Louis’ parents divorced when he was six. Two weeks later, he had a new stepmom named Becky. She laughed a lot and left lipstick stains on Louis’ forehead. Sometimes she took him and his dad riding in the Jeep with the top down. Her long hair whisked all around the steering wheel like a forcefield, and Louis wished everyone could have hair like that.
Becky started having children when Louis was in middle school. Every few years, there was another half-sister. Louis stood over the crib, curled his fingers around the new baby’s cheek, touched his thumb to her Christmas bow mouth. When Louis graduated from high school, all his sisters were still very young.
Louis’ mom was a math teacher with chalk-smudged fingerprints and coffee-stained shirts. She didn’t remarry until later in life, when Louis had children of his own. She had known about Becky before the divorce, had hated her. But every time a new half-sister was born, Louis’ mom embroidered a set of pink footie pajamas with the new baby’s name and sent them with him to his dad’s. Sometimes she showed Louis pictures of his big sister who died during infancy.
In sixth grade, during a game of hide-and-seek at his mom’s church, a girl with blue eyeshadow told Louis to meet her in the baptistry. He found her half-lit face in the corner of the tank opposite the drain. He kissed her, felt her shoulder blades and waist, until someone shined down a flashlight. Later, Becky told him that making out was a wonderful, normal thing. His mom said it was okay this time, but generally, not a thing to do at church.
For two years of high school, Louis dated a girl in his remedial math classes who had wavy hair like Becky’s. When he kissed another girl on the dance team, his girlfriend broke up with him. Later, Becky told him that this was a life lesson. That he had to learn to trust his instincts in these moments, to make the right decision for himself. His mom suggested that next time he break up with one girl before kissing another.
During college, Louis dated a perfect type, a pre-med beauty queen, for two whole months. He took her to the mall with Becky. He brought her to church with his mom. The girl stopped returning his calls, and two weeks later, she was engaged to someone else. Later, Becky told Louis that there were plenty of other girls out there. But his mom cried. She laid out the pictures of his older sister on the kitchen table and said that if the baby had lived, surely she would have been a heartbreaker, too.