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Authors: Julia DeVillers

Times Squared

BOOK: Times Squared
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To Quinn Rachel DeVillers, number one daughter and niece

One

MIDDLE SCHOOL AFTER LAST PERIOD

Cell phone! My cell phone was ringing. I tossed my books into my locker and scrounged around in my tote bag to answer it. I felt my cocoa-mocha lip gloss. I felt my little tin of mints. Finally I found it—right at the bottom of my bag.

“Hello?” I said into my phone. “Hello?”

Nobody was there. I looked at my phone and didn't see the on light. Wait a minute, I hadn't even turned my phone back on after last period.

But then my ringtone went off again. It was the awesome new ringtone I'd downloaded last night. I looked at my cell phone again, confused.

“Hello?” a voice said next to me.

It was my twin sister, Emma. She was standing at her locker, talking into her own cell phone.

“Hello, Mom,” she was saying. “You can pick Payton and me up today after mathletes and Drama Club? Excellent times two.”

It was her cell phone that was ringing? I crossed my arms and waited until she said good-bye and hung up.

“Emma, are you going to explain this?” I said.

“Oh, that was Mom,” Emma said. “She can pick us up after mathletes and Drama Club.”

“No, I meant explain why you're copying my ringtone,” I said. “I thought it was
my
phone that was going off.”

It was bad enough to have a twin with an identical face. Couldn't I at least have my own ringtone?

Emma and I are seriously identical. Even our own parents can't tell us apart sometimes. It's hard to have my own identity.

“My ringtone makes a unique statement about me,” I said. “Who I am. My individuality. That ringtone is totally
me.

“Well, your individuality was the number one download on iTunes,” Emma said, packing up her humongous backpack. “Some unique statement.”

I sighed and pulled out the books I needed to bring home from school.

“Hi, Payton,” a girl from my art class said as she walked by with girl I didn't know.

“See, you're a unique individual,” Emma said. “That person knew who you were.”

Okay, that
was
a good sign.

“Which one is Payton?” I heard the girl I didn't know say as they walked away.

“I don't know,” the girl answered. “But one of them has to be, right?”

Sigh. Pretty soon I was just going to wear a name tag. Or a sign over my head that said:

I'm PAYTON, the twin who

• is one inch taller.

• has slightly greener eyes.

• is dressed quite fashionably in her pink sweater, skinny jeans, and tall boots and is about to head to Drama Club.

Drama Club! Yay! It hadn't been yay at first. After Emma and I had switched places our first week of school and gotten busted, we were assigned community service.
I had to clean the storage room underneath the school's stage. It wasn't fun. But community service was over and now I got to be a real part of Drama Club. I had helped out in the play,
The Wizard of Oz
, this weekend. I had gone to the cast party. I even had new friends in Drama Club. Yes,
friends.
Tess, Nick . . .

The friends I always dreamed I'd make in middle school! The first weeks of middle school humiliation had been over and forgotten. Emma and I had been known as the identical twins who switched places, fooled everyone until they were busted, and had been filmed on school television making complete idiots of themselves. We had planned to never trade places again. No more mix-up switch-up! No more flip-flop twin-swap! We were done with that.

Okay, but then we
had
to because Emma had to cover for me onstage. But nobody really knows about that part except us. And Tess and Nick. Oh, and the two identical boys Emma tutored for her community service.

But all of that is in the past!

“Look, it's those twins who got in a fight on live TV,” someone said as she passed by with a group of people who started giggling.

Or maybe not totally in the past.

“No, we're not!” Emma yelled down the hall. They turned around and giggled at her.

“Oh my gosh! Shush, Emma!” I said. “And besides, we
are
those twins.”

“Actually, that's not accurate,” Emma told me. “Technically, it was a school video podcast through a computer setup. Not TV.”

Augh. It was hopeless to argue with her. I pulled out my relaxing lavender-scented room-mister and spritzed the inside of my locker. Then I stuck my head inside and took deep breaths so I wouldn't cause another twin scene.

I heard Emma's ringtone go off again. And again. And again.

“Yeesh. Aren't you going to answer that already?” I pulled my head out and asked Emma.

“That's
your
phone,” Emma said calmly.

“Agh!” I reached into my tote bag on the floor and checked my cell. Yup, I had missed a call from our mother. “Emma, can you please just change your ringtone? My life is confusing enough.”

“I think this ringtone is very
me
,” Emma said. Then she paused. “All right, it isn't me at all. But it definitely demonstrates my awareness of the latest music trends.”

“Since when do you know or care about music trends?” I asked Emma. Ever since we switched, Emma
had
been starting to get interested in fashion trends for the first time in her life. But music?

“Since I got an A minus in choir.” Emma sounded upset. “Choir! It better not ruin my perfect average.”

Emma had been trying to get switched out of choir since the first day of school. Honestly, I'd been surprised they hadn't yet kicked her out of it. Emma can do tons of things, but singing is so not one of them.

“My choir teacher is inexplicably into pop music,” Emma complained. “Does she care that I know the history of classical
and
medieval music? Apparently not.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“I told Counselor Case I'd take anything else—advanced math, I'd even tutor the terror twins more days after school,” Emma continued.

Wow. She was really serious. The terror twins were Mason and Jason. Their parents were the school's guidance counselor and her husband, the mathletes' coach. The boys were definitely double trouble, but also kind of sweet.

“Counselor Case said no,” Emma grumbled. “She said it was good for me to step out of my comfort zone.”

“What about the comfort zone of the other people in choir?” I asked. “It's got to be painful for them to hear you sing.”

“You are not helpful,” Emma replied. “Anyway, I plan to impress her with my knowledge of the trends. I've studied the iTunes and radio charts from the past eighteen months. I've also charted my predictions for what songs will be next and new. I can share with her the statistical probability of . . . blah blah blah.”

I tuned her out. I was glad I was put in art class instead of choir. I could make fun of Emma's singing voice all I wanted, but I couldn't sing either. It was something else that was identical about us.

I never, ever sang in public. Like this past weekend the wrap party was held after the play. There was a karaoke machine and people were up there singing. But nope, not me. I've had enough embarrassment lately.

“We could switch places for choir,” Emma mused. “It would save me from having to learn those silly pop-music lyrics.”

No! I'm never switching places in school again. Never, ever, ever! Switching places definitely had caused way too much trouble.

I heard footsteps behind me. And another noise, like a footstep
clop
, footstep
clop
. I turned around to see what that was. And regretted it.

The reason we had switched in the first place was coming down the hall. Its name was Sydney.

During the first week of middle school, I had thought Sydney would be the “right kind of friend” for me—she was popular and had great clothes and style. Instead it turned out to be the opposite: Sydney was a fake, a mean girl. Especially mean to me.

So when I'd tripped at lunch and my burrito went flying and oozing all over Ox (who I didn't know yet), I was completely humiliated.

That's when the very first twin switch took place. Emma became “me” and dealt with Sydney, while I recovered from the embarrassment.

Since the lunchroom incident of embarrassment, a
lot
had happened. Including Sydney wiping out in her Glinda the Good Witch giant plastic bubble minutes before the Drama Club was about to put on
The Wizard of Oz
. Which led to Sydney on crutches and another twin switch and then finally me performing awesomely as Glinda. My first time acting onstange.

That part was actually pretty cool. The not-so-cool
bit was that Sydney didn't like me before, and she
definitely
didn't like me after I took over her part.

She was walking with someone who did like me, at least. Tess.

“Hi, Payton! Hi, Emma!” Tess said. “Payton, are you ready for Drama Club?”

“One second,” I said, tossing a notebook into my backpack.

“Wheeeew,” Sydney said, leaning dramatically against the locker next to me. “I'm
exhausted
having to crutch all the way down here to the boonies. But Tess said we had to stop by and pick you up, Payton. Even though the auditorium is the other way.”

Sydney wrinkled her nose at me.

“That
is
really nice of Tess,” I said. “And also really nice of Tess to carry all of your stuff.”

Tess was the one who looked exhausted. She was carrying Sydney's backpack along with her own and a large cardboard box. Tess was always nice. Too nice. She didn't realize that Sydney was trying to lure her into becoming one of the Popular People groupies. Tess was pretty, smart, and had the lead role in our play.

I had been the first recruit because Sydney had liked my designer clothes.

(That didn't work!)

“Okay, let's get going, Payton.” Sydney looked right at Emma.

“Oh, that's Emma,” Tess said, trying to be helpful.

Sydney knew that.

“Silly me.” Sydney fake laughed. “I just can't tell you two twins apart because you're
exactly
alike.”

“Identical twins can't be exactly alike,” Emma pointed out. “Although our genetic makeup may be the same, environmental factors also play a role.”

Emma started going off on some EmmaEncyclopedia babble.

“What are you talking about?” Sydney and I both said at the same time. We shared a moment of solidarity as we both looked at Emma, totally confused.

“It means we're different,” Emma said, throwing up her hands. “And, Sydney? It's possible to tell us apart if you
try.

She looked at Sydney pointedly.

“It's easy to tell them apart today,” Tess broke in cheerfully. “Just look at Emma's T-shirt!”

Erg. Tess had to go and point that out. The T-shirt said
MATHLETES REGIONAL COMPETITION WINNER!
on the front. And it had a cartoon of goofy dancing
octagons or pentagons or something-gons.

“Stylish,” Sydney said with a smirk.

“Um.” I needed to change the subject. I held out my hands. “Tess, I can help you carry Sydney's stuff.”

“Thanks.” Tess smiled and handed me the cardboard box. “My photography teacher asked me to bring these to Mrs. Burkle. He said not to bend them, though, and—”

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