“Screw him. He works at the Gap. We were supposed to go out tonight, and now he says he has to work till ten, then wants to hang out with his bros after. I’ve had it, so I dumped him.”
Elizabeth started to point out that he shouldn’t be penalized for honoring his obligations, but Julie kept talking—and it occurred to Elizabeth that the other girl hadn’t spoken more than a dozen words to her since they’d known each other.
“So I’m going over to Tiffany’s, see if she wants to hang, because now I’ve got no boyfriend for the summer. It sucks. I guess you hang out with college guys.” Julie gave her a considering look. “Go to frat parties, keggers, all that.”
“I … There are a lot of men at Harvard.”
“Harvard.” Julie rolled her eyes. “Any of them in Chicago for the summer?”
“I couldn’t say.”
“A college guy, that’s what I need. Who wants some loser who works at the mall? I need somebody who knows how to have fun, who can take me places, buy alcohol. Good luck with that, unless you can get into the clubs. That’s where they hang out. Just need to score some fake ID.”
“I can do that.” The instant the words were out, Elizabeth wondered where they’d come from. But Julie gripped her arm, smiled at her as if they were friends.
“No. That is, it’s not very difficult to create false identification with the right tools. A template, photo, laminate, a computer with Photoshop.”
“Brain trust. What’ll it take for you to make me a driver’s license that’ll get me into a club?”
“As I said, a template—”
“No, Jesus. What do you want for it?”
“I …” Bargaining, Elizabeth realized. A barter. “I need to buy some clothes, but I don’t know what I should buy. I need someone to help me.”
“A shopping buddy?”
“Yes. Someone who knows. You know.”
Eyes no longer sulky, voice no longer bored, Julie simply beamed. “That’s my brain trust. And if I help you pick out some outfits, you’ll make me up the ID?”
“Yes. And I’d also want to go with you to the club. So I’d need the right clothes for that, too.”
“You? Clubbing? More than your hair’s changed, Liz.”
Liz. She was Liz. “I’d need a photo, and it will take a little while to construct the IDs. I could have them done tomorrow. What club would we go to?”
“Might as well go for the hottest club in town. Warehouse 12. Brad Pitt went there when he was in town.”
“Do you know him?”
“I wish. Okay, let’s go shopping.”
It made her dizzy, not just the way Julie piloted her into a store, snatched up clothes with only the most cursory study. But the idea of it all. A shopping buddy. Not someone who preselected what was deemed appropriate and expected her to assent. Someone who grabbed at random and talked about looking hot, or cool, even sexy.
No one had ever suggested to Elizabeth that she might look sexy.
She closed herself in the dressing room with the forest of color, the sparkle of spangles, the glint of metallic, and had to put her head between her knees.
It was all happening so fast. It was like being caught in a tsunami. The surge just swept her away.
Her fingers trembled as she undressed, as she carefully folded her clothes, then stared at all the pieces hanging in the tiny room.
What did she put on? What went with what? How did she know?
“I found the most awesome dress!” Without even a knock, Julie barged right in. Instinctively, Elizabeth crossed an arm over her breasts.
“Haven’t you tried anything on yet?”
“I wasn’t sure where to start.”
But really, at its length it was more of a tunic, Elizabeth thought, and in a screaming red, ruched along the sides. Its razor-thin straps sparkling with silver.
“What do you wear with it?”
“Killer shoes. No, lose the bra first. You can’t wear a bra with that dress. You’ve got a really good body,” Julie observed.
“I’m genetically predisposed, and maintain fitness and health through regular daily exercise.”
And the naked—or nearly—human body was natural, Elizabeth reminded herself. Just skin, muscle, bone, nerve.
She laid her bra on her folded clothes, then shimmied into the dress.
“It’s very short,” she began.
“You’re going to want to ditch those Mom panties and buy a thong. That is definitely club-worthy.”
Elizabeth took a breath, turned to the triple mirror. “Oh.”
Who was that? Who was that girl in the short red dress?
“I look …”
“Awesome,” Julie declared, and Elizabeth watched a smile bloom on her own face.
She bought the dress, and two others. And skirts. She bought tops that rode above her waist, pants that rode below it. She bought thongs. And she rode that tsunami to shoes with silver heels she’d have to practice walking in.
And she laughed, like any ordinary girl shopping with a friend at the mall.
She bought a digital camera, then watched Julie make up her face in the bathroom. She took Julie’s picture, and several backups against the pale gray of the stall door.
“That’s going to work?”
“Yes, I can make it work. How old should you be? I think it’s best if we stay as close as possible to the legal age. I can use everything from your valid driver’s license and just change the year.”
“Have you done this before?”
“I’ve experimented. I’ve read and studied identity fraud, cyber crimes. It’s interesting. I’d like to …”
“Like to what?”
“I’d like to study computer crimes and prevention, investigation, more seriously. I’d like to join the FBI.”
“No bull? Like Dana Scully.”
“I don’t know her.”
“X-Files, Liz. Don’t you watch TV?”
“My viewing of popular and commercial television is limited to an hour a week.”
Julie rolled her big, chocolate eyes. “What are you, six? Jesus Christ.”
“My mother has very definite opinions.”
“You’re in college, for God’s sake. Watch what you want. Anyway, I’ll come to your place tomorrow night. Say nine? We’ll take a cab from there. But I want you to call me when you finish the ID, okay?”
“No. I won’t.”
Flushed from the day, Elizabeth hauled all the bags to her car. She knew what girls in the mall talked about now.
Boys. Doing it. Julie and Darryl had done it. Clothes. Music. She had a mental list of artists she needed to research. Television and movie actors. Other girls. What other girls wore. Who other girls had done it with. And back to boys.
She understood the discussions and topics were a societal and generational trope. But it was one she’d been shut out of until today.
And she thought Julie liked her, at least a little. Maybe they’d start to hang out. Maybe she’d hang out with Julie’s friend Tiffany, too—who’d done it with Mike Dauber when he’d come home on spring break.
She knew Mike Dauber, or she’d had a class with him. And he’d passed her a note once. Or he’d passed her a note to pass to someone else, but that was something. It was contact.
AT HOME, she laid all the bags on her bed.
She’d put everything away in plain sight this time. And she’d remove everything she didn’t like—which was nearly all she owned—and box it up for charity. And she’d watch The X-F
iles if she wanted to, and listen to Christina Aguilera and ’N Sync and Destiny’s Child.
And she’d change her major.
The thought of it had her heart spearing up to her throat. She’d study what she wanted to study. And when she had her degrees in criminology, in computer science, she’d apply to the FBI.
Everything had changed. Today.
Determined, she dug out the hair color. In the bathroom, she arranged everything, performed the recommended spot test. While she waited, she cleaned up the shorn hair, then purged her closet, her dresser, neatly hung or folded her new clothes.
Hungry, she went down to the kitchen, heated one of the prelabeled meals and ate while studying an article on falsifying IDs on her laptop.
After she’d done the dishes, she went back upstairs. With a mix of trepidation and excitement she followed the directions for the hair color, set the timer. While it set, she arranged everything she needed for the identification. She opened the Britney Spears CD Julie had recommended, slid it into her laptop’s CD player.
She turned up the volume so she could hear as she got in the shower to wash the color out of her hair.
It ran so black!
She rinsed and rinsed and rinsed, finally bracing her hands on the shower wall as her stomach began to churn in anticipation and not a little dread. When the water ran clear, she toweled off, wrapped a second towel around her hair.
Women had altered their hair color for centuries, Elizabeth reminded herself. Using berries, herbs, roots. It was a … rite of passage, she decided.
It was a personal choice.
In her robe, she faced the mirror.
“My choice,” she said, and pulled the towel off her hair.
She stared at the girl with pale skin and wide green eyes, the girl with short, spiky raven-black hair that framed her narrow, sharp-boned face. Lifting a hand, she scratched her fingers through it, feeling the texture, watching it move.
Then she stood straighter, and she smiled.
“Hi. I’m Liz.”
CONSIDERING ALL THE HELP JULIE HAD PROVIDED, IT SEEMED only fair to Elizabeth to work on Julie’s driver’s license first. Creating the template was simple enough. Everything she’d researched claimed the quality of the identification depended largely on the quality of the paper and laminate.
That presented no problem, as her mother didn’t believe in cutting corners on supplies.
With scanner and computer she produced a decent enough replica, and through Photoshop she added the digital photo, tweaked it.
The result was good but not good enough.
It took several hours and three attempts before she felt she’d created something that would pass the check-in at a nightclub. Actually, she thought it might very well pass a more rigorous police check. But she hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
She set Julie’s aside.
It was too late to call Julie, Elizabeth noted when she checked the time and found it was nearly one in the morning.
In the morning, then, she thought, and started on her own identification.
Photo first, she decided, and spent the best part of an hour with her new makeup, carefully copying the steps she’d watched Julie take at the mall. Darkening the eyes, brightening the lips, adding color to the cheeks.
She hadn’t known it would be so much fun—and considerable work—to play with all the colors and brushes and pencils.
Liz looks older, she thought, studying the results. Liz looks pretty and confident—and normal.
Flushed with success, she opened the hair products.
Trickier, she discovered, but she believed—with practice—she’d learn. But she liked the careless, somewhat messy spikes. So different from her reddish brown, long and straight and uninspired hair, this short, spiky, glossy black.
Liz was new. Liz could and would do things Elizabeth hadn’t even imagined. Liz listened to Britney Spears and wore jeans that showed her navel. Liz went to clubs on Saturday night with a girlfriend, and danced and laughed and … flirted with boys.
“And boys flirt back with Liz,” she murmured. “Because Liz is pretty, and she’s fun, and she’s not afraid of anything.”
After calculating and setting the angles, the background, she used her new camera on a timer for several shots.
She worked till after three, finding the process simpler with the second document. It was nearly four by the time she put away all the tools and equipment, dutifully removed her makeup. She was certain she’d never sleep—her mind was so full, so busy.
She went under the moment she shut her eyes.
And for the first time in her life, barring illness, she slept soundly until noon. Her first act was to rush to the mirror to make certain she hadn’t dreamed it all.
Her second was to call Julie.
“Are we set?” Julie asked, after she’d answered on half a ring.
“Yes. I have everything.”
“And it’s totally good, right? It’ll do the job?”
“They’re excellent counterfeits. I don’t foresee any problem.”
“Awesome! Nine o’clock. I’ll get the cab, have it wait—so be ready. And make sure you look the part, Liz.”
“I tried the makeup last night. I’m going to practice with it, and my hair, this afternoon. And practice walking in the heels.”
“You do that. I’ll see you later. Party time!”
“Yes, I’ll—” But Julie had already hung up.
She spent all day on what she now thought of as Project Liz. She dressed in new cropped pants and top, made up her face, worked with her hair. She walked in the new shoes, and when she felt she had that process down, danced.
She practiced in front of the mirror, after finding a pop-music station on the radio. She’d danced before like this—alone in front of the mirror—teaching herself the moves she’d observed at dances in high school. When she’d been miserably on the sidelines, too young and too plain for any boy to notice.
The heels made the moves, the turns somewhat problematic, but she liked the way they kept her just a little off balance, forced her to loosen her knees, her hips.
At six, she took out her labeled meal, ate it while checking her e-mail. But there was nothing, nothing at all from her mother. She’d been sure there would be—some lecture, something.
But Susan’s patience was endless, and her use of silence masterful.
It wouldn’t work this time, Elizabeth determined. This time Susan was in for a shock. She’d walked out on Elizabeth, but she’d come home to Liz. And Liz wouldn’t be taking that summer program at the university. Liz would be amending her schedule and classes for the coming term.
Liz wasn’t going to be a surgeon. Liz was going to work with the FBI, in cyber crimes.
She gave herself thirty minutes to research universities with the highest-rated programs in her new field of study. She may have to transfer, and that might pose a problem. Though her college fund was tied to her trust—and came through her grandparents—they might cut her off. They’d listen to their daughter, follow her lead.