• track recommendation: Two Birds – Regina Spektor

 

Dr. Barlow smiles wistfully because he knows he is right. The room is all white walls and silver utensils, aesthetically sterilized in that way I’ve always been too familiar with, so I don’t really have anywhere to look except at the x-ray sheets. I stare into their glossy blackness until Dr. Barlow flips on the backlight and a muted glow reflects ghostly tracings of ribs and femurs into his thick-framed glasses. When he crosses his arms, the nametag on his coat gets pinned under his right hand and I can’t read the word oncologist from where I know it sits under the bolded letters of his last name. For a second I wonder how old he is, since the unwrinkled corners of his eyes and the young, sharp line of his jaw make him sort of look like some college frat guy trying to pass himself off as House for Halloween.

His lips are pulling up under his nose because he’s waiting for me to say something else, but I’m still transfixed on the wispy spiderweb tendrils that are messing up the insides of the bones, handfuls of eraser shavings smudging the images like some little kid might’ve been trying to correct where he’d drawn outside of the lines.

“Ewing’s sarcoma doesn’t typically metastasize through the ribcage,” Dr. Barlow starts, half-heartedly gesturing to one of the sheets as his words tumble out in an obscure ramble, because he knows I don’t really care either way.

“I have it.”

“Look, I’m sorry…” he unfolds his arms and rubs his fingers into his temples when my face twists with a scowl. “Emily, you actually do not–”

“Check my goddamn bones,” my voice cuts its way out my throat and I decide I like the seething sound of the curse word in my mouth. “I have it. I know I do.”

The intensifying throb of one particularly thick vein bulging up through Dr. Barlow’s forehead and into his hairline is my first clue that he’s angry. Unfortunately for him, he’s not allowed to be angry; he went to medical school to specialize in things like Always Using a Weirdly Gentle Voice and Pretending to Be Understanding because the most important part of his profession is Informing People They Are Dying and also doing so without making them upset. That, and I guess it could be debatably amateurish to yell at the likes of a nineteen-year-old community college drop-out.

I point at the spindly ribs and swollen femur. “Look at those.”

“You and Eve–”

Evangeline.” I say. (Eve hates being called by her full name, but Dr. Barlow doesn’t know this and I’m really just correcting him for the sake of being argumentative.)

“Right. I know you are worried about Evangeline because–”

“I can feel it!” It doesn’t feel like shouting but Dr. Barlow recoils fractionally. Now my fingers are sort of shaking when I jab them into my chest. “It’s there, I know, I have to have it!”

“Just because Evangeline is your sister,” for some reason that I absolutely hate, Dr. Barlow’s voice is still slow and smooth like spilled honey, “does not mean that–”

“She’s my twin, my conjoined twin! We used to be, like, physically attached, do you get that? We’re made of the same stuff, our DNA is identical and as far as I understand that pretty much makes us the same person, so if she has it, then I have it.”

Breathing is suddenly a difficult exercise. It’s almost like my lungs have come into recent knowledge that oxygen is now a nonrenewable resource and they’re trying to get as much as they can before it runs out. My hands wind themselves together to hide their quivering, burrow into my collarbones with the hope that maybe they can just pull the cancer out and show him.

Four minutes pass before my heart starts to settle and Dr. Barlow talks again.

“Evangeline is your twin, Emily. But these are her scans, not yours. This is her diagnosis, yes, and your DNA is the same, yes. But you have never been the same person, Emily, nor will you ever be. Her condition holds absolutely no prediction of you suffering from the same.”

Dr. Barlow takes his glasses off and flicks the x-rays black.

 

* * *

 

When we were little Eve always told me she knew what it felt like.

“I really did,” she’d say over a mismatched pile of her Barbies and my Beanie Babies, her words whipping up into a whispered tempest of six-year-old persuasiveness. “I felt when they cut us.”

I would look over at her and my own green eyes would flash back at me. She was like turning and noticing that my reflection suddenly seemed to know more about me than I did.

“Nuh-uh,” Back then my voice never came out as certain as hers. “Daddy said so. They put us asleep so it didn’t hurt and stuff.”

“No, I remember. I felt it.” She’d pause then, pick up one particular Barbie and grasp it firmly in her hand. With just a little twist the plastic leg would come away with a soft pop and then Eve would present me with the two pieces. “Just like that. But ‘cause they used the little knives they had to go really super slow.”

I’d watch her fingernail trace the edge of the tiny hole where the doll’s leg used to be with practiced precision. My own hands were always preoccupied with my favorite pair of cat Beanie Babies, their soft bodies pinched tightly by the shoelace I’d used to tie them firmly together.

“…Did it hurt a lot?” This I’d say quietly, because our housekeeper Filomena would be coming down the stairs by then, and she always hushed us in an accented flurry when Eve talked about the ending of our conjoinment.

My reflection would nod and touch two fingers to the corners of her eyes.

“I saw them, all the red lines.”

¡Ah, no, no!” Filomena never failed to interrupt in a flustered collecting up and fixing of the legless Barbie. “¿Otra vez? Mis muñequitas…”

But it never quite moved the same with how many times Eve pulled it apart.

 

* * *

 

Our room is so thick with the smell of chemotherapeutics that I almost don’t hear them. I’m not sure what exactly I hate more: the reek of the drugs scalding the insides of my nostrils or thinking about the nausea I imagine must fester inside of a person when it’s all shot up into their veins. I guess tonight I could say I’m morbidly grateful for it, since the thrumming headache that’s resulting from excessive inhalation has numbed the sound of my parents to a tolerable level.

They pretty much always argue now.

Especially on the nights when Eve has her home treatments.

Part of me wants to be understanding about the whole affair — they both work all day to stay on top of the medical bills, coming home beat and exhausted, not particularly looking forward to stringing their daughter up to her IV drip and checking on hourly intervals to see if she pukes up dinner — but the rest of me thinks they don’t quite get that they’re being Guinness World Record Holding Selfish Assholes like 89% of the time.

Eve’s laying down here with this sick, tinted-red toxin seeping into her and they just stand upstairs in the kitchen yelling over the top of one another. About who’s working more hours and who’s gonna take her to the next doctor’s appointment. About paying the bills, not staying optimistic enough and shit, the whole “you’re better than I am at getting the needle in her arm” thing.

I’m the one who does that half the time anyway. But the only part of “I’m dropping out of MCC to help take care of my dying sister” that they really heard was the “I’m dropping out of MCC.”

Mom’s voice breaks and I hear her start crying.

On the other side of our room, Eve shifts an infinitesimal degree and her long eyelashes just barely flicker to tell me she’s not asleep like she’s been pretending to be. I only count out 47 seconds in my head before she moves uncomfortably again so I open my mouth and say,

“John Green or Jason Myers tonight?”

Her mouth manages the ghost of a smile like she’s been waiting for me to ask. But Eve’s a biochemistry whiz that was supposed to go to Berkeley and I’m the washed up English major so she answers with just, “Elaborate.”

“Heartfelt, sentimental existentialism or the gnarly druggie memoirs of a San Franciscan?”

“What breed of druggies are we talking about?”

“Oxy, coke, MJ, a dash of meth, the whole thing.”

Now her smile is real even though I can still tell it hurts.

“Sounds like my cup of tea,” she goes.

Once I’ve decided on picking Dead End from the organized chaos that is my haphazard bookshelf, I cross the room and sit in my usual spot beside Eve’s narrow bed. I thumb through the overzealously highlighted pages, until my sister rolls over ever-so-slowly and drops a pale hand down on to my shoulder so I know she’s listening. Her fingers find the collar of my shirt and tug it to the side until they feel the skin of my neck; when the chemo makes her voice too raspy, she taps me once for the parts she doesn’t care for and twice for the parts she does.

I clear my throat and start reading.

There has to be blame and there has to be reasons,

Right away, Eve produces a mumbled “Ahh, I like this,” that’s only just barely audible over the even sound of my own voice.

“…and there has to be answers and if nobody can adequately accept the blame and give a sufficient reason and provide an answer, the love, now matter how strong it is, the family, no matter how tight it is, the life, no matter how good it is, will always buckle, then snap, then drown completely under the pressure of itself,”

I draw out all the words so Eve can keep pace with me through her medicated fog, the twinge of grit that usually hardens my voice softening as her hand twitches against me before the end of the first paragraph. It doesn’t take much to put her to sleep.

When you’re fighting all the time, you get pretty damn tired after awhile.

The door at the top of the stairs creaks open. My words fumble over one another as a symphony of shivering glass sings under their argument, the thumping of Dad’s fist on the kitchen counter making Mom’s good china rattle nervously in the cupboards.

Elderly footsteps kiss their way down the carpeted stairs and I know they’re Filomena’s because there are still two voices battling each other in the kitchen, gradually muffled by the closing door. The Jason Myers book flips shut in my hands and finds a hiding place under my folded legs. (Though Filomena’s English is just a step above broken, she’s always had a ear for esos libros pecanimosos, and three are missing from my collection from the other times she caught me reading them to Eve).

My sister makes a sleepy noise low in her throat.

I catch my thumbnail between my teeth.

“Feather pillows,” I start, and Filomena’s effervescent humming quiets, an apologetic thundercloud rasping to herself as she floats about, cleaning the dusty corners of our room.

I make the words up as I go. My eyes drift up to trace out constellations in the glow-in-the-dark stars we stuck to the ceiling.

“There’s a small wing in the hospital, that nobody visits … lined with thin, narrow beds not nearly as comfortable as clouds … filled with little, winged children whose moltings are tucked under their heads …”

I don’t hear Filomena humming anymore.

“Ivory fingers to kiss at the crowds of needles burrowing in tiny chests, heaving with the discipled breaths collected in jars and sold on the shelves … strings of silver IVs pumping them full of good will and faith because … nowadays there’s not enough to go around, y’know …  for sickly, hanging halos to believe in themselves.”

Filomena’s charcoal eyes are glimmering by the time I finish. She has her tiny, wrinkled hands clasped to her chest and a gentle smile worn into her tired face. When her thin lips start mouthing to me the only word I understand is mija.

I lean my forehead into my sister’s hand and her fingers flicker two times.

 

* * *

 

All the local news stations ran stories the day we were born.

The Collins girls, the Siamese twins.

We were an urban myth, one of those headlines that stay-at-home housewives twittered about over the phone while their husbands were at work, more whimsically unsettling than actually true.

We were a miracle, too, when the surgery proved successful.

Then we were real.

I was eight years old but I would always perfectly recall the newspaper article I found in the back of our Nana’s closet. We’d been playing hide-and-go-seek and technically it was off limits but Eve was still counting and Nana was busy preparing breakfast. I was stooping to crouch behind a curtain of thick, winter coats when the flimsy paper crinkled under my feet. I jumped at the sound of Nana’s deft fingers cracking an egg against the edge of a pan. The warm aroma of frying bacon crawled in from down the hall.

It was printed in color, faded with the time spent tucked under the coats: two pale infants fused together chest to chest, the lines of where one began and the other ended impossible to distinguish. Wide, bold letters printed above us read “COLLINS TWINS’ SURGERY RISK TOO HIGH.”

Only one of our faces was puckered with a wail.

Nana eventually called for breakfast and I crunched my bacon in silence because for the first time I was certain I knew something my sister did not.

 

* * *

 

Eve’s head rolls back, the bridge of her nose crinkling up as her whole body shakes with laughter. And it’s not the breathless or half-hearted kind that the family’s grown accustomed to, it’s the old tinkling wind-chime laugh that I’ve nearly forgotten. If her ribs ache at all, it doesn’t show.

She starts talking hurriedly between bouts of giggling, her voice turning light and lively with an accent almost identical to Filomena’s as she trills in Spanish faster than the rest of us can understand. Filomena is nodding enthusiastically with a broad, pearly smile I haven’t seen in more months than I can count on two hands. I’m laying on the couch letting myself get caught up in their teasing banter instead trying to figure out how Eve’s the only one out of the two of us who’s fluent, like I usually do. (She’s always been the smarter twin, after all, even though language is supposed to be my speciality).

Dad rumbles with his own laugh and reaches for Mom’s hand.

Ven, ven, Eva!” Filomena chirps, holding out her arms like a mother coaxing a baby to walk. “Pie de su abuelita, Eva!

Eve jacks her elbows up, bracing her hands on the armrests of her wheelchair. She looks up at Filomena and grins. She turns to me and winks one eye like watch this, sis.

Breath sucks in through her teeth and she pushes hard. A thin vein in her left elbow pops out. Her knuckles start to turn white. A tiny squeak of effort jumps out her mouth. But, swaying precariously, Eve stands up. She shuffles her right foot forward, then the left, the right again.

Mom touches the hand that isn’t wrapped up with Dad’s to the dip where her collarbones almost meet.

When Eve reaches out and finds Filomena’s outstretched hands, the whole family’s already whooping and hollering. Dad runs into the kitchen to pop a bottle of wine and high fives me on his way back to the couch. Then Filomena starts singing, Eve harmonizing with her.

Their arms sway back and forth as they dance to their own music.

 

My eyes flash open and the alarm clock glows 2:13 am.

The three flips into four and our bedroom explodes with light.

“LUKA!” Mom is screaming Dad’s name. “LUKA, LUKA!”

I’m twisting over and kicking off my sheets but it doesn’t occur to me that anything is wrong until her mouth opens again and she shrieks for him to call the hospital.

At the top of the stairs Filomena keeps whisking the sign of the cross over her chest.

Dad runs and cradles Eve in his arms and a dripping trail of scarlet follows.

The air is heavy with a mix of vomit and iron.

 

One of the overnight nurses has a watch on his wrist running nineteen minutes late. I’m studying the tiny numbers, on my way to the vending machine, about to figure out it’s 4:27 am, when it happens.

I know, because I feel it.

My vision blurs, the whole world suddenly spinning too fast for me to keep up. I’m drowning and trying to gasp for oxygen but every time my lips pull apart this horrid, high-pitched keening fills the waiting room and I hate the sound. It spills out over the floor like water.

The people in scrubs are scattering about, swarming me like fevered ants.

An earthquake starts behind my ribs, breaking open my chest with snaking cracks. Then my heart turns over and each frantic beat is like the rhythmic thumping of an axehead, hacking through the bone and sinew, carving a path between my lungs. Trying to fight its way out.

Filomena’s incensed scent envelops me and for just a moment I feel warm. I can hear her murmuring fervently in my ear, I think, but all I hear is mija, mija, mija, and I just want to scream that I don’t know what she’s saying and I don’t understand and I’ll never understand because my sister was the one who spoke Spanish not me.

The nurse with the out-of-time watch is here, his lips moving but no words coming out. What’s wrong with her, are the shapes his mouth is making, Is she sick?

I close my eyes and all I see is such red, red lines.

A flat alarm wails from down the hall.

Saudade,” Filomena sobs for me. “En portugués, saudade, saudade…

The sad hands of a clock hung above the sliding EXIT doors point at six and five when Dr. Barlow leans heavily on the white counter to inform me that I am an only child.

 

* * *

 

I always wore a braid.

Our hair was the same color, seemed to grow at exactly the same pace, and I was too insistent on trying to be different. I’d wind the length of it together with a practiced weaving until it hung down between my shoulders and reached almost to my waist.

The bathroom was so quiet I think I was afraid to move. My own green eyes, not my sister’s, blinked certainly back through the mirror despite the knots in my stomach. They slid sideways to check the cord and make sure it hadn’t squirmed out of the socket when I wasn’t looking. I could feel the feathered curl of the braid’s very end tickling bare skin at the small of my back.

I adjusted my fingers, made sure I had a steady grip.

My thumb clicked the switch and instantaneous vibrations shook down my wrist and buzzed furiously into my palm. As my other hand found a firm grasp on the braid and tugged it to the side, I equivalated the hum of my father’s clippers to what I imagined an unenthused tattoo gun must’ve sounded like.

I didn’t even hear the door whisk open but when I looked up again there were two versions of me standing in the mirror: one half-naked and the other with her hair already gone. She stood stoic, glared at me with twin pieces of hard, splintered jade. When the door swung back into her walker and nearly pushed her sideways, I didn’t know whether I wanted to fumble to help her into the bathroom or yell at her for not leaving me alone.

“What the hell are you doing?” Eve said.

Her brand-new Cal sweatshirt was only a size medium, but I noticed how it still enveloped her thinned frame, how it sagged low enough that she wore it as a collegiate nightgown.

“Nothing that requires your consent.”

I might have felt bad about the frigid rebuttal had my twin not fired back a “Oh shut the fuck up, Em,” at least 15 degrees colder. I’d never heard Eve swear in her life but I guess I sort of figured she had a right to it.

“You’re not shaving your hair,” she announced. One of her willowy hands reached up to tug the beanie she’d taken to wearing off her head. The bathroom lights gleamed off her bald scalp.

“I look like Vin Diesel,” she’d said.

I fought to swallow my laughter because I wanted to stay angry at her. She fumbled with tugging the beanie back into place before hobbling noisily across the bathroom floor, yanking the plug from the wall with the proclamation: “Boys don’t ask Vin Diesel to prom.”

I growled back with, “I’m not going to prom.”

“Yeah, you sure as hell aren’t if you keep up with this, cause Desmond Woods isn’t gonna take a hairless chick as his date.”

I remember I’d only barely gotten my mouth open to offer any sort of objection before my sister whipped a spidery finger at me.

“Ohmygosh, don’t even try,” she’d hissed, my own voice taunting me. “Everyone knows you think Desmond Woods is the dreamiest.”

“No one even says dreamy anymore.”

“Rumor has it he thinks you’re cute, dude.” She swung the clippers’ power cord lazily. I blinked at her, my defensive snarl evaporating instantaneously.

“You’re lying. Eve. Shut up.”

She winked and wheeled back for the bathroom door, but then she’d stopped and turned back over her shoulder to inform me that, “he likes when you wear it down waaay more than the braid.”

We watched each other through the mirror. Eve’s chapped mouth pulled into a smirk identical to the one twisting into my face.

“Thanks for the style advice, Vin,” I said.

Eve’s shaking fingers turned to flip me the bird.

“Ride or die, baby.”

 

* * *

 

I come to the conclusion that church is just excessive gatherings of really old people every Sunday morning. They’re like religious pilgrims, all trying desperately to punch their last-chance tickets on the Mayflower to eternal life in heaven or whatever.

I’m the youngest person in the building by at least thirty years, if you don’t count my parents. The pews are packed full of them: wrinkled faces and readjusted hearing aids and wooden canes. One super ancient guy in the front actually has those oxygen nubbins wrapped up under his nostrils.

Mom shifts in her seat, uncrossing and recrossing her legs. Dad pulls at his tie uncomfortably. I realize this is the first time he’s worn one since Eve’s service three weeks ago.

The pastor-in-training dude (pretty much Dr. Barlow: Holy Edition) has been yammering on for what I think’s been almost 45 minutes. There’s this huge wooden cross suspended from the ceiling behind him with strings of Christmas lights all tangled around it, which seems a little morbid to me. I mean, people used to get literally nailed to these things, and nowadays crafty Christian moms probably get together to make life-size decorative replications of historic torture devices. I find one tiny lightbulb among the knots that shines significantly brighter than its companions. In the middle, where the two panels of wood intersect, right smack dab in the center of Jesus’ ribcage.

I decide the too-young pastor could almost be sort of attractive if it weren’t for the wannabe Duck Dynasty beard frizzing off the bottom half of his face. It’s almost hard to see his mouth moving through the jungle of the thing. Now he starts with this pseudo-miraculous backstory about how he used to be totally into coke but now he’s totally not and that Jesus totally saved him.

My wandering gaze pulls back to the DIY cross when my extra-bright Christmas light flickers. To be fair, I’m trying pretty hard to listen but all I can think about is asking what it’s like to snort cocaine.

His next statement he repeats three times with such radically varying degrees of enunciation – like he’s impressed himself with his own profoundness – that I unwillingly tune into what he’s saying.

“When God welcomes us back to heaven… He will mend broken and sick bodies, and he will resurrect us… Better and new.”

My lip curls. This annoyed snort comes out my nose.

“So what?” I hiss under my breath. “Like Eve wouldn’t be good enough for the angels with all the cancer in her bones?”

Mom covers her mouth with a hand and her eyelashes flutter. As she lifts from her seat to slip out for the sanctuary’s big oak doors, the hem of her skirt whisks across my lap. Dad loosens his tie considerably before following her.

I sit alone in the pew long enough to see my little light sputter out.

 

* * *

The sparkly, elastic band of my corsage had been vaguely itchy but I didn’t take it off.

It was a meticulous braiding of ivory and purple and magenta, with dark ribbons blossoming up around the delicate snowy petals. (I hadn’t been aware that I liked orchids, let alone flowers, until Desmond Woods had fastened one to my wrist).

His palm sweated against mine as we walked. He’d knotted our fingers together as soon as he’d picked me up off my house’s front porch, and hadn’t let go since. I kept my eyes down on my bare feet softly kissing the black pavement because I’d been horribly nervous that if I dared a look at him he might’ve let go of my hand.

“Want these back?” He swung my pair of heels that he had offered to carry when I’d started to complain.

“No, no, no!” I laughed. “I don’t really like shoes…” The gravity of his river-blue gaze drew my own up to steal glances at his charmingly off-set jaw and crooked smile.

“Me neither.”

Both our faces had blazed a flustered red then, his hand squeezed mine a fraction tighter as he looked up at the moon, a gleaming reminder of how many hours we had left.

We’d finally reached his old hand-me-down pickup truck. He spun me to leftover music we heard thrumming back in the auditorium. I’d fumbled over my own two feet and he pulled me into his chest.

I had fit like a puzzle piece between his arms; the tips of our noses bumped before our lips found one another and sewed together.

“Soooo, what now, Emily Collins?” he’d said, and I wondered how he managed to speak so easily when my mouth still felt numb with the taste of him.

For a heartbeat I became so fascinated with the patterns of freckled constellations splayed over the bridge of his nose that I’d forgotten to actually say anything.

I chewed the inside of my cheek and asked, “Do you wanna smoke pot?”

“Em, I, uh… I’ve never really done that…”

“Me neither.”

 

I remember how Desmond’s eyes stretched into miniature blue moons and his eyebrows lept to hide in his hairline when I dropped Eve’s green medicinal bottle in his car’s cupholder.

We watched thick tendrils of smoke curl up from one another’s lungs like thick ghostly snakes, and after I got lost in his mouth, looking for the universe I knew existed behind his lips.

 

* * *

 

Mom doesn’t tear up like I expect her to. Dad chuckles and shakes his head.

I stand there in front of them pulling on my fingers with the words still hanging heavy in the air, wondering if they’re actually going to verbalize any sort of response. Maybe yell or ask if I know that I’ve thrown my life away like normal parents would. Next to me Desmond swallows loud enough to hear.

“Sweetheart,” Dad says, “You’re a little ahead of schedule.”

 

Three months later I come downstairs and Dad looks up at me over the top of yesterday’s newspaper and his reading glasses. I sit down to the breakfast Filomena has already prepared for me. She claps her small pico-de-gallo-smelling hands as I take the vitamins she’s picked for me, and when she goes to work braiding my long hair I feel Dad still staring and I think he must see the both of us.

Another two months I’m pacing my too-big room, alternating between complaining about my stomach and reading out loud to soothe my persistent nausea, and Desmond tells me to just lay down. He sprawls back on Eve’s old bed. His calloused hand smoothes out a spot on the comforter for me to curl next to him. I crawl between the covers instead and he reaches under my shirt to draw finger patterns on my belly.

 

It isn’t until month eight that I let Mom drive me to the OB instead of asking Desmond.

A nurse-practitioner leads us down the hall (the deep, dark color of her skin makes her look like she’s chocolate that’s been poured into the mold of her scrubs) and gives me a reassuring smile when she checks my age on a chart. The painted-pink room she opens for us feels so suddenly small that I nervously grasp Mom’s hand.

I let the nurse push up my loose-fitting shirt because I don’t know if I should pull it myself; when she hesitates, hovering over the hiked-up waist of my sister’s old yoga pants, I wiggle them down for her. My whole body tenses in preemptive protest to the wand she circles onto my abdomen, but this time the ultrasound gel feels warm on my skin.

“I heated it up for you,” she says. “A little better?”

Before I can nod or say anything she’s looking over at the little screen. First it’s kind of hard to see anything in the swirling, black-and-gray shapes but then she’s pointing at two tiny knees, the curve of a forehead, a pinkie finger.

Mom blinks all bewildered and asks, “…Did you two at least try and use protection?”

“Nope.” We both know that the charts and screens and tests always tell the truth so I don’t really bother lying to her. Mom just starts laughing like a hyena at her own joke, and I do too, and then she kisses my forehead.

“That’ll do it.” Hershey Nurse says.

 

It’s on a Monday, just before the morning peeks into a sunrise, that I lie in a hospital bed with wisps of hair slicked to my sweating temples. My fingers grip Desmond so hard that my nails leave red lines on the back of his hand. I think it takes hours, days even, but Dad’s watch says it’s only been forty-five minutes when a shrill crying interrupts my panting.

“Boy,” Desmond echoes the doctor, whispering the word like praise. “A boy, Em.”

Mom holds him first, cradling him like a tiny world she has to hold together.

“Evan,” I tell her.

She starts to cry when she says, “I think he has your sister’s eyes.”

Evan’s little mouth smiles like he knows she is right.

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