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The Twin Left Behind

Fingers passed over the smoothness of a doorknob and, clutching cold metal, turned it. Light flooded in to blind as Luna stepped out of the restroom building and onto the grime of cracked concrete. Red brick crisscrossed in a myriad across the low building’s outer wall, sprawling vines of ivy splayed along its sides. Dark lashes fluttered over brown eyes as the girl blinked against the sun. Lifting a sandaled foot, she balanced on one foot as the other dangled over the short drop to a winding stone path. Arms waving, she wobbled in a forward lean, her backpack-purse flopping at an awkward angle.

 Hopping off, the young teen planted feet on the path. Her toes wiggled on thin soles, the sandal leather scuffing atop grooved masonry. Overrun with weedy grass, the rocks on her park trail were embedded in the earth like half-drowned islands, their moored and paltry dandelions bobbing to a fro as they brushed around her ankles. Reaching a hand to her back pocket, Luna felt for her phone.

Not far off, the spritz of sprinklers spat amidst a happy squeal as a shirtless toddler danced beneath. Slow and methodical in its extended sweep, the sprinkler head spouted a long arc in an artificial rain to water a wide patch of grassy field. A drop fell, hitting a picnicking adolescent in the nose. Trailed by a dotting rush, the deluge of water sprayed the unsuspecting picnic group caught within its range. Wet, the family sputtered in surprise and laughed, making a dashing scramble to leave their baskets and food behind. 

A small smile broke across Luna’s face, and watching, she chuckled.

“Got ‘em,” she said and turned her head, “Nova, did you see…” Her smile froze as she stared at the air beside her. There was no one there. Shifting to lower, her eyes turned down, and smile planed.

Nova was gone. 

She would always be gone. Luna swallowed, her fingers tightening around her phone. “That’s right… you’re not here anymore.”

Ripples rolled across a once still pond, its disturbed surface overlapping in waves of watery rings as the automated sprinkler speckled its once calm visage. A wing flapped by the bank, and dark grey feathers dipped into opalescent water, a hoarse honk emitting from a black-capped goose as it eased its webbed feet forward into the cool pool. 

Luna stared at her phone and, pressing skin to its glass touchscreen, tapped in the passcode. Flicking her thumb up, she unlocked it. 

Leaves rustled in the midst of oak and maple trees, a wind stirring among their branches. The wooden limbs flexed and waved, releasing the subtle drop of acorns as summer sun twinkled between the green of leaves—revealing an azure blue sky. Dry sticks cracked beneath footfalls, and dual shadows moved to fall across the teenage girl. Her hazelnut eyes lifted and met the red-haired gazes of two heavyset women; a small child held taut by their side. 

“Excuse me,” said one. “Could you move?”

Luna offered an apologetic nod and stepped off the stone path. “Sorry.”

The three strangers brushed by while the girl locked eyes on her phone, her worn sandals sinking into the blonde stalks of dead grass. Dark curls bouncing in her short tepid steps, Luna glanced up as she slowed to a stop before the wide trunk of a weeping willow on the edge of pond water. Quiet, the area was deserted with few, if any, people nearby. Slipping a hand into its leafy swathes, she pushed aside the tree’s drooped and spindly branches in a curtain and ducked into its shaded confines. A silky caress tickled her skin, and she yelped, batting away a spider’s web as she dropped to the ground. 

Fidgeting on her knees, she peaked up, her eyes sweeping along the flitted sunlight shining through its branches. Old and gnarled, the willow’s wide trunk bent at an odd angle; slightly leaned, its spacious canopy was an emerald shadow of green. Crossing her legs beneath on the sparsely patched grass, Luna leaned back on her hands. Her sister’s ghost couldn’t plague her here.

“Nova always hated weeping willows,” she said aloud. Reaching up, she pinched two fingers around a thin branch and, sliding them down, broke off a leaf. “She swore these things were haunted… like they hold the souls of people in their branches.”

She released the branch, and it swung forward, waving until it returned to subtle stillness, disturbed only by the breeze. Luna’s chin dropped as she leaned over her phone; ebony curls flowed forward. Knees to chest, she stared at the screen, again checking the same text message. 

I’m waiting. It read. It was the same one she’d sent an hour ago. Dark pupils flicked to its read receipt… there was still no reply.

So he just leaves me on “read?” she thought. Her full lips pursed, and fingers ran back to push her wayward curls behind an ear. She tugged at the navy strap of her backpack purse, miffed and slipping it off, let its navy fabric stain against the grass.

“He dropped me off to have ‘fun’… then leaves me in the park all day,” her voice was just above a whisper. “I bet Dad didn’t even leave the house.” A twig snapped, and her head swiveled, eyes narrowing; she looked on as a russet tail fluffed and a squirrel chittered in its approach to a sunlit acorn near an adjacent tree. Luna eased her face back from the leafy curtain of the willow’s branches. 

A pair of ducks waddled at a measured pace across green grass, and the screams of children broke the air—their short legs stomping earth in a game of tag. Through the pale green veil of leaves, the girl watched as a frisbee soared, its flat surface spinning high before a dog snatched it in its jaws. Its amber eyes locked on hers for a moment, then the canine’s ears flicked sidelong, and turning, its paws tore across the grass in its bound back to a far-off owner. 

Sighing, Luna glanced at her phone once more—12:45 PM displayed across the screen. There were no new notifications. I just want to go home. She pinched the bridge of her nose. I just… want things to go back to normal. Her lip trembled, and the girl let the phone slip from her fingers. Setting palms onto the grassy earth, she dug fingers into its damp dirt, ignoring the tiny crawl of ants and bugs she could not clearly see. She felt the space around her, the emptiness of solitude, the hole inside her soul that had yet to close since the death of her twin sister.

So much sunshine and a clear blue sky, shouts and screams, laughter and play abounded… while Nova was not here. 

She would not return. 

Would never come back. 

Feeling the flittering warmth of bright rays on her skin, Luna slowly closed her eyes, thinking back to the hand that slipped beneath the water. 

She hadn’t heard her younger twin’s gurgled scream, the choked cry for help that had been plugged with water. Hadn’t known her fear—that terrified desperation as Nova’s fingers splashed and clawed for oxygen as her floaty drifted away. The bobbing dragon, which had dropped her body, turned out still further from her grasp. Legs kicked beneath her in a violent struggle below that summer sky. No one had seen the wave of salt water that had rushed over her head. An indifferent sea reflected within it the fluffed white clouds of an unmerciful sky and had watched her die.

Liquid sucked into burning lungs below the quiet lap of water… and wide, open eyes searched for help that had never come, their pleading fogging into the stillness of death. A girl’s limp body had slowly risen back to the sparkling surface of the waves, her face turned down and hair a mess of curls. 

On shore, Luna looked out to her twin’s figure floating on the sea. Ignoring the slow numbness of her skin from the cold drip of ice cream, she’d stood rooted, shell-shocked as the two cones melted in her hands. 

There was no one to console her. No one told her that it was “all right.” No one tried. No one could as she stared at Nova’s quiet face within her casket. It was her own face, reflected back at her, identical in all ways save the beauty mark mole at the corner of her twin’s right eye. A face that would never move, never smile… never speak again.

Nova was gone.

She was dead.

And with her death, so too did a piece of Luna die. 

“She isn’t coming back,” an aunt had told her. The woman patted a severe black bun which wound her braids into an updo. Dark grey eyes stared down at Luna. “The lord has her now, fast in his grasp.” A black handkerchief covered her nose as she blotted tears with running makeup. “Your sister should’ve known better than to be out there… and who was watching her? She was so young—too young to die.” 

They were the same words: accusations, murmurs of condolence, comments of youth, and comparison that rushed the girl in an endless tirade of repetitive airs. 

“We’re so sorry for your loss.”

My loss, Luna had thought, not yours. My twin—my sister… not yours. How can anyone be sorry for what they never had?

Her younger sister—Nova’s twelve-year-old body, seemed colder than the sea when they’d put her in the ground. The sea that had let her die, its sparkling turquoise that had swept her under, flushing her into the next life. 

In her mind, Luna had severed the rest of the ceremony. The funeral was an arrow to the heart. She couldn’t recall her mother’s weeping, couldn’t meet her father’s eyes— couldn’t bring herself to gaze upon his hardened face that had suddenly become so rough and hardened, the skin seemed to have aged a decade. Disconcerted numbness, an alienated pain filled her making her smiles rescind into a rarity. Blotting it, overwriting it, Luna stamped the burial into blackness as if something within her had been permanently cut out. She didn’t want to remember. 

Nova, who looked like her. 

Nova, who was her twin. 

Nova… whose frail body would not respond to CPR after she was fished from the water and laid across the hot sand. Her open, clouded eyes stared at nothing, blank and unmoving. Her wrinkled body slowly stiffened in the passing hours of an autopsy while her taped-shut eyes offered the impression that she had just recently fallen asleep. 

And the world moved on.

The leaves fell, the snow fell, and the rain fell… and summer came again. This summer, not last summer. Last summer would never come again.

Last summer, Nova drowned.

Buzz, buzz.

Luna’s eyes snapped open. Startled from her thoughts, she fumbled in the dirt for her phone. Flecks of sunlight reflected across its silver back as she lifted it. Tapping in its passcode, she stared at its message. 

Where are you at? The text read. I’m waiting in the South parking lot. 

“Finally,” she said. “Dad’s picking me up.”

Brushing off the clinging bits of grass on her knee, the girl dusted off her shorts and snatched her backpack purse from the patched ground. Hand out, she parted the weeping willow’s veil of branches and squinted at the sun. Ebony curls fluttered by her cheek as cold air swept off the pond’s water in a light chilly breeze. Her gaze caught the subtle twinge of yellow edging the leaves of nearby trees, and she bit her lip. Already, autumn was soon approaching, and with it, the passage of another year. Another year without Nova. 

Another year… alone.

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