The Witness(4)

By: Nora Roberts



With every snap of the scissors she felt empowered. Her hair, her choice. She let the shorn hanks fall on the floor. As she snipped and hacked, an image formed in her mind. Eyes narrowed, head angled, she slowed the clipping. It was just geometry, really, she decided—and physics. Action and reaction.

The weight—physical and metaphorical, she thought—just fell away. And the girl in the glass looked lighter. Her eyes seemed bigger, her face not so thin, not so drawn.

She looked … new, Elizabeth decided.

Carefully, she set the scissors down, and, realizing her breath was heaving in and out, made a conscious effort to slow it.

So short. Testing, she lifted a hand to her exposed neck, ears, then brushed them over the bangs she’d cut. Too even, she decided. She hunted up manicure scissors, tried her hand at styling.

Not bad. Not really good, she admitted, but different. That was the whole point. She looked, and felt, different.

But not finished.

Leaving the hair where it lay on the floor, she went into her bedroom, changed into her secret cache of clothes. She needed product—that’s what the girls called it. Hair product. And makeup. And more clothes.

She needed the mall.

Riding on the thrill, she went into her mother’s home office, took the spare car keys. And her heart hammered with excitement as she hurried to the garage. She got behind the wheel, shut her eyes a moment.

“Here we go,” she said quietly, then hit the garage-door opener and backed out.

SHE GOT HER EARS PIERCED. It seemed a bold if mildly painful move, and suited the hair dye she’d taken from the shelf after a long, careful study and debate. She bought hair wax, as she’d seen one of the girls at college use it and thought she could duplicate the look. More or less.

She bought two hundred dollars’ worth of makeup because she wasn’t sure what was right.

Then she had to sit down because her knees shook. But she wasn’t done, Elizabeth reminded herself, as she watched the packs of teenagers, groups of women, teams of families, wander by. She just needed to regroup.

She needed clothes, but she didn’t have a plan, a list, an agenda. Impulse buying was exhilarating, and exhausting. The temper that had driven her this far left her with a dull headache, and her earlobes throbbed a little.

The logical, sensible thing to do was go home, lie down for a while. Then plan, make that list of items to be purchased.

But that was the old Elizabeth. This one was just going to catch her breath.

The problem facing her now was that she wasn’t precisely sure which store or stores she should go to. There were so many of them, and all the windows full of things. So she’d wander, watch for girls her age. She’d go where they went.

She gathered her bags, pushed to her feet—and bumped into someone.

“Excuse me,” she began, then recognized the girl. “Oh. Julie.”

“Yeah.” The blonde with the sleek, perfect hair and melted-chocolate eyes gave Elizabeth a puzzled look. “Do I know you?”

“Probably not. We went to school together. I was student teacher in your Spanish class. Elizabeth Fitch.”

“Elizabeth, sure. The brain trust.” Julie narrowed her sulky eyes. “You look different.”

“Oh. I …” Embarrassed now, Elizabeth lifted a hand to her hair. “I cut my hair.”

“Cool. I thought you moved away or something.”

“I went to college. I’m home for the summer.”

“Oh, yeah, you graduated early. Weird.”

“I suppose it is. Will you go to college this fall?”

“I’m supposed to go to Brown.”

“That’s a wonderful school.”

“Okay. Well …”

“Are you shopping?”

“Broke.” Julie shrugged—and Elizabeth took a survey of her outfit—the snug jeans, riding very low on the hipbones, the skinny, midriff-baring shirt, the oversized shoulder bag and wedge sandals. “I just came to the mall to see my boyfriend—my ex-boyfriend, since I broke up with him.”

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