By Chef Youhaveoneday
//Story contains themes of sexual violence.
When Sunny came home there were clouds in the sky. Fitting, I thought. I pressed my nose against the long living room window as my parents barreled down the stairs. The neighbors stood in their yards watching as the wide, silver van pulled down the street toward our driveway. It almost crept across the pavement, as if to purposely draw attention to its contents. The giant Oak tree dividing our lawn from the Bryant’s, shook its limbs. It waved back and forth in anticipation of being united with its best friend again. Wiping the moist fog off of the window, I held my breath and could see her tiny head bobbing with the faults in the road from the back seat. Sunny’s curly, jet black hair covered her pale face.
“Scarlett, don’t stare” My father said checking his tie in the mirror next to the door, “It will be best for your sister if everything is completely normal like before she left.” Of all people Sunny knew that nothing was normal before she went to the rehabilitation center, or whatever they call it, but my mother was crying again and my father was pacing, so I hopped off of the windowsill and slipped into my sandals.
“Honey, come here.” My mother said motioning towards the front door. “Here she comes.” I shuffled toward her as the man driving Sunny helped her out of the van. A woman with a clipboard was two steps ahead of them, smiling from ear to ear.
“Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Rose!” The lady said shaking my father’s hand. “And let me guess, this is Scarlett?” I held out my hand, but the woman just grabbed me for a big hug. I tried to see Sunny over her shoulder but I was immediately pulled back. “Your sister has told me so much about you. I have a twin too, but he’s my brother so of course we’re not identical.” I just smiled and acted interested. Pushing onto my tiptoes, I caught a glimpse of Sunny but the man that was driving was bent over talking to her. “My name is Joanie Berks. I was Sunny’s lead counselor at the hospital. Your daughter is a treasure.”
“We’re really glad to have her back.” My father said. He was never one for raw emotion. I pushed past Mrs. Berks and ran up to Sunny. My mother tried to grab the sleeve of my shirt but I was gone. The man wasn’t finished talking to her but I didn’t care.
“Sunny!” I yelled, and grabbed her hand, squeezing it three times. “I missed you so-much.“ Sunny stared at the ground and I slowly let go. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like I was looking in the mirror as I stared at her face. My twelve-year-old twin sister had changed into an adult. The navy blue rings under her pink eyes held loose on her pale face. I brushed a curl off of her translucent forehead. That was the only way most people could tell the difference between us. I had always preferred my hair straight, but Sunny never cared enough to change it. Her bony shoulders that once protruded out of her shirt hung, tired and calm from her thin neck. I wanted to wake her up or at least make her smile. “Sunny, wait till you see our bedroom–“
“Scarlett.” Mrs. Berks said as she scurried down our sidewalk to the driveway. “Sunny needs to relax. Trust me, your sister is still in there but it will take quiet love and calm attention for her to adjust.”
“Of course she is still in there.” The man that had driven the van said. His hands were massive and she squeezed onto his thumb as he spoke. “She never left, did you Sun?” My sister looked up with a blank stare. I glanced back at my parents, anxiously. My mother had begun to cry again and turned her face. My dad stood over me with a firm grip on my collar bone.
“Sunny?” I whispered and my father tightened his grasp. “Mom and dad took our bunk beds down.“
“She’ll see the room, Scarlett.” My dad said. “Your sister will be right in, how about you go wait inside while we finish talking to Mrs. Berks.” I didn’t understand why everyone was acting so serious. I mean I knew there was an accident and Sunny was hurt but she was still my twin sister. I reluctantly stammered to the house. Taking a look over my shoulder, I saw Sunny peek at me, and I smiled.
I stared at my family out of my bedroom window and remembered watching the day Sunny was taken out on a stretcher. I thought about all of the things that could have happened to Sunny that day other than her falling out of a tree. I had gone over the afternoon a million times in my head for three months and never understood why everyone made such a big deal out of the whole thing. Sure there was blood and bruises but Sunny wasn’t even crying.
“Scarlett, pull down the blinds. Sunny needs to take a little nap before dinner.” My father said walking into my bedroom. I hopped off of my desk and turned the shades down. My room was dark but I saw Sunny walk out behind my dad. She climbed into bed, with her clothes on and I walked over to my mother who stood in the doorway.
“Can I stay in here with her?” I asked, looking up at my mother’s gloomy face. She glanced at my father for an answer.
“Sunny needs her sleep, you can lay down in your bed too but no talking.” My father replied pulling the covers over my sister. “You’ll have plenty of time to talk, but she needs quiet time now sweetheart.”
“Ok, I promise.” I said flipping my sandals off and falling onto my comforter.
“And Scarlett,” My mother spoke up. “were not going to talk about the accident ok? Sunny needs to move on.”
“Sure, Mom.” I said. “She’ll climb again, don’t worry.” My mother looked away slowly and walked out of the room. My father stood up and put his hand on my head gently.
“We love you both very much.” My dad said looking back and forth between us. “Your mother and I are very lucky to have you girls. I just want to make sure you know that.” Sunny’s eyes were closed and I reached up to grab my father’s hand.
“We know, daddy.” I said.
“Have a great nap girls, I’ll be back to wake you before dinner.” My father closed our door, leaving a small crack of light, streaming in from the hallway. The shadows from the large Oak tree outside danced around our room as if they had a secret to tell.
“Sunny.” I whispered. “Sunny.” She rustled her body and turned around facing the wall. We slept right through dinner and into the morning.
The next few weeks were fairly normal. Rose normal that is. The police had stopped by a few times and mom was always on the phone. I gave Sunny her space. To be honest it wasn’t much different than before she left. It was no secret to anyone that Sunny and I were different but most of it was on the outside. Besides, Dad always said, ‘it’s what’s on the inside that really matters.’
“Should I keep the bangs?” I asked Sunny as I stared in our bedroom mirror. I began to pull the artificially straightened strands of hair off my eyebrows. “You know you can come to the party. Joanna said anyone can come.”
Sunny paused from her journaling. Lying on the ground in front of me she closed her notebook and looked up into the mirror.
“I’m tired.” Sunny answered rising to her knees.
“Hey, don’t say I didn’t try.” I said and Sunny stared into the base of the mirror. “I won’t stay long. Do you want to watch a movie when I get back tonight?” I asked, trying my hardest to recover.
“Maybe.” She pushed herself to her feet. “I don’t think I’ll be up much longer.” Sunny grabbed her notebook and slid it under her pillow. “But thanks for asking.”
“What do you write in that thing anyway Sun?” I asked unplugging the straightener and watching her glide behind me. “I mean, is it just a journal or what?”
“Uh-yeah. Tell Jo-Jo I say hi.” Sunny reached back under the pillow and picked up her journal. She began to walk out of the bedroom. “And keep the bangs.” I smirked into the mirror and ruffled my forehead, releasing the tresses from behind my ears.
Joanna’s party was boring and I couldn’t stop thinking about the contents of Sunny’s journal. Mrs. Kline walked down to the basement every five minutes pretending to bring snacks or take pictures. We all knew that she was just checking to make sure no one was making out. I wasn’t in the mood anyway. As I looked around the room at the groups of girls caked with makeup and popping their hips I felt disgusting. Guilty by association. The few boys that sat on the couch watching the television were cautiously looking around the room at their prey.
“Mrs. Kline.” I said as the burly woman shuffled past me with an empty trash bag. “Is there a restroom down here?”
“It’s upstairs to the right, pumpkin.” She responded. “And Scarlett–”
“Yes?” I replied walking up the stairs.
“How’s Sunny?” Most of the kids at the party turned and looked at me, avoiding eye contact, but anxiously awaiting my response.
“She’s great.” I said glancing around the room. Everyone pretended to go back to what they were doing. I climbed the stained carpet staircase. Mrs. Kline was the Queen of Gossip in my neighborhood. As I approached the bathroom I heard the voices behind the locked door.
“She tried to commit suicide.” A girl’s voice said. I could see the shadow of moving feet coming from the light under the door. “My Mom said there was blood everywhere.”
“How did she do it?” The other voice asked. “Hanging? Overdose?”
“Slitting her wrists. I’m almost positive.”
“No way. Sunny didn’t do that.” A third voice added. “There were screams.” I leaned against the wall and took a deep breath, letting it out silently. “You don’t scream if you try to do it yourself. Someone tried to kill her. I was riding my bike outside their house that day.”
“You can scream from suicide.” The first girl said, standing by her argument.
“Not if you do it right. Trust me; I saw her run through her garage door. Well, I guess she was limping. The Roses know the truth. They just don’t want to draw attention to it. Plus Joanna said her Mom knew a lady at the hospital.”
“Scarlett knows. She’s been so weird lately. Maybe she tried to kill Sunny.” The girls laughed. “My mom said that she didn’t visit her sister once while she was in the hospital.” My hands were trembling wildly. My parents wouldn’t let me visit Sunny after the accident. They said that she needed her time to recover. My face burnt in resentment and humiliation. I regained my balance, pushing myself off of the wall and searched for an exit. I swung open the creaking screen door on the side of the house and heard Joanna and the other girls laughing down the hall as it whipped closed behind me.
I decided that Sunny had to talk. We were about to go to Middle school and I couldn’t bear to be in the dark. If she didn’t fall off our oak tree than I needed to know.
“Sunny wake up!” I said as I barged past my dad sleeping on the couch and pushed open the bedroom door. I flipped on the lights. Sunny shielded her eyes and turned to look at me.
“I was awake.” She replied squinting. I sat on the end of her bed.
“What happened to you on the day of the accident?” I asked staring into her eyes. She looked through me. “I know mom and dad said I wasn’t allowed to talk about it but Joanna said that you tried to kill yourself and Katie heard that someone tried to kill you. Was it an accident or not?”
Sunny continued to fix her eyes on the wall through me. I was just caught in the crossfire of her stare. The little bit of color that had come to her face over the past two weeks had vanished.
“I-” Sunny’s voice gave out. A small cracking noise gargled up from her throat. She wasn’t crying, but her body did not want to answer because of something rooted deep inside. “I don’t know.” Her eyes looked into mine now.
“Why can’t you tell me? Why can’t I know? Why do you write in that journal?” I reached for her pillow and clutched the notebook, pulling it to my chest. She began to cry, and I saw feeling leak back into my numb sister like the blood rushing back into a tingly leg that has fallen into a deep sleep. “Sunny please.” I handed her the pad. “Please.”
“It’s all here.” She handed the journal back to me. I studied the cover of the notebook as it fell into my lap. There were deep brown creases inside the tanned, rough binder. The diary that Sunny had had for two weeks looked like it had been used for two years. I ran my hand along the tips of the pages. Sunny slid under her covers and closed her eyes. I held the book close and fell asleep on top of my covers reading.
The next day when I woke up I could hear rain outside. I grabbed the journal, changed into sweats and walked cautiously down the stairs.
“Hey Scarlett, how was your sleep?” My mom asked. She stood over the stove cooking scrambled eggs and cheese, Sunny’s favorite. “Dad said you were home pretty early.”
“It was ok.” I answered. “Where’s Sunny?”
“She was playing in the back yard.” My mother said.
“Isn’t it raining?” I asked.
“It was drizzling a bit, your father is under the umbrella doing some work out there.” My mother replied. “Go see what they’re doing and can you tell them that breakfast is almost ready?” I walked through my house and out the garage door. The diary was still under my arm. My father sat, reading a book, at the table outside.
“Hey Dad. Where’s Sun?” I asked.
“She’s up in her tree, babe!” He replied. “Can you believe it?” Sunny hadn’t climbed her massive Oak tree since the day she left for the hospital.
“Yeah.” I said. “Oh, Mom said breakfast was ready. I’ll go get Sunny and meet you in there.” I ran across the yard to the base of Sunny’s tree. I put the journal into the back of my sweats and started to climb. This was not my thing. As I got higher I saw Sunny’s legs dangling over her favorite branch at the top. I made it to a safe place to sit and looked up at her.
“Hey” Sunny said as I caught my breath.
“Breakfast is ready.” I wheezed in between gulps of air.
“Thanks, I’m not hungry.” Sunny knew we were having scrambled eggs.
“I read it all.” I said staring at her big brown eyes.
“Oh.” She stared straight forward.
“I won’t tell anyone.” I said.
“I know.” Sunny finally looked at me.
“Can I do anything to help?” I asked.
“Do mom and dad know who did it?” I continued.
“Do they know that you didn’t fall?”
“I did fall.”
“Do they know about Mr. Bryant after the fall?”
“Do they know you were–”
“Oh god, Sunny, I am so sorry.” We both were crying. “You have to tell them, they could help.”
“I will tell them some day but I can’t now. He told me he would do it again if I told anyone. He told me he would do it to you.”
“Sunny, he can’t hurt anyone if we tell mom and dad. The police are looking for the man who did it right now all you have to do is tell them and we’ll never see him again.” I said through tears. “Please.”
“I’m scared, Scarlett.” Sunny cried. “I’m scared.” I climbed up to her branch and sat next to her. Rubbing her back, I could barely see through my tears the Bryant family eating breakfast through their living room window. Sunny shook in my arms and I knew something had to be done. I couldn’t let my sister live in fear forever. “If I hadn’t have fallen it wouldn’t have happened. I’ve never slipped on this tree. When I woke up he was on top of me.” Sunny caught her breath, “It was so heavy Scarlett, I didn’t know what do. I tried to scream but nothing would come out of my throat. He smelled like grass and anger. The hanging limbs and leaves of the tree covered me and I even watched kids walking down the sidewalk through the branches. I could only hear his loud panting. It was warm, but I was frozen. My fingertips couldn’t move and I felt like I was paralyzed. I tasted blood in my mouth, and he looked me directly into my eyes when I finally gave up.”
“Oh God.” I said, but she had released herself from my embrace.
“When I woke up he was gone and I was just lying there.”
“How did you tell mom?” I asked.
“They could tell from the blood.” Sunny replied calmly. “They did a ton of tests on me at the hospital and told mom and dad what happened. I told them that I couldn’t remember who did it. We decided then to tell everyone that I just fell out of this tree.”
“And Mrs. Berks?” I asked, “And the other guy that dropped you off?”
“They tried to get a name out of me.” She replied, “Joanie did a bunch of tests on me but the other doctors insisted on letting me just recover.”
“So the police–“ I started.
“The police will never find out. Not unless I tell them. No one saw it happen and you know how nice Mr. Bryant is to our family. No one would ever guess it was him.”
“But we can–“ Again I began.
“No we can’t Scarlett. He told me, that day when he pinned me into the earth. He told me he would find me.” I rested my head on Sunny’s lap. I was lost and now she consoled me. How could someone do this to my sister and why was she so sure we couldn’t tell? She was so strong. Our father walked through the yard toward the base of the tree.
“Hey girls!” he yelled up, “Breakfast is getting cold, let’s go.” I set the notebook with the other books and items that Sunny kept lodged up on a platform she had nailed onto her branch. I followed her path down the enormous tree. When the rain hit my face as we walked through the yard I grabbed Sunny’s hand. I squeezed it three times.
“You said in the notebook that you wanted to start a fire.” I said as we crawled into bed that night. “What does that mean?”
“The tree.” She replied. “I wanted to burn it down, and then maybe mom and dad would build us a fence.”
“But you love that tree Sun.” I pressed.
“Scarlett, it was just something I wrote. Joanie told me that writing my feelings would help me.” She said. I flipped the night light off and passed out into my pillow. It had been a long day and finally I could sleep peacefully, knowing the truth.
“Wake up.” Sunny stood over me with a sweatshirt on. “Come on Scarlett, wake up.”
“What time is it?” I asked rubbing my eyes and sitting up.
“If Joanie said that writing my feelings would help me then actually doing them would–“
“Slow down Sunny. What are you doing?”
“We have to burn down the Oak. If you don’t help me then I’ll do it myself.”
“No, it got me into this mess. If I hadn’t fallen then he couldn’t have done it. Are you going to help or not?”
“Sunny, we can’t start a fire. What would we even use?”
“I already snuck down to the garage. I found lighter fluid and Dad’s matches.” She said.
“But it rained today. It will be wet.” I argued.
“I have a big pile of all of Mom and Dad’s old newspapers.” Sunny replied and for the first time since she had come home I could see excitement boiling through her. “We can crumple them up and light them.”
“Sunny, will it really help? And plus we could get in–“
“In trouble? Only if they caught us, which they won’t because when the firemen come we will be in bed, sound asleep.
“But what if it spread to our house?” I asked.
“Over fifty yards of wet grass?” She replied, clearly Sunny had thought this out. “Come on Scarlett, please help me.”
“I’m up, I’m up.” I said, walking to the closet. “We’re gonna need to wear all black, like in the movies.”
“I’m way ahead of you!” Sunny threw me a black turtle neck and pants.
“Is the stuff in the garage still?” I asked “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this.”
“Nope, it’s all out there at the base of the tree, ready to go.”
Growing up, we had memorized the steps down the stairs and through our house so that we wouldn’t hit the creaks. Finally, it came into good use. As Sunny slipped the back sliding door open I took a look inside to make sure it was still quiet. We silently trudged through the yard, trying not to hit the puddles that had gathered in the grass. Sunny pointed at the massive pile of newspaper that was stacked against the tree ahead. She handed me a box of matches and I buried them deep into my pocket.
“We need to be quiet un-wrapping the paper.” Sunny said, handing me a pile of it. Just fold it together and surround the entire base of the tree. Sunny began to climb up to the first branch. “I am going to go up here and put some paper down on the branches. When the fire starts, it will catch on faster.” I folded up each piece she had handed me as she climbed to the second level of the tree.
“Don’t go all the way to the top Sun” I yelled in a whisper. “It will catch once the rest does.”
“I know I’m just getting these first few levels.” Sunny replied. I launched the plastic lighter fluid bottle through the air and up to Sunny. She reached, but missed and it fell with a thud on the ground beneath her. I looked around to see if anyone had heard us. Grabbing the bottle I hung from a low branch and extended it to Sunny. She covered the torso and base of the tree with fluid.
“That’s all of the newspaper” I said as Sunny jumped down next to me. “It looks ok to me.”
“Ok let’s light it then.” She said grabbing the matches from her sweatshirt.
“Sunny are you sure you want to do this?” I asked looking up at her. Our eyes had adjusted to the moonlight.
“I’m sure Scarlett.” She said. “Where are your matches?” I dug in my pocket and pulled them out. I opened the pack and drew one out. Sunny struck her match against the graded box. A loud, roar of flame pierced the silence. The light filled our eyes and then shrunk to slowly smolder the stick in her hand. She slowly walked up to the tree, shielding the match from the wind as she walked. Without looking back at me she set it down on the newspaper. Nothing. The flame had blown out in the dry, windy night as fast as it was lit.
“Sunny, it’s too windy.” I said lighting a match and watching it go out in my hand.
“Come stand next to me Scarlett. You block the air and I’ll light a few of the pieces of paper. If it hits the lighter fluid then it will catch. I’ve seen Dad do it a hundred times on the grill.” I walked up to her and kneeled down next to her. The water soaked through to my knees and I trembled as a rush of cold dew soaked into my pants. After a few tries we had a little fire. The papers had lit and Sunny just kept striking matches. She finished her pack and reached for mine. I handed it to her and she held a piece of burning paper up to the first branch. It caught on slowly and crept up the tree’s arms, lighting the sky.
“Ok, let’s get out of here Sunny!” I grabbed the empty boxes of matches and threw them in the fire. Sunny left the bottle on the grass and I kicked it toward the flames. She ran back to the house and I sprinted after her. She stopped outside of our house and looked back. The entire base of the tree had caught and was blazing. “Go, come on, we need to get to our room now, we can watch it from there.”
We slid the door shut as quietly as it opened and crept up the staircase. I looked back and saw that our wet feet had made marks on the carpet. It was too late to go back; we had to be in our beds when the fire trucks came. Sunny slipped open the door and I jumped through. We changed our clothes and stashed them in the closet.
“Look at this.” Sunny said, gazing out of our window. The orange light from outside was piercing through the window and waving across her face. I toed over beside her.
“Wow. Sunny.” The wind had blown our fire up the tree. The air had been dry enough after a day full of rain and allowed the fire to flush through every leaf.
“Listen.” Sunny said looking out of the window down the street. Screeching sirens roared through the silent night. Lights started to turn on around the neighborhood. The bedroom lights in the Bryant’s house illuminated. Mrs. Bryant stepped out onto her balcony. Mr. Bryant was close behind and shielded his eyes from the massive fire. My father ran out of the garage door below our window and out into the yard. He stared at the fire and walked onto the street. My mom opened our bedroom door.
“Girls” She saw us staring out the window. “Are you ok?” We stood, with our eyebrows raised and ran to our mother. “The firemen are on the way, your father called them. He thinks it might have been heat lightning.” Sunny looked at me across my mom’s chest and pressed her face into her. “They’ll have it out in a few minutes.” We followed my mom down the stairs and onto the driveway. My dad was talking to the neighbors across the street. Mr. and Mrs. Bryant stood on their balcony, eyes glued to the flames. Three police cars slammed to a stop outside of our house. They immediately ran up to my father to ask questions.
“Look” Sunny nudged me and I followed her gaze up to the Bryant’s balcony. Mr. Bryant had slipped into his house at the arrival of the police. I shook my head and looked at Sunny. Coward. The fire trucks peeled around the corner and started unraveling the hose. As they ran across the yard, I took one last look at the Oak.
The arms of the tree shook in the wind; they threw balls of blazing leafs across the yard as the firemen turned on the water. Our childhood memories made under the tree on hot summer days all came rushing back to me. Sunny hanging from her knees upside down when we were in elementary school, mom setting up picnics in the shade, my hiding spot and Sunny’s eternal get away. They all slowly smoked into the dark sky as the Oak melted.
The firemen spent about twenty minutes putting out the flames leaving a skeleton of crisped bark. They carefully took an axe to the base and dragged the burnt corpse to the front of our lawn. One of them walked back to the site of the fire for one last check. He held an extinguisher and sprayed away at some of the smoking remnants. My father finished talking to the policeman about the incident and my mother walked us into the door.
“Sunny.” I said, pointing at the fireman by the tree stump. He had bent down to pick up a few things. “I forgot. I left your–“
“No.” She said. The man walked up to my father. The policeman saw the potential for evidence and approached the fireman. My mother wouldn’t let us get near them.
“Stay here girls, let your father talk to them, we need to go inside and get some sleep. It’s all over now.” My mother said, herding us into the garage. We walked inside and my mother saw our black footprints on the immaculate white carpet. She just continued to talk, walking us up the stairs. “Get some sleep.” We filed down the hall and into our bedroom. When my mom left the room we both hopped up to see out the window.
“I’m sorry. It was an accident.” I said trying to get some kind of response from her. The fire had never reached the top of the tree where Sunny’s cubby of books had lied. “I’m sure it’s wet. I’m sure they can’t read it.” Sunny pressed her bony finger against the window. Down in the driveway, our father flipped through the pages of the diary. The policeman stood close by him. He slowly dropped it, falling lifelessly against the back of the police car. I closed my eyes. Sunny dropped her hand and stared. The policeman grabbed the book and read where my father had left off. He motioned for two other officers that came to help. Our father finally rose to his feet and looked up at us in the window. His eyes were weary and thin. He looked back to the policeman and pointed at the Bryant’s house. They stepped cautiously up to the front door and knocked heavily. Sunny reached for my hand and grasped it tightly. I squeezed it three hard times and she squeezed back.