Cass burst into my room, her eyes wide. I bolted upright in my bed as my breath caught in my throat.
“He’s here,” she whispered.
I whipped around to the frosty window and gasped at the mailman standing in front of our mailbox. He slipped something inside before crunching through the snow back to his truck.
Cass bolted out of the room before I could open my mouth. I watched her run on the ice, still in her thin pajamas, before closing my eyes. My lunch threatened to make a reappearance and I clutched my stomach.
Two minutes--or possibly two days--later, Cass sprinted into the room again and tossed a large envelope into my lap. She held a matching one.
I read The Pecunia Foundation in the upper left corner and promptly burst into tears.
“We haven’t even opened them yet!” laughed Cass, but I could hear the quiver in her voice.
We shared one look and, with shaking hands, tore open the envelopes.
In seventh grade at the ripe age of twelve, my twin sister Cass and I made a promise to our parents: “You won’t pay a cent for our college education.”
Mom and Dad gave us small smiles in return. At the time, I thought it was because they had complete and unwavering faith in their daughters; I assume now their response had to do with politeness more than anything. I don’t blame them, of course--what parent would believe in a couple of preteens that made such a ridiculous promise?
But Cass and I believed in that statement with every ounce of our beings, because we simply couldn’t let them pay for our college education. They had already sacrificed so much, including their own honeymoon, to make sure we always had everything we needed.
So, we promised. Not a cent.
The conversation must have floated out of our parents’ heads at some point because in our sophomore year of high school, my dad sat us both down. “You’ll need some scholarships, girls,” he said. No funny business, just short and direct. “We have money saved up, but not enough for...for both of you.”
It was fun, being a twin. Always having a friend my own age, someone to jump on the trampoline and build Legos with. I didn’t fully recognize the parental burden of twinship until that conversation.
Two of everything, at the same time.
Two college educations, at the same time, in a place where the cost of college could exceed that of a house.
But I remembered the promise.
“Don’t worry, Dad,” I said, lifting my chin. “You won’t pay a cent.”
Scholarship after scholarship, application essay after application essay. By my senior year, I had applied to well over a hundred.
Cass was set on one: the Pecunia Scholarship, one of the most prestigious. The full-ride required recipients go to a school within the state, so I didn’t think much of it; I had a peculiar fascination with going to school on the east coast.
Until we toured the east coast.
No mountains? Humidity everywhere? And so, so far from the people that supported me every step of the way, the people that I had made a certain promise to.
I couldn’t leave my parents. Or my sister.
So, I toured and surprisingly fell in love with a school within the state, and set my sites on the Pecunia Scholarship.
Not a cent.
The first round of the Pecunia Scholarship was the application, which asked for three short-answer and one long-answer essays. I submitted the application only a couple hours before the deadline.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” warned Dad when Cass and I received the email that we’d moved onto the semifinalist round.
“I know,” I said, rolling my eyes. He meant well.
But I remembered the promise.
The second round required no work at all (from the applicants, at least). We waited as our chosen teachers, counselors, and favorite adult figures sent the Pecunia Foundation recommendation letters. Each applicant needed three.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” warned Dad when Cass and I received the email that we’d moved onto the finalist round.
Cass and I glanced at each other. “We know,” we said.
But we remembered the promise.
The third and final round of the Pecunia Scholarship was the one that sent the most butterflies fluttering in my stomach: the interview.
Cass and I drove to the Pecunia Foundation’s office in silence. We took the elevator to one of the top floors of one of the highest skyscrapers in the city and waited in the lobby, fidgeting.
“Cassandra, you’re up first!” said the smiley scholarship coordinator. Cass shot me a nervous look before following the coordinator deeper into the office. She didn’t return.
I waited, and thirty minutes later, the scholarship coordinator stepped back into the lobby.
“Bethany, you’re up!”
It was a blur. Eight or so people smiled at me from around a long conference table. I sat at the head of the table, directly across from the towering portrait of Henry Pecunia, founder of the Pecunia Foundation.
I only remember one question: “How would you feel if your twin sister received the scholarship and you didn’t?”
I blinked. I wondered how many times they’d asked that question; there was only one other pair of twins that ever won the Pecunia Scholarship.
I pictured Cass getting the letter, hanging the plaque on the wall, all our friends and family shaking her hand and congratulating her while sharing small, pitiful smiles with me….
No. I'd buzz with pride, because my sister deserved it more than anyone.
And then Cass slipped from my mind, replaced by the faces of Mom and Dad.
“We’re family,” I said simply. “I’d be grateful for anything that helped my parents. My sister and I made a promise.”
“Congratulations!” read the letter. “You have been selected as a 2016 Pecunia Scholarship Recipient.”
I stared at Cass. She tilted her identical letter toward me.
“Not a cent,” she murmured, sniffing.
I wondered where my parents would go for their eighteen-year-late honeymoon, and smiled through the tears.