The Truth About Love and Lightning Online - Susan McBride

Prologue

Annika Brink could not tell a lie.

From as far back as Gretchen could remember, her mother had been unable to utter anything but the cold, unvarnished truth—or, at least, the truth according to Annika—and, as Gretchen learned quickly enough as a child, often the truth set no one free and was downright painful besides.

As when the twins were born when Gretchen was five. “They are not right,” Annika had insisted, her pale hair wild and hands on her hips, such a ferocious frown on her lips that it looked as though she might want to take them back to the county hospital posthaste.

Which had Gretchen wondering if one could return babies the same way one returned a glass bottle drained of soda to the grocer’s for a nickel.

“Do you not see what I see?” Annika had nagged her very tolerant husband.

“They look fine to me,” Gretchen’s father had replied, and he’d bent over the double-wide crib to first rub Bennie’s belly and then Trudy’s. “They’ve each got ten fingers and ten toes, a perfect button nose, and ears like tiny seashells.”

“Then you are as blind as they are,” Annika had bluntly stated. “Look at their eyes! They’re such a milky blue, and neither so much as blinks when I pass my hand before them. Do you think it’s my fault, for painting while I was pregnant?” she had asked, madly pacing. “Was it the fumes from the oils or the turpentine? As an artist, I can’t imagine a more horrible curse than to lose one’s sight!”

“Oh, I can think of plenty,” Gretchen’s father had coolly replied, his knuckles turning white as he gripped the crib’s railing. “Would you cast out a calf because it couldn’t see, when its milk will be no different than a cow with sight?”

“Please!” Annika had loudly and dismissively snorted. “I know you believe animals are like people because you spend more time with beasts than humans,” she’d told him, “but these are our daughters, not barnyard creatures!”

For a long moment, Gretchen had shut out their voices. She’d heard them argue enough before about her father’s job as a farm veterinarian, how it kept them in Walnut Ridge when Annika found so much about small-town life uncultured and unfit.

Instead, Gretchen had crept toward the bars of the crib and peered through as if staring at a pair of sleeping monkeys at the zoo. If there was something wrong with her new sisters, she couldn’t see it from where she stood.

“C’mon, Anni, enough.” Her father had expelled a weary sigh. “Nothing’s your fault. Nothing’s anyone’s fault. Sometimes things just happen, and no one’s to blame. If it’s not life or death, we’ll get through it.”

“They will never have normal lives.”

“Normal is overrated,” he’d declared, shaking his head. It was a minute before he seemed to realize Gretchen was there beside him, her upturned face full of worry. “Better to be different, don’t you think, sweet pea?” he had said, his voice suddenly lighter as he ruffled her bright yellow curls. “That’s how you make your mark. Not by being the same as everyone else.”

But Gretchen had not agreed. Her mother’s words had her frightened.

“What will happen to them?” she’d asked and had slipped a small hand through the crib rails to poke tiny Trudy. She was no bigger than a pot roast, although pot roasts didn’t drool in their sleep. “We’ll keep them, won’t we?”

“Of course we’ll keep them,” Daddy had told her, squatting down at her side. “They’re your sisters, and we love them. Everything will be fine.”

Annika had groaned. “How can you tell her that in all good conscience? Because you can’t possibly know. You’ve never been blind. Neither of us can be sure of what will become of them.”

“They have us to protect them,” her daddy had said with a nod. “That’s all that children need.”

“But what happens when we die? Who will they have then?” her mother had cried. “We have no family anywhere near.”

“Me,” Gretchen had said quietly as her fingers reached for Trudy’s dimpled elbow. “They’ll have me. I won’t let anything happen to them, Mommy. I promise.”

And Gretchen had meant it.

The twins were eventually diagnosed as legally blind, their sight limited to discerning shadows and shapes, darkness and light. But there was nothing positive about their situation in Annika’s eyes. When they went into town to visit the shops on Main Street, Annika would push Trudy and Bennie up the sidewalk in the double stroller and Gretchen would walk a few