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Outside her window, a solitary bird flew against the backdrop of a sunrise. High above people, he saw what man was probably never meant to see. The world was open to his viewing pleasure, and the bird could see everything for miles. Yet, the one thing he truly searched for could not be found amongst the trees, houses, and fields stretched below him. Where was he going? Not even the bird knew the answer to that question.
Rose lay on her bedroom floor. Flat on her back, she let her mind dance. Thoughts waltzed their way in and out of her head, ideas conga-lined around her ceiling. Lying like that, Rose though about Grace.
As images from her mind salsa-danced through the room, Rose remembered her sister. A year since she had seen Grace, Rose looked at pictures every day, but Rose hadn’t seen Grace since last February. She tried not to think about it.
Grace loved dancing. She could quickstep with the best and tango in her sleep. Four dance classes a week would do that to a person! Practice, practice, practice, the instructors told her. And that Grace did, repeating steps and routines at any free moment. Rose was never a dancer. She was the imaginative sister who could never pay attention while Grace thrived on activity and performing.
Dancing was Grace’s only outlet. While doing her routines, she was virtually as free as she would ever be. The intensity with which she moved was exhilarating. Anyone who watched Grace perform predicted greatness in her future. The way she danced each step was violent, but it was real. It was passionate and frightening, simultaneously. Rose never tired of watching her sister dance.
Grace had a secret. It was big and burdening, it kept her from being free as if it was the chain that shackled her to a wall. Grace hid it well; it wasn’t hard with her eternal good mood. If anyone suspected a trace of unhappiness or fear in Grace’s crystal clear blue eyes, she threw back her wavy auburn hair and smiled. No one would believe she harbored any kind of pain, except for Rose.
Late in the night, when crickets singing their melancholy song were the loudest noise around, Rose and Grace whispered across the beds in the shared room. Rose always knew that Grace was sad. Deep, serious conversation only shared between sisters would be interrupted by an eruption of sudden silence.
“Grace,” Rose whispered. “Gracie?” Crickets answered her, providing the soundtrack to Grace’s thoughts.
“I’m bored,” she responded. “You’re young and you bore me. Goodnight.”
And Rose would lie awake, knowing very well that Grace hid something she wasn’t telling anyone.
On those nights, Rose never got much sleep. Instead, she took to gazing out the window, enchanted by the stars. What were they, exactly, and how did they get there? Rose never learned the real answers to these questions; she amused herself by making up her own.
In Rose’s mind, each star burning brightly was a burden. There were billions of stars, one for each heavy load carried by human hearts and shoulders. Perhaps it was a secret, a lie, guilt, or hardship, but whatever the star stood for, each was significant and refused to burn out until the burden was lifted. The bigger the load, the brighter the star. Rose concluded that Grace’s star was definitely one of the brightest.
After Grace went away, off to college two years ahead of Rose, things were quieter. Rose missed their late night bonding time and even Grace’s constant dancing. She began to imagine her thoughts as Grace’s dance steps to somehow replace her sister. However, no simulated dance was ever quite the same.
Sometimes Grace would call, late at night, and talk to Rose in slurred words about the importance of their friendship. It seemed only at these times that Grace was so concerned. At the end of each alcohol-driven phone call, Grace would pause.
“Gracie, you there?” Rose asked.
“You know, yeah?” Grace’s voice questioned, heavy and thick with confusion.
“What are you talking about?” Rose was puzzled.
“No. You know. You do.”
Rose sighed. “Yes, sure. I know, Grace, I know. Be careful, okay?” Hanging up the phone, what she did know was that tonight would be another sleepless night for her to ponder Grace’s secret.
Rose once questioned her sister about the phone calls and what Grace expected Rose to know. Grace never remembered the calls, so she said. They weren’t even in her phone history, all proof destroyed. Despite Grace’s denial, Rose secretly anticipated the nighttime calls with concealed excitement. They were the few moments when she felt closer to her sister than ever before.
Grace came home from college on some weekends to visit Rose and their parents. Greeting them with the necessary formal politeness, Grace hardly spent time with her family. She went out with local friends from high school, excluding Rose from her life almost completely. Except for once.
It was February. The family expected Grace home for another visit that coming weekend and Rose had just cleared off her sister’s old bed in preparation for Grace’s stay. The phone rang.
“Hello?” Rose answered, bored with cleaning and cold from the chilly weather outside. She pulled open her closet and grabbed a green woolen sweater.
“Rosie? It’s me,” Grace sang, unusually cheerful. “So I’m coming home this weekend—”
Rose put down the phone to pull the sweater over her head, thinking it didn’t matter. She was talking to Grace, after all.
“Are you there?”
“Yeah, sorry, dropped the phone… what were you saying?” Walking toward the kitchen, Rose stopped in her tracks. “What?”
Grace’s laugh echoed through the phone’s earpiece. “Gosh, you make it sound like we spend no time together. But are you free the second day I’m home?”
“Well, yeah, I guess I am.” Thrilled, Rose realized how long it had really been since the sisters had been together.
When Grace did come home that weekend, she seemed back to her usual ways. Out the first night and unaccounted for the morning and afternoon of the second day, Rose worried Grace’s offer had been too good to be true. However, against all odds, she finally turned up around 4:30 that afternoon.
“Rosie! You’re not ready. We’re going out in forty-five minutes,” a rather disheveled looking Grace informed Rose. She laughed, reassured and hopeful that maybe things would be different from there on out.
“Where are we going, Grace?” Rose asked on the drive to the mystery location. She sat in the passenger seat of Grace’s old, green, beat-up car. It was filled to the brim with junk, mostly gum wrappers and receipts, though when Rose moved her feet around, she heard the distinct clinking of bottles under her seat.
Grace was humming and tapping out the beat on the steering wheel. “We’re going for ice cream of course. You know, that place in town Mom used to take us.”
Rose laughed. “I should have guessed. Remember when you were about seven and you stole some lady’s sundae? We were behind her in line and when they brought up her ice cream you squeezed in front of her, grabbed it, ran out of the shop and down the street!”
Grace’s face lit up. “I do remember!” The sisters laughed, reminiscing about life when it wasn’t so complicated.
At the ice cream store, Rose and Grace ordered their childhood usuals, strawberry with strawberry pieces and moose tracks. They left the shop and headed to Grace’s car.
Her hand on the door, Rose noticed a snowflake on her navy blue mitten. Looking into the sky, Rose saw snow falling down all around them. She smiled and said, “Would you like to take a walk?”
The two left Grace’s car in the parking lot of the ice cream shop. From there, they strolled into the now snow-dusted park and watched ice skaters on the lake. They leaned against a fence peering down the hill at the frozen pond.
“Grace,” Rose began, hesitant to continue.
“Yeah?” she responded, turning to face her sister.
Rose returned Grace’s look. “Why did things change like they did?”
Grace’s gorgeous shining eyes hollowed out, a sad expression crept over her face. She looked at her feet. “I don’t know, Rosie.”
But she did know. Even though she asked, Rose knew why, too. It was the secret, Grace’s star that continued to burn in the sky. It was the reason everything changed between the two sisters, the reason that Grace had changed.
“Why don’t you dance, Gracie? Dance, right now, the way you always did before.” Rose took her sister’s arm and pulled Grace so she was looking into her eyes.
Breaking into a smile, Grace spun away from Rose, performing one of her old routines on the spot. Clad in her winter attire, heavy coat, hat, mittens, and boots, Grace danced with a passion that practically melted the show around her.
Rose cheered and Grace was on fire, she could not stop now. Taking off down the road, Grace danced into the nightfall, laughing, with Rose running behind crying, “Dance, Grace!”
They were a whirlwind. Hardly anyone in the park but a few cars that drove through, the sisters had the whole place to themselves. Down the roads they went, giggling and running for what seemed like hours, but really wasn’t.
Grace danced toward a bridge, the only bridge in the park. Majestically it presided over everything and everyone. Jumping onto the bridge’s wall, she spun in circles and showed off for her sister.
“Dance, Gracie! You’re magical.”
She moved slowly on the bridge, hardly conscious but conscious still of the dangerous fall below her. Motivated by Rose’s cries, she danced faster and more vigorously than ever before.
“Fly, Gracie, fly! You’re magic, you really are!” Rose jumped and clapped off to the side of the bridge, bursting with joy and the sense that perhaps this euphoria wasn’t even real.
A light approached from a distance. Rose noticed and yelled to Grace. “A car’s coming, be careful!” Grace, dramatic as she was, did not get down from the wall, determined to dance until the last possible second. She laughed at Rose’s warning, and continued, feeling almost complete freedom. Almost.
The car was closer, but Grace still danced. Even closer, she refused to come down. Finally as the car drove onto the bridge, Grace leaped from the wall as a theatrical end to her most beautiful performance.
Screeching breaks, trying desperately to stop. Icy, frozen wood propelling to car forward. Grace screaming, Rose screaming, fainting. The car spinning onto the road and off, hitting a young tree.
Rose opened her eyes. Thoughts stopped dancing as she stood up from the floor of her bedroom. Grabbing her keys, Rose drove Grace’s old green car to the cemetery where she stood over a familiar grave.
It’s been a year since Rose has seen Grace.
She looks at pictures every day, but it’s not the same.