Deadly Design by Debra DockterDeadly Design by Debra Dockter

Deadly Design

byDebra Dockter

Hardcover | November 24, 2016

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The emotional power of If I Stay meets the survival story of Maze Runner

Genetically engineered identical twins Kyle and Connor McAdams were born two years apart. Their parents figured it was safer that way, to increase their odds of survival. Connor was born first, paving an impossibly perfect path for Kyle to follow. He was the best at everything—valedictorian, star quarterback etc. Kyle never thought he’d be able to live up, so he didn’t even try.
 
But when Connor, 18, suddenly drops dead of a heart attack, and Kyle learns of other genetically modified kids who’ve also died on their eighteenth birthdays, he’s suddenly motivated—to save his own life. Like Connor and all the rest, Kyle was conceived at the Genesis Innovations Laboratory, where the mysterious Dr. Mueller conducted experiments on them. The clock’s ticking as Kyle searches for answers: who was Dr. Mueller really, and what did he do to cause their hearts to stop at eighteen? He must unravel the clues quickly, before, he too, becomes another perfect, blue-eyed corpse.
Debra Dockter currently teaches behavioral science at Cowley College and resides in Haysville, Kansas with her husband and three children. Deadly Design is her debut novel.
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Title:Deadly DesignFormat:HardcoverDimensions:368 pages, 8.56 × 5.75 × 1.25 inPublished:November 24, 2016Publisher:Penguin Young Readers GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0399171053

ISBN - 13:9780399171055

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1I was five years old when I found out that my older brother wasn’t just my brother.It was right after my preschool graduation. Chairs were set up for parents and grandparents in the lobby of the school. A wooden box and a microphone sat across from the chairs. We were each expected to stand up on the box, lean over a microphone, and tell the audience what we wanted to be when we grew up. One little girl said she wanted to be a mermaid. That made everyone laugh. The boy in front of me played it safe. He said that when he grew up, he wanted to be a grown-up. Then it was my turn. I was going to say that I wanted to be a fireman. Not original, I know, but Mom had just bought me this awesome fire truck at a garage sale, so . . .I went to stand up on the box, and I noticed a photograph hanging on the wall behind me.There were a lot of photographs, each filled with groups of graduating preschoolers, all of them wearing nice shirts or dresses and all with the same dorky grins. But there was something in that photo, someone, that almost knocked me off the box. It was me.I looked at the kids lined up on either side of me. These were my classmates, the kids I’d learned my letters and colors with. The kids I’d chased around the small playground. But they weren’t the same kids in the photograph with me. We hadn’t lined up yet to take the official graduation picture. But there I was on the wall.“Kyle,” Mrs. Parks, our teacher, said as she gently took my shoulders and turned me toward the audience. “Tell everyone what you want to be when you grow up.”My mind was a complete blank, at least as far as deciding at five what path my life should take.I didn’t say anything. I stepped down from the box as a few people inhaled sharply like it was bad luck not to say what I wanted to be in the future. Like not saying something meant I wouldn’t have a future.My family didn’t stick around for the punch and cookies. Instead, Dad dropped Mom and my brother, Connor, off at the house, then he took me out for ice cream—just me because I wouldn’t stop asking why my picture was already on the wall and why I was wearing a green button-down shirt in the picture, when I don’t have a green button-down shirt.Dad and I got ice cream, then we walked down the block to the park and sat on a bench. That’s when he told me that Connor wasn’t just my brother; he was my twin brother, my identical twin brother. The picture was of him, not me. When Connor graduated from preschool, he was five, just like I was, so we looked exactly alike.I felt stupid. If Connor and I were twins, identical twins, I should have noticed. Twins are supposed to be the same age. That’s part of being twins, being born at the same time. But we weren’t.Dad explained everything at the park. Well, he probably didn’t explain all of it, not the part about him and Mom being carriers for a fatal disease called spinal muscular atrophy. Not the part about Mom having had six miscarriages. He did tell me that Chase, my other brother, whose picture sits on my parents’ dresser, died when he was six months old from a very bad illness that they wanted to make certain their next baby wouldn’t have.That spring day in the park when I was five and ice cream was melting faster than I could eat it because I didn’t have much of an appetite, Dad told me that Connor and I were designed in a special lab. They had a very smart doctor, and he created a baby for them who was very healthy. But then the baby split into two babies—me and Connor.Because they wanted us so much, they decided to separate us. Mom gave birth to Connor first, while I was kept at the lab.That threw me. Connor was at home with our parents, and I was still in some creepy lab? Then Dad explained that I was frozen the whole time, so I wasn’t lonely or anything. That threw me even more.While Connor was baking in Mom’s Easy-Bake Oven, so to speak, I was frozen. When he was crying and getting his diapers changed and people were talking about how cute he was, I was in the deep freeze.After our talk, we got ice cream for Mom and Connor, and we went home. Connor asked if I wanted to kick a ball around in the backyard, and I said yes, but I couldn’t keep my eye on it. All I could do was stare at him—at me, two years into the future. I asked Connor if he knew we were twins. He said he’d found out on his own a few Christmases ago when he was snooping for presents in Mom and Dad’s closet. He found our baby books and when he started looking through them, noticed that when put side by side at the same ages, we were identical. He said he’d wanted to tell me, but Mom and Dad thought it would be better if I was a little older before I knew.People used to comment that Connor and I looked alike, but it seemed like people had to say that. Like it was a rule or something to say, “Oh, he looks just like his brother.”I remember Connor putting his hands on my shoulders, his arms tilting downward because he was two years taller.“I’m glad we’re twins,” he said. “Are you?”I nodded. He smiled, and we started kicking the ball again.But I couldn’t stop wondering what it would have been like if we’d graduated preschool together. If we could have always been together.• • •“Even in that stupid getup, he looks handsome,” Emma says, staring at Connor’s photo displayed on the wall with all the photos of the graduating class in their caps and gowns. It’s not a very big graduating class. Rose Hill High School has a total of about six hundred students in the entire school—pretty typical for a small town in Kansas. “I can’t wait to see him onstage giving his speech.”I don’t say anything as students rush past us, anxious to step out of the frigid air-conditioning and into the warm spring—almost summer—air.“I’m meeting Connor at your house after school,” Emma says. “You should let me drive you home.”“Doesn’t Connor have track practice?”She shakes her head, her long blond hair brushing against her shoulders. “The coach doesn’t want Connor worn out for the meet tomorrow, so no practice today. We’re going to hang out for a while and then grab some dinner.”Of course they are. I love having Emma around all the time. I love hearing her laugh as Connor tickles her on the sofa. I love watching him whisper in her ear right before he kisses her and my dad tells them to get a room and Mom tells them not to.I love her blue eyes. I love her full lips and the pink gloss she lightly coats them with. I bet it has a flavor—cotton candy or bubble gum. I could ask her, but I won’t. It’s bad enough to be head over heels for your brother’s girl, but I refuse to be that pathetic.“So, about that ride home?”Emma never offers me rides, usually because she’s too busy with her after-school activities. Plus, I only live a few blocks from school.“Why?” I ask.“I want to talk to you,” she says. “It’s important.”“It better be,” I say, not because being alone with her in a confined space could be torture, but because riding in her car is definitely dangerous. Really dangerous.We follow the dwindling mob of high school students out to the parking lot, where most of the parking spaces are occupied by hand-me-down four-doors or old pickup trucks. Emma’s car takes up half a parking space at most.“Get in,” she says, unlocking the doors with the remote.I hesitate, looking at the dull green coffin on wheels. “I think I’ll walk.”“Please,” she begs. “I promise it’s safe. It even has air bags.”“Are you sure?” The Smart car is tiny, and I can’t help imagining a dozen circus clowns crammed into it. “Does it really have air bags, or does a whoopee cushion pop out of the steering wheel?”“Don’t insult my car. I love my car. And I love the environment.”I open the door and get in. It’s roomier than I expected.“Your mom said you might not go to graduation?” Emma says once my seat belt is buckled.I half expect the door locks to engage, to trap me in the car for the conversation I don’t care to have.“Connor needs you there. You’re his brother, his twin. This is really important to him and your parents.”“You and my parents talked about this?”“Just your mom.”“Then why doesn’t she talk to me?”Emma hesitates. “You know your mom doesn’t like conflict.”“What conflict? My mom and I never fight.”“You don’t talk that much either. She doesn’t want to push you away. She doesn’t want you spending even less time with the family.”“I eat supper with them every night,” I say, trying not to sound pissed, but I kind of am. “I watch movies with them on the weekend. I let you and Connor drag me around.”“Sometimes,” she says.“I’m sixteen. Eating dinner with my parents is as social as I’m supposed to be. Besides, I have interests.”“You mean video games?”How can I explain to her that “video games” aren’t just games to me? I’m good at them. I’m damn good at them. Online players beg to have me on their teams. They schedule their playing times around mine because no one can kick ass on Call of Duty like I can. But compared to Connor’s history of athletic domination, who gives a shit if my kill-to-death ratio is off the charts.“I don’t want to make you mad,” Emma says. “I just want everyone to be happy.I scoff as a giant-ass pickup truck pulls up next to us.“Will you at least think about going?” she asks.How can I make her understand why I don’t want to go? Yeah, we may be twins, but we’re not twins in the traditional sense. Even if it weren’t for the age difference, Connor and I still wouldn’t look exactly alike. He has six-pack abs and giant biceps. And he’s super smart, super athletic. He’s super everything, and I’m . . . good at video games.“Why don’t you want to go?”I look at her like it’s a stupid question, because it is a stupid question.“I’m serious. And don’t tell me it’s your pride, because that’s bullshit. You are not supposed to be your brother. You are two different people, and that’s good. Besides, if you and Connor were carbon copies of each other, how on earth would I be able to choose between you?”She gives me a coy little smile.“Do you have any lemon juice?” I ask. “I just found a paper cut on my finger I’d like to pour some into.”“I just meant that you’re both special people. Connor is like my Clark Kent, my Superman. He’s perfect.” Emma’s eyes stare out over the dashboard, but I know from the way she’s smiling, her face beaming, that she’s seeing more than the after-school traffic. “He’s the most perfect person in the world, and we’re perfect together.” She looks at me, and she’s so happy. And I’m happy for her. I really am. “And you,” she says. “You’re like James Dean.”“James who?”“Dean. James Dean. He’s the quiet but tough guy. He doesn’t need anybody else, doesn’t care about what anybody else thinks. He’s a bad boy.” She gives me a sideways glance.I consider this, then nod in agreement. “Yep, that’s me. I’m bad to the bone.”“Oh, yeah,” Emma says. “Tell me something you’ve done, bad boy.”I think for a minute, but I don’t have to think for long because I’ve been so notoriously bad. “Last week, I was playing Call of Duty online. It wasn’t just me. I was playing on a team. I had guys relying on me, and I realized that I’d been chewing the same piece of gum for over two hours.”“Two hours?” She’s already amazed, her eyes wide with disbelief.“I couldn’t leave the game. I couldn’t let my guys down, but it was disgusting—like chewing on a rubber band. So you know what I did?”“What did you do? Tell me.”“I took it out of my mouth.”“And then?”“I stuck it on the nightstand. Yeah, that’s right. I didn’t put it in the trash. I could have. It was only a few feet away, but no. I stuck it there, and guess what?”“What?” she says, like she can’t take it. Like she wants to speed all the way home so she can rip my clothes off, and if I say something about Connor, she’ll say, “Connor who?”“I left it there.”“For a whole week?”I nod and she laughs, breaking character.“I better arrange an intervention,” she says. “You’re too wild for your own good.”“Yep, that’s me.” I turn up the volume on the radio, and she turns it down again.“So, graduation?”“Graduations are boring. They read a bunch of names, the choir sings a couple of sappy songs, and the band plays like shit.”“What about his speech? He’s valedictorian. That’s a big deal.”“I know it’s a big deal,” I say. “Everything in Connor’s life is a big deal. He doesn’t need me around to make it any bigger.”“But he does.” She reaches over and grabs my arm. “It’s not your fault that you were born second, and it’s not his fault he was born first. He cares about you, and he really wants you there. It’s important.”We stop at an intersection, and she looks at me. I can’t help but wonder what she sees. I have the same eyes, the mouth, the nose, even the voice—the exact same DNA of the guy she’s madly in love with. I’m just two years younger and too lazy to go to the gym.“Think about it?” She makes a left turn onto the street where I live. “What about the state track meet?”Now she’s really pushing it. “I suppose Mom mentioned that to you too, or was it Dad? Well, like I told him, I’m busy Saturday. I signed up to help medical students learn how to perform colonoscopies. So if Connor’s upset that I’m not there, if he wants to know ‘what’s up Kyle’s ass?’ you can tell him I have about a dozen medical students up it.”She growls, tightening her hands around the steering wheel. “It’s his last meet.”“So I’m supposed to go cheer him on while he breaks his own record.”“It’s also his birthday. We’re going out to dinner afterward.”The car slows, and Emma pulls in front of my house. She places her hand on my arm.“If you won’t do it for him, do it for me?”Why does she have to put it that way? Am I that transparent? Can she tell that there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her?2Connor’s just getting out of his Jeep in the driveway.Emma jumps out of the car, runs across the lawn, and throws herself into his arms. Connor spins her around, and she’s flying with her arms tight around his neck and his arms tight around her waist. When they stop, they stand there in the driveway staring at each other like they’re the most gorgeous people in the world, and they can’t help themselves, and that’s pretty much how it is. Hell, even I can’t stop staring at them as I walk across the lawn toward the front door.The windows are open on Connor’s Jeep, and the wind has made his hair into a perfect blond mess. My hair is usually just a mess. My face isn’t quite as full as his either. Being an athlete, he packs a lot of food away. He’s always drinking protein shakes and downing giant spoonfuls of peanut butter.He’s tan too. The lamp in my basement bedroom doesn’t do a lot for my skin tone, but when Connor’s not in school, he’s outside. Sometimes I look at him, and I can’t believe we’re identical twins. Even if I spent hours at the gym or running outside in the sun, no way would I look like him—like Apollo coming down from Olympus to let the mortals bask in my awesomeness.I reach for the doorknob.“Kyle.” Connor runs up onto the porch. “We’re going to go walk around the park for a while and then grab a bite. You want to come along?”“No thanks,” I say, opening the door.“You sure? We can shoot some hoops or something. Mom texted me that she’s making tuna casserole. Between you and me, I didn’t get the text. Why don’t you come with us?”I look at Emma. “I better eat here. Evidently I don’t socialize enough with the family.”Connor follows my eyes. He looks at Emma, at the smirk on her face, then back at me. “Did I miss something?”“Not a thing,” I say. “You two go ahead.”“We can bring you back something if you want,” Connor says.“I’m good, but thanks.”I start to step inside, but he’s still standing there. I turn, and he’s looking at me, looking right into my eyes. He does this sometimes, a lot of times. He looks at me like he’s waiting to see if I can read his thoughts, like he wants to tell me something, but it’d be so much easier if he didn’t have to use words. But I can’t read his mind. Even if I could, I think I’d be afraid to. Connor’s mind has to be full of amazing things, like state championships and political issues he knows inside and out because of debate and maybe even plans to someday cure cancer.My thoughts are more of the Nazi zombie type. I just want to kill shit.Connor sighs, his eyes finally leaving mine. I’ve failed the test again. If he had a better twin, a more worthy twin, we’d be able to have psychic conversations, and I’d ace every test in school because he could “think” me all the answers.Emma takes Connor’s hand, and they start to walk toward his Jeep. I start inside again.“Are you sure?” he says, his body sideways like he’s torn between coming inside with me or going with Emma. “It’s tuna casserole. We could get a pizza.”“I’m good,” I say again, and I hate how he’s looking at me, like I’m rejecting him. With all his admirers, does he really need one more, and does it have to be me?I have to get away from him. His aura, or whatever the hell it is, is too damn bright. My skin, my pale epidermis, is starting to burn. Connor needs to leave. Then I just have to get through dinner, so I can shrink back into the shadows of my basement sanctuary.Emma pulls him toward the Jeep, and he follows. He walks her to the passenger side and opens the door, but before getting in, she looks back at me and smiles.I remember the first time he brought her home. He was a freshman, and I was in that hell called middle school. They’d walked to our house after school on a Friday because Mom was going to serve as chauffeur for their first date. Connor and Mom went into the kitchen to discuss rules and curfews, and Emma sat down next to me on the sofa. We watched television for a few minutes and then she started talking to me. She asked me if I liked sports, and when I said no, she asked me what I did like. I started talking about gaming, and she seemed interested. Interested in the games. Interested in me.She noticed me.When Mom and Connor came back into the living room, Emma got up, and I thought that was it. Once the great Connor was back, I disappeared again. But as they were walking out the front door, Emma turned and smiled at me. That was four years ago, and she’s still giving me that smile.3“Guess what I heard.”It’s the voice of Teddy Eskew. As if spending the day sitting amongst Connor’s adoring fans isn’t bad enough, now I have to put up with the school’s biggest asshole.“I heard you and your brother were Siamese twins, joined at the dick, and when the doctors separated you, they decided to give what there was to your brother. That’s why you have to piss sitting down.”Teddy doesn’t ride the short bus to school, but he can’t get it through his head that Connor and I are twins, born two years apart. Somehow he got the idea that I’m a sophomore while Connor’s a senior because I had the cord wrapped around my neck. Lack of oxygen made me delayed. Teddy’s a senior, and he and I are in two classes together. He’s the one who’s delayed. He’s also the one on probation for vandalism, underage drinking, exposing himself to a minor, and attempting to grow facial hair like Wolverine from X-Men.“You made any summer plans yet?” I ask as I push past him, balancing two hot dogs and a can of Diet Coke in my hands. “I heard there are lots of unsupervised kiddies at the water park if you want to show off your . . .” I lift the hot dogs.Teddy’s hair-framed face reddens. His biceps flex.“Is there a problem?”Officer Prater, our school’s resource officer, is standing right behind Teddy. He’s not wearing his uniform or his Taser, but at six and a half feet tall and three hundred pounds, he doesn’t really need them to be intimidating.Teddy walks away, but not before giving me that “I’ll find you later” look.“I really hate that this is Connor’s last meet,” Prater says, running a hand over his shaven head. “I’ve been watching him since middle school.”I know what he’s thinking. He’s thinking that even though Connor is graduating next week, he should be able to come watch me compete in football and basketball and track. But I’m too much of a slacker. I’m too lazy to be all that I can be.“He’s got a good chance of breaking his record, and I bet it stands a long time too.” Prater looks off at the cloudless May sky like he’s savoring this moment—the moment before Connor McAdams cements his place in the history of high school pole-vaulting. He smiles to himself, and when his eyes fall back on me, it’s like he’s about to reprimand me for hanging out in the hallway instead of being in class. “You better get up there. There’s only one more competitor before Connor. You don’t want to miss this.”“Oh”—I shake my head—“you have no idea how much I don’t want miss this.”I push my way through the crowd, and the hot dogs I was craving a second ago have lost some of their appeal.I don’t want to be here!But over breakfast this morning, Mom kept opening her mouth as if to say something, then closing it again and starting to rinse dishes or wipe counters. Dad, on the other hand, came into the kitchen, fixed a bowl of cereal, and said what he wanted to say.“Don’t come if you don’t want to.” His mouth was full of cornflakes, and there was a tiny dot of milk on his chin. “Your mom and I understand that watching your brother compete may not be . . .” He couldn’t quite find the words, so he shoveled another spoonful of cereal into his mouth to buy some time. “It’s just that this is his last meet. He wants us there, all of us. You mean a lot to him. I know you two haven’t been that close, not for a long time, but you used to be. It’s probably my fault. Maybe if I’d have tried harder to get you involved in sports, or maybe a little less hard with him, then . . .”That’s when I agreed to come to the meet. I hate it when my parents start analyzing the ways they may or may not have screwed up their kids. Right or wrong, Dad loves sports, and he loves watching Connor. I don’t want him to feel guilty for that. And I definitely don’t want him to feel like he’s a bad father. He’s not.Besides, the truth is, what Connor does is pretty cool. I’ve watched pole-vaulting on YouTube. It’s pretty amazing. These guys, they actually fly—not for long, but they do fly. And that part where the pole is bending, and it looks like it might snap in half and stab them, that’s scary as hell. And Connor’s not just good at it. He’s the best.I go up the four steps leading to the bleachers and notice a guy standing next to the chain-link fence. He’s young, probably in his midtwenties. He’s got broad shoulders, definitely the athletic type, and he’s taking pictures of . . . Connor. Of course he’s taking pictures of Connor. Connor isn’t even jumping yet. He’s just bending over touching his toes, but even that’s impressive if you’re a scout for some big university and you want Connor on your team. The photographer pauses to look at the shots he’s just taken. He glances up for a second, and when he sees me, he looks . . . uneasy. Then it’s like he remembers that somebody told him Connor had a twin, and he nods at me and looks away.Don’t worry, buddy, I want to tell him. You won’t have to come back to take pictures of me in a couple of years. Not unless you’re recruiting for your college’s video game club.I don’t walk to the stairs. I step from metal seat to metal seat. It’s not hard maneuvering around people, because most are congregated in the middle of the stands.“Hey, Connor!”I recognize the voice immediately, and she’s not talking to Connor. She’s talking to me. I turn. Cami, Emma’s best friend, is sitting about three feet to my left. She’s wearing an old orange Lion King T-shirt and cutoff denim shorts. Her pale legs are propped up on the seat in front of her like she’s attempting to get some sun.“How are you, Connor?”She’s doing it on purpose. She always does it on purpose. Cami, short for Camille, calls me Connor because she knows that there is an unwritten law in the universe that anyone who calls me by my brother’s name will get flipped off. I’ve served two detentions because of her, once because she did it during my food presentation in Spanish class and once when she said it as the principal was walking down the hallway.“Really?” I lift my full hands.“Sorry,” she says, as if she hadn’t noticed. She puts down the sketchbook she’s been doodling in and takes the can of Diet Coke from my hand.I flip her the bird, and with a smile on her face, she hands the can back.“I’m kind of surprised to see you here,” she says.“You didn’t think I’d want to see my brother break his own record? Watching Connor achieve his goals is pretty much my purpose in life.”She shakes her head and tucks short curls of brown hair behind her ears. “I just figured you wouldn’t want to be here—wouldn’t want to spend another day in the Great Connor’s shadow.”Wow. I scoff because I can’t believe she said that. She gets it. The girl who constantly calls me by my brother’s name just to piss me off and get me into trouble gets it. Connor is the quarterback of the football team. He’s the captain of the basketball team. And when he’s not breaking track records, he’s walking on water. I can’t compete with that. And Cami gets it.I give her a miniature “fuck you” with the hand carrying the Diet Coke, but this time it’s meant as a sort of salute. She smiles and flips me the bird from behind the sketch pad.“What are you drawing?”She turns the pad around to reveal a small bird sitting amongst sparse tufts of grass.“Over there,” she says, nodding her head toward the patch of grass next to the concession stand, where tiny birds with red-tipped gray wings peck at bits of popcorn.“Nice.”“Thanks.” She smiles at me. “Any time you want to sit for portrait, just let me know. I’ll even let you strike your favorite pose.” She rubs her cheek with her extended middle finger, and I almost laugh.“See you later at the festivities.”Poor Cami. She’s getting sucked into everything, too, and she’s not even related to him. I suppose that’s the downside to being BFFs with Connor’s girlfriend. I give her a sympathetic nod, and then continue up to where Mom and Dad are sitting.“You’re going to spoil your dinner,” my mom says when she sees the two hot dogs balanced in my left hand. She takes her Diet Coke.“I don’t like Luigi’s, so what’s it matter?” I sit down in the space my parents have left for me between them on the bleachers. I don’t understand why they’re not sitting next to each other. I’m not five. I don’t need a parent on either side of me to make sure I don’t slip between the metal seats and break my neck.She runs her hands through her short sandy blond hair. She had it cut this morning, and the hairdresser got a little happy with the scissors. Now Mom can’t seem to stop touching it, and every time she does, she frowns a little.“You love Luigi’s,” she says, the slight wrinkles around her brown eyes deepening a little as she processes the idea that I don’t like the place they drag me to every year for Connor’s birthday. If I liked it, then I’d want to go there on my birthday, but I never do. I prefer Mom’s fried chicken on my birthday. She’s a really good cook, except for tuna casserole, and that’s more the tuna’s fault than hers. Mostly, I like to stay home on my birthday because once the stupid song is sung and the cake is cut, I can open the video game that I asked for and then show my appreciation by rushing downstairs to play it.“You like Luigi’s,” she says, more to herself than to me.If my mom were Poseidon, the ocean waters would always be calm. Emma’s right—Mom hates conflict. She hates anyone being unhappy. She has this Disney picture in her mind of how she wants our family to be. I’m not talking about the perfect spotless house or a garden where butterflies shit glitter over flowers that never wilt. She wants harmony. Her version of the perfect family would be one where we all played different musical instruments and sat around the living room every night singing folk songs. We used to have game night on Fridays and movie night on Saturdays. It was okay. On Fridays we’d have pizza and play Uno or Clue, and Saturdays meant a trip to the video store, microwave popcorn, and Mom and Dad curled up together on the couch while Connor and I made faces at each other every time they kissed.Then Connor started youth football and started playing noncompetitive basketball at the recreation center in town. Once he started running, he ran fast. And then there were practices and games and tournaments. No more time for movies or Clue, and by the time anyone bothered to ask me if I wanted to sign up, Connor was so far ahead of me, I could barely see him.“You really don’t like Italian food?” Mom asks, taking her thin-framed glasses off and wiping the lenses against her shirt.“No,” I say.“That’s crap,” Dad says. “You love it. You’ve loved it since you were little and kept crying for more ‘b’sghetti.’ So listen to your mother and don’t spoil your appetite.” He takes one of the hot dogs from my hand and devours it in two bites. “No mustard,” he mutters with a full mouth. “Who doesn’t put mustard on a hot dog?”Dad’s a no-frills kind of guy. He’s simple, ordinary. He wasn’t a jock in school or a straight-A student. He wasn’t a superstar like Connor is. I like that about him—his ordinariness. I also like that he remembers me wanting “b’sghetti.” I don’t like that I don’t look anything like him. He’s medium in height—tall enough for high school basketball, but forget college. He’s also a little on the pudgy side, and his once-black, now mostly gray hair is receding faster than the polar ice cap. Connor and I have our mother’s sandy blond hair, and, although both of our parents have brown eyes, Connor and I have blue eyes. Evidently Mom and Dad both have a recessive gene for blue.“He’s getting the pole,” Dad says, and it’s like everyone heard him. Now they are all waiting, all anxious. Emma is standing by the fence, as close to Connor as she’s allowed to be. She glances up at my folks, giving them a worried but hopeful smile. Mom’s clenching the bleachers, her knuckles bone white. Just one more jump and then she won’t have to worry so much about him getting hurt anymore.Connor takes his mark. His right hand holds the bottom of the long, slender pole, while his left hand steadies it, the tip pointing to the sky. He starts running. The pole lowers, and for a second, it’s parallel to the ground, then it lowers more. Connor plants it right in front of the mat. His legs kick up until he is completely upside down. His body twists and turns as his feet clear the bar, and somehow, he wills his arms and shoulders to pull backward, to leave the bar undisturbed.Held breaths are exhaled in unison. Then the cheers come. Mom and Dad leap from their seats. Everyone is standing and cheering. In front of me is a row of butts, bouncing up and down and making the stands vibrate. I can’t see what’s happening down on the field, but I can imagine. People are slapping Connor on the back. His coach is beaming. His teammates are distracted from their own events. They’re smiling and nodding to each other because they knew this was going to happen. And they knew that nothing they did this day would compare to Connor McAdams breaking another record.His teammates are probably acting happy, and truth is, a lot of them are. I mean, Connor’s not the kind of guy to rub his triumphs into the faces of everyone else. He’s not arrogant, even though he has every right to be. He’s likable. But for some of the other athletes, especially the seniors, I bet they wish that, just once, Connor would come in second or, better yet, third or fourth. Couldn’t he trip over a shoelace or catch his foot on a hurdle? I wish he would. Just once I’d like to comfort him instead of congratulate him.Maybe if we’d have been born together, instead of almost two years apart, we’d both be champions. Mom and Dad would have signed us up together. We’d have gone to the gym together and practices together. We’d be unbeatable. He would have been quarterback of the football team, and I’d have been his wide receiver, catching anything he threw at me and running in for touchdown after touchdown.I know Mom and Dad thought they were doing the right thing. I know they were afraid that if they carried their perfect, laboratory-created, identical twins at the same time, they might lose us to yet another miscarriage in a long line of miscarriages. Don’t put all your eggs in the same basket, as the saying goes. I lost the coin toss. I’m the one who got to be frozen. I guess I came in second then too.If we’d been born together, today would be both of our birthdays. We’d both be eighteen, and Connor would be my best friend instead of a constant reminder that there is someone who exists in this world who will always be admired and respected and loved more than me.We weren’t born together. We never played “pass the umbilical cord” in the womb. We never lay side by side in a crib. While Connor was rolling over and then crawling and then walking and talking and getting farther and farther ahead of me, I was frozen. And sometimes I feel like I haven’t quite thawed.4If calories could be absorbed through the skin, a person would gain ten pounds just from walking into Luigi’s Italian Eatery. The air is thick with the aroma of pasta and garlic bread. Italian music plays over the speakers, and candlelight flickers in the center of each table.“How’s this?” the waitress asks, leading us to a rectangular table set for six.“Would it be okay if we sat over here?” Cami says, taking hold of my arm and pulling me toward a table for two in the corner. Dad gives Mom a little grin because he didn’t know Cami and I liked each other like that. He didn’t know because we don’t. But we’re used to splitting off from the group, so to speak—the Connor and Emma group.It’s crazy how at least once a month, Cami and I get dragged along to a movie or, last month, a rodeo, because Connor and Emma both think we need to get out more. Cami’s usually working at the grocery store, taking care of her little brother, or driving around in search of artistic inspiration. I, on the other hand, am usually trying to break records of my own on Xbox.Emma always checks Cami’s schedule first. If she isn’t working or doesn’t have to babysit, then she starts trying to force Cami to go, and Connor starts on me. They bug us until we give in and then it’s like we don’t exist. When Emma and Connor are together, everyone else becomes invisible. They’re Romeo and Juliet, and the sun hasn’t risen yet.Cami isn’t in love, and I can’t have Emma, so we leave the star-crossed lovers alone and see who can get the lowest score at mini golf or who can shove the most Milk Duds in their mouth at one time.Mom, Dad, and the golden couple sit down at the table, then the waitress takes two sets of silverware and brings them, along with two glasses of water, over to where we’re sitting.“So.” I fold my hands together like I’m about to conduct a very important business meeting. “You wanted to see me.”She tilts her head and smiles at me like I’m the world’s biggest pain in the ass. “As you are probably aware, today is May fifteenth. In approximately fourteen days, the love birds will be graduating from high school. They will continue to reside in their current homes throughout the summer months before moving to dormitories in Manhattan, where they will continue their educational endeavors at Kansas State University.”I nod, my expression stern because she sounds like a secret agent imparting classified information.“Do you know what this means?” she asks.My eyes narrow. I look around suspiciously and shake my head only slightly.“Think of Connor and Emma as the people who arrange your social calendar. When they’re gone, who’s going to come drag you out of the house? Make sure you get a little vitamin D once in a while?”Wow. Like I don’t get enough grief from Connor and my parents about hanging out too much in the basement. Now I’m going to get it from her too?“I’m concerned,” Cami says. “I’m afraid one of these days your parents are going to be looking for you and they won’t find you because you’ll have been sucked into one of your games.”I lean back against the chair. Doesn’t sound too bad, actually. Especially if I could be sucked into the gaming system, instead of just one single game. I could battle aliens, kill zombies, and there’s a hot blonde on one of my Borderland maps I wouldn’t mind getting to know better.She kicks me under the table to get my attention. “You need a life.”“You need a boyfriend,” I say. “Then you can lecture him instead of me.”“Why do guys always think that girls need a boyfriend? My life is quite fulfilling as it is.”I pick up my glass of water and take a drink. “Then how did you get sucked into coming to this?”She sighs. “Have you ever tried to say no to Emma? And she knows my dad doesn’t work this weekend, so I can’t use Josh as an excuse.”“What does your dad do anyway?”“He’s a news producer for channel five. He makes sure stories are edited and ready to go and nobody cusses on the air. They’re always switching his schedule around, so it’s hard to know my schedule sometimes, since I have to take care of Josh.”“Do you ever resent your brother?”She shakes her head, surprised, I think, by the question.“No. I don’t mind. It’s not my dad’s fault that he fell for a pretty blond reporter. And it’s not Josh’s fault that she bailed on both of them when she got a chance to move to a bigger network. I was seven when my mom died. At least I got to know her, and I know she didn’t want to leave me. Josh doesn’t have a single memory of his mom. For him to know she doesn’t want him—I can’t imagine. I don’t ever want him to feel like a burden. I want him to feel loved.”I look at Cami. She’s simple. She never wears makeup, but she actually looks good without it. I mean, some girls . . . face it. They need the stuff and lots of it. But Cami doesn’t. Her eyes are large and brown and deep set. Her skin could be in an ad for Proactiv—the after picture, of course. She’s pretty, not glamorous, but pretty. And she’s a good person.“Thanks.” I lift my glass, motion for Cami to pick up hers, and we tap them together.Her eyes narrow. “For what?”“For not wanting me to become one of those people who never leaves the house or throws anything away and ends up eating old discarded food and peeing in plastic buckets.”“You’re welcome.”I look over at Connor and Emma, their shoulders constantly touching as they lean into each other. Cami looks over at the golden couple too. Emma is gorgeous. She’s wearing a dress with inch-wide straps instead of sleeves. Her tan skin glows in the candlelight, and the low-cut fabric of the neckline gapes just above her breasts.“Keep your eyes above her neck,” Cami says, giving me another little kick under the table. “You should try being a little less obvious.”My face heats up. I am obvious, and pathetic. And the worst part is I think Emma likes it. It’s like Connor’s the first-string boyfriend and I’m eagerly waiting on the bench. That’s why she smiles at me the way she does, touches my arm every once in a while, even offers to rub my neck if I look tense. She likes the power she has over the McAdams twins. But it’s not like I’ll ever get my chance. She’d never give up Connor. Why would she want an inferior version of him?“Connor looks especially handsome tonight,” Cami says. “That thick, wavy hair of his is just inviting someone to run her fingers through it. And those piercing blue eyes and that strong jaw.” She sighs, glances in my direction, and then looks startled. “Oh, wait,” she says, like she’s never seen me before. “You look just like him, only maybe not as ripe.”“Ripe?”“You know. You look like you need a little more time on the vine. Need to mature a bit. Maybe start appreciating what you see when you look in the mirror.”I almost laugh. I mean, people never appreciate what they see in the mirror. We barely even acknowledge to ourselves that it’s us reflected back. We just look to make sure our hair isn’t too much of a mess or there isn’t something stuck in our teeth or poking out of our nose, but we don’t really look at ourselves. At least, I don’t.“How is everyone?” a booming voice asks. Luigi himself is standing beside the table where Mom, Dad, Connor, and Emma sit, and he’s giving them his best Disney-inspired Italian accent. Lou’s from Kansas City, not Rome, but he’s sort of Italian. His great-grandfather came over in the early 1900s. He taught his daughter how to cook, and she taught her daughter, and her daughter refused to teach her son because, in America, men should be doctors or lawyers and shouldn’t obsess about countries they’ve never been to. So Lou took an extended trip to Italy to learn how to cook, and he came back as Luigi. “Do you know what you’d like this evening?”Actually, he sounds a little like an Italian version of Dracula.“Wait,” Luigi cries just as my father starts to order. “I know what you want. I know what you all want. You want . . .” His eyes dart from side to side like he’s waiting for something. “To celebrate!”And then it comes. People rush out from the hallway leading to the kitchen and the bathrooms; others pop up from behind the long wooden bar where Luigi lets adult patrons sample different wines. Within seconds, the scarcely occupied restaurant is packed with people throwing balloons and holding signs that say HAPPY BIRTHDAY and CONGRATULATIONS and STATE CHAMPION.I slouch in my seat and seriously think about slipping under the table. Cami reaches over and takes my silverware. She unrolls the white cloth napkin, removes the knife, and hands me back the fork and spoon.“I wouldn’t want you to . . .” She takes the knife and does a slicing motion across her wrist.“I appreciate that,” I say and hand her my fork too.“Wow. That bad? I can’t even trust you with a fork?”I pick up the spoon. “Looks like I’ll be having soup.” Truth is, I don’t want anything. Not minestrone, not lasagna or “b’sghetti.” I want to get away from the fans who have crammed themselves into the restaurant. I should slip off to the bathroom and call the fire department. I’m sure the fire marshal would have something to say about the hundred plus people crammed into a room that shouldn’t hold more than fifty.I feel a hand against mine. Cami’s looking at me. She’s the only person who is. Everyone is staring at Connor, talking to Connor, praising Connor. Dad’s beaming, enthralled by the magnificence of his eldest son, while Mom dabs at her eyes with her napkin. She’s touched, no doubt, by the idea that all these people would go through all this trouble to surprise them—to surprise Connor.“He’ll be going off to college soon,” Cami says.I nod. “But the legend will go on.” I try to smile at her. Try to show that I appreciate that she’s talking to me, acknowledging me. But I just want all of this to be over.5Killing zombies is stupid. I mean, really. They’re already dead; that’s why they’re zombies. So why does shooting them over and over again, or exploding a bomb next to them, kill them? I know they’re undead. Like they were dead, then they became “undead” and now I have to make them dead again, so that I can move on to the next level and get better guns and scarier zombies. It’s so stupid, but I’m so good at it. Like really, really good. I actually got invited to a tournament last month in Ohio. Only two hundred people in the entire United States got invited, and I was one of them. It’s crazy to think they actually have scouts watching online players. Sometimes players even get sponsored; they get paid to play Xbox and go to tournaments.What I really can’t imagine is Mom or Dad missing one of Connor’s sporting events or forensic tournaments to take me to Ohio so that I can play in a Call of Duty tournament. I never told them about the invite to play. I didn’t want them to feel bad when they chose Connor over me.I imagine that every zombie on the screen was at Connor’s surprise party. I imagine them dragging their rotted limbs between the tables at Luigi’s. I imagine them singing “Happy Birthday” out of rotted mouths, their words nothing more than mumbled, melodic moans. And I shoot them. I shoot them over and over and over. I let some of them morph into crawlers, so that they are dragging their legless bodies across the wooden floors and cracked sidewalks as I finish them off.What would Dr. Phil say?A monkey slapping those eerie little cymbals sits at the top of the stairs. It’s just about to explode when someone knocks on my bedroom door. I pause the game. “What?”The door opens. It’s Connor. He’s changed since we got home. He’s wearing an old T-shirt and a pair of gym shorts. He hesitates, unsure if it’s okay to come in. Like I’ve got landmines buried under piles of dirty clothes, just in case someone dares to enter my inner sanctum without my permission. I used to have a DO NOT ENTER sign taped to the door. The tape hardened like thin glass over the years and finally shattered. I’m not sure what happened to the sign, but by then I knew everyone had gotten the message, especially Connor. I can’t remember the last time he came into my room. It’s been a few years at least.Connor’s holding a package wrapped in balloon-covered paper.“Nice place you got here,” he says and then he laughs. “How do you know when you’re going to run out of clean clothes to wear?” He glances at the assortment of soiled socks, shorts, and underwear strewn around the room.“It’s easy. When seventy-five percent of the floor is covered, I know I’m down to two days’ worth of clean clothes. That’s when I gather it all up and head for the laundry room.”Connor nods and smiles like he admires my organizational skills. He comes toward me and sits on the edge of my unmade bed. “I, um . . . got you something.” He holds out the package.“It’s your birthday, not mine.”“I’ve been thinking—you should get presents on my birthday, and I should get presents on yours, or maybe we should pick a date right between our birthdays and celebrate then. We’re not just brothers, right? We’re twins. It just seems jacked up that we don’t celebrate together.” He puts the present in my hand. “It’s really more for me than you, anyway. Open it.”

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Deadly Design:“An action-packed, page-turning thriller.”—School Library Journal“Twists and turns keep readers guessing on all fronts. [An] engaging blend of science fiction and survival.”—Kirkus Reviews “There’s a lot here that will likely appeal to reluctant readers, and they’ll be eager for more.”—Booklist “This is a fascinating exploration of genetic modification told in a way that makes the possibility of a new reality frighteningly real.”—VOYA“Debra Dockter’s gripping debut is a chilling glimpse into the secrets hiding in our DNA. With nonstop action and a heart-racing romance, Deadly Design is a one-two punch that’ll have readers gasping for breath.”—Kass Morgan, New York Times bestselling author of The 100