17-year-olds Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey Best grew up as identical triplets... until they discovered a shocking family secret. They're actually closer than sisters, they're clones. Hiding from a government agency that would expose them, the Best family appears to consist of a single mother with one daughter named Elizabeth. Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey take turns going to school, attending social engagements, and a group mindset has always been a de facto part of life...
Then Lizzie meets Sean Kelly, a guy who seems to see into her very soul. As their relationship develops, Lizzie realizes that she's not a carbon copy of her sisters; she's an individual with unique dreams and desires, and digging deeper into her background, Lizzie begins to dismantle the delicate balance of an unusual family that only science could have created.
|Publisher:||Little, Brown Books for Young Readers|
|Sold by:||Hachette Digital, Inc.|
|File size:||798 KB|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Cat Patrick
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2013 Cat Patrick
All right reserved.
My part is first half.
I go to student government, chemistry, trigonometry, psychology, and history at school, then do the rest of the day at home. I maintain that Mom was in a mood when she made assignments this year—math and science are definitely not my best subjects. When I reminded her of this, she said, “That’s exactly why you’re doing first half.”
I finish applying lip balm, take a step back from the sink, and frown. I’m used to looking exactly like two other people, but I’ll never be used to Ella’s fashion sense. I’m actually wearing an argyle cardigan.
“What’s up, Ann Taylor Loft?” I mutter to myself, shaking my head.
I lean back and crane my neck so I can see the digital clock on my nightstand: It reads 6:47—thirteen minutes before I need to leave for school. One of Mom’s major concerns is us standing out—and therefore being found out. So things like tardiness, bad grades, and attention-grabbing clothes are basically off-limits in the Best household.
I haven’t eaten breakfast, but I don’t smell bacon, so I decide to grab something from the cafeteria. Instead of sustenance, I opt for straightening. I plug in my flat iron, wait for it to heat up, then quickly but meticulously comb sections and pull the iron along, making the curls disappear. It’s got its drawbacks, but at least first half means that I pick the hairstyle for the day.
Expertly moving through the darkened bedroom, I smooth down one last wrinkle at the foot of the bed and throw my pajama bottoms in the hamper. Mom tries to act mellow, but I saw her OCD forehead vein pop out yesterday when she saw the state of my room—she’s got enough going on, so I cleaned it up. I gather my books and leave, gently closing the door behind me.
Just as I step from the cushy carpeting to the light hardwood in the hallway, Ella does, too. Her bedroom is across from mine: We face each other head-on. It’s like looking at a life-sized picture of me in another outfit: She has the exact same tone of chestnut hair, matching dark brown eyes, the same lips that naturally frown when they’re not smiling.
And they’re frowning now.
Ella’s eyes narrow to slits when she sees my hair. Her posture is pure pissed—underneath her plush robe, she pops a hip and rests her hand there—but more than seeing her anger, I can feel it. She exhales loudly and rolls her eyes.
“Are you done?” I ask. “We’re not at auditions for a teen drama, you know. You don’t have an audience.”
Ella shakes her head at me.
“I mean, you’re so selfish it’s ridiculous,” she says.
“It’s just hair,” I say, touching it. Awesome hair, I don’t say. Hair I’d like to have permanently.
“It’s not just hair,” she says. “It’s time. I’m up early as it is because I didn’t finish everything for second half. I have to study before Betsey gets up and then teach her all of the cheers. You know there’s a game next Friday! I have so much to do and now I have to flat iron my hair, too?”
“What’s going on?” Betsey asks from her door, rubbing her eyes. I feel a little bad for waking her up. Her part is evening, which means that on top of being homeschooled all day, she’s the one to juggle our college course, a part-time job, and cheering at night games. She goes to bed at least an hour later than we do.
When Betsey finally focuses on me, her dark eyes widen. “Seriously, Lizzie? Not again,” she says with a groan.
“Not you, too,” I say, eyebrows raised. She shrugs.
“Yes, her, too,” Ella says. “What you do impacts all of us, Lizzie. You should remember that next time. I mean, just, thanks for this. Thanks for ruining my day.” She storms downstairs, bare feet slapping gleaming wood floors all the way down.
I stifle a laugh. “Sorry,” I say to Bet with a sheepish grin. “But I like it this way.”
“It does look good,” she says, giving me a small hug. “But I’m still going to kill you.”
I stop in the entryway to gather all the stuff I need for school. I put my books in the bag. I unplug the cell phone from its charger and put it in the purse, then shove the purse in the bag, too. I shrug on the light jacket we chose for this fall and then grab the ends of the ball chain necklace and clasp it at the nape of my neck. When I straighten the weighty silver pendant so the vintage-looking pattern is facing out, there’s a little twist in my torso. But as I have for the past couple of months, I ignore it.
My mom hears me turn the door handle despite the fact that she’s listening to old Bon Jovi on the sound system in the kitchen. Sometimes I think she’s part bat.
“Lizzie?” she calls. “Come eat some breakfast.”
“I’ll eat at school.” I pull the door shut behind me, knowing my leaving will probably irritate her but hoping this is one of those days she lets her irritation slide. Otherwise, after school she’ll probably force me into a mother/daughter heart-to-heart about the importance of proper nutrition.
Outside, it’s a pretty fall day, a little hazy, but the sun’s managing to peek through. I inhale the ocean air as I walk across the cobblestone driveway, looking up at the hundred-foot pines that surround the property. With the imposing trees and an iron gate, you’d think a celebrity lived here… until you saw our car. Apparently top on the list of “safest cars for teens,” the sensible gray sedan is only just slightly better than the bus.
“Stupid old-lady car,” I mutter as I climb in and buckle up.
When I turn the key, I’m simultaneously blasted by heat and music; quickly I turn down the blower and flip to the alt rock station. I can’t help but laugh at Betsey’s taste: She may dress like someone who lives for jam bands, but her real musical love is country. I think back to Florida, when our neighbor Nina babysat us sometimes in the afternoons so Mom could run errands without dragging along three toddlers. We’d sit out by Nina’s pool listening to Reba McEntire, sipping sugary drinks we weren’t allowed to have at home.
“Now, don’t tell your mama, you hear?” Nina would say in her Southern accent. Practically drooling at the sight of juice boxes, we’d nod our little heads and swear on our baby dolls never to tell. Nina would sing along with Reba at the top of her lungs while Bet did backup vocals and silly dances, and I’d laugh to the point of a potty emergency.
Betsey never outgrew her affinity for country music and it’s one of the things that I love about her, because it’s one of the ways she’s different.
Still not used to the driveway—our old house was on a regular street—I do an Austin Powers maneuver to get the car turned in the right direction. Then I hold my breath as I drive up, hugging the right, since there’s a drop-off on the left.
I wait for the gate to inch open, tossing my hair off my shoulders and finally taking a breath. For another morning, I’m safe from death by driveway. Despite my hideous sweater, I have sleek, straight hair. And now, for a few hours at least, I’m out of the house. I smile for no one to see, because these things are worth smiling about.
Two hours later, instinctively, I touch the necklace around my neck. My heart rate is up: I can hear the blood pounding in my ears. I try to calm myself as I picture the alert sounding on my mom’s phone, it dragging her from whatever she’s doing so she can check the GPS blip and make sure I’m where I’m supposed to be. Back in Florida when we were little, the necklace used to make me feel protected. Now, sitting here in trig, panicking because I don’t know the answers, it feels invasive. Not only do I have my own stress to worry about, but I have her stress to worry about, too.
“It’s a killer, isn’t it?” the guy across the aisle whispers, nodding down at the quiz. He’s got unfortunate acne that distracts from an otherwise solid-looking face.
“The worst,” I whisper back before our teacher gives us a look and we’re forced to focus. But when I do, I realize once again how little I know.
I studied; I really did. Ella is much better at math, and after the requisite teasing, she helped me the past three nights. But it’s too much. Going through the problems, I feel like I’m trying to read Mandarin while blindfolded. Sure, Woodbury is tougher than South was last year, but it’s not like I’m an idiot. And yet, we’re only a couple weeks into the school year and already, without a doubt, I can honestly say that…
I. Hate. Triangles.
And granted, I’m freaking out right now about a quiz on the first three chapters of the book, so I don’t know a lot about it, but it seems to me that triangles are the very essence of trigonometry.
I spend fifty minutes suffering through the most painful academic experience of my life. Even before the bell rings, I am chastising myself for being so stupid. So flawed. Even though my mom’s not my DNA donor, I was grown in her womb; her smartness should’ve rubbed off on me somehow.
How can I just not get math?
I jump at the bell, then reluctantly hand in my quiz. I jump again when my phone vibrates in my pocket; I haven’t even made it to the classroom door yet. I don’t check the caller ID; I know who it is.
“Lizzie, it’s Mom,” she says, trying to sound calm when I know her well enough to know that she’s not.
“I know,” I say, weaving around two girls blocking the door. “Hi.”
Pause. “Your heart rate just shot up: What happened? You were in math class, right? Is everything okay?” The way her voice sounds right now reminds me of the time in middle school when she forgot there was a museum field trip and the tracker showed me across town during school hours.
“Geez, calm down,” I say. “I’m fine. It was just a quiz.”
“Did you fail?” she asks quietly, saying “fail” like some people say “cancer.” I hear her take a breath and hold it on the other end of the line and I can almost see the thoughts running through her brain. Mom places an incredibly high value on doing well in school.
“How should I know?” I say. “I only just handed it in. I won’t get—”
“Lizzie, you know.”
She lets out her breath like a popped tire. “I’m going to come home for a few minutes after Bet’s done with night class. We’ll have a family meeting to discuss this.”
“But, Mom, I—”
“We’ll discuss it tonight,” she says sharply. “I think we need to—”
Service cuts out and my bars are too low to call her back. I’m left to wonder as I leave the math corridor and head down the main hallway what Mom thinks we need to do this time.
After psych and government, I race to my locker, then flip around and rush toward the commons, where I’m blasted by the smell of fried foods. My stomach grumbles—it’s been too long since my vending-machine breakfast—but there’s no time to stop. I cut through the circular space, weaving my way around tables and kids with trays toward the exit to the student lot. I imagine Ella standing in the entryway of our house with a stopwatch, tapping her toes. The longer it takes me to get there, the less time she has.
I look over and see David Something from student government smiling a salesman’s smile. “Take a load off,” he says, his voice carrying over the lunchtime noise. The other football players at his table look at me curiously as David pats the empty seat next to him.
I smile back and wave politely but keep walking. I stifle a laugh when I hear one of David’s friends say, “Burn!” just before I reach the doors.
I make it outside and check my phone for the time: I’m doing okay. Even though lots of kids go off campus for lunch, no one is nearby, so I jog to the car. I throw the bag on the passenger seat and drive home no more than five miles per hour over the posted speed limits. All I need is to get a speeding ticket the same day I fail a trig quiz.
I drive through the gates and down the driveway, then park and turn off the car but leave the keys in the ignition and the bag on the passenger seat. Ella is walking toward me before I’ve shut the door. With her stick-straight hair and matching cardigan and skirt, I might as well be staring at myself. Most of the time it’s just how things are, but today, maybe because I’m already worried about the quiz, it’s the bad kind of surreal. The only difference between us at the moment is our posture: Hers is tall and confident, mine is slumped.
“You okay?” she says when she’s close enough for me to hear. “I felt it.”
I nod, thinking of the sudden sense of unease that comes over me when Ella or Betsey panics about something. “Did Mom totally freak out?”
Ella glances at the front door and then refocuses on me. “A little,” she admits. “I think she’s just disappointed.”
“Ugh,” I say. “She said she’s coming home for a family meeting tonight. She never comes home at night!”
When we were born, our mom gave up her real passion of being a scientist so she could work nights and be home during the day with us. Instead of doing the genetics research she loves, she’s using her other degree to be an ER doctor, somehow functioning on three hours of sleep a night.
“I know. It’s weird,” Ella says, stepping forward to give me a quick hug. “But it’ll be okay,” she says into my hair. “We’ll figure it out.” Dramatic as she is, in a real crisis, Ella’s always there. We pull apart and smile at each other: Mine’s forced, because she’s trying to lift my spirits.
“Anything I need to know?” she asks.
I shrug again. “Other than the trig debacle… no,” I say. “Oh, wait, that guy David from student government tried to wave me over at lunch.” Ella doesn’t have a class with David, but she nods anyway.
“What’d he want?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. I just waved back and kept going. I didn’t want to make you late.”
“Thanks,” she says with another small smile.
“No problem. Good luck.”
Ella laughs. “I’ve got the easy part,” she says wistfully, like she misses the challenge, even though she has cheer practice, which she loves. “I think I can handle Spanish and dance.”
“Don’t forget creative writing,” I say, the wistful one now.
“Oh, right,” she says as she reaches out to unclasp the necklace from my neck. She puts it on, then hugs me goodbye and goes to the car. I walk across the cobblestones and, from the front porch, turn back to watch Ella go. It’s like I’m having an out-of-body experience—like I’m watching myself. Except that Ella drives straight up the middle of the driveway, fearless.
And I love her for it.
The rest of the day is like clockwork. I spend three hours at homeschool with Betsey and my all-business mother (who through pursed lips refuses to acknowledge what happened in trig whatsoever during “school time”). We trudge through the same subjects that Ella’s studying at Woodbury, just like Ella and Betsey did with my morning schedule. When Mom leaves for work at 3:30, I crank the music in our home gym for the same treadmill session that Bet and Ella did earlier, while Bet catches up on chemistry. Ella returns after cheer practice, and shortly after that, Bet leaves for night class. Ella and I eat dinner and do homework, comparing notes and chatting casually until Bet comes home again.
Then I get nervous.
“She’ll be here anytime now,” I whisper, seconds before the door opens downstairs.
“You’re totally psychic,” Betsey says with a laugh, but I’m not in the mood. Instead, I try to judge my mother’s level of pissed-ness by the way she kicks off her shoes and rushes up the stairs.
“Oh, good, you’re all here,” she says when she rounds the corner to the rec room. Her hair is pulled back at her neck and she’s wearing ill-fitting but remarkably clean scrubs with a cardigan over them.
“Hi, Mom,” I say as she hurries into the room and sits down on the couch next to Ella. She pats Ella’s knee, smiles at Betsey, then frowns when her eyes meet mine.
“Hi, Lizzie,” she says before sighing like I’m the absolute worst there is for not knowing about stupid freaking triangles. “I don’t have a lot of time, so let’s get right to it.”
“You should have just told us whatever you wanted to say when you saw us earlier,” Ella says. “Don’t you have patients?”
“I wanted to talk to all three of you at once,” Mom says, making me feel sick. That doesn’t sound good at all. “And besides, earlier I was still figuring out what to do.” She pauses for breath, glancing at the clock on the wall.
“What do you mean, ‘figuring out what to do’?” Ella asks, looking suddenly concerned.
Mom faces her. “I’ve decided we’re going to make a change in light of Lizzie’s… challenge,” she says. I can feel Ella glance at me, but I keep my eyes on Mom. No one else speaks, so she continues.
“First, I want to say that we’re lucky that it’s taken this long for noticeable differences to crop up,” she says. “I was fearful every day through puberty, and yet thankfully, that wasn’t an issue.” I don’t have to look at the others to know they’re blushing, too. Nobody wants to hear their mother say the word puberty.
Mom goes on.
“But now, it’s grown obvious to me that Lizzie is developing more right-brain tendencies,” she says, looking into my eyes. “I’m sorry, Lizzie, I thought that by allowing you to be the one in those classes at school, you’d grasp them more easily. I thought maybe I was doing a poor job of teaching them. But it seems that math and science just aren’t your forte.” Mom gives me a sympathetic smile that’s completely annoying.
“But if today is any indication, our current setup isn’t working,” she continues. “We’re not even three weeks in and already it’s clear that to remain on this path could draw attention to us, and therefore threaten everything. Because of this,” Mom says, shifting like she’s bracing for a triple teen outburst, “I am switching junior year assignments.”
I feel myself stiffen; Ella sucks in her breath.
“Are you serious?” Betsey asks. Mom nods.
“Ella will take first half,” she says authoritatively, but not meeting Ella’s eyes, probably because she knows how disappointed Ella’s going to be to miss out on cheer practice. “Lizzie will take second half. Betsey, you’ll stay with evenings.” Betsey visibly relaxes in her chair.
“But we have the schedule down,” Ella says in protest. “This isn’t fair.”
“I know,” Mom says. “But you’ve made straight A’s your whole life. You just transferred—and Principal Cowell specifically commented on your high marks. If suddenly you start getting C’s in math, it’ll attract attention. And beyond that, it’s time to start thinking of college. Of your future.”
Start thinking of college? I feel like she’s been thinking of college since we were two days old. The funny thing is that none of us knows how we’ll even handle college logistically, so we’ve all just put our heads in the sand about it. I blow out my breath, but everyone ignores me.
“So, it’s settled then,” Mom says, checking the clock again as she stands up. “I’ve got to get back to the hospital.”
“How soon?” I ask, knowing that I need to brush up on the cheers Ella’s learned so far. My stomach lurches at the thought of manufacturing pep.
“I called the school and told them that you had a migraine today,” Mom says. “I talked them into letting you retake the quiz.”
Nerves rage in my insides—I can feel mine, and the others’, too. She can’t be saying what I think she’s saying. “How soon, Mom?” I ask again.
She looks at the clock one more time, then looks back at me.
“Don’t forget to take off your nail polish.”
Mom’s talking to me from the kitchen doorway on the morning of the most last-minute, massive switch we’ve ever done. It’s ironic that she’s nagging me: She’s the one who left five minutes ago to mail bills before homeschool, then came back because she forgot both the bills and her car keys. I roll my eyes at her and she leaves, then I look down at my perfectly painted white nails.
“Why do yours always chip so easily?” I ask Ella, frowning. She shrugs, her eyes on the valley below our house. I know she’s upset about the switch, too. She stands and takes her cereal bowl to the sink before disappearing, probably to brush her teeth. Again. I shove back and go upstairs, then wander down the hall toward Mom’s room in search of remover.
I open the door to the cool, dark room and flip on the overhead light. As I squish across the carpet, I glance over at the three baby portraits in thick brown wooden frames, hung art-gallery straight on the wall with the door. I feel a familiar prickling on the back of my neck as I stop for a long look.
Anyone else would see the same kid wearing different outfits and expressions, but really, it’s different people. Ella’s openmouthed; Mom said she was mesmerized by a butterfly on a stick that the photographer used to get her attention. Her background is department store all the way. In her photo, Betsey’s drooling like a Saint Bernard. And I’m crying, probably because someone put me in a bucket.
What makes the hairs on my neck and arms stand up is that there’s another picture in a drawer somewhere—just a four-by-six snapshot taken by a proud parent—and the baby in the photo looks identical to the babies on the wall. Somewhere, there’s a photo of the Original, the baby who died.
The baby Mom cloned to make us.
“What are you doing in here?” Bet asks behind me, scaring me so badly that I bang my shoulder on the wall when I jump back. “Sorry,” she says, laughing. Bet’s always been a fan of frightening others.
“I’m getting nail polish remover,” I say, turning away from the faces that started as someone else’s.
“And visiting the Wall of Fame,” Bet says, waving at the photos. “God, Ella was a weird-looking baby.”
I chuckle, then we’re quiet a second. “Doesn’t it ever freak you out?”
“What?” Bet asks.
“That we’re not… normal,” I say.
“Lizzie, don’t be dumb. We’re normal,” Betsey says, shaking her head at me. “We just happened to be cloned instead of made the regular way.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Sometimes it makes me feel inferior.”
“Well, it shouldn’t,” Bet says. “You’re awesome. But you know what? Mom’s going to make us both feel inferior if we don’t get our homework done because we’re standing around gawking at our baby selves. You’re already on her list this week; why make it worse? Let’s go.”
I allow myself to be dragged by the hand toward the door of Mom’s room, wondering whether the kids at school would consider clones unnatural; wondering what they’d think if they knew the truth. My fingernails are still painted, and as I flip off the light behind me, my neck is still prickling, too.
“Here,” Ella says, holding out the necklace at lunch. We’re on the front porch and the car is idling; I was the one waiting this time.
“Thanks,” I say, taking it and putting it on, thinking that to anyone else, the necklace probably looks like a family heirloom: a locket containing tiny photos of those I love. But it’s a lot more than that.
“Everything go okay this morning?” I ask.
“Yeah, fine,” Ella says, blowing out her breath. “Classes were okay; I talked to that David guy a little in student government.” She pauses, eyeing me for a few seconds before adding, “And… I aced the quiz.”
Ella wrote down the classroom numbers, but still, I’m edgy as I walk into Spanish III that afternoon. Instinctively, I make my way to our seat: front row, closest to the right wall. It’s the one we choose in any classroom, assuming we’re given a choice. We do it mostly for convenience’s sake—sometimes someone gets sick and we need to fill in for each other—but I’m not saying one of us (ahem, Betsey) doesn’t have a few obsessive-compulsive tendencies, too.
I settle into the chair, lean back, and twirl an end of my hair, pretending to be bored. As far as everyone else knows, this is my sixth class of the day, not my first. I try to look tired, even faking a yawn just before Mr. Sanchez shows up. He drops his teachers’ manual loudly on the front podium, then addresses the class.
“Hola, estudiantes!” he shouts, beaming like we’re his favorite people on earth. He claps his hands loudly a few times, probably trying to shock us, with our post-lunch comas, into the afternoon. Happy to be learning Spanish from a native speaker instead of my mom, I’m okay with his antics.
“Hola, Señor Sanchez,” I reply aloud. No one else responds. A few people snicker. Mr. Sanchez looks at me with eyebrows raised, smiling.
“Brownnoser,” a girl mutters behind me.
I don’t turn to see who said it, but I learn my lesson. For the rest of the class period, I only respond when called upon. But that doesn’t mean I don’t shout out the answers in my head. And, unlike in trigonometry, here I get them all right.
One step removed from private, Woodbury is one of the few remaining public schools with an arts program, still offering things like music, painting, pottery, and dance. I may not want to chant “Go, TEAM!” while wearing a revealing outfit, but I’ve always loved every form of dance. So, inheriting our dance elective from Ella was a gift.
Seventh period, I walk confidently to the studio in the hallway next to the gym without pausing to think or ask for directions. It’s possible that I might have happened to take the very long way to history once or twice to see what the dancers were up to. Thankfully, now it’s my turn.
I find locker number 27—it was assigned—and type in the only combination we ever use: 3, 33, 13. Inside, I find a black halter dance top with a built-in bra, black drawstring shorts that, embarrassingly, say DANCE across the butt, a red hoodie shrug that covers my arms and upper back, footless nude tights, and black, broken-in jazz shoes. Faster than fast, I change, excited to get to try out the dances Ella’s already taught me with a room full of other students.
“I hope she finally teaches us the ending today,” a red-head named Alison says from behind me as I walk from the locker room to the dance area. I’ve seen her before during first half: She always says hello when we pass in the halls.
“I know,” I say, thankful for Ella’s prep, “we’ve been stuck on the middle section for a week!”
“I think it’s easier to dance the whole thing,” Alison says. “I’d rather learn all of it and practice it straight through than keep stopping to perfect each section.”
“Totally,” I say, feeling a little awkward but forcing myself to remember that even though I don’t know Alison, she thinks she knows me. “And you know how if you learn something then sleep on it, you’ll remember it better?” She nods. “Well, I bet if she teaches us the ending today, we’ll all nail the dance tomorrow.”
“Genius,” Alison says, smiling warmly.
“Hardly,” I say, laughing as I pull my long hair into a knot at the back of my head, checking for strays in the wall of mirrors.
“Showtime,” Alison says as the teacher takes her place.
And for forty-five minutes, I’m in heaven.
I leave my hair pulled back for creative writing, because it’s sweaty and I used all my shower time going over the routine—the whole routine—three more times with Alison. Still high on dance, Madonna ringing in my ears, I walk into the creative writing classroom and cut straight to the front desk on the right. Not until I’m practically in the lap of the desk’s occupant do I realize that it’s taken. I stop short, no clue what to do. Should I just sit in a free seat or run out of the room and call Ella? While I’m deciding, the guy in my seat feels my stare and turns around.
Suddenly I notice that the room has grown very warm.
“Hi?” he asks, smiling with his brow furrowed. I don’t know him, but his greeting seems to be translatable to Gawk much?
He moves in a funny way, almost levitating the desk while he’s still in it. Then he makes the walls ripple, too. How does he do that? I wonder, but not for long, because the floor buckles. I reach out for the desk next to me; we’re having an earthquake. Except no one else seems to be alarmed.
“Are you okay?” I hear the guy ask.
I don’t answer.
Instead, I pass out.
When I wake up seconds or minutes later, my classmates are looking at me from their desks, some of them smirking, some of them concerned. My first thought is that I’m thankful that I’m not wearing a skirt. My second thought is of the necklace. My hand flies to my throat, and for once this week, I catch a break: The necklace isn’t there. I must have left it in my gym locker after dance.
“Elizabeth?” Mr. Ames says, standing over me, concerned. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” I mutter, feeling like an idiot. I look at Guy, who’s half out of his seat; he eases back down.
“Are you sure?” Mr. Ames asks. “You look quite pale.”
It’s weird to be on the floor while he’s hovering over me like this; I can see up his prominent nose. I start to sit up and choose to look back at Guy while I do it.
That’s when I realize that he’s actually pretty cute. Except not in the traditional way. Picking apart the pieces, he’s too angular. His chin and mouth are sharp; his nose looks like it started out perfectly straight then met up with a tree or another guy’s shoulder at some point. His hair can only be described as a side spike, like he stood sideways in front of a fan blowing hairspray instead of air. He’s tall and towering even seated, watching me curiously with light brown eyes. Just as I decide that he looks like the daytime alter ego for a nighttime superhero, he speaks.
“She hit the ground pretty hard,” he says in a low, smooth voice. “Maybe she needs to go to see Miss Brady.”
“Excellent idea,” Mr. Ames says, nodding. “Let me help you up, Elizabeth,” he says, offering me a hand. Then, to everyone else, “Who wants to volunteer to walk her to the nurse’s office?”
“No!” I say, jumping up. I can’t go to the nurse’s office. She’ll call my mom, who will make me go home and then prescribe chicken broth and a bedtime earlier than a toddler’s. “Really, I’m fine,” I say. “I had dance last period and overdid it. I just got a little light-headed.” Mr. Ames is frowning at me, so I add, “I didn’t eat lunch.”
“Well, at least go get a snack,” he says, shaking his head. “You girls.” I can’t help but wonder whether he thinks I’m anorexic or something.
“Great,” I say quickly. “I’ll go right now.”
“Someone needs to go with you,” he says, “just to make sure you’re all right. Anyone?” He and I both look around the class; no one volunteers. I don’t blame them: We’re only a few weeks into the school year and I didn’t go here last year. Technically, I’m still new.
“I’ll do it,” Guy volunteers. The hairs on my arms stand up.
“That would be fantastic,” Mr. Ames says. Even in my slightly woozy state, I wonder: Really? Fantastic?
Mr. Ames writes us hall passes and hands them over. “Take your time.”
My legs are shaky as I turn to leave the room; Guy follows me. Mr. Ames resumes class before we’re to the doorway. “As for everyone else, please open your notebooks for a fun new writing assignment. I’d like you to write two pages that begin with the phrase, ‘It all started when the dog…’ ”
Guy laughs under his breath. Once we’re out in the hallway, I turn and face him.
“Thanks for coming with me,” I say. “But really, I’m fine. You can just hang out if you want.”
“No worries,” he says with that easy voice that seems to float over to my ears. “I’m hungry, too.”
“Oh, okay.” Now I get it: I’m nothing but a free pass to the vending machines. Even so, although we just met, I fight to keep from smiling in his presence.
We walk down the long spoke of the English hallway in silence. I desperately want to ask his name, but I can’t be sure that Ella hasn’t already, so I keep my mouth shut. Though we don’t speak, I am aware of everything: the hint of a strut in his step; the way he genuinely greets the few people that pass like he knows everyone in school; the way he laughs after pulling out his iPhone and scrolling around for a second.
“There’s a ghost in this hallway,” he says, tilting the screen so I can see the “ghost meter” app.
“I hope you didn’t pay for that.”
“Naw, it’s free, but I’ve paid for worse,” he says before moving to hold open the door to the center of the school for me. Woodbury is a sprawling wheel with all of the departments branching out from the common/cafeteria area.
“Thanks.” He nods with a half smile. When we reach the vending machines, he puts away his iPhone and pulls a few dollars from his pocket.
“What’s your poison?” he asks, gesturing toward the rows of candy, chips, granola bars, and beverages.
“You don’t have to buy my food.” This makes him smile full-out, which zaps me like I’m sticking a butter knife in a light socket, but in a good way.
“You left your bag in class.”
I look down, as if it would be dangling from my neck if I had it with me. But he’s right; I have no money. “Fine, then I’ll take a Twix.”
“Good choice.” He buys two Twix bars and two bottles of water and hands me my half.
“Least I can do,” he says.
“Huh?” I unwrap my candy while he does. “What do you mean?”
“I missed,” he says. When I scrunch up my face at him, he clarifies. “I tried to catch you, but I missed. The least I can do is buy you a candy bar.”
“How chivalrous of you.” I can’t help but laugh.
“Can I record you saying that and play it back for my mom?” We start back toward class.
“Sure,” I say, wanting to add something witty but coming up dry.
We’re quiet again through the English hallway, but just before the door to our classroom, he turns to face me.
“You look different today.”
“Uh…” I’m not sure what to say. I’m frozen, gripping my water bottle, probably with chocolate in my teeth.
“Not in a bad way,” he says. “Good different.”
He pauses for a second, like he might say more, but then he nods toward the door and walks into the classroom. I follow behind, the plastic bottle protesting in my viselike grip. Once again, I’m relieved that I’m not wearing the necklace: I’m pretty sure my heart rate just surged to somewhere near the red zone. As I sit down in the only open desk in the classroom—the one right behind Guy—I think about the enormity of what just happened.
Maybe for the first time in my life, someone noticed.
He noticed me.
“Hey, you know that guy in creative writing?” I ask Ella the next morning at breakfast. “The one with the hair? He sits in our usual seat? Thanks for the warning about that, by the way.”
She looks at me funny, maybe because she’s clueless, probably because she’s wondering why I’m asking. On the verge of blushing, I start buttering my toast so I have something else to focus on.
“Yeah?” she asks. “What about him?”
“He said hi to me and I felt like a moron because I didn’t know his name.”
Ella just stares at me.
I roll my eyes at her. “Ella!” I shout. “Quit messing around. What’s his name?”
She laughs a little, stands, and takes her plate to the sink. I think she’s going to ignore me completely, but halfway through the doorway, she says his name over her shoulder.
I use the last ten minutes of dance class primping instead of rehearsing. After my speed shower, I pull my hair back into a wet knot and then hurry to creative writing, charged by the thought of seeing a guy I don’t know at all. He doesn’t arrive until just before the bell, but when Mr. Ames turns to write today’s vocabulary words on the board, he turns around in his desk.
“Hey, Elizabeth.” Zap.
“Hi, Sean,” I say back, swallowing butterflies. I want to say his whole name, but that would be elementary school–style immature, so I just think it.
Hi, Sean Kelly.
I solo brainstormed a few conversation starters on the way to school, but unfortunately class starts, so I don’t get the chance to try them out. Sean’s forced to turn around and I’m obligated to stare at his broad back for most of class, pausing only to make periodic eye contact with Mr. Ames so he doesn’t call me out. I manage to stay under the radar. But then at the bell, Mr. Ames does call me out: He asks me to hang back after class for a few minutes. Disappointed, I glance at Sean as he leaves the room, then walk up front.
“Thanks for sticking around, Elizabeth,” Mr. Ames says. “I won’t make you late for your next class—I just wanted to tell you how fantastic I thought your dog story was.”
“Really?” I ask, ignoring his overuse of fantastic.
“Definitely,” he says with a warm smile as he starts straightening papers on his podium. “It was an improvement over last week’s assignment and…”
Stomach flip. I’m better than Ella at something.
“… I just wanted to say that I’m expecting big things from you this year.”
“Wow,” I say sheepishly. “That’s really… thanks, Mr. Ames.” No teacher has ever pulled me aside to tell me that I’m doing a good job before. Strangely, it makes me want to head home and start tonight’s homework right this second.
“No problem,” Mr. Ames says. “See you tomorrow.”
“See you tomorrow,” I echo as I turn and leave the classroom. I’m so deep in my happy place that I nearly collide with someone when I step into the hall. It takes a second before I realize that someone is Sean.
“Are you in trouble?”
Were you waiting for me? I wonder.
“No,” I say. “He told me he liked my dog story.”
“Did he say it was fantastic?” Sean asks, which makes me burst out laughing.
“Actually, he did!”
“That’s awesome,” Sean says, shoving off the wall. He stuffs his iPhone into his pocket, then hoists his bag onto his shoulder. He starts walking beside me, confirming that he was, in fact, waiting. “Where are you off to now?”
“Cheerleading,” I say, trying to keep the negative tone out of my voice. I mean, the squad members are fine—nice, even. The captain, Grayson Jennings, is firm but fair. It’s just that I’m not into the idea of being catapulted into the air with nothing but a few skinny girls to catch me on the way down.
Sean nods in a way that annoys me, like he thinks I belong at cheerleading.
“What do you do after school?” I ask, a little snippily. He laughs.
“Whatever,” he says. “Hang out with friends. Read. Play games. Write. Sometimes I take pictures.”
“Of what?” I ask, tone gone.
“Well, I take all the pictures for the school Facebook,” he says. “But I really like to shoot stuff around town. My mom’s a pro photographer for like businesses and magazines and stuff, and sometimes she lets me help out.”
“Sounds fun,” I say, trying to come off as nonchalant when I really want to launch into game-show-host mode and ask him a lightning round of personal questions. But, as if we were beamed here, too soon we’re at the entrance to the locker room.
“This is where I leave you,” he says, nodding to the GIRLS sign over the door.
“Thanks… uh… for walking me here,” I say, feeling self-conscious about the way I’m standing, the sound of my voice. Everything.
“Sure,” he says. “Catch you later.”
And then he turns and walks away, not too slowly or too quickly. He just goes, comfortable being him, backpack slung over his shoulder like a normal kid with a normal life.
Betsey has major cramps tonight, so Ella and I draw straws for evening. It’s Wednesday, so that means Freshman English 1A at the community college, but both of us would practically sit through anything for a chance to see stars. It’s not like we’re banned from going out at night or anything, it’s just that only one of us can be out at a time.
Of course, Ella wins. Smirking, she pulls back her hair, because mine is still tangled from dance, puts on the locket, and bounces out the front door like Tigger.
I love her, but she’s a total pain sometimes.
The only good thing about losing the draw is that I get to spend some alone time with Betsey. We used to spend our afternoons together but now we’re ships in the night. Yesterday, we only saw each other during the few morning homeschool classes before I had to take off for second half. When I returned, she immediately left for evening. In a way, I’m glad she isn’t feeling well tonight.
“So, what’s going on?” I ask her when I join her in the rec room. She’s squinting at the TV, because even though the front of our house is shrouded in pine trees, the back overlooks the valley below and the setting sun is casting such a harsh glare on the screen that you can hardly make out the images.
“Just suffering,” Betsey says. She has a heating pad on her midsection and a bowl of ice cream in her hands. My period started this morning, too, like I’m sure Ella’s did. The difference is that to us, it’s nothing.
“I’m sorry, Bet,” I sympathize. “Do you want anything?”
“I want the stupid sun to go away,” she says. “Can you make that happen?”
I stand up and pull closed the heaviest drapes in the world: the kind you see in hotel rooms that start at the tip-top of the room and refuse to let in the tiniest smidgen of light. We stayed in two hotels on the drive from Florida to California and loved the room service and indoor swimming pools.
“Done,” I say as I flop back onto the couch opposite Betsey’s. “What are we watching?”
“You pick,” she says, tossing me the remote. “I don’t have the energy to flip.”
I start changing channels but don’t find anything, so I end up back where we started. When the half hour turns, a rerun of Friends begins. It’s extremely funny to the point that my side hurts I’m laughing so hard. At the first commercial break, I begin the chatter again.
Excerpted from The Originals by Cat Patrick Copyright © 2013 by Cat Patrick. Excerpted by permission.
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