She thought of Nick tapping his short, even teeth with the tip of his tongue.
“I can’t believe Abel told me this girl’s ACT score,” she said. “What am I supposed to do with that? Offer her a scholarship?”
“Are you sad at all?” Wren reached under the bed and shook an empty protein bar box.
“Yeah … I’m embarrassed that I held on for so long. That I really thought we could go on like we were. And I’m sad because it feels like now high school is finally over. Like Abel was this piece of a really happy time that I thought I could take with me.”
“Do you remember when he bought you a laptop power cord for your birthday?”
“That was a good gift,” Cath said, pointing at her sister.
Wren grabbed her finger and pulled it down. “Did you think of him every time you booted up?”
“I needed a new power cord.” Cath leaned back against the wall again, facing Wren. “He kissed me that day, on our seventeenth birthday, for the first time. Or maybe I kissed him.”
“Was it charged with passion?”
Cath giggled. “No. But I remember thinking … that he made me feel safe.” She rubbed her head back against the painted cinder blocks. “I remember thinking that me and Abel would never be like Dad and Mom, that if Abel ever got tired of me, I’d survive it.”
Wren was still holding on to Cath’s hand. She squeezed it. Then she laid her head against the wall, mirroring Cath. Cath was crying now.
“Well, you did,” Wren said. “Survive it.”
Cath laughed and pushed her fingers up behind her glasses to wipe her eyes. Wren took hold of that hand, too. “You know my stand on this,” she said.
“Fire and rain,” Cath whispered. She felt Wren’s fingers circle her wrists.
Cath looked at Wren’s smooth brown hair and the glint of steel, the crown of gray, that circled the green in her eyes.
You are, she thought.
“Does this mean no more tres leches cake on our birthday?” Wren asked.
“There’s something else I want to tell you,” Cath said before she could think it through. “There’s, I mean, I think there’s … this guy.”
Wren raised her eyebrows. But before Cath could say anything more, they heard voices and a key in the door. Wren let go of Cath’s wrists, and the door swung open. Reagan barreled in and dropped her duffel bag on the floor. She rushed out again before Levi even made it into the room.
“Hey, Cath,” he said, already smiling, “are you—?” He looked at the bed and stopped.
“Levi,” Cath said, “this is my sister, Wren.”
Wren held out her hand.
Levi’s eyes were as wide as Cath’d ever seen them. He grinned at Wren and took her hand, shaking it. “Wren,” he said. “Such fascinating names in your family.”
“Our mom didn’t know she was having twins,” Wren said. “And she didn’t feel like coming up with another name.”
“Cather, Wren…” Levi looked like he’d just now discovered sliced bread. “Catherine.”
Cath rolled her eyes. Wren just smiled. “Clever, right?”
“Cath,” Levi said, and tried to sit next to Wren on the bed, even though there wasn’t enough room. Wren laughed and scooted toward Cath. Cath scooted, too. Reluctantly. If you give Levi an inch …
“I didn’t know you had a mother,” he said. “Or a sister. What else are you hiding?”
“Five cousins,” Wren said. “And a string of ill-fated hamsters, all named Simon.”
Levi opened his smile up completely.
“Oh, put that away,” Cath said with distaste. “I don’t want you to get charm all over my sister—what if we can’t get it out?”
Reagan walked back through the open door and glanced over at Cath. She noticed Wren and shuddered. “Is this your twin?”
“You knew about the twin?” Levi asked.
“Wren, Reagan,” Cath said.
“Hello,” Reagan said, frowning.
“Don’t take any of this personally,” Cath said to Wren. “They’re both like this with everyone.”
“I have to go anyway.” Wren slid cheerfully off the bed. She was wearing a pink dress and brown tights, and brown ankle boots with heels and little green buttons up the side. They were Cath’s boots, but Cath was never brave enough to wear them.
“Nice meeting you, everybody,” Wren said, smiling at Reagan and Levi. “See you at lunch tomorrow,” she said to Cath.
Reagan ignored her. Levi waved.
As soon as the door closed, Levi popped his eyes again. Bluely. “That’s your twin sister?”
“Identical,” Reagan said, like she had a mouth full of hair.
Cath nodded and sat down at her desk.
“Wow.” Levi scooted down the bed so he was sitting across from her.
“I’m not sure what you’re getting at,” Cath said, “but I think it’s offensive.”
“How can the fact that your identical twin sister is super hot be offensive to you?”
“Because,” Cath said, still too encouraged by Wren and, weirdly, by Abel, and maybe even by Nick to let this get to her right now. “It makes me feel like the Ugly One.”
“You’re not the ugly one.” Levi grinned. “You’re just the Clark Kent.”
Cath started checking her e-mail.
“Hey, Cath,” Levi said, kicking her chair. She could hear the teasing in his voice. “Will you warn me when you take off your glasses?”
Agatha Wellbelove was the loveliest witch at Watford. Everyone knew it—every boy, every girl, all the teachers … The bats in the belfry, the snakes in the cellars …
Agatha herself knew it. Which you might think would detract from her charm and her beauty. But Agatha, at fourteen, never used this knowledge to harm or hold over others.
She knew she was lovely, and she shared it like a gift. Every smile from Agatha was like waking up to a perfect sunny day. Agatha knew it. And she smiled at everyone who crossed her path, as if it were the most generous thing she could offer.
“Have you started your scene yet?”
They were in the subbasement of the library, the sub-subbasement, and it was even colder than usual—the wind was making Nick’s bangs flutter over his forehead. Do guys call them “bangs”? Cath wondered.
“Why is it windy in here?” she asked.
“Why is it windy anywhere?” Nick answered.
That made her laugh. “I don’t know. Tides?”
“It’s not wind at all,” Cath said. “It’s what we feel when time suddenly jolts forward.”
Nick smiled at her. His lips were thin but dark, the same color as the inside of his mouth. “English majors are useless,” he said, twitching his eyebrows. Then he elbowed her—“So. Have you started your scene? You’re probably done already. You’re so f**king fast.”
“I get lots of practice,” she said.
“Yeah.” For a second, she thought about telling him the truth. About Simon and Baz. About a chapter a day and thirty-five thousand hits … “I write laps,” she said. “Every morning, just to stay loose. Have you started your scene?”
“Yeah,” Nick said. He was drawing swirls in the margin of the notebook. “Three times … I’m just not sure about this assignment.”
Professor Piper wanted them to write a scene with an untrustworthy narrator. Cath had written hers from Baz’s point of view. It was an idea she’d had for a while; she might turn it into a longer fic someday, someday when she was done with Carry On.
“This should be cake for you,” Cath said, elbowing Nick back, more gently. “All your narrators are unreliable.”
Nick had let her read some of his short stories and the first few chapters of a novel he’d started freshman year. All his stuff was dark—dirtier and grimier than anything Cath would ever write—but still funny. And bracing, somehow. Nick was good.
She liked to sit next to him and watch all that good come out of his hand. Watch the jokes spill out in real time. Watch the words click together.
“Exactly…,” he said, licking his top lip. He practically didn’t have a top lip, just a smear of red. “That’s why I feel like I need to do something special this time around.”
“Come on.” Cath pulled at the notebook. “My turn.”
It was always hard to get Nick to give up the notebook.
The first night they’d worked on their extracurricular story, Nick had shown up with three pages already written.
“That’s cheating,” Cath had said.
“It’s just the first push,” he said, “to get us rolling.”
She’d taken the notebook and written over and between his words, squeezing new dialogue into the margins and crossing out lines that went too far. (Sometimes Nick stretched his style too thin.) Then she’d added a few paragraphs of her own.
It had gotten easier to write on paper, though Cath still missed her keyboard.…
“I need to cut and paste,” she’d say to Nick.
“Next time,” he’d say, “bring scissors.”
They sat next to each other now when they worked—the better to read, and write, during the other’s turns. Cath had learned to sit on Nick’s right side, so their writing hands didn’t bump unintentionally.
It made Cath feel like part of a two-headed monster. A three-legged race.
It made her feel at home.
She wasn’t sure what Nick was feeling.…
They talked, a lot, before class and during class—Nick would crank around in his chair completely. Sometimes after they got out, Cath would pretend she had to walk past Bessey Hall, where Nick’s next class was, even though there was nothing past Bessey Hall but the football stadium. Thank God Nick never asked where she was going.
He never asked that when they left the library at night either. They always stopped for a minute on the steps while Nick put his backpack on and wound his blue paisley scarf around his neck. Then he’d say, “See you in class,” and be gone.
If Cath knew Levi was in her room, she’d call and wait for him to come get her. But most nights she pressed 911 on her phone, then ran back to the dorm with her finger over the Call button.
* * *
Wren was on some weird diet.
“It’s the Skinny Bitch diet,” Courtney said.
“It’s vegan,” Wren clarified.
It was Fajita Friday at Selleck. Wren had a plate full of grilled green peppers and onions, and two oranges. She’d been eating like this for a few weeks.
Cath looked her over carefully. Wren was wearing clothes that Cath had worn, too, so Cath knew how they usually fit. Wren’s sweater was still tight over her chest; her jeans still rode too low over her ass. She and Wren were both bottom heavy—Cath liked to wear shirts and sweaters that she could pull down over her hips; Wren liked to wear things she could pull in at the waist.
“You look the same,” Cath said. “You look like me, and look what I’m eating.” Cath was eating beef fajitas with sour cream and three kinds of cheese.
“Yeah, but you’re not drinking.”
“Is that part of the Skinny Bitch diet?”
“We’re skinny bitches on weekdays,” Courtney said, “and drunk bitches on the weekend.”
Cath tried to catch Wren’s eye. “I don’t think I’d want to aspire to be any kind of bitch.”
“Too late,” Wren said blandly, then changed the subject. “Did you hang out with Nick last night?”
“Yeah,” Cath said, then smiled. She tried to turn it into a smirk, but that just made her nose twitch like a rabbit’s.
“Oh! Cath!” Courtney said. “We were thinking we could just happen to come to the library some night, so we can see him. Tuesdays and Thursdays, right?”
“No. No way. No, no, no.” Cath looked at Wren. “No, okay? Say okay.”
“Okay.” Wren stabbed her fork full of onions. “What’s the big deal?”
“It’s not a big deal,” Cath said. “But if you came, it would seem like a big deal. You would destroy my ‘Hey, whatever, you want to hang out? That’s cool’ strategy.”
“You have a strategy?” Wren asked. “Does it involve kissing him?”
Wren wouldn’t leave the kissing thing alone. Ever since Abel had dumped Cath, Wren was on her about chasing her passions and letting loose the beast within.
“What about him?” she’d say, finding an attractive guy to point out while they were standing in the lunch line. “Do you want to kiss him?”
“I don’t want to kiss a stranger,” Cath would answer. “I’m not interested in lips out of context.”
It was only partly true.
Ever since Abel had broken up with her … Ever since Nick had started sitting next to her … Cath kept noticing things.
Seriously, everywhere. In her classes. In the Union. In the dormitory, on the floors above and below her. And she’d swear they didn’t look anything like the boys in high school. How can that one year make such a difference? Cath found herself watching their necks and their hands. She noticed the heaviness in their jaws, the way their chests buttressed out from their shoulders, their hair.…
Nick’s eyebrows trailed into his hairline, and his sideburns feinted onto his cheeks. When she sat behind him in class, she could see the muscles in his left shoulder sliding under his shirt.
Even Levi was a distraction. A near-constant distraction. With his long, tan neck. And his throat bobbing and cording when he laughed.