Here’s what you need to know about me. I’ve always been a realist. I never believed in love at first sight, fate, or serendipity.
Well, except for the Serendipity I was raised in—that’s the name of my hometown in the quiet, rolling hills of Southern Indiana.
But that mumbo jumbo people say, like, It was a match made in Heaven. Or It was meant to be. Seriously. I wouldn’t get sucked into that kind of thinking.
The only kind of woo-woo I knew about first-hand was the twin kind, and that’s DNA or something really boring and scientific, right? I know twin coincidences are real, because my identical twin sister Hannah and I have lived plenty of them.
But what I didn’t realize was, I’d be permanently changed by what happened on that cold, rainy day when Hannah and I were twelve years old. We were being punished for something—I don’t remember what, but knowing the way we were back then, I’m sure it was well deserved—and had no screen time. Phones and laptops were confiscated, and we had the day to nurse our anger, stuck together in the room we shared.
But we slipped up to the attic, moving silently, so we didn’t get into even more trouble.
That day Hannah and I were on a mission to find something to entertain us. Of course there weren’t any tech items, but in our desperation, we were just looking for something different. The attic was stuffed full of old furniture, cartons of Christmas decorations, and loads of other boxes, some of which weren’t labeled. Hey, it was better than sitting in our room staring at each other, or trying to re-read the books and magazines we had.
I saw it first—an old trunk sort of wedged back under the eaves, mostly hidden by boxes of who-knows-what. I started to dismantle the wall of stuff, to reach it. “I’ve never noticed this up here before.”
Hannah peered at the trunk before pitching in. “Me either.”
Once we’d created space to access it, she tried to open the heavy metal latch. I moved piles of old magazines and catalogs off the top, onto an empty spot on the floor. I hit my head on the steeply slanted eave when I stood up.
She glared at me. “Watch it, Taylor. We’re trying to be quiet, remember?”
I rubbed my head, which hurt like crazy. “Thanks for your concern.”
Down on my knees next to her, I looked for something to pry up the lid, and finally found a paint scraper. “Who knows how long this thing has sat here.” I worked for a bit before the top suddenly flew upward. I was quick enough to catch it before it, too, got whacked on the wooden roof brace, announcing to Mom that we were in the attic.
The wedding dress was on top, folded between layers of tissue paper. I picked it up and the thing unfurled, the weight of the heavy satin sliding out and down with a soft, sighing whoosh.
Hannah reached out a hand and smoothed it down the skirt. “Wow. It’s beautiful.” She got busy with the trunk, digging out a pair of white leather slippers with low heels.
Then she picked up a thin, leather-bound book. “Whoa. Check this out. There’s a bunch of them in here.” She flipped open the one in her hands, and her eyes widened. “Diary. We’ve got somebody’s diaries here, Taylor.”
I read the precise handwriting. “Her name was Opal.”
I was awash in cold chill, holding the dress, watching Hannah. Her voice seemed to come from the bottom of a deep well. Flashes of scenes flew past while I imagined the girl who owned this dress, and planned her wedding to take place in our backyard, under a big white tent. Not hundreds of people, but still a crowd. Bride’s side, groom’s side, and one attendant each. The girl’s sister was her bridesmaid, wearing a dress of similar cut, but in pale pink. The flowers, the music—provided by someone in the house playing piano—and the windows open so the sound wafted out to the guests. The yard I imagined was much bigger than ours, because there weren’t other houses around. Just our house, the lawn, and beyond that, acres of fields.
Then I was being shaken, pulled away from the wedding scene.
“Taylor,” Hannah hissed, staring into my eyes from inches away. “Wake up or I’ll slap you.”
I blinked, remembered where we were and what we were doing, and took a deep breath. I carefully folded the dress back and Hannah helped me return it to the layers of tissue.
“You know,” I said, “maybe Mom’s right about us spending too much time online. I just had the weirdest dream, standing here.”
Hannah laughed softly. “Excellent. Now we have the perfect way to spend our punishment time. Come up here and go through all the un-labeled boxes. It’s almost as good as reality TV.”
But we never found anything else in the attic that held our interest, or excited our imaginations, like the contents of the trunk.
The trunk was our secret for a long time. For Hannah it was entertaining, but for me it was more than that. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how much more.
Hannah and I had packed our stuff. Mom drove her van, and Dad his pickup, to help us haul everything from our college dorm in Bloomington back to Serendipity.
Good-bye, Indiana University, awesome seat of learning and partying. Leaving was sad on so many levels.
Hannah was driving our jam-packed Ford Focus, following Mom and Dad along Highway 37 south. “I’m not staying a single day longer than I have to,” she said, referring to moving back in with our parents.
We’d had this conversation plenty of times in recent weeks, as the job offers continued to not pour in. But we still needed to reassure each other that we weren’t taking a giant step backward. “I know,” I said. “Moving home makes good sense for now, though.”
Going home to Serendipity seemed our only option. We both loved Bloomington and would have enjoyed staying there. But without decent paying jobs, we couldn’t afford it. We both had polished our online resumes, and our Linked In profiles were sparkled to the max. We should be heading in a completely different direction at this moment. Toward our future, instead of toward our stupid, boring past.
Hannah glanced at me. “Is something wrong with us, Taylor?”
I knew what she meant. Most of our friends had found jobs in their fields. She and I weren’t top in our class—we had spent plenty of time partying after all, not to waste that opportunity. But we’d had decent grades, were intelligent, and quick learners, if someone would give us a chance. Her degree was in Environmental Management, and mine was Marketing.
“We’ll be snapped up any day now,” I assured her, with more certainty than I had. “Meanwhile, we live in our old rooms at home for free, and take a break. We’ve worked hard, and we deserve a vacation before we sign on for the jobs of our dreams.”
Hannah changed lanes, following Mom around a slow RV on the divided highway. “How much of a vacation can it be, when we’re stuck in Serendipity with no money and nothing to do?”
We rode in silence quite a while, each picturing how awful it would be. Serendipity, Indiana, population about six thousand boring people, had little to offer anyone our age. The nearest entertainment was the Louisville, Kentucky area, just under an hour away. Plenty of movie theaters, shopping, restaurants, and bars there, all of which required money.
“I don’t have much cash left after we filled the gas tank today,” Hannah said—a statement she had already made when we were at the gas station.
I had a few dollars, and next time we filled up, it would be on me. Good thing we wouldn’t be driving much. “I know. I know.”
Hannah adjusted the car’s interior temperature down, as hers started to rise. “Dad wasn’t very receptive about continuing our allowance. His reaction, when I asked, was a cross between blowing up mad and laughing in my face.”
I had seen it, and had been glad she asked him so I didn’t need to. “Did you see Mom’s face? Oh, maybe not since we were all loading stuff. She just turned her back and kept working, shaking her head and not standing up for us.”
“Maybe they’re having money trouble,” Hannah said. “Surely they’re not still paying off bills from Emily’s wreck?”
I looked, unseeing, out the side window. Occasional homes or barns, and plenty of fields, sped by. “Her hospitalization and then the rehab. And then her wedding. Our big sister has cost the parents a bundle, I bet.”
“Well, it’s not like her wedding was a big event. But yeah, that wreck had to hit them hard, right in the bank account. We can’t say anything to them about it, though. They’re always so, We’re lucky she didn’t die, and look how great she’s doing now.
We started up another gentle hill, and I held up my phone trying to get a signal in spite of the limestone cut the highway ran through. “Right. Of course, we’re all glad she didn’t die. But the way they make such a big deal of her, now she’s turned into almost a different person. It’s like they’ve forgotten how much of a pain she was before the wreck, all the terrible choices she made.”
We’d been through this too many times. We wouldn’t be able to change our parents’ reaction to what had happened, yet we kept struggling to accept it.
Hannah groaned. “I know. They’ve forgiven her, like nothing ever happened. Ben was the perfect one, but now he’s just the forgotten middle kid. And we’re being punished unfairly because of the two of them.” Hannah smacked her hand on the steering wheel, honking the horn by accident. She giggled. “Anyway, let’s not unpack all our stuff. We’ll get some good karma going about jobs coming through, by being ready to pick up and head wherever our careers take us.”
When we reached Serendipity, the speed limit dropped to thirty, and there was a glut of traffic. I groaned. “Stupid town never changes. Everybody busy going nowhere.”
We passed the small houses, small businesses, a bank, and at the stoplight, could see the castle-like courthouse a few blocks away, to our right. Then we picked up speed again on the other side of town, and ten minutes later pulled into the driveway of the two-story white clapboard house we had grown up in.
We got out, stretched, and prepared for unloading. Mom, balancing a tote bag on one shoulder, and a cardboard box in the other hand, tried to unlock the back door. “You girls hungry? I have leftover chili, and can whip up some cornbread.”
Dad took the box from her, and unlocked the door, pushing it open with a foot, and letting her go in first. He pierced each of us with a look. “I don’t suppose it occurred to either of you to help your mother when she was overloaded.”
Hannah and I shrugged in unison.
“It’s not our fault if she’s carrying more than she can handle,” I said defensively.
One dark brow rose. “Are you sure about that?”