I saw them before they saw me. Handsome, successful, identical twins – they tended to draw everyone’s eyes and even here in this small beach town, people turned their heads to look at them.
I, on the other hand, turned away and cursed internally. Here? Now? It had to be coincidence, but it was really awful coincidence and all I could hope was that they wouldn’t see me. Wouldn’t recognize me. Wouldn’t remember me.
I mean, I didn’t exactly look or act like I did 10 years ago, mostly, anyway. Back then I’d had short black hair, laughing sea-green eyes, and a wild temperament. By the time I’d left, I had broad shoulders, a muscular build, and was nearly 6’ tall. I dragged them into trouble more often than they’d liked, but they never seemed to really mind, either. Hayden was actually almost as eager as me to push the boundaries of what was allowed while Vance had been quieter, trying to reign us all in from getting into too much trouble.
Now? Well…I still had black hair and sea-green eyes, but I was 5’5,” kind of curvy, with long dreads in my hair, and most importantly, my temperament was now ice-cold. But my face was the same. Mostly. More rounded, softer features instead of the angular ones from the man they’d known me as, but there wouldn’t really be any doubt looking at me that we were related, if not the exact same person.
I kept my back towards them, hoping they wouldn’t notice me, but luck wasn’t on my side. Since my attention was focused on them, I wasn’t watching closely enough as I went to clear the table and ended up tipping the table and knocking everything onto the ground, where if the table itself wasn’t enough noise to attract the attention of anyone on the cobblestone street, the sound of crashing dishware would be.
I cursed inwardly again and hurriedly knelt to pick up the larger pieces of smashed porcelain teacups when I saw feet approach me and knew, without looking up, that the two pairs of feet belonged to the only people I didn’t want to see.
“Do you have a broom and dustpan?” Vance offered politely, while Hayden attempted to right the table for me. “Careful, you don’t want to cut yourself.”
I kept my gaze down, trying to figure out if there was some way to avoid looking at them, but just then my manager poked his head out the door.
“Morgan, when you get done with that, I have a delivery for you to make.” He dropped a parcel on one of the empty tables, offering me the broom as he did. “When you finish with that, you’re done for the day.”
Unable to avoid it, I rose, accepted the broom, and started carefully sweeping, still not looking or speaking to the twins, but based on their frozen stances, I knew they had seen my face now. And heard the name.
The only thing I had going for me was that I had been taller then and people didn’t just magically lose several inches in height. Well, actually, they did. They magically did. Like, literally, with magic. But the twins were humans and didn’t know about magic, so. There was that.
“Morgan?” Vance finally asked, his voice hoarse. “Is that…really you?”
Best approach – deny it or admit it? They’d have questions either way.
I finally looked up at them, and seeing my eyes, Vance took a sharp intake of breath, his eyes widening ever so slightly.
“My name is Morgan,” I allowed, since my manager had kind of already let them in on that. “And thank you for your help, but it really wasn’t necessary. Now if you don’t mind,” my tone became even icier than it had to begin with – colder than the wind around us, “I’m attempting to clean this up and you’re actually slowing down that process, so if you could maybe move?”
Vance obediently took a few steps backwards, to the edge of the patio, but he still looked stunned.
Hayden, on the other hand, was starting to look angry. “Morgan, what the hell? You’re here, you’re fine, apparently – I mean, you look different, obviously – but you just disappeared and you never contacted us? What’s going on?”
My jaw tightened and I turned to give him an ice-cold smile. “I’m sorry, I think you have me confused for someone else.”
“Oh no,” Hayden started shaking his head, “do not give us that! You look different, sure, but you think we wouldn’t still recognize you? What happened? Are you – did you leave so you could transition?” He sounded a little hesitant with that question. “Because that’s the only thing I can come up with that makes any sense, but you know you could have told us. We would have understood and supported you.”
“Hayden,” Vance murmured, “it – it might just be a coincidence, I mean, the height – ”
“Yeah, I don’t buy that,” Hayden glowered at him, before turning his attention back to me. “You’re trying to tell me someone with the same name, the same eyes, the same face – isn’t the same person?”
I finished sweeping up the broken dishes and dumped them into the trashcan, taking a moment to stop and give them a frozen smile as I did. “I suppose that is what I am saying. Good day.” I grabbed the parcel, checked the label, and started off down the street.
Predictably, Hayden came running after me, Vance on his heels.
Hayden was hot-headed enough he wouldn’t believe in a mere coincidence like that, even with Vance pointing out the scientific impossibility of the situation. He’d push for answers, and I knew that.
The only question was whether I could keep pretending I didn’t know them and do so convincingly enough it’d make them stop asking questions.
They were never supposed to find me again. Of all the things I’d left behind when I took to the tides, they were the only ones I regretted. But they were also the only things I couldn’t afford to have walk back into my life, yet here they were.
“Morgan, wait,” Vance pleaded, “can we please just talk for a minute? You – you look just like someone we used to know, with the same name, although I don’t see how you could be the same person, the height difference is too much and the build.” Right, my shoulders back then were much broader than now. People don’t just lose that kind of bone mass when they transition, so Vance at least was trying to come up with a reasonable alternative. “Maybe you’re related?”
“Related?” Hayden scoffed. “With the same name? And you can’t pretend you don’t recognize his – her – eyes! They’re the exact same, Vance, don’t pretend you didn’t notice that.”
My eyes are unusual, that’s true, and they’d looked into them often enough growing up they should recognize them. But I still had the advantage of scientific impossibility on my side, so I was going to stick with this.
“Sorry,” I threw back over my shoulder, my voice not sounding sorry in the slightest – uninterested, at most. “But I’m not related to anyone, certainly don’t know you, and before you ask, no, I don’t suffer from memory loss or the like. Now please stop harassing me before I call the police.”
“The police are still looking for you back home,” Hayden suddenly spouted, “they might be interested to know you’re here.”
I stopped abruptly and turned towards them, ignoring how Hayden nearly stumbled in his attempt not to run me over, pinching the bridge of my nose. I knew Hayden was lying about the police – they had never investigated my disappearance, for several reasons, but the biggest one being that they actually knew why I left – but I didn’t appreciate the attempt to threaten me.
“Look,” I told him coldly, staring up at Hayden as if I wasn’t the slightest bit bothered by the way he and Vance towered over me, “I don’t know where you come from, but here, threatening people is not okay, particularly if you’re trying to threaten me with the police. I haven’t done anything wrong, so whatever you’re talking about isn’t about me, and if you attempt to get me involved in something your brother here has already admitted can’t be me, well, that could very well be an attempt at a false police report and could land you in trouble, instead. Now, like I said, leave me alone.”
I turned back around, but Vance swiftly moved to block my path.
“Please,” he begged, his eyes as still as kind and caring as I remembered, “just talk to us for a few minutes. He didn’t mean it, he’s just – being an idiot, but seriously, we could use some answers.”
“And I don’t have them for you,” I responded sharply. “I don’t know you, I don’t know who you’re looking for, and like I said, I don’t have relatives that could be the person you’re looking for. So if you want answers, get them from someone else.”
And then I deliberately pushed him out of my way and continued.
Behind me, it sounded like Hayden was going to follow me, but Vance held him back. Concerned, perhaps, that I really would call the police, or perhaps just finally taking my words to heart and realizing I wouldn’t give them what they wanted.
I hoped it was the later. I really didn’t need them trying to disrupt my life here.
As I headed towards my destination, alone now, I wondered if maybe I should leave town for a few days. If I did, though, wouldn’t that make me more suspicious to them? I couldn’t afford that, I needed to make it seem like I really didn’t have anything to hide.
Even if in reality, I did.
Vance showed up bright and early the next morning, hesitantly coming in the restaurant and looking around until he spotted me, offering me a tentative smile as he deliberately took a seat in my section.
He was my only customer so far, so he apparently decided to take advantage of this and talk.
“I’m sorry about yesterday,” he said promptly as soon I arrived. “We were rude, we shouldn’t have ambushed you like that, and I do apologize. It’s just – looking at you, it’s hard not to think of our friend who disappeared. We were very close to him, and when he just disappeared without warning – the police wouldn’t even do anything, they said since he was 17 he could technically leave if he wanted, it wasn’t even considered running away, and there was nothing they could do about it, but we figured it had to have been involuntary since he wouldn’t have just left without telling us. I mean, at least we hoped he wouldn’t. We were afraid he might have gotten swept out to sea, but he wouldn’t have gone close to it – he was always avoiding the sea, but if he had fallen in….” Vance paused. “Well, he could easily have drowned. Point is, we never got any answers to what happened, and he was our best friend. So seeing someone who looks just like him, same age, same name even, it – it threw us for a loop. I’m sorry, though, that wasn’t fair to you.”
I had stood there through his whole speech, my frozen demeanor hiding the sadness I felt at his words. Of course they had worried, had freaked out, had felt frustrated, had been scared. I couldn’t have explained to them what was happening, though, and couldn’t tell them now.
They didn’t need to be brought into my world. The one they lived in was far safer, far less confusing.
“Great,” I answered in my cold voice, “so glad I know all of that. Now, what are you ordering, or were you just here to waste my time?”
Vance flinched a little, and I felt bad about being harsher than necessary, but he obediently ordered his food and didn’t say another word as I marched off.
It wasn’t until I returned with his hot coffee that he pulled out a small but very long box from next to him.
“Um, if you don’t mind, I had something I wanted to give you to apologize for yesterday.”
I opened my mouth, ready to tell him I didn’t want anything and could he please just eat and leave, when he opened it to reveal a single stalk of a vivid red tulip flower.
Tulips. They’d been my favorite flower growing up, something both Vance and Hayden knew, and for all I knew this could be an attempt to get me to reveal information. But…other people could like flowers, too, just for being flowers, and I hadn’t seen a tulip in so long. They didn’t grow in this climate, and I didn’t know any fairies who could grow them for me.
Which meant I really wanted that tulip, even if it was stupid.
Vance hesitantly removed the flower from the box and offered it to me. “Please, just to say sorry.”
I really, really wanted that flower, but I was still worried about this potentially revealing too much to him, even in just this small way. But…maybe I could avoid that?
Still feeling like I was probably making a foolish mistake, I reached out and took the flower from him, looking down at it for a moment. “I’m not familiar with this, they don’t grow here,” I said at last. “What is it?”
“Tulip.” If Vance suspected anything, his voice didn’t reveal it. “We were just at a convention that used some for the centerpieces and I brought some with me when we left rather than just let them get tossed out. I – I like them, so I thought you might appreciate one.”
He hadn’t said that his old friend – me – liked them, but maybe that was why he now liked them. A memory of someone he had lost. At least that did explain how he’d miraculously gotten a tulip here.
I remembered my manners and looked back up at him. “Thank you. I will forgive you for yesterday,” I mean, I had accepted the apology flower, after all, “but that doesn’t mean we’re friends, either.”
As I turned to flounce away, I saw a spark of amusement in his eyes. By the time I returned with his food, though, the spark was gone and he just made an effort to make general small talk, asking about the town, what were the best sights to see, and so on. Normally I probably would have asked a tourist how long they planned to stay – one of the typical questions tourists seemed to expect, even if honestly I didn’t care about the answer – but this time I was determined not to suggest any sort of interest in him or his brother, so I kept my neutral, cold face on while I answered his questions and waited to be able to leave.
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