“Soft boiled eggs. Can you handle that?” I’m sure Mary’s laugh sounded cheery to everyone else.
“Your home is beautiful,” gushed an elder’s wife.
“Mary’s always decorating it so ingeniously,” remarked the head deaconess.
Mrs. Mitchell nudged my arm. “Your sister has as much artistic talent as you’ve got brains.”
I think she meant that as a compliment. I pretended to check my pager.
“You’re busier now you’re in the NICU,” remarked the pastor’s wife. “How is looking after those babies?”
I shrugged. “All right.”
“Martha graduated nursing school just to change diapers.” Mary’s laugh echoed against the elevated rafters of her Victorian mansion.
“I suppose if I had married a plastic surgeon, I could have dropped out of college too.”
Nobody laughs at my remarks.
“Can you just cook the eggs?” Mary’s smile was so sweet it would have given my dental hygienist a cavity.
“I’m used to incubating little babies,” I replied. Why am I the only one who finds my jokes witty?
“Soft boiled,” Mary reminded me, then turned to her guests. “When Martha was a little girl, she could ruin brownies from a brownie mix.”
I found a pan in the cupboard, wondering if I should mention the cases of martini mix behind the colander.
“This brunch is such a great idea,” Mrs. Mitchell sighed.
“You’re always inventing such creative ways to bless people.”
I placed the pan on the burner, wondering if I should put the eggs in before or after the water boiled.
“Your mom was always doing brunches like this too.”
“That’s right!” Mrs. Mitchell reminisced. With Mrs. Mitchell in the room, I didn’t feel quite so conscious about my rolls and extra chins. Standing next to all 124 pounds of Mary, I might have been mistaken for a spinster aunt instead of the little sister. Mary was only thirteen minutes older than I, but those thirteen minutes proved to be the most defining of my life.
You can’t be the princess. I want to be the princess. Remember, I’m older.
That was when we were children. By high school, it was: You shouldn’t get the car for a stupid debate match. I’ve got tennis practice, and I need to meet Stan at the gym by five. You can walk. Heaven knows you need the exercise.
I eyed the cupboard above the sink, where I knew I would find an entire case of vodka. “Martin enjoys a good drink,” Mary explained last summer when I accidentally found her stash while looking for some light bulbs. Seeing as how Mary’s Harvard-educated husband never seemed to be at home, even on his days (or nights) off work, I almost said something caustic like, I thought Martin got all of his hard liquor at that certain establishment on Fifth and Diamond. But I was too tired from babysitting my bed-wetting, Polo-shirt wearing nephew all day.
“I remember when Mom forbade Martha from coming downstairs while she was entertaining guests,” Mary was rambling, captivating her audience while she talked with her perfect jaw line and sparkling eyes. “Martha was going through this drama geek phase and insisted on speaking in Shakespearian English!” The other women laughed while the pastor’s wife glanced sympathetically my way.
“Well, Martha,” Mary beamed, “we need to get the table ready. You do know how to tell if an egg is soft-boiled, don’t you?”
With that, my sister flipped her perfectly highlighted hair and exclaimed, “Why don’t the rest of you help me with the centerpiece. I’m sure we don’t all need to watch Martha boiling water!” Amused by her own charm, Mary led her guests to the second formal dining room.
I stared at the dozen eggs bouncing around in their pan like overgrown jumping beans. I had no idea when I should turn the stove off. I didn’t even remember what time I put the eggs in. Surreptitiously, I glanced around to see if I could find any cookbooks. I opened a drawer and saw a stack of papers.
Petition for Marriage Absolution. Written in hasty scrawl was my sister’s name, right next to her two-million-dollars-a-year husband. I heard laugher coming from the other room.
“Martha!” my sister exclaimed a few minutes later. “You overcooked the eggs.” She leaned closer to me and hissed in my ear.
“You can’t do anything right.”
My doctor says I should only eat no-cholesterol egg substitutes. Shrugging, I peeled a hard boiled egg over Mary’s sparkling sink and ate it all in one bite.
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