“Can you keep a secret?”
The streetlight flickers. My hopes flicker.
“No,” I admit.
The stars urge me forward into her arms.
I step back; the cold night gives me a scowl.
I love you, my sister, I try to say. My tongue scraps against my teeth. Blood pools in my mouth.
She grabs my wrists. Her nails dig into my skin. The scene seems to change. The streetlight stays the same, casting shadows. My dreams float around me in clouds of regret.
There is a park bench. We sit. The wood pierces my back. Just like her words pierce my heart.
“Why?” she asks carefully.
I shake my head. I don’t know.
It is one of the many things I don’t know. Like how I don’t know if there are other worlds out there. Worlds where my life isn’t twisted and horrible. Where I don’t make any mistakes. Where my sister actually trusts me.
She follows my gaze up to the darkening sky. “Do you think that after people die they become stars?” She blinks slowly. She is tired.
My breath catches in my throat. I edge my wrist out of her grip, placing my hand on hers. I need her to trust me. Her eyes flick to mine, and the corner of her mouth curves up in reply.
“This is a mortal world, my sister.”
She swings her legs under the bench. Her feet can’t quite reach the red bricks on the ground. The streetlight illuminates my pained face and her pink toenails. Wordless, she mouths my name. The smooth curve of her lips shaping my delicate letters. I purse my lips thoughtlessly.
The park bench under us breaks, and we fall. The scene fades to black. Colors swirl, and I hear her voice. It brings me back.
I’m sitting on a torn couch. It’s vaguely familiar. I’m in our childhood home. It had been destroyed in a fire. Everything seems real enough, and I wonder if I’m hallucinating.
“Everything is mortal.” My sister’s voice sounds like dainty bells. It calls me into the next room.
She is in the kitchen, a wooden spoon in her hand. A pale green apron drapes around her. It used to be our mother’s.
“Eat.” She points the spoon at a glass dish full of a deep brown meat drizzled with golden sauce. There is already a small piece cut off by the shiny silverware. It is not the same silverware from our childhood. Neither is the meal. Our family couldn’t afford so much meat when we were children.
I stab the bite with my fork. Bringing it up to my lips, it dissolves into thin air. Waves of heat still drifting up from the place it used to be.
My sister laughs. It is a fake cackle, not the one I grew up with.
“You’ve changed,” I tell her, just as the kitchen breaks apart into a million fragments of my life before. It is a shattered mirror, with all the memories of the past painted on every single shard.
She is still whole, her blue eyes looking at me like the ocean where she almost drowned. Her eyes engulf me, choking my last breath out and pushing me around.
I opened my eyes, even though I didn’t remember closing them.
There is a beach. The sand is too golden and soft to be any beach we’ve been to before, but I recognize it. The red lifeguard post, the white snack building.
The wind whips my hair, curving shadows into my face. My sister is there, her hand intertwining with mine, holding on tight. Her grip makes me think I’m in a trap. But I know her. She wouldn’t do that. No matter how much she distrusts me.
“Change is life,” she whispered. Her voice is carried away by the wind. I know where it’s going. To the worlds where the girls deserve second chances. “Do you remember,” she asks me, “when I almost drowned at this beach?”
I try to shake my head, but I can’t lie anymore. Not to her.
I remember. She was dancing amongst the waves that day. Twirling and spinning and spraying water everywhere. Everytime she lost control of her body, she took multiple steps deeper into the ocean. Soon enough it swept her off her feet, and she screamed. I remember the scream. It was high-pitched and pleading. Begging for one more chance at life.
She clears her raspy throat, and I glance at her. Now she looks even more weary than before.
“Would you do it again?” Her eyes scan me. I pretend to not understand what she’s talking about. “Would you save me again?”
It’s another one of those things I don’t know. I shrug, and she reads me like her favorite newspaper. Like I hold all the bad news and opposite opinions.
Waves crash onto the shore. It startles me. I haven’t been to the ocean in so long. I know she has been recently because she doesn’t even seem to notice it. Ignoring it like it’s just an annoying backdrop.
“Would you save me if I were in the same position?” I deflect her question, and I think she knows.
Her eyes narrow but she smiles brilliantly. “Of course,” she says without hesitation, “you’re family.”
Family. The word stings. I’m wondering how she can even bear to say it. She isn’t family. Not anymore. I want to shout at her. Use the rest of my dying energy to tell her she isn’t and never will be a part of my family. Maybe once upon a time she was my sister, but now she isn’t.
My head fills with lies.
I keep reminding myself it’s not a fairytale. I imagine one of those many far away worlds, hidden beneath the real stars and then the stars that the deceased have left behind. Out of pure curiosity, I search for my sister’s star.
It isn’t there. Only the good-hearted ones get a star.
But still, I implore, “Where is your star?”
She freezes. Time freezes. My heart freezes.
Suddenly she falls to her knees, crying out. She reaches for my hand, but I pull away quickly. Betrayal unfolds onto her face. We both know it’s the truth.
“Only the good-hearted ones get a star. You said it yourself,” she mutters, lying down.
The sand suddenly feels scratchy on the bottom of my feet. My face scrunches with pain. I want to take her hand and pull her up—I really do—but something prevents me.
Quick sand. It’s dragging her down. I have to save her.
My fist collides with something hard. Something invisible. There’s a wall between us. It’s like a window. A window that I can look into and see her die. My sister.
I can’t take it anymore. Pain shoots up my arms as I run into the wall. It’s glass. It breaks. The sharp pieces dig into my skin. Red runs from my cuts. I lay down beside her, my blood dripping onto her clothes. It stains.
I take her hand. It is limp and cold. She is dying.
Her eyes close, and I sweep her small head and carmel brown locks onto my lap. She doesn’t stir.
“My sister,” I breathe, “I love you.”
The wind demands I close my eyes. I do. My stomach flips and I know I’m spinning.
I feel my lap. My sister is still there. I wonder if she’ll be able to come back into my world.
A whisper clears my head. It is sweet and familiar. Not my sister’s. It tells me to open my eyes. I don’t want to. But I do. Focusing my eyes, I know what I’m looking at.
It’s my bedroom. I’m in bed, sitting up. The blankets rest at my waist. Sweat is dripping down my forehead. My hands are in fists.
My sister is gone. There is no trace of evidence that I was even with her.
I can feel tears welling in my eyes.
The whisper speaks again. I look over at my window. That’s where it’s coming from. My heart sinks as I realize who’s voice it is.
It is the shades over my window. They are swaying. The breeze is controlling them, making the soft voice. Not an actual person.
I know if I retell the story of what happened tonight, people won’t believe me. Just like they didn’t believe my sister.
I hope she’ll come back. Maybe next time not as a hallucination. Maybe next time she’ll be herself.