George took the smallest broccoli from his plate, covered it’s head with dip, and popped it into his mouth. Once he had something for his mouth to do he turned to view the room. It was full; all wall spots were taken and the more active people were chatting in small groups in the center of the room. Not all the lights were on, out of respect for the situation, and combined with the dark clothes, the hushed voices, and the low lighting it could have been an opportunity for intimate, even romantic conversations.
George noticed a woman near his age leaving the food table and looking for a spot. She noticed him, the area beside him, and smiled though tight lips. He returned her smile out of habit and then looked away but it was too late. She moved toward him.
“Hi,” she said, “I’m Jean.”
“Nice to meet you Jean. I’m George,” he replied. He started to move some knickknacks. “Would you like some room for your plate?”
“No, thank you. I’m fine,” she replied.
“I don’t know why Mom keeps this stuff,” he said after clearing a spot for her anyway.
“Oh, you’re her brother?”
“Step-brother,” he said, picking up a shrimp. “Dad married Mom, Rachel’s mom, when I was fifteen, Rachel was a year younger.”
“I’m sorry. It must be difficult.”
“Thank you.” It was all he could say. He put the shrimp into his mouth.
After a moment she said “Such a tragedy.” He just pursed his lips and nodded. “In the prime of her life, with so much promise, trying to build her life out of so much despair.”
He wasn’t sure how to respond. “Um, how did you know her?”
“I met her during the trial. Our abuse support group was there for her.”
Again George wasn’t sure how to answer. “You know, the trial was never about abuse, it was about her lying on loan applications, making fake documents, not paying employees.”
“Yes, but I can just imagine how difficult her life was after the abuse she endured from her father, her real father, I mean” she added quickly.
George wiggled his head back and forth as if trying to find his way through difficult terrain. “I don’t know much about her and her father. I just know her from when I met her.”
“And was she as wonderful a person as she seemed?”
“Mmm, well, she was brilliant.”
Jean waited for more, and when none was forthcoming she offered, “She seemed so sweet and oppressed.”
George shook his head. He had to respond. “That was her act,” he said. Jean was stunned. “You can chalk it up to sibling rivalry if you like, but she never told the truth. Everything was twisted to make her look innocent, to make someone, anyone, look guilty. Me, Dad, teachers, the system, …”
“George, help me, please.”
“Coming Mom.” He turned to Jean. “Sorry, excuse me,” he said and left.