Chloe Sanders was the fake name I had picked for myself, and who I’d be known as for an unspecified amount of time.
Who was Chloe, exactly?
Well, she wasn’t me.
Chloe Sanders liked singing, fashion, and shopping. She was the type of friend who’d be at your house to help you get ready for prom, or give you mascara if you needed it. She was sweet and loyal, caring deeply for her friends and family, who she actually had. She was going to major in fashion and become a designer when she went to college, and was here for the summer.
Chloe didn’t draw. Chloe didn’t fight. Chloe didn’t know how to shoot guns or steal. She didn’t like reading or going on runs. She had living parents and didn’t live in foster homes. She wasn’t on the run, and she sure as hell didn’t have telekinesis.
In a word, she was not like me at all.
It was too easy to pretend to be someone else. Because maybe I didn’t like who I was, and who I was becoming.
Tara Armstrong was the persona Quinn adopted. She was shy and quiet, but very nice. She liked cooking and playing chess. She wanted to say she’d come from England because she had a very convincing British accent, but Jackson talked her out of it because there was a chance she could slip up and be discovered.
Actually, his name wasn’t Jackson anymore. His name was Ben Holland. And Ben was a total ladykiller and was annoyingly sarcastic (which wasn’t too far off from who he really was, but it worked fine).
It was almost nice pretending to be other people, to have a break from constantly running, to just fit into society. It was the only way to survive. Because you had to do whatever was necessary if it meant living.
Even if it meant lying to the people we would meet, hiding who we were, and pretending to be someone else.
We met our new friends at a diner near a beach. The diner seemed like the hangout of the teens around these parts, because of the good food, cool atmosphere, and arcade in the lobby.
My friends and I were sitting at our table, sharing a plate of nachos, when the group introduced themselves. It consisted of three girls and three boys around our age.
“Hey, there!’’ one of the boys greeted us, grabbing a chair and sitting down next to us. He was a tall black boy, around Jackson’s age, with a pearly white smile. “I don’t believe we’ve met before. I’m Anthony, and these are my friends.’’
Two of the girls stepped forward, smiling. “I’m Amber,’’ one of the girls said, her almond-shaped eyes sparkling. She was Asian and her long black hair reached her mid-back.
"I'm Natalie,'' said another girl, her sandy blonde hair tied in a low ponytail.
“I’m Noah,’’ one of the boys said, giving us a little wave.
“I’m Piper,’’ the third girl said. “This is my brother, Dylan.’’
I smiled and turned to the boy she was gesturing to. My heartbeat picked up, and for once, it wasn’t in a bad way.
Dylan was really, really cute.
His shaggy brown hair reflected the fluorescent lights above us, and his blue eyes sparkled with mischief. He was about my height, his white skin already tanned from the mid-June sun. He gave me a grin, one that made heat blossom in my chest.
“Hi,’’ I finally said, grinning. “I’m Chloe. These are my friends, Ben and Tara.’’
“Hi!’’ Natalie grinned. “It’s so nice to meet you.’’
“Same!’’ I gushed. “We haven’t really gotten a chance to meet anyone.’’
And so we talked, between bites of food, which our new friends ordered rounds of. With a fake smile on my face, I told them my fake story about my fake life. It was surprisingly easy, pretending to be someone else. Maybe it was because I was having a much-needed break from being myself, or because for once, I felt like I belonged.
I felt normal. I felt safe.
I felt like I mattered.
We became good friends with the group surprisingly quick. Within days we were hanging out together at the beach, the mall, and at each other’s houses.
I still felt that weird warm feeling every time I was around Dylan. Maybe it was what a crush felt like. I had never really sought out boys at my old schools, probably because I didn't want to get close to them, or they didn't want to get close to me.
But I guess things were different now.
The girls took Quinn and I on a mall trip a few days after because, they said, you could never have too many clothes.
I felt bad buying expensive things with Amber's money, but she didn't mind. Her father was rich and powerful, so she was sure it would be fine.
We took a break from shopping at the food court, our shopping bags strewn around our feet. We talked about everything, from boys to the weather to Instagram to the beach. When we were done we went on another round of shopping. Amber, Natalie, and Quinn took to the front while I stayed behind with Piper.
She was smirking at me, her blue eyes dancing with mockery.
"What?'' I asked.
Piper rolled her eyes and let out a giggle. "Oh, nothing. Except for the fact that someone has a crush!'' She drew out the last word teasingly, grinning at me evilly.
"Piper!'' I cried. "Keep your voice down! Someone's gonna hear!''
She swatted my arm playfully. "Oh, don't be so dramatic, Chlo. Now spill!''
My face was on fire. "No!''
"Come on! You can talk to me, Chloe.'' She protested.
I played with the bracelet that I had gotten earlier. "Fine. Since you asked. I...I like your brother.''
Her eyes widened, and then her lips exploded into a grin. "I knew it!'' She cried. "Oh, you poor, poor soul.''
"Well, my brother's an idiot. I doubt he's noticed anything.''
"Do you have any advice to make him notice me?''
Piper pursed her lips, thinking. "Well...he likes when a girl isn't afraid to be who they are. One who's true to themselves and comfortable in their own skin. He likes smart, resourceful girls, and he also really likes girls with a witty, sarcastic sense of humor. Ooh, and he also likes girls who are bold and independent. But I'm not saying you have to change to get him to like you. You're awesome just the way you are, Chloe. If he likes you, then he'll like you for you. Same goes for all guys. Remember that.''