Petrichor: The scent of rain on dry earth.
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
- George B. Shaw
Life is nothing but a mashup of insignificant events and events which might matter sometime in the future. Events, which, if you're lucky, will lead up to a quiet and peaceful death. Events, which, with time, will be pushed to the back of one's mind, where, if they're mundane enough, will be forgotten. Am I the only one who finds it frightening that I'm oblivious as to what I consumed for dinner last week? Am I the only one who finds it frightening that I can't recall what I did after school on Monday?
My train of thought is interrupted.
"How are you feeling today, Emilia?" Dr. Sullivan asks a little too sympathetically.
I keep my stare fixed at the unfashionably eggshell coloured ceiling of his small, stuffy psychiatrist office. The couch smells suspiciously of mold and sawdust.
"Yes." I clear my throat a little too loudly. "It's short for fabulous. According to Urban Dicionary, it's generally used by popular teenage girls or woung women who are usually part of the 'in' crowd. It's also frequently used by socialites."
"Would you like to tell me about your day, Emilia?" he asks.
"Well, if you stop adding my name after each question, I might consider it." I close my eyes for a long moment as I await his response.
"Okay." He coughs.
I bet he's a smoker. Yes. He must be. Otherwise his office wouldn't be saturated with the repulsive smell of tobacco.
Does that mean he smokes in his office?
Isn't that illegal?
There's a long pause.
"Would you like to tell me about your day?" he repeats.
"Not particularly. Then again, what do I have to lose?" Our eyes meet.
I sigh. "It wasn't a rhetorical question, Jerry," I say.
He doesn't correct me for using his first name.
I make up my mind quickly; this is an absolute waste of time. It's the day before Christmas; surely he must have more important things to do. On second thought, he probably doesn't. Well, I know I do.
A little less gracefully than I'd initially intended, I push myself up from the couch.
"The time's not up yet." His small, beetle-like eyes flash nervously from me, to the clock above the door, and back to me again within the matter of a mere second.
"Have a good day, Jerry. Oh, and merry Christmas." The door slams shut behind me.
It's surprisingly mild today for Minnesota winter. The back yard resembles a life-sized postcard, with its fluffy layer of untouched snow and a couple of erratically placed spruce trees. I swing my legs back and forth from the tire swing, but stop as soon as I realise how childish I must look.
Mum and Dad will be back any minute with my twin sister, Codi. I miss her so much it physically hurts to think about her. I haven't seen her since the end of August. Finally I'll have someone to talk to again. Someone who truly understands me.
I don't believe in telepathic connections between twins. On the other hand, I do believe that twins have a special bond that only twins can truly understand. Codi and I connect more with our body language than with speech, which has, on several occasions, turned out to be rather convenient.
Ever since Codi got sent away to a boarding school for troubled teenagers in Maine almost two years ago, I haven't been quite myself. It hasn't been easy, to say the least. I've survived, though. Personally, I think that if it were up to my parents, they'd have her stay at that school all year round. They don't want to deal with her. Not after what happened. They can handle me. Not that I'm perfect. Far from it. I was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome when I started school, and have attended weekly therapies ever since. I'm just not as hard to handle as Codi.
I jump to my feet when I hear the wheels of our family car crunching against the gravel. Running around to the front yard, I'm met by two sullen looking parents and one overly excited Codi.
"Em!" Codi shrieks, her fox-like face lighting up.
We meet in an awkward embrace, both of us smiling from ear-to-ear.
"You have no idea how much I've missed you," I say, stepping back.
"I think I have an idea," she laughs.
Appearance-wise, Codi and I are very much alike. Our parents used to have trouble telling us apart, that's how alike we were as children. With our pale, freckled skin, twinkling green eyes, red har, and elven-like features, people always thought we were up to some kind of mischief. Codi might have been.
When we were fifteen, we'd had enough of people asking which twin we were, so Codi switched out her waist-long hair with a pixie cut, and I got a classic bob. Of course, we didn't both have to change our appearance, but that's just the nature of twins. If one does something, the other follows.
"Girls, let's get inside. You'll catch a cold," Mum says, a furrow between her dark eyebrows.
I struggle to keep my mouth shut; people with Aspergers lack some social skills. Luckily, with time, I've adapted. I consider telling her that I've been sitting on the tire swing for over an hour already, but decide not to. Right now, keeping the peace is far more important than defying her.
"Your mother's right, Emilia," Dad agrees.
Of course he agrees.
He always does.
My parents never stop worrying.
I squeeze Codi's arm.
She smiles faintly in return.
In a few hours, the number of people in the house will quadruple. Everyone will be trying to act normal, and everyone will ignore the fact that Codi isn't home eighty percent of the year. That's how the Maras family works.
Even though I'd rather spend the day in track pants and a hoodie, I know Mum would have a mental breakdown if I did. So, as the obedient daughter that I am, I clean up and put on one of the infamous Maras Christmas sweaters Mum keeps hidden away in the basement eleven months out of the year. The sweater is as awful as a sweater can be, knitted with the kind of wool that makes your skin itch and the motive being Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Grimacing, I pull on a pair of red curduroy pants to match.
I knock on Codi's bedroom door.
"Who is it?" she shouts, her voice muffled.
"Don't worry, C. It's not creepy Uncle Perry."
A second later, Codi unlocks the door, letting me in.
"Nice outfit," I point out, smirking.
"Hey, at least I got Frosty the Snowman. You've gotta admit that's better than Rudolph." She points to her sweater, her lips turning up slightly at the corners.
I consider it. "Okay. Fine. You win. But, at least Rudolph will keep Perry away," I say, pausing. "Or at least I hope so," I grimace.
Before the guests arrive, Codi and I spend some time talking about what we've missed of each other's lives. To be honest, for me, it isn't much. Codi doesn't seem to have much to say, either, and seems far more interested in what I've been doing, which, as I said, isn't a lot. I try racking my brain for something exciting to tell her without much luck. Apart from college trips, finals, and an embarrassing amount of Doctor Who episodes, the first semester of my Senior year has been highly uneventful.
Ever since we were little, Codi has been the one with the social skills. Not that I'm shy. I'm not. It's just that sometimes, it's difficult for me to relate to other people. More often than not, people tend to be offended by my honesty. To be frank, I've always envied the way she gets along with other people so well. Wherever she goes, she's adored.
Soon enough, the door bell rings, and both Codi and I jump to our feet immediately. We run to the hall, and, before opening, we look at each other, both of us plastering on the most genuine smile we possibly could produce without it actually being, well, genuine.
"Aunt Christy!" we beam in unison.
Aunt Christy isn't really our aunt; she's our Dad's cousin.
"Where's Perry?" Codi asks, her voice dripping with fake worry.
Codi and I give her an awkward, one-armed hug.
"Oh, he's fallen ill, you see," she says. Her breath smells of eggnog and whiskey.
"Is that so?" I put as much sympathy as possible into each word.
"But he'll be okay?" Codi asks.
"Yes, yes, of course. It's just the flu." She flashes her crooked, yellowed teeth.
"Send him my blessings," Codi says, her eyes looking a bit too happy.
"Thank you. I will," Christy smiles again.
"Anyway, you're going to catch a cold out here. Come inside," I smile.
Codi and I tug on her huge arms, pulling her inside.
Over the course of fiteen minutes, the house has filled up with both near and distant family members, all of them overly curious about where I'm going off to college, but also overly careful about not asking Codi about the boarding school.
What do they think will happen?
Did Mum and Dad personally ask them to act this way?
Is it on their own initiative?
"Dinner's ready!" I hear Mum call from the kitchen.
Codi and I sit in our usual spots, as if this was how we sat every day. It feels like a lie, pretending like everything's normal, but I try to ignore it by pushing the thought to the back of my mind.
"Let's say prayer," Dad says, his balding head bowing down slightly. I pretend to join, but keep my eyes open. I'd love to see the look on my parents' faces if I told them how ridiculous I actually found that whole charade.
I remain silent throughout the course of the dinner, occasionally glancing up at Codi to roll my eyes or smirk at something someone said.
"So, Emilia, I didn't get the chance to ask you before dinner. Have you thought about where you'll be attending college next fall?" Mum's cousin, George, asks me, before he pushes his wire-framed glasses farther up on the narrow bridge of his crooked nose.
"Not really," I reply bluntly.
I can feel my heart race in my chest. It's a blatant lie, of course. I've dreamt of attending Harvard ever since I could talk. How can anyone who knows me, not know that?
I catch Mum glaring at me, obviously she wishes I could be more graceful, more pleasant, but I'm sick of Codi being ignored, and as long as she is, I will act how I wish.
The conversation goes back to normal, Dad turns on the stereo, old Christmas carols start to play in the background, and the rest of the evening goes smoothly.
When the last guest finally has left, I feel relieved. I don't regret answering George that way, though I'll probably never hear the end of it from Mum and Dad. I'm tempted to tell them why I did it, but decide not to.
Surprisingly, no one mentions my inappropriate behaviour, and an hour later, everyone's gone off to bed. I lay awake for a long time, my thoughts wandering for a while. Finally, I can't keep my eyes open any longer, and I enter a dreamless sleep.
"Em! You're such a sleepy head!"
I'm brutally awakened by Codi's raspy voice in my ear. She starts jumping up and down on my bed, making it squeak dangerously.
"Sleepy time," I mutter, my voice gruff.
She pulls the duvet off of me, flinging it onto the floor. It lands on the carpet with a swoosh sound. I curl up into a fetal position, my failed attempt at trying to get some sympathy from her.
"Hey, I'll get a bucket of ice water if you don't get up," she threatens, her green eyes twinkling with mischief. She's already fully dressed, her eyes rimmed with black eyeliner, making the colour of her eyes seem almost artificial.
"Okay, okay!" I say, suddenly eager to get up.
"Fantastic!" she squeals.
"You're in an awfully cheery mood today," I say, eyeing her suspiciously as I walk into the bathroom, Codi right at my heels.
"Duh, it's Christmas Day," she smiles.
"Anyway. I'll be ready in a minute," I say, pushing her out of the room. I lock the door just in case.
We gather around the Christmas tree, the four of us sitting cross-legged on the floor.
"Codi, you can go first," Dad says, urging her to open a present.
"Really?" she asks, her eyes hopeful.
Codi rubs her hands together and smiles at me. Bending forward, she rummages around for a while, before finding a gift wrapped in shiny, purple wrapping.
"Ooo, soft," she says, pointing out the obvious.
"Well, open it, then," I say.
"Shh, I'm savouring the moment," she says sarcastically.
Slowly, she peels off the wrapper, spending an unnecessary amount of time on each bit of tape. The wrapper falls to the floor, revealing a soft, studded sued leather bag.
Codi squeals her signature squeal, before hugging both Mum and Dad at once. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," she says.
"You're welcome, Honey," Mum says, rubbing Codi's arm.
An hour later, and our seremonial gift-unwrapping session is over. The Christmas tree looks lonely and empty without any presents underneath.