Stranger

By: Megan Hart



Hannah shook her head. “Gracie…”

I held up a hand. “Don’t.”

“I’m your big sister. I’m allowed to give advice.”

It was my turn to raise an eyebrow. “Um…is that in the handbook someone forgot to give me, or what?”

Hannah didn’t laugh. “Seriously, Grace. When are we going to meet this guy? Mom and Dad don’t believe he exists.”

“Maybe Mom and Dad spend too much time worrying about my romantic life, Hannah.”

The more I denied having a boyfriend, the more convinced my family seemed to be that I was hiding one away. I thought it was funny, most of the time. Today for some reason, I wasn’t as amused.

I got up to refill my mug of coffee, hoping by the time I got back to the table my sister would have decided to abandon the topic. I should’ve known better. Hannah with a lecture was like a terrier with a rat. Probably the only thing holding her back from full-on rant mode was the fact we were in a public place.

“I just want to know what the secret is. That’s all.” Hannah fixed me with the glare that used to be able to yank any secret from me.

It was still pretty effective, but I had years of practice at resisting. “There’s no secret. I’ve told you before, I’m not seeing anyone seriously.”

“If it’s serious enough for you to look like that,” Hannah said with a sniff, “it should be serious enough to bring him to meet your family.”

This veiled reference to sex so stunned me, I could only stare. My sister, older and prone to lectures as she might be, had never been free with advice on lovemaking. Other girls had gone to their big sisters for advice on boys and bras, but Hannah, seven years older, had never made our relationship comfortable enough to discuss sex. I wasn’t about to start now.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I think you do.” Hannah picked me apart with another look.

“No, really, Hannah.” I grinned, defusing her the best way I knew how. “I don’t.”

Hannah’s mouth thinned. “Fine. Whatever. Be like that. We’re just all wondering, that’s all.”

I sighed and warmed my hands on my mug. “Wondering about what?”

Hannah shrugged and looked away. “Well. You always make an excuse for why you won’t bring him around. We’re just wondering if…”

“If what?” I demanded. It wasn’t like Hannah to hold back on anything.

“If he’s a…he,” Hannah muttered. She stabbed her salad as if it had done her wrong.

Stunned again, I sat back in my chair. “Oh, for God’s sake!”

Hannah’s mouth set in a stubborn line. “Is he?”

“A man? You want to know if I’m dating a man? Instead of what…a woman?” I wanted to laugh, not because this was funny, but because somehow laughter might make this less strange. “You have to be kidding me.”

Hannah looked up, lower lip pushed out in the familiar way. “Mom and Dad won’t say it, but I will.”

In a moment of insanity I considered telling her everything. Which would be worse, admitting I paid for sex or that I dated women? Maybe paying women for sex would’ve been worse, and the thought of my sister’s face if I told her that curved my mouth into a smile. I resisted, though. Hannah wouldn’t find it as funny as I did.

If it had been anyone else asking the question, I really would have laughed, but because it was my sister I just shook my head. “Hannah. No. It’s not a woman. I promise.”

Hannah nodded stiffly. “Because, you know, you could tell me. I’d be okay with it.”

I doubted that. Hannah had a pretty narrow worldview. There wasn’t much room in it for sisters who liked girls or who hired dates. Not that it was any of her business.

“I just go out. Have a good time. That’s all. I’m not dating anyone regularly enough to bring him around the family, that’s all. If I ever do, you’ll be the first to know.”

Probably the easiest way to figure out if you’re doing something you shouldn’t is if you can tell your family about it. There was no question about me telling my family anything about my dates. Hell, I’d never even told my closest friends. I wasn’t sure they’d understand the appeal. The satisfaction of it. No worries. No hassles. Nothing to lose.

“Boyfriends take a lot of work, Hannah.”

She rolled her eyes. “Try having a husband.”

“I don’t want one of those, either.”

“Of course you don’t.”

I couldn’t win for trying. Her sniff told me what she thought of that—it might be fine for her to complain about her spouse, but for me to say I didn’t want one was like saying she was wrong to be married.

“I like my life.”

“Of course you do. Your life,” she said like an insult. “Your simple, personal, single life.”

We stared each other down. After another long moment in which we battled with our eyes, she let hers go pointedly to my neck. I kept myself from touching the small bruise I knew Sam had left.

Much unspoken hung between us in the way it does with families. Hannah changed the subject finally and I let her, relieved to be past the awkwardness. By the time we parted, the regular balance of our sisterhood had almost been restored.

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