on Dakota Street
LIBERTY STARBUCK leaned out the window of her bedroom. The third-floor room was round like a castle turret, and a big old tree grew in the front yard, shading half the house. Liberty looked out through the tree’s inky green leaves at the peaceful morning. She could hear the creak of the porch swing, below, pushed by a whisper of wind.
And that whisper—did it echo another whisper somewhere deep in her mind? Liberty ran her hands through her hair.
She had been awake since sunrise, and it felt as if a voice in a dream had been speaking directly inside her brain—not a loud voice, just a whisper. But she could not remember the dream, and now even the whisper seemed to have vanished. Only a dim memory like an echo was left. She listened again, this time more attentively, to the wind pushing the swing.
All of the other houses on this block where the Starbucks lived, in the northwest section of the city of Washington, D.C., were brick and had sharp corners. But the Starbuck house had two identical turrets, one cupola, very few sharp corners, and it was shingle, not brick. Despite the differences, Liberty thought, their home probably seemed as normal as the next. Given your average Martian—
"Average Martian!" J.B. Starbuck burst through the connecting door to his twin sister’s room. "What is an average Martian, Liberty?"
Liberty stared at her brother. His black hair slashed across his brow at the same steep angle as her own, except that his slashed right and hers slashed left. This morning his gray eyes were still foggy with sleep, while hers were clear and alert. She had been up for a half hour already.
"J.B." was short for July Burton, and a lot of people called him by his initials. A select few called him "Jelly Bean." The twins had been born within five minutes of each other, during the first hour after midnight on the Fourth of July; that’s why their parents had named them July and Liberty.
"Martians should not be your concern this morning, Liberty," J.B. said.
"You mean Dad should?"
"I’m tired of Dad being our major concern. It’s getting boring, and"—she paused, her eyes worried—"it’s kind of scary."
July knew what Liberty meant. It was scary. Things weren’t normal anymore, and at first that was fun—having their dad there when they got home from school every afternoon, going grocery shopping with him, having him help with their homework. But then it started getting a little frustrating. Their father had been out of work just a week when he first sat down with his laptop at the dining room table, where they always did their homework, and announced that he had some homework of his own—"world work," he had called it. That’s when he began doing Internet searches for all kinds of statistics about global warming. Indeed, within two days, their father knew so much about global warming that both twins decided to do a report on it for their civics class. They had a fight about that, however, when they realized they both couldn’t do the same thing. So their father obligingly found them a second environmental problem—acid rain—and began downloading information like crazy.
Liberty, however, decided to do her report on the latest findings on twins that had been separated at birth, pairs that had grown up apart yet wound up drinking the same brand of beer, liking the same kinds of books, and wearing the same kinds of clothes. Sometimes when they married, they even gave their children the same names without ever knowing it! Liberty had always been very interested in the science of twins—the biology of twins, the psychology of twins, even the mythology of twins. "Twinology," as she called it, was one of her favorite areas of research.
It was good to have their dad helping them out with all their reports and doing all of this research, but it was unsettling, too. How could they explain to their friends a father who did world work? Everybody else on the street had a father who left the house to go to work. And most of them had a mother who left for work, too.
"He doesn’t exactly seem worried enough about being unemployed, does he?" J.B. said.
"He doesn’t seem worried at all," Liberty replied.
"Mom seems worried."
"Yeah, sort of."
"But he’s so happy doing his world work."
"Well, he’s going to drive us nuts with all his new ideas. If I hear him use the word explore one more time, I’m going to barf." Liberty paused and bit her lip lightly. "What about that London job he was offered?" she asked.
"It’s, like, too good to hope for."
"What do you mean ‘hope’? It’s an offer."
"Yeah, but Mom doesn’t like the idea at all. I heard them kind of arguing about it last night. They were in the kitchen and they didn’t know I was in the pantry. Mom says it’s too complicated and she can’t run a factory from three thousand miles away."
"She could come visit," July said.
"Just once a month. That’s all. I heard her say that, too, last night."
Their mother, Madeline Starbuck, was the largest manufacturer of ballet tutus in the United States. But she made more than tutus. She specialized in recital wear. This meant everything from leotards and tutus to splashy sequin numbers with all the accessories. There were thousands of ballet schools in North America and Madeline Starbuck had a definite corner on the market. A large percentage of these dance schools bought exclusively from the Starbuck "Show Time" catalog for their annual recitals. In fact, Madeline Starbuck essentially choreographed these recitals each year through her cleverly designed costumes. If her suppliers were long on dotted spandex and tulle, Madeline thought "Gumdrops!" and that June, across the country, thousands of four-year-olds waddled out on stages from Trenton to Tacoma to do the Gumdrop Dance in their dotted costumes.
J.B. was right. It was a business that could not be left three thousand miles behind so Madeline Starbuck could follow her husband to London. Putnam had been offered a job, or "post," as they called it, as an undersecretary to the American ambassador to England, or the "Court of St. James’s," as it was called. In the diplomatic world there was a special language, and words for jobs, countries, and everything were made to sound much fancier. Of course it was not simply a question of Madeline going or staying, but also the four Starbuck children—would they go to London or stay at home? And in either case, who would help to take care of them if only one parent was around?
Liberty and J.B. had two younger sisters, Charly and Molly, who were also twins—identical five-year-old girls. In the twins business, Charly and Molly were what was known as "mirror-image identicals." This meant that while one twin was left-handed, the other was right-handed; that while they both had the same spiky red hair, which stuck out all over their heads most of the time, Charly’s cowlicks swirled clockwise, while Molly’s swirled counterclockwise. Molly had a tiny strawberry mark on her r...