Ringer (Replica)Lauren Oliver
A Note from Lauren Oliver
Part I One
Part II Ten
Part III Twenty-Two
Part I One
Part II Ten
Part III Twenty-Two
About the Author
Books by Lauren Oliver
About the Publisher
To the incredible staff of Glasstown Entertainment,
some of my favorite human beings,
for their support and inspiration:
Kamilla Benko, Lexa Hillyer, Adam Silvera,
Jessica Sit, Alexa Wejko, and Lynley Bird
A NOTE FROM LAUREN OLIVER
I’m thrilled to bring you Ringer, the conclusion to the stories of Lyra and Gemma that began with Replica. As with Replica, Ringer is really two books in one and can be read in several different ways. The structure is designed to invite exploration and to promote unique reading experiences, in keeping with some of the book’s themes: fluid perception and unstable reality; the way our lives both touch other people’s and are changed by our contact with others; and the complex web of cause and effect in which we are all bound together. Both Lyra and Gemma must go on journeys in this book, and I hope that the reading experience will be, for you, a kind of journey.
Look for the cues at the end of each chapter to guide you. If you would like to read Lyra’s story or Gemma’s story in its entirety before switching perspectives, simply read as you normally would, swiping to continue at the end of each chapter. If, however, you want to read Lyra and Gemma’s stories in alternating chapters, the links at the end of each chapter will move you back and forth and allow you to pick up at any point from where you last left off, in either girl’s story.
However you choose to read, I hope you have loved reading Lyra and Gemma’s stories as much as I loved writing them.
Sunday, May 15, 7:11 a.m.
Their hands were cuffed and gags were winched behind their teeth. They were half lifted, half shoved into the back of an unmarked van. It felt like they’d stumbled into a Law & Order episode, but without a soundtrack to know when the scene was going to end.
She hadn’t managed to scream. She’d been too shocked. In the distance, the constant thrum of traffic on I-40 sounded almost like water. Birds twittered mindlessly in the trees. She kept thinking someone must have seen, someone would call for help, someone would come.
No one came.
But these backwater Tennessee roads were empty even at the busiest times. Seven in the morning on a Sunday, there was no one on the road; it was too early even for the church crowd.
No one but the men in the van, with their hands slick as machine-gun barrels and their orders to obey.
At least the men hadn’t shoved their heads into burlap sacks. She’d seen a movie like that once, where a rich woman kidnapped for ransom was placed in a sack and had inhaled fibers and was asphyxiated, and then the criminals had to figure out how to dump the body and conceal the crime.
Maybe she, too, had been kidnapped for ransom.
But she knew, deep down, that she’d been taken for a different reason entirely.
It was because of Haven.
It was because they’d escaped.
She tried to listen, to keep track of where they were heading as the van picked up speed, bumping them down the road. The potholes threw them so high before slamming them down again that tears came to her eyes when her tailbone hit the van floor.
The ride smoothed out once they were on the highway. It was thunderously loud, like huddling under the bleachers while a homecoming crowd drummed their feet in unison. She felt like a slab of bacon stuck in somebody’s hold. With no sunlight, she quickly lost track of time. Her throat was sore and it was difficult to swallow. The fibers from whatever they’d gagged her with tickled her nose and tonsils. It tasted like a sock.
Maybe they’d bought a pack especially for this purpose.
Her wrists hurt. She wondered whether handcuffs came in extra large, for heavier inmates, the way that condoms came in Magnums, which she had learned only last week, when April gave her a box as a joke. For your very first boyfriend.
His chest was moving fast, as if he was having trouble breathing. His eyes were closed and he’d scooted back against the trunk. His head knocked against the doors every time they hit a bump.
She nudged his ankle with a foot to make him look at her. There was a small bit of blood at his temple where one of the men had hit him, and looking at it made her queasy. She counted the freckles on his nose. She loved the freckles on his nose.
She loved him, and hadn’t known it until that instant, in the back of the van, with cuffs chafing the skin off her wrist and blood moving slowly toward his eyebrow.
She tried to tell him that it would be okay—wordlessly, with her eyes, with noises she made in the back of her throat. But he just shook his head, and she knew he hadn’t understood, and wouldn’t have believed her, anyway.
“PICK,” APRIL SAID, AND THEN leaned over to jab Gemma with a finger. “Come on. It doesn’t work if you don’t pick.”
“Left,” Gemma said.
With a flourish, April revealed the bag of chips in her left hand: jalapeño-cheddar flavored. “Sucker,” she said, sliding the chips across the table to Gemma. “Maybe if you’d been paying attention . . .” She produced a second bag of chips, salt and vinegar, Gemma’s favorite, and opened it with her teeth. She offered the bag to Gemma. “Good thing I’m so nice.”
This was a tradition dating from midway through freshman year, when the school had for whatever reason begun stocking various one-off and weird chip flavors—probably, April theorized, because they got them on the cheap in discount variety packs. They’d made a game of picking blind—one good bag, one bad—even though they always split the salt and vinegar anyway.
But Gemma wasn’t hungry. She hadn’t been hungry in weeks, it seemed, not since spring break and Haven and Lyra and Caelum. Before, she’d always been hungry, even if she didn’t like to eat in front of other people. Now everything tasted like dust, or the hard bitter grit of medicine accidentally crunched between the teeth. Every
bite was borrowed—no, stolen—from the girl who should have come before.
She, Gemma, wasn’t supposed to be here.
“Hey. Do I have to get you a shock collar or something?” April’s voice was light, but she wasn’t smiling.
Gemma reached over and took a chip, just to make April feel better. Across the cafeteria, the Bollard twins were huddled over the same phone, sharing a pair of headphones, obviously watching a video. Brandon Bollard was actually smiling, although he didn’t seem to know how to do it correctly—he was kind of just baring his teeth.
“Did you know some twins can communicate telepathically?” Gemma asked suddenly.
April sighed so heavily her new bangs fluttered. “That’s not true.”
“It is,” Gemma said. “They have their own languages and stuff.”
“Making up a language is different from communicating telepathically.”
“Well, it’s both.” It was weird to see Brandon and Brant together. Brandon was dressed all in black, with a fringe of black hair falling over his eyes and a sweatshirt that had two vampire fangs on it. Brant was wearing blue Chucks and low-rider jeans, and his hair was brown and curly and kept long, supposedly because Aubrey Connelly, his girlfriend and the most coldhearted of all the coldhearted pack wolves, loved to pull it when they were having sex in the back of her BMW.
It didn’t make a difference: they had the same slouch, the same lips, the same wide-spaced brown eyes, the same way of slugging through the halls as if the destination would come to them and not the other way around.
“Did you know that sometimes twins, like, absorb each other in the womb?” Gemma went on. “I watched this thing online about it. This woman thought she had a tumor and then they found teeth and hair and stuff inside. Can you imagine?”
April stared at her. “Eating,” she said, except she had just taken a bite of her sandwich and it came out eaffing.
“Sorry,” Gemma said.
April swallowed and took a huge sip of coconut water, eyeing Gemma the whole time, as if she were a bacterial culture in danger of infecting everybody. “You’re not hungry?” she said.
Gemma moved her sandwich around on her tray a little. “I had a big breakfast.” She wouldn’t meet April’s eyes. April always knew when she was lying.
April shoved her tray aside and leaned forward to cross her arms on the table. “I’m worried about you, Gem.”
“I’m fine,” Gemma said automatically. She must have said it a thousand times in the past few weeks. She kept waiting for it to be true.
“You are not fine. Your brain is on autopilot. You’re hardly eating anything. Suddenly you’re obsessed with the Bollard twins—”
“I’m not obsessed with them,” Gemma said quickly, and forced herself to look away from Brandon, who was slouching toward the door, so pale he could have been the ghost of his twin brother.
“Obsessed,” April repeated. “You talk about the Bollard twins more than you talk about your own boyfriend. Your new boyfriend,” she continued, before Gemma could open her mouth. “Your new awesome boyfriend.”
“Keep your voice down,” Gemma said. At the next table, she caught a group of sophomore boys staring and made a face. She didn’t care if they thought she was crazy. She didn’t care about any of it.
April shoved her hands through her hair. April’s hair was like some kind of energy conductor: when she was upset, her curls looked like they were going to reach out and electrocute you. “Look,” she said, lowering her voice. “I understand—”
“You don’t,” Gemma said, before she could finish.
April stared at her. “I saw it too,” she said. “Pete saw it. We were there.”
It isn’t the same, Gemma wanted to say. But what was the point? Just because they had seen the same things didn’t mean they felt the same way.
“Haven isn’t your problem anymore. It’s not who you are. Lyra and Caelum are safe. There are people, major top-level people, investigating Dr. Saperstein. Your part is done. You wanted to know the truth and now you do. But you can’t let it destroy you.”
Gemma knew April was trying to help. But something black and ugly reached up out of her stomach and gripped her by the throat, a seething anger that had, in the past three weeks, startled her with its intensity.
“I mean, plenty of people have seriously screwy backstories.” That was April’s big problem: she never knew when to stop talking. The anger made Gemma’s head throb, so she heard the echo of the words as though through a cloth. “You know Wynn Dobbs? The sophomore? I heard her dad actually tried to kill her mom with a shovel, just lost it one day and went after her, which is why she lives with her aunt. . . .”
April couldn’t understand what it meant for Gemma to be a replica, and she didn’t want to understand. Gemma was well and truly a freak, and though she and April had joked for years that they were aliens in high school, Gemma might as well have been from a different planet. In fact, she almost wished she were an alien—at least then she’d have somewhere to go back to, a true home, even if it was millions of light-years away.
Instead she’d been cloned, made, manufactured from the stem cells of her parents’ first child, Emma. She was worse than an alien. She was a trespasser. It felt now as if she were living her whole life through one of those vignette filters, the kind that eats up the edges and the details. As if she’d hacked into someone else’s social media accounts and was trying to catfish. Emma should have been sitting at this table, happily crunching through a bag of chips, stressing about her precalc exam. Not Gemma.
Gemma should never have been born at all.
“Gemma? Hello, Gemma?”
Somewhere in the deep echoes of the past, her lost twin, her lost replica, cried out soundlessly to be heard.
What was the point of trying to explain that?
Gemma forced herself to smile. “I’m listening,” she said.
On days that April stayed after school for chorus, Gemma had always taken the bus, refusing her father’s offer of a driver because it would only make her more of a target. But now Pete drove her home, at least on days when he wasn’t working behind the register at the Quick-Mart.
It was Wednesday, May 11, nearly three weeks since she’d last seen Lyra. Pete had gotten rid of the eggplant-colored minivan they’d driven down to Florida. He said it was because of the mileage, but Gemma suspected it was because of the memories, too. Even when they were riding around in his brown Volvo station wagon—the Floating Turd, he called it, although it was definitely an improvement over his last ride—she imagined dark-suited men and women passing her on the streets, tailing her in featureless sedans.
Paranoia, obviously. Her dad had taken care of it, he’d promised her, just like he’d taken care of springing Lyra’s dad from jail and setting him up with a job and a mobile home in some big Tennessee trailer park Gemma had never known he owned. April was right, at least about that part: Lyra and Caelum were safe, and staying with Lyra’s father. Dr. Saperstein had survived the explosion and subsequent fire at Haven, but he and his sick experiments would, her dad assured her, lose their funding after the disaster at Haven. She couldn’t bring herself to ask what would happen to all the replicas who’d managed to survive, but she liked to believe they would be placed somewhere, quietly fed into the foster care system or at least moved into hospice care before the disease they were incubating chewed them up for good.
Pete always held her hand on the way to the parking lot, and even though the drive was only fifteen minutes, it often took them nearly an hour because he was always pulling over to kiss her. Whenever Gemma’s mom was home, she invited him in for sweet tea made by their housekeeper, Bernice, who came in the morning. The whole thing was so normal it hurt.
Except that it wasn’t, because she wasn’t, and they weren’t, and the more she tried to pretend, the more obvious it was that something had cracked. Meeting Lyra and Caelum, knowing they were out there, knowing Haven and the people in charge of it we
re still out there somewhere—it had knocked her life off its axis. And Pete and April thought they could make things right just by acting as if they were all right. Gemma felt all the time as if they were circling a black hole, bound by the gravity of their denial. They would fall: they had to.
“What is it?” Pete brought a hand to her cheek. She loved the way he did this, touched her face or her lips with his thumb. They were parked at the very end of her driveway, the final quarter-mile stretch through graceful birches and plane trees whose branches interlocked their fingers overhead. “What’s wrong?”
She wondered how many times he’d had to ask in the past weeks. “Nothing,” she said automatically. “Why?”
“Your eyes were open,” he said. “Like, staring. It was like kissing a Chucky doll.”
That made her laugh. That was the amazing thing about Pete, his special talent: he could make anyone laugh. “Thanks a lot.”
“Let’s try again, okay?” He leaned into her. She closed her eyes. But she couldn’t relax. Something was digging into her butt. She must be sitting on a pen. This time, she was the one to pull away.
“Sorry,” she said.
For a split second, Pete looked irritated. Or maybe she only imagined it. The next moment, he shrugged. “That’s all right. We should probably keep it clean for Ms. Leyla over here.” He reached out and flicked the hula girl on the dashboard, who promptly began to shimmy. Then he put the car in drive again. Gemma was relieved, and then guilty for feeling relieved. What kind of monster didn’t want to make out with her adorable, floppy-haired, freckle-faced, absolutely-scrumptious-kisser boyfriend?
A monster who couldn’t move on. A monster who felt like moving on was giving up, even though there was nothing, anymore, to fight for.
“Where’d you get this thing, anyway?” She leaned forward and gave the hula girl another flick. Her face was chipped away and the only thing left was a small, unsmiling mouth.
Pete shrugged. “Came with the car. Your dad thinks she must have good engine juju.”