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And plundered on the living room rug.
And being savaged under the hot, beating spray of the shower was an experience she would be more than willing to repeat.
Through the hours of the night he’d reached for her, thrilled her, had never seemed quite able to get enough of her. Or she of him. They’d been so completely in tune, so utterly together, that at times it had seemed his heart had beat inside hers.
The candles had guttered out in their own fragrant pools, and light had been seeping softly through the windows when she’d fallen into an exhausted sleep.
Only to wake alone.
She knew it shouldn’t hurt her that he hadn’t slept with her, hadn’t woken with her. It wasn’t to be like that between them. She knew that, accepted that. There would be no soft and foolish words between them, no baring of souls.
The border of intimacy stopped at the physical, with his side of it walled thick. Her heart was her own problem, not his.
How could he know she’d never given herself so absolutely to any other man? Why should he be expected to know that the primitive power of their desire for each other was driven by love on her side?
She rubbed her tired eyes and ordered herself up and out of bed.
She’d walked into the relationship with her eyes open, she thought as she tidied up the bedroom. She’d known its limitations. His limitations. They could be together, enjoy each other, as long as certain lines weren’t crossed.
Well, that was fine. She wasn’t going to pine and sigh over it. She was in charge of her own emotions; she was responsible for her own actions; and she was hardly going to mope around because she was involved with an exciting, fascinating, interesting man.
“Damn it!” She hurled her shoes into the closet. “Damn it, damn it, damn it!”
Cybil leaped on the bed, grabbed the phone. She had to tell someone, talk to someone. And when it was this vital, there was really only one someone.
“Mama? Mama, I’m in love,” she said, then burst into wild tears.
* * *
Preston’s fingers flew over the keyboard. He’d had less than three hours’ sleep, but his system was revved, his mind clear as crystal. His first major play had been wrenched out of him, every word a wound. But this was pouring out, streaming like wine out of a magic bottle that had only been waiting to be decanted.
It was so fully alive. And for the first time in longer than he could remember, so was he.
He could see it all perfectly, the sets, the staging, the characters and everything inside them. The doomed, the damned, the triumphant. A world in three acts.
There was an energy here, inside these people who formed on the page and lived on the stage already set inside his head. He knew them, knew how their hearts would leap and how they would break.
The thread of hope that ran through their lives hadn’t been planned, but it was there, woven through and tangled so that he found himself riding on it with them.
He wrote until he ran dry; then, disoriented, glanced around the room. It was dark but for the lamp he’d switched on and the steady glow from his computer screen. He hadn’t a clue what time it was—what day, for that matter. But his neck and shoulders were stiff, his stomach empty, and the coffee in the cup on his desk looked faintly revolting.
Standing, he worked out the worst of the kinks, then walked to the window, pushed open the curtains. There was a hell of a spring storm going on. He hadn’t noticed. Now he watched the flashing of lightning, the scurry of desperate pedestrians rushing to appointments or shelter.
The entrepreneur on the corner was doing a brisk business in the umbrellas, which no one in New York seemed to own for longer than it took the pavement to dry.
He wondered if Cybil was looking out her window, watching the same scene. What she would think of it, how she would turn something so simple and ordinary as a thunderstorm in the city into the bright and ridiculous.
She’d use the Umbrella Man, he decided, work up an entire biography for him, give the figure in black slicker and hood a name, a background, a personality full of quirks. And the anonymous street vendor would become part of her world.
She had such a gift for drawing people into her world.
He was in it now, Preston mused. He hadn’t been able to stop himself from opening that colorful door and stepping inside the confusion, the delights, the energy.
She didn’t seem to understand he didn’t belong there.
When he was inside, when he was surrounded by her, it seemed as though he could stay. That if he let it, life could be just that simple and extraordinary.
Like a storm in the city, he thought. But storms pass.
He’d nearly let himself sink into it that morning. Nearly let himself sink in and stay in that warm bed, with that warm body that had turned to curl around him in sleep.
She’d looked so … soft, he thought now. So welcoming. What had moved through him as he’d watched her in that fragile light had been a different kind of hunger. One that yearned to hold, to sigh out all the troubles and doubts and hold on to dreams.
It had been safer for both of them to leave her sleeping.
He flicked the curtains closed and walked downstairs.
He started fresh coffee, foraged for food, toyed with the idea of a nap.
But he thought of her, and of the night, and knew the restlessness inside him wouldn’t allow him to rest.
What was she doing over there?
He had no business knocking on her door, interrupting her work just because his was finished for now. Just because the drum of rain made him feel edgy and alone. Just because he wanted her.
He liked being alone, he reminded himself as he prowled the living area. He needed the edge for his work.
He wanted to sit with her and watch the rain. To make slow, lazy love with her while it pounded the streets and sidewalks and cocooned them from everything but each other.
Wanted her, he admitted, just a little too much for comfort.
He told himself it was safe enough to want. It was crossing the line from want to need that was dangerous. Just how close, he wondered, was he already skirting that very thin, very shaky line?
When a woman got inside a man this way, it changed him, left him wide-open so that he made mistakes and exposed pieces of himself better left alone.
She wasn’t Pamela. He wasn’t so blind he believed every woman was a liar and a cheat and cold as stone. If he’d ever known anyone with less potential for cruelty and deceit, it was Cybil Campbell.
But that didn’t change the bottom line.
From want to need to love were short, skidding steps. Once a man had taken the fall and ended up broken, he learned to keep his balance at all costs. He didn’t want the desperation, the vulnerability, the loss of self that went hand in hand with genuine intimacy. And he’d stopped believing himself capable of those things.
Which meant there was nothing to worry about, he told himself, sipping his coffee and staring at his door as if he could see through it and through the one across the hall. She wasn’t asking for anything more than passion, companionship, enjoyment.
Exactly as he was.
She was perfectly aware the arrangement was temporary.
He’d be gone in a few weeks, and their lives would go comfortably in other directions. She with her crowds of friends, he with his contented solitude.
He’d set his cup down with a violent snap before he realized the idea annoyed him.
They could still see each other from time to time, he told himself as he began to pace again. His house in Connecticut was a reasonable commute from the city. Isn’t that why he’d chosen it in the first place?
He came into the city often enough. There was no reason he couldn’t make it more often.
Until she got involved with someone else, he thought, jamming his hands in his pockets. Why should a woman like that wait around for him to breeze in and out of her life?<
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And that was fine, too, he decided as his temper began to rumble like the thunder outside. Who was asking her to wait around? She could damn well hook herself up with any idiot her interfering friends tossed at her.
But not, by God, while he was still across the hall.
He strode to her door, intending to make a few things clear. And opened it just in time to watch Cybil launch herself joyfully into the arms of a tall man with sun-streaked brown hair.
“Still the prettiest girl in New York,” he said in a voice that hinted of beignets and chicory. “Give me a kiss.”
And as she did, lavishly, Preston wondered which method of murder would be most satisfying.
Chapter 8
“Matthew! Why didn’t you tell me you were coming? When did you get in? How long are you staying? Oh, I’m so happy to see you! You’re all wet. Come inside, take off your jacket—when are you going to buy a new one? This one looks like it’s been through a war.”
He only laughed, hefted her off her feet and kissed her again. “You still never shut up.”
“I babble when I’m happy. When are you— Oh, Preston.” She beamed at him out of eyes shining with joy. “I didn’t see you there.”
“Obviously.” Bare hands, he thought, would be the most satisfying. He would simply take the guy with the smug brown eyes and the scarred leather jacket apart piece by piece. And feed each one to Cybil. “Don’t let me interrupt the reunion.”
“It’s great, isn’t it? Matthew, this is Preston McQuinn.”
“McQuinn?” Matthew ran his tongue around his teeth. He was fairly sure the man braced in the hallway wanted to break them. “The playwright. I caught your work the last time I was in the city. Cyb cried buckets. I practically had to carry her out of the theater.”
“I wasn’t that bad.”
“Yes, you were. Of course, you used to tear up during greeting-card commercials, so you’re an easy mark.”
“That’s ridiculous, and— Oh, my phone. Hang on a minute.” She darted inside, leaving the men eyeing each other narrowly.
“I’m a sculptor,” Matthew said in the same lazy drawl. “And since I really need my hands to work, I’ll tell you I’m Cybil’s brother before I offer to shake.”
“Brother?” The murderous gleam shifted but didn’t quite fade. “Not much family resemblance.”
“Not especially. Want to see my ID, McQuinn?”
“That was Mrs. Wolinsky,” Cybil announced as she dashed back. “She saw you come in but couldn’t get to her door in time to waylay you. I’m supposed to tell you she thinks you’re more handsome than ever.” Chuckling, Cybil grabbed both his cheeks. “Isn’t he pretty?”
“Don’t start.”
“Oh, but you are. Such a pretty face. All the female hearts flutter.” She laughed again, then snagged Preston’s hand. “Come on, let’s have a drink to celebrate.”
He started to refuse, then shrugged. It wouldn’t do any harm to take a few minutes to size up Cybil’s brother.
“What kind of sculptor?”
“I work in metal primarily.” Matthew peeled off his jacket, tossed it carelessly over the arm of a chair. It barely had time to land before Cybil snatched it off.
“I’ll just hang this in the bathroom to dry. Preston, pour us some wine, will you?”
“She have any beer?” Matthew wanted to know and sauntered over to lean on the counter while Preston moved through the kitchen with a familiarity that had the big brother arching a brow.
“Yeah.” He plucked out two, popped the tops, then took out the wine for Cybil. “You work in the South?”
“That’s right. New Orleans suits me better than New England. Weather-wise, it gives me more room to work outside if I want. Cyb hasn’t mentioned you. When did you move in?”
Preston lifted his beer, noted Matthew’s eyes were nearly the exact color of Cybil’s hair. Like good aged whiskey. “Not long ago.”
“Work fast, do you?”
“Preston.” Cybil heaved a sigh as she came back. “Couldn’t you have used glasses?”
“We don’t need glasses.” Matthew grinned, keeping a challenging eye on Preston. “We’ll just drink our beer like real men, then chew up the bottle.”
“Then you probably don’t want any dainty cheese and crackers, or girlie pate to go with it.”
“Says who?” Matthew demanded, and slid onto a stool. “You used to have four of these, didn’t you?”
“Oh, Preston borrowed one. What are you doing in New York, Matthew?” She stuck her head in the fridge.
“Just some quick preliminary business for my show this fall. I’m only here for a couple days.”
“And you checked into a hotel, didn’t you?”
“Your revolving-door policy drives me crazy.” Matthew gestured toward Preston with his beer. “You’ve lived across the hall for a bit, right? So you know what goes on in here. It’s terrifying. She lets …” He shuddered dramatically. “People in here.”
“Matthew is a professional recluse,” Cybil said dryly as she began preparing a small feast. “You two should get along famously. Preston doesn’t like people, either.”
“Ah, finally. A man of sense.” Matthew aimed one of his quick, crooked smiles at Preston and decided he might like him after all. “I let her talk me into staying here once,” Matthew continued, stealing a cracker. “Oh, the horror. Three days, people dropping in, talking, eating, drinking, standing around, bringing their relatives and pets.”
“It was only one little dog.”
“Who insisted on sitting in my lap, without invitation, then ate my socks.”
“If you hadn’t left them lying on the floor, he wouldn’t have eaten them. Besides, he only chewed them a bit.”
“It’s all a matter of perspective,” Matthew concluded. “And you see, in a civilized hotel, the only people who drop in are housekeeping and room service—and they knock first and very rarely bring along small, toothy dogs.” He reached over, pinched her chin. “But I’ll let you cook me dinner, darling.”
“You’re so good to me.”
“You ever had Cyb’s homemade chicken potpie, McQuinn?”
“Can’t say I have.”
“Well, watch me sweet-talk us into some.”
* * *
It was an interesting way to spend the evening, Preston thought later, watching Cybil relate to her brother. The ease of affection, humor, occasional exasperation. He remembered it had been like that between him and his sister. Before Pamela.
After that, there had still been affection, but the ease of it had vanished. All too often he had felt an awkwardness that had never been there before.
But awkwardness wasn’t a problem with the Campbells. They cheerfully told embarrassing stories about each other, and when that paled, ganged up to tell him about their absent and therefore defenseless sister and any number of cousins.
By the time he left, he was wondering if he could work bits of them into act two, for a little comic relief.
Work, Preston decided, since Cybil was likely to be occupied with family for quite some time yet, was his best hope for the rest of the night.
* * *
“I like your friend.” Matthew stretched out his legs and swirled the brandy Cybil had opened in his honor.
“That’s handy—so do I.”
“A little on the sober side for you.”
“Ah, well.” She settled in beside him on the sofa. “A little change of pace now and again can’t hurt.”
“Is that what he is?” Matthew gave her earlobe a tug. “I noticed you two didn’t waste any time getting locked together when I so accommodatingly strolled upstairs to make a phone call.”
“If you were making a phone call, how do you know what we were doing down here? Unless you were spying.” She smiled sweetly, fluttered her lashes and got another jerk on the ear.
“I wasn’t spying. I just happened to glance down th
e stairs at one very strategic moment. And since he looked at you any number of times during the evening like he knew you’d be a lot more tasty than your chicken potpie—which was great, by the way—I cleverly put two and two together.”
“You were always bright, Matthew. I suppose it’s reasonable to say, since you’re being nosy, that Preston and I are together.”
“You’re sleeping with him.”
Deliberately, Cybil widened her eyes. “Why, no—we’ve decided to be canasta partners. We realize it’s a big commitment, but we think we can handle it.”
“You always were a smart-ass,” he muttered.
“That’s how I make my fame and fortune.”
“Now you’re making it turning McQuinn across the hall into Emily’s elusive and irritable Quinn.”
“How could I resist?”
Matthew drummed his fingers, shifted. “Emily thinks she’s in love with him.”
Cybil said nothing for a moment, then shook her head. “Emily is a cartoon character who pretty much does what I tell her to do. She’s not me.”
“She has pieces of you—some of your most endearing and annoying pieces.”
“True. That’s why I like her.”
Matthew blew out a breath, frowned into his brandy. “Look, Cyb, I don’t want to horn into your personal life, but I’m still your big brother.”
“And you’re so good at it, Matthew.” She leaned over to kiss his cheek. “You don’t have to worry about this. Preston didn’t and isn’t taking advantage of your baby sister.” She took Matthew’s brandy, sipped, handed it back. “I took advantage of him. I baked him cookies, and ever since he’s been my love slave.”
“There’s that mouth again.” Uncomfortable, he pushed off the sofa, paced a bit. “Okay, I don’t want the details, but—”
“Oh, and I was so looking forward to sharing all of them with you, especially the home videos.”
“Shut up, Cybil.” Working his way from uncomfortable to embarrassed, Matthew dragged a hand through his hair. “I know you’re grown-up, and you’re seriously cute in spite of that nose.”
“My nose is very attractive.” She sniffed with it.
“We all worked hard to make you believe that, and you’ve overcome that little deformity so well.”
She had to laugh. “Shut up, Matthew.”
“All I want to say is … be careful. You know? Careful.”
Her eyes went soft as she rose. “I love you, Matthew. In spite of that annoying facial tic.”
“I don’t have a facial tic.”
“We worked hard to make you believe that.” Laughing again, she slipped her arms around him for a fierce hug. “It’s so nice to have you here. Can’t you stay longer?”

“Elizabeth.” Her voice was as polished and calm as her wardrobe. “It took considerable effort to reschedule and have you admitted to the summer program this term. You’ll complete the requirements for your admission into Harvard Medical School a full semester ahead of schedule.”

Even the thought made Elizabeth’s stomach hurt. “I was promised a three-week break, including this next week in New York.”

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“And sometimes promises must be broken. If I hadn’t had this coming week off, I couldn’t fill in for Dr. Dusecki at the conference.”

“You could have said no.”

“That would have been selfish and shortsighted.” Susan brushed at the jacket she’d hung, stepped back to check her list. “You’re certainly mature enough to understand the demands of work overtake pleasure and leisure.”

“If I’m mature enough to understand that, why aren’t I mature enough to make my own decisions? I want this break. I need it.”

Susan barely spared her daughter a glance. “A girl of your age, physical condition and mental acumen hardly
a break from her studies and activities. In addition, Mrs. Laine has already left for her two-week cruise, and I could hardly ask her to postpone her vacation. There’s no one to fix your meals or tend to the house.”

“I can fix my own meals and tend to the house.”

“Elizabeth.” The tone managed to merge clipped with long-suffering. “It’s settled.”

“And I have no say in it? What about developing my independence, being responsible?”

“Independence comes in degrees, as does responsibility and freedom of choice. You still require guidance and direction. Now, I’ve e-mailed you an updated schedule for the coming week, and your packet with all the information on the program is on your desk. Be sure to thank Dr. Frisco personally for making room for you in the summer term.”

As she spoke, Susan closed the garment bag, then her small pullman. She stepped to her bureau to check her hair, her lipstick.

“You don’t listen to anything I say.”

In the mirror, Susan’s gaze shifted to her daughter. The first time, Elizabeth thought, her mother had bothered to actually look at her since she’d come into the bedroom. “Of course I do. I heard everything you said, very clearly.”

“Listening’s different than hearing.”

“That may be true, Elizabeth, but we’ve already had this discussion.”

“It’s not a discussion, it’s a decree.”

Susan’s mouth tightened briefly, the only sign of annoyance. When she turned, her eyes were a cool, calm blue. “I’m sorry you feel that way. As your mother, I must do what I believe is best for you.”

“What’s best for me, in your opinion, is for me to do, be, say, think, act, want, become exactly what you decided for me before you inseminated yourself with precisely selected sperm.”

She heard the rise of her own voice but couldn’t control it, felt the hot sting of tears in her eyes but couldn’t stop them. “I’m tired of being your experiment. I’m tired of having every
minute of every day organized, orchestrated and choreographed to meet your expectations. I want to make my own choices, buy my own clothes, read books
want to read. I want to live my own life instead of yours.”

Susan’s eyebrows lifted in an expression of mild interest. “Well. Your attitude isn’t surprising given your age, but you’ve picked a very inconvenient time to be defiant and argumentative.”

“Sorry. It wasn’t on the schedule.”

“Sarcasm’s also typical, but it’s unbecoming.” Susan opened her briefcase, checked the contents. “We’ll talk about all this when I get back. I’ll make an appointment with Dr. Bristoe.”

“I don’t need therapy! I need a mother who
, who gives a shit about how I feel.”

“That kind of language only shows a lack of maturity and intellect.”

Enraged, Elizabeth threw up her hands, spun in circles. If she couldn’t be calm and rational like her mother, she’d be
. “Shit! Shit! Shit!”

“And repetition hardly enhances. You have the rest of the weekend to consider your behavior. Your meals are in the refrigerator or freezer, labeled. Your pack list is on your desk. Report to Ms. Vee at the university at eight on Monday morning. Your participation in this program will ensure your place in HMS next fall. Now, take my garment bag downstairs, please. My car will be here any minute.”

Oh, those seeds were sprouting, cracking that fallow ground and pushing painfully through. For the first time in her life, Elizabeth looked straight into her mother’s eyes and said, “No.”

She spun around, stomped away, and slammed the door of her bedroom. She threw herself down on the bed, stared at the ceiling with tear-blurred eyes. And waited.

Any second, any second, she told herself. Her mother would come in, demand an apology, demand obedience. And she wouldn’t give either.

They’d have a fight, an actual fight, with threats of punishment and consequences. Maybe they’d yell at each other. Maybe if they yelled, her mother would finally hear her.

And maybe, if they yelled, she could say all the things that had crept up inside her this past year. Things she thought now had been inside her forever.

She didn’t want to be a doctor. She didn’t want to spend every waking hour on a schedule or have to hide a stupid pair of jeans because they didn’t fit her mother’s dress code.

She wanted to have friends, not approved socialization appointments. She wanted to listen to the music girls her age listened to. She wanted to know what they whispered about and laughed about and talked about while she was shut out.

She didn’t want to be a genius or a prodigy.

She wanted to be normal. She just wanted to be like everyone else.

She swiped at the tears, curled up, stared at the door.

Any second, she thought again. Any second now. Her mother had to be angry. She had to come in and assert authority. Had to.

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“Please,” Elizabeth murmured as seconds ticked into minutes. “Don’t make me give in again. Please, please, don’t make me give up.”

Love me enough. Just this once.

But as the minutes dragged on, Elizabeth pushed herself off the bed. Patience, she knew, was her mother’s greatest weapon. That, and the unyielding sense of being right crushed all foes. And certainly her daughter was no match for it.

Defeated, she walked out of her room, toward her mother’s.

The garment bag, the briefcase, the small, wheeled pullman were gone. Even as she walked downstairs, she knew her mother had gone, too.

“She left me. She just left.”

Alone, she looked around the pretty, tidy living room. Everything perfect—the fabrics, the colors, the art, the arrangement. The antiques passed down through generations of Fitches—all quiet elegance.


Nothing had changed, she realized. And nothing would.

“So I will.”

She didn’t allow herself to think, to question or second-guess. Instead, she marched back up, snagged scissors from her study area.

In her bathroom she studied her face in the mirror—coloring she’d gotten through paternity—auburn hair, thick like her mother’s but without the soft, pretty wave. Her mother’s high, sharp cheekbones, her biological father’s—whoever he was—deep-set green eyes. Pale skin, wide mouth.

Physically attractive, she thought, because that was DNA and her mother would tolerate no less. But not beautiful, not striking like Susan, no. And that, she supposed, had been a disappointment even her mother couldn’t fix.

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“Freak.” Elizabeth pressed a hand to the mirror, hating what she saw in the glass. “You’re a freak. But as of now, you’re not a coward.”

Taking a big breath, she yanked up a hunk of her shoulder length hair and chopped it off.

With every snap of the scissors she felt empowered.
choice. She let the shorn hanks fall to the floor. As she snipped and hacked, an image formed in her mind. Eyes narrowed, head angled, she slowed the clipping. It was just geometry, really, she decided—and physics. Action and reaction.

The weight—physical and metaphorical, she thought—just fell away. And the girl in the glass looked lighter. Her eyes seemed bigger, her face not so thin, not so drawn.

She looked … new, Elizabeth decided.

Carefully, she set the scissors down, and realizing her breath was heaving in and out, made a conscious effort to slow it.

So short. Testing, she lifted a hand to her exposed neck, ears, then brushed them over the bangs she’d cut. Too even, she decided. She hunted up manicure scissors, tried her hand at styling.

Not bad. Not really good, she admitted, but different. That was the whole point. She looked and felt different.

But not finished.

Leaving the hair where it lay, she went into her bedroom, changed into her secret cache of clothes. She needed product—that’s what the girls called it. Hair product. And makeup. And more clothes.

She needed the mall.

Riding on the thrill, she went into her mother’s home office, took the spare car keys. And her heart hammered with excitement as she hurried to the garage. She got behind the wheel, shut her eyes a moment.

“Here we go,” she said quietly, then hit the garage door opener and backed out.

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* * *

She got her ears pierced. It seemed a bold if mildly painful move, and suited the hair dye she’d taken from the shelf after a long, careful study and debate. She bought hair wax, as she’d seen one of the girls at college use it and thought she could duplicate the look. More or less.

She bought two hundred dollars’ worth of makeup because she wasn’t sure what was right.

Then she had to sit down because her knees shook. But she wasn’t done, Elizabeth reminded herself as she watched the packs of teenagers, groups of women, teams of families wander by. She just needed to regroup.

She needed clothes, but she didn’t have a plan, a list, an agenda. Impulse buying was exhilarating, and exhausting. The temper that had driven her this far left her with a dull headache, and her earlobes throbbed a little.

The logical, sensible thing to do was go home, lie down for a while. Then plan, make that list of items to be purchased.

But that was the old Elizabeth. This one was just going to catch her breath.

The problem facing her now was she wasn’t precisely sure which store or stores she should go to. There were so many of them, and all the windows full of
. So she’d wander, watch for girls her age. She’d go where they went.

She gathered her bags, pushed to her feet—and bumped into someone.

“Excuse me,” she began, then recognized the girl. “Oh. Julie.”

“Yeah.” The blonde with the sleek, perfect hair and melted-chocolate eyes gave Elizabeth a puzzled look. “Do I know you?”

“Probably not. We went to school together. I was student teacher in your Spanish class. Elizabeth Fitch.”

“Elizabeth, sure. The brain trust.” Julie narrowed her sulky eyes. “You look different.”

“Oh. I …” Embarrassed now, Elizabeth lifted a hand to her hair. “I cut my hair.”

“Cool. I thought you moved away or something.”

“I went to college. I’m home for the summer.”

“Oh yeah, you graduated early. Weird.”

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“I suppose it is. Will you go to college this fall?”

“I’m supposed to go to Brown.”

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“That’s a wonderful school.”

“Okay. Well …”

“Are you shopping?”

“Broke.” Julie shrugged—and Elizabeth took a survey of her outfit—the snug jeans, riding very low on the hipbones, the skinny, midriff-baring shirt, the oversized shoulder bag and wedge sandals. “I just came to the mall to see my boyfriend—my
-boyfriend, since I broke up with him.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Screw him. He works at The Gap. We were supposed to go out tonight, and now he says he has to work till ten, then wants to hang out with his bros after. I’ve had it, so I dumped him.”

Elizabeth started to point out that he shouldn’t be penalized for honoring his obligations, but Julie kept talking—and it occurred to Elizabeth that the other girl hadn’t spoken more than a dozen words to her since they’d known each other.

“So, I’m going over to Tiffany’s, see if she wants to hang because now I’ve got no boyfriend for the summer. It sucks. I guess you hang out with college guys.” Julie gave her a considering look. “Go to frat parties, keggers, all that.”

“I … There are a lot of men at Harvard.”

“Harvard.” Julie rolled her eyes. “Any of them in Chicago for the summer?”

“I couldn’t say.”

“A college guy, that’s what I need. Who wants some loser who works at the mall? I need somebody who knows how to have fun, who can take me places, buy alcohol. Good luck with that unless you can get into the clubs. That’s where they hang out. Just need to score a fake ID.”

“I can do that.” The instant the words were out, Elizabeth wondered where they’d come from. But Julie gripped her arm, smiled at her as if they were friends.

“No bull?”

“No. That is, it’s not very difficult to create false identification with the right tools. A template, photo, laminate, a computer with Photoshop.”

“Brain trust. What’ll it take for you to make me a driver’s license that’ll get me into a club?”

“As I said, a template—”

“No, Jesus. What do you want for it?”

“I …” Bargaining, Elizabeth realized. A barter. “I need to buy some clothes, but I don’t know what I should buy. I need someone to help me?”

“A shopping buddy?”

“Yes. Someone who knows. You know.”

Eyes no longer sulky, voice no longer bored, Julie simply beamed. “That’s
brain trust. And if I help you pick out some outfits, you’ll make me up the ID?”

“Yes. And I’d also want to go with you to the club. So I’d need the right clothes for that, too.”

“You? Clubbing? More than your hair’s changed, Liz.”

Liz. She was Liz. “I’d need a photo of you, and it will take a little while to construct the IDs. I could have them done tomorrow. What club would we go to?”

“Might as well go for the hottest club in town. Warehouse 12. Brad Pitt went there when he was in town.”

“Do you know him?”