Authors: Jessica Warman
Like all the others, this one is for my husband, Colin, and for all the promises we’ve made to each other—and kept— over the years. And for our daughters, Estella and Esme, who are simply the best. I love you all.
It’s one of those cool, crisp fall nights that make you feel like the air is ripe with possibility, like anything could happen. From where we stand on the jogging trail, my sister and I can see the whole city stretching out around us. On the farthest end, all the way across town, there is a dusk-lit celebration taking place, a huge tent holding overlapping threads of bodies, the sounds of their voices carrying across the wind, all the way to us.
“Ah. Oktoberfest at the Yellow Moon,” she says to me, squinting, standing on tiptoes in her scuffed ballet flats, like if she stares at the party long enough she might absorb some of the excitement, which feels almost electric as it seeps from the crowd.
She looks at me, her face shadowed by the almost-darkness. Her lips are outlined with crimson liner and filled in with a deep shade of cherry gloss. “Don’t you wish we could go?”
I wind a strand of long red hair around my finger, thinking. Someone nearby on the path is smoking a cigarette. I can smell it even though I can’t see him, but he’s in the shadows somewhere, probably close enough to hear us. “We’re only eighteen.” I smile at her. “We can’t drink yet, Alice.”
She smiles back. “You know that wouldn’t matter.” We have fake IDs. And even if we didn’t, Doug the bartender would give us drinks. My sister and I work at the Yellow Moon as servers a few nights a week.
“It wouldn’t work. Everyone would recognize us,” I say. “Half the town’s probably there. If we got drunk, we could get in trouble.” We’ve stopped walking for the moment, pausing to gaze at the lights across town. In the moonlight, my sister looks ready for anything: she is confident, calm, her dewy cheeks flushed with anticipation.
“Wait,” I say to her, “your eyes.”
She bats her lashes. “What’s the matter with them?”
A family strolls past: a mother, father, and a daughter who can’t be older than maybe four. The little girl has three purple helium balloons tied around her wrist, bobbing in the smooth night air as she walks, her pink-and-white sneakers dirty, almost blackened at their edges with dust from the trail.
The family pauses to look at the two of us. My sister and I are standing face-to-face, our identical noses only a few inches apart, our dilated pupils aligned. The space between us feels alive, almost humming with invisible energy.
The mother wears cutoffs and a red tank top, even though the air is cool enough for jackets. She looks tired but happy, holding her daughter’s hand. “You don’t see that every day,” she says to us, squinting through the dusk to get a better look. “You’re identical. Yes?”
I don’t break away from my sister’s gaze. The corners of her eyes crinkle in a soft smile. She is my favorite person in the world. Tonight, even our breath seems to be in sync. “Yes,” I say, “we’re identical.”
The mother kneels beside her daughter. “See, sweetie? They’re twins.”
She’s right. Even though we’re dressed differently, and even though my sister is wearing heavy makeup—while my face is bare except for some light blush and powder—we are an unmistakable matched set.
The little girl gazes at us, openmouthed. We both smile at her.
She looks at her parents. “I want to go home.” She seems almost ready to cry.
Her mom and dad give us an apologetic look. “Kids,” the dad says. He flashes an embarrassed smile, and I feel a surge of unease when I see that his teeth are crooked and yellow. I’m not sure why exactly; there’s just something about him that makes my stomach turn. As the family begins to stroll away, it almost seems like the earth is tilting beneath me, moving my surroundings a hair off-kilter. I can almost taste the cigarette smoke in the air, rancid and thick. It smells
toxic; I have the overwhelming urge to get as far away from it as possible.
As she’s walking away, just once the little girl looks over her shoulder. She seems afraid. But of what? Of us?
“I think we scared her,” my sister whispers. She giggles. “We’re freaks.”
“We aren’t freaks.” It’s getting darker by the second. “Let me fix your eyes.”
She begins to look through her purse, digging around in the contents to find a tube of black liquid eyeliner. She hands it to me.
“Hold still,” I tell her. “Alice. Look at the stars.”
She puts her small hands on my shoulders to steady herself. I take a step closer to her—so close that I think I can hear her heart beating, close enough that I can see the faint pulse in her neck and feel the warmth of her breath on my face. With a steady hand, I reapply the liner with smooth strokes. Even when I reach the inside corners of her eyes, the inky applicator tip almost touching her tear ducts, my sister does not flinch.
“There,” I say. “Finished.”
I can see a touch of anxiety behind her smile. “How do I look?” she asks.
I still smell cigarette smoke. The family from a moment ago is far away, three bodies bobbing against the horizon, growing smaller with every step. Soon they’ll turn a corner and disappear altogether. I don’t like being alone out here, so
close to whoever is standing in the shadows, maybe watching us. I know I’m getting upset over nothing, but I can’t help it; the air reeks of disease. “You look like Alice,” I tell her. “You look like yourself.”
“We could go home,” she offers. “We could stay in tonight.”
I frown. “A minute ago you were ready to sneak into Oktoberfest, and now you want to go home? What fun would that be? We said we’d go out. You wanted to come. Our friends are waiting for us.”
friends,” she corrects me. “They don’t like me anymore. Remember?” She looks around, sniffling. I know she can smell the smoke too. “I’m nervous,” she says.
“Don’t be. Everything is fine. You’ll be great.”
She looks at the lights from Oktoberfest across town again. “Bet they’re having more fun than we will at the fair. We could go. I have my ID.”
I follow her gaze, imagining how it would feel to be silly and drunk, the thrill that comes from truly getting away with something. She’s right; it
be more fun.
But we have plans. “We already talked about this. We’re going to the carnival. I’ll be with you the whole time, Alice,” I say.
Her lips—full and shiny, identical to mine except for their deep stain of color—form a slow smile. “I know you will, Rachel.”
More confident now, she starts walking again, heading
toward the fair. When I look at her, the last few beams of sunlight almost completely below the horizon now, all I see are shadows against her profile, her sharp features softened, almost seeming to dissolve.
She glances at me, smiles again. “All right, you’ve convinced me. Now come on, before I change my mind. We’ll be late.” She tugs me along, our fingers still laced together. The gesture feels as natural to me as breathing. She is mine. I belong to her. This is how it has always been, even before we were born.
On our side of town, only a few hundred feet down the path we’re walking on, there’s a whole different kind of crowd gathered for the annual autumn festival at Hollick Park. I can smell it before I see it, the gross odor of cigarette smoke replaced by whiffs of cotton candy, funnel cakes, and hot dogs.
“I want a candy apple,” my sister says, holding my hand more tightly as we walk down the hill, toward the field crowded with people and vendors’ booths. At the far edge of the park, there’s a tiny carnival set up, a cluster of rickety-looking rides crowding the horizon. In the center of them, a Ferris wheel spins slowly, its metal beams strung with twinkling white lights, the structure towering so far above the rest of the fair that, at its highest point, the wheel almost seems to graze the moon.
“Rachel.” I hear someone calling us—calling me. “Rachel and Alice! Behind you!”
We both turn around. “Here we go,” my sister murmurs.
“Shh.” I give her a look. “It’s okay.”
The voice belongs to Kimberly Shields, who we’ve made plans to meet up with tonight. Everybody calls her Kimber. She waves at us, beaming, her bright green eyes flashing beneath the fair’s lights. She’s still in her cheerleading uniform, obviously having just come from a football game. She’s with two of our other friends: Nicholas Hahn, whose dad owns the Yellow Moon, and his girlfriend, Holly Willis, who goes to our church and volunteers in the nursery every Sunday, and whose family leaves their Christmas tree up year round.
At almost eighteen years old, Kimber Shields is an honest-to-goodness sash-wearing cookie-selling Girl Scout. A few weeks ago, when she was at the mall, an elderly man had a heart attack in the bookstore, right there in the Crafts and Hobbies section. Kimber was a few feet away, paging through a book on knitting. Without any hesitation, she got down on the floor and gave the man CPR until the paramedics arrived. She saved his life.
The five of us stand in a semicircle beside one of those games where you try to toss a ping-pong ball into glass bowls filled with water. One out of every five or six bowls has a fish swimming around in it; if you sink one, you get to keep the fish.
“Charlie would love this,” I murmur, looking at the fish. Charlie is our cousin.
My sister stares at the game. “It’s two dollars for four tries,” she says. Her heavy black eyeliner gives her face a hollow look, making her blue eyes seem bigger than they actually are, their lids filled in with dark gray shadow, the effect both dramatic and kind of unsettling in its allure. Her beauty is different from mine tonight: more arresting, more intimidating somehow. When she’s all made up, out and about, she has a presence that commands attention, and she knows it. Tonight she wears a plain, fitted white tank top and a denim miniskirt that’s so short I almost can’t believe our aunt and uncle let her leave the house in it, even if she is wearing tights underneath. Despite the way she faltered a few minutes ago, she is nothing but confidence now. Men who pass by us stop to look at her, even if they’re with their wives or girlfriends. They can’t help themselves.