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Alexis thought she led a typically dysfunctional high school existence. Dysfunctional like her parents' marriage. Or her doll-crazy twelve-year-old sister, Kasey. Or even like her own anti-social, anti-cheerleader attitude.
Alexis wants to think that it's all in her head, but soon, what she liked to think of as silly parlor tricks are becoming life-threatening: to her, her family, and to her budding relationship with the class president. Alexis knows she's the only person who can stop Kasey—but what if that green-eyed girl isn't even Kasey anymore?
Text copyright © 2009 by Katie Alender
All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney • Hyperion Books, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.
Designed by Elizabeth H. Clark
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
This book is set in 12-point Garamond 3.
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data on file.
I’d like to extend my gratitude to a lot of people who, one way or another, helped make this book happen.
Matthew “Matt” Elblonk, agent extraordinaire, for his passion for the project, and for placing it in the hands of other people who had passion for it (as well as helping me make sense of the publishing experience and listening to me ramble about my dog).
My husband, Chris, who believed in me enough that I suddenly believed in myself.
My loving family—Mom, Dad, Helen, Juli, George, and Ali; and the Alenders.
My beta readers from Eta Phi Tau, and my beta-beta reader, Amber Dubois.
My dog show peeps Cricket Wheeler and Dana Langford, and all the folks at Painless—best day job ever! The old team from JP Kids LA, who taught me how to collaborate (all of whom, I hope, understand the significance of Alexis’s street address).
Eve Metlis and Tina (Gregory) McFarland, for helping me understand true friendship.
All of my wonderful friends, who encourage me and put up with me even though I never respond to invites.
And finally, because this is how we do things in Hollywood:
It was a privilege.
I STOOD PERFECTLY STILL, looking up at the house and the dark sky beyond it.
A band of mist drifted away from the moon, making way for the next set of clouds—what I hoped would be the picturesque backdrop I’d been waiting for.
The camera, a twenty-five-year-old Nikon FM2n, thirty bucks at a garage sale, waited patiently on the tripod.
I didn’t know how long I’d been outside—it felt like hours, although I was probably like a subject in one of those science experiments where they tell you to ring a bell after an hour and most people make it for, like, twelve minutes. For a split second I thought about giving up for the night. There was always tomorrow.
But suddenly everything around me seemed to get one shade brighter. The moon came pouring through a wispy haze of vapor that looked like a tattered veil draped behind the house.
In other words, it was perfect.
Photographs taken in very low light need a long exposure—longer than most people, me included, can stand still—so I used a little device with a squeezy bulb and a cord that screws into the camera. I pressed the bulb, heard the click as the shutter lifted, and started counting. When I reached ten, I let go of the bulb. The shutter closed.
I repeated this a few more times, at one point adjusting the focal length so that the house itself was out of focus and the giant oak in the front yard was sharply defined. I didn’t take very many pictures—when you use real film (and pay for it yourself), you just can’t shoot as much as you want.
After a few minutes the clouds had melted together and the effect was back to being kind of blah. Even a house like ours—an ancient one with carved shingles, creaky overhangs, and an enormous stained-glass bay window—needed the right setting.
Now that my attention was diverted from the photographs, the spookiness of the scene hit me. Suddenly, standing outside all by myself, an easy target for any random maniac, seemed very foolish. My breathing turned shallow and my hands trembled as I snapped the lens cap into place. I was tempted to grab the whole setup and run for the house, but something inside me refused to give in to the fear. So with slow, deliberate motions, I removed the camera from the tripod and unscrewed the little plate that holds it in place. I slipped the camera strap around my neck and started winding the remote shutter around my hand.
I swung my head around, looking for the source of the noise.
Deep breath. It was just a bird, or a squirrel, or one of the cats my sister insists on feeding even though it’s going to give our mother a hissy fit . . . no pun intended.
“Heeeeere, kitty,” I said softly. “Heeeeeere, kitty kitty kitty . . .”
“Present yourself, kitty,” I said, a little louder.
A head popped out from behind the trunk of the oak tree.
My heart did three backflips before I recognized the honey-colored hair of my little sister, Kasey.
“Present yourself?” Kasey asked. “Sergeant Meow, reporting for duty.”
I tried to think of something biting to say, but I still hadn’t caught my breath. I swatted her on the arm and swallowed a huge gulp of air.
She stared at the camera for a few seconds, her lips pressed together in the almost-frown that had recently become her default expression. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and back, her fingers lightly playing with the sleeves of our mom’s ancient Surrey High T-shirt that she’d inherited as a pajama top.
“How long have you been out here?”
Kasey shrugged, looked at her watch. “A while.”
“What time is it?”
Seriously? I’d been outside for three hours. I guess I’d rock that bell-ringing experiment.
Kasey trails along behind me all the time when I’m out taking pictures. She stands near the camera and watches what I’m watching, but she claims she doesn’t get it—doesn’t know why something’s worth photographing.
I’ve tried to teach her, but she’s actually kind of hopeless. When we started, her pictures looked like bad vacation snapshots, and after five exhausting hours, they were worse—because now she was trying to be artsy. A lot of blobs and blurs and pictures with no life of their own.
I told her not to worry, that maybe her true talents would emerge when she was older.
What else could I tell her? That I can’t imagine the feeling of walking through the world without being able to see the lines and shapes and balance of seemingly normal objects? That when I’m at school, I feel lonely for my camera as if it were a friend (which I don’t have any of at school, so it makes sense)?
“What are you taking pictures of? I don’t see anything,” she said.
“I would explain, but it’s three a.m.,” I said. “I’ll show you when I develop the film, okay?”
She nodded and yawned.
I took another look up at the house.
There was a soft glow peeking through the branches that shaded our bedroom windows.
“Oh, crap . . .” I said. “Kase, which room is that light coming from?”
If Mom was wandering around, turning on lights, then she knew Kasey wasn’t inside, and then it was a pretty short road to figuring out that I was gone too. And that meant trouble.
No putting yourself or Kasey in strange and/or potentially dangerous situations to take pictures was the latest incarnation of the rule that had once upon a time been, Don’t go on the roof. With every fresh misstep, the rule evolved— No taking pictures of retail merchandise; No taking pictures on other people’s property; Don’t use Kasey as a decoy to get photos of people who don’t want to be photographed. I was fairly sure that pretty soon it would just be Put the camera down, sit on the sofa, and don’t move.
Even with a parental tantrum looming, the photographer in me couldn’t ignore something so cool-looking. It’s like the way a hunter will see an exotic animal and want its head on his wall, only less gross; when I see something visually interesting, I want to take a picture of it so badly it’s almost like a craving. Instinctively I uncapped the lens and raised the camera to my eye.
“It’s not my room,” Kasey said. “It’s not yours either.”
“Set up the tripod,” I said, waving to the spot where it lay on the ground. Then I turned my attention to the light.
It was a soft glow, pale gold, and Kasey was right— it wasn’t coming from either of our rooms.
It didn’t actually seem to be originating from inside the house at all.
I couldn’t wait for the tripod—I held the camera as steady as possible, bending my knees and bracing my body and taking a deep breath and holding it—and pressed down the shutter.
After a few seconds I let go, then took another picture, and another.
“Ready,” Kasey said, handing me the little plate to screw on to the camera.
As quickly as I could, I attached the camera to the tripod, then put my eye to the viewfinder.
The light was gone.
We waited a few more minutes, but it never returned. Finally, I capped the lens and folded up the tripod. Kasey watched me, glancing up every few seconds to see if the light was back. Our eyes met at one point, and I had to swallow hard.
What was it? Where had it come from? Why did it turn off? Neither of us asked the questions out loud.
But we were both thinking them.
We marched silently through the side yard. Fortunately, the October nights were cool enough that the many, many ginormous spiders that usually populated that part of the yard were gone. I walked in front, though, just in case. Kasey was a freaker-outer, and we didn’t need any bloodcurdling screams advertising our location.
I turned back to check on her, stopping so abruptly that she ran right into me.
“Spider?” she asked, panic in her voice.
I shook my head. I was looking past her into the front yard, at the spot where we’d been standing just twenty seconds earlier.
It was lit up by the same faint glow we’d seen in the tree.
And it actually seemed to be . . . growing.
“What?” Kasey whispered.
“Uh . . .” If my sister saw it, she would spaz. I looked right at her and smiled. “Nothing.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I got a sense of the light growing larger—and then I realized it wasn’t getting bigger—
—It was getting closer.
It was following us.
“You know, I might have seen a little spider,” I said.
“Go. Now. Move,” Kasey said, pushing on my back.
I let her go ahead of me through the back door as I cast one final glance behind us. There was no glow. Either it had disappeared, or it hadn’t rounded the corner yet.
We slipped into stealth mode to climb the stairs from the foyer to the second floor, skipping the third, eighth, and eleventh steps, all of which squeaked loudly enough to wake the dead, and then Kasey waved a little good-bye and ducked into her bedroom.
I set the tripod on the floor and the camera on the dresser, and exhaustion overwhelmed me. I changed into a long T-shirt and crawled into bed, telling myself that it had just been a swarm of curious fireflies.
I mean, it had to be. There wasn’t any other explanation.
The last thing I saw before I fell asleep was the faintest trace of a glow on the spindly branches of the oak tree outside my window.
Curious fireflies, I told myself sleepily. So curious that they’d found a way to follow us upstairs without actually coming into the house.
BACK LEFT CORNER OF THE LIBRARY, underneath the study desks.
You have to be willing to sit on the floor, but that’s a small price to pay for the perfect instead-of-class hangout: zero student traffic, lots of legroom, and complete invisibility to the librarian.
“Excuse me, Alexis.”
Tragically, it was not invisible to the principal.
“What class are you cutting this fine fall day, Miss Warren?”
I stood up out of the library carrel and grabbed my bag. “History. But technically, I’m not cutting a class.”
The corner of Mrs. Ames’s mouth twisted up into an almost-smile, and she cleared her throat. This was promising—this was “My day hasn’t taken a nosedive yet, so this is kind of amusing,” not “I’ve had it up to here.” When you spend as much time around the principal as I do, you get to know her idiosyncrasies.
“And why does history not qualify as a class?” As she spoke, Mrs. Ames adjusted the straw beach hat she’d worn for Hat Day—day one of the officially most annoying time of the entire school year, Homecoming Week. The hat clashed horribly with her beige blazer, but I knew way better than to comment.
We walked out of the library. As nice as it would be to pretend we were having a pleasant stroll, I knew where we were headed. And I knew what phone number she would be calling when we got there. And I knew what meeting my mother would be pulled out of to talk to her daughter’s principal—again. And I knew exactly which classroom to report to for Saturday detention—and not the fun ’80s-movie kind of Saturday detention—the incredibly boring kind that makes you want to stab yourself in the eye with a pencil. (At least then you’d get to leave.)
I sighed. “They’re in the gym. Decorating for the banquet.”
If there was a bright side to this whole thing, it was that I still got to miss decorating the stupid gym for the stupid alumni Homecoming banquet. Another detention, big deal. I hadn’t had a free Saturday since August.
But Mrs. Ames is no dummy. “Ah,” she said, and stared right into my eyes. “Well, I’ll tell you what—why don’t we sweep this incident under the rug and get you back to class so you can help out?”
I shot her a look. She gave me an innocent smile.
We started down the hallway that led to the gym.
“How many times is this now, Alexis?”
I puffed air out of my mouth to blow the wispy pink hairs away from my face.
“Twelve, Alexis,” she said. “Twelve skipped classes— that I know of—not to mention a number of other small incidents.”
The way she said small incidents was a very clear reminder that some of the incidents weren’t small. I, personally, don’t see what’s so criminal about giving honest feedback to a student teacher who should clearly quit while she’s ahead, or having an anti-fashion show outside the gym during the choir’s annual fashion show. But I guess that’s just me.
“Let me tell you, Miss Warren, there’s been some pressure to avoid handing out Saturday detentions like lollipops. There’s a big trend in the district toward suspension right now.”
I dug my fingernails lightly into the palm of my hand. Somehow suspension sounded way worse than detention. Detention happens to everybody. Suspension, though—that’s for the sociopaths.
I wasn’t a hundred percent sure I was ready to take that leap.
She sighed as we started walking again. “You know I think you have a lot of potential, Alexis. Your test scores are very high, and it’s clear that you can do well, if you want to.”
She went off into a lecture about how nobody can make my choices but me. I nodded, but I was only half listening. The word suspension was still buzzing around in my head like an angry bee.
We reached the gym.
The entire history class was spread out around the gym working on stupid, meaningless tasks for the stupid, meaningless banquet, and every head turned to look at us. I held my chin high and shot a couple of disdainful looks around. The kids I made eye contact with went back to their work.
Mrs. Anderson, who happens to be the dumbest teacher ever (and I’m not just saying that, it’s true—it took her four tries to pronounce “aborigines”), came hustling over.
“Well, what have we here?” she asked. “Alexis, what a nice surprise. I assume you’re on your way to the main office.”
Mrs. Ames frowned. “No. Miss Warren and I have just been chatting, so I hope you’ll excuse her tardiness.
I’m going to leave her in your capable hands, Mrs. Anderson.”
She said capable hands a lot like she’d said small incidents.
“Wonderful,” Mrs. Anderson replied.
Mrs. Ames looked down at me. “I’m sure you’ll put your best effort into your work today, Alexis.”
But Mrs. Anderson wasn’t ready to let the torment end. She clapped her hands together. “Alexis! You must have forgotten that today is Hat Day! Silly girl, pink hair isn’t a hat! Luckily, we have some backups—” She turned and called over her shoulder. “Jeremy! Bring that box over here!”
A boy who’d been assembling really ugly centerpieces out of fake flowers and wicker baskets reluctantly picked up a medium-size cardboard box and started toward us.
No way. I would wear a dancing banana fruit basket on my head before I would let one of those disgusting things touch my scalp.
Jeremy tripped and dropped the box. Hats went flying everywhere.
“How thoughtful of you, Mrs. Anderson,” Mrs. Ames said, as Jeremy crawled around gathering up baseball caps and colorful sombreros. “But I don’t think Alexis is the Hat Day type.”
Case closed. Mrs. Ames headed out of the gym.
Mrs. Anderson turned to me, all the peppy rah-rah gone from her voice. “What to do with dear Alexis?” she asked, scanning the room. “Why don’t you . . .”
As long as I was far away from Mrs. Anderson, I’d be fine.
“. . . go help Pepper.”
“She’s not even in this class,” I protested.
Mrs. Anderson looked triumphant. “Well, Alexis, all of the cheerleaders are helping out today. So why don’t you check in with Pepper and tell her you’ll be thrilled to do anything she needs.”
Thrilled is not the word I would choose.
“It’s not straight!” Pepper said. Her flaming orange hair was mostly tucked under a ridiculous floppy magenta beret, but one stray lock looped down and covered her left eye. She glared at me with the right eye.
I heaved a huge sigh. “Pepper. I swear. The banner. Is straight.”
We’d been on opposite sides of a plastic WELCOME HOME, ALUMNI! banner for probably five minutes, and every time we had it in place, Pepper backtracked and decided it wasn’t good enough.
“It doesn’t look right,” she whined.
“That’s because you’re looking at it with only one eye,” I said. “You have no depth perception.”
She sniffed and rolled her eye.
Let’s get something clear: Pepper Laird is a cheerleader. As such, she is used to bouncing in place and holding her arms in the air for long periods of time.
I, Alexis, am not a cheerleader. In fact, I’m sort of an anti-cheerleader. So while Pepper is out there working on her biceps and triceps and glutes, I am slumping under the bleachers with the rest of the outcasts.
But no way was I going to admit to Pepper that I couldn’t take it. I dropped my half of the banner. “Forget it,” I said. My arms burned as blood poured back through the veins. “This is moronic. I’m not going to do this.”
“We have to!” Pepper said. “And you have to help, or I’ll tell Mrs. Anderson.”
Oh, she definitely would. And then I’d have to face Mrs. Ames for the second time that day. And her goodwill and ability to see a shred of potential in me would probably be all used up.
I settled for doing some arm stretches and making a very angry noise in Pepper’s direction.
“You freak,” she said.
This was not a new concept to me.
“You and your stupid pink hair”—not new either— “and your whole freaky family.”
That part was new.
Because whatever forces separated Pepper and me in the suffocating world of Surrey High School, one thing bound us together, and that was family. Sisters, to be specific. Kasey had been best friends with Pepper’s sister, Mimi, since fourth grade. They were the kind of friends who argue more often than they don’t, but they were still glued together.
“Grow up,” I said. “Leave my family alone.”
Pepper stood up straighter. “As long as your schizoid sister leaves Mimi alone, I’m fine with that arrangement.”
Confusion must have overtaken annoyance in my expression.
“Her arm,” Pepper said.
Mimi had broken her arm at our house, about a month before, but it was an accident. She’d been running down the hall and slipped on a rug as she turned into Kasey’s room. That kind of thing just happens.
Although, come to think of it, we hadn’t seen much of Mimi lately.
“Your sister broke my sister’s arm,” Pepper said.
“Mimi told me the whole story. She won’t tell our mom because she says she feels bad for Kasey. But I think she’s afraid because your little sister is a violent maniac.”
Okay, so I’m not popular and friendly and I don’t have any friends. But I wasn’t about to let someone stand there and talk smack about my baby sister—who, yes, is sensitive, but, no, is not a violent maniac.
I took a step toward Pepper. She flinched, but she didn’t back away.
“Face it, Alexis. Kasey is a whack job.” She narrowed her eyes. “All my sister tried to do was touch one of her stupid dolls. . . .”
Pepper went on ranting, but I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t back down, but suddenly I didn’t feel like fighting about it either.
Because that one word—dolls—seemed too right.
A lot of people are avid collectors of things you or I would consider stupid, or at least silly—rocks with googly eyes glued to them and seashells for feet. Candles shaped like animals or mythical creatures.
For Kasey, it was dolls.
I don’t even remember when it started. Years ago. Long enough for Kasey, using her meager allowance, every dime of birthday or Christmas money, and who knows what else, to amass dozens of dolls.
And if my sister were ever capable of hurting someone, it would be to protect her precious collection.
Pepper grabbed her end of the banner. “Let’s just do this so I can get away from you,” she said.
“The feeling is mutual,” I said.
We hoisted the banner once again.
“Stop—it’s perfect,” said a voice. I turned to see who had spoken.
Megan Wiley, poised, self-assured, cocaptain of varsity cheerleading, even though she’s just a sophomore— oh, and my own personal nemesis, more on that in a sec—studied our sign, then sauntered over with a hammer and nails. She hammered both sides into the wall without another word.
Here’s the deal:
I speak up in class, I get sent to the office. Megan speaks up in class, she’s a “strong, assertive model student.” I post a few flyers saying that the vending machines on school property are a sign that our school district has sold out to the corporate-industrial establishment, I get (what else?) Saturday detention. Megan starts a campaign to serve local foods in the lunchroom (oh, and could we pleeeeeease maybe get rid of the soda machines?) and the local newspaper does a write-up about her.
She’s like me, only not. Not like me at all. She’s the golden girl and I’m . . . tarnished.
So forgive me if I hate her a little.
Pepper stalked off while I scanned the gym for a seat that would hide me from the roving eye of Mrs. Anderson, then paused and turned back around to look at the sign (which was, mercifully, straight).
“HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS.”
HOMECOMING SCHOLARSHIP BANQUET
WELCOME HOME, ALUMNI!
A few feet away, Megan was looking at it too. Our eyes met.
“I’m not sure I’d give money at a fund-raiser if they couldn’t bother to have it someplace nicer than a high school gym,” she said, turning away before I could answer. Her gaze lingered on the canvas, and I suddenly noticed that she was almost not even wearing a hat. Just a devil-horn headband left over from last Halloween.
“Mm,” I said, and walked away.
I guess, in her own way, Megan really is different from the rest of them.
But I still hate her.
ONCE UPON A TIME, I had a best friend. Her name was Beth Goldberg. Beth and I got in lots of trouble together, but back then, people called it “mischief” and went a little easy on us. Apparently, when it’s two people, it’s quirky and funny, but when it’s a person doing the same stuff on her own, it’s rebellious and antisocial.
I’d always assumed that Beth and I would be friends forever. But then in the middle of eighth grade, the Goldbergs went through the World’s Nastiest Divorce.
Beth went a little nuts.
I don’t blame her. When her dad got involved with his twenty-one-year-old dental hygienist, Beth got involved with the junk-food aisle at the grocery store. She carried processed snack cakes around the way toddlers carry teddy bears. She gained, like, twenty pounds, but I didn’t think it was a big deal. I figured she’d get back to her usual weight once the shock wore off.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only person who noticed.
- "Alexis's story is compelling, and her voice is funny and authentic despite the creepy situations in which she finds herself....for girls who like to be scared a little—but not too much."—SLJ
- " Just enough...suspense, and romance to keep readers turning the pages...a promising debut."—Booklist
- On Sale
- Jun 22, 2010
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers