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Girlwoodby Claire Dean
The first and last kiss Polly received from her sister was as contrary as Bree herself. Lightweight but intense, a kiss that was supposed to impart some deep meaning but offer zero affection, a kiss that was retracted nearly before it began. It was past midnight, and Polly was not only too tired to open her eyes, she was so sick of her stoned, skeletal, sixteen-year-old sister that she didnt even acknowledge Bree was there.
It was just like Bree to ruin Pollys favorite hour, the only time she had left to swim with mermaids or imagine herself flying without Bree asking her if she was having some kind of fit. Polly kept her eyes shut tight and pictured a magical woodland creature instead of her sister, the flutter of a fairys kiss instead of Brees.
She stuck to this vision, even when the fairy didnt smell like cedar or honeysuckle but like an unwashed teenager and marijuana smoke. The kiss was even more far-fetched than fairies, if you asked Polly. It had been months since Bree had entered Pollys room except to steal cash. In fact, Polly couldnt remember the last time her sister had said anything to her aside from Shut up” or Freak” or, when Polly had caught her snorting up a line of white powder, If you tell Mom, Ill kill you.”
*** Not too long ago, things had been different. Bree had been the pretty, pampered, delicate one, the blond-haired, blue-eyed doll, and Polly her younger, tougher, dirtier accomplice. The four-year age difference hadnt seemed so important then, since they both liked to draw and dance and, mostly, play in the woods behind their house. Beneath the solemn pines and flashy cottonwoods, Bree crowned herself princess of the green kingdom and made Polly her woodland fairy—the one who must constantly be on guard to save her sister from dragons, trolls, and other assorted dangers. Polly never minded. She was strong, and Bree was beautiful. They each had their place.
But then Bree turned sixteen, and declared such games pathetic. The new Evil Bree stopped talking to Polly entirely and hid like a mole in her dark bedroom, coming out only when their mom confronted her with the pills shed found in her coat pocket or when Aaron Sykes showed up. Bree braved daylight for her boyfriend, maybe because Aaron Sykes brought a cloud with him everywhere he went. He wore all black and had a halo of darkness around his head that stretched even farther, a bleakness that gave Polly the creeps. He mumbled and smelled funny, and Pollys parents said they didnt trust him, which instantly made Bree love him more.
As soon as she started dating him, Bree began to dress like Aaron, hold her cigarette between her thumb and forefinger the way he did, sample his favorite drugs. It took no time at all to complete her transformation from girl to Aarons shadow, as if love wasnt measured in goodness and devotion but in how much youd give up for a person, how far youd sink.
*** At least the bottom came quickly. Three months after they started going out, Aaron dumped Bree for another girl-shadow, and Bree came home in tears. Trembling, inconsolable, Bree became the princess in need of saving again, except that now Polly couldnt help her anymore, and she didnt want to. They might have been sisters, but Bree had made it clear they were going it alone.
Pollys mother said, Thank God,” but in truth after the breakup things only got worse. Bree may have lost the boyfriend but she kept his bad habits. She still wore black, ditched school, took even riskier drugs, like she was really proving her love now, disintegrating over someone who didnt even want her. Evil Bree was still pretty as a doll, but the horror-film kind—an inanimate object that comes to life for the sole purpose of destroying everything.
Now the mattress hardly budged as Bree sat on the bed. After Aaron, she had started losing weight. Down, down, down, like Alice through the rabbit hole, until she was a hundred pounds, starting to grow fur like an animal fighting to keep warm, and suddenly popular. Her phone rang day and night; even thugs like Brad Meyer called to ask her out. Now that Bree was bent on destroying herself, she was apparently a girl worth getting to know.
Polly peeked out through half-closed lids when the fairy began to cry. Bree clasped a handful of dandelion stems, their puffy white seeds long gone now that fall had come on. Maybe shed listened to their grandmother after all and knew that instead of banishing dandelions from the lawn, you could eat the delicious young leaves or cure almost anything with the milky juice in the root.
Polly said nothing. There were no words left except cruel ones, and Polly had said all of those.
Polly?” the fairy said once more. You know when you love someone, you think theyll never hurt you? Its not true, Polly. When Aarooooon left me, I wished Id died.”
Polly squeezed her eyes shut again. She wished she could shut her ears, too. She didnt want to hear this. Didnt Bree get that? It was like Bree kept dragging her onto a roller coaster she wasnt tall enough to ride.
Think of fairies, Polly thought. Imagine the one on the bed flying away.
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