Who am I?
Was that why she had been receiving all these strange stares from the students and teachers alike? Had she been some kind of bully or delinquent figure at this school, terrorizing everyone in equal measure?
Kara shook her head free of these thoughts before meeting up with Nia.
Ivan left her with all his shifts, too, as his work had gotten busier, recently. People shouldn't be holed up in an office during summer, that was madness!
Just look at Principal Raoul!
Kara hugged Nia when she spotted her.
"What took you so long?" her big sister asked, not unkindly.
"Principal asked me how I was doing, again, and..." She couldn't say it. Kara couldn't say that she had been a bad girl before her accident. Not to Nia, who trusted her so. She decided to talk about another problem, then. "He said I should invite mom and dad to the end-of-the-year ceremony."
"Not me?" Nia asked, pouting.
"You, too, sis," Kara said, pushing against Nia's playfully puffed-up cheeks with a finger. "I think he wants the whole family to come."
"Should we call our relatives in Austria, then?"
"We have relatives in Austria?"
"Just kidding. It's a fine idea, isn't it? I'm sure mom and dad will be happy."
They started walking home.
"But won't they be sad because they can't come?"
Nia donned a knowing smile at Kara's worries.
"You can do nothing but ask them. Worst case, they say no, tell you to have fun and maybe take a nice picture of me in my dress, and everything will be fine."
Nia even posed like a supermodel to support her claim.
"Shouldn't they demand a picture of us both?" Kara corrected, pushing her big sister from the sidewalk into the grass.
"Now you've done it," she challenged, and soon, they were both rolling around in the grass.
They got home a bit later that day.
And the same could be said for their parents.
Helga came home just before midnight, as the sisters heard her while they were hiding in their sisters' cove. They didn't hear Ivan as they were long asleep by then.
Judging from how he was still in bed when Helga prepared their lunch, he must've come home really late.
"Father still asleep?" Kara asked.
"Ivan didn't come home at all, my dear," Helga said before yawning heartily. "He's so very busy at the moment. He will come home later today, too. What did he say..." She trailed off and trotted back to the kitchen where she scrolled through her phone. "Where was it... yes, I'm looking forward to what our dear daughters cook for me tonight! Isn't he sweet?"
It took Kara a moment to realize what she had just heard.
She leaned in on Nia and whispered, "When did we agree to that?"
"Never, but considering that he sleeps at work now, we could do that much, right?" Nia whispered back, shrugging. "I'm sure we can cook something up."
"The most I could to would be roasting a toast," Kara grumbled, watching Helga as she finished the last preparations.
"We could work with that, too, but I have another idea. What do we have in terms of ingredients, mother?"
"Nothing we couldn't buy," she answered, beaming at her daughters. "Do you have any ideas?"
Nia just shrugged.
"What do you want to eat?" she asked Kara.
"Nothing that involves the oven, stove, or microwave," Kara grumbled, resigning herself to her fate. "I can't stand the heat!"
"And yet you willingly come into the hottest room in this house every evening," Nia said with a chuckle, ruffling her hair.
"At least I can dress like I was at the swimming pool, there! That would be the wrong attire for the dinner table."
"A swimming pool, huh? Imagine having one in our cove? One with cool water..."
"Yeah, that would be nice..."
"What are you whispering about?" Helga called from the kitchen.
The sisters looked at each other, mischievous grins on both of their faces, and answered at the same time, "Nothing."
They got dressed and went out after lunch.
"That seriously narrows our options down, though," Nia muttered, looking at a cooking magazine she had brought for inspiration. "We can't cook, bake, roast, grill... say, how about using that grill in the garden? We could make barbecue."
"Didn't we do that, like, three weeks ago?" Kara reminded her. "Remember how our neighbors instantly came down to join us? I kinda don't want that..."
"You're just too shy, my sweet sister."
"Don't be like that, you know I love you."
Kara knew Nia loved her.
Crazy how easy Nia could make her stop acting like a spoiled child. It's like she used the force to change her mind or something.
"How about salad?" Kara suggested.
"Just salad? Doesn't that seem too bland without any roasted fish or meat, at least? I mean, only salad...? Unless... say, Kara, let's go with salad, but not with one. Let's make a salad buffet!"
"That... doesn't sound too bad."
"We can make a green salad, carrot salad, potato salad, noodle salad, radish salad... the options are endless!"
Nia had large, dreamy eyes, and she even licked her lips. She looked seductive. The men around them must have been fawning over her right about how. Kara wouldn't know as she was fawning over her sister, too.
It was why she took so long to realize the implications of that statement.
"Wait, you need to cook the potatoes before eating them!"
"Ah, you noticed?" It had all been a trick? "Come on, you can't deny how delicious potato salad tastes. And how about a sweet slice of baked salmon, juicy on the inside? Just imagine it, my sweet sister. We can have some raw fish, too, but we need to have some puffy slices of meat. They enhance the crisp experience of a traditional salad to the levels of a master-dish!"
Kara couldn't deny that her will to resist was slowly stripped away with each ingredient her sister listed.
It all depended on their funds, now.
"How much did mother give us?"
"Believe me, enough," she said, revealing a yellow 200-Euro bill.
They bought what they needed and headed home, getting to work immediately. Tonight, there would be a feast!
Before that, though, the situation got a bit out of hand.
Nia demanded that they utilized the whole possibilities of the bill, going from vegetable to vegetable, loading way too much of everything in the shopping cart.
"We won't ever be able to eat all of that," Kara said, worriedly glancing at the mountain of food in their cart.
"Now some sweets, can't have a salad buffet without a sweet salad, yes!"
"Are you even listening to me?"
Tomato salad, potato salad, radish salad, carrot salad, green salad, noodle salad, seaweed salad, and even a sweet potato salad to satisfy Nia's sweet tooth.
The sisters huffed with satisfaction as the bowls rested on the table. The dressing hadn't been added to the green salad, yet, and they had yet to roast the beef and salmon. Two baguettes were cut into thick slices, ready to be smeared with butter.
Nia's gaze kept sliding to the sweet potato salad.
"A bite won't hurt anyone-"
"Wait till dad's home, at least," Kara warned, slapping her sister's greedy hand. She rubbed it with tears in her eyes. "You're supposed to be the big sister, here. Stop me from eating everything right this very moment."
"You don't even pretend to be interested in doing that, though!"
"Wow, something smells nice." Helga came from the cellar with a basket of clothes in her hands. "I was skeptical when you said you'd do a salad buffet, but this looks appetizing, yes."
"A midnight buffet," Kara said.
"Romantic," Nia added.
They chuckled as the front door creaked open.
"Wow, something smells nice," Ivan said, joining his giggling women in the kitchen. "I didn't know you made salad today," he told his wife, mouth open.
"I didn't make it. Your daughters did it," Helga said, chuckling wildly, now.
"You said he wanted us to make dinner!" Kara said.
"Oh, did I say such a thing?"
Kara wasn't mad, but she still acted like she was. In tandem with her sister, she turned away, crossed her arms, pouted, and kept sneaking glances to see her parent's reactions.
Ivan was unfair.
He looked like the happiest man alive.
The sisters sighed.
"Who can even stay mad at them like this?" Kara whispered to Nia.
"Let's just eat," Nia whispered back.
Despite it being so late, or maybe because of it, it was a jolly evening. Helga and Ivan thoroughly enjoyed the food their kids had made, and the sisters thoroughly enjoyed the food they made for their parents.
Kara had to try every salad and Nia stuffed herself with the sweet potato salad to the point where both of them couldn't move and had to recharge on the couch.
"I'm so full..."
It was up to Helga to clean the dishes, then.
Ivan insisted on helping her. The food had been done for him, or so he argued. He provided the sisters with some entertainment with his clumsy attempts at being useful.
They filled four glasses and raised a toast on the weekend, commemorating a successful end of the week.
The fluid was a deep red.
"Are you sure I should drink this stuff?" Kara asked as the youngest one.
Nia smiled at her between sips.
"You have to pretend, sweet sister."
It was a simple cherry-juice.
"Isn't it time for the evening quiz?" Nia suddenly asked. The other three turned their heads, curious to find out what she had planned. She winked at Kara. "Go on."
Now she knew what Nia wanted.
She cleared her throat and took an awful-long time to speak.
"Say, my end-of-the-year ceremony is next Friday. Do you want to-"
Later that night... or that morning, as the calendar had turned a few hours ago, the sisters were in their usual place, recapping the happenings of the week.
"They had been working so hard to make room on that Friday, you know?"
"How did they find out...? Nia?"
"You didn't expect me to keep it from them, did you?" She smiled. "Don't try to be all mad about it, now. I feel like this could be a really good opportunity to make up."
"... no," Kara said, shaking her head with a smile on her face. "If there was anything to make up, it happened today."
"You have grown, my sister."
The week passed by in a flash.
Kara didn't see a lot of her parents during that time, but that was to be expected. They worked hard to take some time off on that very important day, after all.
For Kara's sake.
Excitement and restlessness took hold of the school, and even the mountain of homework they got from every goddamn teacher couldn't dampen their spirits.
Friday came, the school went... and the ceremony began.
The kids went home and got dressed for the occasion, a black-and-white dress in Kara's case. It complimented her hair. Nia went in an erotic dress the color of love, and her parents had this classic feel to them she didn't understand.
The word that came to mind was classy.
They drove to school in Ivan's black car, and Kara felt a bit like a celebrity when he stopped in front of the school, allowing her out.
"We'll meet you inside," he called after them, driving off to look for a parking space.
With how busy the streets around the school were today, the sisters waved them off with the knowledge that they could very well take a few hours to come back.
The teachers had done a number on the entrance hall.
It rained confetti and decorations littered the walls, ceiling, and railing. Music wafted through the building in peppy waves, tempting the muscles to dance.
"It's been a while since I walked these halls," Nia mused, looking left and right. "This is not how I remember it."
"Didn't you go to your end-of-the-year ceremony?" Kara asked.
"Oh, no, I went, but when the younger kids go home, the graduating students stay and vandalize... I mean, occupy the building for a bit longer."
"The word you almost used sounded quite a bit scarier than that."
"Anyway, we don't clean up, but by the time we were done, we had so much alcohol in our blood that thinking was a bit difficult... just don't do the same mistakes, Kara."
"I almost turned down a glass of juice, so I don't think you need to worry about me."
"Should I worry about myself, then?" Nia said with a giggle.
"I'll protect you!" Kara promised.
"Oh, my sweet and valiant knight! Carry me off into the sunset!"
"How about sunrise? That's sooner."
"I like your thinking!"
Kara had thought the entrance hall to be elaborately decorated, but once they arrived at the gym, that thought perished.
"I see they still hold back all their funds for this stuff," Nia mumbled, nodding in approval.
Funky music blasted out of the speakers, and in a sudden act of mischief, Nia grabbed Kara by the hand and danced with her.
They did so for many songs, though Kara stumbled more than she danced, much to the amusement of Nia, until they were stopped by a third party.
It was a boy with blond hair, one Kara knew very well.
"Care to dance?"
Kara hadn't expected that from him, of all people. She uncertainly glanced at Nia.
"Go have fun with your friends. I'll find someone."
Indeed, she had only taken three steps when another man who looked about her age asked her to dance. With a sheepish grin at Kara and a wink, their dance slowly carried them away.
"She's quite amazing, isn't she?" Adrian asked.
"So, will you dance with me or what?"
"Oh, sorry... yeah."
"Don't be sorry, you're making me feel bad, here." Kara didn't know what to make of this, but once they got going, Adrian abandoned the scary look in his eyes and they danced until Kara's legs tangled up and she almost fell... which happened quite often. "You can't dance at all, can you?" Adrian said with a smirk after her umpteenth fall. "Let's go over there."
She needed a break.
"I'll get us something to drink."
Kara was too occupied with her beating heart and heavy breathing to thank him for that. When he came back, she thanked him with a bright smile, making him blush.
That was the first cute expression she had seen of him.
"Anyway," he said, looking away, "Bonnie wanted to speak with you."
"Where is she?"
"On the roof. Don't know what she wants."
Adrian looked back at her, the blush gone. He was frowning, and he bit his lip before emptying his drink in one go, stomping off.
Wondering what just happened, she went to the roof, catching a glimpse of Nia dancing with another guy.
She was quite the manizer.
Did that word even exist?
While other schools discouraged their students from entering the ceiling, Hazel High School even set up several benches and flower pots on the roof, which the gardening club had to keep looking well.
They had done a good job, Kara noted as she walked onto the star-lit roof.
The music from below echoed over the vast fields of hazel trees, and a lone figure was leaning against the railing, waiting for her.
"You're finally here," Bonnie said, coming closer. "Maybe I should punish Adrian for being so slow, later."
"Don't take it against him," Kara said, taking her words as a joke. "We just danced a bit... well, he danced and I stumbled, hehe..."
"He actually danced with you? That guy's more of a softie than he lets on..."
She kept mumbling to herself, so Kara broke through the silence.
"So, what are you doing up here? The fireworks don't start until midnight."
"If I said I wanted to acquire the best seat for myself, what would you tell me?"
"That waiting for so long would be pointless since you'd miss all the fun going on below?" Kara answered uncertainly.
She couldn't help but feel like this was some sort of test.
"Waiting for so long would be pointless... huh?" Bonnie looked somewhat sad as she leaned over, crossing her arms behind her back. "You might be right. Still, I waited for this long. I wonder if it was pointless, after all?"
"Hey, what's going on with you? You're... scary..."
"Perhaps I want to be scary," Bonnie said, cocking her head. "I mean look at the moon... a full moon. I might bite you, you know?" She came closer, making no sound. Her long, white dress made her seem like a ghost until she stopped right in front of Kara, their noses already touching. Kara immediately jerked back. "You always had that indescribable charm about you, Kara. That flat nose and your wide eyes, the stubby legs and your average rack... your imperfection gave you this otherworldly sense of charm nobody else had, you know what I mean?"
Kara did not know.
Where was she going with this?
"Add to that your intellect... gods, you were smart, Kara! You still are, and you even managed to teach Adrian some stuff... he might like you. Maybe he always did. I feel a bit bad for him, don't you? Ah, right. You don't remember... how we treated you."
"How you... treated me?"
"Oh, yeah. Half-way through last year, it got really bad. It was as if you suddenly rode this tower-high horse and we just couldn't help but want to push you over the edge... you know what I mean?" Bonnie wasn't enjoying this. She wore a self-deprecating smile, and she teared up. "We mangled with you before, but then? It got worse. It was bad. You even cried at some point."
"Wait, what are you talking about?"
Kara didn't like where this was going. What was this bad feeling in her stomach?
"We bullied you, silly girl!" Bonnie spat, her smug smile clashing with the tears running down her face. "We treated you like shit, all of us!"
"But... how... why-"
"Stop stammering like that, you're making this harder for me. You remember my story about the cafeteria? That girl nobody liked... you. That pajama party at my place actually just happened so that we could play pranks on you all day. And the teachers-"
"They treat me worse than the rest of you! They glare at me and have this aura of hatefulness about them... the principal said-"
"Oh, don't get me started on them. They're just mad that you lost your damn memories!" Bonnie yelled, drowning out the music from below. "They hate you? Oh, stop being silly, you dumb girl! They knew that you were the only one who knew who was behind everything! They never caught me, never! I always blamed everything on you, and they had to punish someone, so you it was. They love you, Kara, and you don't even realize it!"
Kara wanted to deny it, wanted to tell her that she should stop joking... but as she heard it, she got the feeling that Bonnie told the truth.
"Why now? Why are you telling me?" Bonnie snorted, opening her mouth but not saying anything. She chose silence. "You... I..." Kara exploded. "For these past weeks, all I thought was that I may be some awful bully who terrorized all of you! How could you... why did you... I thought they ignored me like that because I mistreated them before! I thought... I was sure..."
Bonnie shook her head, taking the screams head-on.
"Don't worry, we won't go back at you. I guess I didn't want to lie to a friend any longer."
"A friend? You...? And me...? Friends?"
"I know this might be hard to understand, but these couple of weeks were... I did..." Bonnie sighed. "We could even look for another one together. One of the really bad ones, one who deserves it! We can punish those teachers for ignoring you, and-"
Kara slapped her right across the face. In her anger, she had used all the force she could muster, and the clapping sound echoed over the rooftop.
Bonnie looked like she just discovered that Santa Clause was real.
"Go to hell!"
Leaving her alone, Kara stormed back down. She caught a glimpse of Ludwig but avoided him. She ignored Adrian when he approached her. She found the red dress of her sister swirling in the dancing masses, and Nia immediately separated from her partner when she saw the expression on Kara's face.
"I was no bully," she grumbled.
"You don't look very happy about that," Nia said, unsure of how to react. Kara didn't answer... couldn't answer... "If you need answers, you know where to find them, don't you?"
"I don't, and I didn't! That's why... grr..."
"You sound like a feral cat, stop it," Nia reprimanded, smacking her on the head. "Why do you think people never look in the most obvious places? We look for the hidden stuff beneath the surface because we think to know about everything the surface has to offer... when oftentimes, we don't."
"Is this another riddle?"
"They say you should think outside the box, but why did you never start thinking inside of it, first? There's a reason it's there," Nia said, caressing the spot she had just smacked.
As the meaning of her sister's words unfurled in her mind, Kara's eyes widened. Nia was right. She knew where all of the answers rested.