Pressure threatens Lauren’s popularity as she shines in the spotlight of the Canterwood Crest series.
Popular is Lauren’s status, at last. She’s fitting in at Canterwood Crest Academy, dating a très cute boy, and working hard as she prepares for her first show since the horrible accident that nearly ended her riding career. Maybe too hard…
Popular 1 THE OLD, THE NEW, AND THE TOTALLY BUSTED ALL FIVE FACES STARED AT ME. EACH GIRL’S expression was a variation of the girl before her.
Seconds earlier, everything had slammed to a halt. The secret I’d been keeping for seven days—just one week, and my entire time at Canterwood Crest Academy—had been blown wide open.
A DVD I hadn’t known existed had just outed me as “two-time junior dressage champion Lauren Towers.” Or what I hadn’t been able to explain yet—ex junior dressage champion.
The omission of my past experience with equestrian competition had been no accident. Now Jill, my new friend and Lexa’s roommate, had innocently selected a DVD to watch while we all ate breakfast post-sleepover party. And bam: The DVD spilled the truth before I could even think about doing it myself.
“Yeah, right!” Riley balked. “This girl has your name, she looks like you, and when you heard the DVD in the background, you went white as an albino horse. And you expect us to believe you when you say that isn’t you?”
Khloe’s eyes bore into mine. Out of all the girls, I was closest to her. “Lauren,” she said, glancing at the paused TV screen. “Even I have to agree. If you insist on denying that’s you, it’s going to be pretty much impossible to believe it.”
“No, please—Khloe. I meant it—the girl on TV isn’t me,” I repeated. I glanced around, grateful that we were the only ones in Hawthorne Hall’s common room.
Khloe, also my roommate, gripped the remote from when she’d paused the footage of the Red Oak Horse Trial. Khloe brushed a strand of blond hair from her face, her brown eyes looking from me to the floor.
I couldn’t stand it if Khloe stayed mad at me. “Hear me out,” I began.
Thunder rumbled over campus. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a group of students bolt down the sidewalk, laughing, some trying to cover their heads with their backpacks.
The room darkened by the second. Lexa Reed, another seventh grader and my closest friend after Khloe, stood rigidly still. She tugged down her army green PJ tank that said SLEEP MONSTER on the front. She turned on a floor lamp. Once a warm yellow glow bathed the room in light, Lexa sat back down, pulling a blue chenille blanket over her dark caramel-colored legs.
No one spoke. It seemed as if none of us knew how to start.
The silence had gone on so long, it had turned everything to slow motion. I knew I had to be the one to say something.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I cleared my raspy throat. “Please give me a chance to explain the DVD.”
The other four girls looked at one another. It was as if they were getting each other’s telepathic permission to let me speak.
Riley gathered her pin-straight black hair into a messy updo, secured with a clear band from her wrist. “Of course you can explain, Lauren.” Her voice was sweeter than maple syrup.
“I’m listening,” Clare added, blinking her blue eyes.
Lexa studied me for a second. Her curly black hair with natural reddish highlights hung around her face. Her jaw relaxed and her narrowed eyes softened. “I want to know too,” she said, softer than the others.
All eyes went to Khloe. If she left, I didn’t know what I’d do. She’d been more than my roommate—she’d been my best friend since I’d arrived on campus last week. But Khloe was quietest of all.
Her chest expanded as she took a deep breath.
I ran my tongue nervously over the permanent wire retainer along the back of my bottom teeth. It made me nauseous to think of losing Khloe as a friend just because I hadn’t been able to bring myself to talk about my past—both my riding-circuit history and the big accident—to anyone yet. But I know it had been stupid to keep it a secret.
Finally, Khloe shrugged her shoulders, nodding a yes. Like the rest of us, she was still in pj’s from last night. Her yellow tank and shorts with white polka dots had seemed so cheery then.
I shifted in my spot on the couch, opposite end from Khloe. No more secrets about my past on the A-circuit. I picked my cuticles, thinking back to that day.
Jessica Burkhart (a.k.a. Jessica Ashley) is the author of the Unicorn Magic and Canterwood Crest series, which you can learn more about at CanterwoodCrest.com. She is a former equestrian who writes from her apartment in Tennessee. (It’s not the size of Crystal Castle, but Jess tries to decorate like a princess!) Jess’s aura would be hot pink and she loves glittery things. If she had a unicorn, it would be named Sparkle. Visit Jess at JessicaBurkhart.com.