Read a Free Excerpt from The Twin by Natasha Preston

The Twin by Natasha Preston is a twisty thriller about a girl named Ivy who finds out that her twin sister, Iris, is trying to push her out of her own life—and might be responsible for their mother’s death. Start reading a creepy excerpt that will leave you on the edge of your seat. . .

Chapter 8

By the time I arrive home after therapy, I’m questioning whether it worked. I’m not sure I feel any better than I did before I went. Dad was right. Therapy really isn’t a quick fix. Not that I was naïve enough to believe that one session would solve all my problems, but, you know, it would have been nice.

If I could jump into a pool right now and swim my problems away, I wouldn’t hesitate.

Dad is waiting for me when I walk into the living room. He’s sitting on the sofa, watching the door. The gray hairs near his temples have increased, but Dad has always taken care of himself. Although he could easily pass as ten years younger, he’s definitely aged over these last two weeks. The stubble is still there, which isn’t helping.

“Hey, Dad. Where’s Iris?”

He looks over his shoulder and clears his throat. “Locked in her room.”

That doesn’t sound good. Like, actually locked or she just doesn’t want to see anyone?

Sitting up straighter, he asks, “How was therapy?”

That’s a pretty loaded question. One I’m not entirely sure how to answer.

“Well, it was interesting.”

He nods. “Interesting? Ivy, you have always been good at ex- pressing your emotions. Is interesting a good thing?”

I drop down next to him. “I think it will be good, but right now it feels exhausting. Kind of like I ran a marathon, turned around, and ran back. My whole body just wants to be horizontal.”

“I think that’s therapy. Talking about your life and your problems can be tiring.”

How would you know? My dad has many talents, but admitting he has any weaknesses is not one of them. I don’t think he has ever spoken to anyone about any of his problems. It was certainly a point of contention with Mom. It was one of the things I often heard them arguing about, right up until they split.

“So . . . do you think you’ll go too, Dad? Meera was surprisingly easy to talk to.” When she wasn’t pressing too hard.

“I won’t pretend that everything is okay, but I don’t need therapy.”

Yes, you do.

“You really believe that?” I ask, curling my fingers into my palms. “Because I know Mom’s death has affected you more than you let us see.”

“Ivy, I loved your mom because she gave me you and Iris. I’m sad that she’s gone and that you will grow up without her, but I am okay. This is about you two. I want to help you.”

Classic Dad move. Nice to see that not everything around here has changed.

“Fine,” I reply, conceding, because Dad can be stubborn when he wants to be. I don’t think I’ll be able to convince him to talk to anyone.

“Do you want to discuss your session?” “Not really,” I reply.

He holds his hands up. “Fair enough. Promise you’ll let me know if you change your mind. I’m always here for you.”

“Yeah, I promise.”

“Good.”

Dad hands me the remote, and for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon, we watch movies. Iris doesn’t come down- stairs once.

When our second movie finishes, Dad stretches. “All right, it’s almost five. What do you want for dinner?”

“Burgers and lots of fries.” Today calls for carbs. “Your comfort meal.”

I shrug. “Seems like a good day for it.”

“I’ll place the order soon. Will you see what Iris wants?”

Standing, I raise an eyebrow “And by that you mean find out if she’s okay.”

He laughs and scratches his stubble-covered jaw. If he wants me to believe he’s fine, he’s going to have to take better care of himself again.

“I’ll admit, I’m not very good at talking to your sister.”

I give him a sympathetic smile. “You’ll get better at it. I’m kind of hoping I will too.”

“You at least have the whole teen thing working in your favor.”

“The whole teen thing? You really need to stop trying to be down with the kids, Dad.”

“Noted,” he says with a smirk. “Now go talk to her.”

I want to help Iris, but I feel the responsibility pressing down on my shoulders like I’m giving someone a freakin’ piggyback. Holding on to the bannister as I walk upstairs, I purse my lips, trying to think of what to say to her.

Iris is in her room listening to music. I hover outside her closed door with my hand raised. I need to find out what she wants to eat, but for some reason, I can’t convince myself to knock.

Besides sitting in the kitchen before sunrise, she has barely left her bedroom. Meera’s words pop back into my head. Do you think she knows how to be real?

Is that why she hides in her room? We’re twin strangers and she hasn’t made friends here yet, so she doesn’t even have any- one to pretend with. She’s all alone, and that thought makes me queasy.

With a deep breath, I swing my hand forward and let my knuckles rap on her door. “Iris, can I come in?”

The music cuts off. I lean closer to the door. She can’t pretend to not be in there.

“Sure,” she replies.

I open the door and step inside. “Wow, things look different in here.” Her bed, chair, and drawers are in different places, and all the posters on her walls are gone. “Ah, you finally caved and moved the bed to the right place,” I joke.

Our bedrooms are the same size, with the closet and window in the same place. My bed is on the far wall near the window, and hers used to be on the opposite side. We used to argue about it. She thought it was stupid to be near a window in case someone came in, and I thought it was stupid to not be in case you need to quickly get out.

Her jaw tightens. “I wanted a change, Ivy, that’s all.”

“Okay,” I reply cautiously. She did not take that as a joke. “Dad is ordering dinner. It’s a burger, salads, pizza place. I personally recommend the guacamole cheese burger.”

“I can’t eat burgers.”

“You can’t?” Is that a thing?

“Do they have grilled chicken salad?”

“Probably. I didn’t know you don’t like burgers anymore.”

Now that she’s said it, I don’t remember the last time I saw her eat one. Certainly not since we started high school.

“I like burgers. I don’t eat them.”

“Right. I’ll tell Dad you want the salad.” Man, I have a lot of respect for people who can completely cut certain foods out of their diet. I still need to have the junk food sometimes. “So . . . what have you been doing in here?” Besides rearranging the furniture.

Her blue eyes stare at me. “I’ve been on my laptop and listening to music.”

“Oh, yeah? You been catching up with your friends?”

I’m treading on thin ice here. She hasn’t been doing that; she hasn’t mentioned anyone, and I haven’t seen her use her cell once. But I want her to say that. I want something from her, some- thing real.

“Not really.”

“I’m sure they miss you.”

Stop pushing.

“Do you think?” she snips, her voice curt. She is totally over my questions.

Well, now I don’t think they miss her. Snappy.

She had this one friend she would always go meet whenever I was there. They seemed close, not that I actually met her or can remember her name.

“Is everything okay, Iris? You seem stressed.”

She twists her whole body toward me. “I’m fine. I’m bored, that’s all.”

“We probably have about an hour before food arrives. Do you want to go for a walk?” I ask. “It might make you feel better.”

Iris smiles but it doesn’t touch her eyes. “Okay. Can I borrow a jacket? I’m not really feeling mine right now.”

“Sure.”

I give her my denim jacket and we tell Dad what we want to

order. I still want the burger, but I decide to swap out the fries for a salad to be slightly healthier. I’ll be back in the pool next week. “Where do you want to go?” I ask her as we walk across the road toward the field.

“Let’s go through town. It’s so pretty with all the trees, flow- ers, and shops.”

As we walk through the fields and the few trees separating us from town, Iris says, “So . . . convince me therapy isn’t a waste of time.”

Chapter 9

I’m sorry, what now?

Iris wants me to convince her that therapy isn’t pointless.

My skin prickles with heat. She may not believe that therapy works, but that was a pretty crappy thing to say to a person who does.

“I think you have to be open to it for it to be helpful.” She purses her glittery pink lips. “Hmm. Maybe.”

My shoulders rise. “Why do you think it’s a waste of time? Have you ever been?”

She scoffs. “Of course not. I have no reason to sit on a couch and get my head examined.”

Her words and her ignorance are a blow to the gut. She’s my sister; she should be supportive. “It’s not only for that, Iris.”

“Whatever. Talking to a stranger isn’t going to fix anything.” “Perhaps not for you!” I snap, frowning.

Why is she being so hostile? There’s no need to be . . . and she brought it up first. If she doesn’t think it helps, why bring it up at all? Other than to provoke me.

“Are you over her death?” Iris asks.

My eyebrows rise. Her cold, emotionless tone chills my blood.

Her.

Her death.

Mom’s death.

“Will I ever be?” I ask. “That’s rhetorical, right?”

I stop in the middle of the field just before the smattering of trees. “What’s gotten into you?”

Her shoulders hunch. “Ivy, I’m sorry.” She sighs and shakes her head and her hair swishes side to side. “I’m not having a great day. I apologize for being grouchy.”

Huh?

I shift from one foot to the other. “Do you want to dis- cuss it?”

Laughing, she replies, “Wow, you really are an advocate for talking it out, aren’t you?”

“Believe it or not, it does help. You just have to find someone you’re comfortable speaking to.”

Her eyebrows draw together.

She doesn’t have anyone anymore.

“That person can be me,” I rush out, making it very clear that I want her to be able to speak to me.

“I don’t mean to be rude here, but I don’t feel comfortable with you yet.”

“No, I get that.” Honestly I don’t feel comfortable with her either. I don’t trust her with my secrets. “We can work on it. I mean, we agreed to try and be proper sisters, right?”

We start walking again, her carefully in heels and me com- fortably in Toms.

“I want to go out more,” she tells me. “You could go to the library.”

Laughing, she looks up to the sky. “Not a chance. I don’t like sitting in silence.”

Unless it’s dark and first thing in the morning . . .

“Well, after school a lot of us hang around at Dex’s Diner.

They have good fries and even better shakes.” “That sounds like a lot of sugar.”

“Oh, it is. You definitely shouldn’t have too many. It’s good, though.”

We hit the edge of town and look down along the row of stores and restaurants. The town is super small, stores on the outside of the square, with a big patch of grass in the middle. It’s where the town throws all different kinds of events. Most of the residential areas are set in a square surrounding it.

It’s all very cute, but it wasn’t big enough for Mom or Iris. “Can we go to the diner? Do you think your friends will be there?” she asks.

“We can go, yeah. I’ll text them, but we can go anyway.”

I turn left and we head down one side of the square as I message Ty. Dex’s is on the corner.

A few people from school are on the green in the middle, hanging out on the benches. It’s warm today, and it makes town so much nicer.

Ty’s reply comes through, letting me know that he’s at the diner with some of the team just as we walk up.

“They’re here,” I tell Iris, pushing the diner door open. She fluffs her hair.

I raise my hand as they wave, no doubt talking about us. Iris knows some of my friends, but she never bothered coming into town when she stayed here, not unless we were going out for dinner, which was rare.

I kind of wish that I had taken her out more; then maybe she would already have some friends here. All the people we used to play with as young kids have moved away or Iris has lost contact with. She’s having to start from scratch.

“People are looking at us,” she says, standing taller. “Small town and all that. Most people mean well.” She shrugs. “It’s fine with me.”

Okay, then.

I recognize everyone in here. There are about twenty tables, and most are full of people from school. The diner is painted white and pale yellow on the inside and it always smells like fries.

“Ivy, hey,” Ty says, sliding out of a booth. God, it is good to see him.

“Hey,” I say, wrapping my arms around him. This is normal. Being here with Ty, even if it won’t be for long or on our own, makes me breathe easier.

“How are you?” he asks, releasing me.

“Ugh, okay.” I turn to Iris. “Ty, Iris.” “Hey,” he says, smiling at my twin.

She returns the smile, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. “Hi.” He looks back at me. “Are you two joining us?” “Probably not.”

“Ivy, it’s fine. If we wanted to sit alone, we could have stayed at the house.”

Oh, we definitely could not have stayed at the house. “Great,” Ty says, taking my hand and pulling me over to the table he’s sharing with three guys from the football team.

I wish Sophie and Haley were here too.

The guys greet me and then look to my sister.

“Iris, this is Todd, Alec, and Leo. Guys, this is my sister.” I don’t need to tell her they’re on the football team; their clothes are doing that.

“You want anything?” Ty asks as we sit down.

“I’m good, thanks. Dad is ordering food. We just needed to get out for a while.”

“Iris?” Ty asks.

“No, thanks.” She looks around the table like she’s trying to figure out some super-complicated math equation, focusing on each person as she goes.

What is wrong with her this afternoon? She’s sweet one minute and sour the next. Now she’s observing my friends. Why? Is she planning who to take under her wing? Plotting who will be good to own as minions? I don’t know.

Chapter 10

“How did it go today?”  Ty whispers when everyone else strikes up a conversation about football. Iris is laughing at Todd. He’s the joker of the group, the one to pull pranks in class and leave whoopee cushions on teachers’ chairs.

I’ve only told him about therapy and we haven’t had a chance to speak since I got home because, frankly, it was nice to have Dad to myself for a while, and I didn’t want to bail to call Ty.

“It was all right. I’m going back next week.” “Did you lie on a sofa?”

He’s trying to lighten the mood and it’s working.

“Really, Ty?” I can’t fight the smile stretching on my face. “She gave me a blanket. Apparently, most of her clients like to be under it.”

He turns his nose up. “You used a communal blanket?”

“Not until she assured me that she has a clean one for every person.”

With an adorable smirk, he says, “It’s cute you believe that.” “Don’t be gross.”

“I can’t wait until next week,” he says. “I’ve barely seen you.” Smiling half-heartedly, I reply, “I’m looking forward to seeing more of you and getting back in the pool, but not going back to classes.”

Ty’s eyes flick up to Iris, who’s deep in conversation with Todd, Alec, and Leo about the best excuse for cutting class. He runs a hand through his messy chestnut hair. “Are you both coming on Monday?”

I shrug. “She wants to.” “You cool with it, though?”

Ty is the only person who has asked if I’m okay with Iris coming to live with me and Dad. Obviously, I am, but it’s nice to have someone ask.

“Kind of. I think she’s using school to ignore everything else that’s going on.”

“While you’re actively trying to work through it as fast as you can. You know neither way is the best way.”

I roll my eyes. “I’m doing fine, Ty.” He’s always telling me to slow down when I try to fast-track a solution. It’s not easy for me to sit back and wait. He’s right, though—I’ve come unstuck a few times when I’ve reacted too fast because I haven’t given myself enough time to think something through.

Therapy is clearly the way to go with this, though, so I don’t feel like it’s going to come back and bite me on the ass.

“I’m glad to hear that. Make sure you keep talking to me, too, okay?”

I bump his arm with mine. “You got it. Tell me about the game I missed this week.”

“We won.”

I take a sip of his chocolate milkshake. “Ah, very informative.” “Ivy, are you getting something of your own to drink?” Iris asks. Her jaw is tight and her gaze just brushes above my forehead rather than my eyes.

We said no before, but . . . “I’m good, but you can if you want. We have time.”

She turns back to Todd, Alec, and Leo, who are hanging on her every word.

Ty chucks his arm over the back of the booth and drops his hand in my hair. “How has Iris been since she got back with you guys?” Ty asks as Iris heads to the counter to place an order. Leo follows her. Leo is probably Ty’s closest friend; he confides in him a lot more than he does with Alec and Todd.

“Honestly, it’s been like any other visit. I know it’s permanent, but it doesn’t feel like it. The house seems fragile, though. Like we’re all walking around scared to say too much. I hate living like that.”

“Yeah, you’re not good at keeping what you want to say inside.” My mouth falls open. “What are you trying to say, Ty?” Todd laughs as he brushes his hand through his shoulder-length chestnut hair. “Ivy, last month you told me my haircut made me look like an inmate.”

“Your orange T-shirt didn’t help.” Ty chuckles beside me. “See, babe?” “Whatever. It’s best to be honest.”

“There’s honest, then there’s you,” Todd replies with a smirk. “Can we move on, please? I only have forty minutes, and I want to hear any new gossip.”

The guys fill me in on what I’ve missed, which, besides a few breakups, is nothing much. But it is so good to hear about some- thing normal and, frankly, mundane. This is the stuff that I would usually talk about because I was lucky enough to have nothing bigger going on in my life.

I miss how easy and safe my life was, how small and insignificant my old problems were. A month ago, I was wondering if the head cheerleader, Ellie, would finally realize that Jake is also seeing a girl from another school.

She did, and now she’s dating Logan, another guy on the foot- ball team.

I used to care about stuff like that. It seems so crazy now. I’d do anything to go back there.

My sister returns with a large glass of lemonade. She places it on the table, and I watch tiny bubbles rise to the surface and pop.

Iris smiles at Leo from across the table. She raises the glass to her lips and takes a delicate sip. “So, Leo, what position do you play?”

Ty nudges my arm, his eyes flitting between me and my sister. “All good?”

“Yeah. Being here again, it’s good. For sure.” Ty and his friends are my people. My world might have changed but they haven’t. The old Ivy can still exist here.

Iris and I stay until she finishes her lemonade; then we head back home.

We walk in silence across the field, through the trees, and across the final field before home. I look up to the sky and feel the late sun warming my face.

“I’m going to talk to Dad about school,” Iris says as our foot- steps crunch on the rocky driveway. “Your friends are nice, and I want to be there.”

“Okay,” I reply. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken her out yet. Just because we had one positive hour with Ty and his friends doesn’t mean that school will go the same way if she’s not ready.

Iris walks ahead of me, her chin tipped up, ready for war.

It’s a tad dramatic. If she feels ready for school, Dad will be fine with it. She doesn’t need to try to convince him of any- thing.

He’s a lot more reasonable than she gives him credit for. I follow her into the house.

“You girls have a good time?” Dad asks. He’s unloading the dishwasher.

“Yeah,” Iris replies for us both. “I have something to talk to you about.”

His eyebrows rise. “Oh?”

“I want to go to school on Monday with Ivy.”

He puts down the plates he’s holding. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“I’m sure. Can you call tomorrow and tell them, please?” Dad looks at me like he’s asking for help. I shrug. No one but Iris can decide when she’s ready. I understand her need to jump into normality. I want things to be settled too.

“Iris, do you think you might need some more time? Perhaps you should see a therapist before you start.”

Her body visibly stiffens. I watch her fingers curl into her palms. I bite my lip.

She narrows her eyes. “No, I don’t need that. I just want to go back to school.”

“Dad, maybe it’s best that Iris goes to school now. It beats hanging around the house, overthinking. Besides, I’ll be there.”

Iris turns to me and smiles. “Thanks, Ivy.” She faces him again. “See, Dad, we’ve got this figured out.”

I wouldn’t go that far. For the first time, I don’t feel like I have anything figured out. Even when Mom and Dad split up, I had it together. I had a plan and it really was for the best. Mom dying wasn’t best in any reality.

“Well, if you think you’ll be okay,” he says. It was never going to take him long to cave. He’s powerless when it comes to some- thing Iris or I want. Though it seems he has a little more power with me.

“I’ll be fine. I promise. Like Ivy said, we’ll be together. It’s not like I’m doing any of this on my own.”

Then why do I feel like I’m doing this on my own? Iris won’t even say Mom’s name. She won’t talk about her old house, school, or friends. Dad, too, is refusing to accept that he needs to speak about Mom’s death and how it’s affecting him.

So who am I doing all this with?

At least I have Meera now. It was so nice to have someone listen. I don’t have to tread on eggshells around her, too afraid to mention my own mom. Meera welcomes it. She knows, as do I, that I have to speak about Mom. I have to keep her alive in my life somehow.

“Okay,” he tells her.

“Yay.” Iris claps her hands together. “Thanks, Dad.” He smiles, but he looks worried.

This is new territory for all of us, but he is going to need to be the strict but fair dad to her as well. How much grace is he going to give her before he goes full-on dad? If he didn’t want me to start back at school yet, I wouldn’t be starting. There are some things he won’t compromise on, and if thinks he’s doing the best thing for me, that’s it; there is no changing his mind.

The doorbell rings.

“I’ll get it,” Iris says, grabbing the cash off the counter.

I turn to him. “You know it’s ultimately up to you when she starts back at school, right?”

Tilting his head, he says, “Don’t complicate things.” “How am I doing that?”

Sighing, he says, “We need to have a level of understanding with her, Ivy. I can count on you for that, too, can’t I?”

“Yeah,” I reply with a frown. “You can count on me.”

That didn’t really answer my question, but I don’t think he actually has an answer. By “level of understanding,” he means let her get her own way so we don’t upset her.

That sounds like a fantastic idea. . . .

Chapter 11

The weekends have a bad habit of flying by too fast. Thursday and Friday dragged, but then I blinked and it was Monday again. My session with Meera on Friday was good, though. Exhausting and emotional to talk about Mom so much, but good. She asked about some of my favorite memories of Mom, and I found it so comforting to remember how much fun we had.

Meera still thinks that Iris doesn’t know how to have genuine friends, the ones who actually care about you and want the best for you. I still find it super sad.

Haley and Sophie are incredibly supportive, cheering me on and helping me train because they know how much I want a swimming scholarship to Stanford. They don’t want it for them- selves, though they love to swim.

It’s a future to me but a hobby to them.

So now I’m determined to be that person to Iris, the one to back her no matter what, to celebrate her achievements even when I fail.

Dad, Iris, and I are on campus, standing outside my car as the morning sun prickles my face. I drove with Iris this morning and Dad took his car.

I take a deep breath and squeeze my clammy hands into fists. Once we climb the three steps, we’ll be in school. I’ve had two days off and it still doesn’t feel like enough, but I have to get back to normal. I want to move forward. My pulsing heart is trying to tell me otherwise.

Iris is doing much better than me. Much better than anyone would have predicted. I loved my mom and it’s hell without her, but I don’t know what I would do without Dad. He’s been the one constant in my life.

Iris is acting like being here is just one of her weeks with us— not a permanent move because our mom died unexpectedly.

There still have been no tears, and I’m awake a lot at night, so I would have heard her.

“Are you two ready?” Dad asks.

Iris gives him a bright, toothy smile that lights her face. “A little nervous, but I’m ready.”

She doesn’t look nervous.

“Let’s go,” I say. I walk ahead of them and we catch the atten- tion of almost everyone standing around.

Walking through the open double doors, I take a breath as what feels like a hundred pairs of eyes snap to us, heads turning as we walk past.

Iris and I are identical in body only. Our faces are the same, but her hair almost touches her butt, and she likes skirts and heels and often wears pink. I’m more of a jeans-and-T-shirt kind of girl. If the T-shirt has a band or dumb slogan, even better.

The two girls who look the same but dress worlds apart. The twins who were split up but forced back together by tragedy.

“Hey, Ivy,” a couple guys from Ty’s football team call over, and I wave. Trent and Michael aren’t that close to Ty, so I only know them in passing and don’t feel like I need to stop and chat. I just want to get this over with and have a normal school day.

 

Inside the main office, Dad has to check over some paperwork with one of the secretaries. I stay with Iris as Mrs. Lewis, the assistant principal, hands her a schedule. I don’t think she usually deals with admissions, but I guess we’re a special case.

Iris glances around as if she’s surveying her property. Mrs. Lewis watches her, like she’s assessing where Iris will fit in. Her leathery face gives nothing away, but I think she knows my sister is destined for the popular circle. She looks perfect, clearly pays attention to her appearance, and doesn’t care much for authority.

Turning to me, Iris asks, “Do you have any of these classes, Ivy?”

I scan her schedule. As much as I want to be there for her, I’m glad that we don’t have all of the same classes. She’s my twin, but I still need my own time. I’ll be sharing so much more now, and I want some space.

I shake my head. “Only the first one, but I can show you where the other classrooms are.”

Iris sinks, her body visibly shrinking. “Oh.” She takes a shaky breath. “I . . . I don’t think I can do this.”

She can’t do this? Three seconds ago, she was standing like she owned the place already. I wrap my hand around her arm. “Iris, what’s wrong?”

She turns to me, eyes wide like she’s seen a ghost. “Ivy, I can’t.” She looks like she wants to run back to Dad’s car.

“Okay, calm down.” I grip both of her upper arms. “It’s fine if you don’t want to do this yet.”

Mrs. Lewis waves Dad over.

Iris’s eyes flit to Dad and then back to me. “I want to, but I can’t do it alone.”

“You’re not alone. I’m here too.”

“But I won’t see you. I’ll be alone for almost the entire time.” I let go of her. “I’ll find you at lunch.”

She takes another ragged breath that sounds like she’s breathing through a blanket. “I’ll

have three classes before that. I don’t know anyone. I can’t.”

Seriously, what is going on? I look to Dad for help, but he’s as thrown by her reaction as me. She’s always been outgoing, making friends in seconds. Why so scared about not knowing anyone? “I think I should take you home and we’ll try again next week,” Dad says.

Iris shakes her head. “It’ll only get worse if I put it off. We all know that, right? The longer you leave something, the harder it is.”

What? I’m confused as hell. This yoyo thing she’s got going on is giving me a headache. I didn’t have nearly enough sleep last night for this.

The school psychologist comes over. “Iris, would you feel better if we changed your schedule to match Ivy’s?”

What! My head snaps in her direction.

Iris’s mouth falls open. “Really? Can you do that? I would feel a lot better with Ivy with me.”

Am I dreaming? Have I been sucked into some sort of al- ternate reality? Iris doesn’t need anyone to hold her hand. All through our life she’s been the fearless one. She rolled, crawled, climbed, and walked first.

“Are you sure you want to do this, Iris?” Dad asks her.

She peels her eyes away from me and smiles up at Dad. “I’m sure. If Ivy is with me, I’ll be fine. I don’t want to miss any more school and fall behind, not with everything else that’s going on. It would be too much.”

“Then we’d love it if you could change Iris’s schedule,” Dad says.

Iris looks thrilled. “Thank you so much.” My ears ring.

I walk out of the office in a bit of a daze five minutes later. Iris makes a joke with Mrs. Lewis. She’s smiling and laughing.

The anxious moment has passed. Sayonara, moment. The girl is now fine.

I’m trying to process what just happened. One minute, every- thing is cool—Iris is desperate to get to school and start her new life—and the next she’s breaking down and we have all the same classes. Like, every single time I sit at a desk, she will be there.

I’m pretty sure that no one else would be allowed to change classes on the spot—our school is notorious for refusing to budge once a schedule is made. What does that tell you? We’re a special case because our mom is dead. And Iris really can get whatever she wants.

Iris takes a deep breath. “Time for our first class!” She turns to Dad. “Thanks for letting me start early.”

He gives her a hug and kisses the top of her head. “If you need anything, call me. That goes for you too, Ivy. The school psychologist is aware of the situation, so you can go to her any time if you want.”

Iris shrugs. “I’ll be fine. Ready, Ivy?” “Yeah, let’s go. Later, Dad.” Laughing, he replies,

“Later.”

I guide Iris through the corridors toward our first class. We have a little time since we got to school super early, so I’m hoping I’ll spot Ty.

“This school is tiny,” Iris says.

“Yep.” It’s about half the size of Iris’s school in the city. I love it, though. I’m not a city girl. I love forests and fields too much to be in a place that’s super built up. And I love that I know, or know of, pretty much everyone in this school. It makes it harder to keep a secret, but if you’re into gossip, this school is for you.

Iris is most definitely into gossip. I always heard her on the phone with her friends talking about everyone else at her school.

It’s still driving me crazy that I can’t remember her old bestie’s name. She hasn’t mentioned her either. Or anyone else.

As we walk, Iris makes clicking sounds with her shoes, while my Converse are silent. Her heels put her about two inches taller than me. There is no way I could wear shoes like that all day.

I only have good coordination when I’m in the pool. “Will you introduce me to more people?”

“Of course. If you want to take up cheerleading here, too, I can introduce you to Ellie.”

“She’s head, right?” “Yep.”

“Hmm,” Iris murmurs, and it almost sounded like she said, “For now.” Well, if anyone could take the throne from Ellie, it’s my sister. Iris has this ability to wrap people around her little finger. Growing up, she rarely got into trouble, easily talking her way out of situations that I couldn’t get away with. People seem to be drawn to her, to the way she owns everything she looks at. Case in point with the schedule thing.

“Do you think you want to join the squad?”

“Maybe. I enjoyed it before.” Then she shrugs. “But you never know what the team’s going to be like . . . how you’ll fit in.”

I look at her black skirt, yellow top, and yellow heels. She looks like Ellie and her team. That was her inner circle in the city. She’ll slot right into their group like she created it.

“Oh, you’ll fit in,” I assure her.

“What are the boys like here? I need to know who’s a snake so I can avoid them.”

“I don’t really have a lot to do with many of them. Ty’s friends are cool. You seemed to get along well with Leo, Alec, and Todd.”

“Yeah, they seem nice. What positions do they play?”

“Err . . . they play on the field. I don’t know. Ty is the quarter- back.”

She laughs. “Wow, Ivy. You should really pay more attention to Tyler’s team.”

“He doesn’t want me to pay more attention to his team. I know where he plays, and I sit through hours of his games, but that doesn’t mean I need to know the game.”

“You know you’re not really American if you don’t like foot- ball, right?”

I bump her arm with mine and laugh. “That’s okay, I’d love to live in Europe anyway.”

“Who is that?” she asks.

Following her line of sight, I spot Logan standing tall with his footballer’s body and short, sandy hair. “Don’t go there. Logan is the running back and Ellie’s boyfriend.”

“Okay, I’m going to ask a question now, and I don’t want you to take it the wrong way.”

Oh, that does not sound like I’m going to take it the right way. “Go on . . . ,” I say.

Iris stops in the middle of the hall. “You’re not a cheerleader, you’re not friends with Ellie, but you’re dating the star of the football team.”

“You’re wondering why he’s interested in me.”

She smirks. “Babe, you look like me, so of course I’m not.”

“I never really knew him; then one day we were both at Leo’s house. I was Leo’s lab partner and found out he’s actually really cool. So we were in Leo’s living room watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Ty and I talked through the whole movie. Then he asked me out.”

“Did anyone say anything about you two?”

“Why, because I’m not in the super-popular inner circle?” I shrug. “Probably, but neither of us cares. Ty might be the quarter- back, but he’s perfectly happy to be himself. He doesn’t try to fit in and neither do I. Everyone is really nice and inviting me to parties now, though.” Well, everyone but Ellie.

Iris nods. “I don’t think we’ve ever spoken so much about what’s going on in your life before.”

“We haven’t. Maybe you can tell me more about your life soon.”

“My life starts now, so you’ll know it all anyway.” She looks up and raises her arm. “Leo, hey.”

“Hey, Iris.” His almost black eyes are warm and sympathetic. “Ty’s behind me somewhere.”

I look over his shoulder and sure enough, Ty walks around the corner.

“I’m glad you’re back,” Ty says, grabbing my hand and tugging me to him.

“Me too,” I whisper, pressing against his chest. It feels like such a long time since I was here. I’ve missed Ty and my friends. I’ve even missed school. “Do you have practice tonight?”

He smiles as he brushes a strand of hair from my face. “Yeah.

Why don’t you come and watch? I’ve missed looking up and see- ing you. Or do you need to get home with Iris?”

“I can stay,” I tell him before I think about it. It’s Iris’s first day, so I probably should go straight home with her, but I need to be here. I need something normal, something that hasn’t changed beyond recognition since Mom died.

I’ll even watch football practice for that feeling. “You sure?”

“Definitely. I’ve missed watching you running around a patch of grass, throwing a bag of air.”

Ty chuckles and flicks the end of my nose. “I’ll make a foot- ball fan of you eventually.”

“I like the snacks.”

Ty’s family go all out for big games. Dad and I have been to their tailgates a couple of times. Ty’s mom makes football- themed food and everything. It’s kind of ridiculous to me, but everything she makes tastes amazing, so go team.

He glances above my head. “How’s it going with the sister?” “Okay. She has the same schedule as me.”

“That’s good. It’ll help her settle in faster, right?” He tilts his head. “Not that she’s going to need any help.”

Twisting my head, I look over my shoulder. “No, I guess not.” Ellie and Logan have joined Leo and Iris. My sister is charismatic, laughing, flicking her super-long hair over her shoulder

and waving her hands as she talks to them.

“Have you heard when the scout is coming?” Ty asks.

I take a breath and lay my head on his shoulder. “Nope. I just want it over because it’s stressing me out, but I need more time to practice.”

His arm snakes around my back. “Babe, you’re in. There is no way Stanford wouldn’t want you.”

“There are tons of amazing swimmers.”

“It’s not just about that. You can do it all; you’re passionate and focused. Don’t stress, swim.”

He’s right about all of that. But the boyfriend or girlfriend of every other teen desperate for a scholarship is just as sure as Ty.

“Stanford won’t be as fun if you’re not there too.”

He shrugs. “Doesn’t matter where we are, Ivy. I got you.” “Long distance is stupid.”

Laughing, he nods. “It’ll suck not seeing you every day but there are these things called phones—”

“Ha ha,” I mutter dryly. “For that I’m making you FaceTime me every night so it’s like we’re living together even if you turn traitorous and pick a different college.”

The bell pierces through the school, signaling the start of classes. “Go to class, Ivy,” he says with a smirk and humor in his green eyes. “I’ll see you at lunch?”

“Definitely.”

I kiss him before he heads in the opposite direction. “Ready, Iris?”

“Uh-huh. Later, guys,” she says to Ellie, Logan, and Leo. “Looks like you don’t need me to introduce you to anyone.

Did you speak to Ellie about joining the team?”

“I figured high school is high school no matter where you are.

And no, I didn’t mention it. I don’t even know if I want to do it yet. One step at a time.”

Okay, I’m kind of glad that she’s taking her time with this one. Iris seems to want to jump headfirst into her new life. At least she’s not filling her schedule to the max before she’s comfortable here.

There is a reason why Iris left with Mom. Even at the age of ten, she wanted more. She wanted the city life. The pace is different here.

We walk into class and Iris introduces herself to the teacher.

I take my seat.

Why did she need to be on the same schedule as me again?

The only thing she’s needed me for so far is to show her where to go. I could have done that and gone to my next class. There is always going to be someone around who will tell you where a room is.

She doesn’t need me. Her reaction to her original schedule was an act. Iris wants to be in my classes for some other reason.

Why?

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