Guilty of Innocence

October 11, 2007
“Um daddy, my butterfly died, the one you got for me.” Sadie dropped the tattered morsel into her father’s palm, and a few solitary shreds of a tiny wing drifted to the floor like scorched snowflakes, “Look.”
He glanced at the pathetic corpse, brushed it from his fingers, and looked away.
“That’s ‘cause you’re an ungrateful little klutz.” He turned back to her remorseful little face, his eyes narrowed sternly, “I hope you learned a lesson from that. Nobody’s gonna care about you if all you do is break what they give you.”
“I didn’t…,” whispered the small girl, stooping to collect a few shards of delicate wings from the chilly tile floor. “I do care…” She toddled down the stairs sniveling dramatically, and halted at the entrance to the kitchen. Her twin sister Kenza sat on the floor amidst heaps of old dishes, piled high like haystacks all around the otherwise immaculate kitchen. Sadie wanted to join her sister, but her father’s voice echoed in her mind, and she suddenly feared those dishes, so fragile and susceptible to her clumsiness. Her face turned cloudy. “You’re gonna be in trouble.”
Kenza looked up, surprised by Sadie’s sudden harshness, as their father sauntered in behind Sadie and surveyed the scene. Then he pounced. He caught Kenza up in his firm grip and stared terror into her eyes, “What’s going on here??”
“Dad, I’m just moving stuff. I just want…I wanna —”
“Well don’t. Stop making more work for your mom, just leave things how they are, got it?”
Her fingers fumbled with a small something she held behind her back. Kenza nodded with a timid submission, her eyes latched onto his as though she feared they might shoot lazers through her. Their father toned down the rage when he saw Kenza’s surrender
“Whenever you try and fix stuff, you just screw it up, so don’t even try,” her father concluded then released her. The girls rushed to their room, stumbling over dirty towels left in the hallway. Sadie busied herself in her closet and retrieved a delicate treasure box, while Kenza inspected her own little prize. It was a bejeweled gold child’s ring with a center crystal missing, which Kenza had found in an ancient mixing bowl in the kitchen. Together they laid the ring and shattered butterfly safely into their treasure box, together they curled up on the floor, and together they drifted off into a troubled sleep.
“The kitty killed my butterfly, I couldn’t save him...”
“I only wanted to find another treasure, I didn’t mean to hurt mommy…”

9 years later - - - - -~*

Freezerburned waffles were for breakfast, again. But this time they had blueberries. Mom must have gotten a raise. Mom rushed in, embraced both girls, and grabbed two waffles and a water bottle full of day-old coffee. “I’m leaving for the Eggo studios, they’re launching a new campaign for crunchy waffle cookies and they need my help. Later girls, I love you.” And she was gone.
“I swear she’s addicted but she won’t admit to it,” Sadie stated wryly.
“…Addicted to waffle cookies?”
“No, the coffee. What do you think she puts in those bottles...?”
“Oh whatever,” Kenza sighs. “Let her be addicted, I like it better than her moping around like she did when Dad left her, like, two years ago.”
At this remark, Sadie’s hand slipped on a bottle of syrup which dropped and splattered its contents onto her plate of half-cooked eggs. She watched the flood on her plate with a feeling of indifference. “So, you think he isn’t coming back?”
“Well, no, I mean I never said that. Look, can we talk while we walk to school?” Kenza mumbled. She quickly abandoned her breakfast in search of some shoes.
Sadie moved more slowly, watching her sister scurry around. “What are you in a hurry for?” Kenza didn’t reply, so Sadie persisted, “C’mon, what’s the deal? Is something happening?”
Kenza flashed Sadie the “Shut your face or I will” expression.
Sadie suppressed a grin, “Point taken, sis.”

The girls shuffled in silence most of their journey to school. Then they reached the place where a wide path brought them through a tunnel of maple trees, and millions of leaves in dying, smiling hues. Here Kenza revealed her thoughts, and the cool, crisp air made her voice sound crystal-clear.
“I’m just in a hurry ‘cause Roan’s waiting for me,” Kenza said. She wouldn’t look at Sadie as she talked.
“Roan? ‘Mister ghost’? Geez I never see him anymore. How is he?” Sadie tried to peer into her sister’s face but found a shield of long brown hair blocking Kenza’s features.
“Yeah,” Kenza hesitated, deciding how much she should tell her concerned sister. “I said I’d meet him before chem so we could talk.”
“Huh. More like, so you can sit there in silence or he can tell you how lame those people make him feel. You could so help him see he’s a better person that that, if you just point out his good qualities. Everyone knows he’s not a total loser, we’d hate to see him hurt himself just ‘cause he thinks no one will care.”
Kenza let the impact of these words settle for a moment. When she looked up at her sister, her eyes flashed fear. “I just don’t wanna say something that’ll screw him up.”
“Where the heck would you get that idea?” Sadie was exasperated, by both her sister’s pointless fear and her peircing eyes.
“Well, Dad I guess. He’s always been… I mean he was always so critical. I got more peace from him if I didn’t attempt things I wasn’t sure about.”
Sadie was touched by her sister’s revelation. She wished she had the courage to divulge something so deeply rooted. She had her own secret inhibitions, But I’ll never tell. Not even Trae. They’ll have to figure me out for themselves. At the thought of her friend Trae, Sadie’s chest burned. She could never distinguish that feeling, was it sadness? Desire? Regret? Love? What was her heart telling her? But Sadie didn’t want to confront that right now. She shook the thoughts, and hopes, and images of Trae from her mind.

The girls arrived at the school, then parted when Kenza spotted Roan sitting cross-legged against the bike rack and went to join him. Sadie’s eyes drifted over the two of them sitting between shiny cruisers, and rested on the open hall door before her. A teenage war zone, it seemed to her, yet a glorious equalizer. In there, she didn’t have to think about other people, or worry about breaking anything. Like a moth, she thought, I’ll glide right through.
Sadie touched down only to take a stab at opening her locker. She was about to try her luck at the Dial of Fate when a sort of gleaming creature caught her eye. She looked again and saw, not a creature, but an exquisite model butterfly, crafted from crushed eggshells that were painted in the fashion of some exotic bird. It was suspended above her locker in such a way that breeze from a window swayed each wing faintly, gracefully, flowingly. It was captivating.
Sadie tore her eyes from the ethereal art project and nimbly disarmed her locker, investigating inside it with a careful hand. Her fingers found a surprise, and she retrieved a pack of gum from within, inspecting it. As she removed each strip of gum, she found a portion of a message written on each one. Pieced together, the message read,
“The Luna Moth is - the most beautiful of- its kind. Sadie, you’re - my precious Luna - Love you, Trae. ”
Sadie read the message. She dropped the gum, closed the locker, and swatted the butterfly against the opposite wall all in one fluid motion. She turned sharply and fled the building. Kneeling beside a tree, she placed a cheek to its bark and breathed, “Daddy…where’d you go… I killed my butterfly.”
“Hey girl,” Shaggy red fox fur framed the face of the last person Sadie wanted to see. Trae bent closer, “Are you all right?”
“Doesn’t matter. Look, why do you try? I just break everything, stop giving me stuff. Stop before I screw you over too.”
“Sadie, I don’t know who made you think that, but you’re worth a lot more than your mistakes. There’s nothing you could break that would keep me from giving you the love and respect you deserve…Just let that fear go, it’s ok.
For the first time in nine years, Sadie felt a new wave of relief, in the form of bitter smiles and a friendly embrace. The harsh memories of her father were melting away, and giving way to a new love.

Back at the bike racks……~*
“Mind if I join you?” Kenza smiled and settled herself against the jailhouse bars of the old bike rack.
“Nah. Hey I brought that notebook, the one I’m gonna burn at midnight tonight. It’s got some of my work in it, thought maybe… you’d wanna look at it.” He drew a worn blue sketchbook from within his bag and tossed it into Kenza’s lap. “It’s pretty much crap, though,” he added dolefully.
Kenza thumbed to a page of poetry written in long, curving, script, like ivy, and became immersed in the raw clarity with which Roan described his dreary world. As she moved from page to page, her eyes misted over. His words pierced her; the way he portrayed his forgotten childhood, his torn family, and his years filled with a sense of lost hope. In each piece, she perceived Roan’s accruing desire to find an end to it all.
This startling revelation penetrated into her thoughts, and she wanted to confront him about it. “Don’t even try to fix it, you’ll just screw it up.” The words echoed in her mind as they had so many timed before. “Just leave things how they are” it was as though the ghost of her father had returned to taunt her, to discourage her from doing what her heart told her as he often had.
A glint of gold caught her eye, and she thought of that day when she had found the tiny ring, that unexpected treasure amongst stacks of abandoned relics. Maybe Sadie’s right, maybe all I gotta do is find that treasure in him, not question the reason for his depression...”
“Hey Roan,… These are beautiful.”
Roan shook his head as if discrediting her compliment, but she persisted.
“Look, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”
His eyes drifted up to hers, and she took his hands in hers.
“I’ve been afraid to tell you this… but now I want you to know. You’ve been the best friend a person could ask for, and there’s been so many times when you brought me out of hopelessness, and gave me a reason to keep on being the best person I can be. I don’t know what I would do if you ever left me. I think I’d lose my will.. to keep going…”
A moment of silence passed between them, then they both fell forward and embraced.
“I’m sorry I didn’t see it before, how much you needed me,” Roan’s voice betrayed the grateful smile of relief which he fought to suppress.
“Just don’t kill yourself, please.”
“I won’t, I promise. Thanks… for being honest. It’s amazing to know I’m actually needed by someone.. and thanks for finding the light in me that I could never see.”
At that moment, the sun glistened on the tiny ring on Kenza’s finger, and a delicate butterfly flickered past their shoulders into the vernal morning sun.

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