It was three in the morning.
Christian was slowly drifting awake from a hazy dream – the shadowy image of a girl. Soft, warm skin. A faint vanilla scent. A cascade of black hair that tickled his face and slipped like silk through his fingers.
And a name – Karin. His Karin.
When they first kissed, she tasted like cotton candy and saltwater taffy and the vanilla milkshake they had been sharing. And afterwards, he knew that he would never kiss anyone else again.
He finally surfaced from sleep, his hand reaching under his pillow to answer the phone.
Karin’s twin brother was calling. Micah. That was his name.
“She’s missing,” the disembodied voice said matter-of-factly.
Christian crashed back to reality, clutching his mobile phone so tightly that he thought it would fold in half. It stayed intact, however. “Since when?” he asked, a tremor of fear splitting his voice into strands of vulnerability. “When and where did you last see her?”
“She left home last night,” answered Micah, disclosing the details expressionlessly. “Her phone is here, all her things are here. If she went away willingly, she brought nothing with her except for the clothes she’s wearing.”
Christian sighed, dispelling the air as slowly as he could, willing himself to relax. It steamed in the cold room. Karin was okay, he thought to himself. She had to be okay.
The digital clock on his nightstand, the only source of illumination in the room aside from his phone, said 3:12 AM. She had been missing for close to nine hours now.
“I’ll look for her,” he said, standing up. “Did you file a missing persons report already?’
Micah made a noncommittal noise. “We did, but since Karin is prone to disappearances, I don’t think they’ll look as actively as we would. I’m heading out again. Keep me posted if you find anything. And, Christian…” Micah paused. He took a short, harsh breath. “She’s…troubled. Please don’t say or do anything that might agitate her even further.”
The call ended before Christian could form a coherent answer.
There was a list of possible places where she could be. If Micah had already checked out their usual twin-places, then maybe it was time for Christian to look for her in their own special places instead.
The first place he checked was the tree house they built in a local park. The padlock on the door was getting rusty. He squinted in the dim light, looking all around the small space. Karin’s drawings on the walls, half-finished gunpla figures, a sleeping bag in the corner. Some of their black jackets were thrown over the back of a chair. He remembered a time before Karin got sick. They would spend hours up here, being lazy on the sleeping bag and watching funny YouTube videos together.
He shook his head. He had to snap out of it and find her.
It was very cold outside. Christian pulled the hood of his parka over his head and placed his hands inside his pockets as he walked. There were no people outside, and the cars were few and far between. Sometimes, it felt like he was the only person in the world.
Where could you be? He asked the Karin in his mind. Where would you go when you don’t want anyone to find you?
Definitely not the hospital. She had been in there for such a long time and she hated the place. She wouldn’t be in their favorite library, since it was closed this time of the night. And she definitely would not be out walking this time of the night because she got tired easily and wouldn’t have the energy to do so.
He spied a glimpse of the amusement park by the boardwalk. The park was closed, but the lights on the Ferris wheel were twinkling. She loved Ferris wheels – when they were at the very top, she used to look down with delighted eyes and announce that she wanted to stay up there forever.
That made something click in his brain.
Where could Karin go where she could be high up above everyone else?
He turned back to the city, seeking out the tallest building with his eyes. He found it, then began to run in its direction.
He found her on the rooftop, standing near the railing and watching the city lights below. She was in a simple white dress and a red peacoat, and her hair was fluttering wildly in the breeze.
“Hello, Christian.” She turned to look at him.
“What are you doing here?” He crushed her in a hug, relief making his entire body relax. “What were you thinking, disappearing like that and making us all sick with worry?” He felt so tired. He wanted to collapse with her on the ground and sleep, like they used to do at the treehouse.
She smiled up at him. “You should have let me die,” she said. Karin motioned to her outfit, showing it off. “I have such a pretty dress on, too.”
He couldn’t help it. Tears squeezed past the corners of his eyes and trickled down his cheeks while he stared at her helplessly. “I can’t,” he replied in a choked voice. “I’m sorry, but I can’t let you go.”
She looked at him, tracing the tear tracks on his his cheek with trembling fingers. She looked frightened. It was the first time she had ever seen him cry.
He caressed the bruises on the crook of her elbow and forearms. Bruises and pinpricks and scars from all the IVs and needles and tests. He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. “I can’t just leave you here to die.”
“Oh.” Karin reached into her pockets and pulled out a slender vial and a syringe, encased in bubble wrap and brown paper. “I have this.”
Christian swallowed. “What’s that?” he whispered.
She shrugged, reaching up to move her hair away from her face. She looked unconcerned. “Oh, a mix of barbiturates,” she answered calmly. “That way, I’ll die as peacefully as possible.”
“Toxicology will find the drug in your system, Karin. They’ll find out that I was here. They’ll think I killed you.”
Karin looked at him obliquely. “I thought of that already,” she said. “But no. They’ll think it’s suicide. I’ve been asking for assisted suicide but my parents are just so stubborn. They signed me up for therapy sessions, would you believe that?”
A cold breeze blew past them, making Karin’s dress flutter in the breeze. She went over to him and hid her face in his chest, and Christian’s arms went around her automatically. Funny these things we do out of habit.
“Don’t you want to live and stay with me?” he asked softly, slowly moving his fingers through her hair.
He felt her tremble briefly. But when she spoke, her voice was calm.
“No,” she answered. “I think I’ve suffered far too long. I want to die on my own time. I don’t want to waste away in a hospital room, dying bit by bit. It will get even worse, you know. My hair will fall out. My weight will drop. I’ll have trouble breathing. I’ll cough and vomit blood everyday. I’ll start hurting even more, and I will hate all of you.”
She touched his cheek, looking up at him. “I don’t want to hate you.”
She was so warm, so alive. Her lips were soft when she pressed them on his, and she tasted faintly like cotton candy and saltwater taffy, like she had all those years ago.
“I can’t handle the pain anymore, Christian,” she whispered. “You have to let me go.”
He kissed her forehead. She smiled, squeezing his hand lovingly.
“I thought we would be together for Christmas,” he said. But he took the small package containing the glass vial and the syringe. It was lightweight, but somehow it felt like he was carrying the weight of the world, all in one hand.
Micah was waiting downstairs. He was sitting on the stairwell in his all-black clothes. It was his usual attire, but something about the way he met Christian’s eyes told him that Micah was already in mourning for his twin sister.
“Any luck finding her?” Micah asked.
Christian lowered his eyes to the ground. His hands clenched into fists inside his pockets, and the slender vial that had held the medicine cracked in half, its shards piercing his skin. He could feel the blood pooling on the cuts but he didn’t relax his grip.
“No,” he said softly. “No sign of her at all.”
Something cold and feathery touched his cheek. Christian blinked and looked up. Big, fragile snowflakes were falling from the sky in a dizzying pattern.
“Whenever snow would fall, Karin always used to say that it was as if the sky is crying,” mused Micah.
Christian said nothing. He thought of Karin, lying cold and still on the ground with only her red coat covering her little body. The sky might be as well crying for her, for all they knew.
“No!” He turned to Micah, raw pain ripping through his heart. “No. I don’t want to hear it.”
He turned and walked away as fast as he could, finally breaking into a run. He took a sharp turn toward the main street, but slipped on a piece of ice. He landed hard on his side, a sudden surge of pain shooting up his leg. He sat up slowly, only to see a car heading towards him at breakneck speed.
“Hey Karin,” he said softly. “Looks like we’re going to be together for Christmas, after all.”