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One last chance...
for Max, Fang, and Dylan...
before it all ends.

Are you ready for the final chapter? Are you ready for the ultimate flight? Because THIS IS IT. One last incredible, explosive adventure with an astonishing ending that no one could have seen coming.

BOOK ONE | Before

Chapter 2

“WHY ARE WE walking?” Gazzy’s voice was plaintive.

“We’re walking because other kids walk to school,” I said, again, as I’d said every morning that week. “It’s part of the whole being-normal experience.”

Next to me, Dylan smiled. “And I appreciate your sacrifice,” he said.

I tried to ignore his movie-star looks, with approximately zero success. Every once in a while his arm brushed mine, and each time it was like a tiny electric shock. Maybe it was a new trait he was developing, like an electric eel. (Don’t laugh—stranger things have happened. Like when we bird kids developed the ability to breathe underwater.)

“I’m glad we’re going to school,” Nudge said, as she had every morning that week. Was this normalcy—predictable patterns, the certainty of doing the same thing every day? Because if so, normalcy was about to make me freak out and start screaming.

“Me, too,” said Dylan. “Only for me, it’s the first time, of course.”

Dylan’s had a lot of firsts since he joined the flock, but school was something he actually wanted to try. He was kind of weirdly obsessed with learning—especially anything about science. (Which I, of course, thought was totally repulsive. Science = Wackjob Whitecoats in my sad and tragic life story.)

“If it’s your first time in school, it might as well be a schmancy joint like Newton,” Gazzy said, and Dylan smiled.

I had to admit, so far our school week hadn’t been a complete suckfest. Would I rather be home, doing almost anything else? Yes. Of course. I’m not nuts. But when our mysterious billionaire BFF Nino Pierpont, who some might call our “benefactor,” had offered to pay for Newton, here in mountain-licious Oregon, Dylan had made Bambi eyes at me and I had caved.

Beyond the regular guilt trips from Nudge about wanting to lead a “normal” life, I felt kind of… responsible for Dylan. There was so much he didn’t know about surviving. He might’ve looked like the original teenager he was cloned from, and it was true he was a kick-butt fighter, but I had to keep reminding myself that this version had been alive only about two years.

Plus, there was that whole issue of him supposedly being created especially for me. To be my “perfect other half.”

No pressure or anything.

I thought maybe he liked me more than I liked him, but still—once someone has kissed you in the rain on top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris at sunset, you’re kind of toast.

Anyway, agreeing to go to school with him—just for a while—didn’t seem like that much of a big deal for me. The ratio of my discomfort to his happiness was acceptable. And because he’s, you know, perfect, he fit right in at school and was already super popular. Because I’m, you know, me, I wasn’t exactly super popular. Or popular. Or even noticed that much. Which was the whole point, right? Normalcy.

“Thank you for doing this.” Dylan’s voice was quiet, meant just for me.

I looked up at him, feeling the inevitable flush warming my cheeks. “Let’s see how long I can stomach it.”

He grinned. He didn’t seem to mind that I wasn’t all girly-girl and didn’t have the smoothest of social skills. True, I was trying to brush my hair more these days, but I was still predictably clueless about clothes and how regular girls acted. Dylan seemed to accept me for me.

But why was I even thinking about that? Sooner or later, his crush on me would end, right? And we’d go back to being—there’s that word again—normal.

And just like that, my thin facade of agreeableness shattered.

“You know, life’s not about being normal,” I snapped.

Dylan glanced at me, one eyebrow raised.

“It’s about being happy. And right now, what would make me happy is not walking!” And just like that, I took off at a run, then threw myself into the air, snapping my wings out.

I stroked downward powerfully and pushed upward, the familiar rush of exhilaration at taking flight filling me. I knew the other five bird kids—no, four—would be close behind.

I kept forgetting we were only five. There’d always been six of us (plus Total), but my flock had changed a lot recently. First Dylan showed up, then Fang left—don’t get me started about that—and then, not too long ago… something happened. And we were down to five.

But I’m not going to talk about that. I can’t. Not yet.

“Tag!” I felt a rush of wind and Dylan’s hand tapped my foot as he rose strongly above me, his fifteen-foot wings shining in the morning sun.

I blinked at him, breathing in deeply, and the trees shrank below me, along with all those painful memories.

“Come on, slowpoke. You’re it!” Dylan said, surging ahead.

Laughing, I soared after him, feeling a dash of pride. I’d been the one to teach him how to fly, even if he was a wicked-fast learner. The two of us rose and swooped and chased each other until we were a block away from school. At one point I looked over at him, still smiling wide, and something seemed to light up his eyes.

“Normal’s overrated,” he said.

Copyright © 2012 by James Patterson

Read by Rebecca Soler

Rebecca Soler is a New York-based actress who voices numerous principal characters for the CW's Saturday morning cartoon lineup including: Viva Piñata, Huntik, The Winx Club, and Chaotic. Other audiobooks include Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen, After by Amy Efaw, for which she was awarded a 2009 AudioFile Earphones Award, and Monster High by Lisi Harrison.

Audio Excerpts (MP3)
Clip #1
Chapter 1 to Chapter 4
Clip #2
Chapters 5 to 8
Clip #3
Chapters 9 to 12
Clip #4
Chapters 13 to 16
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