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Saturday, July 22, 2017

RITA Award Live Streaming, Thursday July 27th 7:00PM ET

https://www.rwa.org/p/bl/et/blogid=20&blogaid=1923

The 2017 Romance Writers of America RITA Awards will be streamed LIVE from their website Thursday, July 27 at 7:00pm Eastern Time.

As a reminder, my YA contemporary Affective Needs is a finalist!

Here is the link to the RWA site. 

https://www.rwa.org/p/bl/et/blogid=20&blogaid=1923
 


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Twenty Four

**New chapters posted here on Wednesdays**
I left Abigail Atwater sitting with her sister, holding hands, staring out the window that looked out into the woods surrounding Harmony House.
I had promised her I wouldn’t share her story—she made me sign a nondisclosure agreement anyway. I sat there, right at the wobbly wooden table of Harmony House while she pulled it up, in a snap, on her laptop. I supposed attorneys would carry nondisclosure agreements around with them like other people carried tissues, or breath mints.
“It’s binding, you know. You are eighteen,” she reminded me. “If you think I won’t sue you, your family, and your unborn children . . . try me.”
I nodded, vaguely disappointed that she wouldn’t trust me, but mostly not caring about signing the paper to make her feel better. My original research concept was complete garbage now that I knew the truth about Karen anyway.
I was halfway home to Trenton when I fully understood why Abigail would want me to sign that paper. The real research opportunity was a gold mine, the stuff that made academic careers.
Genetically identical twins, separated at birth. One ends up with a mostly normal family, graduates college, graduates law school, owns a Mercedes and a high-rise apartment near Central Park. One ends up severely neglected. Starved and abused. Tied to her bed day and night. Never spoken to and kept in a diaper.
For eleven years.
Abigail Atwater knew exactly how the world worked. They would never, ever, leave her or her sister alone.
I would have made me sign a nondisclosure agreement as well.
Up ahead there was a sign mounted to the side of an overpass. When I was closer, I looked up and read: Basking Ridge, 2 miles. Flicking my blinker on, I checked my mirrors, glanced over my shoulder, and moved into the far right lane.
Visiting Karen today had been nothing short of amazing, even if I had no idea what I was going to do about my senior honors thesis now, but it had really only been a cover excuse. The exit lane for Basking Ridge was coming up on my right. I turned my signal back on and merged off the highway, down shifting Vader as we slowed going up the ramp and eventually came to a stop at the traffic light.
My real reason for driving up north today had nothing to do with Karen.

Tennyson Home for Boys and Young Men was ten miles off the highway.
When Sara had mentioned the name of the place where she was sending Porter, I might not have understood, but I had remembered it all the same. Finding it was as simple as an internet search. Tennyson was even helpful enough to provide a mapping link on their website.
When I pulled it up this morning and realized that Tennyson was halfway between Trenton and Harmony House up in Sussex County, I had decided I needed more observational data on Karen. That way if my mother asked questions about where I had been today, I wouldn’t have to lie. There would even be the physical record, Harmony House’s guest sign-in sheet, that she could check if she had completely lost trust in me.
Which, given the fact that I was sitting in Vader outside the facility holding Porter, was possibly completely justified. I didn’t think my mother would be mad, necessarily, if she found out I was here, but I had a feeling she would be really scared. That fear that settles in your stomach and crawls up your spine when you’re in the middle of an out-of-control situation.
Or maybe that was just the way I felt.
Standing out in front of the beige brick building that looked more like a beginners’ prison than a home for boys, out of control perfectly described the force propelling me inside.
I walked the narrow sidewalk that cut the wide lawn perfectly in half until I found myself at the door with a huge sign. “Ring Bell for Entrance” along with an arrow that pointed to the speaker box on my left.
I pressed the button.
A man’s voice, crackled and electric, echoed into the entrance. “Can I help you?”
“I’m here to see someone?” I hated how high my voice sounded, like I was scared. Which, of course, I was. I had a feeling Abigail Atwater’s voice never sounded high and questioning.
“Who are you here to see?” he asked.
Oh God, they were never going to let me in. “Porter Creed?”
“And you are?”
“Ruth Robinson.”
“Just a minute.”
They wouldn’t have told Abigail Atwater just a minute. One look at her through that fish-eye camera over the door and the guy would have wet himself trying to open the door fast enough. Abigail probably had some Open the Goddamn Door Now or I’ll Sue Your Ass document on her laptop that she could have held up for them to see.
The speaker cracked. “Pull the door.”
I couldn’t believe it.
A soft buzzing sound came from the door, so I lunged forward and pulled the handle. Were they actually going to let me see Porter? Did Porter actually want to see me? I had no idea, but all the anxiety that had been growing inside me ever since I woke up this morning suddenly broke loose and made my entire body shaky.
There was a small entrance area with a large industrial floor mat—Please Wipe Your Feet—and another set of wooden double doors with glass windows. Past these, there was a reception area that led to what I assumed was the main office and a small waiting room with several couches and uncomfortable-looking plastic chairs.
It looked exactly like what it was, a building that had once been used for something else, but was converted into a school. Not just a school, I reminded myself. Porter lived here now. It was also a residential facility.
Was he allowed to leave?
“Hello,” a guy sitting behind the open office window greeted me, but didn’t get up from his chair. “You’re here to see Porter?”
I swallowed hard and nodded.
“He only arrived last night,” the guy said.
“I know.”
The guy, who looked like he was maybe in his late twenties, scrutinized my face like he was looking for any sign that he should turn me around and march me back out the doors.
I tried to look like I normally look, like the entire world bored the crap out of me—but it was impossible. I cared way too much about being able to see Porter; without a doubt, everything about me practically reeked of that desperation.
He looked me over a moment longer then lifted a clipboard up to the counter in front of him. “You’ll need to sign in. I’ll send someone up to see if he wants any visitors. What did you say your name was again?”
I picked up of the pen and started filling out the form. “Ruth.”
“Ruth what?”
“Robinson.”
The guy reached over and lifted the receiver on his phone.
The form in front of me wanted all my biographical information as well as check-box promises that I was not trying to smuggle in any drugs, alcohol, or tobacco products. Check, check, check, and sign my name. I could only hope that this evidence of my being here wouldn’t eventually find its way to my mother.
I slid the clipboard back across the counter to the guy, who glanced at it and said, “Take a seat.”
The waiting room was empty, the collection of chairs carefully arranged to facilitate conversations for groups of two or four. The light coming in through the window was a soft gray that promised rain and made the shade of white on the walls feel like it would suck out your soul if you stayed here too long.
On the drive down, the sunny clear skies up near Harmony House had gradually clouded over and turned the day into a dreary overcast.
There were too many choices, so I sat in one of chairs grouped in four, they felt more casual, less intentional—the twos were intimate, and I was afraid of what Porter would think if he did choose to come and see me. Last night, in the dark and chaos of Shady Village, Porter was angry with me for calling the police.
Porter blamed me for Sara taking his sister away.
My eyes found a dirty spot on the wall above the low bookcase. Its anemic collection of dated hardbacks and beaten paperbacks looked neglected and never used.
I could feel my pulse in my neck.
What if Porter didn’t want to see me?
What if he did?
I felt every second, every moment, like the slowest of ticks in the middle of a very long life. I forced myself to not pull out my phone and track the time—Porter was not going to come. I could feel it. He was too angry. And not just about his sister, although that was certainly enough, but about the lies.
Of omission, sure. But still. Porter was not stupid.
I stared out the window and wondered if I was really going to continue to sit here and wait. Wait for the word, the look, the information from the guy behind the desk that Porter didn’t want to see me.
I was just sitting here waiting for the humiliation of rejection.
I didn’t care.
There was a noise to my right, and when I turned my head, Porter stood in the doorway next to the bookcase, staring at me, his expression utterly unreadable.
My heart rushed and a flood of adrenaline swept through my veins leaving me soggy and limp in its wake. I stared back at him and waited to see what happened next.
Nothing.
Seconds dragged but I didn’t say anything, couldn’t say anything. He had to know why I was here, had to know that this was me throwing myself at his feet, waiting for forgiveness.
But what if he didn’t know that?
“I’m sorry,” I breathed.
I watched his chest fill, and deflate. Fill, deflate. He was thinking, deciding. What happened next mattered. What happened next shaped everything that happened after.
He swallowed.
“Ruth . . .”
I waited for it to come.
“You shouldn’t be here.”
I kept waiting.
Porter shook his head. “Everything . . .” His shoulders sagged. I stood up. “Everything is too much.” His voice broke.
I was moving, across the floor, around chairs.
Porter’s head hung, his shoulders shook, his face was wet.
My arms opened, my hands found him, my muscles pulled him into me.
“Ruth . . . you should go.” But he didn’t resist me. His arms wrapped all the way around my body and held on to me like I was the only thing that might save him in the middle of a dark and violent sea. His face buried into my neck and I felt his lips making more protests, more excuses, more reasons about why I should leave, walk away, and never look back.
I turned my head so my lips were near his ear. “I can’t, Porter,” I whispered. “Even if I should, I just can’t.”
My hands cupped his face; my lips brushed his lips.
“No, Ruth,” he whispered, but when I kissed him harder, he pulled me closer.
My arms wrapped around his waist and my head pressed against his chest—I could feel his heart pound hard and fast against his ribs. We stood there, hanging on to each other, the rest of our world broken and decimated.
I never wanted to let him go.
I never wanted to leave this place.
I could have stood there forever, wrapped up with him, scared, but scared together.
But now, right here, in this place—it was not a decision that was ours to make.
“Time’s up.”
The voice startled me and sent a shiver of dread down my spine. Porter and I released each other and turned to see who was here. Who was giving us orders now.
It was a guy. Another twenty-something in baggy jeans and a loose flannel shirt standing in the doorway Porter had come through, holding up his phone that was beeping and showing 00:00:00 against a bright white screen.
“What?” my voice fired at this stranger and his commander expression.
Porter’s hand slid into mine.
The guy raised his eyebrows at me. “I said, time’s up.”
Porter’s body shifted away from me.
“Time for what?” I demanded.
“Ruth . . .” Porter’s voice was gentle.
“His visiting time—it’s over now. Let’s go, Romeo.” The guy raised his hand and motioned with only two fingers—hurry up—like he had been here, done this a thousand times before.
My chest seized and anger flashed through my veins like a wild fire. My eyes zeroed in on this asshole. “Visiting time? I’m sorry, is this a prison?”
The guy tilted his head a fraction of an inch while the corner of his mouth raised.
“Am I amusing you?”
“Oh, you have no idea,” the guy said. His face hardened again. “Let’s go, Porter.”
My hand tightened on Porter’s at the exact moment he was trying to let mine go. I looked up at him—he was leaving.
“I have to go, Ruth.” His voice was calm. He bent down and kissed me one more time, his hands cupping my face. When he pulled away, he looked into my eyes.
“I’ll come back tomorrow,” I promised.
“I’m waiting . . . I really hate waiting.” The guy’s voice dripped with sarcasm.
Porter shook his head and dropped his hands. “Don’t come back.” He stepped away from me and started walking toward the guy.
“I’m coming back.” My voice broke on the words.
Porter shook his head, and when he reached the doorway, he turned and faced me. Tears streamed from his eyes. He took a breath. “Don’t come, Ruth. I won’t see you again.”
“Don’t say that.”
The guy put his hand on Porter’s back.
“Goodbye, Ruth.”
The guy was closing the door.
“I am coming! I’m not going to just leave you here.”
The door shut with a click.
“I love you, Porter!”
I stood waiting, watching, hoping Porter would burst through that door one more time and sweep me up into his arms. I stood there and cried, my chest crushed under the weight and pressure of the whole stupid world.
The guy sitting behind the counter opened a metal cabinet drawer, pulled out a file.
My fingernails dug into my palms. The pain felt good; it felt real.
The phone rang.
“Hello, Tennyson Home. This is Tom.”
The room was darker, grayer. Outside, fat drops of water clung to the windows; others slid down the glass in thin wet streaks.
“I’m sorry, he’s left for the evening. Can I take a message?”
The door wasn’t opening. I stared at it, imagined Porter on the other side of it, wondered what would happen if I opened it. What if I was the one to burst through, rush the hallway, sweep Porter up into my arms?
The guy behind the counter hung up the phone, stood up, and walked away.
If I was going to do it, now was the time.
I took a breath, my arms and legs weak with fear and defiance. I tried to move fast. I tripped and recovered; my hand reached for the door knob—I was really going to do this.
My heart pounded.
The knob was cold and hard against my palm. It turned, loose like a quick promise.
Then stopped.
The door was locked.
The guy returned to his desk behind the counter, glanced up at me, then sat back down in his chair and whatever work was spread before him.
I stood there, frozen, defeated by systems. Procedures. Measures that had been taken long before I had ever even showed up.
I was not the first girl to stand defiant in this waiting room.
Porter was not the first boy locked behind this door.
“We lock the front door in five minutes,” the guy explained without bothering to look up. “If you don’t leave on your own, we call the police.”
It wasn’t even a threat, simply a fact.
My hand slipped from the knob. What would Abigail Atwater do?
I took a breath and wiped my face, walked over to the counter, and swallowed my pride. “When can residents take visitors?”
The guy pulled a trifold pamphlet from a plastic holder on my right and handed it to me. “Days and hours are listed on the back.”
I flipped the homemade handout over and read the schedule. “So this is not a prison, it’s just run like one.”
The guy smirked. “Hardly. If you’d ever in your life been to an actual prison, you’d think differently.”
The condescension in his voice made me squirm, but he was right. I had zero experience with any of this. I turned to leave. I was almost through the door when the guy called out to me.
“Want some advice I’m sure you won’t take?”
I stopped and faced him.
“Listen to your boyfriend.” He shook his head slowly. “Don’t come back here.”
I let his words sink in, acknowledged that he had seen some version of me here a hundred times before, then shrugged. “I can’t do that.”

His mouth flattened into a disappointed frown, then he nodded and sighed. “I know.”

Thursday, July 13, 2017

When She's Gone--Short Story

https://www.amazon.com/When-Shes-Gone-Short-Story-ebook/dp/B0711893RM/ref=sr_1_15?ie=UTF8&qid=1499950592&sr=8-15&keywords=when+she%27s+gone

Last year I published a short story, Jesse's Girl, in an anthology. When the rights to this story reverted back to me earlier this year I re-titled it, When She's Gone, and released it as a stand alone short story.

It's available to read for free with your Prime or Amazon Unlimited account, otherwise it's only 99 cents to buy it.  

Click here to be taken to Amazon.

If you're one of my readers that purchased the Tick Tock: Seven Tales of Time anthology, this is the same short story, so please don't purchase this again.

A suspense short story from the award winning author Rebecca Taylor

Jesse loves Andrea with all his heart.
But when he wakes up unable to find her, or remember what happened the night before, his phone may hold the only clues that can help him piece together the truth about what happened to her.



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Twenty Three

**New chapters posted here on Wednesdays**

“Ruth?”
Someone brushed my hair from my forehead.
“Ruuuth . . . wake up,” my mother said.
“I fell asleep?”
I felt her hand on my face. “Yes.”
I dragged my eyes open and was surprised by the amount of light in my room. I bolted upright. “What time is it?” I looked for my clock, but the numbers were blurry. I blinked once, twice, and tried to make them focus faster.
“Seven,” my mother said, and got up off my bed. “I have to go. I’m already late, but I didn’t want to leave before I checked on you.”
I stared at her, completely showered and dressed for work, and tried to grasp at the memory of what happened last night.
“You were asleep when I got in,” she explained. “I didn’t want to wake you; it was pretty late.”
I pulled back the blankets—I was still wearing my clothes from yesterday. “What happened?” I asked. “Are they okay?”
Her lips twisted to the side of her mouth and she gave her one shouldered shrug as she shook her head. “As okay as they can be? Really, I’m not sure anyone would be okay in their circumstances. They are safe.”
“Safe?”
She nodded.
I swung my legs over the side of my bed and walked to my dresser. “Will Porter be at school today?” I asked as I pulled open the bottom drawer and grabbed a pair of jeans.
“No . . . and neither will you, Ruth.”
This stopped my hands. Confused, I stood up and faced her. “What?”
She stared back with raised eyebrows, waiting for me to catch on.
Suspended.
“Oh,” I dropped the jeans back into the drawer. “I forgot.” Three-day suspensions for both me and Porter.
She nodded, took a step toward me, and kissed my cheek. “I have to go, but maybe we can talk about everything when I get home this afternoon?”
I nodded.
I listened to her shoes on the stairs, the sound of her picking up her keys off the table by the door, the close of the door and then the deadbolt sliding into place. When she was gone, I lay back down on my bed and stared at the ceiling. I felt confused and unsure of what to do with myself. After last night, I had an ocean’s worth of emotion churning below my surface, without the predictable regularity of school to keep me distracted, I worried that a tidal wave of feelings was quickly moving in to drown me. My bed was a rickety raft lost in the middle of the Atlantic.
I got up and went downstairs to make myself a cup of coffee. There was no way I would be able to just sit here all day and stare at the ceiling.

In the small parking lot outside Harmony House, I sat in the front seat of Vader and stared at the house with peeling white paint. I didn’t have an appointment this time, but I had hoped that Samantha would let me see Karen anyway. After everything that had happened last night, I didn’t really feel like working on my honors thesis, but I needed a purpose and a long drive.
Even if sitting and watching Karen watch TV wasn’t much of a purpose.
I grabbed my backpack and got out of my car. The air was crisp and the sun was out. The sky a bright blue that reminded you that spring would soon turn all the brown back to green. Near the house, a collection of stiff green leaves was already pushing out of the dead-looking earth. I wasn’t a flower expert, but they looked like the tulips that had started to sprout in our backyard.
Every time I had come to Harmony House, there had never been many cars. At most six or seven occupying the fifteen spaces available. Today, in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, there were half that many, and I imagined they all belonged to the people who worked here.
Except for the shiny, low slung Mercedes with New York plates. It looked like an expensive silver bullet, and completely out of place on the cracked and weedy asphalt of this facility that survived on state funds and donations.
I wondered if there was some higher-up here to meet with Samantha.
When I walked in the door, there was an older woman I had never met sitting behind the counter. She looked up and greeted me with a warm, pink-lipsticked smile. A mop of loose gray curls framed her face. “Hello. Can I help you?”
I forced myself to smile back even though the heaviness that had settled in my chest made it almost impossible. “Hi. Is Samantha here?”
She shook her head. “No, I’m sorry. She’s out today—sick son.”
“Oh.” My arrangement to observe and write about Karen was sort of an under-the-table deal between my mother and Samantha—as long as I let Samantha review what I wrote before I turned it in, I could keep seeing Karen. I had no idea if this woman would let me in. I brightened my smile and shrugged my shoulders like Samantha being here, or not, was no big deal. “I drove up from Trenton to visit Karen.” Maybe if she was thinking about not letting me in, knowing that I had driven a whole hour to get here would sway her.
But I didn’t need to go to the trouble of trying to create a guilt trip for the lady—she waved me right on over.
“She’s a popular lady today.” She smiled and gestured to the clipboard on the desk in front of her. “Just sign in first.”
I walked forward and picked up the pen. There was only one other name on the sheet in the space above where I put my name, date, and reason for visit. The signature was elegant with a practiced precision: Abigail Atwater.
The Mercedes absolutely had to be hers.
I noticed her reason for visit was blank.
“Karen’s in the common room, and she already has one other visitor, so you ladies will have to share her.” She smiled at her folksy joke and sat back down. “Do you know the way back?”
“Yes.” I smiled. “Thank you,” I started walking past the desk and toward the hall that led to the common room. “The other lady.” I stopped and turned. “She won’t mind if I’m there?”
The woman flattened her mouth and swished her hand. “Naw. It’s only some attorney from New York. Probably just making sure we don’t keep anybody chained up in closets or something. You go on ahead. Besides, it’ll look good . . . Karen having a real visitor.”
The attorney. Now I remembered Samantha telling me about the woman from New York who came to check up on Karen. I nodded and smiled and chose to not saying anything else that might reveal that I was, in fact, not a real visitor and I didn’t wait around for her to ask how Karen and I were related. “Okay then.” I waved stupidly and hustled around the corner.
Halfway down the hall I stopped. The double doors to the common room were open ahead of me and I could see several of the other residents sitting at folding tables with cards and games, or lounging in the worn mismatched sofas and armchairs that were grouped around the room. From where I was standing, I couldn’t see Karen or Abigail.
But when I took a few steps closer to the doors and expanded my view into the room—I saw them.
What had I expected? I wasn’t sure. Maybe she looked exactly like I had imagined. Her brown hair was cropped clean and close to her head, and revealed her sharp chin and elegant neck. The expensive gray suit. The black high-heeled shoes that walked that line between sexy and professional. The delicate teardrop silver earrings hanging from each ear that added the dash of femininity to offset the severity of her haircut—none of this was really surprising. Abigail Atwater looked very much like a corporate attorney from New York who drove a very expensive Mercedes.
It was what she was doing in this common room that made me hold my breath. Abigail Atwater belonged in a courtroom, a board room, the executive suite. There she stood tall, commanded a room, made people listen.
But here? At Harmony House, a run-down shoestring facility in middle-of-nowhere New Jersey, Abigail Atwater was sitting at a small wooden table near the window, a piece of paper towel spread over her lap, spoon-feeding Karen applesauce with one hand, and trying to keep Karen’s stringy hair out of her face with the other.
Abigail said something I couldn’t hear to Karen, who, amazingly, nodded in response. I had never seen Karen do anything other than stare at the TV on the other side of the room. Abigail put the spoon down and grabbed her black, taut leather bag from the back of her chair and placed it on her lap. A moment later, she pulled a brush and hair tie out and moved her chair behind Karen’s. She brushed Karen’s hair back and out of her face until she was able to secure it into a low ponytail.
When she leaned forward, her mouth close to Karen’s ear and whispered—I gasped.
My God. I walked toward them.
Karen nodded and smiled.
Abigail pulled another hair tie from her bag and started to braid Karen’s ponytail.
Their faces were in perfect profile to me. With Abigail’s short hair, and Karen’s pulled back away from her face, I could see it. The same sharp chin, the same elegant neck. As I approached, Abigail turned her head toward me, her soft expression hardening as she scrutinized me and tried to assess what I might want.
“You’re her sister,” I blurted.
Not a single muscle in Abigail’s face moved even a fraction of a centimeter. She simply stared at me.
“You’re her twin sister,” I elaborated.
“Who are you?” she questioned me, her eyes narrowed.
For a fraction of a second, I considered a lie. I’m Jenny, I work here. Except something told me that Abigail Atwater was most likely a bullshit-detection expert. You probably didn’t get to be a corporate attorney in New York city driving a super-expensive car by letting eighteen-year-olds get away with misdirection.
On a hunch, I thrust my hand out to her. “Ruth Robinson. Pre-Princeton neuroscience. I’ve been observing and comparing Karen to students with similar cognitive functioning who have had the benefit of education.” I had a hope that she would respect the truth more than be pissed about why I was here in the first place.
Abigail raised an eyebrow at me. “Pre-Princeton? Meaning you’re still in high school?”
I took a breath and nodded.
I couldn’t be sure, but I thought she might have lowered her shoulders a fraction of an inch. She returned her attention to the braid still in her hand and began weaving the strands of hair. “You do know”—her tone was less threatening—“no one is supposed to be studying her. There are protective orders.”
I tried to keep a neutral expression and didn’t say a word.
Abigail looked at me sideways. “That’s good. Never say anything to incriminate yourself.” She took a deep breath and let it go. “High school,” she shook her head. “Lucky for you I feel a deep fellowship with overreaching smart-asses like you—it reminds me of myself. I’ve been coming here for almost a year and no one else has ever noticed. How could you tell?”
“When you pulled her hair back, your face was right next to hers in profile. If you ignore everything else, it’s obvious.”
“Observant.”
I shrugged.
“Neuroscience?”
“Yes.”
Abigail nodded as if something made perfect sense to her. She finished Karen’s braid, tied off the end, and shifted her intense eyes onto mine. “You have questions for me,” she said.
“How could you tell?”
“It’s written all over your face.” She pointed to the table next to theirs. “Pull up a chair.”
I couldn’t believe it. She wasn’t going to report me, or Samantha. She was going to give me even more information. I grabbed the nearest chair and sat down while she moved hers back to the other side of the table.
Sitting there between them, I couldn’t help but look from one to the other. Abigail was impressed that I had noticed, but honestly, if I hadn’t walked in the room at the very moment that I did, I don’t think I would have ever seen the resemblance either.
The other differences, there were just too many.
Abigail pulled out her phone, put it on the table between us, pulled up her clock, and started scrolling through the timer. “I don’t get over here as often as I would like. You have five minutes—my time here is for Karen.”
“Okay.”
She pushed start and the digital numbers started counting down. She folded her hands into a neat clasp on the table in front of us.
I stared at her.
“The clock is ticking,” she reminded me.
I glanced at the speeding numbers: 4:47 left.
Where to start?
“Can I take notes?” I started to open my backpack.
“No time.”
She was right. “When did you first come here?”
“Last June.”
“Did you always know you had a twin?”
“No.”
“When did you find out?”
“When I was eighteen and I could investigate my adoption paperwork.”
“Your adoptive parents never told you?”
“They never knew.”
This confused me. I wanted her to give me more than one sentence responses. I wanted to hear her whole story. I glanced at the timer, 4:06 left. “Why didn’t they know?”
Abigail gave me a look like she was impressed. “Because Karen and I were separated long before my parents adopted me.”
“Why weren’t you kept together? Was it because Karen was born disabled?”
Abigail’s whole head turned sideways—she fixed her penetrating eyes directly on me.
Silence.
I glanced at Karen. Was Abigail upset because I had used the word disabled in front of her sister?
Abigail reached over and stopped the timer on her phone.
I had done something wrong.
“I’m sorry,” I said, then held my breath and waited for her anger. Of all the adjectives I could think of to describe Abigail Atwater, intimidating was number one on the list.
Abigail stared at her sister for a moment and then turned her attention back to me. “Karen wasn’t born disabled.”
I narrowed my eyes and tried to understand what Abigail was saying, but after several seconds, I shook my head. “I’m sorry . . . what?”
“You think Karen was born this way?” She gestured to Karen, who was staring out the window with a blank expression on her face.
“Wasn’t she?”
Abigail ran her tongue over her teeth and sat up straight. I could tell she was carefully considering what her next words to me would be. “This comparison you’re conducting . . . who is the other subject?”
“A girl at my high school.”
“Who is mentally retarded?”
I shrugged my shoulders. I knew from my mother that was no longer the preferred term. “Cognitively disabled, yes.”
Abigail closed her eyes. “Excuse me. This girl was born with a cognitive disability?”
Now that Abigail was asking, I realized I didn’t actually know—I had assumed so. “Yes,” I said anyway.
Abigail nodded. “Well, now, there is the obvious flaw in your experimental design. My sister was born just exactly the same as me. Sure, our fourteen-year-old biological mother abandoned us in a dumpster outside a crappy Chinese restaurant. But when we were brought to the hospital by the owner of that restaurant a few hours later, we were two perfectly healthy, perfectly developed, perfectly identical twin baby girls.”
My skin had gone cold because of a sick chill of understanding that was washing over me.
“If you want a true experimental comparison, forget your other girl.” Abigail leaned back in her chair. The expression on her face was fierce with hatred for the words falling out of her mouth. She raised her hands dramatically to frame her face. “You are in the presence of Karen’s perfect genetic match.” Her breath caught on the last words and came out as a sob. “Our singular difference?” Her head tilted to the side as the tears ran down her face, leaving dark black tracks across her perfect makeup. “I ended up living with parents.” She pointed to Karen, who seemed utterly oblivious to all of this. “She ended up being kept by monsters.”