It was going to be one of those magical spring days: nothing but blue skies and the promise of summer ahead. Casey pulled off Interstate Eighty and into the rest area. It was only another ten miles to get home, but she wasn’t going to make it. She left the budget motel in the suburbs of Chicago before sunrise and the miles were beginning to catch up to her. As she approached the ladies restroom, she heard the hand dryer through the door and was disappointed she’d have to share the public restroom. Not that she planned to dance around naked, but she had a very full and nervous bladder that preferred a solo urinating experience. Casey slammed open the swinging door and dashed for the middle stall.
Rather than unzipping her suit skirt, she hiked it up around her waist. She hooked her thumbs under the waistband of her Spanx and wrestled to pull them down in a dance. But with each sway of her hips, she thought she might wet herself. Her bladder was too full of used coffee and Diet Coke to be shy, even while emptying into a toilet bowl that needed bleach and a good scrub. As she relieved herself with an endless and steady stream of urine, she heard the woman triggering a squirt bottle over and over. Sounded like the same body spray Casey used either before a date with Wyatt or before ducking into the grocery store while dripping with sweat after a long run. Casey waited for the manufactured Bath & Body Works scent to tickle her nose.
With her bladder finally empty, she decided not to struggle with her pantyhose again. She pulled them off as well as the Spanx, rolled them up and tucked them under her arm before she exited the stall. Casey didn’t want to engage with the woman that just listened to her pee, but she had to wash her hands. She’d remembered to pack everything else for her interview at a marketing firm in Chicago, except clean clothes for the ride home.
Casey stared at her own eyes in the battered mirror while she scrubbed her hands. She couldn’t meet the woman’s eyes, instead her gaze was drawn to the woman’s enormous handbag, or rather toiletry bag: drugstore brands of shampoo, conditioner, body wash as well as makeup. The subtle scent of roses and peonies wafted in the small space, not what Casey expected from a woman who clearly made her living on her back with the soles of her bedazzled flip-flops pointed to the ceiling of a semi-truck. While Casey tried not to pass judgment on how this woman chose to make money, the contrast between the two women couldn’t have been greater. Casey in a Calvin Klein suit tailored to her shorter stature and athletic build while this woman wore a thin cotton dress from a discount bin.
Casey shook the excess water off her hands under the air drier and then hustled out to her Honda sedan. As she pulled back onto the Interstate heading further east she used a button on the steering wheel to activate the voice functions of her phone.
“Call Stella,” Casey said.
“Calling Stella Blue Murphy,” the disembodied voice of the phone’s virtual assistant said.
No ringtone played through her speakers. “You’ve reached the voicemail…”
“End call,” Casey demanded. Her sister’s phone was never off. Maybe it was dead. Stella was terribly forgetful especially when she got busy in the kitchen.
Throughout high school, the walls of Casey’s bedroom were covered with photos of far-flung destinations, magazine photos of high-power women, and the admissions requirements for Smith College, Amherst, and Wellesley. This was the life she wanted: a loft apartment in Chicago or New York, a killer wardrobe, and lavish vacations. But Casey had stayed in Mineral Springs and attended Bryson College after high school because it was a great school with a generous financial aid package. She also wasn’t ready to leave her sister in a bad marriage.
When Stella announced that they were taking this month off, Casey knew it was too good to be true. Her sister was a whirlwind of productivity, like if she slowed down long enough her world would collapse. One moment Stella was singing a Grateful Dead tune to her lasagna, the next she was writing a detailed outline for a cookbook of Italian classics.
The intersection of Main and old Highway Six divided the town into four quadrants: the northwest housed the workaday community in small starter homes, old apartment buildings, and trailer parks. The northeast was the historic downtown and civic buildings and business district. South of Highway Six hills rose up from the former flood plains. East of Main were the professors, college professionals from Bryson College as well as executives from Granum while their employers filled the Southwest side of town with modern office buildings and historic college facilities.
Instead of hanging a right toward campus, Casey turned left into Stella’s neighborhood. At the top of the hill was Stella’s bungalow on a corner lot dwarfed by enormous oaks and cottonwoods. Casey pulled into the driveway. Stella’s car was gone with the garage door left open.
She wouldn’t go so far as to say that her sister was a shut-in, but she didn’t leave the house much. Stella let that son of a bitch Kevin bully her into believing she deserved a small life. Stella spent most of their marriage working like a dog as a chef at various Des Moines restaurants while Kevin partied every night. Why Stella had ever tolerated that abuse was a mystery. She’d always looked up to her big sister, but now she wondered if Stella would ever recover from Kevin.
Casey reasoned that her sister had left home of her own accord. It wasn’t exactly a miracle, but a move in the divine direction. After months of worrying about leaving her sister and even postponing interviews for post-graduate employment, maybe Stella was going to be just fine after all.