Elder Justin Hill set down his Book of Mormon and looked out the window. The morning sun was just beginning to reflect off the glistening blue and gray tile rooftops of the Japanese houses below his apartment, and he knew that meant his study time was almost over.
“Hey, Rob, I mean, Elder Crosby, what are we doing for breakfast this morning?”
“Not my problem, Elder,” Rob answered without looking up from his scriptures. “As senior companion in this apartment, I delegated breakfast to you, remember?”
Justin got up off his futon, folded the quilts, and walked over to the cooking area of their small gray apartment. “Let’s see,” he said as he looked through the canisters that sat on a metal shelf over the sink. “We’ve got rice … more rice … or mugi.”
“If we’ve got any sugar left, let’s have mugi, okay?” called Rob.
Justin dumped three cups of milled wheat into a pot of water and set it to boil on the stove. The heat and rising steam from the pot took some of the chill off the room, and as Justin stirred the boiling and bubbling mush, his eyes wandered to the calendar pinned on the wall over the kitchen table. April 22.
“Hey, Elder, our birthday is exactly one month from today.”
Rob rolled over and looked at the calendar. “Sheesh,” he said, “we’re going to be 21 years old. Can you believe it?”
Justin nodded. “I can believe that, but it’s still hard for me to believe I’m on a mission, and even harder to believe that you’re my first companion.”
He gave the now vigorously boiling wheat a few stirs. “Back when we first met in high school in Tucson, I thought you were such a jerk that I wanted nothing to do with you, much less your church.”
Rob chuckled. “Hey, I was as surprised as you were, Elder. Who would have thought the old Tucson Twosome would be reunited in Japan?”
Justin nodded and grinned. The Tucson Twosome. He’d never forget how they got stuck with that nickname. It marked the beginning of his interest in the Church.
Ms. Hornbaker tried. Justin had to give her credit for that. English composition isn’t exactly a hot topic with high school students, but she did her best to make it interesting.
The students filed into her class one day to find that she had pushed all the desks to the back of the room and had taped 12 pieces of paper on the floor, each with the name of a month written on it.
“Okay, everybody,” she said when class began, “find the paper that has your birth month and stand by it.”
Students milled around for a while looking for their places. Justin found his—May—and stood next to it. In a few minutes, the entire class was separated into 12 groups, each group with two or three students in it.
“Now what,” someone wisecracked, “are we going to square dance?”
Justin hoped not. The only other person in the May group was Rob Crosby.
“Sorry,” said Ms. Hornbaker, “this is an English class, remember?”
“Oh, no,” a kid moaned from the back of the room. “That means we’re going to have a writing assignment.”
Ms. Hornbaker smiled, “How perceptive. Today you’re going to do some comparison/contrast writing.”
They had to interview a person in their group, come up with at least three similarities and three differences, and then write a paper comparing and contrasting themselves with the person they interviewed.
“You’ve got 20 minutes to talk. Rough draft’s due Friday.” Her directions finished, Ms. Hornbaker told the class to pull the desks from the back of the room, get into their groups, and start working on the assignment.
Rob slid his desk up to Justin’s and sat down.
“So you’re a May baby too. When’s your birthday?” he asked.
“No kidding? So is mine. I can’t believe it. We’re practically twins.”
Great, thought Justin. Robert Crosby was the last guy in the world he wanted to be twins with.
“What time were you born?” asked Rob.
“What difference does that make?”
“Because,” Rob said with a grin, “I want to know who’s older, me or you.”
“Sometime around noon,” Justin’s mother said that evening, “but I’d have to look at your birth certificate to be sure. Why?”
“Nothing, really,” replied Justin, concentrating on his supper. “Just curious.”
Mr. Hill folded the evening paper and set it on the table next to his plate. “Justin, how’s the basketball team shaping up?”
“All right, I guess.”
“Is that hot dog Crosby kid playing?”
“Guard,” Justin nodded. Losing the tailback spot to Robert in football had been almost as hard on his dad as it had been on him. Since then, Rob Crosby was one of the least popular topics around the Hills’ house.
“Coach Simmons still have you at forward?”
Justin nodded. “He said I’m too big and slow for guard, and too small and slow for center.” He was relieved that in basketball he wasn’t competing with Robert for the same position.
“Well, Mount Vista should have a decent team then. With a gunner like Crosby at guard and you at forward, it’s going to be tough stopping you guys. Still, I’d rather see somebody else at guard. Crosby’s too selfish. Granted, he’s a great shot, but he’s got to learn to be a team player.”
“He’s not that bad, Dad. He’s just really intense.” That was a first—Justin defending his arch rival.
Mr. Hill frowned. “I’ve never liked that kid. He’s one of those Mormons. You knew that, didn’t you, son?”
“He mentioned it once.”
“Of course he did. That’s how they operate. Next thing you know he’ll be pushing Mormon propaganda on you, inviting you to his church, or sending missionaries here to pester us. Best thing you can do is stay away from him.” Mr. Hill made it sound more like a warning than advice.
It was funny he felt that way because, if anything, Rob had a positive influence on Justin. Sure, Justin didn’t like Rob’s ego, but competing with him helped make Justin a better athlete. In sports, he always knew Rob was giving 100 percent, and it made him determined to give his all too.
And, no doubt about it, Robert’s cockiness—at least a little of it—had rubbed off on Justin. After spending a football season as Robert’s teammate, his own confidence increased, not just in sports, but in school as well. He didn’t mind talking in class as much as he used to, and he was more comfortable around girls than he had ever been. Justin’s new motto had become, “If Rob Crosby can do it, so can I.”
It was at one of those Friday night after-the-game parties that Justin first talked to Liesel Smith, the great-looking blonde who graced the seat in front of him in English class. Parties ranked second only to dances on Justin’s Ten Most Hated Things list, but at Rob’s insistence, he went to one that celebrated their team’s 10th straight basketball victory.
The beat of the music mingled with laughter echoed from the house and down the street. Without bothering to knock, Robert swung open the front door and walked in. Justin followed and was immediately swept up in a flood of people.
“Hey, look who’s here,” someone yelled, and kids turned to watch them make their entrance. Rob loved the attention. Justin looked for someplace to hide.
He recognized a few basketball players and other kids from school, but there were also a lot of people he didn’t know. Feeling as comfortable as a boxer in ballet class, he was ready to turn right around and walk out when someone tugged on his shoulder.
“Justin, I didn’t know you were coming tonight.” It was Liesel Smith.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, well, Rob talked me into it. I usually don’t go to parties and stuff, but I finally got all caught up with my knitting and decided to go out and celebrate.”
Liesel giggled and playfully slapped his shoulder. “Rob said you were crazy.”
“So what did you think of the game?”
“It was great. That’s 10 in a row, isn’t it?” Liesel moved a little closer so he could hear her over the party noise. “Do you think you guys will go undefeated?”
Justin shrugged and looked for a place where they could sit down. Liesel was only about five-foot-four, almost a foot shorter than he was. He had to bend halfway over to hear her. “I sure hope so,” Justin said. “We’ve still got 10 games left, but after the game tonight Coach Simmons said that if we keep playing like we have, we might be able to pull it off.”
It was his first time to see Liesel up close, face to face. He had long admired the back of her head from his seat behind her in English class, but she was even better from the front. Her brown eyes were riveting, the kind that seem to open wide and swallow you up. From such close range, Justin noticed for the first time that she had a dash of freckles over her nose and cheek bones, and he recognized the delicious aroma of the perfume that he had become so familiar with in English class. There was no doubt about it—Liesel was gorgeous.
They finally found a place to sit down and continue their conversation.
“So what’s the deal with you and Rob?” Justin asked.
“I mean, why would he bring someone like me to this party when he could’ve brought you? You two are, according to Rob, very close friends.”
“According to Rob? Well, according to me, Rob and I are only friends. We just happen to go to the same church.”
“Yeah, he told me.”
Liesel was quiet a moment, obviously trying to think of something to talk about. Finally she said, “I think that nickname Ms. Hornbaker gave you and Rob is cute.”
“The Tucson Twosome? Cute to you maybe, but I don’t think it’s very cute to be paired with Robert Crosby just because we were born on the same day. He’s much uglier than I am.”
Liesel laughed. “Rob said that Coach Simmons is using it on you guys too.”
“Yeah. In football, I blocked; Rob ran. In basketball, I rebound; he shoots. So Coach thinks we make a pretty good one-two combination. And I guess we’re okay.”
As the night went on, Liesel’s bubbly friendliness put Justin completely at ease. The party was fun, even Rob’s balancing a spinning basketball on his nose stunt and the wild peanut butter and cracker eating/whistling contest.
By the time Liesel looked at her watch and announced that she had to be home by midnight, Justin felt that he had made a new friend. Not a girlfriend-friend, not yet, but a friend-friend. Who knows, he thought as she waved good-bye and stepped out the front door, what might develop later?
Justin was stuck at the party for another hour waiting for Rob to give him a ride home. When they were headed for Justin’s house, Rob asked, “So, you liked the party?”
“I could tell you did. I thought we’d never get out of there.”
“Yeah, well, I was having a blast, but my dad’s kind of strict about my curfew. If I’m late, no car for a month. Hey, didn’t I see you talking with Liesel?”
Justin had been hoping he hadn’t. “We talked.”
“And what? We talked. That was it.”
“Nice girl, huh?”
“Yeah, she’s real nice.”
“She’s one of us, you know. A Mormon.”
“Well, I’m not going to hold that against her.” It suddenly occurred to Justin that many of his friends lately were Mormons. He hadn’t planned it that way, but if his father ever found out, there’d be fireworks. Well, he’d worry about that if and when the time came. He certainly wasn’t planning on joining their church, but he didn’t see any harm in having Mormon friends. “You know, seems like I’ve been surrounded by you guys lately.”
“We were hoping you wouldn’t notice. See, we’ve got this plot all figured out. We’re going to keep hanging around you until our good influence rubs off, and then sometime when you’re standing by a swimming pool, we’re going to shove you in and make you one of us.”
Justin just rolled his eyes.
Rob went on, “What’d you and Liesel talk about?”
Rob broke into laughter and pounded on the steering wheel. “Wooo-ee! It’s more serious than I thought. You sure don’t waste any time, Justin.”
“Not ‘us,’ me and Liesel, you jerk; ‘us,’ me and you. She asked about the Tucson Twosome.”
Justin’s house came into view. Rob stopped in front of Justin’s house to drop him off. He held out his hand, palm up, to Justin before he left the car. “Hey, dude, the Tucson Twosome.”
Justin slapped his hand and turned his over to receive Rob’s return slap. “See you Monday,” Rob said before driving off. “And, Justin, don’t worry about the Mormon stuff. We’re not out to get you or anything. Just friends, know what I mean?”
Justin knew, and it made him feel good. “Thanks,” he said, and he waved as Rob drove back into the street.
Justin switched off the gas and set the mugi to one side to cool off. In the end, he thought, his dad had been right. Rob had influenced him. So, fortunately for him, had Liesel. And there had been fireworks—plenty of them—first about Mormon friends, and later when he announced he was going to get baptized. But, after a time, his dad got used to the idea of having a Mormon son, and when Justin was ready to go on his mission, almost a year after Rob had left, his father was surprisingly supportive. “Guess there’s a heck of a lot worse things you could be doing,” he said as he embraced Justin at the airport.
Justin scooped the mugi into two bowls and set them on the kitchen table. Today would be his first day of tracting in Japan, and he was a little nervous. “Hey, Elder,” he said after the food had been blessed, “about today … you know, my Japanese still isn’t too hot, and I was wondering …”
“No sweat, Elder,” Rob stirred a slab of butter into his mugi. “You knock; I’ll talk. The Tucson Twosome will blow ‘em away. Know what I mean?”
Again, Justin knew, and it made him feel awfully good.