Diane D. Gillette

Compliance

Mara could feel their little eyes on her as she stood smoking out in the clump of trees behind the house. She turned slowly and spotted the twins both crouching in the low branches of a huge old elm. She'd spent many hours in that tree herself a million years ago.

“Hey there, baby goats,” she asked. “What's shaking?”

“We're not baby goats,” Jacob said at the same time his sister Lily squealed, “We're telling Mom you're smoking!”

“No one likes a tattle tale.” Mara pinched out her half-smoked cigarette. “And what are you then?” she directed at Jacob.

“Kids,” the offended twin answered while his sister swung down and dangled off her branch, lingering before dropping to the ground in catlike squat.

“Exactly,” Mara said. “Besides, Mom already knows I'm a bad influence on you. That's why she wants me to move out before you guys have a chance to grow up and be just like me.”

“And will you comply?” Jacob asked as he followed his sister's lead and swung down to the ground.

“Comply? Christ. What kind of seven-year-old uses the word 'comply'?”

“The know-it-all kind,” Lily answered for him. “Will you, Mara?”

“Oh, I'm not going anywhere. That’s my vow to you, my little baby goats. Now shouldn't you guys be getting ready for bed?”

“Mom said we could come tell you good night,” Jacob informed her.

“Oh. Well, good night then.”

Mara was almost bowled over when the twins threw their warm little bodies at her and sparked that little feeling in the pit of her stomach – one she’d once pushed away. She was so scared of needing them. She'd tried to shut it out, but they had a way of kicking down doors.

Fourteen years separated Mara from the twins. The family joke was that Mara had been the “tester” kid and once her parents had gotten the whole parenting thing down, they’d done it for real with the twins. Mara didn't mind the jokes at her expense. They weren't unduly deserved.

She watched the two of them disappear into the house and thought about re-lighting her cigarette, but got distracted by the rush of truth that wanted to spew forth out of her and follow the children into the house. Become a raging river that would capsize their tiny, perfect, false little lives.

Mara hadn’t thought what it really meant when she agreed to her mother’s proposal seven years earlier, but to undo it now would mean telling them everything they knew to be true was a lie: not twins at all -- aunt and nephew born three days apart, and a mother too young to recognize that the worst mistake of her life hadn't happened at the conception, but instead at the birth.

Diane D. Gillette lives in Chicago with the love of her life. She teaches by day, writes by night, and constantly tries to meet the demands of her cats. To read more of her work, visit www.digillette.com.