Nate watched as his instructor’s fingers danced across the strings of an acoustic guitar. He longed to play the way Mr. Williams did, and often stayed after school for free lessons. His twin sister sat out in the hall doing her homework, waiting for him to finish up, so they could head home.
“Now you try, Nathan,” Mr. Williams smiled.
Nate caressed the neck of the Gibson Sunburst his father had given him when he was ten. He turned the page of his sheet music and began to work the frets, his fingers mimicking Mr. Williams’ dance over his own strings.
The instructor’s smile spread wide across his perfect teeth, he closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair absorbing the beautiful music escaping from Nate’s hands. He waited until the end of the song, and clapped enthusiastically. “Bravo, Nathan! You are getting better every week. Before too long, you will be outplaying me.”
“Thanks, Mr. Williams,” Nate slipped his guitar into its canvas bag and slung it across his shoulder and onto his back, “I’m practicing every night.”
“It shows, boy. It shows. I will see you… Friday?”
“Yes, sir,” he said as he slipped out into the hallway where Natalie was waiting. She had her arms crossed and was tapping her foot.
“We’re late,” she sneered.
“I know… missed the bus.”
“In trouble…” she breathed.
“Let’s get going,” Nate pushed open the front doors of the school and Natalie followed. They crossed the street and cut through the Meyer’s cornfield to get to the concrete drainage ditch. It was always dry, and the quickest route home.
“Quit trying to hold my hand, Natalie.” He shoved her hard. “Someone will see.”
“Everyone knows I’m your sister, stupid.”
“So… it’s weird.”
“We are weird; we’re twins.”
“Shut up,” he groaned. They walked in silence as Nate kicked stones and watched them ricochet off the side of the tall concrete walls.
“How much trouble, you think?”
“Loads,” Natalie huffed.
“You didn’t have to wait for me.”
“Of course I did,” she smiled at him. “Stupid… besides if I got home without you; we’d both be in trouble anyway. Dad’s always angry.”
“Yeah,” Nate watched his feet as they moved along the concrete.
As they rounded the corner to their house, the neighborhood buzzed with activity. There were police cars, a fire truck, and ambulances parked in front of their home. Neighbors were clutching each other in their front yards; they watched the blonde-headed duo and whispered – pointing with their eyes as the children closed in on the scene in front of their house.
Nate dropped his guitar in the street and walked with his sister, shoulder-to-shoulder, into their front yard, staring at the house and commotion on the porch.
For a moment, the twins were invisible. People moved between them and around them. Neighborhood dogs were going wild, drowning out the sobs and gasps of their masters.
Nate felt the pull of people’s voices and heard the drone of radio communications, but he wasn’t really listening. Two looming, black stretchers floated by and disappeared; he turned away before they reached their destination. His heart was racing; each draw of air clouding his vision around the edges.
Nate watched the officer talking to the McMillans, watched as their lips moved; the woman with the slick black gloves on the porch, the fireman dressed for the non-existent fire. Two words bounced around inside Nate’s head, appearing and reappearing. They bubbled like bile in his stomach; threatening to erupt from his mouth at any moment – spilling across the manicured lawn.
If I say the words, maybe they will disappear… maybe we can go back to school. Not miss the bus, make it home on… time. Nate shook his head and felt his sister trembling at his side. Tears were free falling off her chin as she stared at the house they would never again call home.
“Murder suicide,” Nate whispered. The moment he spoke it, he felt cold and empty.
“Nate, Natalie,” a neighbor grabbed them and squeezed them close. She searched the crowd and pulled the children toward a police officer. He looked them over and sighed. “Ok, you come with me.” He grabbed Nate’s arm and started toward one of the many police cars parked in the road.
“No!” Nate pulled from his grasp and stepped next to his sister who was sobbing uncontrollably.
“We stay together,” he said firmly, as he grabbed Natalie’s hand and weaved his fingers between hers.
The officer nodded.