Chapter 3

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In the morning, Olivia rushed through the front double doors of her house to squeal in delight (much to the annoyance of her neighbors) in the driveway at her new red car.

"Oh my god, I love it! I totally love it!" she exclaimed repeatedly, throwing her arms around her father, and then her mother, and then her father again.

Mrs. Richmond made us all pancakes in the shape of the first letter of our first names, which was kind of a childish treat, but we all enjoyed it anyway. My pancake, an uneven and misshapen M, was the largest of them all, nearly twice the size of Mischa's M, and I devoured it in silence, still unsettled by the game we had played the night before. Thankfully Henry and Charlie had left the house to drive to Henry's appointment for X-rays before we had even stirred awake. I wasn't in the mood to flirt or act bubbly; I wanted to repack my backpack and rush home in the safety of daylight.

When I emerged from the first floor bathroom and began my descent back down to the basement to retrieve my backpack and shopping bags from the trip to the mall the day before, I heard Olivia uttering the words twin and fire. I knew immediately that she was debriefing Violet about my life story, and in an odd way I was flattered that Olivia even still remembered it. All of the events she was relaying had occurred right around the time I had fallen out of favor with Olivia and Candace and the other girls who had been considered to be the prettiest and friendliest back then in elementary school. I couldn't blame them for allowing our friendships to lapse when we were little kids.  What had happened to my family was so terrible that parents wanted to keep their own children away from us, as if distance was a preventative measure to keep tragedy from striking them, too.

My footsteps on the creaky stairs interrupted the story, and both Olivia and Violet smiled awkwardly when I reached the basement. Only Candace turned and nodded at me with sad eyes, confirmation that I was indeed interrupting exactly what I suspected.

"We're going to go see Blood Harvest 2: The Reaping this afternoon," Olivia announced cheerfully, her offer laced with falseness. "Do you want to come with?"

"I can't," I lied smoothly. "I'm going to the mall with my mom to look for Homecoming stuff."

I was thankful that I hadn't previously announced to my new friends that the lavender dress had already been purchased, some information I'd held back on sharing just in case a date never surfaced.

That was the day that summer settled comfortably into fall. The temperature finally dropped noticeably by ten degrees and a sharp scent of dry leaves crept into the air, overpowering my town's summer smells of freshly cut grass and honeysuckle bushes. I rushed home on foot, not wanting to have to wait for my mom to arrive at the Richmonds' in her station wagon. My mom put other parents on edge. She was lucky to escape Willow on the three days each week when she taught in Sheboygan, where the only people who had known her long enough to remember about Jennie were the other professors who had been at the University as long as she'd been teaching there. Within town limits, everyone her own age remembered not only the story but the headline that appeared the next morning in the Willow Gazette: Tot Lost in Blaze on Martha Road. A lot of kids I knew had divorced parents and lived with their mom after their dad left Willow to find a new job, pursue a new wife, and start over with fresh rules in a new game. But only my mom inspired awkward kindness everywhere she went. Even the checkout girls at the grocery store smiled a little wistfully when handing over her change.

The walk was nearly two miles, but I hurried, eager to get home to my own familiar bed to catch a few hours' worth of sleep. Thinking about Jennie exhausted me and I wasn't happy that her memory had been dredged up so close to Homecoming, when my life was rapidly changing in a brighter direction. There were entire stretches of days sometimes when I barely thought about her, and then, of course, when I did, I felt guilty. It wasn't even accurate to say that I missed her; it had been so long since she'd passed away that I hardly remembered what it had been like when she'd been alive. By that autumn, I had lived on my own just as long as I'd lived with her, my life split in two distinct halves: With Jennie, and After Jennie. What had replaced the hollow longing that immediately followed her death was a distinct uneasiness, an undeniable but intangible sensation that somehow nature had messed up. Somehow, the wrong twin had been reclaimed.

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