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 onstage.
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—”
But as she was telling me that, Sydney put her crutch down right on my foot. And I yelped! And the box fell open and a bunch of pictures came flying out!
“Oh no!” I cried. And then . . . Oh no.
They were pictures of people’s faces from Drama Club.
“Oh, they’re our headshots!” Sydney squealed.
We had gotten headshots taken. That was one of our twin-switch times. Sydney had dumped a bucket of dirty water on my head so Emma had pretended to be me for the photos.
And I was staring at the result. There was a picture that said PAYTON MILLS. And on it was Emma’s face. Emma had her head crooked at a weird angle.
“Hey, it’s me!” Emma said, leaning over.
I elbowed her. Nobody knew about that particular switch.
“I mean, it’s you!” Emma said quickly to correct herself. “Payton.”
“Even they can’t tell each other apart.” Sydney snorted.
“I must say, Payton, you look better than ever in that picture,” Emma said, grinning.
I tried to grab the picture off the floor but Sydney put her crutch on it and stopped me.
“Why is your head crooked?” Sydney laughed.
“It’s at a twenty three-degree angle so that the light would reflect off her shiny hair,” Emma said. “Duh.”
“Then why is her barrette crooked?” Sydney asked. “And oopsie! Your lip gloss is smeared like a mustache. Heh.”
I glared at Emma. I used my twin telepathy to yell at her for not checking in the mirror before she got my headshot taken.
“Well, it’s been swell, but I have to go,” Emma said. “Like we say in mathletes, be there or B squared.”
“Bye, Emma!” Tess waved cheerfully.
“Sydney, what are you doing?” I asked her. Sydney was knocking pictures around with her crutch, spreading them out even more.
“Trying to find my headshot,” Sydney said. “Yeesh, who are all these people?”
“You’re making a mess—” I tried to say, but Sydney squealed.
“Squee! There’s my headshot! Payton, pick it up off the floor for me since I’m injured?”
I picked up Sydney’s model-perfect-of-course headshot and shoved it at her. Then I helped Tess pick up the rest of the pictures while Sydney gazed at her face.
“Oh, I love it,” Sydney cooed at her face.
“Tess, you look amazing in yours,” I said as I picked up her headshot. She did!
“Thanks!” Tess smiled, picking up the last picture. “Okay, I think we’re good.”
We all walked slowly down the hall. Really slowly, as Sydney hobbled along trying to gaze at her headshot and walk on crutches at the same time. I followed Tess and Sydney into the auditorium.
“There’s Nick,” Tess said, and we all went toward the front near the stage, where Nick was.
Nick! Okay. Nick. I took a deep breath in through my nose. Then I breathed out through my mouth. That was a trick Emma used when she was nervous about a
spelling bee or math competition. Because, yes, seeing Nick made me a little nervous.
It happened after the play and right before the cast party. I kind of sort of figured out that maybe I might kind of like Nick. And that also he might maybe kind of like me. And so I spent the entire cast party turning purple whenever he came by me. Pretty much we didn’t say one word to each other.
Yes, I am awkward.
Sydney and Tess sat in the row in front of Nick. I sat down next to them. Okay, I just needed to turn around and say hi. A normal hello like friends would.
“Hiyo,” I said.
Nick looked at me funny. I turned back around and faced forward. Hiyo? Did I just say hiyo? I felt my face burning with embarrassment.
“People! Your attention, please!” a loud voice boomed out. It was Mrs. Burkle! Our drama teacher. “All eyes on me, please!”
I turned around and put my eyes on Mrs. Burkle. I tried not to think about Nick sitting right behind me. I wondered if he was looking at the back of my head. I hoped my hair wasn’t messy. I smoothed it down. It was my best feature and I thought it looked especially shiny since I’d
gotten new conditioner. (That I had hidden in my closet to keep it away from Emma, who thought her hair was shinier than mine.)
“When I was a young theatrical ingenue, I had grand dreams of being on Broadway,” Mrs. Burkle told us. “However, that was not to be.”
Burkle paused and shook her head sadly. Well, that was kind of a downer.
“Mrs. Burkle!” Sydney raised her hand. “But if you had become a star, we would never have had you for a teacher.”
I rolled my eyes. Sydney was such a suck-up. It was so obvious to everyone (except teachers and parents, who ate it up).
“Ah, yes, Sydney. Blessings in disguise!” Mrs. Burkle said, perking up. “And now you will benefit even more! My college roommate has made it to the Broadway stage. Well, close. She is the director of an off-Broadway show!”
That was pretty cool. New York City was about five hours away from where we lived. Emma and I had been there once when we were five. I loved all the sparkly lights. Emma had loved counting the windows in the skyscrapers out loud (until our dad had paid her to stop doing it).
I was daydreaming about New York City so I almost missed Mrs. Burkle’s major announcement.
“My friend has invited us to see her show. Which means . . . the Dramatic Geckos Club will take a field trip to New York City!”
Tess and I looked at each other. Sydney and I looked at each other. Everyone was silent for a second.
And then there were squeals, screams, and applause! Mrs. Burkle took a bow. And she deserved to!
We were going to New York City!!!!