He’s the first one to rush to the door when I ring, as always.
“Nick! A whole year, not one call? Always too busy in the big city, aren’t ya?” He says it with a reprimanding tone, but his smile tells me he’s truly happy to see me. I pull him into a hug, still covered in snow from the seemingly neverending storm outside. After I take off my heavy winter attire, he takes me into the living room, where the kids are excitedly decorating the tree. The joyous expression on their little faces is the same one I can so clearly see on his.
“Well, you didn’t call much either! But I guess you’ve got an excuse, what with little ones running around,” I answer, pointing at my nieces and nephew. He laughs, nodding in his typical matter-of-fact manner.
Looking at him has always felt so strange, and I guess it's because I’ve always been so aware that his face is almost the same as mine. I know that where his eyebrows arch sharply, mine softly curve, and where his nose rounds out, mine juts forwards, but apart from such details, we look like two nearly identical copies of the same model.
You can also tell us apart from our scars. I slammed the car door into Noah’s face after a particularly heated argument on our way back from soccer practice when we were ten or eleven; he stills bears a faint dark red mark across his left eyebrow to this day. If you want to make sure you’re talking to me, just look underneath my lips; the stitches I had to get on my chin after he punched two teeth out of my mouth are also still visible. As kids, it’s all we ever did: start a fight, break out into a brawl, ignore each other, get over it, repeat. It happened over and over again, and we never got along for much more than a day until well into our teenage years.
In high school, we got more competitive than ever. It was all about being the better one, the more popular one, the one with more girlfriends, the one with better grades. Any excuse we had to put the other down, we took! I would flirt with whoever he was dating at the time and throw away his homework; he’d try to sabotage any audition or sports tryout I attended. We were constantly at each other's throats, and it never once occurred to me that if we worked together, we could be been even greater than we were individually.
“Where’s Florence? Too busy to drive down with you, spending Christmas with her own family?” I knew the question would come, but I didn’t think Noah would jump right into it so early.
“Eh, didn’t work out,” I say, sighing heavily as I very grossly summarize the breakup. Years ago, my brother would’ve laughed at me and said something in the likes of I told you she could do better, dork. This time though, he just gives me a reassuring pat on the shoulder and smoothly changes the subject, sensing unresolved emotions on my part.
Our turbulent relationship very suddenly changed during the last year we spent together before we each went separate ways for college. The summer before that long-awaited last year of high school, I went on a road trip with some friends; it was the first time mom and dad were letting me drive my friends around, and they had insisted we look over the route together a million and a half times, at the very least. They were trusting me, and of course, I was grateful, but I was mainly incredibly excited to leave them, my brother, and the whole, boring town behind for a whole month.
We drove and drove, passing through states we’d never even seen since we had never left our own before. I had promised my parents I’d never let anyone else take the wheel since they couldn’t afford to repair the car and only trusted me not to get into an accident, so we took breaks and made sure I was never tired. I felt confident in our plan, and I guess we got cocky; everything was going so great! When we finally reached our first stop, a gorgeous camping ground by a lake, it was time to get off the interstate, and I got distracted. It was the middle of the night, the radio was blasting loud music, my friends were all talking and laughing, windows down, our roars echoing into the night.
It took what felt like just a second. I looked the wrong way and then… I completely froze. I saw headlights coming straight towards us, huge wheels, a truck that wasn’t stopping. I felt my car that I wasn’t moving out of the way, I just couldn’t. I heard screams, I heard it all bounce around in my head and at last, I heard the crash. I felt it in every single one of my bones, and then, I didn’t feel anything at all.
When I woke up in the ambulance, the lights were too bright and for the life of me, I couldn’t understand what was happening to my body. I tried to speak, but I was immediately shushed by the paramedics pressing down an oxygen mask onto my face. I couldn’t move any of my limbs. I tried to breathe and calm down, but it proved to be impossible as I started to imagine what had happened to my friends if I was in such a bad state.
Much later, after laying in the hospital bed in a state of semi-consciousness and being gently patted up and down by a plethora of nurses, one of them asked for my parents’ phone number. Without even thinking about it, I gave Noah’s, knowing there was no way I could let my parents see me in this state after all the promises of caution I had made. In fact, I had never wanted to see my brother as much as I did that day in my entire life. They called him, and a day later, he was by my side.
The concern written all over his face as soon as he walked into my miserable grey room was a look I had never seen from him, never around me at least. We didn’t talk much at first, because there was nothing much to say; I was in pain, feeling stupid and sorry for myself, and he just sat there, probably wondering how mom and dad would ever recover from this. Quite painfully, I realized I didn’t even know my own twin brother that well; I couldn't even conjure up enough material to entertain a casual conversation.
Then, weirdly, I saw him soften. I don’t know how it really happened, but he started talking to me. About the rest of the summer, about what we’d do in school during the coming year, and a lot about my injured friends, whom I couldn’t visit since it turns out we were all currently unable to walk. He started rambling incessantly, saying hopeful and encouraging things, spewing positivity like never before. Slowly, I started to understand: he was pushing me to get better in the only way he felt he could, giving me something to look forward to when I would finally get up and get out.
As I laid there, getting better every day and slowly regaining control over my body, it hit me just how exhausting it had been to hate my brother for so long. He clearly cared about me, and I realized that, of course, I did too. Noah had been a potential friend this whole time, arguably the first friend I ever should’ve made, and yet for some reason it had taken us nearly 18 years to figure that out.
Weeks passed and, much to my dismay, school started with me still in the hospital. When I was well enough to be moved around without being in excruciating pain, I was transferred to the hospital in our hometown at last. There, my family was able to come and see me every day without having to drive multiple hours, and my friends, who all healed faster than me, came to help and give support as much as they could. However, nothing made me feel better than what my brother was able to provide. He constantly updated me on all that was going on outside the white walls I stuck in, accompanied me to physiotherapy, and insisted on helping me keep up with school as much as possible even though I was convinced I’d have to just retake the whole year.
Eventually, I did it; I got up and got out, just like he had spent months telling me I would. Even though I was the one who’d had a truck run straight into him, it’s both a different Nicholas and a different Noah who walked out of the hospital that faithful day. We were never the same, and as much as I hate people who look for silver linings in the most terrible of events, the accident clearly changed our relationship for the better.
“Hey, hey! We boring you or something?” Noah waves his hand in front of my face and I snap out of my nostalgic daze.
“No, no, not at all. I was just thinking of… You know, old times,” I say unconvincingly, rubbing my hand over my left thigh a couple of times. It’s an old habit I picked up way back when, because my left leg would keep hurting long after the accident, even though I was supposedly perfectly healed. I know my brother notices it: an almost unnoticeable flash of worry passes over his eyes. I see him open his mouth to say something, perhaps reminisce over those days with me, but he then closes it and gives me a tight smile.
We never talk about the accident. It may have massively contributed to making us the adults we are today, but it was also the most traumatic thing that happened to both of us, and years ago we made a pact to leave the past right where it belongs.
Sure, sometimes I’d like to bring it up. Sometimes, I’d like to ask him about how he felt, and thank him for pulling me out of there, and allow myself to tell everyone how scared I was. But then, I look at my life, the things I’ve accomplished and the places I’ve managed to get myself into, and I end up feeling okay. More than anything, I look at Noah, my brother, the other me, my very best friend. I look at his wife, the kids he’s raising, the joy he’s spreading around him, and I know we made the right decision because there’s no dark cloud forever hovering above our heads… And no matter what, I simply wouldn’t have it any other way.