The Rumor(5)

by Elin Hilderbrand

Hope had been in the NICU for a week before she was named. The name her parents had picked out was Allison—Allegra and Allison, for nauseating twin symmetry—but after all that transpired, they changed their minds and decided to call her Hope, no explanation needed.

She was a survivor, an underdog who had prevailed; she was the smaller, weaker twin, all but ignored while her sister took center stage; she was lucky just to be alive. The doctors had told her parents that Hope might be brain damaged or hindered in some other way.

“But,” her mother said, “you are just as right as rain.”

Hope had no idea what that meant, but she did wish her parents had kept the story of her birth to themselves. She wished it were secret history that nobody ever talked about, rather than being the event that defined her.

Smaller, weaker, lucky to be alive. Whereas Allegra was bigger and stronger, her easy life an apparent birthright. In the fourth-grade class play, Allegra had been cast as Alice in Alice in Wonderland, and Hope as the Dormouse. Then, as now, this had pretty much summed up their differences.

Allegra was okay. At times. Not as smart as Hope, or at least not as book smart; in school, she put forth minimum effort. Hope had one class with Allegra: health, taught by the phys ed teacher, Ms. Norman. It was a layup, the easiest A in the world, because it was nutrition and exercise and personal hygiene, basic stuff everyone on earth already knew from being a human and being raised by other humans. And yet Allegra never handed in her homework, and when Ms. Norman called on her in class, asking her to name the most prevalent nutrient found in milk, Allegra gave a derisory laugh and said, “Um? Don’t know?” She sounded like a moron, and Hope was embarrassed to have shared a womb with her. Anyone who had ever watched a cereal commercial knew the answer was calcium.

Out of the classroom, however, Allegra and her best friend, Hollis Brancato, ruled the school. They were the real twins, matched in their prettiness, their long, shiny hair (although Hollis’s was blond to Allegra’s brunette), the makeup right out of magazines, their carefully curated clothes. Who knew how many thousands of dollars Allegra had wheedled out of their father so that she could have “pieces” by Parker and Alice + Olivia and Dolce Vita. Allegra’s one coup over Hollis was that she had been invited to New York City for a modeling interview. Allegra had told Hollis and everyone else at school that she was “still waiting to hear,” meaning she might start her climb up to the ranks of Gisele and Kate any day. Only Hope knew that the woman at the modeling agency had declared Allegra three inches too short and too “standard issue” in the beauty department to ever get any work.

The other thing that only Hope knew was that, although Allegra had been dating Brick Llewellyn for the past two years, she was cheating on him with Ian Coburn, a rich kid who had graduated from Nantucket High School the year before and who was now a freshman at Boston College.

To Hope’s knowledge, Allegra had seen Ian three of the past four weekends. Allegra was supposed to be flying over to the Cape every Saturday to take a fancy, expensive, guaranteed-to-get-results SAT prep course at the community college, but Allegra had ditched the class, and Ian picked her up in his red Camaro and they “drove around,” whatever that meant. This past weekend, they had gone to the Cape Cod Mall, where Ian bought Allegra three Chanel lipsticks from the makeup counter at Macy’s; then they enjoyed a long, boozy lunch at the Naked Oyster, Allegra using a fake ID saying that she was a twenty-seven-year-old resident of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Allegra had asked Hope to cover for her—both with Brick and with her parents. She had offered to pay Hope, or lend Hope the fake ID, even though Allegra and Hope both knew Hope would never need it.

Hope agreed, but not because she wanted the ID or the money.

She wanted Brick.

For two years, Hope had assumed there would be no way Brick would ever break up with her sister. They would be one of those couples who grew up together, made it work long distance through four years of college (if Allegra got into college, which at this point seemed doubtful), and then married, had children, and found themselves celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Although Brick might have shared this vision, what neither he nor Hope had considered was that Allegra was Allegra, which meant not smart enough to know a good thing when she had it. Allegra was a seeker and a climber and an opportunist, and she had a short attention span. Allegra would get caught with Ian Coburn, and that would be the end of her and Brick. Hope just had to wait.

Hope and Brick texted each other regularly about their honors chemistry homework, a fact that Hope did not share with her sister, and she knew Brick didn’t either. Allegra hadn’t been selected to take honors chem; she was in regular chem with other underachievers like Hollis and their friend Bluto.

At five thirty, when Hope knew Brick would be home from baseball practice, she shot him a text: Hot glass looks like cool glass. This was how they started every conversation about their chem homework, an inside joke referring to the enormous sign hanging over the Smart Board in their classroom. Mr. Hence lived in mortal fear of one of his students picking up a beaker that had recently been over the Bunsen burner.

No response. Maybe Brick wasn’t ready to tackle chem yet. Maybe he was taking a shower or hanging out with his parents. Brick liked to spend time with his parents—whereas Hope, and especially Allegra, avoided it like the plague—because Trevor and Madeline were so cool, and the three of them in their family were, like, friends.

Sometimes Hope thought that she might not want to date Brick as much as become his adopted sister.

She texted: Have you looked at the questions on page 242? Inert gases?

No response. Hope could send two unanswered texts but not three. That would make her look desperate and pushy.

A second later, her phone pinged.

Brick wrote, Was your sister really at class on Saturday? Or did she ditch and go to the mall?

Hope ogled her screen. Here it was, then, at a time she least expected it. Brick was on to Allegra. It was all Hope could do not to spill the beans.

She wrote: Class, I think. Why?

Brick wrote: Someone said they saw her at the mall.

Hope wrote: Which someone?

Brick wrote: Someone.

Hope wrote: Come on. Who.

Brick wrote: Parker Marz. He said she was with some guy in a Boston College sweatshirt. Doesn’t your cousin go to BC?

Hope chewed her pencil eraser. Her cousins were all older, although one of them—the biggest, most pompous jerk of the bunch—had gone to BC, prompting Eddie to tell his favorite joke. How do you know if someone goes to BC? They’ll tell you.