The Mind Game by Sierra Tarr

The Mind Game by Sierra Tarr
Even after 6 months, Kendra's depression still wasn't getting better.  If anything, it was getting worse. She had become extremely solitary these past few months, slipped further and further out of reach. Connor was running out of patience. He knew she could heal if she'd let herself be comforted.  But that was the problem; she wouldn't. She was content to wallow in her grief. She wouldn't see a therapist, and she was always holing up in her room––it was as if she wanted to feel sorry for herself. True, the tragedy had wounded him deeply, but still he always tried to keep positive, to find something to be happy about. That left no room for bitterness or despair. Kendra, on the other hand...she didn't even seem to want to be happy.
            Oh why did you have to die so soon, Mom and Dad? You were so young. It wasn't fair to make him go through this at his age––he wasn't ready to handle it on his own.  It wasn't fair. The memory was too painful. He pushed it away.
            Connor felt a fresh wave of anger along with his grief. Anger at his parents for leaving them to fend for themselves, and anger at his twin sister for not trying to get over it. Didn't she know this was hard for him too? He had his own grief to deal with; it wasn't fair of her to make him take care of her as well. Those words seemed to surface more and more in his thoughts these days––not fair. Still, he tried to help her through her pain, did anything he thought would make her happy. Because the thought of losing Kendra as well scared him more than he wanted to think about.
            Whenever he thought about Kendra or his parents, he always came to that same conclusion. So, using a small portion of the fortune their parents left behind, he had bought them a two-week long vacation on a resort island at the luxurious Baschter Hotel to cheer her up.
            Now standing in Kendra's room, he gaped at what surrounded him. The legs of a giant four-poster-bed creaked and groaned underneath a stained mattress. Hideous brown wallpaper peeled away from the mold-speckled wall as if in disgust. One lonesome light bulb hung high on a fancy chandelier, so dim it was useless. The spacious window that looked out over the island was splotched and dirty, covered halfway by crimson drapes the color of blood. All the furniture had the look of things that used to be beautiful, but had long since been neglected.
              The hall door swung open, and out of the corner of his eye, Connor caught a flash of flaming red hair.
            “Hi Kendra!” he shouted, and his sister whirled inhumanly fast, barely missing his face with her fist as he caught her hand. “Settle down, it's only me.” he grinned up at her.
            She rolled her eyes at him and flopped onto the bed. 
            Connor's smile faded. She hadn't even put up a fight. He'd expected a slap the head or at least a snide comment from her, but she hadn't said a single word.
            He bit back his disappointment. “Man this room's a mess. I am positive that this is not the Crystal suite we reserved.”
            Kendra scanned the room, then shrugged. “It's fine. Actually, I think I like it better than yours.”
            Connor gaped at her. “But it's so dark and ugly and gloomy! There must have been a mistake. We'll get the manager Mr. Wiesel to switch us to our real rooms at dinner.”
            She looked at him sternly. “No, it's fine. It's nice and quiet. There's less people on this floor, less people prying into our business. Besides, I like the dark.”
            Connor felt the familiar feeling of dread began to weigh on him again. “Fine. You can stay here, but I'm going to get the room I paid for.” The words came out harsher than he'd intended, but he turned abruptly and stalked out of the room. “I'll see you later.”
            He stomped down the stairs towards the lobby. He wouldn't really leave her, but it had felt good to say.  And what bad luck, getting the nastiest, oldest room in the hotel. The whole purpose of this trip was to cheer her up, not give her a place to hole up in the dark. No, he decided. There had been enough of that. He had to do something. Even if it would make Kendra temporarily angry.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
            In the lobby, Connor sighted the hotel manager already in the dining area, shoveling food into his overly large mouth like there was no tomorrow.  Mr. Wiesel couldn't have been more than five feet tall, which gave all the extra calories he consumed no place to go but to gather in a pouch on his front that hung over his waistline. Reddish-brown sauce dribbled down his chins and pooled on his starch white shirt, staining it.
            Connor approached, clearing his throat, and began in his most professional voice, “Mr. Wiesel, I must bring a matter of importance to your attention.”
            Mr. Wiesel looked up through his conjoining eyebrows, seeming a bit annoyed.
            Lifting his chin, Connor continued. “My sister and I seem to have been placed in the wrong rooms by mistake. You see, we paid for this trip in advance, and we booked the Crystal Suite, not the––the––well whatever it is you call that old moldy room on floor seven.”
            The manager's beady black eyes narrowed. “Why don't you try some manners, boy.”
            Connor's patience for the day was already used up, but he swallowed and tried again. “Our names are Connor and Kendra Patrick. We are on floor seven, but we're supposed to be in the Crystal Suite. Can you please fix that for us?”
            “Much better. I will get that changed for you as soon as I'm finished with my meal which I have so rudely been interrupted from.”
            The manager did as he promised, and soon enough Connor had a new room key in his hand. It was a beautiful suite, but Kendra wasn't nearly as pleased with it as he was. She sat sullenly on a cushioned chair, reading one of her paperback novels while he looked over a pamphlet of the hotel's activities for that night. Karaoke, dancing, a scavenger hunt... fat chance of getting Kendra to participate in any of those. He flipped the page and smiled: midnight surfing and beach party. Kendra loved surfing. “Here we go,” he said, shoving the paper into her hands.
            She took one glance at it. “Nah,” she dismissed.
            “What! It's surfing. Come on, we haven't been in almost a year.”
            “I'm too tired. Why don't we just stay here and play some card games?”
            There was no way she was getting out of this one. “We are not going to stay cooped up in this room all night. Get your swimsuit on.”
            She didn't move.
            Quick as a fox, he snatched the book up out of her hands and dangled it out the open window. They were ten stories up, and below them, shrubs and bushes had grown together into several square yards of tangled greenery.
            Kendra lunged for him, but he held up his hand to stop her. “Take one more step and this baby goes bye-bye.”
            “Give. Me. That. NOW.” seethed Kendra.
            “Get your swimsuit on,” he repeated. “Just one hour on the waves is all I’m asking. Trust me, you'll have a blast.”
            “I hate you so much,” she snarled, but she grabbed her suitcase and fished out her swimsuit.
            Connor laughed. “But I love you, sister dear, and that is why I must insist on you having some fun.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
            They returned to their rooms around 1 AM, dripping and tired.
            “Now what'd I tell you!” exclaimed Connor. “That was awesome, wasn't it?”
            “I'll say.” replied Kendra. “I haven't had that much fun in a long time.” There was hint of bitterness in her tone that both confused and irritated Connor, but he said nothing.
            Long after they said good-night and went into their separate rooms, Connor lie awake in bed, thinking about Kendra yet again. She still worried him, but he couldn't quite figure out why. Hadn't she laughed for the first time in weeks when he stumbled and belly-flopped onto the water? Hadn't she said  that she had a good time? It was obvious that she had enjoyed herself... so why was he worrying? He pushed his uncertainties deep down and forced himself to relax. She was still coming around––she just needed more time was all. He'd have to keep trying. With these thoughts in mind, he drifted off.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
            The next morning, he met his sister at the breakfast table. Connor's plate was full of waffles and bacon smothered in syrup, while Kendra just pushed her food around with her fork and stared at nothing.
            Plopping down next to her, he smiled widely. “Good morning sunshine!”
            She mumbled a response.
            “How'd you sleep?”
             Not again. “What happened?” he questioned.
            Looking at him curiously, she replied innocently. “Um, I don't think I know what you mean.”
            Really. I mean why are you moping around again? We had such a good time last night. Did something devastating happen between then and now that put you in a foul mood, or do you just enjoy being grumpy in the mornings?”
            Kendra glared at him. “I don't know what you're getting all upset about. I can be in a bad mood if I feel like. There's not that much to be happy about.”
            “There's everything to be happy about! You're having a delicious breakfast with your favorite brother, at an expensive hotel, on a beautiful, sunny, resort island! There's so much to do here! Is it that hard for you to smile a little?”
            Her voice was low when she answered. “How can you be so carefree and happy-go-lucky so soon after Mom and Dad's deaths?”
            Connor's mouth fell open. “I am trying to make the best of the situation and move on, which is more than I can say for you! How do you think they would feel if they could see you––constantly sulking and brooding, not willing to do anything with your life because you're still stuck in the moment
they died?”
            Her stare was icy cold. “It's called grieving, Connor. You should try it sometime. It's a little thing people do to show their dead parents that they actually loved them and cared about them.”
            “You have been greiving for 6 months! I miss them too, but eventually you just have to move on.”
            “Honestly, I can't believe you are so blind!” She was yelling now. “I haven't had a chance to grieve. Heck, I can't even be sad for a minute around you or else you gripe at me and force me to cheer up!”
            “That's not tr––“
            “Yes it is, Mr. “I'm going to throw your book out this window if you don't come have fun with me right now!”
            Connor was speechless. Had he really been that pushy? Thinking back on the past months, he remembered all the days he'd tried so hard to force a smile, to hold back tears. He knew his parents would've wanted him to be happy, and he had tried.  And he'd wanted Kendra to be happy too. So much, he realized, that he hadn't allowed her to handle the loss in her own way. Now that she had accused him, his blunder was thrown out into the open, plain for him to see. He'd been running from his pain all this time, and now that he'd stopped, it all caught up to him. Finally, it overwhelmed him. A sob escaped his throat and he buried his face in his hands.
            Kendra spoke softly. “You have to let yourself be sad before you can really be happy again. Come on,” she stood. “I want to show you something.”
            Connor looked up and saw his own grief reflected in her eyes. Had she really been right all this time? And to think he had been coping so well. Now that he could feel the pain of loss full-blown, he didn't know how to handle it. Taking her outstretched hand, he left his breakfast and followed her up to her room.
            She pulled a book out of her suitcase and opened it. A photo album. He'd never seen it before. Each page was filled with pictures and captions. Pictures of himself, Kendra, and his parents. There were pictures of the family trip they took to Disneyland, his and Kendra's first birthday, soccer games, concerts, outings, camping trips; their whole lives plastered onto the pages. So this is what she'd been doing in her room.
            “I've been working on it for months,” said Kendra.
            “How come you never showed it to me before?”
            “You were so much happier than I was. Since you never talked about Mom and Dad, I thought it would make you upset. It still brings up painful memories for me. But it's better than forgetting them.”
            Forgetting them. Connor had always purposely pushed away any thought of his parents, hiding from the way they made his heart wrench. He'd always thought he was being the mature one who dealt with the situation the right way, but he was just like Kendra; a prisoner of his own thoughts. The only difference was, she embraced the pain while he sidestepped it. “I can't believe I'm saying this, but you were right. I have to face the situation instead of avoiding it. I'm sorry I've been pestering you.”
            Kendra actually smiled. “Of course I was right. What else is new?”
            Connor punched her arm. “Only trouble is, your way's the harder way out. I don't know if I can do it.”
            “The good thing is, you don't have to do it alone. You've got me now.”