Living in her sister's shadow has never been more dangerous.
Five months ago, Clara Seibert’s twin sister was murdered. Struggling under the weight of newfound and unwanted attention, the only thing that makes Clara feel normal is ghostwriting an advice column for her school’s newspaper—until she starts receiving threatening emails in her staff inbox.
“It should have been you...but soon."
Convinced that her email stalker blames her for her sister’s death and is out for revenge, Clara undertakes her own investigation to clear her name and avoid a similar fate. Can she solve the murder before it’s too late?
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|Publisher:||Page Street Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
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FIVE MONTHS LATER
There are one hundred thirty-two steps from my locker to our high school newspaper office. I know, because I've counted them.
"Hey," I said to Brett, at step 29. We'd gone out a few times last spring. Until he suddenly lost my phone number. Permanently.
His eyes darted around, as though he were searching for cover. "Hi Clara," he mumbled and sped past me.
When I turned the corner at step 57, Emily, Monica, and Amber were huddled together giggling. They became silent and stared at me. Then they turned their backs and started whispering.
I tried not to look like I was hurrying, but I was. Forty-four steps to go.
Oh God. Was that Lester Thompson hurtling toward me?
"Hey," he said, as he fell into step beside me. "You're lookin' fine."
"Gee, thanks. Is that a new tattoo on your neck?"
He pulled a toothpick out of his mouth. "Satan's spawn. What do you think?"
"It's certainly big."
"Yeah, I got a great deal on it. So, like, I was thinking, you want to go out Friday night?"
I pulled up to an abrupt stop at step 117. "Lester, why would you possibly want to go out with me? I'm not exactly your type." I pointed at my pale blue hoodie and jeans. "See? No black."
He crinkled his forehead. "Yeah, but babe, you're so pretty, and like ... a dangerous chick."
Great. Now I was Leonard High's new pinup girl for danger — Date her if you dare. "Thanks, but I'm not your babe. And I'm about as dangerous as your grandmother."
"Not what I've heard." He ran his tongue along his lower lip.
Eww. "Don't tell me you believe everything you hear."
"Oh, come on." He grabbed my arm and stroked it. "A tattoo of Satan would look great right here."
"Leave me alone." I wrenched my arm free and pushed past him.
"Bitch," he yelled after me.
I shivered and kept walking. Almost there.
Three. Two. One. I thrust the door open and spun inside, relieved to be back in this broom closet of an office with its ancient radiator.
As I booted up my computer, Lester's voice calling me a bitch echoed in my brain. Funny. I used to think I was pretty nice. But it was getting harder and harder to be Ms. Warm-and-Friendly when half the student body treated me like a leper who'd escaped from the colony.
I reached for my backpack, pulled out my compact mirror, and stared glumly at myself. I didn't get it. How did one lone zit on a heart-shaped face scream "dangerous"? I scrunched up my face and tried to look badass.
CJ poked her head in the door. "What the hell are you doing?" she boomed out. Her vocal volume seemed designed to make up for being vertically challenged. She claimed to be five feet, but that was a definite stretch.
"Practicing looking tough. You know, changing my image. Getting that 'Mess with me, and I'll kick your butt' look." I gave her my best hairy eyeball.
She giggled. "Trust me. This is not a good look for you. You don't look scary — just deranged."
"Not what I was going for." I tossed my mirror on the desk. "So what's up with you?"
"Covering the Spanish Club meeting. They have the best food. Want to come?"
"Bring me something? I want to work on my column."
She must have heard the slight tremor in my voice. "You okay?"
I swiveled my chair around. "Not really. Lester Thompson just asked me out — said he wanted to date a dangerous chick."
CJ gave me a hug. Then she snorted, and her shoulders shook.
"Are you laughing?" I pulled back to look at her.
"I can't help it! He worships Satan, for God's sake. The thought of the two of you together ... well, it's hilarious."
"Maybe for you. How would you like to be known as a 'dangerous chick'?"
"And this matters because ... why? The guy's a douche. And he's like one of the biggest dealers around."
"You really don't know? You've led a sheltered life."
I raised my eyebrows. "Now you're kidding."
She bit her lip and blushed. "Sorry."
"The last few nights, I've been getting these weird phone calls. When I pick up, there's no one there. You don't think it could be Lester, do you?"
"No idea. But I thought you changed your phone number."
"We changed both — my cell and our landline after ... you know ..." I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to push away the memories of those threatening calls we'd received in the days after my sister's murder.
"Well, shit," she said.
"Double shit." I eked out a smile. "But don't worry. I'll be fine. You need to go cover that meeting and write such an amazing article that Tony can't help but notice you." Tony Sweigart was our newspaper's swoon-worthy editor in chief. He looked like Chris Hemsworth. I wasn't one of his fans, but he had plenty of them, including CJ. Half the girls in our class had crushes on him.
She shrugged. "Like that's going to happen."
"Hey, don't sell yourself ... short."
"Okay, okay — Go! You're gonna be late."
After CJ took off, I turned back to my computer and imagined sending Lester's ask-out to my mental trash bin labeled "Awkward." Just as I was typing in the password to access my column, Wolfman dropped by to pull up some stats on the basketball team, but he didn't stay long. Neither did CJ when she returned with a heaping plate of enchiladas for me. I was the only one who preferred working in the office rather than hanging at Starbucks. Or going home.
By the time five o'clock rolled around, my eyes were starting to glaze over. I pulled out my thermos and poured myself a cup of hot chocolate laced with hazelnut coffee, enough of a pick-me-up to tackle the email that had just come in:
Dear Since You Asked,
My boyfriend and I have been together for the past nine months. He's everything I ever dreamed about — romantic, thoughtful, and a great kisser!
Lately, though, he's been acting kind of distant and spending a lot of time talking with "Kimberly," a girl from his neighborhood he's known forever. Then on Sunday night, my BFF's sister told me he was at the movies with Kimberly, and they were all over each other.
When I confronted him, he insisted his mother "made him" take her out, because she's a family friend going through a hard time. He says he still loves me and wants to be with me, but Kimberly's his friend, and he also needs to spend time with her right now.
What should I do? This just doesn't feel right.
I twirled my pencil, liking the feel of its ridges against my fingertips. After a few minutes, I typed:
You think it doesn't feel right? You know it doesn't feel right because it's not. Your skunk of a boyfriend may be a great kisser, but it's only his aftershave that's covering up the smell of what he's shoveling.
Kimberly may be having a tough time, but does your A-1 kisser really expect you to believe that his mother ordered him to cheat on you to "comfort" Kimberly?
It's up to you, but if it were me, I'd be running, not walking, away from this relationship. For one thing, it's getting mighty crowded, what with Kimberly and your boyfriend's mother horning in on the action. Why not unconfuse yourself by finding a nice guy who wants to be your friend first and foremost?
–Since You Asked
I read my response several times, changing a word here and there. I couldn't help giving myself a thumbs-up after I pressed "Save." Yup, I was definitely getting my mojo back. Time to send a silent prayer of thanks to the Writing Gods who were clearly hanging in with me.
Maybe I couldn't solve my own problems, but it sure felt good to lose myself, even for a few hours, in someone else's. When I was writing, it was like I could push all my anger, guilt, and grief over Moura's death into a tiny room, turn off the lights, and close the door.
Moura and I hadn't had much in common — well, other than our looks. We weren't identical, but we might as well have been — same dark, curly hair, wide mouths, and violet-blue eyes that people always commented on. Lately, though, I'd been thinking there was something else we'd shared. Writing catapulted me into the zone, and music seemed to take her to another universe, where everything else fell away.
Moura. I could still see her, still hear her, playing her beloved Chopin, the notes pouring out like rain from the heavens. My eyes burned, and I pressed the heel of my hand against my forehead.
My twin would never play the piano again. She'd never go to Juilliard or fall in love and get married.
So why was I still around? Why did I get to write and hang out with my BFF and binge on Law & Order reruns and ice cream from the Mellow Moose? It didn't make sense.
I took one of those deep cleansing breaths the therapist had taught me. Keep going. Focus on now. You can do it. Pretty ridiculous, but hey, it was all I had.
Peeking into the adjoining classroom, I spotted Mr. Bradford, our advisor, who almost always stayed late, too. Just knowing he was around made me feel better. With his stooped shoulders and button-down shirts that looked like they'd never seen an iron, Mr. B. looked like a crumpled pretzel with a bad comb-over. But he was one of my heroes. He'd never given up on the newspaper business — which wasn't dead yet, but was definitely on life support — and these past five months, he hadn't given up on me, either.
I emailed my response to Mrs. Rivera, our senior counselor, who checked my columns over, then scrolled through my column inbox to see if anything new had come in. That's when I saw it: "Confidential for Since You Asked." Nothing very unusual about the message heading — nearly everyone who writes thinks his or her problem, and especially his or her identity, is highly "confidential."
But this wasn't a typical request for help. For one thing, it was only seven words long.
It Should Have Been You ... But soon
The room swam around me. It was like a hideous rerun of the stuff people had posted on Facebook and Twitter right after Moura died. I'd closed all my accounts and sworn off social media, but the messages were branded into my brain. "The wrong twin died." "How can you live with what you've done?" "Watch your back, you worthless piece of shit."
This wasn't supposed to be happening again. Not now, not when I was finally making it through a whole day without heavy meds.
Meds. I still had a stash at home. The thought of sinking back down into that fuzzy numbness where I felt little, and cared even less, was so tempting.
No. Not going there. Not going to give in, not when I was just starting to get my life back. Whoever had sent this email hadn't only meant to scare me but to sock me hard where it already hurt — where it always hurt. Wasn't this the refrain that played over and over again in my head, the one I was sure my sister's legions of admirers were thinking? It should have been you, Clara, not her.
And maybe they were right.
But it wasn't me. I was alive, and Moura was dead. Murdered.
Was I next? Oh God, what should I do? I couldn't lay this on my parents. Mom was a walking zombie, wearing her grief around like a heavy shroud. And between trying to hold Mom together and doing his own grieving, Dad was on overload.
Mr. B. was like a second father to me, but I couldn't tell him about this. If he knew I'd been ID'd as the Since You Asked writer by someone out to hurt me, he'd pull me off the column so fast I'd be spinning out the door.
I could call 911. But if I did, the police would hook me back up with my least favorite excuse for a human being, Detective Luis Martino. In the days after Moura's murder, he'd put me through hours and hours of hell, trying to get me to confess. As far as I could tell, he'd gotten exactly nowhere with finding my sister's real killer, and I was still his favorite suspect.
I forwarded the message to my personal email account and texted Jenny, who'd talked me off a ledge, literally, more than once: Emergency! Can I come over?
As I raced toward Jenny's house, I pushed the speedometer on my VW Bug so high my car shook, right along with me. Definitely not a good combination. I was so distracted I nearly sideswiped a delivery truck as it pulled out of the back entrance of Ralph's House of Pancakes. So much for priding myself on my responsible driving.
Jenny was waiting for me in the lobby of her chrome and glass-covered high-rise that was so shiny it made my eyes hurt. But it was one of the addresses to have in Springbrook, Ohio. Jenny's parents were hotshot attorneys, who worked such long hours that Jenny referred to seeing them in passing as "newsworthy sightings." Our parents were close to being absentee — hers, physically, and mine ... more emotionally. Sometimes I think that's why we understood each other so well. We knew what it was like to be an afterthought.
Rick, the ancient doorman, swept the door open for me with a flourish. Jenny took one look at my face and pulled me into her enormous arms for a giant bear hug. As she liked to say about herself, "I'll never be a small girl." She was over six feet tall and outweighed me by a good fifty pounds of solid muscle.
But the biggest thing about Jenny has always been her heart.
"Come on," she said, pulling me toward the elevator. "Stay for dinner? We can order Chinese."
My stomach lurched. "Not sure how much I can eat, but sure. ... I'll check with my dad."
Fifteen minutes later, the knot lodged in my gut tightened, as we sat side by side staring bleakly at the damn message on the computer screen. "It could just be another one of those creeps that went after you before," Jenny said, "one of Moura's weird groupies, trying to freak you out. Maybe they're mad that you're still here, and she's not."
"Well, consider me freaked!"
Jenny squeezed my arm. "That's what this jerk is going for, so my advice to my favorite advice expert is to show him you're not freaked."
Just then, Rick buzzed. The Golden Pearl deliveryman had arrived with our order. "Clara, this delivery guy is so hot!" Makeup kit in hand, she dashed to the ornate gilded mirror in the foyer, quickly ran a brush through her hair, and put some lip gloss on before descending to the lobby to retrieve our food.
When she got back, she was practically glowing. "He winked at me!"
Usually, this would launch us into a strategy session on how to make a love connection with Mr. Hottie Deliveryman. But not tonight. As Jenny worked her way through two helpings of vegetable lo mein and sesame chicken, I picked at my food and pushed it around my plate. I couldn't stop obsessing about the message. "No one on the staff is supposed to breathe a word that I write the column." God, would I ever be able to trust anyone again? The paper had been the one place I felt safe.
"Uh ... you told me."
She had me there. I'd promised, along with everyone else on staff, to keep quiet about who wrote Since You Asked.
She held up three fingers. "Scout's honor, I haven't said a word. But chances are you're not the only staff member who blabbed to their BFF and swore them to secrecy."
"You're right." I sighed and slumped down. "What should I do? I feel like I want to write back."
"Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"I don't know, but I can't let this creep think he — or she — is getting to me."
We headed back to the computer and I pushed "Reply": Gee, thanks. Be sure and let me know a date and time so I can pencil you in.
I hesitated, then pushed "Send." For a moment, I felt better.
But seconds later, a return message popped up: This account is no longer in service.
I swore. Jenny, who'd been looking over my shoulder, threw a comforting arm around me.
"Clara, you've got to talk to the cops."
Less than an hour later, I was in the police station making a report. It took the callow-faced sergeant less than five minutes to connect the dots and send me up to Detective Martino's office. I'd hoped I could avoid him, but he'd either pulled night duty or was working late.
Amazing how little his office had changed in the last few months. Scribbled notes, piles of folders, and old Styrofoam coffee cups littered his desk. The familiar bars crisscrossed his dirty window. Even if he wanted to look out at the city, I doubted he could see much through all the grime.
"So," he said, staring at the computer screen where he'd pulled up the message, "you don't recognize this address?"
"No. And when I tried to reply, I got a message that the account was no longer in service. Can you figure out who sent it?"
"We can try. But how did this person even know to send it to the column? I thought you told me no one knows who writes the column." His dark, hooded eyes stared at me with their usual mixture of suspicion and semi-contempt.
Excerpted from "It Should Have Been You"
Copyright © 2018 Lynn Slaughter.
Excerpted by permission of Page Street Publishing Co..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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