Surfacing by Nora Raleigh Baskin Page B

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Authors: Nora Raleigh Baskin
you’re not, because Mommy won’t let you.”
    Leah’s head abruptly turned toward the lawns of the pool-facing condos. At exactly that moment, Meghan stood up and pretended to notice, for the first time, who had suddenly dived into the pool on this hot Saturday morning. Meghan’s mouth formed a tiny
shape, and then, just as quickly, she appeared as indifferent as she could manage.
    “Well, Mommy’s not here. Is she?” Leah answered, nearly shouting at this point.
    Maggie will remember the sun, which had been beating down on the identical red condo roofs, reflecting off the surface of the clean, aqua-blue pool water all morning, suddenly tuck itself behind a large cloud and stay there for what seemed like forever.

    Five kids — two older brothers and two younger sisters, with Nathan smack in the middle — and for the most part, they all had similar personalities. Even with eight people at the table, it was quiet. No one seemed to feel they needed to be the center of attention. The older boys, Jeffrey (the one with the darker hair) and Thomas (the one with the tattoo on his wrist) — or maybe was it Jeffrey with the tattoo and Thomas with dark hair, as Maggie was having a hard time remembering which was which — hadn’t said a word since they sat at the table.
    “So, Maggie, you’re on the swim team?” Nathan’s mother asked.
    “Yeah. We actually made it to the semifinals this year. They’re in a couple of days.”
    “That’s nice.”
    There was always something uncomfortable about eating at someone else’s house. The food was a little unfamiliar and the way they set the table. Like how Julie’s mother put out a wooden basket that held all the silverware and everyone reached over and grabbed what they needed. At her own house, her mother put out a folded paper napkin — always in a triangle — and nothing but a fork. If the meal required anything else, she would have to jump up and get one for everyone. Here, Nathan’s mother used cloth napkins and every place had a fork, knife, and spoon, though Maggie couldn’t figure out what she might need the spoon for. His mother had made baked ham, a string-bean casserole topped with dried onions, salad, and Pillsbury Crescent Rolls. And maybe there was going to be a dessert.
    Maggie’s family never served dessert. That was more of a fend-for-yourself, in-front-of-the-TV kind of thing: Oreos or Fig Newtons, if you could find them in the pantry.
    But, despite what was different, it felt right sitting at this table. There was not only a sameness in disposition — gentle, if Maggie had to put a word to it — but in appearance. There was no denying that this was a family. The two younger sisters, Emily and Anne, were only eleven months apart. “Irish twins,” Nathan’s mother said when she introduced them, “but we’re not Irish. It’s just a saying.
    “But I hear
have real twins in your family,” she said to Maggie.
    “Yeah, I have twin brothers. They’re six.”
    Maggie tried to notice Nathan’s face — he was sitting next to her — without being too obvious. She knew Nathan wouldn’t like his mother cross-examining her, but she wondered if he had told her anything about Leah. Of course, what could he have said? Only what Maggie had told him.
    “Do you have any sisters?” Anne (or possibly Emily) asked.
    She was used to that question. If she answered, “I used to,” it sounded provocative, like an invitation to more questions, or even glib, like a joke. The other person would be forced to ask what happened, as if maybe there were another explanation for “once” having a sister.
    If she said, “I
, but my sister died,” it was usually a big downer, as if she were trying to gain sympathy or, worse, garner unearned attention. But, somehow, to deny Leah’s existence altogether felt wrong.
    “Not anyone as annoying as you two,” Nathan answered. His tone was out of character enough to redirect Emily (or Anne) completely. For the

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