The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.
You can purchase this story in the 2018 Winners Anthology, Secret Keepers here.
“My Sister the Lawbreaker” by Kiri Sinha, Roosevelt Middle School
First Place, Middle School Level, 2018
My Sister the Lawbreaker
Roosevelt Middle School
Four. Four is the number of people who know my secret. It was two, before Lark found out. Before Lark told Blythe.
Blythe approaches me. She is wearing a blood red coat. She smells of a mix of burning wood and crushed flowers.
“Skai, please sit,” she says.
I oblige, pulling out a plastic yellow seat from under the large desk.
Lark enters the room, pushing open the heavy oak door as silently as possible. He pulls out his own yellow chair and avoids looking me in the eye.
Blythe is our Gaya. Except she’s his Birther too. Which is illegal. His secret that I never told.
“Skai, a few days ago, you were caught by Lark participating in an unacceptable act,” says Blythe. “By unacceptable, I mean illegal.”
“I know,” I reply, briefly glancing at the ceiling, “but you should know better than anyone the importance of family.”
Real family. It’s a threat. I thought through my blows carefully. Blythe is not allowed to have Lark. He should be with another Gaya, across the Earth. She knows that.
“That does not concern your actions,” she replies.
She seems a bit taken aback, though it’s not completely unexpected of me to say something like this.
“I think it does.” I don’t want to waste any time getting to the point of this conversation. I want it to be done, so whenever I have an empty moment I can mull it over in my mind, thinking of what I should have said and should have done, and eventually those words will become a reality. In my mind, at least.
My confidence towards Blythe is faked. Secretly, I can’t stand the lies. I remember a science experiment we did at school once. We took a tooth and dropped it into a bottle of Coke. The Coke slowly ate away at the tooth. Eventually, there was no tooth. There was only Coke. Right now, my heart is the tooth and my lies are the Coke.
“It was a simple mistake that placed you here, Skai. But it was your mistake to seek out your sister,” says Blythe. Her eyes are clear and a tiny bit wet. They don’t meet mine. They never have. I love Blythe. I mean, she’s my Gaya, but you have to love your Gaya more than anyone else. At least you’re supposed to, but I don’t. Blythe cares for me, but she’s really just that—a caretaker. A distant one, at best.
“It was not a mistake. I stand behind my actions. I deserve to know my own sister. I love her more than anyone here, and she’s helped me more than you ever will.” Blythe flinches at my words. Her hazel eyes glaze over for a moment, then return to their normal state. Lark has those same eyes. A lot of people have hazel eyes. I do. So does Raven, my sister. And the mailman. As does the woman who delivers our newspaper. I could go on. Eye color doesn’t mean anything.
Slowly, people are beginning to look more and more alike. Every family house is a literal melting pot. Children from all over the world are put in one place, where they grow up together. It’s a good idea, in theory.
“Skai, your points are valid, but I am not the person you should make them to. You know perfectly well that blood ties are illegal.”
“As you do,” I say, “but that never stopped you.” Lark looks at his feet. I wish he didn’t have to be here for this.
“Skai, I’m going to tell you this right now: you must stop.”
I decide to take a different approach. “How do you even know she’s my sister?”
Blythe purses her lips then sighs. “It’s too much of a risk—”
“At least let us take a DNA test,” I cut in. I feel myself losing the argument, and I see my sister being taken away from me. I know that we’ll never be able to get a test. It’s illegal. But I have to try. Just for the sake of trying.
“There’s no legal way to obtain the test without revealing what you have already done,” Blythe replies. The way she says the words, as if she’s thought about them many times. She probably has, I reflect.
I switch to pouting. “There has to be a way.”
Blythe sucks in her cheeks. “I have one. From my wedding.” People are required to take the test before getting married, to assure you aren’t marrying a relative. Still, the fact that Blythe has one shows a dark side to my Gaya that I didn’t know she was capable of.
“Thank you!” I gasp, leaping out of my seat to awkwardly hug her. Blythe sighs. So does Lark.
“Just…try not to get too disappointed. And if you are sisters, promise me, promise me, Skai, that you will break off all contact with her.”
I squeeze my eyes shut and count to ten. When I open them again, the look on my face is dead serious. “I promise.”
Raven and I met on a Monday. I was just leaving my first period class, World History. My head was buzzing with facts of the War that shaped our society, and I was trying to grasp the immense number of lives lost. That was the start of our system today. It was the orphans who were sent off, sent to the very first Gayas. And slowly society realized that that was the right thing to do. Send children away at birth to Gayas across the Earth. I had found myself wishing that the war never happened, that the system never started. I thought that, maybe, the world could be a better place if children were allowed to stay with their Birthers. I wasn’t sure back then. Now I am positive.
As I crammed papers into my large purple binder, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around, expecting to see a friend from my next class. Instead, I came face to face with an unfamiliar tenth grader. Our school went from sixth through twelfth grade, but I tended to avoid anyone who wasn’t in my own grade, seventh. Thinking about it a bit more, I realized I vaguely recognized the girl from the school halls. I had noticed her before, not because of her black hair, or her slightly turned down lips, or her hazel eyes, which were all much like my own, but because of the way she carried herself. She always walked alone, and acted like she had fallen from heaven itself, and was simply blessing the Earth with her presence. I admired her for it. I still do.
Now that I could see her up close, I realized she was drop-dead beautiful. Scarily beautiful. Unfairly beautiful.
“Hi,” I said. I raised my eyebrows at her when I didn’t get a response. She looked me up and down, as if evaluating my worth. Eventually, she finished scrutinizing me, and seeming satisfied with what she saw, she smiled and said, “Hello.”
“Hi. Again.” I added awkwardly,
“Are you Skai?”
“I think you’re my sister.”
I didn’t believe Raven that day, but I agreed to get coffee (well, in my case, hot chocolate) with her after school. After all, what was the worst that could happen? I didn’t think that she had any ill-intentioned plans for me.
We went to a small cafe together and we did my homework. Raven, it turned out, was one of those really smart people who you would be totally annoyed with, except they’re also extremely helpful.
She was able to explain how to graph a y = mx + b equation well enough that I was able to get an A on my next quiz. The Monday cafe meetup became a weekly ritual, as well as my newly improved math grades.
Raven never told me why she thought we were sisters. I asked her once, and she just shrugged it off. I didn’t have a reason to believe we weren’t sisters, though. We acted like sisters, or what I thought sisters should act like. I went to Raven whenever I needed help with anything. She would hear about my teachers, my friends, Lark, Blythe, my fish, my clothing, my swimming, and anything else that was on my mind. Then she would offer me advice, and I would think to myself again how grateful I was that she found me.
I like to think that I helped Raven, too. Before I even knew her, I realized that she was always alone. Something about her seemed to scare people away. Maybe it was because she was afraid of them. She rarely looked anyone in the eye or returned a simple hello.
Raven and I may not be blood relatives, but if this society has taught me anything, it’s that she is definitely my sister. After all, what is a sister other than someone you spend time with who helps you?
Blythe gets up to answer a knock on the door. I already know who it is. Raven. I hear her voice, soft but clear.
“Hello,” replies Blythe.
“Please come in.”
I see my sister’s tired face. She offers me a small smile, then loses it in the effort of sighing. Just as quickly as it went blank, her expression morphs as she sees Lark and realizes he revealed our secret. I’m not sure why Blythe insisted on him being here. Maybe it’s because he is her birth son. I realize I am being unfair. It is more likely due to the fact that he is the one who found us out.
Raven places herself lightly on our leather couch. A barrier between me and Lark, still protecting me.
“Okay,” says Blythe. “Now for the DNA test.”
Before the War and the international decision to divide families, there was little demand for genetic tests. Now, they are used every day. Their main use is to avoid marrying blood relatives, but the government sometimes uses them otherwise. They are constantly being updated. Scientists and manufacturers have found a way to create them so they are accurate, quick to use, and cheap to produce. The government doesn’t want people to know their blood families though, for fear of the people becoming divided again. This means that DNA tests are illegal to sell and use without a permit. The government tracks them closely, and there’s a limit on the number you can use in a lifetime. Of course, this has created a black market for DNA tests. It’s strange that Blythe has one; they’re not easy to obtain.
Blythe stands in front of us. I look down at her boots. Blythe is usually miserly in her spending, but boots are the one thing she always splurges on.
“So… girls,” she starts. She tries to avoid Raven’s gaze, which is planted firmly on her, much as a snake would watch a mouse. She takes out the small box, which contains the test and flips it over to read the instructions. “Pull out a piece of your hair,” she mumbles. “Make sure that it is pulled from your scalp; don’t just break it off… et cetera, et cetera…”
I unwind my hair from its tight bun and let it fall over my shoulders in messy clumps. Raven reaches over and plucks a strand of it off my head. I frown at her playfully, and she half smirks. For the first time, I’m hit by the possibility that maybe Raven and I really are sisters. It seems so impossible, yet so real.
Raven holds the two strands of hair out in front of her, in a rare ray of sunlight. They sway in a nonexistent breeze. They are identical. The same lonely black color. Blythe takes them from Raven’s hand. She is careful not to drop them. She is opening the box that contains the test when we hear a knock on the door. It is sharp and quick, one single rap. Blythe’s face turns as pale as a cloud on a sunny day.
“In the name of the law, open your door!” A loud voice booms.
I feel my mind slide down my throat and slosh into my stomach. Blythe’s feet seem glued to the ground, so Raven stands up instead. The old oak door lets out a groan. Two men smile nervously at us. They’re dressed in black. Around their waists they have heavy belts weighted with objects I don’t recognize.
Raven steps back nervously, forcing a tiny smile that doesn’t fit on her solemn face. The men welcome themselves into our living room, grinding dirt into our white carpet with their heavy shoes. Their gazes shift from Blythe to Lark to Raven to me, and then to the test in Blythe’s hand.
One of the men walks towards Blythe. He smiles. It’s a sad but satisfied look, like a scientist watching the hurricane they predicted to happen appear on the radar.
“Would I be wrong to assume that that is a DNA test in your hand?” he asks Blythe. She bites her lip nervously, her eyes darting around the room. I hear Lark let out a forced breath of air beside me.
“No, sir. You would not be incorrect.”
After that, there is not much we could have done. There is no way Blythe can stay with us. They give her two hours to pack everything up, kiss Lark and me goodbye, and sob so much the skin on her cheeks turn raw. Lark cries too. His eyes turn red, and snot dribbles off his chin and onto his shorts. I am too scared to cry. Too shocked. I sit on the couch and don’t move until it’s time for Blythe to leave.
Raven sits next to me, her hand in mine, her features blank and wet with tears. The two men grab both of Blythe’s wrists and are about to take her away, take her away forever, throw her in jail just because the government doesn’t want people to be with their own families when she calls, “Wait!”
Blythe elbows the men away and rushes towards the three of us. She stops sobbing and her face becomes cold and solemn.
“Listen very closely,” she says.
No one moves. One of the men coughs impatiently by the door.
Then Blythe whispers very quietly, “Lark is my birth son, and Skai…you are my birth daughter. Raven is your sister. Raven is,” she pauses long enough to hear Raven’s startled gasp of realization, then continues. “You are all my children.”
She meets my eyes for the first time. One tear falls from my face and onto my hand. It carries the weight of Blythe’s words, of what just happened, and of what was about to happen.
“I love you all, always,” she says.
“I love you too, Blythe,” I whisper, and she is taken away.
A lot happened after that. It didn’t take long for them to get the truth out of Raven—the truth of why Blythe was holding that DNA test when they walked in on her. Raven and I were not sent to jail, at least. Not even juvenile detention. They assumed it was not our fault. However, we had to be separated. I offered to be the one to go. I was moved to a different town, in a different state, in a different country, on a different continent, something that should’ve happened years ago.
I am allowed to talk to Blythe occasionally, over the phone. She sounds tired, and distant, as she always did when she was my Gaya. I have a new Gaya now, but she is not my mother. Lark and Raven were able to stay, for what that’s worth.
I talk to Raven sometimes, too, even though I’m not supposed to. By not supposed to, I mean it’s illegal. Raven seems fine. The next time we’re caught, I doubt they’ll be so forgiving. The next time we’re caught, though, I won’t be so cooperative.