Noelle doesn’t have a proper funeral. How could she? What was left? But her mother does hold a small wake in the church. There are flowers, organ music, her senior portrait. The pastor who administers the sermon is young and earnest. Five months ago they’d giggled as he walked past them.
“Hot or not?” Sera asked.
“Hot and off limits.” Noelle said, eyes on Sera, bumping her shoulder.
Now Sera sits in that same row wearing her only black dress, cradling Noelle’s lighter. Mark, Noelle’s older brother, sits beside her and clenches his hands into fists so he doesn’t cry.
“She would have hated every moment of this,” he tells Sera. She nods. Then, “Are you going to be okay?”
Sera attempts a smile. “Sure. Why not? This was her plan.”
“Grab me that apple.”
Noelle is ten with hair like a waterfall of black silk, eyes too big and too green for her pointed face. She points up at an apple near the top branches. A few rows down, Sera can see her parents and brothers picking at the low hanging apples. Paying little attention to her and Noelle.
“You’re the better climber,” Sera says, picking at a scab on her elbow.
Noelle tilts her head down, narrows her eyes, purses her lips. If only her forked tongue would come out and she could slither about the trunks. “Please,” she says, her voice like honeyed caramel.
In the end, of course, Sera is up on the branch grabbing for the apple with bruised fingers. Below Noelle sits curled at the trunk, her red dress stark against the green. She’s only distracted for one moment. But it’s enough. Her fingers wraps around the apple and her weight tips forward.
The impact isn’t the worst part; it’s the falling. The twigs scratch at her arms like clawing talons, grasping for her. When she hits there’s a faint pop and then nothing. Pain crouches in her mind, a tiger.
Noelle’s face looms over her. “You’ve broken your leg,” she tells Sera, quite clinical. “It’s gone through the skin.”
In a move she will later regret, Sera looks down at her leg, sees the jagged edge of white bone through her jeans. She tilts away from Noelle and loses her lunch in the grass. “Quite dramatic,” Noelle says, bored.
“I’m bleeding,” Sera says. She whimpers. “My mom.”
“And crying. Your mom’s coming. I see her.”
Noelle hovers a hand over Sera’s wound like a hummingbird over nectar.
“You would cry,” Sera says, “if this happened to you.”
“No. I wouldn’t.” Noelle leans close and kisses her forehead. “But I will cry for you, little Sera.”
When they are fourteen, Noelle comes through Sera’s window at midnight and shakes her awake. “Let’s go swimming,” she says.
Noelle tilts her head back and smiles, baring teeth as white and sharp as wolf fangs. “Of course. When better?”
They hit the water twenty minutes later. Noelle grabs her arm with spindly fingers and pulls her out into deep water, then dunks her. Sera is under water long enough to feel her lungs burn, and then she is pulled up to the sound of laughter.
“Jerk!” Sera gasps out, trying to catch her breath.
“I kissed Harry tonight,” Noelle says. “After the movies.”
“And?” Sera swims just out of Noelle’s reach.
“He likes me.”
“Everyone likes you, Noelle.”
“You don’t.” Noelle’s hair bleeds into the dark water.
“I love you.”
“And hate me.” Noelle swims to her, graceful with those long limbs.
Noelle’s lips are very red when she pecks Sera on the lips. “When we’re old enough we should just leave. Get far away from our parents. From here.”
A week before Noelle dies she slips across the aisle during student assembly and sits next to Sera. “Project NYU is a go,” she says.
“I thought your mom wanted you to go to Stanford?”
Noelle has snuck an apple into assembly. She fiddles with the stem and runs her fingers over the rubbery skin.
“Who cares what she wants.”
Sera looks at Noelle’s smirking face and has to breathe through her clenched teeth. She looks at her and can tumble down the recesses of her memories. Remember Noelle crying at her father’s funeral. Punching the bullies who stole Sera’s glasses. Signing her cast with a tree. Her Noelle and yet not.
“They’ll freak when you tell them.”
“So.” Noelle tips her head against Sera’s shoulder. “We’ll be close.”
“NYU or not, we will.”
Noelle slips her hand into Sera’s, rubs a thumb over her pulse. “I’m nothing without you, Sera.
Mark drives Sera home after the wake. He’s three years older than Noelle with the same black hair but with dark, beetle eyes. He was only close to Noelle when he could understand her. Which wasn’t often.
Mark asks her where she’s going for college.
“To Rhode Island,” she says.
“Kind of far,” he says with a whistle.
“That is the point,” Sera says. “Noelle was going to NYU.”
Mark laughs. “Not on our mother’s watch.”
Sera closes her eyes; sees Noelle with her lighter. Flickering on and off. Imagines her sitting in her room, then under their apple tree. Flickering the lighter on, off. Her mother crying. Her NYU acceptance letter, burnt in her pocket.
The night before Noelle dies:
“Your scar looks like a leaf.” A gentle finger tracing the white mark; the memory of blood.
“All your fault.”
“Mine. Oh, little Sera, I only asked you to fetch me the apple. Did you ever ask yourself why?”
In August she moves to Rhode Island. A picture of Noelle sits on her desk. Ten years old, red dress, unforgettable eyes. They are close.
Caitlin Farella lives in Chicago, IL with her cat. A perpetual student and a lover of books, she is currently getting her MFA in Writing.
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