by Virginia Andersen
Mya couldn’t remember the last time she had awoken so calm and comfortable. For the past three years she’d gotten a few hours of sleep a night on a rock hard bed in the blistering heat of Southern Arizona. Red Rock Musical Academy cared more about buying the best instruments than supplying air conditioning and quality mattresses. Now that Mya was home, she didn’t think she wanted to leave her bed ever again.
A knock at Mya’s bedroom door pulled her from her thoughts of her large, warm bed. She pushed back her blankets and sat up before calling out for whomever was knocking to enter. Danny, Mya’s younger sister, opened the door and jumped onto Mya’s bed.
“Good morning!” Danny cheered.
Mya couldn’t help the smile that tugged on her lips. Danny was three years younger than Mya but to anyone who looked at the two, they could have been twins. They both shared their father’s gray eyes, their mother’s dark skin and long curly hair, and their grandfather’s pianist hands. Mya used her long slender fingers to her advantage, becoming one of the best piano players in the Northeast region. She composed her own music and played any piece flawlessly. Her near perfection was what secured her a scholarship into the country’s best musical academy.
Danny, on the other hand, was more interested in creating fictional worlds with her words. At the age of eleven she’d written a full length novel. Now, at fourteen, Danny was working on the third book in her series that her and her parents were working hard to get published.
“Good morning Danny,” Mya pulled herself out of her bed and slipped her feet into her fleece lined slippers.
“Mom and dad went to work, but breakfast is in the kitchen,” Danny hopped off of Mya’s bed and hurried back into the hallway and down to hall to the kitchen.
Mya followed behind her, not has excited over a simple breakfast. She sat next to Danny and pulled pancakes onto her plate. They ate in relative silence, talking about the past year of school had been and how excited Danny was for Mya to come back and go to school with her. Mya smiled sadly down at her plate.
She was glad to be home, but thinking about the circumstances that lead to her return brought a sharp pain in Mya’s heart. She hadn’t spoken about it with her family, although they were vaguely aware of what happened. The school’s music room had caught on fire and she’d been stuck in the blaze. But she wasn’t alone. A few months after the fire, Mya was being driven mad with guilt and grief. She’d excused herself from the scholarship she’d been given and ran back to Maine.
Danny continued to talk as Mya thought about the fire. Danny watched her sister as she spoke, hoping that Mya was listening to at least something she was saying. Mya had been home for little over a week and Danny had seen significant differences in her. She wasn’t as happy as she used to be. She didn’t play the piano as often. She’d started to shut herself in her room more and more. Danny was worried about her older sister. Mya had only been like this once before when their grandfather died. Mya said she never wanted to play the piano again without her grandfather being able to hear. It was their father that told her their grandfather would want her to play her heart out. Mya was reluctant to touch the keys. Instead she wrote a piece of music for their grandfather. It was that piece that had won Mya so many of the awards adorning their house.
But their father wasn’t there to pull Mya out of the darkness that was eating away at her. Their father was stuck working for nearly twenty-four hours before coming home and sleeping only to go back to work. Their mother was too busy preparing for their annual camping trip up in the Canadian woods. That left Danny to take care of her sister’s growing depression.
Danny thought maybe the fire had something to do with her depression. When Danny and her parents had gotten the news of the fire they feared the worst. Thankfully Mya was only a bit shaken and treated for smoke inhalation. Although, other families weren’t as lucky. Danny remembered that a student died in the fire. She couldn’t help but hope Mya didn’t know the student.
“Are you okay?” Danny asked. She stared at her sister with concern.
“Uh?” Mya popped her head up and looked at her sister. “Oh, yeah. I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? You seem sad,” Danny reached across the table to grab Mya’s hand. She was too late, Mya was already standing and carrying her plate to the sink in the kitchen. Danny dropped her hand and her head as her sister walked out of the kitchen and down the hall to her bedroom.
Danny threw her plate into the sink and stomped to her room. She and her sister used to be so close. They never had secrets with one another, they spent nearly every waking moment together. After Mya left for Arizona, things started to change. Mya called every weekend to check in but during the past year, Mya hadn’t called as often. Danny could count on one hand how many times she actually got to talk to her sister. She had thought that with Mya home things would go back to normal. Now she felt like an idiot. She loved her sister, but the pain of rejection made Danny’s blood boil. She wished she could just talk to Mya. She wished they could be friends again.
Mya sat on her bed scrolling through her phone. Her classmates were at a concert with the best musicians in the world while she wallowed in her misery in bed. Since she left Red Rock she’d gotten so many phone calls and texts from her old friends. Mya had ignored every single one. Every word, every buzz, every smiling face on social media reminded her of the pain she’d suffered while gone. She wished she could forget it all.
Mya hadn’t touched her keyboard since returning home. It’d been too painful to hear the music she could create. Mya stood from her bed and sat in front of her keyboard before lightly pressing her fingers down. She’d missed the sound of the piano, but the music brought another wave of pain through her heart.
Why had she gone back? Why didn’t she just let her music burn? If only he hadn’t been stupid enough to follow her into the blaze.
Mya shut her eyes and began to play the piece she was practicing the night of the fire. Her fingers moved flawlessly across the keys as tears began to pool in her eyes. She couldn’t help but see his face; his bright smile, his shining eyes. Why did it have to be him?
Abruptly, Mya stood from the bench and ran to her bed. She pulled the soft blankets around her and took a shaking breath. She shouldn’t have played that piece. She shouldn’t have put herself back into that room.
Mya sat in her bed for hours. She heard her sister calling for her for lunch but ignored her. Mya didn’t want to be around anyone right now. She just wanted her time alone to think.
Her mother returned home first. She came into Mya’s room and hugged her before leaving to take care of different household things. Their father arrived shortly after, exhausted and hungry. Mya heard her family calling her for dinner and tried to hide herself deeper below the blankets. She heard her door open and felt her bed dip slightly on the edge. Mya poked her head out from under her blankets and stared at her father.
“Are you going to starve yourself?” Her father sighed.
“I’m just not hungry,” Mya whispered. She didn’t know how to tell him about her pain. She didn’t want to make anyone else feel the amount of guilt she did. It wasn’t fair for anyone else to feel her pain.
“You can’t hide in here forever Mya.” Mya nodded and watched her father leave the room, not bothering to close the door.
Mya pushed herself up from her mattress and climbed out of her bed. She crossed the room and walked down the hall to the kitchen. Her parents and sister were already sitting at the kitchen table with food on their plates. They looked up at Mya and smiled as she sat in the empty chair and began piling food onto her plate.
“How was your day at work?” Danny turned to their father with a smile still on her face. She moved her eyes to Mya quickly, her expression darkening, before turning back to their father.
“Busy and exhausting as always,” he said. Their father had worked in a fish and shellfish packaging company for the past two decades. He ran the office of quality assurance and always seemed to be fixing a crisis of the companies own creation.
Danny asked their mother next, who responded with a simple ‘fine’ before turning to her eldest daughter. Mya ignored most of the questions thrown at her as she picked at her food and hung her head. Her family saw the pain in her eyes as she took her half empty plate and set on the kitchen counter. Mya shuffled back to her bedroom and climbed under her covers again.
Danny watched her sister walk away without saying a word. It made her anger rise to the surface. She couldn’t understand why her sister was feeling so sorry for herself. Mya had chosen to come home. Mya had made that decision on her own. Danny didn’t understand why Mya didn’t just go back if she was so depressed.
“Why is she always ignoring us?” Danny spat out.
“Your sister has been through a lot Danielle,” her father said with a sigh. Danny rolled her eyes. Of course her parents would defend their darling Mya.
“She was in a fire, but she got out. She’s fine,” Danny threw her arms wildly as she spoke.
“Mya could have died. And that isn’t the only reason she’s being like this,” her father sat forward to make his point.
“Danny’s right,” her mother whispered. Danny and her father both turned to look at her with the same surprised expression.
“What was that darling?”
“Mya has been through a lot but that doesn’t give her a reason to ignore her family. We are trying to be there for her and she’s pushing us away. She’s been home for a week and the most I’ve gotten out of her are one word responses.” Danny looked at the hallway where her sister had disappeared down with concern. Her mother’s voice was growing with every word and she didn’t want Mya to hear what they were saying.
Danny watched her father slowly nod his head at his wife’s words before steepling his fingers in front of him.
“She is different,” he said after a moment of thought.
“Mya rarely smiles. She used to smile all the time. It took an effort to get her to stop, now it’s nearly impossible to get her lips to move even slightly,” her mother said.
“I’m worried about her,” Danny said before putting her plate in the kitchen sink. She wanted to check on her sister to make sure Mya didn’t hear anything they were discussing a moment before.
Danny walked down the hall and found Mya’s door wide open. Danny didn’t think before running into the room and into the bathroom. Mya wasn’t there. Relief flooded through Danny but even more panic swelled inside her chest. She heard a light bang from the hallway and hurried to the back door to find Mya standing in the doorway with a look of shock on her face.
“What are you doing?” Danny asked. Her sister was wearing athletic clothes and running shoes. Danny cocked an eyebrow up in questioning. Her sister never ran.
“I needed to clear my head,” Mya said, keeping her voice low so their parents wouldn’t hear.
“Did you hear what we were saying?”
“Every word,” Mya looked angry but tired.
“Why can’t you just tell us what’s going on?” Danny asked, taking a step closer. Mya took a step back and out into the night.
“I’m sorry. I just need some fresh air.” With that Mya turned and ran into the night. Danny stood at the back door and watched her sister until the dark swallowed her up.
The cool night air bit into Mya’s skin as she ran, her feet slapping the concrete with every step. It was strange to run after so many years of neglecting the speed her body possessed. When she was younger, Mya had planned to run track. That was before she found her talent in the piano. She’d forgotten how freeing running was. How smooth her movements were.
Mya didn’t realise where her feet were leading her before she stopped suddenly on the cliff where she and her friends used to hang out at. They’d found the small clearing in the trees when they were in elementary school. By middle school it had become the neighborhood hang out for the children. All of them knew not to jump into the water. It was too far down and far too cold, even in the summer.
Mya took deep breaths as she listened to the waves breaking against the cliff wall. She sat on the edge of the cliff and threw her legs over the edge. This place seemed as good as any to clear her head. She laid back and listened to the waves while spinning her thoughts around in her head.
Her guilt and grief were beginning to eat away at her and causing her to push her family away. She didn’t want to do that. She didn’t want to lose them. Mya sat on the cliff for what felt like hours as the cold and the mist started to creep in.
A snapping twig pulled Mya’s attention from the stars to the edge of the clearing where Danny stood. She sat up quickly and stood to face her sister.
“It’s not high enough to kill you,” Danny said, leaning against a tree. Mya looked behind her at the water and back at her sister.
“I wasn’t going to jump,” Mya hissed.
“Well good, cause you’d probably drown to death and that’s no fun,” Danny took a few steps towards her sister.
“I just came out here to clear my head.”
“Why? What the hell happened in Arizona?” Danny had anger in her eyes as she pushed her sister with questions.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Mya tried to step around her sister but Danny stepped in her path.
“Tell me,” Danny demanded.
“Fine,” Mya sighed and threw her hands in the air. “I was dating this boy, Carter. He was there on a scholarship for his violin playing,” Mya stumbled over her words for a moment before carrying on. “We were practicing in the music room when it caught on fire. We made it out but I forgot a piece of music. The music I wrote for grandpa. I didn’t want to leave it so I ran back in. Carter followed me. By that time the whole place was up in flames. I couldn’t find the damn music and while we ran out a support beam fell on Carter,” Mya took a deep breath and felt the tears falling down her cheeks. “I was told he died instantly. He didn’t feel the flames.”
“Mya,” Danny breathed.
“But I can’t help but feel guilty. If I hadn’t gone back in there he would be alive,” Mya turned around abruptly and took a shaking breath. “He ran in there because he loved me and all I could think about was that stupid piece of music. It’s not like I don’t have it memorized. I didn’t need to go back,” Mya fell to her knees and let the sobs take over her body.
Danny took a step forwards and placed a gentle hand on her sister’s shoulder. She fell to her knees next to her sister and pulled Mya in for a tight hug. Mya sobbed into Danny’s shoulder as the two sat in the chilled night air.
“I’m so sorry,” Danny said as she adjusted her position to be more comfortable. “You shouldn’t have to go through this alone.”
“I didn’t know how to tell you. He’s dead because of me,” Mya whispered.
“You can’t blame yourself for this. It wasn’t your fault, or anyone else’s,” Danny pulled her sister closer to her. “Things like this happen for different reasons. You can’t blame anyone.”
“I’ve been blaming myself since it happened. I feel so guilty. He was always telling me that he loved me and I would lie to him every time I said it back.”
Danny didn’t know what to say. She’d never been in love. She’d never had anyone interested in her. All Danny knew about love was what she wrote in her stories. Her sister had someone who cherished her and she couldn’t love him back.
“He died thinking I loved him,” Mya whispered as another wave of sobbing forced her further into her sister’s shoulder.
They sat there long after the moon had reached the middle of the sky. They talked about the past three years that Mya spent away. They talked about Carter and how much Mya wanted to see him as more than a friend but could never bring herself to. They talked until Mya was sure their parents would call the police. They stood and stared out at the water.
“We should get back,” Danny said, already walking towards the path.
“I’ll be right behind you,” Mya hugged her sister once more and watched her leave through the woods.
Mya hugged herself and watched the water below her. She’d finally been able to talk about Carter. She’d been able to share that part of her life. It was like being able to breath after too long under water.
Mya kissed the necklace hanging around her neck. The necklace Carter had given her. She smiled down at it before taking it off.
“I’m sorry Carter. I did care about you. I hope you found peace.” Mya clutched the necklace to her chest before throwing it into the water below. She was ready to move on. She was ready to get her life back.
Mya smiled and turned around.
Her heart stopped in her chest.
Carter stood less than two feet from Mya. He seemed to glow against the black of the night. He looked exactly as Mya remembered. His dark hair sticking out randomly, his full lips parted, his eyes shining.
Mya couldn’t believe what she was seeing and reached out to touch him. The moment her hand touched his skin she felt as if the world was on fire. She stumbled back, clutching her now burnt hand and felt tears falling down her face.
“Carter?” Mya choked out.
“You said you loved me,” his voice was deeper than Mya remembered. She took a step back, not understanding what was happening.
How? Mya questioned. She looked into his eyes and noticed the shining was too bright. There seemed to be a fire in his irises. That’s actually fire, Mya took another step back and felt her foot slip on the edge of the cliff. She quickly regained her balance and took a deep breath.
“Why did you lie to me?” Carter took a step forward and loomed over Mya’s small frame.
“Carter,” Mya whispered before his scolding hand wrapped around her throat.
Mya tried to scream but his hand only tightened. Carter’s black hair fell into his flaming eyes as he leaned forward, forcing Mya to lean over the side of the cliff. She clawed at his hand, only to burn her fingers more. She could feel her skin beginning to burn on her neck, causing blinding pain to shoot through her body. White spots were starting to form in her vision as Carter brought his fiery lips to her ear. Carter’s hand tightened even more, making it impossible for Mya to suck in anymore smoke-filled air.
“You are a liar,” Carter hissed into Mya’s ear, the air burning hot.
Mya locked eyes with Carter and mouthed her last words to him before he pushed. Her throat was too damaged to suck any air in as she fell to the freezing water below her.
As she fell, Mya could see Carter slip farther and farther away while he looked down from the cliff. He laughed as her body broke the surface of the water. He waited, watching her twitching form floating on the water. The waves crashing on the cliff side was the only thing to mark the passage of time.
Her last words meant nothing to Carter now, not while she stood next to him, her body freezing and soaked.
“What happened?” Mya looked around, terror and confusion covering her face.
Carter brought his blistering hand up and pushed Mya’s soaked hair out of her face. The water turned to steam as he touched her. He cupped the back of her neck and pulled her closer to his lips. Too stunned to stop him, Mya’s blue lips met Carter’s scorching ones. She pulled away and stumbled a few steps away from him. She tripped and fell to the ground.
“You’re mine now,” Carter walked towards her and grabbed her face with his hand.
The heat no longer burned Mya as he lifted her from the ground by the chin and drug her to the side of the cliff. He forced her to look down at the floating body that looked so much like her.
Because that is you, Mya thought to herself.
“You’re mine Mya,” Carter leaned in and whispered into her ear. “Forever.”
This time, Mya was able to scream. If only someone could have heard her.
Danny stood beside the grave, staring down at her sister’s coffin. Five days had passed since joggers had found Mya’s body on the beach less than a mile from the cliff. Danny couldn’t understand what the cops were saying when they showed up at their front door the morning after Danny and Mya had talked. She knew something was wrong when Mya didn’t come home that night. Danny didn’t expect this to have happened though. It seemed impossible.
Danny barely remembered when her grandfather died. She barely remembered what the funeral and wake were like, but she knew she would never forget this day. Not in a million years.
With tears streaming down Danny’s face, she grabbed a handful of dirt and tossed it into the hole. She could feel her heart straining as she watching her sobbing parents drop their handfuls into the grave. It was almost too much for her to bare.
Without thinking, Danny moved her hand to the necklace she wore around her neck. The police had found it next to Mya’s body and given it to Danny after the investigation. The police had said it was a suicide but Danny couldn’t believe that. Mya had been so happy, she had finally freed herself from the pain of Carter’s death. It just didn’t make any sense.
They began shoveling more dirt on top of Mya’s coffin as Danny and her parents turned to walk away.
Danny wasn’t ready to go the wake at their house. She didn’t want to see everyone who had forgotten about Mya until she had died. It felt as if Danny were being punched in the gut over and over again when she thought of the numerous people that would be offering their condolences and forgetting about whose funeral they had attended less than an hour before. It broke Danny’s heart.
Danny sat on the chair next to their fire place as people wandered around their house with fake smiles plastered on their unfamiliar faces. She watched her mother accept the different food brought to her. Her father stood in the living room talking with different colleagues about his daughter.
A sound from across the room brought a sudden burst of pain to Danny’s heart. She turned quickly and saw one of Mya’s classmates sitting in front of the piano, their fingers positioned on the keys. Danny felt anger begin to course through her veins as she watched the guests at the wake move their attention to Mya’s classmate.
Danny stood suddenly and moved into the kitchen where her mother was staring at the wall. She must have frozen when she heard the piano begin to play.
“Mom?” Danny called. She turned around slowly and faced Danny. Danny could see a tear rolling down her mother’s cheek.
Without a word, her mother hurried to the back door and slammed it behind her. Danny watched her mother leave and felt her anger grow even more. These people had no respect for Mya or their family. They didn’t care about the pain they were feeling.
Danny grasped the necklace and sucked in a quick breath. She felt as if she could hear a small voice coming from the necklace. She began crying as she clutched the necklace to her chest. She didn’t know how but she was certain the voice belonged to her sister.
I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, repeated over and over like a prayer.
The tears that fell from her eyes slid down her cheeks.
I don’t care, it was a deeper voice that answered.
Danny felt panic swell in her chest as she looked down at the necklace. Her sister had died. She was dead.
Then why did Danny feel like the air next to her had turned to ice? Why did she feel like her sister was looking right at her?