I woke to mother asking why I wasn’t up yet. I looked at the time on my phone without getting out of bed, and was surprised to see it was only seven in the morning. “What are you talking about? I don’t have anything until track practice, so I can sleep another few hours yet.” Mother sighed as if she was exasperated and then said, “You’re not going to track practice today. I’ll handle your coach, since you obviously haven’t. You don’t really plan on letting those charming twins leave without seeing them off, do you? They would be terribly disappointed.” I blinked. I really should have seen this coming. I did want to see the twins off, but I hadn’t considered that they’d want to take over yet another day of my vacation. Despite yesterday’s excellent performance, coach would definitely be upset if I missed practice again, but he wouldn’t say a thing to mother. Perhaps she could even help him understand the difficulties of unexpected visitors. Whatever happened, I didn’t see anything I could do which wouldn’t get someone mad at me.
High school was almost over, and the twins might be moving nearby. Seeing them was the best choice, even considering that I might get track scholarships if I did well at the state finals. There was no way I would ever get first place when Luke was competing against me, so my scholarship opportunities would be limited even if I managed to take second there. The twins might be friends for the rest of my life if things go well after they moved here. Maybe I would even end up going on a date with one or the other if either became interested in me. As long as I kept getting jobs, I should be able to get my car, appease father, and then pay for college without too much difficulty. Working around a college schedule would surely get difficult at times, but I was ready for a challenge and wanted to fight for my business. Figuring out in what I would major seemed like a bigger challenge at this point, since I couldn’t think of a job which could compete with being a best friend for hire on variety. What else would keep me nearly as entertained while having the flexibility of self-employment?
“James, you really need to get up and get ready. The twins aren’t flying out until noon, but they did invite us all to breakfast with them and Emma.” With my eyes closed as I still laid in bed, I had forgotten mother was even there while my mind wandered. “I’m awake. I’ll get ready.” Before leaving, mother told me to dress up, as this was suppose to be some sort of special occasion for the twins. I wondered briefly how I missed hearing about the invitation, but I wouldn’t put hiding things from me past the twins at all. They truly enjoyed their games from what I could tell. As I showered and dressed, I wondered what sort of breakfast we’d be having, since the twins also had a great love of food, which came through in their exceptional cooking even more than in their exquisite taste in restaurants. When I walked into the kitchen, my parents were sitting at the table, ready to go. “Someone must have been feeling sleepy this morning. Have the girls managed to wear you out so easily,” asked father with a smirk. I rolled my eyes and said, “Keeping up with those two is a full-time job. I will admit that they’re quite entertaining though.” Mother added “I would love to exchange recipes with them after they move here. They seem quite determined to do so.” Father nodded in agreement and told us “They’re very remarkable girls, son, but I’m still curious how you tell them apart.”
I started explaining some of the small differences I knew about as we walked to the car, but I avoided mentioning that I inexplicably knew without even looking anymore. My parents would be curious, I’m sure. There just wasn’t much I could tell them when I didn’t know how I managed the feat myself. We continued speaking about Ai and Mai the entire way to the restaurant. Mother spoke some of how the painting commissioned by them was going, and then father spoke for a time about how amazed he was with the twins’ ability to work together so perfectly with seemingly no effort. I mused about what having a twin would be like and asked my parents if they thought they would have been able to handle two of me. “As much as I love you, three boys in the house would be a bit much for me.” was mother’s response. Father said, “I think I would go broke attempting to feed a second one of you. The fridge is generally empty with only one.” I laughed and shook my head. I did eat my share, but I didn’t really think food would have been an issue.
When we arrived, I was wondering if my twin and I would have started a best friend for hire business together or if we would have gone a completely different route. The restaurant was far less lavish than I was expecting, considering my experience with the girls thus far. The Irish pub where we had eaten seemed like a place of luxury in comparison. Many of the building’s bricks were cracked, and the sign was so faded that I couldn’t even make out what the name was. My parents looked as hesitant as I felt to even step out of the vehicle. I was on the verge of asking father if he had the right address when a man in a rather classy suit stepped out of the building and approached our vehicle. When father lowered the window, the man said, “The Somerset’s I presume. My name is George. Please allow me to show you the way and, if I may, to park your vehicle thereafter.” The strangeness of the situation seemed perfectly suited for the exotic twins, so I exited the vehicle without further trepidation. My parents were only slightly slower to follow suit.
George led us through the building, which seemed as dilapidated on the inside as the outside had appeared with broken furnishings strewn haphazardly about. I was trying to determine what we were doing here when I started noticing how off the place truly was. Father had bumped into a broken table which didn’t budge at all. He instinctively wiped his pants, but there wasn’t any dust to remove. I didn’t see dust anywhere now that I was looking for it. Once we navigated to the back of the building, George pushed a brick into the wall, which then rotated backward. This place suddenly seemed extraordinarily cool. Mother still didn’t seem to know what to make of it, but father seemed as interested as I did in what else was hidden around here. After entering the secret passage and going down a hall at the bottom of the stairs, we found ourselves in an interesting dining room. There was a large, circular table in the center of the circular room which was lit by a single crystal chandelier. Mirrors on each wall reflected the light further, but even with the ease viewing everything in the room, the girls weren’t to be found.
“If you all will wait here, your hosts and the other guests will be joining you shortly.” Hors d’oeuvres and drinks were brought out by more gentleman in fine suits before the twins even arrived. Emma arrived first, looking absolutely stunning in a strapless, ankle-length gown with sheer layers creating a line spiraling around the pink dress. She smiled and came to sit by me just as her mother entered the room. George came to take Emma’s crutches, and Ms. Wilson sat by father, who was on the opposite side of mother from me. I couldn’t say how long we all conversed, my parents enjoying the chance to get acquainted with Emma’s mother, but we all hushed quickly when the lights dimmed. Shortly thereafter the twins entered from opposite sides to a soft, eerie tune that was gradually growing louder. Dressed to kill in gorgeous silver gowns, they performed a slow dance around the room while singing what seemed to me a sorrowful melody in a language I couldn’t guess. Between looking back and forth at the twins’ performance, I caught glances at the others, who seemed as enraptured by the performance as I was. When the twins met up toward the end, there was a long moment of silence before we all started applauding.
They then approached the table and told us together “Thank you all for coming here to wish us farewell. For those who don’t know, our family has a tradition of making each extended farewell memorable, since one never knows which will be the last.” Then Ai continued alone, saying, “Mai and I,” she paused to glare at me, “have enjoyed spending time with you exceptional people more than words can express, even though James picked on us horribly.” Mai started speaking then. “This place probably seems strange to several of you, but we wanted somewhere private that would be memorable.” The twins then continued explaining together how the building in which we sat was a hideout for smugglers years ago, until the leader of the gang died in a car accident. The group gradually fell apart as the members abandoned their friendships, vying for power. The twins went on to say that even the worst of times could be the best of times if only people kept close those who matter most: their friends and family. Forget what was precious and life would fall to ruin.
They then shared some of their favorite moments during their short stay, and asked us each to do the same. The whole process made for a very strange morning, but I was glad that I hadn’t missed it. When the food came, I was far more focused on the general conversation than what we ate, which was extremely unusual for me. I couldn’t even say what precisely we had eaten after the meal was over, but I very much looked forward to when the twins could return again, bringing more entertaining trouble to my life. I took up their offer to ride with Emma and them in a limo to the airport. After the twins were on their plane, Emma and I talked about them the entire way home. She was worried about them, probably due to the atmosphere at breakfast, so I assured her that planes were fairly safe. “You don’t understand, James. I can’t tell you precisely what is happening, but we may never see them again. Ai and Mai come from a very unique family, and will be going through an extremely difficult, potentially deadly, trial on their eighteenth birthday as part of a coming of age ceremony.” I couldn’t imagine what sort of family would let their members risk death, but I said, “Emma, I barely know the twins, but I already know they’re quite exceptional. I’m sure they’ll manage to do whatever is necessary without most people even knowing which one is doing what.”
Emma gave me a small smile and leaned against me for the rest of the ride. She didn’t seem any more confident, but she told me “I’m sure you’re right. The trial was given at sixteen in the old days, and their cousin.. umm… Alpy passed the trial at fourteen after insisting to be tested.” I was shocked by the idea. “Their cousin must be crazy! Who would volunteer to take such a thing earlier than absolutely necessary?” Emma laughed half-heartedly at that. “You have no idea, James. Alpy is a very, very gifted girl. I’m certain you’ll get a chance to know her someday.” Since Emma still seemed worried, I invited her to stay for a while and hangout. She accepted, and we played video games for a while. I ended up canceling the job I had for the night, something I wasn’t entirely comfortable with doing for many reasons, but Emma and I both needed company. The twins were such charming, enjoyable girls that I couldn’t help feeling attached to them already. I didn’t want to think about how I might never see them again.
Emma fell asleep on my floor when we were watching a movie together. Mother stopped in before going to bed to tell me I could borrow her car and give Emma a ride home, but she told me to just let Emma sleep instead. Neither Emma nor I told my parents that we might truly never see the twins again, but mother knew something had been bothering us. She called Ms. Wilson and made sure that Emma didn’t need to be anywhere in the morning. I lifted Emma from the floor and laid her in my bed, planning to sleep on the couch, but she woke up and wrapped her arms around me, asking me to stay for a while. A moment later I was lost in a kiss, her soft lips embracing mine long enough to leave me breathless. We didn’t say a word as she nestled her head against my chest, and I lost track of time thinking about it until I fell asleep. No matter what else happened between us, I was certain that Emma would be a part of my life until the end.