It's been awful weird since my sister Stella died. She was the oldest of us, my brother and my sister and me, I mean. My mama and daddy were older than her, of course- real old, like forty. And Stella was seventeen. That's old too, but not that old. It seems real old to me though 'cause I'm only seven. My sister Fern ain't much older than me, she's only ten, but she tries to act real big and grown-up and calls me a baby and stuff on account of she's almost a teenager and all. And she won't play with me when my friends or her friends are around, and she ignores me in school because she don't want people to know I'm her sister. But know what? Fern still plays Barbies with me, when we're home and there ain't no one watching. She says, "I'll make you sorry if you ever tell anyone, Susan Verrill," and her eyes get real mean, so I don't. I like it when she plays Barbies with me, even though she always gets the best ones and she makes me do what she wants.

My brother Trevor don't be bossy to me like Fern. He don't pay much attention to me at all actually it's like I ain't there, almost, to him. He's fifteen and a boy though, so I don't much care. I don't like boys too much- not even Daddy, sometimes.

I liked Stella though. Stella was real pretty, and I always kinda hoped I'd look just like her one day, even though my hair is red instead of brown and I got freckles and all, and Stella didn't. I told that to Fern one day and she just goes, "You ain't never gonna look like Stella, Susie, you're not pretty enough!" real mean-like.

So I got real mad and I hollered at her to shut up, because she wasn't either- she has brown hair but it ain't as dark as Stella's was, and her hair is straggly and her teeth are crooked. So there, I told her. Plus, I told her not to call me Susie, because it's a baby name. And she just stuck out her tongue and said, "Susie Floozy!" And I was mad even though I didn't know what floozy meant. It must be bad though, because she wouldn't tell me when I asked.

Stella wasn't never mean to me like Fern. She didn't make mean faces- well, except the time I was playing with her makeup and spilled it all over her dresser. She'd let me watch her put on her makeup, and sometimes she even put nail polish on me or fixed my hair. She called me Susie like Fern, but she didn't mean it mean, so I didn't care much.

Anyway, like I said, it's real weird since Stella died. She drowned- and that's kinda funny, 'cause she could swim real good. I don't know how she drowned- see, we live about twenty minutes from town, kinda in the country, I guess. We don't live on a farm, but our neighbors down the street do- they have horses and cows and pigs and sometimes I even get to pet them. Our house is in a field and a little ways from it is a pond. So we got to swim a lot, us kids, I mean. And Stella and Trevor were real good swimmers- Stella could do handstands and flips, and she could always hold her breath a real long time underwater. All I can do is doggy paddle. Fern makes fun of me, but she ain't a great swimmer either.

But Stella was- Stella was a real good swimmer. And she didn't ever go swimming alone at night before either, without even telling Mama or Daddy. So I don't get it, how it happened.

When we got up the next morning, none of us even knew where she was. Stella and Trevor have their own rooms- me and Fern have to share because we're girls and the youngest. And usually Stella was already up by the time we were, but when we went into the kitchen, she wasn't there. I saw Daddy in the living room- he was sleeping on the couch like he does usually after he's been drinking beer. I don't know why he likes it so much- I tried it once and it was real gross. And it don't seem like he likes it much either 'cause he always gets mad real easy after he drinks it. His face gets real red, and sometimes he yells at us all the words I'm not supposed to say. It's kind of scary- I don't like Daddy very much when he's like that. He likes to give spankings more too when he drinks that nasty beer, and I hate that- even when it ain't me, when it's Fern or Trevor or Stella. It just scares me.

Anyway, Daddy was sleeping, and Mama was in the kitchen, but I didn't see Stella. And I knew she wasn't in the bathroom neither 'cause when I tried to go in, Trevor yelled, "Go away, I'm trying to-" and he said some bad words. I would've told Mama, but when I went in the kitchen I forgot, 'cause Stella wasn't there. So then Fern went to go look in her room, but she wasn't there neither.

When she told Mama, Mama got kinda worried, and she woke up Daddy. Daddy wasn't too happy- his eyes were all squinty, and his voice was rough-sounding.

"What the devil-"

"Get up, Liam," said my mama, "Stella's missing, so get your drunk self up and help me look for her."

And Mama was real worried, I could tell- her lips were all tight-looking. Plus she never woke my daddy up when he was sleeping.

And Daddy sat up all confused, his eyes all red.

"What- Stella what? Rachel-"

That's my mama's name. And mama just told him to get up again, and she left him, left me and Fern in the kitchen. And after a while Daddy got up too, real slow and shuffly-like, and he went outside after her.

I heard my mama scream when she found Stella, even though the pond wasn't too close to my house. I got real scared, so scared I couldn't even move, and I think Fern did too, because she didn't neither. My mama kept screaming and screaming…

And my daddy, he was yelling, "What, Rachel, what, what the-" and he said some more bad words. Then Trevor came running past us in the kitchen with his hair all wet, and he went outside too. And Mama was still screaming…

Trevor came back in after a while and told us to stay in the kitchen, not to go outside. And he called 911. I thought 911 was just for a person alive, but I guess not, because Stella was dead. And then Trevor told me and Fern that, that Stella was dead. And Fern started to cry. But I didn't. I wanted to know how, I wanted to know what happened.

"She drowned, Susan," Trevor said, and his voice was real slow and funny-sounding.

"But how?" I asked. "How? How come she was swimming? She can swim real good!"

And then Trevor went and used this weird word, this word I didn't understand. He said, "I think it was suicide…"

And then the started to cry. He was trying not to, he wasn't making no noise, but I saw the tears, even though he tried to look away. And then I got real scared. I ain't never seen Trevor cry, not never. Well, except one time when he jumped off the loft of the neighbor's barn and missed the haystack. He broke his shoulder real bad. Daddy said he was lucky it wasn't his legs or his neck. He also said he would've beat him if he weren't already hurt.

So when I saw Trevor crying, I started to cry too. But it wasn't 'cause I was sad- it was 'cause I was scared. I never knowed no dead person before- and now my sister was a dead person.

She'd been real nice to me last night too. She's brushed my hair for me- Fern's hair too. Then she read a story to us, even though Fern said she was too old for it. Fern thinks she's too old for everything now- Mama says she's too big for her britches. And Stella even gave us a hug good night. I thought she seemed kinda quiet but I didn't think much of it- I just went to sleep. I guess she decided to go swimming right after that. But I don't know why. It was real dark and cold. Why would she want to do that?

The 911 people came then and took Stella away, and then my aunt Shelly came over a while and was hugging on all of us and crying. And after a few days we had a funeral, and the preacher talked about how nice and pretty Stella was and said a lot of stuff from the Bible. Everyone gave us a lot of food, but no one except me even wanted to eat any. Fern said I was bad to want it, but I didn't see how- I was hungry, and it was perfectly good food. Mama always said we shouldn't waste food.

Mama ain't saying much of anything now though. She don't talk too much, and when I talk to her she don't really listen to what I'm saying. She don't cook or clean neither, and Trevor drives me and Fern to school now even though he ain't got his real license yet. She just kind of sits. And sometimes she cries. I try to cheer her up, hug her and tell her I love her and all, but she don't listen.

I don't get it. I mean, I miss Stella, but Mama always told me if someone who was good died, you ought to be happy because they get to go to Heaven. And she always said how good Heaven is, much better than here. And Stella was good, so she should be in Heaven. But Mama don't seem to remember what she told me.

So I reminded her. But all she said was, "Oh Susan," and she started to cry.

Fern cries a lot too now, and she don't make fun of me no more or boss me around. And Trevor don't hardly talk neither- he's always up in his room, and he don't come out except for school and eating.

Daddy still drinks a lot of that nasty beer too. Now he don't get mad though after he drinks it- he gets sad. He even cries, and he says a lot of stuff real pitiful about Stella. One time I even thought I heard him say that word Trevor had- suicide. I don't know for sure, 'cause his voice was all blurry, but it sounded like it.

And still nobody won't tell me what that word means. The thing is though, I'm scared to ask, 'cause I don't think I'll like it.

Sometimes I think Mama was wrong, that maybe Heaven ain't so great, or why else would we be so sad? But I want it to be real nice, 'cause Stella's up there.

Sometimes I think it would be best if all of us just went on up to Heaven with Stella, so we could all be happy… maybe God made a mistake, maybe he really meant for all of us to go to Heaven. So sometimes I close my eyes real tight, and I ask him if he could please take me and mama and daddy and Trevor and Fern to Heaven too…