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Authors: Katy Atlas

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BOOK: Moving Neutral
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Lindsey Thompson, Madison repeated. April is supposed to have one of these onstage with her during the encore. It’s totally my fault, I got stuck at a photo shoot for another client, she said, improvising. But we have to get these inside before the show ends.

He lifted his eyes from the list and looked her up and down, as if he weren’t sure what to tell us. A green section of his tattoo twitched violently on his neck, and his face didn’t reveal a thing. Hang on, he sighed. I’ll see what I can do.

He shut the door, leaving Madison still facing it. She turned to me, rising up on her toes in excitement, nodding at me silently. Pulling a wisp of hair into a twist with one finger, she breathed out deeply and turned back to the door.

But when the door opened, it wasn’t the same bouncer. A tall, thin woman in her twenties stood looking down at us, wearing a quilted jacket with the sleeves rolled up. She wasn’t much older than us, but she looked like she was from another planet. Preppy and polished, even her pale pink manicure was perfectly unchipped.

Where did you say you were from?

Madison looked at her, less confident now than she had been with the bouncer. Contact Public Relations, she repeated, a little less sure of herself, tapping her foot lightly on the floor of the hallway.

And what was your name? The woman asked, looking at Madison with a curled upper lip. I recognized the expression -- Trevor had looked the same way two years ago, the summer we found a roach in our kitchen.

And suddenly, I had a feeling that this had been a very bad idea.

I didn’t know how to get Madison to stop without making the situation worse. My eyes flickered from the back of her head to the perfectly straight, highlighted hair of the woman in front of us.

Lindsay Thompson? Madison said it like a question this time, and I could feel the lie giving way around us, the momentum rushing out of the hallway like steam from an oven.

And you? The woman turned her eyes to me, glancing momentarily at the open box of Luna bars.

I struggled to remember the name that Madison had drilled into my head. Jessica Sawyer, I choked out, already regretting this decision, wishing we were back at our seats. Even in the sixteenth row.

The woman exhaled, her face breaking into a smile. I didn’t let myself hope that it meant something good.

That’s funny, she mused. Because I work at Contact PR, she stepped outside of the door and shut it halfway. And if you’re going to impersonate Jessica Sawyer, she turned to me, eyes gleeful with disdain. She goes by Jess.

I swallowed. My teeth were clenched and my mouth was bone dry. Madison took a step backwards, and I took two.

And you, she turned to Madison, taking one step forward for each pace we withdrew. If you’re going to try to pose as me, I felt the air rush out of my lungs in an instant. Hadn’t Madison checked the pictures of the girls we were supposed to be impersonating? Did she really think she could pass for some twenty-eight year old?

I-- Madison cut in, trying to think of anything. I watched her blink with concentration, silently willing her to come up with something.

If you’re going to pretend to be me, the woman repeated, I don’t wear tube tops. She sighed out loud, rolling her eyes in an exaggerated way. Ever.

I turned around, expecting Madison to follow. There wasn’t anything we could say. We were basically identity thieves -- one step up from the people who steal credit card numbers.

I turned to walk away. I could hear the crowd cheering faintly, and I figured we could still catch the encore if we made it back to our seats in the next minute or two. I saw Madison turn to follow me out of the corner of my eye.

Where do you think you’re going?

I stopped so fast that Madison stepped on the back of my heel, terrible thoughts flashing through my head. Was she going to call the police? I thought about my acceptance to Columbia, how it hinged on maintaining my credentials until I enrolled. Every once in a while, someone at Prospect got suspended or expelled in the spring of senior year, and everyone knew what happened when you notified the college. Everything I’d worked for flashed in front of my eyes, and I felt my lip start to quiver. I took a deep breath, clutching the box of bars to stop my hands from shaking.

Back to our seats? Madison, it seemed, was still capable of speaking.

Oh, no you don’t, the woman said, her voice clipped and authoritative, walking further down the hall to another doorway, and pushing to open it. Outside, the New York city sidewalk looked dull and gray, even in the dark.

I stood still, waiting for Madison to do something. Thinking about the length of the hall, I wondered what would happen if we just ran for it, hoping we’d get back to our seats and lose them in the crowd.

But as quickly as the thought flashed through my mind, it disappeared. Because the bald, tattooed bouncer appeared in the doorway an arm’s length away from us.

You girls should have just tried to get backstage the old fashioned way, he said, leering at Madison. She jerked back, her body recoiling from him. I tried to pretend I didn’t know what he meant.

Tears stung in my eyes as I grabbed Madison’s hand and pulled her through the door. Leaving the concert made me feel as if I was going to throw up, but it was better than whatever alternative the bouncer had been imagining.

The door slammed behind us. Loudly.

Neither of us spoke for what seemed like an eternity, and I leaned against the building, staring down the street into space. We stood there long enough that we heard the beginning and ending of what had to be the last song. Long enough that people started to filter out of the front entrance, and I overheard snippets of conversations as groups of girls walked past us.

Amazing, one girl said, making me want to plug my ears.

That last song rocked, someone agreed, the words floating through the night air in our direction.

Madison looked stricken, as if someone had knocked the air out of her. I sunk down onto the concrete sidewalk and leaned back against the building. We didn’t speak for a few minutes, and I tried to block out the chatter from the people leaving the concert.

Led Zeppelin cover, I heard someone else say, and my stomach clenched. Sitting here was just making things worse, and there wasn’t a lot we could do about it now.

It’s okay, I said. It could have been a lot worse. I giggled, letting some of the tension out. I thought she was going to call the police.

Madison seemed to register my presence again, and groaned. I am such an idiot. She sat down next to me and rested her head on my shoulder. I thought I recognized her when she opened the door, but I didn’t know where it was from. I thought I’d just seen her in some article about the band.

Only us, I sighed. I have the worst luck. And now I’m going to be grounded for the whole rest of the summer. I wondered what my parents were doing right now. Calling out the bloodhounds, probably. I was going to be dead meat the second I got home.

Madison looked up at me as if she’d just remembered. Casey, I’m so sorry, she said. This was such a dumb idea.

She looked even sadder than I felt.

I’ll live, I said, nudging her shoulder in what I hoped was a reassuring way. Come on, we can’t just sit here all night. It’s too pathetic.

She nodded, pulling the bottom of her tube top down over the waist of her jeans. I wondered if she felt self-conscious, after what the real Lindsey Thompson had said.

We walked down the block, passing the front doors of the concert hall, where people were still streaming out in thick rows. I turned away from them -- the last thing I wanted to see was that creepy bouncer, gloating at us.

I checked my watch as we waited at a stoplight, as Madison peered into a bar through tinted windows. It was only eleven. Her parents weren’t waiting up for us, like mine always did. We had an hour before we even had to think about heading home. We could find somewhere to sit for a little while, at the very least.

Let’s go somewhere, I said. We don’t have to head back yet.

Madison nodded in agreement. Not a bar, she said, turning away from the window. With my luck tonight, our IDs will get taken too.

I thought back to our walk to the concert. What about that coffee shop, near where we parked?

She nodded, as if she’d been thinking the same thing. On the way to the show, I’d noticed a bookstore with a little cafe section that had looked cozy and warm. I remembered walking past old, beat-up sofas, the kind you could sink into, not even sitting, really, just laying around. I hoped it wasn’t too crowded.

Do you remember where it was?

Right near where we parked the car, she said, not meeting my eyes.

She led me down two side streets before admitting that she didn’t know the address of the garage. I think it was off Eighth Avenue, she said sheepishly.

I couldn’t do much besides laugh. Check the ticket, I told her, watching as the streetlight changed and cars started to drive past us.

You’re a genius, Case, Madison said. She meant it to be sarcastic, but she pulled the ticket stub out of her purse and looked at it. It’s this way, she gestured back in the direction we’d come from.

How far out of our way did we walk? I teased, looking down at Madison’s platform heels and then up at a street sign.

Shut up.

When we walked in, there was only one area in the coffee shop that was empty, the far side of one couch and an armchair next to it. Madison claimed the spot for us, and I went to order our drinks.

When the man behind the counter asked me what I wanted, I added an oversized chocolate chip cookie for us to share. After a night like this, we deserved it.

Now that I was out of the moment, it seemed a little unfair to kick us out of the concert. What teenager wouldn’t try to sneak backstage at their favorite band’s show? I couldn’t imagine it was standard practice to kick them out -- we had paid for our tickets, after all. I sighed. Arguments I should have come up with when it actually mattered.

But Madison. I giggled to myself for a second, thinking about the look on her face when the woman said her name. I’d been too panicked at the time to appreciate it, but if I’d seen anyone else in that situation, it would almost have been funny.

There was already a line behind me as I picked up the cookie and broke off a tiny piece, feeling the chocolate melt on my tongue as I dropped it into my mouth. The man behind the counter put a steaming cup in front of me, Madison’s large latte. He put a smaller cup next to it, topped with whipped cream for me.

Eight sixty-three.

I reached down to my side to pull my wallet out of my bag, and felt nothing. Looking over, I glanced at Madison and realized she had laid most of our stuff over the couch to save our seats, along with my purse and wallet. I didn’t even have a dollar on me.

I was on a roll tonight, it seemed. Nothing was going right. With my luck, my parents were about to walk into the cafe and drag me back to Connecticut kicking and screaming, having tracked me down by installing some sort of GPS chip in my shoes.

Eight sixty-three, the man behind the counter repeated.

I’m so sorry, I said. My friend has my wallet over there. I called Madison’s name as loudly as I could without yelling. It was a bookstore, not a library, but people were sitting at tables and reading. I didn’t want to get kicked out of our second spot of the night. Can you just hold them, and I’ll be right back?

He rolled his eyes, gesturing to the line of people I could see behind me. I’d forgotten my wallet right in the middle of the post-concert rush.

The guy behind me in line was wearing a sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his face, like some kind of bank robber. I didn’t want to think about what he would do to me if I kept him waiting much longer.

Madison-- I called louder, waving at her with one hand. Her head was bent over her cell phone, probably texting Jason or something equally useless. I stared at the dollar bills in the tip jar, wondering if the guy behind the counter would consider a short-term loan.

It’s okay, I heard a voice from behind me say. I’ll pay for hers.

I froze. Everything seemed to go in slow motion, from the whirring of the espresso machine to the vapid blinking of the man behind the counter as he registered what the guy had said.

The coffee was suddenly the last thing on my mind. Because I recognized the voice from behind me, coming from the guy I thought was a bank robber in the hooded sweatshirt.

I’d heard it, dreamed it a thousand times, like a familiar whisper in my ear. I didn’t even need to turn around, because I was sure.

That voice belonged to Blake Parker.

Chapter Six

I didn’t trust myself to turn around. The guy behind the counter gave me an odd look as he handed a dollar and change back.

Blake slipped the dollar into the tip jar, and I felt a shiver go down my back. His hand was only a few inches from mine.

I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t feel my feet.

Part of me wanted to gush, just to spew words at him about how great he was, how great their music was, how his songs felt sometimes like he’d read my mind and said whatever I was feeling better than I ever could. Part of me just wanted to scream, like some silly kid behind a velvet rope at a movie premiere.

BOOK: Moving Neutral
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