Authors: Trisha Leaver
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For my blackbird
I don't remember her room being so cold. Even snuggled into her sweater the chill seeps in, settling into my bones like a whisper from beyond. That's where I will sleep tonightÂ â¦ in Maddy's bed, surrounded by her scent. Mom wants to change the sheets, but I won't let her. The hints of vanilla and lavender mingled with Alex's dark cologne brings a little piece of my sister back to me each night.
The only thing I have left of my old life is a few sketches and a poor replica of the friendship bracelet Josh gave me. It took me days to re-create, to weave the strings into the right pattern. It's not perfect, but it goes with me everywhere, a pathetic reminder of who I once was and what Josh still means to me. The real bracelet is gone, cut off and tossed aside just like my life.
I want to make peace with my choice, but Maddy's secret haunts me. The dark pieces of her life are hidden in the back of her closet for no one but me to see. She's not who I thought she was, but that doesn't matter. Maddy was my sister, my twin sister, and I'll do anything for her, including losing myself.
My phone vibrated on my nightstand, jarring me from the sketchbook I had open on my lap. I'd re-created the same drawing five times in the past week, and yet it still wasn't good enough. Problem was, if I didn't figure it out by midnight tomorrow, I'd be out of time.
Assuming it was Josh again, I let it go to voice mail, more concerned with perfecting the sketch than bickering with him over something his neighbor and sometime-girlfriend, Kim, had said. I wasn't interested in dissecting why she was offended that Josh chose to let me drive him to school every day, even though she lived less than a hundred yards from him and he had a car of his own. That was his problem, not mine. And if he couldn't figure that one out on his own, then he was an idiot.
I tossed my charcoal pencil down in favor of graphite. Perhaps it was the reflection of light in my picture that was off. After a few strokes, I realized it wasn'tâall I'd done was take a relatively decent drawing and make it worse.
The phone rang again, the same irritating song breaking my concentration. Swearing, I caught it before it buzzed off my nightstand and tossed it onto the bed next to me. Josh knew I was finishing up my portfolio tonight. I wanted it in early to ensure I was on track for early admission and not slotted into the general-admission pool for the Rhode Island School of Design. His call could wait; he'd understand.
The phone kept ringing, only stopping long enough to chime with an incoming text. Shaking my head, I turned to check the time. The bright numbers on my alarm clock bothered my bleary eyes. After several long, hard blinks and a few more muttered curses, the numbers came into focus. Two twenty-three in the effin morning. What could be so important that Josh had to call me at two-thirty in the morning?
I rubbed my eyes and answered, not bothering to check the caller ID. “What do you want now, Josh?”
“Ella? It's me.”
It took a second for me to place the voice. It sounded off, throaty, and quieter than usual. I stared at the phone. My mind registered that it was my sister talking, but I still searched my darkened room for her. I don't know why; we hadn't shared a room since we were ten.
She was in bed when I came upstairs earlier that night. She was grounded. Dad had come home early from work on Tuesday and caught her and Alex in her bedroom. She worked him down from three weeks without a phone to one night of grounding, but that left her stuck at home on a Saturday night with nothing but me and her collection of DVDs to keep her company. So what was she doing on the other end of my phone?
Flicking on the hallway light, I stared across the narrow space to her room. As always, her door was closed, and I had to get up, trudge those seven steps to her door, and push it open. The room was quiet, her rumpled bed empty. The window behind it was open a crack, probably so she could sneak back in.
“Maddy? Where are you?”
“Alex's,” she said, her voice muffled by what I could've sworn were tears.
“What's the matter?”
I was more curious than anything. Maddy didn't cry. Ever. She said it was a sign of weakness and that it made your makeup run. The weakness part I got; the popular crowd she'd immersed herself in would use anything they could against one another.
The makeup partÂ â¦ yeah, that I didn't get.
“Nothing. It doesn't matter. I just need a ride home, Ella.”
“Where's your car?”
My guess was that she'd lost her keys or, better yet, was too drunk at one of Alex's parties to drive. I'd pick her upâthere was no question about that, but I wanted to prod her for a reason first.
“It's at home. Jenna picked me up.”
“It's two-thirty in the morning, Maddy,” I said, already putting on my shoes. “Can't you get Jenna or Alex or somebody else to drive you home?”
“No, Alex can't and Jenna won't.”
I shrugged, not caring that Maddy couldn't see me. I didn't get why Maddy hung out with Jenna, what she could possibly see in her best friend.
“Come on, Ella. If Mom and Dad find out I snuck out, I'm screwed.”
I snorted at that one. Screwed? My twin sister was never screwed. She always seemed to skate by, knew exactly what to say to get herself out of everything. She'd be extra-sweet to our mother, pout for our father, and for AlexÂ â¦ well, from what I could gather, she had an entirely different arsenal for getting her way with him.
I could count my friends on one finger, but she could fill the entire cafeteria with laughter. I'd wake up at six in the morning so I could be early for school, and she'd roll in five minutes past the first bell, moaning about some flat tire to get herself out of detention. I'd collapse on my bed exhausted from studying till midnight, and she'd sneak out and go to a party with her boyfriend.
“I'm sure you'll think of something to tell them.” And they'd buy it. No matter who she was talking to or what lie she was selling, they always bought it.
Maddy managed to make the honor roll, but that was mostly my doing. I'd study for days, then cave when she'd beg me to
I was her and take a test she'd completely forgotten about. I never complained; it's not like she took any advanced courses, so it required no effort on my part.
I was getting so good at playing her that her friends couldn't tell us apart. I kept my hair long and stopped adding pink streaks to the underside to look more like her. I'd mastered her voice as well, knew exactly how to raise and lower the pitch to match her sarcasm.
She paid me fifty bucks to take an oral Spanish exam for her last week, one she “completely forgot I had.” I scored her a solid 82. No point in getting her an A. She took my spot in Physics that day, pretending to be me so I wouldn't get a detention for skipping class. We had a pop quiz. She took it for me, scoring me a miserable 47. Now I was looking at doing extra-credit work for the rest of the term to even manage a B.
I got back at her though. Still pretending to be Maddy, I went and found Jenna and told her I wasn't feeling well and was staying home that night. Then I called Mom to tell her the same thing. Maddy was beyond pissed; she'd unintentionally got herself a Friday night at home in bed with Mom hovering and me gloating. As for JennaÂ â¦ I'd never heard that girl scream so loud in my life, something about a family dinner to celebrate her birthday that Maddy had promised she'd be at. Oh well, not my problem.
“Ella, please,” Maddy begged, pulling me from that memory. “I'll make it up to you. I swear. Whatever you want.”
“You always say that, Maddy.”
“I know, but I mean it this time. Please.”
I had a memory full of promises just like that one. Difference was, I kept my promises. Maddy's were nothing more than hollow assurances aimed at getting people to do what she wanted.
We were so different. Maddy was skirts and heels and flatirons, where I was jeans and T-shirts and ponytails. She was Friday-night parties and homecoming dances. I was B-rated horror movies on the couch with microwave popcorn. From her perfect hair to her perfect friends, right down to her perfectly pedicured toes, Maddy was my opposite.
“Ella? Ella!” Maddy shouted into the phone.
The muffled crying I'd heard earlier was gone, her rapid breathing and rising pitch lending an edge of panic to her voice. I don't know why she'd freak; it's not like I'd ever say no. She was my sister, my twin sister at that, and I would always help her.
“Fine. Whatever,” I said, and grabbed a sweatshirt from the end of my bed. “I'll be there in fifteen.”
I quickly flipped through my drawings, picked the best of four sketches of the exact same subject, and carefully tore it out. Surprisingly, it was the first one I'd done. I scanned it in, adding it to the ones I'd already uploaded, and hit the Submit button. It was only October 18. The application wasn't due for another two weeks, but, like I said, I wanted it in early. Plus, if Maddy expected me to drop everything to come get her, then the least she could do was wait the ten extra minutes it'd take me to e-mail my art school application.
My dog, Bailey, hopped down off my bed the minute I stood up, intent on following me around. He beat me to my bedroom door, then waited as if he needed my permission. Knowing him, he'd bark the second I left the house, letting me know he was not happy staying behind. I didn't mind him being angry. He was a dog, he'd get over it in less than a second. What I didn't want was Bailey to wake my parents up. It was bad enough I had to go bail Maddy out. I didn't feel like dealing with Mom and Dad's questions, too.
I grabbed a treat from the box I kept on my nightstand and hid it beneath the covers on my bed. Bailey did as I expected; he jumped up and started nosing through my comforter. I'd hidden it deep enough that it would take Bailey a while to find, hopefully long enough for me to get out of the house unnoticed.