Chapter 9

"What about a big box of props for the photo- graphs, so that people can pretend to stake each other?" Sophia asked eagerly as she added a chocolate brownie to her lunch tray.

Ivy tried to nod enthusiastically, but her best friend was driving her seriously batty. Lately the ball was all that Sophia wanted to talk about. Ivy scanned the cafeteria for a place to sit. Holly and Collette were both studying for a test in the library, so Ivy knew she had to do something to avoid an entire lunch debating streamers versus balloons.

She spotted Olivia sitting in the corner with Camilla Edmunson, who Ivy and Sophia both knew because she occasionally wrote for the school paper. "Let's sit over there," Ivy suggested. At least with them Sophia would have to take a break from the ball.

"With the bunnies?" Sophia said skeptically.

"Why not?" Ivy answered. "You always like Camilla's book reviews."

Sophia shrugged, and they made their way over.

"Hey," said Ivy, with an innocent nod toward Olivia. "Can we sit here?"

"Sure," Camilla replied.

"Totally," Olivia agreed.

As they sat down, Camilla said, "Your last photo essay in the paper was really great, Sophia."

"Thanks," Sophia replied appreciatively. "Speaking of the paper, I read that book you reviewed last week. You know, the one you gave four devils out of five, The Vortex Effect? You were right. It sucks."

"Doesn't it?" gushed Camilla.

"Where's your food?" Olivia asked Ivy, gestur- ing at Ivy's half-empty tray.

"They ran out of burgers," Ivy explained, rolling her eyes. "What kind of school cafeteria runs out of burgers?"

"We should riot," joked Sophia, and everyone laughed.

"Want some of my beef lasagna?" Camilla offered. "My mom made it. It's the best."

Ivy peered into Camilla's Tupperware. It did look really good, and she was dying for something with meat in it. "Okay," she said gratefully. "If you think you have enough."

Camilla slid a generous piece of lasagna onto a napkin and passed it to Ivy.

"Thanks," Ivy said. She scooped up a hunk with her fork and popped it in her mouth. Right away, her tongue felt like it was on fire. She gagged and swallowed to stop the pain.

Oh, no! thought Ivy in a blind panic. That was the gravest thing I could possibly have done! Her stomach turned, and she felt ice-cold. She started seeing spots--big black and blue blobs at the cor- ners of her vision.

"Ivy?" Olivia said, leaning across the table. "Are you okay?"

She couldn't answer.

"She looks really pale," Camilla said in a far- away voice. "Like, even paler than normal."

Ivy blinked. Her head was killing her.

Sophia grabbed Ivy's hand and turned to Camilla. "Did that have garlic in it?" she asked urgently.

"I, er, don't know," Camilla stammered. "Maybe."

Sophia stood up. "We have to go."

Ivy felt her friend pull her to her feet. The last thing she heard as Sophia dragged her out of the cafeteria was Olivia's voice calling, "Is she okay?" from a million miles away.

"Do you think she's okay?" Olivia repeated as Ivy and Sophia disappeared out the cafeteria doors.

"I don't know what happened," Camilla said, shaking her head guiltily. "Maybe Ivy's allergic to garlic."

"She looked so ill!" Olivia remarked.

"Everybody says my mom's lasagna's great," Camilla tried to explain. "At least Sophia seemed to know what to do," she added.

"Yeah." Olivia wrung her hands. "I just hope Ivy's all right."

After lunch and through the rest of the day, Olivia watched for her sister in the hallways, but she was nowhere to be found. She didn't see Sophia anywhere either.

Olivia started to really worry when Ivy didn't show up for last period. She remembered how, at her old school, somebody's little brother had almost died after accidentally eating a peanut. All through science, Olivia had to fight the urge to rush out of class. She kept staring at the door.

"Olivia?" Mr. Strain was pointing at her with a piece of chalk. "The process by which plants turn sunlight into energy?"

"Er . . . chlorophyll?" Olivia suggested. The entire class chuckled.

It was the longest science class of her life. When the bell finally rang, Olivia had already packed up her things and punched Ivy's phone number into her new cell phone.

She was the first one out the door, hitting Send the moment she crossed the threshold. It rang once. Twice. Three times. Four times.

"Hello?" Ivy's sickly voice answered.

"Ivy!" Olivia cried. "Are you okay?"

"Hi, Olivia," her sister said weakly. "I'm all right. I just had a . . . grave reaction to . . . the gar- lic in Camilla's . . . lasagna."

"You sound awful," Olivia told her, leaning against a locker.

"I'll be better . . . in a day or two," Ivy said drily.

Olivia felt tears spring to her eyes. "I was really worried." She gulped.

"Really, I'm okay," Ivy said reassuringly. "I just can't . . . practice today. I'm sorry."

"Don't worry about that," said Olivia. She'd been so worried she'd actually totally forgotten they were supposed to cheer together this after- noon. "Just get better! Do you need anything?"

"No thanks," Ivy whispered. "Just rest."

"I'll call you later," Olivia said.

After she'd hung up, Olivia spotted Camilla by her locker and went over to give her the update. "Ivy's okay," Olivia said. "She went home."

"What happened?" Camilla asked, her eyes wide with concern.

"She's allergic to garlic," Olivia explained. "She needs some time to recover, but she says it's really no biggie."

"I'm so relieved she's all right," Camilla said, sliding a book into her bag. Then she looked up at Olivia. "Are you doing anything after school today?"

"I did have plans," Olivia replied, "but they got canceled."

"Want to go to a book signing at the mall?" Camilla asked, swinging her bag over her shoul- der. "It's this guy who's, like, a minor deity in the sci-fi world."

Olivia thought about it for about half a second. Her parents weren't expecting her home until dinner. "Sure." She grinned. "I'd love to."

Thursday afternoon, Ivy stretched in her back- yard and waited for Olivia to arrive.While she still felt a little stiff from the lasagna incident, she was seriously ready to reenter the land of the living after two days in bed.

She sat down and leaned over her outstretched legs to touch her toes. It had rained the night before, and the still-damp grass soaked through her black sweats, so she scrambled to her feet again.

As she did so, her sister bounded around the corner of the house with an excited, "Hello!"

Ivy smiled, and they hugged tightly.

"You have one bite of garlic and you're out of commission?" Olivia poked her in playful disbe- lief. "That's insane!"

Ivy stepped back and shrugged uncomfortably. "I had too much garlic as a baby," she mumbled. "It doesn't agree with me."

"That's weird," Olivia said. "Especially because we had the same parents until we were one. And I love garlic."

Can she tell I'm lying? Ivy wondered.

Fortunately, her sister didn't say anything more about it. Instead, Olivia did a double clap and said, "Okay, on Monday, you made it pretty clear you can cheer. But your shouting looked more like pouting!"

"Are you rhyming on purpose?" Ivy asked.

"Yes," Olivia replied enthusiastically. "So let's see whether today you can sell the yell!"

Ivy rolled her eyes. Then she stood up straight, turned up the corners of her mouth, and launched into the "Ashes to Ashes" cheer. During the past two days in bed, she'd come up with a trick to help her smile: she imagined the four Beasts standing in a graveyard, wearing nothing but pink briefs that said I'M WITH STUPID on them. It worked like a charm.

"Go, Ivy!" Olivia cheered as Ivy finished. "That was much better! You even smiled!"

"Thanks," Ivy responded, slightly embar- rassed.

Olivia patted her on the back and said, "Want to work on roundoff combinations for a new cheer?"

"Okay," said Ivy. They moved closer to the house and turned to face a distant line of thorn- bushes. Olivia counted down, and together they took a few running steps and leaped into the air.

One, two, three roundoffs. Out of the corner of her eye, Ivy saw Olivia stick her last move.

Deciding to go one better, Ivy put her hand to the ground, ready to push off into a double hand- spring. But her palm slipped on the rain-slick grass, her arm went out from under her, and sud- denly she was flying wildly through the air.

The thornbushes came spinning toward her like a kaleidoscope. "Owww!" Ivy cried as she slammed into them.

Olivia came running. "Ivy!"

"I'm okay," Ivy called, feeling like an utter loser. She stood up from the bushes and brushed herself off. "That's what I get for trying to show off."

"You're hurt!" Olivia exclaimed.

Ivy looked down and saw that her left arm was covered in blood; two deep crimson cuts ran its length. She had been careless. Usually, she would have checked to make sure there weren't any obvious injuries before emerging from the thorn- bushes, but it was too late now. Instinctively, she put her other hand over the scratches so her sis- ter wouldn't see.

But before she knew it, Olivia was at her side, trying to move her hand away.

"Let me look," Olivia said reassuringly. "I took first aid for my babysitting course last summer."

Olivia pried Ivy's fingers away and gingerly dabbed at the area with a little towel she had pulled from her waistband.

The blood came away on Olivia's towel, but-- just as Ivy knew they would be--the scratches were gone!

"You were bleeding," Olivia said, twisting Ivy's arm around in her hands, looking for a cut. "You were bleeding," she said again in confusion.

Ivy stared at the ground, frantically wondering what she could say.

Olivia shook her head, frowning. "Does it hurt?" she asked.

"No, it's fine. I, er . . ." Ivy stammered. How was she going to explain this?

"You're not cut somewhere else, are you?" Olivia asked, bending to inspect Ivy's legs. "This is so weird," she muttered, clutching the bloody towel in her hands.

Ivy could feel her sister trying to catch her eye now.

"Ivy?" Olivia said, her voice brimming with confusion. "What just happened? Did you . . . did you heal?"

I should tell Olivia the truth, Ivy thought. I don't want to lie to her. She's my twin sister.

"Ivy, say something!" Olivia demanded in exasperation.

I have to tell her, Ivy decided. "Olivia," Ivy said slowly, meeting her sister's gaze, "I have to tell you a secret."

"Okay," Olivia answered cautiously.

"It's serious," Ivy told her, taking her hand. "I need you to promise you won't tell anyone."

Olivia's eyes searched Ivy's face. "What is it?"

"It's the most important secret you'll ever know," Ivy said simply.

Olivia took a deep breath. "I swear on our sis- terhood," she said at last.

Ivy pulled Olivia into the shade of the thorn- bushes.Then she slowly lifted her hands up to her face and carefully popped out her contact lenses, one after the other.

Olivia put her hand to her mouth. "Your eyes are purple!"

"They're violet," corrected Ivy. She tried to smile. "Olivia," she said, "I'm a vampire."

Olivia put her hands on her hips. "You are not."

Ivy nodded solemnly in response.

"You're a vampire?" Olivia asked, bewildered. "For real?"

"And Sophia's a vampire," Ivy went on. "And the other people in my . . . community: they're vampires, too. We have to wear contact lenses to protect our eyes from the sun."

"Yeah, right," Olivia said. "Like I'm going to believe that vampires have purple eyes!"

"Most don't," Ivy admitted matter-of-factly, putting her contacts back in. "My eyes are spe- cial. Bright yellow, luminous green--those are more normal."

"Normal?" Olivia said dumbly.

"Uh-huh," Ivy confirmed.

"That's not in the Count Vira books," Olivia said with a doubtful shake of her ponytail.

"Count Vira is fiction," Ivy replied. "I'm a fact. We all have to wear special sunscreen, too," she went on. "Vampire skin is very pale and sensitive. It's completely different from yours."

"Is that why your arm stopped bleeding?" Olivia asked.

"We heal super quickly," Ivy explained.

Olivia suddenly took a step back. "You're not going to suck my blood, are you?"

Ivy rolled her eyes. "Olivia, I'm your twin sis- ter," she said. "Do you think I'd be practicing cheer- leading with you if I wanted to suck your blood?"

Olivia came back and examined Ivy's arm closely. "But isn't that what vampires do? Suck blood and kill people?"

"We don't kill people at all. Ever," Ivy said seri- ously. "It's evil! And, besides, the risk of exposing our kind is too great. We haven't sucked blood since the seventeenth century, when they burned half of us at the stake."

"So how do you satisfy your insatiable thirst for hemoglobin?" Olivia pressed.

"My insatiable thirst for hemoglobin!?" Ivy repeated incredulously. "You have to start reading better books, Olivia. I go to BloodMart like everyone else. There's one in the basement of FoodMart."

Olivia nodded thoughtfully. Then her eyes lit up. "You have a reflection. You can't be a vam- pire!" she declared triumphantly.

Ivy raised her eyebrows. "That's a myth."

"Oh," said Olivia, deflated. "Do you sleep in a coffin?"

"Yes." Ivy almost blushed. "That myth hap- pens to be true."

"But I saw your bed," Olivia said.

"The quilts and pillows and stuff make it more comfortable when I'm doing homework. There's a coffin underneath," Ivy explained. "When I was little I was utterly jealous of Sophia and her sis- ter's bunk bed coffins," she added wistfully.

"And you getting sick from Camilla's lasagna?" Olivia prompted.

"Was a bit more than an allergic reaction," Ivy admitted.

"You're really serious," Olivia breathed in amazement.

"Completely," Ivy confirmed.

For a moment, Olivia said nothing. Then she gave a queasy smile. "I am so glad I didn't have any cherry punch at the ball meeting."

Ivy couldn't help laughing. "Pretty killer secret, huh?" she said.

"Totally," Olivia croaked.

Ivy touched her sister's arm. "Olivia, by telling you this, I've broken the First Law of the Night. A vampire is never supposed to reveal her true self to an outsider. I could get into serious trouble if anybody ever finds out that I have"--Ivy paused--"and you could, too."

Olivia nodded bravely. "I won't tell," she said. Then a weird look crossed her face.

"Are you freaked out?" Ivy asked.

"If we're twins," Olivia said slowly, "does that mean that I'm a vampire?"

Ivy had been asking herself that question for a week. She shook her head. "There's no way, Olivia. You love garlic; you have normal skin; you have regular blue eyes; and, on top of it all, you're a veg- etarian! You're the least vampy person on earth."

"But you're still sure we're twins, right?" Olivia asked.

"Absolutely," Ivy said. "I won't pretend to understand it, but I know I'm a vampire and you're a bunny. We just happen to also be identi- cal twins."

"So that's what a bunny is," Olivia murmured distractedly.

This is a lot for Olivia to take in all at once, Ivy realized. "Maybe now that you know," she said, "swapping places isn't such a good idea. Maybe you shouldn't go to any more ball meetings. I'll do it. You focus on cheering."

Olivia shook her head. "No," she said firmly, "I can do it. I promised you." Suddenly, her eyes rested on Ivy's mouth. Olivia bent her head down a little, and Ivy thought for a second that her sis- ter was trying to look up her nose. Then Ivy real- ized that wasn't what Olivia was doing at all.

"Are you looking for fangs?" Ivy demanded.

Olivia smiled sheepishly. "Maybe."

Ivy rolled her eyes. "We get our incisors filed down. And just so you know," she added, "my face never gets gross and bumpy like the `vampires' on Buffy."

Olivia nodded thoughtfully.

She needs time to get used to this, Ivy thought. "I think we're done cheering for today," she said aloud.

"But we only just started," Olivia protested halfheartedly.

"It's okay," Ivy said. "Really. I'm ready for tomorrow. I have the moves. I can shout. I can even smile. You said it yourself."

Olivia's eyes flickered uncertainly.

"Are you sure you still want to go through with it?" Ivy asked.

Her sister grinned. "Are you worried I'll freak out in front of all your friends?"

"A little," Ivy admitted.

Olivia looked her in the eye. "Trust me," she said. "I can handle it." They hugged. "After all, you know what they say," Olivia continued. "Blood is thicker than water."

Ivy couldn't resist. "And better tasting, too!"

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