The Similars (The Similars #1)(3)

Classmates block me on all sides, so I’m forced to pause in the driveway, unable to make my way to my dorm. Without meaning to, I’ve stopped next to Tessa, who’s conferring with another campus celebrity, Madison Huxley. The two of them are always together, although Madison—with her silky blond hair and perfectly symmetrical, heavily made-up face—usually outshines her less outspoken counterpart. Personally, I find Tessa’s less flashy look far more appealing than Madison’s. With long, straight hair like her Taiwanese mother’s and a certain elegance to her movements, I’d call Tessa beautiful—except her personality seems lacking. I’m surprised to see Madison’s parents standing a few feet away, consulting with Headmaster Ransom, Darkwood’s fearless leader. Sporting pleated slacks and an elbow-patched smoking jacket, Headmaster Ransom is a likable figurehead, although I see no sign of his trademark smile today. He’s all business.

“Mr. and Mrs. Huxley,” I catch Headmaster Ransom saying, “the last thing I want is to upset any of our most prominent families…”

Bianca Huxley smooths her Chanel jacket. “I have never doubted your commitment to Darkwood—not once in all these years. But this time, I’m putting my foot down.”

Headmaster Ransom presses his fingertips together, his eyebrows knit with tension. “I will simply repeat what I told the news outlets: I trust these boys and girls, and I believe they deserve a chance.”

It’s obvious who they are: the Similars. Ransom is referring to his decision to invite them to Darkwood, despite the controversial events surrounding their birth.

“Respectfully, we disagree with you, Ransom,” Bob Huxley says tightly. “And if I may speak frankly…”

“Please.” Headmaster Ransom gestures for him to go ahead.

“My wife and I plan to alert the board that we do not approve of your decision,” Mr. Huxley continues. “And we will be adjusting our donation to the school accordingly. I’m afraid there isn’t much you can do to change our minds short of sending those boys and girls back to where they came from.”

“You know I can’t do that. Historically, Darkwood has always placed a great deal of emphasis on inclusion and representation. Students join us here from every socioeconomic background—every race, religion, and sexual orientation. It’s the reason I believe these new students will thrive here, of all places. I won’t change my mind—”

“Then you leave us no choice. Bianca? It’s time to go.”

Mr. Huxley slides a protective arm around his wife, and they turn to leave, kissing Madison goodbye before stepping into their waiting stretch Tesla. Did I mention the Huxleys aren’t regular people? Robert “Bob” Huxley used to be vice president—of the United States. His wife is taking advantage of his former veep status to run for the U.S. Senate in Texas. Early polls indicate she will win.

“I met her,” Madison tells Tessa. “A few weeks ago.”

“Who?” Tessa rummages through her bag, looking bored.

“My Similar. I’ve got one, of course. She came to our house. My parents paid her off and warned her not to show her face—my face—ever again.”

“So she’s not coming to Darkwood?”

“Of course not. If the public found out I had a Similar, it would end my mother’s political career.”

“So where’s she going to go?” Tessa asks, finally looking up from her leather tote.

“Who cares? As long as we never see her again.”

That’s when Tessa notices me standing there, eavesdropping. She stares at me. Tessa and Madison both do.

I feel a nauseating lurch in my stomach. The serrated-knife feeling starts to throb in my chest. I hightail it out of there, pushing my way through the crowd of students toward Cypress, my dorm. It’s just beyond a cluster of trees north of the main house. Once comprised of servants’ quarters, Cypress is as gloomy as the rest of Darkwood’s architecture, what with its gray stone exterior and polygonal tower that looks crooked, as if it might fall at any moment, taking the entire dormitory down with it.

I drag my bags to my dorm room, then flash my gold key in front of the sensor. The lock chimes open, and I slump inside. My room hasn’t changed since I was last here in May. It’s not much to look at, but even with its plain Shaker-style furniture and lone window looking out onto the depths of Dark Lake, it feels more like home than my real one. Of course, a big part of that isn’t what’s inside it, but rather who. Pru. Friend to everyone. But mostly to me.

She drops the book she’s reading and jumps up when she sees me. “Emma—”

I don’t let her finish her thought.

“Ugh,” I say, depositing my bags next to my bed. “I completely forgot Madison and Tessa are still on the transplant list.”

Pru frowns. “Transplant list? What transplant list?”

“You know.” I slouch down on my sagging twin mattress. “To receive actual beating hearts.”

Pru cracks a half smile, her brown eyes lighting up. “What have they done now?”

“Besides contributing to climate change every time they open their mouths and breathe out their toxic fumes of elitism? Everything.”

I slip off my shoes and am about to flop back onto my bed when Pru’s arms are around me, holding me so tight I can barely breathe. I don’t have to ask her why she’s squeezing me like a lifeline. I already know. She’s thinking of the thing that happened, and of the 843 things she wants to say to me but can’t. It’s okay. She already said them, this summer, in a buzz with the subject line: Re: RE: RE: RE: FWD: Oliver.

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