I struggled to breathe. Gasped for air.
My eyes stung painfully. I lost my sight.
“Isabella, cover your mouth when you sneeze.”
“It’s pretty tough when you’ve just inhaled a dustball that not only tries to choke you but blind you too,” I said nasally to my Mom. I could still taste the ancient dust, the grimy particles tickling the back of my throat in the most horrible way.
When was the last time someone cracked open a window in this room?
“Mom, do we really have to move here?” I rubbed my watery eyes. It felt like some grit was stuck in there.
“How many times have we been over this, Isabella?”
Admittedly, probably a hundred or so. I knew all her excuses: Our apartment was too small, a crazy housing market, a dirt-cheap sale we simply couldn’t pass up, and of course...the star of the family. The real reason we were here.
“Sweetheart, you’re going to love it here,” she huffed, swinging a cobweb duster back and forth across the ceiling.
It was the second day of our new life at Glenbat Manor, and it felt like all we had done was battle old stringy webs. It made me wonder if the previous resident was a giant spider.
“I dunno, Mom,” I said. “The seventh grade can be unforgiving for the new kid. And I’ve missed the start of term. Kids will have their cliques formed by now. I’ll be an outcast!”
Mom lowered the duster. She gripped the ladder, swivelling her body to look at me. “Izzy, you’ve never had a problem making friends. The kids will be fighting for your attention. Trust me, you’ll be fine.”
“But what if I don’t make any new friends? What if my position on the basketball team is already taken up by a much better player? What if—”
“What if you fall and end up flying, dear?” she interrupted with a smile.
A clattering noise from downstairs was followed by a set of two voices arguing. Mom’s expression darkened like a storm cloud.
“Noah! I asked you to be careful with that!” came Dad’s voice.
Noah. My younger brother. My twin brother. But I’m older by about ninety-eight seconds, I think. And like most twins, we have this unexplainable connection. Like our minds are linked or something. For example, although I can’t see him right now, I know that Noah dropped the box with Mom’s treasured, fragile family heirlooms. If I were to guess, I would say he was looking for one of his science books that couldn’t just wait until everything was unpacked.
“Sorry, Dad!” Noah shouted, the noise of his footsteps echoing off the walls as he climbed the creaky staircase. He came sauntering into the spare room Mom and I were cleaning, laden down with the delicate box. “I was looking for my calculator.”
His calculator! I wasn’t far off. I guess the special twin connection between us hasn’t been as strong lately. Not since…
“So,” I said, planting my hands on my hips. “Are you actually going to help clean today or are you too special to get your hands dirty?”
For twins, we don’t look much alike. We both have jet black hair, but where mine is long and straight, Noah’s is short and cut tight to his head. I’m a full head taller than him, but, then again, I was the tallest in our old grade – no surprises why I’m so good at basketball.
I’m actually wearing my now-previous-school’s team grey hoodie. It’s long and baggy and probably the most comfortable piece of clothing I own. Noah, on the other hand, was wearing a short-sleeved purple t-shirt with the letters ‘E = mc2’, which I think is a math equation that has something to do with Albert Einstein?
Noah’s a boy genius—I could never compete with him on the brain scale. He has brains enough for the two of us. I’ve been fine with that until now. Until it turned my life upside down.
“Isabella,” Mom said, her voice taking on a cross edge. “Your brother has a lot of studying to catch up on to be ready for his first week at St. Alberts. I wish you could be more supportive.”
Angry tears bubbled at the corners of my eyes, and I turned away, hiding my face. I walked towards the only window in the room and stared fixedly into the front garden. The red afternoon sun hung over the house, casting finger-like shadows across the unkempt garden. Vines snaked up and tangled around what was likely an old ‘FOR SALE’ sign.
“I’ll help with the sanitation efforts, sis,” Noah said. “If you promise to partake in a classic Friday evening edition of the Miller’s family game night?”
“Me? Play a board game with you? Why would I want to do that?”
“Because we’re the Miller twins! Thick as thieves!” He pointed a finger high in the air. “Destined to accumulate fame and fortune and go down in history as the world’s best set of twins!” Mom chuckled from her vantage point on the ladder.
I snorted. “Maybe you will, boy genius. But I’m the dumb twin, remember?”
“Isabella, please stop belittling yourself,” Mom said tiredly. “Everything isn’t a competition between you and your brother.”
“No buts! Now, I’m going to get a head start on the kitchen. As for you two, I need one volunteer to tackle the basement and the other the living room.”
“I’ll take the living room,” I said, cutting across Noah. If the spider responsible for decorating the house in webs was anywhere, it was in the basement.
Noah looked as if he was about to argue, then shrugged his shoulders. “Fine by me.”
A minor consolation that felt better than it should have.
Noah saluted us and marched out of the spare room.
How was I to know how much I would regret making him go down to that basement?