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Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Writing · #2320344
Albino conjoined twins are forcibly separated by a malicious nurse, creating much chaos.
Daughters of Hope

This rather Italian-looking woman caught me picking my nose, but it's not what you think. She had no business being there.

I'd been sitting outside the library under the northernmost point of the loneliest elm and was accustomed to my seclusion in that particular space. And this was no sudden impulse; what she witnessed was a premeditated act of self-indulgence, and one that I believed was taking place in a very private, personal spot.

So there I was, content to mind my own business during a break from the rather engrossing story I'd started just before devouring the last of my stale sandwich. It was the disquieting true-life tale of a pair of albino conjoined twins who had been surgically separated in a desperate attempt to save both their lives from serious medical complications, only to be abruptly separated during their recovery when a malicious nurse, under the assumed name of Betty May Tompkins, deliberately and dastardly absconded with Grace - the younger of the two girls - out of spite for the twins' mother, whom she blamed for stealing her summer sweetheart when they'd both vied for the title of Miss Strawberry Patch 1964, somewhere inside the coast of Rhode Island. Neither girl had actually been from Rhode Island but had been relocated there separately, though surreptitiously, by their parents in simultaneous attempts to improve each girl's respective frail health: an act which added to the growing list of karmic links between the two.

Each girl seemingly progressed nicely throughout those formative teen years leading up to the now legendary, and some would say scandalous, pageant held during the tumultuous spell that was the summer of 1964, just inside the coast of Rhode Island: despite numerous reports of a bad oyster yield that season. But neither young ingue was concerned with the ebb and flow of oceanic commerce: they merely wanted the envied title of Miss Strawberry Patch to further bolster their respective incredibly proactive teen years; a crown and sash were nothing to scoff at, and each young woman wanted badly the prizes, attention, and boundless social engagements that came with the seemingly straightforward notoriety of being awarded the prestigious title.

How could either girl foresee the residual emotional pain following that ceremony and how it would severely alter the course of two innocent unborn conjoined lives all those years later? No one, not even the twins' then unwed father, Sterling Norcastle, knew that Rosemary Eileen Rosewood: the target of Betty May's resentment, belle of Concord, Rhode Island, and the trophy wife he so desperately needed to fulfill his ideal ten-year plan, was three weeks pregnant with twin albino girls when she accepted the title of Miss Strawberry Patch 1964. Little indeed was he aware of the consequences of one naked moonlit swim, and their brief moment of fervor at the edge of the chilly water, before returning to the Junior Achievers overnight picnic campsite and the comforting sounds of their unsuspecting, slumbering classmates.

Just two days after the pageant, Sterling announced their engagement at a predetermined moment during the soiree Rosemary's parents had thrown in her honor.

As she sat intently alone in the corner of the Rosewood's pale blue drawing room, Betty May Tompkins - or Lucinda Ivory Hogsworth, as she was known at the time - saw through the green eyes of envy that Rosemary had it all: She had the title, she had her man, and she would soon have the family Betty felt she so rightly deserved but had been sadly denied.

Unable to control her unbridled emotions any longer, Lucinda bolted from the 18th century powder blue chaise, threw her unfinished slice of seven-layer cake into the ornate, crystal punch bowl, and fled from the party wet with tears.

That night, as she wept alone in the parking lot, huddled atop the backseat of her brother's rusted Buick, she swore an angry pact: she would exact her unwarranted revenge upon Rosemary Eileen Rosewood.

Her fortitude would be tested five long years, span six states, and endure more than a dozen chancy and abusive relationships, but Lucinda was prepared to wait. She'd wait, but wasn't content to sit idly by as Rosemary and the other girls started families. She wasn't in a position to do so. Her worst fears had been realized the summer before, during an untimely slip of the clutch while doubling up on, and being thrown from, her father's tractor during a furtive late-night adolescent tryst with her cousin. The elation of motherhood would never be hers to embrace, and the conciliation prize denied her by small-town pageant life was the last stab of humiliation she needed, so she set out to tackle in a career what she couldn't possess in maternal or romantic love.

The years of hard work, lonely hours, and sleepless nights Lucinda endured throughout nursing school finally found their reward.

Betty May was working Intensive Care at the hospital the day the Norcastle twins were surgically separated. This was the moment she'd waited for: The moment she'd prepared for. The twins would need time to recover, but in a short time the grueling years through which she'd endured torment would all find a home under the umbrella of her vicious plan.

Behind the facade of selflessly picking up another overnight shift, Betty May wiped her cheap shoes across what remained of her sworn oath as a nurse and clandestinely removed one of the twins from the warmth and watchful eye of the Infant Care Unit. Through a sinister network of banished nurses and social misfits, she had the child stashed in a neighboring town for two months before she felt the time was right to abandon her job and steal away with her pick of the now disjointed twins.

But the unflinching eye of fate wasn't finished with Betty May.

Only six months after fleeing cross-country to Texas with the stolen child she was stained with ugly tragedy one final time when she tripped over an empty milk bottle while dusting her Miss Strawberry Patch 1964 third-place trophy, fell backward against a full-length mirror, twisted and impaled upon the glass shards, and broke her neck as she fell headfirst onto the un-waxed linoleum floor of the mildew-stained kitchenette inside her rented studio apartment. She was discovered amidst the broken glass, trophy still clenched in her tight fist, after a neighbor reported hearing the crash through Betty's open window.

The only true witness to Betty's death was a frail, horrified child rendered speechless by the atrocity. The terrified Grace, still unknown to local law enforcement and Social Services authorities, was unable to reveal her true identity when taken into custody and raised an orphan in the Mercy Sisters of Recovery Orphanage just outside Huntsville. The traumatized Grace would rarely sleep through her tears over the next decade inside the lonesome walls of the Recovery Orphanage.

It seemed as though Betty May's personal tragedy had somehow sewn itself into the lining of Grace's fractured soul and pulled her deeper and deeper into an unhealthy isolation made uncannily worse by her silence and the ever-present separation she felt from her twin sister Evelyn. Hours she would spend rubbing the spot on her left elbow that had once linked her to the only other person who truly knew how it felt to be together as one.

The sisters of Recovery Orphanage habitually feared for her wellbeing.

As Grace slowly unraveled inside the orphanage, her sister Evelyn, and parents, Rosemary and Sterling, fared little better. Without both girls to complete the idyllic family picture, Sterling had begun to implode from the pressure he felt by failing to protect his wife and children from the ever-present dangers of the outside world. He himself owned the painful responsibility for Grace's disappearance. And though she would never admit it aloud, Rosemary implicitly felt Sterling hadn't done enough to keep the girls safe, and that even though he had never intentionally placed them in harm's way, somehow he must have dropped his guard long enough to allow the loss of their precious daughter.

The varnish had eroded from their pristine Americana, and nowhere inside the cold walls of their stucco mansion could it be redone.

It was here, in Texas - now years later - and a far cry from the innocent squabbles surrounding the beauty pageant involving their birth mother, and despite Grace's escape from the Mercy Sisters of Recovery Orphanage and Evelyn's dire attempts to recreate her own version of her mother's teen popularity, a cruel twist of fate hurled the twins on a collision course down the same rural highway.

On the twins' sixteenth birthday, Sterling - bound to pull his family from the brink of destruction - purchased a pair of identical metallic blue 1956 Chevy Bel-Airs: the very car his father, Sterling Norcastle Sr., had purchased for him on his sixteenth birthday in a heavy-handed gesture to distract his wife, Sterling's mother, from the lascivious affair he'd been having with his business partner's college-age assistant. Doomed from the day he first sat upon the bright blue vinyl driver's seat, Sterling took only six weeks to wrap the car around an oak tree in the front yard, and a mere one week later for his mother, having just returned from The Daughter's of the Revolution's annual retreat in Martha's Vineyard, to file for legal separation from Sterling senior upon her discovery of: Another woman's stockings, a slightly used Shady Pines Roadside Lodge matchbook, and that month's photo-filled issue of 'Homegrown Honeys' which had been hidden under the guest pillows, tucked behind the dusty photo albums, and covered with Sterling's college golf spikes inside the closet of the spare bedroom.

But here, in the sweltering Texas heat, Evelyn was elated, yet profoundly saddened, as her father led her and Rosemary into the garage to unveil the twin cars he hoped would somehow magically reunite his baby girls and reassemble the shattered pieces of their dismembered family. Sterling knelt down to assure her that this gesture was certain to bring his girls back together, but all Evelyn could do was collapse onto the garage floor and tear at the giant pink ribbon wrapped loosely around the cars.

For weeks she staunchly refused to get behind the wheel, or even set foot inside the garage, of what she had begun to call "those demon machines." Even Rosemary began to second guess what was left of Sterling's better judgment, and increasingly felt that he was simply becoming a more cowardly version of his disgraced father.

Like the majority of tragic events in the twins' short, frail lives, that fateful day in May had begun as innocuously as all the others: Evelyn's father had disappeared early without breakfast, Rosemary had argued with the maid - a woman she claimed habitually insisted on ignoring her instructions simply to spite her - but Rosemary had little time for petty spats before she left to occupy herself with her own petty distractions.

Evelyn had been left alone before, but the strain of her continued isolation, and near-constant need for reassurance, had gotten the better of her, and she suddenly found the strength to: enter the garage, tear away the pink ribbon, and turn the key of her 1956 metallic blue Chevy Bel-Air and venture out on what was to be her personal titanic voyage.

Then, a precise six minutes later, Grace was miraculously deposited at the front door of her long-lost family by a soon-to-be off duty cab driver scrounging for one last fare before slowly heading to his dingy one-room apartment after another seemingly endless, and somewhat unrewarding, overnight shift. Grace, overjoyed at the thought of seeing her family for the first time in ten years, tipped the weary driver fifty dollars from the money she had carefully removed from the Mercy Sisters of Recovery Orphanage the night of her escape.

Frantic and nearly breathless, Grace knocked eagerly, and was greeted by the unappreciative maid who momentarily mistook her for Evelyn, before she noticed the tattered suitcase and patchy haircut Grace had given herself at a truck stop bathroom the day before in a determined act of revolt against everything the Sisters of Recovery had done for her over the past ten years.

Realizing the case of mistaken identity, the maid told her Evelyn had driven off just moments before. Grace, unstoppable in her mission to be rejoined with her sister, hastened to press the maid for a means to follow her twin.

As she raced into the garage and turned the key, revving the still untested engine of her identical Chevy Bel-Air, Grace felt the presence of her sister charging through her veins more than at any other moment in her life. She could very nearly taste their reunion in her mind, and having barely digested the idea, she threw the car into reverse and raced down the street, leaving behind the pale pink ribbon that had once encircled both cars.

The twin metallic blue 1956 Chevy Bel-Airs collided spectacularly somewhere between Beaumont and Houston. Flames, tires, hood ornaments, and shattered morbid dreams flew skyward as both cars exploded simultaneously mere seconds after the lone passerby had successfully pulled both girls from the twisted wreckage in a somewhat selfless act of courage that quiet Monday afternoon.

Raoul "The Snake Eater" Velasquez, an out-of-work circus performer and rare car collector, had been trying to catch Evelyn from the moment he witnessed her remarkable 1956 metallic blue Chevy Bel-Air burst past him only minutes before.

Airlifted to the hospital, then supported medically by an overwrought Evac team that had seen its share of twisted carnage during that extended red-hot Memorial Day weekend, and supported spiritually by their new clairvoyant benefactor: Raoul "The Snake Eater" Velasquez, the twin girls were diagnosed beyond critical and rushed into emergency surgery where the once top-notch surgical team made the split-second decision to rejoin the twins in a frantic and heroic attempt to save both their precious and nearly identical lives, and not merely play it safe by remaining satisfied with saving the life of the younger and always stronger twin, Grace.

Days, and many liters of AB-negative blood later, as the girls slowly regained horrified consciousness, and struggled meagerly to undo the careful procedures that had saved them, the twins immediately swore a volatile and public oath to act out revenge upon the once top-notch surgical team that had made that split-second frantic decision to rejoin them in an attempt to save both their now hideously mangled albino twin lives.

But unknown to anyone besides the girls themselves, just days before being separated all those years earlier, they had sworn a previous and equally vicious oath that neither life was worth living alone and that they, upon recovering from separation surgery at the tender age of five, would take their own lives by slitting each other's throats with the razor sharp points of the twin trophies their mother had won, not in the Miss Strawberry Patch contest of 1964, but with the back-to-back trophies their mother had garnered the following year as the first woman to give birth, albeit prematurely, to not one but two albino girls miraculously and precariously joined at the elbow.

The trophy, originally one-of-a-kind, had been reproduced in haste to celebrate the second miracle child born that bitter year in the then barren and snow-blanketed city of Hope, North Dakota. Hope, it seemed, had truly been restored to this forgotten city; one that had witnessed so many pointless tragedies in recent memory.

The distressed civic fathers were only too willing to bestow boundless accolades on the shiny yet pallid twins and their exuberant yet emotionally drained parents, Sterling and Rosemary, who had uprooted themselves from Rhode Island several months earlier when Sterling accepted the position of junior partner at Blakely, Howe, Coopersmith & Hellmann: Attorneys at Law - Hope, North Dakota's most prestigious, albeit only, law firm.
Those twin trophies, once symbols of a new and promising beginning, presented to the joyful parents of "The Pride of the Dakotas" and "The Daughters of Hope," were the twins' intended implements of death in their dual suicide pact.

But their juvenile and morose plan was derailed by the sudden disappearance of Grace, and they never set eyes upon each other again until that fateful day in Texas - ten years later and mere milliseconds before impact - when both girls suddenly yet briefly recognized the other through the oncoming windshield.

The following days headline in the Beaumont Times Herald would later read, "MIRACLE ALBINO TWINS COLLIDE HEAD ON!"

Neither girl had a ghost of a chance to avert disaster beyond that brief moment of recognition before the cold fist of fate thrust them headlong, then lay them side by side, one hundred feet off the dusty Texas back road that marked the point of their impact and, sadly, their point of no return due to the swift thinking and inhuman reflexes of Raoul "The Snake Eater" Velasquez, who openly wept as he dragged the slightly older and somewhat wiser albino twin, Evelyn, from the now shattered Chevy Bel-Air.

Prior to that horrific day, Raoul had cried only once before, when months earlier he watched the circus he'd devoted his life to tumble tent by oversized tent after the once-lengthy lines of eager patrons had dwindled to several dozen senior citizens who had to be bused to the shows a mere two days a week. Never had he felt so small or his stomach so tense as when he passed his threadbare snake whip back to the circus owner that last unseasonably cool Wednesday evening in August, just outside Amarillo. He'd grown too old to start over; the cruelty of time, and countless snakebites, had taken their toll on his skin, his nerve, and his desire for the ever-narrowing spotlight in the unforgiving world of the traveling circus.

As Raoul gazed upon the crumpled, burned out wreckage, he quickly began to realize the warmth of his glory days were gone, much like the twin metallic blue 1956 Chevy Bel-Airs.

Watching the rescue helicopter lift into the air, carrying the comatose twins, and forming an impromptu dust storm around him, Raoul stared back at the twisted metal and shorn fabric. Wiping aside the tears and dirt from his eyes, he seriously doubted he would even be able to salvage the cars for parts.

Inside the Intensive Care Unit, as the two rejoined girls awoke in the hospital that day - swearing profanely at the doctors and nurses who had risked their careers and stunted personal lives to save them - a decision was made by the staff. Evelyn and Grace had to be sedated until the molasses-like healing process and delicate surgical stitches could take hold. Both girls had obviously suffered more than plain physical disfigurement; the tragedy of the previous day's events had taken their toll on all involved.

Eighteen hours in surgery had cost one relationship, sparked a ray of optimism in another, and permanently attached the girls - not at the elbow as once before - but now at the hip and shoulder, a risky procedure performed only once before by the world-renowned hospital team making waves and setting precedents inside the well-regarded walls of the Helsinki Hospice Care Center halfway around the world and a far cry from the prestigious facilities that made up Houston's Medical Center: a complex so close to the Zoo that on choice days when the winds favored the hospital the smell could hardly be ignored, even by the most seasoned of employees.

But medicine was medicine and egos were egos and no foreign surgical team was going to upset the standard being put into motion in Houston as those two girls were sewn back together as one.

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