Home > Motion (Laws of Physics #1)

Motion (Laws of Physics #1)
Penny Reid

1

Physics in a Personal and Social Context

"You are receiving a collect call from ACCEPT THE CHARGES, MONA! at Cretin County Jail. If you accept the charges, press one. If not, disconnect,” the robot—apparently the love child between Alexa and Baymax—announced via my cell phone, the sound an odd amalgamation of her voice and his cadence.

No. Strike that. Inaccurate.

Most of the words were announced by the robot. But the words “ACCEPT THE CHARGES, MONA!” and the voice that whisper-shouted them belonged to my twin sister, Lisa. I didn’t press one and I didn’t disconnect. But I did stare at nothing, probably making my about-to-sneeze face, and attempted to parse through what I’d just heard.

“Is everything okay?”

Dr. Payton’s perfectly reasonable question hijacked my attention and reminded me that I wasn’t alone. I was in a restaurant. The planetary astrophysicist’s eyebrows inched upward as we stared at each other, his last bite of steak left forgotten on the tip of his fork.

Fraught and feeling illogically harassed, I sputtered, “I don’t know.”

This was one of the very few times in my nineteen years that I’d said I don’t know. I didn’t like not knowing. I preferred I’ll find out, I’ll figure it out, or I’ll know soon.

If he’d asked me the same question just thirty seconds ago, I would’ve known how to answer. Prior to my cell ringing seconds ago, today had been a great day. I’d meditated as soon as I’d awoken. I’d journaled. I’d located and eaten a perfectly ripe avocado for breakfast. The best. Avocados in Chicago and Cambridge, Mass were so seldom perfectly ripe, or they were ripe for only 4.4 seconds. Whereas California had all the ripe avocados.

Traffic on the I-5 had been light while my driver transported me from the Pasadena Marriott to the Palomar Observatory. I’d spent most of my day elbows deep with my best friends: the gorgeous symmetry and chaos of relativistic equations, infrared array imaging, spectroscopy data.

Late afternoon, I’d gone to the dentist for a teeth cleaning, X-rays, and exam where I’d been told that my home regimen of flossing and brushing was exemplary. Praise from the dentist always put me in a good mood.

Presently, I was having dinner with Dr. Poe Payton, a second-year fellow in planetary astrophysics who was as intelligent as he was handsome and charming, which was considerably. Not that his handsomeness or ability to charm was relevant. As with all my prospective colleagues, nothing was relevant about Dr. Payton other than his ability to keep up.

Afterward, my plans included swimming in the hotel pool, showering, and finally an hour of scheduled fiction reading before bed. Although, now that I was living on my own, and finally free of Dr. Steward’s daily oversight, I sometimes read for an hour and a half.

"You are receiving a collect call from ACCEPT THE CHARGES, MONA! at Cretin County Jail. If you accept the charges, press one. If not, disconnect,” the Alexa-Baymax hybrid announced again, startling me a second time.

Flustered, I pressed one and brought the phone back to my ear. “Uh, hello? Hello?”

“Thank God!” My twin sounded far away, like the connection was bad or she was speaking in a tunnel.

“Lisa?” I whisper-asked, my eyes darting to Dr. Payton’s curious and concerned expression.

“First, don’t freak out. Second, I don’t have a lot of time, so don’t ask questions. Just do what I say, okay? I’ve been arrested.”

Arrested.

Oh God. Oh my God! Okay . . . OH MY GOD!

Clutching my forehead, heart racing, I dropped my gaze to the napkin on my lap. “Are you okay? I- what? Where are—”

“Listen,” she said firmly, “I need you to listen to me.”

“Should I call—”

“No! Don’t call anyone. I already have a lawyer, and—if everything goes according to plan—I should be released by next week.”

What? “What?”

My eyes darted up, snagging on Dr. Payton, who was now looking at me with some alarm.

He asked, “What can I do?” But this time he mouthed his question.

I didn’t answer, I couldn’t. Lisa was still talking in my ear, my mind accelerating to a million miles per second.

“. . . so I need you to go home and pretend to be me. Otherwise, they’ll know what happened and I’ll be so, so screwed.”

I lifted a finger, motioning for Dr. Payton to give me a minute, and turned my body toward the window on my right. “Uh, pardon?”

“Mona, focus.” My typically imperturbable sister’s voice trembled. “You have to get to Chicago—tonight if possible—and be me.”

Go to Chicago? Impossible. But one thing at a time.

Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and asked the most pertinent question. “First, tell me if you’re okay. Are you hurt?”

Lisa heaved a watery-sounding sigh. “I’m not hurt. But, no. I’m not okay.”

Lisa. My lungs constricted, I rubbed my sternum with my fingertips. We weren’t particularly close, not anymore, but right now that didn’t matter. This was my sister, my twin. There’d been a time when I’d thought we shared one-half of the same heart. Our brother Leo used to tell us this story and we’d believed him.

No. Strike that. Inaccurate. I’d believed him. Lisa had never been as naïve or gullible or susceptible to fictions and romanticism as me.

“What can I do?” I asked, opening my eyes.

“Get to Chicago. Pretend to be me for a week. And—”

“I can’t. I’m in California for my visit with Caltech. I’m interviewing for their PhD program.”

“Oh please. You mean you’re interviewing them. Everyone wants you. They wouldn’t care if you left, they wouldn’t care if you did a striptease on the dean’s desk while snorting coke off his letter opener. Hell, he’d probably love it.”

“The dean is a heterosexual female.”

Lisa grunted. “Whatever! Please, please, please listen, Mona. This is serious. This is life and death for me. You have to wear my clothes, my makeup, sleep in my room, act like me. Mom and Dad can’t know I’m in . . . shit. I can’t believe this happened.”

I shook my head. “Lisa, no. No. Listen to yourself. This is crazy, even for you. Mom and Dad will know I’m me.”

“Obviously, Mona!” she whispered harshly. “But you don’t have to fool Mom and Dad. They’re still in Greece. Abram is watching the house. You just have to fool him until I get there.”

She was talking so fast, I was having trouble keeping up. “Who is Abram?”

“Abram. You know, Abram, Leo’s friend? You don’t know Abram? Oh, good”—she sounded relieved—“in fact, that’s great! I’ve only sorta met Abram once, so this’ll be super easy. Pretend like you don’t remember him or anything about the night we met, which is actually pretty accurate, because I don’t remember much. We’ll switch places before your BFF Dr. Steward arrives, and no one will know about this nightmare.”

Overwhelmed by my confusion and her sense of urgency, I couldn’t organize my thoughts into any logical order, asking questions as they occurred to me. “Wait, Dr. Steward is coming?” Dr. Steward had lived with me and served as my guardian for most of my undergrad; this arrangement had lasted until I’d turned eighteen. “And why do I have to go to Chicago if Mom and Dad are in Greece? Shouldn’t I come to where you are and—”

She made a short growling sound. “They’re planning to cut me off, okay? They said if I wasn’t home by tomorrow, and if I didn’t hand over my phone to Abram when I got there, and if I don’t cut off all contact with Tyler, then they’d close my bank accounts and credit cards and that’s it.”

I struggled anew with this information, mostly because I thought Lisa had already ended all contact with Tyler. Our family had been living the last few months under the assumption that she was safe from his influence, that they were finally over-over. She’d sworn it was over. She’d promised.

“You’re still with Tyler?”

An epic scoff-snort sounded from the other end of the call. “Not anymore. God, never again. Not after this. I am so done with that lying, cheating, massive piece of shit!”

I had to press the cell closer to my ear to hear her. Unlike most people, both Lisa and I became quieter when we were angry rather than louder.

“Lisa, this is crazy. I can’t be you.” I kept my voice low, turning in the chair as far from Dr. Payton as I could. “No one will buy it.” We hadn’t been raised together past the age of eleven. Both my older brother and I had stayed home with private tutors—he studied music, I concentrated on math and science—while Lisa had been sent to boarding school.

“They will buy it. We’re physically identical. All you need is a makeover.”

I struggled with how to phrase my next objection, but ultimately decided I didn’t have time to be tactful. “Lisa, I love you, but I wouldn’t know the first thing about acting like you. I don’t know you.” Most of what I knew about my sister’s life was deduced from chance encounters with the gossip sections of newspapers and magazines.

Exotica and DJ Tang’s youngest daughter spotted at New York hot spot

Exotica and DJ Tang’s youngest daughter in trouble again

Exotica and DJ Tang’s youngest daughter rumored to be dating Pirate Orgy’s front man, Tyler

Exotica and DJ Tang’s youngest daughter partying at fashion week

Exotica and DJ Tang’s youngest daughter wrecks Tesla

“That’s not true.” She sounded exasperated rather than hurt.

“I call you once a week, you never pick up. And when you respond it’s with a text message.”

“Mona, you never returned my letters when I was sent to boarding school, so what’s the big deal?”

What? Why was she bringing this up? Again! Lisa had been bringing this up to excuse treating me poorly for years. It’s how she justified her jokes and pranks, none of which were funny.

“I did return your letters. How many times—”

“I’m not going to argue with you about this again. You didn’t return my letters, which is why I stopped sending them. So, again, why does it matter if I text you back?”

“Because when we do talk on the phone, it’s for less than five minutes. You think my life is boring and we have nothing in common.” I tried—and succeeded—to keep emotion out of my voice. This was my superpower, a skill I’d honed as a fifteen-year-old girl, entering a field dominated by not fifteen-year-old girls. “You were right. We have nothing in common. And now you want me to pretend to be you? It won’t work.”

For better or worse, I had more in common with my musician older brother than I did with my twin.

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