Autumn thrusts the flamingo in my face. I scan the tabletop for freshly spilled paint before I set my carving down. It’s a Himalayan grizzly bear. I like to think I’m pretty good at carving, since Uncle Thomas makes a business of selling whatever we carve. To guarantee that he delivers high-quality products, I have one of his National Geographic magazines in front of me so I refer back to it. I’m convinced my younger sister, Autumn, has photographic memory. She took one look at the page of flamingos and started carving.
I lean away from the chair to gaze at Autumn’s creation. I already know Autumn is smiling, and I see with one glance that it is one of her smiles where it lights up her face like a Christmas tree.
“That was easy,” I exclaim, reaching for the flamingo.
Autumn lets me take it. She watches me with narrowed, worried eyes as I turn it around in my fingers. It’s a rough carving, but I can tell that she tried to work with it. It’s a little smooth around the wings. It looks great, just like the picture, if you look past the jagged edges.
I smile at my little sister as I give her back her creation. Was carving the one thing she wasn’t good at? “Now for the hard part.”
Autumn looks down at the plastic plate in front of us. We’ve put tons of Uncle Thomas’s paints on the plate, from engine red to jet black. Autumn is looking at the pinks. Her hazel eyes go to me. Her eyebrows lower.
Unlike the rest of her hair, they are free of dye. Autumn dyed her hair dark chestnut brown a little while ago. She had started with highlighting first, encouraged by Mom. She surprised everyone by dying it before dinner.
I hardly recognized her because she had gone from the Singleton shadow-black to chestnut brown. She had looked like a stranger and then she burped on the way to the table, reminding us all who she was. Despite coloring her hair, she always wears a pink headband, no matter what the rest of her outfit looks like.
“How is painting the hard part?” Autumn demands, looking discouraged.
“It is,” I insist with a frown. Autumn gazes at me, unconvinced. I get to the point, “Say you drop it.”
Understanding makes Autumn’s lips squirm into a wobbly smile of unease. She looks at the paints and then at the floor. Her eyes go to me again. I know what she’s thinking. The girl is accident-prone.
“I’ll get the mop.” I say.
Autumn sighs, a disappointed sound that makes me smile. She knows that her talent for screwing things up is just as good as her talent for creating works of art.
“And turn off the air, will ya?” She calls as I walk to the thermostat.
“No chilling out today!” I chirp as I turn the AC off.
We call the back end of the store the chill out zone because the air conditioners blows right where we do most of our work. The air barely reaches the front door, so we always have the air on. As a result, the workers in the back of the store freeze.
It always works out during the summer, though. Georgia’s summers are off the charts, especially in the south towards Savannah, despite it being cooler there. We have a good view, though. The wall facing the trees is nothing but long windows. Autumn finally joined me in here about a month ago. She got bored of sitting at the front on her phone.
Autumn smiles when I prop the mop against the table. I flash her a warning look as I sit down. She always managed to make a mess.
“What?” She picks up her progressing creation and starts smoothing the flamingo’s head, not looking up. Her cheeks darken a shade. “Stop staring at me.”
I look down at my bear. His ears are going to be painted white. “Who’s your latest crush?”
Autumn murmurs, not looking up. “None of your business.”
Uh-oh. “That serious, huh?”
“He’s older than me.” Autumn sighs. “Like Dennis and Bryan.”
“Is he like Dennis and Bryan?” I ask, trying not to sound too curious. “Dennis and Bryan weren’t my taste.”
Dennis and Bryan are friends with Zeke, a guy who knew he was the biggest asshole in the entire school. He was dating Camilla, a witch, according to the freshman, sophomores, and a few juniors and seniors. Bryan was dating Stacy, who was deemed a sweetheart. The four of them threw wild parties on the weekend, and it seemed like everyone knew but their parents that drugs and alcohol would be passed around like Halloween candy. I have no idea how those guys even noticed my sister.
Autumn sighs again, heavier this time. “They’re dating other girls.” She looks up at me as I let out an exhale of relief. Her eyes widen at the same moment her nostrils flare. One of her telltale signs of getting annoyed. “Wait, what? If it worked out, one of them would be dating me! Why does your taste matter?”
I smirk at her. “When they date you, they get to know me.”
“And?” Autumn asks, setting down her flamingo.
I go on, acting oblivious to the daggers in her eyes. “If I don’t like him, you can’t date him.”
Autumn scoffs in disbelief. One eyebrow lifts a second before the other. “What?”
“Oh, come on.” I say. “We’ve been through this over every guy you like. If I say no, pfft, if Dad says no, you can’t date him.”
Autumn glares at her flamingo. “And why is that?”
“So you don’t end up with some piece of crap.” I inspect my bear, holding it up and turning it so I can see different angles of it. “Whatcha think?”
“It’s stupid.” Autumn fumes, hazel eyes dark with irritation.
“No, about the bear?” I send her a cheeky smile.
Autumn drags her gaze to the bear. She huffs. “I’m too annoyed to give a valid opinion.”
I set the bear down and gaze at my sister. The disappointed, angry look on her face makes me feel pity for her. “Autumn, you don’t want to pick the wrong guy. It’s just a precaution.”
Autumn turns her sullen gaze to the window. “You don’t know him yet.” The disappointment in her voice makes me sigh softly.
I lean forward. She already sounds certain that her new mystery guy won’t make the cut. “Did you invite him to dinner?”
“I’m smarter than that,” she mutters, glancing at me for the sole purpose of making me watch her roll her eyes. Charming as always. After a moment, Autumn shakes her head, taking a deep breath. “We’re going to go to the park on Saturday.”
In that case, I fall against the back of my chair. “Your birthday’s in a few months.” I say, making my voice sound cheerful as I try to change the subject. Autumn is really a downer when she’s moaning over some guy. “What do you want?” Besides the usual markers, watercolors, color pencils, sketchbooks . . .
Autumn sends me one of her famous frustrated looks, the one that makes her eyes narrow and her lips purse. She looks like a grumpy cat, which is why I usually end up laughing at her face. After years of her rewarding me with slaps on my arm, I’ve learned to laugh in my head. “People don’t know it, but there is a serious pressure involved with that question. That, and what do you want for Christmas.”
I open my mouth to speak, a smile forming as I try not to laugh at her grumpy cat face, when my phone buzzes in my pocket. It’s probably Dad. We must be out of time for today.
Time. It was the one thing you could never get back. I really try to live based on those “live each day like it’s your last” quotes. Petey, my parentless best friend since sixth grade, claims I’m the most unpredictable and impulsive person he knows.
I pull it out and read the text aloud. “Yo, kids. Dinner in forty five minutes. Start booking it.” I look at Autumn to see her scowling at the window again. “What now?” I ask as I tuck my phone back into my pocket.
Autumn shrugs, looking back at me from the window. Her eyebrows lower, giving her face a sullen expression. It’s uglier than her grumpy cat look. “I was hoping we’d finish today.”
I look at her flamingo. It doesn’t look like she touched it much since she showed it to me. “You’re done carving?” I understand her reluctance to go home. They blew up again last night. Same argument: more kids.
“It’s as good as it’s going to get.” Autumn says briskly, surprising me by being easy. “Besides, I want to show Mom that-”
“You’re a master of all four elements?” I chirp. I go on in a deep voice, “Painting, sketching, writing, and drawing.”
Autumn grins, a startling sight that makes my voice die in my throat. I’m one of her many admirers. I think she’s great. She can paint, sketch, draw, you name it. And she’s about to do dual enrollment. Of the two of us, she’s the most talented. Yeah, I’m on the swim team and taking a few AP classes but Autumn’s gifted with charisma, ambition, and creativity. I’m just strong, smart, and kind-hearted. I mean, if we were one person, we’d kick butt, but . . .
“Yoohoo!” Autumn says, waving a hand in front of my face. I catch her smile before she scowls at me. “We’ve got forty five minutes to finish or-”
“The bomb will explode?” I ask rhetorically. Autumn gives me a smirk as she reaches for her brush.
Her flamingo turned out great. She painted him pale pink, made his beak the color of bright yellow feathers that baby ducks have, and made his long legs to be a orangey color, a shade or so paler than sunset. Like I said, Autumn’s gifted.
“Autumn, come on!” Dad shouts.
He waits a moment before he looks at me. I get up before he finishes speaking. I run the entire trek up the stairs, muscles still warm and loose from yesterday’s swim practice. I knock on her door.
“Autumn, it’s dinner time.” I say after I knock twice. I lean against the wall while I wait.
Autumn is always in her room, busy drawing on the walls. She had broken that habit when she was four, but she started it back up once she got into art her freshman year of high school. Dad had blown a fuse when he found out, but after Mom reminded him of all the neutral-toned paint Uncle Thomas has at his store, he resigned.
Now Autumn takes her creativity out on her bedroom walls, one tiny section at a time. Of course, now I hardly see her except at school, in the chill out zone in Uncle Thomas’s store, or at dinner. And she rarely shows for dinner. I end up taking her a plate, and when it is her day to wash, she comes down at twelve o’clock when everyone’s asleep. I catch her in the kitchen sometimes when my garbage disposal of a stomach wakes me up.
Autumn hasn’t opened the door yet.
“Tom-Boy?” I say the magic words, a hated childhood nickname.
Surprise makes me arch my eyebrows when Autumn doesn’t come out. What is she doing in there? I sigh and turn the doorknob.
“Big Bro comin’ in!” I announce. “You better be decent!”
I wait half a second and fling the door open. The door slams against the wall. I wait for a shriek of surprise, closing my eyes. When I don’t hear anything, I open my eyes and let my arms fall to my sides.
Her room reeks of strong Sharpie. Her beloved flamingo, she named him Perry, is on her dresser. Snowball is curled up in a corner. She looks up at me, blue eyes sleepy. She lays her snow-white head on the carpet, falling back asleep.
Autumn has fooled everyone that the cat is named Snowball, but Snowball responds to Autumn. I would have never thought Autumn was vain until I heard her call for Snowball, but called Snowball by her own name. That’s some vanity right there.
“Autumn?” I turn my searching stare to the rest of her room.
Then I see her on the bed. Among all the textbooks, balled up sketches, markers, and pens is Autumn. She’s lying on her face, chestnut hair spilling onto her shoulders and fists. Still wearing that headband.
I walk to her bedside and place a hand on her shoulder, shaking her. Her roots are showing. I hadn’t noticed earlier, but her roots are more obvious than ever. They stand out so plainly against the chestnut. It’s like seeing black polka dots on a white dress, or the other way around.
“Autumn, it’s dinner time.” I say. “And why’d you let your roots show? You never do that.” Autumn usually re-dyes her hair the second her black roots come out.
Autumn moans a little.
“That’s what you get for taking long naps.” I say, chuckling at the weak protest. “I’ll carry you to the bathroom, but you’ve got to help me.”
Autumn sighs. I smile to myself and roll Autumn onto her back. Then I see her hands. My eyes zoom in on the cork. I look at Autumn’s skin. She’s pale from little sun, the girl rarely goes anywhere, but she looks blue in the light.
I pull her up to a sitting position by her armpits. She falls over and a puff of heavy, wet breath hits my face. Her skin is clammy, like she’s been sitting around sweating.
My eyes go to the hand holding the cork. Everything moves in slow motion. I see my hand shake as I pull the cork from her fingers and lift it to my nose, inhaling deeply. Nervously. A growing horror settles over me, making my heart escalate like I’m swimming a long relay race and I have ten yards left.
I feel sick. I lean over the bed, the cork falling from my fingers, and look at the floor. Two bottles. Empty.
All of the air gets sucked out of the room, right through the carpet. I feel like I’m about to fall. I can’t breathe, but my voice leaves my lips. It’s a wobbly, loud yell that fills my ears, my head, my heart, everything. It’s a cry for help.
Everything went dark after that. Too dark.
This novel was completed in 2015. There’s another excerpt up on wattpad under the user TaiaDominique (also me, duh), but as of May 29, 2018, this is the official excerpt for chapter one of SNOW GIRL.