Blake Reynolds finally has everything under control. He and his father have ironed out the wrinkles in their relationship. He’s in love with his girlfriend. And with the turmoil of the last year firmly in the past, he’s ready to move on to the next phase of his life. Then the sister he didn’t know he had walks into his life. The mother he’s never met is in need of a liver transplant—and he’s the only possible match. Suddenly, everything he thought he knew turns inside out.
Tina Chen wants to believe in a future with Blake. But when she tries to make his life easier by bringing his father into the confusing tangle, the conflict escalates from a difficult family matter into a worldwide scandal. Loving Blake is easy, but the temporary happiness they’ve found together just means she’s all the more aware when “ever after” begins to slip out of her grasp…
“I haven't read it yet.”
—The Entire World
The code name for this book is: 3:52 AM.
And no, I won’t explain that. It’s spoilery.
I’m thinking about password security as we ascend the steps to Tina’s parents’ apartment. It’s not as much of a non sequitur as it seems.
Thing is, Peter taught me how to pick a proper password back when he was still alive. I learned the trick from him when my fingers were still too small to stretch the span of the keyboard. Most people’s passwords are complete shit: a pet’s name, maybe with a number attached; a familiar date. These passwords can be cracked in minutes by any kid with a halfway decent script and a decent dictionary file. They can be cracked in a matter of seconds by anyone who takes the time to know you.
A real password, a good password, is a secret that you don’t even really tell yourself. If someone stuck little bamboo spears under your fingernails, you wouldn’t be able to spell it out. A good password is something you know in your fingers, not your head, and you can’t say it aloud, not even if you want to.
I keep secrets the way I store passwords: I hold them inside me, away from words, away from my conscious mind, away from all possibility that I will blurt out the truth.
I’ve told Tina about Peter. I’ve even told her the truth. Peter was my father’s best friend. He was the chief financial officer at Cyclone. He was like a second parent to me.
Secrets are funny. If you say them aloud in the right way, people don’t hear them. When I tell people that my father’s CFO was like a second parent to me, they classify him somewhere between a mentor or a high school coach.
A good password is stored in muscle memory. And all my secrets are stored in my flesh. Half my life is encrypted, hidden behind passwords, behind conversations that I can’t have about secrets that are not mine to tell. Not to my therapist. Not to my girlfriend.
I’ve told everyone the same thing: Peter was like a second parent to me. I’ve never said that he was like a mentor or a high school coach. I said that he was like a second parent. Even Tina didn’t hear what I had actually said.
She rummages through her purse, her head bent. Tina is the best thing that could have happened to me. She’s down to earth and rational. Without her, I wouldn’t know how much I didn’t know. She’s wearing a T-shirt and jeans—appropriate for a long drive down—but her hair spills around her as she bends her head over her purse, a dark silk cloud that dresses her up into something more beautiful than anything I’ve seen before. With her…
She unlocks the door and steps inside. “Hello? Mom?”
I can hear her mother in the kitchen singing along to B.B. King—a made-up version of lyrics.
“Hello?” she calls a little louder. “Mom?”
The radio shuts off.
“Tina?” Her mother pads out into the front room. There’s a strong family resemblance, only slightly hidden by the decades between them. Tina’s a few inches taller than her mother, which means that her mother is tiny indeed. But her mother has only a few threads of gray hair. They have the same nose, the same eyes.
Her mother’s eyes light up when she sees her daughter.
Mrs. Chen swiftly crosses the distance to her daughter and gives her a hug. “You were supposed to call when you were an hour away.”
“It’s my fault,” I put in swiftly. “I was distracting her.”
Mrs. Chen turns to me. “Blake.” She gives me a hug, too. “Always distracting. It’s good. Tina needs someone to distract her. She’s so serious.”
Tina almost—but doesn’t—sigh.
Mrs. Chen continues. “Mabel is at band practice still. Your father is out with his mahjong group.”
Tina frowns dubiously. “Since when does Dad play mahjong?”
“I know.” Mrs. Chen makes a face. “I went one time, but Zhu Yen makes up all the rules. When I complained, he just said, ‘Oh, well, that’s how it’s played in Taiwan.’”
“Gosh,” Tina says with a straight face. “Those Taiwanese interlopers.”
“In any event,” Mrs. Chen continues, “after I came armed with print-outs from the internet, all over the world, they threw me out. Too much rules-lawyering, they said.”
I nod in what I hope looks like sympathy. “How terrible. I can’t imagine anyone saying such a thing about you?”
Mrs. Chen detects my sarcasm and pokes me in the ribs. “Don’t be smart to me. It’s bad luck.”
“I read it on the internet.” She says this with no sense of irony at all. “Oh, and Tina? Your fat white friend is here. She said she needed to talk to you. She’s waiting in your room.”
Tina grimaces. “Mom.”
“What? Should I have had her wait out here?”
“I’ve told you a million times. Her name is Bethany. Bethany. Don’t call her—”
“But she is fat. How is it—”
“You know what?” Tina sets her purse on the counter. “We’re not going to have this conversation where she can hear it. I’ll explain later.” Tina takes my hand and pulls me toward the room that she shares with her younger sister.
“So,” I say in a low voice, “I gather your mom calls me the skinny white boyfriend to her friends?”
Tina lets out a little snort. “Uh. No. You’re my rich white boyfriend.”
“We were going to have drinks with Bethany after dinner, but honestly, she was kind of freaked out at the prospect of meeting you. She probably just came over to get it over with. She’s really nice, though. You’ll like her.” Tina pushes open the door to her room.
“Hey, Bethany. Sorry about…”
The woman who is sitting at the chair at the desk stands as the door opens. Her hair is a wavy blond; her eyes are a dark brown. She is pinup-model pretty—bold features made bolder by dark eyeliner and bright red lipstick. She’s wearing something vintage and blue. And for some reason, when she looks at me, I can’t look away.
Tina stops short in her tracks. “You’re not Bethany.”
“I’m sorry,” the woman who is apparently not Bethany says. “I’m really sorry. I didn’t realize your mom thought I was someone else, until she did, and then it felt super-awkward to correct her. She told me to wait here and…I really need to talk to you.” Not-Bethany wrings her hands together.
Tina’s shoulders have gone straight. She steps back, as if making sure I’m still behind her.
We might have just argued in the car, but I’m with her. I put my hand on her elbow, reassuring her. I’m here. I won’t let anything happen to you. It’s going to be okay.
“Who are you?” Tina’s voice is cold.
“Ellie.” She’s talking to Tina, but she keeps looking at me. “I’m Ellie Wise.” She licks her lips and looks at me more earnestly.
Maybe I should know her from Cyclone. My dad never forgets a face. I’m not as good as he is. Something about Ellie seems distinctly familiar, somehow, but I don’t know what. I command my brain to giving up whatever distant memory tickles me. My brain doesn’t comply.
Ellie shuts her eyes and exhales slowly. “Shit. You don’t know who I am.”
“Am I supposed to?” Tina asks.
I’m supposed to. There is something about her that I can’t quite put my finger on. Something that raises the hair on the back of my neck, like a memory of a ghost.
“My mother is Ginny Wise.” Her gaze slides to mine again. “She’s in the hospital. I’m sorry. I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m just really, really nervous. You don’t know who that is?”
I shake my head.
She swallows. “It’s okay. I have a plan B. I always have a plan B.” She crosses the room to me. She’s somewhere between me and Tina in height, and this close…
Yeah, I feel like I do know her. Like there’s something about the shape of her face that reminds me…
It reminds me, strangely enough, of a password.
Secrets are like passwords. You store them in your flesh. You don’t give voice to them, not ever. My dad involved me in every aspect of the company from basically the time I was born, and that means I know all about secrets. By the time I was five years old, I was giving interviews on television. This is how you keep secrets: you don’t stand still. I learned to move my hands if I wanted to tell someone about the new phone Cyclone was working on, to walk around if I wanted to talk about our latest operating system additions. If you think about the feel of fabric against your hands, or the placement of your feet, you can push the urge to tell your secrets right out of your mind. By the time I was five, I was keeping all kinds of things under wraps.
Right now, looking at Ellie, I feel the urge to run. To get out of here, before something I’ve never said, something I never even let myself think, something that’s stored in my muscles instead of my brain comes out
It’s too late.
The woman who isn’t Bethany holds out a shaking hand to me. “My name is Eleanor Wise.” Her voice trembles. “And I’m pretty sure I’m your older sister.”
No, this is not going to end in a cliff hanger, and no, it's not going to restart the same old drama between Tina and Blake. But if you’ve read Trade Me, you know that there are a few things that are left unresolved at the end. This is a book about those things.
...will be available at release.