“I know!” Bet whispers excitedly. “I mean, I didn’t tell her anything really, but—”
Her words drop off. “Bet?”
I glance at Sean, who’s looking at me with amused curiosity. I realize then that I’m hunched over and clutching the phone like it’s precious. Before I can say anything to him, Bet’s back.
“I have to go,” she says. “Mom’s lurking around: I’m hiding in the closet. I’m going to write Petra back later and see if I can get more information out of her.”
“Maybe you should become a detective when you grow up,” I joke.
“Why do I have to wait until I grow up?” Betsey asks, laughing at herself. “Anyway, see you later.”
I hang up, then relay the call to Sean.
“Does this mean that you’re finally going to do something about it?” he asks.
“About what?” I ask.
He looks at me like I’m being an idiot. “Lizzie, your mom is borderline abusive—you get that, right?”
“Don’t talk to me like I’m five,” I snap. “And I know my mom… a lot better than you do. She may be one hundred and fifty percent overprotective, and she may have more than a touch of OCD, but she’s not abusing us.”
Sean sighs and scrunches up a taco wrapper.
“I think you have Stockholm syndrome,” he mutters.
“I think you’re making this more dramatic than it needs to be,” I say. “I mean, yeah, I hate it. I want out of the arrangement as it stands. And yeah, my mom’s wacked. But I’d appreciate you toning it down a bit.”
“Just trying to help,” Sean says.
“Fine.” He’s clearly annoyed. “But you said yourself, you get used to things to the point where they don’t seem weird anymore. And you’re used to this… but, Lizzie, believe me when I tell you: It’s still weird.”
“I get it, okay?” I say, looking out the window. “Can we just go back to school?”
He clenches his jaw and starts the car.
Barely anyone’s around when Sean drops me off by the main entrance. Without words, he pulls away—he’ll go to the student lot to park. I rush inside, feeling sick about our first fight, particularly because I know I’m the one who’s wrong.
I shove my way through the swarm of students buzzing through the main hall. For the billionth time since we started at Woodbury, I wish that our assigned locker were in one of the less congested areas of the school. Sighing after someone elbows me in the back as she passes, I rush through the combination—3, 33, 13—wanting to just stash my books, get what I need for Spanish, and get out of here.
Dave makes sure that doesn’t happen.
Usually, I don’t see Dave at school, which is a good thing. Despite all of us knowing that he can’t tell us apart, Ella still seems happy to be dating him, and even Betsey said he was funny after they went out for coffee when he just showed up as a surprise after night class. I’m the only one who’s emotionally allergic to the guy. Which is, of course, why I’m the one he asks to the Halloween Dance today, of all days.
In the most humiliatingly public way possible.
I yank open the locker door and dozens and dozens of tennis balls come spilling out all over the main hall. The girl at the locker next to mine squeals and points at the ball avalanche, drawing even more attention to me and the situation. Since the hallway’s so packed, everyone has to dodge the furry balls or risk tripping and falling: I get a seriously scary look when a girl wearing inappropriately tall heels nearly breaks her ankle trying to make it through the mess.
Almost in the same instant, I realize three things: Three of the balls are pink with words written on them; Dave and his friends are watching nearby; and approaching from the other direction is none other than Sean.
My real boyfriend.
The one who’s already super mad at me right now.
Grayson and a girl I don’t know are standing by their shared locker across the walkway. I look at Grayson, pleading with my eyes. Despite the fact that she probably still thinks I’m a liar, she smiles warmly and weaves through the crowd, bending to pick up balls as she approaches. By the time she makes it to my side of the hall, she’s got an armload.
“Lily, will you go get a bag from the office?” Grayson calls over her shoulder.
“Sure,” Lily says, slamming the locker and disappearing into the sea of people. I glance at Dave and catch one of his friends elbowing him on the arm in congratulations. It’s annoying. Meanwhile, people continue to stare and laugh at the locker that vomited tennis balls and the girl desperately trying to contain them.
Whatever this is, it is not romantic.
“Thanks,” I say to Grayson. “Guess he likes grand gestures.” I nod toward Dave.
“Guess so,” she says with a little laugh. Since the whole look-alike-cousin thing, there’s been an invisible wedge between us, and it’s not like we knew each other that well before.
“Aren’t you going to read it?” she asks, pointing to a pink ball, then shifting to catch a yellow one that’s trying to jump out of her arms.
“Oh, right,” I say. One of the balls with a message written on it is right next to my left foot; I pick it up.
DAVE? is scrawled in black Sharpie across the fuzzy surface. Confused, I look through legs and feet for the other two. I see familiar shoes stop right next to me; Sean speaks.
“Looking for this?” he asks, holding out a pink tennis ball, the word DANCE written on it. Sean’s face is neutral for the sake of the crowd, but his eyes are seething. And I get it: We just battled over my mom and now he’s watching me get asked to a dance by another guy in front of the entire school.
I take the ball and glance at Dave, whose chest is puffed up like a rooster’s. Sean follows my line of sight and shakes his head ever so slightly, then keeps moving down the hall toward his class. I want to chase after him, but I’m frozen. Thankfully, the warning bell rings, so the crowd thins. Grayson’s locker mate, Lily, reappears with a massive garbage bag, and the three of us spend the remaining time gathering tennis balls.
“Thanks for your help, you guys,” I say as I lean over to grab the last one.
“It’s no big deal,” Lily says, nodding to the bag. “Where do you want to put that?”
“I’ll drop it off in the gym. I’m sure they can use them.”
“Probably not this one,” Grayson says, handing me the pink tennis ball that says WITH.
DANCE WITH DAVE?
As the final bell rings, I look over to where he was standing: He’s gone. He made me, Grayson, and Lily late to class, but he didn’t even stick around long enough to get my answer. God forbid he’d be late, too.
It was a gesture for the crowd that watched, not for Elizabeth Best.
Not for Ella.
Not for Betsey.
Not for me.
“I think we should break up with Dave,” I say flatly during a commercial break that night. I haven’t talked to Sean since our fight and I’m in a surly mood. We’re eating ice cream in the rec room and Ella keeps looking over her shoulder, probably because we’ve been talking about Petra and Mom and Sean and other secrets, but it’s bugging me. Everything’s bugging me.