I don’t remember how long I was out. One minute, I was slumped in my seat, darkness consuming my vision, and the next, I was somewhere else entirely.
They say your life flashes before your eyes when you’re about to snuff it. I always imagined that to be the good parts. You know, the parts of your life you’d want to relieve.
And maybe that was true for normal people. Maybe I was destined to be a weirdo. Hell, maybe I didn’t have enough good memories to fill my pre-death slide show, so my brain just worked with what it had.
Whatever the reason, as my vision faded, I could have sworn I heard her name on the night air…
“Allie!” I pounded on the bathroom door. “We’re gonna be late. What are you doing in ther -”
A squeak sounded beside me and before I could turn, someone covered their hand over my mouth and dragged me out of the hallway.
I tripped over my feet, but soft hands held me, familiar hands.
“Hey! What’s the big idea!”
Allie peered over my head, so that to me, she was upside down. A huge smile peppered her face. She was gorgeous, of course, in that unique, exotic sort of way. Her dirty-blonde curls bounced around her shoulders, and her eyes, one hazel, the other a dull green, stood out against her freakishly pale skin. For living in California, she never seemed to tan. Not ever.
She always used to say that she hated her eyes, that they freaked people out, but I loved them. I was always jealous of them.
Allie righted me and put a finger to my lips. “Shhhhhh,” she said.
I gave her a playful shove and sat on the bed. Her bedroom was tiny, like mine, with just enough room for a desk and a bed and a small dresser. The walls were baby blue (we’d painted them together last year) and the floors were old wood that creaked whenever you moved, making sneaking out nearly impossible. Clothes lay strewn across the ground, all old hand-me-downs and thrift shop gems.
“Dad and Mom are in there,” Allie whispered, as if to say it any louder might make it untrue. She joined me on the bed. “Together.”
“Oh,” I said, then, “oooooooooooh.” I threw my hands over my eyes, hoping to unrecord those last mental thoughts. “Ew.”
Allie flopped back on the bed. “Well, I think it’s romantic. Who knows, maybe they’ll really get back together this time. I’m tired of this separation crap.”
I didn’t join in her hopes. Allie was five years older. She was supposed to be the reasonable one and me, the dreamer. And yet, even I knew Mom and Dad would never work. They sucked together. “They’ll just fight more. Besides -” I stood up and walked to the door. I hesitated. “You won’t even be here. What do you care?”
“Aw, come on, Rainey. Don’t be like that. It’s college. I can’t help it.”
I turned and stared at her. “You can help where you go! New York? I’ll never see you!”
You’re abandoning me.
I didn’t say it, but I tried to put it into my voice, into my eyes.
It wasn’t fair of me. After all, she’d simply accomplished what everyone in this city only dreamed to do: escape. And once you did, you never looked back.
I wasn’t mad at her for leaving; I just didn’t want to be left behind.
Allie got up and wrapped her arms around me. I tried to fight her off, but she was bigger. Stupid age difference.
“I’ll come back,” she said in my ear. “For holidays and stuff.”
“With what money?”
“I’ll get a job. Don’t worry about it. Look, before you know it, you’ll leave this place too, Rainey. You’ll see.”
She let me go and started to walk to her dresser. I grabbed her arm.
“Take me with you. I’ll do home school or something, I don’t care.”
Allie half-smiled. “You know I would if I could, Sis.”
“Whatever.” I turned back to the door. “I have to get ready for school.”
“Fine,” Allie said, an amused lilt to her voice. “I guess you don’t want the presents I got you…”
I paused, my hand still on the doorknob. A huge smile spread across my face, and I took a moment for it to pass before I turned around. God knows, I couldn’t let Allie see she’d won.
Allie shrugged, her curls bouncing off her shoulders, and pulled something out of her dresser. “I found this for you.” She sat on the bed and patted the space beside her. “At this cool yard sale on the other side of town.”
I faked a second of indecision – it was all I could stand – then joined her. She handed me the package.
“Wrapped it myself.”
Warmth burned my cheeks. I glanced at her, smiled, and tore off the old Christmas paper. Underneath lay a musty old book. The pages were worn and leathery, and it smelled faintly of cigar smoke, but I didn’t care. It was mine and Allie had given it to me. I stared at the front cover. A little blonde girl stood beneath a tree and above her, perched on a branch, was a large orange cat with a mischievous smile. I read the title.
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?”
“It’s about this girl who gets tossed into a strange new world and has all kinds of crazy adventures.” Allie paused. “I thought that while I was off with my adventure, you could have your very own too, right here.”
I ran my hand over the cover.
“Are you…” Allie started. “Is it okay? I didn’t mean to -”
I threw my arms around her neck. “It’s wonderful. Thank you.”
She hugged me back, squeezing me into her body, and a second later she said, “hey! Wait, I almost forgot.” She pried me off and flipped open the cover of the book. There, taped to the inside, was a silver locket.
“Allie…” I whispered.
“Oh hush.” She peeled off the tape and held the necklace up. “Well, turn around, silly.”
I did and Allie reached over and draped the necklace across my chest. She secured the clasp and let it hang. “Well, what do you think?”
I palmed the locket, feeling the engraving – AJS – under my touch. It was Grandma’s, given to Allie because they shared the same namesake. I’d always wanted one of my own, but we couldn’t exactly afford something like that. This was an heirloom. Priceless.
“It’s beautiful,” I said, “but it’s your’s…”
“I want you to have it. I want you to have it so that even when I’m off at college, you’ll always have a little piece of me with you.” She looked me in the eyes. “I love you, little Sis. Nothing will ever change that.”
My cheeks ran wet. I didn’t care. I clutched the book to my chest and felt the cold silver of the locket pressed firm against my heart. “I love you too, big Sis.”
I gurgled, tried to breathe and choked. Someone stood over me, their mouth moving, yelling at me. The moonlight threw shadows across their face.
“Rainey!” she shouted.
I blinked. No, not Allie. Black hair, sharp features. Olivia…
“Rainey!” Olivia repeated. She pressed her fingers against my neck and cursed. Her arms were covered in blood.
“Dammit, she’s in a real bad way, Kiro. You need to get back here, now. I have no idea what I’m doing.”
My vision darkened.
“Rainey, stay awake!”
I tasted blood.
Changed my mind about four times on this one. At first, I wanted to write an Interlude from Olivia’s perspective, but scratched that because I found that (with all the first person writing) I am now terrible at 3rd POV. Then I decided to write it from Raineys POV, but had about 3k more words and realized it gave too much away. Eventually, I stuck with this. I think it’s a good segue into the next arc. It covers an important piece, but also leaves enough in the dark.
That was… startling.
Hopefully in a good way!
Felt a little shorter than most recent updates. Having said that I really liked the interaction between Rainey and her sister here, feeling to some extent that this scene shows some of the best characterization we’ve seen so far.
It might be just the circumstances of Rainey’s introduction to ROOT 4 but personally it seems like Rainey’s sister is better developed as a character in this one chapter than the ROOT 4 crew (with maybe the possible exception of Olivia) has been in the time we’ve seen them.
Not saying this to be negative but the characterization wasn’t really something that jumped out at me in this serial prior to this interlude. I may also be biased as this scene resonates somewhat with my own experiences but I liked this update a lot.
Pretty much agree with everything you said. Characterization’s been tough for me with ROOT 4, mostly because there hasn’t been a lot of “down time” – mostly just action. If I go back and do edits at some point, it’s definitely something I’d like to focus on. That being said, the next Arc, by its nature, is going to heavily emphasize character and backstory, though it won’t totally skimp on action either. Thanks for the thoughts 🙂
This was quite well-written. I like her sister, as a character, but my more cynical literary instincts say she’s dead.