When we were kids, Elliott and I could read each other’s minds.
It wasn’t like it is in movies, where one twin thinks in complete sentences and the other receives a live stream to their brain. We didn’t need words. When I played catcher, I always knew exactly how Elliott would throw. When my dress snagged on the handlebar of his scooter and I fell backwards onto my arm, he felt it break. When a new girl moved into the house across the street, Elliott knew right away I had a crush on her. He knew everything, sometimes even before I did.
No one really believed what we could do, but it didn’t matter. We were Elliott and Beth, two halves. We were all we needed.
* * *
The summer before my senior year at Eastvale, I let my girlfriend Cole come to visit me in California, at my parents’ house, which is how I’ve started to think of it. The night before she arrives, an earthquake shakes the house like a warning. It knocks a book off my nightstand and Elliott’s bat from the rickety nails holding it to the wall. It deepens the crack in the driveway and splits the concrete in two.
It’s not an exaggeration to say everything is magic at Eastvale… Cole coloring in a panel of her comics with her head crouched low to the desk. Cole sneaking into my room the morning of my chem final with a grease-stained box of chocolate donuts. Cole beside me on my twin-size bed, her arm curved into my arm, her hip to my hip.
I stand out there for a long time, digging my foot into the split in the earth, before I go inside. Elliott is lying on the couch, streaming an old Angels game on his phone. It’s white noise to me by now: the tinny organ music, booming commentators.
“Do you think we can fix the driveway? Is there something we can fill it with?”
“Not in the next hour.” He doesn’t look up. “Is she really going to judge you for a cracked driveway?”
“Then don’t worry about it.”
He’s spent most of the summer on that couch. Last year, he was at practice from dawn till sunset. After that he’d go out with friends. Now he has neither of those things. Now he’s a spectator to games that are long over. A spectator with a shattered elbow.
Without baseball, Elliott is slow. Everything he does is amplified. Everything he doesn’t is, too. It’s not just college or his career. Some essential piece of him is missing now. His muscles are weaker, his hair grown out in strange sandy-blond tufts. He clings to the list of things he still does better than me, and that list isn’t long.
“Mom know you’re taking the car on the freeway?” It’s not a question.
“Don’t make this a thing,” I say. “I’ve had my license for eight months.”
“You’ve been at school.”
“I drive when I’m over there. In the snow, when the roads turn to ice.”
“At a boarding school with more squirrels than people.”
I bite the inside of my lip. This is how we are now: civil, until we aren’t. I sit on the armrest of the couch, in his line of sight. “Please don’t make me take Mom to pick up my girlfriend. You cannot hate me that much.”
He touches his elbow. “Fine.” From his phone speakers, a tiny audience roars.
* * *
I started at Eastvale, a boarding school near Boston, three years ago, but I’ve never let anyone visit me, though they asked. Being from California was some kind of social currency; people were interested in it. They’d ask questions about reality shows, movie stars, Disneyland, Christmases on the beach. I got good at finding reasons I couldn’t have visitors: trips to Europe, all-summer internships.
When Cole asked, it was different. I couldn’t lie, but I didn’t know how to sum up the truth: the seedy liquor store on the corner with the peeling paint, or the guy down the street with the American flag sticking out the back of his truck, the one who catcalled me last summer when I was out for a walk. I couldn’t explain it, the vastness between the California I’d let everyone believe in and my actual home.
So now I’ll take her to all the places she expects: Hollywood, the beach, rows of mansions lined with white picket fences. I’ll try to gloss over everything on the way: the church billboards, the dirt roads, the woolly mammoth statue stuck on a hill next to the freeway. We won’t spend a second longer here than we have to.
* * *
I see her before the glass doors to the terminal open: effortlessly messy bun, black-framed glasses, ink-stained fingers gripping the straps of the $900 leather backpack she got for her birthday. I roll down my window and wave. My heart inflates. For a minute, my worries dissolve.
She puts her suitcase and backpack into the backseat and gets in the front. “Eliza. Fancy meeting you here.”
She takes the collar of my shirt between her fingers. Then she tugs the shirt toward her and kisses me. Hard.
With our eyes closed, the taste of her vanilla chapstick on my tongue, we could almost be back at Eastvale. We could be shaded by the white pine tree in the student parking lot. Maybe we’ll take our time getting back to the dorms, our gloved hands clasped together, savoring how the snow feels crunching under our feet.
It’s not an exaggeration to say everything is magic at Eastvale: the smell of old pages on the top floor of the library, old messages carved into the undersides of wooden desks, secrets seeping through the cracked pavement of every pathway. But most of all, Cole. Cole coloring in a panel of her comics with her head crouched low to the desk. Cole sneaking into my room the morning of my chem final with a grease-stained box of chocolate donuts. Cole beside me on my twin-size bed, her arm curved into my arm, her hip to my hip.
It’s only a matter of time before she realizes I’m not worthy.
* * *
I point out the orange trees around our yard so Cole doesn’t see the gash in the driveway as I’m parking over it. Inside, my mom is tossing pre-cut pieces of pineapple into a glass mixing bowl half-full with mushy kiwi and strawberries. Elliott has migrated from the couch to the kitchen table, but the baseball game persists.
“Hi,” Cole says.
“Oh!” Mom rinses her hands and wipes them on a nearby dish towel. “You’re early.”
“I told you 3,” I say. “It’s 3:02.”
She takes Cole’s hand in both her own. “It’s so nice to meet you, Cole. I’m Beth’s mom.”
“Eliza,” I correct.
“You too, Mrs. Malone,” Cole says.
I stiffen, thinking of the restaurant where I met Cole’s parents, where the napkins were folded into little birds and there were three forks for each person. How far we are, with chopped gray kiwi in a mixing bowl.
I steer her shoulders to face the table. “This is Elliott.”
“I hear you’re a baseball star,” Cole says.
His face hardens. “Not lately.”
“Oh, right. Sorry.” She looks at me, then back to him. “What else do you do?”
His mouth opens, then closes. He touches his elbow. I think of the ways I could answer for him: the beer, the pickup trucks, the endless loop of tiny baseball games. But I don’t.
“I’m going upstairs.” He stands, leaving his fruit salad on the table.
* * *
When I show Cole the guest room, which is Elliott’s rec room spruced up with some candles, she tugs on my arm.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
“It’s not you,” I say. “I should have warned you—it’s a sore subject.”
“But why?” She perches on the edge of the pull-out bed. It creaks underneath her. “Can’t he play again once his arm recovers?”
“College. He missed out on scouts this season, so he missed out on scholarships.” I fidget with a candle on a nearby shelf. Rosewater ivy.
“Okay—does that matter? Couldn’t he pay for college?”
I tense. “Well, he has to play college baseball to go pro. He was good enough for the Major Leagues. No doubt.”
“Really?” She sits cross-legged. “That’s so—painful. All those practices. It explains so much about you.”
“Why you are the way you are. He was the athlete, so you had to be the smart twin.” She watches me for a reaction. “Am I wrong?”
She’s not. I can still see the row of perfect report cards on the fridge. They’d fade in the sun whenever Mom opened or closed the fridge to pack it with Gatorades for Elliott’s practices. I got one day a semester; baseball was the focus for the rest of the year.
In eighth grade, when I told Mom I was filling out boarding school applications, she looked at me like something she didn’t recognize. A potato plant that sprouted a pumpkin overnight.
* * *
Mom appears alone at my doorway that night, wringing her hands into each other.
“I hear you have an itinerary for Cole’s visit.”
I frown. “LA. Beverly Hills, Hollywood.”
She nods once. “I’d like if you had Elliott drive.”
I don’t have to look at Elliott’s face to know this hurts him. I can feel it on my own face, in my own gut, like I set off a bomb and both of us were blasted.
“Please don’t argue.”
Blood rushes to my cheeks. I try to take slow, measured breaths. I can’t, won’t get angry.
“I can drive on the highway. I drive at school all the time—in the snow. And I drove to get Cole today.”
She shuts the door. I expect a lecture, but she says, “I know. It’s not you. It’s your brother.”
I wait for an explanation. “He needs the car?”
“He needs to do something besides scroll through Instagram and watch old ball games.”
“So you’re asking me to pretend to be bad at driving. For Elliott’s ego.”
She sits at the edge of my bed, not meeting my eyes. “If he thinks he needs to drive you, it will give him a sense of purpose—something tangible he can accomplish this week, even if he doesn’t think of it that way. It’s not a big thing, but maybe when he comes home he won’t think college research is so daunting.”
There’s something different about how she’s asking, but I don’t know exactly what. Something to do with how crumpled her eyes are at the corners, the note of defeat in her voice.
I think about asking if she’s still upset with him, about all those years at practices and games gone to waste. But she’s looking around my bedroom now, scanning the pictures and posters I haven’t changed since eighth grade. I don’t think I can bear to make her any sadder than she is.
“And you’re okay with him driving?” I ask. “After…?”
“He wasn’t the one behind the wheel.”
I pause. “But he was drinking.”
“It was months ago. It was one mistake.” The space between her eyebrows creases. “He’s a different person since you left. It’s been hard on him, you know.”
I close my eyes. “Fine. He can drive me.”
She stands, her expression unchanged, and squeezes my hand. In the doorway she stops again. “This means a lot, Beth—Eliza. I think you may be the only one who can reach him.”
I don’t tell her how wrong she is.
* * *
Later, Cole sneaks into my room. She closes my door without a sound and curls up underneath my blankets, pressing her warm body to mine.
“You don’t know how great it was to see you waiting for me at the airport,” she whispers. “In your cool California car. It’s like I know this whole other part of you now.”
I laugh. “I’m the same person.”
“But seeing where you come from. It’s kind of magical.” She burrows into the crook of my arm.
I let her stay another few minutes, trying not to fall asleep, but drift into half-dreams of hushed New England forests and dry, barren deserts, and Cole and I split between the two.
* * *
The night Elliott shattered his elbow, it was raining at Eastvale. Cole and I were in the library with our homework spread out over one of the heavy wooden tables. We had a draft of our college admissions essay due the next morning, and Cole hadn’t started. She hadn’t even picked a prompt.
“It’s bullshit,” she said. “They want me to write ‘honestly.’ But not about wanting to draw comics. And not about years of private school that were supposed to prepare me for this.”
I thought of my own essay, about moving across the country as an eighth-grader.
“You know 90% of our class will end up at an Ivy,” I said. “So there’s something they’re saying to get in.”
“Sure. They’re making shit up.” She clicked backspace, erasing Insert Title Here one letter at a time. “I legit read an example like: ‘I went to Brazil to build houses on spring break. Seeing how underprivileged everyone was really opened my eyes and made me feel like I had to do something.’” She sighed. “I’m not like you. You’re a shoo-in for any school you want.”
I opened my mouth to respond. I’d apply to the Ivies with everyone else, of course, but unless I somehow got a full ride, I knew I’d end up at UCLA.
My phone started buzzing on the table. We jumped. It was my mom.
I left Cole with her computer and went to a corner. I stood between two shelves and held the phone, shaking. “What?”
I didn’t understand what she was saying at first. A lot of medical-speak about torn ligaments and Type III fractures. I reached over to touch my own elbow, unswollen, unbroken.
“He’ll miss the season. All of junior year. And over something so stupid.”
The line was silent for a moment. The rain pattered on the library roof like a horrible metronome. “He was riding in the back of a pickup truck. Drinking. They hit a palm tree. He fell out.”
I didn’t say anything. My stomach felt hollow, as if the ground had opened up underneath me and split me in two. Everything was falling out.
“Beth?” Mom sounded staticky, faint.
I peered between empty shelves to look at Cole, scrolling through her phone. It seemed impossible that I’d just been talking to her about college essays, while across the country my brother was in a hospital. I crouched behind the encyclopedias.
“He’s okay, right?”
“He’s lucky he’s not dead.”
“But he’s okay.” It was strange not to know, to feel it. Not even a twinge in my elbow.
Static again. “Physically, yes.”
“And not physically?”
The phone cut out.
* * *
I’m quiet during the drive to LA. Cole and I sit in the backseat. She suggests a podcast, but Elliott flips on KROQ. He doesn’t turn it down when it goes to commercials. I stare at his hair, flattened in the back, and I wonder what he’s thinking.
“I don’t know anyone who listens to the actual radio,” Cole says, too quietly for Elliott to hear. She traces her finger over mine. “It feels like a statement.”
“It probably is.” But I don’t know what it’s saying.
She looks out the window. Yellowed grasses roll by. “Is this all LA? Your house, too?”
“A suburb of LA.”
Elliott snorts. “A distant suburb, maybe. If the moon is a suburb of Earth.”
Cole laughs. She turns to me. “When will you show me around your neighborhood?”
I think of the baseball diamond where Elliott had Little League practices, the corner where I broke my arm, the palm tree where his friend crashed the pickup truck.
“There’s nothing to show, really.”
“Your elementary school? I bet they have your name on a plaque in there.”
“No, just Elliott’s.”
He meets my eyes in the rearview mirror, but doesn’t say anything.
* * *
In Beverly Hills, we weave in and out of high-end stores: Cartier, where tourists take pictures of $200,000 necklaces, and Gucci, with handbags perched on white pedestals like they’ve won awards. We stop in a boutique where lace kimonos hang off the racks like delicate curtains.
Elliott looks at the tag on a cotton shirt. “Everything in here has Coachella written all over it.”
The cashier shoots him a look.
Cole laughs. “Have you been?”
“Coachella might as well be a million miles away.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a bunch of trust fund kids who don’t know what to do with their parents’ money.”
Cole grins at me. “He’s describing everyone at school.”
I put down the $60 candle I was pretending to look at. “We don’t have to keep shopping. Let’s go.”
She picks up the candle and holds it out to me. “No, wait. If you like this place…”
I think of where I usually shop: thrift stores in Boston where I comb through racks of discarded J.Crew. No one has ever come with me, especially not Cole.
“No, let’s go.” I turn around without looking at either of them, but I catch a glimpse of my flushed face in a mirror. I almost don’t recognize myself.
* * *
I knew parking in Hollywood would be bad, so I researched a structure near all the sightseeing. I give Elliott directions, but he turns the wrong way and we end up behind a line of cars. Throngs of people crowd the sidewalks.
A car in front of us pulls out of a spot. Elliott takes it.
I get out to read the sign overhead. “Two-hour parking till 3.”
Elliott nods through the open window. “Perfect.”
“The garage is $8 for the day.”
“We don’t need that. The meter is $2 an hour, free after 3.”
I think of Mom standing in my doorway and decide not to argue. Elliott rolls up the window.
Outside, the air smells like stale cigarettes. A crowd gathers in the sidewalk watching break dancers, their foreheads glistening. We push through to get to the theater, where movie stars’ handprints are preserved in cement. I feel Elliott’s irritation like an itch on the back of my neck. He pulls out his phone.
When Elliott found out I was going to boarding school, he didn’t speak to me for a week. He ate his bowls of cereal in silence across the table. He played radio stations he knew I hated when our mom drove us to school and pretended he didn’t see me when we passed each other in the hall.
I follow Cole. She looks at home here, sleek and mysterious in dark sunglasses. I half-expect tourists to take pictures with her. She presses her hands into Cary Grant’s prints, her rainbow ink in sharp contrast to the pale concrete.
“He was gay, you know,” she says.
“Really? Cary Grant?”
“Yeah. Everyone knew back then. It was this big open secret.”
I kneel down at the set of prints to her left. They belong to Jeanne Crain, 1949. I don’t try to fit my hands in the prints—they’re like a child’s. Her shoe prints have little dots where her heels pressed into the cement. “I don’t know who this is.”
Cole looks. “Can you imagine? You become this big movie star, you get invited to put your handprints in this fancy theater, and seventy years later, the kids are like, ‘Who’s that?’”
“I’m sure lots of people still know”—I check the name—“Jeanne Crain.”
“We only know the ones people still talk about. Marilyn Monroe. Or Cary Grant and his string of lovers.” She stands up. “We work so hard to make something of ourselves, but even if you’re successful, it probably won’t matter in a hundred years. So you might as well stop trying so hard.”
I look for Elliott. He’s leaning against the wall staring at his phone, deaf to this particular bit of wisdom. When I look back, Cole is studying me, her hand shielding her eyes from the sun.
“What is it?” I say.
“I’m trying to stop time. Right here, it would be perfect.” She drops her hand and wraps her arms around my waist. She’s close enough for me to count each freckle on her nose.
“What about school?”
“You love school too much. This is better. No college application bullshit, no finals. Just you and me and the warm sun.”
She reaches a hand behind my neck and pulls my head toward her, pressing her soft lips to mine. For a minute, I believe in Hollywood happily ever afters.
* * *
We walk down Hollywood Boulevard, hands clasped while Cole points out more famous names in the silver-flecked sidewalks. She pulls me into a souvenir shop brimming with screen-printed shot glasses and plastic Oscar statues.
At 3:28, we arrive back at our parking spot. The car isn’t there.
* * *
When Elliott found out I was going to boarding school, he didn’t speak to me for a week. He ate his bowls of cereal in silence across the table. He played radio stations he knew I hated when our mom drove us to school and pretended he didn’t see me when we passed each other in the hall. He shut his bedroom door as soon as he came back from practice every night.
I lay in bed trying to live stream my thoughts into his brain. I’m sorry. Please don’t hate me forever. Please.
I never got an answer.
* * *
Traffic piles up on Hollywood Boulevard, a wall of brake lights between the billboards and palm trees. We stand rooted next to our empty parking spot as if the car might reappear.
“You didn’t read the sign right. That’s the only way this could have happened.”
“I read it to you, word for word. It said two-hour parking until 3 p.m.”
“Meaning after 3, there’s no limit.”
Cole reads the sign, her expression blocked by her sunglasses. “Or no parking after 3 at all.”
“That’s obviously what it means.” I punch the towing company into my phone. It’s a mile away. “Come on. It’s off Highland.” I bristle at the sound of my own words. Even now, I’m trying too hard to sound like I know what I’m talking about.
“Wait,” Elliott says. I don’t. “Do you have any idea how much it costs to pick up a towed car?”
“Of course you don’t, because you don’t know how to drive.”
I turn around. “What?”
Cole, running to keep up, stops abruptly and almost trips. She wipes a bead of sweat from her forehead.
“It’s over three hundred dollars,” Elliott says.
Cole looks from him to me. “You need money?”
“No,” I say.
Elliott exhales through his teeth. “Jesus Christ. You think she doesn’t see what you’re doing?”
“Elliott.” I sound more alarmed than I mean to. If there’s ever been a time for him to read my mind, it’s now.
“What?” Cole asks.
“Beverly Hills. Hollywood. Boutiques with $500 shirts.”
“What should we do?” I snap. “Drive around drinking beer in the back of a pickup?”
Elliott’s eyes flare. He takes a quick half-step back, like he stepped on hot coals. “Fucking hell, Beth.”
“Do you actually think it’s that easy? Get a new name and a scholarship to a fancy school, and shed who you are—your family, your twin—like snake skin?”
I don’t say anything. A family passes us on the sidewalk, the dad leading his kids away by the shoulders as they stare. Cole gives them a wave, as if to say Nothing to see here. I look at the ground and press my shoe into a deep crack in the sidewalk until it hurts.
“I couldn’t survive here,” I say quietly. “I was in the shadow of your stupid fucking game. And now, what do you even have left? What would I have left, if I’d stayed?”
He doesn’t say anything.
“Nothing,” I say. “I’d be a depressed, pathetic mess—just like you are.”
I don’t have to look at Elliott’s face to know this hurts him. I can feel it on my own face, in my own gut, like I set off a bomb and both of us were blasted. He walks down Highland, disappearing into a swirl of people and billboards, lights and palm trees, till he’s so far gone I can’t tell if he’s real or imagined.
* * *
Cole pays for the tow. She doesn’t say anything about it and I don’t, either. The car is coated in dust. I run the windshield washer as we pull out of the tiny garage, but it leaves a thick layer of grime around the edges where the wipers don’t reach.
We drive back to Highland and see Elliott on the corner where we left him, sitting on the curb. I half-expect him to be drinking out of a paper bag, but he’s on his phone. He gets in the backseat and doesn’t meet my eyes in the mirror.
I wish, on his behalf, he could have taken an Uber home. It’s the kind of statement only people with extra money can afford to make.
* * *
At the house, Elliott gets out before we pull into the driveway. I wait for him to walk to the door and stare at the gash in the asphalt, wondering exactly what it was I was trying to hide.
“I just wish you’d told me.” Cole’s voice is quiet, like it’s about to crack. We watch Elliott close the door.
I park the car, focusing on keeping the wheels straight. “You want me to tell you I’m poor? I’m a scholarship kid? Can you really blame me for not being upfront?”
“Yes. Because if you knew me, you’d know I don’t care. You’re supposed to trust the person you’re with.”
I don’t answer. My mouth and throat dry up. The air feels too thick, too heavy, like the car is about to burst. I open the door and step right into the split.
* * *
We walk for a long time without saying anything. We pass the old guy’s truck with the flag, the liquor store, then turn onto a dirt road lined with orange trees, the bits of rock sharp under our shoes. The sun is starting to set ahead of us, turning the sky orange and pink and framing a row of trees in the distance.
“Palms again,” Cole says.
“They grow better here than they do in LA. Those tall ones are California fan palms—they’re native to the desert. The climate is better here.”
She smiles. “You know everything.”
We’re silent again, our steps out of sync.
“I’ll pay you for the tow,” I say.
“Don’t be stupid.”
“I’m not. I let him park there. I’ll pay.”
She looks at me with a mix of irritation and pity. “Please don’t make this a money thing. I can’t believe you thought that would matter. It doesn’t.”
“You think money doesn’t matter because you don’t worry about it. You can pay for a $300 tow fee with no warning.”
She’s quiet. She scuffs her shoe in the dirt, sending a tiny cloud billowing out behind us.
“You’re right. And you know what? It makes sense that you got a scholarship. With everyone else, it’s always this scramble to get the best grades, test scores, because our parents tell us to. But you actually care about being there, about learning. It’s why I like you.”
I open my mouth to respond, but she keeps going.
“I don’t know Elliott that well, but I think I understand what he’s going through. He went his whole life being told if he kept doing this one thing really well, everything else would work. If my parents stopped being able to pay my tuition or something, I’d be in the same boat.” She chances a look at me. “But he has you for a sister. No matter what life throws at you, you’ll always be able to come back ten times harder. Anyone would feel inadequate next to you.”
I swallow and look down again.
“It sucks that you weren’t honest. I get that everyone at Eastvale wears Prada flip-flops in the showers. I get why you pretended. But I wish you hadn’t.”
“Why? So you could have paid for all my coffees and felt sorry for me?”
She nods to the orange tree beside us, dripping with fruit. “No, because this place is beautiful. I knew about Hollywood, Beverly Hills. But I wanted to see where you were from. And what you’ve let me see of you—it makes me love you more.”
I hold my breath, but the tears stream down, spattering onto the dirt below. She turns and kisses me. My head swirls with sunset, vanilla chapstick, and rainbow ink, and I want her to see everything.
* * *
By the time we get back, the sky is settling into a dusky purple and someone has moved the car into the street. Elliott is kneeling in the driveway, a black plastic pail next to him. Cole goes inside.
I kneel. He’s hunched over a putty knife, smoothing black, sticky gunk into the driveway crack.
He doesn’t respond. His knife makes a harsh, scraping noise on the asphalt.
He meets my eyes and lets the knife rest in his hand.
“Mom asked you to have me drive.” It’s not a question.
He looks at the ground, furrows his brow. “We should have gone to the garage.” He starts scraping again. “Look, I know I’ve been a piece of shit.”
“No, you were right. I’m not surprised you left. I’m surprised you stuck around as long as you did.”
“I didn’t, not forever.” He keeps scraping. “Do you have another one of those putty knives?”
He sits back, reaches under the lid of the asphalt bucket, and tosses one to me.
“We’re pushing it into the crack right now. Then we’ll drive over it to tamp it down. I watched a YouTube video.” He demonstrates and I copy him. Scrape, scrape. He pours the asphalt mix into the next section, and I watch the black, soft crumbles settle into the split.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here when it happened,” I say.
He meets my eyes over the patch. “I know, Eliza.”
We work until it’s dark, scraping over the asphalt again and again. We don’t say anything else, but we don’t have to. We don’t need words.