Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking? CHAPTER ONE
“I knew it,” Alex Sackett declared. “I just knew it!”
“Knew what?” Ella Sanchez asked.
“That it was going to rain,” Alex said. “It’s pouring.” She pointed toward the huge windows bordering Ashland Middle School’s front door.
Ella peered through the rain-splattered glass. “Wow. It really is. Who knew?”
“I did!” Alex cried. “I sensed it this morning. I had this cute outfit planned, very nautical. Navy-and-white-striped top, navy pants, and my new red suede ballet flats. But I changed to a sweatshirt and sneakers. Ava said I was nuts, because the sun was shining when we left the house.”
“So she didn’t change her outfit too?” Ella asked, pulling her dark hair into a ponytail.
“Hello? Have you met my twin sister?” Alex asked with a laugh. “She was already wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Ava wears the same outfit practically every day, rain or shine.”
Ella shook her head. “I don’t have any classes with Ava. Why doesn’t she do debate club with us?”
“It’s not really her thing,” Alex replied. She and Ella had just left the after-school meeting of the debate club. Although they’d gotten to know each other a little when they were both running for seventh-grade class president, they weren’t close friends. But after watching Ella outdebate an eighth grader on why America needs a female president, Alex knew that would change. Especially because Ella had been really nice to Alex when Alex won the election.
Alex loved debate club. She loved sharing ideas and talking in front of a group. But Ava didn’t—she loved sports. And she was good at them too. She was the only girl on the Ashland Tiger Cubs football team.
“Any sign of the late bus?” Ella asked.
Alex pressed her nose to the glass. The wind caused the trees to sway and the rain to pelt sideways. “Nothing yellow out there,” she reported. “No bus yet.”
Alex jumped at the loud clap. Her eyes widened as a jagged streak of lightning slashed through the sky.
Ella squealed. “So cool! I love thunderstorms. I wonder if it will turn into a tornado.”
Alex bit her lip and tried to slow her thudding heart. She didn’t think the storm was cool. Far from it.
Her family was still new to Texas. They had moved here over the summer from Massachusetts so her dad could coach the high school football team. Before a scary tornado hit a few weeks back, Alex had never been in a tornado. It had been horrible. She and Ava had to take cover in their bathtub!
She really hoped she wouldn’t be in a second one.
Alex’s eyes darted between the storm outside and the clock over the main office door. The bus was supposed to be there soon.
More kids gathered to wait, and snippets of their conversations swirled around her.
“Mr. Antonucci is giving a social studies test tomorrow.”
“Have you seen that new app?”
“. . . and then my mother said . . .”
Even with all the kids and noise, a lonely feeling suddenly overcame her. She wished Ava were by her side, like she had been during the last storm.
But Ava was at football practice in the gym. Sports let out after clubs, and the special sports bus left after the late bus. Ava would be on that bus.
Should I wait for Ava? Alex wondered.
She debated finding an excuse to stay at school longer so she could ride the bus with her sister. Maybe she could talk to Ms. Palmer about student council plans. But then she remembered she had seen Ms. Palmer leave before she went into debate club.
Stop it, she scolded herself. No one else seemed to be scared by this storm. It probably wasn’t a big deal. She should just get on the late bus without Ava.
Think logically. She liked logic and facts and figures. Not every storm is a tornado, she reminded herself.
Alex flattened her palm against the window and peered out. The sky had grown dark.
Another crash of thunder boomed. The lightning flashed so close, it illuminated her hand. Alex stifled a shriek.
This isn’t about logic, she thought. This was about fear.
She really wished Ava were here to ride the bus home with her.
At that moment, in the window’s reflection, Alex saw double. Green eyes like hers, pale skin with light freckles like hers, and curly, chocolate-brown hair like hers. Except this girl’s hair was cropped to her chin, while Alex’s fell past her shoulders.
“Ava!” Alex cried, and whirled around. She’d wished for her twin sister, and now she was here. A shiver ran down Alex’s spine.
“Are you okay?” Ava asked. She hoisted her backpack onto her left shoulder and tilted her head at her twin.
“I’m fine . . . I’m totally fine,” Alex said. She let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “What are you doing here?”
“Coach Kenerson called practice early,” Ava explained. “Because of the rain. I’m taking the late bus with you.”
“That’s so strange—” Alex began.
“The bus is here!” Ella called.
“Come on! Let’s run for it,” Ava said. She headed out the door with the crowd of kids, and Alex followed.
As they sprinted through the sheets of rain, Alex grabbed her sister’s hand. Together they boarded the bus, dripping puddles down the aisle as they made their way toward the back.
They slid into the seat behind Corey O’Sullivan and Jack Valdeavano. Raindrops fell from Corey’s red hair. With a mischievous look, he gave his head an aggressive shake, spraying the twins.
“Gross! What are you, a wet dog?” Ava cried.
“Top dog,” he boasted. “I’m your quarterback, remember? The star of the Tiger Cubs?”
“Conceited much?” Alex teased. Corey wasn’t actually conceited, but he did have a great throwing arm and, as far as Alex was concerned, an even better smile.
“Just telling it like it is,” Corey joked, puffing out his chest.
“It’s so sad. The rain got into his brain,” Jack said.
“From all the holes in his head,” Ava added with a grin.
“Score!” Jack held up his hand. Ava slapped his palm. Corey and Alex collapsed into giggles.
Ava continued to joke with Corey and Jack as the bus pulled out of the school parking lot. Ava played football with Corey and hung out with Jack a lot, shooting hoops at the nearby park. She had an easy way with boys that Alex envied—without Ava around, Alex wouldn’t have known what to say to Jack and Corey.
The bus’s headlights cut through the storm as it turned down another street.
Thunder boomed in the distance. The rain drumming against the bus’s roof made Alex’s skin tingle.
“It’s spooky out there,” she said.
“Spooky is good,” Jack said. “We need to make next weekend spooky. But with no rain.”
“What’s next weekend?” Ava asked.
“Halloween,” Alex answered.
“Not just Halloween,” Corey said. “Lindsey’s party.”
“It’s going to be epic,” Jack agreed.
Alex nodded, but her brain was spinning. Lindsey Davis was having a party? How could she not know this? Weren’t she and Lindsey close friends?
“Is it a costume party?” Ava asked.
“Is there any other kind for Halloween?” Corey asked. “I helped Lindz come up with all these wacky categories. Makes My Little Sister Cry. Weirdest Superhero. Most Likely to Get the Most Likes. The winning costumes get prizes.”
Alex chewed her lip. It’s not strange that Corey knows all this about the party, she told herself. Lindsey and Corey are going out. Still . . . could I really not be invited?
“Lindsey told us about it at lunch,” Jack said.
Aha! Alex had missed lunch today to make signs for the student council car wash. “So are we all invited?”
She had to ask, just to be extra sure.
“I think you’re the one with water in the brain,” Corey said to Alex. “Of course we’re all invited. Practically the whole seventh grade is invited!”
Alex nodded, as if she already knew this.
“I heard Sloane promised to make food for the party,” Jack offered. Lindsey’s older sister Sloane had graduated high school and was now in culinary school.
“And I’m going to eat it all!” Corey cried. “Sloane makes these insane pumpkin cupcakes with cream filling. Lindsey should do a cupcake-eating contest. I’d win.”
“I want to win one of the costume prizes,” Ava said.
“Me too,” Alex agreed. “I always plan my Halloween costume in July. I have a really original one this year.”
“Not me,” Ava said. “I always wait until the last minute. But I came up with an idea this morning.”
“So what are you guys going to be?” Jack asked.
“A Spelling Bee!” Alex and Ava said at the same time.
Alex met Ava’s surprised gaze. Another shiver ran down her spine.
“Together?” Jack asked.
“No, not together.” Alex pulled her fingers through her damp hair. She didn’t recall ever telling Ava her idea. How could they have come up with the exact same costume?
“What is a Spelling Bee?” Corey asked.
“I’m going to wearing a cute bumblebee outfit. Yellow and black with wings and a stinger,” Alex explained. “Then I’m going to attach letters from the alphabet to my bee body. Get it? Spelling Bee?”
Corey groaned. “Leave it to the Sackett twins to make Halloween complicated. Ever hear of a witch or a ghost?”
“Boring,” Ava said. “Alex and I definitely don’t do boring.”
“And you’re going to make the same bee costume as Alex?” Jack asked Ava.
Ava shrugged. “The idea just randomly popped into my mind. But yeah, sure. It would be funny if we were twin bees.” Ava laughed, and Corey and Jack joined in.
“Spelling bees,” Alex corrected her.
But already her mind was spinning. She and Ava had always chosen costumes that were totally different. Once she’d been a princess and Ava had been a dragon slayer. The year she was a bunny, Ava was a dinosaur. Last year Alex had gone as an angel and Ava had decided on Halloween morning to go as a devil. So why this year had they all of a sudden picked the same costume?
Her dad would say they’d had one of their “twin connections” today. That’s what he called it when they had the same ideas or said the same thing. But this was their first Halloween with their new friends in Ashland. Alex loved Ava, but there was no way they were appearing at Lindsey’s party dressed in the same costume!
Ava stepped off the bus and gazed at the sky. The rain had slowed, and the storm seemed to be passing.
“I wish I had an umbrella,” Alex grumbled as she stepped off behind Ava.
“Our house is only down the block.” Ava shrugged. She didn’t care about wet hair the way her twin did.
“Only?” Alex sighed and walked alongside Ava. Suddenly she stopped. “Why did you steal my costume idea?”
“What?” Ava asked.
“You know what,” Alex said, still not moving. “Somehow you found out about my Spelling Bee idea, and then you stole it.”
“I didn’t steal it. I promise,” Ava said. “Come on, let’s get home.”
“No, wait! Prove it. How did you come up with Spelling Bee at that exact moment?” Alex asked.
Ava pointed to the yellow-and-black Pittsburgh Steelers jersey she wore. “At breakfast, Mom said I looked like a bumblebee. And I was in the middle of going over words for my spelling test. So I thought of a Spelling Bee. Mystery solved.”
Alex eyed her suspiciously. “Fine, but it was my idea first. You can’t be it too.”
“Why not?” Ava asked, heading down the sidewalk. She had no intention of being a Spelling Bee now, but she liked teasing Alex.
“Because you don’t even like spelling!” Alex sputtered.
“You don’t even like bees,” Ava countered.
Alex’s face grew red, and she stalked toward home.
Ava followed, letting out an occasional “bzzz, bzzz” to annoy her sister.
“Mom!” Alex called, pulling open their front door. “Mom! Make her stop!”
“Bzzzz!” Ava teased as she trailed Alex into the kitchen. Their mom was washing the breakfast dishes. Ava suspected she had been in her ceramics studio in their garage since they’d left this morning. Mrs. Sackett’s ceramics business had recently taken off. She had already sold one hundred little blue-glazed pots.
“Mom, tell Ava she can’t be a Spelling Bee,” Alex demanded.
“You want to be in a spelling bee, Ave?” Mrs. Sacket raised her eyebrows in surprise. “That is so exciting! Did your teacher ask you?”
“Not that kind of spelling bee,” Ava said. She hated to disappoint her mom, but spelling was definitely not her thing. She had barely managed to pull out a C on her last spelling quiz. But now wasn’t the time to share that news.
Alex quickly explained as their dad and their older brother, Tommy, pushed open the back door. Moxy, their Australian shepherd, ran to greet them. She got the most excited when Coach came home.
“We ended practice early because of the rain,” Coach said.
“Well, I’m glad you’re home. We can all have dinner together,” said Mrs. Sackett. Family dinners were rare during football season—especially on a Friday night.
“I’m not glad. The play-off game is a week from tomorrow,” Coach grumbled. “We need the practice.”
“That’s not the only thing next week,” Ava reminded him. “It’s your birthday on Sunday!”
“It’ll be a busy weekend,” Mrs. Sackett said. “And the big game is on Halloween! It’s fun that they’re doing the game on a Saturday afternoon instead of Friday night. The fans are supposed to come in costume. And then Dad’s birthday the day after.”
“What do you want for your birthday?” Alex asked him. She loved shopping for gifts. Shopping for anything, really, Ava thought.
“How about a party?” Tommy suggested.
“No way!” Coach said. “No gifts. No party. All I want is for the team to win the play-off game.”
He clipped a leash onto Moxy’s collar. “I know you hate the rain, girl, but you need a little exercise. Let’s go run a few plays.”
“Poor Moxy,” Tommy said, as Coach left with their dog.
“Listen,” Ava said. “We need to plan something for his birthday. We have to celebrate.”
“But if the Tigers lose . . .” Alex didn’t finish her thought.
No one said anything. They all knew it would be a horribly depressing birthday if the team lost the game.