I sigh as I take one more glance at my notebook before shutting it and tossing it onto my bed. I cringe when the notebook slams against the wall, producing a loud bang. I close the cap to my blue sharpie and throw it back in the old tea container that I use as a pencil holder. My hand reaches for a black pen placed askew on my light blue desk, decorated with faded stickers from when I was younger. I hold the pen up to my wrist, already seeing the light markings of a rose I drew on my arm two days ago. I sigh, used to the dilemma, so I take my ankle and place it on my knee. No art. Perfect canvas. I uncap the ballpoint pen and connect its dark tip to my tanned ankle. I move the pen over my skin in careful strokes. When I was finished, I admired my creation. A broken heart. Too similar to the one in my chest.
I glance over at the brown leather journal lying on my bed and walk over to it. I run my fingers over the cracked spine and rough cover.
My headaches as I curl up in a tight ball, trying to forget, forget, and forgive.
Two years ago my sister died. It was an uneventful Thursday afternoon when it happened. She was walking home from school when a teenage driver came barreling down main street, only giving her attention to whoever she was texting. My sister was in the middle of the street, crossing the road. The driver didn't see her and ran right over her. A shop owner witnessed what happened and called 911 immediately, they came and took her to the hospital. She was in and out of a coma for the next 5 months, but everyone was sure she would make it. I visited her every day for those 5 months, I read to her, sang to her, did everything I could to put a smile on her pale and miserable face. I thought she would make it, I was sure of it. 5 months later, to the day, my mom received a phone call from the hospital. She sat me down on the couch and told me what happened, my sister, my beloved sister, my best friend, had died.
“Kendal!” Someone whispers from above me, “Kendal! Wake up!”
I open my eyes and find a middle-aged woman staring back at me. Her droopy dark circles, partially hidden under her blotchy concealer, really stand out in the bright light of my room. Her hair, pulled back into a tight ponytail, looks sloppy and has uneven patches of dusty flour in it. She looks… tired.
“I’ve decided to close the bakery a little early today. Jamal is still down there, counting the money and doing the taxes. I’m going to go for a little girl’s day with Aunt Nina, we both need it. Especially with La Mejores Panaderos coming up. We should be back around 8.” She leans down and kisses me with her dark red lipstick, leaving a faded mark on my cheek.
“Okay mom, I love you.”
“I love you too sweetheart.” She says as she walks over to the door and closes it lightly.
I stare up at the ceiling, breathing in the deep scent of pumpkin spice from the kitchen.
Jamal is my older brother. He’s 19, and with dark brown hair, an almost always smiling face, and broad shoulders, he was supposed to go to college to play football but he gave up his scholarship to stay back and help my mom with the bakery.
The bakery is my mother’s baby since Jamal and I are no longer qualified for that. The bakery is located under our apartment, it is full of bright and cheery decorations, like the bright yellow table and matching chairs, or the old green cash register that my mom refuses to throw out. With my love of baking, I am almost always down there, whipping up some macarons or spreading the frosting on mini cakes.
Normally Jamal, my mom, and I are the only ones working down in the bakery. But with La Mejores Panaderos coming up, my mom has hired some extra help, my aunt Nina and my cousin Laura. La Mejores Panaderos, or LMP for short, is a state-wide competition for small bakeries. You have to attract customers, serve the best food, and win their votes to be the winner of LMP. The winner gets 200 thousand dollars and a spot in the famous magazine, ‘Humans Guide to Cooking’.
“Ken!” Jamal yells from downstairs, “I’m going to meet Jake and Oliver at the park, I’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Okay!” I shout back as I lie back on my bed and close my eyes, “Be safe.”
“I will,” he says in a sing-song voice before shutting the door loudly, causing a loud bang.
I lie back on my lumpy bed and stare up at the ceiling. My ceiling has stars on it, not normal stars though, like the glow in the dark ones that people have around their rooms. Mine are special.
On my 7th birthday, I had a sleepover with 4 of my closest friends. It was my first sleepover and I was really excited, my best friends, loads of junk food and games all in one room, what could go wrong?
Well, a lot I found out.
Hazel, my friend from 1st grade, was homesick. It was her first sleepover as well and she was a mess.
My other friends Lila and Mila, twins I met in preschool, forgot they were allergic to dairy and ate 3 slices of pepperoni pizza each, with extra cheese. They both had terrible headaches and had to go to bed early.
Kaola, the ex-new kid turned the most popular girl in 4th grade and my very bestest friend had just gotten over a terrible cold. She too was feeling a little under the weather, so called her mom to take her home.
I was heartbroken. I ran into my sister's room and flung on her bed, snot and tears running down my face. She looked up from a book she was reading and immediately asked what was wrong.
"M-my party is a mess," I cried as I belted out the last word.
She wrapped me in a hug and spoke in a soft reassuring tone to comfort me. After a few minutes, she set me down on her bed and told me to find some paint.
"Paint?" I asked her curiously, wiping snot with my hand, "Why paint?"
She looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and said, "You'll see."
Me, being the impatient and curious person I was, pleaded her to tell me, "What is it? What is it!" I asked over and over again, jumping up and down on her bed.
She laughed and pulled me to the ground, "You will see. Now go grab your favorite paints and Hazel and Kaola then come back here."
After another few minutes of begging, I finally ran off to find paint. After I grabbed all the acrylic paints I could carry, baby blue, neon yellow, dark pink, bright orange. and lime green, as well as my friends I ran back to her room, my tears, and snot nowhere in sight.
Hazel and Kaola followed wearily, Hazel still whimpering and had tears running down her face and Kaola, clutching her stomach and silently groaning.
"Are you guys ready?" My sister asked.
"Ready for what?" I shrieked excitedly, "What are we doing? What are we doi-"
"I wanna go home,' Hazel complained, stretching out the last word extra long.
"You can go home Hazel," My sister said, "But first try this," She went over to her bed and stood on it. She carefully took a swipe out of the blue paint and placed a small dot on the ceiling. She took another color, the neon yellow, and splattered a small star on the ceiling.
My mouth dropped open, "Can I try? Please?"
"Come here, " She said, nodding the direction she wanted me to go. I ran over there and she lifted me up. I took a messy dollop of the pink paint and painted an uneven star on her ceiling.
"So cool!" I shrieked again, scooping another big mound and plastering it on the ceiling. I tried to make 5 little lines extending outwards but it looked nowhere as good as my sister's star had been.
I reached down to get more paint on my already soaking brush but my sister set me down. "Hazel? Kaola? Do you want to try?"
"I guess I'll try," Kaola said quietly, walking over to my sister and grabbing a swipe at the orange paint.
My sister grabbed her by the hips and hoisted her up toward the ceiling. Kaola carefully made a star on the ceiling and instantly broke into a smile, "That is fun!" She said loudly, completely forgetting about her stomach pains. "Can I try again? This time with blue?"
My sister laughed again, "Of course!"
After Kaola went again, I had my turn and then finally Hazel, who loved it as much as we did. Somehow Mila and Lila made their way into the room and took their turns as well, messily spilling a few drops onto the wooden desk.
We all stopped what we were doing and looked up at my sister expectedly. Was she going to yell at us? Was all the fun going to be over just because of a few drops?
None of that happened, she just shrugged it off with a smile and said, "We can clean it up later."
I bet my mom was surprised when she came in with Kaola and Hazel’s mom to find the five of us covered with paint and colorful and messy stars plastered all over the ceiling. I remember being frightened, for I was sure she was going to yell at us.
But she didn't, she just shrugged it off as well and made us promise to clean it up later.
Hazel and Kaola’s mom soon left, not having to worry about picking up their homesick or under the weather child.
We messily painted stars for hours.
I remember how in awe I was with my sister. She saved my birthday party. She saved my first sleepover. She saved it all from becoming a disaster with her quick thinking and creative skills. I will always remember that moment. Because that was a time she truly stood out to me and she taught me an important message. Don't give up. Don't give up when things aren't going your way and when you feel like you can't fix it, because you can. Anything is figureoutable and everything can be worked out for the best, maybe not in the way you originally thought but in a way that will benefit you.
Suddenly, a loud thump breaks my thoughts and I sit up, startled, and listen carefully, not moving a muscle.
There were rumors of murders and break-ins swirling around the neighborhood, and I definitely didn't want to be caught in one.
I listen for a few more seconds for anything, a footstep, a creak on the stairs, a trip on our uneven floorboards, but I hear nothing.
I sit back on my bed and grab my phone nervously.
Calm down, Kendall. You have stayed home before, has anything bad ever happened to you? No, so why do you think this time will be different, I tell myself, It is probably just the house settling and moving, or maybe the washing machine, or the fridge. Whatever it is your fine.
I sit back for a few minutes, not completely believing myself, before finally deciding that was right.
A few minutes later I hear another thump, this time bigger.
Okay, it has to be something this time, I think, slowly getting up from my bed.
I carefully and quietly walk over to the doorway and peer out. Nothing, whew. I continue my journey by slowly creeping towards the stairs.
When I get there I stop, out of pure terror.
Standing, well floating, right in front of me is a giant ghost. It looks like a spirit, a human that turned into a ghost.
It has dark black hair cut short to its shoulders. Dark brown eyes and pale white skin. It is wearing a long light red dress, reaching to the floor and extending behind her like a bride's trail. She has dark red lips, rosy red cheeks, and ruby red shoes. She stands tall as if she rules the world.
She is floating, levitating above the floor like she is afraid to touch it. She hovers, not moving an inch, only staring into my soul with her muddy brown eyes.
I am frozen in place, I am too scared to scream, to ask for help, to escape from this monster standing in front of me.
I finally manage a squeak and its eyes flicker up onto mine and look surprised that I am there as if I had just gotten there and hadn't been standing there the whole time.
"Are you Kendall?" It says, its words slither around my body like snakes.
"Y-Yes," I stutter, still in shock.
The spirit comes closer, now hovering at least 10 feet above the ground and just a few feet before me. "We have been looking for you."
"Looking for me?" I squeak again, backing up against the wall.
“Yes, looking for you, we have an opportunity for you, something you will not want to miss.”
I stand up tall and look straight into its eyes and say, “What is it?”
“My my, aren't you a brave little girl. Now listen up. We want to offer you a chance to bring your sister back.”
“Br-Bring her back?”
“Yes bring your sister back, wouldn't you like that?”
“Would I? Yes! Yes, I would! That would be the best thing, ever! Could you actually do that?”
“Could we?” She scoffs before starting again, “Of course we could, we are the underworld after all.”
“Underworld?” I ask curiously, “Oh whatever, but my sister! Oh my gosh, I am going to have my sister back again. We ca-”
“Oh but wait there is a catch.”
“Yes a catch, you have to go on a quest. A possible life-threatening quest.”
“Life-threatening?” I say dramatically.
“Yes, life-threatening. But don't worry, if you do it right then you will succeed. Are you still interested? Do you want to do this?”
Am I interested? It would be AMAZING to have my sister back, it has been my lifelong dream, but is it really worth this? Is it really worth possibly dying in the process? I debate back and forth in my head for another minute before finally coming to a decision.
My heart beats faster than an Indy 500, my skin tingles like the great ocean waves. Am I really going to say this? Is it really going to happen?
I take a deep breath before spitting out the answer, the answer I would later find out changed my life, good and bad. The one word that changes everything.