Oh great, Olivia thought, I overdid it. Why did she always have to come on so strong when she met new people? Here was this girl, Ivy, clearly trying to be nice, and Olivia immediately started talking her ear off. The poor girl had looked like she was about to puke."Anyway," Olivia concluded, "I'm really sorry."
Still, Olivia couldn't help wondering why Ivy Vega had gone out of her way to help her. After all, Ivy was ultra Goth. For someone like her to be friendly to someone like Olivia twice in one morning was unusual to say the least.
Whatever. Olivia had gym next, and she needed to find the locker room and change as fast as she could. The principal had said that Ms. Barnett, her PE teacher, was also the cheerlead- ing coach, and Olivia wanted to make a stellar first impression.
"You're not wearing socks, Miss Abbott," Ms. Barnett said sternly less than seven minutes later. Olivia had barely had a chance to introduce her- self. "This is a physical education class, young lady. How can you receive a physical education if your feet are not properly attired?"
Olivia made sure she kept smiling, which wasn't easy considering she was also trying to nod seriously. "I completely agree," she said sincerely. "I've been cheerleading since I was eight, and I fully understand the dangers of painful blisters and unwanted foot fungus. I promise not to for- get my socks again, ma'am."
Ms. Barnett nodded with begrudging respect.
There isn't a female gym teacher on earth who doesn't love being called Ma'am, thought Olivia.
After Ms. Barnett had given her the details of the squad tryouts coming up in three weeks, she led Olivia across the gym to where three girls were taking turns doing handsprings. She gestured to one with a blond ponytail, who bounced right over.
"Charlotte Brown, this is Olivia Abbott. She's also interested in trying out for the squad."
"You're the new girl!" Charlotte cried. "Welcome to Fraaaaaaaanklin"--she rolled her hands like a motor and threw her arms in the air--"GROVE!"
Olivia smiled. "Nice to meet you."
"Come on," said Charlotte. "I'm just about to teach Katie and Allison this unbelievably awe- some cheer!"
For the first time all morning, Olivia let herself relax. She'd found the cheerleaders. Unlike the other students in gym class, all three girls wore matching short pink shorts and tight gray Franklin Devils T-shirts. Olivia just knew she'd be having sleepovers and talking about boys in the locker room with them before long.
Olivia watched Charlotte run through the rou- tine.The girl clearly knew her stuff. She had good energy, sharp moves, nice tumbling. It was com- pletely possible that Charlotte Brown was going to be her new best friend.
"That was great, Charlotte!" Olivia said. Except, she thought, "devil" doesn't really rhyme with "bubble, but, whatever. "We used to do a
" cheer a lot like that at my old school."
"I wrote it myself." Charlotte beamed.
The routine had some complicated parts but nothing too difficult. Olivia got it in no time. After a few run-throughs, she even tried some new lines, shouting, "You know you're a Devil when you raise the noise level!" instead of Charlotte's words.
"Sorry, Olivia," Charlotte said, running over from where she was working with Katie and Allison on the handclaps. "I think you got the words wrong. We'd better do it again." Which was fine. After all, it was Charlotte's cheer.
Olivia was just relieved to feel that she fit in. In fact, at the end of class, she was on her way to the locker room when Ms. Barnett actually smiled at her.
"Nice cheering, Olivia," said the gym teacher. Olivia could have done a flip on the spot!
"Ms. Barnett says that to everyone," Charlotte said, as she pushed open the door to the locker room.
Olivia shrugged. "Hey, this morning I was no one. `Everyone' is a step up!"
It sure didn't feel that way at lunch, though. Looking out at the cafeteria, Olivia felt like no one again. She had no idea where to sit. She wished she were back at her old school, with Kara and Mimi waving at her from their table by the window.
Finally, Olivia spotted Camilla sitting by her- self in the corner, devouring her sci-fi epic along with her lunch. Olivia almost took off running, she was so happy to see her.
She was almost at Camilla's table when Charlotte Brown appeared, wearing a pink sweater. Behind her stood Katie and Allison, their smiles shining like white billboards above their trays.
"Come sit with us!" Charlotte said.
Olivia glanced over at Camilla, whose nose was still buried in her book. For some reason, Olivia's stomach sank. "Okay."
"This is the popular table," Katie told her as they sat down.
"We sit here every day," said Allison.
"Great." Olivia smiled, silently noting that they were the only people at the table.
"Girls," Charlotte said. "First things first. I think it's our duty to tell Olivia the rules."
"Which rules?" Olivia asked.
"Duh." Katie rolled her eyes. "Charlotte's rules."
"No, Katie." Charlotte looked annoyed. "The rules of Franklin Grove Middle School." She straightened her back and took a deep breath. "Rule number one," Charlotte announced. She reached over to Olivia's tray and gingerly picked up a piece of garlic bread with two fingers. She looked completely grossed out, as if she were holding a dead bird. "Never order garlic bread. It totally kills . . ."
Vampires? Olivia wondered.
". . . your social life," Charlotte finished, drop- ping the bread so that it landed back on Olivia's tray with a thud.
"Rule number two," Charlotte went on, wiping her hands on her napkin. "Pink is in. Black"--she shot a cold look at another table, where Olivia saw Ivy Vega sitting with some friends--"is so last season. But you already knew that, right?" Charlotte added and winked.
"I so can't wait to borrow that dress," Katie said, looking Olivia up and down approvingly.
"Anyway," said Charlotte, "rule number two is: Pink is perfect!"
Olivia shifted in her seat uncomfortably.
"But rule number three," Charlotte continued, "is the most important rule of all."
Charlotte looked at Katie and Allison, who nodded solemnly. Then Charlotte did a double clap, and all three spoke in unison: "The squad is everything, and the captain makes the calls!"
It was as if they'd practiced it--which, Olivia realized, they probably had. "Cool," she said, not wanting to be mean. "Who's the captain?"
Katie and Allison looked at Olivia like she'd just popped a zit right at the table.
"It's all right," Charlotte said. "She's new. That's a perfectly good question, Olivia. I'm the captain."
Olivia couldn't help it; she was shocked. She had to eat a forkful of fruit salad just to cover her reaction. Finally she swallowed. "I, um, talked to Ms. Barnett in gym, and she said that the captain- ship won't be decided until tryouts."
"I know," said Charlotte, nodding sympatheti- cally. "She actually has to say that or else she'll be fired. Like, to be fair. But everyone knows it's going to be me."
"It's just like everyone on the squad has to try out again every year, so it at least looks like new people have a chance," Katie said.
"Like you!" Allison chimed. Then she realized what she'd just said and added quickly, "Although I'm sure you'll make it if you stick with us."
Olivia forced herself to smile and nod. I should have sat with Camilla, she thought. And then, out of the corner of her eye, Olivia saw Ivy and her friends about to pass by, carrying their trays.
Charlotte cleared her throat. "It's such a shame," she said ultraloud, "when people can't afford to buy clothes from this century.We should totally set up a charity."
Oh, my gosh. Charlotte did not just say that! Olivia thought. She stared down at her tray as Ivy brushed past with her friends. Luckily, they didn't say anything.
When the Goths had gone, Olivia sat up straight. "Charlotte, what was all that about?"
"Excuse me?" Charlotte said haughtily.
"That girl, Ivy, saved my butt this morning. And even if she didn't, I don't really think that entitles you to smash her feelings."
"Well, thank you for feedback, Olivia," Charlotte huffed. "But it's clear you don't know what you're talking about. Now, I'll forgive you for not knowing this because you're new, but let me tell you something about those Goths. The walking dead don't have feelings!"
How utterly great, Ivy thought grimly as the bell rang for the last class of the day. The new girl-- who looks just like me but is best friends with Charlotte Brown--is in my science class, too.
Ivy slumped in her chair in the back row. She could not believe Olivia had been sucked into Charlotte's web so easily. Olivia might share Ivy's nose, but that was obviously where the resem- blance ended.
Uh-oh. Olivia was coming over.
"Hi," Olivia said quietly. She seemed embar- rassed.
She should be! thought Ivy.
Olivia said, "Mr. Strain told me you're my lab partner."
What?! This is so unbelievably O-negative, Ivy raged silently. She was now officially having the weirdest and worst day ever. She was ready to say something really grave, but the look on Olivia's face stopped her.
"I am so horrified by what Charlotte said at lunch. I mean, you are, like, the nicest person I've met so far. I know I should have said something on the spot. It's just that, I don't know, I was so shocked. I mean, look at you.You've got unbeliev- able style," Olivia said.
"P-pardon me?" Ivy stammered.
"That's the coolest dress I've seen all day!" Olivia went on. "And I'm absolutely going to try the chopstick-in-the-hair thing. You've got way more style than Charlotte Brown."
Ivy was speechless.
Maybe Olivia Abbott wasn't a cheerleader underling after all. Ivy moved her books aside so Olivia could sit down.
"It's okay," Ivy said. "I'm used to Charlotte's petty ways. I bet she didn't tell you I'm her next- door neighbor."
"Are you serious?" Olivia asked incredulously.
"Dead serious. And she never misses an opportunity to say something nasty." Ivy rolled her eyes. "I guess it's a cheerleader thing."
Olivia shook her head firmly. "I cheered at my old school, and most cheerleaders aren't like that--any more than Goth girls are all witches."
"As if." Ivy laughed, impressed.
Olivia opened her notebook. "I mean, it would be one thing if you'd done something. But for Charlotte to act like that out of nowhere--"
"Actually," Ivy interrupted, "there was sixth grade."
Olivia's eyes widened. "What happened in sixth grade?"
Mr. Strain appeared in front of their desk. "Don't you two think you should be preparing your lab materials like the rest of the class?"
"Sorry," they both mumbled. Ivy sheepishly handed a pair of safety goggles to Olivia. A few moments later, when Mr. Strain had gone, she continued in a whisper, "I tried out for cheerlead- ing."
"YOU tried out--" Olivia gasped, but Ivy motioned for Olivia to keep her voice down. "For cheerleading?" Olivia finished in a whisper.
"Yep." Ivy smiled. "My dad wanted me to have an extracurricular. I actually made the squad. But, guess . . . who . . . didn't?"
"No way." Olivia's jaw dropped.
"Way." Ivy grinned. "Charlotte was only first alternate."
"You can cheer?" Olivia asked.
"I may not be a smiler, but I am really good at gymnastics," Ivy replied.
"You can too smile," objected Olivia.
"Yes, but I don't like to smile," Ivy said. "And I certainly don't like to be perky. Truth is, I wasn't really into the `cheer' part of cheerleading."
Olivia wrinkled her nose. "That part is really important," she admitted.
"It just wasn't my style," Ivy explained. "Even my dad knew it. So, after the first week, I quit and joined the newspaper."
"And what happened?" probed Olivia.
"Charlotte got to fill the spot I left. That was the only reason she made the squad. She's never gotten over it. And the rest, as they say--"
"Is middle school!" Olivia blurted. They both laughed.
"Ladies!" Mr. Strain interrupted from across the room. "Please focus on the experiment at hand! We are exploring the combustion of plant matter, not your social lives!"
Olivia made a face and raised her hand to turn on the Bunsen burner. There was a dark emerald ring on her middle finger.
The strange feeling Ivy had experienced earlier when she'd looked at Olivia rushed back over her like a tidal wave. Her hand instantly flew to her neck, and she felt for the ring on its chain beneath her dress. She found it near her throat. But how could there be two of them? The ring was the only thing she had from her real parents. She was sure it was one of a kind. How could Olivia have one, too?
"Ivy?" Olivia was staring at her. "Are you okay?"
Somehow Ivy forced herself to smile. "F-fine," she stammered.
Ivy didn't know how she would make it to the end of class, but she did. When the bell finally rang, she grabbed Olivia's arm. "Come with me!"
"Sure," Olivia said. "Where to?"
Ivy looked around wildly as they stepped into the hallway. "The bathroom."
Ivy thought she would die if there was anybody else in the girls' bathroom. She checked to make sure it was completely empty.
"Are you going to tell me a secret?" Olivia asked as she watched curiously. Ivy came over and turned Olivia to face the mirror.
Olivia's eyes met Ivy's in the reflection, and all at once, Olivia's smile disappeared. "Ivy, what is it?"
Ivy lifted Olivia's wrist so they could both see her hand in the mirror. "Where did you get this ring?" Ivy asked, her voice trembling.
Olivia looked stunned for a moment. Then she took a deep breath. "It's the only thing in the world," she said slowly, "that my real parents gave me."
Ivy reached carefully into her dress, pulled out her chain, and held up her ring next to Olivia's.
The rings were identical. They had the same ornate etchings on the same heavy platinum bands, the same oddly cut green emeralds. They even seemed to shine brighter now that they were next to each other.
Ivy and Olivia's eyes reconnected in the mirror.
When Ivy spoke again, her voice was almost a whisper. "When's your birthday?"
Olivia's voice shook. "May . . ." she began.
"Thirteenth," Ivy finished.
Olivia put her hand to her mouth. "You look just like me!"
"You look just like me," Ivy said, raising her eyebrows.
Olivia spun around to face her.
"Who were . . ." they both started.
"How did . . ." Neither of them finished.
Ivy took a deep breath.
"When were . . ." they said as one.
"Okay," Ivy cried. "You go first."
"Are you adopted?" Olivia blurted. "I am."
"Me, too," Ivy answered. "How old were you?"
"One," Olivia replied. "You?"
"Where were you born?" Olivia asked.
"Owl Creek, Tennessee," Ivy told her.
"Me, too!" Olivia shook her head. "This is so out of control."
"Have you ever been there?" asked Ivy.
Olivia's eyes lit up. "Once, a few years ago. My parents drove through on the way to Nashville. There's not much there except these unbelievably huge trees."
"You have no idea how jealous I am." Ivy sighed. She'd always wanted to go to Owl Creek.
"What about your ring?" Olivia asked.
"I got it for my tenth birthday," Ivy replied. "My father said my real parents wanted it that way. It was a condition of the adoption."
"That's exactly what my parents told me!" Olivia bit her lip. "Do you . . . do you know any- thing else about them?" She looked at Ivy hope- fully.
Ivy's heart sank. "No. My dad never even met them," she said. "How about you?"
"No." Olivia sighed.
For a moment, they were both quiet. Then Ivy's mouth curled into a wide grin. "Well, Olivia, I've always wanted an evil twin."
Olivia rolled her eyes. "That is just what I was going to say!"