| Teen Fiction |

My Sister, the Liar       

"It’s true Penina needs to work on the middah of emes. But that doesn’t mean you can speak this way. We all have what to work on”

“Hey! Is that my sweater?” I point an accusing finger at the offending cream button-down. Penina looks straight at me and answers through a mouthful of breakfast, “No.”

“Yeah, right,” I mutter, making a face both at the utter grossness of her lack of manners, and to express my disbelief. I know for sure it’s mine. That little red stain, where my strawberry ice cream dripped and showed itself to be maybe one percent strawberries and 99 percent food coloring is still there, above the pocket. And she’s wearing it. My sister. What a liar. I turn away in disgust, and she continues crunching her cereal, very loudly and completely unremorsefully.

I mean, how could she? Not the wearing my sweater part, that is the sad reality of having a sister that is 13 months older and half a size bigger than you. Because she’s the one that’s half a size bigger, I refuse to share clothes with her, which means that we sometimes end up with doubles. That suits us both just fine. Except that for Penina, it means having two of the same outfit available for use, like when hers is in the laundry hamper. That makes me mad. But it’s more the lying that I can’t stand. She’s my older sister, for goodness’ sake. Shouldn’t she at least be embarrassed to lie outright?

Nope, this is not the first time I’ve caught her in the act. But whenever I tell my mother, she just sighs and says, “I wish you girls would just get along. Why can’t you share?” But that’s so not the point. It’s the lying that’s the point. I just explained that, didn’t I?

I go find my mother anyway. “Ma! Penina’s wearing my Zara sweater without permission! And when I asked her if it’s mine, she just lied straight through her cereal! She’s so mean! And she’s such a liar!” When I pause for breath, my mother looks up from the hem she’s fixing.

“Aliza, no need to yell like that,” she says quietly. “I know that it’s frustrating, and it’s true that Penina needs to work on the middah of emes. But that doesn’t mean that you can speak this way. We all have what to work on.”

“Yeah, I know. Sorry.” I look down, toying with the end of my French braid. I know that Ma is right, but it’s hard to control my anger when my sister does what she wants, and then goes her merry way, guilt-free.

The green skirt Ma’s hemming catches my eye. “Hey, that’s my skirt!” I exclaim, a tad too loudly. I bend down to take a closer look at the tag. It sports the letters A. M. clearly written in black sharpie. Just as I thought, it’s mine. My face turns red, and I struggle to contain my rage. “I didn’t wear this skirt in ages! It must be that Penina wore it! I just know it! She takes everything I own and ruins it to pieces. The hem never came down when I wore it!”

My remorse flies out the window, and I don’t stick around to hear more from Ma. But on my way out of the room, I see her shaking her head sadly, and I can almost hear her voice through the loud angry drumbeats inside my head.

“I just wish that you girls would get along.”

Everyone agrees that Penina and I are as different as night and day. Which is kind of ironic, considering that our initials are A.M. and P.M. I sometimes wonder if my parents did that on purpose. It’s true, literally and figuratively. I’m strawberry blonde, with greenish grey eyes and too many freckles, and she’s got dark eyes, dark hair and olive-toned skin. The only thing we share is our parents and family. Literally. I’m creative, a nature enthusiast, an exercise lover. She’s content with sitting on the couch and yapping on the phone all day. Good thing my parents made two separates phone lines for us, otherwise… shudder.

I don’t think that it’s our differences that makes us not like each other very much. It’s the fact that we’re so close in age, and only a grade apart, that makes the competition unbearable.

Also, like I mentioned before, Penina takes my clothes all the time. And also, in case I didn’t stress this enough (it certainly stresses me more than enough) she has no problem lying about it.


We’ve just settled down on Baily’s massive, plush, mauve rug, when Huvi, Baily’s older sister, barges into the room. She snitches a handful of Mike and Ikes and heads toward the walk-in closet. After rummaging through it for a minute, she pulls out a hoodie.

“Baily, can I wear this?” she asks casually, already threading her arms through the sleeves.

“Sure.” My friend shrugs.

I try not to gape. Huvi is also a grade older than Baily, like Penina and I. But their relationship is totally different. It shocks me every time.

“Oh, by the way, Aliza, Penina told me that you spilled juice over the book I lent her. Just be careful next time, okay? Don’t eat or drink with my books.” She throws that over her shoulder as she heads out the door. It closes behind her before I can even get an answer out.

“That’s so not true!” I sputter.

“Okay.” Baily sounds bored. “Whatever, let’s start chapter two.” She flips the page in the notebook on her lap.

“Yeah, but Penina totally made up a story. I didn’t even read Huvi’s book!” Ugh, that came out sounding whiny. But I need Baily to believe me.

Baily raises an eyebrow. “It’s okay, I believe you. But why does it bother you so much? It’s her issue, not yours.”

“But… she’s such a liar,” I burst out.

“Whoa. Liza, chill.” Baily gives me a look. “You don’t need to get so upset about it. Relax, okay?”

I flush and bite my lip. I’m embarrassed to have lost it with Baily. She’s my friend, not my sister.

“Yeah, you’re right.” I smile brightly. “I overreacted. Whatever. I must be tired.”

She eyes me searchingly, then reaches for the popcorn. “Okay, then. So when the Americans…”

But I can’t shake the lingering sense of unease that clings to me like the greasy film of microwave popcorn on my fingers.


On the whiteboard at the front of the classroom, the word “Relationships” is written in pretty block letters. We’re in the middle of part three of a workshop on relationships, and Miss Werner announces that today we’ll be focusing on family. I fill my margins with doodles, all the while listening intently. This should be interesting. I could sure use all the advice I can get.

Miss Werner is different. She treats us like equals. She makes us think. She encourages our class to share our opinions, and welcomes lively discussions that other teachers don’t, probably out of fear of losing control. Miss Werner never loses control.

Miss Werner looks around the classroom, blue eyes dancing. “I know what you’re all thinking, that it’s so much easier to be around friends than family. After all, aren’t siblings just the worst?” Some of us titter, I laugh out loud. Until I see Baily’s face. She’s smiling, but in a puzzled sort of way. Like, okay, cute joke, but that’s not really how it is, is it? Then she looks at me, and comprehension dawns on her face. Ugh. The sweetness of Miss Werner’s validation suddenly goes sour.

“But girls, the truth is that our family is the greatest reflection of who we really are. How we act at home shows what we are like inside.”

Oops. I swallow.

As if she’s heard my thoughts, my teacher pauses, then continues in the dramatic way we all love to imitate. “Girls, I know it sounds scary. Like, okay then, I must be an awful person.” She puts out a hand, as if to stop our protests, but nobody moves. We’re hooked. She’s cast a spell on one of the most rambunctious classes in the history of BYTA. “But it can also be a blessing. Living at home sometimes brings out the worst in us, true, but it also forces us to grow and change. Home is the workshop of life.”

Her words are grand, but I let them pass over my head. She’s not making it up, I’m sure Perfect Miss Werner lives like that in her own house. But I’m also sure, very sure in fact, that like Baily, she never had to live with a sister like Penina.


“Hey! Is that my Marc Jacob bangle?” I point an accusing finger at the silver arc around Penina’s wrist. She looks straight at me and answers through a mouthful of supper, “No.”

This is the limit. I know mine had a little dent near the clasp, like this one does. I know this is mine.

I feel my face go red hot, the words building up in my throat, ready to explode. I take a deep breath, open my mouth, then close it. Instead, I get up from my chair and run upstairs to the roof. Pounding on the steps is a great release. I push the door open, breathless. A gust of cold air sends some tired, colorless leaves skittering on the floor. Making a beeline for the egg swing chair, I drop onto the red cushion, swinging hard. My velour uniform sweater and Oxford shirt aren’t enough to protect me from the cold, but I don’t care. I keep swinging. I need to think, but I can’t. It’s like my mind is frozen, the same few words playing as though on repeat.

“Family is the greatest reflection of who we really are… but it also forces us to grow and change…” Was I growing and changing? Or was I letting my sister’s problem be an excuse for my own failings? Another thought hits me. My feet stop kicking off the wall, and I just sort of curl up on the chair, hugging my knees. Was I not being honest with myself when I hid behind Penina’s shortcomings? Was that not a form of lying? Yes, probably Penina and I would never be like Baily and Huvi. Life is not fair that way. And yes, my sister may still be a liar. But what about me? How do I change that, Miss Werner? You didn’t tell us!

But surprisingly, I find that I don’t need her to. I don’t know how long I sit, rocking gently, not thinking much, just letting myself float into the space called change. Or maybe it’s called growing up? The cold doesn’t bother me so much anymore. Things don’t bother me as much as they did before. I just feel happy, lighter all of a sudden. It’s a good feeling.

The sky is dark, besides for a smattering of silvery stars, when the door to the roof swings open. Penina stands there, cradling something in her hands. From behind her, bright light spills out from the house. After a second’s hesitation, she walks toward me, letting the door slam closed. She holds up a familiar-looking bangle.

“Aliza, it was your bangle.” She doesn’t apologize, but she looks contrite, and that’s far more than I would have expected of her.

Well, Miss Werner, this one’s for you.

She drops it into my palm, her warm hand touching my cold one. I smile at her, a small part of my mind wondering when the last time was that I smiled at my own sister.

“That’s okay,” I tell her. “You can use mine whenever you like.” I pause, and because I’m not a complete tzadeikes yet (it doesn’t happen overnight, you know!), I add, “Just ask me first, okay?”

“Okay. Thanks,” she says, already holding the door open. “Coming in?”

“Yeah.” I get up, stretch my stiff legs, and follow her into the cozy house. We may not be Baily and Huvi, not yet, but maybe, just maybe, we’re on our way there. Together.


(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 894)

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