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Chapter 18

 

January
4

Laura

 

Laura pulled into the EHS senior
parking lot just after 8:00 a.m. It was the first day back after winter break,
and she was ready to start the second semester of senior year in a very
different way.

This time Laura wasn’t the new girl anymore and she welcomed
not having to walk in on a clean slate. It was time to focus her energy on the
pleasure of being one of, if not
the
most popular girl in school. Now
she could do what she wanted, when she wanted, with whomever she chose. She was
the Queen Bee that the meek girls feared, only she wouldn’t be nearly as scary
as the Amandas of the world. Laura knew that high school was a tricky series of
hoops she had to jump through before she could finally live on her own, and now
she was ready to navigate them with complete ease.
High school is finally
mine
, she realized.
Now I can make the rules that govern everyone else’s
lives
.

She stepped out of her convertible and glanced around at the
other cars in the student parking lot. This time she didn’t have to look to
find the only other topless car in the lot. There was only hers.

“Thanks for the ride,” Charlie said awkwardly as he closed
the passenger side door behind him. “See you in English.”

“Aren’t we going to walk in together?” Laura asked.

“I have to run to see Hayden about a student council thing,”
Charlie said, clearly lying. It only took one pointed look from her to change
his mind. “Sorry,” he said. “I’m not trying to avoid being with you or
anything.”

“Yes, you are,” Laura said. “This will take some time to get
used to, but you will. Starting today.”

Across the parking lot she caught the glance of two girls
getting out of a white Toyota Camry. Laura smiled in their direction, and they
waved back.

“Welcome back, hot stuff!” one shouted.

“It’s nice to see you two hopping out of the same car!” the
other added.

Laura smiled to herself as she remembered a very similar
moment almost five months ago. They were the same girls who’d greeted her with
that scared look on her first day at Englewood, she now realized.
My, how
things have changed
. This time Laura glanced back at the two gorgeous
brunettes as she walked toward the double-steel doors of EHS with Charlie on
her arm. Once again, she saw the genuine feeling behind their eyes, only this
time it was very, very different. They were jealous.

I have exactly one hundred seventy-eight more days of
stares like that to look forward to
, she thought as she leaned over and
gave Charlie a surprise peck on the cheek,
and then I get an even bigger
gift: Charlie’s final decision on what he’s going to confess
.

 

 

Charlie

 

Charlie was able to pry Laura off
his arm long enough to find Amanda, Kit, and Miller for a quick check in before
English. They didn’t see each other once over the break. Charlie had finally
apologized for disappearing the night they were originally supposed to meet CO.
He’d come up with an excuse about his mother that he suspected they didn’t
believe, and then made himself unavailable for the next ten days. He was too
worried that he wouldn’t be able to be around them without confessing
everything that happened in Beacon with Laura. He pretended that he was with his
mom on a last-minute ski trip for a chunk of the time, but he was pretty sure that
at least Amanda was onto that lie, too. Seeing her in person by Kit’s locker
confirmed that he was right.

“You’re alive,” she said. “I wasn’t so sure.”

“Don’t joke about that,” he said.

“Why?” Kit asked. “What’s wrong? What happened?”

“Nothing,” Charlie said. “It’s just a weird thing to say.
Hey, can we please go back to the old lunch table today? I can’t eat in Coach’s
office anymore, and I miss watching Miller down two subs in two minutes for
absolutely no reason.”

Miller shoved him in the arm. “If you want to spend time
with me how ‘bout picking us up for school? What’s this driving with Laura
bullshit? You spend all the rest of your time with her, from what Kit says. Let
us have the ride. It’s tradition.”

“You know how it is with girls,” Charlie said, trying to
divert the conversation away from anything Laura-related. Unfortunately, the
tactic didn’t work.

“So it’s true?” Amanda asked. “You’re fully with her?”
Charlie nodded. The look on Amanda’s face wasn’t anger or disgust; it was
legitimate confusion. “What is it about her, Charlie? It’s like she has some
kind of spell over you.”

An awkward, too-loud, nervous laugh escaped from Charlie’s
mouth, and all three of his friends looked at him like he was losing his mind.
This
is going to be impossible
, Charlie thought.

“I just really like her,” he finally said. “And I promise
you guys will, too, once you get to know her. She’s a really…” Charlie didn’t
know how to finish the sentence.

“Hello? Charlie? Really what?” Kit asked after enough silent
seconds.

“Um, sorry, I lost my train of thought. Um…she’s a really
powerful
person.”

There would be hundreds of thousands of lies between now and
the end of the six months of misery he had to endure before their high school
graduation. If he could tell some version of the truth from time to time, he
would.

Minutes later, Charlie walked into semester two of O’Malley’s
AP English class.

Charlie looked around the room just like he had on that
first day of senior year. This time no one looked directly back at him. He was
still climbing his way back from being a total social pariah.

“Mr. Sanders, what are you doing standing in the doorway?” Ms.
O’Malley asked, interrupting his frozen moment. “Go sit in your spot behind
Miss Rivers.”

The girl the world now knew as Laura Rivers was beaming at
him. Charlie wondered if he would ever be able to look at her and not see Sarah’s
face. Now that he knew, he couldn’t understand how everyone in the room didn’t
see the same thing. It was like he existed inside a completely different
universe—the true one. Everyone else was living the lie that Sarah
Castro-Tanner created, and now Charlie was like her henchman. He wondered how
long he could stand it before he completely snapped. Would he make it the full
year and a half? And even if he did, what was the point? It was just delaying
the inevitable destruction of confessing one or both of the things Laura had
hanging over his head.

Charlie had done the math just that morning. This was day
one as the real boyfriend of a completely fake girl. He had exactly one hundred
seventy-eight more days to make a decision. Something told him that ten
thousand seventy-eight wouldn’t be enough.

 

Sasha

 

It had been thirteen days since Sasha
started tracking using her brand-new system, but so far there was nothing worth
exploring. She still checked in on the feed four times a day, every day.
Something was going to pop up, just like it had before. She had worked too hard
for it to fail.

Sasha hadn’t been sure of her goal in tracking Sarah’s new
persona, but after a week, she and Syke developed a plan: if they could find
something out about Laura that Sarah wanted to protect desperately enough, Sasha
would make contact again. And if it was a good enough piece of information, Sasha
might just be able to get her to meet in person.

They started with the idea of blackmailing Sarah by going
through Charlie or one of his friends, but it felt too risky given how closely
the cops had been involved with that group just a few weeks prior. Sasha couldn’t
be sure that they weren’t still tracking the four. The EPD’s firewall had been
improved since she first hacked into their system in October. Now it was too
tricky to see what they were working on in regards to the case, if anything.

There had to be someone on the outside who knew something Sarah
did not want revealed—maybe someone who helped her along the way?

With the help of Syke and a few of his guys, Sasha searched
endless company databases in every state in the country. They checked hospitals
for records of a “Laura Rivers” staying overnight after what had to be several facial
surgeries. They scrubbed the black market for the source of her fake IDs and
bank accounts. They even went so far as to post a picture of Laura’s face on
one of the boards fellow hackers used to help each other with problems in what
they called the "off-screen world." “
Have you seen this girl? If
so, what do you know about her?”
In three weeks, there wasn’t a single
reply.

And then—just like it had happened on Laura River’s
very first day at Englewood High—the answer appeared on Sasha’s screen.
It arrived just as she was headed to bed after her first night back to school
following winter break. It was from Syke.

For a second, Sasha froze just like she had when she saw the
words
Sarah Castro-Tanner
ping her system over four months ago. Once again,
this news came in the form of a name.

 

SYKE: I’ve got something for you. Something big.
SASHA: Go ahead.
SYKE: Andrew Craig—med student in San Francisco.
SASHA: Who’s that?
SYKE: Your sister’s worst nightmare.

 

 

THE
END

…for
now.

Acknowledgments

 

To the entire Full Fathom Five team:
thank you for your support through every phase of this project, especially the
part where you picked
Dead Ringer
to publish. 

To Mollie Glick at Foundry: thank you for believing in me with hours of guidance from my very first proposal; here's to many, many more.

To Laura Bernier, editor extraordinaire: thank you for your
brilliant brain and very gentle touch. You've ruined me for notes. 

To Mom, my very first publisher: I've come a long way from
our cereal box-bound books, thanks to your love.

To Dad, my very first editor: the typos you've caught are countless,
but I still have every email you've ever sent telling me to keep
pushing.

To R, again: for reminding me how important it is to trust myself at every turn, by trusting I'll find my way.

And to Rachel, the giant gust of wind beneath my baby bird
wings: You were right. I can write a novel.

About the Author

Jessie Rosen is a writer, producer, and performer. She grew
up in New Jersey, attended Boston College in Massachusetts, and began her
writing career in New York. Her live storytelling series
Sunday Night Sex
Talk
has received national attention. She was named one of “The 25 Best
Bloggers, 2013 Edition” by
TIME
magazine for her blog
20-Nothings
,
which was also named in “The 100 Best Websites for Women” and “The Top 10 Best
Websites for Millennial Women” in 2013 by Forbes.

Rosen is the oldest of four girls, which gives her a special
window into the minds of teenagers. She now lives in Los Angeles, where she’s
working on film and television projects, as well as her next novel.

Connect with Jessie online at:

Author Website:
http://20-nothings.com

Twitter:
@20Nothings

 

This
is a work of fiction. Any
resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

 

F
ull Fathom Five Digital is an imprint of Full Fathom
Five

 

Dead Ringer

Copyright ©
2015 by Jessie Rosen

All rights
reserved.

Created by Rachel Miller and packaged by Mollie Glick.

 

No part of
this text may be used or reproduced in any form, except for the inclusion of
brief quotations in review, without written permission from the publisher.

For
information visit Full Fathom Five Digital, a division of Full Fathom Five LLC,
at

 
www.fullfathomfive.com
 

 

Cover design
by Cow Goes Moo
TM

 

ISBN 978-1-63370-087-1

 

First Edition

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