My Sister’s Keeper
By Dr. Mercurious
Part One: Revelations
James Earl Jones – no relation, and please no jokes – considered himself a man who paid attention to important details. Such a trait served him well in the shrinking American profession of the freelance computer programmer. The brown-haired, green-eyed programmer had bowed to reality long before his fellows and cut his prices. He’d made sure to dress in accordance with the desires of his temporary bosses, and if that meant a suit and tie then so be it. He watched how potential employers acted and crafted a corporate mask to match. The only place he drew the line was in maintaining his competency; if someone wanted a project done that was badly conceived from the get-go he had no qualms bringing it up.
No, it wasn’t easy being an independent, but as far as James was concerned the advantages were worth it.
Today, his first day on his contract at Salavone & Salavone Investors Ltd., he was reminded of one particular advantage – dating within the company pool – as a pretty young blonde entered at the opposite end of the employee cafeteria. She was dressed in a green turtleneck, knee-length skirt and low-heeled shoes. Her blonde hair was parted on the left, and her makeup was tastefully understated. She’s got class, he marveled. And here he thought classy women had gone the way of the dodo.
James waited until she sat down at a table – with a female co-worker, a fiery-looking redhead – and sauntered on over as they were deep in conversation. “Hi there,” he said to the blond directly. “Mind if I join you?”
She pinked adorably. “Um, no, not at all.”
The redhead glanced at her then at him and quickly hid a grin; something told him he had an ally in her. “I’m James,” he said. “This is my first day on contract.”
“Phoebe,” she managed, still pink. “This is my friend Violet.”
The redhead extended hand. “Hi Jim, nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” James replied, taking the hand. He hated being called ‘Jim’.
“Phoebe’s been here for three years,” Violet continued, looking at her friend. “Isn’t that right?”
“Um, yes, yes it is.” the blonde agreed in a murmur. “I work in accounting.”
She’s a shy one, James thought to himself. He didn’t mind shy girls, Besides, there was just something about her that pulled at him. She didn’t dress like a shy girl, for one. “Are you certified?”
Phoebe nodded. “Yes. Are you?” She blushed. “Sorry, I mean Microsoft certification.”
“That’s okay,” he told her. “And yes, I have been assimilated.”
She grinned “We are Gates of Borg, upgrade patches are futile.”
This time is was James to laugh. “I actually haven’t heard that before.” Involuntarily, he leaned forward. “You must no people into programming.”
As he drew closer, Phoebe flinched. “Um, a few of my f-friends are into it.” She flushed. “I...I have to go to the ladies room.” She flushed more as she stood up.
“I think he’ll still be here when you come back,” Violet assured her.
James watched Phoebe scurry out, and refrained from further commentary; that flinch told him everything he needed to know. Probably abused as a kid, he mused, or worse as an adult. He could practically hear the clamor of warnings in his head, but he’d never been a quitter. “So how long have you two known each other?”
“Met the first year she worked here,” Violet murmured absently, staring in the direction Phoebe left. “Would you excuse me for a bit? I have to go to the ladies’ room too.”
Women, he thought with amusement. Get two or more of them together and they always went to the restroom in packs. “I’ll be here,” James smiled
“Good,” she smiled at him. “Don’t worry, I won’t be long.”
James couldn’t resist checking her ass as she left, and although it was rounder and more firm than Phoebe’s, somehow it didn’t seem as adorable.
What do you do with a good friend who’s very shy? Violet asked herself that question for the hundredth time as she hurried to the ladies’ bathroom, located just down the hall of the cafeteria. She’d tried a number of things to get Phoebe to open up over the three years they’d been friends and very slowly the blonde’s shell had cracked -- except, of course, when it came to guys. This time, Violet wasn’t going to let her friend hide out in the ladies’ room. For one thing, this one was still hanging around despite everything. For the other…whenever their eyes met, she could almost see a spark arc between them. Violet didn’t know if she believed in love at first sight, but there was at least some major attraction going on and she was going to be damned if she let Phoebe blow this chance.
With that thought in mind, Violet quietly opened the door to the ladies’ room and snuck inside. Her thought was to surprise Phoebe when the blonde came out of her stall but it was her who came up short as she heard an argument. “But I don’t feel like it,” she heard Phoebe’s voice say.
“Bullshit,” a second voice -- female with a deeper pitch -- snorted. “You do feel like it. Can’t hide these things from me, sis.”
Sis? Phoebe doesn’t have any sisters. Violet quickly squatted down and checked. Sure enough, she saw only one pair of feet.
“Okay, Debbie, I’ll admit he’s cute,” Phoebe admitted.
“Damn straight,” came the reply.
Violet crept closer to the stall. Debbie…Debbie…where had she heard that name before? Then it hit her; Phoebe had mentioned having a sister by that name but been very close-mouthed about the details. She crept up to in front of Phoebe’s stall, waiting.
“I don’t know…” Phoebe hemmed.
“Come on sis,” the other voice chided. “It’s been ages since your last date.”
Violet was getting really worried. Her dad was a psychologist, and occasionally brought work home. It was starting to look like Phoebe was a classic MPD. Even the voice she used when ‘Debbie’ sounded different.
“I’ll think about it,” Phoebe mumbled.
“Well think quickly,” ‘Debbie’ insisted.
The toilet flushed. Violet braced herself; as soon as the door open and Phoebe stepped out, she struck. “I heard you in there.”
Phoebe shrieked and danced away. “Violet, you almost gave me a heart attack!”
“Me? I heard you talking to yourself!”
The blonde squirmed. “Everyone talks to themselves.”
“Not like that!” Violet knew she was pushing too hard but couldn’t stop. “Phoebe, listen to me; you need help. I know a couple of good psychologists –“
“No!” Phoebe shook, a mask of terror on her face. “They’ll lock me away!”
Violet extended her hands in a soothing gesture. “I don’t think so. I mean, you can function in society, and you don’t seem to be a danger to anyone…”
Phoebe suddenly jumped as if someone shocked her with a cattle prod. She gave Violet an intense look. “What if I prove I’m not crazy?”
Violet sighed. “Fine, fine.” She folded her arms. “Ready when you are.”
Her eyes darted around like frightened animals. “Not here! I don’t want someone to see…um, stop by my place after work, I’ll show you there.”
Now I got you! “On the condition that you go out with Jim tomorrow night.”
Phoebe pinked. “His name’s James.”
“Whatever. Do we have a deal?”
Her shoulders scrunched. “Deal. Come by at about six o’clock, okay?”
Violet paused at the foot of the stone walkway. Not for the first time, she envied Phoebe. Her grandmother had passed away and left Phoebe with a fully paid, one-floor house in the suburbs complete with actual lawn and trees. She probably got whomped in taxes, but nowhere near the knife-in-the-ribs that rents around these parts were going for.
Violet took a deep breath, strode up the walkway and rang the buzzer.
“Be right there!” The voice was Phoebe’s ‘Debbie’ voice. Violet once again had to marvel how different it sounded from the blonde’s own.
The door opened to reveal Phoebe. “Hi,” she said nervously.
Violet spread her hands. “Well?”
Phoebe backed up. “Come inside and I’ll show you.”
She sighed. “Okay.” Violet stepped over the threshold and closed the door, keeping Phoebe in her peripheral vision. The blonde nodded carefully and turned around in one quick motion so her back was facing Violet. The redhead opened her mouth to say something, and froze.
Phoebe had another face on the back of her head.
Violet’s first thought was it’s a mask. It has to be. The problem lay in the fact that it was way too real; the ‘paint’ looked like skin, the mouth expressive, the blue eyes twinkled, and the short black hair did not look like a wig.
Then, before she could force her mouth to work, it winked at her. “Hiya Violet.” Debbie’s voice said. “I’m Deborah – Phoebe’s sister. Bet you wish she was crazy, huh?”
“Do you believe me now?” There was a slight edge to Phoebe’s tone.
All Violet could manage was a feeble nod while a small piece of her mind that never lost its train of thought murmured, I can’t wait to hear the story behind this one.
TO BE CONTINUED