“This is crazy,” Ella says quietly.
“Being tagged is crazy,” Betsey says. “This is very sane.”
“She does it for our protection,” Ella says.
“No,” Betsey says, raising a palm and looking suddenly mad. “We live like we do for good reason, but the necklace isn’t that. It’s about her being absurdly overprotective and nothing more.” Bet pauses a second, her eyes softening. She takes hold of Ella’s hands. “El, is this what you want? To live a third of a life? To barely know what the world looks like at night?”
“To be banned from cheerleading just because you’re good at trigonometry?” I add softly.
“But this is what we agreed to,” Ella says. “It’s just how things are.”
“It’s what we agreed to when we were too young to know better,” Betsey says. “And it’s not how it has to be.”
Ella yanks her hands out of Betsey’s, ripping herself from the truth.
“I’m not sure when you turned all Che on us, but I happen to be okay with my life,” she says. “No matter what’s up with Mom right now, the fact is that we don’t have a fraction of the pressure that other girls our age have. Mom provides for us and basically leaves us alone. I’m dating Dave. We have everything we need. I’m satisfied, and I don’t want you two messing it up.” She exhales loudly. “I mean, first it’s telling Sean, then all of us going out together and getting caught—it’s all just too much. It’s not worth it.”
I bite my tongue instead of pointing out that she sounds like she’s trying to convince herself. Her mention of Mom providing for us reminds me again that we have no idea how she’s managing to do that. There’s more to those twenty-thousand-dollar deposits; I just know it. But with Ella upset and the lunch hour dwindling, I choose to leave it alone for now.
“Let’s talk about it later,” I say to Ella, who shakes her head and goes inside. Betsey calls after her.
“Just don’t say anything about the locket.”
The day feels like one of those eggshell days from then on out, like things are going to crack if I bump them wrong. But then creative writing makes it all better. We have a sub, one who’s clueless about the subject she’s teaching and annoyed by the kids in class. So it’s essentially a free period.
A free period with Sean.
Right after the bell, he turns in his seat to face me, moving in the direction of the wall so his back is to the rest of the class. We’re in our own little bubble.
“Your hair is curly today,” he observes, eyes playful.
“It is,” I say, unconsciously grabbing a curl and twisting it. It’s one of those perfect ringlets that I think looks good on everyone else, especially Ella. But this curly mane has never felt right on me. Sean scrunches up his eyebrows and looks me over one feature at a time. When I could swear he’s staring at my nose, I ask, “What are you doing?”
“Just making sure…” he says. His eyes fall to my chin. He tilts his head to the side a little and purses his lips as his eyes dance down my arms all the way to my fingertips. “Yep.”
“Yep what?” I ask, confused.
“Yep, it’s you,” he says confidently.
“How can you be so sure?” I tease. “We could be Parent Trap–ing you right now.”
“You’re not,” he says, smiling.
“Seriously,” I say, leaning forward. “I’m Betsey.”
Sean leans forward, too, and we’re almost inappropriately close for class. I can feel his breath on my lips. Without hesitation, he says, “You’re Lizzie.”
Smiling, I exhale and lean back again. “You seem pretty sure of yourself.”
“About some things,” he says, shrugging. Then: “About this.”
We hold gazes for a moment. Loud laughter across the room makes us look away. When we’ve both checked it out—a guy fell out of his chair—we’re back in our bubble.
“I got you a present,” Sean says before leaning over to get something out of his bag.
“Oh, yeah? What is it?”
Under my desk, he passes something from his palm to mine. His fingertips touch my wrist at the transfer, and he might as well have just kissed my earlobe for the jolt it gives me. I move my hand to my lap and look down: It’s a phone.
“It’s prepaid, and only I have the number,” Sean whispers. “Your mom won’t be able to monitor when we talk to each other.”
“No, she won’t,” I say, smiling with my whole face at him. I’ll never have to worry about Mom checking the bill again. “This is spy stuff: You’re pretty sneaky.”
“And you’re just pretty.”
Sean scrunches up his nose at the line, but cheesy or not, I love it. And I love the way I feel when I’m near him, too.
Grayson looks at me quizzically at the start of cheer practice: I brace myself for the question I know is coming. Then halfway through the hour, when everyone’s going through a new cheer in small groups, she pulls me aside.
“Am I mental or do you have sisters who look just like you?” she asks.
I pause, probably a second too long, actually considering telling her. Now that we’ve told Sean, we can tell others, too, right? Then I snap out of it.
“You’re mental!” I say, letting loose a laugh that I mean to sound breezy but doesn’t at all. “Either that, or you need to have your eyes checked.”
Grayson blinks at me; she’s not buying it.
“I was with my cousins on Saturday,” I explain. “Our moms are sisters, so some people say we look alike.” I dramatically roll my eyes. “God, I hope not. You should see the nose on one of them. And the other is like a foot taller than me.”
I force another laugh, and Grayson laughs politely herself, even though nothing’s funny. Nothing at all.
“That makes sense,” she says, probably thinking that it doesn’t. But instead of saying anything more, she says simply, “Well, it was fun to bump into you anyway.”
“You, too,” I say.
We smile forced smiles at each other and she goes back to the front of the room to gather everyone. She eyes me suspiciously a few more times before practice lets out, but she keeps her mouth shut about the whole thing. I guess that’s all I can really ask for.
Life feels like one of Sean’s pictures for two weeks: captured in a moment and standing still. I don’t want to say perfect, because Mom and her secrets are always on my mind. I don’t want to say normal, because that’s not a word I know. So I’ll say steady. Life is steady. But then it starts moving again.
Two weeks before Halloween, on a Thursday, Sean and I are parked in the lot of an abandoned superstore eating drive-thru tacos when I look down at my purse the second before it rings. I answer the call; it’s Betsey.
“She wrote back,” she whispers.
“What?” I say, plugging my left ear. “Who wrote back?”
“The girl from Twinner!” Bet says. “Her name’s Petra and she lives in Oregon. And listen to this: She’s adopted.”
“Shut up,” I say, allowing her enthusiasm to rub off on me. “I didn’t really think it could be possible, but what if—”