The midnight twins, p.1
Table of Contents
LOOK BOTH WAYS
THE LAST BEST NIGHT
HEROES AND VILLAINS
ALONE IN THE MIRROR
NO TAKE BACKS
BAITING THE TRAP
A DATE WITH DRAGONS
THE LONELIEST PLACE
THE TWO-HEARTED GIFT
Published by the Penguin Group
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Copyright © 2008 Jacquelyn Mitchard
ISBN : 978-1-1011-5888-3
All rights reserved.
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For Kathy and Karen, and the single sentence that inspired this book,
and for their big sister, Deb.
Everything you say is funny or beautiful.
LOOK BOTH WAYS
Meredith and Mallory Brynn looked exactly the same.
So it was natural for people to expect them to be the same.
Of course, not all people who look the same really are.
Meredith and Mallory were identical twins. But they were opposites.
One person made into two by luck or by fate, until they were almost teenagers, they never, not once, thought of themselves as being two separate people. Identical twins often don’t. They knew each other as they would never know anyone else, before they understood even the fact that they were people, before they could talk, before they had names. Yet they acted differently from each other, spoke differently, thought differently, and wanted different things. They played with different toys, laughed at different jokes, excelled at different subjects in school. Their mother stopped dressing them alike when they were just two years old, because Mallory didn’t like dresses and pulled off all the buttons.
In their lives, being identical would be the easy part. Being different would bring them power, and power almost always comes paired with grief.
Most children love hearing the story of their birth, but the Brynn girls heard theirs so often that they got sick of it, even though it was, they had to admit, a pretty unusual story. Their mother, Campbell Brynn, a surgical nurse, went into labor at a New Year’s Eve party. She wasn’t due to have the babies for another three weeks. There was a mad dash to the hospital, where the girls’ father, Tim, and Bonnie Jellico, another nurse and Campbell’s best friend, held her hands while the babies came—with startling speed, quicker than anyone would have imagined for firstborn children. The doctor arrived with just moments to spare.
Meredith was older, born first at 11:59 p.m. Mallory came just two minutes later, at 12:01 a.m., the first baby of the New Year in the small town of Ridgeline, New York. With all the hands and machines and towels and instruments freewheeling around the delivery room (because when twins are born, there needs to be two of everything—two newborn specialists, two neonatal nurses, two warming beds), it took a while for someone to notice and exclaim, “They were born in different years! Identical twins, and they’ll never have the same birthday!”
Now, it wasn’t as though Campbell forced this story on people. It came up naturally. (One thing twins learn early is that, for the rest of their lives, people are going to ask, “Which one of you is older?”) Campbell would try to get away with saying that they were born on New Year’s Eve and leave it at that. Or she would try to tell the funny bits, about how furious she got at Tim for ignoring her and watching the shimmering ball above Times Square on TV, as well as admiring women in the crowd who were dressed up in copies of early-twentieth-century finery (since the movie everyone was watching that year was Titanic).
At the hospital, as the moment of the birth grew closer, Tim looked up at the TV and said, “We could go there someday. Don’t you think it would be fun? Think about next year and how beautiful you’d look in one of those low-cut dresses. Or we could go there when the twins are three. For the new millennium. Would you like that?”
And Campbell, her face as red and swollen as a cartoon chipmunk’s, said, “I would like it. I would like it even more if you fell off a cliff.”
She told the nurses that they had planned to name the girls Andrea and Arden. But moments after their birth, Tim heard Campbell say, “Hush, little Meredith. There, there, Mallory.” And barely had he opened his mouth to object when Campbell snapped, “I know what we planned. But when you give birth to two babies in two minutes, you can name them Batman and Robin if you want. Their names are Meredith and Mallory!”
Campbell never forgot to mention that, technically, the girls were born in different years. It made them unique—and if Campbell wanted anything, it was never to diminish the twins’ uniqueness. At least as far as their mother knew, they had little enough of that to begin with—certainly when they were small.
But even before they were born, the babies knew how it was to be completely bonded and completely opposite. Meredith was happy by basic nature. She would always love pretty things, pretty people, and hopeful solutions. Mallory was intense and would always worry, even when she didn’t need to. She would look at questions in complicated ways and refuse to accept the easy answer. Merry would attract friends the way Velcro picks up tennis balls, while Mallory, unless she was playing sports, would spend most of her time with her sister or else alone by choice. Before they came into the great world, she was the baby content to float in the warm dark seas, examining her fingertips and stroking her cheek, trying to figure out what being a person meant. Meredith wanted to feel and find everything. Side to side and up and down she zoomed, like a mermaid in flight. All that zooming got on Mallory’s nerves as months passed, and the quarters got closer in there. She sometimes put out a tiny hand to slow her sister down. And Meredith always responded. At Mallory’s touch she settled down and, entwined, head to foot, they would drift into sleep, as the voices from outside slipped into their dreams.
One day, the twins listened as Gwenny told her daughter-in-law that both babies were girls. Much as she loved her mother-in-law, Campbell was annoyed. Like any new mother—or at least most of them—she wanted the surprise. So her voice was sharper than she meant it to be when she asked just how her mother-in-law knew the babies’ gender and why she considered this so important. Yes, she knew that all the women in her husband’s family supposedly had “the sight.” But at least back then, Campbell thought that “the sight” was a bunch of baloney. And so Gwenny’s prediction was just a lucky guess. Campbell wiggled her foot with impatience. She wished that Gwenny would get on with it.
“Well, they’re both girls. So they’re probably identical twins. Identical twin girls run in our family,” Gwenny said. “I thought you should be ready. Twins are different from other babies. And not just because there are two of them. They’re joined. Not joined like kids who are born sharing a hip or a rib. Joined by the spirit.”
Campbell still didn’t get why this was such a big deal. She’d read up on identical twins, in several authoritative books from the library. What Gwenny seemed to want to tell her was something else, something more; but she didn’t say anything else, or anything more. Finally Campbell decided that Gwenny was being unnecessarily dramatic. Being dramatic seemed to run in her husband’s family, too. The baby twins sensed, however, not with words but with feelings, that what Gwenny said about their being inseparable was important.
And they were inseparable.
After they were born, for example, they fretted and sobbed in their sweet little cradles. Meredith couldn’t bear to be away from Mallory. Mallory was cranky and tense if she couldn’t see her twin.
Their mother finally decided to ignore the experts’ advice.
Weary to the ends of her fingers, she put them together in one cradle next to their parents’ big bed. From then on, she found them each morning, one right side up and one upside down, each clasping the other’s tiny foot. At precisely the same moments, throughout the night, they made precisely the same sounds—chirping and cooing—turning over at precisely the same time. They never woke up for feeding, though they drained Campbell during the day. She didn’t realize it, but she had given them what they wanted most of all. They needed nothing, not even food, more than they needed each other. In fact, on the night they were born, Meredith, as excitable and bouncy in the world as she had been before she arrived, wriggled and shuddered with angry, piercing cries the moment she slid with a smack into the doctor’s hands. The huge, cold new place was bad enough. Being alone—without her other—was even worse. The doctor was just glad that this baby was a live wire, because twins who came early could be tiny and in trouble. But the first baby girl grew calm as soon as her sister arrived, just two minutes later, quietly gazing around her and breathing slowly on her own. He couldn’t have known why. Without being able to speak aloud, Mallory and Meredith were already speaking to each other in what would become their private language. Mallory thought her way to Meredith. Soso, Mallory thought to her sobbing twin. Soso . . . don’t cry. Everything is all right. Meredith heard and quieted down. It would always be “soso,” a word that meant nothing to anyone but to them. Soso . . . don’t cry. Siow . . . I’m scared. I’m hurt.
Bonnie Jellico, who had never witnessed twins born in such a short time except through a surgery, remembered thinking it was like seeing two copies glide out of the portal of a copy machine. They were beautiful, with thick black hair and softly pointed chins.
But they weren’t copies.
When they looked at each other, they saw what other people see when they look into a mirror.
It would be years before anyone except their mother noticed that Meredith was right-handed, while Mallory held her spoon with her left hand. Merry’s straight, silky hair parted on the right, Mally’s on the left. The family also assumed that as they grew, they would have similar personalities but spend more time apart.
Instead, they had dissimilar personalities but refused to spend more time apart: Merry even came home from sleepovers before breakfast. That was only one of many things people assumed about them—and which, like the others, was wrong.
When they were three, Grandfather Arness, their mother’s father, built them matching youth beds. On one headboard they pasted all their cartoon and holiday stickers and made their first attempts to write their names in crayon. After they fell asleep each night, Campbell tried moving one of them back into the unused bed. Though she didn’t scream as though she were being dissected, the way she had when she was born, Merry couldn’t be at rest until she was with Mallory, or at least knew that Mallory was nearby and okay. Outgoing Merry, happiest surrounded by all kinds of people, dancing when she could have walked and jabbering before she thought about what to say, seemed to be the natural “leader.” In fact, Meredith always waited, especially on important matters, to see what Mallory would do or say. It was she who was the clingy one, who crept every night into Mally’s bed—until they grew so big that they literally had no room to turn over without kicking the other onto the floor.
But that took years, because neither of them got very big, ever.
Their mother listened to their language and tried to learn what the words meant.
“Soso,” they told each other—and Campbell translated this to mean “Everything is fine. Don’t cry.”
“Laybite,” they told each other when one twin needed the other to stop talking—right that very minute.
But even as closely as she studied them, their mother couldn’t quite believe how often they didn’t need words at all.
She never knew that when one looked at the sky, or sprained her ankle, the other saw the star or winced at the pain. When they grew older, if one wanted to kiss a boy, the other felt the longing, even if she didn’t like the boy.
As the years passed, and Campbell felt sure that the girls talked to each other with their minds, she didn’t tell anyone, not even Tim. Of course Tim knew, too, or thought he did, but he didn’t tell Campbell. Campbell didn’t want to upset Tim. Tim didn’t want Campbell to worry. He was used to twin ways. Both his mother and his grandmother were twins.
The night Mallory and Merry were born, Grandma Gwenny couldn’t even wait until morning to see them. Their grandfather assumed that Gwen had to go running out into the snow (wouldn’t catch him doing that!) because she was finally a grandmother. But the reason was bigger than that. Gwenny crept into the room and kissed her son, Tim, who was asleep in a big chair with a hat that read “Super Male” over his eyes. Then she tiptoed over to Campbell’s side, hoping not to wake her or the babies, hoping just for a glimpse.
But Campbell had just finished feeding the girls. She felt shriveled as a raisin but happy to see Gwenny’s eager face.
“Don’t you know how to celebrate New Year’s Eve!” said Gwenny, shaking her finger at Campbell.
“They’re pretty cute. And I’m pretty overwhelmed already,” Campbell said with a sigh. “Well, at least we’ve got our whole family, all in one night.”
“No, I think . . . well, I know that you’ll have a little boy,” Gwenny said.
Campbell wrinkled her nose. There went Gwenny with her visions again.
“And you’ll be glad because identical twins are . . . they’re one person. You remember what I said that time. They’ll be closer to each other than anyone else, even closer than they are to you.”
How awful, Campbell thought.
A scattering of little thoughts coalesced into a tiny whirlwind in Campbell’s mind. Her mother-in-law wasn’t thinking only of snow, or of her new grandchildren. Gwenny, she remembered, had been an identical twin, whose sister had died as a child. No one talked about the accident. After that night, for the rest of her life, Campbell would be able to picture the grief on Gwenny’s beautiful unlined face in profile, by the light from the window. How painful it still was for Gwenny, after fifty years, to be without her . . . other. Other? Campbell thought. What did that mean?
The babies, nearly asleep, heard Campbell thinking and were happy that their mother was smart.
But there was more to Gwenny’s stew of emotions than even Campbell knew.
She had to confess that she nearly hoped that these little girls would be regular kids, unusual only because they were twins—not in the strange, painful, potent, almost unbearable way Gwenny knew so well. But she sensed that they were, and confirmed that for herself the first time she looked into their round, curious, river-colored eyes. As proud as she was of her heritage, as much as she knew that the gift was important—to her, and if God gave it, she supposed, important altogether—it was a two-hearted bequest, a blessing with a sharp bite. If only she could explain to them what life held for them, in a way that would spare them fear or pain. But she couldn’t. She didn’t know, for certain, what the nature of their gift would be. She could not have guessed its supremacy over all the twins in previous generations of the Brynn family. But she did know that the little girls would never put faith in what they needed to know unless they learned the old and cruel way—on their own.