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Leslie Johnson

NELLE 6 | 2023

In the break room on Monday, Bethany told her office friend Marcia about the daytrip she was planning for Saturday to The Yoga Farm.

Bethany was eating a peanut butter sandwich, Marcia an assortment of cut vegetables. Marcia said, “So where’s it at?”

“New Hampshire. Which is kind of far for a day trip. But not that far.”

Marcia asked her where in New Hampshire, and Bethany told her a town called Swanzey. The Yoga Barn was a real barn, Bethany said, with gardens and horses in a fence and trails for light hiking. According to the website. And inside were high-beamed ceilings and wooden floors covered with colorful mats and oversized cushions.

“Swanzey!” Marcia pointed into the air with a carrot spear. “That’s right by my girls.”


“Super close to Keene College.”

“Oh yeah?”

Marcia nodded. She was packing up her lunch supplies—Tupperware, miniature shaker of Mrs. Dash, snack baggie with three of six sugar wafers left, which she would eat, as usual, with her afternoon coffee at exactly 3:15. “Cute area,” Marcia said. “I love to visit the girls there.”

“Well, you should come with me,” said Bethany.

Marcia’s lips parted for several moments of silence. She said, “On your daytrip?”

Bethany felt her neck flush with vague embarrassment. She’d surprised them both with her invitation; they’d simultaneously swiveled their chairs in reaction, and now they were facing each other directly over the table, like business executives about to strike a deal. They’d never done anything together outside of the office. They’d never even seen each other outside of work, not that Bethany could remember. But still, they’d been with each other almost every day, Monday through Friday, for eight years.

“If you want to,” Bethany said. “Since it’s so close to the twins. If it sounds like fun? We could drive up in the morning and take a yoga class and then take the girls for a late lunch in Keene. Or early dinner. Either one, lunch or dinner.”

Marcia tented her hands, tapping her index fingers, considering. “Are you sure? But then you wouldn’t have time for light hiking.”

“I’m totally sure.”

“Well,” said Marcia, zipping her lunch tote, “what I’ll do then is check with the girls. I’ll check with the girls and see what they’re up to on Saturday afternoon. It would be nice to have a reason to pop in on them. And I’ll let you know, okay? ASAP.”


“Okay then.”

“Hey,” said Bethany. “Let me see those spring break pictures.”


Bethany had already seen the newest photos the twins had sent to Marcia on her iPhone last week, but she wanted another look. She loved seeing photos of Molly and Madison.

Mols and Maddy. That’s what Marcia called them, so Bethany did, too. She’d never met the girls in person, but she felt she knew them. In the years she’d been working here in the Admissions Office at Eastern Connecticut State University, Bethany had seen them grow up in Marcia’s photos, tacked on the corkboard by her desk: their identical faces grinning toward the camera at Girl Scout campouts and birthday parties, gymnastics tournaments and high school proms.

Bethany had learned to tell the twins apart: Maddy’s eyebrows were a bit heavier, her jaw line a smidge thicker, and her smile toothier. Maddy was also, Bethany believed, the more self-assured of the two, usually in the foreground, her shoulder edging in front of Mols when the two posed side by side.

Since the twins had left for college last fall, most of the recent pictures were ones they took themselves with their phones and occasionally sent to Marcia, who’d been disallowed from following them on social media. Marcia handed over her phone, and Bethany looked intently at the screen, scrolling back and forth through the photos, two from Maddy and one from Mols. Surprisingly, the girls had taken separate trips. Maddy had gone to Costa Rica with a group of student volunteers. In one of her photos, she stood, grinning, with a shovel in a plot of rocks and dirt; in another she lugged a metal bucket with sturdy tanned arms.

In Mols’ photo, she was posed with a group of girls in bikinis on a small hotel balcony overlooking the beach. Fort Lauderdale, Marcia had told Bethany last week when she’d asked. The girls were holding plastic cups, all of them laughing, with Mols looking away from the camera toward the surf. Her bare stomach, framed by the bright triangular bits of her purple bikini, looked suddenly vulnerable—soft and childlike, dangerously exposed—and Bethany felt her heart lurch.

She pretended not to see Marcia holding out her hand for her phone back. Be careful, Mols. Bethany imagined she was sending this message to Molly through the photograph somehow, filtering into molecules of air and streaming toward New Hampshire, where Mols might be sitting in a boring lecture hall at this very minute, Bethany’s warning sliding easily into her yawning mouth like a Jell-O-shot, turning into some kind of intuition inside of her body, keeping her from harm.

“It’s hard to get used to,” said Bethany, gripping the phone. “Seeing them split up like this. Going off all of a sudden in their two separate directions.”

Maybe, Bethany suddenly worried, now that Mols was posing in bikinis holding red plastic party cups, Marcia might stop showing their new photos in the office.

Marcia plucked the phone from Bethany’s grasp and dropped it back inside her quilted pocketbook. She got up to rinse her coffee mug at the sink.

“I mean, not separate directions in life,” Bethany said, feeling that she’d said the wrong thing. “I mean, it’s only Spring Break.” She hovered by the break room door, waiting, but Marcia kept standing there at the sink, letting the water run.



The next two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, Marcia didn’t say anything at lunch about the daytrip. Bethany wanted to bring it up, but it didn’t feel right. She’d already stepped over the line of their normal boundaries with the invitation. But on Wednesday at the end of the day, after they’d logged off their systems, Marcia said she was still waiting to hear back from Mols, who hadn’t yet responded to Marcia’s text. Maddy had texted back saying she thought she could do late lunch on Saturday, but she had to check.

“So I texted back check what?” Marcia said as they walked together out of the building into a light April drizzle. “And nothing. No reply. I’ll probably have to text each of them another two times before I get an answer. It’s so different.” Marcia stopped walking for a beat, for emphasis.

“When your kids don’t live with you anymore,” she continued, “you like to imagine what their days are like—classes and cafeteria food and studying in the library at night—but in reality of course you have no idea. Who knows what they’re up to?”

“Mols and Maddy, though,” said Bethany. “They’re such great girls. They always have been.”

Marcia touched Bethany’s elbow with her fingertips. “I’ll let you know tomorrow morning about the daytrip. Tomorrow afternoon at the very latest.”

“Well, we have to register for the workshops.” Bethany was irritated, but she knew she shouldn’t let it show. “But that’s okay. We can play it by ear. I’m going anyway, either way. I can go alone.”

They reached the staff parking lot and paused on the sidewalk. Bethany would drive home to her apartment in Willington, and Marcia to her home in Pomfret where she’d water her gardens and put marinated chicken on the grill. Bethany had never been to Marcia’s home but knew the colors of the furniture and walls and the names of the perennials, knew which ones were doing well and which had to be dug up and replaced. Marcia was only 43 years old to Bethany’s 38, but seemed so much farther ahead of her. In less than ten years, Marcia and her husband Gordon were selling their house and retiring early in one of the Carolinas. North or South.

Bethany took a dramatically deep breath, slowly exhaled. “I know I have to get used to it. Doing things alone. Since the breakup.”

Bethany didn’t mind going on her own to The Yoga Barn, but ever since Monday, she couldn’t stop thinking about meeting Mols and Maddy. For late lunch or early dinner.

“Oh.” Marcia’s chin pulled in and her lips pursed, as if surprised by a sour taste. “I’m so sorry.”

Bethany lengthened her neck, in what she hoped appeared a stoic posture.

“But you know what though?” Marcia said. “I’m not sorry. Because frankly, I always thought you were too good for him.”

Bethany knew that what Marcia really meant was too young for him. In every other way, Edward had been perfectly fine. He was a political science professor on campus, tenured and somewhat handsome. But he’d already had his children, didn’t want any more, and this bothered both Marcia and Bethany’s mother tremendously. And what are you supposed to do? Bethany’s mother had come right out and said it. Content yourself with raising someone else’s children? Don’t you know your own eggs are already shriveling?

I’m glad you broke up with him.”

“Except he broke up with me.” Bethany tugged wistfully on a piece of her hair.

“You know what?” Marcia said. “I’m going to call the twins right when I get home. I’ll just tell them we’re coming.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“No, I want to. I want to go. It will be fun.”

“Road trip!” Bethany said, and did her raise the roof dance arms. They parted in the lot, Marcia for her Subaru Ascent and Bethany for her used Nissan.



On Saturday morning Bethany drove north to Marcia’s house in Pomfret, as they’d agreed. Marcia would be driving them the rest of the way to New Hampshire in her Subaru. As she pulled into the driveway, Bethany had the feeling that she’d been here before, but she knew that was probably from the family Christmas card photos. Every year they posed on the steps of the front porch, the twins always in the middle with Marcia and Gordon on the ends, and in the background the house’s pale blue siding, the white door with maroon trim, and the ceramic planters with ornamental evergreens, a matched set getting a little taller each year like the girls. Before Bethany could ring the bell, Marcia opened the door and said, “I’m all set. The car’s loaded. Do you have everything?”

Marcia was wearing pink and yellow yoga attire and a long linen overshirt, unbuttoned. Her purse was slung over one shoulder and she held a garment bag with her opposite hand. She said, “Where’s your lunch outfit?”

Bethany had on stretchy shorts and a midriff tank; she’d brought her yoga bag, which held her mat and a small towel, a hoodie and an old tee. Was that good enough for a lunch outfit? As she watched Marcia’s forehead crease with concern, she realized that the answer was no. “I left it at home,” Bethany said. “By mistake. But I have a T-shirt.”

“Oh. You know what though? You should bring one of my fun weekend dresses. They’re so easy, they just slip over your head. Wrinkle-resistant. I have four of them.” Marcia opened the door more widely, and Bethany understood that she should step over the threshold. “Come on up, I’ll show you.”

Bethany padded over the thick area rug in the foyer and followed Marcia up the wide staircase to what Marcia called the extra room, which had a sofa and vanity and a full-length standing mirror. She opened the closet’s accordion doors and pushed clothes away to both sides, leaving a group of bright dresses segregated in the center. “You can try them on,” Marcia said, “and I’ll be back in a flash.”

Left alone in the extra room, Bethany instead moved closer to a huge photo collage in a frame of Mols and Maddy: all their school pictures from kindergarten through high school, with their senior portraits in the middle. Bethany gazed at the twins’ almost identical faces gradually evolving over a thirteen-year span, from baby cheeks to missing teeth to braces to bangs to braids to top knots.

Sometimes, Bethany would find herself straining to visualize the face of the baby boy she had when she was sixteen, and now was one of those times. She was imagining his face in school photos overlapping the ones of Mols and Maddy, his features gradually sharpening with time along with theirs. In their senior portraits, each girl was posed by the same tree, pressing her hands into its trunk while looking directly into the camera with a wholesome smile and sleek side ponytail, mirror images next to each other. Bethany had the stray fantasy that her boy was standing behind the wide trunk of that oak tree in both pictures, just out of sight, maybe leaning against it and vaping behind Mols or scrolling on his phone behind Maddy, waiting for the girls to finish posing so they could all drive off in his Jeep to get pizza.

He would be twenty-one now—an adult. Maybe a college student. Maybe a Marine, or a professional video gamer with his own tag and sponsors, or a shopper for online customers of Whole Foods. Maybe the young tow truck operator, competent and reserved, who had assisted Bethany on the side of the highway when her engine overheated and driven her in the cab of his truck to the service station while she admitted to him—shamefully, almost tearfully—that she’d been ignoring the check oil light on her dashboard for way too long now.

“Which one?” Marcia was back, and the closet was still open, the dresses untouched. Bethany had imagined that late lunch or early dinner would be at some college pub around Keene, but now Marcia was telling her about the adorable Mediterranean café with pastel linens and commissioned seascapes on the walls. “Very chic,” Marcia said, so Bethany reached for a dress, grabbing one with purple tulips printed on a kelly green background. Marcia zipped it into her garment bag.

“Okay. This will be fun,” Marcia declared, and Bethany echoed: “So fun.”



Not even halfway to Swanzey, around the middle of Massachusetts, Marcia told Bethany about the time she’d been in jail when she was eighteen years old. Bethany couldn’t believe it. At first she thought Marcia was telling a joke, but she wasn’t. She’d been arrested for shoplifting, and because there was a group of them committing multiple thefts, the charges were elevated.

“They called it organized crime,” Marcia said. “Can you believe it? We’d all split up at the mall and pool the goods later in the afternoon, and Denny—the jerk I was dating—would try to return them for cash or sell them on the side. We’d use the money for concert tickets or video games, and I’m sure Denny pocketed a good amount for himself on the sly.”

Marcia kept her eyes on the highway as she explained that they were all teenagers, but she and Denny were the oldest, eighteen and nineteen—in the eyes of the court, adults. Her mother wanted to teach her a lesson by not posting bail, and three days later the judge decided to set an example, sending her back to the Rutherford County Detention Center for 28 more days. Marcia never forgave her mother for being so cold through the whole ordeal. Still, to this day, they weren’t close.

“Well, everyone makes mistakes, especially when they’re young.” After Marcia’s personal revelation, Bethany felt as if she should offer one of her own, but she didn’t know what to say. She almost brought up her teenage pregnancy, but couldn’t bring herself to mention it. She’d never regretted the adoption, legally closed as advised for the good of all parties. But just the thought of saying anything about it filled her with a superstitious dread.

“I mean, shoplifting isn’t so bad. I stole once or twice at that age,” Bethany lied. “I took my English teacher’s locket. For one example. It was solid gold with diamond chips, a family heirloom.”

Bethany remembered hearing somewhere that when someone lied, they should base the lie on an element of truth, and she’d applied this advice on a few occasions, such as now. There had been a real English teacher and a real locket handed down from a great-grandmother, although it wasn’t solid gold or even valuable. The teacher, Mrs. Gwadz was her name, had brought it in to make some kind of point about symbolism, the layers of family history that the object represented or some such thing. During freewrite time, Mrs. Gwadz had placed the locket in a ceramic bowl she kept on the corner of her desk, and Bethany had been seized with a desperate curiosity to see for herself what was inside the two halves of the oval pendant. When Mrs. Gwadz stepped into the hall to speak to another teacher, Bethany had gone to the desk and picked up the necklace, but then Mrs. Gwadz returned and the bell rang, and as all the students stood up, Bethany had instinctively closed her fist around the necklace and walked out with it. A few steps down the hallway she realized what she’d done and stopped in her tracks. She hurried back toward the English room, where Mrs. Gwadz was stapling superior book reports to the bulletin board, and easily enough Bethany pretended to be looking for a lost pen and replaced the locket in the clay bowl.

“She left it on the corner of her desk and I took it when she wasn’t looking,” Bethany said, and she felt a sudden pang of regret. Why hadn’t she looked inside that locket? Why hadn’t she taken a minute or two to pry open the tiny clasp? She could have looked but she didn’t, and now she never could.

“Oh, wow,” said Marcia, glancing again toward Bethany. “I don’t think I could ever take something from someone I actually knew. I’d feel too guilty.”

Bethany bristled. She’d only shared that false anecdote to make Marcia feel better in the first place, and now Marcia, the ex-con, was lecturing her about guilt?

But they had the whole day ahead of them. The Yoga Farm and Oleana Café with Mols and Maddy for late lunch. Or early dinner.

“The point, though,” said Bethany, using her most chipper tone, “is that everyone does a few crazy things when they’re teenagers. We all do. And we get through it. Compared to most teens, Mols and Maddy are angels.”

Marcia said, “It’s a risky age.”

“You don’t have to worry.”

Marcia exhaled through her nose and turned on her road trip classic playlist. They sang along to Sheryl Crow, Bethany tossing back her head and belting out the words about the sun and Santa Monica Boulevard, but Marcia only mouthed the lyrics quietly, then stopped altogether, saying, “It’s different when you have kids of your own,” and Bethany kept singing, pretending not to hear.

The Yoga Barn dazzled them, and Bethany’s heart swelled with pride, as if she herself was responsible for the spring flora of New Hampshire bursting in color on all sides of the picturesque country barn: lupine and forsythia and tulips and blooming trees that Bethany didn’t know the names of. How often did a real place match or exceed its online profile? Bethany felt distinctly redeemed, but from what, she wasn’t sure.

As they grabbed their gear from the back of the car, Marcia said, “I wish I’d signed up for Fusion Belly Dance like you.”

Marcia’s workshop was Karma Yoga, and she told Bethany that now she wished she was doing something more fun and upbeat, like belly dancing mixed with hip-hop moves, and she went to inquire at the registration table while Bethany sat at one of the picnic benches outside, eating some of the complimentary lavender biscuits.

Marcia returned in a snit because all the classes, apparently, were at capacity. “I said, this is yoga. You people are supposed to be flexible.

“You know what?” Bethany said. “You can take my spot, and I’ll take yours. I’m in the mood for karma.”

“Are you really?

“I need all the good karma I can get,” said Bethany, “now that I’m dating again.”

Marcia giggled, and Bethany again felt another twinge of self-satisfaction. She was already imagining the way Mols and Maddy would laugh about their mom’s belly dancing adventure, and Bethany would make fun of the meditation mantras meant to give her better luck in her next life. Bethany would insist on reaching for the check at the end of the meal, for karma, she could say in a lighthearted way. And when they dropped the girls back at their dormitory, Bethany could say, “That was super fun. We should do it again sometime.”

“Okay,” said Marcia, “so you just pretend to be me, and I’ll pretend to be you.”

The belly-dancing class was held in the lower barn, and karma yoga in the upper loft. Bethany unrolled her mat with the others and gave her attention to the petite instructor. She had tattoos covering one arm from her shoulder socket to her wrist, while her other arm was pale and untouched. Reading from a list of participants, she greeted them softly one by one. “A peaceful welcome to you, Hannah . . . A peaceful welcome to you, Ron . . . .” When it was Bethany’s turn, the instructor’s kind eyes focused on her intensely as she said, “A peaceful welcome to you, Marcia,” and Bethany released a weird hiccup before she could manage a smile and nod in return.

The class was fine. Bethany had been hoping for something wackier that she could tell the twins about later, but the instructor was calm and understated, reassuring them that there was no right way to think of karma. “So keep what resonates with you, and release what does not.” They spent a long time on actions without expectations, bending forward in slow motion, for instance, with no thought or goal in mind about how deeply the bend would turn out to be, whether the movement was good or bad, correct or incorrect. You are not your body, said the instructor, and you are not your judgments or goals, your desires or disappointments. Every once and awhile, Bethany would look at the instructor as she demonstrated a pose and feel her own balance disrupted by those lopsided tattoos. Other than that, Bethany enjoyed the undemanding stretches and the lulling sitar music on the sound system.

Toward the end, when everyone was in child’s pose, the instructor told a long anecdote about a father and his son who went to the movies – and something about the screen underneath the movie, the boy thinking the movie was real and the screen had disappeared. Bethany’s eyes were closed and her thoughts kept drifting. “You are not the movies playing in your mind about the story of your life,” the instructor said, “and others are not the actors in the scenes you create for them.”

How could our own memories in our own minds not be part of who we really are? It made Bethany’s head hurt.

“You are the blank screen, the white light, the pure consciousness.”

If they were all the same blank screen, then was the father in the story the same as the boy? Were Mols and Maddy the same as Bethany’s unknown son who could be anywhere? It didn’t make sense, so Bethany stopped trying to figure it out. They were all sitting quietly and breathing now, and below them Bethany could hear the muffled sounds of laughter and Doja Cat. Need to Know. Bethany loved that song.

“Namaste, Marcia.” The instructor bowed to her, and then everyone else. Below, the hip-hop belly dancers were apparently taking turns soloing, keeping the beat for each other, and before long she heard them chanting: “Go, Bethany, Go Bethany, go-go-get-it, Bethany!” She could almost see herself down there, shimmying with a colorful scarf or two in the middle of their circle, tossing her blond hair side to side.

In the lobby, Marcia fanned her flushed cheeks with both hands. “That was a riot.

“You’ll have to show everyone your new moves in the office next week,” Bethany joked, and Marcia said, “I just may have to do that.”

“This is so fun,” said Bethany.

“So fun,” said Marcia.

In the restroom Bethany changed into the tulip dress from Marcia’s garment bag. She brushed her hair back into a ponytail and spritzed herself with Marcia’s perfume. “Okay, are you ready for the girls?” Marcia smiled. She was wearing a similar dress with yellow daisies on a blue background.

“So ready.”



In the visitor’s lot at Keene College, Marcia texted the twins and stared at her phone, waiting. It was 1:20. Marcia had told them they would arrive by 1:30 at the latest. She rolled down the windows and they waited in the car for ten minutes; then she texted again, and called each of them another ten minutes later.

“Damn it.” She swore at the phone clenched in her hand.

They each opened their car doors at the same moment, swung out their legs and stretched. They both shut their doors with a slam and stared at each other over the top of the Subaru. “Maybe they’re running late,” they both said at the same time.

“You probably think I raised the rudest girls possible,” Marcia said.

“I don’t think that. They’re in college. They’ve got so much going on.”

“Why wouldn’t they see my texts? That’s what I don’t get. They’re going to miss lunch.”

“We can wait,” said Bethany. “I’ll bet they show up. We can do early dinner.”

They decided to walk to the twins’ dorm, and Marcia texted again to tell them exactly what bench they were sitting on outside by Holloway Hall. They couldn’t wait inside the dorm, Marcia explained, because of the security system. You could only be allowed in by dorm residents with their swipe keys.

Marcia was worried. She said so several times, her scowl deepening the two lines between her eyebrows. Bethany thought about her yoga instructor with those arms, decorated and plain, and tried to replay her calm voice in her ears saying release all attachment to any outcome. She tried, but then she jumped up from the bench, following a group of students who were coming across the lawn, heading toward the dorm.

“I’m getting in,” she hissed over her shoulder to Marcia, then lifted a finger to her lips as if launching a secret mission.

She walked at the heels of the three students, two girls and a boy. Wearing Marcia’s bright dress, she looked like somebody’s mom, she thought, or possibly a teacher. “I’m checking the lost and found,” she said, offhandedly, as one of the girls swiped her key card, and Bethany followed them inside.

In the lobby there was a student sitting behind the front desk looking at his phone. Bethany trailed the three students to an open area with an elevator and a stairwell. The two girls proceeded into a corridor, but the boy stopped at a vending machine, looking over his choices. Bethany took her debit card from her purse and stood behind him, pretending to be waiting her turn. The boy’s Vitamin Water rolled down the chute; as he grabbed it and turned around, Bethany smiled and said, “Do you know Mols and Maddy?” He scrunched his eyes at her. He was short and slight, with a smooth face and soft curly hair. He looked too young to be at college, and Bethany thought maybe he was one of those child prodigies that graduate from medical school before they’re 21.

“Molly and Madison Foley,” she said. “They’re twins. Long brown hair.”

“Umm,” the boy said. “Yeah, they’re on the second floor, kinda near the end of the hallway I think.” He motioned vaguely with his hand.

“So do you like it here?” Bethany asked him. “What’s your major?”

He twisted the cap of his water, cracking the seal. She said, “Do you drink that instead of taking regular vitamins?” She had an urge to press with her fingertips on the rogue curl standing askew on one side of his forehead.

He squinted at Bethany again as if she had started speaking in a foreign tongue. “Okay, uhmm,” he said and walked away.

Bethany climbed the stairwell to the second floor, where two hallways stretched on either side of the middle landing. She picked one, walking to one end and then the other, where she found the right room. All the doors had laminated name plaques above white message boards. Under the twins’ names, the message board had been erased, leaving smears of blue marker, and the slot where the pen should be was empty. Bethany knocked on the door, not expecting an answer, and there was none, but she tried again.

She knocked on the doors next to it, and two more across the hall before a girl in pajama pants and a sports bra opened hers. Her eyes were puffy. Maybe she’d been crying, thought Bethany, but maybe she had spring allergies. She didn’t know where Mols and Maddy were.

Bethany walked across the landing to the other corridor, just to see it, and found a laundry room with two washers churning and an empty lounge. It was Saturday after all, and everyone apparently had better things to do than hang around inside the dorm. Except for the sad girl with pollen allergies. Maybe, Bethany thought, the twins were hiking or horseback riding or doing some other awesome New Hampshire weekend thing with their friends.

She walked back to the landing by the elevator, then back to the twins’ room, then back to the landing where the elevator opened and Maddy walked out of it. She didn’t notice Bethany, who was standing by the doorway of the stairwell, her hand on the knob. “Maddy.” The name in Bethany’s voice came out sounding serious and urgent. She tried again. “Hey there, Maddy.”

"Maddy stopped and turned around. Her hair was cut above her shoulders; she wore black leggings pushed up on her calves and chunky high top sneakers and a plaid shirt. “I’m Molly,” she said."


“Do you know me?”

“I’m Bethany. I’m your mom’s friend.”

At that, Maddy’s—no, Mol’s—eyes closed. When she opened them, her face was grim as she heaved a sigh. “I can’t believe her. She sent you in here on a search party?”

“We came to get you for lunch.” Bethany smiled hopefully. “Mediterranean.”

“I never agreed. Listen.” Mols jutted her chin, clenching her jaw. “Tell her you couldn’t find me. I can’t deal with this today.”

How cruel, Bethany thought. When did that happen? Just recently, or had Mols been like this for a long time, and Bethany never knew? “But she’s waiting for you. She’s right outside. And now she’s getting really worried.”

“I’m going to call her later. After she’s gone. I’ll tell her we were at a distraction-free study group in the library where the professor collected our phones. It’ll be fine.”

Molly crossed her arms, hunching in her baggy flannel shirt. “Who are you again? How do you know my mom?”

“We work together. I’m the transcript evaluator. For transfer students.” Bethany took small steps forward, carefully, as if toward a skittish animal.

Slowly Mols’ arms released themselves from her chest. “Madison isn’t here. She’s gone. She left the dorm.”

“Gone where?” Bethany felt her eyes widen. Maddy, the earnest humanitarian, gone AWOL? “I won’t say anything to your mom if you don’t want me to. I mean, we just work together. We’re not really friends.”

Mols shrugged in a gesture of giving up or not caring anymore. One or the other. “She’s living with some guy—this man—and I can’t even. They’re being all low key sketchy, and now she says she’s not going to take any of her finals. She says not coming back to the dorm.”

Brushing a piece of hair behind one ear, Molly tilted her head to one side. Bethany wanted to reach for her face and gently straighten it, pressing upward on her young cheek, bringing her neck back into alignment.

“If I have lunch with my mom,” Mols said, “she’s going to get it out of me, and then Madison will hate me and my mom will be totally freaked. But if you wanna tell her, go ahead. I can’t stop you. In fact, tell her. Go ahead.”

She turned toward the corridor of rooms, and Bethany called out, “Molly, wait.” She saw Mols stiffen and stop, then slowly pivot on the platform soles of her Chuck Taylors. She looked at Bethany with guarded eyes beneath those familiar dark brows.

Bethany smoothed the front of her tulip dress; she straightened her posture. This was her last chance to say something. “Things happen in life,” she began. She paused. What came next? “You’ll do the wrong things sometimes, and sometimes people will do things to you and you can’t stop them. You’ll change, but you’ll still be the same, both at once. Do you see?” She wasn’t making sense, she knew that, but she repeated herself as if that would somehow help. “Both at the same time. You change, but underneath you don’t disappear.”

“Okay.” Mols shook her head. Then she walked away, around the corner of the hallway.

Maybe, Bethany thought, she and Marcia could still go to that café on their own. The one with the seascape paintings and lamb kabobs. Maybe they could talk some more about that boy Denny who’d led Marcia down a criminal path. And maybe Bethany would tell her in turn, after all, about the one who’d damaged her all those years ago. But she wasn’t sure. The timing seemed funny now—too late for a late lunch and too early for an early dinner.

Outside of the dormitory, Marcia was sitting on the same bench wearing Bethany’s hoodie. The sky had clouded, the breeze now chilly. “No luck,” Bethany said. Marcia stood, her hands shoved deeply in the pockets of the sweatshirt, her face shadowed by the hood.

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