Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - December 10, 2010

Double Identity

by Brittany Nguyen

Susan was a mediocre girl with a whole lot of potential. All of her teachers agreed on this. Another thing they all agreed on was that she excelled only in reading because this was the one thing she focused on. But that all changed when she moved to the States.

Our gray Mercedes sped through the freeway of California. We were here. We'd been talking about moving ever since my father had found out that he was being relocated to Palo Alto, California. I opened "Double Identity," and settled in for another half hour of driving.

When we got to the house, I had just finished my book. I carefully opened the door, walked out, and took the box that I had marked Susan's Books up to my calm ocean blue room. I opened it and slowly began stacking the books in alphabetical order on the bleached white bookcase made of driftwood. Then I went down to the car, took my box of clothes, walked back up and unpacked. I had just finished unpacking my stuff when my mother yelled, "Susan, come down to go to Aunt Laura's for fish and chips!"

As we walked next door to Aunt Laura's big white house, I thought about Ava, her daughter — a prodigy writer. Ava and I had been friends when we were children, but had slowly grown apart as we became older. But when we were young, we would support each other in things from stealing biscuits to breaking Mother's favorite blue lamp.

But then I had moved to England, she had moved to California, gained fame in her writing, and won her school's writing contest year after year after year. We had kept in touch until last year, when I finally realized from her exasperated tone in her e-mails and our quick, short conversations, that my friendship was a burden, and we had finally lost contact. However, my little brother had enthusiastically emailed her brothers, and our families were still close.

When we reached her house, Aunt Laura opened the door, and Ned was immediately swept away in a crowd of Pokémon fanatics, and my parents began catching up, as they were led to the sitting room, and Ava and I were awkwardly standing there. Finally, after five minutes of silence, she blurted out, "Pig." I stared at her for two seconds before we dissolved into laughter.

"That's what you say after an awkward silence," she explained as we climbed the stairs to her bedroom. I didn't answer; too busy staring at the many writing awards that adorned the staircase walls. When she saw me staring at the awards, her tone changed.

"Yeah, those are my awards for winning the school writing competition, "she said nonchalantly, but her expression was guarded, wondering how I would react. I looked at her and smiled.

"I just might try this year," I teased, but her tone didn't change.

"Good. You just might get second."

"So who'll get first?" I questioned.

"What kind of a question is that?" she smirked, "The same person who's won first for the last five years. ME. You trying out won't change anything." We began talking, giving writing a wide berth, but our conversation hung in the air like thick smog, creating strings of tension, just waiting to break. At that moment, I decided to beat her at her very own game.

I worked hard: from the beginning of school, I threw myself into schoolwork, and every spare second was spent typing away on my laptop. Every night we would eat dinner with Aunt Laura's family, and Ava would encourage me with a little smirk in her tone that said clearly, "You think you can beat me? Think again."

But I was running out of steam. I hadn't picked up a book in months. My salvation was the textbooks and book reports for school. So it was only natural that one day, I gave up. I just couldn't do it anymore.

I slammed shut my laptop, where I had been typing pathetic attempts at my short story. What had I been thinking? I couldn't do this! I'm a reader, not a writer! What was I doing? Impulsively, I grabbed "Double Identity" off the shelves, and flopped onto my bed. I love the book for the bond between the two cousins, but now the very thing I loved most about the book mocked me, as if it were saying, "You weren't friends with Ava the way I was friends with Elizabeth."

I quickly finished that book and picked up a new one, reading late into the night. My mother wouldn't care. That night, I had finished most of the books on my bookshelf, carefully shelving them when I was done. I finally fell asleep around one, dropping straight into a dream.

"You're dropping out of the contest? Giving up? Just like that?"

Bethany, from "Double Identity," looking just as I had imagined, reproached me. "If you just give up, then you'll never find out answers."

"I thought you had learned to take risks," Harry, from the "Harry Potter" series said sorrowfully.

"I did. But I just can't do this anymore." My dream self defended herself.

When I woke up, I couldn't say exactly who said what, but I had an honest-to-God good idea. I rushed to my laptop, opened up a fresh document, and started typing.

A week later, I fidgeted in the loud auditorium as the principal, Mr. McGregor, and the judging committee read the stories. Then, I listened to third place's touching story about soldiers in the war, and sweated as Mr. McGregor read out a slip of paper with second place on it.

"And the second place is...Ava Stoker! Come on up, Ava! Give her a round of applause, folks." Ava came up with a smile that probably fooled anybody else, but I knew better than that. She was furious that she had slipped into second place, furious at herself, and furious at the person she had lost to. She was probably also kind of sad, but the main component was self-pity. And just like that, I knew that I could not have possibly gotten first.

How could you possibly think that you could win? Haven't you learned from kindergarten that you're just good for background? You're not meant to be a star. Just give it up and spare yourself the embarrassment, why don't you? I mentally kicked myself. I was so occupied in telling myself off, that I missed first place's name. They called again.

"Susan? Come on up here. Don't be shy!"

As I walked up, I heard whispers.

"Susan?"

"The new girl?"

"From England?"

"Showed up Ava."

"Cousins?"

When I finally got to the stage, Mr. McGregor handed me the microphone to give my speech, as was customary.

"I'd like to thank my mom, my dad, all those great authors that inspired me, and..."I trailed off, sneaking a sideways glance at Ava, whose eyes had filled with tears. Even without a word, I could tell she was thinking that I wouldn't say her name, even though I would've, once upon a time, a long, long time ago. But this was Ava. Ava, my best friend since kindergarten; Ava, who had been there for me until very recently; Ava, who had been all but glued to my side; Ava, my built-in best friend, cousin, and who was as good as my sister; who had, in fact, been mistaken many times for my identical twin.

"And Ava, for being more than the hardest competitor to beat; for being my best friend."

Applause rang from the auditorium. A whole bunch of my peers had confused looks on their faces. But I didn't care, because I knew that even if they didn't believe me, Ava and I were friends, because our resemblance didn't just run skin deep; it ran bone deep, because we were family, like it or not.

Family, forever.

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