The Similars (The Similars #1)(4)

“You should have let me come to California,” Pru says, finally letting go of me. “I wanted to be at Ollie’s funeral, Emma. I feel awful that I missed it…”

“You had to take care of your mom. She needed you.” There’s no way I would have let Pru leave her mother’s side, not when she’s been decimated by a cancer so rare, even nanobots can’t reverse its effects. “How is she? I haven’t heard from you in two weeks. I was worried when you went dark…” I don’t want to say the words out loud. I thought your mom died.

Pru sweeps a strand of her curly black hair out of her eyes. “She’s doing okay. They think this latest treatment is going to work.”

“Good,” I say. I’m grateful to Pru; besides Oliver, she’s the one person I can actually stand to be around. Still, I turn away from her, feeling the tears coming hot and fast. The hug from my friend has lodged the serrated knife deep in my chest, and as much as I love Pru, all I want is to be alone.

“So tired,” I say, lying back and shutting my eyes. “Must rest.”

“I’ll see you at assembly,” Pru says, as I drape an arm over my eyes for dramatic effect and wait for her to slip out of our room. “And Emma…” she adds, lingering in the doorway. “I’m sorry.”

When I hear the door click shut behind her, I sit up. Sleep is my own personal brand of hell, but Pru has no way of knowing that I do almost anything to avoid being unconscious. I never know what, or whom, I might encounter in my dreams.

I slip on my flip-flops and make a beeline for the door, glancing down the hallway to make sure Pru’s gone before heading outside. I hurry down a shady path toward a modest clearing by the lake. I picture it in my mind as I walk: the rocks big enough to sit on and the patch of dirt where Oliver and I always convened after our last class of the day. I would tease him for being a flirt, and he’d tell me my sarcasm was going to render me physically incapable of a real smile. I’d shove him, and he’d fall backward… We’d laugh so hard, never imagining our joy would have an expiration date.

Memories of Oliver flood my heart like a vein opening. Sunlight, gray eyes, floppy bangs, cocky smile, backpacks tumbling, minds daydreaming, fifty years, fifty years—I’ll be your best friend for fifty more years. And after that? You have to reapply.

I stop in my tracks as I arrive at our old spot. I’m not alone.

They’re ten, fifteen feet away, at most. Their presence—their existence—sends my heart hammering in my chest. I freeze, watching, observing. I don’t think they can see me, not yet—but I can see them.

There are three of them, and one is Tessa. Only, I can tell she isn’t Tessa. She has the same long brown hair. The same elegance and fragile features. But her outfit is plain and old-fashioned. She wears a white button-down shirt and a black skirt, both so…ordinary, I could never imagine Tessa in them. And her hair—it’s pulled back into a french braid, the kind we used to wear in grade school. There’s something girlish about her. Something naive. She’s a Similar. I’m sure of it.

They talk in hushed tones, and I’m not close enough to make out their words. But I watch as the Tessa Similar addresses another girl. It takes me a moment to process what I’m seeing. Because the girl the Tessa Similar is talking to isn’t simply any girl. It’s Pru.

No, it’s not Pru. She was in our room not ten minutes ago, wearing her signature running pants and hoodie. This girl isn’t Pru. This girl is her clone, her copy. The Similar standing ten feet from me is willowy and delicate, while my roommate is athletic and lean. Pru’s hair is always wild and untamed, while this girl wears her curly locks pulled back in a tight bun. She talks quietly to the others. She doesn’t smile.

I shouldn’t be surprised that Pru, the daughter of the man who made a name for himself defending clones to the nation, has an identical copy. But I am. Why didn’t she tell me? My stomach flips. Does she even know? I’m so anxious to find out, I almost buzz her. But this is too big. It can wait a few minutes till I see her in person.

The third Similar is a clone of another boy in my class, Jake Choate. He has the same black hair as Jake, the same dark skin and attractive face. The same build—not too thin, not too muscular. But the devilish expression Jake has spent years perfecting is nowhere to be seen. This boy’s face is full of burden, sacrifice, and hardship.

I feel drawn to them. I want to know what they’re talking about in hushed, conspiratorial tones. Less than an hour ago, I had little interest in the Similars. Now, I’m more than interested. My mind spins with questions. I want to know everything about them. Where they grew up. What it was like. What they think of Darkwood—

“Are you feeling all right, Emma?” Dash asks.

“Of course,” I answer softly, relieved he has no way of knowing that I’ve been spying on the Similars. I feel like an intruder. As if I’m invading a private moment I have no right to see. “I’m fine,” I fib. “Why?”

“Elevated heart rate. I assume you were thinking about Oliver.”

“Always,” I whisper, my eyes still glued to the clones.

“Assembly starts in ten minutes,” Dash reminds me. “You don’t want to be late.”

“Thanks, Dash,” I say, looking down at my plum to swipe away the notification for the assembly and silence my bot.

Rebecca Hanover's Books