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General

My morning was ruined the minute I woke up three hours behind schedule due to the fact that my phone had died again, despite the fact that I had charged it just before bed.


As I groggily wriggled out of my sheets, silently cursing at the sun for having the nerve to rise, I heard her. The soft, fluttery notes of her favorite piano music drifted from her room, as if taunting me for not arising as early as she did. Grumbling, I forced myself out of my beloved bed, only to promptly stub my toe on a ridiculously hard object. I glanced down at it, grasping my foot in agony. It was my old soccer trophy, its bold “Second Place” engraving reminding me once again that I’m only second best, not good enough for the gold that was currently sitting on her shelf. Even after all these years, it still wasn’t done tormenting me. Hopping on one foot, I made my way towards the kitchen. 


One look at the kitchen closet told me that I was going to pay for not going shopping three hours ago. The only breakfast item left was the plain oatmeal that expired two weeks ago. She must have devoured the Vanilla Flakes cereal that I knew had been there yesterday, even though she knew that vanilla was my favorite. Guess I’ll just eat saltine crackers for breakfast, then. As I halfheartedly headed towards the dining table with my sorry meal, something caught my eye. Someone had placed a neat white box on the flimsy table near the front door, meaning that whoever it was had been in a hurry, since no one trusted that table otherwise. Its lid was slightly open. I’ll put it somewhere safer after I eat, I thought. It was probably for her, anyways.


That’s when I heard it. The gentle tap, tap, taps of her heels signifying her descend down the stairs. I grabbed my crackers and dashed towards the bathroom. I didn’t want to deal with her yet. I shoved crackers into my mouth, keeping one hand on the door so that she couldn’t get in. I was halfway through the sleeve when I heard a sudden crash coming from the dining room.


 I sprinted towards the sound, then halted when I saw what she had done. She was sprawled on the floor, her pretty face scrunched up in pain, her hands grasping the back of her head. Chocolate frosting stained the front of her crisp new dress, the freshly ironed skirt littered with brown crumbs. She slowly reached for the mushed lump near her. As soon as she saw me, she froze. 


Gisella,” I gasped. “What have you done?” Gisella sat up, still rubbing her head. “I- I was just- just trying to surprise you.” She gestured at the cake stand on the dining table, at the open white box. I stepped over her, finding a little card next to the box. It read, “Congratulations on the win, Arabella! Here’s to our Chess Champion!” I recognized the swirly script at once. I turned to Gisella, staring at her chocolate-coated clothes, at the card, at the squashed lump next to her…


“You didn’t,” I breathe. “I’m sorry,” Gisella whispered. “I was just trying to help, but I slipped.” “Why did you have to involve yourself in the first place? Do you always have to throw yourself onto everything?” I snapped. “If you haven’t noticed, it’s not always my fault,” she said quietly. “Sometimes I get hurt too.” “Then why don’t you just back off?” I choke out, my eyes welling now. “Why does everything have to be about you all the time?” I gesture to the brown stains on her dress. “Even my rewards have to be tailored for you.” Chocolate made me throw up. It was always Gisella who favored it, and Mom knew that. “I try my best, Bella, but I always make things worse.” She’s combing out the frosting in her oil black curls now, her long fingers working through the chunks.


The motion brings me back to when Gisella was five, when she started to compete in beauty pageants. She was stunning even as a child, her doe eyes framed by thick lashes, her plump cheeks glowing like sunlit peaches. Mom used to tie her little ringlets with silk ribbons and fragrant flowers, picking through the hair until it was just right. I would watch in awe as my sister transformed in front of my eyes, as rosy as a cherry blossom in full bloom. I dreamed of the day when I, too, would be given the chance to flourish. But when I gathered up the nerve to ask, my mother would always have the same response. “Arabella, don’t be silly,” she’d laugh. “You have to be pretty to be in a pageant.” She’d then turn back to my sister, fawning over her beauty instead of mine. 


The trouble began as soon as Gisella was born, when my name was stolen from me and given to her instead. Before her, I had been “Ellie,” the girl whose smile alone was enough to make her mother satisfied. Ellie had been loved. Ellie had been enough. After Gisella, I became “Arabella,” the girl whose best efforts would always be bested. Arabella was the girl who could blaze as bright as the sun, but would always be shadowed. Arabella was never enough. 


Gisella would try to smooth things over. Whenever she won soccer matches or spelling bees, she’d try to hand me the trophy so that in the family photos, it would look like I was the champion. On her birthday, she would attempt to let me open her gifts, which were always better than mine. When the kids at school would practically worship her in awe, she would go on and on about how accomplished I was, which only made it more obvious that she was better than me. I guess it bothered her that no matter how many trophies she won, or how many certificates she earned, my love was something she’d never gain. 


I was better than Gisella at exactly two things: writing and chess. Writing was the one outlet in which I could sculpt my emotions and my passions into words. I could create doorways into other realms, realms in which the girls were pretty enough, smart enough, powerful enough, loved enough, or just simply “enough.” I could paint worlds where I could finally know what it was like to have a father who didn’t run away or a mother who loved both her daughters. My writing was the only thing that got my teachers to notice me, to look at me and finally remember my name.


As for my chess prowess? It was so outstanding, I won the regional championships, and better yet, my mother’s admiration. It was good enough for her to finally buy me a cake to surprise me, which had never happened, even though she hadn’t even bothered to get the flavor right. But, like always, Gisella had to get her overachieving hands in my happiness.


I snap back to the present, where she is now gingerly stroking the back of her head, simultaneously picking off chocolate crumbs. She catches me staring at her. “Arabella,” she says gently. “I’m sorry I made a mess of things.” She waves her hand over the ruined cake, over her dress fit for a beauty queen, over her slightly-too-big shoes that our mother insisted she wear to “bring out those gorgeous legs,” even though Gisella is only fifteen.


I study Gisella's remorseful expression. I knew Gisella’s life as the “success sibling” wasn’t all gold and glory. She had a lot on her plate, and it tended to choke her. Worst of all were her beauty competitions. Gisella’s beauty often blew everyone else out of the water, which Mom boasted about to all of the soccer moms. However, maintaining that beauty was near impossible to accomplish. Her hair would frizz if it wasn’t curled and combed to perfection, which took at least an hour. Her injuries on the playing field coupled with the stress of a class president led to clogged pores, broken nails, and baggy eyes. My mother would atone for this by forcing Gisella to skip soccer games and study sessions to attend beauty treatments and trips to the mall. All that dolling up brought a lot of unwanted attention from people of all ages. Mom would often say that she would actually sell Gisella to a rich somebody if her performance in the beauty industry wasn’t lucrative enough. I could never tell if she was joking or not. But whenever I walked past Gisella’s room at night and heard quiet sobbing behind the door, I pretended that it was just the wind.


"It's okay, Ellie." I say, gently taking her hands. "It's not your fault. I'll be okay."


I carefully stripped off those troublesome shoes and helped my little sister to her feet.


“We’ll be okay.”

July 17, 2020 17:06

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30 comments

A. S.
01:25 Aug 09, 2020

Great job! Your character is so relatable and the frustration of constantly being overshadowed is something that we all deal with. I loved how well we got to know your characters in such a short story. Will you read my new story “Paper” and let me know what you think? Keep writing! I would love to read more of your work!

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M J
14:15 Aug 09, 2020

Thanks for the feedback! I'll check your story out for sure.

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Great job!

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Sarah Freeman
18:05 Jul 26, 2020

I really liked it! Arabella is so relatable. Being overshadowed by a sibling at anything feels awful, and to be overshadowed at almost everything has to be a whole lot worse, which you portrayed really well. There are one or two tiny typos but generally grammarwise it’s good. Arabella’s life clearly isn’t going great for her, but you introduce near the end that maybe Gisella is having a hard time too. It’s a wonderful story! You’re obviously a pretty darn good author, so definitely keep on writing! Also, could you check out my latest stories?

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M J
12:46 Jul 27, 2020

Thank you so much for your heartfelt comments! I really need to hear them right now (I'm going through a bit of a writing slump). I would LOVE to read your work!

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Grace M'mbone
16:31 Jul 26, 2020

MJ I love how you vividly described the sibling rivalry between Arabella and Gisella. I love how you present how writing gives Arabella some sort of power to bring out something she never had. I feel sorry for Gisella at some point. Sorry that despite telling others about her sister's achievements and winning several certificates and trophies, she never earns Arabella's love. All in all this was a worthy read,coloured with emotion and brought to life by the realistic exchanges between the two. I would really love to know what would happen ne...

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M J
12:44 Jul 27, 2020

Thank you ever so much for your incredibly kind words! I've been having a writing slump recently, and your touching compliments are just what I need right now. I'll be delighted to read your stories!

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Deborah Angevin
10:43 Jul 22, 2020

Realistic emotions; relatable for those who have a sibling (me included!) Also, would you mind checking my recent story out, "Red, Blue, White"? Thank you!

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M J
13:11 Jul 22, 2020

Thanks for reading my story! Yeah, I'll check it out!

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Shivani Manocha
10:27 Jul 21, 2020

Nice story! Realistic portrayal of true emotions. Just one thing: I think the use of tenses is not constant in your story. As the story starts, it is written in a past narrative tense. "My morning was ruined the minute I woke up ..." But as you move further you shift to present tense "The motion brings me back to when Gisella was five, when she started to compete in beauty pageants. " I think it should have been "The motion took me back to . . . , when she had started . . ." So if the story is in past tense, the flashback/ memories ...

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M J
12:41 Jul 21, 2020

That was really good advice! I'm kind of mad at myself for not catching that oof. Thank you so much for reading! I'll keep your advice in mind for my next story!

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Shivani Manocha
13:36 Jul 21, 2020

You don't have to worry about any choice you made in your story. We all make mistakes and the best we can do is to keep learning. Keep writing:)

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Deborah Mercer
08:50 Jul 21, 2020

Hi, MJ, I loved this story and the interaction between the siblings was so well done - not to mention a decided fellow feeling as the only two things I'M any good at are writing and chess! In the end the narrator Arabella is definitely, in my view, more to be envied than Gisella.

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M J
12:46 Jul 21, 2020

Wow- what a coincidence! I had originally been planning to make Arabella good at soccer as well, but I didn't know anything about the sport. I'm glad I kept it to writing and chess now! Thank you for reading my story and for your touching words. I really appreciate it.

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Alexi Delavigne
00:29 Jul 21, 2020

Great story! I felt for both characters! And I think this subject is one most, if not all, people can relate to, whether it be a sibling or just anyone who makes us feel that we aren’t enough. I really enjoyed reading it!

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M J
01:25 Jul 21, 2020

I'm so glad you liked the story! I know I can definitely relate to feeling inadequate, but it's nice to know that I'm not the only one. Thanks for reading!

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Adah M.M
20:54 Jul 20, 2020

I love the story. The characters are so relatable and touching. It almost felt like I was reading your personal story I was going to advise you to space the dialogues but someone else already done it.

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M J
22:07 Jul 20, 2020

Hey Adah! I'm glad you like the characters! Yeah, I do need to work on spacing the dialogue. I didn't catch that until I'd already submitted the story. Thanks for reading it!

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Haley Duncan
15:01 Jul 20, 2020

I loved this! You constructed the characters in a powerful, relatable way (which is especially impressive considering that the story isn't very long). Also, I love how you described the main character's writing talent. That was really beautiful. I'm looking forward to seeing what else you write! Keep up the good work!

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M J
15:23 Jul 20, 2020

Thank you so much Haley! Your compliments mean a lot to me. I'm so happy you liked my characters!

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Bruce Charles
15:56 Jul 19, 2020

I think the writing is good. The only thing I have to say is maybe put space between dialogue so the reader is less confused about who's speaking at the moment.

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M J
17:03 Jul 19, 2020

Thank you for reading my story! Yeah, people have told me that in the past as well, but I don't know how to fix it. Any suggestions?

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Bruce Charles
18:10 Jul 19, 2020

Well what most people do is separate it by speaker. For example: "I think you should put space between dialogue so the reader is less confused about who's speaking at the moment," Bruce said. "Yeah, people have told me that in the past as well, but I don't know how to fix it," MJ replied. "Any suggestions?" "Well what most people do is separate it by speaker. For example:"

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M J
19:44 Jul 19, 2020

That's a good idea. Thank you!

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Mila Van Niekerk
07:08 Jul 19, 2020

WOW, I can relate to the main character, I was never really in the same situation, but it definitely reminded me of something. That was an WONDERFUL first submission!

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M J
13:39 Jul 19, 2020

Thank you for your kind words M!love. It means a lot.

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Batool Hussain
05:52 Jul 19, 2020

This is really good, MJ. I'm glad you invited me to read it. I really like the names you've used. Good job;)

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M J
13:39 Jul 19, 2020

Thank you so much for reading it Batool!

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. .
01:37 Sep 04, 2020

Wow! Your writing is so unique yet so amazing. Can't wait to see more

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Avery G.
23:35 Aug 19, 2020

Wow, this was amazing! Arabella is really relatable. Great job!

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