“But maybe a little tarty wouldn’t be bad, eh?” Bitsy laughed as she headed down the hall. “Friday night, then. Ta!”
Friday night, then? Friday night?! My only plans for Friday night were to curl up with a bag of popcorn and watch Survivor: Senior High. From last week’s preview, I knew that the challenge involved a three-legged race to the school’s infirmary while real gang members trolled the halls. There was supposed to be a twist, too. Something having to do with the team members’ bandanas.
But Bitsy, was she suggesting … ?
I couldn’t even say it in my head, that’s how ridiculous it was. But if not that, then what? What was Bitsy suggesting?
I felt pressure behind my knees—a swift double nudge—and my legs buckled. I smelled Alicia’s Obsession.
“Cute,” I said, turning toward her.
“What did Bitsy want?” she asked. “I saw the two of you talking.”
“Shit, Alicia, I have no idea. She just came up to me, out of the blue, and was all, ‘Hello, luv,’ and ‘We think you’re the one,’ and—” I broke off. “What? Why are you staring at me like that?”
“The one what?” Alicia said.
“I have no idea! That’s what I’m telling you! I mean, first Mary Bryan, and now Bitsy … it’s just strange, that’s all.”
“I’ll say,” she said. Her expression wasn’t happy. “I mean, last night when you mentioned Mary Bryan … but then I thought, ‘No. No way.’ Only now, if you’re telling the truth …”
“What?!!” I said.
Alicia frowned. “Rae said they’d be picking a freshman. She said they always do.”
Rae was Alicia’s karaoke-singing sister, who’d graduated from Crestview five years ago. She still lived at home.
“‘They’ who?” I demanded. “And how would Rae know?”
“Because Rae went to school here before we did,” Alicia said. Her tone said, idiot. “And there were Bitches back then, too.”
I sighed. I knew what was coming was one of Rae’s “back in the olden days” explanations, in which everything sucked because she was never homecoming queen or head cheerleader.
“Yeah, well, there’ve always been Bitches,” I said. “And there will always be Bitches. It’s just a fact of life.”
“Exactly,” Alicia said. “Only I didn’t believe it at first.”
She stared at me like I was a lab rat.
I turned to my locker and yanked out books. I knew it was going to be stupid, whatever Rae had told her, because it always was. Like not to let guys hug us from behind, because it was a sneaky way to cop a feel. Or not to put our hands in the front pockets of our jeans, because it might look like we were trying to cop a feel.
“Of ourselves?” I’d said when Rae laid that one on us.
“Keep your hands out of the cookie jar, that’s all I’m saying,” Rae had replied. She held up her own to show me, like Hey, I’ve got nothing to hide.
But stupid or not, I had to hear whatever Bitch-lore Rae had passed on.
“Fine,” I said to Alicia. “Whatever it is, will you please just tell me?”
The bell rang for first period. Alicia glanced down the hall.
“I’ve got a Spanish quiz. I can’t be late,” she said.
“Alicia,” I warned.
She turned back. She knew she had me. “Come over at five, after cheerleading practice. Rae can tell you herself.”
I ate lunch in the library. Me and Ramona, age eight. This was the one in which Ramona accidentally broke an egg in her hair and got called a nuisance by her teacher, and as I turned the page, my heart went out to her. My heart did not go out to Alicia, and if she wondered why I wasn’t in the cafeteria, it served her right. She could find someone else to eat with today. Like one of the feral cats, and she could go on and on to it about pikes and herkies and toe-touch jumps. I was just fine with Ramona, thanks very much.
A throat-clearing noise broke my concentration. I looked up, and there was Keisha. A senior. My heart started hammering.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hey,” I managed.
She gazed at me with her celery-colored eyes. Contacts, I was pretty sure, although some black people have green eyes. But I’d never seen anyone, black or white, with eyes that shade.
“Me and Mary Bryan and Bitsy, we hang together, right?” she said. “We’re tight. Like sisters.”
I nodded. My throat was dry.
“But we’ve got room for one more,” she said. “A freshman.”
I tried to keep my face blank, but my insides were knotting up because I had no idea what Keisha wanted from me. She wasn’t smiling. In fact, she seemed pissed. But why would she be pissed at me? This was the first time I’d ever spoken to her.
She pressed her lips together. “So Friday you’ll go to Kyle’s party with us. We’ll see how you fit in.”
My stomach dropped. So did my book.
“Kyle … Kelley?” I asked.
She frowned, like who else?
But my mind refused to accept it. Kyle Kelley was a senior who threw legendary parties whenever his parents went out of town, and afterward there were stories of guys throwing up or girls doing lap dances or couples screwing around in Kyle’s parents’ bedroom and then passing out with half their clothes off.
Freshmen didn’t go to Kyle’s parties. Certainly not freshmen like me.
“Are you guys …” I started. “I mean, please don’t take this the wrong way, but are you, like, playing a joke on me?”
I was amazed by my nerve. Pricks of sweat dinged under my arms.
“We don’t play jokes,” Keisha said. “It’s not our style.”
Ok-a-ay, I wanted to say. But why me? Why, of all the freshman girls, would you possibly want me? I wasn’t in the popular crowd. I wasn’t in the one-day-might-be-popular crowd. I was a dork who couldn’t even pull off wearing a thong. I was Ramona, six years later, only instead of egg in my hair, I had—
Shit. I slapped my hand over the cover of my book, now splayed on the desk, which showed eight-year-old Ramona straddling her bike. Keisha inclined her head to see the title, and I slid Ramona to my lap.
“So,” I said. “Uh …”
She straightened up. “Be ready at eight. We’ll swing by and pick you up.”
I gave her my widest smile. “Great. Fantastic.”
“And don’t be nervous. Just be yourself.”
“Right. Um, thank you so much.”
She looked at me funny, then strode from the carrel. My body went limp. They wanted me—maybe—to be one of them. They wanted me to be a Bitch.
“Rae!” Alicia called. She rapped hard on the bathroom door to be heard over the shower. “Jane’s here. We want to talk to you.”
“What?” Rae said.
“We need to talk to you!” Alicia said.
“I’m in the shower! I’m doing a mayonnaise rinse!”
Alicia scowled. “Come on,” she said to me, marching down the hall. In her room, she flopped onto her bed, leaving me the option of the floor or the padded stool pushed under her vanity. I chose the floor.
“So … how was cheerleading practice?” I asked.
“Terrible,” she said. “My voice cracked in the middle of ‘Our Team Is Red Hot.’”
“Oh. Well, I bet no one noticed.”
“Yeah, right. If you’d been there at lunch, you could have helped me practice—”
“In the cafeteria? With everyone watching?”
“—but noooo, you had to pull one of your stupid disappearing tricks because you were being a pouty-pants. I really could have used your support, you know. You’re the only person who knows how important this is to me.”
I was. It was true. Under Alicia’s grouchy demeanor was a great ache of need, and I felt bad for letting her down.
“Anyway, one day you’re going to be so busted,” she said. “You’re not supposed to have food in the library.”