Douglas and Louise settled into a friendly routine. Twice a week, they’d meet for coffee in the morning, followed by a walk around the town. Occasionally, Penelope would join them at the coffee shop, although she did not share their walks. “Walking is altogether too healthy for me, Douglas, even when it’s not the dead of winter, cold and slushy and dreadfully uncomfortable. I’ll leave that part of your care to Louise, who seems to enjoy it.”
Louise presented the opposite of Penelope in many ways. She was practical, where her sister was dramatic; she was quiet, where Penelope was loud, and she was reticent, where the elder girl would blurt out just about any thought that came into her head.
“I’ve cultivated it, I must admit,” Louise said to Douglas on one of their walks. “I knew from a very young age that there was no room for me in Penelope’s shadow. If I tried to be like her, I’d be a second-rate version. So I carved out a different kind of territory.”
Douglas nodded. He could easily imagine the two girls, Penelope bursting with energy and drama, Louise thoughtful and studious.
“But don’t get me wrong. I have my own demons. I simply express them differently than my big sister does.”
“Demons?” Douglas felt his curiosity pique. “We all have them. I’m curious to know yours, if you want to share.”
“Alcohol, for one. Truthfully, it’s not in and of itself my demon. It’s what I used for years to try to medicate my demons into the kind of quiet I strove to project.”
Douglas held silence, respecting Louise’s revelation. They walked on for a while, stomping snow off their boots when they encountered a clearing on the sidewalk. After a few more blocks, he ventured a question. “And now? This quiet? Is it a projection?”
Louise kept a steady pace, but turned her face to him. “Now that is not at all the question I expected, Douglas. Most people would ask if I’m sober now, or would offer some sort of platitude. But you go right to the heart of the matter. And, as a matter of fact, every bit of quiet for me holds a kernel of struggle, still. There is always a pinprick of fear that in the silence, I will be discovered to be lacking something essential. I feel that pinprick now. That I haven’t answered your question to your liking, that you will find me too damaged for our friendship to sustain.”
“Ah, well. From one damaged creature to another, Louise, I offer only my intention to sustain this friendship for as long as we both desire it.” Douglas wanted very much to take her gloved hand in his, but restrained himself, unsure as to why he felt the desire and why he resisted it.