The door slammed with a resounding finality and Tessa wished it would swing back the way it came, sweeping her parents back into the house. Instead, all she saw was her younger sister, staring at her with the clenched face of someone about to cry or whine or throw a tantrum.
“Um, can we talk?” Chloe whispered, hands in the pockets of her oversized “Freshman” hoodie. Her words creeped up Tessa’s arms like chills in the cold.
“Not right now, I’m working on my yearbook page. Let’s do some homework, then we can eat dinner together and chat, okay?” As Chloe nodded, clearly holding back several sentences, Tessa turned around, heading back toward her bedroom. Chloe’s words were now tickling the back of her neck, and Tessa shivered, even though the heater kept the rain’s cold outside.
“Did you not hear what they just said?” Chloe cried, standing in the middle of the hall as if she couldn’t decide whether or not to follow Tessa.
“I heard it. You and mom fought again. It’s really not any of my business.”
“Do you agree with her?”
“She’s our mom.”
“Why do you always say that? You always side with her!” Chloe’s words rushed out of her, as if they were captured sparrows. “You’re such a—”
The lights flickered, causing Tessa to look around in confusion.
“What was that?” she asked, more to herself than to anyone else.
“Hello? Are you even listening to me?” Chloe huffed, arms crossed in front of her.
“Yeah,” Tessa answered, still looking around the room.
“No, you’re not. You never do.”
“Chloe, you know that isn’t true. I really do listen to you. And I was listening. We’ll talk more later. You have to calm down, and I have to do work.” Tessa began walking away once more, hoping that this time she would actually be allowed to make progress.
Tessa could hear Chloe beginning to cry behind her. “I need you. You’re never here for me,” the girl whispered in between deep breaths.
I swear to God, if she throws a fit now… Tessa thought, although the words that came out of her mouth were, “Chloe, I don’t have time for this right now.” Her mouth was an independent creature acting through years of practice and experience.
The lights flickered off and on, then off and on again.
“Chloe! Stop playing with the light—you’re giving me a headache.”
“I’m not doing it! Stop blaming me!”
Lightning flashed, and the lights turned off.
“Uh, I think something broke…”
“I can’t believe you! What did you do?” Tessa began running toward the sound, hoping with all her might that nothing expensive had broken.
“Wait, don’t come this way! There’s broken glass! You’ll get hurt!”
Tessa tried to take deep breaths. In the dark, she could feel the pleats of her skirt against her legs, the brush of her collar against her neck, the heels of her feet pressing into the ground. Her breathing quickened, despite her attempts to slow it down.
“Chloe, I’m going to call mom.”
“Please don’t. She’ll kill me.”
“Chloe, you never take responsibility for what you do! Ever! You can’t keep expecting me to fix your problems for you! I have my own problems to deal with!”
“I…I don’t… I don’t understand,” Chloe whispered.
“What is there to not understand? You broke the vase! I’m not taking the blame!”
“I mean, what problems do you have? You’re perfect. You always have been.”
Although Tessa couldn’t see her, she could hear the calm in Chloe’s voice, so unlike her own. She crossed her arms, feeling alone and uncomfortable in the dark.
“Perfect?” Tessa screamed, as if her louder voice could pierce the darkness and force light back into the room. “If only my life were perfect!”
“Well, maybe it’s not perfect,” Chloe’s voice sounded further away, as if it was moving close to the ground. Tessa heard something scraping against the floor. “But it’s better than mine.”
“You’re so stupid! I’d much rather have your life!”
“Really?” Chloe scoffed, almost as if she pitied her older sister. “I’m a failure. Like, I never get the grades I need. I never make the teams I want. I listen to music instead of making money, and I wear sweaters and leggings in a family of blazers and suits. I don’t fit in.” Tessa expected Chloe’s voice to quiver as it usually did, but it was as placid as the surface of a lake on a cool summer day. All she heard was the sound of something being dumped into the garbage can.
“What are you doing?!”
“Throwing away the glass.”
“In the dark?”
Tessa could not stand how calm and collected her sister was, how unaffected she was by the complete and utter darkness they were engulfed in. “I don’t fit in either! I might be ‘perfect’ but I have no fucking friends! ‘Perfect’ doesn’t get you anywhere! I’m about to graduate, and then I’ll have nothing left. Nobody. No one gives a shit about my life!”
Her words hung in the air. Silence accompanied the darkness. Minutes passed, each one quieter than the next.
“I don’t know what to say.” Chloe’s voice was moving closer.
“Anything. Say anything. I can’t stand how quiet and dark it is.”
“Um, I care about you. I care about your life. You’re my older sister.”
Something touched Tessa’s arm and she jumped.
“Relax, it’s just me,” her sister said, extending her arms to envelop Tessa. Tessa settled into her sister’s arms, almost allowing herself to feel comfortable. Though she tried to relax, the tension refused to dissipate. After a moment, the lights flickered and Tessa sat up with hope.
The lights were blinking on and off, on and off. The two girls did their best to look at each other. The space between them, uncomfortable and lonely, begged for a hug, a smile, something.
“You’re not a failure.”
“You’re not perfect.”
It was neither dark nor light, but in the semi-darkness, the half-light, they could finally see each other.
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