Authors: Susan McBride
The halls had pretty well emptied out when she got to her locker. She rushed to put her history book in and grab her text for Spanish. She glanced up at the clock on the wall above her, saw she had, like, a minute to go. Just as she slid into her assigned seat in Señora Rung’s class, her BlackBerry
started to ring, but the chime of the school bell disguised it, giving her a chance to turn it off. She didn’t want it confiscated.
The Brillo-haired teacher raised her eyebrows, but if she’d heard Laura’s cell, she didn’t say anything. She returned her attention to her attendance book while the morning announcements crackled from the school’s intercom.
Camie Lindell poked her from behind as the headmistress, Dr. Percy, rambled on about this weekend’s schedule for SATs. Usually they ignored each other, so what was up with that? Laura resisted the urge to turn around.
“Now everyone knows what a slut you are,” she hissed at the back of Laura’s head. Her disgusting breath ruffled Laura’s hair.
Laura didn’t rise to the bait. Her attempt at revving up her day with her energizing red bag and shoes didn’t seem to be working. Since she’d gotten to school, her edgy vibe had only gotten worse, what with all the odd looks and whispers, whacked-out Angela following her around, and then Camie calling her a slut. Okay, that part wasn’t so off the wall, but the rest was plain odd.
Señora Rung said, rising from her chair, once the announcements had finally stopped.
“Abre tus libros de textos y da vuelta a la página viente, por favor.”
Laura had never been so relieved to start a lesson before, even though she stumbled through her conversational Spanish, and the hour seemed to drag on forever. When the bell finally rang, Laura grabbed her things and fled the room as fast as she was able. The last thing she wanted was to have Camie breathing down her neck, whispering more spiteful things. Though she passed Mac and Ginger at their lockers
and in the hallways several times between their next two classes, Laura didn’t have a real chance to talk to them until they snagged the best out-of-the-way corner table in the cafeteria for lunch.
“What the hell is going on?” she asked her BFFs, leaning over the untouched Caesar wrap she’d bought at the snack bar. “It’s like girls either ignore me, or they look at me funny and then start whispering. I checked my shoes for toilet paper trails, and my skirt wasn’t tucked into my panties. So I haven’t a clue.”
Laura paused and glanced around them. Something even felt odd about the cafeteria today, and it wasn’t just the lingering odor of French fries. Maybe it was the noise level, which seemed more hushed than was usual. The room generally buzzed with voices, seeing as how the first lunch-period class mingled with the juniors. Maybe she was being paranoid, but Laura felt like all eyes were upon her. She even caught one of the girls at the next table pointing.
“Did you see that?” she asked, putting up a hand to shield the side of her face. “I haven’t sprouted antennae, have I?”
“Face it, Laura, people are weird,” Mac tossed out, taking a bite of her peanut butter and jelly sandwich and adding through a full mouth, “and girls are the weirdest people of all.”
Figuring Mac would be little help—she was always the last of the Three Amigas to know
scoop—Laura turned to Ginger. “I swear I’m not hallucinating about this. That freaky Angie Dielman dogged me earlier, asking how I was feeling, like she was preparing to write my obituary or something. Then Camie the Bimbo practically spits in my hair in
Spanish class, telling me what a whore I am.” She squinted. “Although I guess Camie dissing me really isn’t that off the wall, is it?”
“Sorry, chica, but I’m as out of the loop as you,” Ginger admitted, and dumped dried cranberries into her tub of vanilla organic yogurt. As she stirred the mixture, she wrinkled up her forehead and said, “I’ve been kind of distracted this morning, though. Things went from bad to worse at my grandmother’s last night.”
“Well, go on,” Laura urged, because anything to take her mind off her very bizarre morning would be a relief. “I want to hear how things went with that Wakefield dude who’s painting you.”
“She found out who he is … I mean, was. … from looking at the picture I tagged in Alex’s old yearbook,” Mac jumped in, and her thick eyebrows peaked above the frames of her glasses. “Turns out he’s some creep that insulted her in sixth grade—”
“You mind if I tell it?” Ginger said, and Mac winced, murmuring, “Sorry.” Ginger cleared her throat, her green eyes bright as she looked at Laura and explained, “He used to call himself William Wakefield—Kent’s his middle name—and he was, like, a child prodigy, winning all these local art competitions and acting like a snot. He said my artwork looked like a cat had blown chunks on the canvas.”
“Nice,” Laura remarked, trying to focus on Ginger’s story. “So you called him on it, right?”
“Of course I did.” Ginger looked pleased with herself for an instant before something dark clouded her eyes. “Which led to kind of an, um, argument—”
“You fought with him? In front of Rose and Deena?”
Laura couldn’t imagine tiny Ginger picking a fight with anyone, much less with her mom and very proper grandmother as spectators.
“I just tried to get him to stop drinking my grandmother’s cognac and take me seriously, which is when his drink spilled down the front of Rose’s deb ball gown,” Ginger confessed, her voice going softer as she recounted the painful event.
“Oh, shit,” Laura said, and Mac leaned in, obviously unable to keep quiet a minute longer.
“Ginger said it looked like a dog had pissed on it,” Mac volunteered while Ginger’s cheeks flushed, turning nearly as red as her hair.
“I’m lucky I’m alive.” Ginger’s tiny white teeth tugged at her bottom lip. “But I probably won’t stay that way if Grandmother’s cleaner can’t get the stain out. I could hardly sleep last night”—she gestured at the shadows beneath her eyes—“I had such a stomachache.”
“You poor thing,” Laura commiserated, selfishly feeling better all of a sudden, knowing she wasn’t the only one of the Three Amigas having a hard go of it lately. “Speaking of stomachaches, how’s yours this morning, Mac?” she asked with a wink.
Just as Mac started to answer, Laura’s BlackBerry went off in her bag.
“Hold that thought,” she said, and dug in her red tote to retrieve it. She didn’t recognize the number, so she answered with a cautious “Hello?”
“Laura, it’s Cindy,” a breathy voice said, and Laura’s eyes went to Mac. “I sent you an e-mail just now. Did you get it?”
“I haven’t checked e-mails in a while,” she admitted.
“Well, you might want to look at it now. And if you haven’t seen it already, then you’d better brace yourself.”
Laura scrunched up her brow.
What the hell?
“Okay” was all she got out before Cindy was gone.
She stared at her BlackBerry for a moment after, and Ginger asked, “Who was that?”
“Mac’s new pal Cindy,” Laura said, ignoring Mac’s cry of, “What did she want?” Her eyes were on the screen of her cell, where she noted half a dozen messages highlighted by the little yellow envelope. She went to the message list and found one from CChow at the top. Instantly, she opened it up to find a link to a MySpace page.
She clicked on it and up popped an old photo of Laura in a bathing suit from a swim party at Melissa Beeler’s from two summers ago. In it, she stood in a silly and unflattering pose with her back arched so that her belly stuck out; one hand was on her hip and the other behind her head, smiling an exaggerated faux beauty-queen smile. Beneath the photo was a caption that said:
Anyone, else-notice, that LB’s gained weight since-fat camp? A little, bird tells me that it’s not from eating Twinkies
Her fingers trembled as she scrolled down to see some of the two dozen comments already in play, hardly able to breathe as she read the first two, one posted by Anon and another by someone calling herself BuzzGirl.
I heard she hooked up with a certain Caldwell’s BMOC right after she got back N town. Could it B his?
And right below that:
Girlfriend can kiss her debut goodbye once the GSC hears she’s got a bun N the oven! Even if she deniesdeniesdenies, she
ll B big as a brick house soon enuff N then she’s thru
Oh, shit, oh, shit, oh, shit
Laura sat there, staring at her BlackBerry screen, unable to move.
“What is it?” Ginger pressed, coming out of her chair and hanging over Laura’s shoulder. Pretty soon, Mac was hovering on her other side.
She felt Ginger’s breath on her cheek, as her friend realized what was on the MySpace page and whispered, “Oh, my God.”
“You know who did this, don’t you? You know it’s Jo Lynn Bidwell and her Bimbos.” Mac plunked back down into her chair and grabbed Laura by the wrist. “You have to tell Dr. Percy. You have to report them, Laura. You can’t let them get away with something like this!”
“Just ignore it, Laura. It’ll go away if you pretend it doesn’t exist. Besides, how can you prove who started it?” Ginger advised, so that Laura felt like she had the devil whispering to her from one shoulder and an angel from the other.
Laura couldn’t breathe. All the voices around her seemed to suddenly grow louder, smothering her. She jerked out of Mac’s grasp, pushed away from the table and stood. “I’ve got to get out of here,” she said hoarsely, and shoved her cell in her bag and then snatched up the tote.
She hurried from the lunchroom, keeping her eyes dead ahead. Her face felt feverishly hot, as she imagined everyone in the room staring after her, cracking jokes and making snide comments.
“Wait up!” Mac’s voice called from behind her, and she heard several pair of footsteps running after her.
But Laura didn’t slow her long-legged stride, not until
she’d turned the corner of the hallway to her locker. Then she came to a dead stop.
A baby rattle hung by a ribbon from her combination lock. A small card had been taped to the front of her locker. Laura didn’t need to step any closer than she was to see its printed message offering
BEST WISHES FOR THE NEW BABY
“Are you all right?”
Her friends’ voices sounded eerily distant, drowned out by the pounding of her pulse in her ears.
Bile rose up in her throat as she ripped the card down and flung it to the floor. She put a hand over her mouth, mumbling through it, “I think I’m going to be sick.”
Laura raced down the hallway, her red shoes noisy on the patchwork of tiles, eyes blurred with tears as she pushed her way out the side doors. Though out of breath, she kept going, down the stone steps, up the sidewalk through the grass courtyard, and into the parking lot. She didn’t slow down until she’d reached her Mercedes, its top down, just as she’d left it. She tossed her bag into the backseat and turned her face to the once-blue sky, now an ugly steel gray.
“Oh, hell,” she said aloud, allowing the tears to fall just as the clouds opened up.
She felt the dampness on her cheeks as the rain began to come down.
Her reflexes ultimately took over, and she jumped in the car, turning on the engine so she could close the ragtop. Afterward, she simply sat there with damp hair sticking to her face and drizzle pattering on the roof, seriously contemplating chucking the rest of the school day and going home. But something inside her knew it would be wrong to run
away now. Much as it twisted her guts to have to go back inside PFP and face the whispers and pointed fingers, she realized she had to do it.
If she didn’t, Jo Lynn would win, and Laura found
harder to stomach than the rumor that she was sperminated.
So she blew her nose and wiped her eyes, grabbed her bag, and headed back inside.
The hardest years in life are those
between ten and seventy.
When a day sucks less than the one
before it, I consider myself lucky.
For Mac, the only good thing about the Wednesday night curtsy practice (aka “How to Do the Texas Dip-ity Do,” as Honey had stupidly dubbed it) was not having to leave her own house. Everything else completely blew, like having to get her homework done extra-early so she could help set up and, worse still, knowing that her stepmom was their teacher.
Despite Honey’s orders that she stick close to home after dinner, Mac managed to slip out for a few minutes, ducking over to the Bishops’ house to return the borrowed yearbook. It was as good an excuse as any to see Alex, and Mac figured if anyone could cheer her up about this evening’s deb doings, it was him.
While Honey yakked at Mac’s dad, following him into their master bedroom so he could wash up after dinner, Mac snuck out and cut across the backyard, edging through the fencelike boxwoods and emerging on the Bishops’ lawn. After she picked a few leaves from her hair, she traipsed past a swing set, beneath towering oaks and bald cypresses, hearing a mosquito buzz somewhere near her left ear as she stopped to glance up at Alex’s old tree house. It had been
eons since she’d been up there with him, and she missed it. She felt the mosquito land on her arm, and she slapped at it with her free hand, wiping its tiny dark carcass on her jeans before she climbed the steps to the Bishops’ back deck. Through French doors smudged with Elliott’s fingerprints, Mac could see Alex’s mom moving around in the kitchen.