P R O L O G U E
Addie and I were born into the same body, our souls' ghostly fingers entwined before we gasped our very first breath. Our earliest years together were also our happiest. Then came the worriesthe tightness around our parents' mouths, the frowns lining our kindergarten teacher's forehead, the question everyone whispered when they thought we couldn't hear.
Why aren't they settling?
We tried to form the word in our five-year-old mouth, tasting it on our tongue.
We knew what it meant. Kind of. It meant one of us was supposed to take control. It meant the other was supposed to fade away. I know now that it means much, much more than that. But at five, Addie and I were still naive, still oblivious.
The varnish of innocence began wearing away by first grade. Our gray-haired guidance counselor made the first scratch.
"You know, dearies, settling isn't scary," she'd say as we watched her thin, lipstick-reddened mouth. "It might seem like it now, but it happens to everyone. The recessive soul, whichever one of you it is, will simply . . . go to sleep."
She never mentioned who she thought would survive, but she didn't need to. By first grade, everyone believed Addie had been born the dominant soul. She could move us left when I wanted to go right, refuse to open her mouth when I wanted to eat, cry No when I wanted so desperately to say Yes. She could do it all with so little effort, and as time passed, I grew ever weaker while her control increased. But I could still force my way through at timesand I did. When Mom asked about our day, I pulled together all my strength to tell her my version of things. When we played hide-and-seek, I made us duck behind the hedges instead of run for home base. At eight, I jerked us while bringing Dad his coffee. The burns left scars on our hands.
The more my strength waned, the fiercer I scrabbled to hold on, lashing out in any way I could, trying to convince myself I wasn't going to disappear. Addie hated me for it. I couldn't help myself. I remembered the freedom I used to havenever complete, of course, but I remembered when I could ask our mother for a drink of water, for a kiss when we fell, for a hug.
<Let it go, Eva> Addie shouted whenever we fought. <Just let it go. Just go away.>
And for a long time, I believed that someday, I would.
We saw our first specialist at six. Specialists who were a lot pushier than the guidance counselor. Specialists who did their little tests, asked their little questions, and charged their not-so-little fees. By the time our younger brothers reached settling age, Addie and I had been through two therapists and four types of medication, all trying to do what nature should have already done: Get rid of the recessive soul.
Get rid of me.
Our parents were so relieved when my outbursts began disappearing, when the doctors came back with positive reports in their hands. They tried to keep it concealed, but we heard the sighed Finallys outside our door hours after they'd kissed us good night. For years, we'd been the thorn of the neighborhood, the dirty little secret that wasn't so secret. The girls who just wouldn't settle.
Nobody knew how in the middle of the night, Addie let me come out and walk around our bedroom with the last of my strength, touching the cold windowpanes and crying my own tears.
<I'm sorry> she'd whispered then. And I knew she really was, despite everything she'd said before. But that didn't change anything.
I was terrified. I was eleven years old, and though I'd been told my entire short life that it was only natural for the recessive soul to fade away, I didn't want to go. I wanted twenty thousand more sunrises, three thousand more hot summer days at the pool. I wanted to know what it was like to have a first kiss. The other recessives were lucky to have disappeared at four or five. They knew less.
Excerpted from What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang. Copyright © 2012 by Kat Zhang. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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