Read Deception Online

Authors: Stacy Claflin

Deception

Contents

Title Page

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Notes

DECEPTION - The Prequel

THE TRANSFORMED - BOOK ONE - PREQUEL

by Stacy Claflin

http://www.stacyclaflin.com

Copyright ©2012 Stacy Claflin. All rights reserved.

© Cover Design: Bryan Hufalar www.bhphotoart.com

***

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, businesses, events, or locales is purely coincidental. The author has taken great liberties with locales including the creation of fictional towns.

Reproduction in whole or part of this publication without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

***

For Delia,

Though we never had the chance to meet in person

Your friendship was a true treasure.

I will never forget you and I wish you weren't taken so young.

CHAPTER ONE

I suppressed the rage living in me, which had become a life of its own and begun to force its way out. I clenched my fists and tightened my jaw, fighting to keep it inside. I could barely see straight as I fought to restrain myself. No matter the cost, I would not let let my fury win.

These feelings were foreign to me, because I was always the calm and rational one.

"Oh thank you, Daddy! Thank you, Mom!" Natalie, my younger sister, gushed as she ran to her new car with her blonde ponytail swaying back and forth. "This is the best birthday present ever!"

Our parents were beaming as they watched her throw open the driver's side door and explore everything that the shiny red BMW had to offer.

I looked over at my very used and hard-earned Ford that languished next to my sister's new BMW in the driveway. I was a very strong person with an iron will, but I was beginning to wonder if even I could fight the rage that was battling to escape. I thought about all of my academic awards on the walls of our house, trying to calm myself down. I thought about the notebook full of report cards with straight A's.

POP!

POP!

POP!

I looked up in shock as three of the six driveway lights exploded into tiny pieces all over the cement, not too far from where we were standing.

The shock of the lights didn't last long, because my oblivious sister ran from the car to our parents and gave them each a big hug and a perfect smile.

"Daddy, can I take it to practice and show my friends?" Natalie asked with a sparkle in her eye.

"Sure, sweetheart. Let's get a picture first," my dad replied. He turned to me. "Alexis, will you take a picture of us with your sister's new car?"

How could they treat their own flesh and blood like this? Why were they provoking me? They were fueling my fury, giving it life and energy. Without their actions, it would be non-existent.

POP!

POP!

POP!

The other three driveway lights exploded into a glassy mess.

"What on earth is going on with those lights?" my mom exclaimed. "And who is going to clean up this mess?"

"Let's just get that picture taken." I grabbed the camera from my dad's hand.

They posed in front of the car and looked like a picture perfect family straight from a magazine.

Without me.

My dad wanted to make sure that it was exactly right, so I had to take several shots. When I was done, he asked me if I wanted to be in one. I wanted nothing to do with my little sister's new car. They may as well have told me that they loved her more than me.

"I have homework," I said, handing him the camera, and went into the house as calmly as I could.

***

Once inside my room, I sat on my bed and tried to do some homework to get my mind off of the massive show of favoritism.

There was a knock on my door and I groaned. Why couldn't they just leave me alone? I ignored it.

The door opened. It was my mom. "We are all going to go watch Natalie's practice."

Was she serious?

"It's her birthday and she would enjoy having a cheering section, even though it's just a practice."

"I. Have. Homework."

My mom glared at me. "It's your sister's birthday. Can't you stop being selfish for just one day and do something to make her happy? Did you even get her anything for her birthday?"

I desperately tried to remain calm. "What money was I supposed to use? The money that I had to use for insurance on the car that I bought myself?"

They adored my sister and I was a burden. That was why I had to focus on building a life that did not include my parents or sister. I had plans of going to an Ivy League collegefaraway. I had to keep getting all A's in my honors classes and studying for college entrance exams and interviews. Then I would never have to return to this house ever again. I couldn't wait.

"It's always a competition between the two of you – and you are always the poor unfortunate soul. Poor Alexis!"

It was obvious where my sister got her dramatics.

POP!

POP!

The two lights in my room exploded. Now shattered glass was all over my room.

"Ugh!" I did not want to have to clean up that mess.

"Be ready to leave in 15 minutes, we are going to cheer her on as a family." She left the room before I could say no.

***

My parents and I were in my dad's Escalade, driving to the high school. I had hoped that they would leave me alone and forget that I was in the back seat.

No such luck.

"Jack, the two bulbs in Lexi's room exploded while I was in there talking with her a few minutes ago."

I could almost hear him raise an eyebrow. "Those ones too? I'll have to give my cousin a call since he just got his electrician's certification. Maybe he can help us figure out what's wrong."

"Don't you think it's weird that the lights keep exploding?" asked my mother in a demanding tone.

"Yes of course, beautiful. But there's not much we can do about it now, so we may as well just enjoy Natalie's game."

"Practice," I muttered.

"Why can't you ever be happy for your sister?" my mother asked. "Whenever she gets something you pout because it's not for you."

"Oh look, we're here!" I exclaimed and got out of the Escalade as fast as I could. I ran to the gym before my parents could bark any orders at me.

When I got there, I was not surprised to see that the stands were nearly full for the volleyball practice. At least half of our small town was there for nearly every gameandpractice. The girls' varsity volleyball team was Delphic Cove's pride and joy. They had been the undefeated Washington state champions for years.

This year was looking to be no exception and my sister was one of the stars of the team. She was not only the the favorite of our family, but of the school too. And she was only a sophomore.

I saw my two best friends sitting in the bleachers, so I walked over to them and took a seat.

Amanda looked up from the book that she was reading. "Lexi, what are you doing here?"

I sighed for dramatic effect. "You don't even want to know. Trust me."

Emma looked up from texting and smiled. "Oh I want to know! You avoid Natalie's games like the plague."

I looked at Emma. "Fine. I'll tell you if I must. It's Natalie's birthday and our family is here to give her a special birthday cheer."

Emma laughed. "I gotta see this! This is going to be hilarious."

Amanda rolled her eyes at Emma and turned to me. "So what did they get her this year, another Louis Vuitton purse?"

"No, a thousand dollar purse is nothing compared to this gift. They got her a new BMW."

Both Emma and Amanda stared at me, speechless. I waited for someone to say something. Emma was not one who was ever short on words.

She didn't leave me disappointed. "They got her a beamer? A beamer! No freakin' way! I definitely chose the wrong sister to be friends with."

Amanda shoved her and she nearly fell off the bleacher. Which was pretty impressive because Emma was not a small girl.

"At least you two are here," I said. "That will make this more tolerable."

"It must be hard to pull yourself away from studying on a weekday afternoon," Emma said, smiling.

"This is just going to put me behind," I complained. It wasn't that my studies were difficult. Even my honors courses were easy for me, they were just very time consuming. I had reports and projects every week. It was like being in college. I didn't have friends in my classes because everything came so easily to me. I was the curve-killer in the honors classes. It made me unpopular--even among the nerds.

I looked at the two of them and they were both staring at me. "What?"

"There's something different about you," Amanda said.

"There really is," Emma agreed.

"Like what?" I asked.

"I can't figure out what it is exactly," Amanda replied. "But there is something different about you. Can you tell, Emma?"

"That's what I'm trying to figure out," she said. "There's definitely something, but I don't know what. You look and act exactly the same, but something is different." She shrugged her shoulders.

I opened my mouth to say something, but then my parents sat down next to us. I groaned.

"Hello girls," my mom said to Emma and Amanda. "How are you two doing?"

"Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson," Amanda said. "We're just fine and how are you?"

"We're here to watch Natalie practice. Did you know that it's her birthday today? It's her sweet sixteen!" My mom said proudly.

"We'll have to wish her happy birthday," Amanda said.

"Is she having a big party?" Emma asked. "I didn't get an invite!" Emma was always obnoxious, but I enjoyed it when she aimed it at my parents.

I could see my mom try to stifle a dirty look and she said, "No party this year. We got her a big present instead."

"Yeah, I saw that shiny, new BMW in the parking lot," Emma lied. "That's quite the present! What did you get Alexis for her sweet sixteen last year? Wasn't it an iPod?"

My mom's face became distinctively red. "I need to get some refreshments. Jack, do you want anything?"

My dad looked up from the practice and said, "I'll have whatever you're having."

As soon as my mom was out of earshot, my friends and I burst into laughter.

"Emma, you are so obnoxious!" Amanda said in between laughs.

She stopped laughing. "I don't think it's funny. I may joke about how I chose the wrong sister for a friend, but it's crap how they treat you compared to Natalie. She can play volleyball and she dresses well, but she doesn't have much else to offer."

"They'll never see it that way," I said. I thought about my dad sitting right next to us, but he had tunnel vision and was zoned in on Natalie's practice. He wasn't hearing a word that we said.

"You get all A's in your honors classes, you have a job. And you have some great friends!" Emma smiled. "She barely gets C's, hits a ball and doesn't even want to go to college. Normal parents would be telling her to act more like you."

Amanda adjusted her glasses and said, "Heck,myparents tell me that I should be more like you!"

"Exactly," Emma said. "Your parents are the freaks Alexis, not you. It makes no sense."

"It does make sense because the only thing my mom cares about is how things look," I said. "You see how she is always dressed well and wants to impress everyone. Natalie is clearly her mini-me golden child."

"Natalie will probably end up marrying someone rich who can buy her all of the nice things that she expects, and she won't work a day in her life," Amanda said. "Just like your mom!"

When my mom came back, my friends and I sat and whispered while my mom kept telling me that I wasn't there to socialize, but to cheer on my sister for her birthday.

At the half time break, my mom turned to me and said, "Since you didn't buy Natalie anything for her birthday, you should go buy her a watermelon smoothie because that's her favorite. What a wonderful half time treat for her."

"That's a great idea," my dad chimed in.

"Especially since you haven't been paying a bit of attention to her game," mom said.

"It's a practice!" I sighed.

"Just go get the watermelon smoothie for her," my mom ordered.

"I'll go with you!" Amanda said. "Let's go!" She grabbed my arm and practically dragged me to the concession stand.

"Can you believe them?!"

"Just think about it this way; after next year it's graduation!" She said. "Then you can go to any college as far away as you want: Princeton, Harvard, Stanford or Yale!"

"Don't try to talk me down. I don't want to be talked down. I just want to pour that watermelon smoothie all over them, inside that BMW!"

"I would love to see that!" she said, giggling.

"Next!"

I ordered the watermelon smoothie using the last $5 from my clearance-rack purse. Then I started walking toward the bench for the volleyball players.


Page 2

The rage had a companion for the moment, humiliation.

I walked right up to my sister, faked a sweet smile and told her happy birthday before handing her the smoothie. "It's watermelon, your favorite!"

She gave me a sweet smile right back and said, "You didn't have to! Thanks, Lexi!" Then she gave me a hug and we both looked up at our parents and waved to them.

I never knew if she was being genuine or not. I'd read in her diary once that it was her goal to be the nicest person in the school. She didn't want to be a popular mean girl. She wanted to be known for being super sweet.

"Have fun with the rest of practice," I said evenly, and headed back to my seat.

Before I even sat down, my mom said, "See? That wasn't so bad, was it?"

I rolled my eyes.

Dad said, "I love seeing my girls get along. Did you see how happy she was when you gave her that smoothie?"

"Did you see how humiliated I was?" I muttered, only loud enough for me to hear. I watched Natalie sip the smoothie and I felt my rage tear at me like a wild, cornered animal.

I was only half listening to my parents talk about how great Natalie was. Watching her drink her smoothie and laugh with her friends made me wish that I could pour it on her head. I grabbed the bench, because I felt that I might jump up and actually do it.

Suddenly, the entire contents of the smoothie in the plastic cup burst forth and jumped all over Natalie's face, hair and jersey.

I gasped. It was as if someone had hit the cup from the bottom to make the smoothie leap up against the forces of gravity. Exactly when I was wishing that I could throw it on her!

"Oh, Natalie!" exclaimed my mom. "Jack, go down there and help her!"

My dad jumped up and sprinted down the bleachers, joining Natalie's teammates in helping to clean her up. I could see him talking to the coach and telling some of the players what to do.

My mom turned to me. "Did you put something in her drink to make it explode like that? I know that you didn't want her to get anything for her birthday!"

"Are you serious?" I exclaimed.

"I just can't believe that happened! My poor baby girl, Natalie!" my mom wailed.

POP! POP! POP!

POP! POP! POP!

POP! POP! POP!

Rows of fluorescent lights started bursting all over the volleyball players. Many of them started screaming and shrieking, others ran for cover.

The coach had grabbed a microphone and tried to get everyone's attention. He asked everyone to leave the building so that the custodian could come and clean up the mess. Practice was over and they would finish it up the next afternoon.

The drive home was a blur of my mom freaking out about everything. I wished I had brought the iPod that I'd gotten for my last birthday when I had turned sixteen so that I could tune her out.

When we finally got home, I ran to my room to escape but unfortunately I had my own light bulb mess to clean up. It was dark by then and I had no choice but to take care of it right away.

I used a flashlight to make sure that I got all of the pieces picked up.

I went to the kitchen to find replacement bulbs and groaned when I saw my parents and sister sitting at the table. I almost smiled when I saw the red in her bleached blonde hair and on her jersey.

"Where are the light bulbs?" I asked.

"In the garage, on the third shelf," my dad said, not even looking up.

I went to the garage. I squeezed between my dad's Escalade and my mom's Mercedes to get to the shelf with the lights on it. It was an ordeal to get the stool and to reach the shelf even with that. I finally got the two bulbs that I needed and marched up to my room, ignoring everyone as I went through the kitchen.

Just as I started to relax after replacing the bulbs, there was a knock on my door. "Go away!" I shouted.

The door opened and my dad came in. "It's been a rough day for all of us. Let's watch a movie together. Natalie picked out the one that she wants to see."

"Can't I just relax in here?" I asked.

"No, we need to spend some family time together. It'll be fun, come on."

I sighed. "Fine."

At least the movie that Natalie picked out was one that I wanted to see too. It was the latest dramedy that I hadn't had a chance to see in the theater.

As soon as the movie was over, Natalie asked where the batteries were for her foot spa. She pretty much used that thing nightly.

Dad told her, "They're on the top shelf in the garage. I'll get them for you; I don't want you to have to deal with that."

As I had earlier!

I stood up to run to my room and scream into my pillow, but before I could lift a foot...

POP!

POP!

Two more shattered light bulbs.

"You'd better get some light bulbs while you're getting those batteries," I told my dad and stormed to my bedroom.

***

There was a knock on my door and I ignored it. Natalie came in, closed the door quietly and sat on my computer chair across from me.

"What do you want?" I asked.

"I want you to know that it wasn't my idea for them to get me that car. I know they're always buying me nice stuff but I don't want you to hate me. It's not my fault."

"No, it's not your fault," I told her. "But to be honest, it's hard to separate you from the fact that you always get really nice stuff and I have to work my butt off for anything that I want."

"I think that maybe they're trying to help me not feel bad about never being able to live up to you."

I laughed. "You not living up to me? You're the volleyball star, you're on the sophomore homecoming court and you're the stylish, popular one. How exactly do you not live up to boring, plain me?"

"You're smart and confident, Alexis. You have the best grades in the whole school! You're the first junior to be president of the Honor's Club. Don't forget about your trip to the White House after you won that national science contest," she said. "Those fancy colleges are going to be begging you to join them."

"I'm surprised that you noticed any of that," I said.

"We don't need to be jealous of each other," she said. "We are both amazing people with different accomplishments. We don't have to compete to be on top, we're on top of completely different circles."

"Don't forget, we're also really humble," I said, and we both laughed.

"We get that from Mom!" she said in between laughs.

"That's for sure!" I said. "At least I now know that I did get something from her."

"Can we at least have a truce?" she asked. "I don't like all of the competition between us. Sisters are supposed to have a special bond. It's not supposed to be like this."

"I don't want something fake," I said. "I'm not going pretend that everything is fine, when it's not."

"Things can be fine with us despite what our parents do. That doesn't have anything to do withourrelationship."

"It has everything to do with our relationship, Natalie! Everything. I may be smart, but you're the favorite, and they always throw it in my face. You certainly don't do anything to discourage it."

"Discourage it? What am I supposed to do to discourage it?" she asked. "They're our parents, the adults. It's not my job to tell them what to do!"

"You could say something to encourage them to not act like you're royalty, and I'm just the peasant."

"You are absolutely insane! No wonder they like me better."

I jumped off the bed. "Excuse me!"

She looked at me with innocent doe eyes. "What?"

"I said 'excuse me,' Natalie! Would you mind repeating yourself?"

"What? That it's not my job to tell our parents what to do?" she asked.

"No! What you said after that!" I exclaimed.

She looked genuinely confused. "I didn't say anything after that, Alexis."

"Oh, so you didn't call me insane and say it was no wonder they like you better?" I demanded.

Her face went white. "I never said that...."

"I heard you loud and clear! You can't deny it!"

She stood up too. "I don't know what's going on here, Alexis, but I didnotsay that."

I couldn't believe that she was denying it. I'd heard her loud and clear.

"What a freak!" she exclaimed, but her mouth didnotmove.

"Did you just call me a freak?" I asked, before I could stop myself.

"Are you claiming to read my mind? You were looking right at me and could see that I didn't say anything! If you don't want to be friends that's fine with me, Lexi! Just leave me alone!" She stormed out of my room.

I sat back down on my bed, unable to figure out what had just happened. How did I hear her talk when she didn't say anything? Was I losing my mind and hearing voices? I knew that many brilliant people were accused of being insane to some degree. I didn't want that!

I grabbed a book to get my mind off the craziness from the entire day, but was unable to focus on it. I couldn't stop thinking about everything.

Was I losing my mind, or did I hear Natalie's thoughts? If so, then I must be going crazy, because only crazy people hear voices.

I actually preferred to think about my parents and how angry I was with them. I wanted nothing to do with any of these negative emotions. I was always so calm, never emotional like my mom and Natalie. The wide range of emotions running through me was very irritating.

CHAPTER TWO

I woke up to the sun shining on my bed. I couldn't remember falling asleep or even having had any dreams. I looked at the clock and was glad to see that it was still early, not even 9:00 yet. Perhaps I could sneak out of the house unnoticed.

I knew that my dad would be at the office, because every Saturday he went in really early. My mom and Natalie loved sleeping in, so I figured that I had at least an hour and half to leave before they would even be up.

I wanted to enjoy the sunny morning before I had to work the lunch shift.

I got ready as fast as I could and jumped in my Ford. With weather like this, I headed straight for the lake in our town. It wasn't a huge lake, but it was big enough. It was always so peaceful to be there with the wildlife and the calm water.

I parked, walked to a part of the lake that was vacant and sat on a bench, soaking in the warm sun and enjoying the sights and sounds. To me, this was the most peaceful way to spend time, and it never lasted long enough.

This was no exception.

"Alexis! What are you doing here?"

I turned around to see Brooke, a neighbor who had moved to the other side of town a couple of years earlier. We had been best friends growing up, but had lost touch.

"Brooke! I haven't seen you in forever!" I said, trying not to be disappointed about my short lived break.

She sat down next to me. "How you are? What's going on in your life? It's great to see you!"

"It's good to see you too!" I said, working up some enthusiasm. "I'm not doing much. I work a lot to pay for my car and I study a lot to get into a good college, far from here!"

Brooke laughed. "I don't blame you. I want out of this place too. I want to design fashion!"

I looked her up and down. I noticed that she was dressed like she'd just stepped out of the pages of fashion magazine. The complete opposite of me. Suddenly I felt self conscious about my boring clothes. "You can do it. Just look at you!"

She smiled. "Thanks, Lexi! I'll never be as pretty as you are, though."

My eyes nearly popped out of my head. Was she kidding? I let out a small laugh. "Yeah, right."

"I'm not joking. You are gorgeous, but you've never seen it," she said. "I have always been jealous of your looks."

This time I couldn't hold in the laughter. "I don't know what you're on, but I appreciate the compliments, especially after yesterday."

"What happened yesterday?" she asked.

I sighed. "There was a lot going on but the short story is that it was Natalie's birthday and once again my parents threw their favoritism towards her in my face."

Brooke frowned. "That's not surprising."

"No, it's not. They completely outdid themselves this time."

She smiled. "Why don't you come over and spend the night tonight? You can get away from those guys and we can catch up. It'll be fun! Maybe we could bake some cookies, like we used to."

I actually smiled. "That does sound like a lot of fun!"

"Want to come over for dinner? Then we can make cookies, watch movies and stay up late!"

"Sure, my shift at the deli is over at four, so that gives me enough time to get home and grab some stuff for a sleepover," I said.

"Perfect!" she said, and then gave me her new address. "I'll see you then!"

As she walked away, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the warm sun beating down on me and the sounds of the lake lapping up on the shore. It was so calming.

I wasn't sure how much time had passed when I heard a strange whirring noise. I tried to ignore it, hoping that it would go away.

It only got louder and gave me a creepy feeling, so I opened my eyes.

I was so startled by the sight of over a hundred crows flying in a massive circle directly above where I was sitting that I jumped off the bench.

They were all going around and around in a circle. As soon as one made eye contact with me, it began to caw. The rest followed suit and dozens of crows were orbiting around and around right over me, and all of them were shrieking at me.

I grabbed my purse and inched away from the bench without breathing. I couldn't take my eyes off of them, and I noticed that as I inched along, the whole circle inched right along with me in the air above me. I stopped for a moment and finally took a breath.

As soon as I began to breathe again, every single creepy bird in the circling, cawing flock turned its eyes toward me. Each one was looking down at me while whirling above my head.

To make sure that I wasn't losing my mind, I slowly walked about two feet. Each one kept its eyes fixed on me. They circled, cawing, and they stayed directly above me. Exactly as I moved, the circle moved.

I made a split second decision and ran to my car as fast as I could without looking up or back. Once I was safely locked in my car, I looked outside to see if they had followed me. I didn't see them, so I inched myself forward so that I could see above the car without getting out.


Page 3

There they were, flying right above my car in their massive whirl.

I didn't take the time to wonder why they were following me. I started the car as fast as I could and floored it out of the parking lot. The only thing I thought about was where I was going to go. I looked at the clock and decided to go to work early. The deli would still have the last of the breakfast crowd and the late risers grabbing some coffee.

It would be crowded, and best of all, indoors where creepy birds don't go.

When I arrived at the strip mall, I ran inside as fast as I could, not looking to see if the crows had followed me.

Jennifer, the manager and my boss, asked why I was early. I made up a story about wanting extra time to work. She bought it and soon I was making breakfast sandwiches, the thought of crows far from my mind.

My shift went faster than normal because in the back of my mind I was not looking forward to leaving and possibly having some ugly visitors waiting for me outside. I was extremely grateful that there wasn't a single bird in sight as I left the deli and walked to my car.

When I got home, I ran straight to my room and started packing for spending the night at Brooke's house. I hadn't seen her in a couple of years since she had moved. We used to spend so much time together because we lived so close to each other. Her family was like my second family. I was curious to hear more about her new dreams of moving far away to design clothes.

Just as I put the last item in my bag, there was a knock at my door.

"Come in," I said, sighing.

My dad walked in, and seeing my bag asked, "Moving out?"

"I ran into Brooke and we're going to have a sleepover at her house tonight," I informed him.

"Next time, you should probably ask instead of telling me," he said. "But I'm glad that you'll be going over there. She was such a good friend to you."

"Yep," I said, eager to get out of the house. "So do you need something? I'm in kind of a hurry."

He smiled. "I wanted to let you know that your mom and I have decided to take over your car insurance payments. We'll cover your gas too."

"Are you serious?" I pinched myself to see if I was actually awake.

"Of course we are. We know that you worked very hard for your car and you've been paying for everything, on top of keeping up good grades."

"Did you need me to prove myself?" I asked. "You certainly didn't need Natalie to prove herself."

He sighed. "I know you feel jealous of her. It's not a competition."

"That's what you guys always say! How is it not a competition? When I had my sixteenth birthday eleven months ago, you guys got me an iPod, then for hersweet sixteenyou guys buy her a very expensive car. What's the deal with that?"

"I don't know, honey. It's not like I planned it that way," he said. "I would like for us to get you something very nice for your birthday. Is there anything that you want?"

I sighed. "I'll have to think about it."

"Honey, I hope you know how proud I am of you. You want something and you go after it until you get it," he said. "You had already worked for and bought your car before you turned sixteen. Not many kids do that. You've been working hard on your grades for years, so that you have a flawless record to get into a top school. You're not yet seventeen and you already know what the requirements are for getting into those Ivy League schools."

I wasn't sure how to react to what I was hearing.

"Alexis, I'm not very good at expressing how I feel, but I could see that it needed to be said. I want you to always know that's how I feel. I'm very proud of you, your responsibility and big dreams. I know that you will fulfill them all."

"Thanks," I said, uncomfortably. I wasn't used to this type of conversation. So I grabbed my bag. "I have to go. I don't want to keep Brooke waiting."

He gave me an awkward hug before I walked out of my bedroom.

As I walked through the kitchen, my mom stepped in front of me. "Where do you think you are going?"

"I'm going to spend the night at Brooke's house. Dad said I could."

"You don't deserve it after the way that you behaved yesterday. What are you wearing, anyway?"

"Clothes," I told her.

"I don't get you at all," she said. "You don't care a bit about what's stylish or about looking nice to any degree. That's why I don't ever buy you nice things; you wouldn't even appreciate it. You just go and buy yourself plain things and you're happy with that." She looked thoroughly disgusted.

"You don't ever buy me anything, so I am forced to buy cheap stuff with my measly deli income! If I didn't buy myself anything then I would have nothing." I stormed out of the house, ignoring whatever it was that my mom yelled at me as I left.

I got into my car as fast as I could, put Brooke's new address into my navigation system and was very glad when I pulled into the driveway of her new place. A full night without my family!

When I got inside the house, Brooke's mom, Rachel, gave me a big hug. Her dad, Charles, and brother Stephen remarked on how good it was to see me again. It felt like they'd never moved away and it also felt more like family than when I was at home. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed not only Brooke but her whole family until that moment.

Dinner was full of lively conversation and a lot of questions directed at me, since they hadn't seen me in a couple of years.

After dinner, Brooke nearly dragged me up to her room. We sat on her huge, king sized bed and started talking about what we'd missed in each other's lives over the last couple of years.

"I'm glad that you are still planning on going to an Ivy League school!" she said. "You've been working so hard on your grades for so long. You can do anything!"

"And I can't believe that you went from wanting to be a teacher to a fashion designer!" I exclaimed.

We both laughed.

"I can't believe that we didn't stay in touch!" I said.

"We'll keep in touch now! I'm so glad that I ran into you at the park, I've missed you so much!"

She smiled. "So are you going to your homecoming dance? It's only a couple of weeks away. Mine is on that Friday night and yours is the next night."

I groaned. "I'm trying to ignore the whole thing. Natalie will probably be crowned Sophomore Princess and I don't want to deal with that. I have to endure her being a princess at home all the time as it is."

"You know why youreallyaren't looking forward to it?" she asked.

I stared at her.

"It's because you have never gotten dressed up. You don't even see your potential! You would have so much fun."

"I doubt that," I said.

She shook her head. "You would be so surprised. I bet you would love all of the attention too. Like I said at the park, I've always been jealous of your looks."

"What could you possibly be jealous about?"

"What isn't there?" she asked. "You're gorgeous. You only need to know what to do with your features. I think you are going to be surprised at how beautiful you are when you make the effort."

"Well I don't have a date anyway and nobody is interested in me in the slightest, so I guess I won't be able to find out if you're right or not," I said, hoping the subject would be dropped.

She smiled again. "My cousin is coming into town in about a week and he'll be here for a few months. You can go to your homecoming with him. You'll be stunning and everyone will forget all about Natalie. Aside from that, he's very good looking and all the girls will be jealous of your date as well as your looks."

"You've got everything all planned, don't you? How long did it take for you to cook this up?" I asked.

"I'm a very fast thinker!" she exclaimed. "So what do you say?" Her eyes were begging me to say yes.

I sighed. "Okay, fine. But you're going to have to do all of the work to make me look good."

"That's the fun part!" she squealed. "Let me measure you and I'll create a dress just for you!"

"What? Isn't that going to be expensive? Or time consuming or something?"

She giggled. "It'll be a lot cheaper and besides, I need to design a gown for a class that I'm taking. You're helping me out!"

"I guess if it will helpyouout," I offered, standing up to get measured.

The rest of the evening was fun girly time that I actually enjoyed. I didn't think that I would like being measured or giving my opinions on fabrics and colors; I was usually so busy with getting good grades and going to work that I didn't have time for any of that stuff.

The next morning, I woke up before Brooke and peeked through her blinds to see what the weather was like, hoping that the sun would stick around. It was fall and the weather was sure to turn cold soon; I wanted to enjoy each warm sunny day that we had left.

Before I could even tell what the weather was, like a crow flew past the window and cawed really loudly right in front of me.

"Augh!" I shrieked, heart pounding twice as fast as normal. I jumped away from the window, no longer caring about the weather.

Brooke was blinking her eyes. "What's going on?" she asked sleepily.

I tried to force my breathing back to normal before I answered. "I was looking out the window and a crow flew by and scared me."

"A crow?" she asked.

"Yeah, they've really been freaking me out. Yesterday, a bunch of them were flying around me and it really unnerved me. Now this, it's so weird."

"Yeah that is really...weird," she said. "Stay away from those things. I've heard that they will attack people."

"I've heard of them attacking small animals but not people."

"Oh they will attack people too, so be careful."

"That's fantastic," I sighed. "Here I was thinking that it was just creepy, but now it's dangerous too."

"Is anything else weird going on?" she asked.

"Like what?"

"Like anything out of the ordinary at all."

"Things have been spontaneously exploding around me," I said. "On Natalie's birthday, a bunch of light bulbs shattered at home. They burst outside and inside. Then some exploded at Natalie's practice too in the gym, which was right after her smoothie erupted all over her face." I couldn't help giggling at that last part.

Brooke giggled too. "That's strange. What was going on when the lights started exploding?"

I thought for a moment. "The first lights blew up when my parents gave Natalie the new BMW. Then some exploded in my room after they told me that I had to go to her practice to cheer her on. Why? What does that have to do with anything?"

"You know me. I have to know all the details about everything!" she said. "So you were pretty mad about the BMW?"

"Mad? I am furious about it! What's worse is that they can't even see the blatant favoritism that they have for her. There is nothing about her that is more special than me! I just don't get it! They buy her the nicest of everything and make me work for everything. My mom even blames me for that, saying that I wouldn't appreciate nice things if she did buy them for me. Can you believe that?"

"Obviously not much has changed," she said. "Except that they are buying her even more expensive things now than before."

"It will never change. That's why I am going to college far, far away from Delphic Cove." I could feel the rage trying to surface in me again.

"I can only imagine how awful it must be to have to live with that and then to have her be so popular at school too."

"It's worse than awful! Everywhere I go, I hear about how great Natalie is and how wonderful she is. Great, she can hit a ball over a net but does that mean that she needs to have everything handed to her?"

"It's not right at all. You get better grades, you work hard, you should have nicer things than she does," Brooke said.

"You're right!" I exclaimed.

POP!

A light bulb in Brooke's room shattered.

"What is going on with these lights?" I exclaimed.

"It seems like every time that you get mad something explodes," Brooke said, not moving to clean the mess.

"Are you listening to yourself?" I asked. "Are you suggesting that I am causing all of this stuff?"

"It makes sense if you think about it," she said.

"It makesnosense! Light bulbs and smoothies don't explode because someone is mad!"

"Then why is everything blowing up when you are so angry?" she asked.

"You're really going to blame this on me? You sound like my mother!"

Brooke laughed. "I don't sound anything like her. I'm not blaming you for these things. You didn't go planting explosives. I just said that things are exploding when you're mad. It's a simple correlation. I would think that the girl that everyone used to call 'the scientist' could see that."

I narrowed my eyes at her. "The crows showed up when I was feeling relaxed and happy."

"What do you make of all of this?" she asked.

"I don't know what to think of any of it!" I exclaimed. "It's insane. It makes no sense whatsoever."

"Itiscrazy," she said. "Well, let's not focus on it. Why don't you get in the shower and I'll make my special omelets. You will love them--everyone does!"

"Okay," I said, sighing. "I'm sure a nice warm shower will help get my mind off everything."

Brooke smiled. "Definitely! I'll see you downstairs!" She jumped up and ran out of the room.

As I was getting my stuff out of my bag to get into the bathroom, I heard Brooke talking to her brother.

"We were right, Steve. The lights bursting at the gym were from Alexis, lights keep bursting when she is angry."

"So it's finally starting," her brother replied.

What was starting? What were they talking about? I opened the bedroom door, expecting them to be right outside, but they weren't. I tiptoed around the entire floor, but they weren't there.

I went down the stairs quietly and crept around until I spied them in the office at the other end of the house. There was no way that I should have been able to hear them from Brooke's bedroom. That should have been impossible.

I snuck back up to Brooke's bedroom and looked for a vent or some other way in which I could have heard them talking. There was nothing that would have allowed me to hear them. She had an old style heater that didn't have vents.


Page 4

Maybe I had imagined it all. It was probably the stress of everything causing me to hear voices. I was upset when I heard voices when Natalie was in my room. My emotional state had to be triggering this, I decided to find some way to keep myself calm, despite the circumstances.

It was no wonder that I was overwhelmed. I had my parents' favoritism in my face, crows chasing me, and also my anger seemed to be causing things to explode.

I hoped that the homecoming dance and preparations would be enough of a distraction to help me forget about all of it.

CHAPTER THREE

On Monday at lunch, I sat down next to Amanda at our regular table with Emma, her boyfriend and some of his friends. Amanda looked lost in her thoughts and everyone else was talking with each other.

"Is everything okay?" I asked Amanda.

She looked up. "Everything is fine. I'm going over all my history facts for my test next period."

"Want some help with that?" I offered.

"Nah," she said. "I'd rather hear what you've been up to. I didn't hear from you all weekend! Some best friend. Ha! Last I saw you, everyone was running from those freakish lights blowing up."

"Don't remind me," I mumbled. "On Saturday, I ran into Brooke and spent the night at her house. We caught up on the last two years."

"I forgot all about Brooke," Amanda said. "They just up and moved suddenly, didn't they?"

"I guess it was sudden," I said. "It seems a blur in my memory."

"They did move unexpectedly, I remember it well. I've never seen anyone just up and move so fast before."

I shrugged my shoulders. "They're doing fine now. She's taking classes on fashion design and she wants to create a homecoming dress for me."

"What? She's going to create a homecoming dress foryou? Does this mean that you're actually going to go to a dance?" Amanda smiled and adjusted her glasses.

"Yeah. Somehow, she talked me into it. I'm probably going to make a complete fool of myself."

"No you won't! This is going to be so much fun. I can't wait!" she exclaimed. "So, do you have any ideas on who to go with?"

"I'm going with her cousin who is going to be in town."

"Ohhhh...is he cute?"

"She says he's very handsome and that all the girls will be jealous of me," I said, rolling my eyes.

"Oh, this is going to be amazing! I can't wait! I can't believe you're finally going to go to a dance!" Amanda began to dance in her seat.

"Who areyougoing with?" I asked, trying to get into the excitement that everyone else had. I had never been to a dance before because I didn't want to make a fool of myself, and I never had a boy interested in dating me. Of course, I never gave them any reason to be, always studying or working and never putting effort into my looks.

I couldn't understand spending hours in the bathroom like Natalie did, just to get the attention of some boys. I was much more interested in preparing myself for a solid career.

I loved watching and reading crime dramas and wanted to have a job in a field that would allow me to take part in putting the bad guys away. It would be fun to use my science knowledge to uncover evidence at crime scenes. Even to be a lawyer or a judge would be exciting as well.

The entire process of bringing down the evildoers was alluring to me, and of course that was not popular with most kids my age. There was actually a club at school called the CSI Club, of which I was a member, that met once a week. It was the one time of the week that I looked forward to.

Much to the disappointment of my hormone-driven friends, I didn't even have any interest in any of the smart, geeky guys in the club. Amanda and Emma seemed to think that I was really missing on something special by not spending hours and hours with some guy, while gushing over him to the point of not being able to focus on my school work.

No thank you. I would much rather have boredom and misery now pushing through classes that I didn't care about to get those A's and get into a prestigious school which could earn me the career of my dreams.

It was no wonder that I didn't fit in very well with the other kids. I was definitely not the average teenager who was only focused on right now with no care for the future consequences of their actions. Everyone saw me as boring, myself included.

I knew that the day was coming when I would be a successful adult with a job I was crazy about, and making all kinds of money because of it. Then all these people, whose glory days would to end at graduation, would be telling their families that they knew me back in high school.

I suddenly realized that Amanda was still talking about the dance while I was daydreaming about my future career. I tried to focus on what she was saying because it was obviously important to her, though to me dances and boys just seemed so trivial.

"Emma and some other girls and I were going to talk our dates into renting a limo and going to dinner before the dance. Do you want to go with us?" she asked.

"That could be fun," I said. "Just let me talk with Brooke first and see what's going on with her cousin. I don't want to set any plans just yet."

"Okay, just make sure that you talk to her soon. I'm so excited that you'll be going! It's never as much fun without you."

The bell rang and we all went our separate ways.

The afternoon breezed by as I went through my afternoon honors classes and then walked to my CSI club. Once the meeting was over, the school was mostly empty since everyone else had already gone home or was practicing their sports in the gym or on the field.

As I walked to my car in the parking lot, I heard the familiar whirring noise again overhead and my heart sank.

I looked up. Sure enough, there was a flock (I didn't even want to think of the other name for a group of crows--a murder!) flying in the air. This time there were even more than before, perhaps even double.

Now they were between my car and me. I would have to risk running directly underneath them to get to my car. They were staring at me and a few were starting to caw. Soon, they would all be cawing.

I had to decide what to do–-and fast! I started running toward the school and away from my car as fast as I could. I had a bad feeling about going back into the school, so at the last second, I darted away from the doors and ran around the school to the back side where a lot of the sport fields were.

Once I got near the football field, I dared to look behind me to see if the crows were still chasing me; they were gone. They must not have wanted the attention from all the people around.

I leaned against a pole to catch my breath and calm my nerves.

"Where's the fire?" came a voice.

I looked up and saw a senior named Tanner Monroe standing near me. He was popular, and I braced myself for what he might say next. I was sure that he was going to make fun of me because he was known for his arrogance.

"There's no fire," I shot back. I didn't owe him any kind of explanation.

"I can't believe how fast you were running," he said, sounding impressed.

"Yeah, that's why they call it running, because it's fast." Why wouldn't he go away?

"No, seriously," he said. "Our girls' track team could use you this year. All of our fastest runners graduated last year. You're faster than all the girls that are left, by a long shot!"

"I don't have much of an interest in sports," I told him.

"You're Natalie's sister, aren't you?" he asked.

"I have a name you know. My name is Alexis."

"You should think about joining the track team, Alexis. You would definitely make the cut. You might even be the fastest in the school. You're really fast," Tanner insisted.

"I'm more of a brain than a jock," I said. "I wouldn't want my grades to suffer."

"If you're so smart, you should know that exercise is good for the mind," he said.

I laughed. "Of course I know that. I also know that being involved in a sport takes a lot of time. I see how much time Natalie spends with volleyball."

"She does a lot more than just practice volleyball."

I raised an eyebrow. "What are you saying?"

"Obviously you and your sister aren't that close."

"You must be a brain surgeon to figure out that one," I pointed out.

He gave me a funny look. "I have to get back to football practice. Let me know if you want to try out for the track team. I'm one of the team managers."

"I'll keep that in mind," I said as he turned around and jogged to the football field.

I walked slowly past the building and peeked around the corner to see if those nasty crows were waiting for me.

They were.

I walked the whole way around to the other side of the school, and when I saw that the crows were still waiting for me on the other side of the building. I got my car key ready and ran as fast as I could to my car. By the time they had seen me and had begun to make their way towards me, I was already locked inside my car. I drove out of the parking lot as fast as I could.

I couldn't believe those crows! What did they want and why were they so obsessed with me?

I had a little bit of time before my dinner shift at the deli, so I decided to go to the library and get some studying done.

I had just settled into a chair to read a book, when someone sat down in the chair next to me and said, "Hi Lexi!"

It was Stephen, Brooke's brother. "Stephen, what are you doing here? All the way across town, I mean. I wasn't trying to imply that you shouldn't be at the library."

He laughed. "It's great to see you too!" He fake punched me in the arm. "I was at the sports store down the road, and I decided that I may as well get some homework done here and wait out the traffic."

"Makes sense. I hate fighting the traffic at this time of day down town."

"It's such a waste of time," he said. "What are you studying?"

"Honors Lit. We practically have to read a book every week. It can be a bit much, but it's good prep for college, where they really expect a lot out of you," I said.

"You've always been so smart. You're going to do awesome in college. What are you going to major in? I assume you already have it all planned out."

I smiled. "Well notallplanned out. I want to do something to do with justice, either working as a judge, an attorney or even in the CSI field."

"The justice field, huh?" he asked. "That's amazing."

"Amazing? Why?" I asked.

"Oh! I...uh, it just seems...uh," he stammered and then changed the subject. "Your school has that CSI Club, right? Are you part of that?"

"Yeah, I am. I love it. The science behind solving the crimes is phenomenal. I think I'd really love being a part of that. Last year we got to go on a walk through with some real CSI's and it was even better than I'd thought," I said.

"Is it like the TV show?" Stephen asked.

"That's what everyone asks. It's not full of such melodrama, but it's exciting because of how they are able take seemingly insignificant clues to prove someone's innocence or guilt."

"That sounds very interesting. Not that I could do it, but I'm glad that there are people like you who want to."

"So you said you need to study?" I asked. "I really need to get this book read."

"Right, sorry," he said, and pulled a book out of his backpack. "Don't let me disturb you."

We read in silence for a while and then he said, "Brooke told me about the crows the other day. Are crows really following you around?"

I sighed. "I really don't want to talk about the crows, Stephen."

"I go by Steve now," he said.

"Okay, Steve, I really don't want to talk about the crows."

He laughed. "I'm sure you don't, but I want to hear about them. It's not every day that someone is being chased by crows, you know."

"You are definitely Brooke's brother," I said. "You two are nosy."

"Yes we are. You can't hide much in our family! So tell me about the crows," coaxed Steve.

"You're not going to stop until I tell you, are you?" I asked.

"Nope, so you may as well just tell me," he grinned.

I sighed so that he would know what a pain he was being, and then I told him every detail about the crows, from their first visit at the lake to their show at the school earlier.

Just like Brooke, he didn't seem weirded out by the whole thing. They both just seemed strangely concerned by the creepy birds.

"You must have been running pretty fast for the track manager to take notice," he said.

I shrugged. "I was running for my life. I doubt that I could run like that for a competition."

"You never know," he said. "If it's in you, then it's in you."

It was my turn to change the subject. "So what's your cousin like? Brooke has set us up for my homecoming dance, but I know nothing about him."

"My cousin?" he asked, looking confused. "Oh! You mean Clifford. Right. Yeah. I almost forgot that he was coming to visit."

"His name is Clifford? I didn't even know his name!"

"He usually goes by Cliff. What do you want to know about him?" Steve asked.

"I'd like to know anything at all, since I know nothing about him. It would be nice to know at least something about the guy, since I'm going to be spending an entire evening with him."

"I wouldn't worry about that. You two will get along great."

"How do you know?" I asked.

"I, uh...I just know. You two will get along famously. Well, I better get going, Alexis."

"Oh. Okay," I said. "I need to get some more homework done before I go to work anyway."

***

The rest of the week was blissfully boring, and on Friday evening I found myself in Brooke's bedroom once again. She was fitting the dress but had me blindfolded, because she didn't want me to see it until the day of the dance.

"This is going to be perfect!" she squeaked. "It already looks amazing, but when I add the finishing touches, no one at that dance will even compare!"

"Now Ihaveto see it!"

"Don't even try! You get to see it next Saturday as a complete picture, after I've done your hair and makeup!"


Page 5

"Didn't your parents give you dolls when you were little?" I asked.

"That was the beginning of my love for dressing people up!" she said. "Now that I'm designing clothes, I get to dress up real people and that's so much more fun. Dressing you up is going to be one of the most fun experiences I've had. I've got to take before and after shots--this is going to be truly amazing!"

"I'm glad that I can provide so much entertainment for you," I said. "Meanwhile, can you get this dress off me? I really want to take off the blindfold."

"Sure, I have all that I need. Give me a minute."

I gladly threw the blindfold on the floor when I was given permission. "When does your cousin come into town? Do I have to wait for the dance to meet him?"

Her eyes twinkled. "You'll have to wait. This is going to be the biggest night you've ever experienced! It's going to be truly magical."

My heart jumped when she said that and I started to get excited. "Will you tell me something about this date of mine? I know almost nothing about him."

"He looks like a movie star," she said. "He's smart like you, and you two are going to steal the show. Everyone will forget about the homecoming royalty."

"Sounds like my mom will be proud to call me her daughter for once," I said. "She thinks my brains are wasted on a girl."

"Don't worry about her," Brooke said. "Soon enough you'll be out of that house, living a dream life."

"Even if I were the top judge or attorney in the nation, she wouldn't care unless I was well dressed and in the spotlight all the time." I said, getting upset. "She doesn't care about anything I do now. Even self-obsessed Natalie is impressed with my accomplishments. She told me as much the other day when we managed to have a decent conversation. My mother will never see it. I'm such a disappointment to her!"

"Hey, calm down, chica," she said. "I don't want any more light bulbs bursting in my room!"

I stopped myself from continuing. "You're probably right."

"Probably? I've seen it happen myself," she said. "If you keep going, I'm going to have another mess to clean up."

"How can someone treat their own child like that?" I asked, unable to think about another subject. "You would think that she would treat someone better that she took care of a baby. Something is seriously wrong with my mom."

"Not really. She didn't have that time to bond with you."

"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked, confused. How would she know that?

"What does what mean?" she asked, just as confused.

"Oh crap," I said. I had just realized that Brooke's mouth hadn't moved when she 'said' that. I'd heard it clear as day in her voice, but her lips hadn't budged.

"What does what mean?" she asked.

"Nothing," I said, too quickly.

"It's definitely something. What does what mean?"

"Obviously it's nothing, because you didn't say anything," I said. "For some reason, I thought that you said something, but I'm just hearing things."

"What did you hear exactly?" Brooke asked, her eyes flaring.

"I thought you said something about my mom, but it doesn't matter because you obviously didn't."

She jumped up. "I'll be right back." She ran out of the bedroom.

I sighed. I had finally scared her off with my weirdness. Crows and exploding light bulbs were one thing, but hearing voices was too much.

"Steve, it's happening faster than I thought," I heard Brooke's voice say.

"What's going on now?" I heard Steve reply.

"She heard my thoughts! This is going to progress faster than usual. We're going to have to handle this quickly."

"Do you think that we'll be able to wait until after the dance?"

"I hope so, though Cliff will be here in a couple of days. We'll ask him what he thinks; he will know what to do," Brooke said.

"It wouldn't be the end of the world if we have to tell her before the dance, Brooke."

I put my hands over my ears--as if that would help silence the voices coming from my head--and tried not to listen to the craziness. Either something very strange was going on, or I was losing my mind.

I didn't like either option.

***

At home the next morning, I was in search of answers. I didn't want to ask Brooke what she meant when I might have heard her thoughts. It sounded as though she might have been implying that my mom hadn't raised me as a baby.

If that was the case, then I intended to uncover the proof myself. I wanted answers, and I didn't think that anyone was going to give me any straight ones.

I started with our old family picture albums. I couldn't recall having seen any pictures of myself before I was around three years old. I spent a couple of hours going through every photo in our family albums, and there was not a single baby picture of me to be found.

There were plenty of pictures of Natalie as a baby, but none of me with her during that time. Natalie was born when I was about 11 months old so it didn't make sense that there would be no pictures of me until I was three years old.

I found my mom on the computer looking at clothes. "Why are there no pictures of me as a baby?"

"What? Not this again. Alexis, we've told you this before. There was a flood in the house that we were living in. We lost a lot of things, including your baby album."

"That still doesn't explain why I'm not in any of Natalie's baby pictures. When people have two kids they usually get lots of pictures of the kids together."

She sighed. "We've gone over this before too. You were scared to death of the camera flash, and any time that we brought out the camera you burst into tears. I didn't want a bunch of pictures of you crying and throwing a fit."

"I don't buy it anymore," I retorted. "I'm not in a single picture. Not one! That just isn't possible, even if I was deathly afraid of the camera."

"Someday when you have kids you will understand."

"No I won't, because I will never understand you! If I ever have kids, I will never be like you. I won't have a favorite and I will love both of my kids. So don't tell me that I will understand someday. I will never understand you!"

"Alexis, I don't understand you most of the time, either but that doesn't mean that I don't love you."

"You definitely have a funny way of showing it. Just tell me the truth; was I adopted? Or am I your stepchild?"

She laughed. "Where do you get this stuff? Of course you're not adopted or my stepchild!"

"You could have fooled me," I said, and walked out determined to find out what was really going on.

***

I sat at the table in the back yard to do some homework, although I was having a difficult time concentrating. I was far more interested in knowing what was going on and who was hiding what from me.

I had finally settled in and started to focus on my book, when I heard footsteps behind me.

"What was that conversation with mom all about?" Natalie asked.

"It sounds like you heard it, so you should be able to figure it out for yourself," I told her.

"Do you think that you were really adopted?" she asked softly.

"I don't know," I said. "I really have no idea what's going on, but a lot of things aren't adding up."

"Why wouldn't they tell you if you were adopted?"

"It could be anything. Maybe they think I will want to find my real parents or maybe it was an illegal adoption."

"Or maybe your real parents are secret agents and theycan'ttell you about the adoption!" she said, eyes wide.

"Maybe they just found me on the side of the road and didn't want to turn me in," I said.

"You could be an alien in disguise!" she laughed.

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" I asked, smiling. It was nice to be getting along again.

"It would explain a lot!" she said.Like how you read my mind last weekend.

I tried to hide my surprise and disappointment. I couldn't ask her if she had just thought that, because either way she answered, I would look like a freak.

"It would explain how incredibly smart I am," I said, recovering quickly.

"If you want, I can talk to mom," she said.

"About me being an alien?" I asked, confused.

Natalie laughed. "For being so smart, you can be really dumb! No, I can talk to her about if you were adopted or not. She might be more willing to talk to me."

"Thanks for pointing that out," I muttered.

"It's not my fault that she favors me," she said. "Let's just use it to our advantage to find out what's going on. I'm just as curious as you are."

"When you put it like that how can I turn you down?"

CHAPTER FOUR

I was on my laptop searching to see if I could find anything online about my mysterious beginnings. I wasn't buying my mom's story about me being afraid of the camera.

I was beginning to feel frustrated with not being able to find anything, when a message popped up from Amanda. We decided to meet up for pizza.

"What have you been up to lately?" she asked. "I've hardly seen you."

I made small talk about Brooke helping me get ready for the dance. I did everything I could think of to avoid talking about crows or hearing voices.

"Are you and your mystery date going to join us for dinner?" she asked.

"Yeah, I told Brooke so that her cousin didn't make other plans."

"Do you like the idea of having a blind date?" she asked. "It either could go really well or horribly."

"I hadn't thought of it like that. Thanks."

She laughed. "I'm just sayin'."

"Brooke seems to think that this will change my life completely," I said.

"I can't wait to see you all dressed up," Amanda said. "It will be like the before and after of one of those makeover shows. You don't do anything for your looks. Hopefully once you see what some makeup can do, you'll start to wear some."

"It's such a waste of time," I said. "I see how much time Natalie puts into her looks each and every day. I don't have that kind of time."

"Don't say stuff like that to your date or he'll run screaming."

"I've been told that he's very smart," I reassured her.

"Even so, you are in a class of your own as far as brains go. Just don't try to impress him with everything that you know."

"What does it matter?" I asked. "He doesn't even live here. He's only going to be staying here for a few months."

"Still, you never know what can happen in a few months."

The pizza came and we started eating.

"Where are we going to eat before the dance?" I asked between bites.

Amanda adjusted her glasses and said, "We're going to that new, fancy French place, so make sure he's not poor."

"I'll be sure to mention that to Brooke."

"Isn't it driving you nuts that you can't even talk to him first? He's not even my date and I'm going crazy with curiosity here!"

I shrugged. "I'll find out soon enough. I'm not worried about it. Besides, isn't that the point of a blind date?"

She sighed. "You are so not normal."

"You like a good mystery, right?" I asked, changing the subject. I knew that Amanda loved to read mystery novels, so I hoped she would be able to offer some help with my real-life mystery.

"Of course I do! Do you have one?"

"I have a real life mystery but I want this kept between you and me."

"You know that I can keep a secret," she said. "What's your mystery?"

"I think that my parents are lying to me and that I was adopted."

Her eyes nearly popped out of her head. "Are you serious? Is it because of all the favoritism?"

"That's part of it," I said. "But that's not the strange part."

"Oh, tell me everything!" she begged.

When I was done explaining about the pictures and the lame flood story, she said, "My aunt works at the court house and has access to all of Delphic Cove's old records. If I tell her that I have a school project, she would let me into look! They have all kinds of stuff down there that isn't online. I took a class last year and was able to get all kinds of access. Anything over twelve years old is down in that basement."

"Isn't there a privacy law protecting that stuff?"

"You mean like the HIPPA thing?"

"That's just medical records," I informed her. "But I would think that other records would have privacy laws."

"You know how it is here. Typical small town--big city rules don't apply. Someday they might, if the state or feds come in and find out how things are run. That's not too likely. Nothing exciting enough to bring them ineverhappens here."

"That's true. Let me know as soon as you find anything!"

***

When I got home, Natalie nearly pounced on me as soon as I entered the door.

"We've got to talk!" she whispered.

I followed her to her room as fast as I could and closed the door. "What is going on? What is it?"

She started talking really fast and I struggled to keep up. "I talked with Mom and she's sticking to the flood story, which I don't buy either because there's no way that you would not be in any of my baby pictures. What little brother or sister doesn't have their big brothers or sisters in any pictures? She was insistent though."

"That can't be all that you have," I said. "Why bring me in here to tell me that?"

"I got her to dig out the birth certificates and I think yours is a fake!"

"What?" I asked. "How would you know that?"

"It looked different from mine, which I also wanted to see. Also, yours was issued here in Washington and we didn't move to Delphic Cove until after the flood--if there really was one!"

"Did you ask Mom about that?"

"Of course I did! She says that your original birth certificate was lost in the flood too."

"Why would they have brought all of your stuff and none of mine? It just doesn't add up. Unless of course they hated me even then and were glad to let it all drown."

"You know they don't hate you, Lex," Natalie said, giving me a compassionate look.

"I know that Dad doesn't hate me," I said. "Did you find out anything else?"

"No, but I thought the birth certificate thing was pretty big."

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