It’s their first time.
They’re nervous. They thought they would be. Their palms are sweaty, heart pounding erratically in their chest. And then, there are the butterflies bouncing in their stomach.
They can barely breathe — the air is thick and hot. It’s sweltering.
Burning the body was the only option, though.
Erasing the evidence was crucial. They knew this. They knew this a long time ago when making the decision.
Dumping the last of the flammable liquid onto the stack of wood and leaves (and flesh) they’ve already burnt, the smell is the only thing they really didn’t expect.
They’re kneeling over, trying to keep the contents of their breakfast exactly where they are. They don’t need the extra cleanup at this point. They shake their head, one hand clutching their abdomen, the other covering their mouth. They swallow it, and the bile burns as it recedes back to the pit of their stomach.
Tired and nauseated, their head throbs and throat aches and muscles clench.
But they’ve also never felt this satisfied.
For once, they feel full. They wonder how they’ve ever had an idea of emptiness. Their eyes are wide, and once they acknowledge the static in their brain, they’re wired. They stare at their fingers, splayed in a deep shade of red that fascinates them. Their eyes gaze at the illuminating fire. The body that lays beneath it is almost unrecognizable now.
What did they do? What did they… oh god, they did it.
They think this over and over.
They clean up at a local gas station before returning home that night. They washed their hands, scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing the red. Wiping the mirror clean, they looked at their reflection and didn’t recognize the face that looked back.
No matter how many times they look, the red doesn’t scrub off from their gaze. They blink. It’s gone, the pink, white flesh of his skin present. They blink again, and it’s there — the dripping, the smell.
They crawl into bed, lay on their side, shift to their back, breathing deeply.
What did they do?
The frost of the old air conditioner unit was the only sound in the squared, brown office.
There was only one window. Dusty yellow shades covered any light filtering in, leaving small slits of the sun to seep into the room, over the dark green carpeting and Marie’s mud-covered shoes.
She waited with a hand pressed against her neck, over her cross necklace, her breathing long and focused and her hair cascading over her face. The long strands tangled together like cords. She was too tired to push them away.
A woosh of air blasted into the already chilled room, and she stiffened as someone stepped inside, their feet dragging and their breathing too hard.
“Sorry about that,” the man said in a lazy drawl as he walked to the desk in front of her, huffing a sigh as he sat. His eyes bore to the contents of a file laid out between them, and he scratched his large nose absentmindedly.
Marie sat up straighter, hand clutching her cross tightly.
“So, I just got your school records,” he said, flipping through the contents, then placing it closed on the table. “They had a bit of a mix up, but we got that all situated now.”
Marie only nodded along when the man looked up for a reply. She noticed his large hands and how one engulfed the computer mouse. She thought of a small mouse squeaking beneath it, crying out from under the pink and sweaty flesh.
“I understand you’re living with your grandparents.”
She blinked, then nodded.
“Yes.” She cleared her throat.
The man nodded, and she turned her eyes down toward the desk, a placard reading: Principal Leslie Shirley.
It stared at her, and she looked up at the man who did not look like a Leslie. She wasn’t really sure if she’d ever met a male Leslie before, but she couldn’t be one to judge a name. She had changed hers as soon as her grandparents took her in. It was always difficult to pronounce, and she didn’t think she could stand a new batch of kids picking on her for that, much less the other elephant in the room. Especially not with everything else going on.
“Okay, we have your schedule set up. You can pick it up on your way out— ask Miss Garcia. She’s our secretary. If you need help finding your classes, we’ll have an assistant helper guide you around the school…”
His voice drawled on and Marie only nodded, shook his hand as he stood and welcomed her, then found herself in the middle of the front office, clutching a copy of her new schedule. Miss Garcia nodded at her as if beckoning her to the hallway to get on with it already.
Marie sighed, holding the schedule up to her gaze, and pushed open the door of the front office, walking aimlessly down the narrow halls with green lockers facing her on either side. It was too quiet here. Her shoes clacked against the cold linoleum, and she shrugged her sweater closer.
“Oh, you look lost. What’s your name?”
Marie jumped and looked near the lockers beside her at a boy with messy brown hair and cotton sticking out of his nose. That’s why he’d sounded so nasally, she thought. She looked up and down the hall though, wondering where he’d appeared from.
“Don’t be shy— oh wait, sorry,” he said, as if suddenly realizing the white fluff sticking out of his nose, pulling it out then wiggling it. Marie widened her eyes as he disposed of it in a nearby trash can. “I promise that was not what it looked like.”
Marie wasn’t sure what any of that was supposed to look like.
“Well,” she started, then cleared her throat. “I’m just trying to find my first period.”
The boy snorted, then widened his eyes as if he knew that wasn’t appropriate. Marie had half a mind to just keep walking, absentmindedly bringing a hand to her face.
“Uh, no, that was a joke about the— not about your— what-what room number?”
“B201— you know, I bet I can just find it myself, this school isn’t as big as my last one. If you wanna… get that— checked,” she said, pointing a finger to her nose.
The boy looked surprised, pointing at his nose. “What— this? No, it’s fine. It happens all the time out of nowhere.” He shrugged. “But B201 is actually in the same hall as me. I’ll walk with you.” He smiled.
Marie only nodded, unsure of this whole situation.
“By the way, what’s your name again? Did you ever say?”
“No, yeah, Marie— it’s Marie,” she said, glancing at her schedule as they walked. “Yours?”
“Noah. Good to meet you,” he said, holding out his hand to shake but quickly rescinding it when he noticed all the books she was carrying. “My bad, want some help?”
“Are you sure?”
“Really, I’m fine— hey, um, Noah?” she said, changing the subject and staring down the barren hall as they walked up the staircase. “Why is it so cold in this school? It’s almost winter,” she said, eyes searching for a vent. The cold seemed to be blowing itself on her.
Noah only shrugged. “It’s always been cold. I guess I’m used to it. So where are you from?”
Marie brought her sweater closer. “New Mexico. My sister and I just moved here actually.”
“Oh cool! How are you adjusting?”
“Pretty okay. But, I mean,” she adjusted her books in her arms. “I miss home. I’ve known people there my whole life. I knew the whole town pretty much.”
“So one small town to the next?”
“Yup,” she said, making a pop with the P. “How about you—”
“Your class is actually here,” he said, showing her the sign as she peered into the window where the rows of students were writing notes from the board. She breathed in.
“You’ll be okay. See, that’s Olive— sit by her. She’s pretty nice, but she doesn’t talk that much. She was my neighbor in the seventh grade before our family moved. Oh, and Jack’s super smart. We had Chemistry together last year. He’s pretty good at math.”
“Think he’s good at English?” Marie asked, showing him the class schedule.
“Oh, no, he’s terrible at that,” Noah made a small laugh.
Marie released a chuckle that made Noah point at her.
“Hey! We got a laugh!” He grinned, and Marie could only laugh harder.
“Well, thank you for helping me,” she said, bracing herself to walk in. “By the way, where’s your class?”
Noah scrunched his eyebrows. “Just down the hall. I gotta get back— I’ve been in the ‘restroom’ too long. Hey, it was nice to meet you! Maybe I’ll see you at lunch?”
Marie nodded and waved as he walked down the hall.
When Olive woke up that morning, her head felt heavy. She had been having trouble sleeping. She was afraid of dreaming.
Visions fogged her mind, sent her nerves into jolts. Her head spun, swirled, intoxicated in the darkness of her mind.
There was a living room. Cold. She felt so cold. So alone. But she wasn’t alone. In the room was a body. It too was cold.
She rustled in her sleep.
The next vision was more realistic. Laughter enveloping a small space. A classroom. She found herself searching for the source. There was a bright light, illuminated by a lamp. The heat tore across her gaze.
A person stood beside it. She couldn’t make out their face but knew the expression they held was one of pure contempt.
She whispered to them, but they turned their back, and the light disappeared as well.
Then she was falling, drowning in black liquid. The innards of her heart tarred in a gunk bath, the stench of something rotten.
And she didn’t remember it happening, but the room changed. She saw her father, standing on a ladder above wet grass and working on the cables. She knew what would happen, was too late to yell out. He fell.
I love you so much, she wanted to scream. The words were swallowed, couldn’t be spoken from her sewn-shut mouth.
Then she was screaming. Her head between her hands, screaming and screaming, and the wails of an entire household shook. He was gone.
That was the part of the dream that didn’t fit. It was a memory. One she wanted to forget, but couldn’t, never could.
When she woke, it was dark. The rumble of the vents blew out in a rhythm, the creaks from upstairs, an ever-present yet absent guest. Her face was already strewn with tears before she knew she was crying. She wiped at them, hurriedly, shaking her head to get rid of the images until she could forget. But she has never forgotten her dreams. Some days she wished she could.
She got ready for school in slow motion almost every morning. Her eyes were sunken when she looked in the mirror. Her gaze didn’t linger. She was afraid of what she would find in her expression.
She arrived to class at a slow pace, barely found a seat with the ring of the bell.
“Morning,” Jack greeted her as she adjusted her things. Olive didn’t know how to respond, never did with him, so she nodded and gave him a small smile.
“You look like you had a long night,” he said as she fetched her pencil case from her bag. She shrugged.
“Exam season…” she said, gave an awkward smile. Jack huffed a laugh.
“You’re telling me.”
And that’s the end of their interaction. Though Olive cherished those moments, it was getting harder to focus as her eyelids threatened to slam shut and her head grew foggy again.
“You can sit over next to— oh, Jack, can you wake her?”
She suddenly felt a warm hand on her shoulder, and she stirred awake, eyes growing wide as the class rumbled with laughter. Their teacher looked on with disappointment as she gestured at a girl with wild brown hair and… her face.
The girl took the desk next to her and gave Olive a small smile. Olive couldn’t stop staring. She caught herself though and smiled back.
As the class ended, Olive hurriedly gathered her belongings. She nearly tripped over her bag as she stood, afraid of the conversation this girl may want to have, but someone stopped her in her tracks, sitting at her desk.
“Hey, nice to have a new face,” Jack said easily to the girl, smiling wide, and Olive looked between them, felt socially stuck.
“Oh, this one?” the girl asked, pointing to the marks on her forehead, lower chin and over her cheek. Burn marks. The girl quickly waved it off as the pair widened their eyes. “I’m joking. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Jack. And sorry, I’m a little dumb,” he held out his hand as the girl shook it, shaking her head.
“I heard you’re very smart actually. Just not so well in English, but those are probably just rumors,” she said. Jack smiled, though the look seemed forced. There was a beat of silence, and Olive felt compelled to step in.
“Uh, Olive,” she held out her hand. “Sorry, I was asleep earlier. And… staring… sorry.”
“Marie. Don’t apologize,” she said, smile kind.
The three moved to the hallway, and Olive felt more tired than ever. Jack gave details of where all her next classes would be, and Marie looked over her shoulder as if searching for something. Olive could only yawn and try to answer her questions as best she could. Before she knew it they were both walking to AP Bio, and Olive was spilling the town’s biggest secrets.
“So my aunt and principal Shirley can’t look each other in the eye at the market anymore,” Olive whispered in the back of the class as they took notes from the projector.
“I’m not sure I can look him in the eye after that story,” Marie whispered back, shrugging off her sweater. The pair released silent chuckles.
When lunch came around, Olive met her at the corner by the stairwell, and Marie continued looking over her shoulder.
“What are you looking for?” Olive finally asked as they made their way to the cafeteria.
“Well, there was this boy I met this morning,” Marie answered, then looked at the lunch options, getting a tray. “It’s weird, I haven’t seen him.”
“What’s his name? He might not have this lunch?” Olive asked, taking a strawberry milk carton.
“Noah? Do you know him?”
“Hmm… well, I knew a Noah last year but he…” Olive looked off, deciding not to be the one to divulge every secret. “Doesn’t go here anymore.”
Marie shrugged. “This Noah was very helpful this morning, is all.”
Olive gave a knowing smile that Marie quickly ignored. “Anyway! He told me you’re a very nice person who doesn’t talk that much and Jack was very smart.”
“I heard my name,” Jack slid into the seat beside them, his tray filled with two of everything, from bags of chips to chocolate milk cartons.
Marie looked on in astonishment. Olive laughed. “The lunch ladies love him.”
“They love my grandma. I reap the benefits. They just want to feel appreciated. We talk,” he smiled, broad, stuffing a pizza slice into his mouth.
“Hey, Jack, you know any other Noahs at school?” Olive asked, and the boy’s demeanor shifted, if only for a moment.
“Why?” he said through a mouthful of cheese and crust.
“Marie ran into a guy named Noah who knows us.”
Even when she’d said it, the sentence became unsettling to her. She looked toward Jack, who gave a lighthearted shrug, but she knew he’d felt it too.
Marie looked between them, eyes sharp.
“The milk carton trivia is my favorite part of lunch,” she said, showing the table the ridiculous cow trivia on the back. A rumble of laughter erupted.
The conversation flowed from there. The three made plans to hang out. Marie suggested a fun fall-themed adventure, and Jack exploded in excitement, referring to the perfect place at the corner of Mott’s Hill Drive and Crest Road.
Olive faltered, knew where that was, but became wrapped up in the glow of chatter and Jack’s presence. Decided to ignore her gut feeling.
Marie shrugged her sweater back on, felt a chill once more. And it was becoming clearer to her. Everything was.
The sun licked the gaps between the trees.
She stuck her hand out, felt the warmth hug her skin, watched the leaves crinkle in the autumn breeze. It really felt like November.
The home was old and run-down, to be demolished in two months, give or take. The fence, a once bright, white and cute semblance of an American Dream home, was now chipped and yellow. Orange leaves scattered around corners and crevices as the breeze came by, filled the gutters. The roof had caved in twice this year, and an entire wing in the second story was now cut off.
Other than this, the house was still beautiful. It was off-white with blue shutters. Or, shutters which were once blue and now hung on their hinges, a pale hue of what they were. Marie has seen the before and afters. This house was dying, but it was still a marvel.
It was a warm day, and there weren’t many of those in town lately. Spending that time in a supposed haunted house was ideal for a more somber setting. Still, she couldn’t miss this. She’d already agreed to it.
Sitting awake in her bedroom at 3 a.m., on a school night no less, Marie began to think of the woman named Tatyana Baxby who lived next door and her bruising ankles. She laid with her face to the ceiling, her sister’s soft snoring providing a marginal comfort as she placed her thoughts.
It could be that Tatyana was sick. She was about the age of 76, although her lovely red hair and soft blue eyes spoke of a still youthful, still healthy woman under her wrinkled, worrying brows, caring for her six grandchildren who never seemed to sit still.
Where would the bruises come from, then? And at her ankles… Marie tossed on her bed, getting out a small notepad with blue and purple ladybugs to write down her assessments.
“What are you writing in the middle of the night?” Naomi wheezed out in a sleepy whisper. Marie made a sheepish smile and closed the notepad, checking the time.
“It’s technically almost morning,” she defended quietly. Naomi put an arm over her eyes.
“And I technically don’t care,” Naomi whispered back, shifting the covers over her face. “Just go to sleep, Marie.”
Marie nodded. “Okay, sorry. Night— or morning I guess…” She said the last part to herself and laid back down, making a mental note to check with her neighbor Joey about her grandma’s ankles at school the next day.
Although, she’d have to do this better than last time she started asking someone personal questions.
Her mom had found out she followed her friend Dallas home to see if he really did have a chicken coup in his backyard, but that plan did not go as well as she’d hoped. Her mother scolded her about minding her business and how people tend to keep to themselves.
But she couldn’t help her curiosity. People’s lives, she’d found, were all individual stories, some to be told (like Miguel’s new usage of cleaner methods of school lunch disposal at their school) and some to be kept in one’s own history (like the story of her own father’s infidelity and her true birth status).
To Marie, everyone had a story, and she had a passion for telling them.
Of course, at the young and bright age of twelve and a half, she hardly knew of half the darkness that stories could possess. Like, for example, when she’d asked Joey about his grandmother the next day. He looked at her with horror and spat in her face.
Marie would only come to understand why after a trip to the principal’s office where her mother, his mother and the principal had to explain to Marie that it is especially unkind to bring up the family matters of those who’ve passed away.
When she apologized, she didn’t know why. Joey’s grandmother wasn’t dead. She waved to her on her way to school almost every morning. But she stayed silent.
It was only when they’d have to bury her mother a few years later that she’d found the gravestone with Tatyana Baxby’s name. She never told anyone about the shivers it sent down her spine.
She thought she might’ve seen a shadow. But that was a ridiculous thought to have. There wasn’t anyone in the South Wing. There hadn’t been a single person allowed there since its second collapse.
The shadow was nothing.
“Sometimes I wish I could keep little time pockets,” Jack said suddenly, and both companions turned their heads to listen. “Like, I could just take a moment and keep it in my pocket. And whenever anything went bad or I felt at my worst, I could just take that, that moment out of my pocket and live it again. For as many times as I wanted…
“I wish that sometimes.”
Jack stared at his knuckles, and Olive peered at him. Marie searched the house, walking over to the old living area.
“That’s a nice wish,” Olive said after a few moments passed, with the sounds of creaking and Marie’s fumbling echoing in the background. “If I could wish for anything… I think I’d wish for more time, too. Maybe, like stretched time, you know? Where we can live in a moment for a long, long time if we wanted. Or simply make time shorter for the moments we didn’t really want to feel.”
She looked at Jack, whose eyes were elsewhere, fixated on the ceiling above.
“What do you think, Marie?” Olive asked, sitting up straighter. Marie flitted her gaze over the two, shaking her head.
“I’d rather not mess with something like time,” she said, going over to a built-in bookcase.
“Well, if you could wish for anything besides that, then what would it be?”
Jack glanced at her as Olive hummed with confusion, saying she was thirsty under her breath.
“Really?” he asked her. Marie looked at him a moment, sensed something she didn’t like, that same odd feeling about him, and looked back to the bookcase.
“If you want to know, I wish my parents didn’t die. But tampering with time won’t fix that. Or even just thinking about it. I think we should leave now, don’t you? It’s really cold.”
Olive furrowed her brows, lifting herself from her position and walking around the empty space.
Jack sat in silence.
“Do you wanna know why?”
The girls couldn’t hear him.
He grit his teeth, slammed his fist against the wall.
The girls jumped, Marie holding a book and giving him a sour expression. Olive looked apologetic.
“I asked if you want to know why—”
“Okay, why, Jack?” Marie asked, crossing her arms.
“No one cares for each other nowadays.”
Marie rolled her eyes and went back to the bookcase.
“I mean it.” Jack stared at her back, eyes unmoving and icy.
Olive inched toward him with a calm hand. “Jack—”
“No, everyone is just fucking selfish. That’s what they are. Parents, neighbors, friends.” He lifted his arms as if making a point, shrugging off Olive harshly.
Marie looked behind her, held her ground, though her gut was now filled with dread.
“Good friends, even?”
Jack glared at her.
Marie suddenly knew.
The room was stiff, the air thick, and suddenly, there was a chill.
Marie swallowed, something sharp catching the corner of her eye. The glass shards from the broken vase. She took a step back.
“What the fuck do you know?” He spat.
Olive scurried away as he caught her gaze. “Jack, please—”
Marie took another step back. “Why don’t you tell me why you want to go back in time so bad?”
Silence. Marie felt her breath hitch.
“Why don’t you admit why you keep living in the past?”
Another step back. Jack took a step forward. It was a chase, now initiated.
Olive looked behind her. “Marie, quit it. You don’t even know what you guys are saying to each other. We’re all just tired, hungry and scared. Guys, please.”
Jack’s jaw clenched, head bent down. His hair covered his eyes, and Marie bent to pick up the shard.
“I needed to feel something,” he whispered. “God, I— just, I needed to know I was still here.” Jack looked down at his hands. He blinked. The dripping, the smell.
The boy wheezed out through his nostrils. He gulped down saliva, but his throat felt dry. Dry and itchy. He wanted to scratch at the back of his throat.
“He was my best friend,” he murmured. Olive released a horrified wail.
“Go!” Marie could barely get the word out, knocking Olive out of the way and holding up the glass shard as Jack grabbed her arm, twisting it.
“Jack, stop!” Olive screamed, then turned to Marie. “Don’t kill him, he’s sick!”
Marie yelled out as Jack’s grip grew stronger.
She breathed hard, in quick gasps, looking around her frantically, then used her leg to kick up, pushing him back against the bookshelves but only stunning him momentarily. It was enough time to grab the shard again, holding it against his throat.
“What are you doing with that?” he barked, eyes wild. “You want to kill me? You wanna walk out of here a killer? Look at your fucking self in the mirror and not like what you see? You don’t. You don’t want that.”
“Shut up!” Marie shouted. She could feel her arm shaking. “I know what you did. I saw it when he turned to leave.” She could see the image of Noah’s head, a gash at the back, red splotches tangled in his brown hair as he disappeared into the hall.
“I know what you did,” she whispered.
Jack could only laugh, shaking his head at Marie slowly. “What I did?”
Marie swallowed, held her ground, though the nape of her neck grew goosebumps. The room was too quiet.
Jack whispered. “You— what, you think I could— you think I could do that by myself? Get him alone, get rid of the body, clean it up? I appreciate the sentiment.”
Hands gripped her neck, and Marie flung her elbow back, clutching the shard tight in her bleeding fist. No use. There were two against one. No use.
As her head hit the wall, her vision was dazed, and she knew it was the end. The cold wrapped around her body. Lights clouded her vision. Blue and red lights. Swirling and ringing sounds and a cold, cold chill. And tufts of brown hair. And then, darkness.
“How far do you actually think I’m willing to go?”
The girls stared at each other with suspicion.
Marie felt her gut scuttle and her hands twitch, wanted to sit down, but held her ground against her sister, who stood with a calm, narrow gaze.
She gave Marie a heavy look. A haunting one.
“Answer me,” Marie said.
Naomi moved her eyes to the wall beside them, shrugged her shoulders.
“Honestly, I don’t know what you’re capable of anymore, Marie—”
“I can’t believe you.” Marie felt herself shaking, reached numbly for her keys. Naomi placed her hand on them first.
“You know I’m not just being dramatic. You know what you’ve been doing. You know— don’t give me that look, okay? You absolutely know what I’m talking about.”
Tears pricked Marie’s eyes, and she let them fall to the floor.
“You’ve always been this way.”
“No, I haven’t…”
“Yes, you have. Admit it. You’ve always done whatever was necessary to get the whole truth. No one was allowed to lie to you, Marie! It’s honestly baffling how you haven’t managed to get yourself killed yet by the amount of meddling you go through—”
“Shut up!” Marie covered her ears, closed her eyes shut.
“I will once you— stop that!” Naomi took hold of Marie’s wrists, trying to pry them from shielding her ears. “If you love the truth so much, then take it like an adult!”
“Leave me alone!” Marie shook her off, her face blotched red, pale and pink all at once. A sickness took hold of her stomach. An ache pounded her head. She pointed her finger at Naomi.
“Don’t touch me,” she snapped, then softened her tone. “Look, please, just stop—”
“No, you stop. Own up, Marie. Tell me what you did.”
Marie shook her head, backing up against the kitchen sink. “I… can’t.”
“What did you do, Marie?”
“I haven’t done anything wrong.”
Naomi barked a bitter laugh. “Right. Right, ‘cause, you never do—”
“No, that’s not—”
“—anything wrong! Miss Perfect, right? Nothing, absolutely nothing.”
“Don’t be like that.”
“Then, tell me the truth! You’re putting yourself in danger!”
Marie rubbed a hand over her forehead, wiped her wet cheeks. “I know what I’m doing.”
Naomi stood in complete silence, letting it envelope around them.
Marie took a shaky breath, held her tongue and hiccuped into the quiet house. The word ‘leave’ fell from her lips. Naomi stood there for a moment longer, then reached for her keys in silence, pushing open the door, and let the chilled night air sweep across the apartment floor.
Marie held herself in her arms, blinked at her tears and looked to the ceiling.
“I know what I’m doing…” She whispered to no one.
It dropped in patterns, plopped in splattered heaps across the pavement. Tree leaves knocked against it, intermingling in the breeze.
She dreamed of flying.
Her eyes followed an insect as it crawled its way to the top of the window. A raindrop met it in its tracks, and slowly, it fell along with it.
Marie made a hum sound, turned her head in response to Naomi, who stood in the doorway.
“Hey,” she said, gentle, eyes roaming the storm outside. “Hungry? Just made some grilled cheeses. I mean, they’re more like burnt cheeses— but, hey, it’s edible.” She laughed, a light sound against the grumble of thunder that ate into Marie’s chest.
Marie smiled, eyes crinkled. “Thank you… but, I’m— I’m okay.”
Naomi paused, then nodded, wiping her hands at her jeans and inspecting the room before entering. She ducked her head as she sat at the edge of Marie’s bed, wringing her hands together.
Together, they sat in silence, listening to the rain beat against the window, slosh in the gutter.
Marie placed her head in her arms, lulled it to the side with eyes wide open. They searched for something they’d never find again.
“…you know,” Naomi began, clearing her throat as her voice cracked. Marie glanced at her, furrowed her brows. Naomi looked at her hands, wiped something from her eye hidden from view. Then, a shuddered intake of breath. And a smile.
“You know,” she said, voice stronger. “I’ve always wanted a sister.”
Marie scrunched her nose and Naomi chuckled. “I mean, of course. I’ve always wanted you. You were the best thing that came out of all of mom and dad’s… shit.” She paused. The rain poured.
“I was so happy. I’ve loved you since the day I knew you were a thing of existence. God… but, still. I’ve always wanted a sister. Or, maybe it was just that I wanted another person in the house that understood me. Someone else to… project my wisdom onto, hah.” Her smile became broken as she tried, and Marie knew how hard she did, to lift it again.
“So… uh, when… you— when we thought the worst was going to happen,” she started, her throat going dry.
Marie felt her cheeks heat up, remembering their fight, remembering the sirens, remembering a light. Tears brimmed in her eyes, and she wanted to hold Naomi’s hand and reassure her, but she felt a whirlwind of thought, couldn’t bring herself to move.
“I’m just so glad you’re okay— that you’re here,” she said, finally breaking, voice losing strength and something wet hitting her hand. It fell like the rain. Further away now, thunder presented them with its painful moan.
Marie inched forward and hugged her, stiff, arms wrapped tight around the older one’s frame. She wanted to cry, but her eyes were wide, and her mind was filling up with so much, too much, memories and thoughts crashing against each other. She breathed in, almost a hiccup.
“I love you too,” she said, voice tiny. Naomi shifted, hugged her back.
“You’re my family Marie. I just couldn’t imagine losing you along with…”
They both felt it. The weight of the empty words. The panging ring in their ears of lost laughter, their parents; something they would never again hear. And it hurt. And they let it hurt.
Rain fell, but soon, it wouldn’t.
And they dreamed of flying.