I am standing with my arm around Aurora’s waist, laughing at something she’s said, when I see something flicker in Carla’s eyes.
Something I can’t quite name; can’t quite work out.
It makes me uncomfortable. I stiffen, unsure what to do. I almost pull my arm from Aurora’s waist. Almost.
But then Carla laughs and the moment’s over. It’s gone. We’re a trinity again, an unbreakable unit of three. And because I don’t need to think about it; don’t want to think about it, I let it go. Let Aurora distract me; pull me in before I can think about it any further.
I shouldn’t. I should read the warning signs. But I don’t. I don’t because… because Carla’s…well, Carla. Nothing can ever break us apart. Nothing.
(Or so I thought)
The feeling intensifies in the next few days. Weeks. Months.
I ignore it; don’t let myself think about it. Or if I do, I think Carla understands.
Hope she understands.
Assume she understands.
She always understands. Why should this be any different? Why shouldn’t she realise that, new friendship or not, she and Aurora are different enough for there to be space for both of them in the limitless depths of my heart?
Carla is my cousin. Two weeks younger than me, she’s been a part of my life since we were born. Been at my side ever since we could walk. We look alike, act alike, think alike. CarlaandCorinna, they call us at school, running our names together to create a single moniker; blurring our separate identities until sometimes even I struggle to work out where one of us ends and the other begins.
If I had to use an element to describe Carla, it would be Earth I’d use. Solid, dependable Earth. She’ll always be there for me. I’m sure of it. As sure as I am that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West; that the moon waxes and wanes, that spring will come again.
(Someone should have told me that the expression ‘earth ripped from under your feet’ comes from somewhere)
Aurora, on the other hand, is mercurial. Lively, spirited, even rebellious, with a tendency to lapse into Gaelic whenever her emotions overwhelm her, she is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. She’s as mysterious as those vari-coloured lights that are her namesake. She dazzles me. She sparkles as brightly as the sun reflects off the untouched snow at the top of an Alpine ski slope, and God forgive me, I’m dazzled by her. I’m dazzled by her and I forget that the sun, beautiful as it is, is capable of damaging your eyesight. Of blinding you forever. Blinding you to what’s really important.
I realise something is terribly wrong when Carla chooses to sit with my brother at a family dinner rather than me. She’s never done that in her life. Never.
I want to reach out to her, want to take her hand and see her turn to me with her eyes shining, with laughter bubbling on her lips, with her fingers slipping trustingly into mine, the way she’s always done before.
Maybe I should. But I don’t. I don’t, and if I ask myself why, I tell myself it’s because the adults don’t know we’re fighting, that I can’t let them see anything’s wrong between us, between their precious little girls. But in my heart of hearts, I know the truth. I know it’s because I’m no longer sure that she will turn to me. I’m no longer sure that we’re CarlaandCorinna. I’m no longer sure that I can predict her every move as easily as breathing.
It hurts, I can’t deny it hurts, but I’m still convinced that a few sweet words in private will sort everything out. They’ve always sorted everything out before. I’m her guiding star; she wouldn’t pull away from me. She wouldn’t.
I wait until everyone’s left the classroom, sending Aurora on ahead to Geography, thanking my lucky stars that Carla’s always been slow at packing up. Then I saunter over to her, as I’ve done at the end of every lesson every day since we started at Secondary school and the teachers made us sit separately so they could tell us apart.
I take her bag for her, sliding it on to my own shoulder. She looks up in surprise.
For a moment, I am taken aback. The look in her eyes…if this wasn’t Carla, I’d say that was hatred. I’d forget all about what I was about to do, about to say.
But it is Carla, so I say nothing; merely jerk my head at the door in a silent “Come on.”
As we leave the room – is it me or does she hesitate, just a fraction, before falling into step beside me? -, I shrug my shoulders to get the bags more comfortable and turn to her, “Do you want to come to dinner tomorrow? We could watch a movie, have some fun.”
“I don’t think so, Corrina.”
I freeze. It’s not her words, they’re polite enough. Nor her tone – she’s as quietly-spoken as ever. It’s her use of my name. My full name. Carla never calls me by my full name. Never. I’ve been her Cora – her heart – since she could talk.
For a second, we stand like that, silence hanging pregnant between us.
I put out my hand to her, “Carla – Cara…”
“No. Corinna. You’ve made it clear where I stand with you. Well, you know what? I’m through. I’m finally through. I’m not your lapdog of a cousin anymore.”
She snatches her bag off my shoulder, pulling it so hard she makes me stumble against the wall. By the time I’ve righted myself, she’s halfway down the corridor.
“Carla! Carla, please!”
I begin to run after her, but the look she fixes me with as she stops and swings round puts paid to that. She doesn’t say anything. She just shakes her head. She shakes her head and the single movement sends a harrowing fissure of cold down my spine.
She walks away. I watch her go, the terrible realisation crashing over me in a wave as strong as those in any tsunami. Flaunting my friendship has just cost me something even more precious.