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Grade
9

“I’m not crying,” she insisted, biting the inside of her lip. It was pretty obvious she was: her eyes were bloodshot and red, and a tear made its way down her slim cheek, almost in slow motion. She didn’t whimper or make any noise, but the teardrop made it very clear what was happening. Her lower lip trembled ever so slightly, despite her most desperate attempts to keep it in place. She slowly crossed her arms over her chest, as if in an attempt to look tough, but it didn’t give her the appearance she was hoping for. It just made his heart go out to her more. As twins, they didn’t have the famous “mind reading” thing, but they could read each other well. Well, a stranger could see that Sara was crying, or trying not to. 
Noel took a tentative step towards her, not sure how to approach the situation. She was obviously crying, and she had to know it, so why was she insisting she wasn’t? Yeah, Sara bottled up her emotions, sealed them with a key, and threw the key deep into the ocean, but could he be the scuba diver to retrieve the key? What happened last March wasn’t her fault, not even close, but she blamed herself nonetheless. She had always been the type of person to take tragedy personally. She just knows she could have prevented it, but she didn’t, which was why she deserved to suffer. At least, that’s how she saw it. 
“Sara, it’s okay to be upset,” he began, trying not to startle her. “It’s a hard day. I know.” 
He could practically see her mind turning off, blocking out everyone else.. She had escaped into her own world, one where demons hunted her down and pounced on her. Though she was present, her physical form was with him, Sara wasn’t here.
“I know. I’m not upset,” she said, her voice cracking on the last word. She shut her mouth quickly after that, worried that another sign that she was...weak would escape her lips. 
His ebony eyes soften at her broken expression. He wanted to help bring her back to who she was…before if that was even possible, but deep down he knew the girl she was before was gone and there was no getting her back, even if he wanted to. Even if she wanted to.
Noel didn’t like Sara this upset; nobody liked seeing his or her loved ones in a state of distress, but it was different with Sara. 
She was just so….strong, or at least good at faking it. 
Vulnerability was her worst enemy and worst fear rolled into one, and now that the slightest unraveling of her tough exterior had been revealed, she was vulnerable, like the dreams he had where he shows up to school naked. He knew the façade that she had worked so hard to build would crumble in an instant if she could really look at him in the eyes: her exterior was a stone wall, armed with guards and knights, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t bring his biggest canon to try to knock it down.
Noel knew she felt weak. He did too; it was painful not being able to help the mess that Sara had become since the incident. She just wouldn’t admit her overwhelming sadness, in fear that people would think of her differently. Look at her differently. Treat her differently. What she didn’t know was that everyone already did. They knew her as the best friend of the girl who died, and Noel was pretty sure she was aware of that. She had to be blind to not see the pitiful looks she received when her mother, Leslie, dragged her to the grocery store, the ones she was given at the park when her father, Richard, commanded her to “get some air for God’s sake.” Even since a young age, their parents had insisted that the twins call them by their first names. 
He can feel himself start to get annoyed: Sara had that effect on him. The way she gave him a blank stare, as if she had said everything she needed to. Which she didn’t. Since the incident, the words she had exchanged with anyone had been simple and straight to the point.
It had been her father’s idea to send her to therapy. He suggested it over the dinner table, and the fear in Sara’s eyes were as clear as the moon on the Lunar eclipse. Of course, Leslie and Richard, being the clueless parents they were, didn’t notice. The therapy sessions had started a week later. To put it simply, they didn’t go well. They had picked the best shrink they could find, Eugeune Gatley, but even she couldn’t get Sara to talk about what had happened. When Leslie came to pick her daughter up, Eugeune was practically tearing her hair out. And that was saying a lot; Noel knew that shrinks had serious amounts of stamina. 
“Sara,” he says softly but firmly. “I need you to know it’s okay not to be fine. Especially with me.” 
At that moment, he could have sworn he saw something change in his sister’s face. Sara’s prominent cheekbones and angular face were still very much present. Her thinly plucked eyebrows that formed an almost perfect arch over her narrowed eyes were still bold, and her bow-shaped lips were still pointed downward. She had always had somewhat of an annoyed appearance, like she was always judging your every movement. Since the incident, though, a frown had been a part of her resting face. But something deep in her eyes, though narrowed, changed, like when Leslie took the twins to get their pupils dilated. It was as if the inside part of her eye got larger, and she almost saw the world in a different way. But then it was over. The storm clouds that had parted for a blissfully relieving second were back, and were no longer drizzling over her sonic expression, but pouring. Maybe it would have been okay if the wondrous look in her eyes had flickered away ever so gracefully instead of leaving as abruptly as they did, but he missed the momentary glimmer in Sara’s eyes. He felt his own heart drop deep into the nothingness that had become of his chest since the incident, and out of nowhere, he wasn’t sad. No, he was mad. He was mad at Meg for dying, because that had driven his sister to the silhouette of a person she was today. He was incensed at his parents for not trying harder to get Sara to open up. But more than anything, he was infuriated at his sister for not being able to express any human emotions. 
Throughout her whole life, Sara had been somewhat emotionally closed off. But then she met Meg. Meg had been a ray of sunshine, the one person who could pull Sara away from her studies or whatever she was stressing out over that day. Sara lived inside her own mind, and Meg truly had the power to bring her out. 
If Sara’s life was a movie, it would have been black and white, but the day she met Meg would have been the day it turned into color. Meg had provided a stability for Sara that Noel had never been able to. And now she was gone. 
Meg had really always been Sara’s best friend to Noel, but on one occasion, she had been more to him. 
Noel was a sports guy: football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and softball in the spring. When he was younger, his parents showing up to his game was the highlight of his day. Hell, it was the highlight of his month if his workaholic parents had made the rare decision to put their son’s extracurricular above their careers. Richard was a lawyer, and Leslie was a Life Science professor. But that was when he was 7, 8, 9, and maybe even up to 13. Their appearances at his games became rarer as years passed. Sara had taken up the cello, and they usually used their time off from work to come to her classy recitals rather than his sweaty games. But on one occasion, they had decided to come to his basketball game. He had been so surprised he forgot to be embarrassed by his father’s formal suit and his mother’s navy blazer and pencil skirt set. When his coach put him in, he was elated. But between the daggers that Richard was shooting at him, and Leslie’s constant checking of her phone, he couldn’t concentrate. He didn’t make a single basket the entire game. 
“What happened out there?” Richard had asked his son roughly, giving him a not so playful slug across the arm. 
Noel could only give a half hearted shrug, and was silent the entire ride home. He had expected his parents to come inside with him, but Leslie shook her head. 
“We’re going to a party at your father’s firm. Dinner’s in the fridge,” she had said, her auburn corks bobbing up and down. 
Noel had trudged in the house, his sweaty jersey feeling like it weighed more than the weights Coach made him lift before the game. He threw his bag down in front of the door and had made his way into the kitchen to get something to eat. He had expected to be alone, but came face to face with his sister’s best friend, Meg. Meg’s chest-trimmed dyed light blue hair was pulled into a ponytail at the nape of her neck and she wore an oversized band t shirt with a pair of shorts that just stuck out from the bottom of the shirt. 
“Hey,” he said, not fully expecting to see Meg here but not surprised either. Meg practically lived at their house, much to his parents dismay. They saw her as a bad influence, most likely because of the blue hair. It was a little...much for his conservative parents but Sara would have none of it. Richard and Leslie knew that friendship making didn’t come easily to their daughter, and despite their negative feelings about her, Meg was something special. 
She nods a hello and opens their cupboard. “Do you guys have any Doritos?”
    Noel shrugs. “Probably not.” 
She accepts this answer and pulls out a bag of pre-popped popcorn. For the first time, her eyes meet Noel’s face. 
“Hey, you okay?” she asks, suddenly looking serious. 
He swallows hard, not understanding why she cared. Meg had always been just Sara’s best friend; it was hard to develop a real relationship with her. It wasn’t like Sara made an effort to be close to his basketball friends, so he saw no need to become all buddy-buddy with Meg. “Uh, yeah. I’m good.”
An amused smile plays at her lips. “No, you’re not. I know what good looks like, an that’s not it.”
He shrugs. “My parents decided to show up to my game and criticized everything I did,” he says, wondering if he sounded too much like a whiny ten year old. 
“Parents suck,” Meg announced, leaning her weight on the mahogany island. Leslie had spent months debating whether the reddish-brown went with the decor of the room. “I mean, the only thing you can really do is ignore them. They birthed you. Big deal. We don’t owe it to them to love and respect them. I mean, we kind of do, but there’s a good chance parents are going to suck. But hey, four more years until college.”
Noel nodded weakly. In a weird way, Meg’s cynical statement about parenting had...comforted him? “Yeah.”
    The silence that follows is awkward, but not in a painful way. After a minute or so, Noel clears his throat. Meg jumps up, as if being awoken from a dream. Noel briefly wonders about her relationship with her parents and the emotional baggage she carried. 
“Sara’s probably waiting, so…”
Noel nodded again. “Have fun.”
Meg turned around. “Thanks. Good luck with your parents.”
After that night, Noel hadn’t given much thought to what happened. Meg had comforted him, and that was all. But five short weeks later, Meg was gone.
And now his sister was left with a gaping whole in her that he so desperately wanted to fill, but it was a Meg-shaped space, and as much as he twisted and turned and rearranged his body, he would never be able to fit. 
It was as if Meg had shielded Sara from all the horrors of the world, and now that she was gone, the lack of exposure to the terrible things seemed so much worse to Sara’s fragile mind. 
For a split second, Sara had let her guard down, had showed Noel that there was more to her than what she was presenting to the world everyday, but her guard was back up. Her eyes hardened once more, and they were back at square one: Noel trying to convince his sister it was okay to cry. 
“I’m not weak,” Sara replied, her eyes flickering down to her feet. She had on a pair of light blue Converse which were speckled with a light layer of dirt from the time her and Meg had gone exploring when they were nine. They were way too tight and pinched at her baby toe, but she liked the feeling. And taking them off would require effort and energy, that she didn’t have now. Didn’t have today. 
“I didn’t say you were,” responded Noel, his anger melting away. 
“But you think I am,” Sara says, her intent eyes on his every movement. Sara’s always been very observant; if you think she didn’t pick up on something, you’re most likely wrong.
“Sara, I never-”
Maybe at that moment, something inside inside Sara snapped. Maybe the pile of wood that     was guilt and sadness and grief had finally caught the flame of anger. He’ll never know what triggered her outburst, but suddenly she was livid. “Fine! Fine, Noel, I’m not okay! Is that what you want to hear?” 
Noel recoils at her sharp and forceful voice. His sister was never a pushover, but she was always very reserved and even before the incident, raising her voice was something she rarely did. 
“Sar-”
“No! Noel, today is my dead best friend’s birthday. Do you expect me to galavant around like nothing is wrong? Everything is wrong! Everything!” she yells. With her jaw clenched and her thin body practically shaking with rage, she was intimidating, even to Noel. Her fingers had involuntarily found their way into fists and her face was flushed beet red. 
Noel’s reaction was something neither of them, not with Sara’s logic and Noel’s sensitivity, could have predicted what happened next: Noel started to cry. Partially, it was the fact that his sister was so upset, but he knew that he would never be able to justify his tears, ecpesially when Sara was the one who should be crying. 
“Oh god,” he mutters, bringing the back of his wrist to wipe his eyes. “I’m sorry, Sar. I don’t deserve to cry, Meg w-was your best friend.”
    Sara stiffens at the use of her late friend’s name; since the incident, Noel, Leslie, and Richard had avoided using the name Meg like a European in 1348 would avoid someone with the plague.
“It hurts me too, you know,” Noel whispers. “I know Me- she and I weren’t close, but it was hard.”
Sara nods, trying hard not to cry herself. Her eyes stung with unshed tears, and watching Noel cry made it that much worse. It wasn’t like her brother to cry, especially over someone he barely knew. 
“We had a moment, one night,” he begins and he sees his sister’s eyes widen. “Not like that. She comforted me. Meg was a good friend. You were lucky to have her.”
    Sara nods. “I really was.”
“I know it’s not just you who spent nights wondering why she decided to smoke in her bed that night. And why she smoked so close to her stack of books. The fire was an accident, I know, but if she hadn’t smoked in the first place…” 
“Yeah.” 
“I didn’t know she smoked,” Noel says softly.
“She didn’t,” Sara replied, playing with her fingers. Before the incident, she painted them weekly, but now she didn’t see a point. Her nails were frayed and stubby from biting. “I-it was her first time that night.”
“Oh.”
“I’m sorry, I just-”
“Sar, it’s okay.”
    “I miss her,” Sara whispers, knowing she was about to lose the battle with the river of sadness inside her. 
“Cry. It’s okay,” Noel says, trying to keep his voice even. 
And she does. The emotions that have been pent up inside her for so long finally made their way out, and they showed no sign of stopping anytime soon. And Noel wrapped her into his muscular arms, whispering that it was okay. Physical affection usually made Sara squirm, she didn’t wriggle away from him this time. 
Losing Meg was more than Sara losing her best friend. It was Noel accepting that his sister would never be the same. Maybe she’d be quieter, ruder, more anxious, and maybe at times she’d be a downright mess, but she’d always be Sara. 
Losing Meg was a painting of emotions for both the twins. It was scattered with the red anger for Meg’s idiotic decisions, blue for the overwhelming sadness Sara felt at 1AM when she wanted to call her best friend, but she couldn’t. It was brown for the cold and unforgiving ground Meg was buried under, and gray for the skies when they lowered her body into the Earth. 
But now there were speckles of the faintest shade of yellow because maybe, just maybe, there’d be happiness after Meg. 

State
NY
Zip Code
11105