ACTS – Excerpt

Thanksgiving knocks on our door like a lost child looking for shelter. Is it safe to come in? it seems to ask. Are the Morrisseys celebrating Thanksgiving this year? My sisters come, Mom and Dad, and we go through the motions: I brine the bird, roll out dough for the pies, roast red peppers for the soup. Sally and Emily set the table, pull out the craft projects from school years past, and attempt to make origami cranes out of the stiff fabric napkins. The smells of rosemary and garlic infuse the house, logs kindle in the fireplace, the Macy’s parade marches across our television screen.

Normal. Finally, it all feels normal.

I sit with my sisters. I’m feeling relaxed, for the first time in so long. We’re laughing and reminiscing about old times, telling stories, calling up memories. Angie is sitting next to me with her arm slung around my shoulder. A warmth runs through my heart and I have to swallow back the pride. I’m glad to know that my heart still works, that heat can still radiate from it when it’s happy. There were months when I figured it had retired, had switched onto autopilot. I’ll pump your blood but nothing else.

Just at the peak of my happiness, Teresa pushes a wrong button in me when she leans over and places a condescending hand on my lap and announces in her cloying voice that she’s “praying for me.” Like I’m a reprobate who needs extra prayers. Like I’m the bad kid who has gone astray. Like God forbid, if Teresa weren’t praying for me, I’d be sure to land in hell the first chance I got.

At first I don’t say anything, tell myself to let it go, that it’s just Teresa and her too-pious attitude. But then I start to boil and I have to fight to keep from spewing fire.

“You don’t have to pray for me,” I tell her. My voice is terse, razor sharp. “I’m good.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asks. “Are you asking me not to pray for you?”

“You’re free to pray for whomever you want,” I say.

Angie weasels her way out of this tiff, slipping out the back door to check on the boys.

Teresa looks at me squarely. “Mary, I didn’t mean anything by it. I just want you to know that I’m thinking about you. That you’re in my prayers, that’s all.”

“Fine,” I say, turning away, gritting my teeth.

“I know you think I’m little Miss Goody Two-shoes, that I’ve never done anything wrong.”

“And you’re not?”

“I have no intention of betraying my secrets to you,” Teresa says. “But the answer to your question is a resounding no. I’m not perfect. I’ve done plenty of things to be ashamed of.”

“Yeah, right.”

“It’s true. There are things that you don’t know about. When I was away at school. Did you ever think that maybe that’s why I’m so faithful now? Maybe I’m trying to make up for some indiscretions, too.”

“No,” I say honestly. “Not once. Truly, I’ve never once had that thought.”

“Everyone falls, Mare,” Teresa says. “I didn’t switch colleges just for the heck of it.”

I blink at her. “What does that mean?”

Teresa gives me only a single sharp shake of her head, then lets me sit there for a long moment trying to imagine what my pious sister could possibly have done.

“Sometimes we swerve in the wrong direction,” Teresa says at last. “And then sometimes we overcorrect to try to make up for it. So there. A little bit of dirt on St. Teresa.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, looking at Teresa through eyes I’ve never used on her before. “Thanks for telling me. Whatever you didn’t just tell me.” I hug her and she looks at me with her x-ray eyes, and I’m left wondering—will probably be wondering for the rest of my life—what my naughty sister Teresa did while she was away at college. Even as deeply in the dark as she leaves me, I feel better.