The Similars (The Similars #1)(6)

“Ms. Chance? Ms. Stanwick? Your devices?” asks Mr. Park, our genial, stubbly-faced American history teacher. I hold out my wrist so he can pass his scanner over my plum, rendering it useless for anything but buzzing across the campus system and sending messages to my father, as well as a few other preapproved contacts. No social media, no live streaming. No one in the country knows the names of the Similars, and we’ve been told the administration plans to keep it that way. Even the press has been forced to stay silent when it comes to the Similars’ identities, due to strict laws protecting minors’ privacy. They’re just kids, after all. They didn’t ask to be cloned from someone else’s DNA. They didn’t ask to be thrust into the public eye. It’s only fair to respect their privacy.

“Say goodbye to the cloud for the next nine months,” a voice quips behind us. I turn to see Tessa. She’s with Madison. They’re directly behind us.

“It’s like they’re stalking us,” I mumble to Pru.

Thankfully Madison hasn’t heard me, or if she has, she’s ignoring me. “They can’t do this,” she whines. “My channel has a million fans. Who’s going to entertain them while I’m gone?”

Pru whips around to face Madison and crosses her arms over her chest. “I, for one, am more than happy to relinquish my live-streaming capabilities if it means a little privacy for our new classmates.”

Tessa stares at Pru. “You’re taking their side already?”

“She’s not taking sides,” I answer. “She’s complying with the request of our headmaster—”

“Ms. Huxley? Ms. Leroy? Your plums?” Mr. Park prods.

Madison scowls, tugging her plum off her wrist and hurtling it at Mr. Park’s feet. I don’t even bother to respond, and neither does Pru. She links her arm through mine and steers us into the chapel.

“I know it’s weird,” Pru says as we find seats. “She looks exactly like me. I get it. I was freaked out when I first met her. But really, she’s a regular person, just like us.”

“Define ‘regular,’” I mumble, watching as more and more students stream in, the ninth graders all convening in the front rows. Two years ago, I sat next to Oliver in one of those pews on my first day at Darkwood. He’d been my best friend since the third grade, when we’d become inseparable within a few weeks of meeting each other. Oliver and I had applied to Darkwood at the same time, had both been accepted, and had made the trek from Northern California to start our first year together. Back then, I’d been certain that my life was finally beginning. I had no idea that it was the beginning—of the end.

“She wasn’t alone,” I whisper to Pru. “I saw two of the others. A clone of Tessa and one of Jake. What about the other three? Do you know who they are?” I don’t bring up Madison’s clone. Who knows if it’s even true. She may have made the whole thing up to impress Tessa.

Pru shakes her head. “We got a letter two months ago telling us about Pippa. My parents couldn’t believe it, really. We’d heard all the news stories about the Similars—the reports about the lab mix-up, the whole deal. Except we never imagined one of them was a clone of me. When we found out, my parents invited her to the farm. Then Pippa showed up at our house two weeks ago. Alone.”

“She didn’t tell you who the other Similars are? She grew up with them, didn’t she?” I press, as Headmaster Ransom makes his way to the podium.

Pru shrugs. “She was so nervous meeting us, I didn’t want to pry.”

“Welcome back, Darkwoodians,” Headmaster Ransom bellows from behind the podium. “I’m thrilled you’re all here.” He smiles out at us, looking like he’s in a far better mood than when I saw him talking to the Huxleys. I wonder how trying this day has been for him. After all, he personally endorsed the Similars, inviting them to Darkwood knowing that it would be a controversial move.

Headmaster Ransom continues his speech. “Whether you’re a returning student or beginning your Darkwood career: welcome. You are all here because you are exceedingly intelligent. And you are talented in many ways. Our student body includes world-class athletes, classical musicians, published novelists, and even a successful Hollywood actor.”

As if on cue, Archer stands up and gives a little bow. “Happy to represent the school, sir,” he says, before popping back into his seat. The student body breaks into applause and chuckles, amused by Archer’s bravado. Then the hush settles over us again.

“Some of you come from families who have populated our halls for generations. Your great-great-grandfathers and great-great-grandmothers may have walked these corridors with pride, and now you have that same honor and privilege. You have the opportunity to live up to their expectations. Or, should I say, exceed them. Goodness knows that the bulk of you will try.”

The smile disappears from Ransom’s lips. “Returning students, you know that in order to thrive at Darkwood, you must not let your talents lie dormant. You must achieve. You must succeed. You must transcend.” I nod along, anticipation stirring inside me, in spite of myself. I can’t deny that Ransom’s hit the core of what matters to him, and to all of us.

“I’m aware that today is important, and that you are all anxious for me to continue with the rest of our program. But before I do, it would be unwise of me to gloss over the implications of this tremendous day in both our school’s and our nation’s history.”

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