I am SO EXCITED to share the first two chapters from MOTION with all of you!
What’s the worst that could happen?
Mona is a smart girl and had everything figured out a long time ago. She had to. She didn’t have a choice. When your parents are uber-celebrities and you graduate from high school at thirteen, finish college at seventeen, and start your PhD program at eighteen, you don’t have time for distractions outside of your foci. Even fun is scheduled.
Which is why Abram, her brother’s best friend, is such an irritant.
Abram is a talented guy, a supremely gifted musician, and has absolutely nothing figured out, nor does he seem to care. He does what he feels, when he feels, and—in Mona’s opinion—he makes her feel entirely too much.
Laws of Physics is the second trilogy in the Hypothesis series; Laws of Physics parts 1 (MOTION) & 2 (SPACE) end with a cliffhanger.
Part 1 (MOTION) will be released February 11, 2019
Part 2 (SPACE) will be released March 11, 2019.
Part 3 (TIME) will be released April 15, 2019
Chapter 1: Physics in a Personal and Social Context
“You are receiving a collect call from ACCEPT THE CHARGES, MONA! at Cretin County Jail. If you accept the charges, press one. If not, disconnect,” the robot—apparently the love child between Alexa and Baymax—announced via my cell phone, the sound an odd amalgamation of her voice and his cadence.
No. Strike that. Inaccurate.
Most of the words were announced by the robot. But the words “ACCEPT THE CHARGES, MONA!” and the voice that whisper-shouted them belonged to my twin sister, Lisa. I didn’t press one and I didn’t disconnect. But I did stare at nothing, probably making my about-to-sneeze face, and attempted to parse through what I’d just heard.
“Is everything okay?”
Dr. Payton’s perfectly reasonable question hijacked my attention and reminded me that I wasn’t alone. I was in a restaurant. The planetary astrophysicist’s eyebrows inched upward as we stared at each other, his last bite of steak left forgotten on the tip of his fork.
Fraught and feeling illogically harassed, I sputtered, “I don’t know.”
This was one of the very few times in my nineteen years that I’d said I don’t know. I didn’t like not knowing. I preferred I’ll find out, I’ll figure it out, or I’ll know soon.
If he’d asked me the same question just thirty seconds ago, I would’ve known how to answer. Prior to my cell ringing seconds ago, today had been a great day. I’d meditated as soon as I’d awoken. I’d journaled. I’d located and eaten a perfectly ripe avocado for breakfast. The best. Avocados in Chicago and Cambridge, Mass were so seldom perfectly ripe, or they were ripe for only 4.4 seconds. Whereas California had all the ripe avocados.
Traffic on the I-5 had been light while my driver transported me from the Pasadena Marriott to the Palomar Observatory. I’d spent most of my day elbows deep with my best friends: the gorgeous symmetry and chaos of relativistic equations, infrared array imaging, spectroscopy data.
Late afternoon, I’d gone to the dentist for a teeth cleaning, X-rays, and exam where I’d been told that my home regimen of flossing and brushing was exemplary. Praise from the dentist always put me in a good mood.
Presently, I was having dinner with Dr. Poe Payton, a second-year fellow in planetary astrophysics who was as intelligent as he was handsome and charming, which was considerably. Not that his handsomeness or ability to charm was relevant. As with all my prospective colleagues, nothing was relevant about Dr. Payton other than his ability to keep up.
Afterward, my plans included swimming in the hotel pool, showering, and finally an hour of scheduled fiction reading before bed. Although, now that I was living on my own, and finally free of Dr. Steward’s daily oversight, I sometimes read for an hour and a half.
“You are receiving a collect call from ACCEPT THE CHARGES, MONA! at Cretin County Jail. If you accept the charges, press one. If not, disconnect,” the Alexa-Baymax hybrid announced again, startling me a second time.
Flustered, I pressed one and brought the phone back to my ear. “Uh, hello? Hello?”
“Thank God!” My twin sounded far away, like the connection was bad or she was speaking in a tunnel.
“Lisa?” I whisper-asked, my eyes darting to Dr. Payton’s curious and concerned expression.
“First, don’t freak out. Second, I don’t have a lot of time, so don’t ask questions. Just do what I say, okay? I’ve been arrested.”
Oh God. Oh my God! Okay . . . OH MY GOD!
Clutching my forehead, heart racing, I dropped my gaze to the napkin on my lap. “Are you okay? I- what? Where are—”
“Listen,” she said firmly, “I need you to listen to me.”
“Should I call—”
“No! Don’t call anyone. I already have a lawyer, and—if everything goes according to plan—I should be released by next week.”
My eyes darted up, snagging on Dr. Payton, who was now looking at me with some alarm.
He asked, “What can I do?” But this time he mouthed his question.
I didn’t answer, I couldn’t. Lisa was still talking in my ear, my mind accelerating to a million miles per second.
“. . . so I need you to go home and pretend to be me. Otherwise, they’ll know what happened and I’ll be so, so screwed.”
I lifted a finger, motioning for Dr. Payton to give me a minute, and turned my body toward the window on my right. “Uh, pardon?”
“Mona, focus.” My typically imperturbable sister’s voice trembled. “You have to get to Chicago—tonight if possible—and be me.”
Go to Chicago? Impossible. But one thing at a time.
Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and asked the most pertinent question. “First, tell me if you’re okay. Are you hurt?”
Lisa heaved a watery-sounding sigh. “I’m not hurt. But, no. I’m not okay.”
Lisa. My lungs constricted, I rubbed my sternum with my fingertips. We weren’t particularly close, not anymore, but right now that didn’t matter. This was my sister, my twin. There’d been a time when I’d thought we shared one-half of the same heart. Our brother Leo used to tell us this story and we’d believed him.
No. Strike that. Inaccurate. I’d believed him. Lisa had never been as naïve or gullible or susceptible to fictions and romanticism as me.
“What can I do?” I asked, opening my eyes.
“Get to Chicago. Pretend to be me for a week. And—”
“I can’t. I’m in California for my visit with Caltech. I’m interviewing for their PhD program.”
“Oh please. You mean you’re interviewing them. Everyone wants you. They wouldn’t care if you left, they wouldn’t care if you did a striptease on the dean’s desk while snorting coke off his letter opener. Hell, he’d probably love it.”
“The dean is a heterosexual female.”
Lisa grunted. “Whatever! Please, please, please listen, Mona. This is serious. This is life and death for me. You have to wear my clothes, my makeup, sleep in my room, act like me. Mom and Dad can’t know I’m in . . . shit. I can’t believe this happened.”
I shook my head. “Lisa, no. No. Listen to yourself. This is crazy, even for you. Mom and Dad will know I’m me.”
“Obviously, Mona!” she whispered harshly. “But you don’t have to fool Mom and Dad. They’re still in Greece. Abram is watching the house. You just have to fool him until I get there.”
She was talking so fast, I was having trouble keeping up. “Who is Abram?”
“Abram. You know, Abram, Leo’s friend? You don’t know Abram? Oh, good”—she sounded relieved—“in fact, that’s great! I’ve only sorta met Abram once, so this’ll be super easy. Pretend like you don’t remember him or anything about the night we met, which is actually pretty accurate, because I don’t remember much. We’ll switch places before your BFF Dr. Steward arrives, and no one will know about this nightmare.”
Overwhelmed by my confusion and her sense of urgency, I couldn’t organize my thoughts into any logical order, asking questions as they occurred to me. “Wait, Dr. Steward is coming?” Dr. Steward had lived with me and served as my guardian for most of my undergrad; this arrangement had lasted until I’d turned eighteen. “And why do I have to go to Chicago if Mom and Dad are in Greece? Shouldn’t I come to where you are and—”
She made a short growling sound. “They’re planning to cut me off, okay? They said if I wasn’t home by tomorrow, and if I didn’t hand over my phone to Abram when I got there, and if I don’t cut off all contact with Tyler, then they’d close my bank accounts and credit cards and that’s it.”
I struggled anew with this information, mostly because I thought Lisa had already ended all contact with Tyler. Our family had been living the last few months under the assumption that she was safe from his influence, that they were finally over-over. She’d sworn it was over. She’d promised.
“You’re still with Tyler?”
An epic scoff-snort sounded from the other end of the call. “Not anymore. God, never again. Not after this. I am so done with that lying, cheating, massive piece of shit!”
I had to press the cell closer to my ear to hear her. Unlike most people, both Lisa and I became quieter when we were angry rather than louder.
“Lisa, this is crazy. I can’t be you.” I kept my voice low, turning in the chair as far from Dr. Payton as I could. “No one will buy it.” We hadn’t been raised together past the age of eleven. Both my older brother and I had stayed home with private tutors—he studied music, I concentrated on math and science—while Lisa had been sent to boarding school.
“They will buy it. We’re physically identical. All you need is a makeover.”
I struggled with how to phrase my next objection, but ultimately decided I didn’t have time to be tactful. “Lisa, I love you, but I wouldn’t know the first thing about acting like you. I don’t know you.” Most of what I knew about my sister’s life was deduced from chance encounters with the gossip sections of newspapers and magazines.
Exotica and DJ Tang’s youngest daughter spotted at New York hot spot
Exotica and DJ Tang’s youngest daughter in trouble again
Exotica and DJ Tang’s youngest daughter rumored to be dating Pirate Orgy’s front man, Tyler
Exotica and DJ Tang’s youngest daughter partying at fashion week
Exotica and DJ Tang’s youngest daughter wrecks Tesla
“That’s not true.” She sounded exasperated rather than hurt.
“I call you once a week, you never pick up. And when you respond it’s with a text message.”
“Mona, you never returned my letters when I was sent to boarding school, so what’s the big deal?”
What? Why was she bringing this up? Again! Lisa had been bringing this up to excuse treating me poorly for years. It’s how she justified her jokes and pranks, none of which were funny.
“I did return your letters. How many times—”
“I’m not going to argue with you about this again. You didn’t return my letters, which is why I stopped sending them. So, again, why does it matter if I text you back?”
“Because when we do talk on the phone, it’s for less than five minutes. You think my life is boring and we have nothing in common.” I tried—and succeeded—to keep emotion out of my voice. This was my superpower, a skill I’d honed as a fifteen-year-old girl, entering a field dominated by not fifteen-year-old girls. “You were right. We have nothing in common. And now you want me to pretend to be you? It won’t work.”
For better or worse, I had more in common with my musician older brother than I did with my twin.
“Yes. It will. Like I said, Abram has only met me once, and he didn’t seem impressed, and I hardly remember it. So as long as you’re wearing my clothes and your impersonation is passable, he’ll leave you alone and we’ll be golden. I’ve already set everything up with Gabby. She’s expecting your call. She’ll meet you in Chicago, dress you to look like me before you go to the house.”
Gabby. My nostrils flexed, flared with annoyance (I hated it when they did that).
Gabby was Lisa’s best friend and used to be mine, once upon a time. The three of us had been inseparable as kids. We used to pretend we were triplets, with Gabby being our long-lost sister. Noteworthy, Gabby and Lisa had always been more interested in pretty dresses and painting their nails than I had; and I loved reading in a way they both eschewed; but our differences hadn’t seemed to matter at the time. I would paint my nails right along with them, and they indulged my love of stories by listening to me read out loud.
Things started to change around the age of nine. Gabby and Lisa’s interests moved firmly from imaginary games involving being dragon tamers—or being astronauts, or being stranded on a desert island—to imaginary games involving being famous and important in the real world, calling the games I wanted to play “baby stuff.”
But pretending within the confines of “the real world” made no sense to me. It’s like they were speaking a different language, one I couldn’t understand, and one that seemed horribly . . . well, boring.
Our official friendship separation (Gabby and Lisa versus Mona) could be traced to one night when we were eleven. I’d alerted our nanny that my sister and our friend had snuck some whiskey from the liquor cabinet after asking them repeatedly to put it back. Lisa had been sent to boarding school not long after, but when she was home, I’d played on my own and they’d been virtually inseparable.
Fascinatingly, eight years later, Gabby still held a grudge—let me repeat, for eight years—related to my snitching on her when we were eleven. I’d never snitched again. On anyone. For anything. Ever.
Understatement: I’d learned my lesson about snitching.
I’d tried (and failed) to get in their good graces for years after the whiskey-snitching incident until Gabby introduced Lisa to Tyler. Now my dislike for Gabby was entirely mutual. I didn’t know how to forgive her for introducing my twin to that scumbag.
Conclusion: At this point, I worked under the assumption that Gabby was quite possibly mentally unhinged and strongly disliked—if not outright hated—me.
But back to now and Lisa being in jail and me being shocked and awed and making my about-to-sneeze face.
Lisa continued, “When you get there, all you have to do is wear designer clothes, eyeliner, and make terrible life decisions.” She laughed, the sound both hysterical and sad. “Plus, you have to do this for me. You don’t have a choice. Unless you plan to do nothing—again—and let Mom and Dad to disown me.”
What the what?
“Doing nothing? What are you—”
“Forget it, Mona. Now isn’t the time. If you care about me at all, go to Chicago and pretend for Abram until I get there.”
“But who is Abram? Why is he at the house? Why would Mom and Dad trust him to do this? And how can I—”
“God! Look, I don’t have time to argue with you about this.” Her tone was tired, strained, frazzled. “Are you going to help me or not?”
I wanted to say, This will never work! But when I opened my mouth, no words came out.
“Call Gabby, she’s expecting your call. Go to Chicago. Get a ticket for tonight, okay? My cell phone has been mailed to Chicago and should arrive tomorrow or the next day. If Abram asks you for my phone when you get there, just tell him you left it behind and are having it mailed to you. Sit tight and let your inhibitions go—for once—until I get there.”
“Promise me, Mona. Promise me. I swear, I’ll be so good. I’ll be so fucking good. I’ll go back and finish high school, I’ll never touch drugs again, I’ll never see Tyler again, I’ll be the best sister and daughter, I’ll forgive you for everything, we’ll create a special handshake for when the next NASA thing lands on Jupiter or whatever, I will never call physics boring, and I will make this up to you. I will never, ever lie. But if you don’t do this for me, I’m dead. I’m so, so dead.” Her voice caught on the last sentence, adopting a decidedly watery edge, and that sobered me more than anything else would have.
My sister didn’t cry. Ever. What a messy mess.
“You don’t have to worry about paparazzi or anything like that.” Her breath hitched, and that told me she was now unable to stem the tears. “Gabby hooked me up with the best lawyer, she specializes in this kind of stuff, keeping it out of the papers. This won’t make it out to the press. And you know they only care about you and Leo.”
I resisted the urge to huff and remind her that she was the lucky one, the one the press didn’t follow at all, the one who was able to live her life out of the spotlight. But every time I told her this it just seemed to piss her off.
“They don’t care about me unless I fuckup . . .” she added quietly.
But then she said, “Please.”
The single word sounded so desperate, so broken, it struck a chord deep within me, a bond I’d assumed had dissolved, but now understood had merely been dormant. She hadn’t asked me for anything since we were kids. How could I say no?
“Of course. Yes.” Even though it was complete madness.
“Thank you, thank you. You are the best sister in the world. I love you!” she said just before the line went dead.
Removing the cell from my ear, I stared at the blank screen, my mind in chaos. I was unsure what to do, or on which problem I should focus.
Am I really going to do this?
Hastily, I made a list of the most basic action items. Getting a ticket to Chicago shouldn’t be a big deal. If I left directly from the restaurant, I could probably catch something tonight, stay in a hotel by O’Hare. I’d call Gabby on the way. Assuming my parents didn’t insist on speaking to me—well, “to me” meaning Lisa—then I might be back in Pasadena by the end of the week.
Am I really going to do this?
“Hey.” Dr. Payton’s soft voice cut through my list making. His wide brown eyes moved over my face, concern etched between his eyebrows. “Hey, is everything okay?”
“I’m sorry. That was rude. I should have left the table,” I said on autopilot, my brain still working through next steps. I felt his eyes on me as I returned my phone to my backpack. His stare felt assessing, but not in the usual way. Usually, when people stared, I knew exactly what they were thinking.
Depending on the person and context, it was either, Isn’t that the girl whose research on Bose-Einstein condensates improved the reliability and power of infrared arrays? Wasn’t she twelve when that happened? Or the person was thinking, Isn’t that one of Exotica and DJ Tang’s daughters? Is that the cool crazy one or the weirdo math prodigy?
“Don’t apologize,” Dr. Payton said unexpectedly, drawing my gaze back to his as he reached a hand across the table and covered mine.
I pulled my fingers away. Immediately. On instinct.
Tangentially, I noted his skin had been warm and that this was the first time he’d touched me other than a handshake. In fact, other than my one friend, Allyn, this was the first time someone had touched me to offer comfort since . . . well, since longer than I could remember.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, his voice gentle and interested. “How can I help?”
“Wrong? Help?” What?
“All the color left your face.” Dr. Payton paused to study me, the intensity of his frown increasing. “Mona, what happened? Who was that?”
Mona? The informality was a bucket of ice water, cutting through the haze of confusion. I blinked at him and the use of my first name. For these last two weeks he’d been Dr. Payton and I’d been Ms. DaVinci, which was how interactions within my world worked. Always.
As the youngest person by far in any given room—and the room was typically full of men with PhDs fighting for prestige, tenure, and grant dollars—I’d learned early and often that informality meant being taken advantage of. It meant being the second or third author instead of the first on a scholarly article of my own original ideas. It meant opening a door to borrowing (i.e. stealing) my work and intellectual property.
Nothing was more sacred or worth protecting in academia than intellectual property, and everyone wanted to take credit for mine.
“Dr. Payton, I’m very sorry to cut our meeting short.” When I stood, he stood, giving me the impression his good manners were ingrained. “I hope we can continue our discussion on Illustris soon, but I have to go.” Once again, I flexed my superpower, removing all emotion from my voice.
Ostensibly surprised by my coolness, Dr. Payton rocked back on his heels and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Absolutely. I understand,” he said, though it was obvious he didn’t understand.
Placing my backpack on the chair, I furtively studied him as I zipped and unzipped it, searching for my wallet. I noted the cautious yet concerned way he continued to examine me, at the tense set of his jaw, like he was engaging in an internal debate. I had to swat away a pang of guilt and doubt.
Dr. Payton—Poe—had been nothing but gracious since I’d arrived, but not overbearingly so. Overbearing and overly solicitous faculty had been my experience at the other institutions I’d visited during my quest to find the right PhD program. Even his willingness to collaborate and share, discuss and troubleshoot had been unpretentious. Poe’s ideas and approach were unique and refreshing.
The man was certainly brilliant, seemed to be a genuinely good guy, and I was curious about his thoughts on Illustris, the universe-scale simulation project, which was why I’d agreed to dinner. Yet, tempted as I might be to soften my rules about informality and friendly fraternization with colleagues, I wouldn’t.
“Do you need a ride anywhere?” he asked stiffly, quickly adding, “No pressure. It’s just, my mother would be appalled if I didn’t offer.”
His slight confession, and how he referred to his mother with deference, made me pause my furious zipping. “Thank you. I have a driver.”
He cleared his throat and nodded, seemed to stand straighter. My gaze flickered to his then away and I dug for my wallet. Finding it, I placed a fifty-dollar bill on the table to cover the cost of my dinner.
“You don’t need to do that.” He frowned, reaching for the money and offering it back to me.
I shook my head and swung my backpack into place on my right shoulder. “My advisor told me I should pay for my own meals during the recruitment process so as to not unduly influence my final decision.”
He flinched subtly, like I’d surprised him again. “I see,” he said, then huffed a little laugh. It was amused, but also sounded a tad incredulous. I got the sense I’d offended him somehow . . .
A renewed wave of flustered urgency crashed over me. I didn’t have time to think about Dr. Payton. I had to call Gabby, get to Chicago, and figure out how to behave like Lisa and not like me.
“I’ll be gone for a few days,” I said, not understanding why I felt the need to explain anything. “There’s been an unexpected emergency. I’ll email Dr. Clarence and the team to let them know.”
“Fine.” He pressed his lips together, a flat line, his expression now neutral.
I hesitated for a split second, knowing I was doing something wrong yet unable to put my finger on what. But exigency—for my sister’s sake—spurred me to move. Giving him a final head nod, I left the restaurant.
With any luck, I’d be in Chicago before midnight.
* * *
“We’re going to have to get you a blowout.” Gabby pursed her lips at the sight of my single braid, sighed dramatically, and marched past me into my hotel room. “And Lisa’s hair is a little shorter I think, so we’ll also need a cut. But the color is fine, she went back to her natural dark brown too, like, I don’t know, a few months ago, when she pretended to split from Tyler. Do you own any makeup at all?”
Turning, I allowed the hotel door to shut behind me and faced my former friend. “Hello, and yes I own makeup.”
Of note, Gabby’s real name was Lyndsay. Gabby was a nickname she’d earned because she talked too much and had no filter, always saying whatever popped into her head. This worked for her because her parents were massively wealthy movie stars and had no problem bailing her out of whatever trouble she—and her mouth—found herself in.
Ignoring my greeting, she set a bag on the bed. “I bet it’s the wrong kind of makeup. Whatever. There’s a Sephora on the way to your house, we’ll go there. Lisa said you don’t know how to do your eyes, so they can teach you there. Lisa never shows her face without mascara and liner, so make sure you do that every day. And here”—she gestured to the bag—“I brought some of Lisa’s clothes from the last time she spent the night at my house. We got soooo drunk. And it was tequila drunk, not vodka tonic drunk, you know what I mean?” Gabby laughed and gave me a commiserating look.
I didn’t know what she meant, but I could extrapolate. Regardless, I did not return her look.
Her amusement vanished.
“Anyway.” She paired the single word with an eyebrow lift, a sure sign of exasperation. “This should have everything you need for now. Feel free to thank me at any point here.”
No thanks was forthcoming, but she already knew that.
I hadn’t returned to my hotel in Los Angeles last night. There was no point in packing clothes before leaving via LAX. Other than underwear and socks, I was supposed to wear Lisa’s clothes anyway.
Everything I needed was in my backpack—my laptop, my research notes, my journal—so I sent a text to Gabby and hopped on the next plane to Chicago. We touched down just after 1:00 AM and I spent the night at the Westin near O’Hare, wearing the same clothes to sleep that I’d worn to the dentist.
There’s something liberating about sleeping in clothes instead of pajamas, I’d mused the next morning as I brushed my teeth with supplies hastily purchased from the lobby store. The thought felt rebellious, so I pushed it aside and waited for Gabby to show up.
Which brings us to now.
Am I really doing this?
Not for the first or the thousandth time since hanging up with Lisa yesterday, I took stock of this messy mess and how I’d arrived at this moment, peaking inside a bag brought by Gabby. Speaking of the Gabster, she was staring at my profile as I peered in the bag.
Abruptly, apropos of nothing, she said, “You’re boring.”
My eyes lifted to hers. “Okay.”
“You look boring, I mean. Like, I know you and Lisa are supposed to be identical, but if you were in a club you’d be invisible. You’d be wallpaper. Doesn’t that bother you?” Though the words might’ve been interpreted as harsh, the question sounded honestly curious.
Nevertheless, it aggravated me. This was my chance to find out why Lisa had been arrested and Gabby was already getting under my skin before I could ask any questions.
“No,” I answered, just as honestly, withholding all emotion from my voice and expression.
“Haven’t you ever wanted to be noticed? Be . . . interesting?”
“Not really.” I turned my attention back to the clothes and spotted a black lace bra tucked to one side.
. . . Am I really doing this?
“How is it possible you are still such a Mary Sue?” She poked my shoulder. “Haven’t you heard? Nowadays, being nice is unlikable. It’s all about the rebel. You should do something unexpected, mean, selfish, and don’t apologize for it. Be bad for once and tell everyone to fuck off.”
I sent her a quick glare. “I just ditched a PhD program interview. I’m about to lie and impersonate my twin sister for several days so my parents won’t disown her. Maybe save that question for later, when it might be more accurate.”
“Well, you kind of owe her, don’t you?”
“Owe her? Owe her for what?”
“For getting her sent off to boarding school? For ratting us out to your nanny? Ring any bells?”
I was so proud of myself for not punching her in the face, and even more proud for keeping my voice level and calm. “We both know Lisa wasn’t sent to boarding school because I told our nanny that you had taken whiskey from the cabinet.”
“Oh? Really? That’s not how I remember it.”
“Yes. Really. The only reason Leo and I stayed with Mom and Dad was because of his music and my research.”
“Whatever you need to tell yourself so you can sleep at night.” Gabby studied her nails. “And you know what I mean about being a Mary Sue. Helping Lisa is just part of the same saintly shit, different day.”
Why was she giving me grief about being helpful? Oh. That’s right. Because she’s unhinged.
“While you’re standing here telling me to be bad, Lisa is in jail. Aren’t you at all concerned about her?” As much as I despised interacting with Gabby these days, we were both here for one reason: to help Lisa because we loved and care about her.
Gabby rolled her eyes. “Of course I’m concerned about her. I’m terrified for her, okay? And I’m doing everything I can to get her out and save her ass, including putting up with you.”
“Putting up with me?” Arg! She was so irritating, all my questions fled my brain.
“You heard me.” Talking to her was like arguing with a flat-earther. Ignorance plus arrogance is why we can’t have nice things!
Best just to get straight to the point. “Why was Lisa arrested?”
Gabby’s flippancy morphed into a severe scowl. “Does it matter? She needs your help. What? Now you don’t want to help her?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Then help her, and put on these clothes, and stop making this about you.”
“I just want to know why—”
“Classic Mary-Sue behavior. Even when you’re being bad, you’re still looking for a way to be the do-gooder center of attention. Where is the fun in always being the good one when it means you have no friends? Why must you ruin fun for everyone else?”
“Oh, you know, I think the fun is in not being arrested for doing something stupid and selfishly forcing your sister to clean up your giant mess.” Despite my best efforts, a hint of bitterness entered my voice, and that flustered me.
Rattled by my uncontrollable, unexpected, and uncharacteristic show of feelings, I cleared my throat and dropped my eyes. Apparently, my ability to speak truth without emotion was on the fritz. Best not to speak to her at all. Pulling out the black bra and shirt Gabby had brought, I held the top up to me. Scowling, I wondered where the other half was, it seemed to be missing the section that covered the stomach.
Gabby snorted and rolled her eyes. “None of Lisa’s clothes are boring. You’re going to be noticed.”
Reaching for a bunched-up pile of black leather in the bottom of the bag and realizing it was pants, I heaved a sigh. “Whether or not I’m boring is irrelevant. Whether or not I’m likable or nice or good or a Mary Sue is irrelevant. The fact is, I am boring and unlikable by your standards. That’s never going to change because I don’t subscribe to your standards. So, moving on, is there anything else I can wear other than these two items?”
Gabby turned her grumpy expression to the scrap of the shirt, black lace bra, and the black leather pants. “What’s wrong with these?”
“Nothing,” I mumbled, resigned, and scooped them up before turning for the bathroom. “I’ll go change.”
“Too bad you can’t actually change,” she called after me. “Too bad putting on Lisa’s clothes doesn’t also give you some of her badass mojo and rebel spirit.”
Unable to help myself, I mumbled, “You belong on Venus, Gabby.”
“You mean, because it’s, like, the planet of love?” she asked with fake sweetness.
“No. Because it’s, like, our solar system’s analog to hell.” And with that, I closed the door to the bathroom and changed. Into my sister.
Chapter 2: Introduction to One-Dimensional Kinematics
“You actually look . . .” Gabby snorted, as though she couldn’t believe what she was about to say, and then said, “You’re fucking gorgeous.”
We’d left the Westin near O’Hare via taxi and were now downtown in the Old Town Triangle area of Chicago, near my parents’ brownstone. We’d already visited the hair salon and were now finishing up at the makeup store, during which I’d said less than ten words total. I didn’t want to fight with Gabby. Even though we only saw each other about once a year, I was so tired of fighting with her.
But now the moment was imminently upon us. Soon we’d be walking the few short blocks home. Time flies when one is fretting about impersonating one’s twin sister.
While I’d been getting my “blowout” as Gabby called it, I’d received a call from someone who identified herself as Lisa’s lawyer. She’d left a voice message, detailing her strategy for getting Lisa released, the projected timeline—still one week—and that Lisa’s phone had been sent via priority to the Chicago house.
What she didn’t reveal was why Lisa had been arrested in the first place. I’d tried calling her back, but it went straight to voicemail.
Currently, I was staring at my reflection; at the copious waves of dark brown hair falling over my shoulders, how wearing it down brought out the olive tone in my skin more than wearing it back; at the red stain and gloss accentuating the fullness of my lips; at the dark liner and mascara and eye shadow emphasizing the thickness of my lashes and honey color of my eyes. Paired with the half shirt and leather pants, the entirety of everything together made me look . . .
I look hot.
With a resigned sigh, I accepted that Gabby was correct. “I look like Lisa.” Which meant I also looked like our mother. Even at fifty-two, our mother and Lisa were often confused by the press.
“Exactly.” She grinned. “Like I said, you’re gorgeous. You work out, right?”
I gave her a noncommittal shrug. I swam daily and used a standing desk, which probably didn’t meet her definition of working out. Lisa and Gabby, I was pretty sure, both had personal trainers. Theoretically, I wanted a personal trainer—because wouldn’t that be nice? Someone to plan my workout, keep it interesting, keep me engaged, think about my health so I didn’t have to—but in reality, I didn’t want one.
I’d tried it once. The guy touched my arm to reposition it without asking me first. I flinched, which caused me to drop the dumbbell on his foot. I never went back, but I did pay his doctor’s bills and sent him a year’s supply of protein bars.
She walked to the other side of the chair, and the Sephora external aesthetic-modifier technician (which is what I decided they ought to be called) stepped back, giving Gabby room to inspect my face from a new angle. “Wow—” her eyes swept over me, from the black and white Converse on my feet, up to the leather pants, to my bare midriff, chest, collarbone, neck, “—you really do look like her.” She sounded surprised.
I bit my tongue so I wouldn’t point out the obvious, that we were identical twins. Of course I looked like her. But Gabby wasn’t being insulting for once and I had enough on my mind. No need to pick another fight. Hopefully, merely looking like Lisa would be enough to convince Leo’s friend that I was Lisa, because I had no idea how to act like a normal person, let alone like my sister.
Gabby cocked her head to the side, her gaze growing thoughtful. “Why don’t you wear your hair down ever? Or do your eyes. You’re beautiful, or would be if you put in the effort.”
“We already talked about this.”
“Because you want to be a nerd-girl stereotype, Mary Sue?”
“Human beauty is irrelevant in physics,” I mumbled. Not wanting to get into it, but beauty was more than irrelevant. It was a liability.
“Okay, Borg.” She lifted that eyebrow. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Then it has no mass,” I said automatically.
“If it has no matter, it has no mass.”
Her stare was blank. “What are you talking about?”
“It’s a physics joke. If something has no matter, then—never mind.” I pressed my lips together.
“No more physics jokes!” Gabby stabbed a finger at my shoulder.
Leaning away, I lifted my hands in a show of surrender.
She administered one final exasperated eyebrow lift before turning and giving the external aesthetic-modifier technician instructions on what items we were going to purchase.
Meanwhile, I stood from the chair and tried not to lick my lips. The lip stain wasn’t flavored, but the gloss the employee had applied over it tasted like bubble gum. In a word, delicious. I’d had a minor addiction to cherry flavored Chapstick at one point and it had taken a year to break the habit. Thus, I vowed to throw away the bubble gum gloss as soon as I left Chicago.
Or as soon as I landed at LAX.
Or, at the very latest, as soon as I made it back to the hotel in Los Angeles.
Maybe I’d keep it for a week, what’s the harm in that?
“Let’s go, Mona Lisa.” Gabby nudged my arm, pushing me toward the door as she handed over the bag with all the makeup. I gave her the side-eye, accepted the products, but said nothing.
Once outside, she nudged me again. “Get it? Mona Lisa?”
My parents had decided naming my brother Leonardo, me Mona, my sister Lisa, and giving us the last name of DaVinci was a really great idea. It could have been worse. They could have named my brother “Michel,” me “Ang,” and Lisa “Elo,” which had been their original plan. Over the course of my life, I’d come to understand that my parents had named their children as a reflection of themselves rather than as a reflection of their hopes for us. Based on my informal sampling of celebrity children, it was always thus for superstars.
I glanced at my watch, it was only 1:00 PM. I considered calling the lawyer to check on the status of Lisa’s release even though she’d just touched base a few hours ago and I’d left her a voice message already.
“Your backpack.” Gabby flicked my bag. “What are you doing with that? Where will you put it?”
“Um.” My steps faltered. “I hadn’t thought about that.” I was bad at this. What other lying logistics had I not considered?
She continued to eye it. “What’s inside? Clothes?”
“My computer, research notes, wallet, phone.”
Gabby started shaking her head before I’d finished speaking. “Ah, no. You can’t bring that to the house. Lisa said Abram was supposed to take her phone as soon as she got there, right? Well then, he’ll definitely take—and probably search—your backpack. If he searches your backpack, he’ll know you’re you and not Lisa. Plus, he’ll find your phone, and you’re supposed to pretend like you left it behind.”
I scowled even though she was right. None of her valid points had occurred to me. “I guess I could go back to O’Hare, bag check it at the Westin, and pick it up on my way out of town next week.” I didn’t like the thought of being separated from my research or my journal.
She inspected me. “When we get to your block, give it to me. I’ll carry it the rest of the way and say it’s mine if he asks.”
I shifted away from her, distrustful. “What will you do with it?”
She made another of her give-me-a-break faces. “I’ll put it in your room—in Mona’s room—when we go upstairs. By the way, don’t forget, your room is Lisa’s room. Because you are Lisa and you don’t tell physics jokes. You tell peen and poop jokes like all self-respecting feminists.”
“You’re not going to take it?” I lifted my chin, scrutinizing her dependability in this particular situation. “If you try to take my backpack out of the house, I’ll break character right there and tell Abraham the truth.”
“You have trust issues. Don’t worry, I won’t take your precious backpack. It doesn’t match my ensemble. And it’s Abram, not Abraham.”
Speaking of not-Abraham. “Have you met him?”
Gabby gave me a meaningful look and kept on walking. Unfortunately, I’d never been gifted at deciphering meaningful looks.
I tried again. “So you do know him? Or what?”
“Abram?” Gabby blinked, once, hard. “Lisa didn’t tell you about Abram?”
I shook my head.
“Leo didn’t introduce you? They’re, like, best friends.”
“No. Leo never mentioned him.” When Leo and I talked, it was once every six months and typically focused on him telling me about his upcoming gigs as well as questioning me about girls—how they thought, why they did certain things, etc. He rarely mentioned his friend group, if at all. I’d tried to explain that I didn’t understand girls. Or people. He persisted. As such, I did my best to offer generalizable theories about female behavior.
Gabby stopped, blinking several times as though her brain was having difficulty accepting my words. “Oh, Mona. You are in for a treat.” Flipping her braids over her shoulder, she’d placed special emphasis on the word treat.
I glanced from side to side. “Why? Does he abhor superstring theory?”
She made another face of distaste, or at least tried to. I caught the tail end of a suppressed smile as she said, “I know him a lot better than Lisa, because sometimes I hang with Leo when he’s in town. Abram is uptight, for sure. But, woman, he’s so gorgeous it hurts. I mean, it physically hurts my hoo-hah to look at him in the best, hoo-hah happiest way. He’s so gorgeous, I’ve already forgiven him for being mean to our girl. And he’s a musician.” She paused here to bite her bottom lip and look at the sky. “Writes his own music,” she moaned, “plays the bass guitar, and the piano, and every other instrument, and he sings. And when he sings, it makes my panties want to melt right off my body. Just whoop”—she made a swooping motion with her hand, gesturing from her crotch to the sidewalk—“they want to melt right off.”
“Is he smart?”
“Uh, what?” Her gaze flickered over me, leaving me with the impression I’d disappointed her. “Here I am talking about his fineness, and you have to rain on my parade by asking about his brains?”
“Is he smart?” I repeated.
“Does it matter?”
Don’t make another physics joke about matter! “It’s relevant if his level of intelligence means he’ll deduce I’m not Lisa.”
“Okay, first of all”—she lifted a finger between us—“you can’t speak like that.”
“Don’t use words like deduce or relevant.” Gabby over-pronounced the offending words, obviously attempting an impression of me.
“Fine.” A flutter of disquiet hit my stomach, which I hid. “Maybe I won’t speak at all.”
“That works. Don’t speak. Or, just give one-word answers. For example: no, yes, what, who, when, whatever. If in doubt, saying whatever usually works.” Gabby turned back to the sidewalk and we both began walking again.
While interacting with people about non-academic topics, I’d experienced my fair share of difficulty knowing how to segue into a new subject, or how to end a conversation, or knowing what to say when people over-shared. When I was fifteen, I stumbled across a list of phrases that mostly worked for any occasion, and I’d put them into practice with varying levels of success.
Phrases like But at what cost?
Or In this economy?
Or So . . . it has come to this.
Or So let it be written, so let it be done.
Or my personal favorite for when I didn’t know how to end a sentence or complete a thought . . . And then the wolves came.
These phrases seemed to work best when attempting to diffuse a tense situation or confuse the other person long enough for me to make my escape. Regardless, in the same spirit, I appreciated Gabby’s tip. I could default to saying whatever. That would be fine.
“Just don’t say anything obviously Mona-like,” she continued. “You look so much like Lisa, I don’t think the possibility that you’re Mona will even occur to him.”
“But he’s met Lisa.”
“Yes, but for like five minutes. He doesn’t really know her. Lisa only met him the one time, when we crashed one of your brother’s parties.” She paused here, sighing wistfully, as though remembering the encounter, and then added, “And even though they barely interacted, he was kind of a dick to Lisa.”
He’d been “a dick” to her? That triggered the ingrained protective-sister sonar. Regardless of how close (or not) we were, sister-sonar meant I would automatically dislike anyone who’d been “a dick” to Lisa, no matter how much hoo-hah happiness he inspired. Hoo-hah happiness was irrelevant.
“What did he say to her?”
“They didn’t really, uh, talk.”
Even with my paltry conversation-nuance detection skills, I picked up on the weird way she said talk. “Expand on that, please.”
Gabby waved her hand in the air, dismissing my question. “Whatever, it’s not important. Getting back to your original question, Abram might be smart, I don’t know. But he doesn’t know Lisa well enough to tell the difference between the two of you as long as you don’t go around telling physics jokes and asking him to deduce or expand on things.”
“Fine.” I turned and continued walking toward the house, wondering if Gabby would fly off the handle again if I asked about Lisa’s arrest. Not wanting to inspire another round of insults, I tried a different—but related– topic. “So, why Abram? Why did my parents choose Abram to keep an eye on Lisa?”
“Uh, I don’t really know. According to Lisa, when I talked to her yesterday on the phone and we discussed the plan, she made it sound like he just happened to be in the right place at the wrong time.”
“Was she okay? When you talked to her?”
Gabby sent me a sharp, irritated glare. “How do you think she was?”
Okay, fine. Don’t ask Gabby about Lisa. Got it.
“Anyway,” Gabby flipped her braids, her tone growing lofty, “Lisa said that your brother was supposed to be at the house this summer, but that he went down to Florida for a thing.”
“I think he has work in Miami.” The last time I spoke to Leo, he’d mentioned spending part of the summer in south Florida, playing a few clubs.
“Yeah, something like that. So, I guess your guardian lady was supposed to step in and watch the house. What’s her name?”
“You mean Dr. Steward? She can’t, I think she’s in China.” I was nineteen now, but the day after I’d turned eighteen, Dr. Steward had taken off to travel the world. She’d been planning the trip for as long as I’d known her.
“That’s right. So, until Dr. Steward comes back, your brother suggested Abram keep an eye on the house. I think he’s being paid to house-sit. So when your parents issued the ultimatum that Lisa had to go home and wait for their return, they asked Leo to ask Abram to keep an eye on her.”
“Do they even know Abram? Why do they trust him?” I felt like I already knew my parents well enough to know the answers to these questions. But I also felt like they needed to be asked, just in case this would be the one time my parents surprised me.
“I don’t know.” Gabby shrugged. “I guess they figure, if your brother trusts the guy . . .”
I released an irritated puff of a breath, shaking my head, now absorbed in secondhand anger on my sister’s behalf. “That’s great.”
So, not surprised.
It had been the same way with Dr. Steward. The woman was a friend of a friend, an adjunct professor at a college in the Northeast. They hadn’t even interviewed her in person before sending me to the Northeast to live with her full time as a teenager. She’d been . . . fine. Strict and considerably more interested in the money she was banking than in me as a person, but fine.
“What?” Gabby poked me lightly, presumably to get my attention. “Leo wouldn’t recommend someone to watch the house who isn’t trustworthy, would he? Plus, like I said, they’re best friends. Plus, like I said, Abram is super uptight.”
“And uptight is trustworthy?”
“Exactly. Just look at you.”
I grumbled but said nothing to that.
Earlier, Gabby had said, He was kind of a dick to Lisa, and yet she saw nothing wrong with this guy keeping an eye on Lisa?
Nothing about Abram, or spending the next week in the same house as him, sounded treat-like to me. Another almost-stranger my parents trusted with one of their daughters. Granted, this guy was Leo’s good friend, and Leo did seem to have better judgment about people than either me or Lisa.
Am I really going to do this?
Yes. Yes, I was. We were about two blocks away now, I wasn’t a snitch, my sister needed help, and I’d promised. There was only one logical path forward.
But mostly, I refused to be another person in Lisa’s life who let her down. Gripping my bag’s strap tighter, I imagined the moment I’d have to hand it over to Gabby. Just the thought of trusting her with my backpack for any length of time was making my hands sweat.
“What?” She bumped me with her shoulder.
I shrugged, irritated I couldn’t wipe my hands on my pants. Wiping sweaty hands on leather just made for visibly wet leather and still sweaty hands, and wet leather was never a good idea. Never.
“What is that face you’re making?” She pointed to my face with her index finger, moving it in a circle.
“I don’t know, I can’t see myself.” There was just something about Gabby that grated, brought my emotions closer to the surface. Or perhaps it was this entire situation. Whatever it was, I couldn’t wait for this week to be over and return to the world I understood.
“Here, I’ll make the face you’re making.” Gabby caught my arm and I immediately maneuvered out of her grip. My reflexive reaction didn’t seem to bother her, or she didn’t notice. Regardless, she cleared her features of all expression except her eyes. She’d narrowed them subtly, and seemed to peer at the world with a hypercritical coolness. “This is the face,” she said robotically.
Trying to stuff my fingers into my pockets and failing—because the pockets were sewn shut—I scratched the elbow she’d grabbed and started walking again. “It’s just my face.”
“Well don’t make that face around Abram. Lisa doesn’t make that face.”
“Okay.” How the hell am I going to do this for a week? I pasted on a big, fake smile. “Is this better?”
“God, no. Don’t do that either.” She looked horrified. “What the hell was that? Was that a smile? Was that you smiling?”
I neither confirmed nor denied her speculation, keeping my attention forward as I twisted my lips to the side, trying not to smile for real. Gabby was a nebulous assemblage of unscrupulousness and exasperating nonsense, and we’d likely never be friends again, but she was undoubtedly charming when she wanted to be. There’d always been something about her timing, her delivery, that veered into the territory of funny.
“Okay, hand it over.” She touched my arm again, stopping me, and this time I had the wherewithal to not yank out of her grip. Instead, I removed my backpack with extreme reluctance, which elicited an eye roll from Gabby. “Oh, give it a break, Mona. Just hurry up. I have other things to do today.”
With continued extreme reluctance, I eventually handed her the backpack. She carried it the rest of the way to our brownstone while I continued to carry the makeup bag. Every so often, she’d pretend like she was going to toss my backpack in the road, snickering when I tensed.
“Relax, Lisa. I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize the happiness and well-being of my BFF.”
Gabby batted her eyelashes as I punched in the gate code, all nerves and thumbs. Our brownstone had a tall cast-iron fence facing the sidewalk. I wasn’t surprised by the lack of paparazzi. Everyone assumed the DaVinci family members people cared to gossip about—my parents and my brother mostly, me sometimes, Lisa only when she did something crazy—were elsewhere.
After three attempts, I finally got the code right and opened the gate for her. She preceded me up the stairs while I glared at the back of her head. When we reached the door, I reached for my backpack. She twisted away.
“What are you doing?” she hissed.
“I need my keys to open the door.”
“No. Your keys aren’t in my ugly backpack, Lisa.” Gabby sent yet another meaningful look to the house.
Oh. That’s right.
Giving my backpack one more longing look, I stepped away from Gabby and rang the doorbell.
“Good.” She moved closer to me as we waited for this Abram person to open the door. “That face you’re making is very Lisa. Pouty. I approve.”
Before I could respond, the door swung open, revealing . . . well, revealing an extremely handsome guy. Upon my initial cursory inspection, I noted that he was tall, had brown hair and eyes, was both startlingly attractive and visibly displeased. One might go so far as to call him irked.
The guy—dressed in a faded black T-shirt and worn blue jeans—pushed a hand into a fall of shiny hair, lifting the long strands away from his forehead. Most men look sloppy in faded T’s and worn jeans. But he did not. He looked hot.
Oooohhhh. Okay, I get it.
Yep. I understood at once what Gabby had meant. Abram had won the genetics lottery. Or Powerball. Or whatever. The point was, this guy probably received congratulations cards for his face. Noted.
“Lisa,” he said to me. A muscle at his defined jaw jumped, visible even beneath the few days of stubble covering the lower half of his face.
“You’re Abram,” I said, because who else could he be? This statement was made to his distracting chin. His chin—like the rest of him—was pleasingly formed, but his stubble was remarkable. A shade lighter than the hair on his head, it was just as thick. If he ignored it, he’d likely have a hell of a wizard beard in a matter of months. The only thing I truly envied men was their ability to grow wizard beards.
Lifting my hand for a shake, Gabby intercepted it before I could bring my fingers parallel to the ground. “As always, a real pleasure to look at you, Abram. What do you have to eat? Lisa left all her stuff behind—including her wallet—so we’re starving.” Using my mistakenly offered hand, she pulled me inside the house, brushing past Abram.
Oh, right. Why would Lisa shake his hand? I sent Gabby a glance of gratitude and wondered again how in the helium I was going to fake being not-me for a week.
“There’s leftover Chinese food and pizza in the fridge.” His tone blatantly hostile, providing additional proof that he wasn’t happy to see us.
Gabby steered me into the kitchen and sat me on a stool, giving me a hard look before turning for the fridge and pulling out a box of pizza. I placed the Sephora bag on the counter and waited, unsure what to do. If I’d been me—Mona, not Lisa—I’d have made myself mint tea. But I had no idea if drinking mint tea was in character for Lisa. Maybe I should pour myself a glass of whiskey?
While I was stuck debating my beverage choice, Abram appeared in the doorway. He opted to hover by the entrance to the kitchen, leaning his back against the doorframe and shifting his irked glare from me to Gabby. Even scowling and visibly inimical, he was hot.
“Where’s your phone?” he asked, his attention coming back to me, lifting his chin as his eyelids drooped.
“Like I said, gorgeous—” Gabby walked into his line of sight, blocking me from view “—she left all her shit behind, even her phone.”
“How’d she board a plane if she left everything behind?”
I was used to people talking about me in the third person, like I was a calculator. These numbers make no sense, how did she arrive at these values? Did she do this part in her head?
It didn’t bother me.
“Well, if you’d let me finish, I would tell you. She left it all at security. She was almost late for the plane and had to run to the gate,” Gabby lied smoothly, making me envious. “We’d already arranged to have me pick her up from O’Hare. Don’t fret, though. My mother’s secretary called the airport and they’re sending her phone and stuff. It should get here tomorrow or the day after.”
Gabby’s lies were so persuasive, spoken with such artlessness, I almost believed her.
Conclusion: I required lying lessons.
Abram leaned to the side to peer around my sister’s friend, his eyelids still droopy, his gaze still irritated and distrustful. “You don’t have your phone?”
One-word answers. One-word answers. One-word answers.
“Nope,” I said, both proud and disgusted with myself for the lie. Needing a distraction, I picked through the fruit bowl in the center of the island, hunting for the perfect apple.
In my peripheral vision, I watched as Abram stepped away from the door, walked around Gabby, and stopped four feet from me just as I took a bite from the apple. Honeycrisp. I chewed and he studied my face. Meeting his inspection directly, I concentrated on the taste of the apple and hoped I was making a Lisa-face.
Lifting his chin toward the Sephora bag, he asked, “You had money for makeup but not for food?”
“Priorities, Abram,” Gabby spoke for me.
He ignored her. “You don’t mind if I search you for it?”
Before I could catch it, I felt my eyes squint and my lips curve into an unfriendly sneer. Like hell he was putting his hands on me. I didn’t care who he was, whether or not he was Leo’s best friend, or whether my parents trusted him, I didn’t like being touched by anyone.
Abram’s glare sharpened, as though my reaction surprised him, or he found it confusing.
But Gabby laughed, taking the stool next to mine. “Yeah, sure. Go for it, handsome. Where is she going to hide a cell phone in that outfit? But, okay. I’m sure you’ll both probably enjoy it, so go ahead.”
I glanced down at myself, at my boobs on display in the tank top and black lace bra, my bare stomach, and the second skin of Lisa’s leather pants. Once again, Gabby made a good point. There was nowhere to hide anything in these clothes, the pockets were sewn shut for Bohr’s sake.
Returning my attention to Abram, it was my turn to be surprised. An expression of mild repugnance passed over his features as he looked me over, like the thought of giving “Lisa” a pat down was just as distasteful to him as it was to me.
Well, okay then. Maybe nineteen-year-old, olive-skinned, heavily makeupped, athletic with big boobs, long black hair, and brown eyes wasn’t his type.
Crossing his arms, Abram leveled me with a severe stare. “As soon as your stuff arrives, you give me the phone.”
“Fine.” I shrugged and took another bite of the apple while Gabby selected a piece of pizza from the box.
My calm capitulation seemed to increase his irritation. “No drinking. No drugs. No parties. No sneaking out. No one comes over until your parents get home in two weeks, or Dr. Steward arrives, whichever comes first. And no leaving the house without me. Anywhere you go, I go.”
I stared at him evenly, because—other than having him escort me out of the house—he was basically reading my Christmas list. Total seclusion and quiet for the next week? Where did I sign up?
But staring evenly with no reaction must’ve been the wrong thing to do, because the force of his eye-squint escalated, his gaze flickering over me with suspicion. “Did you hear me?”
“Yep,” I said, wishing I’d thought ahead and brought books to read. I’d already read all the ones here. Maybe I can go to the library? Wait, no. Shoot! No card. Bookstore?
Abram continued to examine me, his frown intensifying, his suspicion now edged with confusion. “Are you . . . feeling okay?”
I sensed Gabby’s restlessness before she stood from her stool and stepped in front of me again. “Okay, dad. What are you, like only three or four years older than us?” She huffed, rolled her eyes. “Whatever. We got it. No fun.”
Successfully disguising my disapproval at the petulance in her tone and the instinct to distance myself from her puerile response, I continued to give him my very best blank-face. To be clear, I’m not against sass or sarcasm. Both definitely have their place. But Gabby’s dramatics felt immature and superfluous.
Given the situation, the fact that Lisa was currently in jail and had been lying about being with Tyler for months, this Abram guy’s rules made complete sense. If I’d been left in charge, I would have set similar limitations.
“We’ll just be upstairs.” She pulled me from the stool, and I had to consciously force myself to allow Gabby to lead me toward the back stairs. “And just so we’re clear, we’ll be doing absolutely nothing,” Gabby spat, the venom in her voice—again—striking me as childish.
“No.” Abram shook his head, moving quickly to block our path. “No, Gabby. You’re not staying.”
I was relieved to see the earlier suspicion and confusion pointed at me had faded, replaced with a hard look for Lisa’s friend.
“What?” she screeched, her mouth falling open. “What the hell, Abram? You’re cute, but you’re not that cute. Stop being such an asshole.”
Abram rubbed his face tiredly, his jaw ticking again, his eyes now dark as coals. “Do you think I want to spend the next few weeks babysitting Lisa? No. I’m doing this as a favor to Leo.” He said this last part to me, his animosity a palpable thing. “So, if you could just, you know, not do anything stupid or crazy for the next two weeks, that would be really great.”
“Wanting to talk to her best friend is neither stupid or crazy.” Gabby inched us closer to the back stairs.
He moved to counter our progress, a big wall of lean muscle and unyielding determination. “Gabby, time for you to go.”
“Lisa isn’t a prisoner!”
I tried not to smirk at the irony of Gabby’s statement.
“Gabby,” he said, the single word a warning.
“This is such bullshit!” she continued to protest, but it was evident Abram wasn’t going to bend.
Turning my arm, I encircled Gabby’s wrist with my fingers and tugged her lightly, encouraging her to face me. “You should go. I’ll be fine.”
Her moss-green eyes moved between mine, hot with anger, but also tempered with worry. She made a frustrated sound in the back of her throat, like a grunt, and pulled me into a hug.
I stiffened in her embrace, baffled by the action and feeling a familiar reflexive suffocation, but then she whispered, “The backpack is under the stool I was sitting on. Don’t let him see it or we’re all dead.”
Gabby released me and leaned away to administer one of her meaningful looks. This one I read perfectly.
Nodding once, she turned back to Abram, looked him over, and promptly walked to the kitchen exit. “You’re still hot, Abram, even if you are an uptight asshole.”
“I’ll walk her out, you stay here.” He exhaled a harassed-sounding breath, turned, and followed Gabby from the kitchen.
I watched them go. As soon as they were out of sight, I dashed to my backpack, grabbed it, and . . . hesitated. Would I have enough time to run up to my room, deposit it within, and be back in the kitchen before Abram returned?
Which meant I needed to hide it before he returned. There were many, many options as the kitchen was expansive. Did I hide it in the pantry? Or beneath the double oven? Or above the fridge? The unmistakable sound of the front door shutting made my decision for me. The pantry was closest, so that would be its home for the time being.
Rushing, I shoved the bag behind baking supplies on the bottom shelf. Unless Abraham—Abram? Abraham? Damn. Which one was it?—was secretly a pastry chef, I felt like it was the safest place.
Panicking, I reached blindly for a bag of something on the snack shelf and poked my head out of the walk-in pantry.
Following Gabby’s advice, I said, “What?”
The guy’s gaze found me, his slashing dark eyebrows pulled low, giving him an air of being thoroughly . . . I’m going to go with the word irked again. “What are you doing?”
“Getting—” I held out the bag of whatever I’d grabbed in front of me, reading the package “—prunes.”
Ah jeez. Prunes. Why’d it have to be prunes?
He blinked. Some of the severity in his glare seemed to dissolve into confusion as he looked between me and the bag. “Prunes.”
I nodded. What else could I do? I was holding a package of prunes, now I just had to commit to the package of prunes.
“Yes. Prunes. As you see.” Tearing it open and walking out of the pantry, I reached into the bag. Slimy, larger versions of raisins were waiting for me inside.
“You’re going to eat . . . prunes?”
I nodded, struggling to find a lie that sounded as plausible as Gabby’s had been. “You don’t know anyone who eats prunes?”
“My grandpa,” he said flatly, still splitting his attention between me and the bag.
“Smart man. They’re high in fiber.”
“Yes.” I lifted the bag to scan the nutritional information, hoping they were actually high in fiber. Though I had a suspicion, I wasn’t 100 percent certain. After reading the package, I released a relieved breath. “Twelve grams of fiber per serving. It says so right here. That’s a lot. And I need my fiber.”
“Why do you need fiber?”
“Flying makes me”—oh God, don’t say it!—“makes me”—oh noes, here it comes—“constipated.” I nodded at my own assertion, quickly stuffing my mouth with three prunes so I wouldn’t be able to speak.
His confusion persisted, but he said nothing. Holding perfectly still, he watched me with a frown that teetered on dismayed.
Meanwhile, I had to stop chewing. Each prune had a pit. Shit. There existed no graceful way to remove a pit from one’s mouth. I would have to spit the pit.
Holding his gaze, which now seemed to be fascinated in addition to dismayed, I spit the pits into my palm. I then gave him a tight-lipped smile while I continued to chew, because that’s what I did when people stared at me. I wonder what Lisa does when people stare at her?
One of his eyebrows lifted and he gave his head a subtle shake. “Okay. Right.” He glanced at the ceiling and then around the kitchen, as though trying to figure out where he was. “I’m going to have to call your parents’ assistant, Dr. Steward, right? And let her know you don’t have your phone.”
Luckily, I was still chewing the prunes, which gave me a few moments to think about how to respond to this statement. As an aside, carrying around a bag of food and stuffing my face whenever he asked me a question was a solid plan. It would give me an opportunity to stall, to think.
Stating that Dr. Steward was my parents’ assistant wasn’t entirely accurate. More like, she had incidentally become one of the various team of people my parents called upon when they needed a problem handled. But I didn’t need to clarify that with Abram. Trying to explain the complexities of staff and their unofficial roles to people who didn’t understand celebrity was time consuming and typically yielded even more confusion.
Even though I dreaded the possibility of speaking to either of my parents while pretending to be Lisa, his logic made sense. I couldn’t see any way of talking him out of calling Dr. Steward as I could form no compelling—i.e. logical—argument against it.
Therefore, after swallowing, I said, “Whatever, Abe.”
I’d decided to say whatever since Gabby had indicated it would always be a safe choice, and I’d called him Abe since it was short for both Abram and Abraham. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember which was correct. I’d never been good at remembering names. Or remembering faces. Or people.
This must’ve been precisely the right thing to say—and by that, I mean it was the wrong thing to say but in the right way—because his eyelids lowered again to half-mast and his mouth flattened. He looked perturbed, which was good. Perturbed was much better than suspicious or confused. Perturbed meant he saw me as Lisa and not as a potential imposter. So, in summary, woot woot!
“Forget it,” he grumbled, turning from me and running a hand through his longish brown hair. “Just, hand over the phone when it arrives, okay? I’ll be in the basement. Let me know if you need to go out for anything. Otherwise just . . .” his gaze flickered to me and I spotted that same hint of repugnance as before, like he found my presence unsavory. “Just don’t do anything stupid.”
I wanted to respond with In this economy? But instead, and without thinking too much about it, I saluted, still gripping the pits in my hand. Why I did this, I had no idea. Luckily, the action didn’t faze him. With one last irked look, Abe walked out of the kitchen, leaving me with my prunes, their pits, and an immediate sense of relief.