The Witness(5)

By: Nora Roberts



“I’m sorry.”

“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 bull?”

“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?”

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