The Weight of Leaves

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He sat there on the bench by himself, playing with the bright red bouncy ball in his hands. Little Adrian had no interest in exploring Victoria’s Secret with his older sister Kathleen. The only thing he was interested in was a giant pretzel from the food court.

Finally, Kathleen emerged from the store, giggling when she caught sight of Adrian.

“You really missed out on some fun shopping in there!” she said jokingly as she crouched down to pick Adrian up in a piggy back ride. “Where to?”

“Pretzel!” Adrian exclaimed.

“Alright, alright. You’ve been saying that for the past half hour!” said Kathleen. With bags hanging on her arms and Adrian on her back, she headed to the food court. She pretended to lose her balance and almost run into things so she could hear the roar of laughter from Adrian.

Kathleen didn’t care that she could be hanging out with other girls her age. She didn’t care that she could be shopping and giggling with a gossipy group of teens. Her life revolved around Adrian, regardless of what others thought of it. There was a sense of pure innocence between the two of them that made them oblivious to the rest of the world.

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He was only six then. They were the happiest brother and sister in the whole mall, and nothing else in the world mattered.

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“One more time, please please please Kathleen? This is the last time I promise!” said Adrian, now age seven.

It was a perfect autumn day, leaves scattered all across the ground. The sky was a light shade of grey that served as a stark contrast against the bright colors of the leaves.

“One more time.” Kathleen laughed. She grabbed the rake that was leaning on a nearby tree and started forming a huge leaf pile at the bottom of the slide. Once there was a satisfactory clump of red, orange, and yellow leaves she set down the rake and scooped up Adrian. She set him on her lap and they flew down the slide, bursting through the pile of leaves. Instantly, they both erupted in laughter. Kathleen wrapped her arms around her little brother, and they laid there in the leaves, laughing and loving.

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Sitting with her knees up to her chest, rocking herself back and forth, Kathleen wanted nothing more than to return to those happy days. When her and Adrian would spend the whole day together and not care about anything else. When the world was happy and innocence was bliss. When the two of them didn’t care about the rest of the world as long as they were together. Things are different now.

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Wind and snow beat heavily against the window panes. It felt as though the entire house was shaking. The frigid air from outside found ways to sneak around the door frame and penetrate the residents inside. Kathleen and Adrian lay wrapped in blankets next to the fireplace.

“I want a utility belt like that!” said Adrian as he watched Batman save the day, yet again.

“You have something even better than that.... you have me!” said Kathleen, reaching over to tickle Adrian under his blankets.

They laughed only briefly, and then snuggled back into their blankets, for it was too cold to let their bodies be exposed to the air. Their gazes returned to the television, where batman was running across the screen saving the day over and over. Kathleen didn’t mind Adrian’s newly found love of superheroes. Secretly, she rather enjoyed the cartoons also.

Kathleen glanced over at Adrian and saw that she was shivering.

“Hey buddy, do you want another blanket? You look freezing.”

“Y-yes p-p-please.” he replied through chattering teeth, pulling his current blanket closer to his chest.

“I’ll go get another blanket. Why don’t you get a little closer to the fire.”

Kathleen got up and moved Adrian a couple inches closer to the fireplace and then headed upstairs to grab the blanket off her bed.

“Kathleen! Kathleen!! Help! The fire is going to eat me! Help!!” Adrian shrieked from down below.

Kathleen’s face turned white. She let out a cry and threw the new blanket to the ground. Her feet couldn’t possibly carry her fast enough as she hurled her body down the staircase.

“I’m coming Adrian! Roll away! Get the blankets off!!” she screeched as she ran towards the living room. Adrian was born with a disease that kept him from walking. He had never been able to use his legs, so she knew he wouldn’t be able to escape the fire without her help.

She threw herself through the doorway into the living room, all thoughts being drowned out by her precious Adrian’s cries. But it was too late. Half of his body had already been consumed by flames because he couldn’t get away.

Kathleen’s own screams overpowered the fading screams of her brother.

“It’s gonna be okay. I’m going to save you, I’m here now!” she said as she tried to pull the blanket, now consumed in flames, away from Adrian’s body. She pulled and stomped and thrashed until the fire was gone.

“Adrian! Answer me!” she screamed as she collapsed over his burnt body. She could barely see him through all the tears that were pouring from her eyes. “NO! Adrian!” But she hadn’t been quick enough. It was all over. Her little brother, the joy of her life, her other half, was gone. And it was all her fault. She clutched what was left of his body, crying and crying for hours, unable to pull herself away to call her parents.

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“No, I don’t want to talk about it! Do I look like I want to talk about it?” snapped Kathleen, glaring into the eyes of her newest therapist. The innocence and kindness that one filled her soul is now clouded with guilt and depression.

Trapped in a rehab clinic, Kathleen wants nothing more than to be left alone. She has no friends because she always spent all of her time with Adrian. Her parents pretend it’s okay, but she can tell they don’t want to speak with her.

“It’s all my fault, it’s all my fault, it’s all my fault.” is the stream of thought that flows through Kathleen’s mind all night and day. She left her little, disabled brother too close to the fire and wasn’t quick enough to save him. She no longer feels she deserves to live.

“Go ahead and storm out of here. I know you’re going to anyways.” said the therapist, putting down her clipboard and crossing her arms.

“Fine, I will!” And with that, she burst into tears and ran out of the building. The crisp autumn air filled her lungs. Autumn had always been her and Adrian’s favorite season. Overwhelmed with memories and grief, Kathleen ran to the nearest tree and climbed. She climbed with a strength she didn’t know she owned.

After a few minutes, she was high enough to feel scared when she looked down. She slowly ventured out onto a sturdy branch.

“I’m coming for you Adrian. I’m not going to let you be alone anymore!” she shouted as she jumped off the branch. The yellow and orange leaves trailed after her, the color of fire.





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