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“Claire, honey, they’re here now,” mom said from the doorway. She tried to send a smile with her words, but it was like her lips were too heavy to lift at the corners. The lovely laugh lines that framed her green eyes had been less pronounced over the past few months while the worried creases around her mouth grew deeper every day that she woke up and Samantha didn’t.
Samantha was the one who had mom’s green eyes and dad’s goofy, eagle-beak nose. My eyes were the kind of dark that defied all reason, that had people laughing nervously behind closed doors muttering explanations like, “Must be a recessive gene or something,” when they thought I couldn’t hear them. But now there was another explanation.
The explanation was waiting in the living room when I took that last fateful step off of the stairs that Sam and I had climbed up and down a thousand, thousand times as children, the stairs where I had tripped and chipped my tooth, the stairs we’d perched on with our prom dates while mom took pictures and dad cried. She was beyond the stairs, her hair cropped into a short and artsy bob, long feathered earrings dangling to brush her neck, staring at me with familiar, shadowy irises that could have been my own.
Watching each other, muscles stiff like we were mice catching the scent of a cat, I could almost hear Professor Ashwin waxing on and on about Artemis and Apollo, the sun and the moon, doppelgangers and the duality of the universe. I had left the room when words of Castor and Pollux had started tumbling out of her mouth like vomit; I didn’t need to hear about Castor’s death, how his twin relinquished half of his immortality to be with his brother. If I had immortality I would have given all of it, not just half, to hear Samantha laugh again, to be with my sister.
Except Samantha was not my sister.
“Gee, you can almost feel the disapproval in the air,” my strange twin said from across the room. There was a couch between us, but neither of us made to cross that distance.
I shrugged. “It’s not disapproval. You want a drink?”
“Sure,” one corner of her mouth lifted in a twitch, “what do you have?”
“Water,” I gestured to the sink, walked over to the refridgerator and stuck my head in, partly to see what drinks we had, partly so I didn’t have to look at Kenza. “We have cranberry juice.”
“I’m allergic to cranberry juice.” Kenza was looking at me like I was some kind of idiot. I was an idiot, but not because I offered my identical twin something I was allergic to—I was an idiot for still buying my dead sister’s favorite juice.
“Water it is. Do you want ice?”
“Sure.” I plucked two glasses from the cupboard and plinked a couple ice cubes in each. As I filled them with tap water they tinkled like a windchime, tink, tink, tink.
“Is your, uh,” I swallowed, “sister coming?” I asked, passing Kenza a glass. She took a sip, watching me all the while.
“Yeah, she’s just always late.” I frowned in spite of myself. Samantha was never late.
“Do you ever wonder about the nurse?” Kenza said suddenly, hooking a barstool leg with her ankle and collapsing onto it effortlessly, like she did it every day. I did that every day. Feeling off-balance, I leaned against the counter, staring at the condensation rolling down my glass.
“What nurse?” I asked, playing dumb.
“The one who switched us in the nursery ward, who mislabeled me and Caroline as fraternal twins.” Sam and I hadn’t been re-labeled, mom and dad just assumed it was an accident and that we were fraternal, because even as mushy newborns we looked nothing alike.
“No,” I said, and Kenza raised an eyebrow at me. I admit it: I wasn’t very convincing.
“Do you blame her? For Samantha, I mean.” For Samantha, I thought bitterly, Samantha whose crusty green Toyota had skated across black ice two years ago in January and danced across through lanes of traffic, Samantha whose body we buried next to gram’s in Memorial Park. It was Samantha’s picture in the obituary section that led to the discovery of a switch of two pairs of identical twins that occurred in a hospital because of an over-taxed nurse nineteen years ago.
“I don’t blame her,” I said, my voice breaking all over like ice over a lake in the spring, “some time with Sam was better than no time, right?” I smiled a little at my biological twin while tears slipped down my face for my accidental one. “At least I was a sister for a while.”
“You’re a real dumby, aren’t you?” Kenza laughed, her eyes sparkling with wetness as she stroked my hair, “you’ll always be a sister. But now instead of having one sibling, you have three.”
The doorbell rang. It chimed another five times consecutively before we got to it and when I finally opened the door I was attacked.
“Oh my gosh,” and there was a girl crowding my space who was so clearly not Sam, I whimpered in relief. Caroline smiled at me with all her teeth, “you must be Claire. Oh my—you look just like Kenza! Wait, are you both crying?” Her eyes were a little darker green, her eyebrows a little higher and she didn’t have a mole on her left cheek, but as it turned out, Caroline loved cranberry juice as much as my sister.