HIGH POINT — At High Point Central, you couldn’t miss them. When you saw one, you saw the other.
They are, as their classmates called them, the “Riley twins.”
Chloe is three minutes older than Lauren — “Three precious minutes,” Chloe likes to say — and they’ve grown up side by side. They share the same room, wear the same clothes, take the same classes, finish each other’s sentences and have the same love for swimming and softball.
They’ve had a big month. On June 8, they graduated from High Point Central. Then, for the first time in their lives, they’ll go their separate ways — Lauren to High Point University; Chloe to UNC-Chapel Hill.
They’ve both earned scholarships that will cover every penny of college. When they found out, they almost cried. With one phone call and one email, the stress of paying for college disappeared.
Lauren is a Say Yes Scholar, and she wants to study biology and become a veterinarian. Chloe received the Williamson Distinguished Scholarship, and she wants to study education and become a teacher.
Both scholarships are geared toward smart students from low-income families who need the financial help to make college a reality. And both Chloe and Lauren do need the help. They’re smart, savvy, both proven school leaders. But this past year has been rough.
Chloe and Lauren lost their mom.
In November, Alicia Riley died in a High Point hospital from kidney failure. She was 52. She worked as an elderly caregiver, and she left her two daughters with a car she called “Linc” as well as many good memories of singing, laughing and carrying on.
It always had been just the three of them. Now, the Riley family is down to two.
Chloe and Lauren.
They’re working hard to make it.
It was an early Saturday morning when Lauren and Chloe huddled by their mother’s hospital bed.
Chloe held her mom’s left hand; Lauren, the right. Doctors at High Point Regional had tearfully told them the bad news. Their mom’s heart had stopped, and her organs were shutting down. Chloe and Lauren now faced the inevitability of losing their mom, the effervescent Alicia Riley.
She was the one with the bright red, curly hair. Her personality could fill any room. She had what her daughters called a “hippie sense” when it came to clothes — clogs and sandals, paisley prints and shirts with bat sleeves.
She was quick with a sarcastic comment, and she didn’t mind going up to a drive-through window at a fast-food restaurant, seeing a cashier’s fancy fingernails and saying, “Your nails are so on fleek!”
She loved Lyle Lovett, Adele, Pink Floyd and Van Halen. That is, Van Halen with David Lee Roth. She also loved her girls.
Chloe and Lauren never really knew their father when they were younger. He wasn’t in their lives. It was always the three of them working hard and loving life on their mom’s caregiver salary.
“Remember, there are going to be haters in the world, but you don’t need to tear each other down,” she’d tell them. “You are all each other have.”
That thought resonated on that November Saturday, six days before Thanksgiving, with Chloe and Lauren beside their mom’s hospital bed. When they were freshmen, they lost their maternal grandmother, Jean Riley, their Mammaw.
Now, their mom.
“She was the only person we had,” Chloe said the other day. “It was always the three of us since we were babies. But when she died, you felt like we lost a third of us. We kept thinking, ‘What is this going to change?’ Well, it would change everything.”
Working to recover
Both Chloe and Lauren wrote about their mother’s death in their college essay.
From Lauren: “It’s hard to explain to people about losing a parent at such a young age. It is even harder to explain your situation when people ask about your mom. The hardest part is when people ask, ‘How are you doing?’
“I want to be truthful and tell them I’m not doing okay, that I’m struggling and grieving and that I just want my mother back.”
From Chloe: “My love for her will never fade. When things get hard, all I need to do is remember her quirks, her crazy fashion sense, and her witty sayings. It will get better. One day.”
How that has happened says much about the Riley twins.
They rely on each other. They rely on their Aunt Cathy and Uncle Ronnie, their mom’s brother. They also rely on their godmother, Melody Holder. She helps them, as the Riley twins say, “adult.”
Then there are their teachers. Like Hardy Floyd, their AP English teacher and yearbook adviser. And Sheila White, the guidance counselor at High Point Central. She has been key, they say.
“Mrs. White has been there,” Lauren says. “She’d let us come into her office and get a lot off our chest. That’s been a good thing.”
During the fall when their mom was in and out of the hospital, Floyd asked them to help with High Point Central’s yearbook, “Pemican.” They agreed.
Chloe sold ads, and Lauren designed every page and came up with the cover that referenced the school’s mascot, Bison.
She called the yearbook, “Ya Herd.”
“When it comes to the creative thing, I’m the one who can do that,” Lauren says. “Chloe has no art skills whatsoever.”
“No!” Chloe responds instantly.
So it goes with the Riley twins. Never a dull moment.
The twin life
Since their sophomore year, they’ve been class officers together. Chloe has been president; Lauren, vice president. This year, Chloe was president of the student body, and Lauren was vice president.
They swam freestyle for High Point Central — they learned to swim in their Uncle Ronnie’s pool. They also played volleyball and basketball. And, of course, softball.
Lauren played second base, and Chloe played behind her in right field. Lauren batted third; Chloe, fifth. On a Wednesday in April, when High Point Central beat Winston-Salem’s Parkland High 15-0, Lauren hit a home run.
On the first pitch of the next inning, Chloe did the same thing.
“It was one of those where you don’t know it’s going over because it wasn’t my home run swing,” Chloe says. “So, I was surprised. When I saw it go over the fence, I put up my hands like Superman.”
Lauren saw it from the stands beside Uncle Ronnie. She was happy for her sister. A second later, though, she realized what her sister had done.
“That was mine,” Lauren says. “I wanted the team to talk about my home run. Not hers.”
Wait a minute. A sister likes stealing her fraternal twin’s moment?
“Absolutely,” Chloe says, laughing. “In the best way.”
‘I was over the moon’
Chloe and Lauren may be separated in age by three minutes. But it might as well be three years. Chloe has always been the mom in their relationship, and since their mom’s death, Chloe has taken care of life’s little details for her little sister she calls “Bud.”
Chloe cleans, drives and keeps them both on a schedule. Lauren is the cook.
“I’m winging it,” Chloe says. “Sometimes, I don’t know what I’m doing, and that’s scary.”
“She shouldn’t be,” Lauren says, smiling. “She’s doing a really good job.”
They’re both 18, considered adults under the law, so they can live on their own where they rent now. When they go to college, they’ll move into an apartment above Uncle Ronnie’s garage. When they do, they won’t have to worry about college expenses.
UNC-CH, High Point University and Say Yes Guilford ensured that.
“All that stress about paying for college was gone,” Lauren says. “I was over the moon.”
Lauren was at her Uncle Ronnie’s house playing with his dog, a German shepherd named Stormy, when she got a phone call. She heard she received a Say Yes scholarship to attend HPU.
The next week, Chloe read an email from UNC-CH right after a softball game. That’s how she found out she received UNC’s Williamson Distinguished Scholarship. She cried.
But now comes the big move.
In August, for the first time in their lives, they won’t be steps away from one another.
“I’ll have to get sick of her, so I don’t miss her,” Lauren says.
“Your country accent is coming out, Bud,” she says.
A second later, Chloe gets serious.
“I’m going to take it way worse,” she says. “I can cook and clean for myself, but it’s the stress of being alone. With Lauren, I always knew I’d have someone to talk to. We’ve never had a fist fight, we’ve been completely inseparable, and that has been amazing.”
Chloe shakes her head.
“I’ve never been alone in the world. It’s not easy being alone.”