Twisted SistersJen Lancaster
Other Titles by New York Times Bestselling Author Jen Lancaster
Bitter Is the New Black
Bright Lights, Big Ass
Such a Pretty Fat
Pretty in Plaid
My Fair Lazy
If You Were Here
Here I Go Again
The Tao of Martha
New American Library
Published by the Penguin Group
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Copyright © Jen Lancaster, 2014
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REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA:
Lancaster, Jen, 1967–
Twisted sisters/Jen Lancaster.
1. Sisters—Fiction. 2. Families—Fiction. 3. Success—Fiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Also by Jen Lancaster
CHAPTER ONE: Jersey Girl
CHAPTER TWO: Boat Drinks
CHAPTER THREE: Trading Up
CHAPTER FOUR: Running Away
CHAPTER FIVE: Big Time
CHAPTER SIX: Party Girl
CHAPTER SEVEN: Adventures in Awesome
CHAPTER EIGHT: And Then That Happened
CHAPTER NINE: Blast from the Past
CHAPTER TEN: Swimfan
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Take Her to the Mattresses
CHAPTER TWELVE: Lights, Cameras, Action
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: The Ego Has Landed
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Ancient Chinese Secret
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Sister Act
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: We’re Number One!
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Bad Dreams Are Made of This
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: It’s Just Brunch
CHAPTER NINETEEN: Geri1234
CHAPTER TWENTY: (Literally) in Her Shoes
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: Point Break
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: That’s Just Nuts
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: Groundswell
For JSS and JPK, my sisters by choice
I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.
Big sisters are the crabgrass in the lawn of life.
—Charles M. Schulz
Me and my sisters all have such different body types.
“Do I know you?”
The well-appointed woman peers at me over her Whole Foods shopping cart, brimming with free-range chicken, organic fruit, and glass-bottled Kombucha.
I’m not surprised she’s finally asking. She seems like someone who’d recognize me, clad in the unofficial Lincoln Park Trader’s Wife uniform of perfectly buttery-blond ponytail, high-speed sneakers, Lululemon, and more ice than you’d find in your garden-variety cocktail. I noticed her watching me while I debated between frisée and spring-mix greens and then later when I perused wild-caught salmon. (Naturally, I buy only seafood approved by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program. And who wouldn’t? Sustainability matters.)
She continues, “I’m so sorry—this is weird, right? But I feel like I know you somehow.” She taps a couple of expertly manicured fingers on her artificially enhanced lips as she tries to piece together our connection.
I smile beatifically, as this sort of thing happens to me all the time; it’s one of the complications of being a local celebrity. I find that people have a lot more fun when they finally determine who I am on their own, so I opt not to offer any clues.
“Did you graduate from Maine South High School?”
Public school? Oh, honey. No. But bless your heart for marrying up.
I shake my head. “I attended Taylor Park Academy.” I don’t mention that this is Chicago’s most infamous Ivy League feeder school, as anyone who cares is already familiar with their commitment to academics.
She furrows her brow and searches my face. “Hmm . . . did you go to Northern?”
Again, a great big no here. I attended the University of Chicago for undergrad and master’s, even though I was accepted to Yale and Stanford, too. Clearly, Taylor Park Academy is no joke. Had Obama not been elected for a second term, this is where his kids would matriculate. However, I’m a public figure, so I’m loath to make this potential fan feel bad about her subpar education.
“No, I’m afraid not.”
It’s irrelevant to mention that my older sister, Mary Magdalene, attended Northern. Of course, she was there for only a year before she dropped out to marry her high school boyfriend.
(Ahem, shotgun wedding, ahem.)
Presently, Mary Mac—that’s what we call her for short—has churned out more kids than I can count. It’s like she’s a hoarder, only for children. In terms of personal achievement, she’s pretty much the patron saint of minivans and stretch marks. What is that meme I’ve seen about the prolific 19 Kids and Counting mother? Ah, yes, “It’s a vagina, not a clown car.” Add one persecution complex, stir, and, boom! Meet my older sister.
Among numerous others, Mary Mac and her contractor husband, Mickey, have a couple of identical ginger daughters named Kacey Irelyn and Kiley. I can’t tell them apart for the life of me, so I generally just refer to both of them as Kiley Irelyn. Perhaps if the little ingrates sent thank-you notes when I gave them birthday presents, I’d be better able to determine who’s who. But apparently American Girl dolls grow on trees in that house, so my efforts are thus unrecognized.
I still have to pick up pasture-raised eggs and a probiotic supplement, then bring everything home to refrigerate before my call time, so I need to move this along. I volunteer, “Perhaps we met at Pepperdine?”
Before I can even mention their doctorate program, I see a flash of recognition in her face and I steel myself for the inevitable, ready to tell her, no, I did not major in Battle of the Network Stars. Because that joke wasn’t already old the second my younger sister, Geri, first uttered it a decade ago.
Let me ask you: how is it a negative that my college campus, situated on a Malibu bluff overlooking the Pacific, was so bucolic that ABC simply had to film their campy television battles there in
the seventies and eighties? I chose Pepperdine not because Scott Baio ever pitched a javelin there, but because they have one of the top psychology programs in the country.
I mean, there I was, paying for my PsyD with grants and loans I’d garnered on my own, on my way to becoming Dr. Reagan Bishop, and did anyone in my family give me the credit I deserved? No! Instead, they all brayed like jackasses, congratulating bratty teenaged Geri on her hilarious quips.
Bah-ha-ha! Battle of the Network Stars! Hey, Reagan, will you take Greg Evigan’s classes on potato-sack races or will it be obstacle courses with William Shatner?
I’m a licensed psychologist; Geri’s a licensed cosmetologist.
I deal with what’s inside the human head; she concentrates on what’s on top of it.
Plus, Geri was barely three years old when the iconic TV battles ended back in 1988. In theory, she’s not capable of discerning a Charlene Tilton from a Tina Yothers. I suspect long-suffering Mary Mac fed her that line. Mary Mac and Geri are a decade apart and haven’t a thing in common, save for a love of pop culture, a lack of ambition . . . and a grudge against me.
I’ve counseled my fair share of families in which the siblings’ alliances are constantly realigning. Most often, this is due to the perception of the parents’ having picked a favorite, regardless of how inadvertent the choice may be. The other siblings get caught up in the injustice of not being in the spotlight. As the spotlight shifts, so do alliances.
Of course, this has never been the case with the Bishop girls. Those two have been Team NotReagan since day one. From choosing what TV show to watch to deciding what color to paint our bedroom, Geri and Mary Mac have always cast their votes together, neatly eclipsing any opinion I might have had. Of course, I’d get them back come birthday time, requesting mile-high peanut butter pie for my dessert because of Geri’s nut allergy. Ha! No pie for you!
(Side note? It’s my professional opinion that Geri’s been faking her supposed nut sensitivity ever since there were fixings enough for only one ham sandwich for our packed school lunches.)
Anyway, since my family never seems to appreciate what I’ve accomplished, please allow me to blow my own horn for a minute. (I try to practice self-validation whenever possible because it’s an important ingredient in cultivating positive self-esteem.) Not only did I skip a grade in elementary school, graduate from Taylor Park, and garner two degrees at U of C in four and a half years, but I also received my PsyD with highest honors. While my classmates were still muddling through their clinical training, I was already in private practice, being named one of Chicago’s Top Doctors by Chicago magazine. And that’s how Wendy Winsberg found me.
Yes, that Wendy Winsberg, grande dame of daytime talk television for almost three decades and, according to Forbes, the number one entry on their 100 Most Powerful Women list. When she finally burned out on hosting a daily show herself, she formed the WeWIN cable network with a plethora of what she calls “fempowering” television for women.
The crown jewel in her lineup is the breakout show I Need a Push, in which participants learn to become their best selves by overcoming obstacles and changing behaviors. They also receive sassy haircuts and wardrobe makeovers, but that’s really not my department.
As for my role?
To quote Tina Fey, I’m a pusher, meaning I’m the one who manifests the push.
Two and a half years ago, I put my practice on hold and became one of the show’s lead psychologists. Although I miss taking private patients, I excel equally at working in depth with the participants. In my old practice, I spent an hour a week with my clients. That’s barely enough time to scratch the surface on someone’s latent daddy issues, let alone his or her present-day problems with work, finances, relationships, et cetera.
But with I Need a Push, I have the luxury of almost unlimited time. In some cases, I’m able to spend up to two months administering daily one-on-one cognitive therapy, so by the time pushees have their tips frosted (or whatever it is Push’s hairdressers do), they’re returning to their lives able to face challenges with a new and improved set of behaviors.
I’d like to see you fix someone’s life armed with nothing but a flatiron, Geri.
I glance down at my watch as an indication that we need to wrap this whole how-do-I-know-you business soon. Things to do, groceries to shelve, lives to touch, et cetera.
The shopper gives a self-conscious laugh. “I’m keeping you—I apologize. But this’ll drive me crazy until I figure out our connection, and then in the middle of the night, I’ll wake my husband up by shouting, ‘Spin class!’ or something. Wait, are you in my spin class?”
I shrug. “I’m more of a runner than a spinner.” Time at last year’s Chicago Marathon? Four hours, twenty-nine minutes. Personal best, thank you very much. Working to get my pace down to less than ten minutes per mile, though. (I believe in me; I can do it!)
Of course, Geri’s decided she’s an athlete now, too, having just walked a 5K. Not ran, walked. Took her over an hour and required the whole damn family waiting for her at the finish line holding banners and balloons. From the way everyone was celebrating, I thought they were going to carry her off on their shoulders Cleopatra-style, chanting, Hail the conquering hero!
Yes, Geri, hurrah for the bare minimum!
Yet when I crossed the finish line at my first marathon after having run 26.2 miles? My family members were all whooping it up in the beer tent and they missed everything. Where were my banners? What of my balloons? Who was carrying me off on their shoulders? (Trust me? I’m a lot lighter.) There I was, wrapped up in the Mylar blanket, all alone searching for my missing cheering section. Typical. Later, Geri admitted, “We didn’t figure you’d be done so soon. Hell, it takes me that long to drive 26.2 miles!” I scowl, remembering the incident.
The shopper becomes apologetic. “You know what? I’m being a pest. I guess I’ll just wake my husband when I figure it out. Thanks for indulging me.” She gives me an awkward little bow and begins to circle her cart over to the cheese counter.
Okay, game’s over. Feeling magnanimous (largely because I am magnanimous), I draw a breath to tell her that, yes, I’m the one she saw in all the magazines, and in the Tribune, and on WeWIN. I’ve lectured at colleges across the country and I’ve been on morning shows, on all the cable news networks, and one week last fall, I cohosted with Dr. Drew. And once in a while, the paparazzi publish a shot of me with my überfamous mentor, Wendy.
But before I can share the highlights of my CV, she spins back around and snaps her fingers, face wreathed in a smile. “Oh, my God!”
I know what’s coming next and I can’t help but swell with pride. Indeed, I’ve accomplished so much already in my career and my life.
“You’re Geri’s sister!”
Of course I’m the hairdresser’s sister.
Of course I am.
“Are you still in love with Lorenzo?” I ask.
Dina’s kohl-lined eyes are rimmed with tears as she contemplates her answer. With dozens of sessions under our belts over the past month, we’ve come so far. She’s finally let down her guard and lately her insights have been coming rapid-fire. I’m so proud of her progress and I’m confident Wendy Winsberg will be thrilled with this episode. This is the exact kind of positive change we want I Need a Push to manifest.
And if highlighting positive change wins us a Daytime Emmy?
All the better.
Dina unfastens the white plastic claw-clip holding back torrents of black hair and rakes inch-long French-manicured tips through her mane. Somewhere, underneath the spandex leggings, the bronzer, and all the bravado, lives a wounded little girl . . . with a serious penchant for leopard print.
But my job is not to judge.
Although as I’m an e
xpert in human behavior, I’d be particularly adept at doing so.
Take Dina, for example. Here she is, a bright, attractive—albeit somewhat flashy—girl with her entire future ahead of her. Maybe she won’t become secretary of state with her liberal arts degree from Rutgers, but still. Her life is rife with possibility. (Again, save for cabinet-level work.) But surely there are accounts she can manage, minor projects she can spearhead, cell phones she can market, or memos she can draft to other entry-level managers. I fail to understand why she’s willing to jeopardize her potential for some oily Pauly D wannabe club DJ/bouncer. Push intervened at the insistence of both her parents and the family court judge. If she can’t curb her behavior and ends up saddled with a restraining order, she may as well buy some clear heels and prepare for her debut on the main stage.
I take in her artfully shredded racer-back tank and visible bra and realize it’s possible she already owns stripper shoes.
“I am, but I’m trying so hard not to be. Oh, Dr. Reagan, it’s like, whenever I think about him I feel so frigging . . .” She scans the horizon, where a few brave boaters are navigating the sun-dappled water, taking their first sail of the season.
In therapy, deliberate silences are as important as actual conversation. I nod encouragingly as she chooses her words. Sometimes when they take too long to find the words, I use the opportunity to jot down my shopping list.
What? It’s called “time management” and that’s why I’m a pro.
Dina and I are discussing her abandonment issues while we stroll the path by Lake Michigan. With blue skies and balmy breezes, summer’s come particularly early to Chicago, so Craig, our nebbishy director, wanted to provide a more visually stimulating backdrop than the studio. Mind you, the presence of two cameramen, a couple of sound and lighting guys, Craig, a hair and makeup stylist, and one hapless production assistant who keeps spilling my tea isn’t exactly conducive to unfettered communication at first, but after a while, even the most self-conscious forget we’re rolling.