"Annie! Annie, wake up!"
The small girl tugged purposefully at her sister's bedcovers, her blue eyes big with excitement. "Annie, it's here, it's our birthday! Look! We got balloons everywhere!"
Anna opened her eyes, scrambling into a sitting position as she registered that her companion was right. The big, brightly lit bedroom that the twins had shared since the family had come to Washington DC more than four years before was carefully decked out with pink and yellow balloons, and she gave a squeal of excitement.
"We're really five!" She exclaimed. "Sylvie, we're really big kids now - Mommy said that we could go to School when we were five, like Bobby from next door does!"
"What do you think we'll get for presents?" Sylvina's mind was far more focused on the matter at hand. "Do you think we'll get lots and lots and lots of them? I hope I get a new dolly - I need another dolly to play rock stars with, cos Jennifer's head fell off again and I can't get it back."
"Daddy might glue it for you." Anna suggested, slipping out of bed and pushing her tiny feet into pink slippers. "What's the time, Sylvie?"
"Um...half past twelveteen." Sylvina gazed up at the barbie clock, but neither of the twins were able to read the time properly yet, and the hands and numbers meant little to the two small girls. "Do you think Mommy and Daddy are awake?"
"It isn't dark out." Anna ran to the window, pulling back the curtain to peer out. "Oooh...Sylvie, look! There are balloons all over the front porch, and a banner over the gate - look!"
Sylvina ran to join her sister.
"What does the banner say?" She demanded. Anna creased her brow.
"Happy birthday Sylvina and Anna." She read out slowly, for of the two girls, she was much the keener at learning her letters. Sylvina was much more active, playful and impetuous and into everything new, whereas Anna had shown every interest in her mother's extensive book and magazine collection, and had been eager to be taught her ABC.
"Good morning, girls!"
A voice came from the doorway, it's tone full of laughter, and the twins turned, shrieking with excitement as they ran to hug their mother.
"Mommy, it's our birthday!" Sylvina exclaimed. "We're five now!"
"You certainly are!" Mary Martescu hugged both girls tightly. "Happy birthday to both of you - you're getting so big! In the Fall you'll be off to school with the big kids!"
"Can we have our presents now?" Sylvina looked hopeful. Mary laughed.
"After breakfast." She said with a smile. "Daddy has an early meeting but he'll be back by ten and then you can have your presents. We've one very special gift for you this year, you know. We haven't forgotten the promise...have you?"
"The promise?" Anna looked confused, then her blue eyes opened wide.
"Oooh!" She squealed. "Mommy, are we big enough to play the piano now?"
"We said that we'd think about it when you were five, and we have." Mary nodded her head. "Come on, let's go down and grab breakfast, huh? I've made pancakes and there's a ton of syrup, since it's such a special day. By the time you're done eating and you've dressed and got rid of the stickies, Daddy will be home."
Giggling, the two girls followed her out of the room, wrapped in identical dressing gowns as they padded down the stairs to the big dining room the Martescu home boasted. Mary had never intended to dress her children alike, but 'switching places' was a favourite ploy of Sylvina's, and she had often coaxed her sister to choose the same outfits. Even that morning, with their shoulderlength curls messy over their heads, there was little to choose between them.
And yet, Mary had never mixed them up. There was a glint of wicked mischief that gleamed in Sylvina's blue eyes, and try as they might, the twins had never managed to confuse their mother as easily as they had their father.
"I want three pancakes, Mommy." Sylvina announced as she scrambled into her chair.
"Three pancakes...?" Mary raised an eyebrow. Sylvina grimaced.
"Pleeeeease!" she added. Mary laughed.
"Okay. Here you go." She said good-naturedly. "And remember, big girls don't forget their manners. Anna, three for you too?"
"Yes please, Mommy." Anna held out her plate and Mary obliged, pushing the tin of syrup into the middle of the table.
"After you're done I want you to run upstairs, wash your face and hands and brush your teeth." She said firmly. "Then you can put on your special dresses - and if you need help zipping them up, yell, okay? But I don't want sticky fingers over pretty fabric, especially since today is a special day. Daddy's bringing home the video camera, and we don't want sticky twins on tape for all eternity!"
"Sylvie always gets sticker than me." She said.
Sylvina shook her head.
"No, you're stickiester." She objected, licking syrup off her fingers as if to illustrate her point. Mary grinned.
"If you ask me, I've identical twins with identical stickies." She said affectionately. "Watch where that's going, Sylvie! No syrup on the tablecloth, please!"
"Wasn't gonna drip it." Sylvina objected. "Mommy, do you think Daddy can glue Jennifer's head on? It's felled off again and I can't get it to stay on." She giggled. "When I'm playin' rock stars with them her head keeps falling in the drum kit."
"You'll have to ask him, but I expect so." Mary nodded. "That poor barbie doll of yours has been through a hard ride in your music industry - no wonder she's losing her head over it! Anna's dolls never fall apart like yours do."
"Anna doesn't take hers camping in the yard." Sylvina pointed out. "It's all cos Jennifer climbed that tree an' Sinatra thought she was a mouse an' bit her neck."
"Sinatra's funny. He puts dolls in his bed." Anna added.
"Well, you take teddybears to bed with you." Mary reasoned. "Maybe Sinatra does the same with your dollies."
"Silly." Sylvina laughed. "Cats don't have teddy bears!"
"Well, tell Sinatra that." Mary glanced across the dining room to where a sleek white cat was curled up on the window seat, fast asleep in the morning sunshine. "If you ask me, cats live by their own set of rules."
"I've finished!" Sylvina announced, pushing her plate aside and climbing down from her chair. "Hurry up, Annie, I want our presents!"
"I'm coming, I'm coming!" Anna hurriedly finished her mouthful, setting down her fork and heading off after her sister. There was the sound of eager footsteps hurrying up the stairs, and then the bang of a door. Mary chuckled, clearing the plates. She was fond of her twins, even though sometimes they could be more trouble than they were worth. It had not been easy for her since she had lived in DC, for, shy and retiring as she was, she had found it difficult to adjust to a world where her precious music was not such an integral part of her life. But her twins had helped, and though she still spent a large part of her day writing music for her old friends at Misfits Music in Los Angeles, she had just as gladly picked up the responsibilities of motherhood. They were demanding, but she loved them dearly.
"And heaven knows what I'll do when they go off to school and I'm left twiddling my thumbs." She mused. "I suppose I should make more of an effort to make friends and join things here in DC, rather than just showing up at the occasional corporate do as the wife of the Managing Director. Oh well. No doubt it will work out."
"You look pensive."
Her husband's voice startled her and she turned, smiling.
"No, just thinking how fast our girls are growing." She said. "They'll be off to school in the Fall and I'll miss having them around. The house will be quiet without them."
"It'll give you a chance to mingle more." Elliot planted a kiss on her forehead. "Are they up?"
"Dressing. I'm preparing for squalls when they try and zip up their dresses, but they're very independant about these things now." Mary replied. "Sylvina refuses point blank to let me help her dress unless it's desperate, even if Annie can be coaxed."
"They're not dressing alike today, I hope?" Elliot grinned. Mary shook her head.
"No...no. We chose very special birthday dresses - Anna's is pink and Sylvie's is yellow." She replied. "I'd better go up and make sure they're all right - and that they've brushed their hair and teeth. You go into the salon - they're wildly excited about presents and the promise, so we'd better put them out of their misery."
"Are you sure they're old enough to be starting the piano?" Elliot looked doubtful. "I mean, its a lovely instrument, but for tiny hands...?"
"I was five when I started to learn." Mary reminded him. "And I have my old junkheap instrument upstairs in my music room, but that's no good for the kids to learn on, it's too temperamental and old. Besides, I think it's important that they have one that's theirs. Anna especially is very keen, and Sylvie's shown signs of wanting to know, too. It's not like we're investing in months of lessons, because I can teach them myself. I think it'll be good for them, to be honest. And we did promise. We have to keep our word."
"I suppose we do." Elliot agreed. "All right. You go run round after them and I'll make sure everything's set up in the salon. I think there might be a bag or two of presents that could do with being laid out, after all!"
"Very true." Mary's eyes twinkled. "Then we'll meet back there in a few minutes!"
True to her word, Mary was soon back downstairs, accompanied by two highly excited little girls, dressed in pretty party dresses and with their curly hair neat and tied back with bows. Elliot had set up the video camera, and had laid out the presents in two piles, and the girls greeted the scene with squeals.
"Presents!" Sylvina exclaimed, then, "Ooh..." As she registered what stood in the far corner. "That wasn't there last night!"
"No, it wasn't." Mary agreed with a smile. "It's come in especially for today."
Anna ran up to the big white piano, touching it almost reverently.
"Can we play it?" She asked softly. Mary nodded.
"Of course." She said gently. "Anna, Sylvie, this is your piano. We promised you could play when you were five, and you can, because I'll teach you how myself, just like I said I would. But your Daddy and I decided it was better for you to have your own instrument to play. You have to share it, but I know you will."
"We got a piano?" Sylvina's eyes became big, then, "A real piano? Not a toy one?"
"Nope, it's real enough." Elliot assured her playfully. "Well, Sylvie? What do you think - do you like it?"
"It's pretty." Sylvina nodded. "How do you open it?"
"Here." Mary came to help the girls, revealing the shiny white and black keys. Anna reached out a tiny hand to press the 'C', giggling at the sound.
"I can play a song." Sylvina announced, leaning over and hitting a bevy of notes in quick succession. Mary laughed.
"Well, that's a good start!" She agreed. "I tell you what - I'll teach both of you to play a special little song and when your grandparents come to stay next week, you can show them how clever you both are, okay?"
"Will we be able to play pretty music like you do?" Anna asked. Mary smiled.
"If you work hard at it." She agreed. "There's no reason why not, Annie."
"I'm gonna be the bestest pianoist." Sylvina decided. "Then I can be a star, just like Mommy!"
"You're both stars to me already." Mary hugged her girls tightly. "Happy Birthday!"
Prologue: April 1st, 1997
Chapter One: Sylva's Request
Chapter Two: Samantha...and Jesta
Chapter Three: Flashback - Junior High
Chapter Four: In The Big Apple
Chapter Five: Flashback - Sammi's Eighth Birthday
Chapter Six: Flight
Chapter Seven: Anna
Chapter Eight: Flashback - The Martescu Home
Chapter Nine: Old Wounds
Chapter Ten: Jesta's Clue
Chapter Eleven: In Translation
Chapter Twelve: Flashback - Thick As Blood
Chapter Thirteen: A Friend In Need
Chapter Fourteen: Anna's Secret
Chapter Fifteen: Wedding Day
Chapter Sixteen: Flashback - First Kiss
Chapter Seventeen: Crossing The Line
Chapter Eighteen: Colin
Chapter Nineteen: Settling Up