Waiting for Symmetry

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I watch you closely, and you watch me closely. No sudden movements. We need to sustain the illusion of symmetry. And no funny faces.
 
“You’re always the one who would try to make me laugh.” Riley glowered at Shawn.
 
“Is that so. What about last week at Ashley’s house?” Shawn adopted a folded-arms pose.
 
Riley was about to rebut when a loud cow-bell chimed from the kitchen. “Alright kids, dinnertime!” They scowled at each other while racing down the stairs.
 
Riley and Shawn’s favorite activity was pretending there was a mirror where there was not. A classic twin prank based on implicit understanding like the shared quantum state between two bosons. They pulled this off with ease all through elementary school, until that day.
 
That day, they were hiking in the forest a few miles from their house, along a particularly treacherous passage where a creek used to be.
 
“Look, a blue butterfly!” Riley squinted and pointed.
 
“Where?” Shawn spun around, tripped, and tumbled to the ground, resulting in a broken elbow and uncool braces.
 
“You made me trip!”
 
“No I didn’t!”
 
And such flip-flop squabbling continued in deadlock.
 
 
><><><><><>< 
 
Shawn sported a bob cut with an orange cap usually worn sideways, while Riley featured a short pony tail on their first day in junior high. While Riley maintained a fusion Gap/Abercrombie look for the next three years, Shawn acquired piercings in odd locations and donned anything with messages scrawled in clashing colors and obscure metaphors that only a few friends understood.
 
Their parents, although concerned about Shawn, thought it was just a phase. A femtosecond laser pulse in the grand scheme of the maturing process. Plus both of them were getting stellar grades anyway.
 
Then their parents divorced. Out of the blue, as far as the twins could tell, but they blamed each other for their parents’ separation. Silent treatments grew longer and more frequent.  
 
The bosons have fermionized and they refuse to occupy the same space.
 
 
 
One overcast day before moving out for boarding school, Riley asked Shawn for a tennis match.
 
“Why should I play you again? The season’s over.” Shawn grumbled and glared.
 
“I want to know whether you threw our county championship match last month.” Riley stated as non-confrontationally as possible. “You seem rather self-sabotaging lately.”
 
“Huh,” Shawn shrugged. “But if I beat you, I get your comic book collection.” Shawn smirked.
 
Riley hesitated only for a second. “Deal. And if I win, promise you’ll take good care of Dad while I’m gone.”
 
“Yeah, yeah.” Shawn swatted the air.
 
“Hey.” Riley’s voice dropped an octave. “I’m serious.”
 
Shawn deadpanned, “Alright. I promise.”
 
A light fog crept from above as the court lights switched on, conjuring a surrealist landscape.
 
Time dilated as the duo darted back and forth, approaching light speed in their pocket of space-time. As if possessed by a strobe, Shawn visualized the tennis ball’s path in flashing, discrete, disorienting frames. At the last game of the last set, Riley slammed the ball against the boundary line. Shawn froze and watched the ball bounce away.
 
“Ahhh, I couldn’t see whether that was in or out. But looks like you didn’t throw the match after all.” Riley concluded while approaching the net.
 
“What makes you think I did?” Shawn mumbled, looked up, and saw Riley’s extended hand.
 
“Well, thanks for the game. I should head back and pack now. I’ll see you… when you see me.”
 
The fog descended in earnest while Shawn watched Riley fade into the distance. 
 
 
><><><><><>< 
 
Over the next two decades, Riley and Shawn scattered into their own eigenstates, yet their Feynman diagram trajectories followed two variations on a theme. Riley became a director of research at a cyber-security firm, while Shawn became a professor of physics and mathematics specializing in number theory and quantum computing.  
 
One day after returning home from a particularly bad commute, Riley found a padded manila envelope inside the mailbox. Printed label in Papyrus font, no sender’s address… but what caught Riley’s eye was a one-inch-squared QR-code-like glyph at the bottom left corner on the backside. “Why did Shawn put this in my mailbox?” Riley wondered.
 
The envelope contained a USB flash drive and a piece of paper with an encrypted note in the “secret twin” language they came up with many years ago. It took Riley a few minutes down a circuitous memory lane.  
 
"Your company is stealing data from rival firms. You got set up to take the fall. Run. Watch your back."
 
 
><><><><><>< 
 
“Great, now we both have to hide. You’re hiding from your past, and I’m hiding from myself.” Shawn cast a wistful look across the ocean.
 
Riley kicked the sand. “Perhaps we’re not so different after all. We do seem to share the same general direction of momentum.”
 
“Sure, after we’ve violated parity on many levels.” Shawn grinned conspiratorially.
 
“Very funny,” Riley deadpanned, then half-reclined on the beach with elbows propped, “What an example of wabi-sabi.”
 
“Huh,” Shawn muttered while squatting a few feet away and staring at the tangles of kelp in the swash zone. “Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”
 
No perfect parity.
 
But is there beauty in imperfection?
 
“I’m… sorry about your fall. On that trail. I should’ve picked a safer route. I should’ve been the…”
 
Shawn interrupted. “Nah, I’ve always been the… more reckless one. Trouble always finds me anyway. Apparently it found you too.”
 
They gazed beyond the horizon for a few seconds. Or was it a few minutes? A few hours?
 
“I have to get going on another grant proposal now. Totally should’ve gotten that DARPA grant. I got snubbed like Madame Wu did for the Nobel in like what, 1957?” Shawn protested with a pout and an eye-roll. “Anyway, I’ll see you… when I see you?” Shawn patted Riley on the shoulder and unexpectedly pulled in for a hug. “Stay safe, my chiral twin.”
 
The wind caressed the beach while Riley watched Shawn fade into the distance.
 
 
 

About the Author: 
(996 words) When I was eleven, my twin sister beat me in a tree-climbing contest. She still teases me about this. And that math is a nicer version of physics. ORLY. Try wiki-ing "Moore-Penrose pseudoinverse".

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