The Witness(9)

By: Nora Roberts

She shut everything down, reminding herself tonight was for fun, for discovery. Not for worries or plans.

She went upstairs to dress for her first night out. Her first night of real freedom.

BECAUSE SHE’D DRESSED SO EARLY, Elizabeth had too much time to think, to question, to doubt. She was overdressed, under-made-up and her hair was wrong. No one would ask her to dance, because no one ever did.

Julie was eighteen, older and experienced, and knew how to dress, how to behave in social situations, how to talk to boys. She herself was bound to do or say something inappropriate. She’d embarrass Julie, then Julie would never speak to her again. That tenuous bond of friendship would be broken forever.

She worked herself up into such a state of panicked excitement she felt feverish, queasy. Twice she sat down, head between her knees, to fight off anxiety attacks, and still she answered the door at Julie’s buzz with sweaty palms and a thundering heart.

“Holy shit!”

“It’s wrong. I’m wrong.” All the doubts and fears peaked into self-disgust and mortification as Julie stared at her. “I’m sorry. You can just take the ID.”

“Your hair.”

“I don’t know what I was thinking. I only wanted to try—”

“It’s awesome! You look totally awesome. I wouldn’t’ve recognized you. Oh my God, Liz, you completely look twenty-one, and really sexy.”

“I do?”

Julie cocked a hip, fisted a hand on it. “You’ve been holding out.”

The pulse in her throat throbbed like a wound. “Then it’s all right? I look right?”

“You look so way right.” Julie circled a finger in the air, got a blank look. “Do the turn, Liz. Let’s see the whole package.”

Flushed, nearly teary, Elizabeth turned in a circle.

“Oh, yeah. We’re going to slay tonight.”

“You look awesome, too. You always do.”

“That’s really sweet.”

“I like your dress.”

“It’s my sister’s.” Julie did a turn and posed in the halter-neck black mini. “She’ll kill me if she finds out I borrowed it.”

“Is it nice? Having a sister?”

“It doesn’t suck to have an older one who wears the same size I do, even if she is a bitch half the time. Let me see the ID. Meter’s running, Liz.”

“Oh. Yes.” Liz opened the evening bag she’d chosen from her mother’s collection, took out Julie’s fake license.

“It looks real,” Julie said after a frowning study, then stared up at Elizabeth with wide, dark, eyes. “I mean, you know, real real.”

“They came out very well. I could do better, I think, with more sophisticated equipment, but for tonight, they should do.”

“It even feels real,” Julie murmured. “You’ve got skills, girl. You could make a serious fortune. I know kids who’d pay big-time for docs like this.”

Panic flooded back. “You can’t tell anyone. It’s just for tonight. It’s illegal, and if anyone finds out—”

Julie swiped a finger over her heart, then her lips. “They won’t find out from me.” Well, except Tiffany and Amber, she thought. She shot Elizabeth a smile, certain she could convince her new BFF to make up a couple more just for close friends.

“Let’s get this party started.”

After Elizabeth shut and dead-bolted the door, Julie took her hand and pulled her along in a run for the waiting cab. She slid in, gave the driver the name of the club, then swiveled in her seat.

“Okay, plan of action. First thing is to be chilly.”

“Should I have brought a sweater?”

Julie laughed, then blinked when she realized Elizabeth was serious. “No, I mean we have to be cool, act like we go to clubs all the time. Like this is no big deal for us. Just another Saturday night.”

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