Maurice showed me his twin brother by lifting up his shirt and pointing to the teeth growing out of his stomach. They were in a half circle: five, firm, small pebbles. The edge of an ear protruded above them like a fish gill.
Maurice dropped his sweatshirt back over it. “There’s a bunch of cells from his face there. We were supposed to be twins when I was in my mom, but then it was just me.” Maurice smiled, proud.
“Was he trying to get out?” I looked at his stomach uncertainly. As a girl, I didn’t know why he had cornered me to say this. He could have told any of the boys in our class.
Laughing, Maurice said, “I didn’t eat him. We fused when we were eggs, like two pieces of wet gum.”
I told him I had to get home for dinner. After he explained the twin to me like that, though, I didn’t feel very hungry. My bike was leaning against the fence post. I edged my way toward it backward but Maurice followed.
He loomed. I had read what looming was in books but I had never seen it in real life, not the way Maurice did it. “The teeth started growing when I began to lose mine.”
“Uh huh.” The heel of my sneaker touched the front tire of my bike.
“I thought it was going to be a whole mouth straight to my guts!” he said.
I watched Maurice’s dark eyes getting wider as if they were going to eat his entire forehead. Feeling sick, my elbow hit the handlebars. “You want a mouth there?”
He shrugged. “Not really. I’d have to take care of him. Feed him. He’s my brother, you know?”
I got on the bike slowly, wedging myself onto the seat. I imagined more teeth growing and Maurice’s stomach turning into another face. Sweat ran from my armpits and down the back of my shirt. Instead of riding away I said, “So it’s not done growing?”
Maurice looked down, scuffing his shoe along the sidewalk. “It’s done. There haven’t been anymore teeth for years. Mom’s taking me to the doctor’s to get them all removed next Friday. I get to miss school. That’s where I am if anyone wonders, but don’t tell them.”
I nodded quickly. Maurice wasn’t unfriendly, but he was bigger. He was probably the biggest kid in our class except for Alison, whose parents didn’t know the difference between a boy’s and a girl’s name. “Why didn’t your mom do that when you first started to grow them?”
“I’m taking swimming lessons this summer. I gotta get rid of ‘em.”
“Even though they’re part of your brother?”
Maurice stopped and looked up at me, lost.
When he didn’t say anything, I figured it was okay to leave.
He said goodbye and waved as I rode away. It wasn’t an enthusiastic wave. He just lifted his hand, his fingers held out like he was going to pull on some invisible threads to stop me from going.
I didn’t have nightmares about the second mouth, or anything, but that was mainly because it kept getting into my head while I was trying to go to sleep. I hated him for doing that.
Maurice, on the other hand, thought we were friends now.
He didn’t try to hang out after school or anything, but when we would pass in the halls, his head would jerk upward and I would copy him sometimes with a smaller nod. That seemed to satisfy him because he would smile and walk away.
I didn’t even want to know about his stupid teeth.
During the day when Maurice was supposed to have his operation, though, he was still in school. Maybe it had just been Halloween make-up, I thought, and I was too dumb to see that. The thing with the brother had sounded mostly real, though.
I was wondering about this when I ran into Alison in the hall. He was as big as ever and must have been having a pretty bad day—the seventh graders from the middle school down the road liked to throw their lunches at him from the school bus—because he gave me a hard push when I walked into him.
Because my gut told me to and because a bruise the size, shape, and color of a rotten banana started to form on my arm, I pushed back with my math book.
Alison didn’t move but he frowned and laid me out flat, the back of my head hitting the floor. Today, it was tough to feel sorry about the orange peel in Alison’s hair.
I hadn’t even seen Maurice, but he must have been just down the hall, because he ran up and tackled Alison. I’m pretty sure that if the gym teacher, Mr. McKillian, hadn’t been the one on hall monitor duty, Maurice would have gotten suspended.
Instead, Alison pulled him over his head and slammed him down so that he was laid out on the floor like me.
Alison, standing over us, reached around to touch his back. “You bit me!” he said to Maurice.
Mr. McKillian touched his shoulder, told Alison that Maurice had done no such thing, and took him to the office. Later, I think he got Alison to join the wrestling team.
At lunch, I sat with Maurice.
“I thought you were going to be gone today,” I whispered to him.
He shook his head and grinned. “They’re putting it off.”
“Not taking swimming lessons?” I took a bite of my sandwich.
“Nah. They want to run some tests. There’s a new tooth!”
Thankfully, he didn’t offer to show me this time. Instead, he happily pulled out two sandwiches, one for him and one for his brother, and started eating both. After a while, I went ahead and offered some of my chips as a thank you.
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