I saw the sister first. It was midsummer, and I didn't know what I was doing in the town park. I was probably twelve years older than the average visitor of the park, and my legs were two feet too long to actually use the swing I was sitting on.
A woman was with a toddler across the playground on the smaller, plastic play set. I watched the little boy giggle as he went down the slide over and over again. The woman waited for him at the end of the slide every time, beckoning him down. Every time, he'd squeal as he slid into her arms, and she would tell him he did a great job, and he would laugh in delight as he scrambled back up the play set.
I was reminded of why I'd left the house.
I'd never been a particularly social kid. I had been to a birthday party once, in the third grade, but that was because they invited everyone in the class. I wasn't bullied too badly, and I got along with almost everyone. I just didn't really have friends. That was probably one of the things my parents hoped to change by moving us all three states away at the end of the school year. When I saw the siblings for the first time, we'd been there almost a month and I'd barely seen anyone around my age, much less made any friends.
I admit I was a little bitter about the move. I just had one year of high school left. I could easily survive one more year and then go off to college. Instead, I had to start all over again in a new place, just for nine months. So every day, to avoid the looks from my parents and my mother's hopeful, "Did you make any friends today?" I'd go somewhere in town. I would never talk to anyone, but I would people-watch until sundown. I'd go anywhere: the beach on the small lake, the McDonald's, and now the playground in the town park.
I was so distracted by the woman and the toddler that I didn't see when the girl arrived. But I noticed her soon enough. She was on the other swing set across the playground, her legs gently moving her in small circles. She kept her eyes firmly on her phone for several minutes at a time, typing every once in a while, before she'd look away at something — nothing in particular, just away from her phone.
The girl was overdressed for the season, wearing a heavy black hoodie and tight leggings that went down to her ankles. She was wearing pink sneakers. I would later learn that she had a wide and varied collection of sneakers and tennis shoes and would make a point of never wearing the same pair two days in a row. Her hair was a rare color of beach blonde and the top of her head was covered with a branded white baseball cap. She looked like the star of some high school softball team.
I'm not sure what drew my gaze to her first. Maybe it was the way her hair glowed in the sun. Maybe it was because I was surprised to see someone around my age there in the playground. I wondered for a moment if she was there for the same reason as me.
But then something changed — a boy in a white T-shirt and joggers approached her. His feet made the gravel crunch under him, and she looked up. Her face broke into a grin, and my heart dropped to my stomach. The boy threw himself onto the swing next to hers and he bent backward so far that his hair almost brushed the ground. The girl laughed and lightly kicked his leg. At the kick, the boy brought himself up to a seat.
At first, I thought they had to be dating, but then I realized they shared the same blonde hair and held themselves in the same posture: shoulders back, head slightly tilted. So they were siblings. I thought they had to be the same age. Twins, then.
The brother tried to grab the sister's cap, and she grinned and pushed her swing again with one foot. They continued like that, laughing, for a few minutes. The woman with the toddler, who had long tired of a swing and was now eating animal crackers in his stroller, glared at them before taking the stroller's handles and leaving the park.
The siblings seemed to sober when the woman left. They began speaking quietly, their legs keeping their swings pushed together. I couldn't make out what they were saying, and I've always been bad at reading lips. I have no idea how they didn't notice me there. I watched them as the sunset turned from yellow to orange to red to purple, which would have given them plenty of time to see me. But either they didn't notice me, or they noticed me and didn't acknowledge it.
Eventually, when even I thought that I should probably head home — my mother would be getting worried, but wouldn't want to call in case I was doing the thing she wanted me to be doing — the two siblings looked at the night sky and then back at each other. The sister glanced at her electronic watch. Their eyes met again, and the sister smiled and tugged on a lock of her brother's hair. Then they both stood and walked in opposite directions, leaving the park. For a moment, I had an urge to follow one of them. But I shook my head and walked back to my own unfamiliar house.
My father had left me a plate of spaghetti on the table. I threw it into the microwave and ran to my room before my parents could ask me if I'd made any friends that day.
I wasn't expecting to see the siblings again when I went to the park the next day. But to my surprise, the sister was there again on the same swing. I stared at her, feeling like I was looking at a ghost. Again, she didn't seem to notice me. She was wearing a black skirt and a Nirvana T-shirt. Her sneakers were dark red. I felt the need to memorize each part of her and her brother. Which I guess I eventually did.
The brother came again, and pulled her, giggling, onto the play set. They pushed each other down a slide that was too small for them and ignored all the parents who narrowed their eyes.
They spoke to each other on a park bench. I imagined what they were saying:
"That mom over there is looking at us like we're animals," Sister said.
"I think that dad would punch us if there weren't other people around."
"It's a public park," Sister said. "We're allowed to be here as much as they are."
Brother had brought candy with him, and they shared the pieces. My stomach growled, and it reminded me I hadn't eaten since breakfast that morning. I had taken the money my mother gave me to buy lunch, but for some reason, I couldn't bring myself to enter the local sandwich shop with its laughing, local patrons who all knew each other.
I imagined these siblings went to that sandwich shop all the time. They were probably people who went there with their friends and their parents. I tried to picture their parents. One of them was blonde, I figured. They couldn't both be. They were both tall and handsome, like their children.
"Cherry's the best flavor," I imagined Sister saying as she held up a piece of candy in a red wrapper.
"No way," Brother said. "Blue raspberry."
They continued chattering just like that.
The sun set, and the day turned into night, and again they looked at each other sadly before walking out of the park, each going in a different direction.
The next day it was rainy, but I still went to the park and saw the siblings at a picnic table in the dining area. The wooden shelter protected them from the rain, but hardly illuminated their hair as the sun did.
"We're going to win the championship this year," I imagined Brother saying. He also looked like he was on the softball team, and it made sense for them to be on the same one.
"We should," Sister said. "We're the best team in the state." Because they had to be. No team could be better than the one the two of them were in. From my hiding place in the children's climbing tunnel, I could see Sister's white sneakers. The shoes were splattered with mud.
They left earlier than usual that day, probably because of the rain. It was sudden: Sister abruptly stopped talking and reached into her bag, looked at her phone for a moment, then ruffled her brother's hair and ran out of the park. The rain turned her hair wet as she ran. Brother left a few minutes later, going the way he always did to leave.
When I got home, my mother saw me as I was taking off my muddy sneakers. "Did you make any friends?" she asked, her voice painfully hopeful.
"Yeah," I found myself saying.
Her face lit up. "Really?"
"Yeah," I repeated. "This boy and this girl. They're twins."
"What's that?" I heard my father's voice from the kitchen say. Much like I didn't have many friends before, I hadn't had too many romantic relationships. So my father was always a little excited when I mentioned the opposite gender.
"They're on the softball team," I said. "They're the best players in the state. And they always leave the park going in different directions, isn't that interesting?"
They agreed it was.
A few days later, I noticed Sister had her face lowered as we waited for Brother. When he appeared, she raised her head, and with a start, I realized her face was wet with tears.
Brother's eyes widened. "What happened?" I imagined him asking.
Her boyfriend must have broken up with her, I realized. The complete idiot. Who would be so stupid? Brother hugged Sister, and I knew the both of us were thinking of how to destroy this stupid ex-boyfriend. If only I knew who he was.
Sister still looked sad the next day, when she arrived a few minutes after Brother. She wasn't crying, but I knew those sad eyes. I had seen them enough times in my life.
They didn't talk much that afternoon on the swing set.
"Are you okay?" Brother asked.
Sister shook her head.
The next day, Brother and I waited for Sister for almost an hour before she appeared, running across the park and kicking up clods of mud with her pink tennis shoes. Mud and dirt covered her feet and legs. Her hair was tangled and loose. Various parents narrowed their eyes at her. Brother jolted up out of his swing.
Sister spoke quickly and frantically to Brother, her whole body shaking. He tried to grab her shoulders to steady her, but she backed away. She was crying openly now, gasping for air so loudly I could feel it like a knife stabbing my chest. She turned and ran back the way she'd come. Brother called to her, but he didn't follow her.
When Brother left, I sprinted back home, pushing past my parents as I sobbed.
The next day, Brother and I waited, he on his usual swing and me behind an old oak tree, but Sister never appeared.
The day after, Brother and I waited, he on his usual swing and me behind the seesaw, but Sister never appeared.
The day after, I waited alone on the swing set, but neither Brother nor Sister appeared.
The next spring, I went to the first softball game of the season, but I didn't see the siblings. Maybe they'd quit, knowing that having the two best players in the state on the same team would make it too easy for them to win the championship.