Thursday to Friday evening;
Henry was feeling completely out of place. It was nine o'clock on a Friday evening, he was at a birthday party and he was all alone in a flat with a bunch of people he didn't know. Worst of all, in one sense, he was the guest of honour. "What in blazes am I doing here?"
It had all started 19 years ago, the day he was born. The extended family had been in a dither for a month already for the birth of his Aunt Annie's first child. There had been a baby shower, his Uncle John had stocked up on cigars; everything was ready for the fateful day. Even his own mother, Janice, 8 months' pregnant, had been heavily involved with all the planning because, for her, all this preparation was a dry run for when she would give birth, herself.
As Aunt Annie's due date approached, the tension mounted, tempers flared and voices were raised. Finally, the BIG day! Aunt Annie started her labour for real and was driven to the hospital. Gran and Gramps stayed by the phone to await the news while all the others followed on to the hospital to wait, all, that is, except his mother and dad. Janice had tried to do too much these last days and was not feeling well so she had gone back to her home and to bed. His Dad, Frank, had followed her home to keep her company.
At the hospital, the mood was tense: the men were all pacing while the women were sitting in a circle, discussing amongst themselves whether it would be a girl or a boy and whom the child would take after. Those who had already given birth were quite a bit calmer and took the waiting in stride. At home, Gran and Gramps were also much more relaxed than the men. After all, they'd been trough this several times before, both for their own and for their children's children. When the phone rang, however, they jumped in spite of themselves. Imagine their surprise when they discovered that the call came not from the hospital but from Frank.
All the stress of dealing with the upcoming birth had been too much for Janice and she had given birth herself in their bedroom with only Frank to accompany her! There had not even been time to call for an ambulance. An hour later, when the call from the hospital came to announce the birth of a brand new granddaughter, only Gramps was there to take the call; Gran had gone on to help out Frank and to deal with the Emergency Health Service doctor. After the doctor had examined Janice and Henry and after Frank, Janice and Gran had finished discussing it with him, he finally decided that since the birth had been a textbook example, that there was no point in bringing Janice to the hospital "after the fact", which had pleased her quite a lot because, in her heart, she had always wanted to give birth at home away from all the "medical" interference.
As children, Rikki and Henry played together frequently. They had none of the conflicts one expects from siblings, as each had the full attention of a pair of loving parents. And while that telepathic bond that sometimes exists between twins wasn't there, the fact that they shared a birthday made them feel very close to one another. It became their habit to talk to each other about anything that would bother one of them. One recurring topic was that Henry felt awkward because he was left-handed. He was not very athletic in any case and he had always assumed that being a lefty had made it worse. It certainly made him the butt of his schoolmates' jokes. The only one who never made fun of him was Rikki. Being right-handed herself, she couldn't really understand the frustration Henry was feeling but she was quite willing to accept that it was difficult for him to accomplish some commonplace tasks.
When puberty set in, first for Rikki, then for Henry, they stopped spending as much time together, choosing rather to hang out with members of their own sex. Henry, still believing he was awkward because he was left-handed, was more inclined to spend his time alone at the library, reading. He tried rationalising it away by saying that not only was he born left-handed but also with two left feet, but it still hurt. They continued to get together regularly, however, to talk about the changes that each was going through, their doubts, school, their parents, etc. Throughout high school, each one continued to be the other's most important link in their support network, especially after they had started dating and a date had fallen through or had been particularly dreadful. Since both had always been open about what they were feeling, neither had ever idealised the opposite sex nor had any false ideas about the way girls and boys were "supposed" to behave, and the failures, when there had been one, had mostly been due to the date being unable to accept an open relationship without pretence.
By the time they had graduated from high school, they both had a pretty good idea of what they wanted to do for a living. Henry was hoping to become a science teacher, so he chose the local college which had an excellent technology programme. He had saved up most of the money he had made as a clerk in the local hardware store. With that money, and with what his parents had put away for him in a college trust fund to continue his studies, he rented a small basement flat within walking distance of the college.
Rikki had wanted to get into sports medicine so she chose a college with a good Phys. Ed. Programme. Unfortunately, the college she had chosen was almost a day away by car. During high school, she had held a part-time job as an office clerk and all-round second pair of hands for the local veterinarian, so she, too, was able to afford a flat near her college.
That September, both, now eighteen years of age, were on the point of leaving for their new lives as independent adults: Henry, by bus across town, and Rikki, by train. Proudly, but still hesitant, they said good-bye to their parents; Henry promising to come by on week-ends to do his laundry and Rikki promising to write every week-end and to come back home whenever there was a long week-end ... What scared them most, however, was that this would be the first time they would be separated from each other. Their last meeting at the coffee shop where they usually met to talk had been tearful. They had encouraged each other to be brave and had reminded each other that the Christmas holidays were only 15 weeks away. Rikki had promised to call Henry's parents to give them her new number as soon as her telephone would be connected. Henry had suggested that they block out a period each week, so that there would always be some free time so that they could talk without having to keep an eye on the clock.
For both of them, college was an eye opener. They were now adults, responsible only for themselves. Any discipline they may have needed, to make sure their homework was up to date, to keep their flats clean and their clothes in order, or what have you, they had to apply for themselves. Henry, still shy and feeling awkward, would frequently stay by himself in his flat or at the college library. Oh! He did join the engineering students fairly regularly when they had a beer bash and, during winter, he occasionally joined with a group for a week-end cross-country ski trip, but for the most part, he stayed more or less by himself. Rikki, already much more outgoing than Henry, was moreover studying in a field that implied being physically fit and active. As a result, she would frequently go out on a competitive cycling trip or go downhill skiing. During her free time, she would regularly play tennis and volleyball with the other students, when she was not out hiking at the nearby wildlife reserve. Thursday evenings, however, were set aside for their weekly phone get-togethers. Without fail, one week one would make the call, the next the other so as to keep the long distance charges to a minimum, and talk about the current week, the new people they met, whether one was feeling homesick or how their studies were going. Sometimes, they talked for ten minutes only, other times it might be over an hour.
Christmas came and went, and each one grooved his life along the path he had chosen. That May, a little less than a week before their birthday, Henry mentioned during their weekly phone call that all the term papers he was required to write for that term were finished and that he was pretty well prepared for his finals which would be during the first week of June. He was feeling lonely because it would be the first birthday they would not be together and he was wondering what Rikki was planning for the summer with the idea of eventually proposing that they go on a trip somewhere together. But instead of wanting to talk about the summer to come, Rikki suggested that he take a few days off school and that he buy a return train ticket to join her for a 4 day week-end the week-end after their birthday. He could crash at her place from Thursday night to Sunday morning and take the train back on Sunday.
Henry missed his cousin terribly; their weekly telephone talks were but a poor second choice after all those years of speaking face to face. He therefore jumped at the invitation and, the following day, between 2 courses, he stopped off at the train station to buy the ticket.
.... There is more of this story ...