Alyssa, age seventeen, is milling about in the vestibule of a Methodist church in Midtown Atlanta, waiting for the funeral of her aunt, Margaret Blaine, who she knows as Peg, to begin. A life-long chain smoker, Margaret succumbed to lung cancer nearly a week earlier. As her oldest and closest brother, it fell to Paxton to make all the arrangements. As children, they called one another “Peg” and “Lee” which was the nickname given Paxton for his despised first name, Leroy. Margaret hated the name Peg almost as much, but tolerated Alyssa’s use of it, since Alyssa got it from her father, who’d been more of a presence in her life than that of her sister, Leah. Leah and Margaret had bonded over their shared kinship of being first-born daughters, though there were fewer years between Margaret and Paxton than between Leah and Alyssa. Whenever either sister needed to know the family’s dirt, they knew they could count on Margaret to dish it. With Margaret’s death, the only person Alyssa knows of who still uses Paxton’s first name is Leah, usually to get under his skin.
The thought of Leah causes Alyssa to wonder about her sister’s whereabouts. Contact with Leah has been sporadic since she graduated college and started attending MIT, several years ago. Alyssa has not seen her at all, though they do talk on the phone once every month or so. The last time they saw one another was when their mother died the same week Leah was supposed to have her graduation ceremony at Wellesley, seven years ago. Leah disappeared for several months right after that, supposedly touring around the country as an improviser, though Alyssa found it hard to imagine her rather sensible sister doing that. Leah would usually phone whenever she arrived in some town, just to let the family know she was still alive, but after she refocused on her studies and began attending MIT, she did not return home, not even for holidays, and Alyssa wonders if she’ll ever set eyes on her sister again.
Her thoughts are interrupted by the door to the church opening, flooding the vestibule with light. Alyssa looks to see a familiar silhouette in the doorway. She slowly takes a few steps forward, as the door closes, revealing it to be Leah, far different than Alyssa remembers her. The disheveled, awkward, eighteen-year-old, who used to play hide-and-go-seek with Alyssa and tell her stories when she was a small child has been replaced by a poised, confident, and professional woman, dressed in a dark business suit with slacks.
“Leah?” Alyssa says.
“Hey Princess,” Leah says. She gives Alyssa a quick hug. “It’s been a long time. Wow, you’re getting tall.”
“You heard about Aunt Peg,” Alyssa says. “I wasn’t sure.”
“Yeah, from the AJC,” Leah replies, a note of anger in her voice. “I had a few choice words on the phone with Dad last night over not telling me Margaret had died.”
“We didn’t know you were back in town,” Alyssa says.
“My cell number hasn’t changed,” Leah says with more than a hint of annoyance. she brightens and touches Alyssa’s shoulder. “How’ve you been?”
“I’m okay,” Alyssa says. “Are you still in school?”
“No, I graduated,” Leah says. She leans in. “I’m a doctor now. I’ve been back in Atlanta since the first of the month.” Leah looks around at the church. “What was Dad thinking, giving Margaret a church funeral?”
“Believe it or not, it’s what she wanted,” Alyssa says.
“Really?” Leah replies. “I imagined her having some sort of Wiccan ritual at the Botanical Gardens. I should have stayed in touch better than I did.”
“She changed a lot with the cancer,” Alyssa says.
“Exactly why I stopped smoking,” Leah says. “Dad should take the hint.”
“What are you doing now?” Alyssa asks. “Are you working anywhere?”
“Not yet, but I’m looking,” Leah says. “I may go back to school. You’re about to be a senior, right?”
“I will be. Yes,” Alyssa says.
Leah moves a few steps toward the sanctuary. “I suppose Dad looks about the way I remember him.”
“A little older,” Alyssa says. “He grew a beard.”
“You don’t say,” Leah says, facing her.
An usher looks out from the sanctuary. “Miss Walker?”
Alyssa looks at him, nods, and tells Leah, “I guess they’re ready to start.”
“Okay if I sit with you?” Leah says.
“I’m sitting with Daddy,” Alyssa replies
“I think we can tolerate one another for a little while for Margaret’s sake,” Leah says. They head into the sanctuary together.
Walter Blankenship sits at his desk in the downtown offices of Walker Development, Inc., the real estate development firm where he’s been on the board since before Paxton Walker, the company’s founder, stepped down to look after his daughter, Alyssa, following his wife’s death in 1991. Walter is, in fact, the only board member still left from those days, and is looking forward to his own retirement within a year. In front of him are resumes for several positions, since one of his duties includes sitting on the hiring committee. A voice from the doorway catches his attention.
“How’s it going, Walt?” a woman’s voice says.
Walt looks up to see Leah Walker, Paxton’s oldest daughter, standing before him. He rises, and enthusiastically goes to greet her. “Leah! How are you? How long has it been?”
Walt embraces Leah.
“Too long, Walt,” Leah says. “How are the years treating you?”
“Can’t complain,” Walter says. “I’ll be getting out of here middle of next year and I can’t wait. I have a whole bevy of grandchildren I need to start spoiling.”
“I bet you’re looking forward to that,” she says.
Walter leads Leah to a sofa near the window. They sit.
“I haven’t seen you since before you left for college,” Walter says. “I hear you’re Dr. Walker now.”
“Leah’s just fine among friends,” she replies.
“So, to what do I owe this pleasure?” he asks.
“I hear you’re looking for a senior network engineer,” Leah tells him.
“We are,” he replies. “That sound like something you could handle?”
“Then the job’s yours,” he says.
Leah shakes her head. “No, Walt, that’s not how I want this to work. That’s not why I came to see you.”
“I don’t understand,” he says.
“I don’t want to get this job based on who I am,” Leah replies. “I want it because of what I know.”
She takes a copy of her resume from her briefcase and hands it to him. “I want you to submit this to the search committee.”
Walt takes it and looks over it. “L. J. Rosales? Rosales was your mother’s name, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was,” Leah says. “Since my credentials are under my name, you can verify them without involving the others on the committee, and work out any issues with HR.”
“You understand, Leah, you’ll be under the same level of scrutiny as any other applicant,” Walter says. “If you can do the job, why does it matter how you got it?”
“It matters to me, Walt,” Leah says. “I don’t want anyone dismissing me because I’m the founder’s daughter.”
“We’ll do it your way, then,” he says.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Leah says, “and I don’t want you to pull any punches with me either, Walt.”
“Not to worry,” he says. They rise and Walt extends his hand. “Good luck, Dr. Rosales.”
Leah learns she’s one of the finalists for the position. Several days later, she finds herself in a board room with the search committee seated at a table before her. Leah sits in front of the table, her briefcase beside her chair. The interview has gone well, and the committee seems impressed with her knowledge and responses, with the exception of Walter Blankenship. Walt is holding a copy of her resume as he says, “Dr. Rosales, your educational credentials are very impressive, but you don’t have a great deal of hands-on experience. We’re looking for a senior network engineer and quite frankly, your work history is seriously lacking.”
Leah gives a confident smile. “With all due respect, Mr. Blankenship, you’re not going to find a senior network engineer at the price you’re offering. If I were to demean myself by working at Bickering Plummet for a year or so, to pick up some on-the-job experience, you wouldn’t be able to get me for that price. Call it what you want, this is an entry-level position at best.”
“You seem very sure of yourself, Dr. Rosales,” Walter says.
“I’m sure I can do this job,” she replies.
“How do we know you won’t fall flat on your face the first time a crisis comes along?” he says.
Leah leans back, confidently. “Guess there’s only one way to find out — Walt.”
The committee chair looks around at the members and nods.
“Okay. Thank you for your candor, Dr. Rosales,” the committee chair says. “I believe we have enough information to decide. If you’d like to step out for a moment, I’ll poll the committee.”
“I’m a big girl,” she says. “I can take it. Proceed.”
The chair nods. “Very well. Mr. Williams?”
“I vote yes,” the committee member replies.
The chair polls the others, all of whom vote to hire Leah. Finally, he comes to Walter, “Mr. Blankenship?”
Walt replies, staring straight at Leah. “I think we should pass.”
“It seems you’re in the minority, Mr. Blankenship,” the chair says. “Welcome aboard, Dr. Rosales.”
Leah stands and shakes everyone’s hand. When she shakes Walt’s hand, he winks at her, eliciting a half smile.
Once she’s in charge of the network, Leah initiates a total overhaul of the system, catching several serious errors which could have caused a considerable loss of data and revenue. Before long, she makes herself indispensable to coworkers and company officials.
She’s at her terminal one afternoon when someone enters her office and says, “L. J. There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”
Leah stands and turns to find herself face to face with her father, Paxton, standing beside one of the office managers.
“Paxton Walker, L. J. Rosales,” the manager says.
“L. J. Rosales?” Paxton says, giving her a curious expression.
Leah extends her hand. “Mr. Walker. It’s an honor to finally meet you.”
Paxton chuckles and shakes her hand. “Good to meet you, L. J. Nice to put a face with a name.”
“Mr. Walker,” the manager says, “you should know, Dr. Rosales has been nothing short of a miracle worker. To say she’s saved us from millions in potential losses is an understatement.”
“Impressive,” Paxton says. “Keep up the good work — Doctor.”
Paxton and the manager turn to leave. As he’s exiting, Paxton looks over his shoulder at Leah, then shakes his head, with a smile. Leah collapses into her chair and breathes a sigh of relief.
Several months later, at the annual company picnic, Leah is outside talking to a coworker when Alyssa appears, being guided by an employee. Seeing Leah, Alyssa stops.
“Why’s my sister here?” she says.
“Who’s your sister?” the employee asks.
“The woman in the lavender top,” Alyssa says, indicating Leah.
“That’s L. J. Rosales, our network engineer,” the employee tells her.
“Rosales?” Alyssa says. “That was our mother’s name.” Suddenly, Alyssa realizes what’s going on. “Oh, wait. Never mind. My mistake.”
“L. J. Rosales is your sister? Paxton Walker’s daughter?” The employee steps away from her. “Excuse me.” The employee exits, quickly.
Leah sees Alyssa and walks over to meet her. “Alyssa.”
Alyssa shakes her head. “Sorry, Leah. I think I blew your cover.”
Several employees appear with the one who’d been with Alyssa. They point and whisper among themselves.
“Thanks a lot princess,” Leah says, amused.
Alyssa looks at herself in the mirror, wearing her long, flowing, wedding gown. In a few minutes, her father will come to get her and she’ll walk down the aisle to marry Tim Caine. Her joy is tempered somewhat by news that several of her father’s relatives have refused to come, and while they offered various excuses, Alyssa knows it’s Tim’s race which is the real issue. Alyssa chooses to ignore all that, instead focusing on the happiness of the day.
One person Alyssa regrets not being there is her sister, Leah, left off the guest list at her father’s insistence. Alyssa had wanted Leah to be in the wedding party, but her father had objected, believing Leah would only be a disruption, and when informed of this, Leah reacted with her usual dry wit, though Alyssa could sense her sister’s bitter disappointment. Alyssa had acquiesced to her father’s wishes, but had not been able to put this behind her as she had the absence of her other family members.
She clears her head, and again examines herself in the mirror. She imagines herself as a fairy princess and begins to hum, then sing the lyrics of “I Could Have Danced All Night” and starts to dance around in her gown. Her steps are curtailed by a knock at the door. The face that greets her causes her heart to leap.
“Leah, what are you doing here?” she says excitedly. “The ceremony is about to start.”
She steps aside to allow Leah to enter. Leah is dressed in dark slacks, an elegant top, with a light jacket over it.
“Hey Princess,” she says. “I know. I just wanted to give you something.”
Leah hands Alyssa a DVD.
“What’s this?” Alyssa asks, a hint of excitement in her voice.
Leah points to the DVD. “I took all our old films and videos, cassettes and pictures, digitized them and put them on a DVD for you. Dad’s there, but it’s mostly Mom.”
Alyssa feels a lump in her throat. “Mama?”
Leah touches Alyssa’s shoulder. “Yeah. I thought it would be nice if Mom could attend your wedding.”
A tear runs down Alyssa’s cheek. “That is so sweet of you, Leah.” She hugs Leah tightly.
“I should let you get back to your preparations,” Leah says, turning toward the door.
Alyssa catches Leah’s arm. “Leah, wait. Please stay for the ceremony. It would mean a lot to me.”
“I don’t think Dad would like that very much,” Leah says. “It’s your special day, Princess. I don’t want to get in the way of that.”
“Forget Daddy,” Alyssa tells her. “I should have never let him talk me into this. With all our family who had other things to do today, I shouldn’t turn away someone who truly wants to celebrate with me. Besides, you’re my sister. You deserve to be here.”
“Your wish is my command, Princess,” Leah says with a bow.
“Will you please stop calling me that!” Alyssa says.
“It kind of suits you today,” Leah says.
Alyssa laughs. “Oh, okay, today’s fine.”