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The soft rustling of leaves shifted endlessly in the cool autumn sky. The trees were just now starting to change colors, leaving patterns of brown, yellow, and red in contrast to the deep blue. Sophie walked silently past the line of houses, thinking deeply of the peace the fall brought with it. She was remembering a time when three friends had biked to a tree at about this time in the year. They had been carefree and innocent. Honest, but so secretive. They had everything in life and things were simple. That moment seemed so far away.
She passed the last house on June Creek and turned onto Lakeside ct. The fresh breeze felt so good on her face, Sophie loved fall. Her street was filled with trees, all just beginning to color the sky. The rush of animals preparing for winter added so much life to the neighborhood. Birds fluttered in every direction. A little squirrel carried a nut in his small mouth, anxiously shooting glances in every direction, watching for danger. It was a fragile balance, so much life offering so much peace, but when handled correctly by nature, it was beautiful.
Not one hundred feet onto Lakeside stood a large yellow house on top of a mellow hill. It’s roof was the peak of the area, you could see it from anywhere within a mile. Its smoky stucco looked most natural in the fall, and it added more color to the scene. If you cut it in half, it was symmetrical on the outside. An oversized two-story rectangle was the support for two large triangles that sat side by side, each holding a window in the center. It wasn’t parallel to the street like the homes surrounding it and that gave it more character. Trees were scattered here and there on the hill as well as down at the street. A long cement staircase cut the hill in two on the far right, and the small right side of the grassy land was overflowing with tall aspens.
Sophie turned onto the driveway and started climbing it to get to the staircase. Her bag was heavy on her shoulder and she was eager to get the weight off her aching back. She pushed herself up the stairs and stopped on the front porch. She looked inside her house through the tall glass door and saw her mom on the phone in the kitchen. She set her bag down and reached to open the door. She put her hand on the doorknob then pulled it away. An afternoon like this did not deserve to be wasted on homework.
Without a second thought she left her bag at the door and went around to the backyard. Sophie often felt unsafe in her backyard. She wasn’t afraid of being so exposed to the world as she was to the elements. She lived on the dam side of a small lake, so no trees were anchored in her back yard. Just the rough grass stood before a gravel beach and the open water. The wind constantly created small waves that lapped quietly against the shore. When big storms hit, the open lake made it so the wind was strongest by the time it had hurled itself against the big yellow house. The lack of protection and the constant wind made it hard to feel completely at ease.
But today Sophie felt the peace of the water underneath the restless surface. She glided across the yard and stepped onto the dock. She slipped off her shoes and jumped down into the shallow water that rimmed her ankles. The course gravel felt good on her tired feet and the chilled water sent shivers down her spine. Tiny currents splashed against her ankles, making a circular rim around her shins.
The sun shone weakly in the sky as the cool breeze whisked away any heat that lingered in the air. A few thin clouds were scattered throughout the sky, but other than that the wave of blue remained uninterrupted. Along with the constant rustling of leaves, a metal pulley fluttered on the mast of a sailboat that sat buoyed in the lake. It wasn’t a rushed sound; just another one of nature’s many beats.
Sophie closed her eyes and took in the atmosphere that embraced her. Things felt so right. This is the way life should be, she thought. No cares, no stress, just taking life step by step and enjoying every moment. She had been thinking about this a lot lately. If everyone only had one life, one short blink of an eye to live on this planet, why spend it in one place stressing about what needs to be done?
She looked back towards the house. Responsibilities sat in space just beyond the backdoor. But out in the peaceful air, just like the heat, the wind whisked them away and carried them far off into the distance. Sophie wouldn’t leave that peace yet.
She felt a sudden inspiration to connect herself further to the harmony the water was bringing. She untied the sweatshirt that was around her waist and put it on the dock. She had a t-shirt and shorts on, they would dry quickly. Slowly, as if not to disturb the tiny currents that splashed over her shins, she sat down in the shallow water. The cold water stung on her skin as it pierced the rest of her legs and her lower back. Yet at the same time, it seemed oh so inviting.
She sat in the water with her arms wrapped around her bent knees. Her golden brown braids hung loosely past her collarbone and her blue eyes, as deep as the color of the water, were lost in thought. Her arm hurt, she was stressing it as she pulled her legs closer to her, but she wasn’t thinking about it. Three weeks ago she had had surgery on her wrist, and now a brace kept her bones in place as they healed slowly.
Despite the fact that her shorts were already drenched and the bottom half of her shirt under the surface, she lay down in the water. Sophie had no idea why she was doing any of this, but it felt good, and she didn’t have any other cares in the world at the moment.
The icy water cradled her as she lay her head down on a large rock that sat under the water. Her entire back was in the water, along with her neck and head to the point of her ears. The rock allowed her face to stay above the surface. She was trying not to get her arm wet. Even though it was ok for her to wash the incision and get it wet, the lake water was probably dirty and her brace took forever to dry, So she sat, unbelievably comfortable in the cold water and on the rocky bed. And so she thought, closing her eyes and taking in the moment.
What seemed like years passed and Sophie sat smiling, eyes closed, in the water. The water rose and fell with her chest as her soft breathing created currents of its own. The wind whispered across her face and the dry pieces of hair lingered on her cheeks. The cold water was beginning to num her back, and she sank deeply into the relaxation that the water was forcing upon her muscles.
Sophie let the cold embrace her and relaxed fully. Her arm slipped into the water and her incision stung as it entered the active surface. She flinched, but soon was pulled into the tranquility that had held her before. She thought about a perfect world, where everyone could understand her. A place where nothing more than the normal stresses of growing up disturbed her. A place that would never exist to her, no matter how long she waited.
Jessica Briare drove up the driveway of the Madison home. It was the late afternoon and the sun’s rays weakened as they shone against her black cross-country Volvo. She had recently acquired a full-time high paying job as a nurse for a child with a severe autistic condition. Jessica was confident that this was her calling. She had loved psychology all her life and had graduated from Yale with a Ph.D. in Social Psychology. Ever since then she had been contributing to research and concluding experiments. Now she was ready to make a difference in someone’s life.
She parked her car on the top of the driveway and sat staring at the house in front of her. It was big and elegant. The owner’s of the house, who were also the parents of the child, were paying her a strong amount as well as giving her a room for free. The job was obviously supposed to be permanent. The autistic child had such a severe case she couldn’t speak. The parents had found Jessica through the Yale honors program and basically told her that they couldn’t raise her alone. They had tried for thirteen years to make her happy and help her learn, but they needed help. Jessica had understood and took the job with a goal to make this family’s life better. She was excited to help the girl and start a new life.
She climbed to the top of the stairs leaving her luggage in the car. She would get it later. Jessica was eager to meet the child she would be working with. She had already had many meetings with the parents, but had never met the girl she would tutor. She knocked on the door and a small boy ran to open it. He opened it excitedly and stared with bright eyes at Jessica. He had blond hair and a wide smile that left dimples on the corners of his cheeks.
“Hi! My name is Rowan! What’s yours?” He stood halfway through the doorway and was holding a toy in his hand.
“Hi Rowan. I’m Jessica,” she smiled eagerly at the boy’s enthusiasm. She had no doubt that this was the autistic girl’s brother.
“Oh ya! Mom said you were coming today! One second, I’ll be right back!” He closed the clear glass door and ran off through the hall. Jessica smiled again and looked around the front porch. A table with four chairs sat at the end of it and several wood sculptures decorated the vacant area. Everything looked as if it were in a set place except for one small bag. It was full of textbooks and binders and the mystery of its origin occupied Jessica while Rowan fetched his mom.
A tall, lean, blonde woman stepped into view with a cheerful expression on her face. She looked organized and professional, but not at all stern. Rowan was following her and explaining something as she nodded subconsciously and answered his questions. She arrived at the door and opened it without hesitation.
“Oh I’m so sorry Jessica! Rowan has no manners! Please do come in.” She opened the door widely and Jessica walked in.
“Don’t worry about it. He is a very sweet boy,” Jessica smiled at Rowan and he blushed and hid behind his mom’s leg.
“Thank you. Now I can’t tell you how grateful my husband and I are to have you here. We are so excited to have you work with Sophia and we are thrilled to have someone with your experience!”
“I feel honored. It is very hospitable of you to allow me to live here,” Jessica was sincere and smiled softly as the Mrs. Madison led her through the entry hall.
“Of course! You will be with Sophie all the time as we have discussed, and having you sleep here just made that all so much easier. I am so excited for you to meet her!” Sophie’s mom was a bubbly woman. Jessica knew this from their previous meetings.
The three of them walked into the kitchen where Jessica accepted lemonade and fresh homemade cinnamon bread. She gasped as she saw the backyard. A beautifully landscaped area of green grass, rocks, and few trees led to a beach that cradled the clear blue water of a small lake. A sailboat was buoyed in front of the Madison’s dock, which held a paddleboat and two kayaks.
Rowan ran out one of three backdoors and skipped to the shore. His mom called after him telling him not to get wet. The kitchen was attached to the living room by a tall wood archway. A poolroom the size of the kitchen sat directly across the living room, connected by an identical archway.
Soft smoky walls the color of desert sand held several wood frames, each telling a story of the past. The kitchen floor was made of tiles, each unique and individual. It ended as a small descending step introduced a carpeted living room. The thick carpet stopped as a step up to the family room displayed wood flooring. You could see the second floor from the kitchen. A banister lingered over the living room and several different upstairs rooms were visible.
Jessica watched as Rowan ran across the lawn and disappeared as he danced down the rocky beach. It was a beautiful place. You could see the mountains behind the lake spotted with the beautiful changing colors of fall. A gentle breeze pulled on the water’s surface, creating little currents that lapped against the hidden shore.
Where was Sophia? Jessica hadn’t heard anyone else in the house. She knew that Mr. Madison worked until ten on weekdays, and it was Monday, but Sophia should have been home from school by now. After a few minutes, she spoke up.
“Where is Sophia?” Jessica asked between her small sips of lemonade.
“She should be home any minute. She takes the bus, and even though it was so hard to arrange, it sure does make life easier!” Mrs. Madison was cleaning as she talked. Simply dusting here and wiping there. Jessica had thought that there was no way the house could be any cleaner, but apparently there was. Life would be easy in this household. Both of the Madison parents were extremely pleasant and very goodhearted people. Jessica was eager to move in and live with them permanently.
Rowan was now coming up onto the grass with a sweatshirt in his hand. He was a chubby little boy. Jessica guessed he was about seven. He was constantly smiling, and his warm brown eyes could make anyone’s day brighter. He looked healthy and strong. He was an adorable little boy, and just watching him made Jessica’s heart lighten up.
He approached the door and struggled to open it. He pushed himself in and ran to his mom.
“Hi Rowan,” she said bending down to his level, “That was fast. Are you done playing outside?”
Rowan shook his head and handed her the sweatshirt. “Sophie’s in the water again.”
Mrs. Madison grabbed the sweatshirt from Rowan and jogged outside. Clearly, this worried her. Jessica followed, anxious and eager to meet this girl.
Sophie heard them coming before they appeared. She sat up and let the water run down her soaked shirt. The temperature didn’t bother her anymore. Her muscles had numbed and it felt strange to lift her weight out of the hold of the water. She sighed as the currents behind her flowed to shore, where they had once been dammed by the presence of her body.
The endless resonance of peace that had held her was whisked away in the wind as she opened her eyes and saw the bright sun, beating down on the water. She picked up her crippled arm and cradled it against her body. As she waited to be approached, she traced the vibrant scar that pierced the top of her wrist. It was amazing how fast things could change. One second it could seem as though the world was a perfect and peaceful place. The next, you could open your eyes and snap into the pressures of reality. It seemed as though Sophie was constantly crossing the border and traveling into each realm.
Sophie looked up as she heard the crunching of gravel beneath feet. She looked across the lake to the peaceful meadow filled with tall yellow grass and trees. How she longed to be there. No disturbances, only the sound of water and wind as the world continued to turn. But now she would have to cross over, back to life. Although she hadn’t looked yet, she knew it was her mother that had just stepped onto the beach and was making her way down the slope. Her childish brother had nearly stepped on her and then ran to the house, where Sophie was sure he would tell their mom. She hadn’t caught what her brother had said; one of the words was new to her, so she sat waiting without looking as her mom hurried to her.
“Sophie! Sweetie! What are you doing in the water? Come on dear, come to Mommy!”
Sophie rolled her eyes as her mother’s familiar coo destroyed any sounds of the water. She sighed and pushed herself out of the water, careful to not put any weight on her bad arm. Her mom helped her out and started to dry her off with a towel. Sophie pushed it away. The breeze felt good on her cool skin. She didn’t want the towel.
“Sophia, you’re frozen. Here’s a towel! It will warm you up,” Her mom tried to wrap the towel around her, but Sophie shrugged out of it. She shook her head.
“Sophie…” It was her mom’s pleading tone. Sophie disregarded it and leaned to look behind her mom. Rowan was there, as always, but a new face towered behind him. She had long brown hair and a pointy nose. She smiled when Sophie looked at her and Sophie gawked back.
She slid away from her mom’s protective gaze and stepped closer to the woman. Sophie looked her over closely. Her eyes were a shallow brown. They were like the mud that the meadow produced in early spring. The woman had a stern look hidden behind her contacts, and Sophie knew that whoever she was, she was here for her.
“Sophia,” Her mom interrupted her thought, “This is Jessica, you and her are going to be good friends.”
Jessica. That was it. That was the new word her brother had said before her mom had ruined the peace. Jessica. What did it mean? Sophie would find out in one way or another. Sophie still couldn’t understand how to say and hear many words; the sounds just didn’t fit with their meanings. But some words, like Sophie, Mom, Rowan, Dad, and hi, were easy to connect with. She knew the words and their meanings, and she could use them outside her head.
Sophie could think of the most complicated things, she just couldn’t communicate them. It was like a wall. She was the most insightful girl, the most true and talented person anyone would ever meet. But she was trapped. Sophie was held inside a box from which she would never escape. She had been doted on when unnecessary, explained to when she understood, and ignored when she knew. It was as though she could only see and feel the world, and nothing else. So that’s what Sophie did, she saw, and she understood.
Sophie prayed every night that one day she would be able to talk. That one day she would be able to tell her mom that she loved her. One day, maybe she would make a difference in the world. But for all Sophie knew, no matter how hard she tried, she would always be trapped.
Sophie pushed the negative thoughts of her personal realm to the back of her mind and stared at the woman. Jessica. That was her name, Sophie guessed. She had never heard that word before and as she remembered context from her mom’s introduction, she realized that the woman’s name was probably Jessica.
Jessica stood smiling as Sophie stared at her. Who was she? She turned to her mom for more information and creased her brow to try and show that she was confused. Of course, neither her mom or Jessica knew what was really going on, and her mom trotted to her side. She put an arm around Sophie and tried to reassure her.
“Its ok Sophie! You don’t need to be afraid of Jessica. She’s a very nice woman and she’s going to be staying here and helping you with your school work.”
Sophie shrugged out of her mom’s hold and sat down right there. Why were they doing this to her? Why did her mom treat her like she was three? Why did everyone have to be like that? What had Sophie done wrong to experience this world of silence? Questions flowed into her head like water after a dam has just broke. She couldn’t take it. Her throat swelled up and she started to cry.
“Sophie,” her mom leaned down beside her, “Sophia its ok. You will get to know Jessica, I know she is new and all, but you two will be good friends. I promise.”
Sophie lifted her head and glared at her mom. She couldn’t take it. She stood up and started to run. Her wet clothes stuck to her skin, but she didn’t care. It was painful as she used her arms to pump her way out of the yard, but it didn’t matter. Sophie was a good runner, and they wouldn’t catch up with her if she stayed off the road. So as Sophie fought with the tears that were blurring her vision, she ran. She didn’t know where she was going, but anywhere was better. Sophie ran.
Jessica sighed as she watched Mrs. Madison pull out of the driveway. Although she had been assured by Mrs. Madison that this always happened and not to worry, Jessica still felt awful. What had she done wrong? She hadn’t even said anything! Jessica turned as the car disappeared from her view and walked to her Volvo. She would use the time and get fully settled in.
Sophie ran the minute her mom said had said Jessica’s name. They ran around the house as soon as they had realized what had happened, but Sophie was gone. Jessica had offered to run after her, to make sure she was safe, but Mrs. Madison had told her that Sophie ran miles on end, and that she would take the car. She said she would be back in no more than fifteen minutes and for Jessica to make herself at home.
Jessica unloaded her suitcase as she reviewed everything she knew about working with autistic people. She had the experience, and the knowledge. She should be able to increase Sophie’s learning skills dramatically. All the other times she had been in situations similar to this, Jessica had been the teacher, not someone close and personal.
Jessica thought deeply about how she was going to do this as she took trips up and down the long staircase. It had been ten minutes already. She began to worry. The cool autumn sky was dimming as the sun began to descend behind the tall mountains. Halloween was next week and Jack-o-lanterns rested on the neighbors’ porches. A family of five stepped outside, shuffling randomly through the door and waved at Jessica. She waved back and watched as each lit there own pumpkin, then walked back inside.
Fifteen minutes. Jessica began to pace on the porch. She had finished un-packing, it wasn’t hard, and stepped outside to enjoy the evening. Rowan was with Mrs. Madison and that left Jessica alone as she tried to distract herself.
She walked around the house and sat down on the dock. Water traveled across the surface in rough waves as the evening wind began to slow. Jessica watched the water darken as the sun fell behind the mountain.
Twenty minutes. Jessica couldn’t take it anymore. She gave into her patience and went inside to get her keys. Mrs. Madison’s cell phone number was on all of the papers about Sophie, and Jessica found one and dialed it.
“Mrs. Madison? This is Jessica.” She said shakily following Mrs. Madison’s greeting.
“Hi Jessica. Please call me Alisse! Do you need something?”
“Actually, I was just wondering if you’ve found Sophie?”
Alisse hesitated, “Not yet. But I got a phone call from the people down the road and they said that they saw her at the park. I’m going there, and I’m sure she’s near that area. I was looking in the wrong places the whole time! I should of known. Sophie loves to climb the big tree at the park. But thanks for your concern Jessica, we should be home soon.”
Jessica waited until she had disconnected, then shut her phone. She would go to the store. Now that she knew Sophie was semi-safe, she could get her grocery shopping done and even make dinner for the Madisons. She grabbed her purse and locked the back door. She walked through the decorated halls and closed the front door behind her. She was going to be a new Jessica, starting when she had a proper introduction to the new focus in her life.
Sophie legs were full of life. She could picture the blood pumping from her heart, through her veins, and into every step she took. The sun had disappeared behind the mountains, and little light shone on the tall trees dotted with magnificent colors. Her lungs kept a constant pattern, and she never found herself gasping for air or breathing heavily.
Her legs didn’t hurt. They had become part of the earth, and Sophie followed them, knowing that wherever they were taking her, she would go without complaint. She approached the end of the grassy field at the park and maneuvered through the trees to get back onto the road. She wasn’t stopping.
Running allowed Sophie to escape from everything, even herself. Others didn’t understand her, and sometimes she didn’t either. She couldn’t understand why everyone else could laugh with each other because of words. Why people cried when they were told a secret. Every time she witnessed an exchange like this taking place, an exchange of communication, Sophie had to hide the look of pain that flowed into her eyes.
The little light that poured over the mountains lighted the dark streets. Sophie slowed to a stop when she saw the dense little grove of willows that were anchored by the shore. She was on the opposite side of the lake, and if the tall, elegant trees weren’t there, she would have been able to see her house.
Headlights passed on the road as she made her way down to the shore. It wasn’t dark enough to see all the stars yet, but a few shone weakly. She entered the maze of trees and sat by the shore. Her silvery scar was faint in the weak light, the contour of it made Sophie think.
If they could fix her physically, why couldn’t they fix her mentally? If a surgeon could make her arm better, wasn’t there someone that could teach her to speak? Sophie ripped the brace off and cradled her boney wrist in her hand. She collapsed into the lanky grasses that surrounded the willows and started to cry. She had fought for so long. One part of her wanted to fight harder, and succeed. But the other knew; nothing was ever going to change. Sophie let the earth embrace her and she slowly drifted into a sleep, beneath the stars, and beside the lake.
Carol Fay drove quickly, but not suspiciously. She sped up when the traffic lights were yellow and accelerated in the right lane, but she didn’t make her driving noticeable. The girl asleep in the backseat was sopping wet and starting to stir. Carol had to hurry.
A man had found the poor dear walking aimlessly on the side of the highway after she had gotten off at a bus stop. She was soaking wet and when he tried to confront her in his car, she had run and fallen. He tried to talk to her but she had just stared at him, and then slowly drifted into a sleep. The man, Jason Cross, had immediately called Carol, the head of The Utah Department of Child Care. His wife had known Carol from previous encounters and he knew exactly how to get a hold of her.
Carol had rushed to the location, the side of the 224 highway at the mouth of the towering city of Salt Lake. She had made the child comfortable in the back of her car and was now rushing her to the childcare center where she would be properly taken care of. Then she would speak with the girl and hopefully get her back to her parents by noon.
Carol reached the building and called for assistance. She and another woman at the center, Lena Banks, slowly lifted her from the back seat and carried her into the building. They passed the neat lobby and carried the girl into the over night quarters. They lay her on a small bed covered her with blankets. Lena left to find dry clothes and Carol waited by the girl as she slowly woke up.
Carol guessed the girl was about fourteen. She had light brown hair tied in messy braids and was still soaked with water. What had happened? Carol tried to search her face and arms for signs of abuse, but all she found was a perfect scar lining her wrist. It looked like it had been from a surgery.
The girl rustled in her sleep as a loud truck passed behind the building. Carol watched as she slowly opened her eyes and took in what she saw. In a flash, the girl was up in a defensive position, cradling her wrist in one hand. She glared at Carol, but as Carol smiled and told her that there was nothing to be afraid of, her shoulders relaxed and she dropped her hand. She still held herself defensively, but she had at least eased a little.
Carol took a step towards the girl, but she backed away. She decided just to speak from where she was. “It’s alright dear, I’m going to help you. What’s your name sweetie?” Carol asked in a soft, comforting voice.
The girl just stared at her with wide eyes.
“Sweetheart, I’m here to help you. Don’t worry. I work for the state. I’m not going to hurt you. I want to help you. We want to get you to your parents soon, and we need your help to do that.”
Once again the girl just stared. She looked like she was in a state of shock, and Carol had no doubt she was. At that moment, Lena walked in with the dry clothes. The girl started to back away at the sight of Lena, but once again Carol assured her that everything was ok. Lena and Carol quietly discussed how they were going to at least get her sopping jacket off of her as the girl continued to stare at them.
“Alright honey, now we are going to put this nice warm jacket on you,” Carol cooed. She usually wouldn’t be talking to a teenager like this, but after enduring trauma such as this, everyone needed to be softly spoken to.
Once again there was no reply. But this time, as Lena and Carol approached the girl, she stood still and let them slip her jacket off and wrap her in a blanket. Carol then asked her if she was still tired. The girl didn’t reply, and instead wandered to the small cot and lay staring at the ceiling.
Carol was mystified. She had never once dealt with a case that seemed like it caused so many traumas. The girl hadn’t even told Carol her name.
“Carol, look,” Carol turned to Lena. She was standing by door of the room with the dripping jacket in her hand, “I think her name is Madison.”
Carol walked over and looked to where Lena was pointing. The point of a sharpie had neatly written “Madison” on the jacket’s tag. Lena walked towards the girl, “Is your name Madison?”
She gave one small nod as she looked at Lena. Madison it was, and Carol was going to do everything she could to find Madison’s family.
“Rowan?” Jessica called. “Rowan we have to go! You’re going to be late.”
Rowan rushed down stairs with one sock in his hand. “I can’t find my other sock!”
“Rowan,” Jessica said annoyed. “You were supposed to be ready!”
“I was. I thought I had two socks…”
Jessica smiled, “Alright well hurry up! We have to be there by noon, and it’s a three hour drive.”
“I know. Are my parents coming?”
She hesitated. Rowan knew what that meant. “They are going to try okay bud?”
“Yeah,” Rowan said expressionlessly, then turned and hurried back upstairs. Ever since his sister had left, there wasn’t one day they weren’t in distress or pain or busy working off long hours to distract themselves from their lost daughter. Rowan had been seven years old the day she had run away. He was now eleven. He missed his sister, and now that he was older he understood a little more about her. She had had autism. She had been silent her entire life. Never playing with him or spending time with him, the way Jessica did. He knew it was awful to think of it that way, but in a way Jessica had just replaced her.
Jessica of course felt awful about the day she came. Jessica was set strong that the reason for Sophie’s disappearance was her fault. Rowan knew it wasn’t. His sister had often run away. But most of the time, someone had found her. It had been four years since anyone had last seen his sister, and his parents were still struggling to let go of the past.
Rowan dug through his sock drawer. He eventually gave up finding a matching pair and just grabbed a similar one. He lifted his track shoes down from the top shelf of the closet and put them in his bag. He already had three water bottles packed, as well as sweats and a change of clothes, just no socks. He threw his socks in, slipped on his skate shoes and sprinted down stairs.
Jessica was already outside waiting in her Volvo. He took a sweatshirt from the coat rack and ran outside to meet her. The last of the colorful leaves were falling. Fall always made him think of Sophie. Sophie, he remembered, had been most peaceful in the fall, and like his sister, Rowan found tranquility in autumn.
That wasn’t the only thing he and his sister had in common. Sophie had loved to run. She could run for miles without ever struggling for air or experiencing muscle cramps. Rowan had acquired the family gift of running and was the fastest in both sprints and long distance on his middle school track team. He had a natural gift for it, and staying fit was easy. During the winter he ski raced for the Beaver Mountain team, which was about forty-five minutes away from Evanston. This kept him in amazing shape and he was always fully prepared for the cross-country running season.
Today was the second to last meet. It was in Salina, Utah, and he had a long drive ahead of him. He had never been there before, though he went to Utah often. You could take a bus from Evanston to Salt Lake, and his family had had a tradition while Sophie had been with them of going there every year for the Red Butte Garden Halloween festival. That tradition, like so many others, had faded along with his sister.
Rowan sighed and climbed into the car. He couldn’t really talk to anyone about his sister. Jessica didn’t know anything because she had only seen Sophie once before she ran away, and every time Rowan brought it up with his parents, his mom would often start crying and his dad would tell him they would talk about it later. But, as always, the moment would fade and Rowan wouldn’t hear about Sophie. She was a forbidden topic. The tension always filling the house was incredibly stressful, and most of the time Rowan wished they could just talk about it and add some closure to the situation.
But his parents often ignored Rowan, and that was why he regarded Jessica as his big sister. She cared for him, listened to him, supported him, and helped him with whatever he needed. She was always there for him. She was the sister he had never had, even if that sister had once been there physically.
Jessica filled the car with her cheery voice the entire way to Salina. She talked about her work, her friends, and the new project at the research center. After Jessica’s initial reason for coming to Wyoming had run away, the Madison parents had offered her the same room, in hopes that she would help care for Rowan. Jessica, who had given up everything to come work with Sophie, had accepted the offer. It hadn’t been hard for Jessica to find work. She had a Ph.D. in social sciences and psychology, and she was soon working part time at a brain research center just north of Evanston. This gave her a well-paying job and plenty of free time.
Rowan watched the colors fly by as they drove down Parley’s Canyon and into Salt Lake. When Sophie had disappeared, his mom had searched all the police stations of Wyoming, but only scarcely glanced at the missing child reports in Utah. Rowan questioned how thorough that search was without Utah, but his parents had long since given up calling police stations, and now spent their time working and watching for any new news on the subject.
The drive was long, and Rowan passed the time by talking to Jessica and thinking about what he had to do to win the meet. If he won these last two meets, he would make it to Nationals. His region competed with Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming. He had already won State, and moved onto Regionals. These were the final two meets in Regionals, and Rowan was in the top fifteen. Today was all about Rowan, and he didn’t care if his parents were there to support him, his sister was.
“When are we leaving?” Sophie asked her foster mom, Heidi.
“Oh I’d say about, fifteen minutes. Will you be ready by then?” Heidi said as she cleaned out the car in the driveway.
“Ya, I think. Carol is coming?”
“Is Carol coming would be the right way to say it. You know that Maddi, and yes she will meet us there.”
“Ok, thank you.”
Sophie sighed. They still called her Maddi, but at least they had taught her how to speak. That’s all Sophie had wanted, and Carol had given it to her. Carol had given her many things, everything except her family. Sophie couldn’t remember a lot about her past. She could remember that she loved her family, as well as her mom, brother, and dad’s faces, but that was it. She couldn’t remember how she had lost them and found Carol. She couldn’t remember why.
Carol had taken care of Sophie for half a year, trying to understand why this mysterious girl wouldn’t speak to her. Eventually, Carol had given up asking questions and started teaching. She had treated Sophie like a normal person, at first confusing her. Sophie would spend hours questioning the meanings of the words Carol had used and she was often frustrated and angry. The first few months had been torture. Sophie had a hard time understanding anything as well as why everyone called her Maddi or Madison. But eventually, she adjusted to her name, and spoke her first understood words in her life.
From there, it just got easier. Sophie started using more and more nouns, eventually adjectives. By the time Sophie was sixteen she was using sentences. Now Sophie was seventeen and almost fluent in speech. She mixed up the order of words occasionally, but most of the time, she could communicate perfectly.
For this, Sophie had loved Carol. Carol had also given Sophie a new, wonderful foster family each year. More than a year was often too much work for one family, but Carol made sure that each family had all the necessary qualities for taking care of Sophie. Heidi was Sophie’s newest foster mother. Sophie liked Heidi. Heidi was incredibly smart and always helped Sophie with her English. This was the first home she had lived in where there was only a foster mother. The rest had been foster families, but Carol was almost positive that Heidi would become Sophie’s permanent foster mother, and she wanted someone responsible that didn’t have to worry about several other family members.
Sophie was fine with that. She was confident in anything Carol chose for her. She wished that Carol could be her new mother, but she knew Carol was always busy with the Utah Childcare Center, so Sophie had never asked. Sophie couldn’t remember where she had lived in her previous life, but now Salt Lake City, Utah was her home. She hoped that if she ever did find her real family, they lived there too. She liked Salt Lake, and was very fond of her school. She learned so much when she was treated like everyone else. Her high school, Skyline High, gave her that opportunity. She was also on the track team. She had won first in the state under her new name “Madison Fay,” and was now close to making it to Nationals in three events.
Today was one of the final meets. It was in Salina, Utah and the drive was about two hours. Carol was coming and Sophie was determined to win for her. Now that Sophie could speak, she had devoted her life to running. In her new life, no one had stopped her from running. She could vaguely remember her mother being afraid of Sophie running. She had hurt her wrist, which had healed wrong and now was crooked, running. The faint scar held the evidence of the injury, but Sophie couldn’t remember much about it. After all, that had been four years ago.
Sophie filled two water bottles and packed them in her cross-country bag. She loaded her things into the back of Heidi’s car and climbed in the front seat. Sophie also longed to drive, but Carol wasn’t anywhere close to allowing her to try. Sophie was seventeen, and Carol said that she might be able to try in two more years, so Sophie would have to wait patiently.
On the drive to Salina, Heidi and Sophie talked. Heidi would correct Sophie when she said something wrong, and Sophie would accept her correction with gratitude. Sophie watched as the fall leaves drifted from their tall haven to the ground. The colors ranged from the brightest orange, to the faintest pink. The same color as her scar…
“Did you know that I have a scar?” Sophie asked Heidi, “On my wrist?”
“Carol mentioned that. You never told anyone about it though. What’s it from?”
“I’m not sure, but I think I fell. When I was running. That’s why my wrist isn’t straight.”
“Well you certainly haven’t shown anyone any lack of coordination! What did you do? Run into a tree?”
Sophie laughed, “Probably! Maybe that’s why I don’t remember it.” The two of them laughed and sighed.
Heidi supported Sophie’s love for running, and for the rest of the car ride, the two of them discussed how Sophie was going to win. If she won this meet, she only had one more to be declared champion of Regionals so that she could move onto Nationals. Sophie had no lack of confidence, and she knew that these next two meets were going to change her life.
Rowan stretched as he climbed out of the car. To his disappointment, he had fallen asleep in the last hour, and he was sore from the awkward position he had slept in. The sun was shining brightly and athletes were scattered around the parking lot, making their way to the track. This was the first meet he had been to where High School students were also competing. Rowan was lucky the meet was so close; some people had had to fly in from as far as northern Idaho. In two weeks, if Rowan finished in the top thirty today, he would have to go to Las Vegas for the finals.
Jessica wished Rowan luck as he went took his bag to meet up with his track coaches. Some of the people on his team were already there stretching, including a boy that went to his school, Jack. Jack was a year older than Rowan, he was in seventh grade, but the two of them had become close friends throughout the track season. Rowan went over by him and started stretching his quads.
“Hey Ro, what’s happening?” Jack looked up from his hurdle stretch and held out a fist. Rowan pounded it softly and shifted positions.
“I’m so exhausted. I fell asleep on the way here.”
“That sucks. It’s the qualifying meet.”
“I know. I’ll just have to man it out.” Rowan looked teasingly at Jack. That was Jack’s thing to say. Anytime someone on the team was being a wimp, Jack would tell him or even her to “toughen up and man it out.”
“Yeah you will! The Sun Valley kids are here,” Jack made a face towards where the Sun Valley team was stretching.
“Are you kidding? We’re dead! Oh man, Wyatt’s here too. I’m so dead,” Jack was on the Beaver Mountain ski team with Rowan, and they knew the Sun Valley athletes from all the races. They were amazing and never held anything back. Wyatt, who was in the same age group as Rowan, was really the only athlete Rowan was afraid of. He knew he could beat everyone else, but he and Wyatt always had close finishes.
Rowan turned away from the team and started to get focused. Now he would really have to work to win this meet. He stretched everything, making sure he kneaded any sore spots and told the coaches about anything tight that he couldn’t find a stretch for.
John, the head coach of Rowan’s team, was stretching Rowan’s hamstring when the whistle announced all athletes to check in and line up for events. The first event was the 100-meter dash. Rowan was competing in that, the 800, and the 1600, and the two mile. It was a lot, but Rowan had never been over-worked at previous meets. He had an amazing way of using only the right amount of energy, and he could conserve most of it.
Rowan went with Jack and one of his coaches, Christy, to check in. He was set to go and pinned on his number as he made his way to the side of the track. He was in the last heat of the first set for the 100. He loosened up and got his mind in the right place. The slower of the Regional runners finished and Rowan looked around to see who was competing against. Wyatt grinned mockingly as Rowan caught his eye. Rowan ignored it and focused on what he was going to do to win. When his heat started to line up, we took his place, felt the rush of determination, and bolted as he heard the gun.
Wyatt finished three one hundredths of a second before Rowan and jogged cockily back to his team. It’s just a warm up… Rowan thought, trying to contain himself. He could beat Wyatt by much more, and he would prove that in the net race. He trotted back to his team where his teammates and coaches congratulated him, and went to watch the high school boys.
The day continued like this. Rowan would run hard, stretch, and watch. He ended up winning the 800 and the 1600 hundred, with Wyatt taking second once and fifth the next. Wyatt was stuck up most of the time and Rowan had fun rubbing his wins in his face. The final race, the two-mile, was the last one of the day for Rowan. He readied himself, and like the rest, put nothing but effort into his running.
Sophie didn’t care what her coaches were telling her. She had already won the three events she had competed in, and she didn’t care if she didn’t qualify for Nationals in the two-mile. She was too excited to look back towards them. It had been an exhilarating and incredibly enjoyable day. Sophie, with Carol and Jessica cheering her on, had taken first in the 100, 800, and 1600. She was set to go to nationals in Las Vegas, and though her coaches wanted her to finish her events and win the two-mile, Sophie had just seen a face she hadn’t seen in more than four years.
It was uncommon for runners to interact with runners from other teams, especially if the team was in the middle of a discussion. But Sophie broke the semi-circle of athletes and rushed to her brother, hugging him and kissing him. Once she had seen his face she could remember so much more. His name was Rowan. She started to cry tears of joy as numerous people circled around Rowan’s team, watching in confusion.
Sophie couldn’t take in the happiness compelling her. She ignored her brother’s awkward look and hugged him tighter. By now Heidi and Carol were on the grass jogging briskly towards the siblings to see what was wrong, but Sophie wouldn’t let go of Rowan. She had found her brother, and at that moment in time, she loved him more than anything else in the world.
“Rowan! Rowan it’s you!” Sophie sang through her sobs, “Rowan I can’t believe its you!”
Rowan pulled away from Sophie’s hold, trying to get a better look at the person who was crying on him.
“Who are you?” Rowan asked after a while, frightened. The adults in the background were asking the same thing, demanding information. Heidi and Carol were on both sides of Sophie, asking her what was going on. Sophie ignored them.
“Rowan! Rowan it’s me! It’s really me! Oh Rowan I’ve missed you!” She collapsed on him, tears pouring down her cheeks. He retreated, asking what she was doing.
Sophie was too thrilled to feel the disappointment in his ignorance. She paused, trying to think of a way to make him understand. She hadn’t heard her real name spoken in so long, she didn’t know how to say it. She dropped her head, deep in thought and caught of glimpse of her wrist.
“Rowan!” Sophie gasped through her tears. She held up her wrist so that her scar was exposed, “It’s me!”
The blood in Rowan’s face drained, and he turned pale white. His eyes began to water and he looked deep into Sophie’s eyes. His hands began to tremble and he could barely move his mouth as he spoke.
“Sophie?” He barely whispered, shocked beyond reality.
Sophie nodded and repeated after her brother, “Sophie.”
Rowan pushed hard as he began to slope around the final turn. Sophie was several strides ahead of him, laughing as though she were having the time of her life. The evening summer air was cool and fresh, and filled Rowan’s lungs to their maximum capacity. The sky was beginning to turn to gray, and Rowan’s muscles were beginning to numb in the cooling air.
He ignored the cold and started to push into full speed. He and his sister were racing one another on the Evanston High School track. They were about to finish a mile, and though Rowan knew he had no chance of beating his sister, he still pushed himself as hard as he could go.
Their parents, as well as Carol, Heidi, and Jessica were on the grass hill on the west side of the track, enjoying the weekend night with a picnic. It was the night after Sophie’s high school graduation, the first night of summer. Rowan was getting ready for seventh grade and his parents were beginning vacation from work. Life was perfect, and Rowan couldn’t of asked for anything more.
Sophie crossed the finish several seconds before Rowan sprinted across it. She laughed and patted him on the back, “It’s ok Rowan. I’m just fast.”
He was bending over with his hands on his knees, gasping for air.
“No, really?” he managed to cough out sarcastically.
“I am the seventh fastest senior in the nation! What can I say?” Sophie said, bragging about her wins.
Rowan rolled his eyes. “I’m the twenty first! And boys competitions are a lot harder!”
“Whatever you say Ro, but I still beat you!” Sophie laughed again skipped off towards their parents.
Rowan smiled as he watched her go. She was so mysterious. When she had fallen into hysterics at the track meet the previous fall, he had been shocked to see that she could speak. He had never heard his sister speak, and seeing her there, and alive, had made Rowan burst into tears the minute he knew who she was.
Heidi, her apparent foster mother at the moment, and Carol, her rescuer, had been overjoyed to find Sophie’s family. Rowan’s parents had practically drowned them in gratitude. Not only were they grateful for their daughters return, but for her education and ability to speak as well. They, like Sophie and Rowan, had collapsed with happiness at the sight of their full family. Ever since then, life had been unreal.
Rowan, although he was still confused by his sister’s ways, thought Sophie was one of the most beautiful things on earth. She was the smartest person he knew, and even if she did have trouble speaking, it was no shield for her intelligence. He had remembered her as an isolated and depressed girl, but now he realized that this young woman that had magically transformed his life in the last eight months could not have been his once silent sister. The boundaries that autism had once created for this world-class athlete, persistent fighter, and intelligent being no longer existed. Sophie wasn’t the girl with autism. She was a friend, a student, a daughter, and a sister. Sophie, was Sophie.