At our last birthday together, you had presented me with a little blue box. I traded the clumsily wrapped package in my hands for it, and we had both opened our presents at the same time. It was just like all those years ago, when we were little, and it was just like all those years in between, when we grew up together. You laughed at the awkward rhino that fell out of the package first, its huge head tilted to the ground. I knew you would like it. Reaching into the cloud of crumpled green wrapping, you also took out a pair of sunnies, a scarf and a couple of novels. Draping it all on yourself, you had posed in front of the camera while Dad clicked frantically. He was desperate to trap you in as many layers of time as he can, because we all knew that the hourglass’s been overturned.
I ripped through the many layers of tissue paper that lined my blue box, to eventually reach the present you gave me for our twenty first birthday together. Dozens of brochures greeted me, and also a couple of plane tickets. I looked at the destinations and gasped. Europe, America, Asia, you got me covered. These were all the places we promised we’d visit together one day, after school was over and we had the money. You even went to the trouble of applying for a visa for me, and so I was all set for this trip. I knew it was bad luck to cry at a birthday (because birthdays are meant to be such happy occasions), but I couldn’t help it.
“I even got you an American Express,” you said, fishing out the card from my discarded pile of tissue paper, “Now you have no excuse to not bring me back some souvenirs.”
“My god, if I get you something from each of these places, I may as well order a ship to take it all back,” I joked, although my throat was still clogged with tears, “Got me a ship too, Nora?”
“Damn it, and I thought I covered everything,” you said in mock annoyance at yourself.
“Just joking, Norie,” I wrapped my arms around you, “I love you, you do know that yes?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” you said in that cheeky voice of yours, “You’ve only told me that about a gazillion times. Tell me again?”
“I love you so much Nora Henry, fellow conspirator, Siamese twin,” I told you mock solemnly, my eyes twinkling because this was exactly how we always acted around each other.
“You do know that Siamese twins are stuck together?” you said with a know-it-all wink, “But I love you too, Jocelyn Henry. So much more than you love me.”
“I do know that, but ‘Siamese twins’ sounds so much cooler than just ‘twins’,” I said in response, “And let’s not start that again, we all know that I always win when it comes to the love department.”
But of course, we did start that little debate again, and of course you managed to bring up all the embarrassing love failures that I had in the past. Even the one involving Charlie Ronsen in third grade. I still couldn’t believe that you remembered him, that little boy with curling blond hair and a smile so beautiful he made little nine-years-old me fell in love with him. My God, that was so long ago. It felt like a lifetime since, but our lives had barely begun yet. And yours was so close to the brink that I didn’t even want to think about it.
When the party ended early the next morning, after our dozens of friends had staggered home, we climbed the stairs to our bedrooms. We had separate rooms, one on either sides of our shared bathroom, but you barely stayed in yours. Mum had given you your room when Jason went to university in another state, but you had always preferred coming back to our room. We have shared that room (technically my room) since we were babies, and it held so many memories.
You staggered a little on the staircase, your feet slipping from time to time. I grabbed your thin arm and hoisted you up, half carrying you to our room. It made me sad to remember a time when you would always win the race up the stairs, because you were a born athlete and I was not. You used to tease me as I huffed up after you, a couple of steps behind. And now I have to lead, dragging you behind me.
“I am so tired I could just drop dead and sleep,” you told me as you shimmied into your PJs, “As if it is only three in the morning! Feels like we stayed up all night.”
“Twenty one though,” I said to you as I dragged the mattress out from under my bed, “You feel any different? I swear when we were teenagers twenty one seemed like such a massive jump in age. I always thought something would kind of click when we hit twenty one, but nothing happened.”
“You should’ve learned from when we turned sixteen, then eighteen,” you said in reply, “Such ideals, and no change.”
You walked into the bathroom and closed the door behind you, and I could hear the tap water running as you brushed your teeth. Technically I wasn’t speaking the truth when I said that nothing had happened. Being twenty one had filled me with such a sense of dread, ever since midnight yesterday. It was only a day difference, true, but saying that we’re twenty one instead of twenty made it seem like we had a year less. A year less time together, a year less of being twins and walking through life shoulder to shoulder.