Sensitive Content Warning: Abuse; Suicide; Mental Health
April 4th, 2030
I wish I could tell Mom and Dad the truth, but it would kill them. The truth is so stupid, too!
I hate painting! There! I said it.
Especially with Mom. Today, I picked purple instead of red for the flowers I drew. This made Mom cry because Cassy’s favorite color was red. Mom cried so much Dad had to put her to bed. Cassy’s birthday is soon; last year, it stressed out Mom so much that she was hospitalized. Her birthday is the same day as mine because, let’s be real, nothing truly belongs to me.
I hope the pressure will ease once my birthday passes. Mom’s health hasn’t been great lately, and Dad is forgetting things. It started as soon as he retired last year, which, at age seventy-six, is really late compared to most people. Dad’s work as a scientist made us rich, according to Mom. She’s nearly as old as him, but unlike Dad, her memory is sharp. Too sharp. It makes my life hell.
Still, I’m scared of what will happen to me if they aren’t around. I’m not old enough to live independently. Even worse, I could get taken by the government and forced into experiments, like Dad warned.
Every flower I paint has to be red. I have to stick to the saxophone, even though I hate it because that’s what Cassy played.
I wish I could become a writer. I stay up late every night, secretly reading books I get from the library and writing in this diary to practice. The other night, Dad caught me and told Mom. Mom shouted at the top of her lungs that Cassy hated reading and took the book from me and ripped it up! Well, she tried to rip it up. Her arthritis is too bad to do any actual damage.
I’d die if she took this diary away. It’s the only thing keeping me sane.
I guess I’ll just have to lie and say I’m staying late at school for homework so I can read books there in secret.
April 9th, 2030
Yesterday, Mom drove with Ryan and picked me up from school. Everyone thought Ryan was Dad’s equivalent because he’s so old, but I told them he’s just our butler.
Didn’t matter. Today, my entire class made fun of me for living with my grandparents, which is pathetic because they’re actually my parents. Not that anyone knows the truth, nor could I ever tell them. Anyway, the class ridiculed me until Mrs. Elliot walked in and caught them.
Mrs. Elliot reported everything to the headteacher, who reported it to my parents. This bougie private school takes bullying seriously. I was relieved until I got home and Mom yelled, Cassy was bullied. While she never agreed with it, it taught Cassy empathy, which she worries I lack.
Then she mentioned making me switch schools again. “A public one,” Mom said, because apparently, bullying is worse there.
I tried not to cry because Cassy never cried, but I couldn’t help it. I burst into tears and ran into my room and slammed the door.
Dad came up not long after. He was out of breath by the time he reached the top of the stairs, his gray hair askew, as it often is. His thick glasses had smudges on them. He sat on the edge of my bed and stared at my bedroom wall for a long time.
“These posters are old,” he mumbled, looking at one of Justin Bieber’s concerts in 2009.
I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to scream, please let me take them down, but I didn’t want to send him into a spiral.
“After Cassy’s birthday—sorry, your birthday—we could take down some of these old posters. What do you think?”
I hesitated, not knowing if this was a trick. The fading, crumpled Justin Bieber poster stared back at me, daring me to say something I’d regret.
Honestly, I don’t get why everyone was so obsessed with him back then. Cassy loved him, apparently.
“Once the birthday passes, you’ll have made it past an important milestone, and I think it’s fair to say it’s time for you to make your own decisions.” His eyes glazed over a bit, and his mouth fell open like it always does when he spaces out.
“Ok,” I said. That’s all I’ll ever say. If I’m too rebellious, Dad will think I’m a failure. I’ve never asked what happens if I fail. I don’t want to know.
“What was that?” he asked, his cataract-filled eyes glazed over. “Oh, dear, it’s late. Are you hungry? Did we eat?”
I held back my tears, said I would grab food, and headed to the kitchen for snacks. Thankfully, Mom was asleep.
Now I’m under the blankets, worrying about what will happen if I can’t be as perfect as Cassy was.
I don’t think I’d go to the labs, but they might replace me.
I really, really hope he remembers his promise.
April 12th, 2030
Dad talked Mom out of switching schools. I guess he remembered what we talked about a few days ago. I’m hoping this is a good sign that maybe, just maybe, I’ll get more freedom.
My birthday is in three days, and Mom bought flour to make a pineapple upside-down cake. I hate pineapple, but I could never tell her that. She makes it every year and sings Cassy’s favorite song, Baby, by Justin Bieber (of course). I think it’s the only time she experiences genuine joy.
Surviving this birthday means I outlived Cassy. Cassy didn’t make it past sixteen, so if I make it even one day past this birthday, I’ll be a success.
Mx. Lo caught me hiding in the library at lunch, reading. They suggested I read outside before it gets too smoky from forest fires. I said I preferred artificial light to natural light. Mx. Lo looked uneasy; all I could do was try to seem confident.
Later, Ryan picked me up from school, and the car ride home was silent and eerie. I was terrified Mx. Lo had called my parents. I came home expecting Mom to have a stroke, but she was trimming roses and humming a Selena Gomez song that Cassy used to love.
Maybe a teenager reading in the library isn’t that weird to ordinary people like Mx. Lo. Maybe I’m not as much of a failure as my parents think.
I hate that I have to keep this secret. Dad would go to jail, though, and who knows what would happen to Mom.
And me? Dad said they’d send me to a lab for the rest of my life and experiment on me against my will. They’d torture me, he said. Justin Bieber’s music is torture, but it’s nothing compared to what the government would do to me.
April 16th, 2030
The assholes turned my birthday into a funeral. I’m so angry!
My actual birthday, which was yesterday, was fine. We listened to Justin Bieber on repeat, ate shitty cake, and talked about my day at school. I lied about a poppy painting to please Mom, and now I have to paint one. Ugh.
Honestly, it wasn’t the worst birthday. Usually, they’re filled with warnings about how I might not see my next.
Except Ryan woke me up early the following day. He made me dress up in one of Cassy’s old white dresses. I noticed that he, too, was also entirely in white. He took me into our backyard, where Mom and Dad were waiting, also dressed in white. The sun was still rising. Just past our patio were flowers on giant reefs and a big hole in the ground. Next to it was a medium-sized coffin and two other small ones.
The medium-sized one was open. My first thought was that I had failed to live up to their expectations, and they planned to bury me alive. I wanted to run, but my legs wouldn’t move.
Nearby, two men in dirt-covered jumpsuits held shovels and cigarettes. Ryan sent them away. I wonder how much Mom and Dad paid them to keep quiet. Probably made them sign NDAs, too.
“Your father and I have been talking, and we agreed that it’s time.” Mom wiped her wrinkled face with a handkerchief. “This isn’t just a birthday, sweetheart. It’s a rite of passage. You’ve ascended from your old body into the next. You defied death.”
I blurted out, “You’ve had her this whole time?!” I couldn’t help myself. Mom’s wrinkly skin went pale. Dad shook his head, jowls flapping.
“No, Cassy, we’ve had you this whole time. But now that it’s your sixteenth birthday, we can lay your first body to rest, along with your other two bodies that sadly did not make it this far.”
I stared at the dark coffin. Dew had formed on it. I was used to weird talk about my “past life,” but they didn’t tell me they kept the bodies! And the casket was open! I couldn’t see in it yet, and I really, really didn’t want to. I gazed past the fence and into the dense forest behind our house, and without thinking, I bolted towards it.
Ryan caught me before I made it far. He dragged me back with his hand over my mouth as I screamed. He urged me to stop and promised it would end soon.
I don’t know why, but I listened to him. I wiped my tears, turned around, and faced my parents.
“Go ahead,” Dad said.
I walked up to the casket. I saw hands resting on a chest.
I looked at my Dad, who gave me a faint nod. Mom was too busy crying happy tears, staring at the casket with a manic look I have seen far too many times.
“Don’t be afraid!” she bellowed. “You can’t ever die, Cassy. You’ll always be here.” She sobbed into her hands while Dad rubbed her back. He gave me another stern nod, his expression screaming, don’t upset your mother.
I approached the casket, tasting bile. I closed my eyes and then opened them.
It was me in there. My dead skin was blue and frozen. I had sunken cheeks. My blonde hair was in neat ringlets. I was wearing a white, frilly dress. My chest stuck out unnaturally like someone had stuffed it. I am identical to the body in the casket, except for being alive and well. Even my nails are the same oval shape.
“What do you want me to say?” I asked numbly.
“Show yourself some respect,” Dad snapped.
I couldn’t say she’d died so I could live because Cassy isn’t dead in my parents’ minds. To them, I’m the same person who’s in the casket. I’m here, dressed in her old, out-of-fashion clothes, listening to the same bad music, and hating my life like she did. Mom and Dad figured if I did everything exactly the same, I’d become the person Cassy was.
Except I’m not doing anything. The girl in the casket is. I’m just her clone–her third one, to be exact. My rich, well-connected father secretly commissioned me through his network of questionable Korean scientists. I’m the clone that, unfortunately, survived the process.
Writing the truth feels great, but I might have to burn this diary after. I can’t go to a lab. I just can’t.
“Thank you,” I said to my former self. I walked away. I really, really wanted to throw up.
Both men returned, smoked, and buried the three clones in one hole. Mom sobbed the entire time. Dad stood still other than occasionally adjusting his glasses. He seemed weirdly lucid through all of it.
The lie my parents tell everyone is that I’m their grandkid. Cassy had a secret child before she died, and it was me. Cassy killed herself because she had mental health issues and the baby didn’t help.
I think it’s pretty rich that my parents act like I’m the one disrespecting Cassy, despite them lying about her past like that. But who am I to say anything? I’m supposed to be her. I’m not permitted to have my own opinions. They only revealed the truth about my identity four years ago because, according to them, I was old enough to keep it a secret.
Mom and Dad let me leave the funeral before them, and I puked in the downstairs toilet when I got into the house. Mom and Dad didn’t hear. They were too busy crying outside by the casket.
I hate this. I can’t tell anyone the truth. I feel so alone. Cloning humans is still illegal in North America. Even if I could summon the courage to say something, I have no friends I can tell. I can’t relate to anyone at school. I’m not allowed to like what they like because many of their hobbies and favorite singers didn’t exist when Cassy was alive. I’m stuck living someone else’s life, except, genetically speaking, I am that person. I am Cassy.
My head hurts. I want to throw up again.
One day I might write a horror story about a clone who has to act like their dead former self. Then she has to watch herself get buried in some sick ritual that her parents have been anticipating since she was “born.” That’s the closest I’ll ever get to being able to speak my truth.
Except I don’t want anyone to discover me and take me to a lab for experiments, particularly if my Dad alive to safeguard me.
Maybe I’ll write a story about a girl forced to impersonate her dead older sister. It’s a close enough comparison and won’t raise red flags. I hope, anyway.
I want to tell the truth. I want to be seen. But maybe I should just be grateful I exist. Maybe Mom and Dad are right—Cassy can’t die, and neither can I.
I guess I should be happy about that. Doesn’t everyone want to live forever?
Why can’t I be happy?
April 21st, 2030
I thought my birthday/funeral would be the worst thing that ever happened to me. I asked to read last night, but Dad got angry and said it wasn’t like Cassy. Then he told me to practice saxophone.
He forgot everything he had promised.
I snapped, threw my saxophone at the wall, and ran out of the house.
Ryan eventually found me at a gas station down the hill from our house. He rolled up in Dad’s black SUV. I didn’t fight. I just got in the front seat. On the way home, he pulled over on the side of the road. I started biting my nails.
He looked older than usual when he spoke. “There’s something I need to tell you about Cassy.”
“Great,” I said sarcastically. I couldn't help it.
“I knew the first Cassy. She hated the color red and despised painting, especially with your mother. She wanted to be a writer. Except your mother wanted Cassy to play saxophone because that’s what your mother played when she was young. She punished Cassy for reading and being herself, quite like she does now.”
My heart felt like it might break out of my chest. “What about Justin Bieber?”
“Your mother loves him. Cassy—no, you hate him. Always have. Don’t listen to your parents. Your father was never around. He barely knew Cassy. The poor girl felt trapped. That’s why she…”
My heart exploded, and I cried so much. Cassy suffered like I did, and that’s why she killed herself?
Ryan unbuckled his seatbelt and hugged me. “In two years, you’ll graduate. You can go to college and pursue your dreams. Take out student loans and free yourself from them. I’ll be there to help you. I promise. I watched you grow up twice. I won’t do it a third time.”
We drove home, but only after I finished crying. I apologized to Mom and Dad and went to my room; weirdly, they left me alone. I’ve been here ever since. It’s dark now, and my stomach is growling, but I can’t bring myself to eat.
I hated Cassy for so long, but we’re more similar than I realized. We’re not just similar. We’re the same person. I am her. I feel sorry for her. For myself, I should say. I didn’t make it out of this house last time, but I will this time. If I can defy death, I can do anything.
There’s a painting of poppies on my bedroom wall that Cassy did. It’s Mom’s favorite. I never noticed before, but some petals aren’t red. They’re magenta, yellow, and even violet. The red petals are near the front and are bigger than the rest, giving the illusion the flowers are mostly one color.
My cheeks hurt from smiling. I guess I’m smarter than I give myself credit for.