"Elsa! Pssst—Elsa! Wake up, wake up, wake up!"
Elsa swatted absently at her sister. "Anna… it's too early… go back to sleep…"
Anna, even at the ripe age of eleven, would not take no for an answer. "But the sky's awake! So I'm awake, and we have to play!" She flopped atop her older sister, hoping that her weight would be enough to wake the older girl.
"Go play by yourself," Elsa muttered, nudging her assailant.
Anna threw open the curtains with the intention of annoying her sister awake, but gasped at the sight that greeted her. She clambered back onto the bed, and pried open one of Elsa's eyes with a sly invitation. "Do you wanna build a snowman?'
She laughed gleefully when thirteen-year-old Elsa's eyes shot open and she immediately sat upright. Pushing aside the curtain fully, she peered through frost-stained glass. Indeed, the gardens were covered in a sheet of thick, white powder. The sun was just beginning to creep over the horizon, its rays shining on the fresh snow, turning them from ice to glittering diamond. Excitedly, she turned to look at her rambunctious sister, who was already carelessly pulling on her rubber boots, ready to bolt out the door and inflict herself upon the picturesque perfection.
Elsa was ready to join her when logic resurfaced through the cloud of excitement that was sending a pleasant buzz throughout her entire body. Snow meant reading to Anna by the fireplace. Snow meant cold hands wrapped around a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Snow meant Olaf. "Anna, wait! Put on warmer clothes!"
In one quick motion, she hopped off the bed and had Anna swathed in the warmest clothes she could find. "Let's go, let's go!" The fiery redhead was jumping all over the place, barely able to contain her elation and tugged her sister toward the door with the strength of ten horses, not that Elsa minded. Despite usually having the more composed demeanor of the two, she was just as eager to get outside, if not more.
The two sisters exploded through the front door of the Arendelle Manor, without a second thought, raced to throw themselves into the snow, reveling in the rare treat. It did snow often in Vancouver, but it only rarely did pile higher than their knees, and they both knew that the occasion would be fleeting, swept away by rain and responsibilities.
"I'm going to make a snow angel!" Anna declared, flailing her arms, throwing fistfuls of ice everywhere.
"Let's see how well you do that… when I do this!" Elsa collected a fistful of snow, hurling it at her sister with playful precision.
Anna clumsily rolled out of the boundary of her snow angel to dodge her older sister's assault, giggling uncontrollably. "Missed me!"
"But I ruined your snow angel," Elsa teased, looking smug.
Anna immediately swung to her feet, despite the thick snow around her knees. Her snow angel was more of a snow square and she giggled again. "It looks like a snowman rolled through my snow angel!"
Elsa laughed with her sister. "Snowman?"
"Yes, yes, yes!" Anna squeaked.
Together they rolled two large snowballs, and stacked them. Due to their impatience and tendency to get sidetracked by throwing fistfuls of whatever they could grab at each other, the snow 'balls' ended up more like snow 'squares'. Well, this was not unusual for them, anyway. Elsa formed the signature oblong shaped head and triumphantly stacked it above the other two. Somehow, Anna managed to produce two sticks for arms. "Hi, I'm Olaf and I like warm hugs!" She sang, in the goofiest voice she could muster.
"I love you, Olaf!" Anna sprinted over and hugged the snowman, almost knocking it over. Elsa smiled at her. The little redhead's eyes lit up with an idea. "Oooh, let's see if the pond is frozen!" she exclaimed, jumping up and down in her excitement.
"Race you there!" Her older sister responded, grinning from ear to ear.
Running toward the pond near their house at full speed, the two girls stopped when they reached the pond.
"Ooooooooh…" They breathed in unison. The pond was frozen over, reflecting the yellow rays of the rising morning sun, the thin sheet of solid water looking more like crystal than ice.
Impulsively, Anna scrambled onto the surface of the pond, screaming, "This is so cool! It's like magic!"
Excitement turned into terror in an instant as soon as Elsa remembered that her sister had never skated on ice before, and she reached out a hand to grab her. Her hand whiffed cold air however, as Anna was already sliding herself toward the middle of the pond. "Anna, wait!"
But the mischievous redhead, in her glee, paid no heed to the call of her older sister. Mezmerized by the beauty of the ice, something she had never experienced before, she stood up and jumped excitedly. "Elsa, come on, come—"
Her last words were stolen from her as the watery glass beneath her cracked and sucked her below.
Elsa's eyes widened in alarm. "Anna! No!" Devoid of all playfulness now, she got down on all fours, spreading her weight, and crawled to the cracked ice her sister fell through. Luckily, the pond was shallow, so she could reach Anna's hand.
"E-Elsa… h-h-h-help…" Anna stuttered through chattering teeth.
Desperation fraying all of her nerves, Elsa yanked on her sister's arm with all her might, but with the added weight of the ice water soaking through Anna's puffy winter jacket, she couldn't pull the younger girl out of the freezing abyss. Terror consumed her, colder than the ice she laid on, because she wasn't strong enough.
"H-help…" Were Anna's last words as she sank into unconsciousness.
Elsa screamed, "No! Anna!... MOM! SOMEONE! HELP! PLEASE, SOMEONE!"
Their mother was already running toward them, eyes wide with fury and panic, a stark contrast to her usual nonchalant features. She too crawled toward the middle of the pond next to her eldest daughter and pulled her youngest out of the freezing water.
"Elsa, hurry, run into the house and call 911!"
Without having to be told twice, Elsa bolted.
The sting of disinfectant burning her nose and the ringing of phones echoing through her skull, Elsa hugged herself as she sat in the waiting area of the ER, tears stinging her eyes and staining her cheeks. If only she had been more careful. If only she had warned Anna earlier. If only she had not been so impulsively blinded by the prospect of fun that she agreed to visit the pond. This was all her fault. She'd overheard the doctors talking about how Anna almost died from hypothermia, and it was all her fault.
Her mother acknowledged the EMT who was explaining the situation and turned to face her. Without warning, Elsa felt a cold hand slap her across her right cheek.
"What were you thinking, Elsa?! Were you trying to kill your sister?" Her mother yelled, the only time Elsa had seen any emotion on her face. "Your sister might not have known, but you did. You knew how dangerous ice is. I've explained it to you all before, haven't I? How dare you put your sister in danger like this! How dare you!"
Fresh tears broke free from the blonde girl's eyes as she was crushed under the weight of accusation and the memory of her father. "I'm s-sorry, Mom. It was an accident. I won't… I won't ever do it again." Sorry? A voice in her head spat, and it sounded suspiciously like her father. You think sorry is enough to make up for what you almost did to Anna? Her sister almost died, and all she could compensate for it was 'sorry'?
As if she was having the exact same thoughts, her mother turned around, with her back to her daughter.
Before either of them could say anything else, a stretcher with an unconscious Anna on it erupted from the emergency room. Elsa immediately sprang to her feet, her eyes following her sister's prone body as it disappeared down the white halls of the hospital. One of the nurses wheeling the stretcher stopped and promptly reported, "We managed to warm her back to normal body temperature, but she may develop a fever, which is one of the body's natural responses to hypothermia. She'll need to stay here for a couple nights, just until we're sure there's no permanent damage."
"Will she be okay?" Elsa squeaked.
"She should be fine." The nurse smiled. "It's good that you were able to keep her head above the water. Otherwise the damage may have been worse."
"Thank you for your help," Elsa's mother interrupted. She didn't turn to look at her daughter before following the nurse to fill out paperwork.
"I'm sorry, Anna." Elsa murmured as she held her unconscious sister's hand, brushing the young girl's ginger hair with the other. "I'm so, so sorry. I'll protect you better from now on. I swear." She pressed a kiss to Anna's forehead, a silent plea of forgiveness.
"Elsa, dear? I'm sorry, but visiting hours are over. You can come back tomorrow, okay?" One of the nurses rubbed Elsa's shoulder comfortingly as she guided the young girl to her mother.
The car ride home was quiet. Neither Elsa nor her mother felt the need to interrupt the silence with unwelcome chatter.
Anna stood outside her sister's room, thoughtfully eyeing the door. Knocked on it. Once, twice. Three times. "Elsa? It's snowing outside." No response. "Do you… do you wanna build a snowman?" The question was like their secret code. No one said no to building a snowman. Ever. Whenever she asked her sister, or her sister asked her, the answer was always an excited squeal of yes. Until now.
"Go away, Anna. I'm studying."
"Yeah, right. It's winter break. Who studies during winter break? Come on, let's play. I never see you anymore. And it's the first time it's snowed for two years… Elsa, come on."
"Anna, don't bother your sister. You have other friends." Came the cold response of her mother from the grand foyer of the house.
Anna never really understood why her mother bore so much animosity toward her sister. Why she was always discouraged from even talking to Elsa. And her sister was perfect. Perfect grades, perfect manners, even perfect speech. She never stammered through her words like Anna did. She was never caught off guard. Never once has Anna seen a crack in her impeccable demeanor. At least, that was the way it was since her incident with the pond two winters ago. Even before that, before their father died, Elsa was always the face of perfection. Anna had never seen Elsa embody anything less than flawless when they were in front of their parents. Especially after the incident where Anna fell through the ice, Elsa was more distant than ever.
How was she going to break through the wall of perfection that Elsa had built up between them? There was no way that her older sister wanted this. To be separated. To be alone. But something (or someone) was forcing her perfect, platinum blonde sister to be this way.
She was going to have to devise a plan that would force her sister out of her shell. Something that Elsa couldn't resist. Then it clicked. Of course!
Grinning slyly to herself, Anna ran to the kitchen. There, she fixed two steaming mugs of rich, aromatic hot chocolate. The mere smell of it made Anna's mouth water. There was no way her sister is going to say no to chocolate.
Knocking on Elsa's door again, Anna cleared her throat. In her best British accent, she announced steadily, "Dear lady Elsa, the best chocolate from Belgium is right outside your door, in rich, hot, liquid-y form."
"Okay, who is that doing the horrible British accent impersonation?" came the teasing voice that Anna missed so much.
The door opened. Anna grinned triumphantly at her sister, "Excuse you! That was my best impression of a butler."
Elsa shook her head and rolled her eyes playfully, "How do we even in the same family?"
"Oh, you know you love me. Let me in already! I have an offering to shrine Elsa that I knew you couldn't resist!"
Elsa looked around the hall, presumably for signs of their mother. When she found none, she beckoned to Anna, "Okay, okay, feisty-pants. Come in already."
It had been so long since she'd last seen the inside of Elsa's room that it was like exploring a whole new part of the house. At least, for once, this room wasn't empty.
Eyeing her sister's desk, which was littered with drawings of ice sculptures and snowflake patterns, Anna laughed. "You liar! You weren't actually studying, were you? I knew it! 'I'm studying,'" she teased, sticking out her tongue, "Who studies during the winter holidays? Not that you're, you know, a nerd, but still!"
Elsa was smiling wryly at her, warmth and something resembling longing in her glacial blue eyes. "A nerd?"
Anna pouted and unceremoniously plopped herself down on Elsa's bed. "It's the perfect description for you!"
A sudden silence descended upon the two girls as they sipped their hot chocolate at, coincidentally, the same time. Looking up from their mugs, they caught each other's surprised glances and burst out laughing.
Elsa had almost forgotten how easy it was to be with Anna. How her presence in the room was like an oasis in the desert of perfection that she had forced herself to tread through every day. How laughing with Anna was as natural as breathing.
Almost like magic.
But she knew as blissful as this was, it would have to end. Still shouldering the blame that her parents had stacked upon her, she couldn't shake the feeling that whenever Anna got too close to her, she would get hurt. It hadn't always been the case before the incident with the pond, but the notion was making itself more and more prevalent each time they spent time together.
A few months after school started, they took a field trip to a skating rink. Elsa was holding onto Anna as the redhead was taking her first few steps gliding on the ice, when balance left her and she cracked her head on the railing. She'd needed stitches.
In the summer, when the sisters were fighting over who gets the first sip of an exotic drink they'd ordered at a fancy restaurant, they knocked the glass into the table and it shattered, one of the pieces cutting Anna's hand.
By then, Elsa was convinced that she was cursed. If only she'd been more careful, she always told herself, when the aftermath of the accidents unfolded around her. It was always her carelessness. Her fault.
So when Elsa graduated from elementary and moved on to high school, she told herself that she should distance herself from Anna, to prevent her beloved sister from being hurt by her carelessness time and time again. In fact, in distancing herself from Anna, she also broke off friendships with her other friends, convincing herself that if she can't be friends with Anna, her own sister, why did she deserve to have friends at all?
And so she started her self-imposed journey of solitude. And it was going okay. Until now.
Maybe it was the snow that reminded her of all the fun she had had with Anna in their childhood. Maybe it was the sting in her heart that came from the realization that Anna had remembered what her favorite food was, despite being so abandoned and ignored by her. Maybe it was the suffocating loneliness that made her want so much the closeness she had shared with her sister before.
So lost in her despair, she almost missed Anna's next words.
"So, I'm gonna be going to high school next year, and maybe we could have lunch together like we did before? And laugh at teachers behind their back, and make fun of the really mean ones. I always loved how you'd draw doodles of them in my notebook."
Oh no. No. Anna couldn't be seen with her at school. She was a freak now; the girl who took classes two grades above her age. The girl who had straight A's and no friends, the freakshow who never said a word. She remembered that her mother had asked in passing if she'd have preferred to be homeschooled, and she was quickly reconsidering her answer now.
No, that would make Anna a target for the merciless bullies, the audible whispers that stung like knives, the glares of prejudice and discrimination. Such a kind soul would never survive the hellish torture that she was subject to almost everyday at that purgatory.
If no one knew Anna was her sister, if no one knew of their familial connection, Anna could easily have a wonderful high school experience. Anna always made new friends effortlessly, peers and teachers alike. But if anyone ever got wind of Elsa being Anna's older sister…
She ground her teeth together.
No. The mere thought of her kind, innocent sister being bullied caused a burning ire that threatened to—
She would exercise the privilege that her name wrought. The way her father had shown her, by example, how to deal with those who disrespected them. Even if it meant turning into him.
Anna must have seen the anger on her sister's face because her next words were pleading, apologetic, "Elsa? What's wrong? I'm sorry, I mean, I understand if you don't want to, 'cuz you're so perfect, you know. I mean who would want to be seen with a girl who barely scrapes a B plus and stumbles over her own words and is so awkward, right? Sorry I suggested something so stupid."
Every single iteration of the word 'no' resounded in a thundering protest at the forefront of Elsa's mind. There was so much she wanted to say, so many apologies and dialectics flooding to thoroughly refute every single sentiment Anna had just expressed that they lodged at the back of her throat like a quagmire. She stumbled to form words. "No, no. You don't have to apologize. This is not your fault. I just… It's just…"
She set down her mug resolutely.
"That's not a good idea. I think you should leave. Now." Before Anna could protest, Elsa shoved her out the door, slammed it shut, and locked it, but not before catching a glimpse of her little sister's heartbroken face. Her vision blurred as she turned around and leaned against the door. Sinking to her knees, she finally let loose the tears she had been holding back, and her thoughts bombarded her again.
That night, Anna lay wide awake in bed, trying to make sense of what happened between her and Elsa. She cursed herself, having messed up such a precious chance to spend time with her sister. She had to ruin it by impulsively blurting out stupid suggestions. The look on Elsa's face when she had shoved her out of the room sent chills down Anna's spine. It was a look of pure loathing. Did Elsa hate her that much? Did her sister blame her for the consequences of all the stupid, careless things she did? Like jumping on thin ice. That was her first act of ingenuity. And almost pulling Elsa down with her when she'd lost her footing at the skating rink. Not considering the table when she was fighting with her sister over the first sip of some stupid coconut drink, and carelessly pushing the glass into it. She was grateful that Elsa wasn't physically hurt by any of her carelessness, but she had always heard their mother berating Elsa, when it was her own fault.
She was sure her older sister resented her, and she deserved it, for the times that their mother blamed her for incidents that she shouldn't have been faulted with. Now Elsa didn't even want to be seen with her in public. Elsa would probably be the laughingstock of her school if anyone found out she had such a stupid klutz for a sister.
I'm sorry, Elsa, were Anna's last thoughts as she finally let fatigue claim her.