Dolls. Pictures. Clothes. Toys. All of Lex's favorite things stuffed in one tiny cardboard box. I don't think it's enough room for her larger-than-life personality. Lex was the sweetest, kindest sister anyone could want. She would help you with your homework, comfort you when you were down, stay up late at night to talk, and wouldn't mind if you wanted to play childish games. Lex was just at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and now she was gone forever. The grief was still there, but it had to be pushed aside. We were moving today, and I had to help take boxes out to the truck. I got up from my place on the floor and was about to head outside, but something caught my eye.The sun shined on a dark green glass object,creating a little bright star on it, and I was curious, so I knelt next to the box and shifted the various other items to the side. As more items were pushed away, it became evident that the glass object was in fact, a bottle. A cork was pushed tightly into the top, but I managed to pull it off. The cork soared through the air, landing on the vent, rolling in between the cracks. Inside the bottle was a tightly rolled paper. There was a message in the bottle! I yanked it out, my fingers nearly getting stuck at the rim, and uncoiled the paper. It read,
Dear Lucky Receiver,
Smiles can light up a day, and just that one simple act can change a person’s impact on the world. Make your mark on the world, no matter how small, and complete these tasks below (do not read below the tasks before you have completed each of them, in order!)
Smile at an elder
Smile at a person living on the streets
Smile at the one you love most
For a few seconds, I stared at the paper, but not the words. Lex must have picked this up the night before she died, at the beach in South Carolina. She would’ve shown this to me otherwise. Tears began to form at the rim of my eyes, but I wiped them away. I had to stay strong for the family today. It was hard for all of us to leave this good old town behind, and moving meant throwing away so many memories of Lex. The tasks on the paper were exactly the kind of thing she would’ve loved to do. The most upbeat, happiest person I’d ever met, Lex was, and I’m sure she would’ve wanted to share all the happiness and smiles she had with the world. There were so many days where she shared her smiles with me. Maybe this was meant to be. Maybe it was fate that decided I would find this paper on this day. Maybe Lex wanted her smiles to be left with the town forever, and wanted me to be the dispenser of these. Afterall, we were the closest friends. For a long while, I just stared out the window, at the beautiful, flawless sea, but my viewing was interrupted by a demanding, high-pitched voice.
“Daddy says you need to go outside and help carry boxes to the truck now. You’ve been sitting in this room not helping the family for longer than you should have. Get outside and help, before he and Mommy get mad at you.” Lissa, my little sister, informed me. She's been acting up at school ever since Alex died. We never realized how much Lex held the family together until we didn’t have her anymore. I coiled the paper back up into a neat, tidy roll, and stuck it back into the bottle. Letting out a long sigh, I strolled out of the house and sulked while carried a box of Lissa's toys to the moving truck. Clearly, I wasn't the only one who wasn't thrilled about moving away to some nobody town in Iowa. My seventeen year old brother Greg was kicking rocks as he drifted his way to the truck, carrying a box of my art supplies. Lissa wasn't doing much either, besides throwing rocks at a tree, chanting "It's not fair!". It wasn't the happiest scene one could wish for. I halted, and turned to look for my mom or dad. I found Dad, who looked like he was a mix between wishing he could throw down the box he was carrying and scream, "It's not fair!", or blow up at all of us to stop moping around. Almost eerily calm, he set the box, with Lissa's scrawny handwriting, on the ground.
"LISTEN!" He barked, and every single one of us whipped our heads towards him, alarmed. "I AM SICK AND TIRED OF ALL OF YOU SULKING. I GET IT. WE ARE ALL UPSET ABOUT MOVING, AND ABOUT LEX. YOU JUST HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT!" Dad roared. At the end, I heard a faint ripple in his voice. Greg and I stood straighter and began to genuinely help, but Lissa kept throwing her rocks. On my second trip out, I could see she was downright sobbing as she hauled each rock at the tree.
"I JUST CAN'T DO THIS ANYMORE!" She shrieked, plopping herself in the grass, sobbing into her hands. Dad happened to be out, and by his face, I could tell he had about the last of Lissa's antics. To my surprise, he did not yell at Lissa or even raise his voice. In fact, he did not even address her. He addressed Greg instead.
"Greg," Dad said in a strained voice, "can you please take your siblings out to town? Your mother and I will finish the packing. Take the Jeep." He added, and began he walk away from us. Greg and I gave each other confused looks, surely Dad was crazy. There was no way he and Mom alone could take care of the boxes.
"But Dad!" Greg yelled, trying to regain Dad's attention. Dad was already halfway down the stone path, and with an added shake to his already broken voice, he responded,
"Go. Just go." Greg, defeated, beckoned for all of us to follow him. I literally had my hand on the car door handle, when I remembered something. The message. I had to do it, for Lex. Without an explanation, I ran away from the Jeep and disappeared back into the house. More boxes had been moved away, and I hoped with all my might that Lex's hadn't. As I entered the room she and I had formerly shared, it was still sitting there in the center. The bottle lay next to it, perfectly intact. Shaking the bottle violently, the paper shot out onto the carpet, and I grabbed it. I jammed it into my pocket as I ran out the door, and jumped into the Jeep. Finally, I was ready to leave. Both Greg and Lissa had puzzled expressions, but neither asked me what I had gone in to get.
The car ride was rather silent, as we all slipped into our own worlds, fantasizing of what could be. For me, all I needed was Lex. I shyly took the coiled paper out, not wanting Lissa or Greg to question me. Re-reading all of the tasks made me a bit nervous. Even though I was one of the most introverted people I knew, I had to do this for Lex. Greg parked the car in our favorite spot, right by the Ringler tree with all of the heart-shaped leaves. This time, an elderly woman was sitting on the bench beside it, looking at the pretty blue-feathered birds as they fluttered around the nest. I glanced down at my list, Smile at an elder. This was my chance. As we hopped out of the car, I tried to make eye contact with the woman, as the tips of my mouth began to point slightly upward. Her eyes met mine, and she too smiled, an extra spark in her eyes. I turned away quickly, storing the feeling. The feeling of one simple act that could make someone that much happier. No wonder Lex was always so happy and upbeat. She always took every opportunity to share her smiles, and now it was my turn, even if it was only three. Wherever she is, I sure hope Lex is thinking about her little sister with a smile. Greg made a prolonged grunting noise, as he stretched his arms up to the sky, arching his back. Once he returned to his normal posture, he looked up and down the street.
"What do you guys want to do our last day?" He asked, shrugging his shoulders. I swear it was a heat index of 100 degrees Fahrenheit today, because it certainly felt like it. Before I could say my suggestion, Lissa beat me to it. Lissa was spinning around the sidewalk, arms flailing around. In a choppy voice, she replied,
"Let's go to Isaac's Ice Cream! It's so hot today!" None of us really answered her, so Lissa took that as a yes, running towards the small truck with the red and white striped awning. Before, almost everyday, all of us kids, Lex, Greg, Lissa, and I, would head down to Isaac's and slurp ice cream. Sometimes, Lex and I would get into ice cream fights and we'd come home a mess. Mom would scold us as she made lunch in the kitchen, but we'd just fall over laughing. These days, life has been too busy. We haven’t been to Isaac’s in months.
As usual, Isaac himself was at the counter, doling out the ice cream, being his usual cheerful self. He always wore a different apron everyday, and this time his said, "Keep the Faith". I'm not sure if I could keep the faith, on a day like this. Lissa skipped up to the small opening and waved at Isaac like an old friend. A bit surprised, yet happy to see her, Isaac returned Lissa's greeting with a wave. He stuck his head out to see if, I assume, Greg and I were there.
"Long time no see! What can I get you all?" Isaac asked happily, sporting a large smile. I couldn't imagine how many smiles he shared in a day. Lissa looked at us expectantly, as if waiting for us to place our orders. I was too old for this, and it's hard without Lex. This was a tradition and without her, it was simply another thing to do. Greg began to push me along and in a soft whisper, he said,
"Make Lissa feel like it's a regular day, Maddie. Just order something." He was right. I didn't need to add to the stress of this already difficult day. Lissa was just a kid, she didn't deserve to carry so much weight on her shoulders. I took my time reading every single flavor, but one flavor made me stop in my tracks. "Lex's Lemon Lollipop Ice Cream." There was only one Lex is this town, and it was my sister. A week before we went to South Carolina, she'd stayed up all night making the ice cream to submit into the competition, hoping to get her own flavor. She just didn't live to see that she had. I think Isaac saw me staring at the flavor, so he piped up,
"I'm awfully sorry I forgot to tell you. Lex won, she has her own flavor. It's so many people's favorite. She was an awfully special kid who always wanted to give what she had." Isaac reminisced, turning away, disappearing from sight. He was right, Lex was a special kid. She was still giving away more smiles, even when she herself wasn't there to do it. I decided to order to order just plain Vanilla, and Greg ordered Moose Tracks. Soon we were off, Greg and Lissa racing to see who would finish their cone first. I had not even touched mine, as I eyed a man sitting outside Mack's. A backpack lay next to him, along with an old, torn plastic bag. It seemed like that were the only things he had. On impulse, I ran across the street, and handed him my ice cream cone.
"Have a good day sir!" I chirped, flashing a smile. In my head, I mentally checked off Smile at a person living on the streets. I looked back at him, and he tipped his baseball hat towards me, bowing his head slightly. That same feeling I had experienced earlier with the elderly woman came rushing back, engulfing my entire body. It even lit up my heart too. Leaving this town knowing if done something that meant something was all I wanted. Greg and Lissa were reading a historical sign that was perched on a stone pillar. I joined them, and we began stroll down the beaten sidewalk, various patches of ground-up rock lying in place of sturdy concrete. It seemed as though it was almost waiting for someone to trip.
“Where to next?" Greg enquired, scratching his chin. I resented from responding, as I thought Lissa should decide. Before she could say anything, Greg's phone buzzed, and he took it out. Lissa and I gathered around to see what it said. On the screen was a text from Dad. It read,
Time to go home. The truck is packed and ready.
Well, it was time to leave, already. As we rode home in the Jeep I stared out the window solemnly, remembering all of the fun times with Lex. Soon, all of those memories would be left behind. Once we arrived at the house, Mom and Dad were doing last minute checks of the house. Making sure the lights were off, every one of Lissa's toys was packed up, that sort of thing. Then, it dawned on me. There was still one task on the list. Smile at the one you love most, it said. For most people who got this, it would have been easy. They would smile at their children, their pet, their parents, or their best friend. But, the one I loved most wasn't here with me today. Lex was gone, hopefully living another life, in a distant paradise. Helplessly, I stuffed the paper back in my pocket. I'd done this all for Lex, and now she wasn't there to help me with the last task. Then, something began to poke out of my pocket. It had a shiny surface, and the sun made the same tiny bright star on it as it had on the glass bottle. Slowly, I took the paper out. It turned out to be a picture of Lex and me, at the beach in South Carolina. We were both sporting our hot pink sunglasses we'd gotten at the dollar store just down the street. In the background, you could see Lissa and Greg splashing water at each other playfully. It turns out she'd been with me all along, helping me along the way. Even without trying, a large grin formed on my face, from ear to ear. Smile at the person you love most was complete. Oh, Lex.
"Madison! It's time to go!" A voice called. They would just have to wait. I needed to do just two more things. I read the writing below the tasks.
Congratulations! You’ve completed all of the tasks! Now, the last step is to write a letter of your own, writing these same tasks down for someone else to complete. Then, send it off to sea in a bottle. Thanks for sharing your smiles! You’ve surely made many people’s days brighter.
I suppose it was time for me to write my own letter, to send off to sea. I wrote a letter. It read,
Dear whoever you are,
Simple actions can change a day, they can change a life. Kindly complete these tasks below.
Smile at an elder
Smile at a person living in the streets
Smile at the one you love most
Don't do this for yourself, do it for the others you share your smiles with. You've done the tasks, and now it's time for you to spread the chain of smiles. Write your own letter with these same tasks, in your own words. Good luck, whoever you are.
Smiles to you,
I coiled the paper tightly, and put a brown rubber band over it, to hold it together. Traipsing out the back door, down the sunken wooden stairs, and tip-toeing on the rocky path, I searched for the blue glass bottle I used to collect sea shells. It lay in between the grooves of the pebbles, contrasting the varying shades of grey. I dumped the sea shells out onto the rocks, each making a satisfying clatter as they hit the ground. Unscrewing the cap, I plopped the paper into the bottle, and it rolled restlessly at the bottom. I set the cap back on and screwed it on tightly, until it made a squeak. Then, I knelt down on the rocks, right where the wave hits them.
I pushed the dark blue bottle away, the tip of the paper squished between the cap and the rim. All it took was one simple action to light up a heart, and pass on a message. I knew someone, somewhere, was going to get this, and maybe they too would continue the chain of sea smiles, just as Lex had to me, and as I had to others.