This week’s picture comes courtesy of author Carol Deeley! When I first saw this pic, the first thought that popped into my head is a story about sisters and the bond between them. However, since you all have probably learned by now, I’m not the biggest fan of ooey gooey sweet kind of stories, so I had to add my own darker elements (insert eerie and dramatic sound effect here).
Also, be sure to check out Carol’s Instagram page for more info about her own works of fiction and more! @writeon_fiction
Here is, ‘Honest’:
Everything in the world may have been volatile and changeable, but this one truth was undeniable. Even though Ella Burton lied to everyone else in her life, she would never, ever lie to her twin sister, Emma.
“Why do you lie to everyone?” Emma had asked her sister in middle school after a particular rocky session in therapy in which Ella had reduced the therapist to tears.
“’Cause I want to be strong,” Ella had responded while she bounced a yo-yo up and down from her finger. “Powerful. My lies make other people weak.” The response was just like Ella. Wise beyond her years and full of a confidence not often found in twelve-year-olds.
“Why do you always tell me the truth, then?”
“’Cause we’re twins, even if we aren’t identical. You’re, like, the other half of me.” Ella had put a hand on Emma’s shoulder and looked quite serious as she said, “I have to have one person I can be honest with.”
Having felt honored in an odd sort of way by her sister’s words, Emma said, “You know I would never tell anyone what you say.”
“I know. That’s why you’re the only person I trust in this whole world.”
The lies didn’t make Ella particularly liked in high school, but that didn’t seem to bother her at all. While others may have aimed harsh words in her direction, she managed to repay each and every ounce of gossip with retribution in the form of manipulated truths that were often bought hook, line, and sinker.
At least in college, she was able to get a semi-fresh start. Semi-fresh in the sense that most of the others didn’t yet know her darker skills. She had no intention of trying to give up her habits as she entered adulthood, which worried Emma more than she ever admitted to her deceitful twin. If her pleas to end such behavior hadn’t reached Ella by that point, Emma was sure they never would.
The lies weren’t necessarily with ill-intent all of the time. Emma learned that about her sister when they were in college.
“Why did you tell Kelsey you lost ten pounds?” Emma asked as she burst into the dorm room she shared with her sister. “I know for a fact you’ve gained five this semester.”
Ella looked up from her computer and gave a long-suffering sigh.
“Because,” she said, “Kelsey is competitive. She’s been trying to lose those last ten pounds for the past six months. If she thinks I’ve lost more weight than her, she’ll conquer those last few pounds easily out of sheer will to win.”
Emma dropped her backpack on her bed and asked, “A helpful lie?”
“I do those sometimes, too, you know.”
“Oh. I guess I never really thought to categorize your dishonesty before.” She pulled out her chemistry test and grimaced. “I got a C on Mr. Collins’ test. What did you get?”
Ella looked back at her computer and said, “An A. Mr. Collins had the audacity to ask me if I had cheated. I was so appalled that I couldn’t help but tear up. Angry tears, though. I said I would never do such a thing. He apologized. I think we’re good now.”
“Did you actually cheat on the test?”
“Of course,” Ella answered, her fingers flying over the keyboard. “Adam gave me the answers.”
Adam was Mr. Collins’ TA, a short, bulky guy with a perpetual frown whom Emma wouldn’t ever dare mess around with.
“How did you get him to do that?” Emma asked, turning to sit as she flipped absently through the red-marked test.
“I told him I could get him an A in one of his grad classes he’s currently getting an F in.”
“And can you?”
“No, but I can get him a C, which is at least passing, so I think it’s a fair exchange. I managed to find out that the professor of his class, Mrs. Links, recently—“
“Stop!” Emma held up her hand and shook her head. “Don’t tell me. You know I’ll never tell your secrets, but I really don’t even want to know about this one.”
Ella shrugged and said, “Suit yourself.”
“What are you going to do if you ever find a guy you like?”
Ella stopped typing and turned to look at her sister again.
“What do you mean?” she asked. The subtle way her shoulders lifted alerted Emma to her twin’s curiosity over the question.
“I mean, relationships only do well with honesty. Will you change your ways if you meet a guy you like? Will you become an honest woman to keep him?”
Silence stretched between them as Ella’s eyebrows came together in concentrated thought. Finally, she said, “I don’t know. Guess we’ll have to see.”
The time to see came much quicker than either of them expected, and in a source Emma did not approve of at all.
“Seriously?” she demanded of Ella two months later as they stood in line at the campus coffee shop. “Dan Peterson?” Emma turned suspicious eyes on the massive man holding a seat for them toward the back of the crowded building.
“I know, I know.” Ella followed her gaze, eyes softening when they landed on the object of her affection. “But I can’t help it. He makes me so happy.”
“Don’t you remember how much of a jerk he was in high school? Even you were never able to smear his name, and that’s really saying something.”
“Really?” Ella’s gaze turned thoughtfully to the ceiling, then she shook her head. “I messed with so many people, I don’t even remember most of the instances anymore. That was in high school anyway. We’re all older now, and dare I say more mature?”
“If you say so.”
Ella grabbed her arm in that pleading way of hers and said, “Please be happy for me. I really, really like him, and I want you to as well. Just give him a chance, okay?”
With a last look back at Dan, Emma sighed and said, “I’ll try. I promise.”
Though Emma hated to admit it, Dan did seem to go above and beyond to treat her sister well over the next two months. The couple seemed glued together at the hip, always next to each other when they weren’t in separate classes. And then, things began to change.
“Ugh,” Ella said as she read the text she had just gotten. She set her phone down on the cafeteria table and her head next to it.
Without asking permission, Emma grabbed the phone and read the texts from Dan.
Where are you? Who are you with? When will you be done?
Then, a message sent five minutes after that.
Why aren’t you responding? What are you doing?
Three minutes later.
If you don’t text me right now, I’m coming to find you. If you’re with another dude, so help me!
“This isn’t right,” Emma said, setting the phone back down. “You know that right?”
“It’s fine,” Ella mumbled. “My own fault anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just that my past is coming back to haunt me.” Ella lifted her head, and Emma could see the sheepishness in her eyes. “One of his friends decided to remind Dan of how I was back in high school. About how I lied and stuff. Now Dan worries I lie to him about stuff.”
“That’s no excuse for this,” Emma pushed.
“He’ll get over it soon. Once he sees I’m honest with him. Well, at least mostly honest.” Ella checked the time and sighed as she stood. “I better get going. I want to review my notes before the test. Later.”
Ella didn’t mention any more of Dan’s controlling and suspicious behavior, but Emma knew it was still going on based on the way her sister would get a pained and sometimes even scared look in her eyes when she’d check her phone. It hurt Emma to see, but she also knew any attempts she’d make to persuade her twin away from Dan would be met with resentment, so she let it be. At least until things escalated again.
“What a pompous jerk!” Ella practically screamed as she slammed the door behind her upon entering the dorm room. She threw her book bag to the floor and followed it down, crossing her legs and placing her head in her hands.
Emma slapped her textbook closed and went to sit on the floor next to her sister, worry coursing through her.
“What’s wrong? What happened?” she demanded as she placed an arm around Ella’s shoulders.
“Dan,” came the terse reply. Ella lifted her head and looked over. “He keeps yelling at me and saying all kinds of stupid stuff!”
Ella gave a deep sigh and said, “That I’m a lying whore. That he can never trust me. That if he ever finds me messing around behind his back he’ll make me pay for it.”
“Ella!” Emma cried, pulling her sister in tighter. “You can’t stay with him anymore! That’s awful!”
“I mean, like I said before, I did bring it on myself. I just don’t know what to do anymore to convince him I’m being honest with him.”
“Leave him. He’s not being good to you. You deserve so much better!”
“Do I?” The pained question wasn’t just verbal, but written in her eyes as well. “After all I’ve done, all the lies I’ve told, all the people I hurt, do I deserve better?”
Shaking her head enough to send her ponytail swinging, Ella got to her feet and pasted a smile on her face.
“Don’t you worry about me,” she said. “You know I always figure things out. I’ll land on my feet and come up with a plan that soothes Dan’s fears without me losing him.” She headed for the door, but paused when her hand reached the doorknob. “Oh, and I got the answers to Friday’s test if you’re interested.” She winked at Emma, then left the room.
Over the next couple of weeks, Emma watched helplessly as her sister fell further and further into fear and emotional turmoil. When she happened across Dan yelling at Ella one day as she was headed for lunch, she had almost charged the big man. But then Ella had caught her eye and given a brief shake of her head.
No matter how much Emma pressed Ella later for the truth about what was really going on, her sister refused to say anything about it.
“You know I won’t lie to you,” said Ella, “so that means I’m not going to say anything at all.”
The last straw came for Emma the night she found Ella a wreck on the bench that sat in the back lawn of their dorm. Her sister was hunched over, arms crossed over her thighs, head drooping almost to her legs.
Emma slid onto the bench and nudged Ella’s side.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. Ella didn’t respond. “Come on.” Emma nudged her again. “What is it? Dan again, right?”
Slowly, Ella raised her head, and Emma had to fight back a shriek when she saw the red mark across her twin’s cheek and the hollow look in her expression.
Clenching her teeth together so hard that it hurt, Emma stood and said, “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
She went into the vending area of the dorm and grabbed a towel and ice, the action hard to accomplish given how hard she was shaking with barely suppressed rage. Things had to stop. She couldn’t watch Ella struggle through this horrible relationship any longer. It wasn’t like she could do much, though. Ella would never report what Dan was doing, and she clearly wasn’t going to break up with him either.
Placing a hand over the cellphone in her pocket, Emma bit her lip and tried to decide if what she was considering would push her sister away forever. Did it matter, though, as long as she was safe? Feeling a nervous rush of energy, she pulled out her phone and opened the voice recorder, then went back out to her sister and handed over the ice pack.
“Put this ice against your face,” she ordered.
Ella complied with a muttered, “Thanks.”
Emma took a deep breath and said, “It’s just you and me now, okay? You don’t lie to me, so give it to me straight. How far has he gone? He hit you, right? Has he done anything else?”
Ella turned her head away, lips settling into a tight line.
“Just tell me!” Emma grabbed Ella’s shoulders and forced her to turn. “You’ll feel better if you get it off your chest. Tell me.”
Looking around, taking in the quiet and lifeless area around them, Ella took a shuddering breath and said, “Not a word to anyone.”
“I’ve never breathed a word of your secrets before,” Emma said, feeling a guilty pit settle in her stomach as the phone recorded every part of their conversation.
With another shaky breath, Ella began. “It was just the texts at first. Him always wanting to know where I was. What I was doing. Who with. He never said much about it while we were together. Then it started coming up. He’d ask about it in person, usually calmly. Then he got to where he would get angry when we talked, raising his voice. The accusations next and him calling me all kinds of terrible things. Now he…” She trailed off and looked across the lawn. She rubbed the palms of her hands into her eyes. “He hits me sometimes. Not too hard. I mean, it’s bearable. I hate that he’s so upset, though. I hate that he doesn’t trust me. I just feel so lost.”
“Because I love him!” Ella’s eyes went wide, filling with tears as she said it. “I love him so much, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get him to trust me.”
“It’s not worth it!”
“I should have never told you!” Ella stood and glared down at her sister. “You’ll just judge him now.”
“Of course I will! He’s hitting you!”
“Stay out of it!” Ella marched two or three steps, then turned and said, “If you say a word about this, I’ll never speak to you again!”
That night, after Ella had fallen asleep, Emma took her sister’s phone and forwarded all of the harsh messages Dan had sent to her own phone. Those texts, along with Ella’s recorded confession and the photo Emma had managed to take of her twin’s red marked face earlier might just be enough to condemn Dan. The school seemed to think so, too. The next day, after all the evidence had been submitted, the big man was called to the office, and Emma may or may not have made sure the story of what had happened got around the small college campus.
Everywhere she went, she could hear talk of it amongst her peers. The once highly commended Dan Peterson was now only being talked of with suspicion and sometimes even contempt.
“I knew he seemed too perfect,” said one girl in the coffee shop standing behind Emma as she ordered her usual. “No guy is that perfect.”
Because Ella refused to say anything incriminating against her boyfriend, Dan was not convicted of anything related to the way he had treated his girl. Emma knew that wouldn’t stop him from becoming somewhat of a pariah on campus, though. If everyone knew his true nature, maybe Ella would let herself see it, too. If not, at least everyone would have their eyes on Dan, making sure he couldn’t get away with anything.
After Emma’s last class of the day, she walked out of the door to find Ella waiting for her, face bright red and breathing heavy.
“How could you!” Ella screamed, not seeming to care there were people all around them. “How could you do that to me! I trusted you!” Her hands were clenched tightly at her sides, and Emma wondered if her sister would actually attack her out of anger. She took a step back.
“I did it for you,” Emma said. “I couldn’t watch you suffer anymore.”
“You knew you were the only person in this world I could trust! You knew I loved him!” Angry tears welled up in her eyes. “Looks like I’m not the only liar in this family anymore! That title goes to you now!”
“No. From here on out, we aren’t sisters anymore. You’re dead to me! Understand? Don’t ever talk to me again!” With those last harsh words, Ella stormed away.
“Ella!” Emma cried after her, but she knew it wouldn’t do any good. In order to save her sister, she had sacrificed a relationship with her. Fighting tears, she repeated to herself over and over again that it was all worth it if Ella was safe.
Dan ended up transferring to a different school because of everything that had happened. Until he left, he tried to downplay everything, saying it was a misunderstanding that Emma had taken way out of context. Pretty much everybody had decided he was a terrible person at that point, though, so it didn’t do much good.
One day, about a month after the new semester’s start, as she was heading for lunch, Emma was joined by, Lucian, a guy she and Ella had gone to high school with.
“Mind if I walk with you?” he asked as he fell into step beside her.
“Of course not.” Emma smiled up at him. “How is your semester going so far?”
Something in the way he said it caused the smile to fall from Emma’s face. She studied the man next to her as she asked, “It doesn’t sound good. Everything ok?”
“Umm, well.” He cleared his throat. “I was wondering if I could ask you something.”
“What is it?”
“Do you think…” Lucian trailed off and broke eye contact with her, turning his gaze instead to his sandaled feet.
He cleared his throat again and said, “Do you really think Dan did all that stuff to Ella? That he was actually mistreating her and all that?”
Feeling suddenly furious that he would suggest anything else, fighting the urge to pound his face in, she gritted out, “I know he did. I saw the evidence myself. How could you hint at anything else after everything she’s been through?”
“I just can’t shake it, though.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Back in school, he was really hard on her. Always picking on her and stuff.”
“Yeah, it got kinda bad there toward the end of senior year. I think he might have even told her to go kill herself one time.”
“Really? I mean, I knew he was a jerk, but he went that far? And to Ella?”
“Yeah. She was the one that got half the football team suspended. The football team that Dan was the captain of. He was pissed and wanted to make her life a living hell.”
Emma felt her anger shift from the man in front of her and back to Dan. She hadn’t thought she could get any more furious with him, but apparently she could.
Realizing Lucian was watching her as she thought through what he said, Emma shook her head and said, “Okay, so the guy was horrible to her way back in the day. Clearly they made up for those bad times, though. She was crazy about him. Still is. I saw the way she looked at him. It’s the tale as old as time. Two people who used to be at odds getting together. Fine line between love and hate. All that stuff. And if anything, doesn’t that just prove more he was going to hurt her? I mean, if he was so awful to her before, it would be easy enough for him to fall into his old ways again.”
Lucian shrugged and said, “Maybe they did work everything out. I just know that she tried over and over again in high school to get him in trouble, and he somehow always got out of it. Most of the time, he actually ended up coming out looking better than before she went after him. I don’t know. Kinda feels like she finally succeeded. And I’ve seen Dan date plenty of girls before, and he’s never once treated any of them badly. Not even the ones who didn’t treat him so good.”
“You mean not that you know of. The guy’s probably been hiding it.”
“Right. Yeah, that’s probably it.” But he didn’t sound convinced.
“Lucian,” Emma said, the warning clear in her voice.
“Okay. I’m sorry. You are right. I mean, you do know Ella better than anyone, right? You would know if she was lying.”
Even after Lucian had left her, Emma couldn’t shake what he had said. Obviously Ella had been mistreated by Dan. There was no way she was so good of an actor that Emma wouldn’t be able to see the truth. Not to mention the fact that Ella would never lie to her.
Unable to shake the uneasy feeling Lucian had planted in her by the end of the day, she went to Ella’s new dorm room. The one she had moved to the very day Emma had betrayed her trust.
“What do you want?” Ella asked, body tense as she stared her sister down.
“Five minutes. I need to ask you about something.”
Ella stood unmoving for a moment, then rolled her eyes and stepped aside so Emma could enter the room.
“What is it?” Ella asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
“I want to know if everything you told me was true. Dan really did do all of that stuff to you, right?”
“Why should I tell you anything? You were the one person in the world that I trusted, and you betrayed me.”
“I know, and I’m sorry, but it was for you,” Emma pleaded, wanting to grab her sister’s arm as she usually did, but knowing it would not be well received. “Can’t you see that? I just wanted you to be safe. I know he was hurting you, but I just need to hear it from you one more time. Because Lucian told me something about high school…” She shook her head.
Ella stood angry and quiet for another thirty seconds or so, then her arms fell to her sides, and her face was washed clean of any emotion.
“Maybe he didn’t hurt me,” she said, eyes cold, voice hollow. “Maybe I’ve wanted to destroy him since high school. Maybe I started dating him and acting like I was all in love to set up the moment of his downfall. Maybe I took his phone and programmed those texts to be sent out so it’d look like he sent them. Maybe I put that mark on my own face so you’d think he hurt me. Maybe I’ve been making you think I tell you the truth all this time so that you would buy everything I told you. Maybe I used you to bring him down.”
Finding the breath for her next words was difficult, but somehow Emma found she was able to ask, “Is all of that true?”
Ella shrugged as Emma had seen her do hundreds, maybe thousands of times with other people in the past, but never her.
“Or maybe,” Ella continued, instantly dropping the cold eyes in exchange for the sheen of tears “everything I told you was the truth. Maybe my heart is broken because the man I loved tried to hurt me. Because the sister I trusted broke faith with me. Maybe I cry every single day because… because…” Tears fell down her anguished face. “Because Dan is gone and won’t speak to me anymore, and I still miss him even after what he did.”
“Which one is right?” Emma demanded through clenched teeth. “What is the lie, and what is the truth?”
“That’s the problem, isn’t it?” Ella went cold again, even as new tears stained her cheeks. “Either I won’t tell you, because I’ve always been lying to you, and I can’t be honest now. Or I did trust you, but I never can again.” Ella leaned back against the door and wiped a hand at the moisture on her face. “You know what the even bigger problem for you is, though?”
“What’s that?” Emma asked, a kind of terror gripping her heart at just how little it was turning out that she actually knew her sister.
Ella’s eyes went blank. Her face was placid and unreadable, almost like death as she said, “Even when you think you finally know the answer, there will always be that small part of your brain that will never know what the truth is. And that, I can tell you, is the real truth. Honest.”