They say everyone has a double, a doppelganger, someone who’s their mirror image. What if you just met your double? What if you were a thirteen-year-old kid who’s gay and you just met your double?
My neighborhood isn’t that interesting, in my opinion. It’s mostly just houses, lots of houses. But once we walked a few blocks we could see the downtown shopping area that started a short distance downhill.
“You want to go downtown?” I asked Todd, pointing to the view ahead of us.
“Sure, if we have time.”
I checked my cell. “It’s noon. We don’t have enough time to do much. Do you like coffee?”
“Yes, but only in things like lattes and cappuccinos. Straight coffee is too strong.”
“Okay, we can go down to Pacific States Coffee and get something to drink, and we’ll still have enough time to walk back and be home by one.”
That’s what we did. Todd got a dark chocolate latte, I got an iced mocha. None of the tables outside were being used, so we found one away from the entrance and sat sipping our coffee drinks and not saying anything for about a minute.
I decided to break the silence. “I think we oughta talk about what we did this morning.”
Todd looked at me with what I’d call a worried expression. “What do you mean?”
“Todd, I’m gay. I told you that. But you haven’t said if you are or aren’t. I need to know. I don’t want to keep worrying about it.”
He started laughing. Finally he stopped and was able to answer. “Your memory is starting to fail. I did tell you that I’m gay when you asked if I went to church. Besides, after what we did this morning how could you have any doubts about me? Knowing that we’re almost-identical twins how could you have any doubts about me? Sheesh. Yes, I’m gay. No, until this morning I hadn’t done anything with anybody other than myself. I liked what we did. I liked it a lot. In fact, I loved it. That’s ‘cause I love you, you dufus!”
I grinned. “Okay, then I guess I know where you are about this. As they say on the news, for full disclosure I messed around with a couple guys in middle school. Just looking and touching. Once with each guy. Does that bother you?”
“No, why should it? It’s kinda cool that you’re experienced. You can teach me stuff.”
“I’m not experienced! Well, now I am after what we did this morning. Which I totally loved doing too, because it was you I did it with. I love you too, Todd.”
We sat grinning at each other, then Todd chuckled. “You know that now we know we’re cousins that what we’re doing is incest. Does that bother you?”
“Really? Why not?”
“Because no matter how hard we’d try, there’s no way either of us would ever get pregnant. So what do you think? Does it bother you?”
“No, and not because of the pregnant thing. I don’t think two guys who are cousins and are messing around are doing anything wrong. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it!” He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows.
“I can agree with that. Let’s finish our coffees and start back.”
“Okay, but there’s one more question I have. What if we get caught?”
“Hmm. That’s a tough question to answer,” I replied. “I guess we should say we’re just messing around, and lots of guys do it when they’re our age. My mom and dad already talked to me about being gay or just experimenting. They both said it’s normal to experiment with another guy, and it doesn’t mean I’m gay.”
“When was that?”
“Seventh grade, when I turned twelve. Mom sort of caught me and Tommy.”
“He was one of the two guys?”
“Uh huh. There wasn’t anything to see, but Mom walked in as we were pulling our pants back up. It was so embarrassing! She apologized and walked out, and from then on both Mom and Dad knock and wait for me to say okay before coming into my room.”
Todd grinned. “So something good came out of something that could have been very bad.”
“Yeah, that’s for sure,” I agreed. How about you, when did you know you’re gay?”
“As soon as we had to start showering in PE,” Todd said. “Looking at all of those guys made me realize I liked looking at them a lot more than looking at girls.”
“I think some girls are real cute, and talking to girls is fine. Not that I’d ever want to go out on a date or go steady with a girl. Going out in a group is okay. I did that a few times in eighth grade.”
“I went out on group dates too, even though we didn’t call them dates. A bunch of us just got together to go to the movies, or play miniature golf, or go to the mall and hang,” Todd said.
“Miniature golf? Where’d you go to do that?”
“Alameda. I don’t remember the name of the place, but it was a blast and was indoors. That turned out to be a good thing because it started to rain while we were there. We didn’t get wet, but we could sure hear the rain.”
“Hey, we really better get going,” I said. “We only have twenty minutes to get home.”
After putting our empties in the trash we started the walk home.
“What do you tell girls that hint around about having sex?” I asked.
“Thanks, but I’m Catholic and that’s against my religion.” Todd grinned.
“And that from a guy who a little while ago told me he doesn’t go to church.”
“Okay, I’ll bet you’re going to pull that religion card when a girl tries to make out with you!”
“It’s never happened at Carver, and it probably won’t happen at Wilson.”
“I’ll bet it will. Girls get a lot more sophisticated when they get to high school. Of course, guys are too, but we’re talking about girls trying to make out with you.”
“One question, Todd. Why are you so hot to learn about sex? You should know all about it by now. You said you can access anything on the web.”
“Because in Health on the next two Mondays they’re going to demonstrate how to put on a condom, and then give one to each of us.”
“They’re going to demonstrate doing it? Who are they going to use as the Guinea pig?”
“Mr. Broom Handle. You didn’t think they’d do it on a live person, did you?” he asked.
“You did, didn’t you!”
“Yes, but so what? I was lured in by your convincing way of, as my dad says, ‘skirting the truth’ so you took me in. Anyway, I thought you’d have seen that on the web.”
“Not really. The other thing is the class is going to be filled with boys. You know what that means?” Todd asked.
“Hard-ons showing in every guy’s pants! To the left of me! To the right of me! Everywhere!”
“I don’t think so. I think guys are gonna look at old Mr. Handle and say ‘meh’ and lose interest in the class,” I stated. “Okay, change of subject. You think your parents are going to let us sleep together in the same bed every Tuesday and Thursday night?”
“I don’t know,” Todd answered. “My mom is a supporter of gay marriage. My dad has clients who are gay, so he doesn’t seem homophobic. But it might be different when it’s their son who’s gay and starts messing around. I’ve read a lot of stuff on the internet about coming out at school, to your friends, and to your parents. It’s a lot bigger deal now that you and I are cousins. Seems the safest way is to wait until we go to college. How about your folks?”
“I don’t think my being gay is a problem. Mom’s a doctor and Dad’s a college instructor, and they’re both around gay people. Dad especially because he’s around a lot of college kids who are gay and not afraid of being out. The big question is what you said, that we’re cousins. Your idea to wait until we’re in college, or maybe even after we graduate from college, sounds like the best way to go.”
“What about if we get boyfriends in high school?” Todd asked.
“Well, those would be interesting conversations, wouldn’t they.”
We changed the subject and talked about what Dr. Sanderson’s reaction would be when he saw our dads.
“That’s going to be pretty fuckin’ funny,” he said.
I poked him in his bicep. “Don’t swear. Heather would be all over you if she heard that.”
“Ouch! You keep doing that. You’re not Heather’s substitute, okay? So please don’t poke me.”
“Okay, but I’m going to keep reminding you, but without the pokes. You’re getting sloppy and you know what will happen if Heather hears you swear.”
“Yeah, you’re right. It’s really hard to break that habit. But I’ll try, and you can remind me, verbally, and maybe that’ll help.”
“Okay. And I won’t poke you anymore.”
“Scott’s got a brother who goes to Wilson. Have you ever seen him?” Todd asked.
“No. He said they don’t get along.”
“That’s too bad. But I guess it’s sorta common.”
“Yeah. Maybe we’re lucky we don’t have any siblings.”
When we got to my house Mom had ham sandwiches ready for us.
“Did you have a good time wandering around our neighborhood, Todd?” she asked, as we started eating.
“Yeah. It’s mostly houses, but when we got to the top of the hill we could see all of downtown. That’s cool. We went to a coffee place and I had a dark chocolate latte. Man, it was great.”
“What did you have, Tony?”
“An iced mocha. A medium, that’s their smallest size.”
“And where was this coffee place?”
“Pacific States Coffee,” I replied.
“I’ve been there,” Mom said. “It’s good you were walking instead of driving. There’s almost no place to park in that little strip mall.”
“There’s lots of parking in the parking garage up the street,” I said. “And it’s free.”
“But that’s two blocks away. Most people who think about going to that coffee shop aren’t going to drive that far away looking for parking and then walk back to get a cup of coffee.”
“I guess. I still think it’s easy to walk to.”
“Ah,” Mom said, “it’s good to be young. You two enjoy it while you can. Before you know it you’ll be complaining about walking two blocks to get to your favorite coffee shop.” She grinned.
I looked at Todd and shrugged my shoulders, then took a bite of my sandwich.
After lunch we waited for Todd’s folks and Scott and Dr. Sanderson.
Uncle Dennis and Aunt Nora were the first to arrive. We said our hellos, then answered their questions about whether we’d finished our homework and what we’d done today.
“Let’s go into the family room and wait for Dr. Sanderson,” Dad said. We did, and after we sat down I got an idea.
“I think Todd and I should answer the door when Dr. Sanderson and Scott get here. He expects to see the two of us, and Scott knows us, so there wouldn’t be any surprise. Then we’ll bring them into the family room and he’ll meet our dads. That ought to surprise him.”
“Sounds like a good way to introduce him to our unusual family,” Uncle Dennis said. “It will make Todd and Tony his original focus since they’re the reason he’s here. Then he’ll understand why we’re so interested in why our boys look like identical twins.”
We sat down, and the parents talked about stuff that Todd and I weren’t very interested in. Like, what did they think about the expansion of the mall, the freeway express lane that was under construction and all the traffic tie-ups it created… adult stuff.
Finally the doorbell! I got up. “Come on, Todd, let’s meet Dr. Sanderson.”
“Got it,” Todd responded, and got up.
“We’ll be back in a minute,” I told our folks.
Todd stood next to me on my right and I opened the door.
“Hi, Scott. And you’re Dr. Sanderson, Scott’s dad. Come on in. I’m Tony McKinley. This is my almost identical twin, Todd Anderson.”
“Nice to meet both of you,” Dr. Sanderson said. “On first glance I’d say you were identical twins. The resemblance is amazing. I’m sure there are some minor differences. For example, I can see that Tony has more freckles. And longer eyelashes. Todd’s ears stick out a little more.” It amazed me that he could see the small details that were the differences between the way Todd and I looked after just meeting us.
Dr. Sanderson continued, “Scott told me that you’re the same age, thirteen, and you have the same birthday?”
“Yes, November eleventh,” Todd said.
“I was born in Glendale and Todd was born in Chicago, so we can’t be twins separated at birth,” I added.
“What we want to find out,” Todd said, “is how come we look so much alike. And do things like pick the same kind and color clothes to wear every day without planning to do it that way or talking to each other.”
“Well, when I sit down with you and your folks maybe we can figure that out.”
I suppressed a giggle and made it come out as a smile. “They’re in the family room talking about us,” I said and laughed. “Come on back.”
When we walked into the family room our folks stood up. They’d positioned themselves so our dads were across from each other.
“This is my mom and dad, Trish and Rob McKinley,” I said.
“And this is my dad and mom, Dennis and Nora Anderson,” Todd said.
“And this is Dr. Sanderson and his son Scott who’s our friend from school,” I added.
“Look! Their dads are twins!” Scott exclaimed. “That’s the reason Tony and Todd look alike.”
“Yes, I see that, Scott,” Dr. Sanderson said. Well, this is a very interesting occurrence but not unknown. It’s nice to meet all of you. Especially the two fathers. If it’s alright, I’d like to sit down and the twin fathers can let me know about their backgrounds.”
Mom offered coffee and drinks if anyone wanted them, and the adults all chose coffee.
“Scott, you want a Coke? Or we have root beer, too,” I asked.
“A Coke, please.”
“Come with me to the kitchen,” I said. “I’ll get your Cokes and then we’ll come back.”
I got their Cokes and a root beer for me from the refrigerator.
“Scott,” I said, “you’re going to hear about our dads. This is personal information so please don’t tell anyone at school.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t ever do that. My dad drums the stuff about privacy laws into my head whenever he’s talking about work.”
“I think some of what you’re going to hear will surprise you,” Todd told him.
“I was already surprised when I saw that your dads are twins.”
“But that doesn’t explain why Tony and I look like identical twins. And why we’re the same age and our birthdays are on the same day.”
Scott grinned. “We were talking about you two last night at dinner, and other cases my dad had read about.”
“Well?” I said.
“I think it’d be better if you listen to my dad tell about it. He knows more about it, and I only remember part of what he said last night. And besides, you’d have to listen to it all over when he tells what he thinks about the two of you looking alike.”
“Okay,” I said. “That makes sense. Let’s get back so we don’t miss anything.”
“Okay, the boys are back so let’s get started,” Uncle Dennis said. “I’ll start, if that’s okay with you, Rob?”
“Yes. Go ahead, Dennis.”
Uncle Dennis explained how he and my dad were twins, were born in Montana. When their dad had died in Viet Nam their mom felt she couldn’t handle raising both of them as a single mother. She asked their dad’s parents to raise him, and they accepted. They took him to their home in Chicago and he kept the family name, Anderson. There was a lot more, but Todd and I had already heard all those details. He added that he met Aunt Nora in Chicago and got married in 1996 and Todd was born there in 2000, and they moved to Hillview in 2004 when he was offered a partnership in a law firm here in the Bay Area.
Then my dad explained how their mom moved to Scotland, got married to my granddad Charles McKinley, and that became his last name. They moved to Concord when he got a job here, and a year later she died from an embolism. Again, there was a lot more that Todd and I had already heard. He added that in 1998 he married my mom and they bought our house here.
“Is it okay if I tell about me and Todd?” I asked, and both my dad and Uncle Dennis nodded.
“Todd was born in Chicago on the eleventh of November in 2000. That’s where his folks were living. I was born in Glendale, the one here in California, on the eleventh of November in 2000.”
“Why were you born in Glendale if your parents were living in Hillview?” Dr. Sanderson asked.
“I’ll answer that,” Mom said. “My parents live in Glendale. My mother and father were in a traffic accident at the end of July, 2000. They needed help at home since they couldn’t get around, so Rob and I went to Glendale to help out. Rob returned home when school started in August and I stayed on. The plan was that Rob would come to Glendale for Thanksgiving and we’d drive home that weekend. I was due in early December, but Tony, as usual, was very pushy and he arrived on the eleventh of November, about three weeks premature.”
“Hey, I’m not pushy! I’m a very easy-going kid,” I joked.
“So there’s no possibility that the boys have the same mother. Did either of you have in vitro fertilization?”
“No,” Mom and Aunt Nora said at the same time.
“Nora and Trish, is it possible that you two are fraternal twins, perhaps separated at birth? What are your birth dates?”
“January ninth, 1976,” Mom said.
“Oh my god!” Aunt Nora exclaimed. “That’s my birthday, too.”
“Where were each of you born?” Dr. Sanderson asked.
“Brunswick, Georgia,” Aunt Nora said.
“Gainesville, Florida,” Mom said.
“Is there a possibility that one or both of you were adopted?” he asked. Damn, this was really getting interesting. I turned and looked at Todd. He looked as shocked as I felt.
“I don’t think so. My parents never said anything about that,” Aunt Nora said.
“Mine either. But I never thought about checking into it,” Mom said. “Is there a way we can find out?”
“There are three ways,” Dr. Sanderson said. “First, you can check your birth certificates for the name of the hospital and attending physician. If they are the same that is a significant piece of information, and I’d think there would be a high degree of probability that you are twins.
“Second, you can do a birth certificate search. In most states when you’re adopted a new birth certificate will be issued that shows the adoptive parents and the actual city, state, and usually hospital of birth from the original birth certificate. Then the original birth certificate is sealed. In most states it requires a judge’s order to unseal it and send you a copy.”
“But even if we were adopted, you said the actual city and state would be on the adoptive birth certificate. Our birth certificates show we were born in different cities and states,” Mom said.
“I wish I had my computer here to verify this. There are some states that change the state and city to that of the adoptive parents. I think Georgia does that, but I don’t know for sure.”
I noticed that Scott had his cell out and was keying something. He grinned, and showed me the screen.
“Dad, I just Googled ‘birth certificates for adoptees’ and on the website adoption.com it says ‘Several states including Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina routinely list the place of birth as the residence city and state of adoptive parents, even if that differs from the actual place of birth.’ So that means they could have been adopted, and the city and state on their birth certificates could be different.”
“Good grief,” Aunt Nora said, “this is getting ridiculous. First, Todd and Tony look like identical twins. Then we discover that their fathers are identical twins. Now it’s possible that their mothers, me and Trish, are fraternal twins.”
“I think that it isn’t just getting ridiculous,” Mom said, “it was ridiculous already.” She shook her head and chuckled.
“When I first saw Tony and he said I looked exactly like his father,” Uncle Dennis said, “I thought he was pulling some sort of joke on us. I’d say the same thing now but there’s no defendant on trial here.”
Todd laughed, “That’s my dad, always playing like he’s in a courtroom!”
“That’s what attorneys do, and why we get the big bucks!” Uncle Dennis said, and he grinned.
“Originally what you wanted to know was why Tony and Todd look like identical twins,” Dr. Sanderson said. “I have a theory now that I know the fathers are identical twins. That makes the boys first cousins. First cousins do share some DNA and thus are genetically linked.
“Let’s assume for the moment that their mothers were identical twins. The chance that Todd and Tony would look like identical twins is definitely not probable, but it is definitely possible. If their mothers are fraternal twins, then that Tony and Todd would look like identical twins would be very unusual, but still in the realm of what is possible. If their mothers aren’t related then there is almost no possibility that they would look like identical twins. If they did, they would be in the same category as unrelated persons that look alike, and we would call them doppelgangers.
“So how can we explain that they actually look like identical twins? We know they do, we have the evidence right here.” He pointed to Todd then to me. “In terms of external appearance these boys look like identical twins. So the next step is to determine their genetic relationship.
“Here’s what I propose. First, I’d like to test Nora and Trish to determine if they are related and if so if they are identical or fraternal twins. Second, in parallel I’d like to test Tony and Todd to determine how closely they are related. They are certainly cousins, but there are different genetic classifications for cousins. Both results would be returned quickly, in about a week.
“Third, I’d like to do a thorough DNA analysis of Tony and Todd to determine how their DNA compares. This test would run in parallel with the other two tests, and it would take about two weeks to get the results. Then I would assign one of my staff to do a complete analysis and report which would take about a month.
“I work for Galahad Fertility Centers. I’m the director for the Western Region. We have a DNA testing division, and that’s how I can have the screening done. There will be no charge. The study of twins is part of the research I’m doing for Galahad. Our primary business is assisted reproductive technologies. That means using fertility drugs, sperm and egg retention, and in vitro fertilization to enable conception. IVF results in fraternal twins in twenty to twenty-five percent of births. The natural rate for twins is between three and five percent. IVF does not create identical twins. The natural occurrence for identical twins in the U.S. is about one in every two hundred seventy-five births.
“So, is what I’ve proposed acceptable? I’d need an agreement signed by each boy and their parents.”
I watched Mom and Dad look at each other and nod. “We agree,” Dad said.
“Dennis and I also agree,” Aunt Nora said.
Todd looked at me and I nodded. “Tony and I agree too. So it’s unanimous.”
“This is going to be great,” I said. “Todd and I are going to do a Biology project on the comparison of our DNA. Could we get the detailed report of what you find by the first of October?”
Dr. Sanderson thought for a few seconds, then said, “I don’t see why not. I suggest that we delete any information that’s patient specific in the copy of my report that you’ll include with your project. You’ll each have your own personal copy that identifies which information is Tony’s and which is Todd’s. The copy I give you for your report will have your names and other identifiable information blacked out, and I’d include the reason for doing that at the beginning. I’d also include only the parts of my report that relate to the genes for your appearance.”
“What’s the reason for having our information being blacked out?” I asked.
“It’s part of the HIPAA regulations. That stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Essentially that means that any patient-specific data is private. I wouldn’t want your DNA reports to be identifiable to others than you and your parents, and you shouldn’t either.”
“What’s wrong with not including a copy of the report at all, Tony?” Todd asked.
“I’m thinking about Mrs. Weil,” I said. I looked at Dr. Sanderson, “She’s our Biology teacher, I’m sure she’ll want some sort of proof that we didn’t just invent the information we used.”
“What I’ll do is write a cover letter that summarizes that I’ve reviewed your report, which you wrote based on a detailed study that I provided you that addresses why you two look alike and how you’re related to each other, and that the study has information restricted by HIPAA regulations. I’ll sign the cover letter with my name and other identification so she can phone me if she has any questions about the validity of the information you used to as the basis for your conclusions. Of course, I’d need to review your report in advance for technical accuracy. How’s that?”
“Sounds good to me,” I said.
“Me too,” Todd added. “That’ll be perfect. Thanks.”
“I think that would make me and your mother more comfortable too, Tony,” Dad said.
Uncle Dennis said he and Aunt Nora approved the way Dr. Sanderson would keep the DNA information private.
Dr. Sanderson said he’d like to have me and Todd take a survey about what things we liked and what we didn’t. We decided Todd would use the kitchen table, and I’d use the dining room table.
“This isn’t a test, it’s a combination of Yes/No, multiple choice, and fill in the blank questions. For example, a question might be — but isn’t — ‘What is your favorite song’ and you fill in the blank with the name. Another question might be ‘Do you like western movies?’ and you choose Yes or No. Remember, I’m just collecting your opinions about different things. Okay?”
“Sure,” Todd said, and I added, “That goes for me, too.”
He handed us each a bunch of stapled pages. We went to our assigned seats and started answering the questions. It took me about forty-five minutes to answer all of them. Like he said, it was easy, but long.
I handed him my answer sheets. “When Todd turns his in, would you please ask him to go upstairs to my room?”
He smiled and said, “Turn around. You can ask him yourself.”
Todd handed in his answer sheets. “I had fun filling out the answers.”
“Do you need us for anything else?” I asked.
“No. I’ll be chatting with your parents, so you can go do whatever you want,” Dr. Sanderson told us.
“Hey, Scott,” I said, “come on, we’ll go up to my room and play a video game. Or whatever.”
We went upstairs, and I remembered about the Rama game.
“Say, do you have a computer at home that has the 32-bit version of Windows installed?” I asked Scott.
“No, they’re all 64-bit. Why?”
“I have Rama, a really old game that my dad gave me. It needs a 32-bit version of Windows to run.”
“That’s from the Rama book?”
“Yeah. It looks like it might be fun to play. But we’re at a dead-end with no PC running 32-bit Windows. So I guess I’ll just give it up. At least for now.”
“What do you think about everything that happened downstairs, Tony?” Todd asked.
“I don’t know. It’s surreal. I need to let it soak in. Ask me again tomorrow.”
I flopped down across my bed then Todd did the same.
I patted the spot next to me. “Take a load off, Scott.”
“Okay.” He laid down next to me. “I could fall asleep right now.”
“I know what you mean,” Todd said. “This has been such a bizarre and intense day, at least it has for me and Tony.”
“Let’s crash, then,” I said. “I’ll set my alarm for an hour from now.” I got up and did that, and was about to flop down on my bed when I decided neither Todd nor Scott looked very comfortable.
“Get up, take off your shoes, and let’s lie down with our heads on the pillows. That’ll be a lot more comfortable than having our legs dangling over the side of the bed.”
I fell asleep almost immediately. I dreamed, a very strange dream. In my dream we were lying on my bed, and I was holding hands with Scott. His hand felt good grasped in mine.
That’s when I woke up and looked down at my left hand.
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing A Time When It All Went Wrong
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