I present you with Chapter One! And a French bulldog in a swing because I needed to add some sort of image. A little awkward. Just imagine it’s me watching you read it. Just kidding. I wouldn’t fit in that swing.
Ugh. It figures. She had missed the bus. Again. She’d been reading The Unrequited Duchess in the back of the library, not that Mallory would admit to it. Her official story was— Actually, she didn’t need one. No one was going to ask.
As she zipped up her bag, Jill, her orchestra stand partner, ran up in a hurry. “Mallory, will you cover for me?” Jill sported smeared lipstick, mussed-up hair, and a partially undone blouse. “I’m, uh…”
“Yeah, I get it.” It was obvious what Jill was planning on doing.
“Yeah, anyway, if my dad calls, tell him I’m at your place, ’kay?”
“Sure thing.” Mallory regularly covered for Jill, who was only a few weeks into a hot-and-heavy relationship with the timpani player. Mallory sighed. She’d had her eye on the timpani player for ages. From the French horn section, she had the perfect view of him during rehearsal. The way he bit his lip when he focused on hard passages was so cute. C’est le vie. Someday it’d be her turn to make out in the stacks and pretend to stay out late with Jill.
At this point, it seemed like she had a sign on her back that read: “Do not touch. Future nun.”
Fighting away the “always a nun, never the bride” feeling she’d been having too often, she packed the legal limit for library checkout into her backpack and headed home. It was only four miles. Good exercise, she reasoned pragmatically. Except halfway there, it started raining. She pulled her hood up and double-timed it for fear the water would soak through and wreck her books.
Just when it started coming down harder, a car pulled up alongside her. She looked up through rain-splattered glasses hoping to see someone willing to give her a ride—anyone not driving a panel van who looked vaguely familiar would do. At this point, she had to admit that walking home in the rain with a twenty-five-pound French horn and thirty pounds of romance novels strapped to her back had not been a good idea. Clearly, she should have left on time, not checked out so many books, and played the flute. Basically, she should be someone else.
A car filled with faces from the track team looked back at her, faces she recognized from her sister’s friend list and every other page of her high school yearbook. “Yo, Jones-y! You need a ride, beyotch?” they called out.
The moment the driver realized she wasn’t her twin sister, his face went slack and he quit yelling out the window. Mallory tried not to let it get to her. She wanted a car full of boys to yell beyotch in her direction—in the way friends do, obviously. She wanted to belong.
Instead, he took all the fun out of his voice and said, “Oh. Mallory, I thought you were your sister.” Then he sped off, hosing her from head to toe with muddy water.
“Stop! Can you—” she yelled, but they couldn’t hear her.
To be Blake for a day. Sometimes Mallory didn’t want to be the frumpy Jones twin no one noticed, the one boys treated like their English teacher. Blake got all the rides, all the awards, all the boys. It was amazing how you could look exactly like someone and yet lead a completely different life. It couldn’t just be the glasses. If Mallory took out her ponytail and put in some contacts, nothing would change. Absolutely nothing.
The confidence and sparkle that made Blake shine like a shooting star and made boys drool bypassed Mallory completely. You’d think she would enjoy a fraction of Blake’s popularity—she had the same honey-gold hair and emerald eyes, features that inspired poetry from actual boys when displayed on Blake. Mallory, though, was the kind of girl who the best middle-distance runners at school would happily leave on the side of the road in the pouring rain with nothing but a backpack full of book boyfriends.
Clearly chivalry was dead.
Mallory would have broken into a run when her house came into view, but her legs were too stiff from the cold. With its wide welcoming front porch and grand white columns, her home was basically Sofia, North Carolina’s version of Tara, except her ancestors planted tobacco instead of cotton.
It was essentially a monument to slavery and lung cancer with original woodwork and two swimming pools.
Once safely out of the rain, she ran up the grand Scarlett O’Hara-style staircase to her own private sanctuary. Stepping inside her room was like climbing into one of those musical boxes with a tiny spinning ballerina—magical and completely safe. She’d painted her walls a perfectly tragic shade of cream, the same shade as Tess of the D’Urberville’s milky complexion or, more-to-the-point, a wedding dress. All weddings were tragic because it meant the book was over. Mallory hated “The End.”
She stripped off her wet clothes, wrapped herself in a fuzzy robe, and then went straight to the kitchen pantry. “Do you want soup, Blake?” Mallory called out to her sister, who was on the couch, staring at the living room ceiling.
In response, Blake moaned like a zombie and pulled a blanket over her face.
“Are you okay?”
“My life is over, Mallory.”
Just like it was yesterday and the day before that. It would be easy to hate Blake for all the selfish drama, but she couldn’t help it. Blake was born to live her life in front of an audience. Maybe theater would have helped. Track wasn’t the right outlet. You can’t outrun drama.
Mallory punched in one minute on the microwave. “I’ll make you some just in case.”
“Thanks. Maybe I am a little bit hungry. As long as it’s not the gross kind Dad likes.”
“Are you serious? I would never make that.” Mallory shivered at the thought. Their dad liked a fancy European soup brand, supposedly imported from France. The actual soup tasted like wet cat food. She and Blake called it Fancy Feast. Every now and then they heated up some Fancy Feast in a crystal bowl for him and then laughed like hyenas because he had no clue he was reenacting an actual cat food commercial. With his mane of white hair and bright blue eyes he even looked like the Fancy Feast cat.
When they heard the side door slam, Blake finally came to life. She sprinted up the stairs like someone had just shot the gun at the beginning of the two-hundred-yard dash, one of Blake’s top events. She rounded the corner right as their dad stomped into the living room.
He glanced around the kitchen and bellowed, “Blake Alexandra Jones, get your butt down here this instant!”
Mallory stopped turning the crank on the can opener. It no longer seemed like the right time for soup.
A moment later, Blake slinked down the stairs with the look of a frightened animal. Their father held up a card between two fingers. When Mallory squinted, she could see it was a driver’s license. “I have no words for this. No words.”
Mallory held her hands over her ears. She was about to remind him they weren’t deaf, but he looked like the vein in his forehead might bust open. Probably not the best time to complain.
Even Blake remained silent. She stood mutely, looking embarrassed and contrite, something Mallory hadn’t seen since…well, ever.
Their dad held up a st and extended ngers one by one as he listed grievances, getting louder and louder with each one. “Using my credit card for criminal purposes, using a fake ID, attempted arson, blaming an innocent party. And… behavior I would expect from a drunken frat boy.” He shook his head in disgust. “You could go to jail for this.”
Blake cowered. “Jail? I’m sixteen, Dad!”
“North Carolina considers everyone over sixteen an adult. They’ll lock you up and throw away the key,” he blustered.
Mallory had to admit, that sounded really harsh. There’s no way Blake would end up in prison, though. She’d get community service or something.
“Oh, Daddy. I can’t go to jail. I just can’t! Not for a silly prank.”
“If that’s what you call a silly prank, young lady… I feel like I don’t know you anymore.” He shook his head. “I’ve given you girls everything. You have the best school. The most beautiful home. The prettiest clothes. The newest phones. Why would you throw that all back in my face? What is your problem?”
Mallory opted not to point out that throwing money and things at your kids wasn’t a substitute for parenting. That had been his go-to strategy since she could remember.
Blake looked at her feet.
“I don’t understand. Why would you do this?”
“It’s not about you, Daddy.”
“It damn well is! Your behavior reflects on me. You are a Jones! That means something in this town.” He took some deep breaths and paced the room, presumably thinking over her punishment. It was like the end of a reality TV show when the host waits forever to announce who’s leaving the show that week.
Blake was actually crying. Mallory was willing to bet they were fake tears, though.
“You’re lucky Davis is the assistant DA in this case. He owes me big time. We had a little heart-to-heart, and I talked him down from charging you. As a favor to me, he agreed to ignore your little stunt, on one condition—you spend six weeks at summer camp.” With a piercing stare that made Blake melt into a pile of tears, he announced, “You’re going to Camp Pine Ridge. Pack your bags.”
Blake sank to her knees like she’d been shot. She held up her hands and raised her face to the heavens. “Suuuummer caaaamp!” she wailed. “Oh my God. That’s worse than jail. At least jail has TV. And just think of all the mosquitoes at camp. I’ll get the Zika virus, Daddy!”
He leveled an angry stare at her. “As long as you’re not pregnant, that shouldn’t be problem. And don’t try anything at camp. I spoke to the camp director. If he isn’t satisfied with you, Davis will charge you with everything he can.”
Summer camp—boo hoo! Mallory could have laughed. That was the most ridiculous sham nonpunishment she’d ever heard. The fact that her sister actually considered it worth crying about, that was funny. Sure enough, when she Googled Camp Pine Ridge on her phone, the website was vintage Americana, all pictures of smiling, happy kids posing with fishing poles in front of the kind of lake other families visited for fun all the time.
While her sister and dad continued with their best Shakespeare-in-the-Living Room theater act, Mallory texted Jill for the details about whatever crime spree Blake had gone on. Mallory was the only one in the family without the drama gene. Blake and her dad, and she assumed her mother (reputed to have run off to Vegas), never stopped acting.
Jill answered: Idk. Something about a fire alarm. Must have been while we were at the library.
Of all the days to use their free period to go to the public library.
Another text from Jill came in: Getting juicy! Just heard Iron Cloud was arrested. Don’t know full story. Been busy.
Mallory snorted. Busy making out.
Ben Iron Cloud.
With his coal black hair, heartthrob eyes, and lanky frame, Ben was easily the cutest guy at school. God knew why Blake wanted to mess with him, but she’d been doing exactly that all year long. He was probably the only gorgeous guy Blake hadn’t dated. Maybe that was the problem?
With act one of their play winding down, her dad decided to escalate the drama with some forced family togetherness. Sounding as angry as before, he stood at the bottom of the stairs and bellowed, “Dinnertime.”
After what might have been the most awkward family dinner ever—saved only by the homemade mac-n-cheese, courtesy of their housekeeper—Blake followed Mallory upstairs. While Mallory booted up her computer to work on her English essay, her sister said, “You know I can’t do summer camp. I just don’t have it in me. I’m not like you.”
She wanted to tell Blake to suck it up. Except for the looming threat of jail, which would almost certainly be downgraded to probation or community service, summer camp actually sounded really fun. It would be filled with the kind of childhood pastimes that they had missed out on— camp fires and, well, whatever normal people did outside for fun. As always, Mallory held her tongue. If she kept quiet, Blake would give up and start texting someone else her woes.
Just as suddenly as it had disappeared, the defiant twinkle returned to Blake’s eyes. Oh no. She crawled across the pink shag rug on her knees and clasped her hands together like a little girl begging, “Can I have a pony, pretty please?” Instead Blake pleaded, “Mallory, my favoritest sister in the whole wide world, will you go to Camp Pine Ridge as me? No one will ever notice. Pretty please.”
Mallory conjured a vision of herself on the roadside covered in puddle water, a car of cute boys hightailing it away from her. Sure, there was some risk of her sister going to jail, but Camp Pine Ridge might be her one and only chance to try out life as the popular Jones twin.
The book is up for preorder. If you are so inclined, here are the buy links: