This was a rather simple plan to be honest. Rudyard went over it with Antigone at least five times before breakfast. Step one – get a set of two wigs resembling the other sibling’s hair type (done), step two – prepare clothes for the big day a night before (done), step three – use the power of makeup to cover any unwanted differences (done, done and done), and finally step four – confuse everyone as much as possible before getting caught. It was this step that caused the most trouble, as it turned out.
So, the Funn twins were having a breakfast that was only a bit different than their standard one. Since it was Christmas time, they had no work today and could start a day at a slightly later hour. They decided to eat something more fancy, too. Hence the stronger tea and butter on the table. Rudyard was already wearing a dress he chose for that day but decided to leave putting on a wig and makeup for the last minute before heading out since he wasn’t used to having longer hair. He was gesticulating like a mad man while his sister finished her toast.
“Let’s go over it one more time” started Rudyard, but his sister stopped him before she could hear the rest.
“Leave this stupid plan alone, Rudyard” she said, furrowing her eyebrows. “I heard it at least ten times since you woke me up at four in the morning. And I fell asleep ten minutes before you barged into my room. Some of us have more work than the others”.
“But we didn’t have any clients since old Mr Bolton died two weeks ago! And he was already dust since he fell into his stupid oven!”
“Not the point, Rudyard” sighed Antigone finishing her breakfast. “If you really need it, then fine. Go ahead. Tell me your stupid plan once more.”
Rudyard smiled and took a deep breath and opened his mouth. “We-“
“We go and talk with as many people as we can and do our best not to be recognised. At the end of the day we go to the Chapmans’ for the Christmas party, take off our disguises in the middle of his ending speech and yell ‘Ta-dah’ while you throw confetti in the air.” Antigone got up from her sit and started going towards her room. “Missed anything?”
“I- Umm- No.” Rudyard cleared his throat. “All good.”
“Great. I will go down in ten, be ready by then, okay?” His sister disappeared on the stairs not waiting for the reply, leaving Rudyard speechless. He cleared his throat once again and took out a tangled wig and makeup tools he bought a few weeks earlier.
He finished putting on everything just as his sibling came back. It was like looking in the mirror. He would consider it creepy if they weren’t so similar already. They switched identities once or twice when they were little so it wasn’t anything new. Antigone was the same height as him, although Rudyard’s slouched postured could fool just about anyone. Today she did something with her chest and hips so that she looked almost exactly like him. No. She looked exactly like him. Even the way she wore her suit, although he was not too eager to compliment her on that. She must have been watching him ever since he came up with the idea.
“You look adequate” he paused, biting his lip a little too hard. “I’m sure someone’s bound to mistake you for me.”
“I know. Honestly, it’s not too complicated to… be you, Rudyard. All you do is yell at everyone and take up half of the room every time you walk in.”
“Yes, but your disguise is nothing compared to mine!” stated Rudyard confidently. He also practiced for the role. Even learned to stand up straight, just like his sister.
“Well, you do look rather passable” admitted Antigone, inclining her head. “Although… You should make sure no one stares at you for too long. I can still see some of ‘Rudyard’s’ features on your face.”
“Look, Rudyard. It’s not like anyone ever notices me before I want them to. You just have to tone down your behaviour by, say, one hundred percent, and keep quiet. No one will probably even notice you. It’s my disguise you should be worried about.”
Rudyard squinted, keeping quiet because deep down he knew his sister was right. He wasn’t one to give up without having the last word, though. “But I do look rather good in your dress.”
Antigone rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. Looking closer Rudyard noticed she recreated moles he didn’t know he had. Now he felt bad he only had to put on some concealer – his sister had little to no spots on her skin.
Beforehand, Rudyard had prepared a list of tasks they had to complete while in their disguises. Antigone was to retrieve some files from the Archive and talk to Mayor about the holes in the pavement in front of the Funn Funerals. Rudyard prepared for himself a task no less important – he was to enjoy a movie at the local cinema, buy pastries for both of them to eat afterwards and talk to as many citizens as possible.
In his mind it all sounded simple. He just wasn’t prepared for the reactions would be getting.
Take this guy from the cinema, whatever his name was. The moment he noticed Rudyard (or, Antigone) there was this spark in his eyes and then the smile followed… And all those nice words he said to Rudyard (Antigone, he had to remind himself, they were directed at Antigone, not himself) made him think that, well, it was his sister that was the more liked and respected one of the two of them. Rudyard was definitely NOT prepared for that revelation. He made sure to make as little contact with the guy and leave as soon as the movie ended.
Then Agatha Doyle herself grinned at him and added a cookie extra to his usual pastries because of something she called ‘holiday spirit’. He murmured a polite response that got him a soft look from Agatha and before he could take off she asked if he was alright.
“I-“ he realised he started speaking in his usual voice and had to mentally kick himself for it. “It’s just a cold, Ag- Ms Doyle.” Rudyard tried his best to imitate his sister’s shy smile but judging from Agatha’s expression, he was not doing so well. “So-sorry…?” He guessed apologising, even if not in his style, was as good a guess as any. It seemed to have worked, because Agatha’s expression smoothed and she gave a slight nod.
“Take care of yourself, Antigone. I know you work very hard for the both of you.”
He was not sure what he should do. It was not at all like he imagined. Despite Antigone being antisocial, she sure got a lot of attention from her fellow citizens.
So he just whispered something in return and took off as soon as Agatha’s gaze faltered behind him.
He wondered for a moment how his sister was doing but quickly dismissed this thought entirely. Of course she was doing a terrible job at being ‘Rudyard’! He was very hard to impersonate, after all. Just… something kept nagging at the back of his mind and this one thought made him restless the whole day. However unwilling he was to admit it, Antigone was the smartest person he knew. Therefore she was bound to ace the task. Since he came up with this shenanigan there was one query on his mind, and that was ‘how do they make the whole thing work?’. Now he realised that he was gravelly mistaken the whole time. What he should be asking was-
Rudyard froze at the thought. He felt an uncomfortable feeling build up in his stomach, it was as if some of his intestines were being tied in a big, bloody knot that grew bigger with each second. This new unwanted emotion transported him back to the childhood days and he didn’t like it one bit.
To get rid of this… uneasiness he had to see how Antigone was doing. And he needed to witness her fail. Otherwise- Rudyard’s fingers unconsciously picked at the fresh wound, irritating it and he had to remind himself to stop in order not to ruin his twin’s dress.
“Rudyard” came a soft whisper from behind him.
The male Funn had to physically restrain himself from jumping 20 feet in the air. He took a deep breath and let go of his wrist, hoping the cloth covered it entirely. The dress was a hair too small for him and its sleeve ended up being about five centimetres too short to reach his hand.
“Weren’t we supposed to stay in character no matter what?” he murmured his response with a wrinkle of the nose. It was unsettling to stare at a familiar yet foreign face when you speak. “You will ruin everything!” Rudyard internally scolded for using an outdoor voice; it was unlike Antigone to do so.
Antigone ignored his comment, choosing to pursue her own train of thought. “I already talked to Mayor, he doesn’t suspect anything. Georgie is clueless, too. Made sure to throw a few insults here and there to spice things up.”
“Oh, and before you start arguing that you are not THAT rude, let me remind what happened the last time you performed a funeral.”
“I was being a perfect gentleman. It’s not my fault Ms Jones can’t take a truth even when it’s shoved in her face with a shovel.” His sibling remained silent but her doubtful eyes spoke volumes. Eventually he let out a loud sigh and added “Alright, I was being a tad tactless.” Antigone grunted meaningfully. “Okay, I was straight up rude.”
Rudyard crossed his arms on his chest, feeling weird with all the prosthetics he was able to feel on his chest. Now that he calmed down he could take a closer look at his sister.
She looked almost the same as when they parted their ways in the morning. There was a noticeable difference in the way she walked, however. She still hunched a bit, but she looked much more confident than he has ever felt. He could almost feel the tranquillity in the air around her. Rudyard still felt a bit like gazing in the mirror but the more he looked at Antigone, the more he understood the simple differences between this ‘fake’ Rudyard and the ‘real’ one.
He was always self-conscious and his obnoxious self compensated this, in a way. Antigone, however… it was like she knew she was better that anyone else but wouldn’t hold it against them. She knew she was the smartest person in the room, but even as ‘Rudyard’ she respected everyone’s opinion.
She, Rudyard concluded with guilt building up at the back of his head, was better at being Rudyard than Rudyard ever had ever been. No wonder everyone liked her so much.
“Wanted to see how you did so far” she said finally, a knowing smile forming on her lips. “So I followed the aura of failure. Great job at hiding your presence, by the way. Makes you feel a little bit more like ‘me’. You could straighten up a bit more, though.”
“How do you do this?” the words slipped out of his lips sooner than he was able to stop them. “I mean- You don’t like people, so how do you…”
“Pretend that I do?” finished Antigone, staring at the trees on her left. “I act, Rudyard. It's as easy as this. Besides, your reputation is already ruined. If I go a touch overboard with all the yelling, nobody will notice.” She fell silent for a minute, stubbornly avoiding his eyes. “And, no matter what you think, Rudyard-“ his sister looked him dead in the eye and got close enough for a whisper to sound loud and clear in the silence surrounding them. “It is freeing, being you. People have no expectations.”
She stepped away with grace he has never been able to obtain and smiled at him.
“Don’t overthink, Rudyard, and at least try to have fun. See you at the party!” he heard her say, and then she was gone, leaving him behind, speechless, with eyes itching and the knot in his gut even bigger than before.
In the end, he didn’t go anywhere else that day. He wouldn’t be able to give a precise answer if anyone asked him why. Maybe it was the way the shenanigan made Rudyard contemplate his life choices? No one asked, though, and therefore he wasn’t pushed to come up with an answer.
After talking to Antigone, Rudyard slowly walked towards Funn Funerals, hiding in the bush whenever he spotted anyone. It wasn’t too difficult, even given his lack of experience at not directing anyone’s attention to himself. He just had to… let go.
It was in that miserable state that Georgie found him a few hours later, drinking cold tea, standing near the entrance to the basement and staring into nothing at all, not having the guts to come inside. She said nothing at first, letting the comfortable silence to fall between them. If it was any other day, Rudyard would greet her or at least acknowledge her presence in any way. It was not, however, hence he pressed his lips together and waited for her to make the first move.
The wait wasn’t long at all.
“You know-“ started Georgie, half sitting on the wooden table. With crossed arms she truly looked menacing; the mere sight made Rudyard's lips form a tiny smile – he could see why everyone consider Georgie a force to be reckoned with. “If I didn’t know you or Antigone as well as I do I would have fallen for this trick.” She pushed herself off the table and made her way to Rudyard. “Having fun, Mr Funn?” his employee asked, a cold undertone in her voice.
Rudyard looked at her, standing in front of him with a playful expression engraved on her young face, sunlight sinking through her ginger hair like a halo. She was a spitting image of a vengeful angel.
“Because-” she whispered, poking his chest with one finger. “I think-“ And again. “You’re not” he heard her say while pulling her hand away and taking a few steps back. “I think your plan backfired. Again. And that you’ve finally realised that while, yes, you are Antigone’s older brother, she is the one who holds this mess of a business together.” Georgie took a deep breath, showing him an apologetic expression. “I’m grateful for all you’ve done for me, really, I am. But-“ She pursed her lips. “You’ve got to understand, Mr Funn… You can’t keep on doing” she gestured in his general direction “this.”
She let out a breath and licked her lips in a thoughtful gesture. Finally, she took a few more steps back until she bumped into a table, then sat on it again, letting her legs dangle in the air. From Rudyard’s perspective, Georgie looked… defeated. Tired, more like it. Or maybe both. A thought crossed his mind that if Eric was with them, he would find the right things to say to her.
He closed his eyes, relaxing all the muscles he was straining by staying in one position for so long. It took Rudyard a while to figure out what to say, but when he was ready, he breathed in, then out-
“I know.” Rudyard started off slowly and quietly, although his voice sounded loud to his ears. “I know she-“ he trailed off, correcting himself mid-thought. “I know Antigone works hard to keep the business together. And I know I’m not contributing. But it’s hard, you know? With the only person I could ever rely on to be a constant in my life suddenly changing by one hundred eighty degrees. And, Georgie, I know she’s getting better, improving herself. Believe me, I want to do that to, I don’t want to be the one left behind, the one Funn who’s never moved on…” He shook his head, feeling long strands of hair fall from his shoulders. “But I don’t know how, to be honest-“ Rudyard’s voice broke and his eyes started itching but he kept them closed so as not to show Georgie how weak he was being, again. Breathing heavily, he continued “I want to change. Truly. Because, Georgie, at this moment there is no person on this island that hates ‘Rudyard Funn’ more than me.”
The kitchen fell silent and Rudyard could hear wooden planks creak and water in the sink slowly drip, one drip after the other.
He opened his eyes.
The kitchen was empty.
Rudyard’s knees gradually gave in, leaving him crouched on the dusty floor of the empty house. He wanted to laugh. He wanted to cry. He did neither of those things, though. Instead, he stood up on his wobbly legs and let out a short cry of pain when he felt blood finally reaching the lower part of his body. He must’ve stayed like this for longer than he thought.
Then he glanced at the clock which showed he was already late for Eric’s party. Indeed, when he glanced out of the window, the pleasurable glimmer of the afternoon sun was beginning to disappear in favour of a more mature evening sheen.
Considering fleeing really shouldn’t even be an option but then again, Rudyard wasn’t the most sensible fellow. In the end, he took a quick look in the mirror, put on more makeup and decided he had to change into more comfortable clothes. Not wanting to get under his sister’s skin more, however, he had no option than to stay in the dress she’s given him in the morning. Wearing a suit wasn’t available anymore, since Antigone wore his to the party and borrowing one of Antigone’s dresses could end up in someone’s death.
Besides, he decided, stealing one last glance of his tired face in the door window while he was closing it, it’s not like anyone was going to pay any attention to him anyway.
His eyes felt less itchy now, although he wasn't feeling any better. That being said though, talking away his feelings made Rudyard feel a tad better.
The party it was, he sighed and turned around.
From his side of the street he could already hear the music and the chatter-
No, he couldn’t do it-
But he had to-
Rudyard hugged the door, praying to some unknown entity to get him out of this situation.
Rudyard yelped and only the fact that the door knob blocked him that exact moment stopped him from jumping a few feet upwards.
“Chapman-“ Damn this knee-jerk reaction! “Erm, Eric! What are you doing here?” Rudyard put on his best ‘Antigone’ impression. He wanted a way out, true, but did it have to be Chapman? “Don’t you have a party to conduct?”
“I came looking for you, actually.” And damn that cheerful voice. “You weren’t at the party and when I asked around, no one has seen you since this morning. I was worried.” Eric did look concerned, which was a look Rudyard had never thought would be aimed at him. Chapman tilted his head, blond fringe covering his left eye almost entirely. He took a better look at Rudyard. “Are you alright? You seem a bit…” he clicked his tongue, thinking. “-off.”
“I was… working” Rudyard let off a rigid laughter, hoping it would throw Chapman off enough not to ask further questions. “Working on the new formula.”
Rudyard’s fingernails dug into his skin while he smiled shyly at his neighbour and started walking towards the party.
“Really?” Chapman’s voice was steady yet there was an edge to it that made Rudyard halt. He was tempted to study Eric’s expression but knew Antigone would do no such thing. She wasn’t exactly a touchy-feely kind of gal. That was why he gave a small yelp when a warm hand found its way on his shoulder, squeezing reassuringly.
“Cha-“ was all he could muster before shooting a scandalised look towards his rival.
Eric stood beside him, a worried look on his handsome face. Brows furrowed, lips quirked down slightly and staring intently at ‘Antigone’. Rudyard’s never received such an expression, which was why it took him few too many seconds to realise how close to each other they were. Eric’s fingers have gently moved to his forearm, clutching to it almost intimately. If he really was a woman Rudyard would consider himself somewhat flirted with. The assumption made him crack a small smile at Chapman.
“Are you really fine?”
The question caught Rudyard unawares, much like a sincere look that came with it. Maybe that was why he pondered on it a bit too long, putting unwanted ideas into Chapman’s big head.
“I noticed that recently you and Rudyard seem to be drifting apart. I don’t know what is the cause of this but if I can be of any help…” The grip on Rudyard’s forearm tightened for a split second before disappearing completely. It left a light tingling sensation that made him want to brush his fingers on that exact patch of skin. It didn’t leave until a few hours after the party, when Rudyard finally gave in to the exhaustion. “I am here.”
“You don’t have to talk to me, if you don’t want to. We could just share a coffee. Like friends do.”
When did Antigone become friends with Chapman? Rudyard discreetly pinched himself in his left hand. She’s never hid secrets from him, so that was new. Although remembering a few interactions between his sister and Eric he did notice they were being rather civilised around each other. Maybe he just didn’t want to admit that it was another thing that set them apart these days.
Suddenly, Rudyard felt a wave of sadness wash over him, leaving him feeling numb and useless. Antigone really was leaving him behind…
Then Eric’s hand was on his shoulder again, steading him like an anchor. On a whim, Rudyard put his own hand on top of Chapman’s, tracing it without second thought. Getting to know Eric for the past few months made Rudyard realise the man wasn’t that bad, even if Funn would never admit it aloud.
Being a stubborn man that he was, Rudyard couldn’t even think of treating his neighbour better. Then again, he was posing as ‘Antigone’, wasn’t he? After all, he tried to tell Georgie he wanted to change so why not start now? He was about to answer Eric, when he heard a commotion coming from Chapman’s house.
“Eric, is that-?”
Chapman did not answer, too busy making his way to the front door and apologising everyone who stood in the way before gently showing them out of his path. Finally, Funn heard him go for a tick and then yell “Ms Rashman, I think that’s enough. Mr Luther, could you please stop punching Rudyard?”.
Rudyard run as fast as Antigone’s dress let him.
When he got to the doors, he quickly accessed the situation – near the back of the room stood Eric Chapman, holding some man Rudyard’s never seen and on his right was Antigone, hugging Ms Rashman from behind, using all of her strength not to let her throw herself on the man again. The four of them had their clothes dusted and even ripped in some places, although admittedly Chapman has suffered the least injuries. Antigone’s suit was ruined, though, which made Rudyard’s heart ache.
He promptly made his way to his sister, eyeing her form from head to toe and making sure she was okay.
“I’m fine, Rud- Antigone” sighed his twin, letting go off her temporary prisoner. “Just a small mishap.”
“Oh, don’t give me this look.”
Antigone put her hands on her hips and gave Rudyard The Look. “That one.”
Rudyard glared at his sister, taking note of her injuries, before sighing “Fine, fine” with a dismissive gesture. At the same moment he froze, remembering what they were supposed to be doing and he looked around. Only when he was certain no one was paying attention to them did he relax. “Antigone…” he whispered in a low voice, sure it would make her look at him.
She groaned and pointed in an unspecified direction. Following her line of sight Rudyard realised she wanted them to go upstairs for a private conversation. He nodded, making his way to the first floor.
It was quieter, although not as deserted as one could hope – here and there Rudyard saw a few familiar faces talking a tad too close with other familiar faces, a mess of limbs in the cosy corner or a lone silhouette gazing expectedly outside. He wasn’t destined to catch even a glimpse more of said watcher, as Antigone pushed him inside one of the empty rooms and closed the door behind them.
Neither of them spoke up.
“So…” began Rudyard at the same time as Antigone said “Right…”, which silenced them both for a moment.
Rudyard huffed in discontentment, after which he exclaimed “That’s ridiculous!” with both his hands in the air. The whole situation felt so unreal to him.
Antigone chuckled at the sight, pressure leaving her body. “I agree.”
It was quiet for a while, however it no longer felt uncomfortable to them. Antigone reached out to Rudyard, gently touching his hand, as if she was afraid he would ran off if the sensation became too much for having him to bear. When he didn’t react, she moved her fingers in circles on the top of his hand, imitating their mother’s habit.
“Thoughts?” he offered, following the soothing motion with his gaze.
“Do go on.”
“Firstly, I was wrong, earlier. About people having no expectations for how you behave.” The moonlight created a unique atmosphere, one that made such confessions easier. Perhaps the Moon was to blame for all the soft words that were spoken that night. “Everyone expects you to be passive aggressive and loud, obnoxious. So if you don’t oblige-“
Antigone let out a small sigh. “They will suspect you’re plotting something and accuse you of having the worst intentions.”
“Well, that’s outright ludicrous.”
She sent him a knowing look. “Is it, Rudyard? Is it?”
He kept his mouth tightly shut.
“People ignore you for the most part.”
“They don’t notice you’re there either, Antigone” interjected Rudyard, furrowing his brows. “Don’t tell me you forgot.”
“That’s different. They don’t notice me much, yes, but you they notice. They just don’t care about you all that much.” Patting his hand, she continued. “Although when someone does, it could end up badly.”
“Like this fight before?”
Antigone raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Oh God, no. I was trying to stop a fight, it didn’t break out because of me. Mr Luther insulted one of Ms Rashman’s dogs and I just happened to be between them.” She smirked but then her expression faltered. “Does it happen to you regularly? People trying to fight you?”
“Not as often as before” he admitted reluctantly. “Not as harshly, too. Nowadays it’s more like a sentimental beating than anything.”
“I am used to it now.”
“That’s not how it’s supposed to work.” Antigone put her hands around his neck hesitantly, pulling Rudyard into an awkward embrace. “We’re so bad at this, Rudyard…”
He buried his nose in the crook of her neck, pulling her closer after a moment of hesitation, then mumbled a quiet “You’ve grown so strong. So much stronger than me.” Even feeling her stiffen, Rudyard still continued “You no longer hide in the mortuary, you have your passions and connections… I admire you, Antigone.” His eyes itched again… “I
don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but… I love you, Antigone.”
She stiffened, feeling cool tears dripping on her collarbones; she couldn’t tell if they were his or hers, but then again, it hardly mattered at the moment. Relaxing into an embrace came naturally to her, even without much practice.
“I love you too, Rudyard.” His ragged breath tickled her neck. “But- It’s really uncomfortable…”
Rudyard hastily pulled away, letting his hands fall to his sides. “Sorry” he mumbled as Antigone gently stroke his forearm.
Both of them smiled faintly, falling into comfortable silence.
“That’s not how I imagined this day would go, to be honest.”
“Yes, well.” Antigone pulled a tissue from somewhere, making a swift use of it. In no time there was no trace of tears of either of their faces. “I expected nothing else from you.”
She caught herself and emphasised “Being with you is never boring, was all I meant”. With a sigh Antigone let out a deep breath and added “It’ll take some getting used to, I think. I’ll go now, you take your time”.
Rudyard gave her a quick hug before she could do anything, relishing it deeply. They promised each other to meet at home afterwards, allowing themselves to think the conversation over. With a smile Antigone, already in her dress, left the room leaving her brother to his own devices.
The undertaker considered staying inside for the duration of the party but thought better of it. Even in a ripped suit he was still Rudyard Funn. And that meant he was either going to have to go downstairs and stay there for the duration of the party, or leave now under some made up pretexts. He inclined towards the latter when a loud knock stopped him in his tracks.
Straightening a little bit, he opened the door, a sour comment on his lips.
A giggling couple busted through the door, pushing him out of their merry way and paying him no mind. Rudyard felt a blush creeping his way on his cheeks, a sudden need to leave the room burning in his veins. Before closing the door behind him, Rudyard made a note of who the pair was, although the mess of limbs didn’t make it any less challenging. Two young girls, about eighteen years old, that he’s seen pining for each other on the street on a few occasions. If one of them haven’t just lost her blouse maybe he would even cheer for them.
Outside he could finally let himself relax a little bit, cursing overzealous youths under his breath. One look at the surroundings confirmed his suspicions – most people disappeared into the rooms for a fraction of privacy and Rudyard thanked God the music from downstairs was loud enough he could only hear the more ambitious participants.
Maybe it was the atmosphere of the place or maybe it was something Rudyard chose not to unravel at the moment but when he saw Eric lingering at the top of the stairs, hesitantly, Rudyard couldn’t help but smile fondly. After all, it was partially thanks to this man that he and his sister had a first real conversation in what felt like years.
Eric looked a little taken aback by whichever expression he found on Rudyard’s face, so much so that he apparently found himself lost for words. They stayed like this, watching each other and unmoving, for the longest time.
It was Rudyard who broke their silent dialogue, walking to Eric and placing a hand on the other man’s shoulder. For the first time since they met, he looked him in the eyes, and meaning every word, said softly “Thank you, Eric”.