Chapter 18

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The sliver of a moon did nothing to light my gloomy house, standing tall in the shadows of midnight. I glared up at the empty attic window as my parents plodded past me, shoulders slumped in exhaustion.

"What are you staring at, Mazie?" My mother asked, the annoyance in her voice unmasked. After my disastrous encounter with Blake, I'd been grouchy, literally stomping my way out the back door when she'd asked me to take out the garbage. I couldn't really blame her for being pissed at me. Managing a restaurant during its grand opening was stressful enough without your daughter going angsty on you right smack in the middle of it. She'd tried talking to me about it before we'd left for the night, and I'd tried very hard not to be receptive to her.

"Did that boy you were talking to say something mean?"

Despite Blake's general status as mega-asshole, the reality had been the reverse. I wasn't going to fess up to this, however. "No. Why would you think that? I barely know the guy."

"Oh, well... is he... is he interested in you? He's extremely handsome."

"Ew, Becca, gross. And no, he isn't interested in me. He's dating the hottest, most popular girl in school." Except he confessed to me that he wants to dump her and then gave me all kinds of mixed signals.

"That may be so, but I saw the way he looked at you. Are you sure you don't know him? He seemed very familiar with you."

That's because I have his doppelganger living... or unliving in our house and I've gotten to know him quite well—a fact that seems to be affecting his real-life self, so chew on that, mother.

"I don't know, I guess he's just nice." Another lie. I was racking them up tonight. "Can we, like, not talk about this anymore ever again? I don't want to discuss boys with you."

My mom's lips froze in a half smile; her eyes became watery. The bad daughter guilt hit me fast and hard, but not hard enough for me to apologize.

"I just need to do a few more things," she said, turning away from me. "Then we'll be able to head home."

Now, back at the house, all I wanted to do was fall into bed, not worry about the fact that I'd hurt my mother's feelings and put a sour note on the end of what had been a successful day for her. Before I could sleep, though, there was one more person I was going to have to face: Jack.

He waited for me outside of my bedroom.

"Mazie, I can be in this part of the hallway now. Are you proud?"

"Like you're my preschooler who just learned to tie his shoes? Yes. Good boy."

I motioned for him to follow me into my room before my parents wondered if me talking to myself was another sign that I was coming unraveled.

"How was the opening?"

"Exhausting. It went really well, from a business aspect."

"I sense a but coming on."

"But it got really weird when Blake showed up with his family and kind of sort of hit on me."

"What?" He flew up near the ceiling, then floated down slowly like a balloon losing its helium. "The real life me has some nerve!"

His eyes clouded over with an emotion I hadn't even known he was capable of: jealousy.

"The one piece of good news is that I confirmed that his little sister Shelby does tap dance. And not only that, she taught Blake a bit as well. So... we have an explanation for that." I motioned to his feet, currently heal toe heal, tappity tapping a few inches above the floor.

"I probably should be focusing on how this guy is me or I'm him. But can we get back to where he hit on you please? I thought you said he hated you."

"He's supposed to hate me because I'm, well... it's what I'm not that's significant. The Populars have their little clique and if you haven't sacrificed a dozen virgins to get into that clique, then you don't seem to register to them as a fully human. It's not really hate so much as it is indifference. Invisibility. Erasure of people from the social spectrum."

"So, not hate, but still pretty vile. Only now he's not being vile?"

His voice lilted up at the end, like he was disappointed in that outcome.

"Would you prefer he was a two-dimensional storybook villain instead of a three-dimensional human being? He's complicated, Jack. But more than that, there's something going on with him and I think it has to do with you."

"Me? But I don't even feel like I have a connection to him."

"Maybe so, but the reverse isn't true. Blake knows something is going on. He can feel it. Like there's a piece of him missing. And I think that piece is you."

Jack stopped dancing and slapped his hands to his forehead. "I know I'm noncorporeal to you, but my non-physical head is starting to kill me. The more we learn, the less sense it makes. How can I be a missing piece of Blake?"

"It's more than that. You're missing, but he still has a sense of you—of the aspect of himself that's present in you. He feels like he knows me. My theory is that this is because you know me. And somehow, subtly, that is transferring over to him."

"Great, so he gets everything—a real life, a real body, free to move around and do with it whatever he wants. He gets you... And all I get is the east end of this hallway."

"Back it up, buddy. I'm not a carnival prize. He doesn't have me. I'm not his friend or anything else. Besides, my conversation with him did not end well."

Jack's half-grin re-emerged from the dank cave in which he'd crammed it five minutes ago.

"Don't be like that, don't gloat, Jack. I was my typical awkward self and I didn't handle his advances well. Plus, he was really confused as to why he was advancing on me in the first place."

"That part should have been obvious to him. You're super smart and beautiful... and let's not forget how your skin turns that lovely shade of red whenever people compliment you."

I touched my warmed cheek. "I'm.. I... thank you. But Blake isn't supposed to care if I'm smart or beautiful. He has a girlfriend, who's pretty much awful, but they're not totally ill-matched."

"So? He's still going to notice you, is all I'm saying."

"And I gave him shit about it. For lots of reasons." I was too exhausted to launch into an explanation of how disloyal I'd felt to Jack when Blake had been just inches from me, so I left it at that. "I need to be more careful, not only because Blake is Popular King and can destroy me, but mainly because we still don't know how you and he are connected, just that you are. If he won't even talk to me, that's going to make solving this mystery that much more complicated."

What I left out: If Blake did keep talking to me, things might still become complicated in a totally different way.

I couldn't determine which potential complication I hated less.


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