The sound of the alarm is a warm welcome after a restless night and strange dreams, but still I groan, unprepared to face the day. Mondays are bad, but nowhere near as horrible as Tuesdays. I throw my arms over my face when the door opens, shielding my eyes from the light that streams in from the hallway.
“Just checking to make sure you’re up,” Mom whispers nervously, peeking into my room.
“I’m up, but I don’t – ” I start, but she cuts me off.
“Okay, don’t be late.” Then she closes the door, leaving me almost completely alone. The truth is that I’m rarely alone. I rake my hand across my nose, which has started to itch like it always does when something upsets me.
“She doesn’t mean to act that way,” Sage says, in an attempt to reassure me. It doesn’t work.
“Yes, she does. She doesn’t like me. My own mom doesn’t like me.”
“She likes you,” she insists. “She just doesn’t understand you. And you know what they say about the things we don’t understand.” I stare at her and she pauses before she says, drawing out her words, “We fear them.”
“Whatever.” I get up and head to the bathroom, grateful she doesn’t follow me. As the shower heats up, I think about Mom and Sage and my weird life. Or rather, the life everyone else thinks is weird; it’s my normal.
Sage has been around for as long as I can remember. When I was five, my parents called her my imaginary friend. When I was twelve, my parents called a psychiatrist. Now I’m seventeen and they don’t talk about it at all. Whenever possible, they ignore me. It’s easier for them to pretend like I don’t exist than it is to acknowledge their crazy daughter, especially when they have one perfectly lovely, perfectly normal daughter – my twin sister, Poppy.
I let the hot water run until the bathroom is steamy, until my head feels lighter. A banging on the door startles me and I slip, barely catching myself before I plummet to my watery death.
“There better be hot water left for me, Kenna!” Poppy shouts from the other side of the door as I shut off the water. “Kenna!” The banging continues, louder and more insistent.
“There is! I’m done! I’m out! Calm down!” I turn off the water, step out of the shower, and wrap a towel around myself before unlocking the door on her side of the bathroom. She pushes past me and turns the water back on, testing it.
“Is it still warm?” I ask her. She gives me a withering look and stares pointedly at the door. “Uh, okay. Enjoy your shower.” She doesn’t respond. I don’t like to call people names, but sometimes Poppy can be such a bitch.
Sage is lounging on my bed, staring into space. Her eyebrows lift when she sees the expression on my face. “What’s wrong?” She asks.
“Nothing, just Poppy being Poppy.” I say, rifling through my closet, both to distract myself from feelings and to have an excuse to turn away from Sage. Imaginary friends are exhausting – always there, always probing.
“Not in the best of moods this morning, are we?” I shrug. It seems pretty obvious that I’m not in a good mood, but I’m determined not to hash it out. I examine and reject each article of clothing deliberately.
“Oh right, like you’re not just going to wear jeans and chucks.” I shrug again. “Oh, my God! If you want to be alone, you can just say so.” Oh good, she’s picked up that. I turn around to bark some retort, annoyed that she knows me so well, but she’s already gone.
The loneliness creeps in more quickly than anticipated, but I’m too frustrated to hope Sage comes back soon. I throw on my clothes and some make-up, ready to leave the house before I really am late, but then I notice my hair. The cut is great and my wavy hair usually falls well, but my damn bangs never lie exactly right unless I blow-dry them as soon as I step out of the shower. I waste another five minutes wetting and re-drying them and run directly into Poppy when I leave my room.
“Hey!” She shrieks. “Be careful!”
“Sorry,” I mumble, caught off guard like always that she’s my sister. We’re not identical, but we look enough alike that there’s no question we’re twins. Except that Poppy never looks anything less than stellar. Either she’s a witch or she spends all of her free time praying to the mighty Aphrodite because no one’s hair can look that good all of the time without a little bit of magic. And seriously? Does she also watch a thousand YouTube makeup tutorials? Whose cheeks even look that like? I must have been staring for a long time because she turns around.
“I can feel you looking at me. What?” She demands.
“Nothing,” I pause. “Your hair looks great.” It’s a stupid thing to say to a twin who doesn’t usually speak to me so I’m not really surprised when she smirks and merely says, “I know,” but it still stings.
Like I said, Poppy can be a real bitch sometimes.
Together, but still separately, Poppy and I walk into the kitchen. Mom makes fancy breakfasts on Mondays in an attempt to make up for her lack of involvement the rest of the time, but I’d rather pretend it’s because she wants to help us start the week on a happy note – like a normal mom would. I help myself to pancakes, eggs, and bacon and sit down in my usual seat. Beyond the sounds of clicking keyboards and text tones, it’s quiet. We all stare at our respective screens and eat our meals in silence, content to ignore each other.
Every once in a while, between bites of Greek yogurt and sips of caramel latte, Poppy giggles at a text. Dad alternates between grumbling and chuckling as he checks his email, and Mom reads quickly, marking edits and making notes on her tablet, obliterating the hopes and dreams of some young, new author. I’m jobless and friendless, unless you count Sage, which I don’t since she can’t text, so I use the time to read on my iPad. By family bonding standards of the 21st century, we’re practically the Cleavers.
Poppy finishes her drink and stands up, stretching lazily. “I’ll probably be home late tonight, Mom. I’m going out with Kat,” she says by way of explanation.
“Okay, sweetie. Have a good day!” Mom smiles at her and Dad slips her some money with a wink as she saunters out of the kitchen.
“I should probably be going too. I don’t want to be late.” I say, putting my dishes in the sink. Mom waves without looking up and Dad just grunts his goodbye. No one hands me any money or smiles at me before I leave, and my old, familiar friend loneliness settles in.
* * * * *
Driving makes me happy. I can turn the music up as loud as I want to, drowning out all other noises, like the chatter of an imaginary friend who could pop back up at any time, and all depressing thoughts, like the ones of a family who wishes I didn’t exist. Sunny skies and empty roads usually make for a nice drive, but I barely notice, as I’m lost in thought, remembering.
Until just after our eighth birthday, Poppy was my best friend. She took my side when the kids made fun of me for being different and always made sure I was included when she was invited to friend’s houses. Even then, she was the popular, admired, pretty girl. Then, out of nowhere, she got really sick. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. For weeks, she lay in bed out of her mind, delirious from the fever. She spent hours talking to people only she could see. She would clutch my hand, almost rabidly, jabbering about how she knew I understood, asking me never to leave her, fearful of something she wouldn’t say. Sometimes she was hysterical and inconsolable. Other times she seemed calm and rational, but her eyes were dark and empty. Then, as quickly as it had started, the fever broke and she was healed, but she was different. Her entire demeanor changed. When before, she’d been happy and kind, now she was cold and hateful. She stopped talking to me unless she had to, often ignoring me for days at a time. I was devastated. We grew further and further apart, until eventually, we were strangers.
Even when I hate her, I miss my sister.
Someone calls my name and I’m shaken from my reverie. “Kenna!” She’s shouting over the music. “Kenna! Turn it down!” I attempt to ignore her, but she’s insistent. “It’s important!” I lower the volume, choosing not to glance over to the passenger seat where Sage just appeared.
“What? What could possibly be so important that you’re making me turn down my music? It’s T. Swift!” I say, mostly kidding.
“I had a vision.”
“Okay.” I wait, but she’s quiet. “What is it?” Still, she says nothing. “Sage?” Silence. “Are you going to tell me about it or not?”
“It’s Poppy,” she chokes out. “Poppy’s going to die today.”