“I want it now!” The words tore out of a cute, seven-year-old blonde with big blue eyes and shining ringlets of blonde hair. She looked like an angel but her mannerisms were directly opposite to her look.
Frustrated, Anise’s mother grabbed her daughter by the hand and led her to the nearby ice cream truck. Like her daughter, she tapped her foot and crossed her arms to show her anger as she waited her turn.
“One chocolate ice cream cone,” she barked at the attendant with no hint of politeness. Once it was delivered, she pulled some money out of her swimsuit cover-up and threw at the old man. Then she huffed away, still dragging her daughter behind her.
After finishing her ice cream, Anise went down by the ocean to build a sand castle. Before long, a dark- haired girl with big brown eyes sat next to her and began building one too. The girls exchanged a few words and giggles as they worked. When they were done, they examined their work critically.
“They look like they were made by the same person,” the dark-haired girl, named Suzy, commented.
“They do,” Anise admitted. “Let’s join them together and make one huge castle.”
Suzy thought about it for a moment and then agreed. The girls readily began making a bridge that joined the two structures together.
“I think the castle was owned by two brothers who didn’t live with one another,” Suzy posited. “How sad for them. I hope they were at least kind to one another. That is important, especially for family.”
Anise thought about Suzy’s words for a moment and then put out her hand. “I’m pleased to meet you, Suzy, and I think you are right.”
“I am pleased to meet you too, Anise.” Suzy’s wide grin made Anise very happy. For reasons she didn’t understand she much preferred a smile to the frowns she generally elicited from her mother. Momentarily lost in thought Anise didn’t notice when her mother approached her from the rear.
“It’s time to go,” the woman said impatiently. “It’s too hot here and I’m tired.”
“Can’t I stay and play with my new friend?” Anise looked at her mother with great longing.
“What new friend?” Her mother looked around and saw no other children anywhere nearby. “I don’t have time for your stupid games, child,” she muttered. “We are going home – now!”
Anise turned to say a quick goodbye to Suzy but found the little girl had already disappeared. She scanned the beach for a sign of her but found none. With Suzy gone, Anise felt no further need to argue. Instead she got up immediately and followed her mother’s lead.
On subsequent trips to the beach, Anise looked for Suzy. Sometimes she was there and other times she was not. Anise was always happy to find her present. The girls played games together and continued to build sand castles. When finished, they always joined their structures together.
One afternoon when Anise’s mother called her for ice cream, the small blonde asked if Suzy could come with them. “We’ll share the cone, Mama,” she added sweetly.
“Why do you keep talking about this imaginary friend?” Her mother looked both impatient and enraged.
“She’s not imaginary, Mama. We play here together all of the time,” Anise retorted.
“I’ve never seen you playing with anyone,” Clair Benson stressed emphatically. “I’ve had enough of this. Do you hear me?”
Anise nodded and then declined her ice cream. She returned to the sand castle and began working. Before long, Suzy rejoined her.
“Why do you keep disappearing?” The question was a sound one but it seemed to make Suzy uncomfortable.
“Your mother can’t see me,” the little girl returned. “It will make her unhappy.”
“Why should seeing you make her unhappy?” Anise weighed the words in her mind but decided they made no sense.
“It’s a long story,” Suzy answered. Then she refused to speak of it anymore.
Anise decided not to push the matter. She enjoyed playing with Suzy too much to risk losing her.
All summer long, the girls giggled and played together. When the last day at the beach came, Anise found her heart heavy.
“I won’t see you again,” she moaned as tears rolled down her cheeks. “Won’t you tell me where you live so I can come visit you?”
“I can’t,” was Suzy’s only answer. “Maybe we’ll see one another next summer,” she offered sadly.
As Clair Benson stood to call her daughter, she put her hand above her eyes to block the sun. That’s when she noticed a second figure on the beach next to Anise.
‘I’ll be,’ she thought to herself. ‘It appears Suzy exists after all.’
As Clair drew closer to the girls, something made her heart flutter. The second girl was as dark as Anise was fair but there was something familiar about her; something she recognized. That’s when a scream escaped from her throat.
Anise looked up, recognizing her mother’s voice. “What’s wrong, Mama?” She stood and ran toward her mother, throwing her arms comfortingly around her.
“That girl,” her mother began.
“You mean Suzy?” Anise turned to call to her friend. As was commonplace, Suzy had managed to vanish.
Clair knelt in the sand next to her daughter. “Describe Suzy to me,” she demanded, her hands biting into Anise’s delicate flesh.
“Okay,” Anise returned although she was uncertain what to say. “Suzy is the same age as me. She has long brown hair and big brown eyes,” she finished. Then something else occurred to the child. “We sort of look alike. I always that was funny,” she added. “Oh, and she has a brown butterfly on her shoulder.”
“Martine Suzanne Benson,” her mother whispered quietly as all color drained from her face.
“Who is she Mama?” Anise’s eyes searched her mother’s for answers.
“No one,” her mother snapped. Then she stood and began pulling her daughter toward their car.
For the rest of the afternoon, Clair Benson remained in her room. She refused to come out until her husband returned home. Then the couple whispered to one another. Anise could not make out what they were saying. Somewhere deep inside her heart, however, she suspected it had to do with Suzy.
At last her parents exited their bedroom carrying something with them. From the looks on their faces, Anise could tell they were about to say something she might not like.
“Let’s go downstairs,” Brad Benson suggested. Once the family was there, he began speaking softly.
“We weren’t going to tell you this until you were much older but given your encounters with the little girl named Suzy we thought it might be time.” Brad took a deep breath and grabbed his wife’s hand. “You see, Anise, you weren’t born alone.”
Anise didn’t understand what her father was saying. She started to ask him to clarify but he charged on before she could open her mouth.
“You had a twin sister,” he finished. “She had dark hair and brown eyes. Your mother and I used to call you Ying and Yang because you were direct opposites but you still fit so well together.”
“If I have a sister, where is she?” Anise thought her parents were playing a cruel game.
“She died before the two of you turned six months old,” her mother said as her voice began to break. “She had a bad heart. There was nothing the doctors could do.”
Tears began forming in Anise’s eyes and her body began to shake. Her father reached out and pulled her into his lap.
“This is her picture,” he said quietly. Then he flipped over the paper he’d been holding in his hands.
“That’s Suzy!” Anise’s excitement immediately took over. “See the brown butterfly on her shoulder. That’s Suzy. That’s my friend,” she emphasized. Then a strange thought hit her. “But if she’s dead, how did she come and play with me?”
“We don’t know, baby,” Brad admitted. “Maybe she wanted to meet you. Maybe she wanted to tell you something.”
“She did tell me something. She told me to be kind to people, especially family. I didn’t use to be but I’ve been trying since she told me that. She was right, Mama. We should always be kind no matter what.”
Clair nodded, realizing for the first time how much damage she’d done to her daughter. Kindness was something she’d never shown. Her other daughter had returned from the grave to remind her it was the most important thing of all.