I trudge out of my room at the god-awful hour of six in the morning, tiptoeing past my half-sister, birthday-twin, and best friend, Selena’s room. I wipe the sleep from my eyes as I slip slowly down the staircase and into the grand foyer, walking straight into my soundproofed practice room. It was one of the only changes that were made to the house when my mum and I moved in eight years ago. I sit down on the stool in the middle of the room and contemplate getting breakfast before I practice, but I shake my head and instead retrieve a muesli bar from my stash in the cupboard.
After waking up enough, I turn towards my harp and contemplate what music I should play this morning. My mum believes that music scholarship students need to practice for two hours a day minimum and so I practice for two hours a day, even though Andrew could pay for me. I originally got into school on a scholarship, and my mum didn’t want to put Andrew out by making him pay for me, too.
As I run my fingers along the stacks of sheet music lining the walls, a sharp tug in my stomach pulls my attention from the wall towards my body. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, hoping this stomachache isn’t the beginning of a panic attack – those never go down too well. After a few breaths the pain doesn’t recede or increase, so I turn my attention back to the music and select one of my favourites, hoping to distract myself.
As I sit down, my mind flashes back to the very first time I played on the harp and how excited it made my mum. It felt like nothing else ever had before – I was able to play and make my mum so happy and, even at the young age of six, I knew my mum wasn’t very happy. Thinking of the smile on my mum’s face whenever I play brings up all the other memories and I smile as the images of us flash through my head.
It was only my mum and me until I was about six. At that age, my mum met Andrew and she became happier and busier. It was a gradual process – I met Selena a couple times and we didn’t get on very well, but it made our parents happy and so we tolerated it. It was still my mum and me, and she made sure to spend time with me even though she was working two jobs and hanging out with Andrew. She refused to move in with him, worried it would create tension between us or that I wouldn’t be comfortable there. She refused until…
I stop my thought process and wipe my mind, turning myself back towards the harp and the music in front of me, closing my eyes and letting my fingers brush gently against the strings. I easily discard the music I know by heart and allow my fingers to trace their own path delicately across the strings in a heart-wrenching tune of sorrow and anger, most of it probably due to the memories that I just tried to bury, the memories of my father. That is really the only good thing that my father gave me – the heartbreak that allows me to play from the heart. As the memories of his last visit start to creep in the tune gets jumpier and jumpier as I fall into the trap of the memories.
I quickly remove my hands from the harp, watching them shake with emotions beyond my comprehension as the memories start to take over my mind, flashes of blood on the floor, a heavy pant in my ear, food strewn across the bench top.
Stupid man! I think in anger as I fist my hands tightly, feeling half-moons form in my palm. I close my eyes and start to hum my tune; our tune. It was a tune that I made up with Selena just after we became best friends when I moved in with her, and it always calms me down. I feel the tension leave my hands and I bring them back up to my harp to finish my song.
After I finish that tune and feel once more at peace with my father’s memory, I focus on the feeling within my stomach. My fingers jitter over the strings in a jumpy, unsure tune that seems to just increase my feelings of dread. Whatever this is, it’s going to bring a big change with it, and I have a feeling it’s not going to be a good change. My music never lies.
I quickly pull out my music books and finish practicing what I am supposed to before I pack up my books and rush upstairs. I walk into my room, already hearing movement downstairs as my mum probably prepares breakfast for us. I hurry to my closet, changing out of my pajamas and grabbing my school uniform. Surprisingly, my school uniform is nice and comfortable. It consists of a lightweight collared shirt in white, with stripes of the school colours, green and grey. I’ve always admired the way that the green brings out the forest green colour in my eyes and thankful that the grey pencil skirt shows off enough curves to emphasise my figure, and yet not look too slutty.
I tug my skirt up a bit so that the bottom rests just above my knees at my preferred length, as opposed to some of the other girls whose skirts rest half way up their thighs. The school is also quite relaxed about the dress code, and that leaves enough space for us to personalise our outfits. This way we are still in uniform, yet we feel more comfortable in it. I know some people hate having a uniform, but I don’t mind – it saves time every morning from thinking about what to wear.
I glance at my dresser and grab my silver necklace from the surface, placing it around my neck with contentment. I smile at my reflection as the cat pendant falls to rest at my chest, the emerald stones wink in the light from my window. I lean closer to the mirror to see the pendant better, reveling in the elegance of the cats elongated pose as the emerald gaze seems to smile back at me. The light from the window catches again in my wrist and I glance down to see my emerald bracelet in place. The bracelet is simple – a thin silver chain separated intervals with tiny heart-shaped emeralds that reflect the light. I quickly glance at my watch and then grab a couple hair elastics before turning towards Selena’s room, smiling smugly as I think about how to wake her.
What was that?
My sleepy brain ignores the sound and I roll over, settling my head snugly into the crook of my arm, dozing off once again.
I scrunch up my face, as if purely wishing away the irritating sound will make it stop. I nuzzle my face into the pillow, rolling over so that I’m lying fully on my stomach.
“Ow!” I yell as a heavy form lands on me, pulling me straight from sleep and looking into the smiling eyes of my half-sister, Melayna. “Lay! What was that for?” Even I can hear the whine in my voice as I feel a pout tugging my lips down. I reach my arm back and push her off me, sitting up in bed next to her as she smiles at me.
I frantically reach my hands up to my hair, feeling it sticking up at crazy angels. I stick my tongue out at her as I get up, walking into my en-suite bathroom to deal with my hair. The image of my fiery-red curls sticking up everywhere has me holding back giggles as I reach for some hair-cream, pumping at least five pumps into my palm before attempting to run it through my hair, knowing my fingers will get caught in at least a hundred snarls this morning.
“Why are you always up so early?” I moan as I settle my hair down so that it is at least semi-presentable. I tie my hair back out of my face and start on my daily skincare routine – cleanser, blemish cream, moisturizer, base, concealer, and foundation. Then whatever I want.
“You know why.” Melayna sighs heavily, turning to look at the things on my bedside table. Looking at her expression brings me back to the first day after she moved in. We’d always been wary around each other, didn’t particularly get on well, and I was none too pleased when Dad had told that me that they would be moving in the next week. So when the day came that they moved in, I was none too happy. I refused to talk to her, even though she followed me around the entire house.
I smirk at myself in the mirror as I remember her cornering me in my bedroom, as I sat on the bed right where she is right now. She said ‘I know in my gut that we will be best friends one day. We will balance each other out and bring out the best in each other. I accept you and I don’t pay notice to the mean comments you make because I can see your heart, and it’s beautiful. You’ll help me let go and I’ll help bring you back down to earth. We’re yin and yang, I just know it.’
It was a shocking experience and I didn’t speak or do anything much else that day except stare at her back as she walked away. The next day she knocked on my door in the morning and when I eventually woke up I gave her a chance and we’ve been virtually inseparable ever since. It hasn’t been an easy ride, and there’s been times when we’ve fought and not got along, but she’s my other half – the half I can’t live without.
I shake myself out of my memories and turn back to the mirror, glancing at the makeup resting on the tabletop. My gaze falls back to my sister, because now she is my sister in every way that matters, and I pick up the foundation and turn my face towards the bathroom window as I dab it onto a sponge.
“Hey, Lay. Come here for a sec?” I look really intensely at the makeup sponge and hide a smile as I hear her huff as she gets off the bed and walks towards me.
“What now?” She stands in the doorway, one hand on her hip and her gaze lazily glancing at the makeup on the counter.
“Come closer,” I say whilst not looking at her, “I want to tell you something,” I whisper, turning at last to glance at her with a wicked gleam in my eye. She steps closer, rolling her eyes but walking until she’s right up next to me.
“You have a little…” I lean in closer, maintaining eye contact. “SOMETHING ON YOUR FACE!” I yell as I smear the pale foundation over her tanned face.
“UGH! SEL, I’M SO GOING TO GET YOU FOR THAT!”
She squeals as she attempts to rub it off, instead rubbing it in more. I laugh at her, holding my stomach as tears drip down my face. Suddenly I sober when she grabs my favourite red lipstick from the dresser.
“You. Wouldn’t. Dare.” I growl, making towards her in the hopes I can grab the lipstick before she wastes it.
She runs at me, smearing lipstick over my cheek as she brandishes it like a sword. I squeal and run away, grabbing a stick of pale pink lipstick to fight back. After a few more minutes of lipstick war, we give in, turning to look at our reflections in the mirror, which sets off a round of laughs. We collapse together on the floor in a pile of giggles, content there with each other.
My stomach suddenly clenches tightly, sending pain running through my abdomen, and I bend over, holding my stomach as I hold in a groan of pain. I squeeze my legs together, pulling my legs up so my head rests on my knees. I turn my head to look at Melayna and see her in the same position. My eyes widen in fear and I reach my hand out to her, linking hands as we wait for the pain to pass.
After a few more moments, my stomach unclenches a little and I slowly release my legs, sliding my back to the bathroom wall and resting my head on Melayna’s shoulder as I take a deep breath, scared to death that the pain is going to come back. A single tear drips down my face and lands on Melayna’s cheek. She turns to me and pulls me in for a hug, running her hand down my back.
“Shh, it’s okay, we’ll get through this.”
We sit there for a few minutes, both waiting for the pain to return. After it doesn’t come back for a few moments, Melayna stands up, reaching a hand down to help me up. We clean up and get ready in silence, the mood now sober after the incident from a few moments ago.
As we clean up, I think back to the blinding pain. It’s nothing like I have ever felt before, paralyzing in the ache and yet also slightly invigorating, as if giving me energy that I didn’t have before. I shake my head and wipe that thought from my mind focusing rather on getting dressed and ready.
I grab my citrine bracelet from my bedside table, fastening it around my wrist as I grab my phone as well. The citrine bracelet gives me a sense of comfort, and I lace my fingers with Melayna’s as I pull out my phone.
“I’m going to text Em and tell her that we’ll pick her up. I’d just…I’d feel better being with someone else if this happens again.” I shudder at the thought of experiencing that while driving alone, and Melayna’s nod prompts me to text our best friend and birthday-twin, Emily, and tell her that we’ll pick her up for school. We’ve all been super close since we met Emily, and us having the same birthday was just one of many ways that we all connected. Melayna and I make our way downstairs hand in hand, and I think that as long as Melayna is with me it truly will be okay.
My eyelids flutter open as the soft tone of music floats into my dreams. I sing along in harmony with the music and smile as we hit the money note in perfect harmony. I hear my mum slowly pad around her room and smile as I think of her and my dad snuggled up together in bed, as I’ve seen them do once or twice. They’re so cute together, I think. Just like new lovesick teenagers.
I sit up in bed and pull my shoulder-length blonde, wavy hair back in a fishtail braid, which comes to rest just above my shoulders. I absentmindedly think about how my hair is such a contrast to both of my best friends’ hair, considering that they both have curly, although slightly different, hair. It’s almost like they were destined to be half-sisters, and if it weren’t for their skin and hair colourings you could almost imagine they were sisters. Melayna’s dark hair has soft, natural highlights that barely show through her tight curls, whereas Selena’s red hair falls around her face in even tighter ringlets and the bright orange highlights make her hair look like it’s on fire when it catches the sunlight.
As I pull my uniform on I inspect myself in the mirror, flipping my hair so it rests on my shoulder where I can fiddle with it. The school colours of a muted green and grey colour neither complements nor clashes with my blonde hair and blue eyes.
I quickly pull back from my tangent and finish getting dressed, completing the ensemble with the blue topaz bracelet that matches my skin tone and my friends’ citrine and emerald bracelets in style. I grab my backpack that’s sitting by the door to my room and skip downstairs to make breakfast. As I skip I notice an odd clenching in my stomach, a little tug which stops me with its painful ache. I frown down at myself, brushing the feeling off as hunger and heading to the kitchen
I go to the fridge to find the batter to make French toast and then start making the coffee mum loves. I turn away from the stove and head towards my bag, making sure I have all the books I need for class today.
A sizzling sound has me stopping as I am about to put my phone in my bag, instead I shove my phone in my pocket and rush back to the stove, hoping that I’ve been lucky and that the toast hasn’t burned. I sigh in relief as I check the toast and quickly finish them and shove them on a plate, shouting out “Mum! Dad! Breakfast’s ready!”
They walk down the stairs, absorbed in each other, and then smile in delight as their faces light up as they see their breakfast. Their expressions never tire me, no matter how many times I see it. My stomach suddenly gives a hard clench and I double over in pain, clutching at my abdomen. Immediately, my parents are on either side of me, leading me towards the couch.
“Mum. Dad. I’m fine. It’s just that I haven’t eaten breakfast yet. I’ll be fine.” I wheeze, trying to straighten up. My phone bings, and I pull it out of my pocket, wondering why someone would have texted me. When I see Selena’s message a breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t have to go on the bus with this pain and reply (Me: Sounds awesome. See U guys soon. Em xx).
“Are you sure, sweetie? If you’re not feeling well then you don’t have to go to school.”
“No!” The word comes out of my mouth without my permission. I quickly cover my mouth with my hand, as if to stop any more words coming out, and stammer to fix my mistake. “I-I-I mean, no, it’s fine! Selena and Melayna are giving me a lift anyway.”
I can tell they’re unconvinced but they let it go anyway. I eat my breakfast quickly, attempting to avoid any awkward discussion about my stomach ache, which has already lightened. I finish as fast as I can, then kiss them on the cheek before hurrying out the door, backpack in hand, hoping that Selena and Melayna won’t be too much longer.
“Hey, sorry we’re late.” Selena says as soon as I open the car door. I can tell she’s getting ready to apologise more so I cut her off, settling into the car and closing the door quickly.
“No problem. Just please, drive!” Selena and Melayna look back at me with a weird expression, but Selena drives anyway. As soon as we’ve rounded the block I let out a breath of relief and Selena stops. Melayna turns around and the look on her face tells me she’s going to demand answers. I quickly tell them the events of the morning, including every detail I remember - I know that if I don’t then they’ll grill me ten more times until they’re satisfied that she knows everything.
Melayna and Selena look at each other, sharing a glance that says more than I could probably describe in words. I lean forwards over the console, interrupting their gazes. They don’t seem surprised, and I want to know why.
“What do you know?” The hard tone of my voice surprises them enough they break eye contact, turning to face me.
“Oh, nothing much. Just, I had a sore stomach this morning as well. Don’t you think that’s kind of strange? I mean, it was extremely painful and unusual. It’s not even that time –“
“Yeah, I know.” I cut Selena off before she can mention the only other time I get stomach cramps. Call me a prude, but I don’t like to talk about it. “What about Lay?”
“What about her?” Selena glares at me as if I just suggested hurting hurt Melayna. For some reason, both Melayna and Selena are very protective about each other, even more so that they are about me, but I don’t particularly mind, except when it’s directed at me. I give her a calm-down look and raise my hands in the air in surrender. Melayna lays a hand on Selena who visibly calms, placing her hand over Melayna’s.
“Nothing. Just wondering if she had stomach ache too.” Selena visibly relaxes and settle into her seat.
“Yeah, I did too.” Melayna whispers softly, gazing out the window quietly.
Selena nods and then turns forward, a let’s-get-on-with-this look in her eyes.
“Um, just out of interest – where are we going?” I ask, grabbing hold of the door handle to stop myself tipping over as we turn a corner away from school at breakneck speed. Selena might be the only one of us with both a car and a license, but that doesn’t mean she’s the best driver.
“You know we’re not going to school today!” Selena smiles widely as she sees my look of horror at the thought of ditching.
“But you can’t possibly – You can’t mean – We’re not – “ I gulp in horror and Selena laughs at my lack of words, tipping her head back with a large laugh. I grip the car door handle as Selena’s eyes leave the road, getting slightly more anxious than I was before
“Yes, we’re ditching. Or bludging. Or committing truancy. Take your pick.” I stare out the windshield, blinking rapidly and trying to process the thought.
“How?” The one word question on my part receives an essay response from Selena about how we call up the school and say we’re sick, but in much more detail. I listen intently to the ramblings of my friend and absently wonder how she knows all of this, all the while maintaining my death-grip on the car door.
The car swerves and I withhold a yelp, silently sending up a prayer that someone who doesn’t want my life to end today is watching.