I searched my sister’s eyes for something, any response to the question I just asked.
“Annika, what do you want for dinner?” Repeating myself didn’t work; the tiny purple Chomby was still staring at the wall behind me.
“She hasn’t said a word for a month, Brian,” my owner yelled to me. “Why do you keep expecting her to answer?” Mom dropped two omelettes in my lap. As she bustled by, I noticed her skirt and heels.
Placing the omelettes on a plate, I hurried after her. Running past ornate chairs and the dining room table, I turned out the door and up the flight of stairs that curved around the hanging chandelier. “Where are you going this time?”
“Brian,” she sighed when I reached her bedroom, “I don’t have time to tell you. It’s an event. Just like every other event. Hand me my earrings.” I picked up the dangly earrings she had pointed too on her dresser and brought them to the mirror next to her bed. “It will be fabulous. I’ll be there. Glittering.” She glided down the stairs. “Surrounded by all the affluent owners in Neopia.” She glanced at herself in the hallway mirror. “I’ll get a business deal out of it. A good one.” She opened the door. “And I’ll be back in a week. Maybe.” A twirl. And the door slammed.
I pushed my feathers back in place and strode with my long Lenny legs back to the dining room. Sitting down next to my sister, I picked up the plate and handed her an omelette. Her gaze shifted away from the wall and she began to eat the omelette slowly, staring at it intensely as if it was talking to her.
“Annika, she’ll be gone for a while.” She picked up the omelette with purple paws and took two small bites. I stared around the dining room. It was clearly owned by a rich family. There was a white lace tablecloth, twelve chairs, and bay windows on two walls. With all this luxury, we weren’t even sitting at the table; Annika had pushed her chair into a corner and held her plate in her lap. I sat in my chair at the table. I was across the room, but I faced Annika, almost.
“And it comes at the worst time because I’ve got to spend three days in Maraqua shooting my next Neovision film: Brian Grady in Agent Lenny and the Faerie’s Necklace.” The Agent Lenny series were the movies I had been starring in for the last six years, since I was ten.
Annika’s omelette, which she had been eating steadily, slowly dropped from her paws and she looked straight into my eyes. After a moment she lowered her gaze back to her omelette.
Why won’t she talk to me? ~*~
I know if I open my mouth, the only thing that will come out is a scream. So I just leave it shut like I have for the last month.
When I walked into her room later, she was reading a picture book. She was six and could read most of the words by now. She sat on the neatly made bed. On the wall next to the bed was a shelf lined with plushies. Also in the room was a large toy chest; when Mom or I left, we usually came back with a toy for Annika to show our love. The chest was almost full despite its large size. Annika used to play with the toys, but when she stopped talking, she stopped playing with them. They sat, never touched, in the toy chest. Next to the chest was a desk and chair for school work when she started Neoschool this fall.
I pulled out our Neopoly game out of the toy chest and started setting it up. Annika looked at me, surprised. It was the first emotion I had seen from her all day. She clambered over her bed and walked to the board.
As we played, I filled the silence with anecdotes from my filming of the Agent Lenny movies. “Ah, I landed on Shenkuu. I filmed a scene in the Shenkuu Palace where all the set pieces kept falling over. It was a mess.” As I talked, Annika rolled a two and landed on Roo Island and had to pay me two hundred and thirty Neopoints to stay there.
Eventually I ran out of chatter and I just let the silence fill the room.
I traveled past start and collected two thousand Neopoints and slid them into my pile of money.
“Annika, why don’t you talk anymore?”
She took her turn but wouldn’t meet my gaze.
“Someday it’s going to be in all the tabloids that Brian Grady’s, The Famous Brian Grady’s little sister is mentally incompetent, and I don’t want those rumors because they make me look bad. And they’re not true.”
I took my turn and landed on my own property. Annika took her turn and landed on the blue Faerieland which had a castle on it. It was the most expensive property. I took her last Neopoints. I slapped the money down on my large stack and as I walked out the door I said, “Annika, we can’t help you. You have to fix yourself.”
As Brian’s footsteps traveled away, I looked up at the Chomby plushie above my bed. It was just like me and was my favorite toy. It had been given to me the day I was created. I left the Neopoly board on the ground to go to my plushie. I had to stand on my tippy-toes on the bed to reach it and pull it down from the shelf. My hand ran across its head down its long curving neck and tail. That was the thing I liked most about Chombies; they looked like a slide. I traced my paw down the small, purple plushie again. But it wasn’t just species, color and size we had in common. This plushie was strong, silent and alone. At one point it had been my idol; now it was my reality.
In the corner of the set, I sat in a chair having my makeup done. In front of me was a mirror and lights showing me the fake scars on my face and Naomi drawing a fresh cut from the last scene on my arm. Naomi and I had been talking in this corner while the other actors got ready in their individual chairs and directors stomped around looking for things to correct.
“Brian, Brian, enough chatter about yourself. How is your mother? How is your sister?” Naomi asked. She was an absolutely delightful yellow Kyrii with a shock of orange hair wound in to tight curls.
“My mother is gone again,” I said.
“She always is,” interjected Naomi.
“And my sister still hasn’t said a word.”
There was a pause.
“Brian, you trust me, right?” Naomi asked. I nodded. “Good. Then hopefully you’ll take my advice. Sometimes what people hide the deepest, is what needs to be found the most.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“You have to think about it. You have to think about her.” ~*~
When I came back from shooting my scene in Maraqua, Annika was home alone. There was no way to tell if Mom had come back and left again or if she had ever come back at all.
I peaked into Annika’s room to make sure she was still there, and then I went for a good night’s sleep in my own bed.
But I couldn’t sleep. What did Naomi mean? I had to find what Annika was hiding. That was impossible. ~*~
“Annika, what are you hiding?” I had decided to go for the straightforward approach and this is what had let me finally fall asleep last night.
There was no response. It wasn’t as if I really expected one. We were in the living room. She may have been in there all morning, but I had just come downstairs.
“Did something happen? When you were home alone? Oh, you’re so small; did someone try to attack you? Or when you were out on a walk? Oh, Annika, take me to the place where it happened.”
I waited, ready to follow wherever she led. But the Chomby didn’t move.
“Annika, I know you’re not mute; the doctor said he came and your vocal chords are fine. Mom and I weren’t home then, but the doctor said they were fine.
“Annika, I’m just trying to think through everything.” I rattled off a few more ideas, but there was no response.
I sighed and sat down on the couch facing Annika, my long legs crossed. This made her look up from her hands, into my eyes. I didn’t have any other ideas, so I didn’t say anything. The silence wasn’t all that bad. And now we looked as if we were trying futilely to impersonate a mirror. We both wore expressionless expressions as we sat cross-legged on the bed gazing into the other’s eyes. It was just the varied species and colors and sizes that made this impression a failure.
We sat in the silence for a long time. It slowly dawned on me as I sat there that this silence was part of my sister’s personality, and that it wasn’t for me to change who she was just to avoid a bad article in the tabloids.
So I told her so. As I did, her stony expression wavered a bit. I was pleasantly surprised by this reaction. What else about her personality could I accept? I figured that if the last one almost made her smile, the next one might too.
I tried to think, but I had so few memories of her. Most of my life was Neovision shooting for my next big movie or going to celebrity-only affairs.
Finally I stumbled on a great memory. I touched her front left paw, right above the nail, and pointed out the scar there.
“When you got this scar, you were the bravest little girl I’ve ever seen. You were just barely created and you were walking around the house when you opened a door and jammed your toe under it. Your whole toenail fell off and you got this big scar but even though it hurt, you didn’t cry at all.” I stared off out the window, reminiscing.
“I never knew that.”
I whipped my head back to see if my ears had deceived me. Had Annika just spoken?
“What?” I just had to check.
“I was too young to remember that and no one ever told me that story,” she said.
“Well, Mom’s never really around much, so she doesn’t tell many stories,” I said.
There was a silence that seemed to stretch on and on but I didn’t want to push her into talking more. It was amazing enough that she was talking. I was so proud.
Finally, in a tiny voice, Annika said, “You’re not here much either.”
I tried to defend myself quickly. “Yes, I am! It’s really hard because of my movies, but I come back... sometimes...” My voice trailed off as reason set in.
I realized that, I had never been here for her, my darling sister.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
“Whenever you come back,” Annika whispered, “I’m here for you.”
I stared at my toes and hung my head into my hands. The statement made me feel even more guilty for not doing the same for her.
There was a silence, and in it grew the ever present question. It itched at the back of my mind. I know I said I didn’t mind if she chose to not talk, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t curious.
“Why didn’t you talk?”
“You always focus on you.”
“I focus on other--” Was that the truth? “That’s not...” I sighed and let the silence take over.
“Nothing I had to say had any comparison to famous Brian Grady or our glamorous owner,” Annika stated simply.
I then remembered something Naomi had told me a long time ago. If you ignore a child enough, it will believe it has done something to deserve it. I looked Annika straight in the eyes and said, “You are just as interesting and worthwhile as anyone.”
“Then why did you always talk about yourself? Why didn’t anyone listen to me?” She left the silence for me to fill. But it was hard; I didn’t know what to say. I traced my finger along the lines of the couch, not looking at her eyes.
“I didn’t realize I was ignoring you,” I said finally.
“I stopped talking because I figured, why talk if no one would listen?”
“From now on, Annika,” I said, “I want to listen, and if I forget to, remind me.”
Then I picked up a piece of paper and wrote to my director, canceling all filming for a week, and my Whoot flew out the living room window.
“C’mon Annika, let’s go for a walk. Tell me what you’ve been up to.”
But before I could get up, two tiny arms were wrapped around me. I hugged my sister back and whispered in her ear, “I love you.”