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Authors: Karen M. McManus

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BOOK: One of Us Is Next
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Phoebe slept with her sister Emma’s boyfriend.

This can’t be real. First off, does Emma Lawton even have a boyfriend? She’s one of the quietest, least social girls in the senior class. As far as I can tell, she’s in an intimate relationship with her homework and that’s it. Plus, Phoebe wouldn’t do that to her sister. Right? I mean, I don’t know her well, but there are rules. My sisters would draw blood over something like that.

More texts appear, one right after the other.

What’s that, Bayview? You didn’t know?

Shame. You’re behind on your gossip.

Here’s a little advice for the next time we play:

Always take the Dare.

CHAPTER FOUR

Maeve

Thursday, February 20

I should know the protocol for checking in with someone who just got their deepest, darkest secret leaked to the entire school. I’m kind of rusty, though. It’s been a while.

I was at Café Contigo yesterday doing homework when the texts about Phoebe came through. As soon as she took a break from serving tables and checked her phone, I knew the gossip was true. The look on her face was exactly the same as Bronwyn’s eighteen months ago, when the About This copycat site that Jake Riordan kept up after Simon died revealed she’d cheated in chemistry. Not just horror, but guilt.

Emma came barreling through the café door soon after, red-faced and shaking. I almost didn’t recognize her. “Is this true? Is that why you’ve been acting so weird?” she choked out, holding up her phone. Phoebe was at the cash register counter next to Luis’s father, taking her apron off. I’m pretty sure she was about to play sick and get out of there. She froze, eyes round, and didn’t answer. Emma kept coming until she was inches away from Phoebe’s face, and for a second I was afraid she might slap her. “Was it while we were
dating
?”

“After,” Phoebe said, so quickly and emphatically that I was sure that was true, too. Then Mr. Santos sprang into action, putting an arm around both Phoebe and Emma and shepherding them into the kitchen. That was the last I saw of either of them for the night.

I thought Mr. Santos had been quick enough to keep their fight private until I noticed two sophomores from the Bayview High baseball team approaching the counter. “Takeout for Reynolds,” one of them said to the waiter, who was suddenly covering the entire room plus the cash register. The other boy never looked up from his phone. By the time I got home and checked in with Knox, he’d already heard everything.

“Guess the latest Bayview gossipmonger knows their dirt,” he said.

Last night, I kept wondering if I should text Phoebe:
You okay?
But the thing is, even though I’ve always liked her, we’re not friends. We’re
friendly,
mostly because I spend way too much time where she works, and because she’s one of those extroverted people who talks to everyone. She gave me her number once, “just so you’ll have it,” but I’ve never used it before, and it felt like a weird time to start. Like I was curious instead of concerned. Now, heading downstairs for breakfast, I still don’t know if that was the right call.

Mom’s sitting at the table when I enter the kitchen, frowning at her laptop. When Bronwyn was here we used to always eat breakfast at the kitchen island, but something about sitting next to her empty stool makes me lose my appetite. Mom would never say it, because Bronwyn being at Yale is a lifelong dream for both of them, but I think she feels the same way.

She looks up and flashes me a bright smile. “Guess what I got?” Then her eyes narrow as I pull a box of Froot Loops from the cabinet next to the sink. “I don’t remember buying those.”

“You didn’t,” I say. I fill a bowl to the brim with rainbow-hued loops, then grab a carton of milk from the refrigerator and take a seat beside her. My dad comes into the kitchen, straightening his tie, and Mom shoots him the evil eye.

“Really, Javier? I thought we agreed on healthy breakfast foods.”

He only looks guilty for a second. “They’re fortified, though. With essential vitamins and minerals. It says so right on the box.” He grabs a few from my bowl before I add milk and pops them into his mouth.

Mom rolls her eyes. “You’re as bad as she is. Don’t come crying to me when your teeth rot.”

Dad swallows his cereal and kisses her cheek, then the top of my head. “I promise to endure all cavities with the appropriate level of stoicism,” he says. My father moved to the States from Colombia when he was ten, so he doesn’t have an accent, exactly, but there’s a rhythm to the way he speaks that’s a little bit formal and a little bit musical. It’s one of my favorite things about him. Well, that and our mutual appreciation of refined sugar, which is something Mom and Bronwyn don’t share. “Don’t wait on me for dinner, okay? We’ve got that board meeting today. I’m sure it’ll go late.”

“All right, enabler,” Mom says affectionately. He grabs his keys from a hook on the wall and heads out the door.

I swallow a giant mouthful of already-soggy Froot Loops and gesture toward her laptop. “So what’d you get?”

She blinks at the shift in conversation, then beams. “Oh! You’ll love this.
Into the Woods
tickets, for when Bronwyn is back next week. It’s playing at the Civic. You can see how Bayview High stacks up against the professionals. That’s the play the drama club is doing this spring, right?”

I eat another spoonful of cereal before answering. I need a second to muster the appropriate level of enthusiasm. “Right. Fantastic! That’ll be so fun.”

Too much. I overdid it. Mom frowns. “You don’t want to go?”

“No, I totally do,” I lie.

She’s unconvinced. “What’s wrong? I thought you loved musical theater!”

My mom. You have to give her credit for how tirelessly she champions every single one of my passing interests.
Maeve did a play once. Ergo, Maeve loves all plays!
I was in the school play last year and it was—fine. But I didn’t try out this year. It felt like one of those things that I’d done once and could now safely put on the shelf of experiences that don’t need to be repeated.
Yep, tried it, it was all right but not for me.
Which is where I put most things.

“I do,” I say. “But hasn’t Bronwyn already seen
Into the Woods
?”

Mom’s forehead creases. “She has? When?”

I chase the last of the Froot Loops with my spoon and take my time swallowing them. “Over Christmas, I thought? With, um…Nate.”

Ugh. Bad lie. Nate wouldn’t be caught dead at a musical.

Mom’s frown deepens. She doesn’t dislike Nate, exactly, but she doesn’t make a secret of the fact that she thinks he and Bronwyn come from, as she puts it, “different worlds.” Plus, she keeps insisting that Bronwyn is too young to be in a serious relationship. When I remind her that she met Dad in college, she says, “When we were
juniors,
” like she’d matured a decade by then. “Well, let me try to catch her and check,” Mom says, reaching for her phone. “I have thirty minutes to return them.”

I smack my forehead. “You know what? Never mind. They didn’t see
Into the Woods.
They saw
The Fast and the Furious
part twelve, or whatever. You know. Same thing, pretty much.” Mom looks confused, then exasperated as I tip my bowl to loudly guzzle the pink milk.

“Maeve, stop that. You’re not six anymore.” She turns back to her laptop, brow furrowed. “Oh, for God’s sake, I just
checked
my email. How can there be so many already?”

I put down my bowl and grab a napkin, because all of a sudden my nose is running. I wipe it without thinking much more than
It’s kind of early for allergies,
but when I lower my hand—oh.

Oh my God.

I get up without a word, the napkin clutched in my fist, and go to our first-floor bathroom. I can feel wetness continuing to gather beneath my nose, and even before I look in the mirror I know what I’ll see. Pale face, tense mouth, dazed eyes—and a tiny river of bright red blood dripping from each nostril.

The dread hits so hard and so fast that it feels as if someone’s Tasered me: there’s a moment of cold shock and then I’m a trembling, twitching mess, shaking so hard that I can barely keep the napkin pressed to my nose. Red seeps into its cheery pattern as my heart bangs against my rib cage, the frantic beat echoing in my ears. My eyes in the mirror won’t stop blinking, keeping perfect time to the two-word sentence rattling through my brain.

It’s back. It’s back. It’s back.

Every time my leukemia has ever returned, it’s started with a nosebleed.

I imagine walking into the kitchen and showing the bloody napkin to my mother, and all the air leaves my lungs. I can’t watch her face do that
thing
again—that thing where she’s like a time-lapse movie, aging twenty years in twenty seconds. She’ll call my dad, and when he comes back to the house, all his cheeriness from this morning will be gone. He’ll be wearing that expression that I hate more than anything, because I know the internal prayer that accompanies it. I heard him once after I’d nearly died when I was eight, the words in Spanish barely a whisper as he sat with his head bowed next to my hospital bed. “Por favor, Dios, llévame a mi en su lugar. Yo por ella. Por favor.” Even though I was barely conscious, I thought,
No, God, don’t listen,
because I reject any prayer that has my dad asking to take my place.

If I show my mother this napkin, we’ll have to climb back on the testing carousel. They’ll start with the least invasive and least painful, but eventually you have to do them all. Then we’ll sit in Dr. Gutierrez’s office, staring at his thin, worried face while he weighs the pros and cons of equally horrible treatment options and reminds us that
every time it comes back, it’s harder to treat and we must adjust accordingly.
And finally we’ll pick our poison, followed by months of losing weight, losing hair, losing energy, losing time. Losing hope.

I told myself the last time, when I was thirteen, that I would never do it again.

My nose has stopped bleeding. I examine the napkin with my best effort at clinical detachment. There’s not that much blood, really. Maybe it’s just dry air; it’s February, after all. Sometimes a nosebleed is just a nosebleed, and there’s no need to send people into a frenzy about it. My pulse slows as I press my lips together and inhale deeply, hearing nothing but air. I drop the napkin into the toilet and flush quickly so I don’t have to watch thin threads of my blood fan into the water. Then I pull a Kleenex from the box on top of the toilet and wet it, wiping away the last traces of red.

“It’s fine,” I tell my reflection, gripping the sides of the sink. “Everything is fine.”


Bayview High’s new gossip game sent two texts this morning: an alert that the next player would be contacted soon, and a reminder link to the rules post. Now everyone is reading the new About That website en masse at lunch, absently shoving food into their mouths with their eyes glued to their phones. I can’t help but think that Simon would be
loving
this.

And if I’m being perfectly honest—I don’t mind the distraction right now.

“I’m still mostly surprised that Emma had a boyfriend,” Knox says, glancing at the table where Phoebe is sitting with her friend Jules Crandall and a bunch of other junior girls. Emma is nowhere in sight, but then again, she never is. I’m pretty sure she eats lunch outside with the only friend I’ve ever seen her with, a quiet girl named Gillian. “Do you think he goes here?”

I grab one of the fries we’re sharing and swirl it in ketchup before popping it into my mouth. “I’ve never seen her with anyone.”

Lucy Chen, who’d been deep in another conversation at our table, swings around in her chair. “Are you guys talking about Phoebe and Emma?” she asks, fixing us with a judgmental stare. Because Lucy Chen is
that
girl: the one who complains about whatever you’re doing while trying to horn in on it. She’s also this year’s literal drama queen, since she has the lead in
Into the Woods
opposite Knox. “Everybody needs to just ignore that game.”

Her boyfriend, Chase Russo, blinks at her. “Luce,
that game
is all you’ve been talking about for the past ten minutes.”

“About how
dangerous
it is,” Lucy says self-righteously. “Bayview High is a high-risk population when it comes to this kind of thing.”

I suppress a sigh. This is what happens when you’re bad at making friends: you end up with ones you don’t particularly like. Most of the time I’m grateful for the easy camaraderie of the drama club group, because they keep me company even when Knox isn’t around. Other times I wonder what school, and life, would be like if I made more of an effort. If I ever actively chose somebody instead of just letting myself get pulled into whatever orbit will have me.

My eyes stray toward Phoebe, who’s chewing with her eyes straight ahead. Today must be rough, but she’s here, facing it head-on. She reminds me of Bronwyn that way. Phoebe is wearing one of her usual bright dresses, her bronze curls tumbling around her shoulders and her makeup perfect. No fading into the background for her.

I wish I’d texted her last night after all.

“Anyway, I’m sure we all know who’s behind this,” Lucy adds, jerking her head toward a corner table where Matthias Schroeder is eating alone, his face barely visible behind a thick book. “Matthias should’ve been expelled after Simon Says. Principal Gupta’s zero-tolerance policy came too late.”

“Really? You think Matthias did this? But Simon Says was so tame,” I say. I can’t bring myself to dislike Matthias, even though my name was all over his short-lived copycat blog last fall. Matthias moved here freshman year, right around the time I started coming to school more, and he never really fit in anywhere. I’d watch him sidle past groups that either mocked or ignored him, and I knew that could easily have been me without Bronwyn.

Chase grins. “That guy had the worst gossip ever.” He puts on a breathless voice. “
Maeve Rojas and Knox Myers broke up!
Like, yeah, dude. Everybody already knows and nobody cares. Most drama-free breakup ever. Try again.”

“Still,” Lucy sniffs. “I don’t trust him. He has that same disgruntled-loner vibe that Simon had.”

“Simon didn’t have—” I start, but I’m interrupted by a booming voice behind us calling out, “What’s up, Phoebe?” We all turn, and Knox lets out a muted “Ugh,” when we see Sean Murdock leaning back in his chair, his thick torso twisted in the direction of Phoebe’s table. Sean is Brandon Weber’s most assholish friend, which is really saying something. He used to call me Dead Girl Walking freshman year, and I’m pretty sure he still doesn’t know my actual name.

Phoebe doesn’t answer, and Sean pushes his chair away from the table with a loud scraping noise. “I didn’t know you and Emma were so close,” he calls over the chattering buzz of the cafeteria. “If you’re looking for a new guy to share, I volunteer my services.” His friends start snickering, and Sean raises his voice another notch. “You can take turns. Or double-team me. I’m good either way.”

BOOK: One of Us Is Next
5.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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