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The Sleepy Sun

Written By: Kelsey Syble

By Kelsey SyblePublished 6 months ago Updated 5 months ago 15 min read
Photo source: Roberto Nickson/Pexels

On the morning of Penelope's engagement party, I found her basking in the glow of the "sleepy sun," as we'd so lovingly called it as children. Perched atop her favorite sand dune, a pink ceramic mug clasped between her hands, she had never looked more at peace.

It pierced my heart a bit, thinking that she seemed happier now as a soon-to-be-wed woman than she'd ever been as my wild and carefree little sister. But I knew better than to voice my concerns on the subject of marriage.

"Good morning, Pen," I told her with a smile as I gingerly took a seat beside her in the sand, careful not to spill my cup of tea.

Penelope knocked her shoulder against mine playfully. "Morning, Grumpy. I'm surprised you're even alive."

I scoffed. "I'm up now, aren't I?!"

"Sunrise is almost over! You missed the best part!"

I sighed happily as I took in the vivid scene before us of melting oranges and bright blues swirling together as if they were merely paints on an artist's palette. "No, this is the best part."

We sat in silence, and after a moment she reached across with one free hand to hold mine. I squeezed her fingers gently, smiling at her, and whispered, "I love you, Pen. So much."

The sleepy sun rose higher and higher, and I admired its strength. Especially in this moment, on this day of all days.


"Breakfast time!" Great Aunt Carol boomed as soon as Penelope and I entered the dining room.

I closed the sliding glass door behind me and slid off my flip-flops.

"Uh-uh-uh. Sand!" Carol snapped at me with a grimace. "Wipe those toes on the rug, please, or you're not getting any of my grits."

Penelope frowned. "But I love grits."

"I hate grits, but whatever," I shrugged before wiping my feet on the entry rug with Penelope.

Penelope headed for the kitchen, calling over her shoulder, "Who wants orange juice?"

"Me, please!" I replied. I began pulling out a chair at the table, but Carol quickly clamped her hand down on the top of the chair to stop me.

"What do you think you are doing?" she whispered through gritted teeth.

I glanced over at Great Uncle Jude, who seemed to be lost in his own world of politics and whatever else The New York Times was reporting this morning. He held the newspaper wide in front of his face, ignoring us.

"I'm sitting down," I replied slowly. "What's the problem?"

"The problem is that you are not a child to be served anymore, and you are old enough to understand how life works. The men get served, and the women serve them. So go help your sister in the kitchen. Now."

Suddenly, as if on cue, Jude lifted his glass without a word and began to shake it. Carol hurried over, her expression softening to one of worry. She plucked the mug of apple juice from the middle of the table and began pouring it into his glass until it was nearly full. Then she stood there as if waiting for something. But Jude said nothing to her, just kept reading the paper, even as he took a sip from his freshly filled glass.

I gave Carol a look. "Where's my mom?"

"I'm here, sweetie," Mom said, entering the room at that very moment with my dad and little brother both at her heels. "Come with me to help Penelope, please? She's balancing too many things alone at once."

Dad and Peter took a seat on either side of Jude, and just like that, my great uncle's beloved newspaper lowered to the table and a grin magically appeared on his face. "Did you gentlemen see the game last night?"

It took everything in me not to glare at Carol as I turned away from her and followed my mom into the kitchen.

"Oh good, you guys are here!" Penelope beamed excitedly at us as we entered the room. She was leaning against the kitchen island, her cell phone clasped to her heart. Atop the island sat a large serving tray with a mug of orange juice and several plates of bacon, scrambled eggs, and French toast. Mom glanced at me and nodded her head at the serving tray, and I sighed.

"Scott texted me just now saying that he and his family will be here around one for the party. His mom and sisters would like to help decorate before the guests arrive. Isn't that so sweet of them?"

"Absolutely," my mom grinned and opened her arms wide for a hug, which Penelope happily obliged. "Oh sweetheart, you have never looked so happy."

Penelope snuggled her head into Mom's neck. I turned away to look somewhere else, anywhere else, but at the two of them.


By two-thirty, hundreds of guests had already filed onto the back lawn. Based on how they'd all dressed so formally - the men clad in slim modern suits and colorful ties, the women wearing trendy, patterned dresses - if you didn't know any better, you'd think today was the actual wedding.

As if they were politicians or royalty (rather than a corporate lawyer and part-time human resources manager), my parents stood at the top of the patio, greeting guests cheerfully while quietly and concurrently overseeing the catering staff.

I watched the party unfold while perched on the cobblestone steps near the guest house and sipped from the largest glass of white wine I could find. Thankfully Carol was lost mingling in the crowd, and Jude was busy bragging about himself to any male audience willing to listen. I couldn't see Penelope, but I could imagine her entangled with Scott inside a little circle of their college friends, giggling and holding his hand like a fool in love.

Nineteen. Penelope is only nineteen years old, I couldn't help but think as the alcohol ran through my veins.

"We were nineteen once, Paige."

I flinched at the familiarity of this voice and slowly turned my head even though I didn't have to.

Victor hovered over me, smiling with sincerity. He was dressed in a slim gray suit I'd never seen before and wearing the lavender tie I'd gifted to him last Christmas. He ran a hand through his messy brown hair, and his blue eyes sparkled. It took me a moment to realize that he was actually happy to see me.

"Who invited you?" I asked in a low voice, struggling to maintain my composure. I glanced around nervously and my hand began shaking so hard, wine spilled from the glass. My heart began to race as if it were competing in a triathlon. I imagined gray butterflies fluttering in my chest and remembered the past words of wisdom from my best friend, Arlene, who couldn't make it to Penelope's party because she was currently attending her mother's fourth wedding in Greece.

"Did you know that when someone feels butterflies in their chest, it's not because they're happy and in love? It's because they're scared and don't feel safe," Arlene told me once.

"I miss you, Paige," Victor said now. "Can we talk?"

"No, no we cannot," I snapped. I rose to my feet clumsily, still clutching my wine glass.

He reached out a hand but I glared at his shirt, refusing to meet his eyes.

"Do not touch me," I said breathlessly to his lavender tie. I suddenly felt faint but fought my way into the guest house, holding onto whatever ledge I could, my vision blurry and my entire body shaking.

"Paige, are you okay?" Victor asked, but I ignored him as I finally reached the guest house.

I gripped the handle and closed the guest house door behind me, effectively slamming it in his face, while panting like a dog. I slid to the floor and accidentally dropped my glass. It shattered, shards piercing my skin and drawing blood. I leaned my back against the wall and pressed a hand to my face, forcing myself to breathe through the butterflies.

It could have been minutes or hours later - I'm not quite sure exactly - when my mother's frantic voice began calling through the door, begging me to let her inside.

Without rising to my feet, I leaned over and unlocked the doorknob. "It's open, Mom!" I called out.

A moment later, she and Great Aunt Carol entered the foyer.

"Why'd you have to bring her?" I cried angrily.

They said nothing at first and just looked at me. My mom seemed concerned and sad, but Great Aunt Carol appeared furious. Mom rushed to the kitchenette and began rummaging through the drawers. Carol shut the door and peeked out the windows before closing the curtains with a dramatic flourish. She then folded her arms and frowned at me.

Mom came over to me with a cold wet rag and bandages. She began treating my cuts, saying something about how I didn't need to worry about the mess because our housekeeper would take care of it later.

I frowned back at Carol. "It was you. You invited Victor."

Carol pinched the bridge of her nose as if this stressed her, and then gave my mother a disappointed look. "Lydia, I think it's time we told Paige the truth about her dear grandmother."

"Aunt Carol-" Mom began, but Carol cut her off.

"You have spoiled this girl for far too long, Lydia!" Carol barked. "What's she gonna do when she gets out into the real world with that pathetic liberal arts degree and realizes she has no financial security on her own without a partner? Jude and I do not intend to support her forever, and I know for a fact that Frank feels the same way."

"What does my dad have to do with this? He told me to major in whatever made me happy," I said.

"Well, my dear, that was back when he assumed you'd find a husband and become part of a dual-income household like your little sister."

"Paige is only twenty-two, Aunt Carol," Mom said quickly in my defense, rubbing my shoulders in support as she helped me rise to my feet and then guided me to the loveseat. "There's still time for marriage."

"Mom..." I sighed and paused before continuing, "I have decided that I don't want to get married. Ever. I mean it."

Silence fell. Several expressions appeared on my mother's face, all at once; expressions of horror, embarrassment, and sorrow. She opened her mouth as if to reply, then promptly shut it, and lifted her gaze from my face to Carol's, who gave her a smug smirk. Then my mother walked to the fridge, pulled out a mini bottle of Rosé, took several sips, and returned to sit beside me on the loveseat.

Carol took a seat on the couch across from us and cleared her throat. "Do you know how old your mother was when I adopted her, Paige?"

"Yes, she was three," I replied, my voice dripping with sarcasm.

Carol sighed heavily. "And do you know why I adopted her?"

My mother stiffened beside me and reached for my hands.

"Because Grandma died, and you were Grandma's only living relative."

Carol rolled her eyes. "Yes, yes, but do you know how your grandmother died?"

Now I sighed. "I guess I don't know, Great Aunt Carol, but I'm certain you're going to tell me."

"She died of starvation on the streets of New York City because she was too proud to go to a homeless shelter."

I blinked and glanced at my mother in disbelief. She was sobbing quietly, her eyes shut tight.

"Nobody even knew that your mother existed until your grandmother died," Carol continued grimly. "You see, I had lost touch with my sister. She was a struggling artist. And she... never married."

I said nothing as I absorbed this. A scene flashed before my eyes as if I was watching a movie. I imagined the sleepy sun of my innocent childhood rising within my mother's horrific one. The sleepy sun revealed my grandmother lying on her back on the dirty sidewalk of the city. Her eyes were wide open, but she was no longer breathing. My mother sat beside her as a little baby who couldn't understand the grief to come.

"It's a miracle your mother - who was a very malnourished three-year-old, by the way - didn't also die on the streets."

"Mom," I said, my voice breaking. I put my arms around her neck and whispered, "I'm so sorry." Her tears dripped onto my skin as we embraced.

"It is time to put your own ego aside, Paige, and get with reality," Carol continued. "Now, what was so bad about that nice boy out there that you had to cancel your engagement? I'm honestly desperate to know. He comes from a solid, respectable, wealthy family, and he intends to be a surgeon. Not to mention the fact that he clearly adores you."

I chuckled once. "I have a better question - why does no one in this family believe that I am capable of great things? I'm college-educated - "

"You don't have a job," Carol interrupted harshly.

"That is because I'm going to get my master's in the fall, and it's too overwhelming to work full-time during that. You all know this!" I shouted. "What is this, the fifties? Am I really expected to just get married and pop out kids and maybe work part-time?"

Carol bit her lip and looked at my mother. My heart sank as I made the connection.

"And what would be so bad about that kind of life?" Mom said in a hushed voice now, releasing me from her arms.

"Mom, no, I didn't mean -"

Mom swiped the tears from her face, ignoring me, and continued, "Maybe if you were going to be a surgeon like Victor, or a lawyer like your father, or even a pharmacist like Scott, we could all let this go, but you fully intend to go into publishing. And we all know how that industry pays. I mean, look at this economy. We are in a recession, Paige. How do you intend to support yourself?"

My jaw dropped, something I'd only ever seen happen in movies or read about in books. "I caught Victor saying awful things about me, Mom. To his entire family. And his mother treated me like I was the mistress and she was the fiance. It was ludicrous! Victor only wanted me because I was like an accessory. I was only needed to keep up appearances. I'm not going to marry someone like that."

"Then find someone else, child," Carol interjected, throwing her hands up as if I was wasting their time.

"And you!" I cried, turning to her. "You married a man who can't stand you!"

"That's enough," Mom told me.

"Great Uncle Jude treats you like you're his maid!" I continued. "He used to treat you like arm candy, but now you're just his servant. He is clearly a misogynist."

Carol gasped and then swiftly covered her mouth, as if embarrassed to show such vulnerability. "I am this close to slapping you, but out of respect for your mother and Penelope, I won't dare ruin this engagement party by reddening your face!" She stood up and shook her head at me in disgust before exiting the guest house. The door slammed so hard behind her that the frames on the walls shook.

"Mom -" I turned to my mother, but she was already pulling away, on her feet, and smoothing her dress.

"Paige, you are my daughter and I love you more than anything, but you need to think really hard about your future," she told me sadly. "And please, don't burden your siblings with the truth about my mother. At least not today." She couldn't even look at me as she exited the guest house.

For the first time in months, I began to truly weep. Sorrow escaped deep from within my soul, flooding my face in the form of tears I couldn't stop. I went to the bathroom and stared in the mirror at my ugly, scrunched-up, wet face. For now, it was wrinkle-free. But I couldn't help thinking, that someday I'd be old like Carol, and then it would be too late to find a husband who could support me.

This only made me weep harder.

I hated myself for thinking this way, but I especially hated Carol for her influence. And at that moment, for the first time in my life, I hated my mother, too. I hated her for reading fairytales to me as a child and making me believe I could grow up to find a prince who loved me unconditionally for me. She instilled this hopeless dream of true love, perfect relationships, and happily-ever-afters in me. But those things were never real.

I'd always believed my dad was her knight in shining armor... until the redhead came along. First, she attended Grandpa's funeral - to support my dad from afar, I can only assume. That day, at the tender age of fourteen, I wondered why my mother was glaring across the church at a thin redhead I'd never seen once before in my life. At age sixteen, all the dots connected when I caught my father kissing her on the sidewalk in the city. Arlene and I had snuck there for a concert, and I never told a soul about what I saw. Only Arlene knew, and her pessimistic yet realistic views of "true love" began to seep through my skin and poison my heart.

"Disgusting," she sneered at the sight of my dad and the redhead. "Your poor mother."

Yes, my poor mother. My poor grandmother. Even my poor Great Aunt Carol.

Suddenly there were footsteps outside my door. Someone had entered the guest house.

"Paige!" squealed the voice of my baby sister. "You're missing all the fun! Come out here!"

I took a deep breath, wiped my tears, fixed my mascara, and forced a smile in the mirror. For now, Penelope still believed in those fairytales and happily-ever-afters. And I refused to be the cynical one who ruined her chance at survival...

... I mean, her chance at true love and happiness.


About the Creator

Kelsey Syble

A Southern-born-and-raised writer now navigating life in NYC.

📸 🎥 @kelseysyble

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (1)

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  • Carly Bush6 months ago

    I love this, Kelsey! Beautifully written but so poignant.

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