Chapter 1

Here we go, Olivia Abbott thought as her mother's car pulled away from the curb.

Olivia stood on the sidewalk and smoothed the skirt of her new pink dress for the millionth time. She usually felt her best in pink, but for some rea- son it wasn't helping at all this morning.

Olivia wished she didn't feel so nervous. After all, it wasn't like this was the cheerleading nation- als or anything. It was just her first day of eighth grade at a new middle school. In an unfamiliar town. Where she didn't know anybody.

She was totally freaking out.

If it wasn't for her dad's new job, she'd be skipping into her regular school with Mimi and Kara and the rest of the old squad, instead of being the friendless new girl who shows up out of nowhere five weeks into the school year.

But, whatever, Olivia was determined to make the best of the situation. This would be just like the first time she ate sushi. It would be weird for a second--unfamiliar and slightly funny smelling-- but then she'd grow to love it. Besides, what was she going to do, cry until high school?

Olivia stood up straight and clapped her hands twice, like at the beginning of a cheer. Then, with her mouth set in a smile, she made her way bravely toward the front entrance.

Her old school had been a modern box, painted a combination of ugly beige and ugly brown, but Franklin Grove Middle School was different. It looked a thousand years old. Ivy dripped from the huge entryway columns, and beyond the enormous oak front doors was a hall- way so big you could make a sixteen-person pyra- mid across it. Olivia's old school was plastered with inspirational posters with sayings that made no sense, like LIVE EVERY DAY LIKE IT'S TODAY!

Here, black-and-white school photographs hung on the walls dating back to practically the ice age. She passed one picture with a plaque that said CONVOCATION 1912. It showed a bunch of serious- looking students in black robes.

At least the sound of everyone rushing to their first class was familiar: lockers clanging, sneakers squeaking, people laughing. Olivia made her way through the bustle.There seemed to be a lot more Goths here than there had been at her old school. They were as black-and-white as the photographs on the walls: black clothes, pale skin, heavy black boots.

Olivia caught her own reflection in a display case. Her pretty dress floated, ghostlike, in front of tarnished trophies and a dark banner that said GO, FRANKLIN GROVE DEVILS! She tried to keep smiling, but her heart fell. She looked like a lol- lipop in a graveyard. What if she never managed to fit in here?

"Rise and shine," a voice interrupted. Startled, Olivia realized she was standing right in the way of a Goth girl. A prickly bun atop the girl's head was held in place by a wooden spike--Cool, Olivia thought, a chopstick!--and she wore a black dress with a neat slanted hem that started just above one knee and ended at the opposite ankle.

Olivia stepped to the left, trying to get out of the way, but the girl had the same idea.They both stepped in the other direction. Then they both stepped back again. Olivia laughed apologetically, but the girl just looked at her in a weird way. It wasn't mean or anything. She just looked curious, sort of like an inquisitive black cat.

"Do I . . ." the girl began, frowning. "Are you new here?"

"How can you tell?" Olivia asked jokingly.

"So you're probably looking for the office, right?" the girl replied, with the faintest of smiles, as another Goth in a black T-shirt that said HOP, BUNNY, HOP! in pink letters pulled up, a digital camera hanging around her neck. The first girl nodded to her friend before pointing Olivia in the right direction. "To the end, around the corner, office is on the right."

Olivia had been going the wrong way com- pletely. "Thanks," she said sheepishly. "I probably would have been wandering the halls looking for the principal's office until I got sent to the princi- pal's office for wandering the halls!"

To her relief, both Goths cracked a smile. Then the one with the stick in her hair looked at Olivia like she was trying to remember some- thing. Finally she shrugged. "Well, good luck." And with that, she and her friend walked off down the hallway.

The office was exactly where the girl said it would be.

"Have a seat over there," the gray-haired receptionist said. "Principal Whitehead will be with you in just a minute."

Olivia turned around and saw a chair, next to where a girl with long, soft-looking, curly blond hair was sitting, reading a thick, battered paper- back. The girl wore jeans and a yellow T-shirt, and on the floor at her feet was a canvas bag with a button on the strap that said ALIEN SPAWN ARE PEOPLE, TOO.

Finally, Olivia thought, someone who isn't wear- ing black! She walked over and held out her hand. "Hi. Olivia Abbott."

The girl lifted her eyes from her book. She looked confused. "No, actually, my name's Camilla. Camilla Edmunson."

Olivia laughed. "No. I mean my name's Olivia," she explained. "Nice to meet you, Camilla."

Camilla made an I'm-such-a-dork face and shook Olivia's hand. "Sorry. I'm just really into this book."

Olivia sat down. "Isn't that the best? When you get so caught up in a book that you're, like, in a different world?"

"I know!" said Camilla eagerly. She held up the cover of her paperback: Random Access by Coal Knightley, The Second Book in The Cyborg Trilogy. "Ever read it?"

"Nope. Is it any good?" Olivia asked.

"Are you kidding?" Camilla cried. "This is my third time through!"

"That's exactly how I am with the Count Vira books." Olivia sighed. "You know--vampires, bloodsucking, frilly collars. They're sort of my secret vice."

"Don't worry." Camilla grinned. "Your secret's safe with me. As long as you don't tell anyone I can speak the Cyborg Beta language."

Olivia laughed. "It's a deal!"

The principal appeared, looking like school principals everywhere: bald head, short sleeves, bad tie.

"Olivia Abbott?" he said. "Welcome to Franklin Grove."

Ivy Vega could have bitten her best friend, Sophia Hewitt, for abandoning her as they got to social studies. So what if they were almost late? That didn't mean Sophia had to rush to her desk the moment they arrived, leaving Ivy zombified in the doorway as the second bell rang.

Ivy clutched at the dark emerald ring hanging on the charm around her neck, hoping it would ward off her fear like a magic amulet. As if. It had been three weeks since Ms. Starling assigned seats, and Ivy still felt like she was caught in direct sunlight without any sunblock. Sitting at a desk next to drop-dead Brendan Daniels each morn- ing was torture. Quite enjoyable torture, admit- tedly, but still.

She forced herself to put one foot in front of the other, shooting Sophia her meanest look--the death squint--as she crept past. Sophia rolled her eyes.

Ivy pulled the long wooden spike out of her bun as she sat down, then peered out at Brendan from behind a curtain of dark hair.

He was utterly Goth gorgeous in every way: skin the color of pure white marble, high cheek- bones that made dark valleys in his face, curly black hair that hung near his shoulders. Her heart convulsed. She was sure she'd turn to dust if they ever exchanged a single word. He clicked his mechanical pencil.

I'm going to fail this class, thought Ivy. How can I concentrate on a single thing when he's so close?

A singsong voice interrupted her thoughts. "After I win the cheerleading tryouts and become squad captain of the Devils, I'm totally going to do the best cheers ever!" said Charlotte Brown.

Kill me now, Ivy thought. Ivy could think of only one thing more painful than unrequited love, and it was hearing Charlotte Brown babble on about herself.

"I am already so much better than my big sister," Charlotte twittered, "and she's, like, co-captain of the varsity squad at Franklin High."

"Maybe I'll be your co-captain!" one of Charlotte's minions said brightly.

"Maybe I won't have a co-captain," replied Charlotte coolly.

It was one thing to get assigned a seat next to Brendan Daniels and die of embarrassment. But it was another thing altogether to get seated behind Charlotte Brown and die of boredom lis- tening to her endless, dumb, mean-spirited chat- ter. Charlotte and her lemmings had been yammering on about cheerleading tryouts non- stop since the first day of school.

Ivy pushed her hair behind her ears and pulled out her notebook. She angled herself away from Brendan--if she couldn't spend eternity with him, she could at least use the time produc- tively--and turned to the back page, where she jotted her ideas for the school paper.

"Former Franklin Grove Cheerleading Cap- tains: Where Are They Now?" she wrote. Let's see, she thought. There was Carli Spith, who was now a cashier at FoodMart. And Melinda Willsocks, who got crowned Miss Revoline at the auto show last year but still lived with her parents and couldn't get a regular job. And . . .

Ivy realized that the room had suddenly gone quiet. She stopped writing.

"Class," Ms. Starling announced, "I'd like to introduce you to a new member of the Franklin Grove community."

Beside Ms. Starling stood the girl in the pink dress. Ivy got the same weird feeling she'd had when she'd first seen her in the hall--like d�j� vu mixed with indigestion.

"Her name is Olivia Abbott," Ms. Starling explained. "She's just moved here from the coast."

Ivy put her hand on her necklace and twirled her ring as she watched the new girl at the front of the room. Olivia's long brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Her dress was seriously pink. She wasn't the kind of person who would nor- mally attract Ivy's attention. So why did Ivy feel like she was looking at someone she had met before?

Olivia was given a desk right near the front, probably because, once again, Ms. Starling was determined to ruin Ivy's life using the ancient curse of assigned seating; no matter how she craned her neck, Ivy was unable to catch another glimpse of the new girl's face.

In between trying to learn about the legislative branch of government and trying to look cool and beautiful in case Brendan was looking at her, Ivy tried to figure out how she knew Olivia Abbott.

She decided to list all the possibilities in her notebook: Kindergarten? Elementary school? Dance camp? Summer retreat? Meat & Greet Diner? Costume ball? Mall? Finally, desperately, Ivy wrote . . . TV ???

There weren't many people Ivy knew who Sophia wouldn't recognize as well, so Ivy tore a blank corner from one page and passed a note back to her friend while Ms. Starling was writing on the blackboard.

Sophia's response came at once: "R u kidding? She's 2 pink 4 us 2 know!" She'd drawn one of her bunny cartoons at the bottom.

"Love your fur!" one bunny said.

"Pink is totally my natural color!" replied another, which had a ribbon in its hair.

Ivy tried to cloak her laughter with a fake cough, but the resulting rattle was seriously grave. Brendan probably thought she sounded like a cat coughing up a fur ball.

Ivy saw Olivia raise her hand to ask a question. "Do we have to type the assignment?" Even her voice sounded familiar.

Ivy was more certain than ever that there was something strange about the girl in the pink dress.

When the bell rang, Ivy waited for Brendan to leave before she got up. She and Sophia were headed to their lockers when Sophia nudged her arm and said, "Looks like the new bunny's about to be roadkill."

Down the hall, Olivia Abbott was standing by the bathrooms, surrounded by four boys in black heavy metal T-shirts.

Oh no, thought Ivy. It was the Beasts.

Before she knew what she was doing, Ivy was rushing toward the group.

"New meat," she heard one of the boys say.

"Yeah, dude." Another Beast chuckled. "Like, with ketchup. I wonder if she likes horror stories." They all guffawed.

For the first time, Ivy saw Olivia without a smile on her face. Their eyes met over the boys' shoulders. Olivia looked half confused, half scared.

Ivy clenched her teeth. As night was her wit- ness, there was no way she was going to let this girl be eaten alive by the biggest Goth losers at Franklin. "Buzz off and die, Beasts!" she growled, shoving them aside and stepping in front of Olivia. "Go haunt a convenience store parking lot."

"What's your problem, Vega?"

"You're my problem, you rat. Now put a stake in it." Ivy unleashed her death squint. "I said buzz off!"

The Beasts laughed uncomfortably before slinking away down the hall.

"I am so happy you showed up," Olivia blurted. "I don't even know your name, and you're already my favorite person!"

Ivy introduced herself. "And don't worry about the Beasts," she said. "They're harmless.

They act all grave, but they're not nearly as scary as they smell."

"You sure seem to know how to handle them," Olivia remarked.

"Yeah, well, I'd better," Ivy said. "I'm going to have to put up with them forever."

Olivia laughed. "Anyway, thank you for the second time today, Ivy Vega. I'm really grateful."

That strange feeling rushed back over Ivy with a force so powerful she nearly stumbled. All at once, she realized why the new girl looked so familiar. She looks a lot like me, Ivy thought. More than a lot--she looks almost exactly like me!

A wave of nausea hit her, and her knees trem- bled. She was either going to throw up or faint right in the middle of the hall. Brendan would see her splayed out on the linoleum floor, her face whiter than bone, her black-stockinged legs twisted like a doll's.

Olivia was still talking, but the roar in Ivy's head was too loud for her to hear.

"Later," Ivy croaked. And, quick as a bat, she flew into the girls' bathroom.

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