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DEAD LIKE ME
I’d always thought the afterlife would be like an eternal stay at a resort on St. Barts—hot French waiters bringing me fruity drinks until the end of time, the azure Caribbean sky in a permanent sunset, a cool ocean breeze tickling my forever tanned skin. It would be my reward for living a full, fabulous, long life.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Instead I died days before my eighteenth birthday and what was supposed to be an amazing senior year. And rather than sipping a mojito on a white-sand beach, I woke up in Las Vegas, tethered to a twin sister I never knew I had. I watched as Emma Paxton was forced into my life and had to begin impersonating me. I watched as she sat at my place at the table with my family and giggled with my friends, pretending she’d known them forever. I watched her read my journal, sleep in my bed, and try to figure out who killed me.
And I seemed to be stuck here until further notice. Everywhere Emma went, I went, too. Everything she knew, I knew as well—the problem was, I didn’t know much beyond that. My life before I died was a question mark. Certain things have come back to me—like how I wasn’t exactly the nicest girl at Hollier High, how I took for granted all the things I’d been given in life, and how I’d made plenty of enemies by playing vicious pranks on people who didn’t deserve it. But everything else was a blank, including how I died, and who murdered me.
One thing I did know was that my killer was now watching Emma’s every move right along with me, making sure that she plays along. I was a breath away when Emma found a note saying I was dead and warning her that if she didn’t pretend to be me, she’d be dead, too. I felt the stars explode behind Emma’s eyes when she was nearly strangled during a sleepover at my best friend Charlotte’s house. I had a front-row seat when a light fixture in the school’s auditorium careened toward her head. They were all warnings. My killer had been so close. And yet, neither of us had seen who it was.
It was up to my twin to catch my killer, and there was nothing I could do to help. It wasn’t like I could communicate with her. Emma had cleared my best friends, Charlotte Chamberlain, Madeline Vega, and Gabby and Lili Fiorello, as murder suspects—they each had alibis for the night of my death. But the alibi she’d been counting on to clear my adoptive little sister, Laurel, suddenly wasn’t so airtight.
Now I watched as my family sat on chaise lounges at the local country club, shading their eyes from the brutal Tucson sun. Emma settled into a seat next to Laurel and buried her nose in a magazine, but I could tell she was studying my sister as closely as I was.
Laurel pored over a leather-bound beverage menu through the shade of thick black Gucci sunglasses, then casually rubbed a dollop of tanning oil on her shoulders as though she didn’t have a care in the world. Fury streaked through me. I’ll never feel the sun on my skin again and it might be because of her. She had a motive, after all. We shared a secret crush—and I was the one who got Thayer in the end.
My mother pulled her BlackBerry from her straw Kate Spade beach tote. “You won’t believe the way the RSVPs are pouring in for Saturday, Ted,” she murmured, staring at the screen. “It looks like you’ll be turning fifty-five with a bang.”
“Mm-hmm,” my dad said absently. It was unclear whether he really heard her. He was too busy looking across the pool at a tall, muscular boy running a hand through his dark hair.
Speak of the devil. Thayer Vega himself.
My heart thumped as Emma glanced in Thayer’s direction. Laurel’s gaze turned, too. No matter how cool my younger sister tried to play it, she couldn’t hide the flash of hope that passed over her face. Not on your life, I thought angrily. I may be dead, but Thayer belongs to me—and only me. We’d had a secret relationship when I was alive, something that I’d only fully remembered a few days before. For a time, it had seemed like Thayer could have been my killer—we’d had a secret rendezvous the night I died. But thankfully, Emma had cleared him—someone had hit him with my Volvo, maybe aiming for me. Laurel had whisked Thayer off to the hospital, where he’d remained all night. I was relieved he wasn’t the one who did it…until I realized that maybe the person who did was sitting next to Emma right now. Just because Laurel took Thayer to the hospital didn’t mean she stayed with him. She could have come back to give me a piece of her mind…or to finish me off forever.
We all watched as Thayer climbed the metal steps of the diving board. He stalked to the end of the board, limping slightly, and tested the spring with a few bounces. His stomach muscles rippled as he gathered momentum. He raised his tanned arms above his head and dived into the water, cutting the still surface with his perfect form. He stayed under for the length of the pool, little bubbles rising to the surface in his wake. I could almost feel the butterflies fluttering in my no-longer-there stomach as I watched him move beneath the water. Something about Thayer Vega still made me feel so alive and it took me a moment to realize that I wasn’t.
Laurel’s lips flattened into a grim line when Thayer surfaced and grinned at Emma, and I realized something else. If Emma’s not careful, she’ll end up just like me.
DON’T FEED THE EARTHLINGS
Emma Paxton leaned in close to the Saturn-shaped mirror in the Tucson Planetarium and pursed her lips as she reapplied a coat of cherry-flavored gloss. The entire dimly lit bathroom was astronomy-themed. The bathroom stalls were decorated with glow-in-the-dark star stickers, and the trash cans were in the shapes of rocket ships. A sign above the sink read WELCOME, EARTHLINGS. Two bobble-headed aliens stood on the G, their stubby fingers lifted in a wave.
Taking a deep breath, Emma stared at herself in the mirror. “This is your first official date with Ethan,” she said to her reflection. She drew the last word out, savoring it. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been this excited about a guy—she’d dated guys before, but she moved around from foster home to foster home too often to ever really fall for someone. But lately, everything in her life had changed. A new home, a new family, and a new hot guy, Ethan Landry.
And a new identity, too, I wanted to add as I floated behind her, watching her in the mirror. As usual, my reflection wasn’t anywhere to be seen. It had been that way ever since I popped into Emma’s life when she was still living in Las Vegas. For all intents and purposes, Emma wasn’t Emma anymore. She was me, Sutton Mercer. Other than my killer, Ethan was the only person who knew her true identity. He was even helping Emma figure out what happened to me.
Emma’s phone pinged with a text. It was Ethan. HERE. JUST GOT TICKETS.
BE OUT IN A SECOND! she typed back.
Emma dried her hands, then pushed through the swinging door, fiddling with Sutton’s locket. Her heart picked up speed when she spotted Ethan leaning against a curved, carpeted wall across the crowded room.
She loved how broad his shoulders looked in his gray polo and the way his hair fell into his dark blue eyes. His navy blue Chuck Taylors were unlaced, his hunter green T-shirt hugged his well-defined arms, and his jeans were perfectly broken in. She snaked around the line of people waiting to get into the planetarium and tapped him on the shoulder.
He turned around. “Oh, hey.”
“Hey,” Emma said, feeling suddenly shy. The last time she’d seen Ethan things had ended a little awkwardly. Thayer Vega had shown up at her house, and Emma hadn’t introduced Ethan as her boyfriend. It had seemed cruel, somehow, to tell the boy who’d loved Sutton so desperately that she’d moved on. She’d called Ethan later to explain, and he’d seemed to understand. But what if he hadn’t?
Before she had a chance to say anything, though, Ethan pulled Emma to him, and their lips met in a kiss. Emma sighed.
Lucky, I thought. What I wouldn’t give to kiss someone again, although Thayer would be my top pick. I was happy for Emma, but I hoped all those love chemicals didn’t distract her from the real task at hand: figuring out what the hell had happened to me.
“This looks fun,” Emma said, lacing her fingers through his when they broke apart. “Thanks for bringing me here.”
“Thanks for coming.” Ethan pulled two tickets out of his back pocket. “It seemed appropriate for our first official date. It reminds me of how we first met,” he said a little bashfully.
Emma blushed. This was definitely at least number three or four on the Top Ten Cutest Ethan Moments list. The night she’d arrived in Tucson, before he’d even figured out who she was, they’d looked up at the sky together, and Emma had told him how she named stars. Instead of making fun of her, Ethan had found it interesting.
Ethan walked toward the planetarium entrance. “Ready?” he asked as they stepped along a maroon-painted floor through heavy black curtains.
Emma smiled at him as they slipped into darkness. The air was cool and the room was silent. Through the glass ceiling above them, they could see the tiny blinking stars that dotted the night sky. For a moment she just stood there, getting lost in the complex patterns of the constellations. The sky was so vast and overwhelming, and for a few breaths at least, she was able to forget how complicated her own life had become. It didn’t matter that she was playing someone else and putting her own life on hold. It didn’t matter that her sister had been murdered and her latest suspect was Sutton’s younger sister, Laurel, whom she’d thought was at Nisha Banerjee’s sleepover the night of the crime, but had slipped away to take Thayer to the hospital after someone had hit him with Sutton’s car. In comparison to the massive scope of the universe, nothing on earth really mattered.
“We still have a little while until the comet,” Ethan said, pressing a button on his diver’s watch to illuminate the time. “Want to check out the exhibits in the other rooms?”
While New Age music played, Ethan and Emma stopped in front of an exhibit called The Dirty Snowballs of Our Solar System. It showed how comets form. Ethan coughed, then strutted up to a picture of a swirling comet and spoke in a high-pitched, nerdy voice. “So, you see, comets start out as chunks of rock and ice left over from the formation of stars and planets. And then the balls of rock get close to the sun, and the sun’s heat melts some of the ice. How do you like that, missy?”
He hitched up his pants and rubbed his nose, and Emma suddenly realized he was impersonating Mr. Beardsley, their science teacher at Hollier. She burst out laughing. Mr. Beardsley was a zillion years old, forever talking in that nerdy voice, and calling all the girls “missy” and all the guys “son.”
“You’re good,” she said, “but to really nail it, you have to lick your lips a bit more. And pick your nose.”
Ethan made a face. “The idea of that guy picking his nose and then touching my test paper…”
“Horrifying.” Emma shivered.
“I wish teachers made space more interesting,” Ethan said, strolling to the next exhibit. His brow furrowed in concentration as he studied the photograph. His deep-set blue eyes glanced over the words written below it, his lips moving the tiniest bit as he read. “They make it so dry and bland, it’s no wonder no one cares.”