Summer Bird Blue
Lea’s face lights up like every star in the sky just turned on at once. “I love it.”
Mom looks over her shoulder, the arch in her brow a mix of curiosity and amusement. She’s heard us play this game a thousand times, but she still doesn’t fully understand it.
I don’t blame her. Most people think Lea and I are two of the weirdest people in the universe when we’re writing songs.
“What does a bird have to do with summer or blue?” Mom asks.
Lea and I speak at the exact same time, our voices colliding against each other’s like cymbals.
“It doesn’t have to make sense.”
“You’re interrupting our vibe.”
Mom laughs. Her eyes meet mine in the rearview mirror. “I
think ‘black’ would’ve given you more options. Shama thrush are beautiful songbirds, you know.”
I glance at Lea and make a face. “What is she talking about?” I whisper.
“No idea,” Lea whispers back. “I think she’s just making up words.”
Mom lets out a mock groan. “Fine. I’ll just sit here quietly, the unpaid taxi driver whose daughters won’t talk to her.”
I laugh. Lea leans forward and plants a kiss on Mom’s freckled cheek, their faces blending together like a blur of bronze skin and curls the color of burnt coffee.
My hair isn’t wild like theirs—it’s long and straight, probably because I’m not wild at all. They’re the ones who go on all the roller coasters, sing in public, and dance to every song on the radio.
I’m more of a sideline kind of girl. I live vicariously through them.
Mom tilts her head back and purses her lips. “What about you, Rumi? Got a kiss for your mom?”
“I’m good,” I say, rolling my eyes as Lea settles back next to me. It’s not that I don’t love my mother, but I’m not really the affectionate type. I’d blame it on the fact that I’m going to be a senior this fall, but Lea is going to be a sophomore and she still hasn’t outgrown Mom’s hugs.
Maybe it’s because Lea is a way nicer person than I am. It makes sense—she’s a giggler. And people who giggle are either incredibly annoying or so over-the-top nice you feel obligated to forgive them for it.
There’s nobody in the world who would call Lea annoying. Not even me, and I’m usually annoyed by most things with faces.
Mom lets out a gentle sigh. “I’ll try not to take it personally.”
You know how some people have resting bitch face? I have relaxed jerk voice. Lea insists this is a real thing. She says I always sound like I’m barking instead of talking. So to compensate, I use the sandwich method.
A compliment, followed by my real thoughts, followed by a compliment. It was Lea’s idea I sarcastically agreed to go along with, but for some reason it’s kind of stuck.
“Your hair smells like flowers. Kissing makes me feel like you’re violating my personal space. I like your lip gloss.”
Lea coughs her laughter into the back of her hand. Mom looks at me with half-hearted disapproval.
There’s a journal sitting in the space between Lea and me. It’s sky blue and covered in tiny white stars, with an R and an L drawn on the cover in black Sharpie.
I pick it up, splitting the book open with my thumb, and flip through pages and pages of lyrics Lea and I have been working on all year. They were all inspired by three words, too. It’s our game—to think of the first three things that come to us and write a song about them.
Some of them are funny. “Love String Macaroni.” “House Ghost Marshmallow.”
Some of them are dark. “Earth Blood Iron.” “Lost Wings Ice.”
But they are all us—Lea and me—and that counts for a lot.
I write “Summer Bird Blue” on a new page and tap the end of my pen against the lined paper.
Lea sniffs beside me. She pats her hand against her thigh, a beat that reminds me of a song we once wrote about a boy who still doesn’t know she exists. “Every summer I remember what it’s like,” she starts to sing.
I close my eyes. “To feel the warmth against my skin.”
“You know just how to take the sun away,” she continues.
“And it’s winter when I look at you again.” I peel my eyes open and find Lea smiling at me.
Something rushes through my body, as if my blood has been replaced with starlight. I feel like magic, and wonder, and pure happiness. And when I look at Lea, my fifteen-year-old sister who glows and shimmers and is everything good that I’m not, I know she feels the same way.
Music is what makes up the single soul we share. I don’t think I’ll ever find another person in the entire world who understands me the way Lea does. We’re the only two people in the universe who speak our language.
Lea throws me a thumbs-up. “I like it.”
“I can’t wait to get back to my piano,” I say.
Mom slows the car down. Another red light. She looks up at us in the mirror. “But where’s the blue bird? I thought you were singing about a blue bird?”
We talk over each other again, like sisters with the same thought but different words.
“God, Mom, let it die.”
“You don’t get us at all.”
And then the three of us are laughing, and pretty soon it’s just one loud sound that harmonizes together. Mom, Lea, and me. The song of our family.
The light turns green up ahead, and Mom pulls away, still smiling.
It’s hard to explain what I see next. Nothing at first, and then something so dark and big that it shields all the light from the window. But I do hear the sounds.
A crash, like every chime and timpani and gong colliding all at once.
Shattering glass, like stars exploding into dust.
A crunch, like bone and stone and metal and so many awful things moving in directions they shouldn’t be.
And then complete and utter silence.