In the whirlwind of new, single motherhood, the twins were three weeks old by the time any member of the Horn-Caldwell extended family voiced the obvious.
To passers-by at the Alexander City Walmart, however, the question comes up in about 30 seconds.
"It's astonishing to me that people do it," said Haliey Caldwell, proud mother of the healthy twin boys. "They come up to me; they're like 'Are they twins?' I say, 'yeah.' They'll be like, 'Do you know one's Black?' I'm like 'Yeah, I know that! I can see!'"
Damon and Stefan Caldwell were delivered at Russell Medical Center on July 26, one minute apart. The twins, born to the same white mother on the same day with the birth certificates to prove it, are ostensibly two different races.
Damon, who is more clearly mixed-race, came first. Though the father is not in the picture, Haliey said she was expecting biracial children. With her mother as her witness, then came Stefan — by all appearances, white.
"He's the one that really surprised me," Haliey said.
It took Haliey a few weeks to even articulate her questions — the sudden transition from zero children to two children occupied enough of her focus already. Then she searched the internet.
In April 2018, National Geographic ran the cover story published "Black and White: These twin sisters will make us rethink everything we know about race." The sisters had the same white English mother and Black Jamaican father and thus the same mixed-race heritage, but by genetic chance, markedly different complexions. Side-by-side, they are clearly related, but taken apart, to an unknowing stranger they would probably be coded as two different races.
Then there are rare cases of what's called "heteropaternal superfecundation" — fraternal twins with the same mother but two different fathers. Despite being born simultaneously, the twins are half-siblings.
Haliey is candidly unsure whether Damon and Stefan have the same father, but her hunch is no. Having left her job at SL Alabama to raise the twins, however, the $90 per paternity test has been a barrier.
Haliey lives side-by-side with her mother and extended family on a multi-generational tract of land outside Goodwater, an idyllic setting with goats, free-roaming chickens and an address that doesn't show up on Google Maps. For the past two months, they've all been cooing over the two newest family members.
"They love them. They're just amazed," Haliey said.
Outside the home, however, the reaction has been ugly. A simple errand to Walmart or Winn-Dixie now risks public tears.
In one grocery-store exchange, a woman stopped to ask about the baby brothers, before remarking to her companion — Haliey still in earshot — "There ain't no way those are twins."
"'One of them's Black and one of them's white,'" Haliey recalled her saying. "'They can't be twins.'"
There's doubt, and then there's racism.
Haliey described another Walmart encounter, in which a woman turned to her and said, "Doesn't that disgust you?'"
The woman was referring to Haliey's mother the next aisle over, a white grandmother holding a mixed-race baby. Haliey, who was holding Stefan in that moment, informed the shopper both sons were hers.
"They came out at the same time; they're twins!" Haliey said. "She said, 'Well, I'm a registered nurse; that don't happen.' Well, it happened. They're mine.'"
Whatever the outcome of the DNA test, Haliey vows to raise her sons in the same way. While the twins are bound to ask questions, her plan is to let them bring it up first. "It's not really a big issue to me as long as they don't think it's a big issue," she said.
Even the OB/GYN and pediatrician have so far appeared unfazed. According to Haliey, neither have commented on nor offered any explanation of the twins' non-identicalness, nor has she asked.
But if the first two months are any indication, Haliey's having a hard time expecting that same blasé attitude from the public, whether at Walmart or Kindergarten registration.
"You just sit around thinking — because I have," Haliey's grandmother Jennifer Horn said of her new great-grandsons. "Like, how bad are they going to be made fun of at school? All kids go through something one way or another, but if we could avoid that, not let that happen with the snap of a finger, that's what we'd do."
Even among family, it's easy to fall into the habit of referring to the twins by their skin color. To Haliey's grandfather, Damon and Stefan are "my little brown one" and "my little white one."
"I try to tell him the names and he's like 'uh-uh,'" Horn said. "And I'm like, I mean for myself I'd prefer you not call them 'the little brown one' and 'the little white one!' But he can't remember their names. Hopefully he will start remembering."
It's not just a generational thing. Last week, Haliey brought Damon and Stefan to visit her five-year-old nephew.
"He said 'Haliey, the Black one's crying,'" she recalled, laughing.
According to Haliey, the identity of the father doesn't matter. She doesn't plan on seeking child support. As soon as she can scrape up the $180, the only test outcome she's interested is whether they're half- or full-brothers — in other words, two mixed-race siblings, demonstrating the miracles of genetic chance, or a rare case of half-blooded twins, one white, one biracial.
"We're not trying to do nothing, start no trouble or anything," Horn said. "It's just something we wanted to know. And, like, they are special. They are different.'"