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What's Left of Me
By Kat Zhang
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2012 Kat Zhang
All rights reserved.
The end-of-school bell blasted everyone from their seats. People loosened their ties, slapped shut books, shoved folders and pencils into backpacks. A buzz of conversation nearly drowned out the teacher as she yelled reminders about tomorrow's field trip. Addie was almost out the door when I said <Wait, we've got to ask Ms. Stimp about our make-up test, remember?>
<I'll do it tomorrow> Addie said, pushing her way through the hall. Our history teacher always gave us looks like she knew the secret in our head, pinching her lips and frowning at us when she thought we weren't watching. Maybe I was just being paranoid. But maybe not. Still, doing poorly in her class would only bring more trouble.
<What if she doesn't let us?>
The school rang with noise - lockers slamming, people laughing - but I heard Addie's voice perfectly in the quiet space linking our minds. There, it was peaceful for now, though I could feel the start of Addie's irritation like a dark splash in the corner. <She will, Eva. She always does. Don't be a nag.>
<I'm not. I just—>
"Addie!" someone shouted, and Addie half-turned.
"Addie - wait up!"
We'd been so lost in our argument we hadn't even noticed the girl chasing after us. It was Hally Mullan, one hand pushing up her glasses, the other trying to wrap a hair tie around her dark curls. She shoved past a tight-knit group of students before making it to our side with an exaggerated sigh of relief. Addie groaned, but silently, so that only I could hear.
"You're a really fast walker," Hally said and smiled as if she and Addie were friends.
Addie shrugged. "I didn't know you were following me." Hally's smile didn't dim. But then, she was the kind of person who laughed in the face of a hurricane. In another body, another life, she wouldn't have been stuck chasing after someone like us in the hallway. She was too pretty for that, with those long eyelashes and olive skin, and too quick to laugh. But there was a difference written into her face, into the set of her cheekbones and the slant of her nose. This only added to the strangeness about her, an aura that broadcasted Not Quite Right. Addie had always stayed away. We had enough problems pretending to be normal.
There was no easy way to avoid Hally now, though. She fell into step beside us, her book bag slung over one shoulder. "So, excited about the field trip?"
"Not really," Addie said.
"Me neither," Hally said cheerfully. "Are you busy today?"
"Kind of," Addie said. She managed to keep our voice bland despite Hally's dogged high spirits, but our fingers tugged at the bottom of our blouse. It had fit at the beginning of the year, when we'd bought all new uniforms for high school, but we'd grown taller since then. Our parents hadn't noticed, not with - well, not with everything that was happening with Lyle - and we hadn't said anything.
"Want to come over?" Hally said.
Addie's smile was strained. As far as we knew, Hally had never asked anyone over. Most likely, no one would go.
<Can't she take a hint?> Aloud, Addie said, "Can't. I've got to babysit."
"For the Woodards?" Hally asked. "Rob and Lucy?"
"Robby and Will and Lucy," Addie said. "But yeah, the Woodards."
Hally's dimples deepened. "I love those kids. They use the pool in my neighborhood all the time. Can I come?"
Addie hesitated. "I don't know if their parents would like that."
"Are they still there when you arrive?" Hally said, and when Addie nodded, added, "We can ask, then, right?"
<Doesn't she realize how rude she's being?> Addie said, and I knew I ought to agree. But Hally kept smiling and smiling, even when I knew the expression on our face was get- ting less and less friendly.
<Maybe we don't realize how lonely she is> I said instead.
Addie had her friends, and I, at very least, had Addie. Hally seemed to have no one at all.
"I don't expect to get paid or anything, of course," Hally was saying now. "I'll just come keep you company, you know?"
<Addie> I said. <Let her. At least let her come ask.>
"Well ..." Addie said.
"Great!" Hally grabbed our hand and didn't seem to notice Addie flinch in surprise. "I have so much to talk to you about."
The TV was blaring when Addie opened the Woodards' front door, Hally following close behind. Mr. Woodard grabbed his briefcase and keys when he saw us. "Kids are in the living room, Addie." He hurried out the door, saying over his shoulder as he went, "Call if you need anything."
"This is Hally Mul—" Addie tried to say, but he was already gone, leaving us alone with Hally in the foyer.
"He didn't even notice me," Hally said.
Addie rolled her eyes. "I guess I'm not surprised. He's always like that."
We'd been babysitting Will, Robby, and Lucy for a while now - even before Mom had reduced her hours at work to care for Lyle - but Mr. Woodard still had moments when he forgot Addie's name. Our parents weren't the only ones in town with too much work and too little time.
The living room TV was tuned to a cartoon featuring a pink rabbit and two rather enormous mice. Lyle used to watch the same thing when he was younger, but at ten, he claimed to have outgrown it.
Apparently seven-year-olds were still allowed to watch cartoons, though, because Lucy lay on the carpet, her legs waving back and forth. Her little brother sat beside her, equally engrossed.
"He's Will right now," Lucy said without turning around. The cartoon ended, replaced by a public service announcement, and Addie looked away. We'd seen enough PSAs.
At the old hospital we'd gone to, they'd played them on a loop - endless rounds of good-looking men and women with friendly voices and nice smiles reminding us to always be on the lookout for hybrids hiding somewhere, pretending to be normal. People who'd escaped hospitalization. People like Addie and me.
Just call the number on the screen, they always said, displaying perfect white teeth. Just one call, for the safety of your children, your family, your country.
They never said exactly what would happen after that call, but I guess they didn't need to. Everyone already knew. Hybrids were too unstable to just leave alone, so calls usually led to investigations, which sometimes led to raids. We'd only ever seen one on the news or in the videos they showed us in Government class, but it was more than enough.
Will jumped up and headed for us, casting a confused and rather suspicious glance at Hally. She smiled at him.
"Hi, Will." She dropped into a squat despite her skirt. We'd gone straight to the Woodards' from school, not even stopping to change out of our uniforms. "I'm Hally. Do you remember me?"
Lucy finally looked away from the television screen. She frowned. "I remember you. My mom says—" Will jerked on the bottom of our skirt and cut Lucy off before she could finish. "We're hungry."
"They're not really," Lucy said. "I just gave them a cookie. They want another one." She climbed to her feet, revealing the box of cookies she'd been hiding from view. "Are you going to play with us?" she asked Hally.
Hally smiled at her. "I'm here to help babysit."
"Who? Will and Robby?" Lucy said. "They don't need two people." She stared at us, daring someone to say that she, at seven, still needed a babysitter.
"Hally's here to keep me company," Addie said quickly. She picked Will up, and he wrapped his arms around our neck, setting his tiny chin on our shoulder. His baby-fine hair tickled our cheek.
Hally grinned and wiggled her fingers at him. "How old are you now, Will?"
Will hid his face.
"Three and a half," Addie said. "They should be settling in a year or so." She readjusted Will in our arms and forced a smile onto our face. "Isn't that right, Will? Are you going to settle soon?"
"He's Robby now," Lucy said. She'd grabbed her box of cookies again and munched on one as she spoke.
Everyone looked at the little boy. He reached toward his sister, oblivious to our scrutiny.
<She's right> I said. <He just changed.> I'd always been better at differentiating between Robby and Will, even if Addie denied it. Maybe it was because I didn't have to focus on moving our body or speaking to other people. I could simply watch and listen and notice all the tiny little ticks that marked one soul from the other.
"Robby?" Addie said.
The toddler wriggled again, and Addie set him down. He ran over to his sister. Lucy dangled what remained of her cookie in front of his face.
"No!" he said. "We don't want that one. We want a new one."
Lucy stuck her tongue out at him. "Will would've taken it."
"Would not!" he cried.
"Would too. Right, Will?"
Robby's face screwed up. "No."
"I didn't ask you," Lucy said.
<Better hurry> I said. <Before Robby pitches a fit.> To my surprise, Hally got there before we did, plucking a cookie from the box and dropping it into Robby's outstretched hands.
"There." She crouched down again, wrapping her arms around her knees. "Is that better?"
Robby blinked. His eyes shifted between Hally and his new prize. Then he grinned shyly and bit into the cookie, crumbs cascading down his shirt.
"Say thank you," Lucy told him.
"Thank you," he whispered.
"No problem," Hally said. She smiled. "Do you like chocolate chip? I do. They're my favorite."
A small nod. Even Robby was a little subdued around strangers. He took another bite of his cookie.
"And what about Will?" Hally said. "What kind of cookies does he like?"
Robby gave a sort of half shrug, then said softly, "Same kind as me."
Hally's voice was even quieter when she spoke again.
"Would you miss him, Robby? If Will went away?"
"How about we go into the kitchen?" Addie jerked the box of cookies from Lucy's hand, inciting a cry of outrage. "Come on, Lucy - don't let Robby eat that in the living room. Your mom will kill me if you get crumbs on the rug."
Addie grabbed Robby's hand, pulling him away from Hally. But she didn't do it fast enough. Robby had time to turn. He had time to look at Hally, still crouching there on the ground, and whisper, "Yes."
Excerpted from What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang. Copyright © 2012 by Kat Zhang. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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