Main She Drives Me Crazy
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Thanks, I’ve been waiting for this one to show up
04 May 2021 (03:26)
ive been waiting for this book for weeks now lmao
booktok recommended this book and it DEFINITELY DESERVES THE HYPE. i read in one sitting!! ughhh yall gayass will love this ong
booktok recommended this book and it DEFINITELY DESERVES THE HYPE. i read in one sitting!! ughhh yall gayass will love this ong
13 May 2021 (19:09)
It's so cute and fluffy
Go gays ✊?️?
It's so cute and fluffy
Go gays ✊?️?
02 June 2021 (14:19)
Just beautiful, I smiling so hard right now I love it
03 June 2021 (05:50)
Como lo puedo leer en español?
17 June 2021 (06:51)
I smiled throughout the reading. 5☆
17 June 2021 (14:17)
kinda disliked it
couldn't get through it
didn't connect to it, at all
couldn't get through it
didn't connect to it, at all
18 June 2021 (21:43)
yoooo this was so good we need more like these plssssssssss
27 June 2021 (22:04)
Okay it says download but I did and it won’t let me read I just wanna read a book bro ?☝️
30 June 2021 (23:01)
This book is great. I'm usually a slow reader but I read this book in one sitting.
14 July 2021 (23:33)
2.5 / 5
The protagonist of this story is the most unrelatable character. She is downright unlikable 90% of the time. And a love interest with Indian heritage with the most boring un-exotic name... I mean Irene? Really? This is one of those books you read hoping it will get better and then it ends. I give it a 2.5 because Irene's character was a bit more fleshed out and believable. This one could probably work for really clueless baby gays who love drama.
19 July 2021 (05:56)
this sounds cute, I'mma read it now（〜^∇^)〜
28 July 2021 (20:35)
pls this one is so cute ? im smiling all throughout the ending! it's the gay athlete x cheerleader fluff that we need!!! read it now!
04 August 2021 (14:58)
No me esperaba nada de este libro, pero me dió una sorpresa muy agradable. Es increíble.
04 August 2021 (16:12)
One of the most heart warming books i've read in a while. Totally pulled an all nighter just to finish it. But also it was so worth it. cute, fun to read, good writing. I'd give it a solid 4 stars.
12 August 2021 (06:58)
I just finished reading it and I missed them. The plot twist is great and they have good characters. You can also learn something from our story. You deserve 5 stars.
18 August 2021 (01:15)
finished this in one night. it's not at all taxing to read and has a good enough plot. the romance is pretty sweet even if it's cliche. had me tearing up, ngl.
21 August 2021 (21:09)
I enjoyed this book so much. It's now one of my favourites.
If you're looking for a slow burn, enemies to lovers, teen lesbian romance- this book is definitely for you! :)
If you're looking for a slow burn, enemies to lovers, teen lesbian romance- this book is definitely for you! :)
28 August 2021 (20:33)
this had me grinning exceptionally wide, with my gay little heart soaring so high :>
01 September 2021 (03:26)
I absolutely loved it. It was charming charming in a romcom type of way
16 September 2021 (13:41)
I could not put it down I loved it so much. And the ending AHHH
06 October 2021 (09:12)
Cuando en español plisss
05 November 2021 (00:35)
this is shit fingerlickin good. like yeah, it's cliche, but how come it was still entertaining. (ps. i don't think i'm straight)
03 December 2021 (05:14)
CUTE AS HELL!!! ROMANTIC!!! GOOD REPRESENTATION!! READ IT NOW YALL
03 January 2022 (18:12)
Alguien sabe dónde lo puedo leer en español?
17 January 2022 (06:40)
Begin Reading Table of Contents About the Author Copyright Page Thank you for buying this Roaring Brook Press ebook. To receive special offers, bonus content, and info on new releases and other great reads, sign up for our newsletters. Or visit us online at us.macmillan.com/newslettersignup For email updates on the author, click here. The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you for your personal use only. You may not make this e-book publicly available in any way. Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author’s copyright, please notify the publisher at: us.macmillanusa.com/piracy. For Mom, who always bounces back, and for Quinn Patrick, our little game changer 1 You would think, based on the fact that I’ve played varsity basketball for three years now, that I know how to score a basket. You would be wrong. “Zajac!” Coach screams, waving wildly at me. She’s only using my last name because she can’t remember my first name. “No more shots! Give the ball to someone else!” It’s almost as humiliating as the air ball I lobbed up a second ago. I play shooting guard, so I’m supposed to, you know, shoot, but this is the third time I’ve taken a shot that hasn’t even touched the rim. The ball is usually so controlled in my hands, but tonight it’s like I’m chucking a giant potato through a wind tunnel. The opposing team grabs the rebound and my ears burn as I run back to play defense on the other side of the court. I can’t bear to look at my teammates. This is technically just a preseason game, but it’s against Candlehawk Prep, our rival high school, and right now we’re trailing them by eighteen points. On our home court. If we lose this game, we won’t have the chance to redeem ourselves until we play them in the Christmas Classic, which means these dickheads will have the upper hand for the next two months. I dig my sneakers into the court and try to focus on playing defense. We’re playin; g man-to-man, which is usually my strong suit, but tonight it’s tripping me up because the opponent I’m guarding happens to be my ex-teammate. She also happens to be my ex-girlfriend. Tally Gibson was the first and only person I ever loved. She transferred to my school at the beginning of junior year with all the airs of the big city and a drive to prove herself on and off the court. The first time we talked, she tugged on my ponytail and told me I had the prettiest red hair she’d ever seen. The first time we kissed, it was like a flash fire ripped through me. I was, in a word, entranced. For her part, Tally only loved two things. The first was me. The second was being noticed. Tally wanted to be somebody, but she had a hard time making that happen at our school, where the girls’ basketball team was about as significant as the knitting club. I knew she wanted more, but in my mind, more was always something that existed in the distant future, something we would eventually tackle together. I thought we were on the same page until the day she took me out to dinner and announced she was transferring again—and that she wanted to break up. The official letter welcoming her to Candlehawk Preparatory Academy was so wrinkled and worn that I could tell she’d been carrying it around for weeks. I try not to look at Tally now as she bounds down the court in her new gold jersey, but it’s like pretending the sun doesn’t exist. She pulls her lips into her mouth like she’s trying to keep a neutral expression, but I can tell she’s thrilled with how this game is going. It validates every reason she had for transferring to a school with a better basketball program, a school where she could finally be noticed. Tally takes her place near me at the top of the key, keeping enough distance to stay open for a pass from her new point guard. But then, almost like she can’t help it, she glances at me. You okay? she mouths. She’s trying to look concerned, but it feels more condescending. I break the eye contact and turn away. I don’t want her pity. The other team’s point guard has just about crossed the half-court line when the ref blows his whistle. My best friend, Danielle, has called for a time-out. Danielle is our point guard, varsity captain, and basically our makeshift coach because our official coach is clueless. She hustles over to me and speaks in an undertone before our forwards and center can join us. “Dude.” She gives me her trademark intense stare. “You gotta focus. Ignore her.” Danielle knows how devastated I was after Tally broke up with me, and how I’ve just barely recovered. Between that and her competitive drive, Danielle is determined to win this game at all costs, even though we’ve lost to Candlehawk the last three years in a row. We lose most of our games, but it’s never stopped Danielle from dreaming of a winning season. “I know, I know, I hear you,” I mutter to her. “You didn’t have to call time-out.” Danielle huffs. “It’s not all about you.” She turns to our forwards and center as they join us. “Listen, do y’all recognize this play they’re about to run?” The rest of us stare at her. Danielle’s mind is always working overtime, picking up patterns and rhythms the rest of us never see. Every once in a while, she completely zones out when she’s thinking through something. Our friends called it Danielle Vision. “The point guard does that hand-twirl signal when she wants the forwards to cross-swap,” she says in a hushed tone. “They’re gonna run out to the wings to pull the attention away from the top of the key—” I’m trying to listen, but my eyes keep searching for Tally. She’s standing in a huddle with her new teammates, doing that thing where she picks up her ankle and balances on one foot. The first time I teased her about that habit, during tryouts last year, she grinned crookedly and said, Why are you watching me so closely? I wish I could get that moment back. Tally’s arctic-blue eyes, her daring smirk, her eagerness to give this place—and me—a chance. She had yet to learn that playing for a losing girls’ basketball team in a quirky suburban town made you a nobody. I had yet to learn that being a nobody was supposed to bother me. “—Got it?” Danielle says bracingly, smacking me on the arm. And suddenly we’re taking our positions and the ref is blowing his whistle, but I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing. It happens too fast: The opposing point guard makes the signal, the forwards cross-swap to the wings, and Tally runs to set a pick against Danielle. She plants her feet and crosses her arms over her chest, becoming a solid screen that Danielle can’t move around. I chase after her, trying to keep up, but she rolls easily off Danielle and zips to the free-throw line to receive her point guard’s pass. By the time I catch up to her, Tally has already taken her shot. It sails crisply and cleanly through the basket in a perfect, nothing-but-net arc. The gold section of the crowd—which is pretty much all of it—roars with delight. One of their supporters waves a sign that reads Tally it up!!! It makes me want to vomit. Tally grins as her new teammates rush to high-five her. They’re now up by a whopping twenty points and my team has no chance of coming back. Danielle throws me a death glare, and I realize she must have warned me about the pick. I shrug defensively; she shakes her head and hustles to the baseline so we can pass the ball in for a new play. It’s in that one stupid second—between picking up the ball and passing it in to Danielle—that I lose it. One of the Candlehawk players who’s hanging all over Tally cackles, “That girl didn’t even see you move! She couldn’t keep up with you!” That girl. Like I’m some pathetic nonfactor who means nothing to Tally. She obviously didn’t think I was worth mentioning to her new teammates. “Hey, asshole!” I shout to the Candlehawk player. She turns around, scandalized. So do the rest of her teammates, including a bewildered Tally. “My name is Scottie!” I hurl the basketball like we’re playing dodgeball and I’m determined to take out their entire team. I feel one boiling second of satisfaction, but then— Shrieeeeeeeeek. The ref blows his whistle and barrels toward me. “Technical foul!” he shouts. “Unsportsmanlike conduct!” The crowd starts booing me. The Candlehawk players throw me scathing, superior looks, except for Tally, who grimaces like I’ve become unhinged. My coach freezes where she stands, clearly unsure of what a technical foul is. I can feel Danielle staring a hole into the side of my face, but I refuse to make eye contact with anyone as I hustle to the bench. The Candlehawk supporters are still jeering while our handful of home supporters are silent. I’m seething with anger, but there’s a hot prickle of shame running down my spine, too. I take my seat on the bench and keep my eyes fixed on the floor. * * * We lose by twenty-three points. I know it’s not all on my shoulders, but I can’t help feeling smaller than the tiniest ant as we line up to shake hands with the other team. Tally meets my eyes as we file through the handshake line. There’s a look of secondhand embarrassment on her face, like she wants to recoil from me. I’ve seen that look only once before: last spring, when we went to our first real house party and the cheerleading captain had my car towed as a prank. I chased the tow truck down the street, fell and cut my knee open, and dissolved into sobs. Tally put her arm around me, but she seemed more concerned with shushing me than comforting me, especially once the crowd of onlookers grew. I remember feeling like I was both too much and not enough. After that, I swore off the cool kids and their parties, but Tally tried harder than ever to join them. She never confirmed it, but I’m pretty sure the tow truck incident was the final straw that made her apply to Candlehawk. The humiliating nudge she needed to start over with something better. “Scottie?” Tally calls when I’m slouching off to the locker room. I freeze. “Yeah?” She doesn’t quite make eye contact. “Can you wait for me outside?” I breathe in sharply. I know it’s not a good idea, but I can’t pass up this chance for a moment alone with her. “Sure, okay.” She nods and walks away. I continue on toward the locker room but stop in my tracks when some varsity cheerleaders swoop in from the larger gym next door. They must have just finished cheering for the boys’ game. I feel that sweeping blush the cheerleading squad has provoked in me since the towing incident last year, so I crouch down and pretend to tie my shoe until the group of them has passed me. * * * Outside, in the senior parking lot, I hike myself up on the retaining wall where people like to smoke weed. Tally will no doubt find me here, since the Candlehawk players insist on parking in our senior lot anytime they play us at home. In a different world, Tally would have parked in this lot every day, right next to my old green Jetta. Now she parks on the other side of town in a sea of Range Rovers and Escalades. It’s a cool October evening. The marquee in front of the school office is lit up in shining white, spelling out a reminder that it’s Homecoming week, except someone has nicked the second o and replaced it to read HOMECUMING. Our principal will pitch a fit tomorrow, but it won’t stop people from messing with the sign. It’s just one of those things kids around here do. I live in the town of Grandma Earl, Georgia. We’re famous for a gigantic emporium called Grandma Earl’s Christmas 365, which old Mrs. Earl opened, like, a hundred years ago to sell Christmas decorations year-round. It became such a landmark that the town was eventually named for it. It’s a little wacky, but I love this place. It’s home. Grandma Earl High School is the home of the Fighting Reindeer, which is why I have to wear a red-and-brown jersey on the basketball court. That color scheme doesn’t look good on anyone, but especially not a fair-skinned redhead like me. That’s one good thing about the lack of fans at our games: fewer people to catch me looking like a fire hydrant. Not that I’ve ever really cared. Or at least, I didn’t used to. Candlehawk is the town—or township, as they call it—next to ours, and they’re kind of like Grandma Earl’s douchey older brother: cool, cocky, and perpetually embarrassed to be associated with us. We share a border at the old railroad tracks, but things are much different over there: trendy, modern, full of organic coffee roasters and uppity farmers markets. The residents are low-key wealthy and high-key hipster. They show up to our rival games wearing navy beanies and $150 distressed jeans while our half dozen supporters show up in gardening shirts and cargo pants. And at halftime, no matter what the sport, their crowd taunts us about the time a Grandma Earl football player tackled his own teammate in a championship game. It’s the reason Candlehawk sings “Grandma got run over by her own reindeer” whenever we play each other. I hate that Tally has become a Candlehawk kid, but maybe I should have seen it coming. She was always obsessed with how things looked and who was doing the looking. Dating her felt like viewing my life through a photo filter. Sometimes I was swept up by how great we looked together; other times, I felt like the photo underneath wasn’t good enough on its own. The school’s back door heaves open, jolting me from my thoughts. Tally comes gliding out, flanked by several players from her new team. Her face is bright and her laughter loud, but she draws to an abrupt stop when she sees me. “Hey,” I say evenly. “Hey.” She jams her hands in her leather jacket and shoots her entourage a loaded look. “Give me a sec, guys.” The Candlehawk girls trudge away with their eyebrows raised. They don’t bother looking my way. “Sorry,” Tally mutters, coming toward me on the retaining wall. She nods at her retreating teammates. “They were trying to talk me into getting a fog machine for, um”—she glances away, shrugging—“for a Halloween thing I’m having.” I blink, trying to keep my expression steady. A Halloween thing. That’s code for yet another party, one of many she’s thrown since starting at Candlehawk. The lack of an invitation feels like a physical blow, but I know better than to have expected one. I try not to imagine what kind of costume she’ll wear, the pictures she’ll post. How many people will be in her house, taking shots in the kitchen where we baked cupcakes a few months ago. “Tell people to watch out for that fireplace corner,” I murmur. It’s an intimate memory: During my first visit to Tally’s house, while her parents were away, I’d cut my shin on the dark red brick protruding from her oversized fireplace. Happy to play nurse, Tally had kissed the pain away. She hadn’t told me to shush that time. Probably because no one had been watching. I think there’s a glimmer of recognition in Tally’s eyes, but she looks away before I can be sure. “Um—anyway. Some game, right? I’ve never seen you that pissed off before. I think you actually scared some of my teammates.” She laughs, but it’s hollow. That prickle of shame runs down my spine again. I shift on the wall and ask, “Does it matter? I mean, do they know who I am to you?” She chews her lip. “I don’t know. Maybe from social media?” I bristle. Tally deleted all her pictures of me the day after we broke up. “So, probably not,” I say pointedly. Tally crosses her arms over her chest. “You didn’t have to throw the ball at them. If they do know about you, that’s not the impression I want them to get.” “Well, sorry I can’t maintain a good enough image for you, Tally.” “Jesus, Scottie,” she mutters, like I’m the most impossible person in the world. “You’re being so over the top. It’s just a game.” I feel like she’s dumped a bucket of ice water on my head. It soaks through my skin and twists around my insides. “Just a game?” My voice is shaking. “If it’s just a game, why did you have to transfer to Candlehawk for it?” Tally sighs. Dead leaves skitter across the concrete. “Okay, look, I don’t want to fight. I should have known it was a bad idea to talk when you’re all riled up after a game—” “I’m not riled up,” I say, trying to control my emotions. Tally levels me with a stare. “Anyway.” She reaches in her jacket pocket and pulls out a plastic button the size of a drink coaster. I know what it is even before I see the picture on the front. “I wanted to give this back to you,” she says, laying it in my palm. It’s my basketball button from junior year. A photo of me in my gaudy red-and-brown jersey, my eyes shining brightly. The school gives them out to athletes so our parents or friends can wear them to our games, even if it’s usually just the football players who use them. Last year, Tally and I swapped buttons. I pinned hers to my backpack for the whole season, ready to tell anyone who asked that she was my girlfriend. No one did, but I was proud anyway. Tally never wore my button, though. Maybe I should have taken that as a hint. “I thought you would want it back,” Tally says. “I know you’ll get a new one this season, but it didn’t feel right for me to hold on to it.” I blink rapidly and try to find my voice— And just then, the back door heaves open again. The Grandma Earl cheerleaders strut out. To my horror, the girl at the front of the pack is the last person in the world I want to witness this pitiful moment: Irene Abraham, the cheerleading captain. The girl who had my car towed at that party last year. Irene is the quintessential queen bee: the most popular girl in our grade, a total lock for Homecoming Queen, and an absolute terror to us plebeians at the bottom of the social pyramid. She’s a gorgeous Indian American girl with piercing dark eyes and an eyebrow scar of mysterious origin. A few weeks ago, my class voted her both “Best Smile” and “Best Hair” for senior superlatives. Rumor has it that when the yearbook staff asked her to pick one, she asked if she could have “Class Inseparables” with her notorious enemy, Charlotte Pascal, instead. She wasn’t kidding. I’ve only spoken to her twice in my life. The first time was in Driver’s Ed, freshman year, before she ascended to the realm of popularity and was still nice enough to lend me a pencil. The second was last spring, at that party, when I accidentally spilled my cranberry mixer down the front of her white jumpsuit. She told me it wasn’t a big deal, but an hour later she called the tow truck on me. Everyone ran out of the house to watch my car get dragged away while I went racing after it like an idiot. It wasn’t until I tripped, skinned my knee, and saw everyone laughing that I started to cry. Irene merely stood in the center of the yard, hands in her pockets, with a cool expression on her face. The merciless, untouchable queen. Irene stops short when she sees us. The whole squad stops behind her. One of the other girls asks if I’m okay. “I’m fine.” I stare pointedly away, willing them with everything I have to keep walking. “Yeah, she’s fine,” Tally confirms. Her tone is apologetic, almost like she’s saying Sorry you have to see this. I can feel Irene’s eyes land on me again, but I ignore her. What is she waiting for? She must get the hint, because she shifts her duffel bag on her shoulder and stalks toward the parking lot. “Are y’all coming?” she calls to her friends. “I’ve got shit to do.” They glance at me, but after a second they shuffle after Irene. “I guess we should go, too,” Tally says. We. As if that’s still a thing. I don’t move. It’s the only play I have left. “I’m sorry that game didn’t go how you wanted,” Tally says. “Good luck with the rest of the season.” She hesitates, then plants a kiss on my cheek. And then she walks away. That’s the moment I decide: I will do everything in my power to beat Candlehawk—to beat Tally—when we play them again. I will do whatever it takes to show her that leaving Grandma Earl—leaving me—was the biggest mistake of her life. * * * My trusty old Jetta is my baby. The seats have cracks in the leather, the cupholder fits a coffee thermos perfectly, and the interior smells inexplicably like crayons. It used to be my older sister’s car, and when she passed it down to me, she stuck a four-leaf clover sticker on the gearshift to wish me luck. My mom’s contribution was a Saint Christopher medal, for the patron saint of travelers, which now hangs from the rearview mirror and swings helplessly whenever I make a hard turn. I throw my bag in the passenger seat and tuck myself into the driver’s side. For a second I sit there holding my basketball button, gazing down at this person who no longer feels like me. Then I turn on the car, pull on my seat belt, and hook up my phone to the ancient aux cable. I back out of my space and blare my music. Maybe playing “Purple Rain” loudly enough will soothe the bitterness in my stomach. I guide my car through the labyrinth of the senior parking lot, wanting nothing more than to get home. Then I see Tally’s car zoom out of the lot. The same red Ford Escape we used to make out in after school. I haven’t seen it since the day she broke up with me. I can’t help it: I crane my neck to watch her drive away. It’s because my eyes are glued to Tally’s taillights that I don’t notice it— The car reversing out of its space directly in front of me. CRUNCH. I lurch forward in my seat as I slam straight into the other car’s rear end. 2 It takes a moment for my senses to catch up with me. My heart is pounding so hard I feel like I’ve just dropped off the side of a cliff. My entire body is sweeping hot, and my palms are pooling with sweat. The car I’ve hit is a black sedan, but before I can get a proper look at it, the other driver stomps out of the car with all the anger of a rabid bulldog. It’s Irene Abraham. Fuck. My shock transforms to fury. Go-freaking-figure. I know I wasn’t exactly looking when I hit her, but I also know I had the right of way. She must have decided the rules didn’t apply to her. My adrenaline carries me out of my car before I can think about it. I slam my door and meet her in the middle. “What the hell?” Her eyes flash when she sees me. Under her breath, she says, “You have got to be fucking kidding me.” I ignore her and check my front bumper. Miraculously, it’s only slightly dented; I’ll have to get it fixed, but it’s still drivable. Behind me, Irene is examining her own car. “Shit,” she grumbles. “My parents are gonna kill me.” “Yeah, well, so are mine,” I say, kicking at my front tire. I can feel tears building behind my eyes, but I fight against them. I hate the idea of crying in front of Irene Abraham ever again. I take a deep breath to steady myself, but when I turn around to check her car, the bottom drops out of my stomach. Her rear bumper is a craggy, mangled disaster; the right half of it hangs off the frame, dragging against the pavement. There’s no way her car is drivable like this. My anger suddenly turns to panic. If her car took the worst of the hit, does that mean it was my fault, even if I had the right of way? I steady my breathing and look at her. “Damn it. I’m sorry.” Her dark eyes sizzle like I’ve just said something offensive. “Do you know nothing?” she snaps. “You should never apologize after a car accident. It’s an admission of fault.” I’m so thrown off, I can only stare at her. “Lucky for you, I’m not the type of person to fake a serious injury or some bullshit emotional trauma so I can sue you and your parents for all you’re worth, but someone else might be. Use your head.” Anger flares inside me again. “You really wanna be giving me a lesson right now? You’re the one who backed into me!” “Why didn’t you stop when you saw my car?” “Why didn’t you stop when you saw my car?” We’ve created quite a scene in the parking lot. A bunch of people from our class run over, checking to see what happened. Even though school’s been out for hours, there are enough kids here that our accident is impossible to hide. “Are y’all okay?” “Ohhh, your bumper’s fucked.” “Aw, shit! Tow Truck Girl fucked up her car again!” One of the cheerleaders hurries over, her eyes popping out of her head. It’s Irene’s best friend, the same girl who asked me if I was okay earlier: Honey-Belle Hewett. She’s the great-granddaughter of the legendary Mrs. Earl. Her family still runs the Emporium, and she’s exactly how you’d imagine a girl from a Christmas-business family to be. Sugary voice, cartoonish expressions, and a little out of it sometimes. Like a Care Bear magicked to life. “Holy shit-balls,” she exclaims, running straight for us. “What happened? Are you okay?” Irene drags a hand down her face. “I have to call my mom. Fuck.” She stalks away on her cell phone, her brow still furrowed with anger. Honey-Belle gives me a sympathetic look, but I turn away and pick up my own phone. My mom shows up fifteen minutes after I call her. She smooths the hair back from my forehead and reassures me in her steady, measured voice. The whole world could explode and my mom would say, Hmm, now how are we going to handle this? “Are you hurt anywhere?” Mom asks. “No.” “Were you on your phone?” “No.” Mom nods, searching me with her I-don’t-miss-a-trick eyes. “Okay. Let’s call the insurance company.” Irene’s mom arrives soon after that. She’s an attractive, sophisticated-looking woman, with curly dark hair and pristine lipstick, dressed in lavender scrubs with a name tag that reads DR. ABRAHAM. She has the same scrutinizing facial expression as Irene, like she could figure you out in a second. It looks like that’s what she’s doing to Irene right now. “How did this happen?” she asks, cocking her head at Irene. Her voice is calm but commanding. Irene huffs, crossing her arms over her chest. “I was backing out, and I didn’t see her coming—” Her mom cuts her off. “You weren’t looking?” “I was, but—” “But you were lost in your head, imagining more cheer routines?” Irene’s mouth sets into a thin line. “This is what happens when you don’t focus,” her mom continues. “You know better than to be careless. Make sure to take pictures of this bumper. Every angle!” There’s an unbearable stretch of time when our moms are on the phone with the insurance companies and Irene and I have nothing to do but pointedly ignore each other. When all is said and done, our moms exchange a nod and announce that we’re both responsible—since both our cars were moving—but that Irene is primarily at fault since I had the right of way. “That’s not fair,” Irene says, shaking her head. “She came zooming around the corner—she wasn’t even looking—” “How do you know I wasn’t looking?” I say heatedly. “Besides, you’re one to talk! This is the second time you’ve messed with my car!” My mom frowns. “What does that mean?” There’s a hanging silence. I never told my parents the truth about how my car was towed last year; I lied and said I’d accidentally parked in front of a fire hydrant. I was too embarrassed to admit that I’d been bullied by the head cheerleader. Now Irene and I stare at each other for a blistering moment. Her eyes are wide and anxious. It’s the first hint of vulnerability I’ve seen from her. “She … accidentally spilled coffee in my car once.” I’m not sure what possesses me to say it. This could have been my chance for some much deserved payback, but I’d rather be Tow Truck Girl than Tattletale Girl. “You’ve been in her car before?” Irene’s mom asks. “You two are friends?” We stare at each other for another extended moment. “Mhm,” Irene says, recovering. She gestures at my uniform. “I cheer for her team sometimes.” It’s a good thing no one’s looking at me, because my eye roll would prove that’s a lie in a second. I have no doubt that Irene, as captain, could get her squad to cheer for us instead of the boys, but why would a cheerleading captain ever bother to challenge the status quo? “Isn’t that nice,” my mom coos. “Well, that makes everything less awkward, doesn’t it?” Irene’s mom chuckles. “Yes, what a relief!” What follows is some of the worst mom-based embarrassment I’ve ever experienced. Our moms introduce themselves, then make corny jokes about how glad they are that neither one of them is an uptight, meddling mother who would blow this accident out of proportion. “Imagine having to do this with a Candlehawk woman!” my mom says. “That’s a level of hell I don’t need today!” Irene’s mom laughs. Irene and I say nothing, waiting for them to stop. “Scottie, you look like a serious student,” Dr. Abraham says suddenly. “What are you studying?” “Mom, don’t—” Irene tries. “Uh … my favorite subject is history,” I say. “Is that what you want to study in college?” “Totally,” I lie. I’ve never seriously thought about it, but Dr. Abraham seems like the kind of woman who requires a confident answer. “And what sport do you play? Is that a basketball uniform? Basketball’s a wonderful sport. You see, Irene? You can be a serious student and a competitive athlete.” “I am,” Irene says, with an air like she’s said this a hundred times before. “Cheerleading is very admirable, too,” my mom chimes in. Dr. Abraham nods politely, but she obviously disagrees. “Well, it seems everything is in order here,” she says authoritatively. “We’re waiting on the tow truck company, but then we’ll be on our way.” I meet Irene’s eyes at the words tow truck. She flicks her eyes away, but I catch a flash of guilt in them. “Having your car towed sucks,” I say with fake sympathy. “Happened to me once. I really feel for you.” I can almost see the steam coming out of her ears. It’s so satisfying I could sing. But then— “What a pain to be without a car in this town,” my mom says. “How will you get to school, Irene?” “My husband or I will drop her off,” Irene’s mom says with a wave of her hand. “It’s easy for us. We’re right over on Sleigh Byrne.” “Sleigh Byrne?” My mom gets a funny smile on her face, and I’m suddenly dreading what she’s going to say next. “We live on the next road over, off Bells Haven.” She looks at me, and now I know what’s about to happen. “Scottie can give Irene a ride!” Mom declares, her eyes bright. “Please, please, we insist. It’s the least we could do.” I try to catch my mom’s eye to communicate what a terrible idea this is, but the damage is already done. Irene’s mom lights up like this is the best plan she’s ever heard. She smiles brightly at Irene and lifts her hands as if to say How about that! Irene blinks and offers my mom a courteous, grateful smile, but I can tell she despises the idea as much as I do. “Well, that’s settled,” Mom says, looking happily at me. “All’s well that ends well, right?” It’s not until we’ve walked away from the Abrahams that I voice my horror. “Mom,” I whine, “I can’t stand that girl! I’d rather go to school naked than drive her anywhere!” “I thought you said you were friends?” “Uh … I mean, that might have been a slight exaggeration,” I fumble. “But does it matter? The accident wasn’t even my fault!” Mom looks unperturbed. “No, it wasn’t your fault, but it’s still your responsibility. It won’t kill you to give her a ride until her car’s fixed.” In the end, I walk away from my first car accident with a wounded ego, a dented bumper, and the looming dread of carpooling with the only person who could make my senior year worse than it already is. * * * My dad and younger sister are in the front yard, stringing up Halloween lights, when Mom and I caravan into the driveway. I love our house. We’ve lived here since I was four. It’s a quirky street, tucked away off a busy main road. The houses are as different as the people who live in them. There’s the one-story ranch house where the Sanchez family and their three Labradors live. There’s Mrs. Stone’s green bungalow with the rocking chair porch, where she’s always inviting people in for a cup of turmeric tea and a discussion of what their dreams mean. At the end of the street is my mom’s least favorite house, the faux-modern monstrosity where Mr. and Mrs. Haliburton-Rivera host bougie parties we’re never invited to. Mom and Dad call them “Candlehawk wannabes.” Our house is a lilac-blue classic with shutter boards and a tiny front porch. Instead of a garage, we have an old carport where we park our cars. There’s a maple tree in the front yard that reaches as high as the second story and a row of bushes that guard the front porch. That’s where Dad and Daphne are now, arranging the orange lights so they hang over the bushes the way Daphne likes them. “What’s the damage?” Dad asks when Mom and I join them in the yard. “It’s my front bumper.” I grimace. “It’s all dented in, but I was still able to drive it home—” “I mean you, Scots,” Dad says, bracing his hands on my shoulders. He looks me over with a worried frown, like he might be able to assess whether or not I’m concussed. This is one of the best things about my dad. I know he will be annoyed about the bumper, and that he’ll insist on coming with me to the repair shop, but right now he’s only concerned about me. “I’m glad you’re okay,” Daphne says, hugging me gently. “Do you need an ice pack? There’s one in the freezer from when I bruised my toe.” Daphne is the sweetheart of the family. She’s only thirteen, but my parents like to say she’s an old soul. “I’m fine, Daph, thanks.” “How’s your neck?” Dad asks. “Any whiplash?” “Maybe a little whiplash,” I say, and Dad starts feeling along the top of my spine. He’s a chiropractor, so he’s always quick to check my back if I tell him I slept funny or pulled a muscle in practice. “Flat on the grass,” Dad says, stepping back. “What? We’re gonna do the adjustment out here?” “Daph and I are still working on the decorations,” Dad says, like it’s obvious. “Come on, you know the drill.” Mom and Daphne just stand there, amused, as I drop to the grass and lie flat on my stomach while Dad starts cracking my back. If the neighbors are watching, I doubt they’re surprised. My family’s been known to do weirder shit in the front yard—like the time five-year-old Daphne insisted we eat breakfast out here with our winter coats on. In the middle of July. “All right, that should do it,” Dad says, giving my neck a final crack. “Feel better?” I can only grunt into the grass in response. We spend the next half hour finishing the Halloween decorations. It’s dark outside, and we’re limited by the lamps on the porch, but we’re motivated to finish because Halloween is next week. It’s tradition on my street for everyone to go all out with holiday decorations, even the stuck-up Haliburton-Riveras, who decorate in a style my parents call tasteful Pinterest crap. Our decorations, on the other hand, are cheesy as hell. We plant plastic tombstones all over the grass, Mom sets up a witch and vampire couple to look like American Gothic on the front porch, and Daphne wraps cobwebs all over the mailbox. My contribution is to arrange a group of skeletons around some hay bales. Last year, Dad made them look like they were doing the macarena. This year, I take a fat twig and place it in one skeleton’s mouth to look like he’s smoking. Mom rolls her eyes, but she lets it slide. Inside, we sit down to a dinner of rotisserie chicken that Dad picked up on his way home from the clinic. Mom and Daphne throw together a side of noodles and croissant rolls, while my task is to set aside a plate for my older sister, Thora, who’s still at work. “I texted Thora about the accident,” Daphne says, helping herself to a double portion of noodles. “She’s worried about you, Scottie. She wanted to come home right away, but she said the restaurant is a cluster-eff.” “Don’t use that word,” Mom says. “I didn’t, I said ‘eff.’ Thora used the real word.” “Still.” “Mom, most people in my grade use the f-word all the time.” “Doesn’t mean you have to be uncouth, too.” “Yeah, wait until you’re older to be uncouth,” Dad says. Thora works as a bartender at the best pub in town, The Chimney. She’s saving money to rent her own apartment, but for now she lives in our basement with her two cats, BooBoo and Pickles, who keep getting into Mom’s vegetable patch and digging up her arugula. The cats drive Mom crazy. Dad is cooler about them, but he’s always more lax when it comes to Thora because he’s technically her stepdad. Mom divorced Thora’s birth father when Thora was a toddler, but she didn’t marry Dad until Thora was seven. “Scottie,” Mom says when there’s a lull in the conversation, “do you want to talk about what happened?” I pick at the skin on my chicken, aware of everyone watching me. I knew our evening of decorating fun would eventually give way to this conversation, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready for it. “Do we have to?” Dad tilts his head at me. “Do we have to talk about why you were so distracted that you didn’t notice a car backing into you? Yes.” I drop my fork. “I had a bad day, okay?” “Because of the Candlehawk game?” Dad asks. “Because of Tally?” Mom adds. I feel lucky to have parents as loving and engaged as my mom and dad. They know about all the little things happening in my life, like when I have an exam I’m stressed about or a fight with Danielle that trips me up. But sometimes their involvement is so earnest and omnipresent that I feel like something can’t happen to me without them wanting to pick it apart over the dinner table. “We’re sorry we couldn’t be at the demo game,” Dad says, ruffling my hair. “We know it’s been a tough semester. It hasn’t been easy for you without Tally.” “Losing your first love is excruciating,” Mom adds sympathetically. I’m not sure my parents ever liked Tally. They were sure to smile and hug her whenever she came over, but I always got the vibe that they were doing it for my sake rather than because they actually liked her. “I promise it’s going to get better,” Mom coos. “But that doesn’t mean you can lose sight of everything else going on in your life. You’ve got your whole senior year ahead of you, with basketball and college applications and your wonderful friends—” “I know, I know.” Tears spring into my eyes. I try to swallow them down, but they drop onto my chicken. “I really am sorry about the car, you guys.” “Okay,” Mom says quietly. “We’ll let it go for tonight. Go upstairs and watch a movie. Daphne will take care of the dishes.” Doing the dishes alone is a pain—we usually split the cleanup—but the wonderful thing about Daphne is that she would never argue in a million years. She nods and clears everyone’s plates, tossing me a small smile, and I take the stairs to my room without looking back. * * * I’m notorious for taking the longest showers in the family, but tonight is really something else. For a while I just stand there under the water, my aching muscles grateful for the heat. I wash my hair, loofah with Daphne’s vanilla sugar body wash, and scrub my face after a good long cry. Normally I would blow-dry and straighten my hair so it looks good for school tomorrow, but tonight I don’t have the energy. I wrap a towel around my wet hair, change into my favorite long-sleeve tee and joggers, click on the string lights Thora got me last Christmas, and curl up in my bed. For the first time all day, I feel like I can breathe. Mom was right to tell me to watch a movie. Aside from playing basketball, watching movies is my favorite thing to do. Tonight I queue up 10 Things I Hate About You, the king of teen rom-coms. I can recite parts of it in my sleep. A few minutes into the movie, Thora barges in. She’s still in her bartending outfit, and her keys are in her hand, which tells me she literally just got home. She drops onto my bed, squeezes me tight, and fusses like I’m a poor kitten she’s come across in the road. Daphne scurries in behind her, crawling up on my other side. “Who hurt you?” Thora asks, still squeezing me. “Who do I have to kill?” “Nobody.” I laugh. “I’m fine. How was work?” “The opposite of stimulating,” Thora says, picking at the pink tips of her hair. “Seriously, how are you feeling?” “It was a shitty day,” I admit. “We played Candlehawk in a demo game. They clobbered us. Then my car got clobbered.” Thora winces. “Candlehawk means Tally, huh?” “Yeah. Their new star player. She gave me my button back.” My sisters trade a loaded look. “What?” I ask, even though I know what they’re going to say. “She sucks,” Thora says, rolling onto her back. “Like, really, really sucks.” “She didn’t always suck. Not until she transferred to Candlehawk.” “I think she sucked before that,” Daphne says. “Remember when she got mad at you for posting that pic where her hair was frizzy?” “Remember when she didn’t speak to you for a whole day because you refused to sneak into that concert with her?” Thora adds. Here’s the thing: I know Tally was tough sometimes, but it makes me uncomfortable to hear it from other people. It makes me question my judgment, because for a while there, I was so happy with her. Was I just oblivious? Or, worse, did I convince myself she cared about me when she really didn’t? “I know, I know,” I say, dragging my hands down my face. “I promise she wasn’t always that bad.” There’s a pause where my sisters are clearly holding back their words, until Daphne says, “Well, I think she’s an eff-head.” Thora busts out laughing, and I can’t help but smile a little. “Daph, you’re a national treasure, you know that?” Thora says. Daphne beams. “Can we watch the movie now?” I ask. “Sure,” my sisters say, and they snuggle up on either side of me. * * * Maybe an hour into the movie, my phone rings with a local number I don’t recognize. I reject the call, assuming it’s a telemarketer. A moment later, it rings again. “Scottieee,” Thora whines. “Sorry!” I fumble for the phone and answer it impatiently. “Hello?” “Scottie?” a brittle voice asks. “It’s Irene.” What the fuck. I sit bolt upright, scrambling to pause the movie. My sisters stare at me, but I wave my hands for them to be quiet. Why the hell is this girl calling me? How did she even get my number? “Hey,” I say into the phone, trying to sound casual. I switch on the lamp and swing my legs off the bed. “I didn’t expect you to call—” “Didn’t you, though?” she asks brusquely. “We have to plan for tomorrow. You know, since I have to carpool with you.” It takes me a moment to speak. “Right,” I say tersely. “Obviously. I just figured we’d text.” “Calling’s more efficient.” I clear my throat, trying to stop myself from screaming at her. “How’s your car? What’d the mechanic say?” She ignores the question. “What time are you picking me up in the morning? I usually leave by seven twenty-five.” I’m still trying to get my footing in the conversation, and it takes me a second to realize what she’s asking. Seven twenty-five? Our school is only ten minutes away, and class doesn’t start until 8:05. “I usually leave at seven forty,” I say pointedly. She makes an impatient noise. “I have things to do in the morning. If I had my own car, I’d leave at seven fifteen.” “I guess you should have thought about that before you rammed your car into mine, huh?” There’s a stiff silence. “Are you picking me up at seven twenty-five, or not?” I grit my teeth. “I’ll be there.” “Great. I’ll text you my address.” “Great. Isn’t texting so efficient?” A beat passes. “Cute,” she says in the most acidic voice I’ve ever heard. Then she hangs up. I stare at my phone in outrage. “Who the hell was that?” Thora asks. “My nemesis,” I say, only half joking. “I thought Tally was your nemesis,” Daphne says. Thora elbows her in the side. “Scots,” Thora says, grabbing the remote from me, “I don’t know what this says about me, but your drama is becoming the most entertaining part of my life.” 3 The next morning, I pull into Irene’s driveway a full five minutes late. I don’t do it on purpose; the time just gets away from me. She’s standing there impatiently, her long hair perfectly straightened, her makeup impeccably done. She clutches a giant silver thermos and holds her phone the way all pretty girls do: flat on its back like she might whisper gossip into the speaker any second. I expect a snarky remark about my tardiness, but she’s silent when she opens the door. She tucks her bags in the back seat and sets her thermos in my cupholder without asking. It feels invasive, especially in such a contained, intimate space. A space that I usually only share with the people closest to me: my sisters or Danielle or, until recently, Tally. I reverse out of her driveway and turn up my music to drown out the awkwardness. My nerves are on edge, waiting for her to say something. I notice when she clears her throat. I sniff against the sharp, woody scent of her perfume. When we turn onto the main road, I decide to break the silence. “Sorry I was late.” I lean back in my seat, pretending to feel at ease. “Hope it didn’t inconvenience you.” She rakes a hand through her hair. “You weren’t,” she says flatly. “I usually leave at seven thirty. I told you seven twenty-five because I knew you’d be late.” For a second, all I can do is stare at her. “Wait, what?” “You never got to APUSH last year until a second before the bell rang.” She glances at me. “It’s not an insult, just an observation.” My blood simmers. It’s true that I always ran late to AP US History, but that’s because Tally’s locker had been right next to the classroom and I would loiter there with her until the last possible second. It’s a reminder I don’t need so early in the morning. “So what?” I snap. “You’ve taken it upon yourself to keep a log of people’s arrival times?” She laughs breezily. “You’re so easy to irritate.” I imagine how I must have looked to her, dashing into class late every day. Did she see me hanging all over Tally last year? Could she sense the cracks in that relationship before I could? Is that why she thought I was such a loser? A feeling of shame spreads through my torso. “I’m better at getting to AP Euro on time,” I say pointedly. “But I guess you wouldn’t know that, since you didn’t make it into the class.” It’s a really snotty thing to say, but I want to get under her skin and I don’t have many cards to play. It seems to work, because she puts down her phone and glares at me. “I did make it into the class. I just didn’t want to take it.” “What? Why?” “Oh come on. AP European History? A class where you literally study how white people fucked up the world with the Crusades and colonization and smallpox? Yet there’s no room in the budget to offer Asian or African History? Yeah, no. If that’s the pinnacle of academic study our school has to offer, I’ll fucking pass. Say what you want about Ms. Bowles’s ‘regular track’ modern history class, but she makes a point of dismantling the whole European hegemony thing, and that’s a much better use of my time.” I can’t think of anything to say to that, not least because I’m trying to figure out what hegemony means. Irene takes a pointed sip from her thermos and shakes her head. “But please, tell me more about how you’re so much smarter than me. Not like I haven’t heard it before. People love to assume they’re better than you when you’re ‘just a cheerleader,’ as if I’m not completely fucking aware of the complicated identity that comes with my sport.” “I never said I was smarter than you,” I say tersely. She snorts. “Right. You only implied it. But you’re the one who was dumb enough to get taken in by Tally Gibson.” My heart rate skyrockets. “What did you say?” She raises her eyebrows. “Was I not clear enough?” I jerk the car over to the side of the road. The car behind us blares its horn as it passes. Irene looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. “Let’s be clear about a few things.” I’m so angry that my voice is trembling. “One: In case you haven’t noticed, driving you to school is the last thing I want to be doing, so try to tone down the bitchy factor. Two: I might have covered for your ass yesterday, but I haven’t forgotten your shitty tow truck prank, and I haven’t forgiven you for it, either. Don’t give me yet another reason to hate you. And three: Don’t you ever talk shit about Tally to me. Ever.” Irene is breathing hard, her face crinkled in fury. The scar in her eyebrow visibly shows. I’d like to thank the person who put it there. “Understood,” she says finally, her chest heaving. “But if you get to set some ground rules, so do I. And there’s only one: Don’t ever make assumptions about me again.” “Fine,” I growl. I pull back onto the road and turn up my music. We don’t say another word for the rest of the drive. * * * When I park in my usual space in the senior lot, I notice with relief that Danielle’s car is already here. I can’t wait to escape and find her. I’m scrambling out of my seat when it hits me: Irene Abraham is about to get out of my car … in the middle of the senior parking lot … where we’re surrounded by classmates who know the two of us go together like a princess and a gremlin. People are definitely going to talk. Irene gets out of the car first, snapping the door shut. I take a deep breath and open my own door. The moment I stand up, I can feel all eyes on us. The looks are coming from people all over the parking lot—the band kids, the potheads, the hipster Christian kids. Irene’s group of friends looks up with their perfect haircuts and cocky smiles, most of them snickering. They make their way toward us as I fish my backpack and duffel bag out of the back seat. “Yayyy, happy carpool day!” Honey-Belle trills, clapping her hands. She is impossibly chipper. Her DNA is probably made of cupcakes. “So whose fault was it?” Gino DiNova calls. “Was it you, Abraham?” Gino is hard to explicitly hate because he never says anything actually offensive, but he never says anything nice, either. Right now he’s got his cell phone out, clearly taking a snap of my car, laughing like it’s the funniest thing he’s ever seen. I don’t think I’ve even spoken to him before. “Funny you’re so interested, Gino,” Irene says coolly, “considering you ran over Brinkley’s mailbox last month.” That shuts Gino up. The group combusts with laughter and Honey-Belle pulls Irene into her side. I push past them toward the school entrance, feeling their eyes on my back. Not one of them says a word to me. * * * “How’s your car?” Danielle asks the moment we meet at our lockers. I never texted her about it, but she must have heard through the grapevine. She looks sympathetic, which means she’s gotten over my poor playing last night. I grimace and accept the coffee she hands me, while she accepts the baggie of apple slices I cut up for her this morning. We’ve traded breakfast like this since the first day of senior year. “Bumper’s all fucked up. But that’s nothing compared to my ego.” I take a sip of the coffee and brighten. “Whoa, second day in a row you’ve gotten the perfect cream-to-coffee ratio!” “Told you I would,” Danielle says smugly. Then her expression darkens. “I heard who the other driver was. I hope you smashed the shit out of her car.” The great thing about Danielle is that she would never say anything annoying like Why didn’t you tell me? It’s just not how we work. After Tally dumped me, I couldn’t even bring myself to tell my friends. It was Daphne who texted Danielle, and within an hour, Danielle showed up at my house with a gallon of Rocky Road ice cream. She let me sob for half an hour, and then she and my sisters queued up a movie marathon of John Tucker Must Die, She’s the Man, and a slew of other classics. Danielle has been my best friend since fifth grade, when our teacher’s alphabetical seating system landed us right next to each other: Zajac and Zander, the far-flung edge of the class roster. That same year, Danielle ran for class president under the platform of latter-half-of-the-alphabet rights. Pretty much everyone whose last name started with M or later voted for her, and after she won, we enjoyed a solid month of standing at the front of the line before our teacher got tired of it. “Welp, I did. And now I have to drive her till her car’s fixed,” I say, nicking one of her apple slices. Danielle stares at me, horrified. “What?” “My mom set it up when she found out we live near each other. She felt bad that Irene wouldn’t have a ride.” “That seems like a cruel and unusual punishment.” “Cruel, unusual, and completely on-brand for the year I’m having.” Danielle pointedly ignores the last one. I feel a twinge of embarrassment, knowing I sound pitiful. “We need to give our moms a talking-to about meddling,” Danielle says. “My mom barged in on my shower this morning because she came up with another idea I could write about for the Common App essay. And you know what it was? How I’m a great big sister to Teddy. As if admissions counselors care about that.” Danielle and her seven-year-old brother, Teddy, were both adopted. Danielle’s mom is Black, like Danielle and Teddy, and her dad is white. Her parents met in a ballroom dancing club in college. Like, for real. Sometimes they spontaneously tango when we’re hanging out at their house. “Why is your mom so worried about this essay?” I ask, grateful for the change of subject. “She’s not.” Danielle busies herself with chewing on her thumbnail. “I’m worried about it, so she’s hovering. Everything I’ve read says you should avoid mission trips and personal heroes because those are the ultimate clichés. It’s better to share an anecdote that reveals your personality. But, like … what am I supposed to say?” We slam our lockers and lean against them, thinking. It’s a nice escape from my new reality. “You’re one of the smartest people in our grade,” I tell her. “You know so much about this application process, you could probably run the whole guidance department if you wanted to. Just like you’re running our basketball team.” I freeze, realizing the answer. “Wait! You can tell the story of how you’ve stepped up to be our coach!” No one asked Danielle to take over our team. It’s just that Coach Fernandez isn’t really a coach—she’s the computer teacher who runs the robotics club. After our old coach retired last season, the school couldn’t find anyone new to coach girls’ basketball, so Fernandez agreed to sign on as Official Adult Person; otherwise, we wouldn’t have had a season. She pops by practice maybe once or twice a week, but otherwise lets Danielle do her thing. “It would make a great story,” I continue enthusiastically. “You can paint yourself as our fearless leader!” Danielle flinches like a mosquito landed on her. “No. That’s so braggy.” “Dude, the point of an admissions essay is to be braggy. Isn’t that why you do all the things you do?” “I do them because I’m a long-suffering perfectionist.” She shoots me a familiar smile: the one she uses to deflect attention off herself. It makes me want to hug her and shake her at the same time, because she’s so wonderful but so determined to downplay it. It’s like she hides herself under a lampshade so no one will see how brightly she shines. Even when she staged a coup in fifth grade for alphabet reversal—so those of us who were always at the end of the line finally got to be up front—she made me switch places with her so she didn’t have to stand first in line. I’m trying to think of another angle for her essay when we’re interrupted by our two guy friends, Gunther Thomas and Kevin Todds. They’re best friends the same way Danielle and I are; they even have lockers right next to each other. There’s something about my friends and the alphabet. “Look who’s the talk of the town,” Gunther says, slinging an arm around my shoulders. I wince, all thought of Danielle’s problems forgotten. “You guys heard, too?” “A couple of the band guys were talking about it,” Kevin says. “They didn’t actually know your name, but we knew it was you because they described you as ‘gay Ginny Weasley.’” “Charming,” I say with a scowl. “Glad to know I have such a powerful reputation.” “Better than Tow Truck Girl,” Gunther says, and I punch his shoulder. We’ve been friends with the boys since freshman year. Gunther is short and stocky, with thick brown hair and a blond birthmark on the crown of his head. He plays our mascot, the Fighting Reindeer, which means he spends a lot of time prancing around and charging people with his antlers. Kevin is a few inches taller than Gunther, with a round face and acne scars on his light brown skin. His big thing is music. He’s been in marching band all four years, and he’s trying to line up auditions for college conservatory programs. “What’s new with you, Danielle?” Kevin asks. “I heard you played well last night.” Danielle shrugs and tries to shift into a casual pose, but she ends up stumbling into her locker. She’s gotten increasingly weird around Kevin lately. Like, nursing-a-secret-crush weird. “Yeah, I played all right.” She wrinkles her nose. “Better than you at mini golf, anyway.” Kevin presses a hand to his heart. “Damn. Low blow.” Just then, Irene and her entourage sweep into the hallway. It’s one of those subtle things where everyone around us continues to go about their business, but you know they’re aware of the popular kids entering their midst. “There’s your buddy,” Kevin says with a sigh. “Revving up for Homecoming Court this weekend. Another day in the life of the princess.” “And now she’s got Scottie to drive her pumpkin carriage,” Gunther says, his eyes twinkling. Irene doesn’t look at me as she walks by, but I can sense other people staring at me, hoping for us to interact. I slam my locker closed and try to lose myself in conversation with my friends, but it’s like an invisible string has tethered me to Irene and I’ll spend the whole day linked to her no matter what I do. * * * Predictably, my day is smattered with interruptions from gossipmongers who want to know about the accident. I’m amazed at how many people suddenly know my name—not just the other seniors, but the juniors and underclassmen, too. Some of them are sincere when they ask if I’m okay, but most of them bring it up because they want to hear about Irene. “Do you guys, like, hang out now?” a wide-eyed girl asks. “Was she pissed at you for ruining her car?” another whispers. “Does it feel like carpooling with a Kardashian?” a straight-faced freshman asks. “No,” I hear myself saying over and over again. “I literally couldn’t care less.” I don’t actually see Irene until the end of the day, when we have our only class together: Senior Horizons. It’s a joke of a class with an albatross of a teacher. Mrs. Scuttlebaum is a grumpy, bitter old woman who wears the same tulip-patterned cardigan over every outfit. Her smoker’s emphysema makes sitting in her lectures that much worse. When Danielle and I walk into the classroom, a bunch of the guys, led by Gino, start laughing. “Hey, Abraham, your Uber’s here!” “Can you drive me to the dance this weekend, Zajac?” “Five stars, Zajac, five stars!” I can feel my face burning, but I roll my eyes with a bravado I don’t feel. Irene, however, crosses her legs and says, “I’d only give her three stars.” The classroom howls with laughter. Irene catches my eye and smirks, almost like we’re sharing the joke. There’s a beat where it’s silent, and then I say, “I’d give her zero.” The classroom erupts in laughter again. Irene tilts her head at me. She doesn’t look angry, but I can’t quite read her expression. I ignore her and fish my notebook out of my backpack until Scuttlebaum wheezes at everyone to shut up. * * * The most surprising thing happens at the end of the day, when I’m on my way to basketball practice. Danielle and I are walking down the hallway when my cell phone chimes with a sound that stops me cold. That chime is set to only one person. Tally Gibson: Why are you driving Irene Abraham around? I can’t sort out how I’m feeling at first. I mean, I’m stunned that Tally’s reaching out at all, especially after our talk last night. But I also feel strangely validated. This is proof that she still cares about what I’m doing. That I’m in her head as much as she’s in mine. “Don’t engage,” Danielle warns, but I ignore her. Me: How do you know that? Tally Gibson: Saw it on Gino’s Instagram. Sure enough, when I open the app, Gino’s Story is the first to pop up. It’s a picture of Irene and me getting out of my car, her looking aloof and me looking grouchy. The caption says Homecoming queen in her new chariot!! Gay Ginny Weasley for the win! Cool. So glad everyone in my universe, including my ex-girlfriend, is seeing this. “Scottie,” Danielle says in a way that means Don’t text her back. “I’ll just give her the bare minimum so she lays off.” Me: It’s just for a few days. I don’t want to tell her about my accident, even though she’ll probably find out anyway. Tally Gibson: Oh. Tally Gibson: Am I not allowed to know the reason anymore? “That freaking sociopath,” Danielle says, glaring at my phone. “She is so manipulative. Ignore her. You don’t owe her an explanation.” I can tell Danielle is getting riled up, so I pocket my phone and continue down the hall. But when we get to the locker room, I take advantage of the chaos to pull out my phone again. Me: Why do you want to know? Tally Gibson: Because it’s not like you. What happened to hating her guts after the towing thing? Me: I don’t think my opinion of her is any of your business. Not anymore. Tally Gibson: Wow, okay. I think that’s the end of it, but Tally sends one final text: Tally Gibson: You should be careful. She can’t be good for you. And that’s when it hits me: Tally is jealous of my perceived friendship with Irene. She’s threatened by the possibility that I could change—scared that I could catapult to popularity even faster than her. The idea leaves me dazed. When we spill onto the court, I have a bounce in my step. I’m playing as well as I used to—maybe even better. My energy is contagious, and suddenly the whole team is playing at our highest frequency. I don’t think it can get any better, but in the last ten minutes of practice, it does. The auxiliary doors open and, for the first time in my basketball career, we have a cheering section. Literally. Irene has brought her squad to watch us play. I know she’s not doing me any favors. She’s only here because her own practice is over and she wants to hurry me along. Still, it feels validating to have an audience, and my teammates seem to feel the same way. “Are they really here for us?” Shelby asks. Liz Guggenheim, who we call Googy, shakes her head. “Nah, dude. They’re here for Scottie.” She turns to me, starstruck. “That car accident was the best thing you’ve ever done.” The whole team looks at me, their mouths twitching with glee. I feel like I’m flying close to the sun. “Let’s run the Hot Dog play,” Danielle says, smirking. She passes me the ball, and I hesitate, realizing the gift she’s giving me. “You sure?” “Make it sail, Scots.” We run the play with a palpable momentum. I zip around the court, and when Googy feeds me the ball, I send it swishing through the basket with a perfect jump shot. The girls in the stands erupt. Honey-Belle actually whoops. Danielle looks at me like we’ve just found money on the ground. “Carpool with Irene for as long as you can,” she whispers, a gleam in her eye. And for the first time, I think it’s not a bad idea. 4 The next morning, I hustle out the door with my shoes half tied. Carpooling home last night was uneventful—we literally didn’t speak—but I don’t expect the beast to slumber for long. I plan to be outside her house way before our seven thirty departure time, just to prove a point. But when I pull into Irene’s driveway at 7:23, she’s already outside. Of course. “How long were you waiting?” I ask when she opens the door. She takes her time replying, setting her bags all over my seat. “A few minutes.” It feels like she’s saying that just to piss me off, so the moment she’s seated, I jerk the car backward with extra force. Her coffee thermos spills over the cupholder. “Dude,” she says angrily. “Whoops, sorry,” I say breezily. “There are napkins in the glove compartment.” She wipes up the spill more carefully than I expected her to. “Can you turn your music down?” she grumbles. “It’s too early for this shit.” “This is Fine Young Cannibals.” “I know who it is.” “Sure you do.” “Oh, you’re right, you’re the only person our age who’s really into eighties music. I forgot how exceptionally unique you are.” Instead of responding, I turn up the music until I’m full-on blasting it. She literally scoffs and turns away from me. We don’t speak again for the rest of the ride. Still, that afternoon, before the end of practice, the cheerleaders show up again. * * * By Thursday, the whole school is swollen with Homecoming energy. Our principal announces that final voting for the Homecoming Court will take place during homeroom on Friday, so for the rest of the day, it’s all anyone can talk about. I hear Irene’s name even more than I have in the past two days, and since we’re still carpooling, the attention on me intensifies proportionally. “Homecoming Court is completely underutilized,” Gunther muses at lunch. “We’re not getting the max value. If there’s kings and queens, why not add the scheming advisor or the greedy bishop? I can think of so many people I’d nominate.” We’re lying on the cool grass outside the cafeteria, using our backpacks as headrests. The trees above us are still flush with leaves, but they’re starting to turn orange and red. Most of the seniors are clustered in groups around us. A few of them are messing with the marquee again. It now reads IM COMING HO. “What’s the equivalent of a court musician?” Kevin asks. “That’s what I’d want to be.” “Like a bard?” Danielle says. “Or a troubadour?” “Troubadour,” Kevin echoes, laughing. “What does that even mean? How are you so freaking smart all the time?” Danielle bites her lip, smiling coyly. “I do this thing called studying.” “So do I, but you don’t hear me tossing out words like troubadour. I swear your brain retains, like, everything you read.” We’re interrupted by Charlotte Pascal, the varsity soccer captain, who approaches us with a couple of her teammates. The soccer girls are notoriously hot, all long legs and California hair. They’re also our best athletic team, the only Grandma Earl sport that wins championships and local business endorsements. It’s well understood that if you want to be somebody around here, you have two options: cheerleading or soccer. Basketball isn’t even a blip on the radar. Which is why I’m so confused Charlotte is approaching us. Before I can make sense of it, she pushes a homemade Rice Krispies Treat into my hand. “Er—what—?” I try to say. “Happy Homecoming,” she says, her smile impossibly bright. “I hope you’ll consider voting for me for Queen.” Neither the boys nor I reply; Charlotte Pascal is disarmingly gorgeous, and I’m pretty sure none of us has ever spoken directly to her before. Danielle looks at the three of us and snorts. She squints up at Charlotte and says, “You know canvassing for votes isn’t allowed, right?” “Don’t spoil the party,” Charlotte says, wrinkling her nose. “It’s just a little Homecoming treat.” Against my will, I look across the courtyard, where Irene and her pack have been lounging. She’s watching Charlotte with narrowed eyes, her arms splayed across the bench, her henchwomen lurking around her in pleated skirts. Irene and Charlotte’s friendship turned enmity has been the source of gossip for almost a year now, and it’s only intensified since Irene pulled that “Class Inseparables” stunt during senior superlatives. Based on the way she’s looking at Charlotte now, I’m surprised she made a joke about it at all. Kevin is the first to regain his voice. “Thanks for the treat,” he tells Charlotte. “Good luck with Court.” Charlotte gives him a flirtatious smile, glances over the rest of us, and walks away. I notice she makes a point of avoiding Irene’s corner of the yard. It’s like feral cats delineating their territory. “She is very … um … yes,” Gunther says, gulping. “She’s stunning,” Kevin says, and Danielle stiffens, “but she scares me.” “I swear I get a vibe from her,” I tell them. It’s a theory I’ve brought up before: that Charlotte gives off some queer energy. Tally was the only one who ever agreed with me, but she was more fixated on Charlotte’s popularity than her possible sexuality. “I doubt that,” Danielle says. “She’s been going out with that Candlehawk dude for, like, a year.” “Doesn’t mean she can’t be queer,” I say. “Whatever her deal is,” Gunther says, “Charlotte’s definitely more of a Lady Macbeth than a Homecoming Queen.” * * * This time, when the cheerleaders show up for the end of our practice, they bring the boys’ basketball team with them. There must be at least twenty people watching us now. It’s hard to keep my cool, and I can tell my teammates feel the same way; even Danielle seems flushed. But after a few minutes of playing for a crowd, we start to feed off their energy. When we finish our scrimmage with a crisp layup from Googy, the group in the stands cheers loudly. “This is insane,” Danielle says as we’re walking out of practice. “No one’s ever given a shit about us before.” She pauses to high-five one of the boys’ players, then looks to me in disbelief. “Damn. I know you hate her guts, but Irene is really doing us a solid.” I shake my head, annoyed at how impressive the whole thing is. “She’s not doing anything. She’s just bored waiting for me to drive her home, and her minions follow her wherever she goes.” I point over my shoulder to where the popular kids orbit around Irene like the sun. Danielle clucks her tongue. “Poor Charlotte and her Rice Krispies Treats don’t stand a chance of winning Queen.” We separate, heading to our cars. Danielle says something about going home to tweak her application essay since we’ll be busy with Homecoming all weekend. I wish her luck and drop into my car, grateful that it’s almost the weekend. I can’t wait to get home, take a hot shower, and kick back with a movie. But Irene doesn’t get in the car right away. She loiters off to the side, talking to Honey-Belle with a serious expression on her face. I make a show of starting the ignition and flicking on the lights, but she ignores me. After a full two minutes of this, I open the door and shout, “Excuse me! Can we go, please?!” Irene holds up her palm to indicate I should wait. The nerve of it sends me over the edge, and I pound on the horn so it blares across the parking lot. Irene jumps and shoots me the ugliest look I’ve ever seen, but she finally steps away from Honey-Belle. She gets into my passenger seat like she’s descending into the lowest level of hell. I can almost feel the negative energy crackling off her. “That was really rude,” she snaps. “Yes, I agree, it was very rude of you to keep me waiting.” She shakes her head and jams her seat belt into the buckle. I switch on my music and cruise out of the parking lot feeling like I just won a boxing match. But then Irene jabs the stereo off. “What the—?!” “I’m getting my car back this weekend,” she says without preamble. “And Honey-Belle’s picking me up tomorrow morning, so I won’t need a ride.” I turn the music back on, too distracted by her audacity to understand what she’s trying to say. “So?” “So you don’t have to drive me anymore.” That gets my attention. “Wait, really? What about tomorrow afternoon?” “I don’t go home on game days,” she says shortly, like I should have known that already. “We get ready at school.” “So this is the last time I have to drive you?” “Yes. I just said that.” I’m too delighted to be put off by her snark. Only a few more minutes of this tense arrangement, and then I’ll be free forever. I’ll never have to deal with this girl again. We’re quiet until I remember something that doesn’t quite fit with the information she’s given me. “Hold on,” I say. “You’re not going home before the football game? But don’t you have to get ready for Homecoming Court? I mean, like, don’t you have to dress up for halftime?” For a second I think she’s gonna tell me it’s none of my business. But then: “My mom’s bringing my dress. I’ll change after we finish our second quarter routines.” I snort. Does she ever not plan around her beloved cheerleading? “So you’re gonna be all sweaty in your dress? Why don’t you just sit out the routines tomorrow night?” Now she glares at me. “Would you sit on the bench during a big game just so you could look pretty in a dress?” “No, but that’s because what I do is an actual game.” She whips her head around. “What are you trying to say?” “What? I just mean, like, you’re not actually competing for anything. You’re cheering on the competitors. There’s no winning or losing for you.” She twists in her seat, more agitated than I’ve ever seen her. “Oh okay, and this is coming from someone whose idea of ‘competing’ is lobbing a ball at a hoop? Cheerleading is more competitive than you can imagine. It’s gymnastics meets acrobatics meets dance, with a shit ton of cardio work, not to mention the emotional intelligence it takes to read a crowd’s energy—” “And yet you’re not actually winning or losing anything. It’s just a performance. A performance you’re doing for someone else.” “It’s not for someone else, it’s for ourselves and our own physicality and—” “It’s for the boys’ football team. Or their basketball team. Whichever boys’ team is being worshipped that night.” “Wow, aren’t you such a bastion of feminism, tearing down other girls because you think we’re oblivious to misogyny—” “Aren’t you, though? Or is it just my imagination that I’ve never seen your squad at my basketball games before?” “Have you ever asked for us to be there?” she counters. “I don’t have time to hold your hand if you can’t even be bothered to speak to us. I’m doing more than enough already, captaining two squads during overlapping seasons and trying to win Student Athlete of the Year.” This last part takes me by surprise. The Student Athlete of the Year award is just about the highest honor a Grandma Earl senior can win. The last few years, it’s almost always gone to soccer or football players. “You’re trying for SAOY?” I ask. “Don’t say that like it’s so fucking surprising.” “It is surprising. I’ve never heard of a cheerleader winning that.” “That’s because no cheerleader ever has,” she snaps, her eyes burning. “But we work just as hard as other student athletes, so why shouldn’t we be considered?” I shake my head and turn away from her. “What?” she spits. “It just seems like a waste of your energy,” I say, knowing very well that I’m playing with fire here. “You’re obviously going to win Homecoming Queen tomorrow night, which is a natural extension of being cheerleading captain, but instead of focusing on that, you’re thirsting after an athletic award you stand no chance of winning?” “Fuck you, Zajac,” she growls. I only barely register her use of my name; it’s jarring coming out of her mouth. “You have got to be the most arrogant, dismissive, judgmental person I’ve ever met—” “And who are you to talk?” I say nastily. “You’re just a stuck-up cheerleader who’s high and mighty enough to think that Homecoming Queen is beneath her.” “Don’t you dare try to tell me who I am—” “Ah, right, I forgot I’m not allowed to ‘make assumptions’ about you. Since it’s our last day together, though, I’ll leave you with one final thought.” My words tumble out with a reckless, satisfying feeling. I know I’m crossing a line, but I can’t stop. People have been singing Irene’s praises to my face for days, but I know just how shitty she can be. “It’s not my fault you’re so fucking insecure about being a cheerleader or that no one, including your own mother, takes you seriously about it. So figure out your own shit and stop taking it out on other people.” The silence between us cuts like a shard of glass. Irene turns very slowly in my direction. Her jaw is clenched. Her eyes are dark fire. They’re also, to my shock, slightly wet. I’m breathing hard; she’s hardly breathing at all. I don’t know what else to do, so I twist the volume dial until it’s all the way up, so loud that it pounds in my ears. Irene says nothing. She sits eerily still in the passenger seat, her arms crossed over her practice hoodie. When we finally pull into her driveway, she throws off her seat belt and snatches her bags from the back seat. Just as she’s about to get out of the car, she punches my stereo off. I can only gawk at her. I open my mouth to say something, but before I can figure out what, she slams the door and stalks off into her house. * * * That night, my sisters and I curl up in Thora’s bed to watch Teen Witch at Daphne’s request. Pickles and BooBoo prowl across our legs, restless. They haven’t been allowed in Mom’s garden for several days. “I messed up today,” I say when we’re halfway through the movie. “Did you hit another car?” Thora asks, and I shove her while Daphne laughs. “No. I was an asshole to Irene.” “Nemesis Girl?” “Yeah.” “Well, she’s your nemesis. You’re supposed to be an asshole.” Daphne frowns. “What happened?” I tell them about our spat—and how ugly I was to her. “I don’t know why I said that thing about her mom,” I say feebly. “I don’t usually go for people’s weak spots.” “No, you don’t,” Thora says thoughtfully. “Sounds more like something your ex would do.” I stare at her. “Tally might be the worst, but she wouldn’t do that. She’s not outright malicious.” “Yeah, she would. I watched her do it to you for months. She got completely in your head, making you worry that you’re not good enough. You’ve been a walking insecurity since you dated her.” I pause the movie. “You think I’m a walking insecurity?” Thora looks straight at me. She never glosses over things. “Right now? Yes. And there’s no reason you should be. You’re smart and cute and really good at basketball. You should be thriving.” A trickle of bile runs down my throat. “No one else seems to think that.” “Who cares what anyone else thinks? What do you think?” “Thora, do you really believe that no one else’s opinion matters?” “Absolutely.” She shrugs like it’s as easy as two plus two. “At the end of the day, I’m the only person living my life. Why should I answer to anyone else?” “You obviously don’t remember high school very well.” She snorts. “Of course I do. The unspoken social hierarchy sucks. But you know what I’ve figured out since then?” She dances her fingers in front of my eyes. “It’s all perception, Scots. Making people see what you want them to see. If you want them to think you matter, start acting like they should already know that you matter.” Daphne nods. “Fake it till you make it.” “Exactly,” Thora says. I scratch BooBoo’s ears, thinking. “You wanna know something stupid? Carpooling with Irene is the coolest I’ve felt all year. Like, it’s the first time people have paid attention to me. Even Tally was jealous. How fucked up is that?” “Tally was jealous?” Thora laughs humorlessly. “God, that girl is a fucking case study. She’s probably worried that you’re secretly dating Irene.” I snort. The idea of that is unthinkable. “I would never. I can’t stand that girl.” “Maybe Irene isn’t as bad as you think,” Daphne says. “Why do you hate her, anyway?” I pause, considering. I never confided in my sisters about the tow truck incident. It would only open a can of worms if I told them now. “She’s just a jerk,” I say. “She … kinda messed with me last year.” Thora’s eyes flash. “What’d she do?” I shake my head. “Nothing. Seriously, nothing. I just don’t like her.” I can tell Thora wants to press me on it, but she doesn’t. She plants a kiss on my head and goes back to watching the movie with Daphne. You’ve been a walking insecurity … Is that true? Judging by the constant ache in my chest, I have to believe it is. But when did I become this way? I didn’t used to care about my social status; I was content to fly under the radar. But that was before Tally. It was also before the tow truck incident. I always wanted to confront Irene about that prank. I wanted to scream that it was a completely disproportionate reaction to me knocking a drink on her. But the truth is, I was afraid it had nothing to do with spilling my drink. That maybe it was a cruel whim of hers, of all the popular kids’, because I was more of a social pariah than I even knew. The queer, gangly ginger who had no right to be at their party. After all, isn’t that why Tally left me? Because she could see that, too? 5 Friday is the start of Homecoming weekend. I wake up early, straighten my hair, and pull on the Fighting Reindeer shirt I’ve had since freshman year. Daphne hogs the bathroom mirror, painting bright red GE letters on her cheeks. The middle schoolers are always more excited than anyone for the Homecoming game. In a twist of irony, this is the earliest I’m ready to leave all week. If I was picking up Irene today, there’s no chance she’d beat me to her driveway. I almost wish she needed a ride just so I could rub it in her face. And maybe so I could apologize for what I said yesterday. Instead, I use the extra time to pick up coffee for my friends. Sweet Noelle’s, the best coffee shop in town, has painted its windows for the game tonight. When the barista sees me in my Fighting Reindeer shirt, she grins and gives me a free chocolate muffin. I stuff my face with it when I get back in my car, relishing in the privacy of driving alone again. But when I pull into school a few minutes later, alone hits differently. People glance at my car, but when I’m the only one to get out of it, they turn away. I guess they don’t care about me unless I’m shuttling Irene around. I’m back to being a nobody, and I hate to admit it stings. “Hey, happy Friday!” Gunther says when I show up with the coffee tray. “Why the special treat? Is it just because you love us?” “Because I love you, and because I’m free.” I drop my backpack and lean against Danielle’s locker. “No more carpooling for me.” I thought it would feel euphoric to announce that, but surprisingly, I feel kind of bereft. “Ding-dong, the witch is dead,” Kevin says. He passes the coffees around, checking to see their descriptions first. “You sure you want this, Gunther?” Gunther grimaces. He’s on a black coffee kick because he thinks it makes him more sophisticated. “I guess. Send thoughts and prayers.” He swallows the first sip like a kid taking medicine. “And hazelnut with extra espresso for Danielle,” Kevin says, passing her the cup. “What’s the extra shot for today? The AP Lit test?” “Yeah, ’cause I have to beat you,” Danielle says, hiking her eyebrows at him. Kevin laughs. “It’s not a competition if you’re the only one in it, Danielle.” “Still gonna leave you in the dust.” “We get it, you guys are smart,” Gunther says, rolling his eyes. “Can we focus on the topic at hand? Scottie’s back to being one of us.” Kevin and Danielle laugh. “I have to admit, I’m kind of bummed,” Danielle says. “I was getting used to our cheering section.” “Yeah, I was ready for the cheerleaders to start cheering at your games,” Gunther says. “Which means I’d get to, too.” “They’d never switch to cheering for us,” I say. “They might. I heard a bunch of the cheerleaders talking about how good y’all are.” Gunther pauses, and for some reason his cheeks flush pink. “Honey-Belle said you’re her she-roes.” Danielle and I laugh, but before we can respond, my phone chimes with that dreaded tone. Tally Gibson: Glad to see you’re free of her. “How does she know these things?” I whine, showing my friends the message. Danielle huffs as usual, but Kevin pulls out his phone. “Damn,” he mutters. “Gino needs to get a life.” He shows us Gino’s Instagram Story: a video of Irene and Honey-Belle getting out of Honey-Belle’s Jeep. The caption says No more Uber service, back to riding with the elites!! “The ‘elites’?” Danielle says with disgust. “God, they practically parody themselves.” “Weren’t you just saying you enjoyed their cheering section?” Kevin teases, and Danielle shoves him. I don’t say anything. A hot wave of embarrassment flushes over my body. I’m mortified that Gino would write that. I’m even more mortified that Tally saw it. * * * During first period, we have a special extended schedule so the video journalism kids can broadcast their latest news segment. It’s Homecoming-centric, with a choppy story about the football team’s practice regimen and interviews with the student gov kids about their decorating plans. The last segment is about Homecoming Court. Ten people from my grade are nominated for the King and Queen spots, and one of the Cleveland triplets, who have their hands in everything that goes on here, nabbed interviews with them. “Yeah, I mean, it’s an honor,” one guy says. “I’m so excited, just so, so excited,” a peppy girl grins. Charlotte Pascal is up next. “To get this kind of recognition from your peers, it’s just—what more can you ask for?” And then Irene’s face pops up, and I squirm uncomfortably in my seat. “Are you so excited?” the Cleveland triplet asks. “Yeah, it’s a trip,” Irene says with a casual flick of her hair. She sounds like she couldn’t give two shits. “Are you nervous?” Irene blinks. “For the game, yeah. I’m concerned about getting our routines right. We’ve been working our asses off, and right now I’m splitting my time between football and basketball cheerleading, with different sets for each—so I want to make sure we do everything right on Friday night.” “Why didn’t they bleep out ‘asses’?” my civics teacher asks. “And what’s with this girl’s answer?” “She’s cheerleading captain,” one of my classmates says. “So?” “So that’s all she ever talks about. Her friend Honey-Belle says she’s running for Student Athlete of the Year.” “As a cheerleader?” someone sneers. The shot changes to another nominee, but I stop listening. An unwelcome feeling stretches over me, like I’m starting to understand Irene Abraham even if I don’t want to. * * * Practice that afternoon is dead. The whole team seems to understand that our short-lived glory is over. When we finish for the day with no one in the gym but ourselves, the mood is sour and defeated. Googy tries to lighten things by asking me to hit Irene’s car again. Nobody laughs. When Danielle and I walk outside, my irritation spikes. There’s a number of fans already tailgating by the football field and I’m bitter to realize they’ll never show up for one of my games in the same way. No wonder Tally wanted to transfer. Danielle and I swing by her house to get ready for the game. During dinner with her family, my mood finally brightens. Mr. and Mrs. Zander ask about basketball, about the dance tomorrow night, about college applications. Teddy sits at the table with his legs knocking excitedly, dressed in a reindeer onesie that he insists on pairing with an alien headband. “Hold on,” Mrs. Zander says when we’re about to leave. I think she’s about to compliment our homemade Grandma Earl T-shirts, but instead she eyes Danielle’s makeup with suspicion. “Who you dressing up for?” “Nobody,” Danielle says, too casually. “It’s the Homecoming game, Mom.” “I used to love Homecoming weekend,” Danielle’s dad says, oblivious to the undercurrent of tension between his wife and daughter. “Everyone was so distracted with the pomp and circumstance that my friends and I were finally able to play Dungeons & Dragons in peace.” “I’ve never seen you try a smoky eye,” Danielle’s mom continues. “Scottie, who’s she trying to impress?” I shake my head. “Nobody. As far as I can tell, Danielle’s just in love with basketball.” Danielle hikes her eyebrows as if to say Ha, see?, but I know her well enough to pick up on the nervous way she’s messing with her jacket zipper. She’s probably thinking about seeing Kevin on the field when marching band performs during halftime. The stadium is swelling with people by the time we join the admission line. The drums are booming, the sky lights are bright, and the air smells like hickory. I remember Tally squeezing my hand last year, promising we could escape to her car if we got too cold. Candlehawk’s Homecoming game is tonight, too, and she’s probably loving the thrill of a bigger stadium, the brighter lights, the news crews planted on the field to film their student body. It’s cold on the metal bleachers. The band is stationed behind us, blasting their trumpets and pounding their drums. The cheerleaders are down on the sidelines, calmly going about their warm-up stretches in the midst of the building excitement. If I squint, I can just make out Irene, a dark ponytail directing the rest of the team. She’s obviously in her element. Not that I care. The game starts a few minutes later. Our players sprint onto the field through a handmade banner of an old lady in a football helmet. The cheerleaders dive straight into their routines, amping up the crowd until we’re in a full-blown frenzy, and I hear the echo of Irene lecturing me about cheerleaders’ emotional intelligence. A few minutes before halftime, the other team fumbles the ball and one of our guys runs it back for a touchdown. The crowd is roaring, riding the wave of the play. The cheerleaders pop up to run a victory routine. Irene is at the front of their formation, directing the pyramid before she goes to take her place. I look away, watching the football players switch out the offensive and defensive lines. Then everyone gasps. The cheerleader at the top of the pyramid has fallen off. There’s a prolonged pause, followed by a rumbling of anxiety from the crowd, as the cheerleading coach and sports medicine team rush to the sidelines. The cheerleaders break out of their pyramid and hover around the girl, blocking everyone’s view. The announcer’s voice wavers as he says, “Hold on here, folks, looks like we’ve had an incident on the sidelines…” After a long, suspended moment, the huddle clears and the girl hobbles to her feet. Irene presses close to her, talking to her as the sports medicine guys heave her forward on one foot. “And thank goodness, it looks like she’s okay,” the announcer says, his voice hearty again. “Sprained ankle, from the looks of it. Yet another sacrifice these cheerleaders make to support our young men.” “Sprained ankle, shit,” Danielle mumbles. “They’re not cheering just to support the ‘young men,’” I say, annoyed. “I mean … yeah. But the point is, I hope that girl’s okay.” I don’t answer. Irene has disappeared, leaving the cheerleaders in disarray on the sidelines. I don’t see her again until the Homecoming Court parades onto the field during halftime. She glides along between her parents, easily visible because of her long dark hair. I wonder if her mom has been here all along to watch her routines, or if she only came to escort her for Court. When they announce Homecoming Queen, no one is surprised to hear the name Irene Abraham. She smiles as she accepts the crown and flowers and poses for pictures with her King. To anyone else, it must look like she’s radiant with happiness, but my instincts tell me she’s berating herself for the cheerleading stunt gone wrong. 6 On Saturday, Dad and I get up early to take my car to the Sledd Brothers Auto Shop. They promise us the bumper is an easy fix, but with the amount of business they’ve had lately, it’s going to take several days before I get my car back. My parents will have to drop me off at school until then. When the mechanics tell us the estimated cost, I feel weird knowing that Irene’s insurance policy will pay for it. The rest of the day is devoted to getting ready for the Homecoming dance. Mom and Daphne chirp about it all afternoon, bombarding me with ideas for how to do my hair as if I know what the hell they’re talking about. Finally, Thora takes pity on me and sets up a hair and makeup station in the basement. She hangs my suit on the door for “inspiration,” queues up music on her portable speaker, and brews a fresh pot of coffee to keep us in the zone. Daphne plops down beside her, offering input, and I sit still and silent, letting my sisters take the reins. Thora and Daphne move effortlessly through Girl World. They speak a common language I’ve never understood, with shimmery words like contouring and bandeaus and bralettes. It’s their birthright, this ability to be like any other girl. I’ve never had the same birthright, and I’ve understood that since long before I heard the word gay. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I liked Tally: She had no qualms about moving through both worlds. Now I have to straddle the two without her. I breathe easier when Thora and Daphne agree on a hairstyle and reassure me of how stunning I’m going to look. Daphne hands me a coffee and smiles a giddy, ecstatic smile. Her own coffee looks too big for her little hands, but she takes a practiced sip and smacks her lips together the way Thora does. * * * From the moment I walk into the dance, my heart hurts. All I can think about is Tally and how this should have been our perfect senior Homecoming. I’m so preoccupied that I miss half the things Danielle and Gunther are talking about. There could be a wild bull chasing me down and I wouldn’t even notice. But speaking of, there’s Irene. She’s dancing with a group of friends, and she looks genuinely happy, but I don’t care. Danielle, meanwhile, is trying to act like she’s not eyeing the stage every other second. Kevin is up there, bleeding his red guitar, his black twists catching the light above him. He’s dressed in slacks and a button-up shirt, but still wearing his trademark string hoodie on top. Over by the punch bowl, Charlotte Pascal is making a show of pouring little paper cups for her friends. When one of them shifts to the side, I see a silver flask in Charlotte’s hand. I catch Gunther’s eye and nod toward the drinks table. He watches for a second, then raises his eyebrows and asks, “Feeling thirsty?” We sidle up toward Charlotte. Before we can say anything, she speaks to us out of the corner of her mouth. “It’s only for people who voted for me.” Gunther side-eyes me. “We both did,” he lies. “Everyone keeps saying that, and yet that bitch is wearing my crown.” She skirts her eyes judgmentally over my suit. I feel my face flush. “Dollar donation on Venmo,” she says finally. “Title it ‘senior fundraiser.’ Loop around the table and come back at the end of the song.” Gunther and I peel off to the end of the refreshments table, where we pull up our phones to Venmo Charlotte. There’s been a whole slew of payments in the last few minutes, all of them referencing the fundraiser with various emojis tacked onto the end. We loop back after the song ends. Charlotte slides two cups down the table, still not looking at us. “Eugh,” Gunther says, taking a sip before I can. “This tastes like the inside of my mascot costume.” I swallow some down and feel my throat burn. The taste is definitely nasty. “Gross,” I say, licking my lips. “That’s way more vodka than punch.” I never drink—or at least, I haven’t since the party last year—but it feels good to have something to do. The alcohol hits me right when the slow songs come on. Couples are grabbing each other to sway and brush foreheads and make out, and I remember Tally at prom last year, whispering silly jokes in my ear. I hear Thora’s words in my head again. Was Tally really all that bad? And if she was, why do I feel so sad and lost without her? I slip away from the crowd without caring where I’m going. The locker-lined hallway is a welcome breath of air, moonlit and empty. I sink to the floor and rest my head against the cold locker behind me. Impulsively, I grab my phone. Tally’s Instagram Story has been updated with a post from Candlehawk’s Homecoming dance. It’s a snippet of some girl pretending to spank some guy while the crowd cheers them on. Tally’s laughter blares through the speaker, sweet and exultant. My throat is tight before I can stop it. I tuck my phone away and wipe my eyes. Then I just sit there, trying to make sense of how this happened, how I lost Tally and myself in the same fell swoop. I’m about to get up when a pair of girls comes clacking down the hallway. They’re swishing in their dresses, whispering sharply at each other. I don’t have time for anyone else’s drama, especially tonight, so I’m about to dash out of there when I catch the sound of a voice I’ve been hearing all week. “I’m not in the mood, Honey-Belle,” Irene is saying. “I’ve got enough on my plate right now.” “One dance isn’t gonna hurt you,” Honey-Belle insists. “It’ll be good for you. Come on, you just won Homecoming Queen! You deserve some fun.” “With the girls you’ve been picking out? Fat chance.” My heart jolts unexpectedly. Did I just hear right? Girls? “You’re picky as hell,” Honey-Belle continues. “What was wrong with Madeleine Kasper? She’s one of the cutest sophomores—” “You know I can’t date a sophomore—” “Stop being so uppity. There’s someone out there for you. You just need to open your eyes and receive what the universe wants you to have!” I can’t move. There’s a faint ringing in my chest. It’s bizarre to hear Irene chatting away with her best friend like this—almost like I’m seeing behind a curtain—and I still can’t get over the girls thing. Is it common knowledge that Irene Abraham likes girls? Did I somehow miss that memo? “I can’t worry about dating right now,” Irene says. She sounds tired. “Mom’s on my ass about paying them back for that stupid insurance deductible, but she still doesn’t know I used my savings on cheer camp last summer. Unless I quit cheerleading and find a job, there’s no way I’ll be able to—” “You can’t quit cheerleading,” Honey-Belle cuts in. “This is the first time one of us has a real shot at SAOY! How many years until another cheerleader even comes close to that?” “Tell that to my mom,” Irene says. “She’ll come around,” Honey-Belle says, kicking a heel up against the lockers. “She knows how important this is to you. Did you tell her about Benson yet?” “No. What’s the point, when they’re not gonna let me go?” “But that cheerleading coach wants you, Irene!” I put the pieces together: Benson University is a school in Virginia, and it sounds like Irene might have a spot on their cheerleading squad. “And I know you want to go there, even if you’re trying to act all cool about it.” It sounds like there’s a small tussle and I imagine Honey-Belle trying to smother Irene with a hug and positive vibes. “You know I can’t go there without a scholarship. My parents would never agree to that when I could go to an in-state school for much less. The Benson coach said she can fight for me if I win something as impressive as SAOY, but what if I don’t?” “Don’t think like that. You have a real shot.” “I hope so.” She sounds downcast, defeated. “Charlotte’s already trying to sabotage me. She’s going around telling everyone that even if cheerleading is quote, unquote, ‘a legitimate sport,’ that I’m obviously not a good captain if I’m letting girls fall during our routines.” “That jealous, snaggletoothed heifer,” Honey-Belle says, and I have to choke back a laugh. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard her angry. “Plus, I can’t figure out whether winning Queen helps or hurts my chances,” Irene continues. “Do people think girls are less athletic when they win a You’re Pretty Award?” “Absolutely not. You’re a boss. Everyone knows that.” “Maybe,” Irene says. She doesn’t sound convinced. “I don’t know, Honey-Belle. I have to win SAOY to afford Benson, and I can’t win SAOY if I’m not cheering, but I can’t pay for this deductible unless I quit the squad and get a job.” “You have to tell your parents,” Honey-Belle says. “Just explain it to them. Give them a chance to understand.” “They won’t understand, especially my mom. She’ll make me quit the squad and work at her practice to pay them back. She’ll finally have some real leverage to use in her favor.” Irene’s voice is different than I’ve ever heard before. It provokes a feeling in me that I can’t quite name. It takes a moment to realize it’s sympathy. She has a lot more on her shoulders than I thought. That doesn’t excuse how shitty she’s been toward me, but still. I feel for her. Irene sighs, Honey-Belle soothes her, and they finally leave. I wait it out for a minute before I follow suit. * * * When the dance ends, it’s collectively decided that the night will continue at the Christmas Emporium. It’s a well-known secret that Grandma Earl students have been hosting after-parties there for decades. Plus, Honey-Belle has a key to let everyone into the Santa room, where the Earl-Hewetts keep their stock of Santa Claus statues that kids take pictures with when they’re drunk. Kevin drives us since he’s the only one who didn’t partake in the “senior fundraiser.” Gunther takes the front while Danielle and I sit in the back seat, holding Kevin’s guitar case across our laps. Gunther helped himself to another two rounds of fundraiser while I was out in the locker hallway, so he’s giggly and goofy. He won’t stop laughing about how he has to pee. The Emporium garage is open when we arrive. People are milling about in their suits and dresses, half inside the Emporium, half outside in the parking lot. The air is cool and smells like dead leaves and campfire. As my friends walk off to survey the Santa statues, I take a moment to drink water and mull over something that’s been fermenting in my brain. It fizzled to life sometime in the last hour, after I overheard Irene and Honey-Belle at the dance. It’s a wild, ridiculous idea, but I can’t shake the feeling that it could be exactly what I need to solve my problems. I mean, didn’t my sisters tell me to fake it till I make it? I make