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Follow the Music
Where can they be? Carrie strained to see the clock on the wall over the towering boxes strewn around her on the floor. Heaving herself out of the rubble, she slid on a stack of old LP’s. She glanced down. Eric Clapton. Led Zeppelin. Al Green. The Who. James Brown. All the sounds of her childhood. She could just see her father standing at the kitchen counter, a towel slung over his shoulder, his knife chopping onions in time to the music. It was now 4:30. The sun was already sinking beneath the horizon, turning the thick sheets of ice on the bay to glitter. Wondering if the train might be late, Carrie grabbed her puffy coat off the rickety banister, and braced herself for the chill as she headed outside. The neighborhood looked lonely at this time of yearâ€”asleep, just waiting for summer to arrive, when all the vacationers would return to wake it up. If it weren’t for the occasional lifeguard chair peaking up out of the snow, you would never know this was a beach. Never had she herself sat in one of those chairs, but they were a second home to her sister. So many summers Bridget had spent up there, gazing out over her domain. Always staring at something Carrie could not see. She often wondered what it was.
She trudged along down the icy road. All week she had been remembering things like this. The summers spent on Bailey Island were timeless, their edges blurred. Days they spent with their heads in wading pools out on the cove. Or biking the two miles to the bait and tackle shop. The rainy days holed up in the little cedar room with those squeaky bunk beds, reading Goosebumps, and spying through the porthole window at the neighbors. When she and her sisters were older, their week nights were passed waiting tables at the Dolphin, serving trays and trays of liguini with clams to their mother’s friends, as they gave furtive glances to the clock, and longing looks to one another.
Summers of bonfires, and cherry popsicles, and sand between your toes.
Carrie was nearing the station now. She was here exactly twice a year: one time arriving in Bailey, and the other departing. Never before had she waited here. She had felt both excitement and sadness at this station, but now she didn’t know what to feel. She looked around, rubbing her hands together in the bitter cold. There was one other personâ€”a man, lounging precariously on a stool, a newspaper section in one hand, a mug in the other. He looked oddly familiar. It was a ramshackle building, with benches smooth and worn from many a person waiting just like her. Something on one of the benches suddenly caught her eye. She ran her finger over the carved initials.
CD RB SF.
Carrie was yanked from her reverie by the clear whistle of the train as it lurched to a stop. “Carrie, Carrie!” Her eldest sister, Claudia, arrived in her normal bustle, dropping her bags, and enveloping Carrie in her arms.
“Oh, god, Carrie. It’s absolutely freezing out. Please at least zip up this coat.” Despite them both being over 20 now, Claudia still possessed some eldest sibling power over Carrie, and she automatically obliged. Michael, Claudia’s fiance, was now struggling out of the train with the suitcases.
“Hey, Carrie.” Michael gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Brr. It sure gets chilly up here, what do you say I fix us something hot for dinner?” Michael, a cook, was always expected to initiate meals.
“Sounds great, but we’ll have to get some food.”
“I’ll come with!” Claudia added at her side.
“Then I’ll just head back to the house with these bags. I’ll let myself in.”
As Claudia handed her fiance her luggage, Carrie turned again to those initials. “What are you looking at?” Claudia was beside her now, Michael traipsing down the road, bags slung over his shoulder. Carrie pointed.
“Oh wow. Carrie Davis, Riley Bennett, Sarah Forley. You guys were inseparable. What are they up to now?”
“Oh, you know.” She shrugged. The truth was, after college Carrie had simply lost touch with many of her old friends. As they were silent for a minute, Carrie wondered whether her sister was thinking what she was. That it should have been them with their initials carved into the bench. The three of them. But it was too late for thoughts like that, so she shrugged it off.
As they were turning away, the man from the station came out.
“Sure looks like it’s gonna snow tonight. You ladies better head back home. By the way, you probably don’t remember me, but I’m Chris Jenkinsâ€”Jason’s brother.”
“Oh yes, of course!” Claudia eagerly shook his hand.
“Just wanted to let you know we all send our condolences. Jason gave us the news.”
“Thank you very much.” Claudia smiled, and Carrie tried to follow suit.
“No problem. Your sister was a very special girl.” We nodded in agreement. “Are you folks really closing up that house?”
“We are. Carrie’s been up here a week getting started.”
“Well, I wish you the best of luck. That’s a tough job.”
If only he knew, Carrie mused.
As they headed in the direction of the grocery shop down the street, the only other people were in the form of trucks, barrelling down the road every few minutes, many transporting wood, likely for heating houses in this frozen January. The two walked silently for a time, and then as they reached the pier, Claudia pulled Carrie aside. Fat snowflakes were beginning to drift lazily down. Claudia turned, her face suddenly very calm, lips pursed. Her striking dark eyes were illuminated by the moon. Carrie felt her searching her face.
“I know we don’t know each other much any more,” Claudia began, surprising Carrie with her frankness. “And I also know that Jason Jenkins probably got to know Bridget better the one summer they were together, then we ever did.” Carrie tried then to spin away, but Claudia held her tight. “But listen, it’s not like it’s too late.” She sighed, and continued, her eyes unwavering. “The closest thing we have to Bridget is each other, so at least for her sake, let’s try and appreciate that fact.” She shook Carrie a little, her eyes widening. “Please.” She spit out that last word.
All Carrie could do was lean against the railing of the dock, and look out across the vast expanse of ocean. A sea that, for now, they could only see in its ice form: cold, and hard, and still. But with time, it would melt into water, returning to its rightful state as the seaâ€”giving and taking a little with every lap at the shore. And with a little reassurance, Carrie was able to turn to her sister, and speak. “Yes.”
The following morning, while Claudia and Michael were still asleep, Carrie crept outside, because something had been nagging at her all night. Bundled up in blankets, she trekked across the snowy beach towards a lifeguard chair. Carefully, she climbed up to the seat. For a while she just looked. And looked. The beach is an odd place in the winter. No crashing blue waves, no warm sand, no smoldering sun. Stripped of its allure, it appeared naked and exposed. Lost. She looked, and thought about the future. She would return to her publishing job in New York, to her friendsâ€”old and newâ€”to her parents. Claudia and Michael would go back to their new home in Pittsburgh, the paint still fresh on the walls. But all would not be the same. The loss of a sister left a hole, and now Claudia and Carrie had no choice but to fill it. It would be their final and greatest pursuit as three sisters. In fact, Bridget had already done her part, simply by awakening something in Claudia and Carrie.
Suddenly, Carrie realized something. At this height, her perception had shifted. And as she gazed across the horizon, where she had before seen only fog, she could now see a slight golden sliver of sun. And with that realization, Carrie felt a little bit of her sister.
As she walked home and opened the door, she recognized an old Al Green tune filling the house. “Let’s stay together/loving you whether, whether/Times are good or bad, happy or sad….”
“Carrie! Is that you? We’re up hereâ€”just follow the music!”