Charlotte Mercer, please report to Principal Blackburn’s office. Charlotte Mercer to Principal Blackburn’s office.”
Static crackled, then the PA system cut out. I could feel all twenty-two heads turn, but I kept my eyes on my paper and gripped my pencil just a little tighter. Even Mr. Mason stopped taking the derivative on the board and glanced over his shoulder at me.
I forced myself to keep writing. Move along, nothing to see here. As it was, the minute class was over I’d be fielding questions about what she’d done. Like I knew.
Mr. Mason went back to the problem on the board, and one by one, the weight of the stares lifted.
Please don’t be another frog.
Last week she’d taken a huge bite out of one of the formaldehyde-soaked frogs in the biology lab. She couldn’t have just nibbled off a tiny piece and spit it out. No, of course not. Apparently the dare stipulated chewing and swallowing, and Charly took her dares seriously. With half the class watching, she’d sunk her teeth into its torso, ripped off the entire left leg, then chewed and swallowed.
When Ms. Dansk realized what’d happened, she freaked out and sent Charly to the nurse, who determined Charly was physically fine (psychology report pending) and sent her along to Principal Blackburn. The whole thing resulted in a two-day in-school suspension for Charly and an hour-long assembly about lab safety for the entire school. Oddly enough, people were so impressed by the whole repulsive stunt, they weren’t even mad about having to sit through the assembly.
Charly missed it. Dentist appointment.
I wasn’t ready for another incident. I’d just decided I was going to hit the next person to ask me what frog tasted like.
The bell rang and Savannah met me at the doorway with an arched eyebrow. She knew better than to ask, but I answered anyway. “I have no idea. Let’s go eat.”
“Hey, Amelia,” someone yelled from behind as we pushed through bodies packing the hall. “Why’s Charly in the office?”
“Don’t know,” I called without turning around.
Dean met us at the top of the stairwell, looking like someone stole his puppy. “Is she getting busted for the toaster oven thing?”
“What toaster oven thing?”
He glanced around for teachers. “You know . . . the toaster oven in the staff room . . . ” He fiddled with the button on his shirt pocket and frowned, clearly trying to decide whether telling me was ratting her out or not.
Dean is one of a hundred guys at Primrose High who would follow Charly to the ends of the earth if he thought there was a chance she might accidentally touch his arm or something. The only difference between Dean and the others is that Charly actually likes him. It’s the platonic sort of like she reserves for the cute, clean-cut boys, but it’s enough for me to make a point of putting up with him.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about and I don’t care. Are you coming to lunch?”
“Come on, baby face. She’ll probably show up,” I said.
That did it.
The three of us sat at our usual table by the window with the scenic view of PHS’s asphalt parking lot. Charly didn’t show, but a handful of her minions did: Harrison, Dean’s slightly less intelligent wingman, Asha and Liam from drama club, and some tall guy with a dimpled chin whose name I can never remember.
“So what’s the plan for homecoming?” Savannah asked between carrot sticks. For reasons unknown she’d bought a homecoming dress one size too small and stopped eating normal food. I’d already warned her the beta-carotene overload was going to turn her skin orange, but she didn’t seem to care. Apparently super-skinny and orange was preferable to regular-skinny and human-colored.
“No plan for homecoming. I’m going to Atlanta with my dad,” I said, eyeing the door. No Will yet, but it was Wednesday. He had debate team meetings on Wednesdays. Or he used to. Now Wednesdays were probably reserved for making out with Luciana in his car.
“We talking about homecoming?” Sebastian asked, putting his tray down next to Savannah. “Hey, sugar.” He put his chin on top of her head and gave her a quick squeeze that looked disturbingly like a headlock.
Sugar, baby, honey, cookie, sweetie pie. Good thing I was friends with them before they started going out. Otherwise I’d have to hate them for being so annoying.
“No, Savannah was talking about homecoming. I was talking about going to Atlanta.”
“Enough of the too-cool-for-homecoming act,” Savannah said. “You’re not. And it’s our senior year, so you have to come.”
“Wrong. I don’t. I’ve been the last three years. I already know exactly what happens. You have to go to collect your little princess tiara, but I am free to do whatever I want.”
“So, why is your dad going to Atlanta?” Dean asked.
“He’s giving some presentation at a conference.”
Dean nodded and chewed slowly. “So, uh, your whole family’s going?”
Poor Dean. It would be better if Charly was going to Atlanta so she wouldn’t have to reject him outright again.
“No. Just me and my dad.”
He took another bite of his sandwich and chewed with renewed enthusiasm. I was about to tell him to be careful not to bite his cheek or choke, when Savannah leaned over her tray and whispered, “You know that if you don’t go to homecoming, he wins.”
I glared into her big, concerned eyes. Could she not see the entire table full of people listening? “No. I really want to go to Atlanta. At the Coke museum they let you sample different Coke formulas from all over the world. Think of the buzz. A whole world of sugar and caffeine.”
She sat up straight again. Then, rather than going along with my lame change-of-subject like any decent best friend would, she elbowed her puppet.
“Oh, yeah,” Sebastian said, “I’ve got this friend I’m going to set you up with.”
As if his brain produced its own thoughts in Savannah’s presence. “I don’t want to be set up with anyone.”
“But you don’t even know this guy,” he argued. “He’s cool.”
I knew every man, woman, child, and dog in Tremonton. Very few of them could be classified as cool. “Where’s he from?”
“Tallahassee. I roomed with him at soccer camp. And he’d just come from Bible camp too, so he probably wouldn’t be too freaked out about your dad being a pastor.”
I cringed. “If I was going to homecoming, a Tallahassee import would definitely have potential. But I’m not. Really. I’m going to Atlanta.”
I hope. Dad had been noncommittal last time I brought it up, but he was more distracted than against it. He definitely didn’t say “no.”
So I’d started working on Grandma instead. I told her I wanted to research the Campus Missionary program for next year when I was at college, and what better place to start than the Southern Methodist Pastor’s Conference? Plus I’d have plenty of downtime to work on my SAT prep book and do my homework. She’d been skeptical. She was still skeptical, but I had time to win her over, and as soon as she was on board, Dad would cave.
Atlanta was the perfect excuse to get out of town. I could spend the entire time studying by the pool and watching pay-per-view movies in the hotel room, both of which would be ten times more enjoyable than going to homecoming, or sitting at home thinking about previous homecomings.
Last year I went with Will. And the year before.
A group of skinny little freshman boys in baggy jeans with tough-guy chains shuffled up to the table.
“Hey, has your sister ever eaten roadkill?” the closest one asked.
I stared into the kid’s eyes, trying not to be distracted by the whole face full of zits needing to be squeezed. Did he not realize I was a senior?
“Do you, um, think she’d eat roadkill if I dared her?” he continued. His friends had started to inch backward.
“Please go away.” I turned back to my turkey sandwich.
“Denied,” one of the friends muttered as they wandered off.
Savannah pushed her plate of carrots aside and put a sympathetic hand on my arm. “Are you sure about homecoming?”
I closed my eyes, and willed myself to not flinch. She meant well. And she was right, if he showed up at homecoming with Luciana and I stayed away, I’d lose. People would assume I was sitting in front of a TV with a bag of powdered-sugar mini-donuts.
But did it matter? They all assumed that he dumped me last April anyway.
“I’m sure,” I said, and took a bite out of my apple.
Savannah didn’t know why we’d broken up, and I couldn’t explain it to her. I couldn’t even explain it to Charly. And I was guessing the gorgeous Brazilian rebound didn’t know either.
Will knew. And I knew.
“SHAZAM!” Charly’s tray clattered as it hit the table across from me, fruit punch sloshing over the lip of her cup. She didn’t notice. “I just survived a trip to Blackburn’s cave.”
I dropped a napkin on the juice spill. “Dare I ask why?”
“I put my bra on over top of my shirt after PE, and Señora Lopez freaked when she saw me in the hall.”
“I don’t know. Probably because she’s mean and uptight.”
“No. Why would you wear your bra over your shirt?”
She frowned. Clearly why had not come up yet. “Because I thought it would be funny. And it was, by the way.”
“I’m sure Blackburn thought it was hilarious.”
She put a fry in her mouth and grinned. “I told him I was protesting sweatshop labor in India and wherever else they make bras, and it was like he’d been hit by a tranquilizer dart. He started talking about protesting the Vietnam War when he was young and some other crap I wasn’t really listening to.”
Dean and Harrison laughed. The thespians and the kid with no name followed, while Sebastian applauded. At least Savannah rolled her eyes.
“That’s great,” I said. “I’m sure all the little children hunched over sewing machines would be thrilled to know they’ve helped you out.”
“And I will be forever grateful to them for saving me from an in-school suspension. He didn’t even threaten to call home.” She pulled the pieces of her grilled cheese apart and held one in front of my face. The mass of congealed orange cheese product was sweating. “Think this is organic?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Seriously? You think?” She wrinkled her nose.
“Of course not. Unless space-age polymers are now falling under the organic label.”
She closed the bread around the greasy cheese and took a bite.
“Since when do you care about eating organic?” Savannah asked suspiciously. She thinks she has dibs on living green since her stepdad bought her a hybrid. She’s gone as far as to lecture strangers at the mall for tossing empty soda cans in the garbage.
“Since today,” Charly answered. “Now that I’m a protestor of sweatshop labor in . . . Amelia, where are the sweatshops?”
“China, Malaysia, Guatemala, the Philippines, Thailand . . . should I keep going?”
“No, that’s good.”
“Wait a second,” Savannah jumped in, jabbing a finger dangerously close to my face. “You can’t go to Atlanta. You guys have a big game! Ha!”
I knew it was only a matter of time until that hit her. “I’ll have to miss it.” The words felt wrong even as I said them. I’d never missed a field hockey game. Not even when I’d had mono.
“What? The team captain can’t just skip out on the biggest game of the season.”
“We’ll beat Baldwin whether I’m here or not.”
That wasn’t true. I took another bite of my apple and stared at the core to avoid eye contact. Baldwin beat us last year, and was rumored to be even stronger this year. Something about a new German coach and brutal three-hour practices.
“What did Coach Hershey say?” Charly asked.
I glared at her. Whose side was she on? “I haven’t told her yet. Today. At practice.”
Coach Hershey is like a stick of dynamite: small, tightly packed, and deadly. I was still trying to come up with the right way of phrasing it so she wouldn’t explode in my face.
“Homecoming is about football,” I said. “Nobody cares about girls’ field hockey.”
“Apparently not,” Savannah muttered, and folded her arms.
“Hey, speaking of Baldwin,” Charly said, “can you give me a lift out there tomorrow night?”
“Why, so you can spend the evening stealing stop signs?”
Charly had come away from her summer job mowing greens at Baldwin Country Club with a paycheck, a tan, and a pack of total morons she now hung out with. Most of them were dropouts or just going nowhere. Unless there was a possibility of keg stands—then they were definitely going there.
“We didn’t steal them. We borrowed them and then we put them back. Mostly.”
“I won’t even be home from practice until after five and then I’ve got homework. Plus, I need to practice for my choir audition.”
She closed her eyes and shuddered. “You should not be auditioning for choir.”
“I’m doing choir.”
“But you have a terrible voice. No offense.”
Sebastian and No-Name stifled laughs. Savannah coughed.
“Thanks a lot, guys,” I muttered, then turned back to Charly. “Offense taken, and I know I don’t have the best voice, but choir will make me look well rounded.”
“But you’re not.”
“Does that mean you’re not driving me to Baldwin?”
“You need to get your driver’s license.”
That shut her up. She’d already failed the road test twice.
“You don’t want to go out to Baldwin tonight,” Dean jumped in. “They’re the enemy. Come with us to DQ after football.”
If Charly answered, I didn’t catch it. I was too busy watching Will.
He was coming through the doorway to the cafeteria, Luciana in tow, her pearly pink nails and brown skinny fingers curled around his bicep. He was talking, and she was laughing. No, her whole body was laughing—her head thrown back and her other hand touching her throat.
Please. Will is a lot of things, but he’s not that funny.
Adrenaline screamed through my veins, but I didn’t move. I gave myself three seconds. Three seconds to see how happy he looked, still tall and skinny, those same brown eyes and curly brown hair. Three miserable seconds, then I looked down.
Thankfully, Savannah was too busy canoodling with Sebastian to notice. Her sympathy is my kryptonite.
Charly pushed her pudding cup toward me. “Butterscotch. You can have it.”
She gave me a crooked half smile, crooked because when we were ten she’d been standing on the wrong side of my swing during a softball game.
Butterscotch is her favorite.