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“Ha,” Alicia said. “That’s hysterical.”

I laughed uncertainly. “Well, I wouldn’t say hysterical, but—”

“And now you’ve gone from the top of the heap to the bottom. Lower than me, even, is that right?”

“What? You were never at the bottom of the heap. I mean, I’m sorry if you felt that way, but—”

“And where were you when I was so miserable? Were you there, holding my hand like a good friend should? No.”

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry.”

Alicia snorted. “That’s for sure.”

I wrapped my fingers tighter around the phone.

“Anyway, Tommy Arnez doesn’t hate me anymore,” she said. “We worked things out, just in case you were curious. He’s picking me up in twenty minutes to go to a movie.”

“Alicia, that’s terrific,” I said. I even meant it, figuring that the more she had on her side, the more likely she was to forgive me.

“Yeah. So I’ve got to go get ready.”

“Oh,” I said. “Right. Sure.” I paused. “So … are we friends again? Not that we ever weren’t, but you know what I mean.”

For a few seconds, she didn’t respond. Then she said, “Are you begging?”

“Am I … ? Alicia.”

Are you?”

“Do you seriously want me to?”

“Yes, actually. Very much.”

I groaned. “Fine. I’m begging.”

“Good,” she said. “Now you know how it feels. And no, I’m not your friend, because even over the phone you make me want to vomit. I hope you rot in hell.”

She hung up on me, making it twice in one night.

There was no point to living. There really wasn’t. I spent all weekend attempting to convince myself I was better off without the Bitches, blah, blah, blah, and finally on Sunday morning I grabbed a jacket and headed for the park, just to escape my own stupid thoughts. The air was crisp, I could hear kids playing from a block away, and still my brain went around and around, obsessing over every last aspect of my downfall and trying to come up with reasons it was all for the best.

Such as:

I would no longer have to siphon off another girl’s popularity to add to my own. No more stealing. And no more creepy Lurl and her cats.

I’d no longer have to watch Bitsy (or her thugs) bully Camilla, although any sympathy I’d had for Camilla was gone with the wind. Anyway, Bitsy would no doubt pick someone else to bully—probably me. And lucky Camilla would get to join in the fun.

As long as I was physically away from Mary Bryan and Keisha, I could tell myself—and even believe—that I wouldn’t miss their two-facedness, their bright outer shells hiding the brokeness inside. But I knew, I knew, that as soon as I was around them, I’d fall back under their spell. Because that was how it worked. You got near them, and it was like being stroked. All you wanted was to please them, and have them like you, and it was like an ache, that’s how bad you wanted it.

Tomorrow I should pin a card to my T-shirt, something only I could see. And it would say DON’T LIKE THE BITCHES! DON’T SMILE AND GIGGLE AND WAG YOUR TAIL! THEY ARE EVIL!

I’d have to steel myself against them. That’s what Camilla must have done. All that time I thought she was immune, but she wasn’t, because nobody was. She was just strong, that’s all. And yet like an idiot I tried to rescue her, safe in her house with the changed lock that even Bitsy couldn’t have opened.

Circle Camilla, cross out Jane.

I got to the park and claimed the one empty swing. A little girl with a ponytail swung beside me, or tried to. She knew how to pump, but she didn’t know when. Her legs went out when they should have gone in, in when they should have gone out.

I gave her a sad little smile. She glowered.

“Jane!” someone called.

My head jerked up, and I searched past the swing set. “Phil?”

He held up a box of Krispy Kremes, the bottom splotched with grease. My heart raced. I didn’t know if I was happy to see him or scared.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I brought doughnuts,” he said.

“So I see.” I hopped off the swing, jittery with nerves.

He sat down under a tree and opened the box. “Still hot. Want one?”

I hesitated, then walked over and sat down. I lifted a doughnut from the box and took a bite. Sweetness melted through me.

“Your mom didn’t know where you were,” Phil said. “I figured here was as likely as anywhere.”

I took another bite of doughnut. It amazed me that life could be so crappy, and yet a Krispy Kreme could taste so good. There was a very good chance I might cry.

Phil brushed a fleck of glaze from my lip. “You doing okay?”

His kindness undid me. My eyes welled with tears.

“Jane?” he said.

“Shut up. You hate me.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Well, you should.”

“Well, I don’t.”

I swiped the back of my hand under my eyes and sniffled. I choked down the now-gummy doughnut.

“How’s Oz?” I asked.

“She’s fine,” he said. “How’s Nate?”

I blushed. Did he know about the locker incident? How could he not? Instead of answering, I said, “So are you two a couple now?”

He looked at me in a way that made me feel ashamed. “She’s not you, if that’s what you’re asking.”

I dropped my eyes. I didn’t know what I was asking, just that I needed someone not to find me abominable.

“I’m not a Bitch anymore,” I confessed.

“You never were.”

“You know what I mean. And now, instead of a Bitch, I’m a”—I took a shuddery breath—“a toad. I’m a toad, aren’t I? You can admit it. It’s not like I don’t already know.”

A snot bubble ballooned out of my nose. I sniffed it back in, and the utter patheticness of it made me sob out a laugh.

“Here, use this,” Phil said, offering me a doughnut.

I looked at him. “To wipe my nose with?”

He shrugged.

I laughed again, this time more real. He leaned over—quick, as if otherwise he might chicken out—and kissed my cheek.

“There,” he said. “I turned you back into a princess.”

“Oh, you did, did you?”



He pulled me toward him, and I let him. I rested my head on his skinny chest. School tomorrow would be hell—as would the next day and the next day and the next. But he smelled like Krispy Kremes and Mennen Speed Stick, and leaning against him, I didn’t feel so alone.

Lauren Myracle holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College. She lives in Colorado with her husband and three children.

Asked why she wrote Rhymes with Witches, Lauren said, “There’s a book I love called Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes. (If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s great.) It’s about a man named Charlie Gordon who has an operation that raises his IQ from 68 to 185, and at first Charlie’s happy with the change. And then, well, he isn’t. Because there’s a price to pay for turning into someone new. There always is. Anyway, reading Flowers for Algernon made me wonder, what if there was a way to manipulate not intelligence but popularity? What if I was offered the chance to be popular beyond my wildest dreams—would I go for it? Would you? And if so … at what cost?”

This book was designed by Jay Colvin and art directed by Becky Terhune.