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   Chapter 10 No.10

My Sister's Keeper By Bill Benners Characters: 11457

Updated: 2018-05-28 11:01

ALL I COULD THINK ABOUT for the rest of the morning was Joe's admonitions and how he'd acted. My creativity was gone and I couldn't concentrate. I made it through my first appointment on pure instinct. My eleven o'clock was an on-site conference with the younger sister of a girl I dated back in high school. Pulling into the parking lot of the Deagan Dance Center a few minutes early, I parked next to a black Mazda van lettered with the school's logo. I'd driven by this place thousands of times, but had never paid much attention to it. The grounds were well-kept and framed with gigantic oak trees budding with new life and dripping with long strands of Spanish moss.

I entered a spacious lobby plastered with dance-related posters, informational signs, photographs, and three large TV monitors high on one wall each showing a different empty classroom. Long wooden benches lined three sides of the lobby, and there was a receptionist center on the fourth with shelves of trophies behind it that covered the walls all the way to the ceiling. There was no one around. Just the steady rhythmic beat of music deep within the building, the melody constricted by the walls.

"Sydney?" I called.

"Just a minute. Be right there, " a voice replied. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a figure cross one of the monitors and disappear from view before I had the chance to get a good look. An instant later she entered the adjoining room and for a second I would have sworn I was looking at her older sister Jewell. Though a few years younger, Sydney had always flirted with me whenever I'd showed up at their house. There was a definite resemblance, but as she drew near I could see that Sydney had grown into a far more beautiful woman. She had the same auburn hair and large blue eyes as Jewell, but somehow it had all come together better. It could have been the sparkle in her eyes, the way her personality livened her face, or just the fact that I was seeing a familiar face I hadn't seen in a long time, but the sight of her set my heart to dancing. She was taller than Jewell and seemed to float across the floor as she moved toward me with that fluid motion that only dancers have. Her hair was back in a ponytail and hung down the back of a dark green dress that laid softly over her slender figure.

"Sorry, I didn't hear you come in, " she said coming toward me. "I was taping a floor." Her voice was rich and deep, like a tenor sax crooning the blues; luscious and unique. A spark flashed across her eyes as she extended her right hand. "Richard Baimbridge, it's so good to see you again. Thanks for coming."

She'd called and asked if I'd photograph her students. It wasn't the kind of photography I normally do, but I agreed to come and take a look. Seeing her now brought back memories I hadn't thought of in years. "Wow! Look at you." I held her at arm's length. "Sydney Deagan all grown up."

Her face was soft and warm. Her smile genuine. And there was a hint of pride in her voice. "On my own with responsibilities and everything—just like a real adult." Her laugh was the same squeaky laugh she'd had as a little girl. It gave me chills back then and it gave me chills that day. My thoughts were momentarily disoriented as I relived a few laughs from the old days. Finally, I spoke.

"You really look great, Sydney."

"So do you, Richard. I see you every once in a while around town. You haven't chan

ne Corporation's catalogue and web site. As I worked, my mind retrieved many lost memories of Sydney that made me smile. Although I'd paid no attention to it at the time, I now realized just how much of a crush she'd had on me back then and wondered how she'd taken it when Jewell and I stopped dating.

I had one more session scheduled that afternoon—a portrait of an older couple—and the moment they stepped into the camera room, I realized there was something very different about these two.

Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Ballance appeared to be in their eighties. They were frail and weathered. Yet, there was something fresh and alive within them. They touched each other as if they were pieces of heirloom crystal and their voices were soft and sympathetic. Their eyes caressed one another with the tenderness of a first-time mother with her newborn child. It was dazzling.

During the session I asked Mrs. Ballance if she remembered the first time she'd laid eyes on her husband and as she spoke about it, her cheeks flushed and her eyes twinkled. It was mesmerizing. I took a picture and the flash froze their images for a brief instant. The joy in her eyes and the love in his hung suspended for a second and I knew the photographs would be remarkable.

I burned a lot of film on Mr. and Mrs. Ballance during that session. They were delightful, fun, and uncommon. I felt I was in the presence of something extraordinary. Something sacred. Whatever was in their hearts that day touched mine. I wanted what they had. It was going to require some changes in me, but I was determined to find it.

At home that evening, I sat on the deck watching the police activity next door and thought of Sydney, how different she was from Jewell, and the way I felt when she'd looked at me.

I fixed a scotch and headed to the den to watch the news when I noticed something white beneath a cushion on the couch. Lifting the cushion, I discovered a pair of women's panties. They were ripped down the side with a spot of blood on the waistband.

As I held them up to examine them, the doorbell sounded. Turning my head, I saw several men peering through the etched glass of the front door. Stashing the panties in my back pocket, I crossed to the door.

It was Detective Jones and his posse.

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