Chapter 4

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"Hey, Noah? Did you hear about the Spanish fire fighter who had twin sons?"

"Mmm." From in front of me, Noah's noncommittal grunt indicated that he was listening, which was good. Sometimes his head kept him so imprisoned, he couldn't even hear the outside world.

Flapping my wings faster to match his pace, I delivered the punchline. "He called the first Jose and the second Hose B."

Nothing. "Come on, Noah. I know it's not the funniest joke you've ever heard, but you could at least politely chortle. Or make that internet-funny noise where you expel slightly more air out of your nose than usual."

We flew on in silence, cruising above the clouds. Not only had Noah missed the gag, he also missed the deeper meaning of the joke that had been playing on my mind for a few days. When you're a twin, your entire identity is defined by being the other half of a different person, no matter how different you are.

When we were little, I remember always getting compared to my mother and grandmother. A bit weird now I really think about it, you know, because I'm a dude, but it was true. My mother was a big, funny woman with a huge laugh and a permanent smile. I'd never met my gran, but Pop told me she was the same. I idolised my mother, deciding from very young to always be as fun and optimistic as she was.

Noah was different. Even as a toddler, he was serious and deep, my complete opposite. By the time we started school, it was clear Noah had an intellect far beyond the rest of us. He absorbed knowledge with lightning speed and spoke like an educated man instead of the child he was. Teachers despaired, unable to teach a kid who already exceeded their understanding on most topics and home schooling was recommended. Noah burned through the curriculum at his own pace, completing high school when he was only twelve.

Although we were nothing alike, not even identical, Noah and I had always been close. As babies, we slept in the same cot because we screamed if you separated us. We learned to walk by leaning on each other, supporting one another with our chubby baby fists. We shared a room for years, only splitting to different bedrooms as teenagers when Noah finally grew sick of my snoring and I was fed up with his light keeping me awake as he read into the wee hours of every night.

There wasn't anything we hadn't shared and we'd survived it all together: chicken pox, our wings growing in, the death of our parents, puberty. If I needed him, Noah was always there and I would have thrown down my life for him without thinking twice. He frustrated the hell out of me most days, and I know I did the same to him, but if I didn't have him there, my life would have been so meaningless and lonely.

The times I loved best with my brother was when we were in flight. That night had been no exception. We'd been soaring for hours and Noah's face had finally relaxed, which I knew meant that he'd worn himself out enough to stop his big brain from overthinking for a while.

Our surprise visitor, well, she kind of set things back. She appeared, Noah gave chase like a demented, angry crow and all I could do was fly after them. When she burst up through the cloud bank in front of me, I could see the pure fear on her face and I would have given anything to stop her panic, to let her go.

Noah wasn't one to give up, unfortunately, and when I saw them heading skyward, I knew it could only end in someone getting hurt. I hung below, waiting and watching their tiny figures ascend, slow, stop. When she began to fall, I knew I would only get one shot at catching her. But God, Allah, a big fat Buddha, someone must have been smiling on me because she dropped neatly into my arms, as if she was meant to be there.

The whole flight home, I concentrated on remembering what I knew about altitude sickness and oxygen deprivation. It wasn't much, but thinking about it distracted me from the ache in my wings and my arms. She was light, but I wasn't exactly used to carrying bodies on our late night outings.

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