Riya Abiram 

Where are you?

I’m in my living room, Walter thought. He gazed upon the picture frames hanging on the walls, filled with endearing smiles and unforgettable moments. Celia wasn’t in any of them. She was a ghost in her home even before she had left.

“Are you alone?

“No,” he said, advancing toward the kitchen door. “I hear two people.”

What are they saying?

“They’re arguing.” He peeked his head into the room and caught a look at the two figures. He recognized his mother’s voice immediately. It had the same soothing tone, though it was edged with irritation.

“You have to listen to me!” she told the other figure. “I’m trying to help you here.” The figure remained silent. “What? Are you going to run away from us again? Finally give us some peace?”

Walter turned away just as the figure stormed out of the room. He could recognize those chunky pink highlights anywhere. Celia.

“I can’t do this anymore, Jess,” he heard Celia say over her phone. “Why should I stay here if she doesn’t want me?” He couldn’t make out Jess’s response.

“I told you,” she said, her voice softening, “I’m not comfortable around your friend.” Jess muttered something in return.

“I know. You’re right.” Walter heard a sigh. “I’m in.” Celia hung up the phone, focusing her attention on her next target

“Walter, if you’re going to eavesdrop, at least try to be quiet.” His heart dropped. As she pushed the door open, he was taken aback by her appearance, one he hadn’t seen in years. Her gentle grey eyes, radiating wisdom and strength, sent a wave of suppressed memories into his mind. They were sitting by the campfire, laughing after getting caught sneaking away from the tent to watch the stars. They were curled up, watching a scary movie Celia had promised him wouldn’t give him nightmares. He couldn’t help but stare at her in awe, the person he had longed to be with finally reunited with him.

“Are you okay?” She asked, tilting her head quizzically. He simply nodded, worried that if he spoke, her very presence would cease to exist. Her face tightened. “Look, what you heard is not important. Please, don’t tell Mom.” He stopped her before she could lock him out again.

“What were you talking about?” Celia paused before smiling at him reassuringly.

“It’s not important. I love you Walt. Just know that.”

Her eyes turned dark as a figure approached, Celia’s endearing words turning to a cold glare as she retreated back into her room. His mother appeared in front of him, looking at him with sympathy he could not understand. She quietly led him away, pulling him onto her lap.

“Listen Walt, I love your sister just as much as you do, but your adoration of her has gone too far,” she chided. I know you’re young and don’t fully understand these things but I cannot support this any longer. Listen carefully-” his mother was too engrossed in her lecture to notice what was happening around her. Walt watched as Celia crept down the stairs, a black van waiting expectantly in the driveway. She was at the door when she made eye contact with him for the last time, offering nothing but an apologetic shrug before she quietly snuck away.

She was gone — her pink highlights and her comfort and her love, if it even was love, into the van and out of his life. His eyes lifted open, and a part of him wished they could still be closed; he wasn’t ready for what would come next.

“Are you feeling alright?” a voice said from the corner of the room. “You stopped listening to me a few minutes in and I was about to call the paramedics.” Her voice was shaking.

He nodded his head, still reeling from his out of body experience. She paused, her expression brimming with exasperation “Walter, what you did was incredibly dangerous. You can’t shut me out when it seems reasonable to you. I know you’re eager to learn more about the disappearance of your sister, but lack of caution in hypnotherapy can cause serious problems.” As she continued to lecture him, his thoughts began to drift elsewhere. Walter had come here for clarity but had only received more questions. Though he wasn’t sure what he would do next, there was one thing he knew for certain. His determination to find Celia would be everlasting.
Finally seeing the face that he had never stopped thinking about once again reminded him why he had started his search in the first place. And he never planned to give up.