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I’ll Be You: A Novel

I’ll Be You: A Novel PDF

Author: Janelle Brown

Publisher: Random House


Publish Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN-10: 052547918X

Pages: 368

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

“YOU BE ME, AND I’ll be you,” I whispered.
She looked back at me, wide eyes blinking under dense mascara. “We can do that?”
The three dark flecks swimming in the blue of her iris, the freckle beside her right ear, the tilt of her top incisor: These I knew as “not mine” from the hours that we’d spent comparing, but who else would notice? Who else had ever studied her as closely as I had? Who had ever seen me the way that she did?
“Of course we can,” I said. “Don’t you want to?”
There, in our trailer—amid the drifts of training bras and forgotten scripts and the tarot cards that our mother studied during the long days on set—we turned as one to gaze into our shared mirror. Elli hesitated, examining herself in that foggy way of hers. “I don’t know.”
Then her eyes slid into mine, and I felt her take me—the strong one, the sharp one, the wild one—into herself with a hot, quick gasp, as if suddenly coming alert. I could smell the mint of her gum; I could taste it in my mouth, the taste of fresh possibility.
“Yes,” she finally breathed. “Yes, I do.”
I didn’t feel a bit guilty about how much she trusted me—not then, at least. We were only thirteen, and it was already the beginning of the end.

ON A THURSDAY NIGHT in July, 378 days into my latest bout of sobriety, my father called to tell me that my twin sister had gone AWOL. My sister and I hadn’t spoken in 379 days, so this came as news to me.
“She told us that she was going to a spa of some kind,” my father explained. “But she’s been gone a week already, and she’s not answering her phone. It all seems very strange.”
I found this unlikely. My sister had never done anything strange in her life. Elli—married to a real estate lawyer, owner of a two-story Spanish Revival just blocks away from the Santa Barbara beach where we played as children, a woman who coordinated her purse with her heels—was the very definition of conventionality. Last time I was at her house I opened a drawer in the kitchen and found a banana slicer.
As for me: I was living in a near-empty studio apartment in Hollywood, so close to the boulevard that I woke up most nights to the sounds of people vomiting in the bushes underneath my window. I was thirty-two years old and slept on a futon, still crawling my way back from losing most everything I owned or loved in the years before. Fortunately, I still had my looks, some interesting tattoos, and a generous AA sponsor; and with these I’d found employment at a trendy café popular on social media for its latte art.
From semi-famous child actress to milk-foam Instagram model. That had been my life trajectory in a nutshell, a downward parabola precipitously accelerated by the excessive use of intoxicants.
When my father called, I was watching cooking show reruns and eating day-old green curry straight out of the takeout container. It was nine o’clock and eighty degrees out, the air in my apartment still flaccid from the day’s heat. I stood by the air-conditioning unit and ducked my head to let the whisper of coolant dry the sweat on the back of my neck.
“Let’s be real, Dad. This is Elli. She probably just got a bad facial peel and is hiding out until her skin heals. Nothing strange about it.”
“That’s what your mom said, too, but I can’t help worrying.” I heard a familiar note of concern and disdain in my father’s voice, a tone that was usually reserved for me. I’ll confess, I derived some perverse delight in drawing that out of my father: that I—I—might be the functional twin for once.

“What about Chuck? What does he think about all this?”
“Ah, well. He moved out a while back. They’re getting divorced.”
“Divorced?” I stood up abruptly, slamming my head against the edge of the air conditioner. Something squeezed tight in my chest, compressing my lungs.
“You still haven’t spoken, then, I take it.” Something had shifted in his voice, the pendulum of judgment swinging back toward me.
“No,” I said, squirming. “Not in a while.” Why was my father calling me anyway? My mother was usually the one who rang me up when something was amiss. Typically, I got a tentative quarterly voicemail, left at a time when I was most likely to be at work, though I noticed that she followed the café on Instagram and “liked” every photo of me.
A moment of hesitation. “And you—you’re still…OK?”
“You mean, am I still sober? Yes. More than a year now.” The silence on the other end of the phone was stiff with disbelief. “Look, do you want me to text you a photo of my latest recovery medallion to prove it?”

“No, no, I trust you. We’re proud of you, honey.”
Was he? I didn’t quite believe it, and I couldn’t blame him for that, either, given the number of times that I had betrayed their pride in the past. We lapsed into silence, the bitter failures of the last two decades—parenting and childing, alike—leaking into the crack in our conversation.
It dawned on me then that there was a reason for my father’s phone call. “Wait, are you asking for my help with something?”

My father coughed lightly. “I don’t want to inconvenience you,” he said. I had to stifle my laugh. I looked around the minuscule apartment that I called a home, barren of personal effects. My possessions these days consisted primarily of emotional baggage. My social life consisted of AA meetings, with an occasional foray into NA meetings. I had been treading water for so long that I relished the idea of having something—anything—to swim toward. It didn’t occur to me to legitimately worry about my sister; not yet.
“Not at all,” I offered graciously. “So what do you want me to do about Elli?”
“It’s not Elli, actually. What we need—what your mom needs, really—is for you to come help out with Charlotte. Your mother’s struggling a bit, physically I mean, and she’s been doing her best but Charlotte’s just starting to be too much for her to handle.”
This gave me pause. When you’ve spent the better part of a decade in various states of inebriation, it’s easy to forget names and faces. I ran this name through my spotty mental Rolodex, and came up empty-handed. “I give up,” I said. “Who’s Charlotte?”
My father sighed, his patience with me finally at its end. “She’s your niece,” he said.

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