Her hands last grazed my face as she said goodbye. I wasn't told much detail at all, if any. My sister had never quite been the one to 'share,' and once she had disappeared I was left even more in the dark. The severity of the situation had been explained to me many times in many ways, some more aggressive than others.
"Why didn't you bring this to our attention?" Ashley had asked me. When I did not reply she added, "You knew she was leaving, correct?" Yes, I did. However Autumn was about the only thing I had left, and I was sure not going to sever a promise solemnly kept to my self.
"I dunno..." I replied with a shallow shrug.
"Was she unhappy?" Another shrug. "You know we've tried our best to give you everythi-"
"I know." This was a lecture I had also heard many times before, usually when I arrived home past curfew."I honestly don't know why she left though. Or where."
"Listen, Charlotte, as your foster mother, it is my responsibility to keep you girls safe. If Autumn is still out there we CAN find her. But only with your help." She pulled up a chair, finally instead of hovering over me. From up close her newer lines seemed even deeper than usual. "Please, tell us everything you know. Please." She grasped my hand, making mine look much more dainty and fragile in hers.
I could not for my life seem to recall when Autumn said she would return. All I knew for sure was that she was late. It was the kind of feeling you get right before your parents fight. That awful, gut-wrenching tug on the pit of your stomach. Not that many would understand that sensation.
Finally I was set free to trudge to the nightmare that is school. I took the usual route, by the miniature, abandoned brick factory. The men were working on the roof, the clop-clop of the hammers echoing through the vacant streets to my left. Though I'd practically encased myself with sweaters and scarves the frigid gusts of wind made my nose feel icy and pink, and I knew this year fall may have come slowly but certainly paved its way with a tenacious vengeance.
I immediately swerved to the right, pausing to peruse one of the many MISSING PERSON poster stapled around our tiny town of Stowe, Vermont. The standard information lined up beside my sister's perfectly sculpted face. Her auburn hair curled past her shoulders and fell loosely down the small of her back. Her lips were almost a perfect cherry color, though she rarely wore any type of makeup. Her emerald eyes and naturally curly eyelashes matched her basic green shirt and ripped jeans well, in fact. I remembered this photo. She was three days away from turning sixteen, and this was one of the three pictures she decided to use for the invitations. It was one of the last times I'd seen her truly smile her sideways grin, all toothy and full of true positivity and optimism. Less than 24 hours later, The Fight between my mother and father. Because of the incident, we had been separated from our parents and sent directly to Ashley's care.
Suddenly tears spilled over my eyelids and paved their way down my cheeks. I didn't want to go to school. I wanted to curl up, right here, and hibernate until Autumn returned, and if she never did, I would have no issue never waking up. I begrudgingly swiped the paper off of the staple that, against all odds defied gravity through warm and cold, rain or shine, but came undone against me. I guess we all have a weakness, whatever it may be, that sweeps us off our feet in the worst way no matter how we struggle to stay attached, we'll always lose. I folded the poster into sixteenths and slid it into my pocket.
As I spun on my heel to continue my journey, I froze. At the end of the block stood Autumn. I gaped in disbelief at her roughed up hair flew elegantly in the chilling breeze. Before I had even gained control of my suddenly numb body, I was bounding down the sidewalk arms prepared to embrace my sister that seemed such a distant thought now. Until she held up her hand to tell me to stop. I skidded to a hault as directed as she spoke to me in a familiar voice, yet different than I remembered. It seemed as if my mind wasn't yet prepared to process her voice...
"Oh, Charlotte. I missed you so much, girl." She cocked her head the same way that people do when they hear our story. The oh dear followed by the sympathetic head tilt, occasionally accompanied by the dramatic lip quiver.
"I was so worried," I began, struggling. to contain the tears that screamed to escape. "I missed you. So much." At that, she opened her arms signaling a hug. But right then, I woke up, gasping for breath and still sobbing. I lifted up my hand to dry my face as I realized this was only another dream. As I did however, I noticed I was holding a thick, neatly folded sheet of paper. With this, I knew with all of my heart that Autumn would return, and soon.