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The Dead Girl's Sister
I opened my arms wide, stretching out until the back of my palms rested against the purple bedroom walls, half asleep. I don’t know what I was hoping for but I almost expected Leah to lean into my arms and let me hold her close. Of course she didn’t know how important these little things were but every time I was rejected something in me twitched the tiniest bit, changing my entire perspective on every detail. But as I wait for her to rest into my arms, my patience was shortening. She was my sister for crying out loud! She was leaving me the day before my birthday to be with her friends, didn’t I deserve a “good-bye”? So I lay there, on my bed with my eyes closed, losing hope until I felt the soft texture of the stuffed bear that usually rested against my closet door, faded white with eyes like coal. Unlike my sister the lifeless bear showed no expression, just it’s black eyes, allowing me to hold it close without questions. It didn’t push away when I held it too long and it didn’t give me a fake smile to make me feel better in return. It would just lay against my chest, showing no concern or affection. It wasn’t as nearly as satisfying as hugging my sister, but it was all I had. So I held the white bear close, drifting to sleep as Leah climbed out the bedroom window, followed by a quiet thump from her jump to the ground and her soft giggle echoing in the bedroom.
If I had known it would be the last time I would ever see her, I would have done anything but lie in my bed, smiling at her recklessness, for that was what had killed her.
Waking up the morning of your fifteenth birthday to find out that your sister is gone isn’t something you plan. It wasn’t something I expected, nor wanted. Obviously. I remember my bedroom being cooler than usual that morning. The window had still been open from my sisters escape the night before. I assumed that she had gotten drunk and forgotten to close it. It had happened before. My elbow was pressed against the stuffed bear. It took me a minute to remember how it had gotten in my bed. I giggled at my sister’s silliness. I regret that more than I should, because of how oblivious I was that morning.
She would climb out my bedroom window because it was the easiest “escape route” as Leah had once worded it. My window had lead out to the garage roof, and next to our garage was our old trampoline from my childhood. It was rusty and squeaked when you jumped on it, but somehow Leah managed to jump from the garage to the trampoline without waking my parents. Almost every night. If my mother were to have found out about Leah’s late night extravaganzas while she was still alive, I don’t think I would have ever seen her again anyway.
I’m not sure what I expected when I made my way downstairs to say good morning to my parents and sisters. But I know for sure that it wasn’t a search party. I dragged my feet down the steps to find four policemen with walkie-talkies and blue uniforms rummaging through my belongings. I felt dizzy. Were my parents being arrested? Did my dad kill someone? Had we been robbed? I would trade any of the three for my sister back. I found my mother sobbing at the dining room table which was only used on special occasions. She was without her morning coffee, and my father’s arms around her shoulders. I had only seen my father cry twice in my life. And the morning of my fifteenth birthday was the first. My younger sister, Molly, -who was only ten at the time- was sent over to our neighbor Rebecca’s house for breakfast, and Terry, my oldest sister, was already off for work for the day. I assumed that neither of them had known about what was going on here at home.
“Mom? What’s going on?” I stammered. “Why are you crying?”
“Emily. Go to your room and get dressed. Come back down stairs once you’re decent. Then these policemen are going to ask you some questions.” My father’s eyes were puffy and red. He tried to control his voice and make it sound strong and strict like when he usually spoke to me but it was still shaky and trembling.
The moment I saw his face that morning I knew I would never look at him the same way. His heart broken face pained me. Like shards of glass pressing against my torso. The tears on my mother’s face twisted the glass in spirals. The wounds were the deepest I had ever experienced. And just as I had predicted the scars would stain my body for the rest of what I could already remember. Before my fifteenth birthday I had suffered bruises and scratches, which were quickly taken care of, with a kiss from my mother. But never a pain this deep, and this time my mother wouldn’t help me, for she needed much more comforting than I. Besides, a simple kiss couldn’t cure this wound.
Everything had frozen at that point. I had felt as if I had been ripped out of myself and was only a spectator in my dining room. My parents still holding each other close, as if they were to fall into pieces if one of them were to let go. The policemen scattered about my house, speaking with monotone into their walkie-talkies, as if not a single tear on our dining room table had mattered to them. This was only their job, of course this didn’t matter much to them. If it had been their daughter, or sister, would it matter then? Of course. But we were just another family struck by another horrible tragedy, another loss, another stranger.
I hadn’t actually discovered that my sister was gone until after I had showered and come downstairs for breakfast. My mother was now in a clean shirt and an old pair of blue jeans rather than her morning bath robe. Her faded blonde hair was still matted in the back of her head, and her face was flushed from crying and had dark purple circles under her eyes. Her blank expression on her face had made her look older, almost like a different person. I barely recognized her. My father had looked no different from usual, except his eyes were blood shot and his blue button down shirt was tear stained from my mother crying over his shoulder.
I tip toed into the kitchen making as little sound as possible. My mother was lost in thought and I didn’t want to distract her. I poured myself a cold glass of milk and sat at the kitchen table in the chair closest to the window so I could pretend to look out at the neighborhood kids riding their bikes and skateboards when a policeman would feel me staring at him.
It only took a moment for my father to notice me. As he sat in the chair next to me I already knew what was coming. He was going to tell me the reason why my fifteenth birthday was going to be the worst one of my life.
“Dad, what’s going on?” I thought I was calm, but when I spoke my words were mumbled together, I could barely understand what I had just said.
“Emily, your sister left the house last night. The Police found my car in the river across the neighborhood. They think she went to some party where she was drinking and crashed on her way home.” He winced at his thoughts and a single tear rolled down the side of his cheek but in some way my father still manage to keep his face stern and steady.
“Okay,” I took in a breath of air, and then exhaled. “That doesn’t mean anything; Leah does this all the time. She’s fine. I know she is. She’s fine. I know it.” My voice was struggling to escape my throat. I’m not sure who I was trying to convince, me or my father.
“Emily,” His eyes were closed tight and his head was in his hands, like my father was afraid to look me in the eyes, ruin my only hope of what was left of Leah. “Emily, she’s gone.”
“Gone”, I whispered back.
They never found her. The police just “assumed” she was dead, not even willing to find her body. They gave up on her so quickly. Only a week had past when the police had called for the last time, explaining the “situation”.
My mother was washing the few dishes in the sink when the phone gave its loud shriek, traveling through the silent hallways of our suburban home and into my room. We had heard that shriek at least twenty times a day now. It was always a sorry neighbor, or one of Leah’s scarred classmates, explaining their grief for us. A plate dropped into the sink, and my mother’s voice echoed behind it.
“Hello?” I could tell that she had worked up her simple greeting, probably fanning herself with her damp hands just before placing them on the phone, squinting her eyes and thinking the same thing I always thought right before putting on the same act she was working up now. “This is she.” She responded to the small voice inside the phone.
It was only a moment later that her sobs had broken through. I could picture my mother dropping to her knees, her face red and damp. Molly had opened her door, startled, running down the stairs two steps at a time. I could already hear my father’s voice, taking the phone from my mother.
“Hello,” His voice was urgent; I could tell that he was growing impatient of the police. Everything had grown silent at that moment. My mother’s crying had come to a halt. My sister and father hadn’t said a word. It was as if the whole world had stopped moving, like they were waiting for the results along with me. This was the moment everything could change. Everything could still get better. There was still hope, dangling on a thread. If the thread snapped, it was all over. My sister would be gone and that would be that.
I was lying on my bed when molly had come running in, at full speed. Her face streaked with tears. I felt the snap inside me, the hope falling into the bottom of my stomach, crashing into billions of pieces. Shattering like stained glass, reflecting every color all throughout my stomach. It hurt to have something so beautiful fall apart