Freaky Friday meets The Parent Trap in Better Together, the new YA contemporary novel by author and BookTuber, Christine Riccio and we have an exclusive extract just for you.
August 28, Friday Evening Colorado
The words cabin ten are carved into the wood beside the flimsy screen door of my assigned house. I throw that open to get to the plain brown one behind it, and use my key to get inside.
Cabin ten is one room. There’s a window on the far wall allowing a flood of gray decaying light to fall across the wooden floor. A single bunk is on the right wall with a desk underneath it where a bottom bunk would be. A small old-fashioned lamp with an on/off beaded string sits on the desk. A green yoga mat is unfurled across the floor along the left wall.
“Wow, roughing it.” I chuck my bag near the yoga mat, take a seat at the desk, and exhale. “What now?”
I flip open the journal Terry gave me and click on a pen.
Really thought we’d have roommates. Looks like I’ll have to leave the cabin in search of human interaction. =P
I close the notebook and stick my head outside. It’s getting dark, but the trail along the cabins is lit up every five feet or so. All is quiet. I drag the desk chair out the door and set up camp outside for a bit.
It takes five minutes, but eventually we have liftoff. There’s a girl headed in my direction, about a hundred feet down the trail with a towel and a shower caddy. I duck back into the room and emerge a minute later in flip- flops with a towel over my shoulder and a Ziploc full of shower tools just as she’s approaching my new abode.
“Hey hey hey! I’m Jamie!” I skip onto the trail. The girl’s eyes widen a bit as I fall into step beside her, but it looks like she’ll tolerate my presence. She has dark skin and long braids tied back in a low ponytail. “How’s it going?”
“It’s going,” she answers with a wry smile. “I’m Thalia.”
“Nice to meet you.” The trail we’re on slopes downward to pass six more cabins en route to a lit-up rectangular building labeled cleanse & shower. “Have you explored this Cleanse and Shower building yet?” I smile at her.
She chuckles. “I have. I got here yesterday.”
“How’d the showers treatchya?” A mosquito lands on my arm as we close in on the building. I swat at it.
“As well as to be expected. Water pressure’s low. Floors are kinda gross. Hot water gets just below what you’d optimally want. Feels like college.” Thalia pulls ahead of me to the entrance. She wrenches open the metal door.
I follow her in. “Wouldn’t know what that’s like, never went.” She looks over her shoulder. “Lucky you, that’s why I’m here.”
Inside, there are two paths. To the right are four shower stalls and two sinks. To the left are four toilets and four sinks. There’s a pale young woman with freckles and shoulder-length wet blond hair at a sink on the shower side. She’s working through it with one of those wet brushes.
Thalia streamlines past Freckles to the shower farthest from the door and yanks the curtain shut behind her. Someone’s already occupying the second shower and a cozy amount of steam mills about the room. I head over to the sinks.
“Hey hey hey! I’m Jamie!” I project my voice a bit so Freckles won’t have trouble hearing me over the running water.
Her eyes slide to mine in the mirror. “Kelly.”
“Why are you here, Kelly?” I shoot her a smile and wash my hands so I have something to do.
She rakes through a new section of hair before answering. “Things fell apart with my high school sweetheart.”
“Ah, a breakup, do tell!”
Kelly frowns at me through the mirror. “Is that why you’re here too?”
I push the lever down a couple of times on the hand towel dispenser. “Nah, I’m just quarter-life crisis-ing pretty hard.” I turn to look her in the eye. “What happened with you and high school boyfriend?”
Kelly grimaces before grabbing the shower caddy by her feet. She stalks around me toward the exit.
“Okay, well, nice to meet you,” I call. “See you tomorrow! Looking forward to hearing your story.” The door claps shut behind her.
I hum to myself cheerfully. Maybe I can camp out in here a bit post- shower and paint my nails, meet a couple more people, before going back to my cabin of nothing. Thalia was cool, maybe we can hang out.
I spin toward the showers, inspecting the neon chipped polish currently on my fingers. I’ve taken two steps toward the empty third stall when the plastic curtain to my right is thrown open and someone bulldozes into me.
“HOLY—” I flail for purchase for a brief slow-motion moment, before we’re both in free fall. “—FUCKING BUCKET SHITBALLS JESUS CHRIST MARY JOSEPH—UGHF.” My profanity stream cuts off with a grunt as I semi-brace against the ground with one arm and slam into this poor girl’s stomach. She screeches like a dying animal.
I push up off her gingerly. As I do, her pale arms fly up to cover her eyes.
She’s still emitting a high-pitched wailing sound. “You can stop screaming!” I tell her.
The sound stops, but she doesn’t lower her arms. Blood begins to bead around her elbow. This girl’s only wearing a towel.
“Shit, dude, are you okay?” I ask hesitantly.
When she doesn’t respond, I gently pull the injured arm away from her face to get a better look at it. There are multiple splotches where the skin is scraped off. “Your elbow’s all cut up.”
I look up to meet her eyes, and the girl’s face knocks the wind out of me like a swift kick to the gut. I gag for a second before finding the air to belt out a scream of my own.
What the actual flippity fudge fork jibbit fuck?!
“Gah!” is all I manage to actually get out before hopping up from the floor and stumbling backward. “Siri?!”
The girl doesn’t respond, just closes her eyes. Small rivulets of water flow down her cheeks. She’s still lying flat on the ground like a corpse.
“Siri?!” I repeat.
I clear my throat from where I’m now gawking at her, six feet away, against the sinks. “Hello?”
My heart’s thrashing so hard against my chest, I feel like it’s going to bust through my rib cage like the alien in Alien.
“Hey, excuse me! I’m going to need you to acknowledge your name. Is it
Siri?” I demand.
The girl sucks in a breath. “Yeah, what’s it to you?” she croaks.
I brace an arm against the sink. “Can you get up?” I think I’m having a hot flash. When she doesn’t move or respond, I step forward and offer her a shaky hand.
She’s crying silently like a creepy child in a horror film. “Take my hand,” I instruct.
Without making eye contact, she takes my hand and braces the injured arm against her towel. She slowly positions her feet directly under her torso before standing straight up in one fluid motion.
“Your face,” I breathe.
She’s still not looking at me. She might not have even heard me. Okay, she’s hyperventilating. And staring at the floor.
“Are you okay?” I repeat anxiously.
Siri steps back into her shower stall and pulls the curtain closed.
A sputtering noise escapes my lips. “Are you shitting me right now?” Her shower turns back on.
“Hey!” I complain.
My stomach heaves. Not this again. I lunge to throw up in the garbage next to the sink.
August 28, Friday Evening Colorado
I let the hot water dribble over my face before rinsing the blood from my elbow. I think that girl just threw up. Gross.
My lower back is throbbing. I rotate to let the water fall over it. It’s throb- bing, not shooting. At least there’s that.
I startle a little behind the curtain. Why the hell is she standing so close?
How does she know my name?
“Please stay away from me if you’re ill,” I scold. “Give me some space.” “Are you okay?” comes the voice.
“Yes. You can leave, I’m fine.”
“I can’t leave,” she insists. “I’m . . . I need to make sure you’re okay.” My forehead crinkles up. “Yes. You can. I said I’m fine,” I assert firmly. “I don’t . . . do you not . . . don’t you—” She fumbles her words.
“Spit it out, or get out of here! At least move away from the curtain!” I can see her shadow a foot away. There’s a shuffle as she takes a step back.
I glance down for my soap, but there’s nothing in the stall because I chucked all my toiletries when we fell. Excrement.
I blow out a shaky breath. “Miss, actually could you hand me my toiletries
please? I need the soap.”
Twenty seconds later a hand shoves through the gap alongside the cur- tain, holding my shower caddy. I leap out of sight and smack into the wall by accident.
“Ow,” I whine involuntarily.
“Are you okay?” the girl asks again.
I snatch the shower caddy. “Yes, thank you, you can leave now!” She’s silent for a beat. “How hard did you hit your head?”
There’s a weird protective note in her voice. I don’t like it. I barely hit my head. I swallow, gazing nervously at her shadow.
What if she never leaves me alone? What if she takes me hostage and tries to kill me? Why else is she still here? I said I was fine. What if she has a weapon? What if she’s going to assault me again? I’ll have to go find Terry. I might have to run, but I can’t run with my back like this. I’ll have to walk-run like an un-oiled robot. Dear lord, I can see it now: banished from ballet, exiled to Colorado by mother, and murdered in bathroom by girl with grown-out neon orange airplane hair.
Maybe I can kick her. I can throw the shower caddy at her as a distraction.
I quickly wash and re-towel off. I repack my shower caddy and angle it to optimal throwing position in my right palm. Braced, I yank the curtain open with my left hand.
The girl’s leaning over the sink. She turns to face me with something vertical looking in her hand. Weapon?!
I chuck the shower caddy with an involuntary “Ahhhh!” battle cry, and
hobble-fast-walk toward the exit.
I hear my shower things crash into her and onto the floor as I throw open the door into the night. I don’t stop until I reach my cabin, slam the door shut, and throw the dinky bolt lock into place.
“Jamie’s an aspiring standup comic in Los Angeles with a growing case of stage anxiety.
Siri’s a stunning ballerina from New Jersey nursing a career-changing injury.
They’ve both signed up for the same session at an off the grid Re-Discover Yourself Retreat in Colorado. When they run into each other, their worlds turn upside down.
Jamie and Siri are sisters, torn apart at a young age by their parent’s volatile divorce. They’ve grown up living completely separate lives: Jamie with their Dad and Siri with their Mom. Now, reunited after over a decade apart, they hatch a plot to switch places. It’s time they get to know and confront each of their estranged parents.
With an accidental assist from some fortuitous magic, Jamie arrives in New Jersey, looking to all the world like Siri, and Siri steps off her flight sporting a Jamie glamour.
The sisters unexpectedly find themselves stuck living in each other’s shoes. Soon Siri’s crushing on Jamie’s best friend Dawn. Jamie’s falling for the handsome New Yorker she keeps running into, Zarar. Alongside a parade of hijinks and budding romance, both girls work to navigate their broken family life and the stresses of impending adulthood.”
Get your copy of Better Together by Christine Riccio here.