The Similars (The Similars #1)(9)

“Did anyone know?” Pru asks, her voice sounding hollow. “Ollie’s parents didn’t mention it to you, did they? At the funeral, or—?”

I shake my head.

The rest of the assembly is a blur. My stare is glued to this Similar, this not Oliver, this Levi, as he joins the others.

“Before we break for the first-year key ceremony,” Headmaster Ransom says, his voice taking a solemn turn, “I’d like to acknowledge the life of a student who is no longer with us. Please take a moment to pay tribute to a beloved member of our community, Oliver Ward. Skilled filmmaker, caring classmate—Oliver will be truly missed. Though Oliver passed away at the beginning of the summer, your return to school may trigger some difficult emotions, given his absence. Because of that, grief counselors will be on-site throughout the first week of school, and we will be holding a suicide-prevention workshop in the coming weeks to raise awareness of the warning signs of suicide, which is the third-leading cause of death among teens—a heartbreaking tragedy. Please know that we—the teachers, administration, and everyone at Darkwood—are here for you if you need to talk. And now, a moment of silence in honor of Oliver.”

I feel the serrated knife slide in. I look around at my classmates, all 357 of them, as they bow their heads in silent tribute to Oliver. If you include the Similars, 363. I can’t see the clones from where I sit, though I assume they are following Headmaster Ransom’s instructions. I wonder what he is doing. I wonder if Levi can possibly appreciate the irony of this moment. He is introduced to the school, then we remember Oliver leaving it. It feels like a cruel joke. I appreciate the grief counselors and the steps the school is taking to prevent other deaths—but what would I possibly say to some poor, unsuspecting therapist? My best friend died, but I’ll deal? His clone is here instead?

A minute later, Ransom cuts off the tribute. Sixty seconds. Is that all Oliver’s life amounted to? Oliver, who was the only kid to talk to me in the third grade when I was the new girl at our elementary school back in California. He was the boy who sat with me at lunch and gave me half of his peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich. He knew my biggest fear in life—that everyone will leave me. He knew that if my house were on fire, the first thing I’d rescue would be my mother’s old scrapbooks. Oliver’s death was as big a shock to me as to everyone else. There were no warning signs that I could see, though I’ve beaten myself up every day since, wondering if I missed something that could have saved him.

“New transfer students, please follow Mr. Park out the side exit of the chapel to receive your room assignments,” Headmaster Ransom directs. I watch as the Similars file out behind Mr. Park, Maude leading the group and Levi bringing up the rear. I barely register what else Ransom says, only that he gives banal instructions for the rest of the day, urging us to unpack and report to dinner. We move to leave, and I push past my classmates. I have to get out of the building as soon as humanly possible. Around me, students dissect the assembly. Some call Ransom a radical for inviting the Similars to Darkwood. Some call him wise and progressive. Others call him a visionary. Still others call him a fool.

I fight my way up the aisle, sliding between clusters of my classmates. I hear Pru calling out to me, but I don’t stop. I’m on a mission.

Outside. Air.

I push my way past Jake Choate, and then Madison, who’s fuming that her Similar is going to pay for showing up here when her parents explicitly told her not to.

Finally outside, I welcome the fresh Vermont air in my lungs as I gulp in a breath. That’s when I spot Madison’s Similar—Maude—talking quietly with Jago. Jago, who’s nearly a foot taller than Maude, leans down and kisses her.

They’re a couple? I’m surprised. I’d thought of the Similars like siblings. But now I realize that was a ridiculous assumption. Why wouldn’t they pair off? They aren’t genetically related to each other. And with their different hair colors and skin tones, which speak to the diverse heritages of their DNA families, they couldn’t look any less like genetic sisters and brothers. What they do have in common is their British accents—a product of their secluded upbringing—and their shared childhood.

Archer and Ansel stand together to my right. Ansel looks so awkward next to his doppelg?nger. Kids swarm around them, likely trying to get close to Archer. I don’t stop to watch. Instead, I run. I dig for the pharma in my pocket and shove it in my mouth, swallowing hard.

Oliver has a clone. Oliver, who died less than three months ago, has an exact DNA replica. And that replica is here, at Darkwood, wearing Oliver’s face like he has every right to it. Walking around in Ollie’s body, he’s a living, breathing reminder of everything I’ve lost.

I charge to the far side of Dark Lake, leaving my classmates and the Similars behind. As the sky shifts from blue to the gray of an old bruise, I reach a grassy clearing, and my feet stumble and slow. I have no idea how long I’ve been running, maybe minutes, maybe more. I circle back toward the chapel, trying to calm myself, taking in deep breaths. That’s when I sense it—I’m not alone. There is someone else here.

I freeze, the hairs on the back of my neck prickling.

A figure slides out from behind a nearby oak tree.

It is Levi.

The sight of him here, now—it’s arresting.

I want to pull him toward me and hold him, letting Oliver’s warmth envelop me. Only it would all be false. A ruse. A trick.

Rebecca Hanover's Books