TWINS CUT UNIQUE PATHS THROUGH LIFE

FLOYD — It’s the last day of regular classes — and last full school day of high school for the 132 graduating seniors of Floyd County High School — and twin sisters Clary and Cloe Franko are eyeing the door and hastily stuffing textbooks into their backpacks.

In seconds, their first-block AP calculus class will dismiss for the final time and the girls can hardly mask their excitement. Not that anyone can blame them.

When the bell rings, students will be merely a take-home exam away from completing the rigorous course.

“Relieved,” Cloe, who days later was named valedictorian, says about how it feels to be almost done with one of her three AP classes.

Her sister, sitting in the closest desk on the same row, has additional reasons for being ready to leave.

She’s eager to catch up with Matthew Browning, the boy who stole her heart three months ago and the young man who shared with her in royalty on the night the two were crowned prom king and queen earlier this year.

Matthew, the class president who is a twin himself and one of eight twins in the senior class at Floyd County High School, will walk hand-in-hand with Clary down the hall after calculus, fulfilling what’s become almost like a post-logarithmic ritual.

“I’m always the last one out of the class,” a shy Matthew says later, “and she’s patient enough to wait for me.”

The couple has been friends for years, but like most relationships, this one only goes so far back.

The Franko twins, who graduated from Floyd earlier this week, have been together since before June 30, 1988, the day they were born mirror twins to parents in Floyd County.

Medical science shows that the part of a pregnancy term in which the mother’s egg splits to form mirror twins is only a day or two before the time at which the egg wouldn’t split completely and yield Siamese twins.

“Some people say like it’s a miracle we’re mirror twins because it’s so close to being dangerous,” said Clary, who graduated third in her class.

Right-handed and with medium-length hair, Clary was born 34 minutes before her long-haired, left-handed sister.

Their differences pale in comparison to what they have in common.

The siblings share a car, a craving for Italian food, an ear for alternative music. They share a penchant for achievement in academics and sports, too.

But once the bell rings to dismiss AP calculus, they’ll go out into the hallway and won’t cling together. Neither sister would have it any other way.

Taking a similar path

When 10 a.m. arrives, so does the long-awaited departure from calculus.

The Franko twins’ next destination is the library and they’ll meet again in a matter of minutes. In the meantime, they’ve taken different routes.

Clary walks alongside Matthew in the busy hallway, her left hand in his right, before eventually stopping at their lockers to chat.

On the way, Clary smiles and hands a binder to one friend and exchanges friendly greetings with several others, including many she may never meet in the halls again. It seems as if she knows almost everyone.

Cloe has disappeared somewhere among the horde of students.

“Up front we are alike. Some people still can’t tell us apart,” Cloe says. “But I’m definitely more reserved. Clary’s more bubbly and outgoing.”

Clary agrees.

“I’m more of the outgoing and social,” the older sister says. “It’s easier for me to talk to people, I guess, and easier for me to meet new people. Like when we were younger and stuff, I would be the one to initiate with people and then they’d get to know both of us.”

In their four years at Floyd County High School, both Frankos became known for their intellect and leadership qualities.

As seniors, Clary was president of the student council and her sister was vice president. Their teachers coined it “The Frankocracy.”

“They have a very good sense of humor,” says Dan Snellings, who taught the Frankos in honors government.

“They’re the kind of kids that if you pick at them or play around with them they can handle it and handle that type of thing, so they were very enjoyable in terms of having them in class.”

As juniors, Clary served as student council treasurer, her sister as reporter.

Both are Beta Club members who challenged each other and salutatorian Clinton Cohen right up to the last minute for valedictorian and salutatorian honors.

All throughout high school, Cloe never received a grade below an A.

“Frankly, I don’t think our girls have any idea how strong and powerful and clear they really are, and that’s a good thing,” says Tom Franko, the twins’ dad.

“You find that out when you need it. In the meantime, everybody’s the same. We’re all average Joes cutting down the highway. When something comes up they have the tools to deal with things.”

When Cloe was chosen by her teachers this year to receive the O.T. Wright Award, the most prestigious honor that can be given to a student at the high school, her reputation made her the logical choice.

“She’s my best friend,” Morgan Cain says about Cloe, who has found her way to the library and is reading over Morgan’s paper before her classmate submits it. “She’s very sophisticated, intelligent and honest.”

Clary, likewise, was a popular pick for prom queen.

“She’s a really great girl,” says Brittany Weeks, a rising junior. “She’s been really helpful with a lot of issues and problems in my life. We can talk about anything from soccer to schoolwork.”

Clary and Cloe, now back together in the library, are surrounded at a table by several friends, including Matthew.

SCA nominations are the topic of the hour, but exams begin the next day. One wonders if the atmosphere is always this relaxed.

“Yeah, unless we have a lot of fourth-period homework,” Clary says. “Then we start cramming.

“We should probably do some, Matthew.”

Matthew doesn’t open his backpack and the conversation continues.

The break is well-deserved.

Keeping a torrid pace

Like many other intellectually gifted students, the Franko twins have showcased talents beyond the classroom.

Both played on the Buffaloes’ volleyball team for large portions of their time in high school.

As a 10th-grader, Cloe placed second in the Group A state track meet in the 4-by-4 relay and fifth in the 300-meter hurdle. A back injury limited her participation in both sports in the latter half of high school.

Clary, who was cut from the volleyball team as an eighth-grader and returned as a freshman, was a four-year standout on the squad and was named all-second team Three Rivers District as a senior and also played on the soccer team in all but her freshman year.

Successfully juggling academics with athletics was a task that the twins knew early on wasn’t for the slothful.

But their game plan was rather simple.

“You have some late nights, very late nights, but basically both of us think school’s always come first,” Clary says. “If that means you go out and you do your sport and you get home at 6 or 7 and do homework till midnight, so be it.”

Her sister concurs.

“We’ve always been self-motivated,” Cloe says. “Our parents never had to bribe us with money for grades or anything like that.

“We’ve always known that it was up to us to do the best we could in school, and that’s what we’ve done.”

Going separate ways

Back in the library, the Frankos have parted company again.

Clary is huddled next to a bookshelf, quietly talking and giggling with Matthew.

Her sister is on the other side of the room, sitting in front of a laptop and mulling over a stack of papers.

It’s time the twins get more used to being apart.

This fall, Clary will attend Appalachian State University, where she plans to study environmental studies to sustainable development. Cloe has enrolled at the University of Richmond but won’t settle on a major until later.

Neither sister gave any real consideration to attending the same college.

“We really want to not be the twins, Clary and Cloe Franko,” Clary says. “We just want to be absolutely separate and not be held back by each other.”

Her sister echoes those sentiments.

“We can do our own thing and succeed where we will and fail where we will if that’s what needs to happen for us to grow as individuals,” Cloe says.

Still in the library, Cloe is heading for the door, ready to bolt for her next class. Her sister sees her about to leave and comes over for a word.

The two briefly discuss plans for later that evening.

“I’ll meet you at 8,” Clary says.

Her sister nods and walks out into the hall.

A much bigger world awaits.

This article was originally published at Roanoke.com on June 10, 2006.

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