Today marked the one-year anniversary.
It wasn't easy assuring Sophie that they would make it a good day. The weeklong trip to Miami was supposed to help, but Hollie had been doubtful. Now that their time was almost up, and Sophie's mood progressively dampening, it felt like those worries were confirmed twice over. The whole family had travelled from Maryland—Sophie's mom staying behind because of a business conference she couldn't reschedule—to one of Brandon's favorite spots, and still the fourteen year old had only cracked a genuine smile twice the whole week. Once at the beginning of the week, when they popped in his favorite movie, and another, three days later, when she cooked his favorite meal with her dad. No matter what they tried; no matter how many good laughs they had, it could not soften the blow. Not after only one, short year.
The day before they needed to go back home, Hollie's mother, Jocelyn, and Sophie's father, Alex, stayed at the hotel so Hollie could take Sophie to the beach with Natalia and Deacon. A day for the children, more or less. It had been one of Brandon's favorite places, and where Sophie used to build many a sturdy sand castle with him. It wasn't like Hollie was trying to take his place, but she was still there. She was still her sister, and she would try to do that job to its fullest extent.
The white puffs of clouds crawling through the gray sky were a good indication that it would be a trying day, to say the least. Grand skyscrapers passed quickly outside the window as Deacon drove through town, with Natalia sleeping in the passenger's seat, and Hollie sitting in the back with Sophie. She was thankful her friends had agreed to tag along. Sophie seemed to like them all right. It was possibly because they were in college—out, in Deacon's case—therefore, a peek into the life of a supposedly mature and sophisticated adult. It could also be because Deacon was the closest thing to a scruffy model Sophie had ever come to touching, and Natalia shared similar interests with her. They could both discuss arcade games until the sun came up, but Hollie barely knew which joystick did what.
Scratching sounds broke Hollie from her reverie, forcing her to focus on Sophie's pen dragging along the sketchbook she had brought. Sophie's tiny hazel eyes were focused intently on the zigzag lines, zoned out from the rest of the world. She wasn't drawing Van Gogh exactly, but there was probably an artist out there who would say the scribbles across the page were that of Picasso's standards. Considering some of the stuff Hollie saw in museums, she could see it.
Sophie noticed Hollie peeking, and stuck her tongue out in play. Hollie repeated the gesture, obviously trying to get a much better look now that Sophie had spotted her. The younger girl only tilted the book away from uninvited eyes, cautiously watching Hollie the entire time. So close, and yet, so far. Maybe one day Sophie would be comfortable enough with Hollie to share some of her drawings. Maybe.
A guitar solo filled the car's silence, and Hollie eyed Deacon suspiciously through the rear view mirror, eventually catching his gaze. He put on his best puppy eyes.
"I thought Sophie got to pick the music this trip," Hollie grinned.
"I don't mind," Sophie chimed in, tucking her chestnut hair behind a tiny ear, "I was bored with the other stuff."
"That settles that," Deacon said, the scent of his cheeky smugness wafting through the air. Hollie chuckled, sitting back in her seat and making sure her ponytail full of scarlet red hair didn't come undone. That was one win for Deacon, out of at least twenty-something battles for the week. Seeing as the women outnumbered Deacon and Alex this trip, it wasn't hard for them to pull rank on the two, even if Deacon did go down fighting more often than not.
It was almost two in the afternoon before they finally reached their destination. Parking wasn't easy, but Deacon found the best spot he could. Hollie didn't see many other places, so she didn't have any trouble stamping her approval on the slot. Sophie began packing up her belongings while Hollie took the initiative to shake Natalia awake.
The other girl jumped a little in response, rubbing her eyes when she realized it was Hollie. Her normally warm, brown eyes held faux sadness in them. "Always so violent."
"Just wanted to make sure you were up." Hollie smiled, knowing Natalia wouldn't stay mad at her for too long. If she was even mad at all. Hollie couldn't always tell.
"I'm up, I'm up." Natalia groaned, gathering her infamous purse that challenged Marry Poppins' handbag, and a bright orange towel.
Once the four of them had every beach towel, umbrella, toy, and tote bag dangling from their elbows and armpits, they marched toward the long strip of lukewarm sand. Since it was overcast, there were not as many people to trample over them for a spot, but it was still surprisingly crowded. No sooner than they found a place, and were laying the paraphernalia of beach equipment out, Sophie was rummaging for construction tools to build a castle, her lanky form bending over all the bags.
"Lia, can you help me?" Sophie asked, looking up to gauge the other woman's response. Natalia ran a hand through her short, charcoal colored hair before agreeing to help. It was near impossible to say no to that little teenage face. The two moved a bit closer to the water, leaving Deacon and Hollie to do as they wished.
Hollie turned to face him, noticing how his brownish-blonde hair was already wind-swept from the slight breeze, with eyes a lighter shade than the ocean covered by sunglasses. He removed his dark blue tee, revealing tan skin and bulky muscles that demonstrated the number of sports and hobbies he participated in. An adrenaline junkie to the core, she was surprised he hadn't suggested going surfing, or cliff jumping. Anything that was far more out of Hollie's comfort zone. Lying out seemed so…mild.
"Is this it?" She asked incredulously.
"Not if you don't want it to be," he said, perking up as he showcased a boyish grin. It wasn't hard to guess what she was talking about. "Say the word, and I can go charm a wakeboard off someone."
"No, no this is nice. We'll save the life threatening games for when we get home." There would be plenty of time for him to crash his bike later, where a doctor they knew was readily available.
"Is Lia rubbing off on you?" He chuckled, flipping over to lie on his stomach.
Hollie laughed, copying Deacon's movements. Lia really was the cautious one. Deacon could sometimes wrangle Hollie into giving his pastimes a try, but rarely ever Lia. "No. Just tired."
"Sleep," he advised, looking as if he were about to do the very same.
Hollie groaned. "Go switch places with Lia or something. You're terrible to talk to."
"Oh, that was a hint. Hold on. I can do this," he quickly added, propping himself up onto his elbows. "Okay. Girl talk. Go."
She rolled her eyes, but went with it nonetheless. "It's been three years. Is there a small chance she'll warm up to me? Ever?"
"Sophie needs time. A lot's happened in three years for her."
He was right. Going from one school to another when they moved to New York to live with Hollie and her mom, their parents marrying, Brandon dying. It was a lot for anyone to take in. "I know."
"You're a great big sister, so just tough it out. Your time to shine will come."
It sure didn't feel like she was. "I know."
They both turned to see Lia covering Sophie with handfuls of sand, both girls giggling like little kids. Third smile this week that wasn't plastered on to placate everyone else. It made Hollie's heart ache to think that Sophie couldn't do that with her, or even someone Sophie's own age. Kids in high school were tough. They all wanted to be so grown up. They never enjoyed being silly at the cost of possibly looking uncool. That was one of the many admirable qualities Brandon possessed. He had never been afraid to look ridiculous with Sophie.
The rest of the trip went much the same way as the beginning of it. Sophie talked to Hollie occasionally, but somehow spent more time with Lia in the sand, or with Deacon as he did one of his book puzzles. Sophie always liked helping with the word searches. Hollie would bet it was one of those. She tried not to visibly pout when Lia sat next to her, but the other girl still had to glare some sense into her at times.
It was close to seven in the evening before the wind started to really pick up, and the four thought it best to head back to the hotel. Hollie suggested going out to eat, but Sophie claimed she was too tired. She realized later it would have been a better idea to let Deacon or Lia suggest the idea. Maybe when they got back to Maryland, and into their regular routine, it would be easier to talk to her. Miami only proved to be a constant reminder of Brandon's absence, rather than a tribute to his memory. Hollie regretted ever bringing the idea up in the first place some nights.
The rest of the day was as mundane as it could have been. A feeling of dread drifted throughout the hotel room sometimes when they all realized it was the last day of vacation. Sophie didn't want to go back to school. Alex and her mom didn't know how to help Sophie. Hollie, Natalia, and Deacon didn't want to go back to work, and in Hollie and Natalia's case, school. Even if they had Brandon's memory at the forefront of their minds, it was a break they so desperately needed. It was their time to be a family. A time to get away from their life, expectations, and the fast-paced style of city living.
When the sky darkened outside to pitch black, with only speckles of stars painted across the sky, Deacon managed to convince Natalia, Sophie, and Hollie to sit through an action flick he had been dying to watch. Hollie would have preferred a comedy to lighten up the mood, but she could deal with this. Alex and her mom had retreated to the hotel bar downstairs, so it was just the four of them enjoying the room's solitude. Deacon was too enthralled with the movie to realize that Hollie, Lia, and Sophie were enjoying the chance to pamper themselves. Chip bags and cookie packages were splayed over the covers, an array of nail polishes were scattered across the nightstand, and Lia was taking the liberty to French braid Sophie's hair after the little girl had commented on how neat Hollie's was.
"I almost did my hair like this for my Quinceañera, but my mother insisted that I keep it down. She told me it framed my face better," Natalia told them, crisscrossing Sophie's hair like a professional.
"But it was your Quinceañera," Sophie pointed out, confused. "Why couldn't you do what you wanted?"
"I did. The curls didn't look terrible, so I had no complaints. I only wish Hollie had been there to do my nails."
Sophie's face scrunched up in confusion. "Why?"
"Have you seen the things she can do?" Lia asked. She took a hand away from Sophie's hair long enough to flaunt her painted nails. An orange coating was covered with white, intricate designs that swirled and flowed all over her fingernail. Hollie could have kissed Lia when Sophie faced her with a small smile.
"You did that?" She sounded impressed.
"I get bored at work," Hollie explained. It wasn't uncommon to find her in the back room on a slow day, trying out new color combinations and designs. "I wasn't as good back then, though."
There was a small pause before Sophie spoke up again. "Could you do mine?"
Hollie barely had time to share a look with Lia before she was nodding her head enthusiastically. This was her time to shine. "Absolutely. Is there something special you want?"
Sophie beamed, her head bobbing up and down so fast that Hollie thought it would surely fly off. "Yeah. Hang on, my stuff's in the bathroom." She flew off the bed, her hair long forgotten in her rush to get whatever supplies she wanted.
Hollie felt like she was floating ten feet above the bed. Lia chuckled at the expression she must have worn, but Hollie was too elated to care. This was the moment she had been waiting for. A chance to be a real big sister to Sophie. Her fingers smoothed down her cotton pajama top, anxiously looking for something to busy herself with.
"You can relax," Lia chuckled, "It's not a date."
"What if I splotch it up, or spill polish all over her?" Hollie inhaled deeply, trying to calm her nerves.
"You're too eager. She can smell it on you. Like fear," Deacon whispered, acting as though he were telling a scary story. Hollie sighed at his all too satisfied grin.
"It's important I get this right," she tried, wanting them to understand. "What if I don't get another chance?"
"You will. You're doing fine," Lia comforted. Her full lips spread into a wide grin, like a proud mother would give her daughter on the first day of school. It did feel similar. And they were right. She was putting a lot on this. It shouldn't be a big deal. Hollie's life wasn't tethered around this moment failing or succeeding. It was fine.
There was a loud click by the bathroom, prompting Hollie to peek around the corner. The bathroom door had shut. What was that kid getting? An armada?
"Everything okay in there?" Hollie called.
A moment's silence passed, then the door handle jiggled. "Hollie? It's stuck."
"Well, is it unlocked?"
"Yeah, I'm sure she didn't think of that," Deacon snorted.
Hollie shot him a glare, standing up to see what she could do to help. She tried the doorknob, confirming that it was, in fact, stuck. The heavy wooden door was ruining her sister time. "You would think they'd make spares for this kind of problem."
"It won't unlock," Sophie told her through the closed door.
"Okay, hang on. I'll call mom and—"
"Hollie, there's something on the mirror."
"What do you mean?" Hollie frowned, her eyebrows creasing together. "Is it a bug?"
"No. It looks like it's standing in the tub."
Lia had joined Hollie's side at this point, her arms crossed over her chest. Deacon had turned the television volume down as well. "Very funny, Sophie," Lia added. "Halloween already passed."
"Guys, open the door," Sophie said, her voice more panicked as the doorknob jiggled again. "Please open the door."
Hollie tried to turn the knob harder this time, pushing up against the door to help. Nothing. "Deacon," Hollie called. She tried to rip the knob off, but her grip wasn't tight enough, and she kept slipping. On the other side, Sophie was trying just as hard. There was banging and clanking that echoed through the now quiet hotel room. "Calm down, we're going to get you out!"
"Move," he urged Hollie, stepping in to have a go. He turned the handle much harder than she had, shaking the door along with it. Still nothing.
"It moved," Sophie said, never ceasing her work on the door.
"What's in the bathtub?" Deacon asked. Hollie ran to get her cell phone, unsure of what she could do without getting in the way.
"It's not in the bathtub, it's in the mirror! Get me out, please," the girl pleaded, slamming the door so hard that the thumps resounded to the three outside. Hollie jogged back to them with haste, fear keeping her fingers from dialing her mother's number. Even if she picked up on the first ring, it would take too long to make it upstairs. It was up to them.
"Lia, push with me when I say," Deacon instructed, his hand at the ready on the doorknob. She quickly did as she was told, waiting for his go ahead.
"What if we hurt her?" Lia asked.
"She needs out," he retorted.
"Hollie!" Sophie cried, prompting them into action.
"Push," he said with force, slamming against the door with Lia, and practically yanking the doorknob so it would turn. The door flew open as fast as its weight would allow, letting the three into the now empty bathroom.
As they entered, the mirror began to crack, starting at the top corner, and traveling quickly down like a sheet of ice breaking to pieces. It stopped at the bottom corner, opposite where it started. That was it. Just like that, it stopped. There was no shattering, no broken glass on the countertops. Nothing but a cracked line that ran the length of the entire mirror. They stared in awe, unable to comprehend what was going on, much less what to do other than stand there, frozen.
"Sophie?" Hollie called, looking around the whole bathroom, from the ceiling to the floor, the mirror to the bathtub. The small shampoo bottles had been thrown into the tub, but there was no sign of her. Lia went straight for the shower, while Deacon stood atop the toilet to check for any possible entryway on the ceiling. Hollie couldn't stop looking at the cracked mirror. Sophie had been so focused on it.
"What's this?" Lia asked, bending over the bathtub.
"What's what?" Hollie was still in too much shock to comprehend the seriousness of the situation. Sophie was gone. And they had been in and out of that bathroom all day. Nothing had seemed out of place.
"This." Lia held up a sort of small, near translucent material no bigger than her thumb. It carried a greenish-yellow hue, and seemed solid enough not to go limp as Lia held it. Hollie's finger darted out to touch it, memorizing the leathery texture. It was like nothing she had ever seen. Nothing that should have been in a bathtub, anyway.
"I don't know," she mused, still inspecting it. "Snake skin?"
"That's comforting," Lia deadpanned, dropping it almost instantly. "I thought she saw something in the mirror, not here."
Hollie shrugged. As if she could make sense of this mess.
She turned back to the mirror, looking at herself in the cracked glass. How was she supposed to explain this to her mom and Alex? Not to mention the cops. She couldn't very well report a kidnapping when the girl had, quite literally, vanished into thin air. What a scene that would be. Yes, officer, she thought, my sister spoke of something in the mirror and we think it took her, but we don't know what, who, how, or why. Unfortunately, she had no choice but to dial her mother's cell this time.
Only then did it sink in that Sophie wasn't there. She wasn't hiding or in another room. Hollie didn't know what she was supposed to think of this. It was too strange. It wasn't like losing a kid in the middle of a crowded mall, or on the sidewalk of a busy street. Sophie had been in the bathroom, with no windows or exit point. Was Hollie supposed to cry? Run in circles? Go get every police force in on this? How was she supposed to react? A tear rolled down her cheek as the phone stopped ringing abruptly, and her mother spoke.
"Hey, honey." Her voice was etched with its usual sweetness.
Hollie's bottom lip quivered. "Mom, something happened."
Hey, guys! Hope this beginning was enough of an attention grabber. I'm going to end up revising this a ton of times before it's all over haha. Reviews and constructive criticism are always welcome!