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I sighed. A Nutrigrain bar here and there was not going to ruin civilization.

“Or maybe you were off being cool with MB,” she accused. “Were you?”

“No,” I said. “Although if you would hush for a minute, I’ll tell you what did happen.”

“Okay, tell me.”

“Tell you what?” Rae asked, strolling into the room. She wore a T-shirt and panties, the front of which was damp from her pubic hair. I quickly raised my eyes to her face, which was just as startling, but in a different way. Rae was a permanent makeup artist, and as part of her training, she’d had permanent makeup applied to herself so she’d know what it felt like. And because she’d wanted it. So now, even though she’d just stepped out of the shower, her face looked perfectly made up.

Well, not perfectly. That was the startling part. The trainer who’d done the initial application had been too conservative for Rae’s taste, so Rae had waited until she had her certificate and then she’d given herself a touch-up. Now her eyeliner was dark and thick, extending past her lids like catwoman. And she’d always thought her lips were too thin, so she’d gone back with the tattoo gun to make them look fuller. Now her lips were super-sized. And very, very red.

“We’re talking about the Bitches,” Alicia said to Rae. “Tell Jane what you told me.”

Rae turned and took me in. It was like being sized up by a damp mannequin. “You don’t know?”

“Know what?” I said.

Rae walked across the floor and sat down with her back against Alicia’s bed. She flipped her wet hair over her shoulders. “Well,” she began, “they’ve been at Crestview for freaking ever. Not Keisha and Triscuit or whoever—”

“Bitsy,” Alicia corrected. “And Mary Bryan Richardson.”

“—but other girls. Other Bitches. One from each grade, four total. And always the most popular girls in school.”

Inwardly, I groaned. She was acting as if this were privileged information, when anyone at school could have told me the same thing.

“When I was a freshman, the Bitch in my grade was Jennifer Mayfield,” Rae said. “We all wanted to be her. We were so jealous we could spit. Although …” She paused dramatically. First she eyed Alicia, then she eyed me. “We never did. Spit, that is, or anything else that wouldn’t be considered proper worshipping behavior. And you want to know why?”

I checked Alicia’s reaction. Her legs were drawn to her chest, with her arms around her knees. Her black hair hung in bone-straight chunks. She jerked her chin, as if to say, Ask, you fool. Aren’t you even paying attention?

“Why?” I said.

Rae tapped her thigh with violent purple nails. “Haven’t you noticed that whenever they enter a room—your Bitches, my Bitches, whoever—everything stops and then starts up again, with them at the center of things?”

“Yeah,” I said, like so?

“And haven’t you noticed that even if you want to, you can’t not like them?”

“Because no one would want to. Because they’re …” I struggled for the right word, but couldn’t find it. “Cool,” I finished lamely.

“No,” Rae said.

“Yes,” I said.

“But that’s not why you like them.”

“Yes it is.”

“No it’s not.”

“Yes it is.”

No, it’s not.”

I closed my eyes. Conversations with Rae were always like this. They went on and on and when they finally ended, the payoff was zilch. Don’t jam your hands in your front pockets, or else.

I opened my eyes. I raised my eyebrows at Alicia, who raised hers right back.

“Fine,” I said to Rae. “Then why do I like them, if it’s not because they’re cool?”

“Because you have to. Because they make you.”

“And how do they do that?”

“I don’t know. But they do.”

“Uh-huh. Mind control? Voodoo? Invisible puppet strings?”

Rae regarded me with disdain. “Crack jokes if it makes you feel better. But the world is a hell of a lot bigger than you think. All sorts of things go on that you know nothing about.”

Alicia scooted closer. “Finish telling her about Jennifer Mayfield.”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “Definitely.”

“Well, like I said, Jennifer was tapped to be a Bitch,” Rae said. She got to her knees and stretched her body, reaching for the brush on Alicia’s dresser. She grasped it and sat back down. “But it fell apart.”

“What do you mean, it fell apart?”

Rae tugged at the tangles in her hair. “She pissed them off. Or else she just wasn’t good enough. She never figured it out.”

“Did she care?”

“Did she care? She only switched schools in the middle of fall semester. She only ran away with her tail between her legs and never came back. Uh, yeah, I’d say she cared.”

Okay, I could get that. I was starting to care, too. “So what does that have to do with Bitsy and Mary Bryan and Keisha?”

“Everything,” Rae said. “Because Jennifer let things slip before she left. And the Bitches aren’t all they appear to be. That’s all I’m saying.”

“But Bitsy and Keisha and Mary Bryan weren’t around when you and Jennifer were in high school. They’d have been in, like, elementary school.”

“Have you been listening to anything I’ve said? They’re all the same, year after year after year. They may not start out that way, but then they do something. Something big. And they become.”

“Become?” I repeated.

“I don’t know how, no one does, but there’s more going on than everyone thinks.” Rae stopped brushing. She lowered her voice. “Something bad happened a long time ago. Really bad.”

“And that would be?”

She tilted her head. “Have you ever heard the saying, ‘She sold her soul to the devil’?”

Oh good god. “Rae,” I said, “I’m not a little kid straight out of the pumpkin patch. I stopped being scared of ghost stories years ago.”

Rae’s expression didn’t change. Her face was long, and there was nothing in her manner that suggested she was kidding. Despite myself I got a chill.

“The school covered it up, but everyone knows,” she said.

“Not me,” I said.

Rae gazed at me. “There was a girl. Her name was Sandy. She cared too much what people thought of her, because she was super needy. She really, really, really wanted to be popular.”

Yeah, well, who doesn’t? I thought. Although the term “needy” made me shift uncomfortably.

“She joined with three others,” Rae went on. “One from each grade.”

“They were losers, too,” Alicia put in. “Right, Rae?”

Rae plowed on. “But Sandy was the one who did it.”

“Did what?” I asked. I plucked at my jeans, then made myself stop. I told my body to relax.

“They went to an empty storage room in Hamilton Hall,” Rae said. “One of those rooms where no one ever goes—”

“Up on the third floor,” Alicia contributed.

“—and performed a ritual in the dead of night.” Rae leaned forward. “They offered a sacrifice, and the sacrifice was accepted.”

“What … was it?” I said. I couldn’t believe I was asking.

“They awakened some weird creepy power—and I’m not making this up,” Rae said. “That shit is out there, like when you feel someone watching you, only when you turn around there’s no one there. Or like when you do the Ouija board, and it really does work.”

“That happened at Lisette’s slumber party, in seventh grade,” Alicia said. “You remember, Jane. It said that a boy whose name started with a C was going to ask Lisette out, and one week later she was going steady with Casper Langdon.”

Rae silenced Alicia with a look of disdain. To me, she said, “I’m telling you, it’s out there. Shit that no one sees.”