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She sits up straight in the chair facing away from the stairs—away from me. Her spoon clinks softly as it hits the bottom of the bowl; it’s cereal, as usual. Boring. I watch her for a moment, planning my attack. I don’t move an inch: this moment has to be perfect.
The corners of my mouth twist a little when I realize she’s wearing braids; my own blond hair, squeezed into pigtails, looks identical. We look identical. Ha. I could almost laugh. But that’s what twins are for, huh. Just in case you can’t find a mirror.
“Tag, you’re it!” I shout into her ear. My timing is perfect—when I poke her, she jumps into the air. Her hands shoot up to cover her ears and her eyes scrunch closed.
“Uhh… too loud,” she moans. I laugh. No matter how many times I do this, it never gets old. I smile at her, big and bright, with all my teeth showing. It’s so fun to make her mad.
“Kate, leave your sister alone,” Mom shuffles in and fumbles for the coffee. When she turns, her eyes are still drowsy—half-asleep.
“Fine, fine,” I say, raising my hands above the table, a universal white flag. “I won’t touch her.” But I wink at her when Mom can’t see. She sticks out her tongue.
The clock is being hateful this morning—it screams that I’m late. I grab a piece of toast and whisk toward the door. My ride is waiting in the driveway; I can see the car through the window. I grab my heaviest coat and heft my book-bag onto my shoulders. But when I get to the door, I turn.
“Bye Mom, Bye Leah! Love you, have a great day!” It feels so strange to leave Leah behind. But Mom says she’ll be at school later, so I don’t say anything. I’ll make sure she’s forgiven me then (she will, I know). I wave once more and dash to the car.
At lunch, the noise is a dull roar behind every conversation—it’s like some kind of twisted theme music, but I don’t know the show. Probably something shallow and dull. I’m starting to wish Leah were here, just to break up the vapid conversation I’m trapped in. Maybe she’ll show up to save me, right now. Okay, maybe not. But how about now. Again, not so much. I excuse myself and get up to throw away my tray—momentary escape. Dealing with people isn’t usually this exhausting.
As I turn away from the table, I walk face first into Brian. Brian, who is Leah’s best friend. Brian, who has that dreamy voice and even dreamier face. My lunch goes flying.
“Oops, sorry Kate,” he says and all I can think is God, those lips. But, I remind myself, Leah has dibs—even if she won’t take them. So I half-smile at him and back away and crouch to pick up my trash. He does the same and hands me the rest.
“I was actually coming to talk to you, “he says. “Is Leah sick or something?”
Oh, she should definitely take dibs on this one. It’s hard not to stare too far into his eyes when I answer. I concentrate on speaking coherently.
“No, I don’t think so, she was just going in for a doctor’s appointment, she is supposed to be back later today, so I’ll tell her to catch up with you, you know, if she gets the chance…” I’m babbling. Message to mouth: Shut. Up. He just nods with a half-smile on his face.
“Cool. Tell her I’ll talk to her in a bit. And I’ll see you around.” With a wave, he turns around. I smile as he walks away. It’s nice to see someone so sweet so in love with my sister.
When I walk into the house, it’s quiet; I can hear the thump-thump of the laundry, the swish of the dishwasher, the voices whispering in the kitchen—I follow them to the doorway. Leah and Mom are sitting at the table—they stop talking when I walk in. Leah looks up and raises her hand at me, but Mom does not move; she stares off at the wall and does not speak.
“Hey.” I slide into the seat beside Leah. “What’s up?” She looks at Mom for a moment before she answers.
“I have something I need to tell you. “ She says it quietly, slowly, in a way that makes me nervous. I wait as she looks at Mom again. I think the clock on the wall is the loudest thing I have ever heard. She opens her mouth.
“I have cancer.”
It’s late. I’ve been here for… wait, what time is it? Maybe midnight? So probably seven hours. I bury my face back in my pillow.
“Kate? Are you awake?” Her voice is quiet. Like when she told me. Like when my world began to crumble.
“You have cancer?”The words burned as they fought their way out of my mouth. She looked down.
“How bad is it?” Did it count that my voice trembled? That tears came to my eyes? Did that count for anything? She didn’t look up.
Mom spoke instead. She tried to smile; it looked like a grimace.
“ They’re starting her on chemo tomorrow, and radiation next week, and you know they say that’s very effective, and she’s normally so healthy, so that’s supposed to …”
“A year,” Leah interrupted, her voice clear and quiet. She always was the stronger one of us all. “They said that at this point, I probably have a year.”
I was choking then. Drowning. It was so hard to breathe.
“I’m… sorry, I… I have to go.” The room spun: spun as I dashed up the steps. Spun as I ran through the doorway to my room. Spun as I wiped the tears from my eyes.
I closed the door behind me.
“Kate?” She whispers again. I lift my head so she knows I’m listening. She walks in and sits on the end of my bed, behind me; when I look, silver tears are trailing down her cheeks. I sit up and face her.
“Kate, I’m scared.” Her voice is thick. “I am so, so scared.”
“Me, too,” I whisper. And I hold her as she cries.