there are multiple universes with multiple possibilities -- everyone knows that. it’s the easiest thing to imagine and you’ve never been lacking in imagination. you play with the idea of them, in the quiet hours of work, in long drives in the dark, in bed when you can’t sleep.
in one, you and lainey grow up as sisters, properly. you keep at her heels as a child, you learn from her. sure, you get on her nerves too, tugging at her hair, annoying her when you can -- still, you love each other. even when you take her clothes, even when you get her in trouble just because you can -- and even when she saves your ass more than once.
most of all, though, you hold her hand when she realizes she’s pregnant. you ride along with her to get an abortion, keeping her company as best you can, turning up the radio to fill the silence after, and it’s a secret you both keep. you still get pregnant at sixteen, but this time, you aren’t banished from home. this time you tell lainey first, feel her arms come around you, and she tells you that no matter she’d be there for you. that she loves you.
in this reality, you get to stay with your real family. they don’t isolate you, they don’t say that you have no choice in this. they’re with you, through everything, and you don’t find yourself alone in a basement, giving birth scared in the midst of a storm. instead, you have your father, your real father, with his hand in yours on the way to the hospital. you give birth and you don’t get sick, you don’t have papers shoved into your hands.
you get to be a mother, able to say, “theodore. teddy.”
(and yeah, it’s because lainey points out that lars is too much and not fit for a kid like that. she’s right.)
you become a mother, lainey becomes an aunt and teddy is your son. he’s your world, even when you bump into adam, even when you make the choice to get married. there are no shifts that swallow up time every month, no powers that make things harder than usual.
in this universe, you are normal and happy, and loved. everyone you want, is there. everyone you love, is in reach.
there are universes innumerable and this isn’t the universe you live in.
in this universe, you wake up after a week of nothing to find that lainey is leaving. you don’t even remember the announcement, there’s no note -- only the knowledge that you have to get up and see her before the plane takes her away. you’ve only just figured things out, only just gotten to be sisters, real sisters so recently, and now you’re on a timer.
and it’s so irrational, how upset you are, driving to see her. there’s phone and email out there -- and it still guts you so viscerally to know that she’ll be halfway around the world, not within arm’s reach or a short drive.
by the time you get to the fenwick house, the lights are on, and you don’t even have to reach out with your mind to talk to her. she’s just there, arms outstretched to meet yours.
you pull her close -- and wish that the universe was fair. you wish that you had grown up with her, that you’d had the guts to tell the truth so much sooner. you wish for a lot of things, and right now, the thing you wish for most is for lainey to stay. persuading her is out of the question -- but spending the last few hours with her, helping her pack, pulling her close, talking about why she wanted to go, is all you have now -- and you’d best take advantage of it.
you talk as much as you can, cramming a lifetime of conversations into these few moments -- the important ones you wanted to have face to face and not over a phone or a facetime or an email. you talk and talk, and share as much as you can.
and then, you drive her to the airport. you wipe your tears, hold her close and tell her, “i love you.”
she says, “i love you too, sister.” and you know it’s lainey and jean -- and for once, you wish maddy was here. just for this.
in another universe, she’d turn around and stay at the last moment. you’d drive her home, talk things through, have her move in. joke about it, maybe. or maybe you’d run after her, go with her across the world.
but you are rooted here, in this universe, watching her until she disappears inside the airport and her thoughts are too far to tap into. in this universe, you have to ease the car out of the airport, go home to your husband and your dog, and count down the time until the next phone call or email or text.