The doorbell tolled, and Ned’s mom rushed to answer it as I sat on the couch, staring at the flashing television while Ned, Alexa, and their dad enjoyed a sitcom. I could see the actors’ lips moving, but none of the jokes made sense. The automated laughter was positioned in the spaces I thought I was supposed to laugh as the Mortis family chuckled, but the humor was lost upon me. I glanced at Ned who sat only a couple yards from me in a recliner, observing him enjoy the program. Alexa curled up next to me like a cat, leaning into me as she drifted in and out of sleep as her bedtime was extended due to it being a Saturday.
“Hello?” Jennifer welcomed questioningly.
“Um, yes, I came by for Devin.” My ears perked as the familiar voice crept into the room. I sat up a little straighter and twisted my face to see the entrance from the family room. Jennifer’s silhouette overshadowed the visitor’s, but the slight throaty notes mixed with a melodious tone forced my mind back into the past.
“Um, you know how late it is?”
“Yes, ma’am, but I’ve got this package for her. I thought she would want it.”
I peeled myself from the couch, gently placing Alexa down upon the couch. Edgar glanced over the edge of the couch in case he needed to reinforce his wife’s rules, and Ned meekly sat the recliner up as if they were all readying to destroy the visitor if needed. I sluggishly slid across the house to behind Jennifer, worried the sight of me would send the visitor away.
Jennifer voiced, “Look, she’s not exactly expecting a visitor.”
“Please, let me just give this to her.”
I gently placed my hand upon Jennifer’s shoulder, and she glanced over her it. She peeled away from the exit as she recognized the expression of longing and desire plastering my face. My breaths caught in my chest as my reflection stood before me.
Her brunette hair cascaded down her front over her favorite sea foam sweater. Her alabaster skin glowed in the eerie moonlight, reverberating her perfections for the world to see. Her blue eyes wavered upon me and then turned to the shoebox she held in her hands.
“Esther?” I murmured, staring incredulously at my mirror image.
Jennifer gave her a supervising glare, warning my sister of my lack of sanity recently, and then retreated back to the family room.
An eternity must have passed as we simply fell into each other’s gaze, petrified to say anything because one tactless phrase could crumble us. She heaved a sigh and licked her lips, preparing to say something as she petted the box in her arms. She gently put it into my hands, and then she stated, “I’m sorry I haven’t called.”
The box’s weight dug into my elbows, and I knelt down to put the box to the side of the entrance. I glanced over my shoulder as I noticed Jennifer and Ned’s surveillance. I pivoted back to my sister and stepped through the doorway, quietly pulling it to a close. I whispered, “What are you doing?”
She cocked a brow and took a step down from the porch meekly. She pulled a brown strand of hair behind her ear as our eyes locked again. I glanced over her shoulder and noticed the black Corolla parked in the drive. “You staying with Leslie?”
She timidly nodded. Her hands clasped against her chest as she began to say something, “I visited Mom the other day.”
My heart stopped. I folded my brow and turned back to her. I hissed, “Get out.”
“No, she apologized to you for giving you encumbrances. She apologized to her baby girl who never asked for this. If she was ever sympathetic towards me for what happened, I would probably be struck dead.”
“Devin, please, you just have to hear her out—”
I slammed my knuckles into the brick cove surrounding the front door. I peeled my numb hand away from the coarse texture, blood and bruises streaking down my hand. I turned back to my sister and swallowed an intense torrent of emotions that threaten to break me down. I hissed, “No, I’m not! She didn’t hear me out, Esther. She never listened to me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Just know that I can’t forgive her.”
“Why, Dev? Why not?” She threw out her hands to her sides, palms facing me. “There isn’t anything that bad that should prevent you and Mom from making up. I know you guys have never been best friends, but we’re still family.”
“She caught us! She caught us, okay?” The horror of the memories sunk into my flesh again. I was only twelve, but it had been going on for years. The expression of shock carved into my mother’s face made hope grow inside me to think that I was saved, she would finally help me. What a load of shit that was.
“No, Esther, I begged for her to tell anyone, and she didn’t. She thought I seduced him—she thought I wanted the attention. She just let it happen and pretended she never hear a word of it. She caught us, and she didn’t do a thing to stop it despite the bruises. She doesn’t care about me, Esther. She never did!”
“Get it through your thick skull!”
Esther rubbed the back of her neck as Leslie peeled himself out of the SUV. He marched to Esther’s aide and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Tears streaked down her cheeks as she began to hyperventilate upon the ignition of my explosive emotions. He breathed through his teeth, snarling, “You hurt her, and I’ll kill you.”
Ned slammed open the door and threw it shut. He perched himself beside me, glaring ferociously at Leslie in this bestial argument. He snatched my forearm and peeled me backwards to him, hiding my frail façade behind his thin silhouette vainly. His fingers slid down my forearm and intertwined with mine, entangling his phalanges with my stocky ones. I glanced at him for a moment, questioning his sanity at the moment and wondering if this was instinctual or processed.
And then I noticed. A ring sat on my sister’s left ring finger, a diamond sparkling in the dull light. I glanced at Leslie’s hand and noticed the absence of a silver band wrapping around his. I turned up from the ring and stared at them both. I silently shook my head.
It was selfish to believe this wasn’t fair, but it wasn’t. During all of this turmoil and grief I was being put through along with my intense panic attacks, I had no time to focus on maintaining a relationship with anyone. I couldn’t even remain communicative with my twin sister who I love dearly. I swiveled on my heels and buried my face into the door, the black paint caustic against my skin. I heaved in heavy breaths that felt too ponderous, dragging my lungs against my diaphragm. My chest rose and fell frantically.
“Devin, please,” Esther murmured.
I slid through the door and closed it gingerly behind me. I leaned against the door and slid down the rough wood. I cupped my face in my hands, trying to ease my breathing to an acceptable rhythm. My eyes wandered and noticed all of the Mortises were in the kitchen, lazily talking about Alexa’s next soccer game. I clenched my eyes shut as I considered why I couldn’t remain at ease. Ned slipped through the door, careful not to let me fall, and slid down next to me. He cuffed his hand around my left thigh as he stared intently at me, worried. “You okay?”
I silently shook my head, staring at my bare thighs. My skin had cooled from the brisk summer night. I buried my face in my legs, and Ned’s hand repositioned as to let me nest. His hand slithered up my thigh and slid across my side to my lower back, never separating from me.
I shook my head.
A knock on the door echoed in the foyer.
Ned roared, “Go away!”
I turned over my shoulder and pulled myself up from the floor. I gently opened the door and murmured, “Esther, I love you, but I can’t tonight. I can’t tonight.” My eyes drew up to my sister’s, and she just meekly nodded.
I peeled away from the door and threw my hands around my sister’s neck. I leaned into her embrace and buried my face into her clavicle, choking on sobs as I realized this was my sister giving me a farewell for what could be forever. I choked on the memories, the emotions, just everything. I rocked back and forth, and my sister’s hand slid up and down my back. She tickled my ear as she whispered, “I’ll see you later. I’m sorry I didn’t give these to you sooner. I just wanted to listen to your music.” She gently wrenched my arms off of her and sauntered back to Leslie. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, giving her a peck on the forehead before turning to the car and speeding off.
I remember just staring at the car until it fell beyond the horizon. I remember counting the seconds it took for them to rip out of my life. And I wondered who else would never take me.
“You can’t do this to me…”
I blinked away the cacophonous memory and headed back into the house, and Ned stood behind the door as if he was eavesdropping on my night. I tilted my face back to confront him, but something inside me denied me the pleasure of ripping into his emotions. I clenched my hand into a taut fist and breathed a sigh. Ned’s eyes fell to the box and inquired, “You know what’s in there?”
I shook my head, daring not to turn my head.
He jutted his chin toward the box, and I gingerly knelt down to unhinge the box. Reflections of light danced across the brown cardboard, and I had to pull down the lid to hinder the light from seeping in to blind me. I flipped through the CDs, and I noticed they had the same titles as the one’s Heath gave me. I quickly counted seventeen of them, and I nearly gave into an anxiety attack.
The sound of glass crashing awoke me from an afternoon slumber I took instead of attending my father’s dismissal from prison. My mom knew he and I simply had no business being in the same room together and took a lease on a house about ten minutes away. I wish he could have been worlds away, as I often pretended while he no doubt paced in his cell.
I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes as I twisted in my bed, tearing the covers off of my bed frame. I glanced outside to the see the dull gray associated with clouds. I smirked and murmured, “Idealistic weather, huh, Holden?”
The white giant lifted his head as he curled up at the foot of my bed, his long tail cascading down the front of my mattress upon the floor. I leaned over and scratched the top of his head as his sleepy eyes fell back into his head. I smirked as he let out a sigh.
“Big baby,” I whimpered as he began to snore again.
“Mom! Stop!” Esther yelped.
I abruptly sat at the open doorway. I had it closed… I shot to my feet and quickly ran across the house. I peered outside the front lawn—no one. I pivoted on the balls of my feet and shot back across the tiled floor. I slammed open the backdoor and hopped over the doorstop, sprinting towards the two women in the backyard.
Mom stood over a fire she often built in the cool summer nights when she enjoyed a glass of red wine. A fire danced before her, orange and blue flames shimmering in the cool dusk. Her gray-mottled brown hair picked up as a gale whipped through the fire and then fell back onto her thin shoulders. She leaned to her right, and I noticed a familiar cardboard box perched beside her. She snatched a CD and threw it into the fire, shattering and melting in the flames. Fascinated, I stood behind the woman mindlessly, watching the flames glitter, and then I recognized one of the melted CDs…
“Mom!” I cried out. “Mom!” I grabbed her forearm and kicked away my box of CDs. Tears ran down my cheeks as desperation sank in. “Mom, please! It’s all I have left of Heath!”
My mom’s blue eyes fell upon my distressed face, and a scowl deepened the wrinkles around her mouth. Her brows shielded over her eyes as she threw a fist into the side of my head. I crumpled to the ground from the impact—more in shock than hurt. I turned my face back at her and yelped, “Mom!”
“Stay out of the way,” she warned, glancing at me over her shoulder, and I pondered if she was checking to make sure she didn’t hurt me. She turned back to the fire, snatching a CD from the box, and crashed another CD into a burning log.
Esther leaned over me, grabbing my shoulders. Her pale, blue eyes stared down at me in sympathy. “Are you okay?” she meekly whispered.
I turned my face up to her and frantically shook my head. I tore away from her again and grabbed Mom’s waist. I pulled her off the ground and fell back, crashing my back into the pile of logs she kept unattended during the seasons. Mom grabbed my bun as she rolled off of me and whipped me back into Esther, forcing her to collide into the ground with me. Esther let out a slight whimper as she shot to her feet and grabbed me under my arms, yanking me clumsily backwards away from Mom.
“Esther! No! Make her stop, please! That’s all I have left of him! It’s all I have left of him!”
Esther and I then silently observed as my mom threw every CD I owned into the fire as if it was some morbid ritual. I was forced to watch sparks rally up from the flames and toward the sky effortlessly. I was forced to watch the last piece of Heath to be ruined and shattered for me. Eventually, my mom had to come to a halt because nothing was left.
I tore away from Esther and marched back into the house, slamming as many doors as possible. I paraded into my room, and Holden immediately welcomed me as if he knew what had just happened. I patted him on the head as I knelt down beside my bed. I leaned against the floor, staring underneath the bed in vain hopes that my mom had broken any other CD collection in the house. Any single one of them but mine. Sure enough, the dust still framed where the box had sat for many years. I caught something in my throat and collapsed into myself. I crawled to up the stairs to the visitor room where my family kept the dated computer, and I scoured through the files, begging that she didn’t delete all of the electronic files I had of the songs.
I found a file labeled “Music” and then followed that file until a folder popped up called “Heath.” I languidly clicked on the document, trying not to raise my hopes.
“Did she delete the electronic files, too?” I swiveled in the chair to see my twin standing against the door frame, her face reddened from her own tears.
“I’m so sorry, Dev. I really am.”
I turned back to the computer as the tab displayed the horrible evidence… vacant and empty, just like it was the day I created it. I combed my fingers through my tangled hair and caught a sob in my throat, my eyes nailed to the monitor.
I closed the box and turned to Ned with glazed eyes. I whimpered, “She burned the CDs—all of them.”