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Two sisters. One disaster.
First things first: I’m the bad twin. While my sister, Marcia, has the perfect family in the perfect suburb, I’ve been making my living as an Internet advice columnist and designing Web sites in my downtown loft. I always thought I had the right answer - and hair color - for any occasion. That is, until Marcia ran up loads of debt and ran out on her husband and kids, and I was left helping to pick up the pieces. Her husband, James, is a lawyer who I hate on principle alone.
But for a guy who’s just lost his job, his marriage, and his expensive toys, he’s keeping it together - and making me rethink my feelings toward him. It’s not that he’s traded in his conservative suits for sexy jeans. It’s that he’s not giving up what’s important to him, and oh baby, I’m a sucker for a guy who hangs tough.
That doesn’t mean I’m ready to step into Marcia’s designer shoes now that she’s gone AWOL.
And it doesn’t mean I’m going to fall for James’s easy charm...not again, anyhow. Besides, I’ve had a lifelong policy of not being mistaken for my twin and I’m not backing down on that one now - no matter how convenient it might be for a certain sexy (and persuasive) man...
Subject: what to do dating blues
Yo Aunt Mary -
Ancient uncle kicked, Mom says all 2 go 2 funeral FRIDAY NIGHT!
Subject: re: what to do dating blues
Go...in something sleek and black.
I propped my chin on my hand and stared at the message. Maybe I was getting bored with this gig. Aunt Mary certainly had lost a bit of her sparkle - she was sounding more like a cranky old bitch than an irreverent livewire these days.
But then, it was only nine at night and I was just waking up.
I saved the response without posting it to the board - just in case lightning struck in the wee hours of the morning - yawned and stretched. The truth of it was that I shouldn’t even have been out of bed yet, but I hadn’t slept well. Something had kept me awake today. Guilty conscience, maybe. Ha. Hole-digging types in the street below, more likely.
I was still warm and fuzzy, halfway between sleep and wake. But there were lots of messages for that sage of netiquette, Aunt Mary.
Time for some rocket java to fuel the keyboard merengue.
The phone rang when I was elbowing some space on the cluttered counter for the coffee bean grinder. You’ve got to grind your own, you know, if you want a decent cup of brew.
“Auntie Maralys? Is that you?”
It wasn’t such a weird time for my nephew to be calling, but something about his tone made me forget my coffee. I would have bet my last buck that this ten-year-old kid was never uncertain of anything, but he sounded...lost.
He had my attention but quick. In fact, he was giving me hives. I don’t do kids. Don’t handle dependence and vulnerability real well.
The only reason I can deal with my nephews is that they’re getting older - I think of them as very small adults and it’s okay.
But now, Jimmy was doing a “make my boo-boo better voice” and I felt my bile rising.
“Sure, Jimmy, it’s me. How’s it going?” Maybe I sounded a little more cheerful than necessary, but it seemed to reassure him.
It certainly reassured me.
“Houston, we have a problem,” he said, slipping into a routine we often used. In this scenario, I was NASA control and he was captain of the intrepid space voyager, Calypso. To say that Jimmy was a space nut would be the understatement of the century.
It worked out all right - kind of a meeting of the minds in technogook land.
“Roger, Calypso. I copy.” A problem to which I was the solution. I was already making a good guess as to what the deal might be.
My sister, in case I haven’t mentioned it, is a selfish hare-brained idiot. “What are your coordinates, Calypso?”
“Um, at the pool.”
“You have swimming lessons tonight?”
“Roger, Houston. Exercise maneuvers have been completed.”
A long pause followed. Time for those latent psychic abilities to kick in. Sadly, they missed their cue. “Can you describe the nature of your problem, Calypso?”
“Um. Auntie Maralys...”
His voice quivered and I shivered right to my toes. Just having clutchy, needy people on my phone - well, one person really, but it was enough - made me want to break and run.
I closed my eyes and forced myself to guess what was up. Eenie meanie jelly beanie. “Have you made contact with your shuttle, Calypso?” I was thinking that my twin and I were going to have to have a serious talk if she couldn’t even remember to pick up her kids from swimming.
“Uh, no, Houston. There is no sign of the shuttle. Rendezvous may been aborted.”
Now, I was mad. This was typical Marcia, imposing on everyone else and scaring the crap out of her kids, just so she could...what? Get her nails done? Probably something stupid, feminine and frivolous like that.
“And your back-up shuttle, Calypso?” I tried to keep the edge out of my voice because we all knew that James worked more hours than any human alive. “Do you have its coordinates?”
Jimmy faltered. “California, I think.”
I bit back a scream, then took a deep breath. It wasn’t Jimmy’s fault that morons were allowed to breed. “Okay, Calypso, I copy. Let’s review the checklist - are you currently at the scheduled rendezvous point?”
“How long have you been at the rendezvous point, Calypso?”
“Since eight-thirty, after class ended.”
“At my mark, your shuttle is precisely thirty-two minutes late. Please confirm, Calypso. Mark.”
“That is correct, Houston. Thirty-two minutes and counting.”
“Please confirm, Calypso, whether you are on a solo mission. Your mission orders are inaccessible to me at this juncture.”
Marcia’s boys are just two years apart, spitting images of their father, and practically joined at the hip. I always thought it was weird for them to be so close - Marcia and I nearly murdered each other when we were kids, after all - but maybe my sister found it more convenient to keep them at the same place at the same time.
Maybe they secretly did hate each other’s guts in healthy sibling fashion. The prospect always cheered me.
“No, Houston. Lieutenant John is also aboard this mission. His class is done, too.” Jimmy’s voice dropped with uncertainty and he sounded like a lost little boy again. “Auntie Maralys, everyone has left.”
I damned my sister silently to hell and back, then wished that there really was something to the psychic bond between twins. At least then I could make a guess as to what Marcia was up to.
On the other hand, I really didn’t want to know more than I already did about how she thought. My very own twisted sister. I must have beat her to the line when they were handing out common sense.
Which was why she was married and had two kids, while I wasn’t and didn’t... and never would. These periodic crises were enough to keep my biological clock from ringing its alarm.
Along with a lot of other things, now neatly buried in my paleolithic past, and destined never to be exhumed.
“Roger.” I really had only one good choice, even though it was incredibly inconvenient. Almost as if Marcia planned it that way.
“Hold your position. Repeat: hold your position, Calypso. We have a technical complication on this end - there is no vehicle available for immediate rendezvous. Do you copy, Calypso?”
“We copy, Houston.” There was Johnny. I guessed that the boys were sharing the receiver.
“Mission control suggests you enter low orbit, Calypso, from which you can watch your designated position. In the event that your shuttle does appear, please hold your position until the second vehicle arrives to rendezvous. Repeat your orders, Calypso.”
Jimmy did, then Johnny whispered. “The janitor’s office is right over there, Auntie Maralys.”
“Roger, Calypso. We will rendezvous ASAP at your selected alternate coordinates.”
“Over and out.” I flung on my battered leather jacket, ran for the door and vowed to break every bone in my sister’s body when I found her. Maybe I’d snap those perfect nails one at a time. I flagged down a cab, and the cabbie thought he’d died and gone to heaven when he discovered I was going all the way out to Lexington.
Might as well be Canada. Or California. Haha. I could pick James up myself and give him a telling-to about the responsibilities of parenthood. That would be fun.
As if I knew anything about it.
The fun would have to wait though. The boys were my first order of business. I rummaged surreptitiously through my pockets and hoped like hell that I had enough cash on me for the fare.
One thing was for sure - Marcia was a dead woman.
Excerpt from DOUBLE TROUBLE ©2001, 2012 Claire Delacroix, Inc.
2006 - 2012 Deborah A. Cooke