I woke up in a dingy claw-foot bathtub in an unfamiliar pink-tiled bathroom. A stack of Maxims sat next to the toilet, green toothpaste globbed in the sink, and white drips streaked the mirror. The window showed a dark sky and a full moon. What day of the week was it? Where was I? A frat house at the U of A? Someone’s apartment? I could barely remember that my name was Sutton Mercer, or that I lived in the foothills of Tucson, Arizona. I had no idea where my purse was, and I didn’t have a clue where I’d parked my car. Actually, what kind of car did I drive? Had someone slipped me something?
“Emma?” a guy’s voice called from another room. “You home?”
“I’m busy!” called a voice close by.
A tall, thin girl opened the bathroom door, her tangled dark hair hanging in her face. “Hey!” I leapt to my feet. “Someone’s in here already!” My body felt tingly, as if it had fallen asleep. When I looked down, it seemed like I was flickering on and off, like I was under a strobe light. Freaky. Someone definitely slipped me something.
The girl didn’t seem to hear me. She stumbled forward, her face covered in shadows.
“Hello?” I cried, climbing out of the tub. She didn’t look over. “Are you deaf?” Nothing. She pumped a bottle of lavender-scented lotion and rubbed it on her arms.
The door flung open again, and a snub-nosed, unshaven teenage guy burst in. “Oh.” His gaze flew to the girl’s tight-fitting T-shirt, which said NEW YORK NEW YORK ROLLER COASTER on the front. “I didn’t know you were in here, Emma.”
“That’s maybe why the door was closed?” Emma pushed him out and slammed it shut. She turned back to the mirror. I stood right behind her. “Hey!” I cried again.
Finally, she looked up. My eyes darted to the mirror to meet her gaze. But when I looked into the glass, I screamed.
Because Emma looked exactly like me.
And I wasn’t there.
Emma turned and walked out of the bathroom, and I followed as if something was yanking me along behind her. Who was this girl? Why did we look the same? Why was I invisible? And why couldn’t I remember, well, anything? The wrong memories snapped into aching, nostalgic focus—the glittering sunset over the Catalinas, the smell of the lemon trees in my backyard in the morning, the feel of cashmere slippers on my toes. But other things, the most important things, had become muffled and fuzzy, as if I’d lived my whole life underwater. I saw vague shapes, but I couldn’t make out what they were. I couldn’t remember what I’d done for any summer vacations, who my first kiss had been with, or what it felt like to feel the sun on my face or dance to my favorite song. What was my favorite song? And even worse, every second that passed, things got fuzzier and fuzzier. Like they were disappearing.
Like I was disappearing.
But then I concentrated really hard and I heard a muffled scream. And suddenly it was like I was somewhere else. I felt pain shooting through my body, before a final, sleepy sensation of my muscles surrendering. As my eyes slowly closed, I saw a blurry, shadowy figure standing over me.
“Oh my God,” I whispered.
No wonder Emma didn’t see me. No wonder I wasn’t in the mirror. I wasn’t really here.
I was dead.
THE DEAD RINGER
Emma Paxton carried her canvas tote and a glass of iced tea out the back door of her new foster family’s home on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Cars swished and grumbled on the nearby expressway, and the air smelled heavily of exhaust and the local water treatment plant. The only decorations in the backyard were dusty free weights, a rusted bug zapper, and kitschy terra-cotta statues.
It was a far cry from my backyard in Tucson, which was desert-landscaped to perfection and had a wooden swing set I used to pretend was a castle. Like I said, it was weird and random which details I still remembered and which ones had evaporated away. For the last hour, I’d been following Emma trying to make sense of her life and willing myself to remember my own. Not like I had a choice. Everywhere she went, I went. I wasn’t entirely sure how I knew these things about Emma, either—they just appeared in my head as I watched her, like a text message popping up in an inbox. I knew the details of her life better than I did my own.
Emma dropped the tote on the faux wrought-iron patio table, plopped down in a plastic lawn chair, and craned her neck upward. The only nice thing about this patio was that it faced away from the casinos, offering a large swath of clear, uninterrupted sky. The moon dangled halfway up the horizon, a bloated alabaster wafer. Emma’s gaze drifted to two bright, familiar stars to the east. At nine years old, Emma had wistfully named the star on the right the Mom Star, the star on the left the Dad Star, and the smaller, brightly twinkling spot just below them the Emma Star. She’d made up all kinds of fairy tales about these stars, pretending that they were her real family and that one day they’d all be reunited on earth like they were in the sky.
Emma had been in foster care for most of her life. She’d never met her dad, but she remembered her mother, with whom she had lived until she was five years old. Her mom’s name was Becky. She was a slender woman who loved shouting out the answers to Wheel of Fortune, dancing around the living room to Michael Jackson songs, and reading tabloids that ran stories like BABY BORN FROM PUMPKIN! and BAT BOY LIVES! Becky used to send Emma on scavenger hunts around their apartment complex, the prize always being a tube of used lipstick or a mini Snickers. She bought Emma frilly tutus and lacy dresses from Goodwill for dress-up. She read Emma Harry Potter before bed, making up different voices for every character.