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Castle on a Cloud

"You’re it!"

"I’ve got you!" The apartment complex was filled with laughter as two children tore through the narrow halls. Amanda was 6 years old; Demi was 4. Their neighbors shouted and banged on the tissue-thin walls, but the duo could not be swayed from completing their rousing game of tag. After about 20 minutes, they both collapsed in exhaustion; partially from the running, and partially to rest their giggling lungs.

Although Amanda was only 6, she had an older look about her. She held herself with the composure and wisdom of a person beyond her years. The only person she would break her stoic appearance for was her little sister, Demi. Demi was a loud and erratic child; she was still clinging to the shreds of toddler-dom. Her overtly boisterous behavior drove off many potential friends, and so she became inseparable from Amanda, the only other person who understood her.

When Demi fell off of her tricycle and skimmed her knee, it was Amanda who found their mother and cradled her until the bandaid was applied. When Demi came back from preschool with a red face and eyes full of tears because Matthew Dantan ripped the head from her Barbie, it was Amanda who gave her one of her own Barbies to replace it and said that Matthew Dantan was a stupid-head anyways. When Demi sat alone in her room because none of the other kids in the building wanted anything to do with her, it was Amanda that filled the social void with games and fun. It was Amanda that came to Demi in her darkest moments and filled them with light.

By the time the sisters had completed their game of tag (54 rounds!), the full moon was casting its silver glow upon the landscape and the stars were piercing through the navy sky. The girls’ parents decided that it was a remarkably impressive display for an area with so much light pollution and retired to the balcony to sip martinis and stargaze, leaving the girls by themselves with only fluorescent bulbs to be dazzled by. The parents stayed outside rather late, and Demi was afraid she would miss her bedtime story.

"I NEVER go to bed without a story! I’ll have nightmares! I can’t sleep without one! I NEED MOMMY!!" Demi sob-screamed. She began to run towards the balcony door, but Amanda could see that their parents looked too engrossed in their conversation and would be angry if interrupted. She was no storyteller, but she could see little other option to calm Demi down.

"Demi, wait!" she shouted quickly. Demi stopped. She turned and wiped the tears and snot from her face with one round arm.

"What is it?" she pouted.

"Um…I have a story! Yes, a very good story. You’ll love it!" Amanda improvised. Demi looked a little doubtful, but this was Amanda. Her best friend in the world. Maybe not mommy, but she would suffice.

"Okay…" she sniffled, still holding back her tears. Amanda walked into the bedroom and Demi followed close behind. "So what’s the story?" Demi asked as she crawled under the sheets. Amanda froze a little and looked around the room for inspiration. The first thing she saw was a CD her aunt had accidentally left behind after she came to visit- "Les Miserables," it said. Amanda had no idea what was going on in Les Miserables but she had fallen in love with the powerful voices on the recording. She perked up a little and jumped onto the bed beside Demi.


"Well, it’s more of a song. A pretty song. Um…it tells its own story. It’s about a little girl, I think. The tune is nice. You’ll like it." Demi smiled. Maybe this wasn’t the traditional bedtime, but she loved music. Amanda cleared her throat and started singing. Her shrill little voice echoed across the room. "There is a castle on a cloud, I like to go there in my sleep, aren’t any floors for me to sweep, not in my castle on a cloud…" The lyrics were simultaneously beautiful and haunting. Demi was transfixed.

"There is a lady all in white, holds me and sings a lullaby, she’s nice to see and she’s soft to touch, she says, Cos- Demi, I love you very much…" whispered Amanda. Demi’s eyelids fluttered and she began to sink into dreams. "I know a place where no one’s lost, I know a place where no one cries, crying at all is not allowed, not in my castle on a cloud…" The end of the song left a stillness in the air that was almost tangible, but seemed like it would dissipate the moment is was disturbed. The only sounds were the gentle snoring of Demi and the air conditioner. Amanda got off of the bed and quietly crept out to her own bedroom, leaving her sister to her most privates thoughts and desires.

___________________

She had failed. She’d known that she would. Science had never been her subject anyways, and no matter how hard she studied she could never get higher than a B. But this F…this goddamn 62…no. Demi sulked the entire walk home. It seemed as if every bush, ever tree, every building was taunting her along the way. (“Idiot…stupid…failure…” they silently shrieked.) She could only agree with those wordless voices. She wasn’t smart or successful or any of the wonderful things that Amanda was. Demi was just a 14 year old moron still trapped in an awkward body that was too gangly in some places and too fat in others. 16 year old Amanda was smart and beautiful and always knew exactly what to say and when to say it.

"How was your day?" he dad asked as she walked in and slammed the door behind her. She ignored him and his concerned look in favor of marching to her room and isolating herself from humanity. It’s not like humanity wanted her around, anyways. It’s not like she would ever contribute anything or amount to much in the world.

Amanda got home from swim practice a few hours later. She frowned when she noticed that Demi wasn’t in her usual spot- reading magazines on the couch. “Hey, dad? Have you seen Demi anywhere?” He looked up from the paper.

"She came home and ran to her room. Didn’t even say hi. Looked pretty pissed off to me."

"Didn’t you try and talk to her?"

"She wouldn’t unlock her door. Look, I can’t talk to teenagers. I thought I’d just let her get over it on her own." He sighed and turned back to the stock market. Amanda walked over to the door covered in pop band posters and knocked.

"Demi? Are you in there? What’s wrong?" There was a shuffling of bedsheets before a muffled response.

"Go away. Please. I don’t want to talk to anyone."

"Please, I hate to see you like this. Open the door."

"F*** off."

"I’m serious." There came a pause, and the door cracked. Demi’s thin face and a few of her frizzy red curls appeared through the slit in the door.

"I’d only do this for you," she grumbled. Still, the door swung open and Amanda let herself in. Demi was wearing pizza grease-stained sweatpants. Her pink eyes and red cheeks suggested a vulnerability her rough behavior was trying to cloak.

"What happened?" Amanda asked as sympathetically as she could."

"Oh, nothing out of the ordinary. I’m just an idiot. As usual." Demi slumped back onto her fuzzy purple pillow. Amanda noticed it was covered in fresh, watery eyeliner. She reached towards her desolate sister.

"You’re not an idiot-"

"-YES I AM! I’m a f*ing idiot and don’t try and tell me any differently, miss all-As future valedictorian prissy b****!" Demi pulled back her hand with the intention of slapping Amanda across the face, but stopped midway and broke down in tears. "I just- you’re just so smart and talented, and I’m-I’m-just…me." Whatever remained of her eyeliner dripped down her face and made new stains on her sweats. Amanda took the sobbing child in her arms.

"Hey, remember that time when we were really young? And you asked me for a bedtime story?" asked Amanda.

"Sorta," Demi choked out through her sobs.

"Do you remember the song?"

"Yeah. From that one musical you like."

"Would you like to hear it again?" Demi paused. She looked up at her sister.

"I’m not a child," she protested.

"I know you’re not. But it might be comforting."

"I guess. Why not." Demi fell back onto her damp pillow and closed her eyes. Amanda took a deep breath and started singing.

"There is a castle on a cloud…I like to go there in my sleep…." As she continued, Demi felt the stress melting away. All that was left was the calming feeling of love and knowing somebody cared about you. She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.

____________________

It happened very suddenly. Demi woke up one morning, her birthday morning, and went into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee and a bagel. Instead of the emptiness and the solitude she was used to at this hour, she found both of her parents holding each other on the couch. They were crying. Even though she was now 16, Demi had never seen her parents cry before. “What’s wrong?” she asked in a shaking, panic-y voice.

"Oh god…oh my god, Demi, come here, please." Her mother grabbed her and pulled her tighter than ever before.

"No, please, tell me!! What’s wrong, what happened?" Demi squirmed to get out of her mother’s tight grip.

"Amanda…Amanda went out with her friends last night…" her father spat out. It seemed difficult for him to breathe; almost impossible for him to speak. "They were driving and this driver….this very drunk driver hit them head-on….and she’s….and she’s…" Demi didn’t need to hear the rest. She knew. She wanted to scream but the world around her turned dark and when she tried to open her mouth, it felt like she didn’t have one, and she could never scream loud enough or cry enough and she starting running out of the apartment and out of the building and onto the streets.

She was breathing deeply; she was dry heaving now and she clutched onto the side of the building and slid down the brick wall until she was just a crumbled, pathetic heap on the sidewalk. She stayed there for awhile, just crying, still in her pajamas. Eventually, she tried to collect herself and decided that today wasn’t a day for school. She walked around the city until she got to the park.

It was just about dawn now. Demi found a clean-looking bench and sat herself down. The dew soaked her pajamas, but she liked the cold, wet sensation. It felt a little like she wasn’t real anymore. The sun was beginning to rise. It poked out from behind the trees and the skyscrapers, slowly inching its way into the heavens. The sky changed colors, from navy to purple to a brilliant orange, before finally settling on its favorite shade of blue. The sunlight reached Demi’s park bench and she hated it. How dare there be sunshine in such painful world? Why did the universe, so cold, so uncaring, choose to mock her pain?

Demi took a deep breath. She looked up at the turquoise sky. She opened her mouth and tried to sing in breathy, broken tones. “There is a castle on a cloud…” her voice croaked and she could barely pronounce the syllables. She swallowed hard and tried to continue. “I like to go there in my…in my….”

The tears came again. Demi broke down right there and then. Luckily, it was still early and no one was at the park yet. She ran onto the grass and fall down on her back and stared at the sun, hoping she would go blind so she wouldn’t have to see this f*ing awful world without Amanda in it. She tried to sleep. She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t shut out the pain no matter how hard she tried.

Demi came home at noon. Her parents were gone, off to take care of the necessary legal s***. She sat down on the couch and turned on the TV. Maybe some trashy reality show, she thought, would take her mind off of things, even for awhile. As she searched for the remote, her eyes fell upon a small wrapped packaged with a bow and a note- “For Demi.” She grabbed it and unwrapped the box. It contained a small silver heart necklace and a letter, which read-

Dear Demi,

Happy Birthday! I can’t believe you’re actually 16 now. You get to finally drive, isn’t that exciting? I got you this little necklace I saw in a shop last week. It’s a bit understated, but it’s elegant. You can wear it anywhere and with anything. I bought another one just like it for me, so matter how far apart we are, there will always be something holding us together.

I might not be back home when you read this. I have to work a night shift and a morning shift with Taylor, and she wanted to go out and blow off a little steam before that even begins. To save gas and energy, we decided I’d just crash at her place. I might be back around 1 o’clock in the afternoon on your birthday. I’m so sorry I can’t be there all day, but as you know, duty calls.

Listen, I know you’ve been feeling very insecure about yourself. I know that you always have. And that’s okay, alright? It doesn’t matter what other people say, I think you’re fantastic and amazing. You might not hear it every day, but you are. You’re so witty and nice, and I’m lucky to call myself your sister.

I’ve always felt pretty insecure myself. Even if I do get all As all the time, I’m a dreadful socialite. I don’t talk to many people at school. You’re my best friend, Demi. You’re the person I can go and talk to. Never forget how amazing or important you are. Just promise me that.

Love,

Your sister, Amanda

The ink of the letter became wavy and distorted as Demi’s tears fell once again. She put the letter down and put the necklace on. Amanda’s necklace. It made her feel a little safer and more secure. It made her feel like there was still a tiny thread connecting her to her deceased sister.

Demi looked in the living room mirror and smiled a little. She’d never noticed, but she and Amanda sort of had the same eyes. Amanda wasn’t really gone. Far away, but not gone. No one could ever take away the memories that she had, or the love that Amanda had given her. They would stay with her forever; a constant reminder of a sister who cared.

Demi played with the silver heart.

She looked back into the mirror and smiled, much wider this time.

Amanda smiled back.

Not gone, just far away.

Perhaps she was on a castle on a cloud.



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