By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. The red and golden hues of autumn were a welcome relief from the monotonous green lawns that existed within the four walls of the place I had called home for the last 8 months. I heard the massive wrought iron gate swing shut behind me as I closed my eyes, relishing in the feel of the sunlight falling on my face. There a was different smell in the air, one I hadn't smelled in 8 months. Pumpkin spice, I wondered? No, it was freedom.
My contemplative thoughts were broken by a blonde cannonball that hit me right on.
"Derek!" my sister Angelise cried as she threw her arms around my neck. I swung her around in my arms as she sobbed into the crook of my neck.
"I'm so glad you're here. Are you okay?" I said as I pried her away from me to look into her eyes.
"I missed you so much. I'm so sorry. Jason wouldn't let me come visit you," she said. She threw an accusing glare behind her where my best friend of ten years stood.
"I know. I told him not to," I said gently as I placed her back on her feet.
"Why? Is it because of what I did?" She looked down at her feet.
"Angie, look at me. Look at me! You did nothing wrong, okay? Do understand me? You did nothing wrong!" She peered up at me through her eyelashes.
She looked away from me and changed the topic, "We're going to Jason's and your apartment. I've sort of been living there. I didn't want to go home after everything.... you know."
I didn't say anything, just nodded my head. I was glad that she hadn't gone back. I knew that Jason she was safe with Jason. He loved her. They had been together for the last four years.
We pulled up to the curb of the apartment building where I shared a condo with Jason. I grabbed the plastic bag that contained my belongings.
We entered the apartment. Everything still looked the same but I could see some subtle differences, signs of Angie living there. The pink blanket draped over the couch, the black heels left carelessly near the entrance, the books on the fireplace right next to the xbox.
"I'm just gonna take a shower." I murmured, heading in the direction of my room.
I stripped and got into the shower. Being back here, it was all too much. I leaned my head on the cool black tiles of the wall and counted to ten in my head, slowly breathing in and out trying to calm myself down.
The memories all assaulted me at once, propelling me into the past, the night that changed everything.
I had arrived a little early to pick up Angie for our 'twin date' that night. We were close, closer than most siblings. It was probably because of our home situation. Our mother was a junkie who never really cared for us. Out stepfather was an asshole who was always looking for his next fix. I had recently moved out to Boston alongwith my best friend and Angie's boyfriend Jason. I was a freshman in Boston University. Angie still lived with our parents since she would only graduate a month later after which she would be going to Boston University as well.
"Angie! I'm here. Let's go." I called through the door of the dingy apartment. Angie and I had never been separated for long. Since I had moved to Boston 2 months before her, she had been worried about us loosing touch. That was when she came up with the idea of a twin date. I had rolled my eyes at her when she told me but I knew she was genuinely worried about being alone without me and Jason so I gave in.
I got a little worried when no one answered door. She had texted me only a few minutes ago to say that she was ready. "Angie?"
I put my ear to door, trying to see if I could hear anything. Sounds of muffled crying came from the apartment. "Angie? Are you okay? I'm coming in! Stay away from door okay?"
I braced my shoulder against the door and pushed with all my strength. On my second try, I managed to break it open.
I would never forget what I saw that night. My stepfather was hovering over my sister, pinning her down and unzipping his fly as he leered at her.
"What the hell do you think you're doing? Get away from her!" I gripped him by his shoulders and ripped him away from her. I pummeled my fist into his face over and over again.
"Derek!" I heard Angie scream. I felt hands on me, pulling me away from my stepfather.
That's when I realized that he was already unconscious. I could hear sirens in the distance. My mother stood behind my sister with her phone in her hand. "What did you do to Garry? You little brat, what did you do?" she looked at me horrified.
"I've called the cops. You're going to go to prison for a long time," she sneered.
"Raise your hands! Hands in the air!" I heard the two policemen shout as they entered the house.
I raised my hands and stood silently. "You have the right to remain silent, everything you say can and will be used in court of law, you have the right to an attorney...." I heard them say as one of the policemen cuffed my hands behind my back. I could hear my sister crying as the the other policeman held her back. I shot my sister one last glance as they shoved me into the patrol car that waited outside. "It'll be okay Angie. Call Jason, alright?" Tell him what happened. He'll care care of you. I love you."
A knock on the bathroom door jarred me out of my memories. "Derek, are you okay? You've been in there for almost an hour." my twin called out.
"I'm fine. I'll be out in a second."
When I walked out, she was sitting on the bed, waiting for me.
She was my twin, my other half. These last four months was the longest period we had ever been separated. I knew her better than any one else in this world.
I knew she wanted to say something so I sat beside her, waiting for her to speak.
Finally she said, " I'm sorry for everything. It's all my fault." A single tear slipped down her face.
"Angie, its not your fault, you know that, right? It's that bastard's fault. And anyway, if anyone should be apologizing, then it should be me. I was the one who left you there alone. I knew how that asshole looked at you. I should have known he would do something as soon as I left town. I should have waited for you to graduate, should have..."
"Should have what? Put your whole life on hold for two months to babysit me? You saved me, Derek. I will never forget that. I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't come, if he had...." her voice broke.
She sniffed, "I tried to get you out sooner, you know. Jason and I both did. But that asshole, he told the cops that you were trying to rape me and he was the one who tried to stop you, so you beat him up. Mom backed him up on that. I told the cops that wasn't true but Garry and mom both told them that I was scared because you had been threatening me for a long time. And those cops were Garry's poker buddies. Ultimately, we had to wait for a court date for me to be heard properly. It was only when the judge heard my side of the story that he ordered you to be acquitted and released. I'm so sorry I couldn't do anything. I..." she broke off into sobs.
"Hey, you're my little sister. I would do this all over again for you. I gonna killed that asshole for he did to you. Don't you dare apologize, okay? Its. Not. Your. Fault." I said fiercely.
She cleared her throat and wiped her tears furiously. "I was so scared that you hated me. I told myself that I was being ridiculous but when you told Jason that you didn't want to see me, I thought you blamed me." she said.
"I didn't want you to see me like that. In that orange jumper, with the cuffs... I was trying to protect you. I could never hate you. You're my twin, my other half. I love you."
We sat next to each other, quietly not saying anything, just enjoying each other's company. Finally she graced me with a small smile and got up. "I'm making pancakes for you. Your favorite. I'll be in the kitchen if you need me."
I continued sitting on my bed even after she left the room. How different my life was today from yesterday. Yesterday, I was sitting in an orange jumper, sharing a room with two other convicted felon. I was told when to get up, when to eat, when to shower. My future was dark and bleak. All my plans for college, for a career, for a family, they were all gone. Today, I had a choice. I had the freedom to shower when I wanted to, to eat when I wanted to, to take a nap if I wanted to. I could go to college if I wanted, could have all those things that seemed like farfetched dreams the day before. It was such a stark difference from the last four months of my life. Boston University had even agreed to defer my admission after I was acquitted.
I spent the last four months being labelled 'an unpredictable man with a short temper' who almost killed his own stepfather. Now that the truth had surfaced, I was being hailed as 'the hero' who saved his sister from an abusive stepfather.
Life could take a complete turn in a spilt second. We were all just left hoping we could keep up with it. Choices. Most of us took them for granted until we didn't have them anymore, until they were taken away from us. So many choices led to the worst four months of my life. My choice to go to Boston before my sister, my stepfather's choice to rape my sister, my mother's choice to lie to the cops. Yet so many choices had saved me. My sister's choice to not give up on me, the judges choice to listen to my sister, even the University's choice to defer my admission.
All I could say way that, to save my twin, I would make the same choices all over again.