I stifle a giggle at the thought of Sean trying to come up with nicknames for me, then I realize something and get nervous. From his comment, Ella will surely know that I was online when I wasn’t supposed to be. Just as I’m considering calling her from the landline, another comment comes through.
This one’s from… David?
David Chancellor Hey you. Don’t forget what we talked about. See you in govt.
WHAT? What is “Don’t forget what we talked about”? What does that mean? I decide to wait until Ella gets home to ask her about it, and I don’t have to wait long: She shows up a lot quicker than it usually takes Betsey to return from class. Suddenly Ella’s looming in my bedroom doorway, and she’s annoyed.
“What’s up with being online while it was my time?” she asks, hands on hips.
“What’s up with David?”
“What’s up with Sean?”
We simultaneously blush in exactly the same way—blotches spreading over our foreheads and the apples of our cheeks—effectively sharing the details of our secret crushes without having to utter the words. Ella hesitates a moment before coming over and flopping down on my bed. She grabs my hand and we lie next to each other on our backs, hands clasped between us. A few minutes pass before she speaks.
“It’s pointless,” she says quietly. Defeated.
“It is,” I agree, a feeling of angst sitting hard on me. It’s an unfamiliar one, though, like wanting something back that I never had in the first place.
“Unless…” Ella says, even quieter still. My head snaps to look at her; she stares at the ceiling.
“Unless what?” I ask.
“Nothing,” she says quickly, then, “Just what if we could go back to pretending to be triplets like when we were little? What if we could live normally again?”
Ella’s words give form to what’s been eating me for the past few months: the thing that I haven’t let myself acknowledge. The fact that maybe after all this time, I’m starting to think it’s wrong for us to live as one person. The fact that I’ve been wondering about—almost craving—change. But knowing all that Mom’s given up for us—her career, any sort of a social life—it feels blasphemous.
“That’s too risky,” I say. “What if they found us?”
“They can’t possibly still be looking for us,” Ella says. “It’s been seven years since the trial.”
“We both know Mom’s paranoid,” I say with a sigh, “but she’s pretty positive they still are.”
Ella’s quiet for a while, and when I hear someone speak, I’m surprised that it’s me. “What should we do about it?” I ask. It’s Ella’s turn to look at me, excitement on her face.
“Should we talk to her?”
I shake my head. “I’m not sure it’ll help.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “But something. We have to do something… right?”
We’re quiet again for a little while, both staring at the ceiling and lost in separate but probably similar thoughts. Ella and I breathe at matching meter; we sound exactly the same. It’s easy to get hypnotized by synchronicity, and soon enough, I’m nodding off.
“Can I sleep in here tonight?” Ella asks, bringing me back to awake.
“Of course,” I say sleepily, because I want to be there for her. And I don’t want to be alone, either.
“All right, everyone, today we’re going to critique one another’s dog stories,” Mr. Ames says at the beginning of creative writing. I’m trying hard to listen, but Sean’s back is distracting; somehow I force myself to focus on our teacher. “The goal this semester is to keep working on the stories and see how far we get with them.” I smile at the thought of going into the holiday break with a solid start to a book.
Mr. Ames tells us to pick partners.
Turn around, Sean. Ask to be my partner.
“Want to work together?” he asks seconds after I think it. I smile and nod, and out of the corner of my eye, I see letdown on several faces across the aisle. I guess Sean’s equally charming to girls and guys alike.
After the slightest hint of hesitation on my part—no one’s read my writing except teachers and family—we trade papers and read quietly. I smile through his two pages, which are cleverly written from the perspective of a furious cat who asserts that the arrival of the dog has ruined her life.
“This is really funny,” I say when I’m finished. I look up at Sean and he’s staring at me intently. “I think it’s awesome.”
“You stole my line,” he says. “Yours is great, too. It’s better than mine.”
“It is not,” I say, rolling my eyes at him. “Anyway, it’s based on a true story of a toad-sucking dog. It was on the news. The toads gave off this juice from their skin that was like a drug to the dog. He was addicted!”
“That’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard,” Sean says. “I thought you made it up.”
“No,” I say, a little embarrassed. “It would’ve been better if I did.”
“Naw,” Sean says. “Everyone finds inspiration in real life. You put your own spin on the story; it was really great.”
“Thanks, Sean,” I say.
“You’re welcome, Beth.”
Without meaning to, I flinch. Hard.
I have no idea what the Original’s name was—Mom says she never knew—but I’ve always thought of her as Beth. Beth is the name of a little girl trapped in time; it’s perfectly tragic, like Beth March in Little Women.
Sean holds up his hands.
“Whoa,” he says quietly. “I get it. No Beth.”
I shake my head, feeling stupid. He must think I’m one of those melodramatic girls. I take a deep breath and smile warmly. “Sorry.”
“No worries,” he says. “So, Queenie…”
I frown. “Seriously?”
“Fine… just Elizabeth,” he says.
“Good. And yes?”
“Do you want go to lunch tomorrow?”
The good kind of shiver shoots up my spine and down my arms. I want nothing more than to spend some time alone with Sean, getting to know him better. And yet, how can I possibly eat lunch with him? By the time I make it to school, the lunch period is more than halfway over. He’ll probably want to meet me at my locker after fifth period, but that’s just not possible… unless Ella does it.
Sean is looking at me, waiting for my response. I’m taking too long, but put on the spot like this, I just can’t figure out how to make it work.
“I’m really sorry,” I say finally, long after the moment has passed. “I’d love to, but I have plans tomorrow.”
“Oh,” Sean says, nodding at me like it’s no big deal. But I see a flicker of disappointment in his eyes.
“Twenty minutes,” Mr. Ames calls to the class.
“Guess we’d better get back to it,” Sean says.
And with that, we both look back to the papers in front of us and reread, pens in hand to make notes. Or at least, I try to. I can’t help wanting to rewind ten minutes and do it better. I could have figured something out. But now it seems like I may have lost my chance.