency."
"Is someone dying? Otherwise forget it."
"Almost." Debbie's voice faltered.
"Is it Mom?" Panic brought Andrea to an abrupt halt.
"No. Meet me at eleven at Wired Monk." Debbie hung up. Andrea stood with furrowed brow and unfocused gaze, debating whether to believe her. She despised Debbie's perpetual melodramatics.
Andrea was well acquainted with her younger sister's childhood mercurial moods and nasty habit of thieving her possessions. Complaints to their parents only garnered apathetic responses. Yet Andrea still wasn't prepared for Debbie's ultimate betrayal.
Debbie met Paul during her second last year of high school. Before long they were inseparable. Paul's verdant eyes radiated unwavering devotion for Andrea.
Paul often studied at Andrea's home, joking with Debbie and chatting with her parents. He encouraged Andrea to ignore her sister's pettiness and parents' indifference.
Near the end of senior year Paul and Andrea began bickering for trivial reasons. Andrea thought it was a phase; it'd be better when they spent less time together after graduation.
Two weeks before final exams, Debbie sauntered into the kitchen and straddled a chair.
"Well, are we going to tell her?" Debbie gazed at Paul, her expression a mixture of daring smugness.
"Tell me what? I'm cramming for chem." Andrea shuffled notes, searching for her vital Periodic Table of Elements.
"It can wait until a better time." Paul glared at Debbie.
"This is the perfect time. Paul and I are in love." Debbie smirked.
Andrea's head snapped up. Desperate for the truth, she searched Paul's eyes. She found it. Guilt twisted his flushed features into an obscene caricature.
Andrea plowed through final exams earning a university scholarship three hours away in Kelowna. Four years later she obtained her degree to begin teaching boisterous seven year-olds.
Her love life didn't flourish however. There'd been a few long term relationships, but nothing enduring.
Andrea returned home to Langley for rare visits after Debbie and Paul married. Her parents, convinced Paul was perfect for Debbie, were delighted with their son-in-law. The sole time Andrea saw Debbie over the years was at their father's funeral. For her mother's sake, she was civil.
Now Andrea was in Langley visiting friends. She had no idea how Debbie knew where she was.
Andrea scanned the cozy cafe to find Debbie seated by the river stone fireplace. Debbie's long silky blond hair and creamy complexion belied the passing of years. Cappuccino in hand, Andrea threaded through crowded tables.
Andrea sat down aware Debbie's right leg jigged with nervousness under the glass table. They surveyed each other in silence.
"Thank you for coming. Listen, I'm sorry for how things happened with Paul and me. I was too young to realize how cruel we were." Debbie's leg jogged faster. Andrea listened stunned; Debbie never apologized.
"Paul has cancer. He's been given three months. He wants to see you." The surrounding babble of voices faded. Andrea, reeling from Debbie's apology, felt like she'd been slugged in the gut.
Andrea's words earlier that morning haunted her. "This is horrible news," she paused for a steadying breath, "but Paul departed from my life long ago. Resurrecting him isn't a good idea.." Andrea spoke with gentleness. Her countless imagined retributions now seemed childish compared with reality.
"It'll make going easier if he has a chance to apologize."
Andrea stared at the avocado toned wall, plastered with local artists' creations, opposite her. She puzzled whether Debbie truly loved Paul. The sister who, once she possessed what she coveted, lost interest in it. Had she reformed? Or was this somehow one of her schemes...
"Paul should make peace with himself. I can't absolve him."
"Can you forgive me? I want to be sisters again."
"We never were sisters, Debbie. We were two incompatible people growing up in the same house."
"I need your support." Debbie's walnut-hued eyes flooded.
"You want help losing Paul. What am I, the expert? You're asking the impossible." Andrea wasn't about to grieve twice for the same man.
Debbie flinched. "I deserved that. Please, can we leave the past behind?" Debbie's hand, chunky wedding rings sparkling, crept across the table towards Andrea.
Andrea watched the hand approach as if a snake slithered towards her. Her clasped hands tightened beneath the table. "The past won't magically disappear so we can enjoy blissful sisterhood. There is no love. I won't pretend it exists."
Debbie's hand slid back to her mug. "Well, no sugar coating there. Is there any way I can persuade you to change your mind about visiting Paul?" Debbie gulped her Hazelnut Latte dregs.
"No." Andrea stood, gathering her purse and coat. "I wish the best for you and Paul."
Back in her car, Andrea leaned her forehead against the steering wheel. Why was there a hollowness in her chest? A surprise sensation she should do more? She had no duty towards Paul or her sister. They obliterated that twenty years ago.
Andrea raised her head to glimpse Debbie striding past. This moment would vanish in a heartbeat. In that instant she resolved not to infuse bitter resentment with regret.
"Debbie, wait." Andrea half-exited the car with haste. "I'm willing to attempt friendship with you, but no guarantees. And if Paul wants to send a card, I promise to read it."
Debbie halted, a hesitant smile emerged. "I'd like that. Paul will like that." Debbie waved and sauntered on.
Andrea sat back suffused with both relief and apprehension that she'd rue her decision. Time would reveal if she and Debbie could become friends, but she'd be damned before she introduced another special man to her.