Motion (Page 3)

“What’s wrong?” he asked, his voice gentle and interested. “How can I help?”

“Wrong? Help?” What?

“All the color left your face.” Dr. Payton paused to study me, the intensity of his frown increasing. “Mona, what happened? Who was that?”

Mona? The informality was a bucket of ice water, cutting through the haze of confusion. I blinked at him and the use of my first name. For these last two weeks he’d been Dr. Payton and I’d been Ms. DaVinci, which was how interactions within my world worked. Always.

As the youngest person by far in any given room—and the room was typically full of men with PhDs fighting for prestige, tenure, and grant dollars—I’d learned early and often that informality meant being taken advantage of. It meant being the second or third author instead of the first on a scholarly article of my own original ideas. It meant opening a door to borrowing (i.e. stealing) my work and intellectual property.

Nothing was more sacred or worth protecting in academia than intellectual property, and everyone wanted to take credit for mine.

“Dr. Payton, I’m very sorry to cut our meeting short.” When I stood, he stood, giving me the impression his good manners were ingrained. “I hope we can continue our discussion on Illustris soon, but I have to go.” Once again, I flexed my superpower, removing all emotion from my voice.

Clearly surprised by my coolness, Dr. Payton rocked back on his heels and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Absolutely. I understand,” he said, though it was obvious he didn’t understand.

Placing my backpack on the chair, I furtively studied him as I zipped and unzipped it, searching for my wallet. I noted the cautious yet concerned way he continued to examine me, at the tense set of his jaw, like he was engaging in an internal debate. I had to swat away a pang of guilt and doubt.

Dr. Payton—Poe—had been nothing but gracious since I’d arrived, but not overbearingly so. Overbearing and overly solicitous faculty had been my experience at the other institutions I’d visited during my quest to find the right PhD program. Even his willingness to collaborate and share, discuss and troubleshoot had been unpretentious. Poe’s ideas and approach were unique and refreshing.

The man was certainly brilliant, seemed to be a genuinely good guy, and I was curious about his thoughts on Illustris, the universe-scale simulation project, which was why I’d agreed to dinner. Yet, tempted as I might be to soften my rules about informality and friendly fraternization with colleagues, I wouldn’t.

“Do you need a ride anywhere?” he asked stiffly, quickly adding, “No pressure. It’s just, my mother would be appalled if I didn’t offer.”

His slight confession, and how he referred to his mother with deference, made me pause my furious zipping. “Thank you. I have a driver.”

He cleared his throat and nodded, seemed to stand straighter. My gaze flickered to his then away and I dug for my wallet. Finding it, I placed a fifty-dollar bill on the table to cover the cost of my dinner.

“You don’t need to do that.” He frowned, reaching for the money and offering it back to me.

I shook my head and swung my backpack into place on my right shoulder. “My advisor told me I should pay for my own meals during the recruitment process so as to not unduly influence my final decision.”

He flinched subtly, like I’d surprised him again. “I see,” he said, then huffed a little laugh. It was amused, but also sounded a tad incredulous. I got the sense I’d offended him somehow . . .

A renewed wave of flustered urgency crashed over me. I didn’t have time to think about Dr. Payton. I had to call Gabby, get to Chicago, and figure out how to behave like Lisa and not like me.

“I’ll be gone for a few days,” I said, not understanding why I felt the need to explain anything. “There’s been an unexpected emergency. I’ll email Dr. Clarence and the team to let them know.”

“Fine.” He pressed his lips together, a flat line, his expression now neutral.

I hesitated for a split second, knowing I was doing something wrong yet unable to put my finger on what. But exigency—for my sister’s sake—spurred me to move. Giving him a final head nod, I left the restaurant.

With any luck, I’d be in Chicago before midnight.

“We’re going to have to get you a blowout.” Gabby pursed her lips at the sight of my single braid, sighed dramatically, and marched past me into my hotel room. “And Lisa’s hair is a little shorter I think, so we’ll also need a cut. But the color is fine, she went back to her natural dark brown too, like, I don’t know, a few months ago, when she pretended to split from Tyler. Do you own any makeup at all?”

Turning, I allowed the hotel door to shut behind me and faced my former friend. “Hello, and yes I own makeup.”

Of note, Gabby’s real name was Lyndsay. Gabby was a nickname she’d earned because she talked too much and had no filter, always saying whatever popped into her head. This worked for her because her parents were massively wealthy movie stars and had no problem bailing her out of whatever trouble she—and her mouth—found herself in.

Ignoring my greeting, she set a bag on the bed. “I bet it’s the wrong kind of makeup. Whatever. There’s a Sephora on the way to your house, we’ll go there. Lisa said you don’t know how to do your eyes, so they can teach you there. Lisa never shows her face without mascara and liner, so make sure you do that every day. And here”—she gestured to the bag—“I brought some of Lisa’s clothes from the last time she spent the night at my house. We got soooo drunk. And it was tequila drunk, not vodka tonic drunk, you know what I mean?” Gabby laughed and gave me a commiserating look.

I didn’t know what she meant, but I could extrapolate. Regardless, I did not return her look.

Her amusement vanished.

“Anyway.” She paired the single word with an eyebrow lift, a sure sign of exasperation. “This should have everything you need for now. Feel free to thank me at any point here.”

No thanks was forthcoming, but she already knew that.

I hadn’t returned to my hotel in Los Angeles last night. There was no point in packing clothes before leaving via LAX. Other than underwear and socks, I was supposed to wear Lisa’s clothes anyway.

Everything I needed was in my backpack—my laptop, my research notes, my journal—so I sent a text to Gabby and hopped on the next plane to Chicago. We touched down just after 1:00 AM and I spent the night at the Westin near O’Hare, wearing the same clothes to sleep that I’d worn to the dentist.

There’s something liberating about sleeping in clothes instead of pajamas, I’d mused the next morning as I brushed my teeth with supplies hastily purchased from the lobby store. The thought felt rebellious, so I pushed it aside and waited for Gabby to show up.

Which brings us to now.

Am I really doing this?

Not for the first or the thousandth time since hanging up with Lisa yesterday, I took stock of this messy mess and how I’d arrived at this moment, peaking inside a bag brought by Gabby. Speaking of the Gabster, she was staring at my profile as I peered in the bag.

Abruptly, apropos of nothing, she said, “You’re boring.”

My eyes lifted to hers. “Okay.”

“You look boring, I mean. Like, I know you and Lisa are supposed to be identical, but if you were in a club you’d be invisible. You’d be wallpaper. Doesn’t that bother you?” Though the words might’ve been interpreted as harsh, the question sounded honestly curious.

Nevertheless, it aggravated me. This was my chance to find out why Lisa had been arrested and Gabby was already getting under my skin before I could ask any questions.

“No,” I answered, just as honestly, withholding all emotion from my voice and expression.

“Haven’t you ever wanted to be noticed? Be . . . interesting?”

“Not really.” I turned my attention back to the clothes and spotted a black lace bra tucked to one side.

. . . Am I really doing this?

“How is it possible you are still such a Mary Sue?” She poked my shoulder. “Haven’t you heard? Nowadays, being nice is unlikable. It’s all about the rebel. You should do something unexpected, mean, selfish, and don’t apologize for it. Be bad for once and tell everyone to f**k off.”

I sent her a quick glare. “I just ditched a PhD program interview. I’m about to lie and impersonate my twin sister for several days so my parents won’t disown her. Maybe save that question for later, when it might be more accurate.”

“Well, you kind of owe her, don’t you?”

“Owe her? Owe her for what?”

“For getting her sent off to boarding school? For ratting us out to your nanny? Ring any bells?”

I was so proud of myself for not punching her in the face, and even more proud for keeping my voice level and calm. “We both know Lisa wasn’t sent to boarding school because I told our nanny that you had taken whiskey from the cabinet.”

“Oh? Really? That’s not how I remember it.”

“Yes. Really. The only reason Leo and I stayed with Mom and Dad was because of his music and my research.”

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