by: Ashton Noone
Like mirror images, two friends lives dance in unison until a healthy devotion to sameness morphs into a perilous infatuation…
The first time that Jocelyn meets Helena, she can’t look away because they have the same face. Like her own reflection stepped out of the mirror — identical down to the freckles speckling their milky skin. They stare hard at each other across the room as the chatter of the other dance students floats past them, oblivious to the instructor asking them to line up for a demonstration of their new routine.
“Helena, pay attention,” the instructor says, frowning at Jocelyn over her clipboard.
Jocelyn shakes her head, saying, “That’s not my name.”
“I’m Helena.” The identical stranger raises her hand and the instructor stares at their faces, speechless for a moment.
“Okay, well get ready. We’re already late starting practice today.”
They stand side by side and for the next hour Jocelyn catches glimpses of Helena from the corners of her dark eyes as they practice the new routine. They share the same ash-blonde hair, curling loose past their shoulders. The same delicate cheekbones, high and regal.
“You’re the new transfer, right? What’s your name?” Helena says when they pause for a break, smiling at Jocelyn like they share some kind of secret.
“I read once that everyone has someone else that looks just like them, walking around somewhere in the world. But I never believed it until now. Come on, I’ll introduce you to my friends. You’ve got to meet them.” Helena grabs Jocelyn’s hand, leading her through the crowd.
In time, Helena and Jocelyn follow each other everywhere — as close as shadows.
Shoes are the first thing that Helena changes so that they both stay the same. Jocelyn hits her growth spurt early; almost a full six months older, she was born in the deep chill of winter, while Helena was born in the heat of midsummer.
“Don’t those pinch?” Jocelyn says as Helena takes her first hesitant steps in her new high heels across the floor backstage before their dance recital.
“Well then take them off. Can you even dance in those?”
“I don’t want to. Then I won’t look like you.” Helena shakes her head. Jocelyn doesn’t say anything because the idea of not looking the same bothers her, too. Teachers call them the wrong name in class and sometimes when Jocelyn doesn’t feel like going home, she switches places with Helena and stays at her house instead for a few days. Her own parents are always so busy arguing that they never notice the replacement.
“Are you going to the after party?” Helena changes the subject.
“I guess so. It’s better than going home,” Jocelyn says.
“Matthew will be there — I think he likes you.”
Jocelyn blushes and says, “I think he likes you more.”
“Well no one could ever like me as much as I like you. You know that, right?”
“Yeah. Can I stay at your place tonight?” Jocelyn says as someone calls their names and they head towards the stage.
They always dance side by side, moving in perfect time like the same rhythm plays somewhere deep inside their bodies.
As they grow older, people start to notice their identical faces and the effortless way they move together when they are on stage. By the time that they both reach sixteen, they have already performed as backup dancers for several celebrities and modelled for a few magazines. Always together, never apart.
“It was me,” Jocelyn says the first time that Helena gets caught smoking weed before one of their many rehearsals. Standing red-faced in their manager’s office, she repeats, “It wasn’t Helena — it was me.”
“Really?” Their manager arches an eyebrow as Helena smiles innocent at Jocelyn’s side.
“Yeah.” Jocelyn nods and their manager sighs.
“Helena, you can leave. Jocelyn, stay here. You need to talk to me.”
Helena hesitates, glancing back over her shoulder before the door closes. Later, when Jocelyn returns to their hotel room, Helena says, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. He lectured me, it wasn’t a big deal,” Jocelyn says.
“Thank you for covering for me.” Helena kisses the corner of Jocelyn’s mouth and Jocelyn catches her breath, heartbeat skipping for a split second. “So what’s wrong?”
“My parents are getting divorced.” Jocelyn shakes her head. “I don’t want to go home after the tour. They’re getting rid of everything.”
“You can stay with me. We’ll think of something,” Helena says.
They stay awake past midnight watching movies, falling asleep in the same bed. Helena always drifts off quickly and Jocelyn always stays awake late, listening to the synchronized rhythm of their heartbeats.
Every day when they wake, they tell each other about their dreams.
“Is it going to stay that way?” Helena says the day after Jocelyn falls during rehearsal, opening up a small cut on her face that follows the delicate curve of her cheekbone. The stitches puncturing Jocelyn’s skin itch and she fights the urge to scratch at it. The wound is so deep that the doctor says it would leave a faint scar.
“I mean, it’s going to heal eventually.” Jocelyn shrugs as Helena turns on her heel and disappears into the bathroom.
Retrieving her phone from her expensive bag, Jocelyn scrolls through her social media feeds, where thousands of people have liked and shared the photos of the two of them dancing together. She doesn’t look up when the bathroom door clicks open and Helena says, “So what do you think? Do we look the same again?”
When Jocelyn raises her head, she flinches at the bright blood dripping from the new wound on Helena’s cheekbone, staining her white shirt.
Jocelyn drives Helena to the walk-in clinic, pacing nervous down the hall while Helena talks to the doctor. Every so often, her hands float up to her own face to trace the stitches along her cheek bone and when Helena leaves the doctor’s office an hour later, the same stitches punctuate her milky skin.
They spend the night together again and Helena falls asleep tracing the half-healed wound on Jocelyn’s face.
Jocelyn never stirs, even though it hurts.
By the time that they are both nineteen, they share everything. Cigarettes and clothes, beds and boyfriends. They share everything until Helena meets Jason late one night at a party raging through an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of the city.
“What are you looking at?” Jocelyn raises her voice over the noise.
“Nothing,” Helena says but her dark eyes wander again. Jocelyn follows her gaze to the group of young men milling on the edge of the dance floor. Dressed in expensive clothes, they affect a pose of indifference to the debauchery raving around them.
“Him?” Jocelyn points to a lean-muscled young man who smiles when he meets their eyes, pushing through the crowd until he reaches their side.
“Are you twins?” He shouts over the music blasting from the speakers.
“No.” Helena blushes and shakes her head.
“We’re not even related.” Jocelyn crosses her arms.
“That’s crazy, you both look so alike. Want to party?” He pulls a bag of pills from the pocket of his jacket, waving it in their faces. Helena smiles.
The three of them dance together for hours and after the music finally fades away, he says, “Can I stay at your place?”
“Okay,” Helena says and Jocelyn stares because they never really take anybody home with them like this. But he follows them into their bedroom and later Jocelyn undresses, hesitant.
Helena falls asleep in his arms. Jocelyn lays awake beside them, sheets rough against her still-bare skin. She listens to the sound of Helena breathing, missing the feeling of their two hearts beating together.
The first time that Helena leaves Jocelyn behind, she models an outfit in front of the mirror and says, “Are you coming out tonight?”
“No.” Jocelyn scrolls through the messages on her phone.
“What? Why?” Helena blinks, surprised. She has stayed out late all week, partying hard with Jason. When she started to lose weight, Jocelyn stopped eating too and now their bones almost show underneath their clothes.
“I just feel sick,” Jocelyn says.
“Like, you have the flu?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, you should come out with us again soon. Jason will miss you,” Helena swipes bright lipstick across her mouth. Jocelyn doesn’t say anything and when Helena leaves, she stands in their kitchen and chews the soft inside of her cheek until it bleeds.
She practices alone in the studio that they were able to buy with the money from their dancing and modelling contracts, where they teach dance classes in the morning and write their own choreography in the evening. Her reflection spins, trapped behind the glass.
She practices past midnight so that she doesn’t have to think about Jason’s hands on their bodies. When her phone buzzes, she picks it up to view the picture that someone has mistakenly tagged her in—Helena and Jason dancing at some club, smiling at each other like they are the only people in the world that matter. Jocelyn drops her phone and it tumbles to the ground, its glass screen shattering, sharp fragments scattering across the wood-sprung floor.
If Helena notices the broken glass in the morning, she doesn’t say anything.
Soon they both stay out late every night, sometimes tumbling into bed together long after the dawn stains the sky with bright morning colours. Jocelyn still hates the way that Jason smiles at the two of them, like some kind of animal. The way he always falls asleep between them, like he wants to keep them apart so that Jocelyn can’t fall asleep to the sound of their two hearts beating together, the only kind of music that really matters.
“It was me,” Helena says after Jocelyn collapses one morning at practice, pupils still wide from all of the pills that she tried the previous night. Standing stubborn inside their manager’s office, Helena repeats, “It wasn’t Jocelyn — it was me.”
“Really?” Their manager raises a thick eyebrow as Jocelyn stands silent in the sunlight falling through the open window.
“Yeah.” Helena nods and their manager sighs.
“Jocelyn, you can leave. Helena, stay with me, I need to talk to you.”
Jocelyn showers when she reaches their apartment, the water so hot that steam blurs the bathroom mirror. When Helena returns, Jocelyn says, “So what happened?”
“Nothing, really — he just talked to me about how I should be taking better care of myself.” Helena shrugs as Jocelyn towels her hair dry in front of the open window.
“Are you going out tonight?”
“Yeah. You should stay behind, he’s right. You need to take care of yourself,” Helena says and Jocelyn says nothing.
Helena kisses Jocelyn before she leaves, as slow and sweet as an apology. She doesn’t come home until three in the morning, mascara streaking her cheeks like she was arguing with Jason about something. They fall asleep entwined together, so close that Jocelyn doesn’t know where her limbs end and Helena’s begin.
The next thing that Jocelyn changes is her face, so that they both remain the same. She changes her face because Jason wrecked his car late last night as he drove Helena back home from the club and her head smashed into the dashboard, leaving a bruise darkening below her eye, that appears even darker in the morning light.
Now Jocelyn stands nervous in front of the mirror, fidgeting with the rings on her fingers before she balls her hand into a fist and hits her face hard, until her eye stings and she can’t see anything, squinting in the light that is suddenly too bright.
When Jocelyn returns to their bedroom, Helena still sleeps beneath the covers of their bed, pillow pulled over her head. Soundless, Jocelyn selects Helena’s favorite clothes from their closet and dresses as the noise from the street below drifts in through the half-open window. Faint traces of Helena’s new perfume still linger in the fabric.
“Leave us alone,” Jocelyn says when Jason comes over later.
Blinking surprised on their front steps, he says, “What? Why?”
“We just don’t want to see you anymore.” She folds her arms, standing firm in the doorway as he frowns.
“You both don’t?”
“No, just leave us alone.” She slams the door and doesn’t really breathe again until he gets back into his brand new car and drives away.
Jocelyn’s face is the first thing that Helena sees when she opens her eyes later that night. Sleepy, she smiles.
They dance together a few days later but keep falling out of sync, like the rhythm that plays somewhere deep inside the both of them is skipping a beat. After struggling for an hour they take a break, breathing heavy, sweaty strands of hair sticking to their faces.
“Let’s try it again from the beginning,” Jocelyn says after a few minutes pass in silence. “We need to get this down before we go back on tour.”
“I know what you did,” Helena says and Jocelyn doesn’t say anything, folding her arms as the mirrors on the walls of their small dance studio reflect their faces back at them endlessly, like a promise of eternity.
“You told Jason to go away.”
“I wanted him to stop hurting us.” Jocelyn fidgets with the rings decorating her thin fingers. “He was just using you. And he used me, too.”
“That’s not true.”
“Then why did he only want to fuck the both of us?”
Helena slaps her fast, so hard that Jocelyn’s head snaps back. Jocelyn touches the welt growing on her face and winces. Helena doesn’t say anything, not even when Jocelyn pulls on her coat and leaves.
She walks alone down the streets until the cold soothes the bruise swelling on her cheek.
Jocelyn teaches class alone in the studio that evening, coaching their students through a basic dance routine. When she returns home, the mirror by the front door is broken. The shards of glass crunch beneath her shoes as she explores the empty rooms downstairs.
“Helena?” Jocelyn hesitates at the bottom of the stairs. “Are you okay?”
Jocelyn follows the sound of Helena’s voice to their bedroom, pushing open the door to reveal more shattered pieces of glass scattered across the floor.
“I told you to go away.” Helena stands before one of the floor length mirrors that they use for small rehearsals. Her hands and feet are bleeding, leaving bright red smudges on the floor.
“What are you doing?”
“I don’t want to look at you.”
Jocelyn removes her shoes, walking barefoot across the sharp shards of broken glass. The jagged fragments slice her skin wide open, feet leaving bloody prints on their bedroom floor. She is wincing by the time that she reaches Helena’s side, blinking back the tears that well in her dark eyes.
They stand face to face like reflections until Jocelyn slams her hands into the mirror and it shatters, sparkling bright in the sunlight. The glass splits her fists open and blood drips down her fingertips, mirroring the wounds that decorate Helena’s hands and wrists.
Jocelyn hits the mirror again and again, until Helena grabs her bloody fists and holds her close enough to feel their two hearts beating together, forming a frantic beat that pulses hidden just beneath their skin.
When they dance together again a few weeks later, their bodies spin in perfect rhythm.
Ashton Noone writes short fiction from Calgary, Alberta. Ashton’s work has been a finalist in the In Places Between: The Robyn Herrington Memorial Short Story Contest and has appeared in the Aurora Award-nominated anthology Enigma Front: The Monster Within.