Blackbird
notice a ripped purple hoodie on the patio, crumpled beside the last chair. There’s an iPhone in one of the pockets. As you pick the sweatshirt up a wallet falls out. There are three credit cards, some gift cards, a New York driver’s license, and a social security card. You fan it open, counting the twenties in the main compartment—seven in all. You don’t need the cash, but the cards are tempting. The girl looks enough like you, a teen with dark hair. You could use her ID and credit cards to book a plane ticket to another coast.
    You’re leaning over, about to tuck the wallet in your shorts, when you hear the creak of the gate. You slip the wallet back into the sweatshirt. Then you drop down on the chair and fold your legs to you, pretending to look out across the yard.
    The girl walks over, her steps so sure and even you have to remind yourself that she doesn’t belong here. Her thick black hair is shaved on one side, her bangs sweeping over her forehead, blending into the rest of her shoulder-length hair. You adjust the brim of your hat, feeling more protected behind the glasses.
    “Is this yours?” You pick up the sweatshirt, holding it out to her. “What’s it doing here?”
    “I left it.” She grabs it, tying it around her waist like it’s not a big deal.
    “You say that as if you live here. . . .”
    “My grandma lives next door. She’s friends with Liz? She goes up there to see her sometimes. She told us we could use the pool while I’m visiting.”
    Liz. Ben never said his mom’s first name, but there are photos of her around the house. This morning you noticed a pile of mail stacked on one of the video games, bills and catalogs addressed to Elizabeth Paxton.
    “Don’t worry,” the girl says. “I’m not a spy. It’s just . . . this heat is nasty.”
    “It’s cool,” you lie, trying to compose your face.
    “Anywhooo . . .” the girl says. “Thanks for watching Rhonda.”
    “Who?”
    “Rhonda.” She holds up the purple sweatshirt.
    “You named your sweatshirt?”
    “I like to think of her as a life force. She was with me when I passed my DMV test, when I took my SATs, when I moved. First kiss, first boyfriend, first everything.”
    She uses her hands when she talks and her nails catch the light, the blue glitter polish sparkling. She doesn’t sit, but you have the sense that she doesn’t intend to leave, that she’ll stand here talking to you until you tell her to go.
    “Everything . . . ?” you ask, surprised at how quickly you match her tone.
    The girl pulls down her sunglasses so you can just see her eyes. Then she smiles. “That’s a pretty personal question for someone who doesn’t even know my name.”
    “You don’t know my name either.”
    The girl just smiles. “I wasn’t wearing her, exactly. . . . But she was there. As a witness.”
    She plops down on the lounge chair beside you, her metallic pink bikini top reflecting the sun. Her jean shorts are ripped, showing the white cloth pockets underneath. She has a piercing in her cheek and a tattoo—a line of script down her right side: If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.
    “Your tattoo,” you say, pointing to it. “Where’s that from?”
    “ The Bell Jar . A book. When my parents found out about it they nearly shit their pants. They were all like, ‘We can’t believe you did this to your body. You’re ruining yourself. It’s so cynical, when did you become so cynical?’”
    “It seems kind of cynical. But I like it.”
    The girl runs her finger along the letters, tracing a line beneath them. “That’s the messed up thing, though. I got this when I was thirteen. Three years ago. And when they said that, there was this part of me that thought: Huh. Maybe I will hate it. Maybe I’ll be one of those people who has this ugly greenish-black tattoo on their body and I’ll spend years wishing I didn’t have it. Maybe I’ll have to get it removed. But I still feel this

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