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By Cat Patrick
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17-year-olds Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey Best grew up as identical triplets… until they discovered a shocking family secret. They’re actually closer than sisters, they’re clones. Hiding from a government agency that would expose them, the Best family appears to consist of a single mother with one daughter named Elizabeth. Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey take turns going to school, attending social engagements, and a group mindset has always been a de facto part of life…
Then Lizzie meets Sean Kelly, a guy who seems to see into her very soul. As their relationship develops, Lizzie realizes that she’s not a carbon copy of her sisters; she’s an individual with unique dreams and desires, and digging deeper into her background, Lizzie begins to dismantle the delicate balance of an unusual family that only science could have created.
Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of Just Like Fate
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My part is first half.
I go to student government, chemistry, trigonometry, psychology, and history at school, then do the rest of the day at home. I maintain that Mom was in a mood when she made assignments this year—math and science are definitely not my best subjects. When I reminded her of this, she said, "That's exactly why you're doing first half."
I finish applying lip balm, take a step back from the sink, and frown. I'm used to looking exactly like two other people, but I'll never be used to Ella's fashion sense. I'm actually wearing an argyle cardigan.
"What's up, Ann Taylor Loft?" I mutter to myself, shaking my head.
I lean back and crane my neck so I can see the digital clock on my nightstand: It reads 6:47—thirteen minutes before I need to leave for school. One of Mom's major concerns is us standing out—and therefore being found out. So things like tardiness, bad grades, and attention-grabbing clothes are basically off-limits in the Best household.
I haven't eaten breakfast, but I don't smell bacon, so I decide to grab something from the cafeteria. Instead of sustenance, I opt for straightening. I plug in my flat iron, wait for it to heat up, then quickly but meticulously comb sections and pull the iron along, making the curls disappear. It's got its drawbacks, but at least first half means that I pick the hairstyle for the day.
Expertly moving through the darkened bedroom, I smooth down one last wrinkle at the foot of the bed and throw my pajama bottoms in the hamper. Mom tries to act mellow, but I saw her OCD forehead vein pop out yesterday when she saw the state of my room—she's got enough going on, so I cleaned it up. I gather my books and leave, gently closing the door behind me.
Just as I step from the cushy carpeting to the light hardwood in the hallway, Ella does, too. Her bedroom is across from mine: We face each other head-on. It's like looking at a life-sized picture of me in another outfit: She has the exact same tone of chestnut hair, matching dark brown eyes, the same lips that naturally frown when they're not smiling.
And they're frowning now.
Ella's eyes narrow to slits when she sees my hair. Her posture is pure pissed—underneath her plush robe, she pops a hip and rests her hand there—but more than seeing her anger, I can feel it. She exhales loudly and rolls her eyes.
"Are you done?" I ask. "We're not at auditions for a teen drama, you know. You don't have an audience."
Ella shakes her head at me.
"I mean, you're so selfish it's ridiculous," she says.
"It's just hair," I say, touching it. Awesome hair, I don't say. Hair I'd like to have permanently.
"It's not just hair," she says. "It's time. I'm up early as it is because I didn't finish everything for second half. I have to study before Betsey gets up and then teach her all of the cheers. You know there's a game next Friday! I have so much to do and now I have to flat iron my hair, too?"
"What's going on?" Betsey asks from her door, rubbing her eyes. I feel a little bad for waking her up. Her part is evening, which means that on top of being homeschooled all day, she's the one to juggle our college course, a part-time job, and cheering at night games. She goes to bed at least an hour later than we do.
When Betsey finally focuses on me, her dark eyes widen. "Seriously, Lizzie? Not again," she says with a groan.
"Not you, too," I say, eyebrows raised. She shrugs.
"Yes, her, too," Ella says. "What you do impacts all of us, Lizzie. You should remember that next time. I mean, just, thanks for this. Thanks for ruining my day." She storms downstairs, bare feet slapping gleaming wood floors all the way down.
I stifle a laugh. "Sorry," I say to Bet with a sheepish grin. "But I like it this way."
"It does look good," she says, giving me a small hug. "But I'm still going to kill you."
I stop in the entryway to gather all the stuff I need for school. I put my books in the bag. I unplug the cell phone from its charger and put it in the purse, then shove the purse in the bag, too. I shrug on the light jacket we chose for this fall and then grab the ends of the ball chain necklace and clasp it at the nape of my neck. When I straighten the weighty silver pendant so the vintage-looking pattern is facing out, there's a little twist in my torso. But as I have for the past couple of months, I ignore it.
My mom hears me turn the door handle despite the fact that she's listening to old Bon Jovi on the sound system in the kitchen. Sometimes I think she's part bat.
"Lizzie?" she calls. "Come eat some breakfast."
"I'll eat at school." I pull the door shut behind me, knowing my leaving will probably irritate her but hoping this is one of those days she lets her irritation slide. Otherwise, after school she'll probably force me into a mother/daughter heart-to-heart about the importance of proper nutrition.
Outside, it's a pretty fall day, a little hazy, but the sun's managing to peek through. I inhale the ocean air as I walk across the cobblestone driveway, looking up at the hundred-foot pines that surround the property. With the imposing trees and an iron gate, you'd think a celebrity lived here… until you saw our car. Apparently top on the list of "safest cars for teens," the sensible gray sedan is only just slightly better than the bus.
"Stupid old-lady car," I mutter as I climb in and buckle up.
When I turn the key, I'm simultaneously blasted by heat and music; quickly I turn down the blower and flip to the alt rock station. I can't help but laugh at Betsey's taste: She may dress like someone who lives for jam bands, but her real musical love is country. I think back to Florida, when our neighbor Nina babysat us sometimes in the afternoons so Mom could run errands without dragging along three toddlers. We'd sit out by Nina's pool listening to Reba McEntire, sipping sugary drinks we weren't allowed to have at home.
"Now, don't tell your mama, you hear?" Nina would say in her Southern accent. Practically drooling at the sight of juice boxes, we'd nod our little heads and swear on our baby dolls never to tell. Nina would sing along with Reba at the top of her lungs while Bet did backup vocals and silly dances, and I'd laugh to the point of a potty emergency.
Betsey never outgrew her affinity for country music and it's one of the things that I love about her, because it's one of the ways she's different.
Still not used to the driveway—our old house was on a regular street—I do an Austin Powers maneuver to get the car turned in the right direction. Then I hold my breath as I drive up, hugging the right, since there's a drop-off on the left.
I wait for the gate to inch open, tossing my hair off my shoulders and finally taking a breath. For another morning, I'm safe from death by driveway. Despite my hideous sweater, I have sleek, straight hair. And now, for a few hours at least, I'm out of the house. I smile for no one to see, because these things are worth smiling about.
Two hours later, instinctively, I touch the necklace around my neck. My heart rate is up: I can hear the blood pounding in my ears. I try to calm myself as I picture the alert sounding on my mom's phone, it dragging her from whatever she's doing so she can check the GPS blip and make sure I'm where I'm supposed to be. Back in Florida when we were little, the necklace used to make me feel protected. Now, sitting here in trig, panicking because I don't know the answers, it feels invasive. Not only do I have my own stress to worry about, but I have her stress to worry about, too.
"It's a killer, isn't it?" the guy across the aisle whispers, nodding down at the quiz. He's got unfortunate acne that distracts from an otherwise solid-looking face.
"The worst," I whisper back before our teacher gives us a look and we're forced to focus. But when I do, I realize once again how little I know.
I studied; I really did. Ella is much better at math, and after the requisite teasing, she helped me the past three nights. But it's too much. Going through the problems, I feel like I'm trying to read Mandarin while blindfolded. Sure, Woodbury is tougher than South was last year, but it's not like I'm an idiot. And yet, we're only a couple weeks into the school year and already, without a doubt, I can honestly say that…
I. Hate. Triangles.
And granted, I'm freaking out right now about a quiz on the first three chapters of the book, so I don't know a lot about it, but it seems to me that triangles are the very essence of trigonometry.
I spend fifty minutes suffering through the most painful academic experience of my life. Even before the bell rings, I am chastising myself for being so stupid. So flawed. Even though my mom's not my DNA donor, I was grown in her womb; her smartness should've rubbed off on me somehow.
How can I just not get math?
I jump at the bell, then reluctantly hand in my quiz. I jump again when my phone vibrates in my pocket; I haven't even made it to the classroom door yet. I don't check the caller ID; I know who it is.
"Lizzie, it's Mom," she says, trying to sound calm when I know her well enough to know that she's not.
"I know," I say, weaving around two girls blocking the door. "Hi."
Pause. "Your heart rate just shot up: What happened? You were in math class, right? Is everything okay?" The way her voice sounds right now reminds me of the time in middle school when she forgot there was a museum field trip and the tracker showed me across town during school hours.
"Geez, calm down," I say. "I'm fine. It was just a quiz."
"Did you fail?" she asks quietly, saying "fail" like some people say "cancer." I hear her take a breath and hold it on the other end of the line and I can almost see the thoughts running through her brain. Mom places an incredibly high value on doing well in school.
"How should I know?" I say. "I only just handed it in. I won't get—"
"Lizzie, you know."
She lets out her breath like a popped tire. "I'm going to come home for a few minutes after Bet's done with night class. We'll have a family meeting to discuss this."
"But, Mom, I—"
"We'll discuss it tonight," she says sharply. "I think we need to—"
Service cuts out and my bars are too low to call her back. I'm left to wonder as I leave the math corridor and head down the main hallway what Mom thinks we need to do this time.
After psych and government, I race to my locker, then flip around and rush toward the commons, where I'm blasted by the smell of fried foods. My stomach grumbles—it's been too long since my vending-machine breakfast—but there's no time to stop. I cut through the circular space, weaving my way around tables and kids with trays toward the exit to the student lot. I imagine Ella standing in the entryway of our house with a stopwatch, tapping her toes. The longer it takes me to get there, the less time she has.
I look over and see David Something from student government smiling a salesman's smile. "Take a load off," he says, his voice carrying over the lunchtime noise. The other football players at his table look at me curiously as David pats the empty seat next to him.
I smile back and wave politely but keep walking. I stifle a laugh when I hear one of David's friends say, "Burn!" just before I reach the doors.
I make it outside and check my phone for the time: I'm doing okay. Even though lots of kids go off campus for lunch, no one is nearby, so I jog to the car. I throw the bag on the passenger seat and drive home no more than five miles per hour over the posted speed limits. All I need is to get a speeding ticket the same day I fail a trig quiz.
I drive through the gates and down the driveway, then park and turn off the car but leave the keys in the ignition and the bag on the passenger seat. Ella is walking toward me before I've shut the door. With her stick-straight hair and matching cardigan and skirt, I might as well be staring at myself. Most of the time it's just how things are, but today, maybe because I'm already worried about the quiz, it's the bad kind of surreal. The only difference between us at the moment is our posture: Hers is tall and confident, mine is slumped.
"You okay?" she says when she's close enough for me to hear. "I felt it."
I nod, thinking of the sudden sense of unease that comes over me when Ella or Betsey panics about something. "Did Mom totally freak out?"
Ella glances at the front door and then refocuses on me. "A little," she admits. "I think she's just disappointed."
"Ugh," I say. "She said she's coming home for a family meeting tonight. She never comes home at night!"
When we were born, our mom gave up her real passion of being a scientist so she could work nights and be home during the day with us. Instead of doing the genetics research she loves, she's using her other degree to be an ER doctor, somehow functioning on three hours of sleep a night.
"I know. It's weird," Ella says, stepping forward to give me a quick hug. "But it'll be okay," she says into my hair. "We'll figure it out." Dramatic as she is, in a real crisis, Ella's always there. We pull apart and smile at each other: Mine's forced, because she's trying to lift my spirits.
"Anything I need to know?" she asks.
I shrug again. "Other than the trig debacle… no," I say. "Oh, wait, that guy David from student government tried to wave me over at lunch." Ella doesn't have a class with David, but she nods anyway.
"What'd he want?"
I shrug. "I don't know. I just waved back and kept going. I didn't want to make you late."
"Thanks," she says with another small smile.
"No problem. Good luck."
Ella laughs. "I've got the easy part," she says wistfully, like she misses the challenge, even though she has cheer practice, which she loves. "I think I can handle Spanish and dance."
"Don't forget creative writing," I say, the wistful one now.
"Oh, right," she says as she reaches out to unclasp the necklace from my neck. She puts it on, then hugs me goodbye and goes to the car. I walk across the cobblestones and, from the front porch, turn back to watch Ella go. It's like I'm having an out-of-body experience—like I'm watching myself. Except that Ella drives straight up the middle of the driveway, fearless.
And I love her for it.
The rest of the day is like clockwork. I spend three hours at homeschool with Betsey and my all-business mother (who through pursed lips refuses to acknowledge what happened in trig whatsoever during "school time"). We trudge through the same subjects that Ella's studying at Woodbury, just like Ella and Betsey did with my morning schedule. When Mom leaves for work at 3:30, I crank the music in our home gym for the same treadmill session that Bet and Ella did earlier, while Bet catches up on chemistry. Ella returns after cheer practice, and shortly after that, Bet leaves for night class. Ella and I eat dinner and do homework, comparing notes and chatting casually until Bet comes home again.
Then I get nervous.
"She'll be here anytime now," I whisper, seconds before the door opens downstairs.
"You're totally psychic," Betsey says with a laugh, but I'm not in the mood. Instead, I try to judge my mother's level of pissed-ness by the way she kicks off her shoes and rushes up the stairs.
"Oh, good, you're all here," she says when she rounds the corner to the rec room. Her hair is pulled back at her neck and she's wearing ill-fitting but remarkably clean scrubs with a cardigan over them.
"Hi, Mom," I say as she hurries into the room and sits down on the couch next to Ella. She pats Ella's knee, smiles at Betsey, then frowns when her eyes meet mine.
"Hi, Lizzie," she says before sighing like I'm the absolute worst there is for not knowing about stupid freaking triangles. "I don't have a lot of time, so let's get right to it."
"You should have just told us whatever you wanted to say when you saw us earlier," Ella says. "Don't you have patients?"
"I wanted to talk to all three of you at once," Mom says, making me feel sick. That doesn't sound good at all. "And besides, earlier I was still figuring out what to do." She pauses for breath, glancing at the clock on the wall.
"What do you mean, 'figuring out what to do'?" Ella asks, looking suddenly concerned.
Mom faces her. "I've decided we're going to make a change in light of Lizzie's… challenge," she says. I can feel Ella glance at me, but I keep my eyes on Mom. No one else speaks, so she continues.
"First, I want to say that we're lucky that it's taken this long for noticeable differences to crop up," she says. "I was fearful every day through puberty, and yet thankfully, that wasn't an issue." I don't have to look at the others to know they're blushing, too. Nobody wants to hear their mother say the word puberty.
Mom goes on.
"But now, it's grown obvious to me that Lizzie is developing more right-brain tendencies," she says, looking into my eyes. "I'm sorry, Lizzie, I thought that by allowing you to be the one in those classes at school, you'd grasp them more easily. I thought maybe I was doing a poor job of teaching them. But it seems that math and science just aren't your forte." Mom gives me a sympathetic smile that's completely annoying.
"But if today is any indication, our current setup isn't working," she continues. "We're not even three weeks in and already it's clear that to remain on this path could draw attention to us, and therefore threaten everything. Because of this," Mom says, shifting like she's bracing for a triple teen outburst, "I am switching junior year assignments."
I feel myself stiffen; Ella sucks in her breath.
"Are you serious?" Betsey asks. Mom nods.
"Ella will take first half," she says authoritatively, but not meeting Ella's eyes, probably because she knows how disappointed Ella's going to be to miss out on cheer practice. "Lizzie will take second half. Betsey, you'll stay with evenings." Betsey visibly relaxes in her chair.
"But we have the schedule down," Ella says in protest. "This isn't fair."
"I know," Mom says. "But you've made straight A's your whole life. You just transferred—and Principal Cowell specifically commented on your high marks. If suddenly you start getting C's in math, it'll attract attention. And beyond that, it's time to start thinking of college. Of your future."
Start thinking of college? I feel like she's been thinking of college since we were two days old. The funny thing is that none of us knows how we'll even handle college logistically, so we've all just put our heads in the sand about it. I blow out my breath, but everyone ignores me.
"So, it's settled then," Mom says, checking the clock again as she stands up. "I've got to get back to the hospital."
"How soon?" I ask, knowing that I need to brush up on the cheers Ella's learned so far. My stomach lurches at the thought of manufacturing pep.
"I called the school and told them that you had a migraine today," Mom says. "I talked them into letting you retake the quiz."
Nerves rage in my insides—I can feel mine, and the others', too. She can't be saying what I think she's saying. "How soon, Mom?" I ask again.
She looks at the clock one more time, then looks back at me.
"Don't forget to take off your nail polish."
Mom's talking to me from the kitchen doorway on the morning of the most last-minute, massive switch we've ever done. It's ironic that she's nagging me: She's the one who left five minutes ago to mail bills before homeschool, then came back because she forgot both the bills and her car keys. I roll my eyes at her and she leaves, then I look down at my perfectly painted white nails.
"Why do yours always chip so easily?" I ask Ella, frowning. She shrugs, her eyes on the valley below our house. I know she's upset about the switch, too. She stands and takes her cereal bowl to the sink before disappearing, probably to brush her teeth. Again. I shove back and go upstairs, then wander down the hall toward Mom's room in search of remover.
I open the door to the cool, dark room and flip on the overhead light. As I squish across the carpet, I glance over at the three baby portraits in thick brown wooden frames, hung art-gallery straight on the wall with the door. I feel a familiar prickling on the back of my neck as I stop for a long look.
Anyone else would see the same kid wearing different outfits and expressions, but really, it's different people. Ella's openmouthed; Mom said she was mesmerized by a butterfly on a stick that the photographer used to get her attention. Her background is department store all the way. In her photo, Betsey's drooling like a Saint Bernard. And I'm crying, probably because someone put me in a bucket.
What makes the hairs on my neck and arms stand up is that there's another picture in a drawer somewhere—just a four-by-six snapshot taken by a proud parent—and the baby in the photo looks identical to the babies on the wall. Somewhere, there's a photo of the Original, the baby who died.
The baby Mom cloned to make us.
"What are you doing in here?" Bet asks behind me, scaring me so badly that I bang my shoulder on the wall when I jump back. "Sorry," she says, laughing. Bet's always been a fan of frightening others.
"I'm getting nail polish remover," I say, turning away from the faces that started as someone else's.
"And visiting the Wall of Fame," Bet says, waving at the photos. "God, Ella was a weird-looking baby."
I chuckle, then we're quiet a second. "Doesn't it ever freak you out?"
"What?" Bet asks.
"That we're not… normal," I say.
"Lizzie, don't be dumb. We're normal," Betsey says, shaking her head at me. "We just happened to be cloned instead of made the regular way."
"I don't know," I say. "Sometimes it makes me feel inferior."
"Well, it shouldn't," Bet says. "You're awesome. But you know what? Mom's going to make us both feel inferior if we don't get our homework done because we're standing around gawking at our baby selves. You're already on her list this week; why make it worse? Let's go."
I allow myself to be dragged by the hand toward the door of Mom's room, wondering whether the kids at school would consider clones unnatural; wondering what they'd think if they knew the truth. My fingernails are still painted, and as I flip off the light behind me, my neck is still prickling, too.
"Here," Ella says, holding out the necklace at lunch. We're on the front porch and the car is idling; I was the one waiting this time.
"Thanks," I say, taking it and putting it on, thinking that to anyone else, the necklace probably looks like a family heirloom: a locket containing tiny photos of those I love. But it's a lot more than that.
"Everything go okay this morning?" I ask.
"Yeah, fine," Ella says, blowing out her breath. "Classes were okay; I talked to that David guy a little in student government." She pauses, eyeing me for a few seconds before adding, "And… I aced the quiz."
Ella wrote down the classroom numbers, but still, I'm edgy as I walk into Spanish III that afternoon. Instinctively, I make my way to our seat: front row, closest to the right wall. It's the one we choose in any classroom, assuming we're given a choice. We do it mostly for convenience's sake—sometimes someone gets sick and we need to fill in for each other—but I'm not saying one of us (ahem, Betsey) doesn't have a few obsessive-compulsive tendencies, too.
I settle into the chair, lean back, and twirl an end of my hair, pretending to be bored. As far as everyone else knows, this is my sixth class of the day, not my first. I try to look tired, even faking a yawn just before Mr. Sanchez shows up. He drops his teachers' manual loudly on the front podium, then addresses the class.
"Hola, estudiantes!" he shouts, beaming like we're his favorite people on earth. He claps his hands loudly a few times, probably trying to shock us, with our post-lunch comas, into the afternoon. Happy to be learning Spanish from a native speaker instead of my mom, I'm okay with his antics.
"Hola, Señor Sanchez," I reply aloud. No one else responds. A few people snicker. Mr. Sanchez looks at me with eyebrows raised, smiling.
"Brownnoser," a girl mutters behind me.
I don't turn to see who said it, but I learn my lesson. For the rest of the class period, I only respond when called upon. But that doesn't mean I don't shout out the answers in my head. And, unlike in trigonometry, here I get them all right.
One step removed from private, Woodbury is one of the few remaining public schools with an arts program, still offering things like music, painting, pottery, and dance. I may not want to chant "Go, TEAM!" while wearing a revealing outfit, but I've always loved every form of dance. So, inheriting our dance elective from Ella was a gift.
Seventh period, I walk confidently to the studio in the hallway next to the gym without pausing to think or ask for directions. It's possible that I might have happened to take the very long way to history once or twice to see what the dancers were up to. Thankfully, now it's my turn.
I find locker number 27—it was assigned—and type in the only combination we ever use: 3, 33, 13. Inside, I find a black halter dance top with a built-in bra, black drawstring shorts that, embarrassingly, say DANCE across the butt, a red hoodie shrug that covers my arms and upper back, footless nude tights, and black, broken-in jazz shoes. Faster than fast, I change, excited to get to try out the dances Ella's already taught me with a room full of other students.
"I hope she finally teaches us the ending today," a redhead named Alison says from behind me as I walk from the locker room to the dance area. I've seen her before during first half: She always says hello when we pass in the halls.
"I know," I say, thankful for Ella's prep, "we've been stuck on the middle section for a week!"
"I think it's easier to dance the whole thing," Alison says. "I'd rather learn all of it and practice it straight through than keep stopping to perfect each section."
- * "Patrick is making a niche for herself with high-concept romantic thrillers about girls whose realities are far from the norm, and her third novel may be her best yet...[it] will keep readers riveted."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
- "The pacing and suspense are just right, the teen dialogue sounds real, and characters both young and old are believable. This is a read that many teens will enjoy."—VOYA
- "Readers will enjoy the quick pacing and speculating on science's ethical dilemmas. Provocative."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Have you read Cat Patrick yet? If not, you should. The Originals is a unique exploration of identity, familial love, and bioethics wrapped into a universal coming-of-age story and an enchanting high school romance."—Gabrielle Zevin, award-winning author of Elsewhere, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, and the Birthright series
- On Sale
- Apr 15, 2014
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers