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Olivia Abbott smiled to herself; the lilac crocuses in the flower beds along the sidewalk were the exact same shade as her mini dress.
Franklin Grove was finally shaking off the snow from winter and spring was in the air.
Her twin sister, Ivy Vega, in her stompy black boots, seemed more interested in balancing along the line of black tar that ran between the slabs of concrete than in looking at the flowers.
"Where's he taking us?" Olivia whispered to Ivy.
Mr Vega, their biological dad, was striding a few paces ahead of his daughters like he was being stalked by a vampire hunter. He had asked for another bio-family afternoon together but hadn't told them why.
"Somewhere dark and quiet, I hope," Ivy whispered back, shading her black-lined eyes with her pale hand. "All this sunshine is giving me a headache."
"Don't be such a hermit, Ivy," Olivia teased. Despite being complete opposites, Olivia totally loved her goth twin.
"Come on, girls," said Mr Vega, his black blazer flapping as he beckoned them. "Our table at Mister Smoothie is booked for noon."
Ivy stumbled, sending her long brown hair flying. "What?"
Olivia was surprised, too. "But last time …" Last time, Mr Vega had accidentally ordered one of the smoothies that came with a sing-along from the whole restaurant, which hadn't bothered Olivia. But it was just about any self-respecting vampire's worst nightmare and Mr Vega had been mortified.
"Oh, that was only a bit of fun," Mr Vega said, clearing his throat and looking away.
"Zombie alert!" Ivy called, pretending to be scared. "Zombies have taken over the town!"
"Don't be silly, Ivy," Mr Vega said.
"You must be a zombie," she retorted. "My father would never willingly go back to the bunniest place in town – no offence, Olivia."
Olivia didn't take any. All the vampires in Franklin Grove, like Ivy and Mr Vega, called non-vampires, like her, "bunnies".
"Don't be silly," Mr Vega muttered. "It wasn't that bad."
What could possibly convince him to go back to Mr Smoothie? Olivia thought. It might not be zombies, but something was going on. There was something both sisters had been wondering about for a few weeks. At the beginning of the year, Mr Vega had told them that he was going to Dall as on a business trip, but Ivy had seen the tag on his suitcase for LAX – Los Angeles airport. Olivia had no idea why he would keep a secret like that.
"You!" commanded a voice.
Olivia looked over to see a woman in a deep purple skirt suit with brown high-heeled boots holding a phone to her ear and pointing straight at her.
It was Amy Teller, movie agent to the most famous male movie star, Jackson Caulfield, who also happened to be Olivia's boyfriend. She marched over, stopping Mr Vega in his tracks.
"No, I didn't mean you. I've already told you!" she shouted into her phone. "Jackson Caulfield does not do animal costumes." She clicked the phone shut and pointed at Olivia again. "You can help me."
Olivia gulped. "Uh, sure. What do you need?"
"I need a decent coffee shop," Amy snapped.
"I think the Meat and Greet serves coffee," Olivia replied. She was more of a fruit juice kind of girl.
A chirping came from Amy's bag. She pulled out a different phone, checked the screen and then dropped the phone back in her bag, obviously deciding that whoever was calling wasn't worth talking to. "But do they do a soy latte?" she demanded.
Ivy snorted. "Doubt it."
The Meat and Greet was secretly a vampire establishment catering to carnivores. Olivia could get a decent salad there but the word 'soy' was nowhere on their menu.
Something started vibrating in Amy's bag and she pulled out a third phone. "I have to take this." She turned her back on them and started to pace. "George, darling!" she cooed.
"We need to get going," Mr Vega told Olivia. "I, ah, I don't want to lose our favourite booth!"
The perkiness that Mr Vega was putting on made Olivia even more suspicious. He was more of a moody violin than a chipper trumpet, so something was definitely going on.
"OK." Olivia motioned for Amy to follow them down the sidewalk.
Soon the neon Mister Smoothie sign flashing "Fruitastic!" came into view and as they crossed the parking lot, Mr Vega seemed to be staring at everyone. Amy was trilling in a high-pitched giggle to whoever George was and Ivy was still muttering about zombies.
Today is turning out to be a strange day, Olivia thought.
"Ciao, darling," Amy said and rounded on Olivia. "It's your fault I"m stuck in this tiny one-horse town. The least you could do is help me find a decent cup of coffee."
Amy was right. Jackson and his family had wanted to get out of Holl ywood, and Jackson had convinced them that Franklin Grove was the place to go, because of the good school and quiet lifestyle.
The thought made Olivia want to skip the rest of the way.
"Madam," Mr Vega put in. 'there are many delightful things hidden in our little town."
"If you can't find a delight," Amy replied, "how can it be delightful?"
"Why don't you try a smoothie?" Mr Vega said.
Olivia was astounded. Mr Vega had become a Mister Smoothie spokesperson!
"Never mind," Amy said. "Just tell me where Jackson is."
Olivia shrugged. "I think he's with Brendan."
"And who's Brendan?"
"He's my boyfriend," Ivy put in.
Amy narrowed her eyes. "And what exactly are they doing?"
"Just hanging out, I guess," Olivia replied.
"Jackson does not just hang out." She looked Ivy up and down, taking in her black combat trousers and skull-and-crossbones T-shirt. "If he goes goth, I will never forgive you. He's already turned down a new big-budget movie series called Striker."
"It would have taken him to St Petersburg for the summer," Amy went on. "But instead he wants to audition for the school play of Romeo and Juliet. The school play!"
Olivia grinned as Amy stalked off, exasperated.
"That woman needs a vacation," Mr Vega said as they pushed open the door and stepped inside the brightly coloured restaurant.
The three of them approached the counter. Olivia already knew what she wanted, but Ivy buried her nose in the menu.
"I"m pleased to hear your school is putting on Romeo and Juliet," Mr Vega said.
"Me, too," Olivia said. She was planning to try out for the role of Juliet.
"But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?" Mr Vega said, putting one hand on his heart and the other pointing towards an imaginary balcony. "I played Romeo once or twice in my youth."
"Do you mean what neon horror assaults mine eyes?" Ivy asked.
"I would never be so rude." Mr Vega smiled.
The serving girl – it was the same one as on the last visit, Olivia recognised her cow-shaped earrings – looked baffled at their return.
"Welcome to Mister Smoothie?" It was more a question than the usual perky statement. "I"ll be your elixir mixer."
"I"d like a small Cookies and Cream," Ivy said.
"And I"ll have a Mini-Mommy Pear Perk-Me-Up," Olivia said.
Mr Vega studied the menu intently.
"How about a Twist and –" Ivy began with a wicked grin on her face. It was the Twist and Shout that made everybody sing.
"No!" Mr Vega jumped in. He cleared his throat. "I … I would like this one." He pointed to a Spacey Sour Apple smoothie and the serving girl looked relieved.
"Coming right up!" She busied herself with the blender.
"Ah, Shakespeare." Mr Vega looked wistful for a moment. Then he grabbed an orange straw from a cow-shaped dispenser. " En garde! " he declared, pointing the small plastic 'sword" at Olivia. "You know, girls, I had to learn stage fighting for the role."
Then he started to demonstrate by attacking Olivia.
"Hey! You're attacking a defenceless girl!" Olivia shouted. She grabbed a yellow straw in one hand and a pink one in the other.
"O happy dagger!" she declared. It was one of Juliet's lines from the very last scene of the play.
"Touché! " replied Mr Vega and they pretended to duel.
They even did a fun slow motion scene where Mr Vega pretended to get skewered.
"Trips to Mister Smoothie are always eventful," Ivy said drily as the server handed over the three colourful smoothies.
Olivia poked her tongue out at her sister and followed her over to a four-seater booth by the window with a bunch of mini helium ball oons that spelled out 'reserved". She was impressed with how spontaneous and relaxed her bio-dad was being.
"I"m planning to audition for Juliet," she said to Mr Vega. She wasn't going to admit it to her bio-dad, but she desperately wanted to play Juliet to Jackson's Romeo.
It would be the most romantic thing, Olivia thought, to have our first kiss on stage in the most famous love story ever told. Olivia didn't mind that they hadn't kissed yet. She totally believed in waiting for the right time, and the play could be the perfect moment.
Mr Vega bowed. "I look forward to watching you from the front row."
"Uh … great!" Olivia made a mental note that if she did win the part, she would have to bribe an usher to make sure neither of her dads was sitting in the front row. She definitely didn't want them that close if she was going to be kissing Jackson. "Ivy is going to be the stage manager," she said to change the subject. "And my friend Camil a is the director. Although she did say she had some sort of twist planned."
"A twist in Romeo and Juliet?" Mr Vega asked. "I"m not sure I like the sound of that."
"Did somebody say twist and shout?" Ivy said innocently.
"No!" shouted Mr Vega and Olivia at the same time.
As Mr Vega sipped his smoothie, Ivy watched him carefully. Why has he brought us back to Mister Smoothie?
"How's your drink?" she asked.
Mr Vega forced a smile. "Ah, it is terrific."
Now I know something is up, Ivy thought. Dad never says terrific. Tragic, tortuous, traumatic … but never terrific.
She didn't know how to pry it out of him. Maybe Olivia had a plan? She nudged her sister's foot. Mr Vega was staring out of the window, so Olivia mouthed, "What?"
Ivy motioned with her eyes towards their dad. Olivia looked confused. Ivy jerked her head more forcefully but Olivia just shrugged, not understanding.
So much for twin intuition, Ivy thought.
"Hey," Ivy started at the same time as Olivia said, "Well," and Mr Vega began, "Girls."
"You go," Olivia and Ivy said in unison to their dad.
Mr Vega sighed. "I have something to tell you."
Here it comes, Ivy thought. At least I didn't have to torture it out of him.
"Do you remember when I went on that business trip to Dall as?" he asked.
Olivia nodded, wanting to keep up the pretence, but Ivy blurted, "You didn't go to Dall as."
Mr Vega was just about to take a sip of his drink, but the cup slipped between his fingers and he fumbled to catch the smoothie before it spilled over the table. He carefully put the drink down and stared at Ivy. "How did you know?"
"I saw your luggage tag," Ivy confessed. "It said LAX."
He nodded. "Indeed, I went to Los Angeles."
Olivia looked relieved that their bio-dad was finally coming clean.
"What possible reason could you have to go to one of the sunniest places on earth?" Ivy asked. None of it made sense. Mr Vega's secret trip to LA, all this relaxed chatting and laughing, suggesting a trip here in the first place … Ivy much preferred the dad who hung heavy velvet drapes to keep the house cool and dark.
"I was on a mission," he said. "I know how important family is to you both."
Ivy looked at her sister. She had only met her twin at the beginning of the school year and it had taken ages to work out who their real parents were. Once they had realised Ivy's adoptive dad was actually their real dad, they had convinced him to take them on a trip to Transylvania to meet their vampire relatives. It had been so amazing to meet their grandparents, the Count and Countess.
"Having access to your … Transylvanian … family was relatively easy." The three of them had just spent a week in their grandparents" goth-gorgeous mansion. "But I thought it was important for you to connect with the other side of your family too."
Olivia gasped. "Our mother's?"
Ivy's mind was reeling. All she"d known about her mother's family was that they lived in a place with big trees, called Owll Creek. She"d always wanted to know more. "Is that why you were in Los Angeles? I can't keep up. I didn't know our mom had any family in LA," Ivy said.
"She doesn't." A female voice made all three of them jump.
Ivy looked up to see an oddly familiar-looking woman, about her dad's age, with soft brown curls and blue eyes. She was slim and wearing faded blue jeans and a fitted red-checked shirt.
She looks like she strolled in right off the farm, Ivy thought. So why do I think I've seen her before?
Mr Vega stood up abruptly, knocking over the orange napkin holder. "I"m so glad you could make it." The woman didn't make any move to shake his hand. She just stared down at Ivy and Olivia. "But you're early," Mr Vega whispered.
"Gosh, Charlie," she said out loud, looking down at her watch. 'seven minutes is barely early!"
Charlie!? Ivy thought. No one called her dad Charlie. Well, no one got away with doing it. Why hasn't he corrected her?
His cheeks were colouring and Ivy could see that he was stopping himself from saying anything.
"Besides," the woman went on in her soft southern drawl, "I"m not going to stand on the street – there's a crazy woman shouting on her cell phone."
"I was just going to tell the girls about you," Mr Vega said, fumbling to fit the napkins back into the holder. "If you"d given me a little more time …"
"Well, now you don't have to tell them!" the woman said brightly. 'they can see me for themselves." She smiled, but the smile didn't travel all the way to her eyes – she seemed nervous.
Olivia looked like she"d been forced to join a rival cheerleading squad and didn't know any of the moves.
Just what is going on? Ivy had only felt this odd sensation once before, when she had come face to face with her twin sister for the first time.
Mr Vega turned to his daughters. "I"d hoped to prepare you better for this moment. But seeing as she is already here … Girls, I would like you to meet your Aunt Rebecca."
Ivy finally understood. The reason this woman looked so familiar was because she looked just like their biological mother.
Olivia gasped. "You're our mom's sister." "Not just her sister." Rebecca paused and looked from Ivy to Olivia. "Her twin sister."