She fell against her covers and buried her face in her pillows. Never had she been more thankful for being a makeup haterher tears would have made it run down her cheeks. She pulled the elastic out of her hair and let it flow down to her sides, spreading over the pillows like a spider's web. The bruise on her cheek pulsed with pain the more she cried, refusing the company of anyone yet longing for everyone all at once.
Ana tried with all her might to think of a day that could be just as horrible, if not worse, than that week had been. The bullying, the threats, the laughs
the bruised knuckles, the week's worth of Detention, Mitch's temper rising to the point that he actually snapped at her, his best friend's daughter. Her mother scolding her for making a mess in the study room and for mistreating Tippy, despite the animal's attempt in cheering her up. Her best friends, trying to get her out of the house and hang out at the mall, eating icecreamshe had refused them with angry shouts. Her boyfriend, Dominic, who actually had to raise his usual soft voice and yell at her to grow up when she tried starting a fight at the club.
And her little brothers
the only two left on the planet who had the power to make her smile
had given up on her with disappointment and resentment in their eyes. Ana had not realized how far her actions had gone until yesterday, when Sparky cursed her and openly expressed his disgust in the one person he had left to look up to.
"You liar! You big fat liar! You promised me you would always be there for me! You said you'd take care of me! You broke your promise! I hate you! I HATE YOUUUUU!!!"
The refusal that night when she asked to speak to him was like taking a bullet to her chest. Galileo refused to let her in their room because of the way she had acted in front of them. If any child knew the importance of being an elder sibling, it was Leo.
"I may be an only child biologically, but I know my place in a blended family, Ana. And that's being a good role model for my little brother
Something I am disappointed to say you failed to do today."
He had never been more right. While Ana had honestly believed her actions were for the better, she realized that it had only made things worse. She provided a bad example for her little brothers, she had acted like a monster and a scrooge towards Tanya and Victor, and she had embarrassed Dominic on their date. She had refused her guardian's help even when he offered it, and then had him yell at her at the school because she was scaring the younger students. She traumatized Tippy by throwing rocks at himthankfully with bad aimand she had made her parents angry when she disobeyed them.
She had hurt those she cared for even more by fighting with force. All because she thought force would make people realize that her family was good, whether her father was dead or not.
Dad would be proud was what she had thought at the beginning of the week. She was protecting her little brother, like he had wanted. But now, she knew she had gone too far. Her father had always frowned upon violence, and even when he got angry and raised his voice at a co-worker or even his best friend, he returned afterwards and asked for forgiveness.
Had he survived the car accident, he probably would have forgiven the man who had hit him.
He wouldn't be proud of her. In fact, he would be incredibly disappointed.
Years of being a victim to bullying had pushed Ana over the edge, and now she felt as though her whole world was falling apart. She was useless, ugly, disobedient, unoriginal and worthless. The few words she had hoped to never call herself.
Worthless. You are worthless. No one wants you anymore. You're nothing special. You just ruined everything. You broke a promise you made to your brother when he was four. You're a liar and a bully and a worthless piece of junk.
If her family was truly broken, then Anastasia was the one to blame.
She cried until she could no more, which to her estimation had been about an hour. Then, she turned over onto her back while hugging her teddy bear, and stared at the ceiling above. Take a deep breath, that's what her father used to tell her every time she threw a temper tantrum. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and just let it wash away. Crying is good, but if it makes you want to hit something, change tactics. You should never ever hate someone for your actions.
And then she thought. She went over the events of that week, closing her eyes and replaying every step she took, but instead placed herself in her father's shoes. He had borne a dark secret, his mother had told her once, something that she would one day share with Ana and Sparky. Ana could remember how tired and sad her father had been on certain days because of this secret, but how strong he had been to press on. He got mocked now and again for being an inventor, but although he was hurt, he continued to do the things he loved and had even taught himself piano to help calm his nerves. He took the peaceful way out, not the aggressive way.
And he got hit by a truck and was killed.
Shut up, shut up. That has nothing to do with it, Ana. You need to pull yourself together and fight this the right way. What would Dad have done? What would Sparky do?
The thought of her youngest brother brought back the hurtful yet truthful words about her, as well as the things she had said that led to him yelling at her and beating his fists against her chest. He had looked up to her since he could walk, and now she had let him down. And it was unforgivable.
Anna moaned and screwed up her face before sitting up and staring at her reflection in the mirror across the room. She looked like a goth with her hair down and draped around her and her dark clothes and lipstick. Her face even seemed pale and thin, but this could be because she had neglected to eat dinner with her family for an entire week.
A walk. Let's go for a walk. I need to get out of the house and just get some fresh air.
Without attracting any attention, she grabbed her shoes, tied her hair up again and left the house as quietly as she couldno one would bother asking where she was going anyway, but she thought it would be best not to get any questions from her mother.
I just need to be alone for a little while. Away from people
Away from myself.
The walk had lasted a good two hours before Ana had decided to return home. She had forgotten how quiet the outside world was after nine at night. Even Downtown was in slumber in the distance. Raccoons scavenged and owls hooted in the trees. This was their time to rule the world. And peace governed night time.
Or it was supposed to. For despite the quiet and the fresh air, the stars and the full moon, Ana could not yet find this peace that was supposed to be all around her. She was still burdened with the results of her actions as well as the actions themselves. In fact, she had fought with herself during the entire walk about what had been the right and wrong things to do.
Sleep. Perhaps a good night's rest would help her recollect herself. In the morning, she would be calmer and more in control of herself. It was already late as it wasnearing eleven o'clock. She was sure to get in a heated argument with her mother about staying out late on a school night. That would drain her even more, therefore sleep was the only remedy for the time being.
She walked with her hands in her pockets down her street and watched as one house after another turned out the lights for that night. She listened to a family indoors laughing at a late night movie, and wondered if she would ever share that moment with her family again. As she walked up the front steps of her house, she wondered if it really would make a difference if she ended it all. As she reached for the doorknob, she stopped and rethought it: she could still grab the rope in the garage, right?
That's ridiculous, Anastasia, she thought while shaking some sense into her head. You weren't being serious before anyway. So cut it out. She took a deep breath and readied herself for the scolding she would get once indoors, and turned the doorknob.
Her named had been shouted hardly the moment she stepped into the house. However, it was not in the tone she had expected it to be in. Instead of hearing her mother's sharp and domineering voice booming through the house, she heard an anxious plea-like call. The same tone she had used when Shania had called Mitch about Francis' accident.
Ana closed the door behind her and watched as her mother, the same woman who had yelled at her several hours earlier, walk hastily around the corner in her direction. Her step father followed her out of the kitchen. Shania's eyes were rimmed in red, indicating that she had been crying for some time now.
Something was amiss. "What's wrong?" Ana asked, just as Galileo came charging down the stairs with the same anxious look on his face as their parents. Behind him followed Tippy.
Shania placed her hands together as though in prayer. "Have you seen your brother?" she asked in a fast and shaky voice. "Oh God, please tell me you have."
This didn't seem good. Ana slowly shook her head, almost afraid to do so. "Sparky hasn't spoken to me since yesterday," she replied.
Shania broke down almost instantly at these words, making Ana even more worried than before. As Wolf put his arms around the woman and tried to reassure her, Ana felt her heart speed up. "Mom?" she asked.
Shania wiped a few tears away before looking up at her again. "He's gone, Ana," she sobbed. "Sparky's not in his room. We thought that maybe he left to look for you when you went out, but Galileo said that he hadn't seen Sparky since dinner."
Ana widened her eyes in horror. It felt as though someone had landed a fist in her stomach and forced out all the air in her lungs.
"He's never stayed out this late before and I'm scared something has happened to him," Shania cried as tears streamed down her red cheeks. "I don't even remember him leaving the house. He didn't leave a note or a clue or anything. He didn't even take Tippy with him, and he always takes Tippy with him when he wants to go for a walk."
"He never told me where he was going either or if he wanted to go somewhere after supper," Galileo added.
Ana stared at him in horror until her mother let out another heartbreaking sob. She watched as the woman collapsed in her husband's arms, burying her face in his shirt. "Dear God, if anything happened to him I won't forgive myself," she cried. "I can't lose him like I lost Francis. Oh God please don't make me lose him too. Please, please, please!"
Just hearing her fall apart alerted Ana of the severity of the situation. Sparky could be anywhere by now, if he had left nearly three hours earlier than Ana had. Losing the glue that held their family together, losing the last ray of sunshine Ana had in her life, would bring her world to an end. She knew that it was her fault Sparky was gone, and now the only way to fix it was to find him.
She ran up to her mother and held her hands. "We'll go out and search for him right now," she said hastily. "Put on a coat and get in the car with Dad. Leo can take his bike and go to the park with Tippy. I'll go by foot. He might not be far." She held her mother's hands tightly as tears filled her eyes and her chin began to tremble. "We'll find him, Mom. You won't lose him, I promise."
"Then we haven't a moment to lose," Wolf announced as he grabbed his and his wife's coat. "We'll search the neighbourhood and ask the neighbours. If all else fails, we'll call the police."
Ana and Leo dashed out of the house as their father grabbed the car keys. And while the boy ran to the garage with the numbat to get his bike, the seventeen-year-old immediately bolted down the street. Her heart pounded in her ears as she heard her mother shout out her brother's name and pleaded him to come home.
This is all my fault, she thought while wiping her tears away. I just have to make it right.
The neighbourhood had filled with those calls within minutes. As she ran down one street after another, Ana imagined what most people were thinking from inside their houses. If they did not know the spunky thirteen-year-old, then they may have thought that the family was out looking for a pet. Her parents asked neighbours and friends; Galileo went to check at every spot he and Sparky often hung out in. Ana, now running on pure adrenaline, covered more streets than she had expected to, just to find her baby brother.
But by eleven thirty, he was still missing.
Keeping her tears back was more of a struggle now as she breathed like a bull to inhale. Ana knew that it was her fault for certain now. Sparky had been heartbroken when she uttered the words she had the day before, in the backyard. He had encouraged her to be strong and persevere up until that pointwhen the words left her mouth, the innocent little boy she knew to always back her up disappeared, snuffed out like a candle in the wind. The look of horror in his eyes and then the frown that forced itself over his face as hard as it could were the next signs, after his sudden freeze, that told her she had just made a big mistake.
"How can you say that? How can you even say that?" he had yelled. "You never cared, then! You're a big fat, selfish, greedy person! You don't care about anyone but yourself!" When Ana had tried to explain, Sparky only rushed up to her, tears streaming down his cheeks, and began pounding against her chest with his fists. "You're a liar! A big fat liar! You said you would always be there to take care of me! You broke your promise! You broke your promise! You lied to me and I believed you! YOU LIED TO MEEEE!"
Just hearing his voice made her heart break even more. She looked down the dark street and came to realize that it would take forever to find her little brother if she didn't get some help. Sparky was a clever boy. He knew every nook and cranny in the neighbourhood, and if he had to camp out there all night, he would. If he did not want to be found, he wouldn't be. Not even by Galileo or Tippy.
But he loved his mother so much. Sparky had told Galileo once that he was going to protect Shania, now that his father could no longer do so. The older her grew, the more helpful and protective he became of his mother. He could not bear to make her shed a tear. He had always worked hard not to ever see her cry again.
If it took those thought of hers to frighten him away, then Ana just had to find him and bring him home herself. But the more she searched him, the she was losing hope in ever finding him. She let out a quiet sob as she slowed to a stop on the sidewalk. Covering her mouth with the back of her hand, she tried to muffle the sounds that would lead to her breaking down in defeat. I need help, she thought while scanning the area she was in and looking at one house after another. I can't do this on my own anymore. We need more help. But who would be available to help at this time of night?
Her eyes fell upon a little brown house just across the street, something a bunch of college kids would undoubtedly buy while studying. The light in the window was still on in the window, and although the blinds were closed, Ana knew that someone was still awake. She had failed to recognize it when she ran down this street, and now that she knew who's house it was, despite the events from earlier that week, she knew that the one living there would help in a heartbeat.
It was her only chance.
She dashed across the street as though her life depended on it and stumbled up the small steps of the porch and almost ran into the screen door before pressing the doorbell repeatedly. Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding! It sounded like an alarm one would normally wake up to in the morning. "Come on, answer, please," she begged under her breath.
There came a muffled voice or two from within the house before the sound of the door inside could be heard unlocking. Ana pulled herself away from the screen door and watched as the person opened the other.
Dominic did a double take when he saw his girlfriend standing on the other side of the screen, tears streaming down her face. His appearance told her that he was about to relax when she rang the doorbell: his hair was flattened and curled outwards at the ends, clearly indicating that he wore a hat over them on most days, and there was a lack of shoes and even socks on his feet. A friend of his and member of the band the played in came rushing down the stairs behind Dominic to see who was at the door, and he was in nothing but his boxers.
Ana tried to ignore him and stared back at her boyfriend, almost afraid he would refuse her because of how she had embarrassed him earlier that week. Dominic looked on a moment longer in silence before clearing his throat. "Ana?" he said in the usual gentle voice he so often spoke in, despite his appearance of a troublemaker. He opened the screen door to get a better look at the girl. "What's going on? Why are you out here?"
Ana placed her hands together and leaned towards him, her voice finally breaking as she spoke. "Dominic, you need to help me look for Sparky," she cried. "He disappeared after supper and no one knows where he is. He's never done this before and Mom's really scared and Galileo has no idea where he went. It's all my fault." The more she spoke, the more her voice broke. "Please, can you help me find him? I don't know what to do anymore. I'll never forgive myself if something was to happen to him. I'm sorry about earlier this week, but I really need your help. Please Dominic? Mom's so scared and it's all my fault."
Dominic looked on with wide eyes as she spoke, and Ana knew that he had grasped the severity of the situation. She knew he and Sparky had shared a brotherly friendship since Ana introduced them to each other, but even so she still harboured the fear that he would turn her down because of the way she had acted at the club. She waited as patiently as she could, although she knew every second they wasted could mean losing Sparky even more.
Dominic remained in his frozen position for a moment longer before reaching over and holding Ana's face in his hands. Just feeling his warm touch against her cold cheeks made her sob. "We'll help you look for him," he said with a stern voice. "And we won't give up until we find him. The guys and I will take our bikes in order to cover more ground." As his friend on the stairs rushed back up while shouting that they had an emergency, Dominic pushed away some of Ana's tears and hushed her. "You need to take a deep breath, Ana. You know Sparky better than anyone I know, aside from your stepbrother. Try to think of the places he could most likely be in."
"I can't think straight when I panic," Ana squeaked. "I'm so scared
"Then try to think about it when we're out looking for him. If you think clearly, you'll be able to find him. If the guys find him first, we'll give you a call on our cellphones."
Ana let out a sob. "I'm sorry for what happened," she apologized. "I didn't mean to embarrass you, I was just!"
"Forget about it. You were having a really bad week. Let's just focus on finding Sparky."
Ana was still startled that she had managed to get the entire house of college boys out on their motorcycles and dirt bikes to search for her thirteen-year-old brother. Dominic told her they would cover the next neighbourhood and maybe stop at each of Sparky's friends' house to see if they had seen him or heard from him. They would go all the way Downtown if needed. With one last reassurance, the boys took off in different directions and joined the search party.
Ana continued on foot and tried to think about Dominic's words. Despite having the appearance of a troublemaker and punk, Dominic was the sweetest of boys she had ever dated. He had the biggest place in his heart for little kids, despite being the youngest of a giant family of boys, which was why he had gotten along so well with Sparky and Galileo. There were times even, where Dominic would come over to their house not to spend time with Ana but to hang out with the two thirteen-year-olds. He had become part of their family as a big brother, and he cherished that relationship. Which may have been one of the reasons he accepted to help her in the search for Sparky.
The rest of the band was not as familiar with the boys as Dominic was, but they knew when they needed to lend a hand.
Ana decided to walk down the next street this time in order to calm down and clear her thoughts. She did know Sparky better than anyone, despite Galileo coming extremely close. She had helped raise the red-headed boy and helped with his homework when their mother was working. She knew of his fears and his joys. She knew where he liked to hide his stash of Halloween candies. She knew of his insecurities. She knew what gave him hope and strength. She knew where he would go to find comfort when everything else proved hopeless.
A lightbulb lit up in her mind as the answer hit her in the face. Ana raised her head from staring at the cracks in the sidewalk and looked down the path that went through the park she was passing by. On the other side of it was Sparky's last resort. He really hadn't gone far after all. Ana silently cursed herself for not thinking of it at first.
With newfound strength in her aching legs, Ana dashed across the street and hurried through the park as fast as she could go. She pushed her legs harder than she ever had, as though the world depended on her reaching her destination before midnight.
She ran as though she was competing against her demons in a track race.
You write it with your heart
The stars seemed to shine brighter, encouraging her to persevere.
Sign it with your soul
The moon bathed the park in silver light to show her the way.
Seal it with a kiss
When she reached the next street, she hardly even looked both ways before dashing across and running into the churchyard.
And let it go
behind the church.
She ran around the mighty building, despite her fear of being there at night and especially after the things she had done that week. She only stopped when she had reached the edge of the cemetery in the back. The trees hanging over most lots looked like crooked hands waiting, daring the dead to attempt to rise out of their graves so that they could push them back down. The cemetery at night was an eerie place, despite its peacefulness and beauty during the day. The maze of tombstones made Ana hesitate in rushing through, disturbing the dead, and shouting for her brother. So instead she scanned the area with her eyes, in particular a certain lot on top of a little hill.
When her eyes fell upon the one familiar hill, the sunniest place in the entire cemetery during the day, and when she saw two silhouettes sitting on it, Ana did what she could to keep herself from bursting into tears. She made sure not to step on any grave as she dashed through.
She knew that one of the silhouettes was a living person, and she knew who it was most likely going to be.
Her energy finally ran out as she stumbled up the hill that was on any normal day hardly an effort to climb. She breathed heavily and held back her tears as she finally came to a stop behind the boy sitting in front of the grave, holding a tulip in his hands. The moonlight made his hair shimmer like silk. Although it seemed that he had not taken any notice of her arrival, Ana knew he had no doubt heard her come, her breathing like a tired animal.
She waited to catch her breath before finally deciding the time was right to say something. "
Sparky," she croaked, her throat dry.
There was a moment before her brother made any move. He seemed to hesitate, but slowly turned his head around and looked up at his sister. Ana was not surprised to see that he had been cryingfresh tears made his eyes and cheeks glisten in the moonlight. What took her aback was the fact that his eyes had no trace of anger or resentment in them, as they had the day before. It was as if being mad at her at drained him of strengthSparky was never one to hold a grudge for very long. Instead of any sign of anger, she saw pity, pain
Ana tightened her lips together and held back a sob.
Sparky continued to look up at her in silence, his ultramarine blue eyes shimmering like jewels, before finally opening his mouth: "Everyone leaves eventually," he whispered in a voice that let Ana know he had been crying. He turned his head away and started at the tombstone of their deceased father. "Everyone I love eventually goes away. And leaves me alone. Unprotected. Unprepared
and worthless." He leaned over and gently set the tulip down by the tombstone. "Dad did
And now you want to
I guess I should stop relying on people to always be there because
they just won't. It's stupid to hope
when everyone you trust in always dies. Everything's stupid
Ana let her tears fall as he spoke, heartbroken that her brother could think so negatively. He had always looked for the positive in people.
She had not realized how big of an impact her words from the day before had had on him until this moment.
everyone leaves me
Ana could no longer hold it back. She dropped to her knees and crawled up to her little brother. Sparky turned around when she sat down on the grass right behind him and, despite having loathed her existence the day before, placed his arms around her waist without hesitation. While she let out the sob she had been holding back, he buried his face in her shirt and did the same. "I don't want you to leave me, Anastasia," he sobbed. "I don't want to be left all alone again. You promised me you would always be there for me because Dad had to leave. Please don't leave me too
Ana held him tighter than she ever had before and rocked him back and forth before raising her eyes and looking at her father's tombstone. "Sparky, I didn't mean those words I said," she cried. "I was just mad. I was mad about everything. I wouldn't end my life just because of a bunch of people at school. Someone needs to be here to take care of you." She paused in order to let out another sob before continuing. "I'm never gonna leave you, Sparky. I'm sorry if I scared you with what I said. I don't like to scare you like that. I shouldn't have said the things I said in front of you and Leo. I love you guys so much. I don't intend on leaving you or him any time soon."
Sparky squeaked through tears. "Promise?" he cried. "Promise you'll stay with me Ana. I don't think you're worthless. Promise you'll stay."
"I promise Sparky
They stayed there, arms locked around each other as if for protection. In a final attempt to redeem herself, Ana quietly sang to her brother, reassuring him that she would never break another promise.
Light up, light up
As if you have a choice
Even if you cannot hear my voice
I'll be right beside you dear
And we'll run for our lives
I can hardly speak, I understand
Why you can't raise your voice to say
She pretended to ignore the sound of a motorcycle coming to a stop at the edge of the street nearby. Nothing but her little brother mattered at that moment.
Dominic would wait patiently for them to finish before taking them home.