By Emily Walden
Digging through old boxes at his parents’ house, Luis found a dusty, crinkled birthday card that his cousin Alisa had given him years before. He held it, rubbing crayon wax under his thumb, and stared at scribbled red hearts.
Hearts had been her favorite; when they were kids she had drawn one on his cheek with lipstick after they had snuck into her parents’ bedroom because Alisa wanted to play dress-up. Then, from the vanity table scattered with makeup, Alisa grabbed the mascara and spread it in thick black lines. Begging her not to, he stood there anyway and let her paint it under his eyes, smudging against his glasses. He stepped back, blinking; she laughed and said, “We’re getting pretty.”
“I’m not a girl.” He tried wiping it off, but it smeared down his cheek and hand.
“Loving lollipops,” she sang, dancing to the closet. Luis watched as she dragged her mom’s cocktail dress to the mirror, slipping red, flashy silk over her head. It fell to the floor, but Alisa held it up to show off her knees.
“Look at me, Luis,” she said, spinning until she got tangled in the dress, and then she fell down, giggling.
He was putting on her dad’s tie--crooked since he didn’t understand how--but glanced over and laughed at her. Then she got up and pulled the tie, forcing his head down and wrinkling it more, and she smiled. She didn’t expect him to be perfect like his mom did.
Admiring themselves in the mirror, they stood like a bride and groom in a wedding photo. Alisa held her chin up, her eyes taking in her figure. His fingers trembled as he touched the glass and wondered if they’d be like this forever.
The bedroom door opened, slamming against the wall, and then his aunt was yelling as she grabbed the tie and yanked it off. Flinching, Luis rubbed his neck, but then she was shaking him. “What were you doing?” she asked. “You were supposed to be watching her.”
Afraid she’d hit him, he cowered, but she let him go and turned to Alisa who started screaming. His aunt shoved her, and Alisa fell into him, and they both ran out of the bedroom and outside where Alisa laughed at the mascara mixed with lipstick that ran down his face. And he smiled, too, in that sunshine, the smeared heart on his cheek.
Years later he stared at heart scribbles, his knees on the dusty attic floor, that box of pictures and childhood relics beside him, and his tie hanging straight on his neck. He had graduated law school; she had moved to California with her boyfriend. They hadn’t talked in so long, and he wondered when he called her up if everything would still be the same, or if the little sister from his memories had already vanished.
Emily is interested in developmental psychology and hopes to become a child psychologist who helps children heal from trauma. She has no previous publications. Contact Emily.