To Smile Again

I spend most of my time thinking about the accident. Maybe if I had been a little quicker. If I had paid more attention. Maybe then, it wouldn’t have happened.

But I was too slow. I was groggy. And it did happen.

No matter what I do, nothing will change the fact that my twin sister is dead.

We were ice skating on the lake in the woods behind our house. My sister, Amber, was the one who always wanted to go outside and do things. That’s why she was ready to go skating at eight on a Saturday morning. I, on the other hand, was content to sit inside all day and read to myself. That’s why I was only half awake when we reached the lake.

Amber removed the guards from the blades of her perfect white ice skates. She twirled in a circle on the ice before zooming gracefully around the lake. “Come on, Ash!” she sang.

My name is Ashlynn, but I prefer to be called Ash. It fits better.

I rubbed the gunk from my eyes, took off the guards, and stumbled towards the ice. I wasn’t nearly as good at skating as Amber was, but I still enjoyed it. I wobbled forward, and my ankles bent outward. The ice rushed up to meet me, colliding with my tender cheek. The freshly bruised skin ached, but I pushed myself to my feet and skated forward hesitantly.

Amber breezed past me from behind. “Slowpoke,” she teased, sticking her tongue out playfully.

And that’s when everything went wrong.

She glided toward the middle of the lake. It must not have been frozen the whole way through, because the ice began to break beneath her. Hairline cracks spread out like a web beneath her feet.

“Amber –” I shouted, trying to warn her.

Her startled brown eyes met mine a split second before she fell through the ice.

Amber!” I screamed, forcing my heavy, uncoordinated feet to shuffle toward the hole. I could see my sister’s pale hand gripping the jagged ice. After falling over several times, I reached the middle of the lake.



Her hand was gone.

“No!” I shrieked. This couldn’t be happening. I ripped off my skates and down jacket and dove into the freezing water. The water was a murky blue, hard to see in. But I needed to find Amber. I plunged deeper into the lake, searching for a telltale wisp of dark brown hair, or a flailing limb. Nothing.

By now, my lungs were demanding air. I spotted the hole several yards above me and kicked toward it. When I surfaced, the crisp morning air hit my face like a slap. I hauled myself onto the ice and pushed my dripping hair out of my face. My soaking clothes stuck to me like an extra layer of skin.

“Amber!” I cried, peering into the water. The cruel, unfeeling water, which had swallowed my sister. “Amber?”

I sat by the hole in the ice for who knows how long. In denial, I kept telling myself, She’s coming back. She’ll surface any second. And she’ll stick her tongue out and say, “Scared ya.” Then I’ll punch her, because she did scare me.

She didn’t surface, of course. Because she had drowned.

Feeling numb — inside and outside — I staggered away from the pond. I left my drenched skates and coat by the hole. I trekked home all by myself, my emotions a mess, churning around inside me.

I dragged myself into our snug, cozy house, knowing that it would never feel like home without Amber. Mom and Dad were sitting at the kitchen table, obliviously sipping their morning coffee. If they noticed that I was soaked, or that I was missing my shoes and jacket, they didn’t say anything.

“Honey, where’s Amber?” Mom asked.

“Coming,” I muttered, unable to say that she was dead, that she was never coming home. I hurried up the stairs to the bedroom that I shared — had shared — with my sister.


My half was lined with bookshelves, and scattered across the floor was a globe and a model of ship and a giant pillow shaped like a wolf. Styrofoam balls decorated like planets hung from the ceiling, which I’d painted to resemble a galaxy. Periwinkle and magenta and deep purple and midnight blue swirled across the ceiling.

I locked the door behind me. Red hot anger coursed through my veins. I wanted to flip a table or rip the head off my stuffed wolf. Anything was better than crying and feeling sorry for myself.

It took Mom and Dad four minutes to figure out that something was wrong. I could hear fabric rustling downstairs as they put on jackets. Then the front door swung open and their footsteps were muffled by the fresh snow. Soon, they would realize that one of their daughters was dead.

About ten minutes later, the front door opened again. The sound of my parents’ devastated sobs  tore at my aching heart. I would have done anything to change the past.

My pointless anger changed to helplessness. I gazed at my galaxy ceiling and pleaded silently, desperately, God, if you’re listening, please do something! I know you can work miracles. If you love me, bring her back to life. Please! I’ll never do anything bad again. I’ll be nice to everyone and work hard in school, I promise. Just please . . . please . . .

I knew, in my heart, that my bargaining would do nothing. A sinner like myself had no reason to try to barter with God himself.

There was a knock on my door. My mom’s voice, choked with sobs, said, “Ash, honey, p-please come out here.”

Slowly, I unlocked the door and stepped into the hallway. My parents’ eyes were red, and their cheeks were stained with tears. Wordlessly, they put their arms around me. Then they started to cry uncontrollably.

I cried with them.

The world — so cruel and unforgiving — kept moving on, despite the fact that my beautiful, vivacious sister was dead. It seemed like everything should be turned black and white until thing were OK again. But it would keep spinning in full color.

My parents released me after several minutes. I went straight back to my room.

I slept in Amber’s bed that night. Everything smelled like her, which somewhat eased my pain. Not that much, though, because I still cried myself to sleep.

My parents let me skip school for a week and a half. It was thoughtful of them. I barely left my room the entire time. And whenever my mother saw me, she would burst into tears. It was because Amber and I were identical twins. When my mom saw me, she saw Amber, too.

One of my friends, Jenna, got me a cat as a Christmas gift. She’d read that pets were supposed to lower depression or something like that.


It was incredibly fluffy. All black, except for a white bib. It had shockingly intelligent emerald eyes.

“I want to see you smile again,” Jenna told me when she gave me the cat. “I miss you, Ash.”


When I wasn’t thinking about Amber, I was thinking about traveling. I wanted to go somewhere where the people didn’t feel bad for me and frown sympathetically whenever they saw me. Every little thing in my home, my town, my school — they sparked memories of Amber. I wanted to go somewhere where Amber wasn’t haunting me.

I sat on the floor and spun my globe idly.

I needed to leave this place.

Jenna had to wait four months until she saw me smile again. Oh, yes, Amber’s loss still hurt. I doubted that it would ever stop, because these things never really do. The hurt just . . . changed. Instead of the denial and the anger and the depression that I felt every time I thought of Amber, I felt more of a fond longing. Memories of her made me smile sadly as I wished that we could have had more time.

But it was a smile nonetheless.

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