A FAMILIAR FACE
I watched the two teenagers sitting together outside the Coffee Cat Café on a sunny Saturday morning. They leaned toward each other, their voices low and almost intimate, their bodies close but not touching. Most people probably thought they were a couple—a really attractive couple. The boy had high cheekbones and a lean, athletic build. His blue-and-green striped polo shirt brought out the green flecks in his hazel eyes. He was movie-star hot. But maybe I was just biased: Thayer Vega was my boyfriend, after all.
Or at least he was before I died.
The girl next to him looked exactly like I did, back when I had a body. Her bright blue eyes were lined with my velvety chocolate liner, and her light brown hair spilled down her back in thick waves just like mine used to. She was wearing a gray cashmere sweater and dark-wash skinny jeans from my closet. She answered to my name, and when a tear streaked down her cheek, my boyfriend leaned over to hug her. Instantly, I felt the ghost of my heart constrict.
I should have been used to this by now: living a bodiless existence as a dead girl, floating around like a plastic bag behind my long-lost twin, Emma, watching her inhabit my life, sleep in my bedroom, and talk to the boyfriend I’d never get to kiss again. The night Emma and I were supposed to meet for the first time, I never showed up—because I’d been murdered. My killer threatened Emma into taking my place, or else. She’d been living my life for months now, trying to solve the mystery of my death. But knowing all of that didn’t make it any easier to watch moments like the one I was seeing now.
When Thayer had first returned to Tucson from rehab a few weeks ago, Emma had thought he might be my killer. But even though he was with me that night in Sabino Canyon, her investigation proved—to my great relief—that he definitely hadn’t killed me. She had cleared my adoptive parents, too, even though they had been hiding a huge secret from me—that they were actually my grandparents. Our birth mother, Becky, was their troubled daughter. She had us when she was a teenager, leaving me with her parents and taking Emma with her when she left town, only to abandon her in foster care five years later.
I watched Thayer and Emma talk until a car backfired loudly. Emma’s head snapped up, her gaze locking on a brown Buick idling in the parking lot in front of the café. The woman at the wheel had a wrecked look to her, her hair a wild black tangle, her cheeks sunken and pale. And yet I could sense that she’d once been pretty.
When I looked back at Emma, her hands were trembling. Her coffee cup tumbled to the patio tile, and the lid flew off, spilling lukewarm coffee all over her black flats. But she didn’t even flinch.
“Oh my God,” Emma whispered.
And just like that, I knew: It was Becky, our birth mother. I recognized her from Emma’s memories, although she looked even more ragged than the last time my sister saw her, thirteen years ago. And yet she seemed familiar to me, too. I wondered if we’d ever met. So far, I had only been able to remember my life in disjointed flashes, usually preceded by a disconcerting tingling sensation. I felt tingly right then, but when I closed my eyes, I saw nothing. I had found out about Becky the night that I died. My father had met Becky in secret that same night—what if I had, too? I concentrated on the tingling feeling, willing myself to remember more of that night. But my mind was a blank and I was left with a feeling of dread and doom.
Just last night, my father had told Emma that Becky was troubled, possibly even dangerous. As I watched the car take off in a cloud of exhaust, I couldn’t help but wonder: Was she disturbed enough to kill her own daughter?
Emma Paxton stared hard at the woman in the Buick. At first, all she saw was a haggard woman with a lined face, sunken cheeks, and cracked, thin lips. But then she realized that beneath her dull, spotted skin the woman had a familiar heart-shaped face. And if Emma squinted, she could picture the woman’s brittle, frizzy hair a shiny, raven black again. And her eyes—those eyes. An electric jolt ran through her. Our eyes are our best features, Emmy, her mother always used to say, as they stood in front of the mirror in whatever run-down apartment they happened to be living in that month. They’re like two sapphires, worth more than any amount of money.
She gasped. It was …
“Oh my God,” she whispered.
“What did you say, Sutton?” Thayer Vega asked.
But Emma barely heard him. She hadn’t seen her birth mother in thirteen years, ever since Becky abandoned her at a friend’s house when she was five.
The woman looked up and her eyes—two blue sapphires—locked on Emma’s. Her nostrils flared like a spooked horse’s, then there was a gunshot-like bang and the car peeled away in a thick cloud of exhaust.
“No!” Emma cried out, leaping up. She clambered over the wrought-iron railing that surrounded the café’s patio, scraping her shin in the process. Pain rocketed through her leg, but she didn’t stop.
“Sutton! What’s going on?” Thayer asked, hurrying after her.
She raced toward the Buick as it accelerated out of the parking lot and turned left into the Mercers’ subdivision. Emma followed it across the street, barely noticing the traffic whizzing past her. Horns honked at her in anger, and someone even stuck his head out the window to yell, “What the hell are you doing?” Behind her, Emma heard Thayer’s labored breathing and uneven footsteps as he did his best to keep up with her despite his injured leg.
The Buick turned down the Mercers’ street and picked up speed. Emma forced herself forward at a faster clip, her lungs heaving in her chest. But the car pulled farther and farther away from her. Her eyes blurred with tears. She was about to lose Becky again.