The Other Daughter
"Oh, Isabel, how delightful is your singing!"
Isabel took a deep curtsy to the appreciative applause that followed her ballad. She was six years old then; so was I. I clapped along with the rest of the family that made up the crowd, supporting my sister, and thinking nothing of it. I was so excited, I remember, that I wanted to sing, too.
"My turn, my turn!" I said, jumping up to take the stage myself. I wasn't nearly anywhere as talented as Isabel, but I loved to sing regardless.
But my mother simply laughed and shook her head. "Next time, Wilma, all right?" she said, patting my neatly-plaited hair. "For now, let us all retire to the dining-room to eat!" And everyone left the sitting-room to do just that.
I was mildly disappointed, but at the mention of food I was only happy to oblige. I was stout for my age, and Isabel was petite and thin, so hardly anyone guessed we were twins. Twins we were, though, and that created a bond that seemed unbreakable.
Isabel and I were the last ones in the sitting-room; all the adults had already left. My sister rushed over to me, smoothly linking my arm in hers, coming to join me. She grinned at me as she spoke. "It's all right, Willa," (her nickname for me, as when we were toddlers she had difficulty pronouncing the "m" sound after the "l" sound) "They just want to save your pretty voice for the entire time next time, is all."
Somehow, Isabel had the magical ability to reassure me. I knew that my voice could never compare to hers, but the tiny white lie made my spirits soar knowing that my sister thought that I was good. Although, technically, I was eight minutes older than she was, she had a considerable amount of power over how I felt. She always used it for good, though—to make me feel better.
And it always worked.
I grinned back at her, displaying a gap between two of my front teeth, and we skipped along in our knee-length button-up-the-back springtime dresses to where the rest of the adults were.
"Oh, Isabel," my mother said.
Mum was holding a piece of paper that had a bright red "Excellent!" written at the top of it. The word was underlined twice, and had three additional exclaimation points at the end of it. "How wonderful your mark is on this exam!" said my mother with a pleased smile on her face. That was all through primary school.
Isabel usually did better than I did. I worked hard and received marks that were above-average, but rarely received "excellent"s. Isabel, though, had such a knack for school—she didn't study as hard as I did, and yet somehow she usually received better marks than I. Every mark, for her, my parents turned into a large display—how wonderful it was that Isabel constantly did so well and how they wished I had the same talent she did.
I tried and tried for years to beat her marks. Finally, in my first year of secondary school, I did.
I remember the first day of ninth form well. Things were changing for us. That first day, we walked into ninth form—upper-tier secondary school—dressed like we always had: in identical modest clothing, a blue jumper and a white collared button-down shirt underneath it, brown loafers plainly adorning our feet. Our hair was long and the same length, but hers was blond and mine was brown; hers was shiny and straight as a pin but still somehow seemed voluminous, while mine was plain and devoid of any volume whatsoever and slight, irregular waves. That day, our hair was styled identically—with the top of it up in a ponytail and the bottom of it blanketed out underneath it.
We were the plainest-looking girls in the ninth form. Not that Jarrow, South Tyneside people were much fantastic-looking, but even amongst the general farming community, we were plain. I didn't notise until Isabel told me later that night as we were getting into our bunks.
"People were staring, Willa."
I had already begun to fall asleep, but once she'd said that, I woke up a bit more. "Who'chia mean?" I yawned.
She rolled over onto her stomach and pulled her mattress back to reveal the space between the slats of wood that supported her mattress. All through childhood, we'd talked through that space when our parents had told us to turn out the lights. I wasn't surprised to see her opaque blue eyes peeking through the space, searching for my own brown ones. "At school today," she said, her eyes wide. I could tell she had been bothered by this fairly deeply, and that she hadn't been able to sleep because of it, so I tried to wake up even more and be a good, supportive sister.
"They were all staring," she repeated, and it was then that I detected something new in her eyes. I couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was. She kept talking. "Everyone. They all were whispering, everywhere! 'They're twins,' they said—I heard them, Willa!—'those strange-looking girls, they're twins.'"
At that, I was alert. I couldn't understand why this bothered her so much. I liked being a twin. Isabel was my best friend. The whole first day of ninth form, Isabel and I had stuck together like tuppence, and we'd been perfectly fine. "What's wrong with being a twin?"
I could hear my sister huff irritably. "Nothing, Willa," she sighed. "It's just that I want to meet different people."
I frowned, hesitating. "What's wrong with me?" I asked slowly.
"Awe, Willa, nothing's wrong with you!" She let her mattress go back to cover the crack, rolling over onto her back again. "I just want to make new friends, that's all."
I shrugged, beginning to fall back asleep. "Sure, I don't mind," I said. I didn't see why it was such a grand deal.
The next day, Bella and I walked to school separately. I didn't see her until noontime, and when I did see her, she didn't look so different, except that she was with new people and wearing different clothes than I was. She beckoned me over to the table and introduced me.
"This is my sister, Willa," she told them, a grin on her face. It pleased me to know that she was proud to introduce me as her sister. "Willa, this is Harper, Kevin, Katrina, Ben, and Seth. We're all in Maths together."
I didn't remember any of their names after Bella had said them. All of them but the boy on the end closest to me gave some sort of nod or grunt. The boy who didn't looked at me curiously, instead, giving no mark-of-approval, but rather a question of interest. "Willa, huh?" he said, in a somewhat deep tenor.
"Wilma," I mumbled, giving a small smile and attempting to hide behind my hair out of shyness. "Sorry, but I've forgotten your name already."
He laughed. "It's Seth."
The other kids had gone back to talking, so Seth and I simply talked on our own. He didn't seem very much like the others—the other kids didn't seem very personable or friendly whatsoever. "You seem nicer than the rest of them," I told him, and then winced. I hadn't meant to say that aloud.
That time, he nearly guffawed. "Honest one, you are, aren't you?" He gave me a grin and I could have sworn I detected a wink.
I gave a nervous smile in return, peeking at him through the curtain of my hair. For some reason, sitting with these people made me a bit more conscious than usual about how I looked. I suppose it was because Isabel and I had only had a couple of friends growing up, and we always had the same ones. We'd had the same friends since primary school. They'd seen us at the best of times and the worst of times; we'd already established relationships with them and we knew they'd stick by us despite circumstances.
New people, though—this was somewhat foreign to me. Perhaps this was what Isabel had meant: meeting new people and new friends was important to her because she was tired of only being friends with the same people for fourteen years. Besides, there at Jarrow School, Isabel and I only knew each other. Our primary school education had been a private home school. There had only been six other people in our class, and they had all either moved from Jarrow to go to a boarding school in London, gone somewhere else in the UK for school, their families had moved, or they'd gone to Jarrow's one other secondary school. We'd gone to Jarrow School by ourselves. I could understand Isabel's need for friends besides me, then.
"Quiet one, too," said Seth, who'd been eyeing me without my notise for the past minute.
I smiled shyly again, unsure of what to say. I tucked some hair behind my ear, feeling brave and that it was high time I took after Isabel and came out of my shell. I tried to say something, but—
"Not much for speak—er…prefer to watch interact persons—er…"
Apparently, my mouth didn't feel much like forming coherent sentences.
A mad blush quickly ensued on my face, and I hid again behind my hair safety-curtain. I could hear Seth chuckle lightly.
"No worries, Will," he said, and before I could correct him and tell him that it was 'Wilma,' thank you very much, he continued. "I'm quite flattered, actually. Girls rarely get tongue-tied around me."
I snorted, at that, all thoughts of correcting my name gone. "I'm not tongue-tied, thank you. I'm simply not used to interacting with people besides Bella. Don't flatter yourself."
Finally, a coherent sentence. Or, rather, three.
But it didn't seem to throw him off. Instead, he grinned at me—as if he knew something and had been expecting me to come back with something like that. "I knew you had some spunk in you, O Quiet Girl," he said, and I could sense that he was holding back laughter. He looked on the verge of laughter, at any rate.
Quiet Girl? This bloke was quick to give nicknames. "It's Wilma," I said, reverting back to my originally-planned retort. I pushed some hair behind my ear again, and this time, it stayed there. "Wil-ma. Call me that, will you?"
A beeping sound came from his school satchel, but he ignored it. He took one last sip of his pop, tossed his napkin onto his tray, and stood up. He was quite tall, with longish blond hair and a boyish face speckled with freckles. He gave a sideways grin as if he knew it would irritate me. "No, I don't think I will," he said, as I ignored the blatant pun on my name. He grabbed his satchel, hoisted it up on his shoulder, and grabbed his tray. "I've got to go, mates," he said to the rest of the table. "Need to meet with Professor Armstrong." The other kids nodded curtly, nonchalantly, and Seth began to walk away.
But after taking two steps, he turned around, looked directly at me, and said, "Catch you later, Will."
And then he walked off.
I slumped into my seat, hiding behind my hair again. I remained quiet for the rest of noon meal.
Perhaps Seth had been on to something when he'd called me 'Quiet Girl.'
By nature, I am not an incredibly social person. I prefer to sit back and watch while others are social; I really only interact with people I know well, with the exception of my parents' friends, with whom I'm forced to interact, but their intelligences and my intelligence are in the same category, so that is generally no problem. The trouble is, in order to have people I know well, I have to meet them first.
Luckily, I had a rather social sister who loved to meet people. She always talked to people, wherever she went—in the grocery store, in the metro, while walking home from school. So I let Isabel talk, letting her make friends while I smiled and nodded in all the appropriate places. It wasn't until the school's clocktower struck the hour that I realised that the lunch period was over and it was time to go to History.
I nodded briefly to Isabel's new friends and smiled, said I would see them later, gathered up my things and left. Quickly, I walked to my History class and found the first open seat.
While I was taking out my notebook and pen, someone sat next to me and began to busy himself with doing the same thing. "Fancy seeing you here," he muttered out of the side of his mouth.
I looked up. Fancy indeed. I grinned, thoroughly amused. "Seth," I said, as a form of a greeting.
"Seems like we'll be seeing more of each other," he said casually, writing "European Civilisation" at the top of his notes.
I chuckled. "Apparently so."
The professor began her lecture, and Seth and I quieted. By the end of the class a project due date had been annonced, I had three pages of notes, and Seth had four. I was astonished, though I kept it quiet. Never before had I met anyone who took more notes than I did. Perhaps I'd been living in a hole of slackers?
"So," he began as we made our way away from the classroom, "want a partner for that project?"
I witheld a smile. I was flattered, really. Seth was an attractive boy, and he was asking me to be his project partner. Plus, he was obviously a good student. I couldn't go wrong. "Sure," I said, pushing a bit of my hair behind my ears. "You know anyone?"
He grinned, playing along and moving his eyes to wander in the hallway ceiling. "Oh, I might know a few people…how about me?"
"Well, that certainly sounds plausible."
"Plausible?" Seth kept his boyish grin but managed to arch an eyebrow simultaneously. "It'll be the best decicision you'll have ever made, love. I am, after all, the best project partner at Jarrow School, thank you muchly." He winked at me and turned into a different hallway. I rolled my eyes. Such an ego! A playful ego, but still an ego nonetheless. "Catch you some later, Will," he said, and disappeared around the corner.
I'd only known him a couple of hours and already he knew which buttons to press that would make my hair stand on end.