I never thought a thing like this could happen between me and my sister. If you had told me I would end up slapping her face--when we rarely had a fight in all the years we were growing up--I'd have sworn it was a lie. And to end up fighting over a man. No. No way! But maybe I'd better start at the beginning.
Junie and I were close, and not just in age, we loved each other dearly. There was never any jealousy between us. That's why I can't understand what happened.
And all because of Bartley Richardson, a man she wouldn't have looked at twice a few years ago. How could she deliberately go after the one man who meant so much to me?
We grew up together in a rambling old house on Elm Street, with horse chestnut trees flanking the front steps. I never will forget those steps. Junie used to sit on them, surrounded by boys, bicycles piled all over the sidewalk, while I sat on the side porch, unnoticed and alone, watching her flirt. I never thought I
resented her, but maybe I was just a little bit envious. After all, Junie was a rea knockout.
For sisters, you couldn't get much different in looks. Junie is tall, blonde, and drop dead gorgeous, with one of those lean athletic bodies that nevertheless has curves in all the right places. Mom always said she took after Dad's family, and I
guess she's right. Until I came along, there wasn't a Johansen on earth who wasn't as tall, blue-eyed, and blonde as when they left Norway two or three generations ago. Junie was pure Johansen, all right. I took after the Callahan side. Even our baby pictures show it. Junie is this pretty, smiling baby with golden curls, while I'
m a round little lump with red fuzz on top. Looking at those pictures I was never surprised that, although Mom had me baptized Mary Elizabeth, they never called me anything but Apple Dumpling. By the time I started school, it got shortened to
Apple and nobody has ever called me anything else.
I'm still round--not fat exactly, but at any given moment in my life, I've weighed about ten pounds more than I wanted to. When Junie's figure filled out she looked classy--tall and slender--a real California beach-bunny type. When
I hit puberty, my figure produced curves of almost embarrassing proportions, far too lush to be stylish. Add to that frizzy red hair and freckles, and you'll see that I
definitely wasn't in Junie's league. But I did all right.
Because of the way our birthdays fell--there's less than a year between us--Junie and I started school at the same time. I remember how we used to lie awake sharing our thoughts and dreams. Sometimes, we'd giggle, then whisper, talking quietly about all the important things that had happened that day. The only thing I didn't share with her were my fantasies about falling in love.
I guess every girl has romantic dreams. Like most, I was curious, often wondering what it would be like to lie in a lover's arms. My fantasies were quite elaborate. In my favorite, I was shipwrecked on a desert island along with my own true love and we spent happy golden days swimming and lying together on the sand, then making love in a bower hidden away beneath the trees.
In every fantasy, my own true love was Bartley Richardson. A tall boy whose bony hands and feet seemed too big for his body, but whose brown eyes looked deep within my soul. In spite of the fact that he lived in the poorer section of town, didn't own a car, and worked every day after school, I loved Bartley Richardson with all my heart. But Junie wouldn't have looked at him twice. Not then ... even though he had limpid dark eyes, and a mouth that looked about to smile even when he was serious. How I wanted to kiss that mouth, to be enfolded in his arms, to have him carry me off to some flower-drenched nest and make passionate love to
At night, I'd hug my pillow and pretend it was Bart. Maybe that was silly, but fantasies were all I had. In person, Bart was kind, gentle, and polite. He liked me, but he didn't exactly try to overpower me with passion.
We dated all our senior year and I was in heaven. That year was one of the happiest of my life. I loved every minute of it. I won an essay contest, got straight
A's and Bart asked me to the prom. So I wasn't feeling left out, no matter how popular Junie was. The yearbook committee voted me the "smartest girl." too. I
don't know about that. If I really was smart, I wouldn't have gotten myself into the mess I did later and maybe I'd have missed some of the worst times I ever lived through. But then again, I don't know if I'd really want to change anything.