A Beautiful Lie
The silence surrounds us. There's nothing but the silence, no wailing of the wind blowing through our hair, no thunder crashing from the dark rain clouds that hang high above us bringing the threat of rain. It's too gray out, too depressing and I feel so lonely when it's just us, because it seems like there's no one else in the world but me and her and the gray clouds drifting slowly above.
The water behind her moves back and forth with the incoming tide on the beach below. We're standing on top of a glacier. It's a small glacier and we shouldn't be here. But she wanted to take pictures standing on the glacier, her back to my camera as she turns her head and smiles softly while I capture her in the moment. She likes the way the dark ocean and gray clouds make the world look dismal, she likes the way the snow beneath her feet makes it look bright in contrast. She likes it when it's just us, when we're far away from home and standing on a glacier makes it look like we're detached from civilization, maybe alone in Antarctica. Antarctica is far from where we live, but it's not far enough to escape what she knows, what I didn't know at the time.
She pauses for a moment as I readjust the lens and check to see how much film is left. As I work her dark eyes scan the water in front of us, watching the waves move and maybe waiting to find something, to see an animal appear for a moment and break the surface of the water, coming up to say hello.
She turns back to me and watches me, and there's something in her eyes that makes me pause.
I have a secret.
She's baited me with curiosity, and I suddenly need to know, no matter how trivial this secret might be.
What kind of secret?
A life-changing one.
She stops talking, her gaze still connected to mine. She isn't speaking and I'm waiting, but a few moments pass by and I realize that she's not continuing, so I'm the one who needs to press on.
Are you going to tell me?
And she just smiles back.
My sister committed suicide three weeks after we had taken pictures of her on the glacier. At least it seemed like suicide. No one could come up with any other explanation besides that. It wasn't a homicide. There was no evidence of rough play or markings or anything that would point to it.
She had gone out before dinner, telling me that she had to stop at the store to buy some things for school. She had been awfully quiet, watching me carefully as I filled myself with carbs before I headed out for my football game. Her behavior was odd, because she had always been quiet, but never around me. I was her twin brother, and she told me almost everything.
I tried using our twin telepathy to find out what was wrong. I got nothing, and I felt none of the sadness that seemed to be lining her face. I tried to joke with her, to bring a smile to her face, but she resisted me and remained downcast.
"He's not hurting you, is he?"
Her boyfriend was the quarterback on my team. I didn't like him. I never liked him. He was too egotistical, too full of himself for her. He didn't know how to treat her right like I did, what to say and do to make her smile. I knew how to make her happy. He did everything wrong.
"No silly. I'm just feeling pensive."
I put my plate of pasta down and opened my arms to her, inviting her in. She came to me and I held her close, wrapping her in my arms tightly to protect her from whatever demon was gnawing away at her happiness. She was warm and delicate against my chest as I cradled her close, and she gave forth a gasp that sounded like she was crying.
When she pulled away there were no tears in her eyes, just distance.
"I'll see you at the game?"
I make it a question, because something inside me tells me she's not coming. When she shakes her head I'm not surprised, just worried. I want to reach out and pull her back, hold her to me until she confesses what's wrong. She can cry and I won't care, I'd miss my game to comfort her and keep her safe and help her through her problem. She was my younger twin sister and I wanted to protect, I needed to and I would and…
I fought back my thoughts, pushed away the sudden urges that plagued my mind. I did not need to go there. That was wrong.
She left first and then I did, heading straight to school for my game. We played as hard as we could and we were almost near victory when it began to rain and we had to stop playing. The other team refused to forfeit, but we ended up with the win anyway because we were ahead.
It was after that, when I went to greet my family in the stands and they asked if I had heard from sister that I knew something serious had happened. When we got home and she wasn't there my parents started to panic. When Marcus called to ask to see her later we knew that we needed help.
She had thrown herself off the glacier. The police found footprints that matched hers in the snow, and they figured she had drowned in the water below. Her body was found on the beach, her skin icy and blue due to the freezing ocean water.
I cried like I had never cried before when I found out. I was sick, spending half of the night with my head over the toilet. I couldn't grasp my mind around what had happened. All I saw was us on the glacier, me with my camera and her standing in the snow smiling at me. And then my memory turned into my theory about what had happened. I saw her jumping, slowly descending into the ocean water below, her hair flying out around her in a halo like some falling angel.
I burned the pictures later that night, when I was able to pull myself off of the floor. I regretted it immediately afterward, but the regret was weak and I was too shocked to care. Part of my heart died, part of me died. There was a void now in the place of my life where she used to fit perfectly, as my twin. An empty space with her name on it but no one occupying it.
And I had a guilty secret that she had never known.
And she had the secret that she had never told me.
These were things I thought would never be known, but I was wrong.
Two months after her death my parents called me downstairs to our den. I came, slowly and cautiously and zombie-like. I hadn't been right since she had been gone. Nothing was right. At school everyone pitied me, careful around me when they spoke to me about things, afraid that I might suddenly go crazy on them with the constant grief that had swallowed up my heart.
And they pitied Marcus. I wanted nothing more than to strangle the son-of-a-bitch. He had gotten something that I would never have, and I hated him for it.
Sitting on the couch, I noticed something odd about the looks on their faces. They were nervous, and my mother was holding a packet of papers in her shaking hands. I knew instinctively that this involved my sister. Everything did these days.
"Honey, this is hard," my mother begins carefully, but her voice is cracking and the tears trickle slowly down. My heart pounds in my chest with anxiety. I suddenly don't want to know what they want to tell me. I know it's not good. "But we feel you need to know. Please try to understand. Please don't hate us."
It's the mention of hatred that makes me tense, but I reach out to take the packet of paper from her hand. At first I'm confused by what the papers say. They're adoption forms from the year I was born. They're from Canada and they're for a baby girl.
It hits me so hard that I feel sick again and my heart beat slows and I'm waiting to drop dead, but death never comes and neither does the nausea.
I can barely feel the papers slipping from my hands as I somehow end up on my feet. "What the hell?" I scream, and my voice is too loud and it deafens me. "What the fucking hell?"
And suddenly I'm running up the stairs, ignoring the sounds of my parents' yells following me. I run straight to my older sister's room and kick open her door, wanting answers and explanations and something to make things right.
I startle her, and she's visibly uneasy with the anger and confusion that must be evident on my face. I stare at her, anger pulsing through my veins as I attempt to find the right words to express myself, but they're not coming out.
"Kate," I mutter. "Did you know? About us, about…I'm not…she wasn't…"
I can't articulate a sentence more than that. Kate stares at me for a moment, unsure of what to say, but she begins nodding sorrowfully and I'm feeling faint at the confirmation. I sway slightly and she's up, pulling me into a hug as tears run down my cheeks and I feel myself growing numb.
"I'm sorry," she whispers in my ear, and I can hear the strain in her voice and the tears in her eyes. "I knew. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. But Mom and Dad didn't want to tell you, they didn't want you to know. She was the daughter of their friends and they died suddenly and no one wanted to take her and Mom had just given birth to you and they thought it would be safer if you grew up thinking you were twins. I'm sorry. They didn't think you'd understand any other explanation."
"Were they ever going to tell us?"
Kate tenses at the sound of my voice. I sound dead, uncaring. I don't care anymore. Nothing at all matters, because everything is a lie. Everything.
"But…" She pauses, and now I tense. "…she knew."
Any part of my life that had survived the ordeal, the death of my twin sister who wasn't really my twin or sister at all, shattered. The world faded into black and I went with it, letting go.
The air is cold outside, brisk and chilly as autumn begins to end and winter starts. It's typical Alaskan weather, and I'm outside, walking around the condominium where we live. Kate's back at college, and I'm finally speaking to my parents again. Things at school are back to normal – not as normal as they used to be, but as normal as they are going to get.
A few leaves break off of a tree and flutter down in front of me, brief glimpses of red, brown, orange, and yellow. I kick at them for getting in my way. They barely move more than a few feet in front of me and I kick at them again, anger from nowhere seizing me from within.
"You're being a little harsh. They're just leaves."
I barely look over my shoulder at the voice that's addressed me. Jordan is watching me, her hands in her jacket pocket as she peers at me. There's caution in her eyes, the same caution that's in the eyes of everyone who comes near me.
I stop venting at the leaves and turn around, shoving my hands in my jacket pocket. It's suddenly very cold, a wind from the sea tousling my hair. "Hey," I mumble, eyes on the pavement to avoid her gaze.
It's silent for a moment, and then she speaks. "Do you want to come inside?" There's shyness in her voice when she speaks to me, shyness mixed with hesitance. "I'm going to make hot chocolate. Aaron's going to be home in about half-an-hour. You guys can hang out if you'd like."
Aaron was her stepbrother and a member of the football team. The three of us are the same age, and even though we live in the same condominium and have classes together I didn't know him too well. He seemed nice, but we just never really got around to talking to each other. I knew Jordan better, because she had been friends with my sister.
My heart tightens at the thought of my sister. I couldn't stop thinking of her as my sister, even though she wasn't. Too much had gone on between us to change that. And at the same time, I was still angry. If we had known we weren't twins, weren't even siblings, than things could have been different. I would have made sure of that.
And yet I still think it would be wrong.
I smile apologetically at Jordan, realizing that I must have been ignoring her. "Yeah, I'll come hang," I say. "It should be cool. And I'm cold, so some hot chocolate should be good."
She smiles back at me and we head inside. Her home is nice, neat and cozy at the same time. Her mother and stepfather and other siblings aren't home, so I settle myself comfortably on her couch and she sits across from me.
There's an awkward pause as she starts drumming her fingers on her knees. "How are you?" she asks after a moment, and I can tell she's afraid to have asked the question.
"My life sucks. What a surprise, right?"
She smiles slightly at my sarcasm. There's another pause, another awkward moment. Outside I hear the noise of a car roaring in and skidding to a halt. Jordan looks up suddenly, and we both wait until we can hear a key turn in the lock.
A door opens and shuts somewhere inside. "Jordan?" Aaron calls, his voice echoing slightly. His footsteps grow louder and louder until he steps into the den. "Hey…" He drifts off when he sees me, eyebrows raised with surprise. Jordan turns a bright red as Aaron looks from me to her several times, suddenly seeming very nervous.
There's something in the way that he's looking at her that makes me feel slightly uncomfortable, like I'm intruding on something I shouldn't be there for. I've heard rumors about them, things the other guys on the football team have mentioned to me in passing that I've never really paid attention to until now. Things like Aaron being a little too overprotective of his stepsister, how he seemed almost jealous whenever one of the guys went up to Jordan to flirt with her and how he was always watching her, always making sure she was okay.
Jordan stands up, clasping her hands together as she smiles at us both. "Well, I'm going into the kitchen to make that hot chocolate. You guys hang out. I'll be back." She shots Aaron a glare and turns, leaving the den.
Aaron looks at me, still somewhat confused. "I'll be right back," he says as nonchalantly as he possibly can and heads in the direction Jordan just went.
I'm alone. A clock is ticking loudly off in the distance, comforting and annoying at the same time. I wait for a few more minutes, and when no one comes back I get up as quietly as I can and sneak towards the kitchen.
Their voices are quiet and I'm curious, only snooping because I find a sudden need to know if the rumors are true. If there's someone else in this crazy place we call home that has a secret like the one I kept from my sister. I wanted to know if people as seemingly average as Jordan and Aaron were just like me.
I stay as far back in the shadows of the hallway as I can, peering through the doorframe at the bright kitchen lights. Jordan is mixing something in a pot that's sitting on the stove and Aaron is across from her, arms folded across his chest. They're both facing each other and I know I'm safe, because they're too momentarily absorbed in their dilemma to worry about me.
"I was just being friendly, that's all. He's had a hard time since his sister died. I didn't think it would hurt to be nice."
Aaron sighs as he thinks over what Jordan as just said. "You're right," he admits grudgingly. "I guess I overacted. It's just…"
"I know, I know. Don't worry about it."
"I mean, he's a nice guy. Seems like it at least, I don't really know him that well. He can tackle pretty well though. I guess I just thought…well, I guess I just need to start trusting you more."
She nods, pulling a spoon out of the pot and moving to the sink to wash it. Aaron comes up behind her and puts both hands around her waist, pulling her close as he rests his lips against the base of her neck.
I pull back and rush into the den, throwing myself on the couch. A few more minutes pass before they both come back, Jordan carrying two steaming mugs of hot chocolate and looking visibly happier and relaxed. Aaron is at ease too, and he gives me what looks like a genuine smile.
"Sorry I can't hang man, but I've actually got a meeting with the coach about my tactics for the next game," he says to me. "Come over again when I've got time. We'll definitely chill. Video games."
"Alright," I respond, and we pound our fists together like we've been best friends our entire lives. He turns to look at Jordan and I can't see the expression he gives to her, but she turns a bright red again and looks down. His hand brush gently against her knees as he passes her to get to the door.
I wait until I hear him drive away. "I won't say anything."
She looks at me suddenly and her blush deepens. "Is it that obvious?"
I nod slowly and give her half a smile as she sighs and puts her head in her hands. "I try telling him…" she drifts off, searching for the right words. "He doesn't understand. I just…you must think we're disgusting."
I shook my head fervently. "No way," I insisted. "You guys are stepsiblings. It's fine. Really, I don't care."
Her smile is genuine as she wrings her hands together nervously. "Thanks."
There's another pause, but this time something is different. The air is no longer laced with tension and the awkwardness is gone. We're at ease with each other. I can relax now and maybe enjoy myself.
"Do your parents know?"
She rolls her eyes at me, but she's laughing. "No! Could you imagine if that happened?"
I couldn't imagine how her parents react, because I didn't know her parents. But I could imagine what would happen with mine. I would be disowned, shamed from my family, hated, ridiculed…the list would go on and on. Or they would kill me. Which ever got the point across quicker would be their first pick.
I left Jordan's a little while later, feeling better about myself. We had talked most of the time and she eventually mentioned my sister, like I knew she would. I was surprised that I managed to keep myself composed, surprised that I didn't break down at the mention of her name and that my cheeks stayed dry. Only my heart ached, ached with a longing that I knew I would never be able to cure.
When I went in my room I took out all the pictures of my sister that I could find and I hung them everywhere in my room. Soon there was nothing but her hanging on my wall, her dark eyes that matched mine perfectly in our fake twin façade staring at me everywhere I looked.
"I love you."
A weight disappeared off my chest, faded away with the admittance of my words. I told her I loved her all the time – I love my little sister, I love my twin. But this time the words were different. The meaning had changed. Everything had changed.
I woke later that night to the sound of rain pouring on the roof. I crept downstairs, a gray dawn breaking over the horizon. I laid myself down on the rug in the den and pulled a blanket over me, my eyes glued to the skylight above. I watched the rain bounce off the glass and run in rivulets. I listened to it pounding.
It reminded me of a time that I had come downstairs to find my sister lying on the rug with a blanket over her, watching the rain pour. It was earlier in the morning and I wasn't sure why we were both up. I just remember thinking that I had never seen her look so beautiful before. She seemed almost angelic with the way her hair framed her skin as her eyes watched the sky above.
I flopped onto my stomach next to her, just to be close to her. She smiled at me to acknowledge my presence but she didn't look at me. I reached out and began to trace the lines in the palm of her hand that was stretched out above her head. We didn't say anything, not for a long time. She watched the rain and I watched her and there was nothing but the silence surrounding us, no other distractions.
I almost got too close, but I fought against the strongest urge I had ever fought in my life. I wouldn't do that. I couldn't. I didn't know what consequences it would have brought on, how she would react. I ended up having to leave her, go upstairs to my room and hate myself for even thinking such a thought.
While watching the rain and lying on the rug alone, I realized that it would have been alright if I had kissed her. We weren't siblings, we weren't twins, we weren't even from the same family. It would have been fine, nothing but our secret.
I'm standing on the edge of the glacier, looking over into the ocean below. It's dark and uninviting and I curse at it, hating it for taking her away from me. I should hate her more for choosing to take herself away from me, but I can't bring myself to do that. I loved and cared about her too much.
I scream her name out and it gets lost in the wind, but it feels good to scream it. I'm freeing myself from the bonds that are keeping me down, letting go of some of the sadness that I've been drowning in for months.
Winter's over and spring is coming, the weather is warming and the seasons are changing. The world is coming back to life, and so must mine.
I have a secret.
I hear her voice taunting me in the back of my head. She did have a secret. I knew what it was. She had known we weren't twins, not related at all. She had found out that day of the pictures. That was why she had wanted to go out with me alone. She wanted to tell me, but she couldn't bring herself to. She was afraid of what would happen if she told me the truth. She was afraid of the change.
But she loved me, she promised me in penmanship. She loved me. She always had and always would. There was no one closer to her than me, her wonderful phony older twin brother.
At least that's what her letter said. Jordan found it wedged underneath the couch in my living room one of the nights she came over. Just to talk, of course. Aaron was still around.
Her letter also said that she couldn't take the guilt anymore, having to lie to me about everything and pretend that we were still part of each other after she discovered that we weren't. She couldn't take seeing the love in my eyes for her and listen to me go on about her being my sibling. She hated living the lie.
She didn't think I would understand if she had told me. She thought that the knowledge would somehow drive us mad.
Her letter made me hate myself, though only for a little while. If I had known, maybe things would have been different. Judging by what she wrote me, things would have eventually turned out to be the same.
The wind picks up and even though the weather is warming I still live in Alaska and the air is chilly on my face. I tighten my jacket around me as I look towards the sky. The clouds are still gray, but they're lighter in color and soon sunlight might even shine through. When it does it will illuminate the ocean in front of me, and maybe it will transform it. Maybe I won't look out at the sea and see a girl jumping to an icy demise. Maybe I'd just see water, the giver of life.
I turn to go. It's time to leave this part of my life behind. Time to let go of the secrets and start anew. Time to head back to my home. Time to restart my existence.
It's easy to walk away, but with every step I feel like I'm falling.
But the water never reaches out to grab me and pull me away like I think it will. Instead it pushes me out towards my home, it gives me another chance at fixing the lie.
Please review. I wrote this story a few years back so there's always the chance that there's a significant style change between this and anything else I chose to publish here. It was loosely based off of the song "A Beautiful Lie" by 30 Seconds to Mars.