Abbys book, p.2
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       Abby's Book, p.2

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  “The only thing that isn’t identical is … ” began one.

  “ … our husbands,” finished the other. They giggled.

  Then they squatted so they could look Anna and me in the eyes.

  “It’s wonderful to have an identical twin,” said one.

  “You always have your best, best friend close by,” said the other.

  “Always looking alike.”

  “Always thinking alike.”

  “Doing the same things.”

  “Always together,” they said in unison.

  Jean and Jan looked lovingly at one another and smiled. “Two peas in a pod.”

  I noticed that people walking past us were staring. I heard someone say, “Wow. Two sets of twins. I wonder if they’re related?”

  That afternoon, Anna and I had an argument about what game to play. I wanted to play with a ball in the backyard and she wanted to color in our new coloring books. In the end, we did a little of both. I wondered if Jean and Jan ever argued.

  Even though Anna and I disagreed from time to time, I knew that we argued far less than our friends did with their brothers and sisters. For instance, we had no trouble sharing toys.

  We had identical doctor’s kits, identical baby dolls, identical collections of stuffed animals, and the same make-your-own-necklace kits. Those were all gifts. But even when we picked out our own toys, we usually wanted the same thing. It made life pretty simple and balanced for us and our parents.

  Until my dad took us to pick out school supplies for first grade.

  The school had sent a list:

  Anna and I were very excited. We’d seen big kids walking to the elementary school wearing backpacks. Now we were the big kids.

  There was a store at the mall with three long rows of school supplies. It was buzzing with kids picking out their stuff for the first day of school. We started out in the backpack aisle.

  Anna and I stared at the five rows of hanging backpacks. They came in a rainbow of colors and a lot of them were covered with pictures and words. I noticed a Sesame Street backpack (too young), a Spiderman backpack (not my style), a Barbie doll one (too pink for my taste), a backpack in the shape of a teddy bear (too silly).

  Anna agreed with me in rejecting all of the above. So when she yelled out, “There it is. There’s my backpack,” I assumed it was the same one I had just spotted in the top row.

  My choice was a green pack covered with sports symbols. I could see a baseball, a basketball, and a pair of ice skates imprinted on it. I couldn’t wait for Dad to take it down so I could see what else was on my new backpack.

  But Anna wasn’t pointing at the sports backpack. She was pointing to the bottom rack at a backpack shaped like a grand piano. It had a pattern of white and black keys running up the side. When Anna and I realized that we’d chosen different backpacks, we just stared at one another.

  Dad sized up the situation very quickly. “Okay,” he said. “Anna gets the piano. Abby, you can have the sports pack.”

  I felt very weird inside. We almost always had the same things. I couldn’t imagine going to first grade looking different from Anna. “No,” I said. “I don’t want it.”

  “Do you want the piano like Anna?” he asked.

  I shook my head no. I couldn’t explain why, but I felt horribly sad.

  Then Anna started to cry, which made me cry too. “I don’t want the piano anymore,” she sobbed. “I don’t want a backpack. I don’t want to go to first grade.”

  “Me neither,” I said.

  Dad comforted us. And in the end, we picked out identical school supplies. Plain purple backpacks and notebooks with a rainbow design.

  When we walked into first grade two days later, no one but our parents could tell us apart.

  Elvia, a red-haired girl I recognized from kindergarten, was assigned to the seat next to mine. “Which one are you?” she asked.

  “Abby,” I answered.

  “What’s the other one’s name?” she asked.

  “Anna,” I answered.

  “Oh, yeah,” Elvia grinned. “Anna and Abby.”

  A girl I didn’t know sat in the seat next to me.

  “Rema!” Elvia exclaimed. “Yeah! You’re in our class.” Pointing to me, Elvia told Rema, “This is Anna. Her sister’s name is Abby. They’re twins. They look exactly alike.”

  “I’m Abby,” I told Elvia.

  Elvia shrugged her shoulders. “I told you I can’t tell.”

  “Hi, Abby-Anna,” said Rema.

  “Hey, neat,” laughed Elvia. “Abby-Anna. I’ll call both of you ‘Abby-Anna.’ Then I won’t make a mistake.”

  I slumped in my seat. So far, I didn’t like first grade.

  By the end of the first week, all of the kids in the class were calling us Abby-Anna.

  “It’s weird,” said Anna.

  “I hate it,” I said.

  As our class was leaving the room on Friday afternoon, Mrs. Rothchild called, “Anna, could you come here, please?” Anna was already out the door, so I knew Mrs. Rothchild was talking to me. I didn’t bother to tell her I was Abby, not Anna. At least she wasn’t calling me “Abby-Anna.”

  Mrs. Rothchild handed me a sealed envelope. “Please give this note to your parents.”

  Mom had just started a publishing job in New York City and didn’t arrive home until six-thirty or later. But Dad had fixed his schedule at work so he could pick us up after school every day. Anna and I loved being with Dad during those hours between the end of school and when Mom came home.

  Sometimes Dad had office work to do at home, but we knew we could interrupt him anytime. He’d almost always take time out to play ball with us or listen to music and play board games. Then we’d keep him company while he made dinner. Sometimes we helped with the cooking and we always set the table.

  The day Mrs. Rothchild gave me the note, Dad was waiting for us outside school as usual. I handed him the sealed envelope. “It’s for you,” I explained. “From our teacher.”

  “You two already in trouble?” Dad asked with a grin.

  Anna shook her head and mumbled, “I don’t think so.”

  “Nah,” I said. “We’re not in trouble. But Mrs. Rothchild doesn’t like that we’re twins. I can tell.”

  At home, Dad put out a snack of juice and cookies. When the three of us were sitting around the table, he finally opened the note from our teacher and read it out loud.

  Mrs. Rothchild’s letter went on to explain that if Anna or I were in a dangerous situation — such as walking under a falling brick — she wanted to know which name to call out in warning. I thought that was pretty dumb, but Dad said she had a point.

  “But Dad, our school isn’t made of bricks,” I argued.

  “It could be anything falling,” Dad explained, “like a flowerpot or a notebook. Or what if a swerving car was about to hit you?”

  “I promise I’ll look up when anyone shouts ‘Anna,’ ” I said. “Besides, I don’t even like blue.”

  “I like blue,” said Anna.

  “Then it’s settled,” said Dad. “Anna wears blue and Abby wears red.”

  When Mom came home, my father showed her the letter. She agreed with Dad that we should try color coding for school. So after dinner, we went to Anna’s and my bedroom and put all the red clothing from our wardrobe into my drawers and all the blue clothing into Anna’s drawers.

  “You can wear your yellow, purple, and green clothes on weekends,” my father joked.

  I ended up with two red T-shirts, two pink blouses, matching red sweaters, a bunch of red socks, two identical red wool skirts, and two red baseball caps.

  Anna had all my blue clothes, except my blue jeans. Mom said I could wear those as long as I wore a red top with them.

  On Monday morning Anna and I went to school dressed in our colors. Mrs. Rothchild was all smiles. “Well, that’s better,” she said. “Red for Anna and blue for Abby.”

  “It’s the other way around,” I told her. “I’
m Abby.”

  “Right,” she said with a frown. “Well, go to your places.”

  I didn’t like this color coding business. Especially when Mrs. Rothchild explained it to the other kids in the class. For some reason they thought it was hilarious. Even when Mrs. Rothchild explained the falling brick idea, there were a few giggles.

  For the rest of the day, Mrs. Rothchild had no trouble keeping Anna and me straight, but the kids didn’t bother to separate us by color. They’d already decided we were both Abby-Anna.

  “Abby-Anna, wanna play kickball during recess?” Elvia asked, even though I was sitting at the desk right next to her so she knew that I was Abby.

  I thought I hated the Abby-Anna name more than anything, but by the end of the day, we had nicknames I hated even more.

  During indoor recess that afternoon, Rema and I were standing with Anna next to Anna’s desk. Todd, this kid who sat behind Anna, stepped up to us. “Hey, Blue,” he said to Anna, “got a pencil I can borrow?”

  Anna handed him a pencil. But her face was turning beet red with embarrassment and anger. She hated being called by her color.

  A few other boys heard Todd call Anna “Blue” and cracked up. One of them said, “Blue is for boys and pink is for girls.” He pointed to Anna. “Maybe this one is a boy.”

  Well, that cracked up the boys even more, and I wanted to crack their heads open.

  I punched Todd on the arm. “Her name is Anna,” I shouted.

  Mrs. Rothchild clapped her hands to signal the end of recess.

  “Abby, take your seat,” ordered Mrs. Rothchild. “Boys, calm down.”

  There were a bunch of kids in our class who loved to tease. After that, Anna and I were Blue or Red to most of the boys. The rest of the kids — the girls and our friends — called us Abby-Anna. There was a two-week period when the only people who called us by our proper names were Mrs. Rothchild and our parents.

  I couldn’t wait for weekends, when we could dress alike in whatever colors we wanted and be called by our own names.

  On Saturday morning, Anna and I dressed identically in white T-shirts with green cardigan sweaters and black jeans. Mom had gone to work in the city that day, so it was just the three of us for breakfast. Dad was cooking up our favorite (his, too) — walnut waffles with maple syrup.

  “So how’s this color thing working out at school?” he asked when we were gobbling down seconds.

  “Awful!” I said.

  “You mean they still can’t keep you straight?” he asked.

  “That part is okay,” I answered.

  “Well, then,” he said, “what’s the problem?”

  I could feel that Anna didn’t want me to tell our father that the kids were teasing us with our color names. Anna and I had an unspoken arrangement that we had to agree about something before we told our parents. So I didn’t tell Dad how much we hated the color coding and that being an identical twin had become a major pain for both of us.

  After breakfast, we went back to our room to talk privately. I asked Anna why she wouldn’t tell Dad that we didn’t like the color coding.

  “I don’t want to make Daddy unhappy,” she explained.

  “But he’s our father,” I said. “We should tell him.”

  Anna shook her head.

  I understood how Anna felt, but I also wanted to fix what was going wrong for us at school. I tried to convince Anna.

  “We’re not totally, positively alike,” I told her. “I don’t want to be like those twins in the shopping mall.”

  “Me neither,” agreed Anna.

  “But everybody at school thinks we’re like that,” I said.

  “They know we’re different.”

  “No, they don’t. Only Mom and Dad can tell us apart.”

  “Mrs. Rothchild can,” said Anna.

  “Mrs. Rothchild doesn’t think we’re different,” I told Anna. “All she knows is that red and blue are different.”

  “Our friends can tell us apart.”

  “Who? They call us both Abby-Anna.”

  “They just like to kid around,” said Anna. “It’s a game.”

  I still hadn’t convinced my sister that we were seen as copies of the same person and that we had to do something about it.

  Finally, I came up with a brilliant idea that would prove to Anna that people really couldn’t tell us apart.

  “On Monday, let’s switch clothes,” I told her. “We’ll pretend we’re each other. I’ll be Anna and you be Abby. Then you’ll see. No one will know the difference, even Mrs. Rothchild. She’ll still call the girl dressed in red, sitting in the fourth row Abby and the girl dressed in blue in the first row Anna.”

  “I don’t know,” murmured Anna.

  “Come on, Anna,” I pleaded. “It’ll be fun. You’ll see. No one will be able to tell.”

  Finally, before we went to bed on Sunday night, she agreed. “We’ll switch clothes at school,” I told her, “so Mom and Dad won’t know.”

  “If we both wear blue jeans,” Anna suggested, “we’ll only have to change tops.”

  When we walked into school the next morning, we went straight to the girls’ room, ducked into a stall, and exchanged shirts.

  When we went into our classroom, Anna automatically headed for her seat in the first row. I gave her a little push toward the other end of the room. “See you at recess, Abby,” I said.

  I sat in Anna’s seat in front of Todd. “Hey, Blue,” he said, “how about a pencil?”

  I turned around and glared at him. “My name is not Blue. And bring your own pencils.” As soon as I said it, I knew I’d made a mistake. My sister would never talk back to Todd like that.

  Todd looked a little surprised. “Forget it, Blue,” he growled. “I don’t need your old pencil.” A minute later, Todd was kicking my chair and chanting under his breath. “Blue, Blue, how do you do?”

  I pretended I was Anna and didn’t say anything.

  After the Pledge of Allegiance, Mrs. Rothchild always announced the name of the student who would sing the first line of “My Country ’Tis of Thee.” It was a different student every day, and I had had my turn the week before. I hated doing it. I didn’t have a good voice. The morning that I was Anna, Mrs. Rothchild said, “Anna, today you will begin the song.”

  Everyone waited for Anna to begin. Why wasn’t she singing? I wondered. I turned around to see what was going on with Anna and realized that everyone was looking at me. Oops. I was Anna, so I had to sing the first line of “My Country ’Tis of Thee” again.

  So far, I didn’t like being Anna.

  Later Anna and I walked out to the playground together. “Abby,” I said, “what will we do for recess?”

  “I don’t know, Anna,” my sister said to me.

  Elvia and Rema ran to us. “Come play kickball, Abby-Anna,” said Rema.

  “I’m going to the library to get another book,” Anna told our friends.

  “Abby, you love kickball,” I said. I jabbed her waist with my elbow as a reminder.

  Anna looked a little confused for a second, then jumped around shouting, “Yes. I love kickball. Let’s play kickball!”

  I had to laugh. She was imitating me and it wasn’t like her at all. How could anyone think that Anna and I were just copies of the same person?

  As we were walking back to our classroom after recess, Anna whispered in my ear, “I want to switch back. I don’t want to be you anymore.”

  Just then I saw the last person in the world I expected to see at school that day. Dad! I wanted to hide. Would he be mad that we’d switched places? Would he tell our teacher? Would we get into big trouble?

  My father put an arm around each of us.

  “Dad,” I said, “what are you doing here?”

  “I have to go to the Pine Barrens this afternoon. Mrs. Trono from next door will pick you up after school and stay with you until I get home. I came to tell you.”

  “Oh, okay,” I said. Anna didn’t say anything. She was
too frightened that Dad would know we were playing a trick on our teacher and classmates.

  “I’ll see you around five,” said Dad. “Meanwhile, behave yourselves.”

  “You too,” I said in the joking way I had with him. Then I thought, I’m Anna today and Anna would never joke like that. I should act like Anna, even in front of Dad. And then I thought, Dad must already know that we’ve switched. He can tell us apart no matter what.

  Just then, Dad bent over and kissed me on the forehead. “ ’Bye, Anna,” he said.

  I watched in amazement as he kissed Anna on the head and said, “ ’Bye, Abby.”

  As Dad walked away, Elvia said, “Boy, Abby-Anna, you have a great dad. He’s so nice.”

  He might be nice, I thought, but he doesn’t even know his own daughters. I felt like someone had just punched me in the chest, and it took me a second to get my breath back.

  During the rest of the day I didn’t even try to pretend I was Anna. But still, no one seemed to notice that I was taking my sister’s place.

  As we were leaving the classroom that afternoon, Mrs. Rothchild stopped us. Maybe she at least had noticed that Anna and I had switched places. A smile spread across her face. “Girls,” she said, “I want to thank you for being so cooperative about wearing separate colors. It really does help the rest of us. I’m sure you must get bored wearing the same color all the time, but you’ll get used to it.”

  As we walked away, I thought unhappily about the rest of my life at school. I would never be Abby. I’d always be the red one. And Anna, who’d never be known for her real self, would always be the blue one.

  Mrs. Trono met us outside school. “Well, you two look sad enough to make me weep,” she said with a wink. “What’s up?”

  “Nothing,” Anna and I said in unison.

  I didn’t joke around with Mrs. Trono the way I usually did. Why bother being myself and being different from Anna if no one knew we were different? After all, even our own father couldn’t tell us apart.

  Dad came home an hour or so after we did. He was carrying a big bag of groceries and acting like his jolly self. But Anna and I felt terrible. We were still upset that Dad couldn’t tell us apart.

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