It’s been a while… It would have been even longer, but I decided my Christmas story idea could use some more work, so I filed it away, probably until next year, and started to get a little work done on this instead.
Prequel (The Croatoa section)
I glanced up, a little surprised at the sound for some reason, though I had, of course, been aware that Alisa was there, seeing as it was her room and all. “Sorry,” I said, setting the teddy bear into the box. “Just… thinking.”
Alisa nodded, turning back to her bookshelf, now almost empty. She grabbed a book off of it, then turned back around to face me again. “Do you want him?”
“Hmm?” I blinked a few times, looking up from my new object of attention, a pink, stuffed bunny.
“Mr. Grizz. I mean, we made him together, so he’s just as much yours as mine…” She shrugged, trailing off. “If you want him.”
“Are you sure you don’t? We agreed he was yours, 'cause…” But I couldn’t remember that particular conversation from an eternity ago, back when we were both so young and innocent, and the thought of either of us leaving the other was too ludicrous to even consider.
“I’m sure.” And she smiled, more like a big sister smiling at her younger sibling than a friend at another.
“Thanks,” I said quietly, fishing the bear out of the box and hugging it to me, trying to give her a smile in return, until she got back to work. I watched her in silence for a long time, before finally hearing the word, “Alisa,” come out of my mouth.
“Hmm?” She half-turned, most of her focus remaining with her books.
“Alisa, I… I have to tell you something.” I felt like I would choke on any one of those words, yet somehow, I managed to get them all out.
“So tell me,” she replied.
“Alisa, it’s important.”
She stopped, facing me the rest of the way. “Okay… What is it?”
I wanted to tell her everything, tell her that I knew who had killed her father. I’d been over it again and again in my head, telling myself that, sister or not, I couldn’t let Jillian get away with it, that I had to tell Alisa the truth before she left. I’d done my best to remind myself of all the mean things Jillian had done to me over the years, to try to block out all of those really nice things that she did. I’d thought that I’d managed it…
“I can’t come to the sleep-over,” I said instead.
“Oh.” It was almost as if I -had- told her what I’d meant to. She hid her disappointment as quickly as she could, but she wasn’t fast enough. “I guess I shouldn’t have expected you to… You never have before.”
“I’m sorry… I just… can’t…”
She shrugged, gave a forced smile. “It’s fine,” she claimed. “Are you done packing my stuffed animals or not?”
“Almost,” I lied, taking that as a cue to get back to work. I should’ve known she wouldn’t be happy about that, either - while it wasn’t true that I -never- came to her sleep-overs, it had been a long time. I’d never told her why, of course, and I’d never planned to. I was sure she’d understand, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say it, especially since I’d always planned on getting over it, and thus being able to start spending the night again. And now, I was running out of time for that to happen. I could just not change into my diaper, since there was no hope that mom would let me out of the house without it, but that would only make things worse if I did have an accident.
This was my last chance, though. She was moving away, and I didn’t know if I’d ever see her again. I didn’t want her to go away thinking that I was turning her down for some stupid reason, or just because I didn’t -want- to be there, because I did.
“I wet the bed,” I blurted out.
A silence fell over the room for a long time, as she stared at me, her initial look of confusion slowly washing away into… something else I couldn’t quite identify. Finally, she gave a quiet, “Oh,” and went back to work.
She didn’t mention the sleep-over to me again, though a couple days later, down in the kitchen trying to find a midnight snack a couple hours late, I saw the light in their bare living room still on, a group of small shadows sitting there, laughing.
I watched them for a while, just standing there, remembering how things were, back before my little “problem” had showed up, how much fun I’d always had. And now it was all ending, and I wasn’t even there to see it… I had to watch from my own house.
A few years ago, I’d been in much the same position, though quite a bit earlier in the evening, staring out the window while Alisa and her other friends had fun without me, as I stood there, despite mom’s orders to stay in bed, covered in chicken pox.
Jillian had found me - not that I was exactly hidden - and seen how upset I was. So she threw me my own sleepover, dragging our sleeping bags out of the basement and into the living room, pulling out all my favorite movies, and even, once mom and dad were asleep, a PG-13 one, my first. Looking back, it was kinda silly how excited I’d gotten over it, but back then, it’d been a big deal…
I jumped a little as I heard a creak behind me, heart skipping a beat or two while I rushed towards the table, hoping I’d have time to dive under it before Jillian could see me. But when she spoke, she sounded strangely like mom.
“What are you doing up?” I sheepishly straightened back up and faced her, seeing that she also looked quite a bit like mom, trying to act like bending down like that had just been some kind of stretch. “Do you know what time it is?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” I shrugged. “I was just getting some water.”
“You know that isn’t going to help your…” She stopped herself delicately, though I could see her gaze moving down to my diaper, peeking out from my pajama pants.
Any other time, it would have caused my cheeks to flare up bright red, but instead, I simply shrugged. “So what? It isn’t getting any better.”
“It will, sweetie… Just give it time.” She smiled at me, giving me a quick hug. “That’s not why you’re still up, is it? Do you need…?”
“What? No!” I shook my head, that blush catching up with me. “I just… haven’t been able to sleep lately.”
“Why’s that, honey?” She sat down at the table, though I stayed standing. “Does it have something to do with your fight with Jillian?”
“How did you know about that?” I asked in surprise, half expecting a generic “Mother’s always know” answer.
Instead, she said, “I haven’t seen you speak a word to her in days, and you seem to be avoiding her…”
“I guess,” I shrugged.
“So, what happened?”
“It’s nothing,” I started to say, my default answer in such situations, but something stopped me. The gravity of this particular scenario, perhaps, or the lateness, or a combination of the two, yet, whatever the reason, I found myself blurting out what I’d wanted to tell her for almost a week. “It was Jillian.”
“What was Jillian?”
“She killed Alisa’s dad.”
Mom sat in shock for a few moments, struggling to compose herself. Could it really be that easy? All that worry, all those sleepless nights, and that quick sentence was all it took? “Mackenzie Anne, that is ridiculous. Why would you say something like that?”
“It’s true!” I insisted. “She’s a super-hero… Or a super-villain, I guess… She does this thing with gravity or something, and…”
“Mackenzie, I know you’re having some disagreement with your sister, but that is a horrible thing to accuse somebody of! Especially your own sister!” She shook her head, the look in her eyes one of disappointment. I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach as I realized she didn’t believe me, wouldn’t, not without some proof.
“Just go up to her room!” I told her, already heading for the staircase. “She keeps all the stuff she’s stolen in a suitcase under her bed! Just look, and…”
“Mackenzie Anne, I want you to stop this foolishness right now!”
“It isn’t!” I stamped my foot, tears stinging my eyes. “It’s true! You have to believe me!”
She stood up, rushing over to me and grabbing my arm, dragging me along in her wake as we went upstairs. Relief began once again to wash over me - she probably thought she was just going to prove me wrong, show me how stupid my accusations were, shut me up, but she’d see I was telling the truth - but it lasted only until we got to the top of the stairs, and she turned toward my room, not Jillian’s.
“Go to sleep,” she ordered, practically a hiss. “And I don’t want to hear you ever say that sort of thing about your sister again, no matter how mad you are at her. Understand?”
“Do. You. Understand?”
I had never heard her so angry; I knew it would be practically taking my life into my own hands to do anything but agree, so I forced myself to nod, kept it up until she had closed the door, and I felt the weight of my terrible secret start piling back onto my shoulder, forcing me to a heap on the floor, alone.
Three days later, Alisa moved away. I never saw her again.