Chance of a Lifetime (Anderson Brothers)

By: Marissa Clarke

“In January.”

“Technically, still December for a few minutes, but yeah. It was freezing. I tried to get out of the water, but couldn’t. My down coat, boots, and heavy sweater were deadweight, so swimming was hard. If there was a ladder, I couldn’t find it, and all the pilings were covered in barnacles, so I got cut up as I hung on.”

“You must have been terrified.”

“I was pretty freaked out. Hitting the water was a shock. Not finding a way out and being sliced up was worse. Eventually, some cops came and fished me out. I’d been in the water about fifteen minutes and everyone was worried about hypothermia. I also had a lot of gashes from the barnacles, so I was taken by ambulance to the hospital.”

“Did Chance come in the ambulance with you?”

“No. That’s the worst part. He didn’t show up until the next day.” Whatever reason he’d left her for had obviously been more important. Tears stung her eyes and she turned her head toward the door pretending to be interested in a family that entered the ice cream shop, making way more racket than seemed necessary for three people—maybe four if there was a kid being carried. With her heightened sense of hearing, she could identify number with excellent accuracy.

Sherry’s foot tapped against the base of the table. “And?”

“And he didn’t give any excuses or explanations as to why he didn’t come directly to the hospital. I assumed he’d left to do something somewhere else or he was mad at me for not staying where I said I would. When he finally appeared, my parents ordered him to leave, but he didn’t. Walter and Chance argued, and then he left. Tonight was the first time I’ve seen him since.”

“And it was quite a reunion    .”

No kidding.

“There has to be more to that story.” Sherry’s chair scraped on the floor as she stood. The air stirred as she gathered her garbage from the table. “It makes no sense that he didn’t come straight to the hospital, and I don’t understand why he stopped talking to you. You’re leaving something out.”

It was too hard to explain. At the hospital, he and her big brother had talked about her like she wasn’t even in the room—or worse, like she wasn’t competent enough to be included in the conversation.

“She could have died!” Walter had yelled. “She’s disabled. Blind. Helpless.” He’d used every word she’d been denying for years, over and over until she’d wanted to scream. But she didn’t. She’d lain in the hospital bed completely silent. Helpless, like she’d been labeled.

At fifteen years old, surrounded by her disapproving family, covered in stitches, and embarrassed at her reliance on sighted people, all she wanted was to be normal and independent. She’d thought Chance saw her that way, but he just took her brother’s reprimand in silence, never once defending himself or her. He might as well have called her those things himself.

After that, Walter launched into a tirade about how careless Chance was and how he was always doing crazy shit. That he was a terrible influence. Her parents told the boys to take the discussion out of the room, probably because she was shaking at that point.

And then Chance left with Walter, muttering the only words he’d said directly to her since he arrived at the hospital, and the last words she’d heard from him in a decade. “I’m sorry, Genny.”

Until tonight. That one word—“Genny”—was all it had taken to rip her heart wide open again. She bet he hadn’t even looked back since he’d left her at the hospital. Never once felt the pain of her absence.

As if of its own accord, her palm pressed to her sternum where the old, familiar ache pounded.

“So, are Chance and your brother still friends?”

“They drifted apart for a while after that, but reconnected in law school. I’m not sure how close they are. Chance is a taboo topic with my brother—with my whole family, really. I kept track of him through news articles about his family or high school friends, though. He was always doing cool stuff. Climbing mountains, white-water rafting, skydiving. Even as early as sixth grade, he loved danger—which drove my family crazy.” It drove her crazy, too, only in a different way.

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