Her heart stopped for a solid six minutes before the weary doctors zapped it into beating again.
Sparky considered that to be her life’s turning point. It wasn’t easy after that, what with the years of struggling. But that electric shock that brought her back had always been the most defining moment of her life.
Now, she worries that it might be topped.
“Okay, no more. I’ll think about it later.” She stood in front of a restored two-story duplex, her purse in one hand and a paper bag in the other. She tried not to think about the piece of paper with the name Sparkle Rose Carver typed neatly at the bottom.
Sparkle Rose Carver.
Everybody called her Sparky. When she asked why she was named Sparkle Rose, her mother said “well, baby girl, I named you after that skinny little bitch who stole your father from us.”
Sparky would have wanted to know more (like why her mother named her after the stripper who ran off with her father when she was seven), but her mother decided that it was just the moment to convulse and die in front of her. Sparky was twelve then.
By the time she was sixteen, Sparky was living in an orphanage, a straight A student on a full scholarship, and a part-time animator’s assistant for the daily newspaper.
She has also progressed to using crack. On her eighteenth birthday, while celebrating her emancipation from the orphanage and riding on a cocktail of drugs that her friends gifted her, she collapsed in the middle of a shouted rendition of “Happy Birthday” and fell face first into the cake. The party came to a halt, the cake was ruined, and Sparky died for six minutes.
She spent three months in rehab and three years of weekly monitoring before being declared rehabilitated. She left town and never looked back.
Startled, Sparky looked up at the tall redhead standing in the doorway. She smiled and leaned in for a hug. “Hey, Emily.”
“I’m so glad you’re here! My wonderful husband left, made the silly excuse of having to go to work,” Emily sighed and led Sparky to a large room filled with boxes. “and left me with so much to do.”
“I figured you needed a break by now, so…” Sparky lifted the bottle of champagne and champagne flutes she carried in the bag.
“Wow, thanks!” Emily took the bottle and started to unwrap it. Sparky set the glasses on the floor and rummaged around the box labeled FOOD. “I’m assuming this is the living room. Isn’t this box supposed to be in the kitchen?”
“We just dumped everything here when we arrived yesterday. It’s large enough to hold all the boxes so we made this the base of our moving-in operations.”
“Sensible.” Sparky pulled out a very large bag of Reese’s and shook it at Emily. “Think this will go well with the champagne?”
“Everything goes well with champagne,” Emily smiled at the cheery pop of the cork.
Sitting on the floor, glasses filled, and toasts made, Sparky and Emily were sipping their second glass and munching on peanut butter cups when Emily said, “so, what’s up?”
Frowning, Sparky looked at Emily. “I’m here to celebrate your new home. And maybe help out a bit.”
“Yes, but you have your antsy face on. The last time I saw that face was two years ago through Skype, before you decided to move back here from Thailand. Not that I’m complaining. Where is it this time?”
Emily lifted a brow. “The magazine is sending you to South Africa? Why?”
“Not really sending.” Sparky bit on a piece of chocolate, careful not to look at Emily. “I asked about a position in the new office there and they said it’s mine if I want it.”
“Hmm.” Emily sat back and looked at her. “And Adam?”
“He…asked me to marry him.”
“Which prompted the Johannesburg thing.” Emily sighed. “Sparky, don’t do that to yourself.”
“I can’t marry him, Emily.” Sparky sipped from her glass. “I can’t marry anybody. I haven’t even been in a serious relationship before Adam.”
“Because you shut them out and leave whenever things get serious. Adam was really the only one who got you and now you’re leaving because you’re running scared. Again.”
“It’s all the same, Emily.”
“No. You know that this is different because you can’t give yourself any reason not to marry him other than those excuses in your head that are beginning to sound stupid now.”
“They are not stupid excuses. They are valid reasons.”
“Then why aren’t you already on your way to Johannesburg? The fact that you’re still here means you’re conflicted between staying and leaving. That hasn’t happened before.” Emily waved her glass. “You are not like your mother, Sparky. You don’t need to be alone to prove it.”
Sparky swirled her glass. “Mom wasted away when dad left us. She can’t take care of me and she can barely take care of herself. She wasn’t like your mom who did her best to make ends meet, Emily. She was so consumed with love for the man who left her that she forgot she had a kid. Then she died of an overdose.” She gestured with her glass. “She was a crackhead.”
“While my darling mama, bless her soul, was a whore. Or, to be more accurate, a stripper who whored on the side after dear old daddy left.” Emily poured more champagne on Sparky’s glass, then topped off her own. “Going with your train of thought, I guess it means I’m soon going to shake my ass while twirling around a pole. Just like my mama did.”
Sparky frowned, “no, I just…”
But Emily barreled on, “Give me a break, Sparky. While you may have taken a short trip in the dark abyss of crackheadedness, it doesn’t mean you would end up like your mother. I sure as hell never thought of prostitution as a way of making ends meet.”
“No, I’m sure you hadn’t. Because your mom made sure you’d never think of prostitution as a way out. Me, on the other hand, almost died of an overdose fifteen years ago.”
“Technically, you did die of an overdose.”
“Exactly!” Sparky drained her glass. “I take after my mother. I am capable of being what she is.”
“Capable doesn’t mean will.” Emily leaned back and stretched out her legs in front of her. “You fought your way out of becoming a sad, drug statistic to become an exceptional woman. That’s something your mother didn’t do and didn’t teach you. That’s something that you did yourself.”
Sparky dug into the bag of chocolate. “I guess I kinda knew that. It helps to hear it come from you, though. So, about Johannesburg…”
“Regrets are more haunting than fears. You have to decide which you would regret more, taking the risk of possibly becoming like your mother in the off-chance that things don’t work out between you and Adam, or letting go of the life you could have with him.” Emily sipped from her glass.
“I’m not telling you to stay or to go. But whatever you choose to do, choose it because it’s what you want and not because you’re afraid of the other option.”
Sparky mulled over what Emily said. “I’m so lucky I found you, Emily.”
“I’m so lucky you didn’t go the way of your sweet mother. If you had, I wouldn’t have gotten a big sister named after my mama’s stage name.”
Sparky smiled, “I have to go.” She stood up and looked at her sister. “Em? Why are you so sure that I won’t be like my mother?”
“Because your heart is as strong and as determined as the heart under the over-inflated boobs of Sparkle Rose Senior.”
Sparky chuckled, “you know, if all else fails, I could be like your mother. I already got her name; I’ll just practice on the stripping.”
“And I’ll be at your first show to cheer you on.” Emily stood up to hug her. “Come over for dinner in three days. Let’s celebrate whatever it is you decide to do.”
He was sitting in the living room, reading a book, when Sparky arrived.
“Hey.” He looked up.
“I went to see Emily.” She waved the piece of paper she was holding. “I told her about Johannesburg.”
Sparky walked nearer and stood in front of him. “We’re all of us haunted and haunting.”
“Yeah.” Sparky sat on the arm of his chair. “Regrets are more haunting than fears.”
“Nope. Emily Carver-Rothberg, my baby sister who said that I should make decisions based on what I want and not on what I’m afraid of.”
She held up the paper she was holding. “You know, if I’m going to Johannesburg I should sign this contract and send it back to the office now.”
Sparky ripped it in two.
He smiled. “I guess that means you’re staying.”
“I guess it does.”