Even with blurry eyes Kate could see it was just past six in the morning. She squeezed them shut, feeling hazy and warm like she did 134 days ago after her last briny vodka martini. Her stomach roiled as she smelled lilies. A few months ago, her husband, JJ, started with the flowers. He was up to at least three bouquets a week. Lovely at first, then morbid. She knew the lilies were white again even though he knew she preferred pink flowers and that she hated lilies. She slid her hand across the nightstand feeling around for her glasses, but they weren’t there. She laid her head on the pillow after she flipped it cool side up. She was alone.
Kate stirred when she felt thick curls jammed against her cheek. They smelled like honey and fresh rice. The flowers were gone. She reached up to swat the hair from her face and thought of her twin sister, Rachel. Kate didn’t bother opening her eyes.
Kate felt itchy and tense as she kicked her legs out from under the sheets. Rachel was next to her, curling her body into Kate’s as she tried to settle. Her skin was waxy and dry to the touch. Rachel’s legs danced now, tangled in the sheets. Kate wasn’t sure this was the first time Rachel had shown up since she died. She had memory problems on purpose.
“Rachel?” Kate said.
“What are you doing here?”
“I couldn’t sleep alone,” Rachel said.
Kate poked her gently in the back then dug her nail in. “No. What are you doing in my house?”
“Stop it, that hurts K.”
Kate had dreams where she could feel things before. They seemed real. The ones where she was being chased or falling. The same as everyone else did. Rachel pinched her leg.
“Ok, ok!” Kate kept her eyes closed. She could do a counting exercise. She could take deep breaths. Or, she could jump out the window.
“Why are you acting so strange?” Rachel said. “…hey, I don’t feel so great… can you make me some of mom’s soup? The lentil one not chicken noodle, I’m freezing.” Kate opened her eyes and her heart raced through a series of pulses until it hurt.
“What the hell are you doing here Rachel?” It felt like she had sandpaper in her throat.
“I told you. I can’t sleep without you. It’s so cold!” Vigorous shaking ensued as if to articulate her point.
“But how did you find me? Better yet, how did you get in?” She didn’t have a key. She was dead before they moved in.
“I have a key?” Rachel said. From out of the sky? They didn’t have an extra one under a mat or behind a plant. Maybe JJ left the door open? Last night on his way to the airport he was in a rush and he…no. Also, Kate checked it a handful of times before she went to bed.
“Who cares how I got in? I’m here.” She put her feet under Kate’s leg. Kate could barely breathe in the light tank top she was wearing; it was seventy-eight degrees in the room. “Can you try to sleep? I’ll make soup for you when I get out of bed. I promise.” Kate couldn’t see Rachel’s expression but heard a sigh. “Can you at least put another blanket on the bed?” Rachel asked. Kate grabbed two quilts from the closet. Even if she hadn’t felt guilty, Rachel was the youngest, by four minutes, and in every sense of the word was the baby of the family. One quilt was a gift from their mother’s friend, “Aunt” Donna. She made a quilt for both girls with their name embroidered in hearts. Rachel lost hers before they graduated high school. Kate had a chest of items she kept from home. Kate laid the quilts over the comforter on Rachel’s side. She thought about running Rachel a hot bath but suspected even in her current state she would object.
She tossed and turned for the next half hour. She stopped sleeping through the night after first grade. When she and Rachel were seven years old, they moved, at first temporarily, into their grandparents’ house right before summer. Kate hated sharing the couch bed in the living room with Rachel, but their parents got the guest room and their Aunt still lived in the basement. Every night, Rachel would fall asleep two minutes after they said their prayers. She had to be touching someone to fall asleep, so she always had an arm or leg wrapped around Kate’s. Even when Rachel was a baby, their parents took turns sleeping with her in a recliner. Once they started sharing a bed it took Kate hours to fall asleep only to wake up moments later gasping for air, covered in Rachel’s thick hair.
Their grandparents lived on an acre of land with a creek running behind the shed. Neither Kate nor Rachel ever wanted to learn how to swim. Rachel wouldn’t sit in the bath either, she had to be bathed with a washcloth each night. She feared disintegration in the hot water, how she might swirl down the drain.
At the end of August of their first year in a house of seven, about the time that the summer heat decides to go all in, Kate figured out how to get away from her sister. She would gently uncurl Rachel’s arms and legs putting Raggedy Ann in her place. Most nights she would sneak out with a blanket and a pillow the backyard and lay in the grass cherishing the space and her own breath. Sleeping outside was glorious except for the time she rolled too far over in the night and almost fell into the creek. She might have drowned but she didn’t which made it still preferable to sleeping next to Rachel. She always made it back to the living room before sunrise.
These days, Kate hated everything about waking up. Especially if someone was lying next to her in bed with their eyes open, staring at the ceiling, into space, at her. Just breathing. Lying there easily like a corpse. Often, she woke up before JJ and would be on a second pot of coffee by the time he woke up. He often started his day listening to DIY podcasts on furniture restoration while he made elaborate plans to attack the growing “collection” of neighbors’ castoffs he dragged home from someone’s garbage to their garage. Kate ran her hand through the sheets. They were cool to the touch and the house was quiet. She had a vague memory of him mentioning a work trip this week, one of the many he was taking of late. The more often he was gone, the more the flowers would show up. Before he could bury her, she started walking them to Rachel’s grave in the evening. That’s where they belonged.
When Kate woke up a few hours later, JJ was lying next to her reading the paper. Was it a few hours later? Or the next day? She was thirsty. She wanted to tell him about the dream. It was best to be up front about it. Especially since she thought they were happening more often. “Babe, when did you get in?” she asked.
“What do you mean? Are you ok?” JJ replied.
“I got home last night. You picked me up, we had dinner…you had a Martini… you seemed fine when you went to bed,” JJ said.
“No,” she said making a face. He was not here last night. She did not have a drink. “You’re right, you didn’t have a drink, but he was here,” Rachel said perched on the ottoman in the corner of the room.
JJ straightened up with deep creases in his forehead and put the paper down. “You had another dream didn’t you?” he asked.
“I’m here, you aren’t dreaming,” Rachel said.
“No it’s…” Kate started to say.
“He can’t see me,” Rachel yawned.
Rachel was still wrapped up in the quilt but her skin looked ashen. “Sorry, I must have slept too long. I feel a bit jet-lagged,” Kate said. He stared at her, concerned, annoyed. She didn’t care anymore. “Where were you?” Kate asked because she couldn’t remember. She thought it was a work trip but then remembered it was around the time he was supposed to visit his brother in Seattle. “Are you sure you are ok?” JJ relaxed his body a little and stretched out towards her. “He probably went to visit his other girlfriend who is sunny and noncommittal and doesn’t require three specialists and rehab. I bet her name is Lily or Cassie and he tells her how he loved you so much and tried so hard until he didn’t,” Rachel giggled as she laid back with her hands intertwined behind her head. “They make plans for chartering a sailboat in Greece and getting a dog they’ll name Nigel or Bones. He just has to figure out what to do with you. I’m thinking divorce isn’t on the table. He was born to play grieving widower. He’ll get there one way or another. I told you that he wasn’t the one babe. You should have listened to me. I’m the only one that loves you,” Rachel said. Rachel was repeating all the things she said before, everything Kate already knew.
“Did you go visit your other girlfriend?” Kate asked.
“This happens every time I go away.. you have to stop this. When I leave, everything is fine. And when I come back…I don’t know…I don’t know what to call this. Do you stop exercising when I leave? Do you stop seeing your therapist? Are you going to your meetings? I love you…”
“But?” Kate said.
“But he has to kill you!” Rachel said.
“There’s not enough insurance money,” she hissed out loud.
“Kate …why don’t you lie back down. I’ll come check on you in a bit.” He got up and started towards the kitchen.
“I need to talk to you,” Kate said.
“I think a little more sleep would help first,” JJ said over his shoulder.
“I wasn’t talking to—,” Kate said.
“Now you really are making yourself look crazy,” Rachel said.
Kate yelled from the bedroom, “I’m going to take a shower, shake the cobwebs out.”
“Ok, don’t fall asleep in there,” he said. Kate stepped into the bathroom and locked it as quietly as she could. “That’s not going to calm his nerves,” Rachel said. Kate turned the shower on.
“You’re the one I need space from.” Rachel rolled her eyes and shrugged. “I’m tired of the sound of your voice. I’m tired of you being near me. I’m tired of you.”
“Kate are you ok?” she heard from outside the bathroom followed by the twist of the doorknob. “Why is the door locked, Kate?” Kate held her breath. “Unlock it please,” JJ said.
“I can’t I’m in the shower.”
“Who are you talking to?”
“Nobody. Relax. I’ll be out when the hot water is gone”
“I’m going to call your mother.”
“I’ll be out before she gets here.”
“You can’t act like this. It’s not fair.”
Kate got in the shower and slid down the wall. Hot water rolled down her back and she closed her eyes. She ticked through three of the five exercises her therapist gave her while she kept adjusting the water temperature and JJ stomped away. It didn’t help. She could feel Rachel hovering in the corner by the sink.