"You didn't have to come," I said.
"I know," she replied, not looking up as she handed me a Tupperware container with a plastic fork balanced on top of it. "Fruit salad. I didn't have time to make a sandwich. Sit down."
I sat, then opened the container, digging in the fork to take a bite. I realized I was starving, which made sense, considering I'd thrown up the small amount of lunch I'd managed to get down. God, what a crappy day.
My mother took my makeup bag from me and began to rummage through it, taking out an eye-shadow compact and my powder. "Whitney," she called out, "hand those clothes back here, would you?"
Whitney sighed loudly, then turned around, reaching for the shirts that were hanging from the hook on the door behind her. "Here," she said flatly, barely extending them over the backseat. My mother reached for them, her fingertips falling short, so I turned around to get them for her. As my hand closed over the hangers and I tried to pull them toward me, Whitney held on for a second longer, her grip surprisingly strong as our eyes met. Then she let go, suddenly, and turned back around.
I was trying to be patient with my sister. To remember, at times like this, that it wasn't her I was upset with, but her eating disorder. But at times like this, it looked a lot like Whitney, and vice versa, so it was hard to tell the difference.
"Have some water," my mother said now, handing me an open bottle as she took the shirts from me. "And look here."
I took a sip, staying still as she dusted powder across my face. Then I closed my eyes, listening to cars go by on the highway behind us, as she applied shadow and liner before beginning to rifle through the shirts, the hangers clanking. I opened my eyes to see her holding a pink suede top out at me.
Shhh, Annabel. It's just me.
"No," I said. It came out harsher than I meant, my voice sharp. I took in a breath, forcing myself to sound more normal as I added, "Not that one."
She looked surprised, glancing at it, then back at me again. "Are you sure? It looks wonderful on you. I thought you loved this shirt."
I shook my head, then looked away quickly, focusing on a minivan that was passing by, one of those my child is an honor student stickers on the back window. "No," I told her again. She was still watching me, so I added, "It cuts me weird, or something."
"Oh," I heard her say. She offered me a blue scoop-neck instead. "Here," she said as I looked at it more closely, seeing a price tag hanging from it. "Hop in and change. It's three fifty."
I nodded, then got down off the bumper, walking around to the backseat door and pulling it open. I climbed in, bending down to pull off my tank top, and froze. "Mom," I said.
"I don't have a bra."
I heard her heels on the pavement as she came around the car. "You don't?"
I shook my head, trying to stay low in the seat. "I had a tank top on; it's got one built in."
My mother thought for a second. "Whitney," she said. "Give—"
Whitney shook her head. "No way."
Now it was my mother's turn to sigh. "Honey, please," she said. "Just help us out, okay?"
And so, as we had for the last nine months or so, we had to wait, and worry, about Whitney. After what felt like a long silence, she finally pulled her arms up under her shirt, fumbled around, then drew a beige bra out of the collar, dropping it back behind her. I grabbed it off the floor, putting it on—we weren't exactly the same size, but it was better than nothing-then pulled the shirt over it. "Thanks," I said, but, of course, she ignored me.
"Three fifty-two," my mother said. "Let's go, honey."
I got out of the car, then walked back around to where she was waiting, holding my purse. She handed it to me, then looked at my face one last time, examining her handiwork. "Close your eyes," she said, reaching forward carefully to draw a clump of mascara off one of my eyelashes. When I opened them, she smiled at me. "You look beautiful."
"Yeah, right," I said, but then she gave me a look, so I added, "Thank you."
She tapped her watch. "Go ahead. We'll wait for you."
"You don't have to. I'll be fine."
The car's engine started suddenly as Whitney turned the key, and then she was rolling down the window, extending her arm outside. She was wearing long sleeves, as always, but you could see a bit of her wrist, pale and so thin, as she tapped her fingers on the side of the car. My mother looked at her, then back at me.
"Well, I'll at least wait for you to get inside," she said. "Okay?"
I nodded, then leaned forward to kiss her just above her cheek, so as not to smudge my lipstick. "Okay."
When I got to the building, I turned around. She lifted her hand, waving, and as I did the same I glanced beyond her at Whitney, whose face I could see framed in the side mirror. She was watching me, too, her face expressionless, and, like so often lately, I felt a twinge, something twisting in my stomach.
"Good luck," my mother called out, and I nodded, then looked back at Whitney. But she'd slid down in her seat and disappeared from view, leaving the mirror empty.
Whitney had always been skinny. While Kirsten was voluptuous and curvy, and I was more wiry and athletic, my middle sister had been born with the true model's body, tall and rail-thin. Kirsten and I were always being told by photographers that while we had pretty faces, we were too plump or too short, respectively, to get serious print work. Early on, though, it was clear Whitney had real potential.
So it only made sense that the summer after her senior year, Whitney would move to New York to try her luck modeling there. This was the same thing Kirsten had done two years earlier. After she'd begged my parents to let her move in with two older girls she knew from our agency, they'd agreed on the condition that she also enroll in some college courses. Though at first Kirsten had kept up the balance, once she'd gotten some print work and a couple of commercials, school had fallen by the wayside. Even with the work, though, she still earned the bulk of her money with waitress and hostessing gigs.
Not that this bothered her all that much. Since high school, when she discovered boys and beer—not necessarily in that order—Kirsten's focus on modeling had dwindled consider-ably. While Whitney always made sure to get plenty of sleep before a job and arrived on time without fail, Kirsten was much more likely to roll in late, with bedhead and a hangover. One time she'd showed up for a Kopfs prom dress shoot with a hickey so large they couldn't even totally cover it with makeup. When the ads ran, weeks later, she'd laughed as she pointed it out to me—a brown circle, barely visible under the strap of her princesslike gown.