Tentative (first three chapters)

When fast-talking, witty and beautiful N asks an impossible question before falling asleep on Estrella's shoulder during a Model Government conference, Ella realises two things: one, they look impossibly similar; and two, N is the girl that she would very much like to be. Cue road trip, love triangle, and all the wonderful things that make up teen fiction— but teen fiction with a twist.


1. 1

At the impossible hour of half past four on a September morning, I huddled with a group of sleepy teenagers in a check-in queue at Charles de Gaulle, clutching cappuccinos and comparing passport photos. We were heading to a Model Government conference in Budapest, and our chaperones had booked the cheapest flights possible— which explained the early departure, strict baggage limit, and four-hour layover in Amsterdam. There was some discussion and hurried repacking when Monica’s suitcase was found to be several kilograms overweight, but we boarded the plane in time. Within a quarter of an hour, both Monica and Marcus were asleep on my shoulders, drooling slightly.

In Amsterdam, the boys entertained themselves with their iPhones while the girls flirted with our young, slick chaperone, Mr Lucas. We landed in Budapest at two and exchanged euros for forints before finding the minibus waiting outside the terminal.

Everything about the hotel where the conference was being held screamed ‘luxury’. The lobby was huge, with plush arm chairs and low marble tables; a red-carpeted staircase led up to the second floor while stainless steel elevators glinted. Feeling scruffy and out of place, we made a line at the reception desk and were handed our key cards: I was rooming with Monica. After the bellboy delivered our bags to our room on the fifth floor, Monica unpacked and I flipped through the TV channels, looking for something in English.

The opening ceremony didn’t begin until six, but the serious delegates wanted to start building alliances as soon as possible, so at five thirty Monica and I dressed quickly in black dress pants and white blouses. Marcus, uncomfortable in his suit, kept tilting his head in the elevator on the way down to the conference floor, and twisting his neck like a dog on a leash; Monica and I teased him relentlessly. Dozens of different languages were being spoken around us as we stood by the drinks table: Marcus tried to name them, while Monica chattered about clothes, although the delegates were all wearing identical suits or black skirts.

After what seemed like an eternity of awkward standing, we were ushered into the main hall. A breathless Louise fluttered over to us, swooning over some English public school boys. Surprisingly, Monica showed some interest in their potential ‘intellect’, but I drifted over to the handful of guys from my school instead. Half of them were open-mouthed; the others were nudging each other suggestively. It wasn’t difficult to find out who they were looking at, but Marcus pointed her out anyways. Her complete disregard for clothing guidelines made her easily identifiable: her erratic red curls and tight turquoise dress stood out among the rows of conservative skirts and prim chignon buns.

“She actually looks kind of like you,” Marcus mused, tilting his head and narrowing his eyes. “Same face, same figure.”

It was a compliment; the girl was gorgeous. I smiled my thanks and we slid into our seats as the ceremony began, identical to previous years: we were told that the future of the world was in the hands of the young, and we ought to make the most of this opportunity to share ideas and meet new people. A beautiful boy, probably a sophomore in college, introduced the two guest speakers. Marcus, still playing the accent game, whispered “Latvian?” in my ear, but I had no way of telling if he was right or not so I guessed Polish.

The room began rustling halfway through the first speaker. If I had been a physics student like my boyfriend, S, I might have adored it, but I studied biology so the talk about other universes and light-years went over my head. The only part that stuck e was the description of the second law of thermodynamics, which means that everything falls apart. I tried to listen to the evidence and the reasoning behind it, but was distracted by Louise, who kept jiggling her leg and flicking her hair at the group of English schoolboys. Everyone else, too, had stopped following the lecture and was checking each other out, whispering to each other and turning in their seats.

The American School of Paris delegation, exhausted and craving comfort food, walked a few hundred meters to the KFC, where my vegetarianism limited me to fries.

When we got back to the hotel, Monica and I were taking off our make-up in the bathroom when the phone rang: Marcus’s roommate was listening to rap and trying to talk about ‘bitches’ with him. We laughed and offered a rescue plan: he joined us in our room to watch Love Actually on Monica’s laptop. Marcus kept pretending to gag at the sappy romantic parts, but went very quiet and slightly red when Monica caught him mouthing along to some scenes.

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