The Girl in the Album

      The Girl in the Album

On the day that I left for college, I discovered something strange in the attic.

Mom had told me to carry everything I wasn’t taking to college up to the attic, but I got sidetracked. I’d only brought two boxes up into the attic before I plopped onto the wooden floor and began flipping through drawings I’d done as a child. A leprechaun I’d drawn to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day; a bald eagle against an American Flag; and two stick figures holding hands were my favorites. I was flooded with nostalgia as the childish crayon drawings brought back memories.

Once I’d finished looking at my art, I dug into a cardboard box filled with photo albums. I pulled out the top one — titled Our Family — and blew the dust of the soft leather cover. The particles of dust tickled my nose and threatened to make me sneeze. I flipped open the cover.

The first image in the album was a group shot. My dad, wearing his favorite blue tie, was in the back. His arm was around mom, who had a giggling toddler on her hip. That’s me? I wondered. The young, smiling toddler didn’t look exactly like me in my baby pictures — then again, the resemblance was close enough.

Then I saw the other girl in the photograph.

Auburn hair pulled into a side ponytail. Bored hazel eyes, clearly indicating that she didn’t want to be in the picture. A filmy gray dress. That was me.

Who was the toddler, then?

Panic and bafflement creeping into my brain, I tried to tell myself that she was probably a cousin. But I’d been around ten years old in the picture — wouldn’t I have remembered her? And what was she doing in a photo album titled Our Family? It didn’t make sense. Swiftly, I flicked through the rest of the album. That girl . . . she was in almost every picture.

I flipped back to the first page and squinted at the toddler. “Who are you?” I whispered.

Tucking the album under my arm, I lurched to my feet and hurried down the stairs. I found Mom in my near-empty bedroom. She was tearing up, gazing around her. Clearly, she was lost in thought.

She heard my footsteps and turned to face me. “Cait?” she said.

I showed her the album, then pointed to the first page. “Mom — who’s this girl?” I asked, my finger hovering above the happy toddler.

She brushed wispy red strands of hair out of her face. “Hmm?” She stared at the picture, her eyebrows furrowing. “I . . . um . . . Cait, where did you find this?”

I perched on the edge of my bed, which had been stripped of its sheets. “It was in the attic,” I explained with a shrug. “Who is she?” I pressed.

Mom shook her head, confused. “I don’t know, sweetie.” She raised her voice and called, “Sawyer? Could you come here, please?”

A moment later, my dad appeared in the doorway. He wasn’t working that day, since it was the weekend. Even if it had been a weekday, he’d be home anyway — he would have taken the day off, because there was no way he’d miss my last day at home. “What do you want?”

“Dad, there’s this kid in our photo album. I’ve never seen her before. Do you know who she is?” I showed him the picture.

Like Mom, Dad had no idea who the toddler was. I left them to speculate about her in my bedroom while I scurried back up to the attic.

I stooped down and picked up one of the drawings I’d been looking at earlier: the one with the two stick figures, holding hands. As inspected it a second time, I noticed details I’d previously overlooked. One stick figure was taller than the other; that one had red hair. The other one, the shorter person, was depicted with a diaper and a big smile. The small one resembled the mystery toddler in the photo album. Scrawled at the top of the page in sky blue crayon were the words Me and My Sister.

I don’t have a sister.

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