The Red Balloon

"Adriana, this is gonna be so fun!"

I rolled my eyes as my seven-year old little sister dragged me along. She had been waiting all year for the annual carnival, and Mom had assigned me to watch her. Both my parents were busy working, and I had planned to go hang out with my friends today. We were going to talk about our outfits for the Winter Carnival Dance. But Mary got first priority, and Mom didn't want her to be alone. So she made me cancel my plans with my friends. I was still in a bad mood about it.

Mary, apparently oblivious to my anger, skipped along, gasping and pointing at the various rides. Sure it was her first time, but her reactions were still stupid, at least to me.

"Oh look! A clown with balloons! Oh Adriana, can I please get one?" she begged, turning to me.

"You're capable of getting one!" I said. She scowled at my correction of her grammar, and asked again, this time using 'May I please get one'.

"Whatever." I said. I handed her some money and she skipped over to the clown, yellow sundress flapping in the breeze. I watched her buy a blue balloon, but then the clown handed her a red one as well.

"The clown said that the red one was for you." She said, skipping over back to me. She shoved the red balloon into my hand, and my temper climbed a few notches. I scowled at the clown, but he had already turned his back to me. Mary tugged on my hand, begging me to go on some rides with her.

I felt awkward, a tall fifteen - year old that was already in high school, being dragged around by a second grader. I would hold onto her balloon when I refused to go on rides with her, which was often. I was slowly getting angrier at each request she made, because that meant more time for her and less time for me. Besides, I never wanted to come here in the first place.

I looked up when she came over, that look in her eye, the look that indicated a request. That was the last straw.

"Adriana, I want…" she began.

Something inside me snapped. "No." I said, visibly trying to restrain my anger. "Mary, you can only do one more thing because I'm in charge and I say we're going home soon. I don't want to ride the baby rides. I don't want to hold stupid balloons. I wanted to hang out and gossip with my friends today, not cart a little kid around this crazy zoo and look like an idiot with my baby sister!" I was visibly shaking from the effort not to scream. My voice had become very loud, and I ignored the people that were staring at us.

Mary's lower lip trembled, and before I could stop her, she snatched her balloon from me and dashed into the crowd as fast as her legs could carry her.

Now I felt humiliated and like a jerk. I scowled at the nearest group of staring people, who went immediately about their business.

I sat down on a low wall that surrounded a fountain near the center of the carnival. My red balloon drifted into my line of vision, partially blocking my view of the hustle and bustle. I wondered how on earth I was going to explain this to my mother. I was sure that saying that I didn't know why she ran wasn't going to pass as an excuse.

I gloomily stared at the balloon. I could see the reflections of the passersby behind me on the balloon's surface. Their images were dark against the white reflection of the sky, and their images slowly became distorted against the red surface. Soon the images became a dark blur, and all sound seemed to fade away.

As I watched, I could see the faint outline of a small person. The person was sitting scrunched in a corner, shoulders shaking. The background was becoming more visible, and I recognized the corner of Mary's bedroom where she kept all her shabby stuffed animals. The person was Mary, and she was clutching her favorite stuffed animal, a small yellow fish. There was a calendar by her side, and I saw that the circled date was my birthday, and the year indicated that is was my sixteenth birthday. Sniffling, Mary shuffled into a more comfortable position, staring sadly at the floor. An unopened birthday card lay nearby, slightly torn.

I realized that my relationship with Mary was as fractured as the card. I was so wrapped up in my problems and my social life; I was blind to the fact that Mary idolized me. Over the last two years, she had grown to love me, yet I had never noticed because she was always the annoying little sister. The fact that I even bothered to come to the carnival with her must have meant a lot to her.

I now felt guilty about yelling at her. I felt guilty about being negative the entire time. Somehow, I had to make it up to her.

Something wet hit my nose, jerking me out of my trance and making me look up. Clouds had gathered in at least the last hour, and it was now starting to rain. I jumped up, pulled on my sweatshirt, and looked around. People were running to get out of the rain, and I couldn't see through the crowds.

"Mary!" I yelled, searching frantically. Thunder cracked above, and I groaned. Mary was scared to death of thunderstorms. A gust of wind then knocked my balloon out of my hands, and it soared into the dark sky.

"Great." I muttered, and then began looking again. I ran through the crowds, looking. My red balloon floated not too far ahead, string dangling to its full length, looking like a Native American guide in the dark terrain.

"Adriana!"

Beyond the balloon string I could see her. She was cowering under a tree, yellow dress now a faded gold from the rain. She was shaking in terror, her earlier sadness apparently forgotten.

As soon as we made eye contact, she dashed over and held me tight. We stood there in the middle of the street, getting soaked to our bones, but oblivious to the world around us. It felt as if the rain was cleansing us.

"You lost your balloon." She said, finally noticing.

I shook my head. "It's just a balloon. It can be replaced." I looked at her, straight in the eye. "But I can never replace a little sister. I'm sorry."

She accepted my apology with a tight hug. There is something about a hug between siblings. There is a feeling of connection, warmth, and love that you can't feel anywhere else, or with anyone else. There is a sense of security and innocence that can't be found anywhere else. All I knew was that I found my closest and truest friend.

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