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Author's note: This piece isn't quite finished yet, but I hope that I'll complete it soon, especially since I've been working on it since the fourth grade. It means a lot to me, so please rate it so I can see what you think. I hope you like it!
I open my eyes, slowly, and blink several times. Then I stretch out so that I am as long as I can possibly be, which is long. My toes are at the end of the bed, grazing the footboard. I pull my feet back in towards me and sit up, yawning. Then I look at my clock. A slow smile spreads over my face. It is ten o’clock. I love sleeping in.
I fall back down on my bed and roll over, thinking maybe I could sleep just a little bit longer. After all I could think of nothing I had to do… today could just be a special relax day. I close my eyes. I literally feel myself drifting back to sleep and subconscious-ness when I somehow think of something that might change my supposed-to-be perfect Saturday. My eyes are open before I even have time to process my thought and by the time I am sitting up again I realize that I could be wrong. So I look at my calendar, praying in my head that I am wrong, because I kind of need my relax day. But I am too late with my prayers. Fate or karma or maybe just my life is already in action at that point and there is nothing I can do about it. My proof is right in front of me on my calendar. It’s highlighted in yellow, and right beside it is a big pink frown-face sticker, I’d stuck on to mark the occasion.
I groaned and yawned at the same time, making a sound like a dying cow. I don’t want to get up. And I definitely don’t want to get up if I have to do… this. I don’t need this. Nobody needs this, or deserves this, but does that change anything? No. I groan again.
“This is going to be a long day” I murmur under my breath. Because, today, I have to look after my three year old sister Ella.
My little sister is some sort of a three-year-old devil. She’s a living nightmare and she’s been that way since she was born when I was almost eleven. I hated her from the very first night that I couldn’t sleep because of her baby- screaming. For weeks after that Ella screamed thru the nights, louder and louder each and every time. And then she learned to actually talk and it was so much worse that I honestly don’t know how I lived. It was obvious to me, even then, that she was only going to get worse as she got older. Somehow, though I was the only person who was aware of this problem.
My parents adored their ‘baby’ Ella. I lose it every time they overlook her sins and blame me for things that she does. I’m grounded all the time because of ‘their’ Ella. And, I guess it makes sense that they don’t know so much about Ella because of their busy jobs. However, I still feel like they should think some more about me to. When your parents are always gone though, there’s not much you can do.
My mom is a district attorney and is almost always at the courthouse. When she isn’t, she’s either on a business trip or at home but super busy. The rare occasions that she can be around Ella and me she’s so exhausted that she doesn’t even know our names. Like that, she wouldn’t be the slightest bit of help, nor would she notice Ella’s true personality.
Dad is a physician’s assistant. He is the newest employee at his medical practice, meaning he goes to work every day of the week, and a lot of times he has to work over holidays to. I don’t see how he does it, getting up at 5:30 a.m. every day of the week. At least I get to sleep in on weekends, and I have a 6 am wakeup call during the week. He’s an adult though, so he doesn’t need my sympathy. He can face his problems on his own. Before he took his new job, he was in college for the full eight years that future doctors have to do.
So of course, when they are home they drool over their ‘precious’ Ella.
I do admit that Ella looks like a cherub, which bugs me because she is anything but that. Somehow her A+ looks hide her attitude, which in a way makes sense. However, it does not make me happy. It honestly just makes me mad how pretty Ella is. She seriously does not deserve her looks. She has chubby, always rosy cheeks that I can only get with blush, and curly auburn hair that always seem to glow and shine. I need multiple deep conditions and treatments to make my hair like hers, plus hours with a hair-damaging curling iron. And her bright blue eyes look like the oceans in the Bahamas, which is just completely impossible to achieve, and believe me, I have tried. She also has the best tan complexion that makes her look like she hangs around the oceans in the Bahamas too. I’m kind of surprised that no one has come up to her in the grocery store, or something and asked her to model for Pampers.
I’m not saying that I look horrible though.
I’ve got some good qualities- my heart shaped face, my semi-nice figure, and my bright white, never-needed-braces smile, which is probably my sexiest quality. But Ella will look better when she’s a teenager than I do now. I guess it sounds weird that I’m jealous of a three-year old, but if you could see her you’d understand. You’d understand more if you could see her next to me. It’s like comparing, or at least, trying to compare, Cinderella and Anastasia, from Cinderella, which was my favorite movie as a little kid. The thing is, though that no matter how angelic looking she is, her soul is one that’s a little more she-devil. She’s crazy. She’s heartless. And when she’s mad or scared or even extremely happy I know that I need to run for cover.
Today, though I can’t run for cover. Watching Ella is basically my job. I had to be her sitter once each month, and there was nothing I could do about it. I had tried to get out of it- believe me, I had. I whined and complained and yelled until I had a sore throat. But my parents are pretty firm when they make a decision. Besides, it often got to the point where they’d threaten me, and I never felt like being grounded again. So one Saturday a month I suffered my little sister, who was somehow on her worst behavior every time she was my responsibility.
The other Saturday’s she would have other babysitters, and never the same one. My mom said we were trying to find the perfect fit for Ella. My dad said we were trying to find the least expensive one possible. But I knew the truth. All the old babysitters had run for their lives, never looking back. I was the only one that knew that most of them were scared of my sister. So we couldn’t keep a permanent sitter. I was actually kind of scared of her too, but I didn’t have the option of saying no or that I was busy when I wasn’t. My parents knew my plans and very annoyingly made sure that I stuck to their plans. So I had too.
I also had to hurry. I threw on some jeans and a grey t-shirt over the camisole I slept in. I didn’t have time to worry about what I was wearing or how I looked. Even as I thought that I was ashamed at myself, but also kind of amazed in a slightly mixed up way. However, I didn’t have time to even think anymore. I ignored my hair and looked at the floor rather than my mirror as I raced to the kitchen.
I jogged through the hallway as I frantically looked for Ella. Luckily she’s not hiding away doing something awful. Instead, she’s doing something awful in plain sight, which honestly will make it easier for me. I guess that sounds really sad, and if you’re feeling bad for me right now, well that’s a good thing. I felt sorry for myself too, but there’s nothing I can do. Ella is sitting in a tall barstool at our kitchen counter. She’s nodding her head to music that only she can here. I pause and watch as her curls bounce up and down to her nodding, while I try to figure out what the hell she’s doing.
I crane my neck so that she’s a little more in my line of vision. I squint so I can see what’s in front of her. On the bare counter she has a massive pile of what I think might be food. It has to be at least a foot high, and somehow, it’s not falling over. All of the food is pushed together so that I can’t tell what’s at the bottom of her pile, but whatever it is I feel bad for it. I would not want to be beneath whatever else she has on there, and she has got a lot on there.
At the top is the only thing that I can really distinguish - an egg that she hadn’t bothered to crack. It’s just sitting there like it’s an Easter egg, but one of the ones that they leave out in plain sight for little kids, at the frantic mad-dash hunts every spring.
I continue to watch as she jumps off of the barstool and runs over to the fridge. She opens the door and bends down and gets out an apple. She throws it on the ground as I step into our kitchen.
“ELLA! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
My little sister spins around gleefully, and almost falls over. She steadies herself and grins a sloppy grin at me. I glare back into her unaware eyes. My little sister doesn’t understand how mad I am, which is not good for her.
“Look Gracie!” my sister yells, and she is obviously delighted I am up. “Ella maked breakfast! Ella makes more if Gracie likes Ella to. Do ya? Do ya?”
I throw my head back at the ceiling and scream. Very loudly. Ella copies me and I touch my hand to my ear wincing. She’s prettier than me and louder. But I’m about to be angrier than she’ll ever be, even if she lives forever.
“Oh my GOD! Ella ARE you insane!? What do you think you’re doing?!” I scream, and just like that I’m ranting. My rants are dangerously and notoriously famous among my friends. I don’t care though- I’m like butter at this point: I am on a roll. And I’m not going to stop- “I can’t BELIEVE this Ella! My God LOOK around! This kitchen is a WRECK! How am I gonna clean it all up, Ella!? Look at this! LOOK, Ella! Can you even SEE what you’ve done?? And NO, I DON’T want any more!” I give my angry big-sister glare for the final effect.
“Ella worked hard.” My little sister whimpers. She sounds upset that I’m not as ecstatic as she is about our ‘delicious’ breakfast.
“Ella can teach Gracie the re-sip-ee.” She smiles again, already forgetting my supposed-to-be memorable speech type thing. “Then we make more!”
“Ugh, Ella, No…” I groan, remembering she was only three, probably because of her 3rd person chatter “The only thing you’re going to make is bubbles in the tub.”
I carry Ella to the bathroom, holding her at arms-length, so as not to get whatever she’s covered in all over me. Then I fill the tub up with warm soapy water, drop her in, and angrily slam the door, leaving her in there. That turns out to be a mistake.
I finish cleaning the kitchen and make us a real breakfast of blueberry pancakes and grits. I put plates of both on the table, steaming hot.
I am pouring us orange juice when my muddled brain realizes something. Ella is in the bathroom. By herself. She has been in the bathroom by herself for about twenty minutes. By herself. I’m shocked at myself. I must have been really blinded by my anger.
“Leave a three year old all alone to give herself a freaking bubble bath?” I mutter under my breath as I jog, once again, down the hallway to my sister. “You’re a mess Gracie.”
Gritting my teeth I open the door, expecting the worst. I’m definitely glad I’m ready for something terrible, because I get something that never would have crossed my mind as possible in a thousand years.
My little sister was sitting in the middle of the bathroom floor covered in tons of nail polish. My nail polish. She is busy painting herself with MY nail polish. All my pretty colors that I’d saved up my money for to buy.
I guess you could say I sort of obsess over painting my nails. In fact, I am considering opening a spa someday so I could paint people’s nails, plus since I’m very bossy I think I would do good running some sort of business.
But I will not be able to paint anyone’s nails for a while because all my polish is gone, and to make matter’s worse Ella looks like a box of Crayola crayons exploded on her. But of course my sister doesn’t care.
“Pretty me” Ella belts out in an opera voice.
I scrubbed Ella down with nail polish remover using up mine and my mom’s, then take her to the kitchen to feed her my now-cold breakfast.
She doesn’t know what to think of the cold grits, which have turned to a weird solid-type-blob from sitting for so long, but after the initial shock she realizes how entertaining they could be. So she picks the whole thing up.
“Ella, I don’t think it’s a good idea to thro-” I begin. But, I’m too late. Of course.
My sister has hurled the grit’s at our cat, Marshmallow, who screeches and then jumped onto the desk, still screeching.
My mom is not going to be too happy about this. She dotes on her Marshmallow, who is a thoroughbred Persian. Mom likes to enter him in Cat shows when she has spare time. He’s actually won several medals.
But my mom says that Marshmallow is really frail, and that he won’t live much longer if he is exposed to too much trauma. Honestly, I don’t know how the cat is still alive.
I know that Mom will freak when she sees her prized cat that is completely coated in grits. And even though it was ELLA who threw those grits I know that Mom will be like “oh Ella’s only three, Gracie YOU should have been watching” I am not looking forward to when my parents get home.
Marshmallow looks kind of moldy.
I try to give Marshmallow a bath -I emphasize the word try. And just so you can see HOW hard I’ve tried I’m just gonna tell you, here, how my Cat bath basically went.
First off, when the grits hit Marshmallow and he started screeching, Ella does too.
And so, I try to pick up Marshmallow, who is flipping out (literally FLIPPING out, mom should enter him in Cat-Olympics gymnastics once she gets tired of Cat-Beauty-Pageants). I’m suddenly really glad I wore my t-shirt.
I fill the sink with warm water, while at the same time holding a still squirming Marshmallow.
When I put Marshmallow in the sink though he gets even crazier. I remember then that cats don’t like water and curse under my breath. Ella hears what I say and repeats it. I groan. Then I try to convince Marshmallow to calm down, but he doesn’t understand English, just like me, as I’m failing the dumb subject in school.
I give up on the soothing because it’s obviously not going to work. Instead, I get busy with the bubbles. That’s when Marshmallow starts getting violent. He begins scratching, and biting, and being all Kung-Fu-Kat.
The whole time I am wondering if this would be considered trauma.
Finally I give up. This cat is not looking any better, he might actually look worse, now that his furs going everywhere. Frustrated, I lift Marshmallow out of the sink, jam him in his crate and march Ella outside to play.
We play on the swings for a while, me pushing her higher each time, and it helps calm me down. This would actually work really as some sort of therapy… Stressed? Go take it all out on the swing set! By the time Ella bores of the swings I am completely and totally calmed down. So while she jumps on the trampoline I just sit and watch, not losing it like I normally would when she tears down the netting on the side. Instead, I tell her, very patiently, I might add, that it’s time to get off the trampoline.
So Ella climbs down, then goes inside to get her shovel. Then she plops down beside the swing set and begins to dig.
I lean against the slide to watch her happily plowing through the ground, wondering how she finds it so fun. It looks very boring, not to mention the fact that she has ruined an outfit, covering in dirt along with who knows what else. However, she looks extremely happy with herself, as she pulls sticks and pebbles and all sorts of mess out of the dirt and proudly sets them beside her. It doesn’t make any sense to me- and I think: “Was I like that?”
Five minutes later I am still wondering how Ella can be like that, so I don’t notice when she pulls a navy blue, silver speckled rock out of the ground.
Ella begins playing that she is a queen and that the stone was made by a wizard. It can take her anywhere she wanted just by saying the name of the place.
She named some imaginary spots then ran to hide behind the slide, then came back in a few minutes to tell me what an awesome place ‘wherever-the-heckity-heck’ and other places from either her imagination or her favorite cartoon show, is.
Ella loved this, she doesn’t seem like she is ever going to get tired of it.
After she comes back from ‘Insedlemany’ and tells me all about the lobsters there, how they have polka dots, and love eating butterflies (yum, yum), she picks up the rock and screams, at the top of her lungs, probably loud enough to raise the dead: “Take me to Jupiter!”- And just like that, my little sister disappears.
I’m thinking tons of things at once. I’m very confused and I briefly wonder if I’m dreaming, but even my sleeping brain doesn’t come up with things that are this strange. No, this is real. Figuring that out doesn’t make it any easier for me to process this though. It makes no sense, whatsoever, and I’m going crazy. I think my brain’s about to explode.
“Emagosh my annoying, embarrassing sister just disappeared. Yay!”
“Oh no, what am going to tell Mom and Dad”
“I wonder if I get her room, and walk in closet…”
“God Gracie, you’re a freakin’ idiot.”
“Of course you won’t get her walk in closet.”
All this and more is going running through my head. I’m so distracted from the NASCAR race in there; I almost don’t notice the fog appearing where Ella disappeared. Almost.
I run to the spot big-track-star-quickly and get there just in time to run smack into Ella. She scowls at me. Then she sees another rock at her feet. This one is purple with red stripes. She dives down and grabs it. I don’t know how she knows what to do with it, but she does. And so she yells out- “Take me to my future!” I grab her hand as the fog appears and I am sucked into nothingness.
My feet hit solid and I feel my back contort from the shock. I open my eyes and am blinded by the brightness of wherever the hell I am. I quickly close them because of all the reds and oranges in here. Once they’re closed my other senses come alive and I realized that it’s burning hot. And extremely stuffy. And all around me there is a thick choking smell. I realize that, actually, wherever the hell I am feels somewhat like hell.
My brain puts two and two together and my eyes fly open. My math is correct. We are in a fire!
I panic. I release some particularly R-rated words in a scream-y voice, but then I automatically start choking. I bend over and hack, hack, hack, and I fall on the floor. And then I think of my sister.
First I remember that Ella had still tried to grab the flames on her candles on her last birthday. She doesn’t know that she can get burnt!
I frantically look around for her but she’s not anywhere near me. And that’s when I realize that I also can’t see… me. I am invisible. And so is Ella.
I looked around crazily for a way out and that’s when I see her. She is standing several more yards down the hallway and she appears to be in her early teens, or so. She is gorgeous- she has a heart shaped face, wavy auburn hair, and eyes as blue as Ella’s.
My brain snaps into place. Ella HAD said ‘take me to my future’. And I’m starting to realize where I am. I am in my home. I recognize the layout of the burning hallway we’re in perfectly, and I know every single picture that crashes to the floor. And this girl, whose not just standing there anymore, but freaking out as much as I am looks… exactly like Ella. And in the time its taken me to figure all of this out, this girl has become in need of help, desperately. She is choking on smoke, surrounded by flames, and trying to dodge the crashing pieces of her, or our house. And all the time, she is screaming at the top of her lungs.
I hear sirens that I know must be paramedics and fire trucks. I call out to tell the girl- or Ella- that help is coming.
And nothing comes out of my mouth. I remember that we are invisible. Can we not speak either? This means that we aren’t going to be rescued! But the older Ella is. Except, that, I don’t see her. Anywhere. And then the smoke suddenly becomes so thick that I can’t see ANYTHING. And then I feel the weird sinking feeling again. Then, the smell changes.
Now there is the vile aroma of sterile needles and medicines. I open my eyes to see nurses and doctors pushing wheelchairs and beds, delivering food to patients and yelling at different people. And even though my brain is still muddled and mixed up from all the smoke, it’s obvious to me that we are now in a hospital.
I look around and see a doctor stumble to the left, flinch and then scratch his head and squint at an area on his right. It seems as if someone who he can’t see has bumped into. Then, out of nowhere a button on the elevators a few yards away turns orange. Ella. I only just manage to get in the elevator before the doors close. The ‘seven’ button turns orange next and we are going up.
When we get to the seventh floor I follow the sound of a long path of confused people my sister has left behind. It goes down a long hallway, and so I do too, zigzagging to keep up. Somehow I know to just follow her, because there’s a feeling somewhere inside me that Ella knows something I don’t. We come to a door that’s cracked so that I can hear the crying inside.
I see it open more and know that Ella’s going in and I come in behind her. When I look around I do a double take, somehow shocked even after all that I’ve seen today. Because, in the room are my family… and… me….
I look a lot older and more mature, but my eyes are red and puffy and my face is streaked with tears. I’m sitting beside a man who has his arm wrapped around me. I squint and realize –Oh my God, its Conner O’Neil! - I notice the rings on my finger and just about puke. Despite the situation, I wonder if that would be invisible too. That would be nasty to step in.
Sitting beside us are my parents. Mom has tons of gray streaks in her hair and Dad has a ginormous bald spot. And everyone in here is crying-bawling actually, along with me (and Conner is now stroking my hair! I gag, because I definitely don’t like him, I like Will Pritchard!) Then, I see the name on the bedside table and all of a sudden everything clicks. Ella Bolton is supposed to be in the bed. But she’s not.
I feel the confusion (from the whole situation), the disgust (from Connor) and the annoyance (from the confusion and disgust) leave me as I look around the whole room again. My brain slowly comes back, and I realize that something is terribly wrong, and I become scared.
“It’s fine Gracie, I’m sure Ella will be fine” says Conner in a way more masculine voice than I was expecting.
“N-no” I watch grown-up Gracie stutter “You didn’t see her.”
Mom lets out a wail as a sad faced doctor comes in. He turns his head in a semi- circle, taking in everyone. Then he slowly shakes his head while looking down, so he doesn’t have to look anyone in the eye.
“I’m so sorry” I hear him say, though I’m barely aware of it. Someone starts sobbing and without looking I know it’s me. When I do look Conner is pulling me into a tight hug, and instead of being grossed out like I was earlier from his affection, I am so glad that he is there for me right now, as it becomes clear to me what is happening. And then my dad is speaking.
“She-she didn’t make it?”
“I’m sorry sir, ma’am, I’m so so sorry.”
“She was thirteen”
“I’m Very sorry, sir.” The doctor whispers, still looking at the floor “I won’t even pretend I know what you’re going through”
“Thirteen! She was thirteen!” this is my mom, screeching at the top of her lungs. My mom has never been able to control herself in situations, it’s the reason she’s such a respected attorney. But right now it’s shocking that no one else is freaking out like she is. I know I am, the present and invisible me. I am actually shaking from fear, or speechlessness, or sadness, or who knows what, because I am so mixed up I don’t even know what I’m thinking. And I get worse as my mom continues- “This is my fault. I dropped the match! I never should have started smoking!”
These words make me dizzy. I don’t know what to do, or what to say or even how to do or say anything until I feel Ella bump into me. Her nudge brings me to my senses, at least enough that I manage to pick her up. I feel around until I find her pocket and pull out the rock. Gripping it and Ella so tightly, I know my knuckles are turning white I say “Take us home” and though I can’t hear it, the rock can, because I feel the sinking feeling again and then we’re back behind our house.
I discover that I’m holding Ella with her legs over my shoulders like a fireman might carry a victim, and I cringe, flashing back to my burning home. Was Ella carried out of the house like that? Or was she cradled, gently as whoever brought her out already knew… I wonder who brought her out, then. Was it someone who didn’t know her? My breath catches in my throat, because I can’t bear to think that the first person to touch her was a stranger. I wonder if she was in awful pain or if it had happened quickly. I realize I need to stop wondering, because I’m starting to cry, and Ella is asking why in her Ella talk that I can’t understand. But she is clearly confused.
So I take a shaky breath and I put her down. She grins, happy to be on her feet instead of upside down over my shoulder. She sees the rock in my hand and grabs for it, but I jerk it away and throw it across the yard. Ella looks at me with wide eyes. I can’t stand to see her wide eyes, that will someday be the frantic eyes that I saw in the house, and, that soon after that will be unseeing… forever. So I walk her, slowly, partly blindly, into her room, and tell her to go to sleep. She protests. She insists that she wants to go back to our orange house. Obviously, she doesn’t understand what just happened. And I can’t stand it.
So I tuck her in quickly and sloppily and go to my room. My mind is swarming even more than it was when Ella disappeared. That seemed like ages ago. When I didn’t know what would happen to her and to me and to our family. And I’d do anything to go back to then, when I didn’t know Ella would be killed in a fire in 10 years. My dad had said that Ella was thirteen. I didn’t know the exact date and I didn’t want to know.
I flopped on my bed and that’s when I start sobbing, so hard I can’t breathe. This goes on for practically an hour, and I know because eventually I look at my clock. It seems to be mocking me with its red fire-ish glare. I lean down and yank the plug out. The red disappears from there. Much better. However, as I look around I realize that the rest of my room is just like my clock. In a daze I ran around my room tearing away everything red, orange, and yellow. The warm colors, I remember, we that learned in art. I process this and shudder, then keep ripping and tearing and doing everything to get rid of them. A few minutes later I have a huge heap of clothes, posters, and a can of Coke sitting in the room staring up at me. I stare back at it, helplessly for a minute, this big pile of fire. Then I throw my head back and scream. I sink onto my knees and just let everything out- not in words, like earlier, but just with my pathetic and crazy scream. Looking away I whip off my comforter from my bed and cover up the heap of ugly, fiery, warm colored junk.
Then I fall back down on the bed. I shudder several times, exhausted. And then, somehow I fall asleep. It is a restless sleep though. I dream that there is a coffin floating over a fire and Conner O’Neil is there. He is laughing a maniacal laugh and I’m begging him to stop, please stop. He doesn’t though. Then the wood on the coffin caught fire. The smoke formed Ella. She started crying out my name for me to help, but when I start towards her the fire moves away. Pretty soon we are standing behind my house and it’s a bright orange and I stare at it and when I look away Ella is gone. I wake up shaking and sweating and moaning. I roll over and pray to God to make it stop, but it doesn’t, it just doesn’t. I sit up, and realize I’m soaked, from sweat. So I put on new clothes, without seeing what I’m putting on. I sit back down and stare at the wall for a long time. The wall stares back, silent.
The next thing I know my mom is calling me to dinner. For some reason I am surprised to see her without gray streaks in her hair and smiling like there is nothing wrong in the world. I remembered to her nothing is wrong. She, or at least the present her, hadn’t been with Ella and me. She doesn’t know her youngest daughters fate and neither does Dad.
Nevertheless I glared at her. I am so angry at her for not knowing right now, and for being cheerful when she should be devastated to insanity like I am. I almost growl I’m so angry, and Mom backs up, surprised. She no doubt, does not know what to think of her daughter, who is acting part feral-cat.
We sit down for dinner, but I can’t eat anything. My stomach growls but I know if I put any food in my mouth it will come right back up. So I just move my lima beans across my plate with my fork hoping the mounds of food would seem smaller, or even get smaller. When I get bored with that I spear my turkey slice and wait for it to fall off my fork. Then repeat. Everyone just stares not knowing what to say.
When I ask to be excused my father just nods, slowly. I rip my clothes off and leave them in a heap on the floor. I get in the shower, and it is on hot. I have a swooping flashback to the fire, the heat that radiated off of those awful flames. I jump out of the tub as quickly as I can. I turn off the hot water completely and climb back in.
For the next fifteen minutes I just stand under freezing cold water, not caring if I get hypothermia and die in the shower. Normally, the time when I’m in the shower is when I think about things, and I guess my brain, which is still partly functional realizes that. It tells me that I’m being dumb. That something is wrong with me. I don’t even like Ella. It tells me to stop and to get a grip. I hate my brain for a second, but then I comprehend what its saying. Confused at my own behavior I turn off the shower, towel off, and put on a tee shirt and sweatpants. I return to my room and sit down, curling my arms around my knees.
A minute later, there is a knock on the door. My mom comes in. She sighs when she sees my clothes from the day, and my comforter on the floor.
She picks up the comforter and tucks it into the bed while I stifle a scream from the shock of all the fiery colors. Just like that my insanity is back. My mom stares at me.
“Are you okay, Gracie?” she came over to feel my forehead but I slap her hand away. She continues to stare, concerned.
“No” I say
“What’s wrong, baby?” she asks and she sounds so compassionate and worried that I wanted to spit.
“Don’t you baby me” I sputter out, still mad at her for something she doesn’t know about.
Shocked, my Mom backs out of the room, and calls to my Dad that I am sick. Terrified that she would take me to the hospital, where it is full of bad memories, I stand up just as Dad comes in.
“I’m fine” I blurt before he can say anything.
He shakes his head, and leaves the room. I vaguely hear him say to my mom something about hormones, which makes me mad.
After Dad leaves I climb into bed, so stressed I forget to say my prayers. I pull up my sheet, and blanket, but I can’t get to my comforter; it is tucked in too tight. So I don’t bother with it, even though I’m shivering. It takes me a long time to get to sleep; I keep seeing flames in my head. Around one in the morning I finally drift off. Just like my nap earlier it’s not really countable as sleep. I wake up again at four tangled in my covers and sweating. I go to the kitchen and get a cup of water which I down in a heartbeat, and then go back to bed. I practically fall in and go to sleep.
It’s impossible to say how thankful I am that it’s not a weekday and that when I wake it was 10:03, not 6:00 like on school mornings. My covers are in a tangled heap on the floor, and I don’t bother to fix them or to make my bed. I moved dazedly to my closet and pull something out, unaware of what it was. A minute later there’s a knock on the door. Mom comes in wearing a navy colored dress and sandals and raises her eyebrow at my outfit. I looked down to see my Mother Mary dress that I wore last year at the church’s Christmas Pageant.
Wanting to disappear, or more, wanting HER to disappear I walk to my closet and grab a long flow-y spaghetti strap dress and a pair of sandals. Mom leaves and I get dressed wishing on everything I own that I could delete the past few minutes. I run a brush through my hair and wash my face. As I dart into the kitchen Mom and Dad stopp whispering. It’s obvious that they’ve been talking about me. We eat (or in my case stare at) our pancakes in silence, other than the occasional mumble from Ella. Then we climb into the car to go to our church.
In Sunday school we are talking about the differences between heaven and hell. I can’t help praying that Ella had repented of any of her sins before the accident. I don’t want her to go from flames to more flames. When the Sunday school teacher asks for prayer requests I almost say that my sister died. And the whole time I’m trying not to look at Conner O’Neil. When he tries to burp the Apostles Creed I wonder if he’d hypnotized me into falling in love. After the lesson is over and we are dismissed, the class troops down to the sanctuary. I’ve almost gained control of myself when I looked at the hymn in front of me and discovered it is called “The Flame in Me”. I wince, and then I excused myself to the bathroom where I stay for the rest of the service. At one point mom comes to check on me, but when I told her to go away she does an about-face without questioning. A half hour later she comes and tells me that it’s time to go. I stare at her through the crack in the stall and she stares back at me.
“You know Gracie” she says “I don’t think the bathroom stall has the essentials you’ll need to live a long life”
I honestly didn’t care, but I came out of the compartment anyway. She told me we are going to Primo Pizza for lunch and I shrugged. At the pizza place I order a salad and start towards the ladies room, hoping it won’t be one room but individual cubicles. Before I can get there mom grabs my arm.
“Whoa, little girl” my mom says, sounding exasperated “You are not spending another hour in the restroom. I know you aren’t using the toilet, but I don’t know what you are doing. Do we need to have a talk?”
“I’m 13, not a little girl” I mutter. Then I glare at her and continue: “ And, yeah mom, I am spending another hour in the restroom.”
“You’ll always be a little girl to your old mom.” My mom replies, ignoring my attitude. “Now, come, sit down.”
Groaning I follow her to the table. Dad makes me eat my salad and then Mom makes me get an ice cream cone. They both makes me stay at the table and try to make me make small talk, but get nowhere with that. At home though, Ella makes me read her a story, and Dad makes me watch a baseball game with him. That night I also have to practice my gymnastics routine and unload the dishwasher. And it’s depressing me- majorly- because all this business is only keeping me from my time to mope.
I’d always thought that my parents would always be there for me, especially in a situation like this. It had never occurred to me that they would, or could be unaware of something like this. Suddenly, even though I’d been busy feeling bad for me, I felt a pang of sympathy for them. They had no clue that Ella was going to die. They weren’t grieving her upcoming death.
They were going on with their lives just like normal. Of course mom was going to be worried when I spent an hour on the toilet. Of course I was going to have to read stories and watch sports and do chores. It’s what I do every Sunday, and they have know way of knowing, that for me this is not an ‘every Sunday. I have an epiphany moment, and I realize that I’ve been unfair. I also realize that since I know Ella’s future I can do something about it, maybe even change it. I’ve got a lot of time. I can keep this from happening; can keep my parents from getting my grief. If only I knew a way...
At dinner, I apologize to Dad and Mom but I don’t give them time to respond with questions. Instead I just keep on talking. I ignore the confused looks on their faces while I blabber on and on about the most random things. Then when dinner’s over I go to my room, but first I give them both kisses on the cheek. I don’t turn around, I just keep walking, but I know that for them it’s most likely a shocking turn of events. I flop on my bed and realize that at this time last night I was in some sort of mental shock. But I need to pull myself together if I’m going to prevent my sister’s death. I try to go back through yesterday’s events, but I can barely recall a thing. I realize, with a pang that I’ll have to go back…
The next morning I wake up to my alarm beeping. I only have a little more than an hour until school started. I won’t have enough time to go back to the future. Plus, I’d need to be alone since I remembered that, unlike the Magic Tree House books that I’d read when I was little; going to the future didn’t stop time in the present. It would take me a while, and I’d need more time, considering the emotional stress I’d need to break out of from replaying the other day’s trauma and drama. In a way I’m relieved by this, the fact that I can’t go now. Though the rational part of my brain tells me that I need to go back, another part of me, is saying NO. It doesn’t want to relive the future I’ve already lived- it wants to stay put, right here in the past, or the present or wherever we are. It wants to forget what happens and it’s trying to convince the rational part of me that that IS rational.
But it’s not, and I know it.
And I know that, while it won’t be today that I get the rocks, it will have to be soon. Checking my calendar, I discover that I have a gymnastics meet the next day. Wednesday, my friends and I are going to the mall. I wonder if I can cancel. Wednesday is my only possible day this week to go. However, we’d all been planning this trip for months and there was no way they’d let me live it down if I canceled. So I keep looking. I discover a free day next week, on Thursday. My Mom won’t be here until late and Dad will be on a business trip that week. Plus, that’s our sitter’s day to look after Ella. For a minute I’m excited, until I remember why I needed to find a free day then collapse on my bed and wonder how the heck I’m going to get through the week.
Just as I thought it would, the week passes slowly. It’s like time is mocking me, saying “Ha! Haha, Gracie, I’m gonna make this drag along, just so I can watch you suffer! What are you going to do about it?”
I decide to ignore time as best as I can, but it doesn’t work too well. The days pass but painfully slow. It doesn’t help that we are working with Bunsen Burners in science class. It seems like everything going on around me has to do with fire. The birthday candles on my friend Sari’s cupcake on Monday, the fire drill we have on Tuesday, the movie we watch in Journalism: Bolt, where the final scene involves the theatre bursting into flames and the heroine almost dying. Eventually, though, it’s Thursday, but the day is fudge for me. It turns out to just be… one of those days…. The kind where nothing goes right! I oversleep, I burn my toast, I’m late to homeroom and I lose my math textbook- and so on and so on and yada, yada, yada. In English I notice Will Pritchard looking at me and I smile. He smiles back but then I remember that I’m gonna marry Conner. My smile turns to a scowl. Will frowns and turns away. I sigh to myself, wondering if it’s possible for me to be any more hopeless.
Thankfully, after English, my day doesn’t go to bad- no more fails from Gracie, guys! When I get home I grab a granola bar. I eat it as I’m walking outside. I’m nervous though, so it tastes like sawdust. I spit it out in the grass and it lands on the red and purple rock. The blue one is sitting beside it. I pick it up and gaze at it at, sadly and stubbornly, because I don’t feel like doing this at all. So I say so.
“Why do I have to do this!!??” I scream at the rock, and at the backyard, and the sky, and hopefully nobody else, because I don’t feel like having the neighbors think I’m a weirdo. But I realize I don’t care and yell some more: “I wish I was anybody but me!!”
I realize my mistake too late because I’m already sinking into the nothingness that I had experienced last week… right before I watched my sister die.
When it stops I am sitting on a sofa that I don’t recognize at all. I’m holding an obviously well-loved book in my hand that whoever I am now person must have been reading. I squint at the print until it’s not blurry- my head is woozy from transportation a la rock. Apparently Jenna is riding her dolphin away from the big squids. I look at the cover. It’s called Sand Castles and it’s the 3rd book in the New York Times best-selling series Beach Kids. Huh. I’ve never heard of that series, which is weird because I’m a huge bookworm and I’ve read anything that’s anything in the world of books, even little kid and adult books. I flip to the inside cover. In the top left corner it says “To Lily with much love Aunt-” the rest is smudged, so I can’t read it. I turn the page to the publication part. Whoa. This book was published in 2043! But right now it’s only 2014! I realize, that, once again, I am in the future.
I get up and walk around until I find a mirror, but I’m too short to see my whole face. I just see half of two blue eyes, which sit under a freckly forehead and wavy auburn hair. I find a bathroom, drag over a stool and study Lily’s –my- face. I have a button nose, thin lips, a round chin and about a gazillion freckles. When I part the lips I see that I’m missing one of my front teeth. I guess that I’m about 7. I walk around a little bit, to get oriented with the house. I don’t know why I’m not going back, I just feel like I need to stay for some reason.
Soon enough, I’ve explored the whole first floor, and found a playroom and what must be the master bedroom along with the kitchen/living room I started out in and the foyer and bathroom I’d already gone in. I realize that there must be a little girl’s bedroom for me, so I look around until I find some stairs, which are these winding, swirling teak things, that look like they belong in a castle, but instead, are just in the foyer. I go up, trailing my hand along the banister, and when I get to the top walk into a hallway. The first door I open has to be a guest room because it’s empty except for a bed, a dresser and a table in the corner. The next door goes to what is obviously Lily’s room. It’s pink, everywhere: pink walls, floor, ceiling, bed, and… crib? In the crib, which sits in the corner there is a little blonde haired baby, sound asleep, snoring softly, its butt in the air. I tiptoe out, suddenly scared that I’ll wake it, and when I get out, I somehow realize that I can go home now.
I land in my backyard feeling kind of happy, though I don’t know why, because I didn’t complete my mission. When I put down the rock I hear the car engine that is my mom getting home from work. I pull my hair in a ponytail, and go to meet her... And see her smoking a cigarette on the porch. My breath catches in my throat and I freeze in place, and I feel my body become a statue for several seconds. Then I come to my senses and run, to my room where I sit on the bed and try to calm down. But even though I’m not running anymore, my mind continues racing.
Once I clear my head though I have a light bulb moment. I realize I don’t need to go back to the future. I have now found the missing puzzle piece, the small thing I’d missed that wasn’t so small anymore. My mom had said “if only I hadn’t started smoking”. She’d dropped the match that had started the fire that was the reason that my sister would die. Now it seemed almost simple what I had to do. I had to keep my mom from dropping the match. Meaning I had to get her to stop smoking.
Hmm… maybe it wouldn’t be so simple.
I’ve learned a lot in the past few days. Timing can be everything. Adults are just like kids but bigger. In my dad’s case this means way bigger. Be careful what you wish for. Never leave your little sister alone for even one minute. And, most important, that my little sister is going to die. So I want to do everything I can in case my days are numbered too. I’m going to treat my parents better, because honestly, I haven’t really thought about them this way before… And I am not going to let my little sister die. So when I wake up on Thursday morning (which is a teacher work day) I stay in my bed for almost an hour, just thinking. Then, after my parents leave for work I go to Ella’s room.
“Hey Ella” I say, as she climbs out of her bed.
She trots over to me and hands me her stuffed bunny. I take it, because I need to be a good sister, and sit on her bed. She follows me over and stands in front of me. She grins for a second then opens her mouth and waggles her tongue. I try to pinch it and she giggles. Then I get down to business. Ella seems to sense that I’m not here to play, so she sits down on her heels and looks up at me.
“Alright, Ella” I begin “Do you know what smoking is?” I have decided to start with the basics.
Ella, who must not be feeling talkative, squints at me, then shakes her head really quickly.
“Okay”, I say “Well the first thing I’m going to tell you is that it is really bad. Smoking is really, really bad. So what is smoking?”
Ella stands up and glares at me, obviously trying to look all rough and tough “Really, really bad!” I nod at her and she gives one of her dazzling smiles.
“Well, Mommy is doing this really bad thing. Mommy is smoking. So what is Mommy?”
Ella twirls “Pretty!”
I groan “Nooo, Ella!” I want to shout, but I don’t “Mommy is really, really bad.”
“Ella was really, really bad yesterday. Ella had to sit in the time-out chair (Ella sits) because Ella cut Ella’s Barbie’s hair”
“Alright… well what Mommy did is even worse than that, and Mommy is still doing it.”
I explain to Ella a little more about what was going on, but I don’t know if she understands exactly what I’m talking about. She’s only three so honestly she barely understands anything I ever tell her. I try my hardest though. I emphasize on how terrible smoking is and that it can kill people. I don’t tell her that she is the person that will be killed because of our mom smoking. That will have to wait awhile.
After I have gotten the whole smoking situation explained I tell Ella that we have to get our Mom to stop smoking. I ask her how Mom gets her to stop doing things.
“Umm…” Ella says “She says ‘Stop’”
“Okay, well I don’t think Mommy will stop smoking just because you tell her too. So what does Mommy do if you don’t stop?” I ask.
“She makes Ella sit in the time-out chair”
This was not getting me anywhere because obviously we can’t just try to tell Mom to stop, since smoking is really addicting. Plus, Ella’s time out chair is way too small for my Mom. I try something different.
“Ella” I ask “have you ever seen Mommy smoking? Have you ever seen Mommy do like this” I mime smoking.
Ella nods vigorously and holds up four fingers “Ella’s seen that about four thousand hundred million times”
I give up. I decide that Ella is too young for this and that when she’s older I can approach the subject again. For now, I can attack my Mom on my own. However, at dinner that night I get a surprise.
My Mom gets home a little before 7:30. Ella and I are sitting at the counter eating frozen pizza. I serve Mom a piece and get her a glass of water. She sits beside us and smiles. I smile back, deciding I need to keep up my I-don’t-know-you’re-smoking act. Ella however glares at Mom, hops off the barstool and looks up at Mom.
“Mommy is really, really bad!” she announces, using her good ol’ rough and tough voice. Mom squints at Ella, confused. “Mommy is smoking! No smoking!” then in a quieter voice “Smoking is really, really bad.”
“Ella honey, I’m not smoking.” Says mom indignantly, but I can tell she’s lying because she starts licking her lips, which she always does when she’s not telling the truth.
“Yes! Mommy is! You need a time-out!” says Ella
Mom looks at Ella then at me, in a way that says she needs my help. I don’t help her though. I get up and pick up Ella so Ella’s glare is right in Mom’s eyes instead of at her knees.
“Ella’s right” I say “Mom, we know you’re smoking, and we know how bad it is.” Mom try’s to cut me off, but I don’t let her. “Don’t even try to deny it Mom! I saw you!”
“Alright” Mom says. “I am smoking.” Then she stands up, and now that she’s got several inches on me again I realize that I shouldn’t have confronted her in this manner. “However, I realize it’s bad. And I have tried to stop but it didn’t work.”
“Keep trying” I say, regaining my confidence.
“Gracie, it’s not as simple as that!”
“Time-out!” Ella yells
“No, girls. It’s hard to quit smoking because it’s addictive. But some of the cures for smoking aren’t fun to do. Smoking is a lot better than some of them.”
“Not all of them!” I protest “I say you keep trying”
“No, both of you need to stop!”
“Both of you go to your rooms!”
Ella and I go to our rooms. Honestly, I’m glad to, because I knew from the start that talking to Mom wouldn’t get me anywhere, but it’s good to have some time to think about what I can do. So I sit on my bed and think. And think. Around 8:20 I hear my dad get home. I stop my thinking and lean against the air vent. I hear parts of conversations like “they know” “time-out” “I’ll talk to them.” That was my dad. I jump in bed and pull the covers up. If my dad doesn’t get to talk to me then I will be able to think a lot better.
I wake up in the morning surprised to realize I had fallen asleep. I completely remembered what happened last night, as in, it was literally the first thing that came into my mind. I knew that sitting down at a full family breakfast would be tension-filled and extremely awkward. So I dash into the kitchen, grabbed some Eggo waffles from the freezer, toasted them, and went back to my room. Then I go to get Ella.
Ella’s in the playroom, and I thought she would be fake-feeding her baby dolls or something that a normal three year old does. Of course though Ella is not a normal three year old and I should have realized it. So what she was doing had nothing to do with baby-dolls. Ella is, instead, coloring on the wall. Not things that a normal three year old draws either (for example: baby-dolls!). No, Ella had drawn a million, very crooked rectangles. X-ed out crooked rectangles. Feeling a slight sense of déjà vu I stepped into the room.
“ELLA WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!”
“ Ella drew no-no signs since Mommy said no time-out”
Just like that I realize- Ella hadn’t drawn boxes- Ella had drawn cigarettes. At first I’m proud of her, and then I remember that her drawings weren’t on paper. They were on the wall. So then I am frustrated, because if I punish her, her three year old mind might get mixed up and think that it’s (really, really) bad to stop Mommy from smoking. So I try a different angle.
“Well, Ella why didn’t you use your brand new sketchbook?” I ask in my talking-to-Ella voice
Ella held up the sketchbook. “Ella did that already”
Amazed, I flipped through the filled book. Every single page is covered in Ella’s X-ed out cigarettes. I wanted to be proud again but I remembered-again- that drawing on the walls wasn’t an option.
I explained this to Ella and she cocks her head at me “Why not?”
I tried to think of a good explanation to Ella- Money to remove it, not good decoration- stuff like that. But I realized that I couldn’t convince myself it was bad. After all if Mom could afford to buy a new pack of her dirty cigarettes every other day then surely she could afford to clean the walls. And I would not let some bad décor stand in my way if it would save my sister’s life.
And besides, I didn’t mind a little expense at the other side’s cost- after all this was war.
And so, Ella and I decided to not care. And we drew on lots of walls after that. Of course I had to make her cigarettes a lot more sophisticated. I showed her how to make them recognizable and then we moved a lot faster. In fact we covered the walls of 3 rooms with mini X-ed out cigarettes. And we left Ella’s flyers hidden in the rooms we didn’t get to. Not all the flyers were hidden though. Just, one was in plain sight, and it didn’t have doodles on it. It looked like this:
As you can see and as our parents will hopefully see, Ella and I are not planning on backing down. I mean, after all we did take Marshmallow!
I’m feeling very successful as Ella and I go back to my room and eat our now cold waffles. Thankfully these don’t have a cold-grits texture and Ella doesn’t seem to even think about throwing them at our cat. I’m relieved about this as I have a flashback to Marshmallow’s horrible cat-bath. I hope he’s happy about the no-throwing-food-at-the-cat thing, because he hated that more than I did. However, Marshmallow is not as happy about being locked in my room with us. I put him in here so he wouldn’t be able to switch sides on us, and he wants out. So I run to get him a cat treat, and soon enough he is satisfied. Meaning I’m satisfied. I realize what an amazing general I am- I keep my troops happy during times of crisis! How cool am I?
Around 9:30 we hear our parents get up and go to the kitchen to get coffee, which is their normal early-morning ritual. Ella and I run over to the air vent and we press our ears against it so that we can hear what happens. I hear my mom scream shrilly when they enter the kitchen, since that’s one of the rooms we hit.
“What the hell!!” my dad bellows.
I get Ella interested in my laptop, incase my dad says some other non-three-year-old words.
“Those girls… did those girls do this?” my mom says sounding like someone whose in mental shock- she must have thought we were good girls. I smirk. As if!
“Don’t you think that’s kind of obvious?” says Dad who knows my wild side a little more.
“Well yes, Jackson, but it’s just a huge surprise”
“Alice, we knew they’d find out at some point, and we knew that they’d react, so I’m surprised you’re not a little more prepared”
“Yes, but drawing on the walls! That’s far more drastic than I had prepared myself for!”
I can tell that my mom is upset because she’s talking in an extremely over-the-top professional voice. She always goes back to her days teaching high-schoolers English. She stepped in to teach after the old teacher had a baby half-way through the year. Then she quit when her half of the year was over. Apparently she had a delinquent class. The delinquents messed with her brain, and now, when anything else does, her voice-box must have some sort of malfunction-y déjà vu-ish thing and remembers her teaching days. And so she talks like a teacher.
I hear my dad talking in a soothing whisper trying to calm her down. I can’t heare this but I can occasionally hear my mother give a whimper. Finally my dad speaks up:
“Alright, I’m going to go talk to them” he says
I snatch up Ella, and my laptop the second I hear this. Then I plop on my bed with both the computer and my sister in my lap and start typing as fast as I can trying to make it look like I’m really busy. I put on my concentrating face just as my dad comes in. He walks over to stand behind me.
“Fakakallaalakjlajdsalafakakalalakal” he reads from my screen.
I grin at him sheepishly. He clears his throat, and I can tell that he is slightly amused. I know that, as my dad, he’s not supposed to be amused- but he’s honestly more like a ten year old than a forty year old. Like any little brother would be in this situation, he is finding this funny. He knows that I know this though, and he tries to switch into serious mode.
“I don’t think I have to tell you why I’m here” he sighs.
“But… you might need to tell Ella…” I venture because I’m thinking he might be back to being my dad now and I don’t really feel like getting in trouble. I’m stalling for time.
“Alright. Ella, I’m here because you, Gracie, and Marshmallow are in serious trouble for writing on the walls”
I snort, now knowing that I was way off the mark. My father is not being father-ly. If mom was right about anything that she ever did or said it’s that Boys Never Grow Up. My dad will never grow up. I stifle a giggle, while Ella looks at her toes, because she doesn’t know what I know. She probably thinks that she’s going to be in trouble. However, Marshmallow jumps in by mewing pathetically, which fits this scene perfectly. I give Marshmallow a mental high five.
My dad allows himself a small smile before continuing.
“Look, girls, I know smoking is a bad thing, but you two” -I cough the word three and look at Marshmallow. My dad small-smiles again. Then he keeps going- “Have no right to get involved. It’s your mother who is smoking, and it’s your mother who will stop smoking”
Obviously I know that this isn’t true, because she will be smoking for ten more years. I can’t tell my dad this though so I keep on going.
“Anyway, even if you are going to step in, writing on…”
He doesn’t get to finish though, because I stand up and stare right at him “So you’re on her side” I ask, pronouncing her as if it is some really dirty cuss word.
“Well”, he says slowly, “She is my wife”
“Then get out. We are at war” I look at Ella for backup, and she looks at dad and goes “Uh-huh” all sassy-little-girl.
So my dad leaves, knowing that we’ve got him. Ella and I go back to the air vent. I hear my mom calling Marshmallow, telling me she must have found and read our war declaration. I know I’m correct when she growls at my dad to read something.
He reads it and I hear him say- “Look, Alice, why don’t I just be neutral. I think this is between you and the girls”
My mom must be getting frustrated, but she agrees that he probably shouldn’t be involved. Then she adds that it won’t be like this for long because Ella and I will give up really soon. However, this only makes me even more determined (if that’s possible) to prove her wrong. I announce to Ella and Marshmallow, right then and there that I will not back down that I will, without a doubt, get her to quit. They agree. Then we all pinky swear to make sure we won’t back down on our words, and just like that, we are bound to making this happen.
Ella and I stay in my room the whole day. We decide that maybe we can start this war off a little nicer. If we can’t kill Mom with kindness (or at least her habit), then we will get deadly.
So we spend the first hour after dad leaves looking up stuff that can help you stop smoking. We find about nine different medication-type-things that have no weird side effects, and don’t look harmful. We find a picture, and a description for each one. Then we print them, each on a different paper.
I let Ella play on my laptop while I do the next part, since it would be difficult for her. While she gets on some little kid website, I fold all of our papers into little origami cranes.
I do cranes because cranes are supposed to symbolize long life’s, and I really hope that Ella will live a long life. Honestly, my mom won’t catch on to this, but maybe she’ll think I’m trying to say that she won’t live a long life if she keeps smoking.
I realize that I should be doing my cranes for that reason too-after all my mom could end up dying from her smoking too.
When all of our cranes are done Ella and I chill for a little. Our parents leave us alone. I guess mom needs to let out some steam, because I know she was pretty mad.
Around noon I realize that Marshmallow is probably not enjoying being on our side. So after I close the door I let him out of his crate, and Ella and I play with him.
After I’m satisfied that Marshmallow will stay with us we leave him alone for a little while so that he can take a nap. Then Ella yawns and I realize she probably needs a nap too. So I put her in my bed, tuck her in, and try to be really quiet while they both sleep.
At about 1:30 I hear a something pull into our driveway. I look out the window and see a van with “LARRY’S WALL CLEANERS” written in large letters on the side. Two guys hop out, and I wonder which one is Larry. My mom goes out and takes them inside. A few minutes later I hear a bunch of banging from the kitchen.
The banging wakes Ella up and she is hungry. Obviously I can’t go in the kitchen with Larry and his pal at our house, so I try to distract her from her grumbling stomach.
I do everything I can to soothe my sister. I make paper dolls for her. I let her play on my laptop. I read to her from my kiddie Bible. But Ella is not going to forget about her hunger.
And by 2:30 Ella reaches her limit- she is done with this! And so, of course, she starts crying. I start praying. Thankfully God answers my prayers a few minutes later, because the workmen start packing up to leave. My mom follows them out so she can pay them. And I dash into the kitchen.
I grab a lot of stuff so I won’t have to come out later to get her dinner.
Two granola bars
A half-filled bag of pretzels
A thing of Oreos
One container of leftover cole slaw
One pack of peanut M&M’s
Two juice boxes
A large water bottle
Then I run back to our room, trying not to drop anything. I get to our room, run through the open door and dump it all on my bed. Then Ella and I eat.
I look at my clock and see that it’s only three. This day has been really long and this is only going to continue. I realize then, how hard this war is going to be.
I guess you could say that the war waged on. After a week my Ella and I were still not speaking to my mom, and we had managed to keep Marshmallow in my room.
We did everything I could think of. We would steal her boxes of cigarettes, and replace the cigarettes with rolled up notes. I would write stuff on them like “Punk’d!” in big letters. We would cough and hack whenever we saw her smoking, and one time when I was feeling extra dramatic, I faked passing out.
Eventually I realize that keeping a three year old away from her mother is probably unhealthy for Ella, even if that mother is a smoker. So Ella and I decide that we will got to a sort of truce. Actually not really a truce, but we’ll interact with mom like normal when we aren’t plotting something. I can’t say how happy my mom was to finally see Marshmallow again.
Our life goes on like that for a while. Me and Ella being good daughters. Me and Ella holding up in my room a few days. Me and Ella being bad daughters. Me and Ella getting in trouble, then being good daughters again.
Time flies and soon I’m starting high school and Ella’ starting kindergarten. High school is a lot less dramatic than middle school, which is good because I am having more work so I don’t need any more stress. Another change is that boys start maturing a little bit more. In middle school everyone I know had crushed on someone, and most of my friends had boyfriends at some point. I never did, as I knew who I’d be marrying by the time my before-that crush started liking me back. But it was different in middle school. Relationships basically meant holding hands in the halls and occasionally hugging, texting each other often, and chatting whenever you could. If couples got serious enough there would be kissing. Everything changed in high school.
In high school people were less afraid to really talk with guys. So I was less afraid to talk to Connor O’Neil (Yes the same one who I’m going to marry). And he turned out to be a really nice guy.
Slowly, we became friends, then good friends. By the time second semester talks we are close in the way that I will tell him secrets before anyone else, and where we would talk all the time, about anything- everything. Whenever I hung out with him I thought about how that was the guy who will someday be my husband. I didn’t let it bother me though, because I actually didn’t mind much anymore.
As I continue high school I notice mom smoking a lot more than she used to. I wonder if our truce thing has affected it. So Ella and I become warriors again.
Unfortunately, Marshmallow chooses that time to start his transformation to an old cat. He gets arthritis in a hip and his hair starts falling out. So he can’t be on our side, as he needed a lot of care now and I’m too busy to give him all he needs.
Ella and I go on without Marshmallow now. We do more of our pranks and whatnot. Mom gets mad. We don’t care.
Soon after summer starts, Marshmallow dies. My mom freaks of course and I realize that a lot of times when a person is in grief they go crazy with whatever habit they have. Sure enough mom’s smoking elevates again. It’s crazy how back and forth this is. I almost don’t have the heart too continue against her with her so sad, but I know that she’ll lose someone else special if she continues.
When I start my sophomore year and Ella starts first grade I realize I would like to know the actual date of Ella’s possible death. I mean, otherwise, there are just 365 days that she could end up dying.
I get the rocks from my locker (Yes, I have a locker in my room, but it’s actually very useful for hiding stuff). I’m actually very scared to go back but when I pick up the rock I realize I don’t have too because the red and purple rock reads “April 7th 2022”.
It’s then that I realize that I have no clue what is up with these rocks. It’s kind of strange that I never thought about how two normal rocks could possibly contain this magic. I ponder this for a while. But my brain can’t figure out anything since it’s only been taught scientific matters. And so I try to forget about it, and just be glad that I know.
Once I decide that I’m not gonna find a solution I get to work on our next prank. I get on my laptop and go to mom’s email account, which I hacked a little bit after the war started. When I get there I click Mail Options. Then I change her signature to “I am a smoker”. There.
We grow, Ella and me. I graduate from high school in 2017 ready to head to Arizona in the fall to learn about being a veterinarian. Ella graduates from second grade ready to head to Mrs. Finkle’s class where she would learn how to write her name in cursive. She is eight I am eighteen. We have four years and ten months.
Summer passes quickly, and as it passed the time for me to leave grew closer. I think one reason the time flew was because I had so much to do to get ready for college. There was cleaning and packing and planning… I barely had time to think.
I did think though. Mostly I thought about Mom. I was going from South Carolina to the whole other side of the States. I’d be able to keep in touch with my family but I wouldn’t be able to hide cigarettes.
I also thought about how quickly the time had gone by. Four years had already passed since we’d found the stones, and they’d gone practically quicker than snapping my fingers. Four years from now the deadly fire would be almost there. How soon would that day seem to come?
Soon it was the end of summer and a different that day came. It was the day I left for college. I can honestly say, that I will never forget that day.
I remember waking up, thinking “This is the last time until November that I’ll wake up in this bed”.
I remember eating my favorite breakfast that my mom had made for me, listening to her tell me tearfully how much she would miss me, while I wondered how much she would miss Ella if Ella was gone forever.
I literally remember every single detail, down to the tie my dad was wearing, and the exact time I got in the car to go. It’s going to stay with me forever, because experiences like that are permanent. But the day itself passed.
The University of South Carolina is far away- so far away that I have to drive myself to Columbia, so I have to say my goodbyes at home. Everyone is crying, including me, so we decided I would go around to everyone so I could be with them privately.
When I got to Ella’s room as soon as I opened the door she flew at me and threw her arms around me. I got down one knee and hugged her back as tight as I could.
“I’m going to miss you so much” she said burrowing her head into my arm.
“I’ll miss you too,” I say “But I need you too remember- we can’t let mom keep smoking. You need to be all on top of her.”
“Don’t worry Gracie. I won’t let her smoke.”
“When you write to me tell me what your scheming and wait for me to OK it before you follow through. Got it?”
“Yeah. Maybe…” ventures Ella “I’ll be able to write one of your letters in cursive soon”
This comment makes me sad. She’s so innocent, yet there is a huge chance that she’ll be gone in five years.
I leave. Everyone cries buckets. I drive for several days. I eventually get to the University. And as I begin to make a life there, I continue thinking, wondering how I’m going to keep Mom from smoking when I’m over 2,000 miles away.
The day is April 7th 2021 and I am close to finishing my senior year of college. I am also engaged to be married to be married to Connor O’Neil on September 16th. I am home for Easter break and I am with Ella, who is in 6th grade. We are sitting on her bed and I’m getting ready to tell her something. And I am scared.
“Ella.” I say “You know how we’ve been trying to get mom to stop smoking for a long time, right.”
“Yeah” says Ella, blowing a big bubble with her gum “Since I was three”
“Well…” I say “do you know how I found out that she was a smoker?”
“Did you see her?”
“No… well yes. And when I saw her I came straight to you and we began plotting to get her to quit. And right now I’m going to tell you why”
“It was to save her right? So she won’t die from cancer?”
“No.” I choke out “It… was too save you… from dying in a fire.”
Of course Ella’s face is blank when I say that. So I start talking. As I ramble through the story of that day Ella squints at me. Though she laughs at all the crazy things she did, I can tell she thinks I am a tad bit psycho.
I get to the part where there is a fire, and seeing her, and realizing that was her. Ella isn’t looking at me like I’m insane anymore. When I tell her about being at the hospital and seeing that doctor come in her jaw drops open so that I can see her gum. It is pink- probably watermelon flavored. I stare at it until I regain my composure- when you feel like ripping your hair out it’s always good to have something to look at.
“And” I finish “The day of the fire is in one year”
Ella flops onto her back. “So… your telling me that in exactly one year I’m going to die in a fire, and you know this because some magic rocks took you to my future…”
“Well… when you put it like that it sounds pretty unbelievable,” I say “ But I need you to believe me. Because I would never in a life time joke about something like that”
Ella studies me for a second. She pales as she realizes I’m not about to bust out laughing, and I watch a shiver run through her body. Then she starts to cry. I pull her close and wrap my arms around her. She hugs me back, or more, clings to me, like she would fall over if I wasn’t there for support. Maybe she would. We stay like this for atleast 10 minutes, me trying to soothe her, but to no avail. There are some situations where it’s impossible for a person to be soothed. After that time though, she breathes in and pulls away.
“I… always… used to… have dreams about… fires” she chokes out. “Was it some sort of warning?”
“I don’t know. I have no clue about anything. I just know it’s true.”
“Honestly Ella I don’t know. It’s just some sort of feeling. I can’t describe it. But I know it’s no joke.”
“Do we know if Mom’s stopped smoking?”
“I don’t know. That’s why we have to watch her 24/7. Like, we can’t even blink.”
“Gracie. What if… she doesn’t stop? What if I do die?”
I sigh. “Ella, that… that might happen. You might die. And we’re all going to die at some point, it’s inevitable. But I am going to do everything in my power to prevent you from dying next year. And, I know this sounds horrible, but in case my efforts don’t result in anything, we’ll make the most of your life. I’m going to make sure that you do everything you’ve ever wanted to do before a year from today.”
“Okay, that works” says Ella. It sounds like she’s trying to stay calm, but then, all of a sudden, her face lights up: “Gracie!” she says “Why don’t we just keep me out of the house all day on that day? If I’m not here, I won’t die! Or I can, like, get the fire department on speed dial! Or like, buy a gas mask or something.”
“Ella, believe me, we will be doing all that and more. But we can’t control fate. The only way to really ensure your safety is to get Mom to quit. If there are no cigarettes, there’s no fire.”
“Ok. Well, then I’ll try my hardest too.”
“That’s what we’ll have to do. So, let me go hide Mom’s lighter, and you think of all the things you want to do before… you know. And I’ll make sure they happen.
It doesn’t take long for me to get moms lighter safely hidden. When I come back, Ella is hunched over her laptop, typing like crazy. Her wavy auburn hair falls across her face and she brushes it back. She really is gorgeous I realize. I always knew she would be, but it’s kind of shocking, really looking at her know. Her hair falls down her back, in perfect waves, shiny and neat. Her eyes are round and bright, standing out like diamonds, but on her face. And their framed by thick, long lashes, that don’t need mascara, and never will. Her nose is small with a tiny bump at the end, accompanied by a tiny sprinkle of freckles. Her cheekbones are high and have a rosy tint, one that matches her lips, which are full and perfect. She’s perfect. I realize that, not only is this whole thing tragic and awful and heartbreaking, which I’ve known all along, but it’s a big waste. Ella needs to grow up, go to college, get an amazing job and marry a lucky guy. She needs to have kids and get old and do something special in the world. Not go and die!
I’m suddenly very angry. This just isn’t right! Why is this happening to me, to her, to us? We never did anything, we don’t deserve this! I know I’m older now, I’m supposed to act grown up- I am grown up! But I don’t want to be! Ella won’t get that chance, so why should I? I see Ella looking at me so I take a deep breath. I can’t be upset in front of her, it just won’t work. So I walk over to her, sit on the bed and read over her list.
When I finish reading I look down at her. She’s looking at me too. “It’s not much yet. I’m gonna come up with more later.”
“A bottle of vodka?” I say indignantly
“Yes” she says, both looking and sounding stubborn “I want to get drunk.”
It’s all I can do not burst out laughing “Jesus, Ella” I say “You’re gonna be in freakin’ AA when you’re older!”
She starts to laugh, but then she winces and I watch as her face falls. I realize what I said and my eyes widen. I start to say I’m sorry. Or that I didn’t mean to. Or that I’m the most idiotic big sister ever but she cuts me off by saying something that jerks on my heart so bad I almost burst into tears.
“I’m not gonna get that much older”