The Other Daughter
Four exams. Four exams, and all of them receiving the highest mark possible. I smirked to myself, exceptionally pleased. Perfect marks, and it was only the end of the second week of ninth form. I had promised myself that things were going to be different in secondary school, and they finally were starting to get there.
"Ugh," groaned a familiar voice, and I slowed my stroll a bit to let Isabel catch up with me. "That is not going to be good for my marks record."
"What do you mean?" I asked her, and she showed me her own exams wearily.
Three average marks and a fail. I frowned, then grabbed the exams and inspected them in the sunlight. "That doesn't sound like you. You're sure these are yours?"
"I'm sure, unfortunately," she said, closing her eyes and hugging her notebook to her chest as she leaned against a nearby wall. We had reached the school's garden, near the entrance, where there were plenty of benches; I sat in one. Isabel sighed dejectedly while I continued to scrutinise her papers. It couldn't be; Isabel didn't get bad marks.
"How is that even possible?" I handed the papers back to her after ensuring that the handwriting was hers. "You always get the better marks."
Isabel shrugged. "I got distracted. Didn't read the books."
"Doesn't sound like you."
"Maybe I'm different now."
I stayed silent for a moment, considering this. It was highly possible, and I'd seen signs of her growing apart from me for a few weeks at that point. Still, it had only been two weeks. Her personality couldn't have changed that drastically in two weeks.
Or maybe it wasn't her personality that changed at all, only her habits. She had never really studied in the past; now was no different, except that she wasn't doing the bare minimum work, either. It was logical.
"Maybe," I said simply.
We sat in silence for a few moments, twin sisters with almost nothing in common but a nine-month womb residence and a birthdate.
"Mum'll be proud of you this time," she said matter-of-factly. She stood up and tucked her notebook in her satchel, then grinned at me. "It's worth the failure."
I grinned back. "Hey, I have my own moments, too. I don't need you to make them for me." But I knew she was joking, and she stuck her tongue out at me as she left the garden.
"See you at home, I'm walking with Katrina. She lives a block down from us."
But all I did was nod as I absentmindedly watched her form retreat away completely out of sight. I couldn't believe that I'd finally achieved a mark higher than her. It was a victory of sorts, an unfathomed success. Never in a million years did I expect to be better at school than she was.
"Did well on the exams, I take it?"
I hadn't realised the loopy-seeming expression on my face until Seth walked up. I hadn't even heard him enter the garden; he must've snuck in just after Isabel left.
"Silently stalking me, are you?"
Seth laughed and invited himself to sit next to me. "I was on my own way to practise. It wasn't my fault that you were sitting here by yourself, grinning like an idiot."
His smirk was reflected in his green eyes, and it was at that point that I notised how opaque they really were. They were constantly coloured with laughter, meshing well with his freckled, boyish face. His hair was blond, playful at the sides of his face, and constantly messy, like mine.
Not that my hair was messy or anything. At least, at that moment, I hoped it wasn't.
"I wasn't grinning like an idiot."
"You were so."
"Say what you want, Montague. Were so."
"Don't you have a practise to attend?"
"They can wait. I'm the only trombonist they've got."
"You play the trombone?"
For some reason, this had never occurred to me. Seth Dixie (whose last name I'd learned the previous week when someone made a crack about American paper cups) was an attractive boy, and it seemed to me that the trombone was an instrument with which attractive people did not ordinarily associate themselves. Then again, people in his attractive category did not ordinarily associate themselves with myself, either. I'm not exactly a beauty queen—plain, brown hair with messy, indecisive waves, a plain (though symmetrical) face, plain, brown eyes, average height, average weight…plain, plain plain. Not extraordinary in the slightest.
Out of Isabel's new friends, Seth was the one I liked the most. Katrina was a vapid, shallow girl who knew more about what was going on in x celebrity's life than what classes she was scheduled to attend the next day. Ben was very nearly a male version of Katrina. Kevin was one of Jarrow School's top rugby athletes, and was in fact a second-year student, but had fallen behind in mathematics thanks to his blossoming social life and was in the same level as the first-years. Harper was a meek, intellectual sort, small and petite and with big glasses that made her seem even smaller and more petite, though she was also very pretty, and I assumed that her beauty and her ability to be used as an answers database were what kept her hanging along with the crowd.
Naturally, I'd assumed that Seth sort of hanged along with the rest of them because he was similar. But perhaps I'd been mistaken.
He scoffed, rolled his eyes, and folded his arms over his chest, mockingly offended. "Am I not allowed to play the trombone in the marching band for some reason?"
I sat there and chuckled a bit, grinning stupidly, unsure what to say. He was funny, but I had no verbal reaction. The chuckle seemed to echo in the otherwise silent space, bouncing back and forth between the dandelions and the forget-me-nots.
"Oh, come on, now, Will," he said, relaxing his demeanour and allowing his habitual grin to fall on his face again. "I'm only joking, don't be intimidated."
"Please," I said, words gracing their presences to my lips at last, "Don't discredit me like that. My lack of response was because of your failure of sarcasm."
"Oh, yes. You simply asked a rhetorical question that had no entertaining rhetorical possibilities for an answer, so I simply didn't grace it with one."
Seth's eyes lit up. It was obvious that he was amused, or at least entertained. "My dearest apologies, Miss Montague. I didn't realise that your rhetoric had such high standards."
"Naturally, it does. Have you heard my sister's speech? It's atrocious. One of us, at least, had to have some sort of a way with words."
"Naturally." He fluttered his eyelashes, mocking me, waving his hand in the air ridiculously.
"Naturally." I laughed, then swatted his hand away. "Don't mock me!"
"Ooh, but naturally, I'm not mocking you!" he teased, laughter dancing in his eyes, still waving his hand in various directions.
"Stop it," I said, though it was probably nearly indiscernible through my laughter. I finally caught hold of his hand, ceasing it from fluttering about right then.
He stopped, as did I, and for the most fleeting of moments, all the laughter in the garden was gone.
It wasn't even a second, probably, but in that half-moment, there was something very serious in the air that brought a chill to my spine. It was a chill that was certainly not due to the typical cool South Tyneside air—in fact, the sunshine was unordinarily out that day—but to something that was invisible, and had existed before that point, but neither of us had known or acknowledged it until then.
Even then we didn't acknowledge it. Or at least I didn't.
I cleared my throat. "Er…trombone? Marching band?"
"I told you, they can wait." He never removed his eyes from mine.
"Yes, but I have to get home—"
"What's calling you?"
"Homework, and the project that's due next wee—"
"That's next week, it's not that urgen—"
"We're still meeting at six, see you then!" I stood up hurriedly, having long had dropped his hand, and trodded off in the same direction Isabel had gone.
"Will—" he started, but he let me go.
I was gone, anyway.
"Mum, I'm home!"
"In here, Wilma!" was the call.
I followed the direction of her voice, distracting myself from my conversation with Seth with my excitement over my stellar marks. She was in the kitchen; I bounded past Papa sitting on the long, bright yellow sofa and Isabel sitting at the old mahogany dining table, bruised from the abuse it took for so many years when she and I were children and had a fascination for crayons.
"Look, Mum, I received 'excellent's on all four of my exams today!"
I wasn't one for waiting to give good news. Suspense? Who needed it?
"Oh, that's lovely, Wilma," she said, beaming brightly as she continued to stir the stew she had bubbling on the stove. "Seamus, look, Wilma's got high marks on her exams!"
Papa merely grunted something that sounded like a jumble of vowels and consonants that might have been able to pass for "good work." He was watching some sort of war film on the tele and couldn't be bothered at that moment for things that didn't end in war and death, but I wasn't much surprised. Papa wasn't one to be distracted from stories of bombs and gunshot wounds if he could help it. He constantly claimed that his house contained too much estrogen for him and his manly, greying beard. It was a joke, of course, and I knew he loved all of us, but he enjoyed having his action-packed entertainment time.
I couldn't blame him, so I let him be.