My hand reached for the familiar metallic feeling of the small heart-shaped locket I wore at my throat. Inside were two pictures, one of me, and one of my sister April. She had given it to me the day she left for Latvia. The day my universe shattered, leaving me stranded on a single shard. Finding the locket, I drifted off to sleep, still clasping it in my hand.
I had the same dream I’d been having for weeks now. Ever since the day we got the call. I was running. I didn’t know why. And then I saw her, running towards me, a smile on her face. The same smile I had taken for granted, and grieved for when it was lost. I ran towards her as fast as I could, arms spread wide. But she never seemed to get any closer. And with every step I took, she seemed to fade, until she was just a ghost, and then she was gone. I collapsed onto the ground, sobbing, grieving for what I had lost. A sister, a best friend, a comrade. And then I woke up. I never screamed, this wasn’t that kind of nightmare. I just felt utterly broken, torn apart, as tears rolled down my cheeks.
I often feigned sickness to avoid going to school. I think my parents could tell, but they let me be. They were as broken as I was. It wasn’t that I didn’t like school, or that I didn’t have friends. I wasn’t bullied, and I had good grades. I was just so wrapped up in my grief, I couldn’t think of anything else. Today I had an “earache.” I didn’t read, or watch TV, I just lay in my bed, numb inside. I didn’t think, or feel, I was inside myself, making no contact with the outside world. If I could have had one wish, I would have wished for April to be there, instead of lost in the middle of nowhere.
My parents had taken away many of my privileges since April disappeared. They had deleted all of my social media accounts, and told me I could only have their phone numbers in my contacts. I had begged to be allowed to keep April’s number, and after much pleading, They relented. I also wasn’t allowed to leave the house without my phone, have sleepovers, or go anywhere without my parents dropping me off. They even put a baby monitor in my room!
April had gone to Latvia with the peace corps on August fourteenth, and was supposed to have returned three months later. There had been an attack and nearly everyone in the small village she was working in had been killed. We had gotten a phone call, and an official, soulless voice told us that April was missing, most likely dead. The voice had no feeling, it was as if they were telling us our takeout order was ready for pickup. Those words swept me up in a whirlpool of grief, and I was drowning in it, with no room left to feel anything else.
✧ ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧
April and I were like two dominoes. She fell, knocking me over in her wake. I thought this as I sat, staring out the window of the school bus, as my friend Nettie chatted endlessly at my side. My parent’s had decided that if I skipped any more school, I would fall behind. So there I was, staring at the rain drops on the bus window, watching as they slid down the glass to their certain doom. How lucky they were, to be so ignorant.
“Celie? Celie? Earth to Celie!” Nettie said, seeming more urgent than was necessary.
“Hm?” I said, still looking out the window. Nettie reminded me of a parrot, squawking and squawking, but to no avail.
“I asked you a question! Why haven’t you been at school, and why are you so spacey? You haven’t even responded to my texts!” At this point she sounded like an angry parrot.
“I was sick,” I mumbled. Nettie didn’t know about April’s disappearance, and I wasn’t ready to tell her just then. I didn’t know if I would ever tell her. Was I doomed to live life in silence, suffocated by my own grief?
They say that grief starts to fade as time goes on, but April had been gone for over a month now, and I wasn’t any less broken than I had been five weeks ago. My parents felt bad, I could tell. They somehow had come to the conclusion that all of this was their fault, though anyone could tell it was nothing but an awful trick of fate. They had hooked me up with a child psychologist, and although I pretended to feel slightly better, it wasn’t helping. I had tried. I wrote in a diary every night, just like my therapist told me to. I tried, I really did, but the only words that would come out of my pen were, April April April April, going on and on for nearly six pages. I felt like the stick I had stepped on that morning, so fragile, so easy to break. Reaching the end of my grief would seem treacherous somehow, like deserting April. She could still be out there somewhere, and I wasn’t going to abandon my sister.
✧ ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧
Bling! The sound came from my phone, which was strange. I was in my room, and Mom and Dad were both downstairs, so why would they be texting me? It had been two months now, and my parents had given up hope. Authorities had found nothing, finally calling off the search. I was still grieving, but my grief had become more absolute, my hope ebbing away like a sand castle built to close to the water. I glanced at my phone, and what I saw almost made me keel over in shock. I had gotten a text. And I didn’t believe it. The text wasn’t from Mom or Dad. It was from April. It read:
Who are you? Who am I? I can’t remember! I recognize your name. I am in a hospital somewhere. I can’t remember! They took x-rays of my head. They are finding out what’s wrong with me. Help! Shakily, I wrote back:
April? It’s me, Celie! I’m your sister! Find out where you are, then tell me. I love you! It seemed so impossible, to find April after all this time. Was it really her? Or was it just a mean trick? I wished I could have asked her something only she would know, but she might have forgotten it. I was overjoyed to find her, but it broke my heart that she didn’t remember me. Bling! I heard again. I rushed to pick up my phone and sure enough I had gotten a text that said:
I am in the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. I don’t know how I got here. I love you too. My heart was pounding. We lived in Cambridge, which was just outside of Boston. April must have forgotten! But how was I going to get to her? My parents would never believe me, and they would make me delete April from my contacts. They would think it was a prank, but I was sure it was really her. And then it hit me. There was only one way to get my sister back. It seemed sneaky and wrong, but I had to do it.
✧ ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧
“Bye Mom, I’m going to school!” I said, with perhaps too much cheer, seeing as I had been thoroughly depressed for months. But I knew that April was alive, where she was, and how to get her back. I walked outside, and for the first time in a long time, noticed the chilly January air. Instead of walking towards the school bus stop, I headed towards the place where the city bus stopped. When I arrived, I took off my backpack and took out three shiny quarters and a nickel. As the bus came into view, I shouldered the pack, the coins pressing against my hand. When the bus stopped, its doors opened, the jaws of some monstrous animal, ready to swallow me up. Slowly, cautiously, trying to appear casual, I stepped onto the bus, its huge doors closing behind me. I felt the same feeling you get when you step onto a roller coaster, nervous excitement, mingling with a little bit of fear and uncertainty. The bus rolled away, and my fate was decided.
I bumped along the snowy roads for only about half an hour. I didn’t have much time, the school would soon call my parents to see why I wasn’t in class. My parents wouldn’t know where I was, they would call the police, I would be found, and all would be lost. When the bus reached April’s hospital, I stepped off, its great doors shutting behind me. I walked cautiously towards the hospital. I knew which room April was in, so finding her wouldn’t be a problem. No, the problem would be finding her before someone else found me. I waited until a man in an odd purple suit opened the door, then slipped in behind him and hid behind one of the cushy chairs in the lobby. There was a reception desk, and a woman was sitting behind it. She and the purple-suited man conferred quietly for a moment and then he walked down the hallway. I could hear his heavy footsteps long after he had turned the corner. I waited until the receptionist looked down, then snuck past her. I felt like a kid from the ‘40s sneaking into a movie theater. The desk was angled so that I could stand against the wall of the hallway without being seen by the receptionist, and then edge along it. As long as I was silent, she wouldn’t notice me. Suddenly I heard footsteps coming down the hallway. Frantic, I looked around for a place to hide. There was nowhere. The footsteps were coming closer, and I was desperate. I finally slipped through a door to my left. I was incredibly relieved to find the room empty, but someone could come in at any time. The footsteps drew nearer and nearer, finally passing. I breathed a sigh of relief and stepped out into the hallway again.
I reached a stairway, and climbed up and up until I stepped onto the third floor. I then walked down the hallway to room 332. I listened to see if anyone but April was inside, but I heard nothing. This was it. I opened the door, and there was April, lying in a hospital bed.
“C-celie?” She asked in a husky voice.
“Yes, it’s me! You remember!” I replied, giddy. I had found her, and she remembered me!
“Sort of,” she replied, her voice still sounding cracked. She tried to speak again, but was interrupted by a hacking cough coming from her own throat.
“Are you okay?” I asked, suddenly worried.
“Yeah,” she rasped, “They say I’ll be better in a week or two, and that I swallowed smoke.” I reached for my phone to call Mom and Dad, to explain everything. But it wasn’t in my back pocket. I searched through my backpack, panicked.
“I can’t find my phone!” I almost shouted. And then I remembered. It had been sitting on my dresser this morning. I had been about to grab it when my dad called me down for breakfast. I must have left it at there!
“You can use mine,” said April quietly. She held it out to me, and hope rose in my chest like a helium balloon. I took it and called home, hoping with all my heart that they would answer. One ring. Two. Three. Four. On the fifth ring I heard my mom’s voice.
“Hello?” She had been crying, I could tell. Butterflies of guilt fluttered around my stomach, punishing me.
“It’s me Mom, Celie.” A long silence.
“C-celie?” Mom said, sounding remarkably like April. “Is that you? Where are you? And are you calling me from April’s phone? How―” She trailed off.
“Yes.” I said. “Yes it’s me, and yes this is April’s phone. I found her. I’ll tell you how later. Right now you and Dad need to get to the Massachusetts General Hospital, floor three, room 332.”
“What? Are you okay?”
“Don’t worry,” I replied.
“What are you talking about?!,” Mom said, her voice too high, filled with fear. “How could youーOf course I was worriedーIーWe’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
I threw my arms around Mom and Dad the second they walked in the door.
They hugged me back, tears rolling down their cheeks and into my hair. Mom looked up, seeing April for the first time in months. She rushed over, Dad right behind her. They were silent, each holding one of April’s hands like they would never let go.
✧ ✧ ✧ ✧
Two weeks later, I sat on the porch steps with April, telling her things about herself, her friends, her family. She had been seeing a psychologist to help her regain her memories, and he had told us to reinforce them by talking to her. So there I was, telling April about her life, sometimes asking questions like, “What’s your name?” Or “What highschool did you go to?” Sometimes she had trouble answering, but she was getting better and better. She would never be quite the same as she had been, but it didn’t matter. I toyed with my locket, and I knew that she was still April, and I loved her just the same.