It’s tough, living in the shadow of a dead girl. It’s like living at the foot of a mountain blocking out the sun, and no one ever thinks to say, “Damn, that mountain is big.” Or, “Wonder what‘s on the other side?” It’s just something we live with, so big we hardly notice it’s there. Not even when it’s crushing us under its terrible weight. • No one mentions my sister. If they do, it’s mentioning her by omission, relief that I am nothing like her. I am the good sister. Thank God. • To speak of my sister . . . there’s nothing more sacrilegious. Alexandra, Andra, Alex. Xanda—who was, and is, and is to come. To speak her name is my family’s purest form of blasphemy. • To think of Xanda is to conjure up a person out of phase with the rest of us. Gym socks and mary janes. Lipstick always slightly outside the lines, as if she were just the victim of a mad, messy kiss. Laddered stockings with dresses that were decidedly un-churchy. Sloppy in a way that was somehow repulsive and delectable at the same time. Repulsive to my parents. Delectable to me. • At ten, I was practicing her pout in the mirror. By twelve, I was trying on her clothes (in secret, of course), thrilled with the way her shorts hugged my cheeks and made my underpants seem obsolete. Xanda was seventeen. She didn’t wear underpants. • One day she caught me in her boots and safety-pin dress, the one she had painstakingly assembled like rock-star chain mail. I was so scared I poked a pin through the end of my pinky. I imagined her taking off one of her stilettos and plunging it into my heart. • But Xanda didn’t skewer me. Instead, she threw back her head and laughed a dazzling, tonsil-baring laugh, then smothered me in a hug. She had that sour, sharp smell, and I knew she had been with Andre—Andre, of the sultry voice and skin the shade of coffee with milk. Café con leche, as he put it. Sweet and dangerous. A bit of a con, said Andre. A bit of a letch, said my sister. • After she bandaged my finger, Xanda insisted I try on the matching safety-pin leg warmers. They hung like chains around my ankles. Clump, clump, drag. With a heavy grasp, she steered us both toward the full-length mirror hung on the back of her bedroom door. The metal of the safety pins shimmered down my straight, twelve-year-old hips. Xanda stood behind me, the glow of the bedroom window lighting up the pale chaos of her hair in a halo. She shimmered, too, but in a different kind of way. Her sheer white dress fluttered around her, a ghost trapped behind my chain-link figure. When she smiled, she looked like an unholy angel. • She studied my face with one eye closed, like an artist sizing up a canvas. “You know what?” she said. “I don‘t think you should be Mandy anymore.” • “Should I be Miranda now?” I asked. • “No, I was thinking more like . . . Rand. Rand is so much cooler than Mandy. Kind of edgy. Don‘t you think?” • I tested the name in my mouth. Rand. Rand would wear a safety-pin dress. Rand could probably go without underpants now and then. Rand sounded almost like Xanda. I liked it. • “Do you want to know a secret?” I whispered to the sister in the mirror. • “Tell me,” she whispered back. “Tell me, and I‘ll tell you one.”

 

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