Estelle & Evelyn

Her iPhone had been buzzing in the pocket of her black dress throughout the service, and Estelle had been finding it increasingly hard to ignore. She knew it was Derek. He had been skeptical at first about her flying up to Boston to visit him, especially after 11 long years apart, but the excitement had been building as their texts and calls over the past few days rekindled, at the least, a friendship once lost. 

Next to her, Estelle’s mom, Barb, continued to openly sob in the pew. Her dad looked forward but not quite at her sister’s closed casket. The pain of losing his favorite daughter was raw around the edges of his eyes, but Estelle knew he wouldn’t shed a tear. He was too much of a manly-man to do that, she thought with distaste. Stoic in all situations. 

Estelle kept her hand in her pocket, the vibrations from the phone keeping her spirits up. Soon, this dreadful funeral would be over, and she could respond and finalize plans for Derek to pick her up at the airport. Perhaps a funeral wasn’t the best place to think of such things, but her new life was about to start, and that consumed her thoughts as the Pastor droned on. 

After the service, as family and friends begin to crowd into the church’s reception area for finger foods and the likely sharing of memories, none of which she wanted to hear, Estelle slipped off to the bathroom and quickly pulled the phone out. 

She saw several messages, all of which she ate up as if they were delightful treats. There had not been a single time in the past decade or so that Estelle hadn’t been thinking of Derek, imagining their reunion. It was now so close. 

Derek: Hello? Are you ok? It’s weird you not answering back…

Derek: Evelyn- seriously is everything ok? Talk to me please

Derek: I hope I didn’t do something wrong. I’m worried. 

Derek: ????

Estelle chewed on her bottom lip as she crafted response after response but deleted them all before finally settling on something simple.

Evelyn: omg, i am so sorry! i accidentally slept in and was running late for work. left my phone charging on desk. 🙂 eeek. 

Derek: Thank goodness. I was worried. the more I think about it the more excited I am to see you. I didn’t realize how much I missed you until you reached out. Too long. 

Evelyn: the past 2 weeks have been great for me too. can’t wait to see you! hey i have to get back to the office but i will call tonight, k? 

Derek: I’ll be waiting! 😉

Estelle held her phone up above her face, the perfect angle for the perfect selfie. She pulled her long black hair over one shoulder to add a bit of dimension and raked her teeth over her lips for a second to give them some color. At the last second, she undid one button on her dress and made sure her back was to the wall and not stalls. Nothing sexy about a bathroom selfie, after all. Satisfied, she snapped the pic and quickly hit send before she had time to overanalyze it. Hopefully Derek would send her one back. That would help her get through this miserable gathering.

Just as Estelle shoved her phone back into her pocket, her mother entered the bathroom, still sniffling but under a bit more control. She took one look at her remaining daughter and reached a thin, veined hand and gently placed it on Estelle’s arm. Her hands were cold, and Estelle realized that she had no memory of her mother ever having warm hands or really touching her much in the past other than to give her face a slap when she was a mouthy teen or grip her wrist and drag her through the house or yard for some reason or other. 

“Estelle, my beautiful daughter.” Maintaining eye contact with her mother was never a comfortable task, and it was more difficult now than ever. Oh, so we’re playing this game, are we? she thought.

“Beautiful, huh? No offense, Mother, but are you saying that because, I, Estelle, am really beautiful or because I look exactly like Evelyn, the twin you really loved?” Estelle meant for it to come out a bit softer, but, in the end, the words themselves squeezed out bits and pieces of bitterness that just couldn’t be hidden in the moment.

Barb recoiled quickly, withdrawing her hand as if it had been touching the Devil himself. 

“I don’t- I can’t believe you would say such a horrible thing! Are you even sad at all about your sister? Evelyn was a wonderful, loving, caring person. She was your other half, your twin, and you can’t just, for one fucking day, let a moment not be about you?” Barb spat out. This is the mother I know and love, Estelle thought sarcastically. 

She continued, and Estelle, as always, just stood there. The tirade would end soon enough. All of this would end soon enough.  “Evelyn would be heartbroken if you had died in a car accident. Especially if she had been driving. Do you have any remorse at all? Any?” 

“Mother, are you saying I am to blame for the accident?” Estelle, in truth, didn’t give a shit whether her mother believed her or not, but she wanted the woman to squirm. And she did. 

Barb stumbled, her mouth opening and closely like a puppet’s, before managing a weak reply. “Of course not. I…I…I don’t know why you would accuse me of thinking such a horrible…thing like that.” 

“Good. Because I feel really horrible about it, and I just have been trying so hard to not let all of my emotions show. I’m trying to be strong, Mother,” Estelle said. She tried to keep her voice as flat and even as possible. It was never good to let her mother crawl under her skin, her favorite place to be.

She continued, “ If I had any idea that in those few seconds that Evelyn would insist on taking her seatbelt off, insist on searching under the seat for whatever it was she had dropped, that a deer would come sprinting out across the road like that…You know, I never would have even left the house that day.” 

Satisfied that she had silenced the woman, Estelle mustered  a sniffle and  walked out of the bathroom without a glance back, as tempting as it was. 

Who is the better actress, me or Mother? Estelle wondered. She certainly hoped it was her. 

The hours dragged on pitifully during the reception, and the only positive of the day really was that the burial was quick. No one wanted to be standing out in the blazing heat, apparently, and especially not in black. She could have thanked her mother for that. She was panting and waving that blasted fan mere steps out of the limo as if they were being dropped off in the Sahara. Typical Barb, dramatic at all times. 

Back in the reception, Estelle endured the hugs and kisses on cheeks from nameless aunts, uncles, cousins, while resisting the temptation to wipe the germs away in front of them. Evelyn’s friends, however, avoided her as much as possible, and she appreciated that rather than felt offended. Conversations were short and simple, yet uncomfortable for all. Everyone’s emotions were written across their faces. It intrigued Estelle more than anything. 

That evening, back safely and comfort of her small apartment, all family dispersed back to wherever it is that they had come from, Estelle slipped into a pink strappy nightgown- just in case Derek decided on a video chat. He once told her sister how it would bring out the blue in her eyes, that she looked like a beautiful springtime flower in pastel pink. Estelle was not much for mushy stuff, but she remembered vividly the day she had overhead that, her ear pressed up against the wall connecting the twins’ rooms. That was love, she thought, and she ached in that moment and every moment since to experience it for herself. 

Evelyn: home! what a wild day! i’m so tired but the thought of you has kept my energy up!

Derek: I was wondering if you forgot about me. lol. wanna talk about it?

Evelyn: it?

Derek: Yea, your day. I’m here.

Evelyn: not much to tell, just lots of paperwork. that sort of thing. this time next week though i’ll be in boston! it will be soooo great to get away. so over work for a while.

Derek: Lol I imagine. You’ve changed so much over the past 11 years. I never imagined you working in an office. You’re such a people person, so much energy and life. Have you thought about pursuing your dream of being a nurse? Why did you change your mind?

Estelle bit her tongue. The thought of touching people, strangers, at their worst, repulsed her. The thought of blood was nothing, however. It was the vomit or piss and the hospital smells that she couldn’t handle. If there was anything about her twin that she could respect, it was that Evelyn didn’t let anything disgust her. She saw people, not their illnesses or their injuries. She was a great nurse, no doubt. She was great at everything. 

Derek: Did I do it again, open my mouth and shove my foot right in? Not meaning to. I just hate the thought of you not happy with your job.

Estelle: oh, no, i was just thinking back. high school was a long time ago and i didn’t really know what i wanted to do, you know. i still get to help people but in a different way now. plus no puke on my shoes haha. 

Estelle wasn’t much for jokes, but Evelyn had been, so she tried to throw in some comic relief. They were always so different and were reminded of that daily, mostly by their mother, but later it would be teachers or neighbors or even strangers bagging groceries in the store while their mother checked out. It never ended, really. 

They were both petite, porcelain skin, black hair in waves that were the envy of all of the girls in their school, especially paired with the blue eyes they had inherited from their Irish father. The similarities ended physically though. It was Evelyn with the warmth in her smile, and the ability to put anyone at ease within seconds of speaking. Evelyn, with the grace and charm that drew people to her. Evelyn, who would rescue spiders and lizards and dig into her purse for her last coins to give those asking for help. 

Estelle had rescued spiders too. And kittens that were starving in a drain down the street with no mama cat in sight. Her father promised to find them a home but that the girls could not keep them. By that afternoon, they were gone. Where, Estelle did not really want to know. She also smiled at her classmates in the halls, laughed at their stupid, childish jokes. She did everything she could, but it was never enough. She could never be Evelyn, not then. 

Derek: You still there? Fall asleep on me? LOL

Evelyn: no, babe. just thinking about how great it will be to see you, to hug you again. i’ve missed you more than you could ever know. 

Derek: Me too! I wish things could have worked out back then, and you know I don’t mean this in a bad way-Please don’t be upset. It’s just the timing then plus we were young. Honestly, there was Estelle too…It was too much. I hope she has changed though. Hope she is happy and moved on. How is she? 

Estelle bristled. She knew it would come up eventually, and perhaps it was better than it was in messages and not face to face next week. She had anticipated this and had a response ready, hoping she wouldn’t have to use it, but prepared regardless.

Evelyn: oh, i guess you wouldn’t know. estelle passed away years ago.

Derek: Oh. Wow. I’m so sorry! I can’t imagine losing my brother, and I know identical twins have this special bond. I don’t even want to think about that pain! What happened?

Evelyn: car accident. i was driving, actually, and just so blessed to be alive. we hit a deer head on and apparently estelle had taken off her seatbelt. i don’t remember much else really… 

Derek: I don’t even know what to say! I’m so sorry! Wish I was there to hold you now. Wish I was there then. I should have been. 
Evelyn: 🙂 it’s ok. Don’t feel bad. plus…next week will be here before we both know it, and you can hold me all you want.

This story was inspired by this Reedsy prompt: Write a story that starts with a life-changing event.

Branding Day


The chirping of crickets and the slow, waking breeze 
of a country morning is disrupted by the rumblings
of trucks and trailers easing their way down the caliche road.

It is as if the deep, rich scent of bittersweet coffee lures them, 
and they pull in, easing their horses backwards from the trailers, 
Resistols already pulled down and gloves in back pockets. 

Quiet chatter draws the first rays up over the horizon
as they slide bridles and bits into place and cinch their saddles,
the armor of a battle-ready cowboy on branding day. 


The pastures spread yonder, here and there-abouts, until they
find themselves down-aways, a herd in sight, grazing with
not a care in the world other than the occasional rattlesnake.

Divide and conquer, the army of riders move in with strategy,
pushing the herd back south towards the shipping pens,
a sea of Black Angus raising dust, their  bellowing a song. 

Spurs clang along creating their own dynamic rhythm,
reins taut in fists, sweat beginning to trickle and weave its way
lazily over muscles, over veins, over scars like rivers. 


The business of tending cattle is a difficult one, 
wrought with a pain that sears in the minds of ranchers
as well as in the flesh of the spring calves- a necessary evil.

Blood, sweat, soil, and pride- all caked onto the bottoms of boots, 
but it is the smoke that will hang high in the air, sickly sweet, 
long after the battle is through, long after the dust has settled. 

Tags in calf ears, shots administered, the bulls become steers. 
Ropes are tied back on saddles, and the young children,
their Wranglers still stiff from the store, grow up just like that.


“Dinner is the noon-time meal,” the seasoned cowboy will say.
“Lunch is something that comes in a paper bag.” 
They pile their plates with beans, cobs of corn,  slabs of brisket.

Resting weary bones on bales of hay, forks moving to mouths
faster that a cowboy can spit his tabacky, plates are empty, 
refilled, and emptied again between tall-tales told by the elders. 

A fresh biscuit sops up the juices, plate ready for a final treat-
a cowboy cobbler of berries, peaches, spices, and a lattice crust,
eaten much slower, savored, the prize for hard work done. 


The horses’ muscles twitch with pleasure upon a cool water bath,
a massage and brushing, from the neck and down to the flank,
hooves examined and muck and manure pulled out and tossed aside. 

Only a cowboy knows the unique aroma of a horse’s lather mingled
with leather, with dust, with blood, with smoke, with the day. 
Only a cowboy wants to breathe it, let it be a part of the soul. 

The wheels of time lower the sun down, bathing the land with 
a beauty typically unseen in the daytime duties of a cattleman, 
a peace placed over Earth that eases the aches and pains.

Author’s note: Below is a photo of my dad’s first (and only) selfie. I had to trick him to make it happen, for he does not believe in technology. He was also quite shocked to learn that my “telephone” could take a picture. Anyway, this is my dad, cattle rancher, Dave Nicholson. His personal brand is the “Rafter D.” I do not have easy access to photos taken at brandings over the years, but I wanted to honor this cowboy, the last of a dying breed of traditional, old-fashioned cattlemen, in some way. This poem is dedicated to him and all of the other cowboys who shape their children’s lives, teaching them the value of hard work and the beauty that lies in simple things.

In My Head

“Mia, Mia, Mia,” my mother would say, wagging her finger at me, “when will you just get over yourself?” I didn’t mind the finger-wagging, but I hated the implication that I was being selfish in some way. That just wasn’t me then or now, but that was never what she was really trying to say. 

Mom knew that I lived in my own head. That I live in my own head. That I obsess about how I look, how I’m perceived, who I am deep inside that no one, I mean no one, can ever know. Does that make me selfish? Did mom have a point? I want to sit and talk about it again over a big platter of loaded nachos and sweet tea, like we used to. All those times I wanted to run away from these awkward conversations, and here I am, wishing I could feel that discomfort one last time. Of course. 

My hands still shake a little when I imagine the warm feeling of my mom’s arm around my shoulders the night I finally confessed to her that I wasn’t normal. I guess I knew deep down that she wouldn’t disown me or hate me, and maybe that is why I finally told her. And she loved me even when I couldn’t love myself. 

And now she is gone. It’s just me and Aunt Janet, alone. I feel like I will never not be alone. 

For example, sitting at the back of the room in chem class, I’m totally ok with being alone. I make sure to partner up with Dane when we have to do labs, but Mr. Muller is pretty lame and prefers the sound of his own whiny voice over any activity that might actually lead to us learning something. 

Dane caught me looking over at him, and he crossed his eyes. I shook my head and turned away quickly. If anyone could ever get me in trouble in class, it’s Dane. 

His goofy grin and free spirit are enviable, but his kindness has never wavered. We were sat next to each other back in second grade, and now, eight years later, I would sit next to him in every class if I could. Dane makes school tolerable when nothing or no one else does. He is a good friend, but he doesn’t know everything about me. 

Sometimes I think about telling him the truth, who I really am, this girl who will never look at him the way he looks at me. He would probably even understand, but every time I try to squeeze the words out, my throat zips itself closed, and my tongue stops working until the impulse passes. 

And what if he couldn’t keep being my friend? I would be miserable without him. Sometimes it feels like this school is filled with faceless, nameless, robots with no real substance or unique thoughts, and it’s just me and Dane vs. everyone else. 

Well, there’s Natasha Garcia, but that isn’t so simple. And even Dane doesn’t know who I am deep down and what that has to do with Natasha. He may not even know Natasha exists, but I’m sure he does. How can any normal sixteen year old boy not notice Natasha? How can any abnormal girl, like me, not notice Natasha?

Ms. Winton has changed the seating chart for the first time in forever, and Natasha is right behind me, like right now. I can smell her vanilla perfume when I really try. I can also smell my Oh, So Ocean Breezy lotion so I have to really concentrate. Without turning around, which would be totally uncool right now, I can picture Natasha putting on her Carmex, Natasha combing her caramel waves of hair with her fingers and discarding the stray hairs on the floor like no one will ever notice (but I do), Natasha tapping the lidded end of her blue pen on her forehead as she reads O Captain! My Captain!

I can see Natasha in my dreams too, and that’s that annoying abnormal side of me. Mom would say, “Be proud of you, be you. You’re gay, and that’s ok. You’ll find love because you are an amazing person who deserves love. It’s that simple.” It isn’t though. 

She would also say, “Say you’re weird or abnormal one more time, Mia. I swear I brought you into this world, and I can send you right back out.” She would always have a smile on her freckled face when she said it, and her Southern drawl would almost take me from tears

to laughter. But… I could always see in her eyes that it hurt her when I would get on one of my I’m a sucky freak rants. She loved me. And now she is gone. 

A gentle tap on my shoulder jolted me out of my memory and back to a slideshow on Emily Dickinson. Fact #6: It is widely believed that Dickinson suffered from SAD, or seasonal affective disorder

Perhaps I should have been paying more attention. This Emily chick is one of the most interesting poets we will study this year. I get her, I thought.

Another tap, and this time I knew it isn’t my imagination. 

I turned and reality hit me like a dozen arrows all aimed at my heart. Ok, that’s dramatic, but you get the point. 

“So, did you read those assigned poems last night? I totally forgot, and I’m trying to not freak out.”

Wait, we were supposed to read some poems last night? Damn it, Mia!

I didn’t even know what to say, what to think for a moment. I needed some time! But that isn’t how this whole conversation thing works, is it?

“Honestly, I didn’t read them either. I forgot too,” I finally responded. I suck so bad at talking to people who aren’t my mom or Dane or Aunt Janet. Or myself. 

Natasha smiled her perfect white smile. “Thank goodness I’m not the only one. I mean, this Emily Dickinson poet is really interesting, but with softball practice and… all these other things, I just didn’t get it done.”

I blink, I think. I lamely nod, for sure. 

Natasha didn’t seem to notice. “I feel so bad. Well, not so bad now. I’m sure lots of these other idiots in here didn’t read it, right?” That smile, again, followed by a stern shush from Winton between two slides. 

“Yeah, like she was so heartbroken over this best friend marrying her brother. It’s kind of…weird,” I stammered.  Mia, shut up! What a weird thing to even say out loud! I had immediate regrets.

What was I thinking? I had been listening to my mom in my own head so much over the past two years, and her words keep sinking in even when I don’t want them too. I watched for Natasha to recoil, but she didn’t. She leaned in, glancing quickly at Winton and then back at me. 

“Right?!” she dropped her voice even lower. “My theory is that this best friend was way more than a friend. But can you imagine, like back then Emily could have never come out! How sad is that?” 

Can she read my mind, see into my soul, something crazy like that? I felt naked suddenly. I grappled for a moment to find the right words, not wanting to insert my foot again, not when this is the most Natasha has ever, ever even talked to me. 

“Yeah, it’s awful,” I squeaked out. 

That night, I piled some potato chips on a plate, dumped half a bag of shredded cheddar on them, and popped the plate into the microwave. I found one last Pepsi in the fridge so I took that as a sign. The resulting meal was nothing like what I would have ever enjoyed with mom, but it was close enough. 

“Mia, you can’t keep yourself closed off to the world. The world can’t embrace you when you refuse to be open. Get over yourself.” If she were here, this would be where mom would reach out and tuck a loose strand of hair behind my ears like she knows I prefer it. Then she would cup my chin like I was some tender little girl. I never minded that, not one time. 

“Mom, you’re a broken record with this,” I say out loud to no one but a plate with leftover chunks of burnt cheese that I start picking at with my fingernails. Burnt cheese is the best, but we have established that I am a strange one. 

Mom and I talked throughout the night, and I realized that she was right. She has always been right. I need to live my life and get over this stupid crap I have have going on in my noggin. 

I’m not going to ask Natasha out on a date or anything wild like that, but surely I can have a conversation. Surely I can think, for one class period, that I might have something to offer. That I might be able to make a friend at the least. 

So today I will plop down like I always do in seat 5, row 7 and turn myself around and look that girl in the eye. We’re going to talk Dickinson. Or something. I don’t know yet, but we will talk. I made a promise to my mom.


Thank to you for the prompt that inspired this piece. The focus was on the idea of transformation.

For Astrid

“Stop fussing with your hair, CJ. Your vanity will be the end of you, mark my words.”

Cal resisted the temptation to roll his eyes, for his mother’s constant doting left him feeling like he was a small child again and not the sixteen year old man of the house, and to act as such would do him no favors now. 

“Every young lady tonight will be unable to tear their eyes from you. I have no doubt that your future wife- your future queen– will be among them,” she said, turning a heel and heading to the door. “You must take this seriously.”

He caught her eye once more in the mirror as she glanced back to him with her usual stern, straight face. Her eyes, however, betrayed the confidence that she clung to with her voice. Cal forced a reassuring smile and a nod, and she reluctantly slipped out his chamber.

Cal knew the queen’s fears. For the first time since his father’s murder in the garden two years ago, guests would be welcomed back into the palace for his nameday celebration. He couldn’t help shuddering at the vision of his father, tall and fair as he, splayed among the lush garden plants, his neck bruised and those icy blue eyes lifeless. A garden hose was hidden under the blooms, innocently, but most in the Verdant Kingdom believed it to be the murder weapon.

All male servants, guards, and groundskeepers had been tirelessly interviewed before all were replaced. Cal himself had been interviewed if only because his quarters overlooked the garden. His mother still occasionally probed for more details of the night of the murder, but Cal never had more to add. He had always been a sound sleeper, he would remind her again and again.

As for the palace, it was effectively shut down and heavily guarded…until tonight. 

Unnerved, Cal shook away the memory of that terrible night and retrained his thoughts. It didn’t matter how many girls would be there tonight hoping for a dance with him, he thought as he ran his hands just one more time through his sweeping platinum hair. Tonight would only be about Astrid. 

What will she think of me now, he mused, throwing on his jacket and adjusting the cuffs. Cal was easily 6 inches taller than the last time Astrid had seen him, with a sharp jawline and a smile that made all of the maids trip over one another just to serve him an extra piece of bread or fill his glass. 

Astrid would not be disappointed to see that the cherubic boy he had once been was no longer. He could imagine them now, King Calvin and Queen Astrid, sharing the court, he fair and her golden, the perfect royal couple.

Pity, he thought, that it has taken so long to make this moment happen. With his mother, he would have to think out his eradication plan a bit more carefully. He smiled to himself in the mirror one last time and turned toward the door.

A Tiny Shift

It started, for me, with a golden glow, like sunrise but in the middle of the night.

A brightness emanating from my bedroom window lured me from my slumber.

I stumbled from my bed, drawn first to the light and then urged on by sounds of distant sirens.

At 11, anything involving loud noises would pique my curiosity, but at this time of night, the only sound I knew was that of the ceiling fan.

On the other side of that glass, I saw a monster consuming the Miller’s house, flickering flames of an angry orange dancing in the night sky.

In their yard, I saw her, Madeline, in only her nightgown, and for a moment I felt ashamed to see her in that state.

I wanted to run to her, call for help, grab a bucket of water, so many things!

(Move, do something, think! Why are you such a useless fool?)

I just stood there, staring at her, and the fire grew larger as the sirens grew closer.

(Where were they? Her brother? Her mom and dad? Punkin, their lab?)

Something collapsed in the corner of my eye, but I couldn’t tear myself from Madeline, her face still, like it was in math class when she was bored.

Then she must have noticed me, her porcelain face looking up toward mine.

(I’m sorry, Madeline, so sorry!)

In the glow of the fire I could see that one little thing then, that little twist of her mouth, a tiny shift really.

(Maybe I didn’t see it. Maybe… I could be wrong.)

And all these years later, I still wonder if maybe I am.


Like wistful feathers, strands of coppery hair drifted to the floor. The lightness felt like freedom, and that mattered more than the fear.

The stylist’s eye met hers in the mirror, an eyebrow raised as if to ask, “Are you sure?”

He would never forgive her, but that was the point.

“Even shorter.”

simple things

simple things-

the things we take for granted.

not everyone has the shoes, the jewelry, the car,

this we know.

but what about a porch in tact?

a couch in the living room void of cigarette burns?

windows, open and clear, framed with decorative curtains?

simple things-

the things we tend to believe everyone has

just because we do.

but what about running water for which to drink or bathe?

a bed and not just a sheetless mattress on a floor?

air-conditioning on a 103 degree Texas afternoon?

simple things-

we must open our eyes,

move beyond our own walls, and

see what isn’t so simple, after all.

About the Author

I am an aspiring creative writer with a love of Young Adult literature, my preferred genre to both read and write. Although I have started many YA novels over the years, I have failed to move beyond chapter 8.

My love of writing developed very early on, and I was an avid writer and young journalist throughout high school. Though briefly writing for a small local newspaper, time spent writing and developing the craft began to fade with career obligations, and, honestly, energy. Recently, with the encouragement of my family and my students, I have started rekindling my passion for writing beyond my classroom walls.

I currently live in Wichita Falls, Texas where I teach 6th English and run a crime investigations club. Heatbreakingly, my creative writing camp was defunded so I am working on finding a way to bring it back.

This blog is an attempt to gain wrinting stamina and find, again, that passion. Perhaps someday, I will not be a chapter 8 quitter.