Выбрать главу

Alicia sagged into her usual slump. “That’s because they’re beyond cheerleader-cool,” she said. “The usual rules don’t apply.”

“Well, that’s not fair,” I said. But it was a half-hearted complaint, because to complain about something, you had to not like that thing, and I liked the Bitches as much as anyone. Liked them—ha. Craved them, yearned for them, wanted to be them. Bought this stupid dress to impress them, for god’s sake, not that they’d ever notice. So really, the complaint was less about them and more about me.

Keisha walked out of the food line with her loaded tray, and Tommy Arnez quoted loudly from Casablanca.

“I came for the waters!” he cried. He and Curtis MacKeen started a Casablanca riff, their voices growing louder and their Bogart impressions heavier, and Keisha rewarded them with a smile.

“So will you at least come watch next Monday, when we do our official auditions?” Alicia asked. “I need someone to cheer me on.”

I turned back to her. “I thought the cheering was your job.”

She scowled, Oh aren’t you funny.

“Of course I’ll come,” I said. “I’ll clap like crazy.”

Keisha, Bitsy, and Mary Bryan dropped down by Sukie Karing, and Mary Bryan tore open a packet of cheese and sprinkled it onto her carbonara. Not fettuccine alfredo, but carbonara. I could see the pancetta.

“I just hope I can do a split by then,” Alicia said. “I am so inflexible it’s not even funny.” Her eyes drifted to the Bitches, then made their way back to me. She sucked on her Diet Coke. “So what’s your big news? Before homeroom you said you had something to tell me.”

“I did?” I said. “Huh. I can’t remember.”

“Liar,” she said. “Did it have to do with your dad? I bet it did, didn’t it? Did he send you another dippy gift?”

As a matter of fact, he had. He’d mailed me a souvenir from Egypt, the latest stop on his quest to find himself. I wadded up my napkin.

“Because you really can tell me,” she said. “I won’t say anything mean. I promise.”

“I’ve got to go,” I said. I tossed my napkin on my tray and stood up. “I’ve got to finish my Spanish.”

“Nerd,” she said.

“Spaz,” I said.

I slung my backpack over my shoulder. A lump in the bottom bumped my hip. I took my tray to the conveyor belt, then headed past Mary Bryan and Keisha and Bitsy toward the door. Easy now, I told myself. Stomach in. Chin up. Expression alert, indicating rich inner life. Three, two, one—smile!

Oh god, did I have oregano stuck in my teeth?

Mary Bryan smiled back at me. At me. At easy, breezy me. I floated out of the room as my thong climbed up my butt.

During Spanish, I reached into my backpack and closed my hand around Dad’s present. A small brown teddy bear, just right for an eleven-year-old, wearing a shirt that read I LOVE CAIRO.

“We’ve got spirit, yes we do! We’ve got spirit—how ’bout you?”

Whoops and cheers assaulted me as I walked across campus after class. Clusters of freshman girls, each group with their own senior leader, bounced and leaped and yelled. I searched for Alicia and spotted her on the courtyard of Askew Hall. With her pale skin and inky black hair, she was an easy target. The other girls were doing a step-cross-step kind of movement, but Alicia crossed when they stepped and stepped when they crossed. Her tongue jammed against her lower lip, making it bulge. She did that when she concentrated.

She rammed the girl beside her, and my face heated up for no good reason. It wasn’t me who had rammed Chelsea Olsen. It wasn’t me who appeared to be nursing a wad of chew.

Stop it, I scolded myself. Be nice. With Alicia, I was always trying to be a better friend than I was.

Footsteps clipped behind me, and I turned to see a breathless Mary Bryan. Mary Bryan! Her cheeks were pink and her honey-blond hair was slipping from her ponytail. Her striped T-shirt stopped above her belly button, revealing an inch of tummy above her low-slung jeans.

“Jane,” she said. “Hey! I was looking for you.”

I glanced behind me, even though she’d said my name as clear as could be. “You were?”

“Where are you headed? I’ll walk with you.”

“Uh, I’m just going to the library. I have a report due for English.” This wasn’t true. Really I was just going to hide out until three when Mom picked me up. I would hole up in one of the carrels and reread the Ramona books I loved back in sixth grade.

“Ugh,” Mary Bryan groaned. “Hate English reports. My last one was on that play Pygmalion, which, I’m sorry, totally sucked.”

“That’s the one with the ‘Rain in Spain’ song, right?” I asked. My nerves made me blabber. “Where that professor—what was his name? Oh yeah, Henry Huggins. And he turns a street urchin into a lady and then falls in love with her?”

Mary Bryan’s lips came together, and my stupidity hit me like a blow. Mary Bryan was a sophomore. She’d never said more than “hi” to me, and now, when she did, I gave a show-offy speech about a play she probably hadn’t even finished.

“Close,” she said, “only you’re thinking of the musical, which is My Fair Lady. In the play, they don’t fall in love.”


“And it’s Henry Higgins, not Huggins,” Mary Bryan said. “For what it’s worth.” Idly, she dipped one finger under the waist of her jeans and scratched her tummy. “Anyway … you want to hang out sometime?”

Her words barely made it past my embarrassment. And when they did, they made no sense. Again I swiveled my head to see who she was really talking to.

“Gooooo, team!” the wannabe cheerleaders cried.

“Team!” echoed Alicia, one beat late.

“Um,” I said. My brain was jammed. “Um …”

“I’ll call you,” Mary Bryan said. She checked out the cheerleading girls, who pinwheeled their arms and flung themselves in the air. Her eyebrows edged higher as Alicia landed wrong on her ankle. “Shit!” Alicia cried, audible even from here.

Mary Bryan pulled out of it. “Okay,” she said. “Got to motor.” Over her shoulder she said, “Love the dress, by the way. See ya!”

plainjain: omg, u will not believe who talked 2 me after school. who came up and talked to ME, on purpose. go on, guess.

malicious14: who?

plainjain: mary bryan richardson!!!

malicious14: wtf?

plainjain: and get this: she asked if i want 2 hang out sometime.

malicious14: haha, very funny

plainjain: she did, i swear. it was extremely freaky.

malicious14: did she have u confused w/somebody, u think?

malicious14: jk

plainjain: oh god, maybe she did. except she did use my name, so what’s that all about?

malicious14: she probably felt sorry for u. she was probably like, “oh, there’s that poor sad freshman who’s always slinking off to the library.”

plainjain: fyi, i didn’t even go to the library. i was going to, but i changed my mind.

malicious14: why, cuz u were in a fog of post-mary bryan delirium? listen, jane, she might have SAID u should hang out, but she didn’t really mean it. u know that, right?

plainjain: gee, thanks

malicious14: i’m just saying. anyway, i’ve g2g. i twisted my ankle during cheerleading practice, and i’ve gotta put more ice on it. everybody gave me those fake pity looks, when really they were just glad it wasn’t them.

plainjain: bastards

plainjain: hey, maybe it was my dress, cuz mb did mention she liked it. u think that’s it?

malicious14: mb? ur calling her mb now?

plainjain: i bet it was my dress.