I look at her across the table. The glow of the tea candle between us highlights her soft features and curtain of dark hair; I know this face so well.
My earliest memories of her begin with our desks arranged end-to-end in our third grade classroom at the small private school we attended. We shared the same love for Beauty and the Beast, and I remember the day that we both came to school toting the same lunch boxes, pink with Belle on the front.
She, with her terrible memory, does not remember this, but it's okay - somehow my elephant memory and her forgetfulness balance our relationship, the same way that her head for numbers and facts and order balances my flighty, rather unkempt, highly emotional existence.
It's the reason I feel completely comfortable asking her to open my bathroom cupboards, not because she won't tell me that I'm a mess, but because I know she will. In fact, she'll stand there with me and tell me what to toss and what to keep when my own obsession with beauty products rivals that of my mother's.
We're such opposites in some ways. She's at ease in a kitchen surrounded by twenty other cooks and waitresses, and in the chaos she maintains a focus that produces finely crafted breads and cakes, the likes of which you'll only find in artisan bakeries or her own mother's oven.
I share her love for food and cooking, but in that same flurry of activity I'd be a basket-case; I have the scars to prove it. And while I can sit for days on end in front of my computer screen crafting essays out of words and blank pages (so long as the coffee and quiet hold out), she would be driven to madness within an hour's time of being faced with that task.
And yet. We're so compatible. There are few people in life that know the difference between stealing and sharing when it comes to a plate of food. We coordinate our orders at dinner to make sure we get the best of both worlds. On ritual Thursdays (movie + wine + dessert = weekly pre-weekend celebration) we can split a bottle of shiraz evenly, and we can split a box of frozen, store-bought cream puffs in one sitting and arrive at the same conclusion : good idea in theory, but let's never do that again.
Our childhoods were similar in so many ways: we grew up in the same church, our parents were friends, and we each survived life with a pair of torturous younger brothers. We are the only sisters we have.
After nearly twenty years of this sister-love, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that she never left my side when mom died, and yet, as she walked into the room where my mother lay in her casket, tears sprang to my eyes,
"You're here," I whispered.
"Of course I am," she whispered back, wrapping her arms around my neck.
That's true love at it's best. Surprisingly faithful, radically selfless, quietly constant, wholly unconditional. It needs no explanation, it carries no complaint. It bears all things willfully, and it communicates without words :
I will do the same for you.
Yesterday was her birthday, and what with her recent trip to Paris and my scant free time between work, writing, and art, I nearly forgot it. Thank God for my Google calendar. We did what we do best and made an impromptu dinner date, braved bumper-to-bumper city traffic to meet each other, and then there we were, splurging on steak frites and Sophie at Hopleaf.
"You're 26," I say, raising my glass to toast her.
"Wow. I am," she replies.
We share that smile, the one that we've shared for a million milestones, big and small :
We're growing up, but it's our little secret.