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The soft pattering of rain wakes me from my light slumber. I have grown used to running off of a mere three hours of sleep after an extraneous and restless night. I roll onto my side groggily, yank up my shade, and trudge to the bathroom. My over-sized tee has somehow bundled itself into the rim of my undergarments, exposing my pale, fleshy thighs. I tug at the corner of the fabric hastily before yanking on a pair of faded jeans and retreating downstairs.
The air is crisp as it seeps its way into the open windows, the kitchen illuminated with the welcoming glow of the rising sun. I shield my eyes from the light as I step onto the porch. An array of cigarette butts litters the banister regardless of the empty ash tray resting only a few feet away. I scoop one up and check to see if there is any part left to spare. Trash, I conclude as I flick the waste onto a patch of crabgrass. I scoop up a handful of dandelions from the yard and collapse into the car. My bony hands struggle to successfully place the keys into the ignition. Finally, I take off down the forlorn road at full speed.
My phone rings before I merge onto the highway. I can already assume who it is before even answering. “Hi, Mum.” I mutter into the receiver.
“Are you up?”
“You haven’t forgotten to-”
“I’m on my way now.” I snap with sudden irritation.
There is silence for several heartbeats. “Give her my regards, will you?”
“I will.” I murmur before hanging up and tossing the phone behind me. It lands casually on the backseat. I pray silently that it doesn’t redial.
The sun has risen completely by the time I park along the outskirts of the familiar residence. The area is desolate, all inhabitants basking in a peaceful slumber. I cradle the pile of wilting dandelions in my feeble hands as I march across the freshly mowed grass. The ground is wet with a fresh coating of rain and it squishes playfully beneath my sneakers. I scan my surroundings for several moments before my eyes settle on a familiar silhouette in the distance. I progress towards her home and stand by nervously.
“Hey, Sis.” I choke the words out. It’s hard for me to speak. “I just wanted to come by and check up. See how you were doing.” I peer down at the dandelions, the vibrant yellow now turning a disappointing shade of brown. “I brought you some flowers, since it’s your birthday and all. I would have gotten something a little more special but I sort of ran out of time. I figured you wouldn’t mind though. Mum told me to give you her regards and to tell you she loves you, but you already know that. It’s the same speech every year.”
My eyes fixate on my frayed sneakers. Traces of fresh grass stains coating the edges catch my attention. “Anyway, I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”
It’s as if my surroundings melt away instantaneously, it always seems to happen that way. My fraying sneakers transition into a pair of bunny slippers glued excitedly to the carpet. The moist, crisp air is now replaced with the cozy warmth of a crackling fire close behind me. The room smells of pine and ginger and squeals of enthusiasm reverberate off of the pastel walls.
“Me first, me first!” I chime as I scramble towards the tree.
“Now, wait just a moment. Why don’t you let your sister open her presents first?”
I barely hear her as I collapse onto my hands and knees. I crawl beneath the pine, my behind knocking a red ornament off of the lower branch. It crashes to the floor and rolls a few feet behind me. Anticipation itches at my fingertips as I snatch the closest box. I ogle the nametag to find it isn’t addressed to me. I grab the next one only to discover the same outcome. I repeat this action five or six times before crawling back out beneath the tree and sitting in a huff.
“Where are all of my presents?” I whine.
“I’m sure there’s something under there for you.” My mother says casually before turning to my father. “Roger, grab the camera will you? Make sure to get some good shots. Fran, get a present out for her.”
I watch as my aunt pulls a large box out from beneath the tree and hands it happily to my sister. Her eyes are two bright saucers as she analyzes the colorful wrapping. I watch irritably from my spot on the hearth as my parents flock around her, snapping pictures and cooing as she tears the paper off of the box handful by handful. My aunt kisses her nose as my mother leans over and adjusts her pink cap, pulling it carefully back on top of her shimmering scalp.
“What about me?” I snap. I can feel the tears welling up in my beady eyes. “Hello?”
“Not now, Caroline.” My mother waves me away with one hand while she takes a picture with the other.
I gaze at the pile of untouched presents beneath the tree, all addressed to the same person as sudden adrenaline and heat rushes through my body. I can feel my temperature rising and before I know it I am on my feet. I march over to where my sister is sitting with determination and glare at her before snatching the new doll out of her hands. It’s still in the box, brand new. I sneer at the porcelain figurine before throwing it onto the ground and stomping on it with all of my might.
“Caroline!” My mother shrieks and runs towards me. Her grip is tight on my wrist as she yanks me forward. She grabs my arms and squeezes hard, placing me firmly on the couch in front of her. She leans in closely, her breath hot on my face, and shakes her head at me. “What in God’s name do you think you are doing?!”
“Why does she get everything she wants?!” I whine. Tears begin to stream from my eyes and stain the collar of my nightgown.
“You’re being ridiculous!” She snaps and releases my arms. “If you’re going to be like this then you can go to your room.”
I wait for her to turn her back before getting to my feet. “You love her more than me!” I shout.
“Caroline.” She snaps warningly, just barely turning her head.
I run around her and stand in the doorway where I can be seen by all. “You only love her because she’s sick!”
My mother’s face transitions from flabbergasted to infuriated. “Why would you say such a thing?!”
“It’s true! She gets everything she wants. She gets all of your attention. You said she deserved the attention because she was going to die soon. Well that was three years ago!”
“Caroline!” My mother shrieks with outrage and takes a step towards me. I dodge her advances and march over to where my sister is sitting, now staring wide-eyed and innocently up at me.
I point one pudgy finger in her face. “Why can’t you just die already?!”
She flinches at this action. Her bright blue eyes shimmer with moisture while her bottom lip, white as snow, begins to tremble. She lowers her gaze and fixates on the floor. Finally she struggles to get to her feet and wipes her eyes with her sleeve. “I don’t want to open anymore presents.” She cries before retreating out of the room.
I watch as my father and aunt hurry after her. I remain where I am for several moments, analyzing the fire now fading into embers, before my mother marches over to me and grabs my face with one hand. I stare into her eyes unwillingly.
“How could you say such a thing?” She spat angrily into my face. “What if that was the last thing you ever said to her? How would you feel?! My God, How can you be so selfish, Caroline?”
The familiar room fades away almost as quickly as it appeared. I blink at my sneakers still planted on the grass as a fresh raindrop plummets from the sky and lands on the tip of my nose. I shake my head and clear my throat. “I didn’t mean it, you know.” I begin, but it has already become difficult to speak. I struggle to maintain a steady voice. “I was just so young. I didn’t know. I was so ignorant to the consequences. In my head, nothing bad could happen. I mean, I knew it would happen eventually, but not that night.”
I bend down and place the dandelions on the grass a few inches away from my feet. I back up slightly and stare down at the earth. A salty teardrop escapes from my left eye and lands on the ground below. “I’m sorry, Angela. I love you. I always did, even back then.”
I stand there for a long time as the rain begins to fall heavier. I say my last goodbyes before retreating away from her resting spot. The rain pounds the dandelions deep into the earth as I progress down the isolated patch, giving hope that she will be able to accept my final gift, my final regards.