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He was John Jepperson and she Lauren Smith, their parents covering their first and middle names with all the surnames of relatives with money. Someday, it may pay off. Who knows? Estates happen.
Although they were different genders, and so classified fraternal twins, they were identical in appearance – same color, hair, everything. As they grew older, Jepp grew taller and Lauren lovely. He became lean and muscular, she slender and quite female. In fact, by the time she was in double-digit years, her looks were startling; she had willowy, almost fragile beauty that became much stronger when she smiled. That was often.
By the time they were teenagers, nobody could tell they were twins unless they were together, side by side, and then the resemblance was so astounding nobody could remember why they ever doubted it. Their sheer “twin-ness” so enchanted a grandmother that she tried to dress them alike when they were very young, but her daughter-in-law, their mother, overruled it, leaving many feathers ruffled and holidays huffy. Mom had read a book that professed dressing children as a set could bobble their psychological circuitry. Besides, it was hard to get exactly the same clothes for boy and girl.
Jepp was a couple of minutes older than Lauren. He was, and always would be, her big brother. From the time he was two days old, he’d been Jepp, although his grandfather favored Jack. Nobody called him John.
Lauren was mom’s favorite, the girl she always wanted. And nobody ever called her anything but Lauren. A few hick relatives tried to saddle her with Smitty, but even as a toddler she’d stamp her foot and demand to be called by her proper name. She was teased for that, but she stuck with it. Lauren grew up with a special distaste for ridicule – especially when she saw it aimed at someone else. All her life, everyone in school knew they could talk to her, she would be friendly, and she’d never betray them, regardless of where they stood in the merciless caste of childhood.
When he was around, Jepp would protect her. The first time their mother saw them toddle to the kindergarten door, she saw him put his arm on Lauren’s shoulder, and almost wept. She knew her little girl always would be safe with him. So, Jepp spent their early school years protecting her from taunts. …Both of them, really. Frequently, identical twins of opposite sex are targets for childhood cruelty in a way few others are. They were beautiful children, especially as they grew older, so often jealousy fueled the taunts.
Jepp was Lauren’s hero, and almost through middle school, she worshiped him. She would defer to him, and seek his shelter when anything bothered her. More than their parents, he was her rescuer and exemplar. If she thought he’d look good in shining armor, she’d imagine him as her own rangy knight. But silvery metal wasn’t his color; she was a girl who knew all about that.
Then, in eighth grade, things began to change. Lauren became more independent. She even began a kind of natural sibling hostility toward him, dismissing her past adoration by calling him “hero” and, sometimes, “little man” …Never behind his back, or even cruelly. Mostly, it was her answer to his “your majesty” and “girlie-girl”, which she especially despised. Lauren was one – and liked it.
In high school, she was more popular than he, a cheerleader and all-round class leader. Straight-A student and overachiever, Lauren had mapped out her future, and by junior year had dumped a string of boyfriends she deemed insufficiently mature, or, as she saw it, of doubtful promise. She was serious about the success she intended her life to be, and didn’t mix long with boys she thought too frivolous or juvenile; it was as if she believed her drive might be diluted by sheer proximity of indolence.
This applied especially to her brother Jepp. A star athlete in his first years at high school, he dropped off the football team after the second game of his senior year. He’d begun to hang with a different crowd. Some of them were school musicians, some wannabe punks. A lot of them read – too much of it for pure entertainment. All of them smoked weed and slacked their way through school in a kind of aimless drift, waiting for life to deliver to them some sign, a map for proceeding – or snuff them out. Some of Jepp’s friends took anti-depressants; some had attempted suicide.
Life was becoming, for all of them, much more serious.
Lauren ripped Jepp to shreds over what she saw as fall from grace. She upbraided him for his apathy every chance she got. He would merely look at her and drawl some soft riposte like, “Go get ’em, tiger.”
She didn’t really like anything about him, including his girlfriend, tough girl Dena, who called her “princess”. Once, after a diatribe against everything Dena was or touched, she finished with, “I don’t see what he sees in her. And she’s so totally unlike him.” Her friend Jane listened half-interested, waiting for the chance to dump her own problems, and said, “Well… she’s not so different from you. In fact, you and she escort bayan şişli are just alike.” Waiting for Lauren to calm down after that bombshell, Jane continued by noting they were both driven – for different things, sure, but endless energy was there in both of them. “I think both of you like change. You’re always moving on to the next goal. And Dena… dyes her hair six colors a week.”
One anonymous, chilly day in late fall, Lauren saw just ahead of her Mike Finder, walking alone and slowly. Mike had been a close childhood buddy of hers and Jepp’s. Then, in that way adolescence brusquely sorts status and desire, he… receded. He was still part of the crowd Jepp hung with, most of school’s misfits were; people like Mike stuck there, never rising above that marginal social tier.
Something about him caught her eye, and she walked a little faster to catch him. When he didn’t respond to her, she jumped ahead of him. Her smile of greeting melted away when she saw the ugly shiner around his eye.
“I’ll give you a ride, Mike.”
He didn’t want to look at her. When he finally did, seeing her face, flush and healthy, the wind gently blowing her hair in filmy tendrils around it, something tore in him. At the look of concern in her eyes, tears welled up in his. He wiped at the wrong one and winced in pain from the bruise.
“C’mon, Mike,” Lauren said, touching his arm. “I’ll take you home.”
It was her nature to take in strays, to show kindness to someone who needed it, but just outside the school grounds, as Mike slumped beside her in the seat, Lauren found herself growing surprisingly angry.
“Who was it?”
“Jockhead and John Fitini,” Mike answered.
“Why do you let them do it to you, Mike?” Her free hand was across her brow, and her eyes were narrowing.
“Strong rule the weak.”
“There’s nothing about them that’s strong, Mike. You should know that by now. They bully you because they know they can bully you. They make you feel weak and they look strong. They make you look worthless and they feel important.”
She swerved into a turn so sharply, her tires squealed. “That’s delusion of every bully. There’s nothing strong about them. They’re weak and violent and stupid. They wouldn’t pick on you if they thought you’d fight back.”
“…Whoa, there, Danica Patrick. We don’t have to go all Starsky and Hutch emergency ward. Let’s be happy in the thought somebody will shoot them someday.”
“I’m angry at you, Mike, not them.”
“You mope through life. No goals. Schlubbing along. C’mon, you’re almost out of high school.”
“Why do you care?”
“We were friends,” he said, before she’d finished, “before puberty turned you into you and me into a schlub.”
Lauren drove on. She began to calm down. He was right. That clinical, cold pecking order that is high school swept him off the A-list and she barely ever spoke to him again. Shame began to replace her anger, and she thought of the childhood friends she’d allowed to fall away.
“Besides, are you angry at me – or Jepp?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, a little startled. She snorted, absolutely unconvincingly, at the idea.
“You cut him dead at school. He’s as invisible to you as I am; only I’m not in your Christmas pictures.”
“Mind your own business, Mike.”
“I didn’t tell you to mind your own business,” he answered.
Mike looked out the window and tried to look nonchalant. Lauren wondered if she’d hurt his feelings. She reached over and touched his hand and he jerked it away. “You can leave me here,” he said. She kept driving, although the awkwardness in the cab strangled both of them.
Occasionally, as they drove on, he’d glimpse Lauren’s reflection in the odometer cover. She has very merry eyes, Mike thought; they squinted when she smiled and lent her face a tart, fresh delight. Lauren’s lips were just full enough, and her upper front teeth showed prettily when she talked. Something fresh, she was, very much like everything he wanted.
After awhile he asked, “Is this a kidnapping?” And she blew a chuckle through her lips. She reached over and pinched his cheek, then playfully slapped the spot gently. “I’m riding with The Godfather,” he said, and this time she busted out a big, honest laugh.
Just before they got to his house, she apologized. Mike got out of the car and looked back in, genuine and honest. “You’ve gotta let people be themselves, Lauren.”
She tried to say something. Her mouth moved but nothing came out. She knew Mike didn’t intend it that way, but he’d punched a much-denied fact right through her.
Watching her slowly car drive away, Mike thought to himself how impossible it would be for anyone else to be like Lauren.
She had trouble steering the car, and wiped her eyes. Damn it, she thought. …Typical crybaby girlie girl. She looked at her eyes in the rearview, dabbing them with a tissue while dangerously navigating at the same time. Lauren reached up sarıyer escort and angled the mirror toward her.
“You don’t have to be me, Jepp.”
That night, she came to Jepp’s door after brushing her teeth. She stuck in her head and wished him goodnight, then a shy but genuine smile. Jepp smiled back, a little puzzled. Gradually, over a long months, Lauren eased off him; she felt she understood his creeping alienation with her own anxiety about the end of school. She began to feel sorry for him and resolved to never let that show.
Once, after offering to help him apply to schools, she turned and sauntered to her door, and Jepp watched that charming little wiggle she’d always had. It seemed different now; it seemed more impressive to him in a way he didn’t want to admit. Jepp had noticed her olive branch. He noticed and liked it, especially when she made a point of coming to his door to say goodnight. He knew, in his heart, she pitied him, and that stung him deeply.
Each day, from then on, Lauren began taking the same route as Jepp leaving school. She didn’t know why, and wouldn’t admit the little pang of excitement she felt when she saw his car. Taking this scenic route rambled far out a wide loop to the outskirts of town, and Lauren knew that was where Dena lived. Sometimes Lauren saw Jepp’s car at Dena’s house and felt pangs of anger and hurt. She told herself it was concern for Jepp, that she simply felt the girl wasn’t good enough for him. There was only a tiny molecule in her that knew this explanation was utter nonsense, that jealousy had been a rare though familiar companion since she was 11, and saw Beverly Danridge kissing Robbie Carter – her secret Robbie – at a birthday party.
In a house that once was better maintained, Jepp and Dena would flop on the sofa and familiarize themselves with each other’s bodies. He didn’t particularly like being there, since it seemed smothered with the darkness that so struck her family.
Once, at the beginning of the year, Jepp confessed to Dena that his sister pitied him and he didn’t like it.
“C’mon,” Dena said with an impish grin. “She worships you.”
“You’re out of your mind.”
“Oh, she may be pissed at you – because you’re not an A-type, heart-attack-at-45 like her,” she continued, rolling a joint. “But… no… You’re still the big guy in her life.”
Jepp made a pffft sound. Dena put down the finished joint and took a sip of beer. She bobbed up to her knees beside him and twisted a finger in his hair.
“Question is…. how do you feel about her?”
“OK. I guess. She’s my sister, Dena.”
Jepp looked at her and shook his head. “You don’t know my sister,” he said, studying Dena’s deeply dimpled chin, so much like Lauren’s.
“I know her better than you.” Dena said. “We have one big thing in common.”
She tipped his head up with a single finger under his chin and kissed him. It took it’s time getting done. Coming up for air, he looked at Dena and shook his head. Then he smiled to let her know he didn’t take her seriously. It wasn’t how he felt, though, not really. Finally, he kissed her again, just to keep her shut up.
The first warm day of the year, everyone gathered at the Rockpile, a natural pool in the foothills above town. On one side were jocks and wannabes, on the other, everyone else. Jepp’s friends were in a tiny knot near the side without shade.
“Your brother ever gets tired of his hippie poets?” Gary sneered at Lauren, gulping a beer. She was a little tired at all the bellowing and noise. Her boyfriend beat his chest and made chimp sounds when he wasn’t customizing his laugh to be as harsh and scary as possible – as did all the athletes. She made a mental jot to dump the asshole before summer.
Gary yelled, “Jepp brought the whole Spahn Ranch.” Then Fitini, for whom Lauren had all the affection she held for grass stains, chimed in: “Fan boys! Riot Grrrlz! Let the jack-off begin!”
Shooting a sizzling glare over her shoulder, she spat at Gary, “I told you not to bring that jerk.” Gary shrugged a “what could I do” gesture. Eventually, to Lauren’s relief, the monkey cage grew settled. Behind her sunglasses, and turning her head occasionally, she froze to her face an amused grin to seem immersed in Rockpile’s tackling-dummy spirit and yet stay a billion miles away. Sometimes she’d catch a word and nod or say something with a laugh. But she was light years from everyone in her physical proximity. Lauren was on the other side of the pond, sizing up Jepp’s girlfriend with growing distaste.
Dena already had some ink on her arms and sometimes wore her nose ring to school. Lauren had to admit she was quite beautiful. Many of the jocks, today, eyeing her particle-bit bikini whistled and echoed Gary’s charming Cheetah act. Dena’s butt was half-exposed, her breasts all but falling out. Wonder why she bothered to wear anything, Lauren thought.
But what really began to scald Lauren was how Dena just couldn’t seem to keep her hands off Jepp. çapa escort Was she afraid her little sex battery would sizzle out if she broke connection? It was if she was auditioning to be his new skin layer; it was impossible for Dena to burrow herself deeper into him. It was astounding Jepp could breathe.
Dena simply wasn’t good enough for him, and when the time was right, Lauren promised herself to tell Jepp just that.
Dena plopped on her towel and unstrung her bra, waving a middle finger at the jocks as they went wild. For a moment, Lauren was impressed at how deeply Dena’s spine rutted the length of her back. She understood the erotic component of their relationship. She’s very sexy, Lauren told herself. …In a cheap, vulgar way. And she broiled some more.
Suddenly, Gary banged into her, almost knocking the Coke from her hand. He was horsing around with the other Godzillas. Lauren rolled away from him, walked to the water’s edge and waded in. Up to her chin in a few moments, she swam away from everyone, over to the sheer rock cliff from which the thin waterfall sprang. Swimming under it, she squealed as it bathed her head. She was in the deepest part of the quarry, now. And that’s when the cramp hit her with a jolt.
Her body folded on her, dunking her head underwater. She came up sputtering. Don’t panic, she told herself. The tightness paralyzed her trunk, so moving her legs was difficult, foiling her attempts to tread water. Lauren went under. She held her breath going down but the cramp was lodged just under her ribs and she couldn’t inhale deeply. Slowly, she rose, broke the surface and sank again before she could inhale. She tried to keep water out of her nose and throat; slowly, she raised again, her starved windpipe in ripping pain. This time, she barely surfaced at all, and then she saw the rippling light receding above her. She thought she could hear her friends, laughing, unaware. It was all spinning around her, a slow carnival ride, light getting dim. Water poured into her nose and throat and she gagged. But, then, she calmed. This was how it was. It wasn’t that bad. Eternity was just there, so close. She wasn’t scared. Everything began to blur in darkness.
The water exploded in bubbles around her and Lauren thought a war-movie torpedo had roared into her. She felt strong arms around her, and she was tight against someone’s trunk; together they powerfully launched to the surface. She burst with her helpful rocket into sunlight, and she gripped a neck tightly, spewing water down a familiar back. Lauren gurgled and tried to hold her head up, then more water poured out of her, then her lunch. She gagged and groaned.
Lauren felt something solid, not against her skin, but inside her. She looked down and through bleary eyes realized her rescuer had swept her up and was carrying her to shore; it was footsteps on solid earth she felt bumping up through them. She looked up and saw Jepp’s face inches from her own. He was looking at her intently, almost furious with concern. Lauren leaned her head against his chest. His muscle wasn’t rock hard, she noted. It was very solid, though. Resting against him was the easiest thing she could remember ever doing.
Very gently, like she was made of priceless china, he put her down on her towel. Everyone was around them now, and gradually the noise of their attention surrounded her in a static roar. Looking the other way, she was face to face with Dena, again, inches away. She saw her mouth “Are you OK?” fear in her eyes, and sound of the words came in garbled, as if from across the Milky Way. She felt strong hands gently clasp her face and turn her head. Jepp now was looking deep into her eyes, as if searching for absolute proof she was fully back to life.
Lauren nodded to Dena and tried to smile. “Get some water,” Dena commanded the crowd, and gently put a cup under her mouth to drink. Lauren sputtered again, and then swallowed some. Blinking, she made a ‘thumbs up’ signal. Now self-consciousness and embarrassment at being so helpless, and center of attention so unwanted, washed over her.
Jepp told her, in clear words now, that he was taking her home. But Gary elbowed in and demanded to do it. “We’ll go by mom’s house. She’s a nurse.” Jepp and Lauren looked at each other, and she nodded again, making an A-OK sign this time, and winking.
Then she smiled sweetly to him, and blew him a kiss. He did the same.
A couple of weeks later, as she followed him discreetly home, Lauren came upon Jepp parked on the roadside, unloading his jack. Getting out of her own car, she mentioned absent-mindedly that he should get a newer one. “How does that thing keep running?” When he didn’t respond, she knew she’d poked his eye. It was another reminder, another judgment of his status and value. She wanted to apologize, but knew that would only make it worse.
Instead, Lauren grabbed the jack, making some explanation that she needed practice changing tires. Jepp helped her only slightly, amazed at her brisk energy, how adept she was with the tire iron, popping off bolts. Finished in about five minutes, she stood at the trunk replacing – in perfect order – the car jack with all its accoutrements. With her legs shown off in shameless cutoffs, Jepp was mesmerized by their length and golden tone, especially by the sheen behind her knees.
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