Fifteen

☼►one◄☼

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An alarm screamed loudly in the bedroom at the top of the stairs, but nobody hit the button. It wasn’t long before the noise dredged my thirteen-year-old self from the clutches of sleep. I rolled out bed, scrubbed a hand over my eyes, and shuffled down the hall. My vision was blurry as I pushed open the door and, yawning widely, grumbled out an order - a plea - for Sophie to press the snooze button.

When the sound continued without any movement from the bed, I dropped my hands to my sides, stared blankly around the room. My gaze tracked over the star-splashed comforter, the pattern interrupted by the stuffed unicorn Sophie hadn’t slept with for years. A folded piece of paper sat in the centre of the pillow.

My hands trembled as I picked the note up, and the words blurred with my tears. My parents were already, thankfully, awake when I rushed down the stairs. My father held out a hand to pull me to a stop when I tripped over my own feet. My mother glanced up from her paper, brows drawing tightly together over her dark eyes.

I couldn’t speak - the words would not come out, my tongue leaden in my mouth. So I merely shoved the note in my mom’s direction. Theresa took the note and called up the stairs for Sophie to hurry up or she’d be late for school. At my insistent gesturing, Theresa rolled her eyes even as she opened the paper.

“Sophie?”

I stood rooted to the spot as my mother rushed from the kitchen. The silence echoed with the thundering footsteps, and time froze when her scream shattered the world. Alexander bolted to his feet, leaving me alone in the kitchen. I lowered myself shakily into a chair, throat tightening with fear and pain and anger. My chest was hollow and cold, limbs heavy. The grain of the wooden dining table grew fuzzy, and I closed my eyes against the tears.

I just couldn’t believe this was happening. I couldn’t believe my sister was gone. Sophie just disappeared into the middle of the night with nothing to explain but a short note only saying “I’ve got to go. I’m sorry. I love you.” She never gave any indication that she was so unhappy at home that she would run away.

My father stormed back down the stairs moments later. My mom’s crying followed him, and I watched as he grabbed the house phone from its cradle. He glanced at me over his shoulder, eyes dulled by emotions I couldn’t read.

“Seren, get ready for school.”

“Dad…”

“Go.”

His voice was hard, brooking no arguments, so I crossed the room to take a packet of PopTarts from the cabinet. The beeping of the buttons had never been that loud before, but now they deafened me. I came to a stop at the base of the staircase.

“Do you think she’s going to come back?”

He didn’t answer, much like I expected. With one final look at my dad, I turned and headed up to my room. Sophie’s door was wide open as I passed, and I stopped in the doorway to stare at my mother and the empty room beyond.

It was no surprise that the neighbours already knew about Sophie being gone. Madeline cocked her head as I approached the bus stop, a sympathetic twist to her lips. Her brother nodded succinctly then focused on the book in his hand.

“So you don’t know where she ran to?” asked Madeline, innocent enough that it would have been easy to mistake her tone for genuine concern. But I knew better. “Mom says she’ll be back by dinner time.”

I bit my tongue to keep the words from pouring out. It wasn’t any of Madeline’s business what happened. It wasn’t anybody’s business. Madeline shot me an appraising look then shook out her curls. Weak morning sunlight gleamed off the brown, sending tendrils of copper through the strands, and I absentmindedly wondered how long the other girl spent doing her hair this morning.

“I mean, honestly? We all kind of expected this to happen. Sophie’s always been kinda wild, y’know?”

“Maddy.”

“What, Vic? It’s true. She was caught drinking out at Old Man Willard’s just a few weeks ago, so it isn’t surprising that she ran away.”

“Shut up, Maddy.”

“Listen to your brother, Madeline,” I snapped, gritting my teeth.

“Why? You live with her. You should have known that she’d get a burr up her ass and -”

I stared at my knuckles, aching from the impact, while Madeline screeched and held her face. Victor barely glanced away from the pages of his book to inspect the scene before him, then he shrugged and went back to reading. Madeline screamed out a warning that this wasn’t over and stomped back toward her house. I watched her go without emotion; the rage had already disappeared, leaving behind the confusion I had felt since I woke up.

Rumours flooded the school throughout the day, each one more absurd than the last. I overheard various different theories about Sophie’s vanishing act as I made her way from class to class. No one confronted me for answers, though, and I was inordinately thankful for that. I didn’t have any to give, and it didn’t matter if I did - they didn’t deserve explanations.

However, I did. My family did. We deserved some sort of reason beyond waking up to find one of our own gone. Sophie didn’t think we did, evidently, and now the rest of us were left with questions that we would never get answers for.

“Miss Schulz, my office?”

I rolled my eyes, slammed my locker door shut, and turned to face the guidance counsellor. “Why?”

“I think we can talk about that in my office.”

“I’m going to be late for my bus.”

“First thing tomorrow, then,” Miss Sorento said before turning on her heel.

I watched her go. I knew I would have to actually follow through with meeting with the counsellor - it would be impossible not to - but I really didn’t want to spend however long in a closed-off room talking to a woman I barely knew. Confronting my thoughts and feelings about my sister was the last thing I felt like doing.

As I walked out to the line of buses, I stared up at the sky and felt the confusion finally give way to unrelenting anger.