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Published Tuesday December 29th, 2009 at 5:10pm

Original Article by Evan S. Benn

Missouri twins Kaitlyn and Brittany Gotthardt went right for the big box sitting next to their Christmas tree Friday, not knowing that what was inside had traveled 1,200 miles and would soon have the girls crying tears of joy.

Out of the box jumped Anthony and Cat Fosher, the twins' older siblings, who were raised separately and live in New Hampshire.

The four hadn't seen each other since their birth mother's funeral in February, and before that five years had passed since the last visit.

Wendy and Craig Gotthardt, who adopted the twins, now 17, at birth, made it their mission to bring Anthony, 19, and Cat, 18, to their home for Christmas. The brother and sister flew from Manchester, N.H., to St. Louis on Friday afternoon; a friend took the twins out of the house while the Gotthardts stashed Anthony and Cat in their hiding space.

"The girls told us all they wanted for Christmas was to spend time with their brother and sister, so I knew we had to make it happen," said Wendy Gotthardt, 52, a photographer who recently has been out of work. "I didn't know how we were going to afford it, but I called the grandparents, and they bought the plane tickets."

It has been a difficult few years for the family. Kaitlyn and Brittany, juniors at Fort Zumwalt East High, had decided they wanted to meet their birth parents when they turned 18, but they never got a chance. Their father died in October 2007 and their mother a year and a half later.

Although Kaitlyn and Brittany had been put up for adoption, Anthony and Cat first lived with their grandparents in Kansas City and then with their birth parents in New Hampshire.

"As the kids grew older, I think they started to have a lot more unanswered questions, and that took an emotional toll on all of us," Wendy Gotthardt said of her only children. "There's no book that tells you how to handle all these situations."

Brittany had to take seven weeks off school this year for emotional-health reasons while her identical twin tried to help her get back on track. The two are standouts on their school's softball team. Brittany plays first base, Kaitlyn plays third and their coaches and teachers played a big role in helping them through the rough patch, Wendy Gotthardt said.

After Friday's big reveal, the four siblings looked like any other family celebrating Christmas: They sat in front of the tree and opened presents and laughed while carols played on the stereo and "A Christmas Story" on the TV.

The Gotthardts made sure to pick up practical gifts for everyone -- socks, pajamas, luggage. But some presents had more sentimental value.

All four teens received matching dog-tag necklaces, which they're going to have engraved with their initials, "so we won't be apart anymore," Cat said.

And for Kaitlyn and Brittany, their brother and sister brought them silver charm necklaces with some of their birth mom's ashes inside a heart locket.

With Anthony and Cat in town through New Year's Day, the twins said they're eager to spend some real quality time catching up.

"We've never had a Christmas with all of us together," Kaitlyn said. "I just want to sit in a room and talk with them all day and all night until they have to go back."

Added Brittany: "We finally get to hang out and introduce them to our friends. We've been wanting to do that for a long time."

Wendy Gotthardt was thrilled that the surprise was a success and that she helped her daughters form the bond they want to have with their siblings. "That was worth its weight in gold," she said.

From the looks of things Friday evening, they may have started a new family tradition.

"It's like we're all becoming closer as we grow up," Anthony said. "We definitely have to do this every year for Christmas."