Pretend She's Here(8)

My hair was black. This wasn’t the wig—it was my true, normally reddish-blond hair dyed nearly blue-black, the same color as Lizzie’s, with a Lizzie-like tendril curling down my unbruised cheek. And my blue eyes were green. I reached up, gingerly touched my eyeball, and the surface shifted. That made me jump and screech out loud. Someone had inserted contact lenses.

There was a dark purple bruise on my left temple and cheekbone. I ripped off the gauze bandage on my forehead and saw butterfly stitches. A small patch of my hair, around the cut, had been shaved. It looked ugly.

I continued to stare at myself. I was wearing Lizzie’s orange-and-black Halloween nightgown—the flannel soft from so many washes, the colors of bats and pumpkins faded and bleeding into each other. Someone had darkened my eyebrows and drawn Lizzie’s little mole on my cheek. I wet my thumb and rubbed the color off my cheek and brows.

That got me started. I wanted to undo every change. I turned on the shower, threw the nightgown on the floor, ripped the Velcro straps to remove the boot, and stepped into the hot water. I doused my hair with Lizzie’s shampoo, scrubbed my head so hard my scalp felt raw. Lizzie and I had been known to streak our hair pink, green, and purple. The color had always washed out. I watched the drain, waiting for the black streaks to rinse off, but the water ran clear.

When I stepped out and dried myself with her towel, I looked in the mirror and saw that my hair was still black. Total horror—it must have been permanent dye.

In a way, that was weird, because I had always wished I had dark hair. Lizzie had it, and so did most of my brothers and sisters. Our family was “black Irish”—our ancestors came from Kerry and had the same coloring of the Spanish whose Armada had once landed on that west coast. Somehow only Iggy and I wound up with light hair. At least we had the same blue eyes as everyone else. Only now mine were green.

I had never worn contacts before. It made me squeamish to reach my fingertips into my eyes, but I steeled myself and forced myself to do it. I threw the soft green plastic discs into the toilet. I flexed my ankle. Putting pressure on it hurt, but I knew it wasn’t broken. The rope was soaked and chafed my skin.

I put on Lizzie’s nightgown again and limped back into the bedroom. I looked around for the clothes I’d been wearing—no sign of them. My cell phone had been in the pocket of my army jacket. Would the Porters have realized it was there, thrown it away? If I could just find it, I would call home. I wouldn’t know where to tell them I was, but I was pretty sure they could track me using GPS.

I tore through Lizzie’s closet. Her style was totally different than mine. She loved clothes that were dark and sleek, always brand-new because her parents had money, while mine were a colorful melting pot of pure quirk: hand-me-downs from my older sisters, Anne and Bea, and the occasional ModCloth splurge. Lizzie loved black anything, I went for polka dots, cotton prints, flowers, and stripes.

“Zany, baby,” Lizzie would say, teasing me when I’d show up for a night out in Bea’s cast-off red-checked dress, a scarlet cable-knit cardigan knitted by Anne, the hand-tooled brown leather belt Mick had forgotten in his closet when he’d left for college, and my very own teal-blue canvas flats. Meanwhile Lizzie would be sultry and gorgeous in black leggings, a black jacket, and silver-studded motorcycle boots.

I knew every single thing in her closet by heart. The coats and sweaters, the silk blouses, Mame’s old black velvet opera cape; they all smelled like Lizzie’s lemongrass shampoo and Mame’s faded L’Air du Temps perfume. In spite of my situation, I half swooned from missing my best friend, but I forced myself to concentrate. No sign of my jacket. I raced to her bureau, ransacked the drawers.

There was nothing of mine. My cell phone—gone.

I tried the doorknob. I already knew it would be locked. The steeple clock ticked loudly. It was 10:45—still no idea whether a.m or p.m. I pressed my ear to the door, listened for any sound. Nothing but silence. That was good. I had no interest in seeing any Porter ever again.

I had to escape, but I still felt so weak from last night, I was afraid I wouldn’t get far. I needed my strength, so I wolfed down the cheese sandwich and apple. Swiss cheese, of course—Lizzie’s favorite.

I felt better after eating, almost supercharged, determined to find a way out. There had to be one.

The window. Even if it was bolted shut, I’d break the glass. I walked across the room, pulled back the curtains.

There was no window, no glass. Only a cinder block wall.

That’s when absolute panic hit me. I wasn’t just locked in—I was walled-in. The Porters had built me a prison. I started pacing the room.

Framed photos stood on Lizzie’s bureau. Three had me in them—standing next to Lizzie in the back row of our middle school soccer team, a selfie of the two of us on the beach the week before she’d died, and one of me and Dan at play rehearsal when I hadn’t known she was taking our picture.

And then a lightning bolt struck: the box of Mame’s photos. That would be my salvation. It was full of a million Porter family pictures, but it also had a hiding spot with three of Mame’s secret things, one of which would help me get away.

Lizzie had been Mame’s oldest and favorite grandchild. Sometimes when I slept over, Lizzie and I would have dinner at Mame’s instead of the Porters’, and Mame would talk to us for hours on end, telling stories about when she had been young, hilarious and crazy adventures no one, not even Lizzie’s mother, knew about: things you would never imagine an old lady having done.

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