Checking that the wig hides all my blonde hair, I ask Mom, “Who am I today?”
Her head whips around, and she gasps. “I almost forgot. How about…Bella?”
“Works for me.” I slide on a pair of oversized sunglasses, and she puts on a floppy, wide-brimmed hat.
She’s told me before how being spotted in public doesn’t concern her unless there’s a chance of me getting drawn into the attention. On the few occasions I’ve shown up in snapshots with the celebs in our family, I looked slightly different each time, thanks to various disguises. And in those rare photos, I’m in the background, facing away from the camera.
Managers and salespeople create a subtle barrier between us and other shoppers, but my goal is to be invisible to them as well. Not so easy when they give us the royal treatment behind the scenes. I trust they won’t take pictures or video, but a lot of my energy’s spent pretending to be someone else. I’m rusty at avoiding curious stares. It’s more exhausting than I remembered.
As Mom browses from display to display, I find it easier to stay engrossed in a game on my phone. Staring at the screen, my face is shielded by the tresses of the brunette wig.
“Earth to Bella.” Mom waves a hand in front of my eyes. “Isn’t it cute?”
I glance at the summer dress she’s holding. “Yeah, it’s nice,” I say, and my gaze falls right back to my phone. She must not notice my lack of excitement and moves on to another dress, chattering non-stop.
“Ooh, Bella, check this out.” “Hey, Bella, I could see you in this.” “Bella, do you like this dress?” She won’t stop, and I have an absurd sense of not being me anymore. How the hell should I know what Bella likes?
The next time Mom calls me Bella, I wince and squeeze my eyes shut.
“Are you okay?” Mom touches my arm.
“I’m not feeling well.” I press my fingers to my temples.
She guides me into a curtained dressing room. “Try not to puke or faint or anything.” She lingers by the entry, eying me warily. “Are you good now?”
“I will be. You should keep shopping. I just need a minute.” I sit on a bench in the small space.
“Maybe you’re dehydrated. I’ll have someone bring you a drink.”
I close my eyes and lean on the wall, craving the freedom I’ve enjoyed without Mom.
My heart sinks, though. I love Mom, and I’ve missed her, but is this what Lor means when he talks about me finding independence?
“Excuse me, miss, are you Bella?” someone says.
I open the curtain. There’s a lady, mid-twenties, offering me a bottle of water. Grateful, I take it, and she has an eager, starstruck look in her eyes.
“It must be cool to hang out with Sloane Silver, huh? How do you know her?”
“She’s a friend of my mom’s.” I take a long, cold drink.
“Wow, where’re you from?”
Cornered, I mutter the first thing to pop into my head. “I’m from Budapest.”
Her eyebrows rise, probably from disbelief since I don’t have an accent.
Oops. I stand. Time to leave.
The lady moves aside, and Mom’s standing there, the color drained from her face. She stares in my direction, her eyes glazed over.
I approach her. “What’s wrong?”
She startles and snaps out of whatever made her look like she’d seen a ghost. “Oh, nothing.” Her gaze flits to the lady. “We’re good here. Thanks for your help.”
The lady makes herself scarce as Mom shoos me back into the dressing room and closes the curtain.
“Eva, what made you think of…that place?” Mom whispers.
“What place? Oh, Budapest?” I shrug. “It came to mind because of the postcard. The one in Lor’s living room.” I note the clenching of her jaw as she turns away. “Does the postcard mean something? When I asked Lor, he wouldn’t say.”
“If he didn’t tell you, it must be private.” She faces me again, with a tight smile. “You’ve hardly shopped for yourself today, and I want to buy you something. Try these on.” She hangs the dresses she’s holding on a hook in the dressing room.
I absentmindedly flip through them, waiting for her to leave before I strip.
“Ev—Bella,” she whispers. “Why are you checking price tags?”
I shrug. “I guess it helps me decide if something’s worth it or not.”
“Worth it?” She eyes me, head to toe, like I’m a stranger. And I do feel strange. Maybe she doesn’t know me anymore. Do I even know myself?