Lily’s older sister Mary was the most private thing in her life. Mary was eleven years older than Lily. When Lily was really little Mary sometimes let her sleep in a cot in her room where she read stories—sometimes making up some of her own. Lily loved it when Mary babysat her. When Lily was around 6 and Mary was 17 years old, Lily started noticing a few odd things about her oldest sister. Nobody in the family said anything, not even her other older sister, Grace, who was eight years older than Lily and who teased her relentlessly. Lily somehow knew she couldn’t ask her mother about Mary. And she wouldn’t dare say anything to anyone outside her family. Mary dressed differently from other girls her age. Her skirts were too long. She wore glasses that weren’t in style. Mary was the slowest walker in the world. It was always as if she was wading through molasses—but in a graceful sort of way. Lily was 7 and Mary was 18 when she left for college to become an artist. Lily was crushed that her favorite big sister just jumped up and left her like that. She wrote letters to her to try to keep her in her life. Mary wrote back, sometimes with funny stories she made up.
She missed Mary’s funny way of eating her cottage cheese, scooping it with a spoon she held like a shovel. When Lily was 10, Mary came back from college with someone named Andrew, who Mary said she was going to marry. That summer, two days before the wedding, Andrew drove in from Detroit in a snazzy convertible. He asked Lily if she wanted to sit in the car. Lily really didn’t want to, but decided to be friendly. Sitting in her parents’ driveway with Andrew didn’t seem so bad. But then Andrew leaned over Lily and opened the glove compartment. He reached in and pulled out a gun. “This is a very private thing,” he said. “Don’t tell anyone about it. It will be our secret.”