He smelled like whiskey. He always smelled like whiskey. Sweet and young, eighteen years old, and yet alcohol always bogged down his breath. He should have been on his way to Harvard; they should have been buying tickets to Cambridge. Sheets. Mini-Fridges. Bedding. That had been the plan, yet for some reason all the plans made in his family seemed to get washed wayside. For eight years he had been keeping a secret, for eight years he had been protecting his mother, the only family he had left, but not anymore. He would finally be free.
The room was damp and dusty, things scattered all over the floor: books and magazines. Her eccentric brother was at it again. He had carried their mom on his shoulders for longer than she could remember. Her younger brother, her hero, had finally cracked. Her Dartmouth tee shirt clung to her protruding bones. Sweat. She walked to the recliner he hadn't left in days. "Anderson, get up." She demanded, "I miss her too. She was my mother too, but you don't see me mourning like this."
He took a sip from his square bottle. "You don't understand. You can't understand."
"Why not?" She asked clearing away a spot on the couch behind her. "Why can't I understand?"
"Because you don't remember," he replied. "You don't remember the day she lost her mind. You don't remember Cassidy."
She looked her brother in his eyes, pale blue. She stared intently at his stubble, she watched the way he ran a hand under his chin. Tears welled in her eyes. Her mother had lost it, and her brother, all she had left, was following in her footsteps. "Andy, I'm Cassidy. You know that."
"She said that I had to keep quiet. Dad was dead. Harrison was dead. Megan was dead and Cassidy was…" he began, stopping to catch his breath. "I was ten and she had been gone for months, they took her away, said she might not be stable and if they knew what she did. If they knew what she did, they would have taken me away. I'd never get her back. I was ten years old and I was all she had and you, you looked like her. You were her spitting image."
"I don't… I don't understand what you're saying." A frog took hold of her throat and refused to let go.
"The hospital screwed up. You both came in at the same time and the hospital was overcrowded. They pronounced this girl dead, this rich California girl. We hadn't seen you yet, we didn't know, we were stuck on the highway, rushing and rushing, and they pronounced this girl dead. By the time we got there, it was too late, her mother was hysterical and somehow they talked her into donating the organs. I'm talking eyes; skin, everything, and she refused to see her first. She refused to see her own daughter, thought it would be better if she kept the memory she had. Funny thing is that if she had looked at her, the whole story would have went differently."
"What does this have to do with anything? Andy?"
He took another sip from his liquor and ignored her. "The moment I saw your face, I knew. She knew too, she was just disillusioned. Everyone was dead and gone. Cassidy and I were all she had. I knew that, so I played along. It wasn't our mistake it was the hospitals'. I just thought that when you woke up, you would revolt. I thought you would say that we were frauds. I thought you would know we weren't your family, but you didn't remember.
"And I was terrified of losing mother. I was terrified of losing all the family I had left, so I played along and hoped that you'd remember. They said that old items and pictures could help you, but we couldn't do that. She couldn't have you remembering, so we moved, played with Photoshop, and claimed fire when we couldn't account for things. I always thought you'd find out, always tried to drop hints, but at the same time I was scared they'd take her away and I started to like you. I started to pretend you were her and slowly I became terrified that'd I'd lose both of you.
"But, you see, I got older and I started to realize what we were doing was wrong. Terrible. Horrible. I couldn't tell you, she would have killed me. You became her golden child. Her perfect little angel, so in my spare time I investigated your family, hoping that when the time finally came and she was gone I could tell you the truth. I didn't know when that would be and I was starting to break, but then she took herself out of the picture."
"Anderson!" She exclaimed. "Look at me! I'm Cassidy Lynette Parker. I was born in Reno to Harriet and John Parker. Graduated the Sage Ridge School, which I attended on an academic scholarship. Postponed college for a year after my accident and have been flourishing ever since."
"You only think that because you don't remember." He interjected. "You don't remember jack-squat."
"Yes I do." She retorted.
"Then how come you don't know that you're not my fucking sister?" He sat up straight and stared deep into her eyes. She shook her head. "You're not my sister. Your mother gave away her organs eight years ago."
"Right." She played along. "So if I am not your sister, then who the hell am I?"
His lips clenched shut and after a minute had passed, slowly she received an answer. "Cooper. Marissa Cooper born on May 4, 1988 to Jimmy and Julie in Newport Beach, California. Your mother has been married three times and your father has a few run ins with the law. You have a younger sister named Kaitlin. Throughout your teenage years you experimented with drugs and alcohol. You were driven off the road by a crazed ex-boyfriend the night of graduation. He's in jail."
"Drugs and alcohol? Crazed ex-boyfriend? Constantly marrying mother?" She scoffed, "You've been watching too much daytime television."
"Cooper. Marissa Cooper." He repeated.
"No. Cassidy Lynette Parker."
"Cooper. Marissa Cooper." He was a brick wall, unyielding.
"No!" She repeated, before pausing. "You know what; I'll play this game with you. Show me some evidence." She crossed her legs and straightened her shirt. "Where is your proof?"
He looked over at the end table to his right and played with the items atop it. He moved some things around and let a few old bottles drop onto the floor. He was stalling. After a minute he had something poised between his fingers, it was bent down the middle, a white line embedded in it. He handed it to her. "The woman on the left is your mother, on the right is your father, and in the middle is - that's you."
"I don't understand." She stammered. "T-this doesn't make sense."
"Mistaken identity." He chugged some of the golden brown liquid. "They mistook you for my sister and my sister for you. You had the same height, same build, and same hair color; must have been a one in a million chance. A chance my mother took advantage of."
"But." she said simply.
"I'm sorry." He said, leaning toward her. He placed a hand on her knee. "I'm so sorry." Tears started to fall from his eyes. "We kidnapped you. We took you from your family and for that I can never forgive myself. Never."
"I don't - I don't believe you." She stood up and quickly ran towards the door. "I can't."