“You know, this rain makes everything so gloomy,” Lillian says, one hand picking at a fresh scab on her thigh, the other gripping a railing under her. She’s perched on the edge of a balcony overlooking a lake, and my hands sweat as I watch her legs dangle over the empty air below.
“Don’t do that,” Jin responds. He’s in the bathroom, but his baritone voice still echoes out from the hotel room behind us loud and clear.
“Do what? Can you even see me? What are you even doing right now?”
“Getting ready,” Jin says. “And yes, I can see you. Get down from that railing right now.”
“Ugh. Party pooper.” She hops down from the railing and her legs land soft onto the balcony. My hands unclench a bit when her nimble feet finally tilt back inside, each leg crossing over the other in a careless braiding motion.
“Is it raining out there?” Jin asks. “Will I have to bring your umbrella?”
“I just said it was raining, dummy. Can you bring the one with the ducks?”
A toilet flushes in response. They’re out of my sight now, so I unfold my legs and get up from the balcony floor to head into the room. The slight slickness of rain brushing on my legs like a memory doesn’t bother me, but not being able to see them does.
I trace my light fingers along the ridges in the walls as I walk in to ground myself: they’re painted beige, matching the carpet and curtains, all coated in a layer of cheap perfume strong enough for me to smell. The room itself is sparsely furnished, with only a large painting of a trout hanging over the two twin-sized beds and a few retro lamps scattered around on the low tables.
Jin finally responds, poking his head out from the bathroom to look at Lillian, who is hanging off the edge of the bed. “You know, I really don’t know if the pink ducks are appropriate for a funeral.”
“I don’t care. I want the ducks.”
Jin pauses, then sighs. “We’re taking the black ones. No way in hell am I letting you show up to Mom’s funeral holding a pink umbrella with ducks on it.”
Lillian groans, then plasters her fingers over her face, still hanging upside down from the bed. “I don’t think Mom would care, though, would she? I mean, she bought me that umbrella.”
“It’s not about Mom. It’s about everyone else; they’d think we were being disrespectful. Y’know, funeral rules and shit.” Jin steps out to adjust his tie in the mirror.
“What are funeral rules and shit?”
“Don’t say shit. It’s about respecting the dead. Can you get changed? Dad’s coming to pick us up in an hour.”
“Where is Dad, anyways?”
“Business meeting in Los Angeles, or something. Mom would be pissed to see this shithole we’re staying in, especially when he’s got a whole mansion with Jen down in Irvine.”
I smile at this and shake my head, though they can’t see me. I’m sitting cross-legged by their luggage now, gazing at the contents of their suitcases; Jin’s is black and practical, and has nothing in it other than a pair of cargo shorts, a shirt, and some toiletries. Meanwhile, Lillian’s is hot pink and stuffed to the brim: it holds some bright frilly dresses she got for Christmas, a black dress clearly stuffed in there by Jin as an afterthought, toys, and of course, her beloved duck umbrella. Balanced precariously on top of this mess is a grocery bag full of unhealthy snacks, mostly pink and princess themed, likely a bribe in exchange for wearing the black dress.
I stroke the fabric lining Jin’s suitcase. Its roughness is a comfort on my cold skin: the room is slipping away from me a bit, but the feelin g of fabric keeps me rooted in reality.
“Lillian, please get changed into your dress. The black one. We really need to go soon.” Jin’s voice brings me back to the room as I focus my vision on the two of them, Lillian now lying spread-eagled on the sheets and ignoring Jin.
“No.” Her voice is muffled against a pillow that she’s thrust over her head in protest.
“No. Don’t wanna.”
“Please. We can’t be late for this.” Jin pulls the pillow off her head and attempts to lift her from the bed, but she won’t budge as she grips her hands onto the sheets.
“Stop that! I don’t think Mom will– would care about us being late, anyways. Or about the duck umbrella, or what dress I wear. She’s not like that.” Her small voice cracks a bit at the edges, but her arms cross in defiance as she clambers to sit upright on the bed. I try my best to interject, but the air traps the sound in my straining mouth as I struggle; it’s a futile battle that I refuse to learn from.
“I told you, it’s not about Mom, it’s about the others. Dumb, yes, but–”
“Fine. Whatever. I’ll change now, sorry.” Lillian doesn’t say anything more, but I can see tears begin to pool in her eyes as her voice grows frail. I want to get up and walk over to her, but my weakened legs refuse me. Instead, Jin plants his arms around her in a firm hug.
“It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.”
They embrace, and I watch Lillian’s shoulders shake for a bit as she exhales with sharp breaths, refusing to cry. Jin places a hand on her head before pulling away and whispering something I can’t make out. She nods and gets up from the bed.
As Lillian brushes by me to grab her dress from her suitcase, I reach out to touch her arm. My hands stretch out to hers, icy, immaterial fingertips dangling only inches from sunburnt skin, before being forced to stop by an invisible barrier. I can only watch as she heads to the bathroom to change; my hands still stiff on the suitcase, my legs still folded on the floor.
Andrea Li (she/her) is a high school junior from California. Her work has been published in Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine and is forthcoming in Eunoia Review.
this sent struct is odd