Carrie had a nickname at home, ‘the little liar’.
Being the baby of the family, ‘little’ spoke for itself. Jenny, Carrie’s older sister added ‘liar’.
The sisters used to play together. They were inseparable. Their mother said they were like twins, only born six years apart.
It wasn’t so much that Carrie lied, as she didn’t know when to keep her mouth shut. Her indiscriminate truth-telling became troublesome for Jenny.
Like the time Carrie told their parents Jenny skipped school. Carrie had been happy to see her. She didn’t mean to get Jenny in trouble.
In defense, Jenny declared her a liar. About everything.
Jenny actually engineered circumstances so Carrie would be caught in a lie. And Jenny always had an alibi. Once doubt about Carrie’s honesty settled in, Jenny’s life simplified a lot. She was free from Carrie intruding on her personal life.
But Carrie struggled. Jenny had shattered Carrie’s unquestioning trust. And being labeled a liar challenged her sense of self. Everyone called false what Carrie knew as true. So Carrie embraced the lie and the freedom it afforded her. Freedom sprung from everyone’s low expectations of her.
Carrie made the most of being branded a liar. She told her father, Dan, she loved broccoli. And told her mother she hated it. She said her grades were worse than what her report card showed. She wrote a hand-made birthday card to Jenny saying how much she loved her.
Dan and Laura didn’t know what or who to believe anymore. Jenny didn’t care.
Carrie and Jenny had separate bedrooms on the second floor. But their closets were actually a single storage space with doors at opposite ends. Years ago, the sisters had used this ‘secret passage’ when playing together.
Carrie noticed a pile of Jenny’s stuffed animals intruding on her closet space. Some toys Carrie had longed for including Binky Bear and Tonya Turtle lay in the stack. They were threadbare and abandoned!
When Carrie rescued her favorites from the pile, the wall of plush collapsed. The long-forgotten passage opened behind it. A dim light shone through Jenny’s closet door, left ajar.
Carrie crawled over to investigate.
She couldn’t see much. But it looked like Jenny was talking to someone outside the window.
‘That’s strange…’ Carrie thought. ‘We’re upstairs.’ She watched as Jenny leaned out of the window for a moment.
Jenny abruptly pulled back and slammed the window. With a mischievous laugh, she wagged her finger at the unseen visitor.
Carrie scrambled back to her end of the closet before Jenny opened the closet door.
The whole next day, Carrie pondered what she had seen. Had she seen anything? Or had she begun lying to herself? Carrie decided she knew what she knew.
At dinner that night, the family ate quietly. Jenny said something about having ‘a lot of homework’. This triggered Carrie into uncontrollable giggling.
Dan asked, “What’s up, Carrie?”
“Nothing.” And she burst into laughter.
Laura tried, “Share the joke with us, Carrie. So we all can laugh.”
“I would, but I don’t want Jen to call me a liar.”
Jenny gave Carrie a hard look. “Everyone knows what you are. I don’t have to say it.”
Laura gave Jenny a sharp look but didn’t say anything.
“I thought I’d say Jen is so funny. Maybe you’d believe me if I say she’s not.”
Dan and Laura looked at Jenny who shrugged.
“See? No matter what I say, you look at Jen. You should just ask her.” Carrie laughed at their bewildered expressions. “Can I watch TV? My National Geographic is on.”
Laura nodded and Carrie left the table.
Later, Jenny walked into Carrie’s room. “What are you doing?”
“I mean, what was all your nonsense at dinner?”
“You tell me.”
“Hey! What’s Binky doing here? Who said you could play with Binky?”
“Sorry Jen, Bink felt lonely. I thought you’d outgrown him.” Carrie laughed again.
Jenny picked Binky up and cradled him. “Well, I haven’t. He’s mine.”
Jenny slammed the door behind her.
Curious, Carrie watched her sister every night. Borrowing a phrase from the National Geographic, Carrie called this ‘observing her in the wild’.
Most nights watching Jenny were pretty boring. She would read, primp in front of her mirror or scroll endlessly on her phone.
In close quarters and surrounded by stuffed animals, Carrie found herself nodding off. She jerked awake and held her breath, afraid she had made a noise. Quiet music played on Jenny’s stereo. She didn’t hear Carrie.
A shadow moved and Carrie peered out the gap in Jenny’s closet door. Air from the open window moved the curtain. Jenny was not alone.
Carrie had trouble seeing. A boy hugged Jenny. They moved to the music. They kissed and sat on the bed. It was Jenny’s boyfriend, James!
After a flurry of movement, Jenny protested and stood, smoothing her skirt. She scolded James in hushed tones. But again she sat next to him. James said something and Jenny laughed. They moved out of sight as their feet left the floor and they rolled onto the bed.
Carrie felt panic. She wanted to burst into the room and yell for help.
But Carrie stopped, knowing she would get blamed. She didn’t know why. Nothing made sense anymore. But Carrie knew if she blew the whistle on Jenny, it would come down on her.
Carrie returned to her room and shut her closet door. She couldn’t sit. She stomped down the hall and slammed the bathroom door.
Laura called up the stairs. “Girls? What’s going on up there?”
Jenny opened her door a little. “Nothing, Mom. It’s Carrie.” Jenny shut her door. The house returned to quiet.
The next morning, Dan saw Carrie at breakfast. “What’s up, kid? Everything okay?”
“There seemed to be a lot of commotion last night. Thought you might want to talk.”
“It wasn’t me, Dad. You’d have to ask Jen about it.”
Dan gave his daughter a look of ‘Why does this have to be so tough?’
Carrie ate her cereal and left for school.
The next few nights were uneventful. Carrie kept observing Jenny but things appeared to have settled down. Carrie hoped it had been a one-time event.
Her homework demanded more time. Carrie had been curious about Jenny’s behavior. But considering she couldn’t see much and also didn’t much want to see, Carrie admitted spying had become a bore. She decided Jenny wasn’t any of her business.
A week later, Carrie gathered her things and went down to breakfast. Laura paced the kitchen while Dan spoke on the phone trying to locate Jenny.
“What’s up, Mom?”
Laura shushed Carrie and pulled her aside. “Have you seen Jenny? Be honest.”
“No, Mom. What’s going on?”
“Jenny isn’t home. I don’t think she slept here last night.”
Dan hung up the phone. “Her friends don’t know anything.”
Laura went to him. “Where could she be?”
“There wasn’t a note? Her gym bag is gone?”
Laura looked down. “Yes. No note. Her jacket is gone and some of her clothes. I checked the laundry. Dan, where is she?”
“I don’t know, Laura.”
Dan ran upstairs. Laura looked intently at Carrie. Dan came back down.
“I’ll call the police. Her window is unlatched.”
“She isn’t allowed on the roof.”
“I don’t know, Laura. Let’s see what the police say.”
A patrol car pulled up and two policemen came to the door. Laura let them in. They asked a series of questions but there wasn’t much to go on. Jenny hadn’t been gone long enough to file a missing person’s report.
One of the policemen kept looking at Carrie. She hadn’t bargained for this.
Laura sensed Carrie might know something more than she admitted.
“Carrie, are you sure there’s nothing you can tell us?”
Carrie hesitated. “You’ll just think I’m lying.”
“Sweetheart, if you know something, I promise I’ll believe you.”
The cop knelt down. “What can you tell us, Carrie?”
Carrie felt exposed. “James.”
“Who?” The cop pulled out his notepad.
“Jenn’s boyfriend, James. He came in the night.”
Carrie told them all she knew. She told the truth. And they believed her.
The policemen assured them kids aren’t as smart as they think. They were confident Jenny would soon be safe and home.
Carrie went upstairs. She looked into Jenny’s room. Binky Bear lay on the floor between the bed and the wall.
Carrie picked him up and held him close.