Teresa watched, quietly, from a corner of the café. She had told Annette to meet her at 1:00 pm but the girl had been waiting, crying, since 12:30 pm. Teresa longed to free herself from the burden she had been carrying for so long. But every step towards Annette was dizzying, and she was forced to stop from fear of falling. How could Teresa possibly tell Annette the truth about her brother Aaron’s disappearance? How could she tell him that she knew where he was but that she hadn’t kidnapped him? Aaron had come to her when he was 14. Scars ran across his limbs, blood dotted his face, and shabby rags covered his bony body. He had run away, escaped from ruthless kidnappers who desired only to tear him to pieces. She remembered the desperate look in his eyes, his pleading for a home, how much she had cared for him for nearly six years, trying persistently all the while to unite him with his family before it would be too hard to let go. And now, finally, that day had come. She had found his twin sister, Annette. Looking at her from the distance, Teresa noticed the same startling green eyes, the straight dark brown hair, the sharp nose, and that faraway look of painful wisdom that Aaron possessed. She checked her cell phone. It was now 1:15. She had to go. She must tell Annette everything before it was too late. And with newfound courage in her fragile heart, she walked towards a woman who was both the goal and the means of saving Aaron.
Annette stared quietly into the distance, watching the street outside Café Versailles. She gazed as children biked down the streets, laughing as they raced with each other. How naïve they were, so happy, so innocent. There had been a time when she and Aaron had been like that. Biking up hills and running down slopes. Creating their own hideaway in an old tree near home. How foolish they had been then, believing that they were above the world. She hadn’t believed the stories. She could still remember. The chilly breeze and the warm fires at night. Sitting together in a circle, laughing at the stories of the villagers. She had never believed them. Who could catch her and Aaron? Always the fastest, the strongest, the bravest. The invincible duo. Their relatives had warned them not to be so proud.
“Arrogance,” they called it. “Confidence,” she would shout back. “Don’t rely on your father’s wealth as an excuse for your behavior.” “You’re just jealous because he has everything that you don’t,” Aaron taunted.
But then, everything changed. In one fleeting moment, her world had mercilessly been turned upside-down and even now, six years later, she was struggling to move on. She remembered every painful detail. It was May 27, and a soft breeze was fanning her face. Her hair flew backwards as she raced Aaron up Rose Hill. Her bicycle was blue, like calm water, his, the red tongues of fire. The sweet scent of freshly cut grass filled her nose as she plopped down onto the grass, exhilarated by her victory.“That was so close,” Aaron complained. “It’s not fair.” But she only shook her head and laughed. They were silent for a few minutes, looking at the clouds, as they sat on the grass. She closed her eyes, content and relaxed. Suddenly, a piercing scream shook the air. A black cloak appeared. She could still feel its dark, ominous presence, emitting hate, misery, and desolation. She watched in horror as the kidnapper picked up Aaron. She screamed and ran to him, but was shoved to the ground and bound by a thick rope. Her mind screamed for him, but she was helpless. Hours later, after being found unconscious by her relatives, she had run down the hill, stumbling in the darkness, screaming for Aaron as pain and fear clutched every bone of her body. Finally, as dark fell, a single tear crawled down her face, its salty touch burning her skin. She called out for him again and again, refusing to believe that he was gone. For the first time, she knew what it was like to lose. For her entire life, she and Aaron had always been together, going through every day with two pairs of footprints. And suddenly, he was gone, with nothing to bring him back. Everyday, she thought of him: his comforting arm around her shoulder, his good-natured laugh. And when the long-awaited for call came, she answered immediately. For so many years, she had been waiting for a clue, a trace of him. And now, finally, she had found it.
“They MUST not come near each other.” He could still remember the steely voice that had uttered those commands. He had been so sure of what he was doing when he answered the ring leader’s call for someone brave and strong. Later that night, a call came. He was asked to provide identification, which he promptly did. Was he still up to the job? Of course he was, but he still flexed his muscles to make sure. An hour later, he had all the details. He was to go to Café Versailles the next day. At 1:00 pm, two women-one with green eyes, straight brown hair; and the other, slightly graying hair and wrinkles-would be meeting there. These two women must not interact with each other. A simple gunshot lay between him and ten million dollars. But, of course, the boss hadn’t mentioned the complexities. He hadn’t mentioned that the girl would be crying, or that the older woman had soft hazel eyes and a face oh-so-full of kindness, that reminded him too much of his dead mother. But the job had to be done. So, he quietly took out his gun, aiming first at the younger woman, then the older one. But he couldn’t decide. Neither of them looked fit to die. Suddenly, a sharp blaring noise cut through the pleasant jazz music of the café like a lightning bolt. He froze, taken aback by the sudden, startling quality of the continuous noise. The police! How do they know about Allie? I need to escape, NOW! The thoughts came to him in slow-motion, a trickle of ideas in a tub full of danger. He looked around. The front door? No, that’s where the police would be. Windows? All locked. He should have brought the jackhammer. But, how would he have known that a simple shooting would take him this far? Back door? Behind the kitchen. Could he make his way through everyone using the gun? He would have to try. He turned to look at the man behind the counter, standing in front of a glass food display case. But to his surprise, the man wasn’t even looking in his direction. Instead, he shouted and pointed at something in the entrance of the café. The startled gunman turned around. A young man had just charged in, holding two revolvers in his hands, his green eyes lit with a startling fury.
The front door had been smashed so violently, with glass flying everywhere, that everyone turned around to see what was going on. The frantic young man who had just smashed his way in glanced around the room and, spotting his target at Teresa’s table, walked toward her. The younger woman looked up, a mixture of surprise, confusion, and jubilation on her face, while the older woman just glanced back and forth between his revolvers and his face, unable to comprehend the image. Annette leaped up and looked into the man’s eyes. “Aaron?” she asked softly, unable to believe that this was her long-lost brother. But he only stared at her unresponsively, unable to comprehend her presence. Annette stared at him, confused. “Aaron, don’t you recognize me?” He looked at her strangely for a second, a quizzical look flitting across his face as he tried to make a connection but then warily shook his head. She clasped his hands in her own and softly said, “Aaron, it’s me, Annette,” pain erupting in her every word, as Aaron stared back apathetically.
Ulisse looked up at the sky and contemplated his actions. The boy lay in front of him, bloody and unconscious. Others would call him ruthless for power, he just wanted revenge. The insults of Hamilton Burns still stung him. How could he forget their strong bond of love and friendship? How could he pretend that the hours they had spent together-the laughter, the tears, the confusion, every moment they had experienced together-had just been a dream that was never meant to last? Everyone had called them the twins separated at birth, the best of friends. But then, Pandora came along. It was love at first sight for Hamilton. She became his life and Ulisse was thrown aside. But he had been understanding and had come back to Hamilton to try to reestablish their dear bond. Hamilton, of course, married Pandora and had two children, twins-Annette and Aaron-who looked astonishingly like their father. And Ulisse was lost in the land of previous memories, where he knew Hamilton would never come searching for him again. One minute, he had everything-friends, family, happiness, prosperity-and the other, he had lost everything so fast that he could barely keep from falling in the endless void of failure. But now, six years later, he had a plan, one so vicious and heartbreaking, that he was sure Hamilton would learn his lesson and suffer the consequences. The boy had already been captured and brought to Ulisse’s headquarters where, after being beaten and knocked unconscious by his henchmen, Ulisse had introduced himself as the savior. The next step would be harder. He would have to wipe out Aaron’s memory, making him forget everything important about his past, and then fill his mind with hate, bitter pain, and rage, just like Hamilton had left him fourteen years ago. Yes, his course of action was quite clear and he intended to proceed uncanny vigor.
Aaron may have been kidnapped but he had no intention of giving in. He lost everything: his way of life, common luxuries, even proper shelter, but he held on to his memories. After realizing Ulisse’s goal, he became even more determined to hang on to them. They were the driving force, the only hope he had when the passing days became unbearable. Aaron waited, finally convincing Ulisse that he had forgotten everything, and finally, when Ulisse had gone to the countryside to visit some relatives, he escaped. Five hours later, he landed, famished and hopelessly lost, at Teresa’s door. Months passed as he waited for someone to find him and take him home. But his family had no idea about his whereabouts. And slowly, he began to forget. It was unconscious, undesirable, but unpreventable. The loneliness clouded his memory and Ulisse’s plan finally began to unfold. One day, when Teresa had gone to meet someone at a cafe and Aaron sat home, quietly contemplating his fate, Ulisse had suddenly popped in, a concrete representation of the fears that he hadn’t wanted to face. Assuring Aaron that he was up to no harm, Ulisse casually reminded him of the six years that he had been separated from his family, asked him seriously if he even remembered their faces, and, when Aaron could only respond with silence, conceptualized the sad truth that Aaron and his family had forgotten each other.
A new kind of rage overcame Aaron. How could his family forget? They had meant everything to him. How could they have betrayed him? “Hurt, pain,..I know, I’ve felt it,” Ulisse said. And Aaron believed him. How could he have ever mistaken Ulisse’s intentions? Ulisse was his sole ally in his struggle against the world, the one person who cared. “Go,” Ulisse urged. “Teresa and Annette are meeting today in Café Versailles. This is your chance to get revenge.” And Aaron had taken it. He grabbed two revolvers (which Ulisse had kindly lent him) and raced out the door, running all the way to Café Versailles, propelled by an anger unjustly adopted in Ulisse’s favor.
Annette stared again at the man’s face. He looked so familiar, just like her in every respect. How could he possibly not recognize her? Had their separation made him forget her? Aaron stared back. Was it possible that this woman really was his sister? But if she knew and recognized me, why didn’t she ever come and find me? But what if she had tried but hadn’t been looking in the right place? What if everyone though she was insane for looking for so many years afterwards? She was my sister. In six years, she couldn’t have forgotten. He looked again at that face and a flood of memories rushed into his head. The sunshine, the laughter, the scent of newly cut grass on Rose Hill. And in an instant, he knew that in all those moments of grief and sorrow, Annette had been there too, living in the feelings hidden in his heart. They may have been physically apart, but they were never alone. How could he have forgotten? He faltered, thinking of something to tell her to show what he truly felt. But Annette already understood. She hugged him, tears running down both their cheeks as the joy of reunion overflowed in their long-awaiting hearts.
The gunman stared at the scene in astonishment. One minute, he had been afraid for his life, the other, an unknown stranger had come to the table he was supposed to be guarding. A sad little reunion had just occurred before his eyes and the two were now walking together, holding hands, about to leave the cafe. No. They couldn’t leave. He had ten million dollars at stake and wasn’t about to lose them to some sappy tears. His thoughts swirled as he tried to figure out how to time the shooting. All the obstacles. They just never ended, did they? He forced his mind to concentrate on the pair. Ten million dollars. A couple of strangers. So what if he killed both of them? He lifted his gun and pulled the trigger. His work done, he ran out through the kitchen, where his escape was already waiting for him.
It happened in a flash. One minute, the two were walking together, joyful as they walked hand-in-hand towards the café door. The next minute, Aaron was doubled over on the floor, clutching his stomach. He looked around, his eyes like hollow glass spheres, bright red blood making a huge fiery blotch on his linen white shirt. Annette held her hip tightly, knowing that these were her last moments. She opened her mouth, futilely. I have so much to say. So much to do. How can I be whisked away just yet?
“No, No, NO!” Teresa’s panic-stricken scream chilled the air around her. “Hold on, Annette, please. I’m calling 112.”
Aaron? AARON? Is he alive? Oh please, God, don’t let him die. Not now. Not yet. Give me some time. Let me fulfill the hollowness in my heart. Just a few more minutes. Enough to live all the joy that I’ve been missing for so many years.
“Check the boy.” came a gruff voice from the crowd. Annette closed her eyes. She didn’t want to see her brother’s limp body. Annette felt as though ice-cold knives had been plunged into her heart. Screams echoed in her ears and the world spun in an endless circle around her. Unable to bear the pain, the silence, the darkness, she opened her eyes again. Just one glance at Teresa’s panicked face immediately gave away the sad truth. All our hopes have been snatched. One minute, I thought I had brought my family back. That life was changing. The loneliness I had felt had finally vanished. And for that one moment of joy, this is what I had to pay. The price of my brother’s death. Even if I do live, my heart will be dead and life will be meaningless. Slowly, gradually, with her last bit of energy, Annette clasped her brother’s hand in her own and closed her eyes. She was leaving but she wasn’t gone yet. Drifting in and out of consciousness, she heard voices of help, resignation, and sympathy all meld into one universal harmony. Her grip on the world was melting and only her bond to Aaron remained.
“What’s that?” he asked on the phone. “You don’t say…Two of them?? Wow. Now that’s really something.” he said, a smirk playing on his twisted face. “The bullet hit both of them? Incredible!” “And their condition? Critical?” he strained to hear the other end of the receiver. “Dead? Are you sure about that? Because I don’t want any mistakes. You do realize how much this means to me?” “Money? Yes, that is not a problem. In fact, that is NEVER a problem when you deal with Ulisse. Of course, your ring leader would have told you that?” He laughed forcefully. “Yes, yes. I’m aware. The money is in GE Money Bank on Rue Noailles. Yeah, it’s locker number 237. Don’t worry. One of my agents will send you the keys. You’ll have them tomorrow morning.” “Yes, it definitely was a pleasure working with you. I hope to meet you again. Au revoir!” The man hung up the phone and slid it back into his pocket. He relaxed in his red velvet armchair and pulled out a miniature photo frame from his pocket. Ahh…How long I have been waiting for this moment! He took out a pocket knife and confidently stabbed the glass. His laughter echoed through the empty room, bouncing down the walls as the glass shattered upon the face of Hamilton Burns.
Age 14, Grade 10
Hunter College High School