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My seventeenth birthday part was going great, until my older sister Cynthia decided to pull her drama queen act and disappear. Only this time for good.
Of course at the time we didn’t know it was for good, we just thought she was being her typical self and was trying to get attention. We were just sitting around the patio table, my grandparents holding hands and arguing, my mom looking around frantically, while still trying to give off the impression that she was relaxed and having fun at the party. She wasn’t fooling anyone. My father was standing with one foot propped up on one of the patio chairs and was still wearing his khaki shorts and his eggshell “Kiss the Cook” apron. If Cyn was there, she would have been sitting with her legs crossed, in an oversized sweatshirt, swirling the melted down strawberry ice cream around in her personalized bowl. She would have had a scowl on her pretty face and would have been dangling a flip flop from her toe.
Cyn was nineteen, two years older than I and was the literal opposite of me as well. While the similarity of our appearances was striking, the differences between our personalities was almost laughable. Cyn was what people considered a free spirit. A right brain, mind you. Cyn had a tattoo by sixteen and a nose ring by seventeen.
I, on the other hand, was a left brain, a Democrat, on the exact opposite end of the spectrum as Cyn was. We were opposites, but we were sisters and we loved each other. We covered for each other back in 6th grade, when Cyn and I inadvertently, in a game of tag, rammed into the end table and smashed my mother’s favorite vase. My mom had heard the crash and came running, and she arrived at the scene of the crime in about four seconds. That was three seconds longer than it took Cyn and me to come up with a story and arrange ourselves appropriately to the story we’d concocted.
“Girls,” my mother had gasped, seeing Cyn and I sprawled on the floor, Cyn reading and me playing with her long hair. “What happened to the vase?”
“No clue mom,” Cyn said, looking up and furrowing her brow. Even back then, she had strong, black eyebrows, and she always used them to sell her story. “I think it might have been one of the boys next door throwing their dumb Frisbee around.” She continued, not even looking at me, even though I was staring at her intently, watching to make sure her face didn’t betray us.
“Well,” my mother logically asked, “where’s the Frisbee?”
Cyn raised her head up from her book long enough to shrug her shoulders nonchalantly. “Don’t shrug your shoulders at me! How is it possible you didn’t see anything? Both of you were right here.” Cyn looked up at our mother, rolling her russet eyes.
“Jeez mom, what do you expect? Just because we’re sitting here doesn’t mean we saw everything that happened. What, should we have drawn a quick sketch of the suspects before they got away? Used flour from the kitchen to dust for fingerprints? Or should we have had Don go smell the area and then have him track down the offenders? Pardon us for not paying that much attention. We were doing something you know.” She fired at my mother, never once looking at me, only at Don Juan, the old Golden Retriever who seemed to always be at her feet.
“How about you, Felicia?” My mother finally sighed, after Cyn ceased fire.
“Nope. Sorry mom. I didn’t see a thing,” I said, as always being the good cop to Cyn’s bad. My mother smiled a tight-lipped smile at us then and slowly retreated from the room.
That was for some reason, the occasion I called to memory most often when I thought of our sisterly collaborations. The image of her lying on the floor on her stomach, looking so bewildered and so serious, just looking my mother right in the eye and lying to her. It might have been the first time I realized Cyn could make you believe anything. She could become anyone. If she wanted to be a good citizen, poof! She was magically transformed. If she wanted to be a raging mass of teenage hormones, shazam. There it was.
She was amazing. She was my sister. After mom left that day, she sat up Indian style really quick and just beamed at me. “We got away with it!” I had said, because what else was there to say? She smiled and shook her head.
“What else did you expect to happen?” She asked; her voice high and teasing. She had a hold of Don’s ears in her little tan hands, twirling them through her delicate fingers. “We’re good! We could be conwomen. We could go all around the world, just tricking people,” She got a bright twinkle in her eye that scared my 12-year old self. “Just money. Pure, untaxed, unquestioned money. We could even bring ol’ Donny with us!” She cried, pulling the dog’s head to her chest.
“Isn’t that mean?” I had inquired.
“Hate to break it to you, Felecia, but it’s the same thing we just did to mom,” She had spat, her eyes flashing at me. Don looked up uncertainly and whined a little bit.
“But-but that was different.”
“We didn’t want to get in trouble…” I had meekly protested, choosing to look at Don instead of my sister, whose eyes were beginning to look wild and not just like a lightning storm. Now, they looked like a swirling tornado, with debris and cows flying and small children all fighting for their life inside of it.
“There’s no difference. But hey, whatever. If you don’t want to make a bunch of money and hang out with me all day, then that’s cool. Stay home with mom.” She said. “Because I swear, I’m not coming back. Once I leave, Don and I are never coming back.”
I hadn’t believed her then; since she was always prone to dramatics, but I did notice those eyes, and for the last five years, the look of her eyes has never escaped my mind.
Ever since then, my sister had been the wild one. The rebellious one. The free one. While I was making straight A’s and heading up the Student Council, Cyn was smoking packs of cigarettes and lying out on the roof of the house. She was going out on Saturday nights with tattooed boys while I was home, pounding out essays on the family computer, listening to Don whine until she got home.
So maybe you can understand why that day, my 17th birthday, meant so much to me. I mean, my life after 7th grade pretty much consisted of me hopping inside the outlines of Cynthia’s shadow. Even though I was the good one, I was also the unnoticed one. I got into AP Chemistry, but that didn’t come close to trumping Cyn’s shoplifting charge.
That day at my party, when Cyn wasn’t there, I could feel the room’s focus shifting. I could feel my grandmother hanging on my every word. I could feel my grandfather laughing at my jokes, and I could feel my mother’s hand as she patted my shoulder. It was finally assimilating for them that they had two grandchildren, not one. My mother finally realized that her youngest hated strawberry ice cream. My father laughed jovially when he finally remembered that it was Cyn who liked her meat rare; not me. Heck, even Don Juan sat at my feet, his long, feathery tail tapping out a rhythm at my feet. I sat there, soaking it all in.
I think that was what really hit it home for me. The fact that Don Juan, my sister’s six year old golden retriever was paying attention to me instead of running around the house looking desperately for Cyn. Don Juan, who was almost never seen without my sister, the dog my sister had named, was laying his head on my knee, waiting to be patted. Cyn had named him Don Juan because when she had picked him out from all the other puppies, he had been humping his mother. His own mother! I swear, some boys have no shame. Cyn had found it screamingly hilarious, and had scooped up the then-unnamed puppy. Of course he was the one she wanted. The rebel puppy.
The fact that her dog, the dog that worshipped her since the day she picked him out from the rest of the litter; the dog that wanted nothing at all to do with me, made me realize how colossal Cyn’s absence was. And that’s when I realized that she wasn’t with us. We had sent her out for more candles forty-five minutes ago, and she had not returned, even though the Mini-Mart was right down the street.
“Mom?” I asked, speaking over the slight din of the rest of the conversation. “Mom,” I tried again when she didn’t hear me. She finally heard me and opened her eyes wider, her cue that let me know I could speak.
“What is it dear?” She said, pulling me gently from my chair. I left my ice cream on the patio table and followed her into the kitchen. Once inside, she leaned on the counter, wiping her brow in an exaggerated manner. “Heck of a party, huh? You having fun, Felecia?”
“Oh yeah, mom, I am,” I said, taking a hand to my long black hair, wincing as a finger was temporarily caught in a tangle. “But have you noticed that Cyn isn’t here?”
“Hmmm?” My mom asked, tilting her head to one side, looking puzzled as what I’d said had time to sink in, “Yes, I guess you’re right. She isn’t, is she?”
“Yeah, we sent her out for candles a while ago. Do you want me to text her?” I asked, my hands already fingering my phone in my pants pockets.
“Could you, Felecia?” My mom said, already moving out of the kitchen, waving at my father who gave her a quizzical look but then came into the kitchen to my mother.
“What is it?”
“We seem to have lost our daughter.”
My father gave a blank stare, and my mother gave him an impatient slap on the arm. “Our other daughter, Dave! Where is Cynthia?”
“She went to get candles,” my dad piped up, looking pretty proud of himself. “Remember, that’s why we’re only having ice cream.”
“That was a while ago, though. Felecia, dear, are you texting her?” My mother barked, and I spotted the telltale vein that always popped when she was near her boiling point. My fingers were already dancing over my touch screen, dashing out an urgent message to my older sister (Cyn, dude, where are you? Mom wants blood), and quickly finished composing the message, sending it off to my sister, wherever she was. “Oh God, how could we not have noticed she was gone before?”
I wisely chose to stay quiet, though in my mind I knew they hadn’t noticed she was missing, because they had been paying attention to me. “Get on the phone. Call the police,” my mother shot over her shoulder, already disappearing into the next room.
I felt my eyes welling up with tears and looked sharply up at the ceiling.
“Oh, don’t worry, pumpkin,” I heard my dad say, swiftly descending and kissing my cheek, pulling me close. “You know Cyn. She lives for this,” he patted my shoulder and moved on, into the kitchen where he would make the possibly scripted phone call.
I choked back a sob and nodded sharply. I just couldn’t bear to tell my father that I wasn’t crying because I was worried about my sister, but because I knew that was the most amount of attention I’ve even gotten from my family since 7th grade. How do you tell your father that you hate your own sister? How do you tell him that you feel so trapped in your everyday life that having your sister disappear makes you that happy?
The thing is: you can’t tell your father that. Especially if you were me, Felecia Madrigal, straight A student, third chair clarinet, volunteer dog walker, overall good girl. You sucked it up and went on with your life. Hearing all the usual commotion, I made my way up the stairs, into the bedroom that Cyn and I shared. I heard the steady tap on the wooden stairs that meant Don Juan was following me, and I sank onto the bed without looking, letting out a deep breath.
I fell backwards and stared at the ceiling, my breath coming in shallow bursts now, instead of my sniffly short breaths like whenever I usually cry. In the way I was lying, I could see my long hair fanned out around my brown shoulders on the ivory pillowcase that was edged with lace. I realized with a start that I was lying on Cyn’s bed, and her smell was all over it. I was hit once again with the realization that we were so different, but we were sisters. Her black hair lay in silky strands on the pillowcase and her spicy perfume lingered on the fabric.
My aunt asked me once whether I liked Cyn. “You have to love your family,” she said matter-of-factly, “but do you actually like Cyn?” At the time I didn’t know how to answer that question, so I’d just awkwardly chuckled and smiled, hoping she’d drop the subject; and she did.
But now, lying in my sister’s bed, with no idea where she was, regardless of our past, I think I knew that answer. I felt my phone vibrate and I gave a start. Pulling it out of my pocket, I saw Cynthia’s name on the display and felt my heart pound.
Felecia, it read, mom can want all the blood she wants. There’s never a war without it, but this time I’m not taking the first step. I’m 19 now and it’s time to start living for myself. So I am. I felt my body get all numb and bit my lip.
She could irritate the heck out of me, but I did like my sister. I liked her very much.