She knew the exact moment Molly died. She couldn’t hear the drums with her own ears but knew when they beat through Molly’s; couldn’t see the rope as it was placed around Molly’s hooded head but felt the scratch of hemp as if it were around her own neck. She closed her eyes and her body went rigid as the rope that snatched the life from Molly’s body, and then limp, so limp she may as well have been a corpse.
She was surprised she wasn’t. She couldn’t move. There was a great emptiness in her where something she’d felt for a lifetime was now gone. After eighteen years of feeling Molly’s every emotion, every cut, scrape, scratch, and broken bone — of living Molly’s life with her but from across town, never speaking or playing with each other because their families would never allow it — after two decades of being the other girl’s echo chamber, she should be dead. Molly was dead. Why did she still live?
She’d spent so long hiding it. Maybe she’d killed the connection somehow. When Molly had lost the full function of her leg, Jester had had to cover up her own limp. During puberty she’d had to deal with her own body’s changes and Molly’s, and all the lovely emotional swings that went with it. When their foster brothers had died, the pain had been double for Jester, feeling her own loss and Molly’s just as sharply.
It wasn’t fair that she would not get the peace of death at the same time. Not fair that she had to live with what was now the absence of sound in her head, the absence of taste in her mouth, the absence of colour in her sight. Everything was now halved and it was as painful as living with nothing.
If she’d had the strength for anger, she would have blamed the twins’ birth-mother, who’d given up each of the girls to different, childless families. Had it not been for this strange connection Jester had had with her sister, she never would have known — never would have questioned her parents about her true origin and thus discovered what must be the never-said truth. A truth perhaps known by no one else.
Whether Molly had ever felt what her twin had, Jester didn’t know. It didn’t matter. She’d now spend the rest of her life regretting not knowing the family she’d been too afraid to connect with — too afraid to be truthful with.
That hurt more than anything else.
Slowly she curled up into a little ball on the floor, wrapping her arms around her legs. She tried to hold back the tears, but they didn’t listen to her.
“Were you two close?” came a voice, hesitant and slurred, and followed by the sound of someone spitting.
She looked up and wiped her eyes. “Not so close as I would have liked,” she said to the healer who regarded her from one eye. “You’re injured for life, aren’t you?” she asked, and a sudden rush of guilt flooded her empty self.
Ghia moved a little, a gesture that could have been interpreted as a shrug, and spit again as blood leaked from her mouth. “If I don’t get to the hospitalis soon,” was all she said.
Fresh tears sprung to Jester’s eyes. “I’m sorry. I should have come with you two.”
“What’s done is done.” There was no censure in her voice, only compassion, and Jester felt worse.
Her hand moved to the side she kept away from the guards and surreptitiously she fingered the hard shape hidden in her pant leg. She could have used this to free them. Fear had kept her sitting in her cell, allowing Ghia to get maimed and Molly killed when she could have freed them all.
When will I stop being a coward?
Ghia looked over her again and frowned, as if she saw into Jester’s mind. Why not? She made the guards fall asleep and unlocked the cell doors with no apparent work. The healer moved her head slightly in a negating fashion, and she tried to smile, but it didn’t work that well. She spit out another gob of blood before speaking. “We’ll get out of here soon, Jester. Don’t worry.”
Jester leaned back against the wall and snorted, her face wet with tears. “Why would I worry?”
Ghia made a small “hmm” noise too tired to be a laugh. Jester stopped talking, letting the healer rest. She looked forward, and her eyes fell on the same guard who had been with them since Aeril. She didn’t know his name. His face was a familiar sight, and he’d always been kind to them, so she had no hate for him. She let her eyes rest there as she tried to fall asleep against the wall, unwilling to get up and move to her cot.
Just as her eyes were closing, she thought she saw him look from Ghia to her and wink. With a start she woke up again, but when she took a closer look, he was just staring straight ahead.