A week of school went by, with nothing out of the ordinary, the twins being ruthless towards me, Mom and Dad leaving for work and coming home on time every day. There was a fierce windstorm, as is normal in Chicago, on my sixth day of school. They didn’t cancel school because the news casters said it wouldn’t hit our area very hard.
They were wrong.
We had to stay at school overnight, we were told the winds were too strong to even try to make it home. All of us stuck in the high school building until the winds died. They told us it could take days, or it could end tomorrow. I found myself in the library, finding comfort in the shelves against the howling winds. I could see the storm raging through the windows, we were surrounded by black skies. The only thing I could see were the explosions of lightning. Eventually it all stopped. The rain, the wind, the lightning, and it was time to go home.
The winds had destroyed trees, houses and anything it could get its hands on. Powerlines were down from the fallen trees, firefighters were already working on the repair. My home was undamaged except for one of the trees in the backyard had lost more than a few branches. I could hear Poppy and Asher talking upstairs but Mom and Dad were not home. I looked in the garage for the car but it was gone. Maybe they were still stuck at work, waiting for the roads to be cleared of all the debris. I thought nothing of it.
My answer came the next morning. It was early morning, the sun had just barely begun to rise in the sky. Asher and Poppy were brushing their teeth in their bathrooms, I was in my room, changing out of my pjs when the doorbell rang from downstairs.
“Gob geb bat!” Poppy yelled over the toothbrush in her mouth. I struggled into my pants and ran down the flight of stairs to the front door. There was a second knock on the door, and when I opened it, I was face to face with a burly cop and a neat looking woman. I stared at them, knowing, deep in my heart that this was the beginning of a nightmare.
“Echo Sorell?” The cop asked, his voice rough with ware. I nodded, he waved into the room behind me. “May we enter?” Again, I nodded stupidly. The two of them entered, looking around the room. The woman beside the cop turned to me and placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Go get your brother and sister, dear, please.” I stared up at her, and felt every emotion drain from me as I looked into the sorrowful eyes. I felt my feet take me upstairs and felt my mouth move to tell Poppy and Asher that they were needed downstairs. I sat numbly in one of the chairs in the living room, Asher and Poppy sat on one loveseat while the officer and the lady sat on the other. Asher and Poppy’s faces began to show signs that they knew what was coming.
“I’m deeply regretful to be the bearer of this news,” the burly officer began, “but, the vehicle belonging to your parents was found this morning. A tree had fallen on top of it. They were killed instantly.” The woman stood straighter, her eyes sad.
“I was your parent’s lawyer before they passed. I’m here to read you their will.”
It’s that feeling where you question everything. You may never find out, you may give up, you may keep going. Before long it wears you down, tares you up on the inside and you just can’t go on any longer. It’s that feeling that nothing is right. Nothing will ever be right again.
“Mr. and Mrs. Sorrell left this house to Asher and Poppy. Their will states that they wish for you to use it as you please since you grew up here.” The lawyer was saying. I focused on her, her hair up in a tight bun, the way her glasses kept falling off of her nose. “Echo,” she turned to me, I could see the twins holding on to each other and crying. I was numb.
“They left this letter for you. I do not know what is inside, but they told me to give this to you if anything ever happened to them.” She placed the letter in my hand, I stared at it, unsure if I should open it now or later. The lawyer stayed to comfort the three of us for a long while. I sat detached from the twins, unsure of whether or not they needed to be comforted from me. When the lawyer at last, left, the twins clung to each other, crying. I had no place beside them and walked out of the room, their cries tearing up my own heart. The letter felt heavy in my hand, so I stowed it away in my desk drawer.
While the twins took a bereavement from work and school, I continued to go to classes, lazily listening to my lectures and going through every day, numb. I could not believe that my parents were actually gone. But when I walked through the doors to where they use to come home every night. It hit me, again and again. They were truly gone.
Mr. Bayer noticed the lifelessness in me. One day, he asked me to stay after class, to talk to him.
“How are you, Echo?” He asked in his soothing voice. I sighed and stared at my converse sneakers, not knowing if he wanted me to lie and tell him I was fine.
Instead, I told him the truth. “The twins are having a harder time with this than I am.” He leaned back in his chair, knowing that I would not need any more prompting. “I’m okay, not fine, but I’m hanging in there. I feel like the entire world was flipped upside down in one day.”
“Your world was, Echo. You can’t change that fact, but you can make sure that everything your parents left for you becomes their legacy in your memories.” I thought of the letter stowed away in my desk drawer. It had been a week since their deaths and I had not even opened it. It reminded me that the twins had stopped their bullying completely, they didn’t even talk to me any more.
“Asher and Poppy are their legacy.” I whispered, “I’m just the adopted son.”
“You can’t think like that. The raised you, they taught you humility. Every time you smile, it’s thanks to them for taking care of you. Think of what they would say to you right now if they saw you.”
“Mom would be mad,” I whispered, feeling tears well up in the corners of my eyes. Mr. Bayer patted me on my shoulder and smiled at me.
“That she would. Everything is going to be alright. Just live everyday with a smile on your face and you will get passed this.”
“Thank you,” I whispered. “Truly, thank you.”
That night, with the memories of my adoptive parents flooding my mind, i sat in the chair at my desk and opened the drawer. The letter stared up at me, taunting me. I took in a deep breath, reached down and grabbed it. Opening it took another couple deep breaths, but I managed. Once it was in my hands, I read it.
My dearest Echo,
You came to us when we least expected you. You were the light this family needed to make it whole. We loved you and even though we are gone, we still love you. The letter attached will be your new life. Make it yours. All I wish from you is a smile. It’s better for people to smile. Even if they want to cry, or if people are killed, somehow, it’s better if people are smiling. Even if they hate, or want to kill, or can’t forgive, so much it kills them, the thing they wish for the most is the smile of the one they care about. So that is all I want from you.
Smile, my Echo, I love you and can only say one thing to you that I never was able to in life. Be yourself, find your real mother and live your life how you want to. Don’t just go with the flow, there will always be millions of rabbit holes to fall into, find yours and write your own story. Create your own Wonderland.
We love you more than words can express.
Mom and Dad
As my mother’s letter stated, a second letter was attached.
Mr. Echo Alys Sorrell
March 30, 20XX
I am delighted to inform you that the Committee of Admissions had voted to offer you a place at Silverleaf Academy. Following tradition, a certificate is enclosed. Please accept my personal congratulations for your outstanding achievements.
Every year, nearly eight thousand students apply of admission. Faced with many more talented and highly qualified candidates than it had room to admit, the Committee took great care to choose individuals with exceptional character as well. The committee is convinced you will make important contributions during your school years and beyond.
We have a longstanding commitment to meet the financial needs of all our admitted students. No limit has been set on your start date or the expiration of financial resources. We encourage you to contact us whenever you wish to start any of your school years with us. If you have any questions concerning the school or the full ride scholarship offered, please contact us.
I very much hope that you will decide to join us at Silverleaf. We have enclosed a statement about any and all opportunities available to you. Whatever your decision may be, you have my best wishes for every future success.
Stunned, I could do nothing more than stare at the letters. It seemed like I should have known about this school. I’d never heard of Silverleaf Academy before. I was heartbroken that my mother decided that she didn’t need to tell me. Was I only suppose to find out if they died? Was she going to keep this from me forever? Now I needed to know what this school was, and why my mother kept this a secret from me. There had to be a reason and with my parents gone, I needed to find out.
There was a second page attached to the invitation letter, it included a phone number, an address and an email address. I grabbed my cell phone and dialed the number. I didn’t even think of what time it was, I needed answers. I calm my mind while the phone rang, I had a soft stress ball come to me and I floated it around my out stretched hand. I bounced it in my hand, around my fingers and had it hovered over my palm. I exhaled slowly, feeling myself calm down. The phone rang once more and then there was a click.
“The number you have dialed is currently unavailable. If you wish to leave a message, please do so after the tone.“ I hung up the phone, irritated again.
All that was left was to go to the address included on the paper.
The ride was long, it seemed like I was going to another state. Staring out at the fields that stretched out until the eye could see. Clouds covered parts of the sky but blue was still making its way through, the sun shining along with it. I felt insignificant, being one of the thousands of people on the road traveling at that point in time. How many different lives and stories drove this road every day? At least I was still alive and able to do what I wanted, there were more people out there who have had worse lives than I have.
In that moment on the road, with my headphones on, watching the scenery and the people, I realized that I needed to make this school work no matter what. I needed to become my own person and decide what to do with my life.
Hours later, the bus arrived at the bus stop. There were no buildings, no other cars, just a winding river in the distance and hundreds of trees. I had not even realized that there could be so many trees in one place. My parents had never taken me to any forests before, we had never even gone on any vacations when I was a child. It was all new to me.
I clutched my bag tighter to myself and began to follow the path through the trees. The smell of the trees was musky and clean. I began to feel myself smile. It was quiet in the trees, it was dense and I could hear only birds chirping and calling to each other. I was learning to heal and taking a chance on this brand new day. I knew there would be days that I would fear the days to come but with every step I took, I was embracing this life. I knew I would be okay, so I continued to trudge through the trees.
“Little Echo,“ I jumped and looked up from my feet. A teenage guy stood to the side on the path to the school. His brown hair was short and his brown eyes so dark they almost looked black. He was wearing a pair of khaki shorts and a light blue tshirt. The smile he turned towards me was somewhat wicked.
“Uh, do I know you?“ He bounced off the tree he was leaning against, making his way toward me.
“You’re late, very, very late. About three years to be exact.“ He checked the wristwatch on his right hand and clicked his tongue in annoyance for a second time. Okay, this was awkward.
“My name is Sam Wright,” he said in a tone like I should know who he was. I blinked at him as he tucked his hands into his pockets. “As the Student Council President, I am to be your guide.“
“Right…” I drew out the word, tilting my head to look at the empty field behind me.“My guide to where, exactly?”
His smile never faltered as he turned his head up toward the sky, the cloud that neared the sun, covering his face in slight darkness. When he turned his face back toward me, his eyes seemed to flare red. Suddenly, from beneath his feet the ground seemed to shake and rise at the same time. From it, millions of small water droplets rose. They merged into one mass of water, about the size of a basketball. I stared in fascination. Someone else had an ability to do something that wasn’t normal.
“To a place where you can be normal and use your powers as you wish.”