Read an Excerpt
From her perch on a comfortable lounging chair, Amy Candler basked in the sunshine and gazed out at the shimmering crystal-blue water in the oval swimming pool. This was very clearly not the community pool where she and her friends usually congregated. There weren’t any screaming kids splashing each other, and no one was jumping up and down on the diving board, yelling like Tarzan. There was no chain-link fence, and no bored teenage lifeguard was ordering people out of the pool. Best of all, Amy didn’t have to worry about anyone using the pool as a gigantic toilet.
This pool was surrounded by a stone terrace, and the terrace was surrounded by rosebushes. The terrace led to a large, modern house, where there was a bar. Amy knew she could help herself to a soft drink or juice whenever she wanted one, free of charge. From unseen speakers, her favorite radio station played the top ten songs of the week at exactly the right sound level. If she wanted, she could turn it up and not worry about bothering the neighbors. Up here in Beverly Hills, you couldn’t even see the home of your next-door neighbor.
An uncle of Tasha and Eric Morgan’s lived in the house. He had left keys with the Morgans so that they could use the pool while he and his family were on vacation. What Amy couldn’t understand was why people who had a house and a pool like this would need to go away for a vacation. But she was certainly glad they had.
“Summer,” she murmured blissfully.
“Yeah,” Eric sighed.
And Tasha punctuated this with a little moan of pleasure.
Even in Los Angeles, where you could hang out in sunshine practically all year long, there was something special about summer. It wasn’t just the weather. Summer meant no school and no homework, and for Amy, it meant her birthday. In fact, her greatest problem at that moment was deciding what kind of cake she wanted for the great event, which was coming up on Saturday. One thing was for sure: It would have to be a big cake.
“Do they make cakes big enough to serve forty people?” she wondered out loud. “Maybe I’ll need two cakes. Does that mean I have to blow out two sets of candles?”
“Yeah, but you’ll get two wishes,” Tasha told her.
Eric pretended to groan. “Do we have to sing ‘Happy Birthday to You twice?”
Amy giggled in delight. She’d never had such a big birthday party before.
But then, she’d never turned thirteen before. Thirteen. The beginning of her real teen years.
“Do you feel any different now that you’re thirteen?” she asked Tasha. Her friend had celebrated her birthday two months earlier.
“I’m not sure,” Tasha said. “Most of the time I think I’m exactly the same as I was when I was twelve. It’s not like I look any different. But sometimes I think I feel a little different. More mature.”
“That’s just in your head,” Eric said.
Tasha looked at him scornfully. “That’s where mature feelings are, Eric.
In your head.”
“Yeah, in my head,” Eric chortled. “Not yours. I can guarantee, you are absolutely no more mature now than you were two months ago.”
“Okay, you guys, cut it out,” Amy said mildly. She was accustomed to hearing the brother and sister tease each other. As an only child,
sometimes she even envied them. “Eric, did you feel any different on your thirteenth birthday?”
“That was two years ago,” Eric replied. “I don’t remember. I don’t think so. I mean, it’s not like anything changes overnight.”
Amy yawned and stretched lazily. She thought she was beginning to change a little. Nothing major. She was just dimly aware of an achy sensation in her arms and legs. She wasn’t worried, though. After all, she was going through puberty, and according to all the articles in all the teen magazines she read, these were perfectly normal growing pains.
Except that Amy wasn’t a perfectly normal girl. She certainly wasn’t like any ordinary twelve-year-old on the verge of turning thirteen. For one thing, she hadn’t been born thirteen years ago. In fact, she hadn’t been born at all—she’d been genetically engineered. Along with thirteen others,
she’d been designed and created from carefully selected cell samples and had developed inside a series of test tubes and under microscopes.
She, along with the others, had grown from fetus to infant inside an incubator. What she called her birthday was the day that Nancy Candler,
scientist and junior member of Project Crescent, rescued the last remaining experimental unit from the burning lab. The scientists had intentionally triggered the explosion after learning that the government agency funding the project wanted to create a master race using the clones. Nancy and the others felt this was unethical. So they set fire to the lab to make the agents believe that the clones had all perished. In reality, the clones had been whisked away and sent to live with adoptive families around the world. Nancy had taken the infant clone Amy, Number
Seven, home to raise as her own daughter.
Ordinary aches and pains weren’t a common experience for Amy. Her genes had been manipulated and treated so that she would develop a perfect physique. She was always healthy.
“Are there really going to be forty people at your party?” Tasha asked. “Did everyone accept their invitations?”
“Everyone,” Amy confirmed. “Even Linda Riviera.”
“How come you invited her?” Eric wanted to know. “You don’t even like her.
I don’t like her.”
“I had to invite Linda because I invited Simone Cusack, and Simone is
Linda’s best friend now. And I had to invite Simone because she invited me to her birthday party. Don’t worry, there are going to be so many people there, you won’t even have to see Linda.”
Amy was confident of that. This was going to be a real bash, a mix of boys and girls from the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades at Parkside Middle
School. They were gathering at the home of Dr. David Hopkins, a friend of
Amy and her mother’s, who had kindly donated his beach house for the party. There would be beach volleyball, a cookout, and dancing on the patio.
“Have you decided what you’re going to wear?” Amy asked Tasha.
“My pink crop top and black jeans.”
“Perfect,” Amy said.
“What about you?” Tasha asked. “Did you get something new?”
Amy nodded. “It’ll be a surprise.” She couldn’t help smiling as she thought about the crisp white halter sundress, still covered in the plastic from the shop and hanging in her closet. It was so cool, and it fit perfectly.
“I’ve got a surprise too,” Eric announced.
Amy’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “This isn’t a costume party, Eric.”
“It’s not that kind of surprise,” he assured her. “I think you’ll like it.” He was looking very confident and very pleased with himself, and Amy just hoped that the surprise wasn’t going to be anything too embarrassing.
Not that Eric would ever try to embarrass her on purpose. He wouldn’t do anything to spoil her party.
And there wouldn’t be any letdown after the great event. The very next day, she was leaving with her mother and Dr. Dave for the Grand Canyon,
where they would spend ten days hiking and camping.
Eric and Tasha, too, were heading out of L.A. a couple of days after her party. At that very moment, Eric was reading about their destination from a pamphlet titled “Welcome to Camp Riverbend.”
“Hey, Tasha, it says here there’s a weekly dance for campers over the age of twelve from both camps. If you give me some money, I’ll bribe another counselor to dance with you.”
“No thanks,” Tasha retorted. “And don’t forget, Eric, you’re just a junior counselor, not a real one.”
Eric was ready with a comeback. “Better to be a junior counselor than an ordinary camper.”
“Stop it, Eric,” Amy said automatically. She knew very well that Tasha wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of going off to summer camp. She turned to
Tasha with a sympathetic expression. “Are you absolutely, positively sure you can’t get out of this?”
“I’ve tried,” Tasha told her. “But my parents are being really obnoxious.
My mother says she doesn’t want me hanging around doing nothing, and my father thinks I need more exercise.” She tried to sound casually annoyed,
but there was a slight tremor in her voice and Amy knew why. They’d talked about this many times before. Tasha was worried that all the other girls at the camp would be athletic types, which she definitely wasn’t. She was afraid she’d feel out of place at Camp Riverbend and that the others would make fun of her. Having her brother across the lake at the boys’ camp wasn’t any comfort to her.
Personally, Amy thought it was mean of Tasha’s parents to make her go. It was awful the way parents tried to run kids’ lives sometimes. And the kids couldn’t really fight back. Amy’s own mother used to give her a lot of unwanted advice, but lately she’d been letting Amy make more of her own decisions, and Amy was glad of that.
Lying there in the warm sun, contemplating a dip in the cool water, she marveled at how lucky she was. She had a super boyfriend and a wonderful best friend. Her mother was reasonably cool, for a mother. Amy had a birthday party and a camping trip and a whole summer of fun to look forward to. Yes, she was definitely a lucky girl, and good feelings washed over her.
There was no way she could know that in just a few days, she would be in a very different state of mind.