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Authors: Colleen Masters

Damaged In-Law

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By Colleen Masters

Copyright © 2015 Hearts Collective

 

All rights reserved. This document may not be reproduced in
any way without the expressed written consent of the author. The ideas,
characters, and situations presented in this story are strictly fictional, and
any unintentional likeness to real people or real situations is completely
coincidental.

 

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DAMAGED IN-LAW

 

 

by Colleen Masters

 

 

Chapter One

Present Day

Hudson Valley, NY

 

“Sonofabitch,” I choke, as a coffee mug goes crashing to the
floor, splintering in the wake of my frantic flight. I’ve been racing around my
tiny apartment all morning, crashing into things left and right as baffled
tears blur my vision. With quaking hands, I pluck up the thick shards of glass
as gingerly as I can and dump them in the kitchen sink. The last thing I need
right now is to slice my finger open and bleed all over the heap of clothes I

m attempting to cram into my too-small backpack.


Well. It

s not
like the stain would show anyway,” I mutter to myself. All the garments I

m packing are a solid, funereal black. This swift, startling moment
of gallows humor snaps me out of my crazed frenzy. After hours of refusing to
think about what

s happening, of attempting to scare off
the situation at hand with frenetic activity, I

m too
exhausted to keep running away from reality any longer. Sinking down onto my
narrow, unmade bed, I let the truth settle on my shoulders like a suit of chain
mail.

“My sister is dead,” I whisper into the silence of my
apartment. The words taste strange on my tongue, I can

t
quite make the muscles of my mouth form the phrase. “My sister is dead,” I try
again, louder this time. That unfamiliar taste identifies itself, like a
mysterious spice in a dish you

re tasting for the first
time. It
’s
the lingering, bitter taste of words unspoken,
of conflicts unresolved. This must be what real regret tastes like.

The tears come hard and fast as powerful sobs wrack my
shoulders. I collapse in on myself as the events of this morning play on an
endless loop in my mind. It

s times like these when I most
wish I had someone by my side—someone to bring in a box of tissues, or brush
the tear-soaked hair off my forehead. Someone to hold me as I weep. But of
course, it

s just me here.  Alone in my eclectic
little apartment. I’ve cut everyone else away. That fact was driven home pretty
distinctly as I first got wind of the news a few hours ago.

 

I

d rolled out of bed just before eight
o

clock in the morning, padded across my chilly hardwood
floor, and made myself a cup of good, strong French Roast. With my long dirty
blonde hair tucked into a hasty braid and my gold-flecked brown eyes still
bleary with sleep, I settled down at my scuffed kitchen table in front of my
laptop, just like I do every morning.

Since wrapping up my master

s degree in
creative writing, I’ve been paying the bills for my tiny but beloved Hudson
Valley apartment by taking on a slew of freelance writing jobs. I’ve written
copy, technical manuals, SEO articles, and even the occasional one-handed read.
Every morning, it’s the same routine: wake up, make coffee, troll through all
the available writing gigs online, and pray that one comes through.

This morning, after I sent out about a dozen bids on various
freelance gigs, I settled down to while away the next hour scrolling through my
favorite blogs, catching up with the rest of the world outside my small, artsy
town. Nursing my rich cup of coffee, I pulled up my go-to news and
entertainment blog, expecting to come across some juicy speculation about
Beyoncé

s next album, or which Kardashian is now the
reigning Kardashian. But instead, I found myself staring at a very familiar
face on the blog
’s front page.

My
face.

Well, not my face exactly—the nose is a tiny bit narrower,
the eyes a millimeter further apart, the hair dyed platinum—but pretty damn
close. I was looking at the face of my identical twin sister, Avery. I’ve been
getting more and more accustomed to accidentally coming across Avery

s image these past few years. She

s been
living in LA, getting some commercial acting and print modeling work, a hosting
gig or two. But no matter how many times I’ve spotted that face, so like my
own, in magazines, on TV, or on TMZ for that matter, it

s
never failed to take me by surprise.

Only, this morning

s surprise was
anything but welcome.

“Soon-To-Be Starlet Avery Benson Dead at 25,” the blunt
headline over my sister

s photograph read.  

I stared at the words, uncomprehending, as my coffee grew
cold in its mug. Numbness crept into my fingers and toes as my heart all but
refused to budge and take in this information. Trembling, I pulled up website
after website, each one confirming the news that had already found its way to
my doorstep. Avery. My sister.
Gone
.

In a daze, I scrambled across the apartment for my cell
phone and punched in a number I hadn

t dialed in years:
that of my childhood home. My
parents

home.
The call picked up on the very first ring, and my mother

s
crisp voice was suddenly in my ear. She

d sounded older.
More tired. But just as polished as ever.

“Benson residence, this is Sylvia speaking,” she intoned
crisply.

“Mom?” I gasped, my voice ragged with barely contained
tears, “Mom, have you heard what

s happened—?”

“Of course I

ve heard,” she cut me off
coldly, “I

m much more surprised to hear that
you
have, Calista.

Even hearing that name, “Calista” was a surreal shock.
Nobody has called me that since I was eighteen years old, since I ran away from
my parents

home—my parents

world
—and
never looked back. I

m Callie, these days. Callie Benson,
freelance writer, sometimes teacher, and DIY junkie. This “Calista” person is a
total stranger to me. But then, that makes sense. After all, Callie is a total
stranger to my parents, and my sister, and everyone I

d
known as a child. And make no mistake, I want it that way.


So it

s true,” I
breathed. Part of me had been hoping that the news had it wrong. Maybe it was
just some sort of horrible hoax. But that last, dim hope was fading with my
mother

s every passing word.

“It

s true,” she informed me, “They

re telling us it was an overdose. Though I

d
appreciate it if you didn’t spread that around. We

d
prefer people to think she passed away from natural causes.”

“Nothing natural could have caused a perfectly healthy
twenty-five-year-old woman to...to...” I stammered, unable to finish my own
sentence.

“Your sister was anything but healthy,” my mother replied.
“You

d know that if you ever spoke to any of us—”


Mom, don’
t,” I interrupt her, shoving
a hand through my dark blonde hair. I don

t want to hear
about what a disappointment I

ve been right now. I don

t want to think about the long, tortured saga that is my
relationship with my family. I just want to know what

s
going on.

“We’ll be having the service at St. Gregory

s,
two days from now,” my mother droned on, “Reception to follow at the house. I
assume you won

t be joining us, so feel free to send your
flowers right to the funeral home. You know the one.”

“Mom. Of course I

m coming to
the...service,” I replied, hurt but not surprised by her callous words, “Avery
is my sister...
Was
. My sister.”

“How interesting,” my mom shot back, “That family suddenly
means
something to you, now that she

s gone.

After a few more perfunctory exchanges, our call ended, and
I set to packing. I gathered up the only article of black clothing in my possession,
shattered the mug that had held my perfectly routine cup of morning coffee, and
finally folded under the unbearable weight of Avery

s
death. The shock of it. For years, I

d been promising
myself that I

d never go back home again. But then, I
never could have anticipated the reason I

d finally have
to.

 

It

s afternoon by the time dull
melancholy replaces sharp shock, enabling me to get a move on. I shower and
dress as quickly as I can, sling on my backpack, and go to close my laptop. The
internet browser is still open on an article about Avery. Some diligent
entertainment blogger has put together a slideshow of pictures featuring my
sister. I can

t help but click wistfully through the
collection. It

s not a very long slideshow—after all, she

d only been working in LA for a few years, only just begun to
be recognizable. A few months back, she actually secured her first movie role—a
small supporting part, but still. And it

s no secret why
her star had finally started to rise, either.

A small gasp escapes my lips as I click through to the next
picture. It’s a red carpet shot from some swanky LA party. Avery

s
svelte form, like my own but far more strenuously toned, is wrapped in a
shimmering bodycon dress. Her California-tanned arm is wrapped snuggly around
the tapered, cut torso of her date for the evening, the up-and-coming film
actor who

d been cast as the star of her first film, and
more recently become her fiancé. He

s tall, built, and
utterly gorgeous. Sort of in a Chris Pratt meets Charlie James Dean kind of
way. I

d recognize him anywhere, and not just because he
too has spent the last few years rising to stardom.

At six foot four, he towers over my twin sister, even in her
three inch heels. His body is strong and broad, boasting the sort of build you

d imagine a rugged cowboy possesses, despite the fact that he
grew up down the street from us in Westchester County, New York—a far cry from
cowboy country. His muscles are built but not manicured, earned from an
athletic lifestyle, rather than hours spent slaving away at the gym. His hair
is a rich brown, and cut short—offset by a dash of scruffy stubble on his jaw.
The lopsided grin he wears is knowingly rakish, and his dark blue eyes glint as
if he

s always just discovered your sexiest secret. His face
is full but sculpted—a square, defined jaw, broad cheekbones, and gleaming
eyes. He looks like the all-American boy turned movie star...because that

s exactly what he is.

His name is Jackson Cole. Jack, for short. I

ve
known him my entire life, though I haven

t seen him in
years. Not since I bailed on the stuffy, conservative life my parents tried to
corral me into as a kid. His Dad was a business associate of mine and Avery

s. Jack and I were pals all through childhood. To be honest, he
was more than a pal to me—I was madly in love with him from kindergarten
onward. But as we got older, things became a bit more complicated. Well. A
lot
more complicated.

Avery ended up being the Benson twin Jack was more drawn to,
in the end, and the two of them stayed close all through high school and
college. Avery even joined Jack out in LA a few years back, just as his career
as an actor was really starting to take off. He fared much better than she did,
and it wasn’t much of a surprise. Jack had been the charismatic star of all our
school plays in high school. And you know something? He was damned good, too.
And not just for a high schooler. For anyone. As someone who was nursing her
own dreams of being an actress as a brooding, artsy teenager, he

d
been an inspiration to me.

But, hey, I guess you can never tell how things are going to
play out. Now, Jack is out in California, living his dream. I

m
holed up in a tiny town on the Hudson River, working up to a case of
SEO-induced carpal tunnel. And Avery...

I snap the computer closed before a fresh wave of tears can
blind me, forcing all thoughts of my sister and Jackson Cole out of my mind. At
least for now. I stagger out into the biting cold February morning, shivering
on the second story landing that leads down from the private entrance of my
apartment. My home is on the top floor of a hundred-year-old building owned by
a sweet, batty broad named Bernadette. She has a thing for tiny dogs, Janis
Joplin, and juicy neighborhood gossip.

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