“My family has been through too much. My kids all watched my husband die slowly. By the time he passed away, he wasn’t their father anymore. He was a shell—a body living with pain. I don’t even remember how many times they all rushed to his side to say goodbye. Then when Lilly lost her mother . . .” She looks away. “Well, Elena had her own kind of slow death.”
I didn’t think about the child’s mother. I thought maybe she’d left, not that she’d died. “I’m so sorry. That must have been horrible.”
“It was devastating to the whole family. Ethan still hasn’t recovered.” She lifts her gaze to meet mine, and I see the stubborn steel in her eyes and the set of her jaw. “I won’t do that to them again.”
I look around the coffee shop to make sure no one is close enough to hear me. “You’re not going to tell them that you’re dying?”
“I’m not dying until I decide I’m dying,” she snaps. She takes a breath. “I’m going to fight this. I’m going to Germany for treatments. If I get better, I’ll come home, and it won’t be goodbye. But if I don’t . . .” She shifts her gaze to the windows, and I wonder if she sees the street beyond or if all she can see in this moment is an image of herself living the last days of her life alone in some foreign country. “I won’t make my children watch me die a little every day, like they did with their father. I won’t put my sweet granddaughter through that.”
“They’re your family. They’d want to know the truth.”
She brings her attention back to me and pulls her hand away from mine. “I don’t need you to agree with my decision, and I don’t need your approval. But I hope you have enough compassion in your heart that you hear my plea. I know my family. I know what they’ve been through and what they can handle. Believe me when I say that everything I do for them I do because I want them to have the best lives they can. And that includes asking you to do this little favor.”
“To pretend I’m Veronica?”
She nods. “To pretend that nothing’s wrong. To take this job. You pretend to be Veronica because my son has agreed to take her into his home. Everything else, you can be you. We know so little about your sister, honestly. You don’t have to lie about anything other than your full name. And that lie isn’t so much a lie as a favor to a sick old woman who loves her family more than her own life and desperately wants to protect them.”
I draw in a ragged breath. I don’t want to go home. There’s nothing there for me but failure, judgment, and a history of mistakes. But I don’t want to pretend to be my sister, either. In fact, right now I’d rather forget her altogether.
“Please,” Kathleen says. “I had to pull so many strings to get in with the specialist I’m seeing in Germany, and I don’t know what’ll happen if I have to put this off. I’m desperate.”
I find myself nodding. This is temporary. There’s nothing waiting for me in Jeffe. I’ve spent my entire life trying to find my place there and failing. I can pretend to be Veronica for three months as a favor to this sweet woman. I’ll use the time to heal, to figure out what I want for the first time in my life. And at the end of it all, I’ll find somewhere to start a new life.
Teagan’s screech of excitement is so loud that I have to pull the phone away from my ear. “This is awesome!” she says. “You always were my favorite twin.”
I roll my eyes. “Shut up. You didn’t have a favorite. And you’d still think I was Veronica if I hadn’t told you the truth.”
“Just because your looks are identical doesn’t mean your personalities are. You’re the good twin; she’s the evil one. This is not news to me.”
I bite my bottom lip, fighting the instinct to defend Veronica. I know Teagan doesn’t mean it, but she’s not the first person to suggest that I’m the “good” one. “If she’s so evil, why did you get her a job in your town? And as a nanny, no less?”
“She’s not evil evil. Just a little evil. Kind of like me, but with less remorse. I’m selfish in preferring you. You’re the yin to my yang.”
Truth be told, Veronica isn’t evil at all. She’s self-assured and unapologetic, and when we were children, she was a bit of a troublemaker. But other than sleeping with my fiancé, she’s never done anything I could classify as outright evil. What Teagan means is Veronica’s more adventurous than I am. She goes after what she wants, while I’ve always been happy to hang out in the shadows. Okay, maybe not happy, but more comfortable. I’ve never been the brave one, never been willing to take risks or make choices for myself alone. I’ve always admired those characteristics in my twin.