She was supposed to be perfect. In my last clear memory of her, when we were both high school seniors, she was driving us to our English class at the local community college. We were in a special group of students given permission to take classes outside the high school. She was using her left foot to work the brake, her right foot always remaining on the gas peddle. It wasn’t how she was taught to drive, but she told me it made sense to her.
She had a wistful look on her face as she steered us along the winding road. She was smaller than me, with tight dark blond curls, and a serious face. She hadn’t grown out of her tomboy figure, small and lean and agile. She was one of the best cheerleaders, second only to her older sister. She wanted to be valedictorian, but we didn’t yet know that she would narrowly miss that honor to another popular student. She hungered for the music teacher’s son Vincent, who she was dating at that time. She clutched him with her eyes and I would see him wince.
As she guided the car across the intersection with Route 5, she mentioned her older sister. Carol did everything right. A’s in every class. Cheerleader captain. Lead singer in the choir at church. Valedictorian. The most popular girl in the whole school. Everyone loved her. Everything she did was perfect. And her parents expected no less from Janie. For the first and last time she said to me on that drive: “I’m supposed to be exactly like Carol. I’m supposed to be perfect.”
When I next saw her, fifteen years later, the curls had grown out and her hair hung in lifeless strands to her shoulders. She had put on some weight, probably due to the fatty foods they served. The light blue pants and shirt made the blue in her eyes pop. We were sitting across from each other in a small meeting room. I had been assigned her case. She had smiled at me when I greeted her in the reception area but said nothing until we were alone.
“You know, I married Vincent after I got my undergraduate degree. Then I taught at our high school while he went to med school in Albany.” She looked down at her hands which were shaking a little. I wanted to reach out and still them, but we were not friends. We had never been friends.
“It made sense for him to have an apartment there while he was in residency. It made sense, until Carol mentioned that she had been there.” She glanced up at me, still smiling, but with that wistfulness that I remembered from long ago.
“It would have been the perfect murder. I wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t made just one mistake. I should have left them as they were, but even in death she looked perfect. I couldn’t bare it. I didn’t want her to outshine me in death, too.” She shrugged. After five years in prison, she was resigned to her fate. My job was to get her sentence reduced down from murder one. We both knew it was a futile effort, given how she had mutilated her sister’s body. Almost perfect, I thought.