Mari was walking down the streets of Faraway. She had just had a long day of having a picnic with friends at the playground, and it had gotten late before she had ever realized. It was a good day, filled with Kel's antics and long pun contests with Hero while Sunny and Aubrey were read to by Basil. Now it was dark, and they had all said their goodbyes and promises to meet tomorrow, leaving her home with Sunny.
"Well, Sunny, what do you think we should make for dinner?" She beamed down to her little brother. He wasn't there, though. Instead, she heard the door open and close upstairs. He had bolted in his own quiet way, it seemed. Mari sighed and shook her head. He had been like this for a week now, ever since they had gotten into a fight. Her little brother must have still felt really guilty about all of it, it seemed he couldn't look her in the eye at all.
Being fair with herself, she felt a little guilty too. She was the one that was always yelling at him, after all. He had a tutor who already did that enough already. And it wasn't as though she had been fair in the fight either, she had taken... well, a lot out on him. Not just the work that went to waste because he broke the thing his friends and her had worked so hard for, but how clingy he had been, and how many lessons he had missed, and how she had no time either and she wasn't complaining. All the stress had built up in her too, and she took it out on him.
As a result, she had gotten pushed and, while it didn't cross her mind at the time, later on she would be thankful that they were arguing at the base of the stairs, rather than at the top. One of them could have gotten seriously hurt.
Still her brother looked so guilty over it when it was just them. Maybe it was only her, the others seemed to think he was doing fine. While he was with all of them, he certainly acted better.
"Alright!" She announced to herself. "Let's go make up with Sunny!" She marched upstairs. The bedroom door, to her surprise, was open. He usually closed it.
Ah, he wasn't in his bed. Or hers either. Mewo was in here though. She came up to nuzzle against her leg.
"Aww.... Hi Mewo. Have you seen Sunny?"
The black cat went out and over to the bathroom. She entered and saw her little brother washing his face in the sink. She went to go and stand behind him, large grin on her face. Maybe a little spook and relieved giggles would open him up.
Sunny jumped by nearly a mile and fell over, panting and staring where she was standing.
"Hehehehe! Sorry Sunny, I saw you were wide open and took my chance, I didn't think I'd get you that badly." She held out her hand. He didn't take it, still panting heavily. "Hey, Sunny? Are you alright? I'm sorry..." He didn't respond. "Wow, I scared you good, come on, remember what I told you when you used to have nightmares? It's okay, it's not as scary as you think. Take a deep breath and let yourself calm down."
That seemed to do it, he was breathing more evenly now, his usual expression now taking over again. Good, it was better than seeing him panic.
Maybe she would need help with this. She resolved to ask Basil tomorrow what was going on and how she could help.
It was early when she heard a loud pounding on her door. She had already been awake, practicing at the piano, so she happily got the door.
It was Kel, Hero, and Aubrey.
"Oh hi guys! What're you doing here so early?"
"Hi Mari!" Aubrey practically had stars in her eyes as she rushed in. "Is Sunny awake yet? We want to go to the park!"
"Yeah!" Kel bolted in after. "HEY SUNNY!! WAKE UP!!" Kel shouted, practically shaking the entire house.
"Kel! Don't shout so loud." Hero scolded.
"Yeah, Kel!!" Aubrey joined, to the clear exasperation of Hero.
Mari couldn't help but laugh. "Have your hands full, handsome?"
"Hehehe..." He looked off to the side and rubbed the back of his head.
Mari took a brief head count. "No Basil?"
"Aubrey said he was tending to his flowers."
"He takes really good care of them, I guess it would take a long time." Mari gave a smile. "I'll go check on him later on and see if he needs help."
"You're always so nice, Mari. I'll leave it to you."
"You all surprised me by showing up, though, did you notice something about Sunny too?"
"Notice something about him? No, why?"
"He's been really quiet."
"He's always quiet."
"And he gets spooked really easily."
"I... see." Hero said it with the sidelong look he always gave when he was agreeing with something he didn't agree with. Maybe Mari was just being oversensitive. Sunny seemed fine with his friends.
The conversation was broken when Sunny came downstairs and acknowledged everyone. He was fully dressed now, simple shorts and a tee to go running around in.
"Hi Sunny!" Aubrey waved. Mr. Plantegg was firmly in her other hand, Mari noticed.
"It's about time! I was about to burst a basket waiting." Kel grinned out.
"That's not how it goes!" The two stuck their tongues out at each other.
"Guys, be nice in front of Sunny."
Sunny cocked his head to one side. Everyone in the room knew what he was asking in his usual wordless way. He was wondering where everyone was going.
"Let's go to the park!" Aubrey chimed.
Sunny assumed a thoughtful pose and looked to the kitchen. Mari knew that one.
"Do you want to bring some food along, little brother?"
"Come on Hero, I'll help you make some food, if you want. All it costs is your love! You three help out too, okay?" She tugged a blushing Hero by the arm for the kitchen.
Making food with everyone was always special. Not just seeing them happily patting their stomachs, or telling her and Hero that their food was delicious, but making something together. That was the best part, seeing the little notes they all added. Aubrey would put cute designs on everything while Kel was kept busy fetching one thing or another.
The best part was how Sunny was helping Mari make sandwiches. He seemed more at ease around her now. Maybe she really had been imagining things, Sunny had always been quiet, after all. Quiet but still willing to help, which he was doing now, helping to cut sandwiches into triangles.
"So what are you all going to do at the park?" Mari asked as she pointed out where lines of bacon laid, to make it easier for Sunny to chop.
"Kel and Aubrey want to go bug-catching..." Hero said, obviously less than enthused.
Mari giggled, she'd have to catch up with him later to put another spider down his shirt.
"What's that laugh?" Hero chuckled nervously.
"Nothing! Nothing at all." She gave a sly grin.
"Mari... Please..." He began to whine a little. She could guess that he was having ideas about what creepy-crawlies they would find in the woods.
She opened her arms wide for a hug, which Hero took without protest.
"Awww, it's okay! I'll protect you from all those bugs when I see you later."
Kel's voice chimed in.
"What's so scary about bugs anyway, Hero? They're so small, and cool! Like little robots!"
"They just... have so many legs. And they're so small, they get all over you... Spiders are the worst though, all those e-eyes..."
"Spiders are really helpful though." Mari said. "They catch the other bugs and they're really good for plants and gardening. And keeping the mosquitos and flies away from your food!"
"I mean I know but.... Sunny gets it, right?"
Sunny nodded. His fear of spiders was something Mari was working on.
Hero went over to stand by Sunny, putting an arm around him. "Then for both of our sakes, I'll just... stay by the park with Sunny!"
Sunny shook his head. He wanted to catch beetles. Insects were fine, arachnids were very much not, it seems.
Mari was laughing at the falling-out of solidarity, when she felt a tug at her skirt.
"You'll come by later, right Mari? I want you to be the judge between me and Kel!" Aubrey said. "He said he was gonna catch the largest beetle, but I know I'll beat him."
"Alright, Aubrey! Oh, but what if Sunny or I catch the largest one? Do we get to compete too?"
"Mmm, I guess it's fine, but I'm still going to at least beat Kel."
"C'MON!! LET'S GO!" Kel had somehow wandered to the front door. Mari could see him waving his net.
Mari waved off Aubrey and gave another hug to Hero. "Be my brave Hero until I get there, okay?"
Hero nodded grimly and went to the front door, leaving Sunny and her. She gave him the basket.
"It's nice to see that you're having fun with your friends, Sunny. I promise I'll be by soon, so don't be too lonely without me, okay?"
Sunny looked off to the side and rubbed the arm carrying the basket. Mari gave him a hug as well.
"Be safe out there, okay? Now go on and have fun with everyone!"
Sunny stood awhile longer, looking like he wanted her to come along as well, but eventually Kel's shouts for him pulled him along. He still seemed just a little off, just a little guilty around her, but maybe it was lessening a little. She doubled her resolve to fix things today and really talk about everything that happened last week. Hopefully by talking with him about what he was feeling, because she simply didn't know, other than being hurt.
She saw them off before giving a stretch and setting off on her own. Basil was probably still gardening. It seemed to take him forever, but he never minded. She had a pleasant, sunshine-filled walk to Basil's. Just one street down and across from her own. The wind felt really good today, and the birds seemed to agree with how they flitted from place to place. Faraway was always idyllic, if a little small. It was comfortable, but all the same, sometimes Mari would go on long walks to see the edge of it. Both to strengthen her injured knee, and also to imagine what other places she would like to see.
Basil was always watering his flowers with a smile, it seemed. It was nice how he always worked to keep a happy outlook. He was also wearing a flower crown more often now. She remembered when he used to be too sheepish to wear a full one, opting for just a single flower. It was nice to see him be a bit more honest with what he liked lately.
He wiped his brow before taking note of her.
"Oh! Hi Mari! What are you doing down here?"
"Hi Basil! I'm just visiting." she said with a cheer as she fixed her hair. It was a breezy day. "Do you want help watering?"
"Oh you don't have to do that, these are my flowers, after all."
"Yeah, but I want to help! Besides, I wanted to ask you a question. You can consider it payment."
Mari took up a watering can and began to sprinkle where the flower boy pointed. "Yeah, has Sunny talked to you at all recently?"
"Hm? No, not really any more than the usual. Lately we've been reading a book. Well, I've been reading, he seems to like to listen. Why? Did something happen?"
Mari paid careful attention to some nearby roses. "Yeah... It's about the fight Sunny and I had about a week ago."
"You and Sunny? Fighting? I can't even imagine it. You two are always so close that it makes me wish I had a sibling sometimes."
"It's not all fun and games."
"Lucky for me that Kel and Hero make a good counter argument, Haha!"
"Yeah, They're always squabbling a little, but I think that's fine for them." A thought crossed Mari's mind. "Basil, did I not tell you about the fight I had?"
"I don't think so. I'd remember something like that, I think."
"The one before the recital?"
"Before... the recital?"
"Yeah... Sunny and I got into it and he gave me a little push back. He hasn't been quite the same since." She messed with an arrangement before being startled by the clatter of metal behind her.
"Argument... And..." Basil's eyes were wide. "Mari... Something b-behind him-!" The sun itself seemed to weaken, then everything cut off in a tumult of darkness. Her vision went dark among the screams and sobs of someone familiar. Nightmare images of beasts running through a neighborhood and dark forests swam by. Mari was fully caught in the current until finally...
Mari shot awake, sitting up in her bed and panting. She combed her hair back from her face and set it into her hands, trying to calm herself.
A nightmare. It was all a nightmare. She looked to Sunny next to her, who was tossing and turning. Her own shaking calmed, and she crossed over to his bed, lightly petting him as he struggled in his own nightmare. This fight between them was beginning to have dire consequences, wasn't it? Even her good dreams are getting polluted.
Mari went downstairs, she needed to clear her own mind. The best way to do that was to focus elsewhere, so she went down to the conservatory. The large window showed off the beautiful full moon, it was so bright that she didn't need to turn on any lights here. She gave a few taps of the piano keyboard, finding the right starting spots for her fingers. She began to play her half of a duet that she had wanted to play with Sunny. Maybe its timings were a little too much for Sunny after all, maybe another one with simpler strings would...
Ah, she's doing it again without realizing it. Trying to direct and push Sunny instead of letting him take it at his own pace. Maybe that's why he had gotten so frustrated in the first place. For now, then, she would just play on her own and see if he'd like to join her again.
It was a beautiful night for it. She could see Sunny's favorite tree from here, its full leaves reflecting glints of pale light in the breeze. Summer was always her favorite time of year, with the green and the bright sunshine and the free time with her friends. They'd probably go to the beach again soon and-
Mari hit a discordant note.
The moonlight seemed to fade a bit.
But it was supposed to snow on the night of the recital.
Mari stopped playing and walked to the window, looking out. The trees were all dressed in leaves, and insects made their dull buzz. It was summer. Irrefutably so. She rubbed her head. Where was her winter? Where were the snow angels that they would all make together? The sweaters they would wear? The Christmas decorations?
Her head began to swim with questions, it hurt and it was suddenly hard to tell up from down. Something... Something wasn't right. What had she done after the recital was cancelled? She suddenly couldn't remember. Had she hit her head? Did she loose months to a coma she just wasn't told about?
Something soft rubbed against her leg. Mari jumped and looked down to a black ball of fuzz that was staring at her.
It was just Mewo. Yes, she needed something soft right now. She would ask Dad tomorrow about her health, nothing good would come of thinking on it now. She reached down to pick up her cat, but it evaded her grasp, slinking by and under the piano. Mari followed Mewo to the window.
Mew. She squeezed out of a crack and into the summer air.
"Wait, Mewo!" Mari slid aside the window and went after her, afraid she would bolt. Instead, the black cat would walk a ways, then turn to check if Mari was still following. She kept it up past Hero's house, then to a short street that connected her, past Aubrey's own house.
Mewo led her to the church. She easily hopped over the picket that kept the cemetery apart from most of the town. Mari had considerably more difficulty following, trying her best not to spear herself on the wood. But all the same, she gained entry.
Mari never had cause to enter the cemetery before, did Mewo come here to meet with another cat?
No, she was alone, in the back, among the offered flowers and toys of the aggrieved.
Mewo was next to a white, delicate flower in the moonlight, and both were by a headstone. Mewo had curled up, and Mari could hear her purring. She ruffled the cat's fur with a smile and looked to where she was brought.
The grave had a beautiful flower next to it. Someone clearly cared a lot for it, as it showed no sign of even wilting. Maybe she would ask Basil what it was, she thought it was very pretty.
Next she checked the stone.
OUR DEAREST MARI
THE SUN SHINED BRIGHTER WHEN SHE WAS HERE
... ... ...
Mari felt numb all over. She reached up and blankly pinched her cheek. She couldn't tell if it didn't hurt from shock, or because she was...
She fell over, sitting in front of the stone.
Falling, yes, that's a familiar memory. She had an argument with Sunny, like she remembered. But it wasn't at the bottom of the stairs, that's only where she had ended up. Then her memories were gone.
Until she recently came to as though nothing were wrong, having a picnic with friends by the lake, just like always. But they weren't... quite exactly right. There was something just a little off about them, now that she thought about it. Slightly too pale, blue tinges around the edges...
Mari blankly began to walk back home, scratching Mewo once behind the ears in an automatic way beforehand, and receiving a plaintive meow.
Then what was she..?
Is it a coma? Is she dead? Is she in Heaven? Hell? A ghost? Had anything she saw been real? Was she a figment of imagination? That question chilled her the most. The idea that imaginary friends were self-aware...
She walked by Aubrey's house. Trash was overflowing in a basket and takeout boxes cluttered a section of the counter. Her parents were yelling at one another. She wanted to check on the girl, and suddenly found her own body light. She could easily look all around through the windows. Aubrey was in the attic, on her bed. She was crying, a pink streak was hidden in her hair, when Mari took a closer look. Ah... she had remembered that old conversation?
Mari made her way to Basil's house. The door was... not an obstacle, all of a sudden. She looked through the house, only to find Basil crying, huddled against his bed. He begged for forgiveness again and again. It looked like he was trying to fend off something that was on the ground all around him. He was calling out for Sunny. Those two... what had happened after she had..?
Mari shook her head, she couldn't touch him, and he made no note of her. So she wandered to one more house.
Kel was in his own bed. Anyone would think that he was sleeping well, but after the many sleepovers the friends had it was easy to tell what was really going on. He hadn't been sleeping at night. As she watched, he would occasionally stretch and turn to look over to Hero's bed, then he'd call out for his brother, and when no sound responded, he would turn back over again.
Hero's bed. She barely recognized the boy within. His hair was even more unkempt, and his eyes were swollen, with deep bags. He was whimpering in his sleep.
"Oh Hero... I'm so, so sorry..." Mari felt tears encroach on her vision. Could ghosts cry? She didn't care right now, all she could do was sit next to him, running her hand up and down his shoulder. How long had he been like this? If it really was summer again in Faraway, maybe most of a year? If her sense of time wasn't even more messed up than she dared to think.
All that would come to her mind is something she knew she wanted to tell him, at this moment. If she really was...
"I'm sorry I wasn't there to listen to what you wanted to tell me after the recital... I know what it was, you were never a good liar at all. You looked so proud of keeping a secret though and made such a fuss that I couldn't help but wait, though. I'm sorry..."
A whisper came up to meet her.
"Mari..." A tear leaked from his sleeping eye. Mari noticed Kel startle awake and run over to the bedside. Kel was trying so hard, wasn't he?
Mari removed herself from the room, past the backyard. Sunny's favorite tree... It had been cut down at some point.
Ah, that was why she hadn't been worried about waking her parents with her piano so late. They weren't here. The answers seemed more obvious the more she calmed down.
She was at her piano again, idly tapping the keys and wondering if she was making any actual sound, or imagining it. She also thought of Sunny, not just of the oppressive guilt she had felt all "week", but now about her favorite waltz.
It was the one she wanted to practice with Sunny. It was a strange sort of piece, only titled "Duet".
First, it started with a flourish, and the piano would set the tone and pace, then would be joined by a following violin. Slowly, carefully, the violin would get more complex as the piano kept to the back in support, before hitting a high, setting a sorrowful tension after. The two would work together after a pause from the piano... then... it would end with a single string after Mari had played her last note.
She played that last note now. The ending was abrupt without its concluding note, at least to her. Something that carried on what she had started.
Thinking back to the broken violin at the base of the stairs, she wasn't sure it ever would be.
It was more than the unfairness of being taken away that made her sob. It was what died alongside her.
She didn't want this for them.
It's not fair...
It's not fair.
"It's not FAIR!!!" Mari slammed the keys.
Why her? Why this way? It was just a stupid, stupid argument! Just the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong words! Dying... Dying in that way wasn't even certain either, she could just as easily have only been paralysed, or lived through it! Just stupid chance!
Now what? The people she loved would pay for it for the rest of their lives?
If only she could tell them something, anything. Her apologies, her forgiveness for what happened. Sunny clearly hated himself more than she ever could, with how thin he had gotten, how sleepless and quiet. To the dreams they apparently shared of friends who he wouldn't even dare speak to. If only she could... could...
Mari needed to clear her mind. She saw the first rays of sunlight come in through the window.
...She could see it later. Just a little longer.
She was still needed.
Mari sat on the picnic blanket, watching the children play. She took in the warm breeze and stretched. He should be here soon, his friends will drag him out. Not the least bit due to her meddling but well, she had to do her part too.
It would probably happen today, she began to see the little cracks everywhere she went. Enough to travel Headspace as quickly as she wanted, through the dark almost-truth she saw torturing her brother for three years. The veneer was beginning to wear thin. Another chance to get both him and Basil out of Hell. For now she would just give the little, tiny push to this Basil.
This Basil, who was ever so slightly different from the others. He seemed just a little more.... awake, for lack of a better word. Maybe just a tiny, little memory hidden in his album would do it, this time.
"Mari! Basil!" A girl's voice called out.
"Oh, hello Aubrey! Hello, everyone! How are you all doing today?" Mari grinned.
She felt bad for what was about to happen.
But she wanted to see her little brother again. Her real little brother.
She wanted to fix things between them.