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Authors: Trudi Trueit

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BOOK: Stealing Popular
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YES!

I jumped off the bench and thrust my arms skyward. There could be no doubt now that Adair was going to make the squad. Finally, a Nobody was going to live her dream, and I had helped to make it come true! Pride surged through every limb in my body.

“There's no denying Adair Clarke
was
good,” said Coach Notting with a long sigh. “But . . .”

I froze.

“It's too bad she isn't, you know . . .”

No, I didn't know.

“What?” asked Mrs. Ignazio.

Yes, what? WHAT?

“One of our more popular girls.”

“Oh!”

That was Fawn. Not that I blamed her. My friend slapped a hand over her mouth. I lunged for my jeans. We had to get out of there.
Now.

“I thought we were supposed to fill out our judging sheets without discussion so we wouldn't influence one another,” said Mrs. Ignazio, her voice tight.

“Yes, of course,” said Coach Notting. “We must keep everything fair.”

Fair? Buttoning my jeans, I had to stifle my own cry.
Fair?
It was pretty obvious what was going on here. Her Fabulousness and the Royal Court, along with six other Somebodies, would get all ten spots on cheer staff. Why? Because that's how things worked in our world. Status was more important than skill. Image was more important than heart. There was nothing “fair” about this process.

Not. One. Thing.

I signaled for Fawn to follow me. We took the long way around the last row of lockers, creeping along the outside wall until we reached Coach Notting's office. Hunched next to the open door, I could see the reflection
in the picture window. Three heads were bent. Coach Notting was the only one facing our way. I slowly let all the air out of my body, then quickly tiptoed past the doorframe. I didn't breathe again until I was safely on the other side. Peering through the glass, I saw Miss Furdy had turned and lifted her head. She was squinting at the door. I put up my hand to tell Fawn to stay still.

Thankfully, Fawn was watching the glass too.

After a few seconds Miss Furdy went back to work. I gave Fawn the okay sign. Instead of lightly stepping, as I had done, Fawn decided to take one big leap. It might have worked, too, if the strap of her backpack hadn't whacked the door.

“Hey!” called Coach Notting.

Fawn skidded to a stop.

“What are you doing here?” asked Miss Furdy.

“Me? I . . . uh . . .”

“She must be our runner,” said Coach Notting.

Fawn gulped hard. “Huh?”

“Did Mrs. Rivkin send you?”

Coach Furdy assumed Fawn was Mrs. Rivkin's teaching assistant, here to pick up the judging sheets to take to the main office.

“Um . . .” Her mouth gaping, Fawn turned to me.

I bobbed my head.

So Fawn bobbed
her
head.

“Hold on one moment. We're almost done.”

Hearing footsteps, I backed into the shadows.

“Here you go,” said Coach Notting. “Guard it with your life.”

“O-okay.” Fawn took the envelope and raced out of the locker room. I was a millisecond behind her.

“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” Fawn screeched. She was clutching a big, gold envelope to her chest. “We'd better drop this off before we get in trouble.” She steamed across the courtyard.

“Fawn?” I tore after her. “Fawn, wait—”

“Coco, be careful. We were in such a rush, I dropped the needle. It might still be in your jeans somewhere—”

“You know what you've got there, don't you?”

“Of course.”

“Well?”

“Well, what?”

“Don't you want to know?”

“We can't. It's against the rules. Here comes Ava, anyway.”

Ava Tibbs was Mrs. Rivkin's sixth-period teaching assistant.

“We've got the judging sheets for cheer tryouts,” Fawn called to her, waving the envelope.

“Could you do me a big fave and run them down to Mrs. Rivkin?” huffed Ava. “I'm already late for tennis practice.”

“We're on it,” I said, snatching the envelope from Fawn.

Now it was her turn to catch up to me. I yanked open the door to C wing.

“Where are you going? The office is the other way.”

“Just taking a little detour.” I punched the door to the girls' bathroom and went inside.

“Geez, Coco, can't you wait to go until
after
we've dropped off the judging sheets?”

I went down the row of stalls, carefully checking under each door. When I was certain we were alone, I popped up the two pronged clips on the back of the envelope and lifted the flap.

That's when Fawn clued in as to why we were really here. “Coco, no!”

“I only want to see the final scores.”

“If someone finds out, we could get in big trouble.”

“You're not going to tell, are you?”

“No, but—”

“Neither am I, so no one is going to find out. Besides, it's destiny. You said so yourself.”

“I said
what
?”

“You said it was our duty as friends to help Adair fulfill her destiny. Well, whatever that destiny is, it's inside this envelope. So couldn't we be of more help to her if we knew what fate had in store?”

Fawn tucked her magenta stripe behind one ear, then immediately yanked it out again. “I'm not sure.”

I reached into the envelope. “If you don't want to know, don't look.”

Fawn spun away. “This is wrong. This is
so
wrong.”

There was a note on top from Coach Notting to Mrs. Rivkin. In it, the coach directed the secretary to place the individual judging sheets in a confidential file and the final tally sheet in Coach Notting's box. I flipped past the judges' individual scoring sheets to find the final tally sheet at the bottom of the stack. Except for the date, it was blank.

“Uh-oh.”

Fawn spun back. “What is it?”

“The final scores aren't here.”

“I could have told you that. See, all of the judges score each girl independently, then Mrs. Rivkin adds
everything up. That way, none of the judges knows how any of the other judges scored the contestants. It's supposed to keep everything fair.”

There was that word again. Everybody kept saying it, but it didn't seem to count for much.

I took out my cell phone and turned it on.

“What are you doing?”

“Scrolling to my calculator. I want to see how Adair did.”

“You can't do that!”

“Why not?”

“Because . . . because . . . you just can't. Only Mrs. Rivkin can add up the scores. Those are the rules.” She lunged for the phone, but I was a hair quicker.

“You're going to get us in trouble,” Fawn whined. “Coach Notting will find out, and we'll be stuck with Mrs. Pescatori in the detention room knitting dog hats for the rest of the semester. We might even be suspended or”—she gasped—“expelled!”

“I'm just doing a little arithmetic,” I said, sliding down the wall so I could sit on the floor. “They don't expel you for doing math.”

Fawn started pacing. “I've never been expelled before. Does that affect your grade point average?”

“Shhh.”

“If we're expelled, we'll have to go to Olympic View. I don't want to be a honeybee. I'm allergic to bees—”

“Yow!”

“What?”

I rubbed my rear. “I just found your needle.”

Fawn collapsed on the floor beside me. “Come on, Coco. Did she make it or not?”

I
knew
she wanted to know!

“Hold on.” I needed a pen and paper. After several minutes of scribbling in the back of my math notebook, I glanced up into worried, brown eyes. “I don't think so.”

“How could she not make it? You said she was brilliant!”

“She
was
. But see here? Dijon, Venice, Truffle, Évian, Dover, uh . . . Lisbon, Monaco, Stocklifter, let's see—oh, and Geneva and Perrier—all got an average score of ninety or above.”

Fawn's lips disappeared. “You mean, all the Somebodies.”

“Yep.”

“What did Adair get?”

“Um . . . eighty-eight.”

“Not again.” Fawn laid her head against the wall. “Two points.”

“I was adding pretty fast. I could have made a mistake. . . .”

“She's wanted this for so long. It's all she's talked about since the third grade. To wait another year is going to crush her. And then she's going to have to compete with even more girls in high school . . .”

“I'll add again.” I cleared the calculator.

“This is going to crush her,” Fawn said again. “It's not fair. She's better than all the Somebodies put together. If anybody deserves to be a Big Mess cheerleader, it's Adair.”

I didn't know where the idea came from. One moment it wasn't there and then—
zing
—it was.

My fingers on the keypad, I slowly lifted my head. “She still can be.”

Fawn probed my eyes, and I knew what she was thinking. Sneaking a peek at the judges' score sheets in the girls' C-wing bathroom was one thing. What I was proposing was on a whole new level.

Fawn swallowed hard. “You mean, cheat?”

I knew what cheating was. It was copying someone else's homework when you'd forgotten yours. It was
begging kids who'd already taken a test you were about to take, “What were the questions?” It was cutting passages from an Internet site and pasting them into your homework. That was cheating. And I didn't do it. Not ever. But this was different.

“The judges are the ones who are cheating, Fawn. You said so yourself. Adair has earned this. Nobody deserves it more than she does.”

Fawn began tying the fringe of her tunic into knots. “I know, but—”

“We'd be righting a wrong. We'd be battling social discrimination. We'd be taking a stand for all the Nobodies who can't fight for themselves.”

It was a good speech.

I waited for Fawn to list a hundred reasons why I'd never get away with it—all of them ending in, “You'll get in trouble, Coco.” But Fawn didn't lecture me. She didn't try to scare me with her endless list of possible punishments. Instead, my best friend tucked her magenta-dyed stripe behind her ear, and said softly, very softly, “Okay.” It might have been more believable if her chin hadn't been quivering when she'd said it.

No matter. She'd said it.

I knew then, destiny wasn't something mysterious
or strange or spiritual. It wasn't someplace far away or meant for someone else. Destiny was here, in my hands, for me to guide.

All I needed was a drop of courage and a good eraser.

Fortunately, I had both.

Seven

“The name of this class is what?” Mr. Tanori scanned the
room.

We all looked at one another. Was he joking? A trick question? Maybe Mr.
Tanori had bumped his head on the lights. He was ridiculously tall.

“Leadership?” ventured Breck.

“Exactly. So what qualities do you think a good leader should have?
How about you, Renata?”

“Um . . .” Sitting in the last seat in the row
to the right of mine, Renata Zickelfoos stopped playing her invisible piano. She began
to swing the long ends of her sweater sleeves. Renata always wore several layers of
sweaters, topped off with a long blue scarf wrapped several times around her neck. She
didn't bother to take her hair out of the scarf, so it created a bulge just below
her ears. It reminded me of a flying saucer—a flying saucer made of limp,
reddish-brown hair.
Renata wriggled her nose to slide a pair of red
rectangular plastic glasses back up into place. “I gueth a leader thould be
willing to lithen.” Whenever she had to speak in public, Renata had difficulty
with her
s
's. But we knew what she meant.

“Exactly.” Mr. Tanori wrote “good listener” on the
whiteboard.

Venice, to my right, jabbed Dijon, who was in front of her. “Did you
hear what Renata Piñata said? Lithening is important.”

Giggling, Dijon straightened her silver tiara with the fake diamonds. It
was Friday, after all. “Did you thay thomething, Venith? I wathn't
lithening.”

Renata's cheeks turned the color of a flamingo, which, by the way,
was Dijon's makeup color of the week.

Yes, Dijon had put up her beauty board. And yes, I had sworn a sacred oath
to never again lay eyes on it, but it was an impossible promise to keep. It's like
when you see a crash on the freeway. Your first impulse is to turn away so you
won't see anything horrible, but then something, some little morbid part of you,
has
to take a quick peek and—auggh! Splashes of
blood and broken glass and twisted metal. And regret. So much regret. Same thing with
Dijon's locker. Each time I went by it,
I told myself,
“I won't look, I won't look, I won't look,” and then
I'd walk by and—bam!—my eyes automatically swerved to that dumb
heart-shaped whiteboard:

BOOK: Stealing Popular
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