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.
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?
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.