The smell of copper invaded my nostrils before Erin could finish the answers of a segment on “what your higher self is telling you.”
She held a lit candle in one hand and a faded, leather-bound notebook in the other. She read from her notes. “If you chose the curvy road, that means you want the scenic routes in life, but if you chose the straight, well-traveled road you probably like things direct and straightforward. The number of white roses you chose is how much you give in relationships. If you said ten white, ten red, you want things balanced but if you chose perhaps a majority of white, and no red, you give a lot and expect little in return.”
Behind the camera, I moved it to the cadence of Erin’s words, but a heavy, hot weight just dropped between my legs. I gave her the signal to wrap it up.
Why can’t these things ever start to the words, “all right, I’m ready,” and when I’m on the toilet with an overnight pad and two Advils in hand?
Erin saw me but kept talking. “If you put the roses on the windowsill, it means you don’t expect much from your partner. If you put them on the bed, you want them to see and acknowledge your efforts. If you took the curvy road home, that means you stay in relationships for a longer time. If you took the direct path home, it means you treat your relationships as something to jump in and out of.”
Then there’s the final if you liked that, follow for more, and have a blessed day!
I sighed and cut the recording, already heading towards the bathroom.
“That was so fun!” Erin squealed behind me. She rushed to her framed poster of Cecilia Maddox and James Jordan, Hollywood’s top “it” couple.
“Wasn’t that great?” she asked her two-dimensional friends.
“Yes, Erin! You’ve traded dignity for internet clout. Just like us!” I mocked from the bathroom, in my best husky, James Jordan voice.
“Pity all of us, but the least you could do is appreciate that you don’t need a part-time job because of me—“
Erin was in the doorway now, out of her faded jeans and in my USC hoodie.
“Oh no, you got your period?” she whined, “mine’s coming soon then.”
I watched my sister lather her face in night cream, all disapproval directed at me forgotten.
“We really do help people,” she said softly following a moment of silence. And even though how much she cared for our TikTok, @TwinMagic, drowned me in second-hand embarrassment, she was right. Erin loved all the “shadow work” and “finding our highest selves,” and I loved not having to get mistreated by Karens in a low-wage, diner job.
I pull up my pants, wash my hands, and splash cold water on my face. “I just play the background music and hit record.” My words are muffled by the sink and the sound of running water.
Over my shoulder, I heard a “well that’s because I’m nicer,” like Erin was explaining a bicycle is a bicycle because it has two wheels. Something acrid lurches in my stomach. I could be nice. I am nice. I could predict stupid stuff to strangers about love and signs and angel numbers, but I don’t because… well none of it’s real! But it’s my fault I’m not the face of @TwinMagic because simply, I’m not nice.
“That was not nice of you to say.”
Erin’s colored contact tumbled off her finger as I shoved her shoulder. If I could magically make predictions, I’d do it better than her because I wouldn’t be lying.
The university bus hissed as its doors shut and the top-heavy front groaned forward. Three have stopped, opened their mouths for students, and driven away. By the fourth one, I peel my thighs off the metal bench.
You can do this. You’re smart, funny, you can explain Einstein’s twin paradox with TikTok references, you can—
“Watch it,” a girl’s backpack shoved into mine, making it fall off my shoulder. She looked at me and her jaw dropped.
“Oh my god!” the girl said through her fingers.
I forced a smile. The bus screeched and left.
“Can I be in your prediction series?”
Before I can say no, that I’m not the twin on screen, but the one adjusting the ring light, she already has her phone up, recording to her front-facing camera. She pulls me into the frame and my bag falls.
“Hey, everybody!” she beamed at the camera, “I’m with Erin, @twinmagic! You already know she’s about to change my life.”
I pull in a long drag of air and for no reason, switched on my best Erin, golden retriever, attitude. I could be nice.
“Sure! What’s your name?”
My sour mood wants to tell her if she has a boyfriend, he’s cheating on her, and that textbooks are going to fall out of the sky, right on her head. Hardbacks, too. But something in my gut yanked a string of words out of my mouth before I can process what I’m saying. It must be Erin’s spirit, literally pushing me out of my own body.
“Okay, Jessica… twenty years old, from Orlando, Florida. Former nursing major now exercise science. I want you to go to The Thomas on Windridge road. You’re going to meet the ones you love.”
I’m already across the street when Jessica stops gushing to her phone and the small crowd she’d attracted moved on with their lives. That was weird, but she didn’t even question me. Hopefully what I was about to do next would go as smoothly.
I paused at the door to Starbucks. Wiped the palm sweat on my jeans. Ran my hand over my bangs.
The bittersweet smell of hazelnut invited me in but it’s the flash of teal blue hair that made me stop in the entryway. I’m warm but nervous. Aching to go in but also to run away.
“Hi, how are you?” she asks.
I don’t even remember walking to the register.
“Uh. Good, can I—”
“Iced caramel latte with a pump of vanilla.”She smiles like I’ve told her her name is pretty.
It’s Conner and it is pretty. Conner with blue hair braided down her back. Conner with two large front teeth, freckles on her nose, and who moves through drinks with precision and grace.
I fumbled getting my card, “thanks.”
“Of course!” she said then moved around the counter, already a cup in one hand and a jug of whole milk in the other. I turned away when my phone rang. My face appeared on the screen, but with eyes surrounded by clumpy dark lashes and a small scar on her lip from when I jumped off the swing and landed on top of her. I didn’t know she was going to run in front of me.
“What?” I said, my voice flat but not unkind.
“Have you seen the video we were just tagged in? Go check our page.” Erin was eating a large amount of granola, the double-paned windows of Leavey library behind her head.
“Slow down, you’re going to choke.”
“Iced caramel, one pump of vanilla!”
I set my phone down and said a bright “thank you!” But Conner was already back at the register, smiling her girl-next-door, big-toothed smile at some guy with a black mohawk.
Erin was red in the face when I remembered she was there.
“Oh my god, you missed that whole thing!” She wheezed, a hand on her chest. “I actually just choked.”
“Sorry,” I swiped my coffee and plopped into a hot metal chair outside.
“Were you watching the video? Oh, nevermind!” Erin groaned. “This girl just tagged our page. She said you told her to go to The Washington and guess who was there?”
I had a quip on the tip of my tongue but Erin talked faster.
“Cecilia Maddox and James Jordan!”
“Wait, what? The movie stars?” I yelled. An Asian girl with dyed blonde hair and a laptop covered in sorority stickers gave me the side-eye.
Tagged to our page, with already a hundred views, was the girl from the bus stop: Jessica. Right after our meeting and my prediction, there she was at The Washington—the most overpriced restaurant north of the 105—and Cecilia Maddox had her cheek glued to Jessica’s, blowing the camera a plump, glossy kiss. The video cut to Jessica crying in her car, wailing that her life’s been changed all thanks to Erin’s prediction.
“Hey, that was me,” I whined in a dramatic, hurt voice.
“Yeah, more importantly, how did you do that?”
I take a sip of my drink, “I did the normal conjuring of vague, but plausible bullshit.”
“No, the other stuff. How did you know her age and like what college she was in?”
“The nursing thing?” the exact words were blurry in my head, “I don’t know, just made it up.” I waved my hand.
“Well, all of it was true apparently.”
I raised my brow and took another sip of my coffee. The roasted smells were extra bitter today and mixed with the chemical smell of… Sharpie?
“I’m across the street.” Erin’s tone changed and so did her scenery. Gone was the library and there she stood, across the street.
She and I always had our location on for each other, but it’s supposed to be if she was abandoned in a ditch, not for—
“Okay, here’s my theory.” Erin was a wildfire, barreling around metal chairs and tables. The blonde Asian slammed her laptop closed and shoved all her pastel pens into her bag. She gave Erin and me a look before she put in AirPods and slumped against the back of her chair. If you have a problem, get in your car—probably the shiny, white Tesla in the handicapped spot—and leave.
Erin slammed her hands down and my drink almost flew off the table.
“You need to answer the duets,” she said.
She ripped my phone out of my hands and was already playing a video of someone crying about their cat.
“Quick, what do you think is going to happen to the cat?”
“Did you sniff your nail glue again?”
“Earlier when you said I was going to choke, on my granola remember, well I breathed in and one of the grain thingies stuck to the back of my throat. I was literally dying in the middle of the quad.”
I opened my mouth to say so what, you never chew properly, it was granola, but she barrelled on. “And the girl, Jessica, you said all those facts about her that were true, then she told the world about it while in a TikTok with Cecilia Maddox! The video blew up, our page is blowing up.” She emphasized every “up” like we’d won the lottery.
The blonde Asian swept up her Medical Terminology: A Living Language textbook and stomped to the parking lot. Right to the white Tesla in the handicapped spot.
“Okay… Let me see the video…” I moved forward, cautious.
Erin pulled up all the duets to Jessica’s post and replayed the cat one. I only watched halfway before a thought rolled into my head like a storm overnight, muffled and sneaky.
“The cat, it’s overweight and has arthritis.”
Erin raised a brow and I surrendered my hands, unsure what to say.
She moved my drink in front of her, propped her phone against the side, and applied red-tinted chapstick to her lips, nose, and cheeks.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to answer that guy’s duet with your prediction.”
“And I’m not doing it…?”
“Jessica thought you were me earlier and I do most of the onscreen stuff anyways. Might as well be consistent.”
Might as well take the clout.
“Besides, you really want to make all the response videos and answer all these people?”
I thought about it, I could do it. But we both knew I wouldn’t want to so I held back.
Erin nodded. She hit record and tossed a wild amount of hair over her shoulder.
“Hey, it’s your psychic girl, Erin from @TwinMagic answering some of you all’s duets. Give us a like and follow if you want to know what’s in your future.”
Erin paused the recording. Flipped her hair. Resumed.
“I’m so sorry about your cat, but no worries. You came to the right person. From your energy, I sense Mr. Moose with the Loose Caboose will be fine, but that he needs to go on a little diet.” Erin put her thumb and pointer finger together then giggled at the camera.
I could do that. But jeez, that was a lot of energy just to talk about an overweight cat. I watched Erin and my eyes glazed over. A camera was rolling but nothing was recording. She went on like this for an hour, showing me videos, demanding I say the first thing that came to my head and then parroting it back to our followers. Every video she finished, she bounced with childish glee at refreshing to see hundreds of new views, tags, and followers.
I had to swallow down the urge to gag and Erin looked like it was Christmas. The algorithm was putting our videos on the forefront of everyone’s For You’s, and for now, we were both distracted from the glaring fact that every thoughtless blurb about someone’s test, where someone’s lost keys were, if a boyfriend was cheating—all of it was coming true.
I closed my eyes.
A hundred dollars will be in my pocket.
Conner’s number is written on my coffee cup.
Dwayne the Rock Johnson will be stopped at the stoplight in
The light stayed green. My pocket had only chapstick and a stiff ball of lint and there was no number on my cup. But right below my name, Conner had drawn a sunflower, scribbled messily with a gentle, curvy style.
“Okay, next video!” Erin scrolled then said, “Wait, I know this girl.”
She watched the video, holding her phone with two hands. I only heard the voice, but Erin’s face softened and a curtain of her tawny hair fell.
“There’s this person I really like, I see them all the time around campus and I just… I guess I want to know if it’s going to like,” there’s a high-pitched, nervous laugh, “like if everything’s going to work out. Should I approach her? Will she approach me? Let me know, @TwinMagic, love you guys!”
Erin looked up, her mouth wide open and cheeks flushed a rosy pink.
“This girl, I think she’s talking about… me? She’s in my finance class.”
Erin shows me the voice on the phone. It’s Conner.
“I have to do this one!” Erin brushed her hair from her face and checked her teeth.
In the video, Conner filmed it from behind the counter. Just now. She could be talking about anyone, but what if it was me? But Erin just said she was in her finance class.
An ugly snort came out of me.
I crane my neck back.
“Bro, you’re kidding me!” I yelled, my hands on my forehead, unable to look at my sister. “That’s it, we’re done.”
My metal chair grated the concrete and Erin was behind me, hand outstretched.
“Wait, but the duet!”
I whirled around.
“Do you ever just want to study in the library or watch a movie? Can we ever do something normal where I’m not the background character in the Erin show?”
But I didn’t say this.
I didn’t have to. Erin read it on my face and she looked like I’d thrown her phone at the wall. But she also looked sorry. And then a prediction came.
I grabbed my sister by the shoulder and marched her to the bathroom, my chest a twisting flame of bitterness and guilt. The bathroom was empty and I guided Erin into a stall.
“Here.” I chucked an overnight pad over the bathroom walls and heard her catch it.
A moment passed.
“Your new power is amazing. I think you’re amazing.” She said, her voice timid for maybe the first time in her life.
I looked at myself in the mirror and dragged my hands over my face. There was the same tawny brown hair with gold streaks from mom, same long nose, tanned skin, and widow’s peak all from dad. We were our parents, yeah. But mostly I was all Erin, and Erin was none of me.
And now I have the power to predict people’s futures, honestly too, but the predictions were meaningless and they were all for other people. Strangers. But that wasn’t Erin’s fault and I can’t always wait for the right words to magically appear.
I’m out of the bathroom and at the register. Conner stopped mid-sentence when she saw me reach into my bag and conjure two notecards.
“Here’s two numbers. This is my sister’s. And this is mine.” I slid both cards in front of her. “I love her and you probably would too. She’s gorgeous and no one cares more about others. But me, I’m smart. I’m funny. And I really like you.” Before I can say more, Conner slapped her hand over my card, my number, my hand. She leaned forward like she was about to jump off a diving board. “I like you too, Marcee!”
I didn’t realize Erin had left the bathroom until she was in the hallway, phone pointed at me and Conner. A thin line of water ran from her wrist to her elbow.
She looked at her phone. “Well guys, I retire my powers because your girl did not see that coming.”
My sister looked at me with something like surprise, but also a vein of… pride, maybe. Then she was back to her phone, gesturing a farewell salute.
“Like and follow for part two!”
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Very amusing and funny tale, Zoe. Well written and original.
Thanks so much Stevie!