You can never really know a person. Ever. For one thing, people hardly ever know themselves, and secondly, a person’s character is evolving and changing with every passing moment. The person I am today is similar, but not precisely the same as the person I was yesterday.
Sometimes I think being a twin makes me philosophical. Or perhaps not. Maybe I would have had the same personality if I hadn’t shared a womb with Tristan, but I don’t think so. Every circumstance affects the actions that follow it. But still, these things race around my mind a lot. What would my life be like if I wasn’t a twin? Would there be something missing, or would I just accept it as my life because I knew nothing different? What if he wasn’t my twin but an older or younger brother from a separate pregnancy? I think about these things, because, Tristan is everything to me, but we couldn’t be more different. He is wild, reckless and fearless. I am quiet and self contained. As if we were one normal person, that split into two. (Which is not even biologically possible.)
Still, we always prefer each other’s company. Sometimes we forget to talk out loud, but it’s almost as if I can understand him anyway. As if we are conversing, speaking on back and forth, communicating all of the important things without a word. But of course, deep down, I don’t think we understand each other at all. Because, as I said, no one can.
Take my brother Brandon, for instance. On paper, he’s perfect. He has fulfilled every hope that our father ever had for him and then some. So when he announced that he was marrying an artist that we had never set eyes on, everyone freaked. But, me? I wasn’t even surprised. I could always tell by looking at Brandon that there was something going on underneath that cool, collected, over-achieving surface. I’m glad of it. Everyone deserves a little mystery, and I like him better for hiding it. But it makes me wonder what other secrets we all keep from one another. What other clandestine desires that we keep to our chest.
I’m not exactly sure why we decided to come to Vegas. I personally wanted to wait for the summer, but Tristan has always had a “let’s go right now” mentality. So, here we are on Spring Break in Las Vegas, just the two of us. It’s nice to have a break from graduate classes. I was beginning to wonder if being a school counselor was all that important to me. Tris, of course, has enough credits to graduate, but not enough in any one area. I used to worry about him, but he always seems to land on his feet. So, in the last year or so I have tried to just listen to him and enjoy his company.
Which can be difficult. You see, Tristan is one of those people who gets weirdly fixated on stuff. Like, one week it would be bodybuilding and then the next week home brewing, and then organic gardening. Sometimes it’s partying too hard in the electronic music scene and other times it’s dressing up in pearl snaps and cowboy boots and heading to the dance hall. Whatever it is, he latches onto something and just obsesses over it until he hates it. Sometimes it’s destructive like taking too many adderall, or drinking… and sometimes it’s just funny. Like the cake decorating or the impressionist painting. He’s so unpredictably predictable. I can always count on him to do something strange and unexpected…and somehow there’s a comfort in that. A consistency. And the one thing he never gets tired of is me. So there’s that. I just couldn’t help but wonder as the taxi pulled away from McCarran Airport,what was it this month that he was addicted to? Was it fast cars? Craft beer? Married women? You never knew with Tristan, but I knew I’d find out soon.
* * * * * * *
Let me just start by saying that my sister, Tess, is the coolest girl I know. It’s weird, I realize to hold your sister in such veneration, but she really is amazing.
We grew up so differently, even though we began life literally in the same space at the same time. She was always the smart one. The bookish one with her long braided brown hair and glasses that would probably be considered ‘hip’ now. And I played the part of the perfect athlete. Talented at all things physical, exhibiting athletic prowess in all activities I took up. So, even then we felt like we had somehow been one person that had been broken in two. It only made us closer though. I mean, we had Brandon, but he was like…perfect. All. the. time. You had to feel bad for the guy, because he was the nicest big brother you could imagine, and he was constantly keeping the heat off of us. But, we couldn’t really connect with him. So, it was always just me and Tess. Me and Tess against the world.
I can hardly even date girls. Not because I have a weird crush on my sister or anything, but because I expect the girls I date to at least be able to hold a conversation like she does. One night with them is okay, or if they want to come on over and stay the night when I call, that’s cool too. But, when they start talking and I realize they’re barely on my level of intelligence…there’s a problem. But, I guess maybe it’s not such a big deal anymore.
Tessa and I spend a lot of time together, but we do a lot of things apart too. Obviously we take different classes, and we go on trips with our friends without each other. Last year she did a Europe trip with her girls and I did a South America trip with some of the guys on my rugby team. So, it’s not like we can’t function without each other, it’s just…not as much fun when she isn’t around. It’s like part of me is detached. Weird twin stuff, right?
I know she’s wondering why I was so insistent we come here. Or…maybe she’s not. She’s probably used to me doing crazy, random shit by now. But the truth is, I want to tell her first. Everyone will know soon enough, but, I thought she oughta know ahead of time. Like I owe it to her, ya know?
* * * * * * *
One upside of having a father who is a complete money-grubbing sociopath, is that he doesn’t really care about his kids except for how we affect his image. The second great thing about it is that because he doesn’t really care what we do, we have had the freedom to travel together a lot. Tristan and I have it down to a science almost. We book the whole trip together, and then I pack both of our suitcases. He carries the suitcases everywhere and does any driving. It’s my job to memorize enough of the language of wherever we’re going to get us around. It’s a good system.
And even though we have the money to travel, we don’t mind doing it on the cheap. We don’t like to use our Dad’s dirty money, we’d rather use our own. So we use enough of it to escape, and then we stay in cheaper hotels and do the research on the best local places to eat, shop, et cetera. We like to pretend we live wherever we travel. As if we really are each other’s brother/sister/mother/father only family in the world. Maybe we’ve seen too many movies.
Anyway, as soon as our taxi pulled up at the Flamingo we had booked for the week, I knew we had made a good choice. It’s an older hotel, and not as fancy as some of the others we have stayed in, but it’s being renovated so it’s nice enough. It never has really mattered where we stayed. We both just get a kick from being together. Something about the combination of both of our natures makes us somehow more vital, more vibrant. We could stay at the dirtiest room in the Golden Nugget or the swankiest suite at the Encore, it wouldn’t dampen our spirits. Tristan was already up and out of the cab, getting our bags from the trunk and walking towards the lobby doors. I paid the driver and went with Tris inside to the front desk to get checked in.
We never minded sharing a room, especially when it was big, and the location on the strip couldn’t have been better. We decided to unpack, nap, shower up, and then grab a drink before walking the strip at night.
I smiled as I hung my things up in the bright white closet, and folded my shirts into the dresser drawers. I knew there was no way Tristan was putting away anything. He would just throw his suitcase in the corner and dig through it like a dog when he needed a change of clothes. But he knew that I had a weird need to “nest” whenever we traveled, and so had given me the time to do so. I sighed aloud. It wouldn’t always be this way, would it? When we got married our spouses would travel with us, and eventually our children. We only had a few years left of our vagabond traveling. I try not to dwell too much on the future or the past. It’s an awful habit of mine to spend too much time in either of them. My brother is always living in the moment, sometimes too much so. But, he would say, “what more do we have?”. And he’s right, of course. I laid down on the bed nearest the window and set the alarm on my phone for an hour. Just enough time to rest my bones and then pop back up to wash the travel dust off my skin and be ready for a night out. The last thing I saw was the winking of the lights dancing up and down the strip.
* * * * * * *
As soon as I could hear Tess sleeping, I took the papers out from my bag and read them again and again. I knew them practically by heart by now, but it was still a sharp intake of breath every time I got to the end of the page. It was done. It was all settled. I had kept the secret so much longer than I thought I could, and so many times I had broken down, almost revealing everything to her. It was almost impossible to keep anything secret from her. Our hearts were connected in our chests, and one wrong beat in mine seemed to echo in hers and alert her immediately if something was off. Weird twin stuff, I know.
I was glad to be here. Vegas was always an experience. Tess had been here last year but I hadn’t been since before our mother died. I had come with my fraternity a few years back, but not since then. God, but I was invincible then. What is it about traveling that makes you think about other places you’ve been?
I spent some time online these past weeks researching. I wanted to make sure that Tess remembered this trip. It’s important. So, tonight, I knew we would do our usual “first day there” activity and just kind of wander around aimlessly, gamble a little, get a little lit up. But tomorrow I would take her to see a show at the Bellagio or something and we would do VIP at one of the clubs. I knew she’d want to go shopping and ogle the beauty at some of the upscale resorts. I had lined up some time for us to spend at the new champagne Bar at Caesar’s, Fizz. Girls always ate stuff like that up, especially Tess.
For some reason being here with her, just me and Tess reminded me of Mom. Maybe because I knew that this trip was different. But, for a moment sitting on that strange hotel bed, miles from home, I wished Mom was there. I wished she could tell me what to do. No one tells you that losing someone very close to you is like creating a big empty hole in your life. That person had filled that hole, and if they were dear enough to you, then no one can fill it. It just stays. It can scab over, or begin to heal, and then you’ll be reminded of them and the scar tissue or the new skin just rips right back to raw. Our mom had always been closest to Brandon, but I think that was because Tess and me had each other and Brandon was kind of an island. But she was one of those people that just made you warm. You know? One word from her and even if you were still mad, or upset, you just felt warmed up to your soul somehow. So, when she died, she left us colder and lost, and raw. All the same, even when it hurts… remembering can be good. It makes you feel alive to know that you lived through pain like that. That you endured it and kept on living. It was part of the reason I had wanted to come here. There’s nowhere to feel more alive than Vegas.
When I heard her alarm go off, I got up off my bed and jumped in the shower really quick. I knew from experience that I had between 4-6 minutes before Tess would get mad and yell for me to get out. Live with someone long enough and you learn things like that.
* * * * * *
I woke up to the alarm and the sound of Tristan jumping like a kangaroo off the bed and bounding into the shower. I grit my teeth and breathed out hard. He knew exactly how to drive me crazy. Live with someone long enough and you know where each of their buttons were, and how to push them. He knew I wanted to get right in that shower, but of course he waited until I wasn’t sleeping anymore to get in himself. Typical.
About 5 minutes later he was out, and grinning at me like an idiot. I straightened my glasses and asked what he wanted to get into tonight. I think we both knew we would be mostly relaxing or gambling ourselves into oblivion.
“Well, Tess, I figured we’d just go out and get into some mischief. Maybe have such a great time that we forget all about it by tomorrow.” He had a weird look on his face, but that was all I needed to hear.
An hour later we were dressed to the nines and ready to take Vegas by storm. Tristan seemed a little off, but I figured he would tell me whatever it was sooner or later. I was thinking that he’d better get his game face on, or we would be in for a pretty pathetic evening. Besides, I had even worn my contacts tonight, which between us was a sign that I was planning on getting wild.
I knew something was strange between us. I could feel the shift like an electrical charge in the air. The way that it feel before a big lightning storm, every part of you on alert, the axis of the world slightly shifted. Like I said before, you can never really know a person, even when they are the closest person to you in the universe.
We both had been talking and laughing as we jaunted past the gleaming lights above and all around us. Covering us both in the shimmering lights of a thousand fireflies. His normal, easy-going grin had returned and we continued on toward the Cosmopolitan, perfectly in step, always in sync, moving towards the beginning of a night we wouldn’t forget.
* * * * * *
I felt like I was sweating like crazy. I wasn’t sure how she was going to take this news. The closer I got to telling her, the more I was losing my cool. Looking up, I was surprised to see so many stars. I would have thought that with the illumination of so many twinkling lights from the strip, that all of the stars would be hidden, barely discernible ghosts of light. Yet, there they were.
The cold that flows into the desert at night is a strange beast. It’s dry and clear, and it sneaks up on you. The cold in Vegas feels windless and almost soulless, like the emptiness of too many card games played, too many chips lost. I grabbed her arm and tucked it in mine. It felt good to feel her close. Comfort washed over me, and turning, I caught the edge of her smile.
We waltzed into the Cosmopolitan’s Chandelier Bar and ordered a bottle of wine. Tess always says if we are both going to have two glasses, it is almost always worth just buying the whole bottle. I could see her eyes flitting around the room, taking in all of the people, the room, assessing and analyzing.
“Tess..Tess…Tessa!” Her eyes finally flitted back to me and her face was flushed with excitement.
“This was a good idea, Tris. I love getting all dressed up and causing mischief. Well done, you!” For a moment I felt a little guilty about possibly ruining her happiness, but I couldn’t think about that now. I had to tell her. It couldn’t wait.
* * * * * *
I could tell immediately after we sat down that something was wrong. My goofy brother looked like he was tied up in knots inside, and so of course, I felt like I was tied up and confused too. He had something to tell me, and it wasn’t good. I could feel it. I knew as soon as he started talking, he wouldn’t stop, and then that would be our night. We would both sit and wallow over his problem, both feeling it as our own and try to figure it out the best we could. Always together. I leaned over and grabbed his rough, calloused hand, and held it between my own. If I focused hard enough, I could feel the thrum of the blood racing through his body, and my own heartbeat would race to meet the pace of his own. There was something in that connectedness that always took my breath away. This person in front of me was my closest match in all the world, and I still didn’t understand him.
And then I began to wonder… was I about to learn Tristan’s latest addiction? Had he finally stumbled into something he couldn’t handle? I braced myself for the onslaught of an unwanted confession, a confession that would both relieve me and burden me…but I was used to that by now. It’s what happens when your existence is hitched on someone else’s.
* * * * * *
I could feel my hand sweating in hers. She looked pretty. Even if she wasn’t the kind of girl that most guys noticed, she sure knew how to step it up on nights like this. Tess was beautiful in the way you would want your daughter to be pretty. Wholesome, sweet, she looked like an angel. We really didn’t resemble each other too much. A mix-matched pair. She had gotten all the good, all the tender, all the kindness, and I instead had gotten the hardheadedness, the indecision, the impulsiveness, the raw physicality.
The trouble was…I wasn’t the same as the rest of my family. I couldn’t live up to the standards that everyone else seemed to meet so easily. I guess I was just made from a different mold, or I had different talents. Tessa was looking at me now, the expression on her face told me she knew I had something to say, which didn’t surprise me. She always seemed to know what I was thinking, before I was even thinking it usually.
Right before the words tumbled out, I took one last glance around the iridescent pinks and purples of the chandelier jewels that hung all around us, protecting us both from the rest of the world. Shielding us from the realities of what I was about to tell her.
“So, Tessa, you know how I switched my major twice last year? And, remember when I failed Chemistry, and then we found out I didn’t even need Chemistry for my new major? Or that time that I stayed up all night long and studied for Linguistics and then failed anyway because I had studied the wrong chapter?”
“What exactly are you trying to say, Tris? What are you getting at? Yes, I remember that you have been having a rough time in school. So what?” I could tell she didn’t appreciate the way I was tap-dancing around the story.
“Ok, Tess, please don’t be angry, but… I dropped out of school. Officially. Not time off. Not a semester break. I’m done. It’s… just not working out for me. School is great for you, and for Brandon…but I never really fit in there. I never could get…motivated, ya know? Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, I’m done with it. I understand if you hate me, or are disappointed in me. I figured that your friends all thought I was just a big brainless idiot anyway.”
“Tristan, don’t be silly. I have never been ashamed of you. You’re my brother.”
Finally the world had stopped spinning. She didn’t look that mad or concerned, which gave me confidence. She was so much smarter than me, so much more logical. If she wasn’t worried then I had nothing to fear. Which just left the other thing I needed to tell her. I didn’t quite have the courage for that one yet though.
“Put it out of your mind, Tristan. If college isn’t your thing, it’s not your thing. It’s not for everyone, you know. Maybe you can be on the board at Dad’s firm, or do some volunteering or get back into the brewing or the gardening or something. Make a business out of it. You’ve definitely got the enthusiasm to make a go of any of those things.”
She patted my knee. And then leaned back against the buttery-soft leather upholstery behind her and sipped her wine. Just like that. She was done. I wish I would have known it would be that easy. I wish I would have known that I could have quit anytime and that she would still need me.
“You’re still down for partying here? Even if there isn’t much to celebrate?” The air felt suddenly awkward surrounding us. I felt stifled and over-warm, and I removed my suit jacket without even thinking about it. Her face was strange, as if what I was asking didn’t make sense to her.
And then I realized that even though this was part had been easy, that I wasn’t even nearly out of the woods yet. There was much more to tell, and she wouldn’t take the next thing I had for her so well.
* * * * * *
Something about his face alarmed me. I had thought his admission about college had been it. I could see though, that this was only the beginning. He had been holding back an even bigger secret. All of nerves strained at the realization that there was more… and that it was worse than what he had just shared. The wrinkle in his forehead had a different story to tell. Beads of sweat broke out on his face and I was bracing myself to hear something that might break me.
For a moment though, I took a long look at him, and wondered why he would have kept secrets from me. Of course I didn’t think he was a joke. Of course I wasn’t laughing at him. It hurt me to think that he could even for a minute imagine that I thought less of him, or didn’t approve of his choices. It never even occurred to me that he should be doing something differently. Of course pity wasn’t the only reason I would want to be around him. How silly. I adore Tristan. He’s the beat of my heart, the other half of my soul. My twin! It was always our differences that balanced us out. It was why we were a good team, a good team at anything we did together. I planned, he acted. I thought, and then he spoke for the both of us. I needed him.
* * * * * *
It was time. Like I said before, I wanted her to know first.
“Tess, I’m joining the Marines. I’ve already enlisted”
The worst words. I had said the worst words. If I concentrated hard enough I could see our mother’s face wasting away in that hospital bed. I could feel her warmth, even as she was dying, pure light seemed to emanate from her. An angel, just like Tess. And now I was putting her through it again. I was ripping out of her life just like Mom had ripped from ours.
“What?” Her face had frozen. Her mouth only moved the tiniest bit. I almost had to guess what she was asking. And this was the problem. It had been my fault, but I knew she was going to blame herself.
“I need this, Tess. It will be different. College was all about Dad, and staying close to you…but it wasn’t for me. I’m a man of action, Tess. Ya know? I need some discipline in my life, I need a place where the skills I have are needed. Where I can contribute something meaningful. Most of all, I need you to support me. I need you to tell me that I made the right choice. I need you to write me letters and tell me that I’m your hero, I need that. And I want to earn that. I know you love me, but I want you to be proud of me too, understand?” I slumped back into my seat and breathed out. I spent a long time on that breath, and let my eyes fall out of focus until all I could see was the shimmering pinks and purples of the chandelier. The whole world was pink and purple light, the color of our mother’s bathrobe, the color of her favorite lipstick a pinky, purply dream.
Her hand was in my hand, and we were both crying. She called the half-dressed waitress over and asked for a bottle of champagne. When she looked at me, I saw my face reflected back. We don’t look that alike, Tess and me, even though we’re twins, but once in a while, I’ll see myself reflected back exactly. I think it’s because we’re the same soul, split in two. And I knew it had been right to tell her.
* * * * * *
It was the last thing I wanted to hear. But, he was going to be okay. I wasn’t going to lose him, and I wasn’t going to lose myself. When Mom died, for a long time I felt like my heart was frozen. I would press my hand to my chest to make sure it was still beating because I was just cold all over. I knew then, and I knew now that the only thing that could have been worse was if anything happened to Tristan. If he died, I’d be as good as dead too. So maybe surviving would become his fixation this time. Which was a habit that I completely approved of.
Our eyes met over the clinking of our champagne flutes and I did feel proud. My brother was choosing his path, we were growing up. But this wasn’t the end of us. As if he was reading my mind, he smiled and then laughed. And to my surprise, I found I was laughing too. Soon we were roaring with giggles, sloshing the expensive champagne around in the glasses. So many fortunes were being won and lost that night in Vegas, and the world had changed for me and Tris, but as long as we were still connected somehow, then I was the richest woman in the room.