I swam lengths in the outdoor Olympic-sized pool at the Aquatic Center and tried to clear my head. Today was the four-year anniversary of “the accident,” when my twin sister Alyx went missing and I was rescued. I still couldn’t really remember what the hell had happened. They told me she drowned. Bullshit.
People dealt with trauma in different ways. And whatever had happened to me must have been super traumatic, otherwise I’d remember more. That’s what my shrink, Dr. Jergenson, told me. But what did she know? I flipped directions at the pool end and launched off the concrete side, enjoying the water against my body.
I finished my lap and climbed out. Water dripped from my skin. I flicked drops from my hands to the green-tiled pool deck and began to stretch. For now, I had the entire pool to myself. Coach Davis had let me in early.
Tonight was the last water polo game of my senior year. We were playing against Central High, our biggest rival. There was a lot at stake. I needed time alone before my team arrived. I thought of Alyx. She’d be proud of our winning streak.
The sun hung at a low angle in the sky, and my reflection in the pool’s surface caught my eye. I looked down into the clear, blue water. For a moment, I imagined it was Alyx reflected there.
She stood with her hands on her hips, dark hair, green eyes, body lean and strong in her white and red team swimsuit. The lines of the pool lanes shimmered gently back and forth in the water like long, black snakes. I leaned closer. Suddenly, Alyx stuck her tongue out. I nearly fell in the water.
Rubbing the water from my eyes, I looked again. Now it was only me reflected in the pool, staring back with my usual anxious expression. Hurrying off the deck, I headed down the steep, concrete steps to the showers.
* * *
“Alysa!” Charlie shouted as she lobbed the ball to me and backstroked farther down the pool. I swam hard, swooped the ball behind me and passed it to Tracy at the last second.
We had a decent crowd for the girls’ team. Friends and family clustered in the bleachers on a muggy evening. I played hard, ignoring the pangs of anxiety that buzzed in my stomach. I circled around FloAnn, Central’s best player, and into a cluster of defenders. Not a strategy that made sense, but I followed instinct. Sure enough, Tracy got penned in. We made eye contact, and she threw the ball over.
I swam fast, dodging FloAnn’s elbow, which nearly smashed me in the eye. She pulled every trick she could get away with during a game. Without pause, I headed straight up the center. Only halfway across the pool, with seconds remaining, I launched the ball as hard as I could toward the net. I let out a primal whoop as the ball whipped past the goalie and into the net before the buzzer sounded.
The crowd went wild. Well, it wasn’t exactly a crowd. Our high school isn’t big, and this was water polo, not the most popular sport, even in Hawaii. But we had at least forty or fifty peeps, and they roared. We’d nailed the final game of the year 8-7 and made a school team record for most wins.
“Yeah, Alysa! You rock! Kick ass!” Dad hollered. I gave him the peace symbol, but I wished he’d chill. Embarrassing.
FloAnn scowled, her jaw clenched. I puckered my lips and blew a small kiss. Her face changed from red to mottled red and faded to white, lips pressed in a thin, straight line. As easy and dangerous as teasing a rabid pit bull.
Water polo was FloAnn’s life. When she wasn’t playing, she watched it or geeked out on Olympic fan pages. I used to respect FloAnn, even if I didn’t like her. At least the girl knew what she wanted. But without even trying, I was better than her. She hated me for that.
Tracy, our team captain, high-fived me. Sometimes, I sensed that even she felt jealous. If she knew that missing my sister drove me to win, to swim faster and stronger, she wouldn’t be envious.
If you don’t have a twin, you might not get what I mean when I say that losing a twin sister is losing half of yourself. If I’d lost a hand, or some other body part, after a while, life would have gone on like normal. But I lived a partial life. When I played, I played for Alyx.
Our team clustered, arms around each other’s shoulders, then broke. “Knights! Knights! Knights!” we shouted.
Despite our win, my lingering feeling of unease remained. Maybe it was the full moon, maybe it was just life. Parents descended from the bleachers. Dad and his girlfriend walked toward me, holding hands. My father was dating FloAnn’s mother, May Kusumo, of all people. The horrible situation had lasted much longer than I’d expected.
FloAnn remained in the water, eyes scrunched shut. Not a good loser. May and Dad headed toward me. I ducked out of the pool deck, pretending not to see them. FloAnn opened her eyes as I passed and shot me spears of hate. I looked away.
The Aquatic Center was old and decrepit. Steep concrete steps led down to the changing rooms. I hesitated at the top, allowing my eyes to adjust from the bright pool lights. As my foot hit the first step, the door burst open behind me.
“Grey, watch your step,” FloAnn said in a hard voice just as a wet foot snagged my ankles.
I fell hard. Faceplant would be the technical term. My mouth smashed directly into the edge of the concrete steps at least six feet below me. One minute, I anticipated a hot shower, the next, my face exploded in an ocean of pain and blood. My front teeth buckled and my lip split open. I tumbled down the rest of the steps and landed in a wet, bloody heap.
Tracy opened the door. “Oh, my god, what the hell?” she screamed, as I staggered to my feet at the bottom. Pain sliced across my mouth, my hip throbbed, and I must have looked a real mess.
“She tripped!” FloAnn said.
To my horror, I felt the healing begin. I had to find somewhere private. Fast. My heart pounded as I ran down the hallway, leaving a trail of blood and pool water. Bypassing the main bathroom, I took a left to a private unisex rest room.
I surveyed the damage in the dirty, cracked mirror. Four front teeth bent in, gums purple and swollen. I spat a gob of blood into the sink. My mouth was all puffed up. An ugly black bruise surrounded my lips, which oozed blood from several cuts. But as I watched, the damage lessened with every passing second.
This was the worst injury I’d had since I learned that I had this… gift, if that’s what it was. I healed fast. At first, only bumps, bruises and scratches miraculously disappeared. I’d kind of ignored it; too much to take in. I even thought it was my imagination. Then, one day, I broke my ankle scrambling over rocks at Lonesome Beach. The bone set itself beneath my skin while I held my foot straight. I realized something much bigger was happening.
This evening, more proof presented itself in the mirror. My wounds healed, but the pain was excruciating. Ten times more painful than the injury. It burned. My blood felt like it had been replaced with boiling water.
The bruise around my mouth faded from black to purple and the swelling disappeared. My gums tightened and healed. But—and this was a big but—my teeth did not straighten. In under a minute, my face was normal, but my teeth stayed stuck angled back toward my throat. I might have been one of those poor people in a 1920s circus sideshow. Panic welled up in my gut. Eating would be impossible. And Jason would never ask me to the prom.
I shut my mouth. My lips sunk in over my teeth like I was a hundred years old. I put my hand over my mouth. How would I sneak out of the Aquatic Center? My pocket buzzed. Dad had texted me, wondering where I’d gone.
I knew what I needed to do, but the thought filled me with dread. Each second that passed made me want to do it even less. If I waited longer, I would lose my nerve. “Do it,” I said. “Stop thinking.” If Alyx were here, that’s what she would say.
I braced myself, grasped my front teeth with both hands and used my thumbs to force them back toward the mirror. I pushed hard. My muscles shook with effort.
I let out a muffled howl of pain. The pain grew worse when my teeth healed themselves, back in their correct position. And then it was over, as if FloAnn never sent me flying down the stairway. That I healed like this was miraculous. I hadn’t realized my full ability. I smiled. If I could heal like this, I bet my twin could as well. Whatever had happened to us, I felt she must be out there, alive somewhere. I was more certain of this now than ever.
The last twinges of pain were fading when I saw FloAnn and Tracy in the mirror. I guess they’d been watching for a while, because Tracy’s mouth gaped in horror, while FloAnn looked at me, eyes narrowed. My smile faded. FloAnn left. Tracy ran to the toilet and puked. I walked to her and put my hand on her back.
“Don’t touch me!” she shrieked, her voice echoing in the porcelain. I should have felt offended, but I didn’t care. Not then. I knew everything would change. And it did, but not in the way I thought.
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