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Chapter 1 : we all break sometime.
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This is written for Inti's Prety People Challenge. The image I was given is shown below.
Also, a special thanks to Rachel and Celeste at TGS for their amazing help and support. This is for you, guys!
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
The sky is leaking.
Syrupy reds, dusky oranges, the satin glow of lilac--all dribbling downwards in a waterfall of wayward color, desperate for the slightest, fleeting touch of the horizon. A sunset, spilling over.
The night he dies, the summer air is swollen with silence. And it is nothing and everything all at once. It clogs and chokes and lingers, achingly sweet, on silver-dusted clouds and the drooping leaves of trees. It wraps its fat fist around flower stems and kite strings and daydreams and clenches - watches - as it all wilts away. It fills the world with emptiness.
You sit in your room and paint your nails and do not cry.
Downstairs, the sounds of sorrow dribble through the air, struggling against the thick veil of silence. A wrenched cry. The hollowed, heaving gasp of a sob. You do nothing - say nothing - as you listen to your family weep and weep and weep, their wails mingling together into a drunken melody of grief, as light and sad as a whisper. It swells, floating on the caress of a breeze, and then it dies, succumbing to the silence of the night once more.
Everything is quiet.
You sit and paint and still, you do not cry.
"Dominique." Your sister drifts into your room, perching herself on the edge of your bed. Her eyes are red-rimmed. Hope, withered and beaten and there, clings to her like dust. And it's amazing, really, but somehow she manages to be beautifully devastated and devastatingly beautiful all at once.
You think you hate her for it.
"Dom, if you want to talk - if you need anything -" Your sister's voice is an offtune lullaby made of silk ribbons and piano music and clinking porcelain. It shimmers in your ear, and even the silence of the night loves her, because it breaks. Just for her, it breaks, and her words give rise to a million other noises - chirping crickets, a distant bird, the rustle of wind through leaves - they all come alive, only to hear her speak. If heartache had a sound, it would be her voice.
"Everything is fine," you say. The words come out with surprising ease.
Her face falls in disappointment. She does not reply - you don't think she knows how - and the silence returns to your room, stretching and growing and pushing the two of you apart until it feels like she is so far away, you can barely see her.
You consider it a victory.
"Dom, please..." she murmurs, and there is her voice again, each ivory word lingering on her tongue, plinking off her lips like fat, golden droplets of honey.
Her begging is pathetic. Without speaking, you hold out your hand in front of you, glancing at your fingers with nonchalant ease. In the moonlight, your nails shine crimson.
"Like the colour?" You smirk. Unlike hers, your voice is not some pretty melody. Instead, it is harsh discord - syllables clashing, glass breaking. Angry. Ugly.
You don't turn around to see your sister's expression, but you can sense her dismay. There is a pause. You hear the rustle of clothing, a quiet sigh - obviously, she prefers pink to red - and you know that she has recognized her defeat, and is now standing up to leave.
"The funeral's on Tuesday," she says, and then she is gone.
You turn around to watch the door click shut, and with her leaves all sound. The same bloated silence slips into your room again, ballooning overhead like a parachute, and you succumb to its sweet, choking haze without fight.
Outside, the sky is almost completely drained of color. An hour ago, there was a magnificent sunset made of orange juice and cherry blossoms and raspberry sorbet. But now it has disappeared, melted away with the summer heat, and all that is left now is a watery streak of grey; a breathless, ugly mistake. You wonder where it all went - your beloved colors, your reds and oranges and lilacs. Where have they trickled off to?
You think: maybe there is a child out there who holds the five thousand shades of a sunset in his palms. And maybe he is so beautiful that when he walks by trees, their branches droop down to touch him, leaves turning red and orange and crumpled. And maybe that is how autumn happens.
You turn back to look at your nails. They gleam, shiny and fresh like beetle shells, and to you, it seems like your whole life is made up of the same thing, over and over again. A flickering, black and white film playing on an endless loop. All you know is silence and daydreams, rose petals and ash, shriveled hope and the faint, soft notes of a melody - as sweet as honey - fading away into the hot summer air.
Here is a secret: a person only feels what they let themselves feel. Misery, sorrow, loss - those are all unnecessary trivialities that can be easily discarded with the flick of a hand. Sadness is for the weak.
Grief, you have decided, is a relative concept.
“I’m not going.” You stand at the top of the stairs, fists clenched, eyes bright. Unmoving, you don’t flinch at your sister’s incredulous stare or her exasperated sighs. You simply ignore her, looking straight ahead, determined.
“Dom, you have to. It’s his funeral.”
The house is crowded with flowers – roses, carnations, forget-me-nots – all sent to your family by fellow mourners, people sorrying for your loss. The floaty, floral scent is inescapable. Everywhere you go, it follows you, its sickly sweet stench lingering perpetually under your nose.
“I don’t care. I’m not going.”
Your sister – dressed in black, face painted and sculpted and beautiful -- fidgets uncomfortably. Pale fingers, knotted through silky hair. Teeth scraping against lip. “Why not?”
You look at her, face blank, as if you are surprised by the question. “Because.”
“Because what? Damnit, Dom, the service is in thirty minutes. We don’t have time for this.”
You feel something quiver inside your chest. A hot worm of anger, twitching and writhing and growing. “Well leave without me, then!”
“No! Stop being so ridiculous!”
“I’m not being ridiculous!” Your heartbeat buzzes in your ear. Your fists – clenched and tight like the wet face of a crying child – shudder with fury. You feel the need to destroy. To clench something delicate in your hand and watch it all shatter to pieces. “You think you know him, don’t you, Vic? With your funeral and your flowers and your black clothes. You think that – just because you have all of these things – everything is okay. But you don’t know him, and it’s not okay. Not at all.”
Without thinking, you take a nearby bouquet out of its pretty glass vase, wrapping your fingers around its dripping stems. Your sister is frozen, unable to stop you.
You look at the flowers in your fist. It’s an arrangement of roses, in all different colors, bright and drooping and delicate. ‘Our deepest condolences for your family's loss", the tag says.
And isn't it funny? You never lost him. He's not some old sweater that's hidden inside your closet or underneath your bed. You know exactly where he is: lying, dead, in a casket
'Lost' is wrong. 'Lost' implies that there is hope of ever finding him again, when there so obviously is not.
“He wanted to be cremated,” you say. “He was allergic to flowers. And he hated the colour black.”
And then you are ripping and tearing and pulling, red nails scraping, petals raining like confetti, and it feels so good that, after you are finished, you take another bouquet, and then another and another and -
A gust of wind flares into the room through the open window. Rose petals, in the five thousand shades of a sunset, swirl and dance and flicker erratically, until everything is spinning together into a blurring blitz of blossom bits, petals pirouetting through the air like tiny birds, or colored tears.
You and your sister stand in the middle of it all, two figurines in a blooming spring snowglobe, hair flapping, the edges of your black dresses shivering in the wind. You close your eyes...
...And when you open them, you are sitting on the floor, surrounded by the vivid corpses of a hundred flowers and the broken wings of a thousand birds. That moment -- of colour and confusion and sound – has disappeared, and you are left with nothing but the aftermath.
Your eyes sting, your throat aches. The air around you is thick and stiff with the awkward realization of what you’ve just done.
Your sister stands above you, chin quivering.
“We’ll be back around seven,” she says, quietly. Softly, she turns and walks down the stairs and out the door, where the rest of your family is waiting. She drifts, away from this shattered chaos, and away from you – the person who caused it.
When she is finally gone, you stand, brush the crushed petals off your dress, and walk away.
You don’t bother to clean up the mess. Unlike your sister, you are not bothered by the sight of beauty, lying marred and crumpled on the floor.
Everything breaks, sooner or later. It is only a matter of time, and then you will too.
You step into his room, trailing ash and flower petals and the faint few notes of a melody long forgotten, and switch on the light. Shadows scatter as everything around you is illuminated. You take a step further inside.
The walls are painted blue, the bed is made, the blinds pulled shut. The air is cool and thick, like the room itself is holding its breath. Pausing. Waiting.
Lightly, you trail a finger across a bookshelf. You half-expect to feel dust.
And then, you look up.
Above you is a cluttered pattern of paper stars, a small replica of the night sky. You can spot Orion’s Belt, the big dipper, and another constellation that you recognize, but cannot remember he name of. All spread out in front of you. Heaven, at your fingertips.
You remember: when he was younger, he had been obsessed with all things celestial – stars, planets, the moon. They fascinated him, and on his seventh birthday, you had offered to help him build the sky. Together, the two of you spent rainy afternoons cutting and folding and gluing, day after day sifting through your fingers like copper coins.
You had planned for a hundred stars. You only made it to sixty-four.
All of a sudden, without thinking, you are running out of the room and down the stairs, fumbling in drawers and cabinets, looking for paper, glue, scissors. Frantic fingers and stumbling legs. Searching, searching, searching – always searching.
You find your supplies – and a bottle of Firewhiskey – and then run, two steps at a time, back to his room. Heart sputtering, you crumple onto his bed, hands full with the ingredients to make a star.
And then you are cutting and folding and gluing and drinking, and still, you are not crying, but it is okay, it is okay, because you have an idea:
Maybe if you finish this, all will be forgiven.
Maybe everything will change.
Maybe you will wake up one morning and this will all have been a dream, and by the time you can even make it downstairs for breakfast, the faint, swirling wisps of this nightmare will have already slipped your mind.
Maybe, possibly, somehow... he will come back.
All you can feel is the scrape of paper against skin and the hot, sour taste of Firewhiskey slinking down your throat. And as you cut and fold and glue, time begins to blur.
You are on star eighty-seven when your family comes home.
They find you, standing and swaying on his bed, trying to glue the star to the ceiling. It keeps slipping out of your fingers and falling – a fast and fleeting meteor – to the ground.
“Dom, what are you doing?”
“A-all I need is one hundred...one hundred paper...” Words stagger out of your mouth, rough-edged and uneven, and you try to tell them, try to make sense of what is happening. You feel like you're going to be sick.
“Dom, get down from there. You’re drunk.”
“No... One hundred.. One hundred paper s—“ Your bare feet create two little craters on the mattress’s surface. Scraps of paper litter the area like snow, and two firewhiskey bottles – both empty – roll on the ground. Your hands are speckled with angry, red paper cuts.
“Dom. Please. Get down.”
You place the star on the ceiling, right next to the Ursa Major, and slowly, trembling, you step off the bed.
Your mother sighs, rubbing a pale hand over her face. “Thank you. Victoire, go... go clean her up, will you?”
You let your sister – who is so bright and delicate and beautiful – lead you out of the room, and together, the two of you pad softly across the hallway, stepping on paper and petals along the way to the bathroom.
She looks at you, sad. Her eyes glisten like glass, perhaps, or shards of moonlight.
“I’m sorry, Dom.”
All you needed was one hundred paper stars.
You sit next to your sister on the edge of the bathtub.
She had dunked your head underwater in order to clean you up and now, hair dripping, shivering and wet, you feel slightly more sober.
You have yet to decide whether or not this is a good thing.
You sense it pounding inside your skull, impossible to ignore, and you suddenly feel trapped in this space where the floors are too white and the walls are too close. And all you want is one more summer with him. One more race, where the two of you can run and feel grass blurring against skin, stretching into an infinite rush of green and wet and laughter. You want to eat ice cream with him, one more time, and cheat by biting the end of the cone and having it all dribble down your hand. You want one last summer night with him, where you’d sit in the back yard and tell him stories about The War and Hogwarts and everything else that you should have said, but never got the chance to.
“Why are you doing this, Dom?”
You twist around to look at your sister, surprised, but she is staring straight ahead and refusing to meet your gaze. Her hair sticks to her face. Her makeup is smudged. Her dress is slightly wet, and it clings to each notch of her spine. She is tired and worn, like the damp, crinkled chemises that your mother used to hang to dry after washing. She looks like, if a strong enough wind came by, she could just float away and disappear into a yawning blue sky.
When you were six, your sister broke her arm falling out of a tree. You cried for her, hysterical with fear, but she said nothing as she picked herself back up and walked away, a tiny frown pinching at her tiny forehead. It is amazing, how resilient she could be.
Here is a secret: sometimes you think she is the strongest out of all of you.
"You loved him the most.” Her words quiver in the silence, small and unsure, and you have to acknowledge their truth. Your father had loved his work, your mother had loved herself, and your sister had loved her endless string of eager boyfriends. You had no one, so when he was born, you chose him. Fiercely and unconditionally, without question, without doubt... you loved him.
You glance away, and through the tiny, rectangular window of your bathroom, you can see that, outside, the sky is glazed over with the slightest shade of cobalt.
“It should have been me,” you say quietly, dragging your toe across the porcelain surface of your bathtub.
She shakes her head, neither agreeing or disagreeing with your statement. “But it wasn’t.”
“But it should have been.”
She sighs, mouth wilting open. You can tell she is about to retort, but you never give her the chance. With a firm arm, you casually push her into the bathtub where she lands, legs splayed, water sloshing, and eyes bugging with incredulity.
And you laugh. You laugh and laugh and laugh, because there is your sister, lying in the bathtub just like your brother is lying in a coffin, and her dress is ruined and her hair is wet and the ridiculousness of it all is just... funny. Really, really funny.
Then, without warning, your sister grabs your leg. You feel the sudden, jarring sense of weightlessness - then you too are in the bathtub. And it's the both of you, floundering and flailing and laughing and it all makes sense, really, because you are colour and she is sound and Louis, the sky. And together, you make up the five thousand shades of a sunset.
You look at the jumbled mass of limbs that your sister and you make - legs tangled, arms twined, hair touseled - and you suddenly realize that there is a part of you, knotted so deep within, that would die for her. The two of you are so different, and yet so achingly similar. You could never let her go.
"Dom..." Her singing laughter trickles into a few sweet hiccups, and then completely vanishes. Her face, wet and glowing, suddenly turns somber. “Dom ...” she says again, wrapping her arm around your dripping frame. “I don’t think I will ever be able to stop missing him.”
And your sister, with her moonlight eyes and porcelain voice, suddenly seems very small and so afraid.
“I know,” you say, laughing so hard you are crying. “I know.”
You can cut and fold and glue all you want, but eventually you will run out of paper trying to give him the sky.
Here is a secret: you will never stop trying.
And maybe, possibly, somehow... That’s okay.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading, and please don't forget to leave a review!
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