The Secret Sisters (an excerpt from Chapter One)

Chapter One: Pia

Whatever happened later, Pia could always know that her eyes were even more green than something and that something something else. Edgar never finished the sentence, and Pia lacked his way with words, so she hadn't even a good guess as to what he was about to say.

"I love that color on you," he whispered just before the entire world collapsed inward. "It makes your eyes even more green than . . ." something.

He did that sometimes. Whispered in her ear. When he'd been drinking a little and watching her from across the room, thinking of later things and earlier things and all sorts of things that were possible between them. Sometimes he didn't even say anything that made sense. He just murmured "la la la" and jangled her earring with the tip of his tongue, and for some reason Pia found this more sensuously eloquent than any words. Edgar was ridiculously inventive with his tongue.

"I'm not a handsome man," he told Pia when they were first dating, "but I am blessed with moments of amazing dexterity." And those moments emerged as promised over the twenty years they were together.

"It makes your eyes even more green . . ."

She definitely heard that much. Keeping her gaze forward, her expression composed, Pia leaned slightly into the whisper. She smiled and tilted her head so that his mouth brushed close to her hair. She wasn't really listening for specific syllables, just allowing his breath against her neck.

It was New Year's Eve. They were at a party, surrounded by polite laughter and chamber music and expensive perfume. They were dressed up. Edgar wasn't usually a dressed-up sort of person, but he looked good in a tux and didn't mind wearing one in winter, when Houston isn't as hot. This was one of the museum's major annual fund-raising events. People with money to donate had to be finessed into forking it over, and every year Edgar did his tie-and-tails best to romance the big benefactors. He was decked out in what he called "Sunday-go-to-meetin'" clothes, even though this wasn't Sunday and "meetin'" had not been a part of their lives for a long time. Pia regretted that later. She wished she'd made an issue of it and dragged him to mass; wished they'd had the boys confirmed and Sunday-schooled, giving them some sort of faith to seize on to when loss yawned like a sinkhole, destabilizing and swallowing everything for miles.

something something

She didn't quite catch it. Pia was left with that unfinished edge unraveling between her ear and the part of her brain that would have collected the words carefully, kept them in a private time capsule. Edgar's Last Words. Part of his private obituary, along with so many other details of him no archaeologist could ever dig deep enough to discern. His sleeping sounds. How he pressed his knuckle under his nose when he was angry, trying not to say something cruel. The way he cracked the boys up by orating street signs in an officious announcer voice.

"Accurate Air Incorporated," he would read from the back of a truck, and then tag it with a fake slogan. "We incorporate air accurately!"

Edgar Wright Ramone, PhD, curator of Eastern European displays, husband of eighteen years, father of James and Jesse, Eagle Scout, cribbage shark, master of the Cajun barbecue, a man blessed with moments of amazing dexterity, whispered his last words to his wife.

something something

Then suddenly, soundlessly, he simply crumpled. And not gracefully or in slow motion. It was an abrupt, boneless descent. His champagne flute shattered on the museum's marble floor. His chin glanced off Pia's shoulder, leaving a small, blue bruise. There was no extending of the hands, no attempt to balance or catch himself. Pia felt in her feet the solid knock of his head against the mosaic tile circle, above which a huge pendulum swung, illustrating the rotation of planet Earth. It happened so fast, Pia didn't even drop her champagne. Someone took it from her hand as she knelt down, confused, calling Edgar's name.

"Edgar?" It was a question, not a scream or even an exclamation. "Edgar?"

The party guests tried not to look, looked, were embarrassed for the couple they assumed to be drunk, became curious, grew concerned, told an intern to call 911, watched a doctor in evening attire administer CPR, told the chamber musicians to stop, stood stunned, sat stunned, and finally left whispering, passing hushed voices back and forth. The sibilant consonants and breathy vowels made a shuffling sound, like paper unfolding behind their hands.

Shush sha . . . said maybe an aneurysm . . . sha sha . . . family . . . really makes you think about . . .

Edgar ended with the dying moments of the year. It turned midnight as they placed him on a gurney. Bells rang across the city. It was 2001. Pia got into the ambulance with Edgar's body. The sirens were silent, and the driver talked on his radio with the same rustling paper tone as the partygoers.

There was paperwork. Forms to sign. A required explanation of legalities before she could officially release his organs for donation. Pia did all that. Then she had to call home and tell the twins to come and get her because she'd left the car at the museum, and they came, and she had to tell them their father was dead. The sun rose on the new year a little while later, but instead of finding Pia the Wife where it had left her, it came up on an empty place, and in the shadows stood Pia the Widow.

Excerpted from The Secret Sisters by Joni Rodgers Copyright © 2006 by Joni Rodgers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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