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Happiness Comes With a Price

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My name is Charlie. Charlie Peter McGuckin. I'm fifteen years old. From the outside, my life looks like that of a normal teenaged boy. I'm one of those rebellious, stupid types to those on the outside. But ever since we moved from Spring Farm, Illinois no one knows my story.

 

Before I was born, I had a sister. Her name was Sara Anne McGuckin. There aren't any pictures of her out anymore, but when I was younger I would sneak into my parents' bedroom and go through old photos. She looked a lot like my dad; dark chestnut hair against pale ivory skin with piercing blue eyes. Her cheeks were always in a natural blush in the photos. She was hardly ever frowning, even as a baby. My mother took only three first day of school photos of her though. One from kindergarten, one from first grade, and the last from second grade... my sister died in a collision between her school bus and an oncoming train that year.

 

My first memory directly related to Sara was a family outing to her gravesite on her birthday. I was five years old. It was the first time I finally grasped what the deep-seeded sadness in our house was all about.

"Why are we here, Mom?"

"We've been here before, Sweetie."

I crouched down to examine a rock with an inscription.

"Sara Anne McGuckin," I looked to my parents, "is she related to us?" My dad took a deep breath.

"She's your sister."

"How come I've never seen her?"

"She... died, Buddy."

I touched her gravestone as my mom started to cry into my dad's chest. I knew what death was, now. Just a few months ago my first pet rat, Snippy, died. My parents had comforted me, but they made sure that the concept of death was clear; once something is dead, it can never come back. At that moment, I knew Sara was never coming back.

 

When I was seven, my dad finally agreed to teach me to ride a bike. We made the plan weeks in advance and every day leading to that one lesson my parents exchanged worried glances every time I brought it up. The day finally came and I was up early. My dad gave me a smile, but I could see the worry in his eyes. He took me to the park with his old bike that he had been fixing.

"I'm scared."

"Don't worry, Buddy. I've got you."

"You won't let go?"

"Of course not."

"You promise?"

"Yes. I'll be with you every step of the way."

I was peddling... I was free! I looked back and my dad was millions of miles away. I was scared, but I knew by the smile on his face that he was proud. And so I continued on. Suddenly my dad was shouting something to me.

"Back peddle, Bud!" I trusted him, so I did as he told me. The bike stopped and wobbled, so I kicked out a leg to stop myself from falling. My chest was heaving from the effort, but my dad was beaming with pride. He stooped down and hugged me close before pulling back and ruffling my hair.

"That's my boy."

 

At nine, a strange girl lived in our house for three months. It turned out that she was one of my sister Sara's classmates... the only one to survive. By the end of her stay, we found out that she was the reason my sister was dead. Emily Book was a strange one, but after she left I couldn't stop thinking about her and neither could my mom. By the end of the year she and my dad separated. I was forced to choose. I broke my mom's heart, but I chose my dad. I was only ten when that choice was forced upon me.

 

Now I'm fifteen. Five years have passed since Emily visited Spring Farm and my world tore apart. My dad and I moved to Ohio and my mom stayed in Spring Farm. Dad promised I would visit her whenever he could spare the moment, but that isn't often, so I haven't seen my mom in three years. Yesterday I asked my dad for some money for the bus system and he seemed hesitant, but he finally agreed.

"You're old enough to go out on your own, Son. I trust you. Use the pay phone when you get to the Illinois station though, you hear?"

"I promise, Dad." I told him. Now, here I am... riding the train to Illinois. So I lied to him about how I was getting there. Big deal. Dad has always been apprehensive of trains and I know that if Mom ever found out that I'm riding one now she would flip, but it's faster than the bus.